Bar Talk: October means spooky season is here

Creepy cocktail
Rose Laudicine

The air is definitely fresh autumn, the leaves have turned a striking hue of gold, red and orange, and pumpkins seem to decorate every room and taste every fall treat.

To get the Halloween month off to a festive start, I got together with some friends for a screening of the latest Hocus Pocus movie, as did many other ’90s kids the moment the movie released on Disney+.

While Hocus Pocus 2 isn’t scary by any means, we’ve gotten into the witch theme and made some themed spooky treats, including a drink to enjoy while we watch a piece of our childhood come alive.

Most October-themed drinks tend to be pumpkin or pumpkin spice flavored, but as mentioned, we wanted witchy vibes, so we opted for a dark and pumpkin-free drink for the evening event.

Using a recipe from the blog as a starting point, we added our own twist to the brew and whipped up a drink I think the Sanderson sisters would be proud of.

The original recipe called for gin, basil or mint, blueberries, activated charcoal, lemon juice and ginger beer.

To save steps and reduce the amount of time we spend searching for activated charcoal in the Roaring Fork Valley, we took two ingredients and made them one by grabbing a bottle of Jus Aspen Charcoal Lemonade.

Then, instead of using Original Ginger Beer, we used Hibiscus Ginger Beer to add another layer of flavor and a deeper color to the drink.

The original recipe says you can use basil or mint; we chose basil, which you can find fresh today at Aspen’s last Saturday market; and for us, the more basil, the better in this drink.

We blended about eight to ten leaves into the base of each glass and it delivered a fantastic herbal punch in flavor and aroma that added a savory element of sorts to the cocktail.

In addition to the basil, a handful of blueberries are mixed into each glass and we opted for recently frozen berries, which turned out to be the right choice as the frozen blueberries retained some bite and added a certain coolness to the drink. Warm berries might have added a less appetizing texture.

However, if the idea of ​​semi-frozen mashed blueberries in your drink doesn’t appeal to you, you can mash them in the cocktail shaker and strain with a strainer to preserve flavor and remove texture.

Then, in your shaker of choice – I used a mason jar – add the charcoal lemonade. Be sure to shake the lemonade first to get the right balance of charcoal and lemonade: two ounces per cocktail.

Add two ounces of your gin of choice to the shaker. We made two rounds of this cocktail, the first with Leopold Brothers Gin and the second with Empress Gin. Both rounds tasted great, but the richer dark color was achieved with the Empress Gin, which already starts off with a fun bluish-purple color thanks to the use of butterfly pea flowers.

Pour ice into shaker, cover with lid and shake to combine and chill all ingredients.

Pour the dark drink into a glass with ice – we went with Rocks glasses – and top it off with the hibiscus ginger beer.

The result is a creepy yet delicious drink that’s herbaceous and juicy – not too sweet and definitely one to sip on all evening.

It’s not exactly a spirited drink, but surprisingly fresh despite the dark color. It’s easy to make at home, even for a beginning bartender.

What really helped make the drink special, aside from the black color thanks to the activated charcoal, was the combination of basil and blueberries – especially the blueberries, as they’re a flavor not often used in cocktails. Most cocktails seem to call for blackberries or raspberries, and the blueberries in this drink helped give it a unique and refreshing element.

This drink is great for a small get-together, but I might not recommend it for a larger gathering unless someone is bartending all night, as each round requires freshly mixed herbs and berries; As a batch drink, the flavors wouldn’t last as well.

Cheers to the spooky season, made even better with haunting drinks in hand.

If you do…

(recipe for three cocktails)
Eight to ten basil leaves per jar

Small handful of blueberries per glass

6 ounces of charcoal soda

6 ounces of gin

1 can of Hibiscus Ginger Beer

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