It would be generous to say that grappa's an acquired taste. A byproduct of wine (made from the stems, seeds and skins of grapes), it's got a smell best described as "highly flammable."
But Bryan Dietz thinks grappa's got great potential in the craft-cocktail world.
The field market manager for Infinium Spirits, Dietz's job is to get the booze he represents onto bar shelves. Lucky for him, there's a slew of bartenders champing at the hi-ball glass to come up with cocktails based on unusual ingredients. Even luckier is having a pro like Jen Queen—whose brilliant vermouth I wrote about last November—to be the vanguard mixologist.
A couple weeks ago, Dietz hosted a cocktail-pairing dinner at Prepkitchen, where Queen bartends. The four courses highlighted four liqueurs: Candolini Ruta Grappa, Fernet Branca, Caffe Borghetti and Carpano Antica vermouth.
Candolini is a grappa alla ruta, meaning it's infused with rue, a bitter herb used in ancient times for all kinds of strange things. While I'd never drink this on its own and wouldn't trust myself to come up with a way to make it drinkable, it's a gorgeous bottle.
Queen, meanwhile, "tamed the beast," as Dietz put it, mixing the grappa with smoked honey, candied ginger and a lemon twist. The result was smoky and clean with just the right amount of sweetness. The grappa was there if you looked for it, adding a subtle complexity to the drink.
But the biggest surprise of the evening was the Caffe Borghetti, an Italian liqueur made from espresso—kind of like the European version of Kahlua, but better. Unlike Kahlua, Borghetti's been available in the U.S. for only about a decade and is tough to find (try Old Town Liquor or Holiday Wine Cellar in Escondido). Dietz hopes to change that.
"My agenda this year is coffee drinks," he says.
If you can find it, mix up Queen's Borghetti cocktail:
1 oz. rye whiskey (recommended: Templeton)
1 oz. Caffe Borghetti
1 oz. dry curacao (recommended: Pierre Ferrand)
Dash of bitters
Put ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice, shake and strain into a glass with ice.