Photography by Chelsea Larsson
Every now and then I’ll dabble in making my own cocktail recipe from scratch. It’s fun to challenge yourself to see if you can put together a cohesive drink.
For Chinese New Year, I decided to create a cocktail with kaoliang wine. Kaoliang is a strong Chinese liquor made from fermented sorghum. I bought a bottle of kaoliang wine while waiting at the Taiwan airport two years ago and never opened it. Using it to celebrate the New Year seemed like the right choice
If you’ve never tried kaoliang wine, you might be in for a surprise. Imagine the combined taste of licorice and rubbing alcohol with a big, smokey finish. While that doesn't sound appealing to most people, I like it. But for a cocktail, I wanted to see if I could transform it into something more drinkable.
Here was my thought process along with a few challenges I ran into while making this drink.
Use shortcuts in a pinch
The first thing I wanted to do was make the kaoliang wine sweeter. Because this would be a Chinese inspired drink, I decided to use a ginger infused simple syrup. Ginger has strong digestive properties and signifies good health in Chinese culture. What better way to wish someone well than with a little ginger in their drink?
The proper way to make ginger simple syrup is to simmer equal parts water and sugar. Add a piece of ginger to the sugar water and then let it steep for 30 minutes.
When I was making my drink, I was in a rush and didn't have 30 minutes to spare. Instead, I decided to muddle a piece of ginger with regular simple syrup.
In the future, I would want to make ginger simple syrup the correct way. But if you're in a pinch, this technique works well and you still get a bit of ginger taste in the end.
Make sure you’re stocked
I wanted to give the cocktail a strong, orange flavor. Oranges are a sign of good fortune and are often given as gifts during the New Year. Plus, I felt the taste of orange would pair well with the kaoliang wine. I decided to mix a little Cointreau into the drink (as if the kaoliang wine wasn’t strong enough).
But, I discovered that I didn’t have enough to make two drinks. I had to put the whole process on hold to run to the store to get some more. Luckily, I was only mixing drinks for my wife and me. If you have a bigger audience, make sure you have enough ingredients on-hand to do the job.
Some things you can’t control
Besides Cointreau, I also wanted to use orange juice to flavor the cocktail. But instead of using regular oranges, I went to the famers' market and picked up two blood oranges.
The drink’s name, Hóng Gǒu, is a small play on words. Hóng bāo is Mandarin for the red envelopes filled with money given to children during Chinese New Years. Gǒu is Mandarin for dog, whose zodiac we celebrate this year.
My goal was to have the drink be a bright red color from the blood orange juice and grenadine. One problem I didn't expect was the variation in pulp color. Neither of the blood oranges I bought were the dark red color I wanted. As a result, one of the drinks came out more orange while the other was a few shades lighter than what I hoped for.
In the end, the drink’s appearance wasn’t 100% what I pictured. But as for taste, I do think it makes the kaoliang wine taste 100% more pleasant. Most of all, I’m proud of the drink’s representation of Chinese culture and taste.
If you happen to have a bottle of kaoliang wine lying around (I mean, who doesn’t, right?) try giving it this drink a shot and see if it makes it easier to go down.
- 1 1/2 OZ kaoliang wine liquor
- 3/4 OZ Cointreau
- 1/4 OZ ginger simple syrup
- 2 OZ orange juice
- 1/2 OZ grenadine
- Glass: Old Fashioned
- If you don't already have ginger simple syrup, take a small piece of ginger and muddle it with the simple syrup.
- Add all the ingredients to the shaker and shake vigorously for 30 seconds
- Double strain into Old Fashioned glass with ice
- If serving to an unmarried relative that is younger than you, make sure to serve with a hong bao filled with money