Looking for a cool, new summer drink to toast these last weeks of August? How about this prize-winning cocktail with a refreshingly romantic - if somewhat surprising - list of ingredients? (Don't worry, it's easy to make too.)
The Russian Caravan Cocktail is the creation of home mixologist Vitaliy Bukhtulov, who perfected his original recipe for a contest held in New York City last month, the Brandy Library's Bourbon Cocktail Challenge, sponsored by Elijah Craig. The objective was to create an all-new bourbon-based cocktail. Competition was stiff. Vitaliy's sweet and smoky cocktail won out over more than 40 other promising entries.
Apart from being just downright refreshing, much of the unique appeal of Vitaliy's recipe lies in its use of subtly layered flavors, coming from an unlikely combination of sources. Added to a base of Kentucky bourbon are measures of elderflower liqueur from the French Alps, lemon juice, honey, and pine-smoked Russian black tea.
Intrigued, I asked Vitaliy where he found his inspiration.
"Long time ago in Russia, smoked tea (delivered by camel caravans as opposed to by ships), was much more expensive than any variety of tea. According to stories, the smoky aroma was added by campfires that caravans had on their way to Russia from China. Nowadays, several Russian Caravan and other smoked teas are available that re-create that special aroma."
He went on to explain that when he heard about the competition, he "immediately thought of the Russian smoked black tea. I thought it would make a good match with bourbon that gains great flavor from wood during the aging process in barrels. St. Germain also adds some unique flavor to this cocktail."
Russian Caravan Cocktail (by Vitaliy Bukhtulov)
1 1/4 ounces bourbon (Vitaliy used Elijah Craig 12 Year Old)
1 ounce pine-smoked black tea, infused with a bit of honey while steeping, then chilled (Vitaliy used Russian Caravan by Choice Organic Teas available at Whole Foods. He cautions not to over-steep it lest its strong, smoky flavor overpower the cocktail.)
1/2 ounce St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
Splash of fresh lemon juice
Club soda (for topping up drink)
Combine all ingredients except for the club soda in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well and strain into a chilled glass filled with ice. Top up with club soda and garnish with a lemon twist.
Nora Maynard is a longtime home mixologist and an occasional instructor at NYC's Astor Center. She is a contributor to The Business of Food: Encyclopedia of the Food and Drink Industries and is the recipient of the American Egg Board Fellowship in culinary writing at the Writers' Colony at Dairy Hollow. She previously covered food and drink in film at The Kitchn in her weekly column, The Celluloid Pantry.
(Images: Nora Maynard)