First a burger. Now a cocktail. Watch me blush as the story of the namesakes continues to unfold.
I was rendered speechless when Chef Gary Hickey named a burger after me last year. I mean, really. One of Tucson’s most celebrated chefs bringing blue oyster and bacon oyster mushrooms, smoked Manchego cheese, and wine-soaked onions together with a blend of filet mignon, New York strip and ribeye cuts to produce a mesquite-grilled burger called the Russell Melt Down?
“I did what I thought was you as a person and I think I kind of landed it,” said Hickey, executive chef at Charro Steak, 188 E. Broadway Boulevard.
Land it he did. And the landing continued last week when Jonathan Landeen and his crew at Jonathan’s Cork conceived a cocktail to commemorate my ten-year run as the host of Tucson’s local food and beverage radio show.
As unworthy as I am, allow me to humbly introduce you to the Russell’s Rye Catcher.
This cocktail starts out with a dark and oaky rye whiskey from Kentucky distilled with a touch of California port, followed by a drizzle of maple syrup and a splash of oatmeal milk stout that’s infused with coffee and cocoa nibs. The ingredients are gently shaken over ice and strained into a martini glass that’s garnished with a piece of the Cork’s signature house-made winter toffee.
“This was a fun one for us, especially this time of year when people want to nestle up to some rye,” said Jeff Hughes, bar manager at Jonathan’s Cork, 6320 E. Tanque Verde Road.
Other than the boilermaker and michelada, Hughes admitted that beer and cocktails don’t necessarily go hand in hand. But he found the flavor profiles of the mocha java stout to be natural companions for the toasty rye.
Lastly, in what Hughes called a “stroke of genius” by Landeen himself, the decision was made to sneak in a special maple syrup that’s aged in bourbon barrels and finish it off with a nugget of toffee that’s ceremoniously plunged into the spirituous bath.
“As soon as I tasted it, I said ‘money,’” Hughes said. “This was a cool process, a lot of fun, and we couldn’t be happier.”
The toffee comes from the mother lode supply that Landeen makes from scratch every year for his version of the iconic Almond Roca candy. He typically makes 1,200 pounds from Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day, and sells one-pound bags for $20.
Thankfully there were leftover nuggets from the Cork’s toffee quarry to grace the Russell’s Rye Catcher.
And what about the cocktail’s name? Is there a connection to the novel “Catcher in the Rye?” You’ll have to ask Landeen, Hughes and restaurant manager Rovella Ruscitti. But I first read it in Mrs. Callahan’s English class in 1983, and one passage that I remember suggests so.
Protagonist Holden Caulfield argued, “Certain things should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone.”
My sentiments exactly as I reflect on this cocktail, and I hope it’s around in its current expression for many years to come.
Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at email@example.com. Russell is also a regular contributor to “Tales of the Keg” on ESPN Tucson, KFFN 1490 AM & 104.9 FM, as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030 AM.