There’s something special about vanilla, it’s found everywhere, and in more places than we realize, from soda to ice cream and all manner of liqueur. It’s one of the most complex and intense of all the exotic spices and flavors, yet it remains so ubiquitous that we commonly refer to anything plain and ordinary as “vanilla.” One has to appreciate the irony, because vanilla should describe exactly the opposite, namely, the most complex and exotic of things. Then there’s the next level where vanilla meets whiskey.
Vanilla and whiskey are two things that just work together, like a pitcher and catcher closing out a no-hitter. In fact, vanilla is one of the flavors one expects in whiskey, and the degree to which the spirit rests and what it rests in will affect the degree to which one finds vanilla notes in the glass.
In the old days, vanilla denoted American oak. If you could taste vanilla in your whiskey (or wine) you could assume it rested in American oak which has more vanillin, the compound that gives vanilla it’s flavor, than other varieties of oak. Well, that’s a bit oversimplified. It depends on the spirit, the wood, and a complex array of details, but, in general, whiskey with vanilla notes, especially bourbon, is mostly aged in American white oak. There are also local varieties, such as those found in the range of Burnside Whiskey from Eastside Distilling, which rests in Oregon oak. Does that mean a bottle of Burnside has more vanilla than if it were aged in white oak? That’s a question for the distiller, and we’ll happily ask next time we have a chance to do so.
In the meantime, we want vanilla with a capital V in our Season Opener, so we reach for Galliano, and have done with it. You can then think of the Season Opener as a vanilla Manhattan, just like vanilla Coke. That familiar drink made much better with vanilla, or, in this case, a vanilla heavy herbal liqueur. Yes, we are discussing that Galliano, as in, Harvey Wallbanger Galliano. Specifically, Galliano L’autentico, which comes in that tall, narrow, and seemingly perpetually half full pyramid like bottle you remember from the shelf in your uncle’s den that was always dark and smelled like stale cigars, mildew, overheating electronics and Old Spice. Galliano really was a staple of the wood paneled home bar right up to the time the recipe changed and the party was over. And why not? How many recipes use Galliano? There’s really only one, but it’s a heavyweight. Everyone, and that means everyone, has heard of a Harvey Wallbanger, even if they’ve never tried one. It’s popularity is long gone thanks to the changes at Galliano, but what a change it was. Galliano added more vanilla and sugar, and made their product more syrupy than ever.
Today, that new recipe Galliano is available as Galliano Vanilla, and the original, Galliano L’autentico, came back. So did the Wallbanger, but little else. What a shame and what a mystery, because, while other liqueurs that either faded in popularity or disappeared altogether have come back and been embraced by craft cocktail makers worldwide, Galliano remains perpetually half full, forgotten in it’s oddly shaped but long dusty bottle. You’ll find resurrected or uncommon regional products like creme de violette, elderflower liqueur, Cynar, and many others, in a whole host of modern classic cocktails, but Galliano still languishes alone.
This is changing. Galliano L’aperitivo, a bright red Italian bitter in the Aperol/Campari/amaro family is gaining notice in new recipes, as are other offerings from the company, now owned by Bols. But poor Galliano L’autentica, the venerable old guard, is still little more than a float on a Screwdriver, but it should be much more.
Galliano works in the Season Opener because it’s a vanilla/anise liqueur. Vanilla is front and center, backed by licorice. When added to rye and vermouth, it amplifies the rye and adds depth in a way just short of a few drops of absinthe. It’s a double barrel blast of the familiar, plus an herbal background and sweetness reminiscent of Benedictine. Kinda, sorta.
It’s fair to think of the Season Opener as a variation of a Manhattan because it is, but the Galliano sort of also suggests a bit of Sazerac thanks to the anise, while the vanilla and herbs suggest 1975. We could go nuts and add a splash of Aperol, or orange this and orange that, but we’d be searching for things that don’t belong. The Galliano is already way out of it’s comfort zone, and it really doesn’t need embellishment. It deserves a chance to shine on it’s own, and we let it shine with rye from an Oregon oak barrel. It’s the least we could do for a forgotten, yet magnificient liqueur, and all we can do to celebrate the most exotic, interesting, and complex spice of them all. There’s nothing “vanilla” about the Season Opener, and we hope there never is.
2 oz Burnside Oregon Oaked Rye
1/2 oz Ransom Sweet Vermouth
1/4 oz Galliano L’autentico
1 dash RAFT Aromatic Bitters
Stir with ice, and serve up. Garnish with an Unbound Maraschino Cherry.
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