Does the old saying, “necessity is the mother of invention” apply to cocktails? I suppose to some people it’s hard to recognize the need for a refreshing beverage, but that didn’t stop my sister from buying a bottle of Villa Italia Blood Orange soda this past weekend. You see, she already had a well-stocked liquor cabinet, but wanted—or rather needed—a good mixer. So, after returning from Trader Joe’s, she pulled this gourmet soda from the bag with the thought that I would be able to come up with something.
While I normally enjoy creating delicious cocktails using only the best, fresh ingredients, I wasn’t about to back down from a challenge. Armed with a few ideas, I wandered around the back of the house to inspect the herbs. Even with autumn upon us there was still hope for adding a bit of freshness to this drink. Finally, I came up with a solution: The Blood Orange Crusher.
This drink takes advantage of items that are pretty easy to get any time of the year. I hate to admit this, but there’s no fresh citrus in this cocktail. I know—it’s like an Italian chef using Ragu, or a pastry chef using Cool Whip. I am sure I could come up with a truly incredible alternative using freshly-squeezed blood oranges, seltzer and simple syrup—but that was not the point. Remember, this was a challenge based on simple ingredients, and I think the result was a triumph.
Blood Orange Crusher
2 oz bourbon
1/4 oz agave nectar
2 sprigs of fresh spearmint
4 oz Villa Italia Blood Orange Soda
Place a sprig of mint into a collins glass, cover with the agave nectar and add the bourbon. Gently muddle the mint to release the oils. Fill the glass with ice and top with Blood Orange soda. Stir everything to mix. Garnish with a fresh sprig of mint and serve with a straw.
You’re probably thinking, “What’s agave nectar? I thought this was supposed to be easy! Fresh spearmint?” Ok, hold on a second. Agave nectar is really not difficult to obtain. You should be able to find it at any grocery store. It’s a sugar alternative from the blue agave—the same plant used to make tequila. This syrup is usually located near other sugar products like honey and molasses. It’s available at Trader Joe’s, so just pick it up at the same time you get the soda.
As for the mint, your best option is to pull it from your own mint plant. You did plant mint earlier this year, right? Well, if not, mint should not be hard to find at the grocery store either. Just buy the freshest bunch you can find and keep it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. It’s probably worth noting that mint does not need to be pounded into a pulp to release it’s flavors. In fact, most cocktail enthusiasts agree that mint actually tastes worse the more it is disturbed. It takes very little muddling to release the oils from the leaves, while heavy mulching will result in strong bitter flavors that will definitely affect your results. Keep this in mind when making mojitos, juleps or anything else you enjoy with fresh spearmint. For the garnish, I like to give it a good slap in my hands before adding it to the drink. This releases the fresh mint scent into the air and over your drink and it’s all that is needed to bring out plenty of flavor.
So how does it taste? It’s a sweet drink not that far from a mojito. The mint is subtle, but it’s there, and the agave nectar plays well with the bourbon and orange. I suppose you could use just about any whiskey if you want, and honestly, even regular orange soda would suffice. Sometimes a drink like this is just too sweet for some people, so you could try cutting the soda in half and add sparkling water. It’s definitely an easy drinker. I know I’d rather have this combination than just orange soda any day!
So there you have it, a refreshing cocktail that takes advantage of basic ingredients and does not necessitate a lot of preparation. We also did a Collins variation using gin, lemon juice and blueberry soda which was also delicious. You see, It doesn’t always have to be complicated, folks. Grab something you don’t normally drink and see what you can create. Experiment. Taste it. Is it too sweet? Too sour? Adjust your proportions for good balance. Then, give it a fancy name. Sure, you could call mine an Orange Whiskey Collins, but Blood Orange Crusher sounds so much more impressive. Perhaps you can do even better.