Michael Deery used to have a running challenge with Matthew Aubrey, brand ambassador for Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey. “I could make a cocktail out of any type of liquor, and most of the time I could come through with something tasty,” says Deery. “If not tasty, it would be interesting.” His All Smoke, No Fire libation, created for the winter menu at La Vie in Washington, DC, is undoubtedly a winner.
Visit the spacious jewel of a restaurant on floor 4.6 and the penthouse level of The Wharf development in the nation’s capitol and you can taste the spirit of Uncle Nearest’s 1856 iteration. The drink was inspired, Deery says, by the story behind the award-winning liquor brand, which earned a nod from Oprah this year and was created to honor the first known African-American master distiller, Nathan “Nearest” Green. The liquor is a blend of premium aged whiskies between eight and 14 years old, mellowed using the Lincoln County process, where the spirit is filtered through sugar maple charcoal. The technique is said to have been brought to Tennessee by enslaved people and perfected by Green—who then taught it to Jack Daniels. “After hearing the story,” Deery says, “I knew that I had to make a cocktail that would reflect the defining characteristics of Uncle Nearest 1856.”
The flavor profile is comprised of all five elements of taste—sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. Deery used a mixed base of maple and chai simple syrup for sweetness and some savory notes. Clarified lemon juice brought a sour hit. He added Giffard Crème de Pêche “to tie into the local peach groves in Lynchburg, where [Green] originally distilled his whiskey.”
But the libation wasn’t finished—it was great, but not excellent, says Deery. “We then decided to smoke it in one of our Frontessa Smoke Boxes with applewood chips for 30 seconds,” he shares. “Smoking the cocktail allowed for that touch of umami to come through. It made for an amazing presentation and a delightful cocktail.”
Pair the drink with a Mediterranean-influenced dish from the menu (think the arancini with ratatouille, burrata, and saffron aioli) and a seat on La Vie’s sky-high, heated and ventilated flower garden. Or re-create it at home to toast this interesting slice of American history.
All Smoke, No Fire
2 oz. Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Whiskey
3/4 oz. maple chai simple syrup (recipe below)
3/4 oz. clarified lemon juice
10-15 applewood chips
1) Combine ingredients in a shaker tin. Shake with a large rock for 10 to 15 seconds. Prepare glass with a large rock. Double strain into the glass.
2) Optional: Place cocktail and applewood-smoke chips on a plate. Smoke the chips with a smoke gun and cover the cocktail with any container for 30 seconds or until the cocktail is barely visible.
* Smoke should have no more than 30 seconds of contact with the cocktail.
Maple and Chai Simple Syrup
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup water
1 1/2 Tbs. Bigelow chai
1.6 cups maple syrup
1.5 cups Giffard Crème de Pêche
1) Bring water to a boil. Stir in the chai (bagged or, if pre-bagged, wrapped in cheesecloth). Turn off heat and allow to steep for five minutes.
2) Remove tea from water. Bring mixture back to a boil.
3) Gradually whisk in white sugar until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the maple syrup.
4) Check thickness. Allow to cool.
5) Add Giffard Crème de Pêche to the mixture. Refrigerate.
* Keeps up to 14 days.