How to Drink Dandelion Wine, Part 1

Remember last year when we made an experimental batch of dandelion wine? It wasn't very good at all, probably due to our Appalachian-style fermenting methods (a ceramic crock and a towel). Still, we don't like to see anything go to waste, so we figured our moonshine-esque wine might be good (or at least palatable) mixed with something else in a cocktail.

But what, exactly, makes a fine pairing with a fume-y, medicinal liquor of weeds?

We needed help. 

Enter the Iron Bartender Contest, which we hosted this weekend. We invited all of our most creative friends to concoct a drink using at least one ounce (a shot) of dandelion wine. Mixologists whipped up a drink, named it, and then got to taste all the drinks before voting for their three favorites. 

And, oh my stars, did our friends ever step up to this challenge! People came with all kind of fruits, simple syrup, herbs, liquor, wine, teas, and tools. And they were remarkably undeterred from the challenge after tasting straight-up dandelion wine, so once everyone grabbed a patch of countertop, it was Go Time.

Creative kitchen chaos ensued. After all the dust settled from the mixing, we had a line-up of eight different drinks to sample.

Mine was not a winner. 

This is because I started with a perfectly fine wine, but goofed it up by adding orange juice to it in a misguided attempt at a dandelion mimosa. 

Wait, what? A perfectly fine wine? Yes, and I stand by that statement. This is because back in the spring I gathered some herbs to infuse into one of our half-bottles of dandelion wine, hoping that it would improve the flavor. 

My first herb of choice was sweet cicely:

This is an absolutely magical sweeting herb that has a fresh, light anise flavor (I swear, it's subtle). Traditionally it was used to sweeten tart fruits, and I had much success with it in a strawberry rhubarb crisp  and a peach pie — a great way to bake fruit pies with less sugar, by the way. Knowing first-hand the sweetening power of sweet cicely, I used a skewer to poke a handful of leaves into a bottle of the wine. 

After I took this picture, I went back outside and gathered some springs of sweet woodruff for good measure. This herb is delicious in a Reisling to make Maiwein, a traditional German drink. I did a quick oven dry to bring out its flavor and popped it into the wine as well, where I hoped it would add some of its herby vanilla quality to our wine.

That bottle had been sitting, forgotten, in the back of the fridge ever since.

And let me tell you, I would drink that new and improved herb-infused dandelion wine straight, any day of the week. (Well, I actually don't usually drink much during the week, but my point is that it actually tastes good now.)

Of course after sharing lots of swigs (er, sips) around the party, I promptly wasted the rest in my fake, unsparkly mimosa. 

But we still have plenty of dandelion wine left, so when those herbs come up again in the spring, I can infuse another bottle or two.

Or I can make any one of the delicious prize-winning drinks created by our friends. Stay tuned for those recipes in the rest of this series!


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