Hard liquor and fruit pie tend to meet only on holidays, usually around the time Step Uncle Steve slurrily declares his right to “furr spich." But at Heaven’s Dog in San Francisco, Mixologist Ethan Terry creates a much more harmonious marriage of the hard stuff and the round stuff.
For his Stone Cell Sour (named after "the cell structure found in some plants—like pears—called 'stone cells,' which give the item in question its grainy texture"), Terry drapes pear eau de vie, maple, and cardamom over the seductive curves of Armagnac, creating a drink with all the ripeness, but little of the sweetness, of fall fruit. “This is an attempt to combine two of my favorite flavors that I knew worked well together in a cocktail,” says Terry. “I always liked pear and cardamom, and [I thought] sour [would be] the right vessel, rather than something spirituous.” It's a refreshing change. Many a fall fruit has rolled its way from the holiday cornucopia mis-en-place and into something stirred, dark, and delicious. Fewer end up against the brightly smooth backdrop of a classic sour, which might be what gives the Stone Cell Sour its "just-pik't" je ne sais quoi.
It’s also what earned it our favorite new moniker, “pear tart on steroids.” There’s body: just-shaken egg white and long-aged Armagnac (which isn’t nearly as popular stateside as its cousin Cognac, but is gaining headway, and this helps). There’s fruit: the Armagnac bolsters the nectar fragrance of the pear with older notes of apricot and dried fig. And there’s spice: the pepper that leeched out of the working side of a Monlezun black oak barrel (the aging vessel for Armagnac), and cardamom, the exotic compliment to pear’s honey-sweet perfume. The result is fruit without sugar, richness without lard, spice without too much punch. “It reminds me of this time of year, almost approaching fall and Thanksgiving,” says Terry. He’s right—it couldn’t be better for a seasonal holiday menu. Given the option, we’ll take it, sans pie and second cousins, 364 days of the year.