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G & H Cocktail Club: Harbor Lights

Welcome to the G & H Cocktail Club! Every week we’ll bring you an exciting recipe with a story curated by beloved bartender Mike Wolf.

The yearning, echo-drenched opening guitar lines of Elvis Presley’s “Harbor Lights,” played with the deft touch and tossed-off brilliance of Elvis band staple James Burton, always have the ability to transport me to some distant hammock by the sea. It’s the sound of a star-splashed sky stretched out over an ocean of longing, with Elvis wistfully hoping by the end, “Someday, harbor lights will bring you back to me.” Though in his aching loneliness, he doesn’t seem so sure that it’s going to work out. I felt that same hopelessness throughout the pandemic, wanting to get back home to see family, meet friends out for dinner, and one day, be able to make drinks for complete strangers again, connecting over the simple joy of the cocktail. 

This drink is inspired by the Port Light cocktail, excavated from obscurity by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, author of “Sippin’ Safari” and creator of the excellent Total Tiki app, which essentially puts the entire Tiki drink cannon in your pocket. The Port Light has always fascinated me, both for the beautiful red and gold tumbler made by Trader Vic to serve it in (pictured), and the fact that it was concocted in the tropical drinks haven of, uh… Columbus, Ohio. The drink is credited to Sandro Conti, who tended bar at the Kahiki Supper Club in Columbus. One of the only classic tiki drinks to feature bourbon, it is also a study in flavor affinity, with the spice of the bourbon playing off the fruity tropicality of passionfruit, the lemon bridging the tart cheek-squeeze of passionfruit while also taming the sweetness in the syrup. For this riff on the Port Light, I’ve added an egg white and some Averna amaro, making for a silky smooth sipper to drift the night away. Someday, we’ll be together again. With this in my hand, maybe I’m not in such a hurry after all. 

The Harbor Light

2 oz. Old Soul Bourbon

.75 oz. fresh lemon juice

.5 oz. Passionfruit Cordial* (see below for recipe)

1 egg white (save the yolk for folding into your next pasta dish)

.25 oz. Averna Amaro** (Italian bitters)

Tiniest pinch of Maldon sea salt

Mint or flowering clover, for garnish

Add ingredients to a blender and pulse without ice for 20 seconds, whipping the whites into the cocktail without breaking down the structure of the drink (which water will do). Add crushed ice to the blender and blend at a high speed for 8 seconds. Pour everything into your Port Light glass or tumbler and garnish with mint. Put on an Elvis record.

Remember, making and drinking cocktails should be a pleasurable experience. If you don’t have the brands listed don’t be detoured, try it this time with what you have on hand.

*For the passionfruit cordial, whisk together 8 ounces of passionfruit puree into 8 ounces of simple syrup. Another way to add passionfruit flavor to your cocktails without breaking the bank is to use Republic of Tea’s Passionfruit/Papaya tea bags, steeping a few bags into a syrup. This passionfruit cordial will keep for a few weeks in the refrigerator.

**Averna is one of the most delicious varieties — with a mildly Coca Cola-esque flavor — in the broad spirit category of Italian Amaros (amaro means bitter in Italian, though the spirits are usually sweetened with sugar or honey). If you don’t have Averna, substitute 3 dashes of Angostura bitters. 

About Mike Wolf

Writer and cocktail innovator Mike Wolf has made a name for himself crafting thoughtful and equally delicious libations inspired by shifting seasons and southern terroir. From building the bar program at Husk alongside venerable chef Sean Brock, to opening the tiki bar, Chopper, to writing Garden to Glass: Grow Your Drinks from the Ground Up and now a second book, Lost Spring: How We Cocktailed Through Crisis, Wolf has maintained a down-to-earth sensibility rooted in his homegrown garden in Nashville, blooming with upwards of 30 different herbs and vegetables dedicated to very best cocktails. 

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