"This is actually something I came up with last fall," says Kevin Deming, a bartender at Old Major, referring to a cocktail he calls Frankie Valli and the Fall Seasons. "It ended up not going on the menu, so when this season rolled around I decided to put it on."
Deming, who also manages Old Major's beer program, was inspired by a bottle of Pedro Ximenez sherry that had just arrived. "I was thinking about that sherry," he says, "and of course the song Sherry Baby by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons popped into my head." The name of his cocktail ended up being a play on the name of the band -- along with an obvious homage to the current season.
The name may have been the easiest part; the next step was discovering what he could pair with the sherry.After combing the backbar, he settled on Becherovka, an herbal bitters from the Czech Republic. "It tastes like baking spices and gingerbread," he says, which he thought would complement the rich flavor of golden raisin he identified in the sherry.
"For the body, I wanted something that might help kind of cut through some of that richness," he says, "so that's why I was thinking rye whiskey. It's got a whiskey character, but it's not like bourbon where you get a lot of that corn sweetness."
"I started toying around with proportions," he continues, "and at first I used a little more Becherovka than just a quarter ounce. I ended up dialing that back because it comes through really big in the cocktail." He also increased the amount of sherry.
Frankie Valli and the Fall Seasons is Deming's seasonal take on a traditional Manhattan, with the sherry standing in for the usual sweet vermouth. His last twist was using chocolate bitters.
"I thought that chocolate would go well with the baking spices," he says. "It just worked really well."
The final touch came compliments of Executive Chef Justin Brunson, with whom he collaborated to come up with an interesting garnish for the cocktail. "We had originally thought of several different garnishes," Deming says. "Dehydrated chocolate or some sort of sweet chocolate rim on the glass."
But Brunson is a big fan of Pocky, a snack food made in Japan, which is a small stick-shaped biscuit, coated in chocolate. Brunson suggested using the Pocky as a stirrer for the drink. "It all kind of came together in the end," Deming says. "It was a very 'Old Major' touch."
The drink is strong, spicy and slightly sweet. "It's definitely for a whiskey drinker, a Manhattan drinker, an Old Fashioned drinker," he says, "because it's whiskey-forward. But you can get a lot of those other components."
What ties the drink together is the chocolate bitters, which were an almost accidental addition: "We had a bottle sitting behind the bar," he says. He tried adding three drops. The results were brilliant; the dark-roasted cocoa flavor permeated the drink and imparted a savory element that balanced the sherry's sweetness and the strength of the rye.
Deming thinks his drink ($12) is best enjoyed -- sipped, rather -- after dinner. He recommends pairing it with Old Major's Nutella Semifreddo ($10), which is made with frozen mousse, hazelnut powder, chocolate crumbles and milk jam.
Frankie Valli and the Fall Seasons 2 ounces George Dickel rye whiskey .75 ounce Pedro Jimenez sherry .25 ounce Becherovka 3 dashes of chocolate bitters Stir ingredients over ice, strain into a double old fashioned glass over a hand-cut ice cube, garnish with Pocky.