Monday, September 19, 2016

Mixology Monday: European Vagrant

European Vagrant

Is it already time for Mixology Monday again? I feel like August and September have flown by. That's not really a bad thing - I'm so excited for the start of fall. Cooler weather, fall colors, hair that doesn't frizz within moments of walking outside... it's possibly my favorite season.

Mixology Monday
This month's MxMo is hosted by Rebecca of The Shrubbery, and the theme is Drink Nerdy. Acknowledging that all of us who participate in MxMo are probably nerdy about cocktails, Rebecca has challenged us to create a cocktail inspired by something else we're nerdy about. This is such a fun challenge, and I'm excited to see what everyone else likes to geek out over.

As both a devoted fantasy reader and a scientist, I can get pretty nerdy about a lot of things. But the most unique thing I'm nerdy about is probably birds.

I have no idea why I started liking birds, but I've been interested in them for the longest time. Around seventh grade, I decided I was going to be an ornithologist, and that's what I've pursued ever since. I defended my PhD thesis last year, so I guess I've officially fulfilled my childhood dream! While my enthusiasm for the world of academia has waned a bit, I've never lost interest in birds. They are just hands-down the coolest animals out there, and I feel so lucky that I get to spend my time studying them. And while I’ve never gotten into the crazy competitive side of birdwatching (oh yes, this exists), I do keep a life list and get pretty darn excited when I see a new species.

When I started thinking about what it means to be a bird nerd, I thought the concept was well encapsulated by a brief exchange I witnessed a couple of weeks ago. My lab went out to Plum Island to watch shorebirds, and there were tons of other birders there. We were all lined up by the road with binoculars and spotting scopes, gazing out at the birds on the mudflats. Two girls pulled up in a car behind us, peering out at the sea. I don’t like to jump to conclusions based on appearances, but I’m going to guess that these ladies were not the type to do much birding.

“What are you all looking at?” one asked.

One of the other birders turned around and said excitedly, “A Ruff! It’s a European vagrant!”

I have no idea why she didn’t share our enthusiasm.

“Vagrant” is the word we use to describe a bird that turns up somewhere it shouldn’t be. Most bird species have well-defined ranges where they occur, but every now and then an individual will end up somewhere odd due to a storm or some confusion during migration. Birders get really excited when this happens. The Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) is a shorebird that generally only occurs in the Old World, so getting the chance to see one in Massachusetts was pretty cool.

But still quite nerdy.

The Ruff, Philomachus pugnax. This is what we saw, except much further away, somewhat blurry, and surrounded by native Massachusetts shorebirds that looked basically identical. I don't know why no one thinks birding is exciting.

For my European Vagrant cocktail, I wanted to work with local ingredients and throw in one very European one. While thinking about thoroughly American ingredients, I was reminded of the American Trilogy, a riff on the Old Fashioned with rye and apple brandy. I decided to replace the orange bitters with an Italian amaro. After some experimentation, the winner was Amaro Nonino. I thought the nutty flavors of Nonino blended really nicely with the apple, and it provides just the right amount of sweetness and bitterness. Unfortunately I haven't introduced Nonino yet with a Bottle Buy, but stay tuned! It's coming soon.

One more note - as with my original American Trilogy, I made this recipe with Laird's Applejack, which is a poor man's apple brandy (about 35% apple brandy, I believe). I need to hunt down a bottle of Laird's Bonded Apple Brandy and make these cocktails properly. That said, I still really enjoy them with the Applejack, and I think you will too if that's what you have on hand.

European Vagrant

European Vagrant

1 oz. rye whiskey
1 oz. Laird's Applejack or Bonded Apple Brandy
1/2 oz. Amaro Nonino
1/2 tsp. simple syrup

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir until chilled. Strain into an old fashioned glass with one large ice cube. Garnish with an apple fan and an orange twist (and preferably a bird-themed cocktail pick).


  1. Amazing name! I might have to try this drink with every Amaro I have in the house.

    1. I tried everything I had! Cynar was the runner up.