On a quiet side street in downtown Stillwater, leaves skitter across the pavement through the orange glow of the few street lamps shining onto the sidewalk. Around the corner, in the lobby of an event center, a Rorschachian pair of rabbits etched on the floor lead through a nondescript door and downstairs to The Velveteen’s draped entryway.
At the end of a wall of button-back booths, GM and bar manager Marcus Clark is behind the dimly lit bar, mixing drinks befitting the joint’s Prohibition theme.
It being late fall and this being a speakeasy, I order a potent whiskey and absinthe affair called the Jackalope, using Clark’s house-made chocolate bitters and an herbal liqueur (see Spirits Close-Up: Herbal Liqueurs), Amaro Montenegro. “We conjured this one up in my attic,” says Clark, who built a makeshift bar above his house where he and The Velveteen’s owners Dar and Sarah Moslemi developed this and other recipes for the speakeasy.
The Velveteen bar manager and GM Marcus Clark makes a Jackalope // Photos by Kevin Kramer
Licorice aromas bloom from the glass, before giving way to the bourbon sweetness and cocoa and cinnamon from the bitters. Like the speakeasy itself, finding the center of the Jackalope takes some time, as you follow the dark passages to several anterooms of flavor. After a few sips, the absinthe slides to the background, while candied orange from the amaro, and burnt sugar and cocoa flavors step to the fore. Warming and bold, it’s a fortifying drink to face colder nights ahead.
2½ ounces bourbon
1 ounce Amaro Montenegro
4 dashes chocolate bitters*
Absinthe, to wash glass
Chocolate curl for garnish
Place a few large ice cubes in a mixing glass, add bourbon, Amaro Montenegro, and bitters. Stir for 30 seconds. Wash a chilled coupe glass in absinthe, via a spray bottle or by swirling and discarding a small amount of absinthe. Strain bourbon mixture into the coupe glass and garnish with a large chocolate curl.
* To make chocolate bitters: Pour ¼ cup of cocoa nibs into a 16-ounce canning jar. Add two whole star anise, one stick of cinnamon, and fill the jar with high-proof alcohol. Seal and steep for two to three weeks, shaking daily. Strain solids from the liquid with a fine mesh strainer and save the spirit in a clean jar. Heat solids on the stovetop with ¾ cup of water, simmering for 3 to 4 minutes. Strain solids from water and add liquid mixture to the spirit. Add 2 tablespoons of honey to sweeten, then let sit to clarify.