The last few months of the year can be an overwhelming time for anyone, let alone an event planner. Professionally, there are so many holidays to take into account between September and January across multiple cultures and traditions, and many are substantial family gatherings as well (which, if you celebrate them yourself, will amount to some level of coordination and stress at a personal level no matter your relationship with said family). But because of all of these holidays, there are also so many ways to celebrate with food, and so many delicious ways to do so. Fall itself, I’d argue, is enough of a reason to indulge on even the smallest of levels.
For my first series of themed posts (hereafter entitled “Feastories”), I am going to focus on pulling together a quintessential fall gathering full of seasonal flavors. This means pumpkins and acorn squash; apples and apple cider; cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves; and in my book, (surprise) bourbon. I’m calling this theme An Autumn Affair, and the idea came from an impromptu September evening with our good friends in Delaware, Rob and Emily. Rob and I have a habit of colluding on various new recipes, and what started as the split decision to make this Brûléed Bourbon-Maple Pumpkin Pie turned into a four-person dinner party complete with home-made drinks on a random Saturday night. This was how we found the Honey Bear Bourbon Cocktail.
Over the next few weeks, I will introduce some fall-inspired recipes to enjoy as the temperatures begin to drop. So as the end of the year rapidly approaches, I hope you can put some time aside from all the craziness, call on a few loved ones, and take a moment to enjoy the season.
Honey Bear Bourbon Cocktail with Citrus-Sage Syrup
Recipe adapted from the Bourbon Honey Bear Cocktail featured on The Glitter Guide
The recipe I’d like to share today is a lovely one, and friends – I’m kind of obsessed with this drink. As delicious as our first attempt at the Honey Bear Bourbon Cocktail was that night in September, I wasn’t satisfied with the original recipe. It was written to make only one cocktail with a single serving of syrup – a lot of work for just one drink. We made it into a quadruple-batch on the fly during our get-together, but in preparation for sharing it with you I’ve been making batches of the syrup like crazy to make sure it comes out right. Each time I’m impressed by the layering of flavors that come through.
The key to the Honey Bear Bourbon Cocktail is most assuredly the Citrus-Sage Syrup, and it does take a little time. Once made though, you will have a large batch that will last in the fridge for 3-4 weeks in a sterilized jar or bottle. I never see the point in spending so much time on something unless you can make enough to share!
If you haven’t made a simple syrup before, the holiday season is a great time to start. Once you’ve made it at home, it’s hard to go back to anything you might find store-bought. A basic simple syrup can be used in a multitude of drinks, and is just one part sugar mixed with one part water, simmered over medium heat until it reduces slightly and a clear syrup forms. Maybe the thought of that intimidates you – don’t worry! My instructions might look long, but it’s mostly just tips and tricks so you can learn from my mistakes (and even then, none of my mistakes ever ruined a batch). The hardest part about making your own syrup is having the patience to let it reduce properly. Otherwise, it’s just a matter of mixing the ingredients and letting them simmer on the stove.
If you have made a simple syrup before, the major difference with this recipe is that rather than the classic use of equal parts white sugar and water, we are substituting a combination of raw sugar and honey, and then infusing it with sage leaves and slices of orange. You can use regular sugar if you’d like, but raw sugar makes for a richer, darker syrup that pairs beautifully with the warm flavors of the cocktail without being overpowering. The result is a brightly flavored apple cocktail with sweet and herbal notes.
For more information on simple syrup, storage, and all the amazing variations you can make on your own, check out these two helpful links:
Honey Bear Bourbon Cocktail
Adapted from The Glitter Guide
- 1 oz High-quality bourbon
- 1 oz Citrus-Sage Syrup (recipe below)
- 2 oz Apple cider
- Ice cubes
- Orange slices and sage leaves to garnish
Layer bourbon and citrus-sage syrup in a highball glass with ice; stir.
Top with apple cider and garnish with an orange slice and a few sage leaves.
On Proportions: The above recipe allows the bourbon to play a major part in the composition. If you prefer a less strong liquor flavor in your drinks (like my husband), feel free to add more apple cider or syrup to taste; although I suggest using the syrup sparingly as too much more could make the drink cloyingly sweet (unless that's your goal!).
Makes approximately 2 cups of syrup
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup Raw or Turbinado sugar
- 1 cup (or 8 oz) Local honey
- 1 Orange, cut into segments with one quarter reserved for garnish
- 12 Large sage leaves
Combine water, raw sugar, and honey in a medium sauce pan.
Simmer the mixture over medium heat for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally to evenly combine the ingredients. You’ll want to keep an eye on the pot as it can start to bubble over if the heat is too high or left unattended too long. You will know it’s ready when all the sugar and honey has dissolved, the mixture has thickened slightly, and it has reduced by ⅓ to ½ of the original amount. It should have a translucent rich caramel color.
While this is simmering, wash the orange well and slice it into segments. Reserve a quarter of the orange slices to be used as garnishes.
Reduce heat to medium low, and add the remaining three quarters of the orange slices and the sage leaves to the syrup. Allow to simmer, not boil, for 40 minutes to 1 hour. The oranges will release more liquid into the pot, thinning out the syrup you just made; the goal is to reduce the mixture again until it’s thick and tastes of oranges and sage.
Once reduced to your preferred consistency and flavor, strain the mixture into a measuring cup, pressing the fruit slices to get as much syrup out of them as possible. Allow the syrup to cool before transferring it into a sterilized jar for storage. Discard the oranges and sage leaves. The syrup is best used when cold, and can be made ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator until needed. Leftover syrup will keep 3-4 weeks in the fridge.
On Measuring Honey: If you have a small kitchen scale, rather than measure out the honey I’ve found it easier to place the pot on the scale and pour the honey directly into the pot until you’ve added the requisite number of ounces. This eliminates the sticky step of trying to transfer honey from the measuring cup into the pot, which invariably results in some lost honey (and no one wants that on their conscience).
On Types of Honey: Also, it might sound delicious to use raw honey in this recipe. While it would be fine, I recommend you save the expensive stuff for drizzling on cheese or to have in your tea; it may sound obvious, but it took reading it someplace for me to realize using raw honey in a heated preparation defeats the whole purpose of buying raw to begin to with! I try to use local honey, but any conventional, pure honey you enjoy the taste of will work perfectly.