Photo by Chris Casella

Bar Bet: Candy Canes

Bartenders, while a friendly bunch, can sometimes be a bit competitive. Each season, as new menus roll out across town, there is a bit of cocktail envy that inevitably takes place. With a seemingly endless pool of ingredients to choose from when formulating a new drink—and a similarly endless list of failed attempts to use them—(614) presents Bar Bet, a special cocktail challenge for bartenders to come up with a cocktail using a weird ingredient of their challenger’s choice.


Well here we are, a brand new year, and a brand new edition of Bar Bet. Last month, Sean Ward of Giuseppe’s Ritrovo challenged Nicole Hollerman, Bar Director at Veritas Tavern in Delaware, to create a cocktail using candy canes as an ingredient. Well she did it, and it’s great, but before we get to that, I have a request. In the Year of our Lord, 2015, can we stop writing the same article about Delaware that we have been writing for years?

I’m getting really tired of reading articles about how surprised the author was to find a cool place in Delaware. Are we really still surprised? There’s Staas Brewing, the not even two-year-old microbrewery that can barely keep up with demand for its beers. Vito’s Wine Bar has a great selection of bottles and wines to taste, and an equally excellent whiskey bar in the back where you can have the owner mix you a Manhattan. This past September, 1808 American Bistro not only got me to eat half of an enormous roasted head of cauliflower as an appetizer, they actually got me to enjoy it. Like really, really enjoy it. From now on, can we stop with the notion that Delaware is some quaint bucolic village, and it’s so cute when they play around with cocktails and food—Delaware has been cool for quite some time. When Sean chose to challenge Nicole from Veritas, I was excited. Veritas has been putting out some cutting edge fantastic drinks and food for a few years now, and when I hear their name, I expect something great.

Was I surprised that the drink exceeded my expectations? No. Of course it did.

Photo by Chris Casella

Photo by Chris Casella

Nicole chose to do a twist on a Tom and Jerry cocktail, which you might not be familiar with unless you have family in Wisconsin, or a proclivity for drinks with batter as an ingredient. The drink is thought to have originated in 1820s England, where it was named after the novel and play Life in London, or The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn Esq. and his Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom. Nope, not the cartoon cat and mouse. For close to 100 years, the drink was popular around England and the United States, but has now fallen into relative obscurity everywhere except the dairy state, where they tend to drink more brandy than most (try ordering an Old Fashioned in Milwaukee) and aren’t afraid of some eggs in their drink. The original recipe calls for batter made of egg whites whipped to stiff peaks (yes, it’s fun to type that) and folded into beaten egg yolks, sugar, allspice, nutmeg, and rum. This is then spooned into a warmed mug, and brandy and hot milk are poured over the top. It is hot, it is delicious, and it means Christmas time to a small percentage of America.

& Nice

2 oz. batter (egg yolk, egg white,
sugar, house allspice dram, and
candy cane tincture)

2 oz. brandy

1 tsp. ancho
hot chocolate powder

1 tsp. instant coffee granules

1 tsp. candy cane powder

3 oz. frothed cream

1 oz. house Irish cream

Garnished with Alinea-inspired chocolate, candy cane cotton candy, and candy cane bark.

Nicole’s recipe is, well…a bit more involved. She laughed as she told me about the somewhat ridiculous garnish she chose for the drink. Featuring homemade candy cane bark, a homemade chocolate candy with more liquid chocolate inside, and candy cane cotton candy flowing from the top—compliments of the cotton candy machine on the bar. She went all out decorating this drink. Inside the mug, brandy met with ancho chile chocolate, instant coffee, frothed milk, that delicious batter, and a candy cane tincture made by pulverizing candy canes and letting grain alcohol absorb and concentrate the flavor. This is exactly the drink you want on a cold day, and a great way to use up all those boxes of candy canes left over from the holidays. I’d much rather drink my candy canes with a little booze, or eat them in the form of soft pillowy cotton candy than accidentally stab myself because I sucked them down into a needle-sharp point. You know you’ve done it.
With so many treats decorating the drink, we figured we should come up with a step-by-step method to enjoy the drink, an order of operations if you will. After a bit of debate, and some input from photographer Chris Casella, this is what we decided:

Step 1: Place cotton candy on your tongue.
Step 2: Take a sip of the drink, allowing it to dissolve the cotton candy as it hits your palette.
Step 3: Pop the entire chocolate into your mouth and let its rivers of liquid chocolate flow.
Step 4: Just snack on that candy cane bark in between sips.
Step 5: Order another.

Cheers, Nicole—you have exceeded all expectations, just as I knew you would. After all, this is Delaware, Ohio, we’re talking about, not some quaint bucolic village. P.S. I’ll be back for some of that Stagg Jr. I saw on your back bar. Count on it. Up next: Nicole challenged a heavy hitter of the equally underappreciated Powell food and drink scene, David Veitch of Kraft House No. 5, recent second place finisher in the (614) Holiday Cocktail Competition. The ingredient: popcorn. Good luck, Dave—you have officially been called out. •