A nightcap is perhaps best explained the way Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart defined — or failed to define — pornography in the landmark 1964 ruling: It’s tough to distinguish precisely, but, he famously wrote, “I know it when I see it.” That’s the approach that author Kara Newman appears to have taken in putting together “Nightcap.” The volume, which came out in October, features 40 recipes, most of them created by American bartenders, but when I asked Newman what, exactly, makes a nightcap a nightcap, she paused.
“It should be something to close out an evening, and there are different ways to do that. The drinks that I felt fit nightcap mold best were generally ones made with aged spirits — whiskey, brandy, reposado tequila. But it’s not hard and fast,” she told me. “I was leaning on age because those spirits are warming, comforting, and often have caramel and spiced tones. They lend themselves to an end-of-evening pour.”
She also recalls something bartenders told her when she was writing the book, a revealing linguistic stipulation: A nightcap shouldn’t end in “s.” Its sole purpose is to put a stop to the proceeding and like a period or question mark, you don’t continue a sentence once it’s used.
The book is divided into chapters like “To Send You off to Sleep,” which offers light tipples that provide a gentle kiss goodnight, and “To Keep the Conversation Going,” featuring burly, spiritous drinks for a gradual finale, like the Flapjack Old-Fashioned, Newman’s own riff on the quintessential classic cocktail that employs maple syrup as the sweetener. It’s sure to usher in dreams of New England coziness.
Makes 1 drink
2 ounces aged rum
¾ ounce Cocchi Vermouth di Torino (or sweet vermouth)
¼ ounce maple syrup
Dash Angostura bitters
Whole star anise for garnish
1. Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice.
2. Strain into a rocks glass over a large cube of ice.
3. Garnish with star anise.
Adapted from “Nightcap” (Chronicle Books)Liza Weisstuch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram @livingtheproof.