When most people think of a sour, an astringent and nearly fluorescent concoction comes to mind. That’s the sad result of commercially premade sour mix and well whiskey. But Bronson Kistler, bar manager at Westport Café and Bar, would love to dissuade you from that image with the Charlie Sour, his take on the classic cocktail.
Happily, a sour is a category of drinks — not just one bad memory from college. Sours combine an acid with sugar and a base spirit. The Charlie Sour gets sourness from lemon juice and sweetness from orange oil-infused sugar.
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The base spirit adds to the drink’s citrusy flavor profile. Earl Grey tea is infused for 20 minutes into Four Roses bourbon whiskey, leaving a trace of the zesty bergamot oil for which the tea is famous. Add a dash of St.-Germain elderflower liqueur for floral sweetness, and you have a cocktail that is soft and sharp, with bright acidity mingling with the bourbon’s caramel undertones.
And just who is Charlie? He was the 2nd Earl Grey — British Prime Minister Charles Grey — and the rumored recipient of the first blending of Earl Grey tea from China. As legend has it, the tea was created to complement the lime-heavy water at the Grey’s home in Northumberland.
There are varying stories about why Earl Grey was the recipient of this gift, but all tea drinkers can agree that it was most appreciated by those of us who prefer something a bit more nuanced than English Breakfast.
Who says you can’t learn something at a bar?
The Charlie Sour
1.5 oz. Earl Grey tea-infused Four Roses bourbon whiskey
.75 oz. St.-Germain elderflower liqueur
.75 oz. fresh lemon juice
.5 oz. of orange oleo saccharum syrup (recipe follows)
1 Luxardo Maraschino cherry
Directions: Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled coupe glass. Kistler says that with the proper force and vigor, the orange oils create a nice froth for the drink.
Top with a Luxardo cherry, which, contrary to the expected neon red Maraschino cherry, is a dark, sweet and subtly spiced specimen that plays well with the tea flavors.
Orange Oleo Saccharum Syrup
1/2 cup cane sugar
1/2 cup filtered water
Place sugar in a bowl. Using a vegetable peeler, peel rinds of oranges into the sugar, being careful to avoid the pith. Toss the peels and sugar together, muddle well, cover and let sit for six hours.
Add water to the bowl and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Strain out peels and place the syrup in an airtight container in the refrigerator.