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07.01.10 by  

Tara Mathison’s Punch-Off

What does a Brooklyn hipster with a mad mixology habit and a sculptor’s hands do with a few spare hours to kill? Pairs wine flights with BBQ, home-mixes with any open bottle and challenges fellow bartenders to showdowns. Bring on the architectural garnish.

Ask Heights Chateau spirits sommelier Tara Mathison for her favorite cocktail and she’ll give you a recipe you won’t find on any menu. Her arsenal of drinks and ingredients is constantly percolating in her mind and when it’s time to download, she channels all of her resources, from rampant creativity and the latest spirits to artist training and a flair for self-expression through food. If you’re on her guest list, expect that her experiments will be in everything you sip and chew — unless, of course, she’s enlisted you in a cocktail showdown.

When you're Tara Mathison, nothing is spared from the shaker ... produce, condiments and contents of your pantry included.

served raw: what’s on the cocktail radar of wine and spirit geeks these days?
Tara Mathison:
For me, I’m definitely looking at my savory options. I love using herbsaint, aquavit and amaro in my recent home mixing. We just got in our third private barrel release from Buffalo Trace and I’ve been doing a lot of messing around with the combination of bourbon and everything else drinkable … and not so drinkable. I love experimenting with just about anything that is open and smells correct. I can’t wait for our WL Weller barrel, as it packs more of a punch.

BBQ wines … we’d love some off-the-radar reco’s that pair amazingly with that carnivorous smokey taste?
Depends on what kind of BBQ you’re enjoying, here are some of my favorites …

2006 Lo Spaventapasseri Freisa D’Asti $19.99
This is a dry, still Freisa from Piedmont that offers dark fruit and violet flower aromas along with deft touches of tar and earth. Light and lively in the glass with nice acidity, this wine can serve as an aperitif or be paired with BBQ pork or cheeses.

2006 Thomas Coyne Mourvedre $18.99
Grown in the same vineyard since 1919, this rich and flavorful Mouvedre is blended with splashes of petit sirah and syrah before aging 16 months in French and American oak. Unfined and unfiltered, its dark berry aromas are complemented by hints of leather and spice that persist into a nice, round finish. Enjoy with spicy meats and aged cheeses.

Lini 1910 Lambrusco Rosso “Lambrusca” $14.99
This is a fresh, clean, lively sparkling Lambrusco. Rich and round on the palate, its red fruit is balanced by lovely dry tartness in the finish. I love this as an alternative sparkler to pair with heavier meats.

Cantalupo 09 Il Mimo Rosato Nebbiolo $14.99
A dry, fresh rose with aromas of wild strawberries and hints of pomegranate. Perfect for the garden or stoop.

Jolys 07 Jurançon Sec $15.99
A blend of mostly Grand Manseng, this Jurançon from the Southwest of France has an aromatic floral and almond nose with fruit-forward flavors of tropical fruit and a lingering hint of mineral. The real star here is the explosive acidity that makes this a very food-friendly wine. Try pairing with fish, seafood or rich charcuterie.

how are you using wine and spirits in the actual summer cooking process?
I pretty much use wine in whatever I’m cooking, instead of water or bullion. It gives the food another layer of tastes and expressions that you just can’t get with water and store-bought bouillon or flavor packets. I also use spirits for making stews, roux or marinades. My boyfriend thinks I’m crazy, but it seems natural to me. Plus, I hate to waste wine, so cooking with it is a good alternative to dumping it.

how about techniques — any you’re playing with?
I want to use more kinds of tea in my drinks, as well as make more punches. My friend Ben Prager and I recently had a punch-off where we asked people to vote for their favorite. It was a big hit. I was a sculpture major in college and like being spatial with my drinks using ice, herbs, glasses and fruit.

Here are our recipes from the Punch Off:

How to Draw a Rose by Tara Mathison

I created this punch in honor of the 135th Kentucky Derby, being a big fan of horse racing and bourbon. This is for anyone who likes a savory punch, rather than sweet.

  • 1 cup bourbon (add more to taste)
  • 1 large “Wisconsin dash” of a IPA Beer (1/2 bottle or 1 cup)
  • 1 gala apple, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 medium-size pineapple, ripe and thin-sliced
  • 2 inches of ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 10 to 15 peels lemon
  • 3 cups of chilled green tea
  • 3 cups ginger beer
  • 3 cups homemade seltzer
  • Crushed ice
  • Petals from red rose and fresh mint, for garnish
  1. Pour bourbon and beer into a thin, beaker-like container. Add apple, pineapple, ginger and lemon peels, making sure the the entire mixture gets coated in bourbon. Let stand for 10 minutes.
  2. Add chilled green tea, ginger beer, seltzer and mix thoroughly. Garnish with fresh mint and broken rose petals.
  3. Serve in large cognac glass over ice.


  • Jim Beam (or preferred bourbon of choice)
  • Lemonade
  • 2 to 3 splashes orange juice
  • 2 to 3 splashes grenadine
  • 6 to 8 fresh mint leaves
  • Optional sweetener and/or diced fruit, to taste
  • Champagne floater
  1. Fill a 1- or 2-quart container 1/4 full with bourbon.
  2. Add enough lemonade to fill container to half full.
  3. Add orange juice, grenadine and mint leaves.
  4. Stir ingredients together.
  5. Adjust amounts of ingredients to preferred balance.
  6. Add 1 to 2 packets of sweetener to adjust to your preference.
  7. Add diced fruit to fancy.
  8. Pour over ice and add enough champagne to desired taste.

what boutique brands do you think we should sideboard for summer parties?
Death’s Door White Whisky — go Wisconsin! — is one of my favorites. I like FAIR Vodka’s Goji liqueur and coffee liqueur. I also love Delaware Phoenix’s Meadow of Love Absinthe and Farnum Hill Cider.

how about sharing one of your favorite cocktail recipes?
I usually make up my own drinks, as I like to channel the mad scientist inside of me. Here’s an old favorite:

Mrs. Churchill by Tara Mathison

  • 1 shot Pappy Van Winkle Rye
  • 1/2 shot Dolin Blanc Vermouth
  • 5 quick drops Regan’s Orange Bitters
  • Blood orange rinds
  • 1 splash Prosecco
  1. Mix into shaker. Stir and shake with ice. Pour fabulously into a vintage champagne glass.