IN THE SPIRIT FEATURING: VALERIE SMESHKO
I’m an actuary by day, but I’ve always felt that life is made so much more meaningful through limitless exploration and curiosity. I dove into home mixology 6 years ago when my college roommate gave me my first cocktail shaker and took it to the next level about a year and a half ago. My passion is to craft cocktails that are fresh, natural, and imaginative. I want to share libations that leave my guests and readers with a pleasant, memorable experience. Creating delicious flavor combinations and connecting with others in the industry has brought me so much fulfillment, and I’m looking forward to seeing where this path will take me.
Some of my favorite recent projects include creating cocktail recipes and styled photos for a new cranberry infused vodka brand (CHERVONA), teaching a hobby mixology class at KOVAL Distillery, and collaborating with KOVAL and West Elm on a Valentine’s Day cocktail feature. I’ve also submitted a recipe to the Copper & Kings MixTape Competition and am enthusiastically awaiting results!
I love all things ginger and thus wanted to do an unexpected take on the Dark and Stormy rum cocktail featuring American Juice Company’s Ginger Gershwin. I often mix with tea and had been meaning to try the impactful Lapsang Souchong after enjoying it in drinks at some of my favorite bars. Though it starts as a typical Chinese black tea, Lapsang Souchong takes on its characteristic smoked flavor when the tea leaves are dried over pinewood fire. Tea can be built into a cocktail in a variety of ways but I chose to feature the Lapsang Souchong as a syrup to balance the smoke with some sweetness. In place of ginger beer, I added the fresh and spicy Ginger Gershwin and topped with Perrier Lime for some bubbles and citrus brightness. The resulting drink is wonderfully complex with layers of smoke and spice yet light and approachable for a broad audience.
- 1.5 oz Bacardi Gold Rum
- 1 oz AJC Ginger Gershwin
- 1 oz Lapsang Souchong Syrup*
- 1 oz Perrier Lime
Stir all ingredients with ice until chilled and strain into a rocks glass over ice. Garnish with a lime wheel and a cube of candied ginger and enjoy with company.
*To make Lapsang Souchong syrup, add 1 cup water and ¼ cup sugar to a small saucepan and heat until sugar dissolves. Take saucepan off of heat and add 1 Lapsang Souchong tea bag. Allow tea to infuse for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, then remove. Allow syrup to cool and store excess in fridge for up to 3 weeks.
My brain never works in a straight line and inspiration comes to me at the most unexpected times. Often, I’ll choose a certain direction based on what produce is in season or on sale. I also enjoy challenging myself to mix with ingredients that I’m either not fully comfortable with or want to know more about. It’s so rewarding to create a delicious recipe with a spirit you were previously weary of or a flavor combination that’s uncommon.
This is a hard question as the answer changes as I keep discovering more of Chicago’s amazing gastronomy scene. My latest obsession is Bad Hunter in the vibrant West Loop neighborhood. Not only does it have an inventive vegetable-heavy food menu and a welcoming atmosphere, but the drinks are amazing in both flavor and presentation. It’s a great source of inspiration for me, and I appreciate that every ingredient used in their cocktails truly serves a purpose. I’d recommend Bad Hunter for a date or a special occasion any night of the week, just be sure to make reservations!
Always measure your ingredients but don’t be scared to stray from recipes and make modifications for your personal tastes. I recommend measuring because it allows you to control strength and flavor and makes your cocktails easy to recreate for future occasions. However, look at recipes as guidelines and inspiration rather than a line in the sand. Experimentation will allow you to become more familiar with your own flavor palette and to create original drinks in ratios you find pleasing.