When it comes to cocktails, Barbara Saxton and I are kindred spirits … pun intended. As the bar manager at The Little Fleet, Saxton has been slinging hyper-seasonal drinks since long before I moved home to do the same in these pages. We share a love of tipples made with edible marigolds, lilacs, even sugar snaps. Over the years, Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine has highlighted Saxton’s work, but it was only a matter of time before I asked her if she wanted to team up for this column. Northern Michigan’s most beloved mixologist and I quickly settled on featuring a shared fall favorite: Concord grapes.
The deep purple grape with an almost powdery coating on its jacket is used by Welch’s and other juice houses for its natural sugar content and color, making it a fit for adult beverages as well. Saxton especially loves the table grape in a Negroni—the boozy Italian sipper that is equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari. On the job, Saxton makes this interpretation—which is known at The Little Fleet as the “Stomp Your Feet”—by steeping vacuum-sealed bags of grapes and off-dry vermouth sous vide. For bartenders at home, we adapted her recipe to eliminate the sous vide machine and steep gently muddled grapes in Dolin Blanc Vermouth in the fridge instead.
This fall, when Concord grapes land on those checkered farmers-market tablecloths, buy an extra quart for a cocktail or two. Together with a crimson-red aperitif such as Cappelletti Aperitivo or Campari and an orange garnish, this is one of the most beautiful cocktails around. We can’t think of a more colorful—and potent—way to toast September.
Concord Negroni Recipe
- 1 1⁄2 ounces Mammoth gin
- 1 1⁄2 ounces Concord Vermouth (see below)
- Bar spoon of Cappelletti Aperitivo or Campari
- Orange peel
+ Fill a cocktail mixing glass with ice and add gin, Concord Vermouth and Cappelletti Aperitivo. Stir for 30 seconds to melt some of the ice. Place a large ice cube into a rocks glass and strain the drink into the glass. Garnish with an orange peel.
Photo by Dave Weidner
Concord Vermouth Recipe
Makes 6 heaping ounces
- 1 cup Concord or Thomcord grapes, plucked from their stems and rinsed, about 5 ounces by weight
- 6 ounces Dolin Blanc Vermouth
+ Place grapes into a canning jar and gently muddle, being careful not to crush any of the seeds. Pour vermouth over the grapes, seal the jar and refrigerate for 5 to 7 days until the vermouth is a deep purple color. Remove from the refrigerator, set a strainer over a fresh jar and strain the mixture. Discard the grapes and reserve the Concord Vermouth.
Photo by Dave Weidner
Stacey Brugeman is a 20-year food and beverage journalist. Her work has appeared in Food & Wine, Travel + Leisure, Saveur, Eater and on Instagram @staceybrugeman.
Dave Weidner is a local photographer for Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine. Follow him on Instagram @dzwphoto.
Sarah Peschel is a stylist and photographer with an appreciation for all things related to local agriculture, food and drink.