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The first time I tasted Fireball, the multimillion-case phenomena that's taken the American spirits industry by storm, at a dive bar in Louisville last year, I found it strikingly similar to Big Red gum.
So when my fearless leader at Tasting Table (editorial director Karen Palmer) asked me to make the cinnamon whiskey from scratch and use it in a mixological cocktail (see the recipe for homemade Fireball and The Big Red), I knew exactly what to do with it.
The flavor profile brought me back to childhood in River Forest, Illinois, where I grew up with Nello and Alana Ferrara, whose family produces Ferrara Candy Company. They make Red Hots and Lemonheads in addition to a rainbow of other fruit-flavored delights. Given that Fireball's little more than candy-flavored whiskey, I decided to infuse bourbon with Red Hots instead of lacing it with Wrigley's gum.
My candy arrived via Amazon in the mail (it's hard to find Red Hots in the DIY mecca I live in); I added some to a bottle of Old Grand-Dad bourbon and let nature do its work. The following morning, I was surprised (and a little terrified) that the whiskey had turned an almost fluorescent shade of red, as the candy dissolved in its entirety.
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I was pleased to find that it tasted spot-on. During cocktail development, it struck me that in my profession, we typically take things that are unpalatable or difficult to stomach and combine them to make them palatable. Despite its bright red hue, the Red Hots smoothed the fiery whiskey, and all that was needed to turn it into a balanced cocktail was orange juice as a mixer.
The Big Red, which is what I'm calling my candied creation, is a cocktail Fireball lovers would actually drink—and with a tinge of guilt, I think I'd enjoy one, too.
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