I’ve been enjoying the Rye Witch, one of Jim Meehan’s originals from his PDT Cocktail Book.

The “witch” part of the name comes from one of the components, Liquore Strega. (“Strega,” by the way, is the Italian word for “witch,” and there is an amusing story there. The liqueur is made in Benevento, Italy; according to Strega’s website, “its origin is based upon an ancient legend that describes Benevento the meeting place of all the witches in the world.”)

It’s sweet and strongly herbal, with mint and anise (or perhaps fennel) the most pronounced flavors, along with a bit of cinnamon and a faint piney aftertaste. And of course, there’s saffron, the source of Strega’s glorious yellowness. It is traditionally a digestif; I much prefer it mixed, and the Rye Witch is a fine example of its use in cocktails.

The Rye Witch Cocktail, photo © 2012 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.
The Rye Witch Cocktail

Here’s the way Meehan describes his cocktail:

The Rye Witch
Jim Meehan, 2007

  • 2 oz Rittenhouse Bonded Rye Whiskey
  • ¼ oz Strega
  • ¼ oz Lustau Palo Cortado Sherry (Lustau Amontillado)
  • 1 sugar cube (Demarara cube—and a wee splash of water)
  • 2 dashes house orange bitters (1 dash Fee Bros. Orange, 1 dash Regans’ No. 6)

Add bitters and sugar cube to a mixing glass and muddle to a paste. Add everything else, then stir with ice and strain into a chilled rocks glass. Twist an orange peel over the surface and discard. No garnish.

Despite Strega’s assertive ingredients, the quarter-ounce is very subdued. The drink’s nose is orange, from the twist, and the initial flavors are a slight sweetness, then the spicy, oaky taste of the rye whiskey. (Be sure to chill the glass before you serve the Rye Witch, else the it will warm too fast, and the sugar and orange notes will overtake everything else. In fact, the Rye Witch is not harmed at all by serving over ice, though Meehan doesn’t explicitly encourage this in PDT.) The high-proof whiskey is pretty important here; I don’t think an 80-proof would have enough backbone for this drink.

The Rye Witch Cocktail, photo © 2012 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.I substituted Lustau Amontillado because that’s what I had. I’m hard pressed to identify the sherry in the drink; I think it must be there to hold the other flavors together—something I’ll remember for the future.

Meehan’s “house bitters,” according to PDT, are half Fees, half Regans’, but I have yet to find an orange bitters that doesn’t work well in the Rye Witch.