Thursday took a turn when my neighbor Kat showed, hauling a basket full of liqueurs and cocktail-making devices, a bar kit so heavy she’d reinforced the handle with gaffer tape. Sure, I knew she served drinks back in college and seemed excited to experiment with pawpaws, a fruit neither of us had tried and that waited in my kitchen, but it wasn’t until this Air Force officer and amateur athlete walked through my door, bent under the weight of her bar kit, that I knew things were getting serious.
Kat beelined for the kitchen and began assessing pawpaws, which had arrived ripe that afternoon, a delicacy for both of us since we live by D.C., where the nearest pawpaw tree might be half a state away. I ordered these online. We wasted no time slicing one open and spooning out its custardy innards, which was even better than we expected, a mango banana hybrid just like everyone says, so good I sucked fruit remnants from each and every seed.
But that was later, after my third cocktail, and we haven’t even gotten to the first.
You see, Kat had a cookbook—both food and drinks—and after tasting the fruit she flipped through its pages, mumbling as she jotted down notes.
“St-Germain,” she finally said, pulling a bottle from the basket, “I really think it will compliment them. Have you ever had it?”
She handed me the bottle and a spoon. If it was time for me to take my cough medicine, which is how it felt, this was the best I’d ever had. I hesitate to use bouquet because it is so pretentious, but this liqueur unfolded with so many complimentary flavors—sweet and boozy with clear floral notes—I can’t think of a better word.
“How about a martini?!” Kat asked. She dashed to the counter and began shaking a trio of ingredients, a simple but brilliant combo that is now one of my new favorite drinks.
I say one because my nation defending, snowboarding, mountain climbing, aspiring mixologist of a neighbor created five new concoctions that night, all of which I’ll share, but none were more romantic than this one: The Appalachian Martini.
There is something about this combo—the world’s sexiest cocktail, a beverage sipped by silent film stars and James Bond, married with the rough and tumble pawpaw fruit, which sustained Native Americans from their earliest days. It’s been all but forgotten in the last few decades, but now, with everyone trying to infuse contemporary life with authenticity, this pawpaw-based drink could become the very definition of modernity.
It tastes like fruit but not the silly way a mango martini tastes like fruit. You don’t feel like you’re at a bachelorette party when you drink it. This cocktail belongs in a rustic lodge, one you might find near a small mountain town, where it’s possible for the mayor and the barber to be good friends. This lodge is the place they’d stay on hunting trips, and this drink is one they’d share. It’s the kind of beverage that forges unlikely bonds, that bridges worlds, that shows how classy Appalachia can be.
The Appalachian Martini
3 ounces Absolute Citron citrus vodka
1/2 ounce St-Germain
2 tablespoons pawpaw puree
Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake. Strain into a martini glass.