Earlier this summer, I received a bottle of Cathead Honeysuckle Vodka from Bottle Tree Beverage Company in Gluckstadt, Mississippi. The press release describes the vodka as the “first legally-distilled spirit in Mississippi,” a clever explanation that's as cute as the vodka's name.
Cathead is a loose reference to Cat Heads, a moniker for blues musicians in the Mississippi Delta. The relationship extends to the brand's philanthropy as well. For every bottle sold, the company contributes one dollar to the Music Maker Relief Foundation, a non-profit supporting Southern musicians.
But back to my bottle of honeysuckle vodka: It's still unopened on my kitchen counter (amazing restraint on my part, I know). I've been waiting to throw a dinner party to try my hand at new craft cocktails for the summer. In the meantime, I discovered the Il Gatto at Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, a refreshing and delicate mix of Cathead Honeysuckle Vodka, Yellow Chartreuse, house-made rhubarb bitters, seltzered sangria, fresh strawberries and a splash of orange juice. The sangria, shot through a seltzer bottle, gives the drink a nice light effervescence.
Manager Nick Talarico makes the sangria with fresh herbs and fruit such as mint, tarragon, green apples, oranges and strawberries. “Nick's sangria is very herbaceous, so it balances nicely with the honeysuckle flavor,” explained bartender Shaun Stukenborg. “I love this cocktail because it's refreshing for summer but still packs a punch.”
The recipe for the restaurant's Il Gatto (which means cat, btw) is below, followed by a second cocktail called Contrabando that calls for St. Germain and a dropper full of hibiscus tincture. The recipe also explains how to make the tincture at home, which might be the motivation I need to get going on that dinner party.
Additional recipes are on the Cathead site, including a delicious sounding concoction made with watermelon, honeysuckle vodka and freshly-squeezed lime juice.
1 ounce Cathead Honeysuckle Vodka
.5 ounce Yellow Chartreuse
.25 ounce orange juice
4 drops rhubarb bitters
2 ounces seltzered sangria
Fill a Tom Collins glass with ice. Add all of the ingredients except the sangria. If you can’t find rhubarb bitters, try to find another flavored bitter that you like (or make rhubarb bitters, which is what we do). We make our sangria with Chablis, strawberries, green apples, oranges, mint and tarragon, let it sit for 24 hours, then filter the sangria into a seltzer bottle (any extra bits will clog the seltzer bottle). Once the ingredients are in the Tom Collins glass, shoot the sangria in to fill, about two ounces. The sangria will come out with enough force to gently mix the cocktail.
1.5 ounce Cathead Honeysuckle Vodka
.5 ounce St. Germain
.5 ounce lime juice
.25 ounce simple syrup
1 basil leaf
Full dropper of hibiscus tincture
Tear basil leaf into small bits and add all ingredients except the tincture into a shaker. Shake until cold (a damp hand will stick to the metal shaker when it’s the proper temperature). Shaking the basil with the ice will release enough of the flavor of the basil without turning it into pulp as it would if you muddle it in simple syrup. Pour over ice in a rocks glass. Over the top, squeeze an entire dropper’s worth of hibiscus tincture and do not stir; it will look beautiful and smell better.
Tinctures are great aromatic garnishes and easy to make at home. For this one, we take one cup of dried hibiscus flowers, two cups of high alcohol content vodka and put it in a mason jar for two weeks, storing it in a cool, dark place. Every day we give it a good shake and after two weeks, strain the deep red tincture into blue, dropper bottles.