When it comes to developing new drinks, most Manhattan mixologists spend their time tinkering with obscure brands of bitters, or maybe some kind of newfangled molecular technique. But for William Ward—the beverage director at the sleek Marble Lane steakhouse in the Dream Downtown Hotel on West 16th Street— inspiration comes with more old-fashioned activities, namely collecting sap from his older brother’s New Hampshire sugar maples.
“I’m a New England kid at heart,” says Ward, a Connecticut native. “I long for the outdoor days when my fingers are cold, but i’m sweating and working.” For the past 10 winters Ward has done just that with his family, heading north to make a beautifully butterscotchy syrup from scratch on the nine rural acres his brother Tyler owns.
That woodsy sweetener (the Wards call it “King Oliver,” after Tyler’s 12-year-old son) now serves as muse for a recent addition to his contemporary West Chelsea cocktail menu: Called the Winter Warmer, it’s a heady mix of milk heated just below the boil, maple syrup, apple brandy and rye, topped with a dusting of freshly ground, ultra-fragrant nutmeg. Designed around the buttery notes of King Oliver syrup, says Ward—who admits to a long-standing holiday habit of drinking a Ronnybrook Farm eggnog and bourbon on the rocks—his maple-sweetened drink is a soothing suite of woodsy flavors and spices that are “meant to warm my fingers,” he adds, “as well as my throat.”
Like Ward’s own adulterated eggnog, this is a creamy, caramel-coated toddy you could drink all afternoon—whether you’re window-shopping in the snow on Ninth Avenue or making syrup in the sugar shack that came with Tyler’s New ipswich backyard. Happily for the Wards, who’d hadn’t done much tapping before Tyler bought his property a decade ago, the previous owner left a journal of his progress each year. Tyler quickly insisted his two brothers—William and Roger, the oldest of the clan—keep up the tradition.
After a few false starts and burnt batches, the three have now mastered the art: William escapes from the city to string plastic tubing through the snowy woods to capture the mildly sweet sap, then waits for the late-winter sun to send the sap flowing. Finally, over the course of a few weekends, he goes up to chop wood and tend the fires well into the evening, boiling down syrup in the building the trio calls, in an inside joke, Terry Burburner’s Sugar Dome.
Last March, in fact—over maple-braised pork, maple-dressed salad and a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle—the brothers and their families bottled a whopping 38 gallons of handmade syrup, pouring it into pint jars and jugs with a label designed by Oliver him- self in his junior high design class. Those are destined for friends and family throughout the country—though likely not to down- town crowds ordering rounds of Winter Warmers at Marble Lane. Despite the efforts of the Wards, one weekend at the packed bar of the Dream could wipe out the entire 2011 run of King Oliver.
To read more, check out Ward’s own report on tapping sap and creating the cocktail below.
The Winter Warmer
From William Ward, beverage manager of Marble Lane in the Downtown Dream hotel 1 ounce rye whiskey 1 ounce Calvados or applejack 3⁄4 ounce maple syrup 3 ounces milk, heated to just under a boil, but not scalded Nutmeg, ideally freshly grated, to garnish Combine all ingredients except nutmeg in large glass, then pour back and forth into another glass until well mixed and slightly frothy. Serve in a snifter or rocks glass with a dash of fresh-grated nutmeg.