Updated: Jun 28, 2020
Created for Pouring Ribbons' New York City, 1983 menu, Star People is a drink named after and inspired by Miles Davis' 1983 jazz fusion album.
After a six-year hiatus, Davis' early 80's work is symbolic of a great wave of change in both NYC and its jazz scene. Coming off of the 70's, things were FUNKY, and moving into the early 80's, not even jazz was spared from the fusion of synthesizers that bled into pop/rock.
The drink itself reads tropical: passion fruit, vanilla, orange, lemon, and spicy Angostura bitters support 138-proof rum and 100-proof apple brandy. Including dry sparkling wine simultaneously dries out, brightens, and lengthens the tropical fruit, ultimately taking the drink from Tiki mug territory to the more refined Champagne flute.
Star People recipe
1 oz Barking Irons Bonded Applejack
.75 oz Plantation O.F.T.D. Rum
.5 oz Vanilla Passion Fruit Syrup
.5 oz Orange Cordial
.25 oz Lemon Juice
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Bottom: 1.5 oz Gruet Brut Sparkling Wine
Garnish: Lemon pigtail twist
Build the cocktail in your tin. Bottom the flute with the sparkling wine and place the lemon pigtail twist on the rim. Short-shake the cocktail, and fine strain into the flute.
On his album Star People, Miles plays both trumpet and synthesizer concurrently, which thematically lent itself to a split base. As a bass player, when I listen to Star People, the bass pops and slaps its way to my ears like someone blowing bubbles over the strings. That said, I wanted the drink to be light, funky, and effervescent.
After stumbling upon the recipe for The Avenue in Ted Haigh's Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, I decided to adapt it to fit a French 75 template.
1 oz Bourbon
1 oz Calvados
1 oz Passion Fruit Juice
1 dash Grenadine
1 dash Orange Flower Water
1 oz Cognac or London Dry Gin
.75 oz Lemon Juice
.75 oz Simple Syrup
3 oz sparkling wine
Additionally, I found this quote from Davis to help, ahem: "tie" the drink together:
"I put on all brown last night. I was going to take my wife out to dinner. Shit, I took that shit off, man... I had all that brown on and I said Goddamn! That's the second time I done that in my life. I did it once and walked down 8th Avenue. A brown suit I had made, big shoulders… maybe 35 years ago. I looked in the mirror and didn't see myself. So I stopped and bought me a yellow tie."
Barking Irons Bonded Applejack
As much as I love Calvados, I'm always looking for an excuse to use American apple brandy. I initially reached for the trusty Laird's Bonded, but it ended up being too assertive, and the heavy barrel flavors muddied the drink.
Luckily, Barking Irons makes a wonderful Applejack that drinks like a young, spicy Calvados. If you're looking for a substitute, I'd recommend Laird's 7.5-year apple brandy or any high-quality Applejack or apple brandy.
Plantation O.F.T.D. Rum
The Avenue calls for bourbon, but I found it wasn't adding much to the mix, and I was after some funkier flavors. Rum and brandy always play well together, so I defaulted to Smith and Cross early on. Unfortunately, it actually added a little too much hogo and battered the Applejack. The slightly bitter, burnt blackstrap notes of Plantation's O.F.T.D. provide far more depth, a more reasonable funk, and plenty of heat to a drink that calls for its base spirits to punch through a lot of tropical fruit and sparkling wine. Because of the proof and intensity, I dialed this back from an ounce to .75 oz.
Vanilla Passion Fruit Syrup*
This was the default vehicle for passion fruit at Pouring Ribbons. Even sweetened with the vanilla syrup, it's quite tart. While The Avenue calls for a full ounce of passion fruit (yowza), the final proportions of Star People only see about 2 teaspoons of passion fruit make it into the drink. Once combined with the acidity of the lemon juice and sparkling wine, it's more than enough to get the job done.
Don't take any shortcuts with the passion fruit; if you are unable to procure fresh passion fruit, opt for a pure puree (vs. the clarified “juice” often available for purchase).
Several syrups were tested to add some much-needed body and sugar. The Avenue calls for grenadine, but it ended up tasting too tart with the passion fruit. The orange cordial worked perfectly and calls back to the orange flower water in the Avenue.
As a bonus, cocktail bars tend to accumulate a lot of orange waste during winter months when oranges are typically stripped of their peels for Old Fashioneds, so having a cocktail on the menu which utilized the juice and remaining bits of peels proved crucial.
Despite the passion fruit and the bit of lemon in the orange cordial, a bit more acidity was required to get things balanced.
Gruet Brut Sparkling Wine
Dry, light, and crisp, the sparkling wine brings effervesce to the cocktail and makes the fruit really pop.
I recommend jiggering the wine into the flute and straining the shaken cocktail into it instead of topping the drink off. The reasons are two-fold: the shaken ingredients and the wine incorporate better, and it minimizes the cocktail bubbling up and overflowing.
You may substitute any dry, sparkling wine.
The bitters bring the whole drink together, bridging gaps between a multitude of fruit and spice. They are also crucial for the aesthetic of the cocktail as they darken it quite a bit and provide the thematic contrast for the garnish.
Lemon Pigtail Twist
A) Brightens the funk on the nose
B) Placing the pigtail on the mouth of the flute creates an “oil ceiling” that will help prevent the drink from overflowing when building it
C) It represents the yellow tie from the above Miles Davis quote
*Vanilla Passion Fruit Syrup
350g passion fruit puree
88g hot water
88g white granulated sugar
A quarter of a fresh vanilla bean
Bring water to a boil and add the sugar to make the simple syrup. Split and scrape the vanilla bean of its seeds. Add the seeds and pod to the hot simple syrup. Infuse for 24 hours. Strain the seeds and pod (these will still have flavor, so save them for re-use).
Blend 350g passion fruit puree with 175g vanilla syrup. [Yields 12oz of vanilla passion fruit syrup.]
250g white granulated sugar
230g orange juice
20g lemon juice
peel of 1 orange
peel of 2 lemons
Combine 250g white sugar with the peels of 1 orange and 2 lemons in a sealed container for 24 hours. Add 230g orange juice and 20g lemon juice. Mix until sugar is dissolved. Strain peels. [Yields 12oz of cordial.]
Photo credit: Erik Ackley