At an arts show a while back in Athens, Georgia, I picked up a bottle of Southern Woods Tonic from Cherokee Moon Mixology, an Athens-based maker of artisanal vinegars, tonics, bitters, and sour mixes. I had no clear idea what I’d ever do with the stuff, but its ingredients were too alluring to pass up: Green apples and lemongrass. Yarrow, which the Cherokee used as a medicinal. Juniper berries, pine needles, cedar tips, and molasses. Southern woodsy, to be sure.
The bottle sat around for months, until a certain day during duck season when I had a small pile of birds to clean. I’ve long been a fan of a celebratory bird-cleaning cocktail, so I mixed a bit, adjusted a smidge, tested some more, and by the time I had the ducks plucked, I had perfected the formula and I hadn’t even cut a finger off.
When my son took a swig, he laughed immediately and got all smart-mouthed, parodying my frequent and (possibly) overwrought responses to the question of what duck hunting means to me.
“Oh, Dad,” he said, smirking “I bet you drank this and thought: It tastes like a bottled sunrise in the duck swamp, like someone captured the essence of muck and wet dog and frost on the cattail and the way water beads up on a duck’s wing just so.”
His name is Jack, but sometimes that’s really only half of it.
But by Jove, it tastes exactly like that, so we dubbed it the Duck Boot. The drink is a duck season staple now and pairs exceptionally well with a crackling fire, pants legs stuffed into wader socks, and dogs passed out on the floor with duckweed still stuck to their coats. Bonus points if you catch the lingering scent of Hoppes No. 9 as you raise the glass to your lips.
Follow T. Edward Nickens on Instagram @enickens.