Red Red Rose
1 oz gin
¾ oz simple syrup or strawberry syrup
½ oz lemon juice
½ oz Aperol or teaspoon Campari
1 strawberry - omit if using the syrup
rosé or dry sparkling wine
grapefruit peel for garnish
In a shaker, muddle the strawberry (unless you’re using strawberry syrup) and add remaining ingredients, except the bubbles.
Fill a wine glass, collins glass or rocks glass with ice and pour in about 2 oz of sparkling wine, (adding the bubbles first, rather than at the end will help the drink be better integrated).
Fill the shaker with ice, shake and fine strain into the glass.
Give it a quick stir and express the oils from the grapefruit peel over the top - orange or lemon is nice too. Add some sliced strawberries, for additional flair.
This was one of two cocktails served at my wedding (the other was the Bourbon Smash). I created it for my, now wife Ellen. This cocktail does not break any new ground, nor was it meant to. It's basically a French 75 crossed with an Aperol spritz, plus strawberry. But what the Red Red Rose may lack in originality, it more than makes up for in deliciousness. Honestly, it's almost too good.
But tasty as it is, this is a rare case where what’s in the glass is not what's a most important to me about a drink. Here rather, it’s the inspiration behind the name. “A Red, Red Rose” is a poem and song written in 1794 by the great Scottish poet Robert Burns (you’re probably familiar with his biggest hit “Auld Land Sang”), which played a pivotal role in the winding path Ellen and I took to ending up together. You can find the whole story in all its hopelessly, and shamelessly, romantic glory further down the page.
As for the cocktail, the Campari and Aperol can be omitted if you don't have them on hand, though I highly recommend them. For the sparkling wine, it can be Champagne, Prosecco, or anything that's dry and bubbly.
The Red Red Rose Story
Fair warning, this is really a story about my wife and me, not the cocktail. It goes back to when we first met, which was 2001, our senior year of high school. That year, Ellen and I were both selected to sing in the “All-Eastern Honors Chorus”, which is a choir made up of students from all over the northeast. We rehearsed together for 3 days and then performed a concert on the 4th. It was held in Pittsburgh.
Side note: it may not be integral to the story, but I feel compelled to point out that Ellen is an incredible singer - here’s proof - while I am passable at best. I got in mainly because I was a guy, for whom the standards were much lower. I was shocked to be accepted, fatefully as it would turn out.
Ellen and I had met once or twice before in passing. We didn’t go to the same school, though they were near each other and we had a few mutual friends. However, at All-Eastern, where we were each the only members of our school attending, we found ourselves in a bubble secluded from the all-consuming world that is high school. During those 4 days in Pittsburg an intense connection sparked between us. We were practically inseparable by the end.
Now, despite what you may be thinking, Ellen and I did not become romantically involved during this time, or immediately after - in the literal sense at least. That wouldn't happen until over 8 years later. The details of that story I won’t go into here - I think we’ve veered far enough away from cocktails as it is. Suffice it to say, once we finally did get together we never looked back. We were engaged within a year, married a year later - August 27th, 2011, and this past April had our third child, 3 girls!
We reminisce from time to time about All-Eastern, when our story began and the foundation of our relationship was laid down, even though it took us a while to get there. One of the key elements to the story for us is one of the songs our choir performed: Robert Burns’ “O My Luve’s Like a Red, Red Rose”. Which we both loved, and still do. Here’s the original poem from that the lyrics are is based on:
O my Luve's like a red, red rose,
That's newly sprung in June:
O my Luve's like the melodie,
That's sweetly play'd in tune.
As fair art thou, my bonie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry.
Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o' life shall run.
And fare-thee-weel, my only Luve!
And fare-thee-weel, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho' 'twere ten thousand mile!
There are different versions of the song itself, ours was a more modern 4-part composition by James Mulholland, which has a gorgeous, soaring melody. I stumbled across this video of a small choir performing it while writing this. They’re clearly not well known (I was the 20th view on youtube), but I think they’re remarkable. I can barely make it through the whole thing (is it dusty in here?).
Over the years, the song has been a beacon for us. It reminds me that while the innocent, and perhaps naive feelings I had for Ellen back then have matured and become, shall we say, more practical, I know that at their core essence - or spirit I should say - they are the same. This is one of the great gifts about loving someone both as a teenager and an adult. Given how much we grow and change between those periods of ours lives, you know that whatever makes those feelings endure is integral to that person’s true self.
Red Red Rose evokes the idealism we all approach love with when we’re young: “O my Luve's like a red, red rose. That's newly sprung in June”, but also of love that is enduring and worth fighting for: “And I will come again, my Luve, Tho' 'twere ten thousand mile!”
On the inside Ellen and my wedding bands we each have our favorites lines from the song inscribed. Ellen’s reads, “Till a' the seas gang dry” and mine: “And the rocks melt wi' the sun”.
I can’t help but point out how these lines make the romantic nerd in me do backflips. Scientists theorize, with pretty strong certainty, that in a about 5 billion years before our suns dies (that’s right we’re going there) it will swell to over twice its size, becoming what’s called a red giant, engulfing our planet (I’m sure we’ll have figured a way to terraform our way out of here by then) causing oceans to evaporate and rocks to liquify. I can’t think of a grander declaration of love: I will love you until the sun envelops the earth. This was written in 1794! Whether or not Robert Burns was actually referring to the death of our solar system or not, I give him major credit.
As for the cocktail, when I was thinking about what drink's to serve at our wedding, as I said above, this was a no brainer. Ellen’s favorite spirit is gin, and who doesn’t love strawberries and Champagne? I just made the most delicious drink I could imagine. So if you fix a round of Red Red Roses up - which I promise you will not be disappointed by - be sure to raise a glass to love, wherever, and from whomever, it may exist in your life.
Here’s to love! Til rocks melt with the run.
This indispensable syrup is made similarly to raspberry syrup. It’s a rich 2:1 syrup, but the added juice you'll get from the fruit brings it closer to 1:1. It’s best to dissolve the sugar into the water first, at least partially, to ensure the syrup has proper balance. As you’ll see in the instructions, you can either muddle the strawberries or use a blender/immersion blender to combine them with the sugar/water. I prefer muddling for smaller batches because there’s less clean up and blenders give syrups a foamy head which I don’t find as aesthetically alluring, but tastes fine. For bigger batches, a blender is definitely the way to go. If you use the stove be sure not to heat the strawberries! You want fresh strawberry flavor, not cooked.
1 cup sugar
1 cup strawberries, topped and halved
1/2 cup hot water
Combine the sugar and water in a small container and stir until dissolved, or mostly. You can use the microwave or the stove to expedite the process, but if you do, let the syrup cool some before adding the strawberries.
Muddle the strawberries directly into the syrup (or in a separate vessel then pour the syrup over) or blend with an immersion blender/kitchen blender for 5-10 seconds.
Let the mixture sit for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure all the sugar is dissolved.
Strain out the solids and refrigerate.