Liquid Poetry: A Taste of the Season

“I want it to taste like I’m drinking a cup of dirt,” my friend Sarah once told me, referring to her coffee preferences.

Most people wouldn’t phrase it this way, but Sarah has raised chickens. She has worked on a clam dredge in the Atlantic. She is a poet. I think Sarah knows exactly what she wants her coffee to taste like, and I think I know why. It has something to do with nourishment (which is going to be a recurring theme here in the Liquid Poetry series), something to do with internalizing and participating in nature’s rhythms so that we feel in sync with the world.

“Black Tea,” A Poem by Jane Miller

All of this reminds me of the remarkable poem, “Black Tea” by Jane Miller, in which we meet a speaker who is immersed in two very experiences at the same time: remembering a past lover and drinking a cup of tea.

Almost immediately, the memories and the taste experience fuse to create a surreal landscape that offers “a hundred notes on where the forest meets the field.” The speaker herself becomes “a happy person in a field like a sweet legume / on a tongue, a kiss spiced in rain,” and the Black Tea Jane Millerlonging she feels comes to us as though “steamed into worlds of wild honey.”

“Black Tea” is too long a poem to include here, but I hope you’ll click on the link in the last paragraph and give it a read. The one thing I do want to spend a moment on, though, is the final, brief sentence of the poem:

“The gods are in the leaves.”

This evocative statement is Miller’s most concise interpretation of the almost mystical power that flavor has to dictate our fates (or at least our emotions). Of course, the leaves Miller is referring to are tea leaves, and the gods, I believe, are the gods of memory that built, for this speaker, an entire living world from a simple mug of dark liquid with little nutritional value to speak of.

The Gods of Memory and Taste

These are the same gods that prompt us to get excited about “PUMPKIN SPICE EVERTHING” as soon as September hits, the same gods that make us crave stuffing or gingerbread during the holidays or fresh-picked berries in the Summer. Now that it’s Spring, we have the good fortune of craving things that are a bit more natural than the pumpkin spice syrup at Starbucks. For me, that means steamed fiddlehead ferns served with fresh-caught trout from the deep, clear river near where I grew up. For you, it’s probably something different. These cravings happen upon us from out of nowhere, triggered more by a lengthening and warming of the days than by our bodies’ actual need for nutrition.

Cocktails are a fun way to fulfill these cravings and worship the seasonal gods that create them. It takes a bit more knowledge and forethought, but by applying some creative pressure to your evening or weekend drink selection, you can get a lot of seasonal pleasure. Here are a few suggestions that might help you to start spinning your old standbys into drinks that please more than just the palate.

Up Your Garnish Game

Look around you for garnish inspiration. Whether it’s a shock of seasonal color to attract the eye or contrast with the color of a drink, or a scent currently blooming in your garden, you can use garnishes to give new life to standard cocktails like Gin & Tonics, Manhattans, and Old Fashioneds.

Switch up Ingredients

If you’re trying to make something fresh, ask yourself, “is there some ingredient in this that can be substituted for something else?” For example, one fun and easy trick I like to use in the winter is switching out my simple syrup for maple syrup in whiskey drinks. Examine the properties of the ingredient (sweetness, acidity, aroma, texture, etc.) to determine what else might work as a proper substitute.

Go Local

See if there are any local spirits producers you might explore in place of the bigger brands. Often these specialty spirits producers do a great job gesturing back to the geographical and historical origins of their products and their industry. Some popular examples here in the Mid-Atlantic are fruit brandies and Sign of Spring Cocktailwhiskeys, as well as certain traditional cocktail additives like shrubs or tonics.

The Sign of Spring Cocktail

I’ll leave you now with an Embitterment signature cocktail that wowed folks who attended the recent 2016 Blue Jeans Ball in support of the Capital Area Food Bank:

1 oz Catoctin Creek Rye

½ oz Don Ciccio & Figli Ibisco (Hibiscus) Liqueur

½ oz Capitoline Rosé Vermouth

3 Dashes Embitterment Orange Bitters

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake vigorously for 15-20 seconds, and strain into a coupe glass.

We may not all enjoy drinking dirt-tasting coffee like my friend Sarah, but hopefully this cocktail will fill you with the joy and budding energy of Spring.

Stay thirsty, stay bitter.

-Eric Kozlik

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