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Spiced Sangria

The Statesman Tavern mixes a mean sangria that's not for amateur mixologists

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One of the most intriguing bar concepts to emerge lately can be found at the Statesman Tavern, which opened a few short months ago in Bristol. It’s a sincere homage to the taverns that dotted the area centuries ago, but at the same time it’s not a dusty shrine that replicates yesteryear as if it were the boozy Colonial Williamsburg. No, there’s more confident irreverence in play.

When we asked beverage director Uriah Donnelly to throw his hat in the ring for this feature, he admitted that sangria was not even on the Statesman’s radar. It wasn’t a case of snobbery at all. Rather, it was just that sangria was totally afield of the vision behind his lineup, which is centered on historical-but-twisted cocktails anchored in New England – not a beach in Ibiza. “But then I thought,” he mused, “why not do it, but do it our way?”

Contrarian inspiration struck: “For such a traditionally ‘summertime’ drink, my mind went to the fall and spiced mulled wine,” he told us. What would happen if he inverted some basic expectations? What if warm became chilled, and autumnal spice got a new seasonal home? And beyond those flip-turns, the classic DNA of the drink – wine, brandy, liquor, juice – would stay intact.

He got to work with no idea as to what the ends might be. Sangria’s usual brandy became Calvados, an apple-based brandy that’s thoroughly autumnal. Sangria’s basic vodka became a dandelion root tea-infused vodka, which is dark, earthy and slightly bitter.
“It could have been a disaster,” Uriah told us with honest bemusement. “But when we tasted it, we were surprised by how good it is. Well, surprised but not surprised.” Meaning, he knows his stuff and he’s not unfamiliar with experimental wins, much as he’s pretty darn humble about it. 31 State Street, Bristol • 401-396-5115 • www.StatesmanTavern.com

Spiced Sangria – Serves Plenty

This one ain’t for amateurs, folks. Although technically the recipe is simple, and uses ingredients standard to most pantries apart from the tea, it’s undeniably involved. Intricate, even. Perfect for the geeks in the crowd who like ornate projects.

  • Spiced Wine*
  • Dandelion Root-Tea Vodka**
  • 1 750 ml bottle Brandy
  • 1 quart fresh orange juice
  • .25 cup fresh lemon juice
  • .25 cup simple syrup***

Combine all ingredients in a 5-liter container. Chill overnight. When ready to serve, slice a few oranges and lemons into wheels and add to container. Top each glass with soda water and serve.

*Spiced Wine:

  • 2 750-ml bottles light-bodied red wine (Beaujolais or Cotes du Rhone)
  • Zest of 1 orange (squeeze and reserve juice for later)
  • Zest of 1 lemon (squeeze and reserve juice for later)
  • 3 black peppercorns, crushed
  • 2 cardamom pods, crushed
  • One 3-inch cinnamon stick, crushed
  • .5 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar

In a large saucepan, combine the red wine with the sugar and the orange and lemon zests. Put the spices in a tea ball and add to the saucepan. Bring the wine to a very slow simmer over moderate heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat, discard the tea ball. Strain mixture into a non-reactive container and let cool to room temperature.

**Dandelion Root-Tea Vodka
Add 2-3 tea bags to a quart mason jar and fill with a vodka you like to drink. Tighten cover on jar and let steep at room temp for 12 hours. Remove tea bags, replace lid.

***Simple Syrup
In a heavy-bottomed pot add 1 cup of sugar and 2 cups of water. Heat on medium until sugar is dissolved. Let cool. Put into a non-reactive container and refrigerate up to one month.