Cursed Cocktails Bonus Epilogue: Flint & Embers
The last embers of the fire were dying as Rhoren stepped downstairs. Morning sunlight streaked through the windows. There wasn’t much need for a fire when the bar was full, but true to Kallum’s word, the nights had grown cool enough to warrant the hearth’s use on occasion.
Both Jinx and the spirit fox lay in front of the fireplace, basking in its fading warmth. The fox’s ears twitched, and she raised her head to stare at Rhoren for a moment before resting against the floor with a sigh. Jinx snored peacefully beside her.
The fox had been a more common feature around the space of late. Not when there were guests about, but she could somehow sense when it was just Rhoren and Kallum. The wall would click, and she’d enter through the hidden panel into the bar, sitting at Kallum’s feet until he offered her a treat.
“Good morning, Twy,” Rhoren whispered as he sat in one of the oversized chairs. They had taken to calling the spirit fox Twilight since she only showed up after dark. That, in turn, had quickly been shortened to Twy.
Rhoren leaned against the leather backrest and closed his eyes, appreciating the sounds of the city as it came alive. A wagon clattered down the street. Birds chirped from across the square. Somewhere far away, a bell tolled as a ship came into the harbor.
Footsteps echoed down the stairs, drawing Rhoren’s attention. Jinx went from softly snoring to rushing toward Kallum in an instant. The cat weaved between the man’s legs.
Kallum knelt, scratching Jinx behind the ears. The cat arched his back then plopped on his side, wrapping his front paws around Kallum’s ankle.
“It’s gonna be like that, is it?” Kallum rubbed the cat’s belly. Jinx fought him for a moment before meowing loudly and darting up the stairs. Kallum grinned beneath his silver beard at Rhoren. “Mornin’, handsome.”
Rhoren returned his smile. “You’re up awfully early.”
“I could say the same for you.”
Rhoren shrugged. “Old habits die hard.”
Kallum joined Rhoren, leaning over the back of the chair and wrapping his arms around the umbral elf. He kissed Rhoren on the top of the head.
Rhoren’s heart fluttered. They’d been living together for a while now, but every morning was a reminder of how good life could be. A reminder of why he’d risked everything that night in the harbor.
Kallum maneuvered his way around the chair until he was face-to-face with Rhoren. “I have a few errands to run this morning. I need to pick up the last ingredient for a special cocktail I’ve been wanting to try out.”
“Special, eh? Does this have anything to do with the alcohol you’ve been infusing behind the bar the past week?” Rhoren pressed his lips to Kallum’s. “Consider me intrigued.”
Kallum smirked. “You better watch out, Rhoren Balsalor, or these sparks will start a fire.”
Rhoren laughed as he cradled Kallum’s face in his palm. “Let it burn.”
By the time Kallum returned, it was after noon and Rhoren had already begun the prep work for the evening shift. Kallum grinned mischievously as he placed his satchel on the bartop.
Rhoren loved the sly smile that Kallum had any time he was preparing a new drink. It was like the world was a game, and he knew all the rules. Like somehow, he’d figured out how to make happiness out of simply existing. The man lived and breathed cocktails and hospitality. If Rhoren’s father was still around, he had no doubt the two would have hit it off.
Rhoren tossed the polishing rag over his shoulder. “So, what’d you get?”
After rummaging through his satchel, Kallum set a jar of thick golden syrup in front of Rhoren. The label showcased the image of a succulent with long green leaves that ended in a point.
Kallum twisted the lid, and a slightly sweet aroma floated out. There was just a hint of grass and woodiness to the smell.
“This is mezscali nectar.” Kallum took a spoon and dipped it in the jar. He lifted it and watched as the thick syrup drizzled back into the container. “It comes from the same plant as the mezcalium we use in our Blood of the Phoenix cocktail. It’s a little less sweet than traditional simple syrup, and it has a more earthy flavor. I’ve been waiting on this forever. I was inspired by your father and had it shipped all the way from Crowhold.”
Rhoren nodded. He had no idea how an earthy sweetener was going to taste, but he’d learned to trust Kallum’s process, no matter how strange it may seem.
“I know that look,” Kallum smirked.
Rhoren raised a brow. “What look would that be?”
“It’s the I-don’t-know-how-this-is-going-to-taste-but-I’m-going-to-nod-and-trust-the-process look.”
Rhoren laughed. “You’re good.”
“Alcohol isn’t the only thing I study.” He winked. “You want to test it out?”
“By all means.” Rhoren stepped aside. “The suspense is killing me.”
Kallum switched places with Rhoren behind the bar, crouching in front of one of the shelves and grabbing a bottle filled with an amber liquid. Slices of orange pepper sloshed within.
Rhoren had been curious about the bottle’s contents when Kallum placed it there, but the man had assured him all would be revealed in time. For an entire week, the bottle had sat on the shelf.
Kallum placed the bottle on the counter. “Sometimes, a bartender wants to capture a certain flavor without adding additional ingredients to the drink. That is where infusion comes in. By allowing the alcohol to sit with the botanical for a time, it imbues the liquor with a new taste. In this case—” He tapped the bottle. “—the mezcalium has been infused with infernal peppers from Gannett. The peppers will add a bit of heat and spice to the mezcalium, which will help to accentuate the other flavors of the drink. Here, give it a taste.”
He poured a splash of the infused liquor into a glass and handed it to Rhoren.
Rhoren sniffed, and he could smell the spiciness of the peppers. The mezcalium coated his mouth as he sipped. Beneath the warmth of the alcohol and the heat of the peppers, there was a smokiness that lingered long after he swallowed. He took a deep breath, and sweat glistened on his brow.
Kallum poured himself a taste and took a drink.
“That’s dangerous.” Rhoren panted as the heat continued to build along his tongue and throat.
“Whew, you aren’t lying.” Kallum blinked rapidly as the alcohol hit him the same way. “Whatever you do, don’t touch your eyes after handling this.”
Rhoren drank a glass of water, but it only made the spice burn hotter.
“Alright, alright. Let’s get down to business.” Kallum shook his head as if clearing his mind. “The first thing we want to do is strain the infusion into a new bottle. This will prevent it from—” He cleared his throat and let out a breath. “—prevent it from getting any spicier.”
Kallum took out an empty bottle and placed a strainer over the lid. He poured the infused mezcalium through, straining away seeds and pepper flesh.
Once the alcohol was strained, he set the bottle down. Both he and Rhoren had perspiration along their brows. They looked at each other for a moment before they burst out laughing.
“Don’t worry.” Kallum admired the bottle. “We can add more mezcalium to dilute it if the drink is too spicy.”
Rhoren grimaced. “All part of the process, right?”
“That’s the spirit.” Kallum squeezed Rhoren’s shoulder. “Let me grab my journal so you can see the recipe.”
He pulled a black leather journal from beneath the counter and opened it. He flipped through the pages, and when he found the one he was looking for, he placed it on the bar in front of Rhoren.
Flint & Embers
2 oz Infernal pepper infused mezcalium
.75 oz Lime juice
.25 oz Lemon juice
.75 oz Orange liqueur
.5 oz Mezcali nectar
Half Rim: Pepper, lime zest, and salt.
“I’m not the artist that your father was, but I thought it might be a good idea to start collecting my recipes in something a little nicer.”
“I think it looks great.” Rhoren traced the words on the page. “I love the name, too.”
Kallum’s cheeks flushed, but Rhoren wasn’t sure if it was from the alcohol or the compliment.
“The first thing I’ll do is make the rim. I always like to do a half rim so that the guest can choose their own adventure.”
Rhoren watched Kallum work as he sprinkled pepper and salt on a small plate. Next, he grabbed a lime and zested it until there was a layer of light green sprinkled over the spices. He took the remaining lime and quartered it, using one quarter to coat half the rim before rolling the glass across the mixture until there was a nice coating along the rim.
“Now, the good stuff.” Kallum talked as he added each ingredient. “Two ounces of the infused mezcalium, a little lemon and lime juice, and then a half-ounce of orange liqueur. Finally, a dollop of mezcal nectar.”
He dipped the spoon into the jar of nectar and held it over the shaker as it slowly dripped into the mix.
After the nectar, Kallum filled the shaker with ice. He capped the end and shook vigorously. His forearms flexed, and the shaker rattled until it was coated with an icy sheen.
Rhoren smiled as he watched him work. It reminded him of the night they’d first met nearly a year ago at the Seaside Inn.
“We can either strain it and serve the drink in a coupe glass, or we can do it over ice. Considering the spice level, a little extra ice never hurts.”
He poured the mixture into a glass and topped it with ice from the chiller.
“Garnish it with a lime wheel, and ta-da.” Kallum placed the lime on the rim with a flourish and slid the cocktail in front of Rhoren. “Would you like to do the honors?”
Rhoren tilted the glass toward Kallum and took a sip. He’d been expecting the heat from before, but this was completely different. The citrus and nectar somehow balanced the spiciness, bringing even more attention to the smoky flavor that had infused the mezcalium. There was still a good bit of heat to the drink, but it was bearable, leaving a tingle on his lips from the spice and the coated rim. The spiciness wasn’t uncomfortable but a pleasant reminder that this wasn’t your average cocktail.
“Well?” Kallum watched him expectantly.
“It’s delicious.” He offered the drink to Kallum. “Try for yourself.”
Kallum took a deep breath and then sipped.
He smiled as he handed the drink back to Rhoren. “I’ll be honest, I was a little worried for a minute.”
“I think this one will really—”
The door opened and Jesper stepped inside.
The raven-haired bard set his lute on the bar. “I had a feeling you’d be whipping something up if I came in early.” He looked at Rhoren expectantly until the elf slid the cocktail down the bar. “What do we have here?”
“I call it Flint & Embers.” Kallum crossed his arms. “Give it a taste.”
“Ooh, that’s good.” Jesper licked his lips, took another sip, and then another. “Ooh, yes, wow. Smoky, spicy, citrusy. By the gods, Kallum, I’m going to need another.”
Kallum laughed as he pulled a second glass from the rack.
“I promise I didn’t come in early just for the drinks.” Jesper set the empty glass on the bar. “Well, not just for the drinks. You see, I was on a date last night with this halfling that’s been coming to all my shows. She was telling me about this thing they do in Honeydale. It’s like a meal between breakfast and lunch. But really, it’s just an excuse to sleep in and drink early on the weekends. They call it brunch.”
Rhoren and Kallum exchanged a look.
“Brunch?” Rhoren tapped a finger against his lips as he pondered. “It does have a nice ring to it.”
Kallum stroked his beard. “Who knows? Maybe it’ll be Eastborne’s next sensation.”