Please head over to your nearest music listening device. Anything will do, as long as it’s loud, although today a record player would be best if you can wrangle it.
Please call up the Rolling Stones and hit ‘play’. If you can’t do that, I don’t really know how to help you. I’m afraid you better move on.
Because today is a very, very important day that calls for a special soundtrack. I can’t be in Portland this morning, but that won’t stop me from wishing a certain Nikki G. a most excellent 22nd birthday in the next best way.
Graduation from Reed College, May 2012
Nikki and I both drew semi-unfortunate housing lots before our sophomore year of college, I as a House Adviser, she as one of my “dormies”. We should have at least heard of each other before then, but even at our very small college, we managed to live on opposite sides of campus, have none of the same classes, and ignore each other in the dining hall (I did find out later that Nikki was the very-harried chemistry lab partner to another of my best friends, so our eventual friendship was inevitable). We were fated to live on the basement floor of the dingiest dorm on campus (“You’ll brighten up the halls,” they said. “We need you down there,” they said.) where nobody lived after freshman year unless they were inclined to join any of the eccentric theme floors in the building or had a terrible lottery number. In Nikki’s case, she’d settled for the tiny room with the stuck windows because she would only have to spend a few months there before departing for Paris.
We were friendly for a month or two at first. Possibly we each recognized a kindred spirit in the other, though we had never had more than brief pleasant conversations in the hall. Demanding classes and separate social circles kept us from real camaraderie, but all it took was a pizza to establish our true friendship, which should come as a surprise to no one. We found ourselves in the dorm at an off hour one night–we’d missed dinner, our friends were out, and we were both skulking around with nothing to do, so we ordered a pizza straight to the common room and gossiped for hours.
In some ways, we are as different as can be. Nikki is the tall brunette–and the G. in her name actually stands for “gregarious”–and I’m more of the short, shy, blonde type, but this friendship works. After the pizza night sophomore year, our rapport took off like a rolling stone.
Now, to the Stones. When I told Nikki excitedly, “I just started listening to the Rolling Stones!” as though I had personally discovered them, she didn’t laugh at me (like she should have) but instead exclaimed, “They’re my favorites!” and played me an album in the campus coffee shop. That became a theme over the next few years; I would wander in for a coffee in various states of consciousness, she would supply it, and we would rehash the weekend’s events over the sweet strains of Keith and the boys.
Since I can’t have a birthday drink with Nikki in person today, I have taken one of her favorite bands and one of her favorite cocktails, and put them together. I would like to introduce “Nicole’s Rock and R-Old Fashioned”–a loving cup from me to you!
Nicole’s Rock and R-Old Fashioned
Makes 1, once. Repeat as needed.
Now you must understand that I’m usually the gin-soaked queen in this friendship. Bourbon is reserved for those nights I’m feeling terribly, terribly bold. But you can’t make an old-fashioned that riffs on the Rolling Stones without bourbon, so that’s exactly where I started.
Kentucky Bourbon, like ya do.
I am neither mixologist nor food stylist nor photographer, so I made this all up from start to finish with a little help from the web. I tested two versions of the old-fashioned, with no expectations as to which would be better.
If I recall correctly, Nikki is full of good sense and does not care for maraschino cherries one whit. They have no place in a nice drink, but I wanted something to add a little punch. I took a cup of dried Columbia river tart cherries, to rep our Pacific Northwest, and drowned them in a jar of Maker’s Mark in hopes that they would reconstitute nicely for a garnish. I also planned to omit the orange slice, which some might call blasphemy, but think about it: the Stones wouldn’t mess with silly little orange slices in their drinks. I added some lemon zest to the jar of cherries and bourbon instead, to add a little more depth. The cherries took much longer to plump up than I had expected, so I let the mixture sit for a couple of days.
These cherries are absolutely smashed by now.
Once they were good and liquored up, I set about testing the old-fashioneds. I made a simple syrup with brown sugar instead of white, because, how could I not? It was sweeter than I anticipated, so I started with half an ounce of the syrup, and a couple dashes of bitters.
Before pouring in the whiskey, it occurred to me that I might taste the cherry mixture first. I know there are some of you who’d cry foul at using it in such a fashion–whiskey sullied with fruit!–but please, have some courtesy and get off of my cloud. It was a tremendously exciting idea.
Cherry Bourbon Old-Fashioned, Take 1
Cherry Bourbon Old-Fashioned, Take 2
I don’t own anything that resembles a proper old-fashioned glass, so I disassembled a small canning jar for the drinks. It’s about the right size, gives a little nod to “that Portland thing” about sipping from jars, and has a little bit of honky-tonk-ity to it. Perfect.
I couldn’t taste the cherries in the bourbon at first, because even half an ounce of brown sugar syrup overpowered two ounces of whiskey. I added a bit more whiskey, and found it better, especially after chewing on a tart, boozy cherry. The cherries came out the real winners of this experiment. They’d make a wicked little snack over vanilla ice cream, if you need to go there.
For the next old-fashioned, I took the traditional route. A hint less than half an ounce of syrup, a few dashes of bitters, two ounces whiskey, with cherries to garnish.
This take was nice, in the sense that it conjured fond yet hazy memories of running around campus, soaking wet, during Reed’s end-of-the-year festival (you had to be there, really…). Perfect if you feel like playing with fire, but a bit much if you’d like to get on with your day. So I did something I hadn’t planned on doing, and added a splash of water. The Classics major in me likes things as pure as possible, and adding water felt like a cop-out, but it did serve to mellow the drink to my liking.
I hadn’t forgotten about the cherry bourbon concoction. When I tasted it again, with the extra whiskey and a few more melted ice cubes, it was much more pleasant. The sweetness of the sugar was less pronounced, and the cherries added just a little something extra to the whiskey–not enough to be identifiable, but enough to be different. I’d have finished this one, but I had to sway my way back to the kitchen to clean up and hightail it out of town for a brief vacation.
Just Can’t Seem To Drink You Off My MIIIIIIIIIIND!
I wound up with a couple of tasty drinks, a jar of evilly-tasty cherries, and a bunch of Stones songs stuck in my head. This whole experiment would have been greatly improved if I’d had Nikki around to help me finish the bourbon, but you can’t always get what you want. Given our current unfortunate distance, the tribute would have to do, and sometimes, you get what you need. Which, in our case, is almost always a strong drink.
Happy happy birthday, Nikki, from me, Keith, and Mick!
Let It Rock
P.S. I’ll buy you a drink if you caught all the Stones references.