"I don't drink a lot of liquor anymore," Brooks Reitz says as he pulls out his bar roll in our Soho Test Kitchen.
Eyebrow-raising words, perhaps, from the founder of Jack Rudy Cocktail Co., a Charleston, South Carolina–based line of small-batch tonics, grenadine and bitters, as well as a few select items of well-designed bar gear. Reitz is also a restaurateur of late: He owns Leon's Oyster Shop, a New Orleans–inspired fried chicken-and-oyster joint, and the very-soon-to-open café and bistro St. Alban in Charleston's up-and-coming Upper King Street.
"I've been more into low-alcohol beers and fortified wine cocktails—but it's not just me, it's a bit of a trend," Reitz says as he slowly stirs a white port and tonic (see the recipe), a relatively recent drink discovery for the cocktail entrepreneur. He started drinking the traditional Portuguese cocktail as a lighter, less boozy alternative to a classic gin and tonic.
White port, made from Malvasia, Viosinho and Gouveio grapes, is less syrupy and intense than its red counterpart, which is traditionally thought of as an after-dinner drink. The lighter fortified wines have a touch of sweetness and nuttiness that make them ideal for sipping chilled on their own or in this classic pairing.
The two-ingredient, so-easy-to-make-it's-ridiculous cocktail is bound to be your go-to aperitif for holiday entertaining. It takes less than a minute to stir one up; you can leave the ingredients out and let your guests mix for themselves. While the drink is crisp and effervescent, it's flavorful enough to stand up to that cheese plate you'll inevitably put out at your next get-together.
"The wonderfully off-dry nutty flavor of the white port plays off the bitterness of the quinine," Reitz says. "It goes perfectly with little salty snacks like Marcona almonds or olives."
And unlike a lot of pre-dinner drinks, the low-alcohol cocktail won't knock your guests out before the first course is served.
"I love a Negroni—but it can affect people in a lot of different ways," Reitz says. "You can drink this before dinner and not get your guests totally blitzed."