Inspired by the harvest season in late September, New York City bartender Shawn Chen developed this whiskey-based drink while working as the beverage director at RedFarm and principal bartender at Decoy. The Harvest Moon avoids the usual trappings of autumnal drinks—flavors like apple, cinnamon, pumpkin and pear—and instead mixes cherry, Concord grape, and Fernet-Branca with American whiskey.
For the base of his cocktail, Chen uses Tincup Whiskey, a distillery in Colorado. The distillery’s flagship whiskey is a blend of high-rye bourbon and American single malt, for a unique and layered product. To it, Chen adds the classic Italian digestif Fernet-Branca, which gives the cocktail depth, bitterness and botanicals. Cherry Heering, a bittersweet cherry liqueur, adds a touch of additional sweetness, and madeira—a fortified wine from the Portuguese islands of the same name—gives nuttiness as well as caramel and toffee notes. Because of the specificity of flavor in each ingredient, none of them can be easily substituted. However their relatively low volume in the drink, only a quarter-ounce each, means you could use something similar if really pressed, like another cherry liqueur for the Heering and sherry or dry port for the madeira.
What really sets the Harvest Moon apart is the use of Concord grape shrub. Primarily used in jams and jellies, Concord grapes are found throughout New England and the midwest. Large, dark and sweet, they hold up well as the base of a shrub. If you want, you can try the grape shrub in other drinks like the Sacred Grape or Concord Grape Margarita.
- 1 3/4 ounces Tincup whiskey
- 1/4 ounce Fernet-Branca
- 1/4 ounce Cherry Heering
- 1/4 ounce madeira
- 1/2 ounce Concord grape shrub*
- Garnish: 3 Concord grapes soaked in pomegranate molasses brandy and rolled in crushed toasted almond pieces
Add the Tincup whiskey, Fernet-Branca, Cherry Heering, madeira and Concord grape shrub into a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled.
Strain into a rocks glass over a large ice cube.
Garnish with the prepared Concord grapes.
*Concord grape shrub: Combine 6 cups Concord grapes (thoroughly rinsed) with 2 cups granulated sugar and gently mash the fruit to release its juice. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit overnight in the refrigerator. Slowly train the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer by letting it sit for at least 30 minutes and then discard solids. Add 1 cup white wine vinegar to the juice mixture. Bottle shrub in a glass jar. Will keep, refrigerated, for up to three weeks.