We were browsing old, saved recipes and found this Violet Hour sipper shared by Toby Maloney many years ago. It shares a name with a more popular drink by Dale DeGroff—or maybe our notes are wrong. In any case, we are almost out of Wild Turkey 101 Rye, and since we have all of the other ingredients, we decided to seize the opportunity to finally try this. It’s definitely a riff on the Manhattan which is fine by us. It also brings some additional depth and complexity to the flavor profile which we appreciate. A classic whiskey and sweet vermouth Manhattan is always a solid choice, but why not expand the concept when you can? This is great example of how just a few adjustments can really take the formula in interesting directions. And while Toby calls for specific brands here in order to achieve the exact balance and experience he was going for when he created it, nothing should stop you from taking inspiration from these ingredients and making it your own.
Velvet Fog by Toby Maloney
2 oz Wild Turkey 101 Rye
1 oz Punt e Mes
.5 oz Crème de Cacao
.25 oz Nux Alpina Walnut Liqueur
Add everything to mixing glass and stir with ice to chill and dilute. Strain into a chilled coupe.
Let’s break this down and explain why everything works so nicely. First, we have a 101-proof American rye. This bold choice helps bring emphasis to the base spirit. Rye is often described as having a sharper, peppery character compared to bourbon. That might work too, but rye maybe adds some backbone and an edge that might be missed with smooth or sweet-flavored bourbon. Wild Turkey is great, but we suspect Rittenhouse would work, or potentially any higher-proof rye.
Punt e Mes stands in as the sweet vermouth here and establishes this drink as a more sophisticated variation because of its bitter overtones. To our taste it also has bittersweet chocolate notes. It is a product that many regard as a bridge between a vermouth and an amaro. We love to keep it around if only just to make the Red Hook.
The next two ingredients are what really set this drink apart. Crème de Cacao is obviously a chocolate liqueur and Nux Alpina is brand of nocino. Together, these add a nutty candy bar flavor. If there is one criticism for this cocktail it’s that it comes across a little sweet—but in a good way. The brand of cacao doesn’t really matter, and you could use light or dark. There are other brands of walnut liqueur too or you could even make your own. In spite of owning Nux Alpina, we really want to try this again using or own homemade nocino!
Salt is the finishing touch. Just a pinch really does help bring everything together. It also tames the bitter flavors of the Punt e Mes. Salt in cocktails is a revelation and completely underrated. We need to consider it more often, even in citrus recipes. Here, you could use a pinch of kosher, but a dash of pre-mixed saline solution is a better choice going forward because it is already dissolved and you get a little more control.
Sometimes, a drink like this leads to experimentation or substitution, either as a part of creative exploration or out of necessity. We would like to try subbing Cynar for some of the Punt e Mes, maybe with some regular sweet vermouth instead. Making your own vermouth/amaro mix could lead to some interesting riffs. Another fortified wine like a Madeira or even sherry could also work here. You may inadvertently reinvent a drink that already exists, or make something even better than the original. Will it retain the red velvet cake hue and flavor? Will it evoke images of Lake Michigan fog blanketing the Chicago skyline? You tell us.