An advance copy of Matt Lee and Ted Lee’s latest cookbook, The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen, landed on my desk a few weeks ago, and I was so charmed by its clever, minimalist cover that rather than tossing it atop the teetering pile of new releases that regularly threatens to take over my desk, I kicked my heels up and gave it a thorough browse. Or at least, that was the plan; instead, I found myself stopped in my tracks on page 34, where the genius Lees present a recipe for kumquat-infused gin—and a selection of inspired cocktails in which to use it.
I’m an unabashed citrus lover, with particular affection for the sweet-tart fruits in the genus: yuzu, Meyer lemon, and most of all kumquat, whose juxtaposition of sweet rind and sour juice is seemingly tailor-made for my palate. Thinly slicing a few dozen of them and throwing them in a jar with gin was a moment’s work; after a few days’ infusion, I was left with a pale orange, slightly cloudy spirit with a heady perfume and a bright, clear citric sweetness on the tongue. I mixed it in a few of the Lee brothers’ concoctions—with sparkling wine for a cheery spritzer, with vermouth for a vibrant martini—but it was when I turned to a bottle of Lillet Rose that perfection was found. The infused wine, with its balanced herbal bitterness and floral sweetness, was a perfect foil to the kumquat gin’s own multifaceted flavor. Shaken up and poured into a coupe, it’s elegant and full of depth—like the best cocktails, a fusion of the simple and the complex that results in something perfectly otherworldly.