Use Rich, Nutty Dates to Sweeten Your Cocktails

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[Photographs: Elana Lepkowski]

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On a stretch of road outside Palm Springs lies a small white building, filled with dates prepared in every imaginable way. Covered in chocolate. Spun into milkshakes. Refined into sugar. It's because of this place that when I think of Palm Springs, I imagine wrinkled brown dates nearly as much as I do palm trees, pools, and boozy Rat Pack era stars.

Among my last haul of goods from that Palm Springs date shop was a bottle of date syrup that I'd intended to use to flavor some oatmeal, but have since realized I'd rather use to sweeten up drinks. Today it's providing that touch of sweetness to a variation on the Martinez cocktail, a darker and sweeter alternative to the martini that may even pre-date its drier, tuxedo-wearing cousin.

When it comes to sweetening a cocktail, sugar is just the starting point. Honey is one alternative; dates are another. When rendered into a thick, sticky syrup sometimes called date molasses, dates offer a warmer and more complex flavor than your regular granulated stand-by, with less sweetness. A few years ago, date syrup was limited to the aisles of Middle Eastern specialty stores and health food groceries, but these days it's more available in supermarkets and, of course, online.

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The syrup's rich, deep date flavor pairs wonderfully with a nutty but dry amontillado sherry. Here, my fall-inspired riff on the Martinez mixes the sherry with equal parts gin to dry out the drink and lend some contrasting juniper and pine flavors. The cocktail gets a sweet and spicy kick from a few dashes of Peychaud's bitter, and is brightened up with a twisted orange peel that doubles as a garnish. If you're knee-deep in dates, they can make a nice garnish, too, but I'm saving mine for snacking.

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