Cheers to the Equinox
Solstices, both summer and winter, get a lot of attention here in Alaska for being the longest and shortest days of the year, respectively. But if you’re looking for an excuse to raise a glass between these two celestial events, look no further than the spring equinox.
The equinoxes - both vernal (in March) and autumnal (in September) mark the date when night and day are of approximately equal length all over the earth.
The fact that we gain more daylight (a whopping 5 minutes and 44 seconds here in Anchorage) during the spring equinox than at any other time during the year is cause enough to celebrate. Need another? The vernal equinox also marks the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere - woohoo!
So, when you’ve finished appreciating the extra daylight this March 20th, take a few moments to look around for the subtle signs of spring’s imminent arrival. One of the first – even when a blanket of snow still remains on the ground – can be found in two of Alaska’s most well-known species of trees: birch and spruce.
In early April, the paper birch tree--in preparation for new growth--begins pulling moisture from the ground, up through its trunk, and out toward its branches. During this time of year enterprising Alaskans tap birch trees and fill buckets with the slightly sweet sap that will be boiled down into delicious birch syrup.
Birch syrup’s rich, sweet-spicy flavor makes it a great natural sweetener for cocktails, mixing particularly well with bourbon and rye whiskies. Although you can make your own by boiling down 100 gallons of birch sap to make 1 gallon of syrup (versus maple syrup’s typical ratio of 40:1), you may want to go the easy route with one of the store-bought but locally made versions found at most stores selling gifts and goodies for tourists.
A bit later on, toward the end of April and into May, another sure sign of spring are the budding spruce tips. Bright green in both color and aroma (think citrus and resin), spruce tips not only make for easy foraging, but they also can become an exotic and flavorful syrup that pairs great with gin and can be used to mix a range of springtime-appropriate cocktails.
So this equinox, maybe while you’re enjoying the few minutes of extra daylight, take a moment to salute the change of season with a cocktail (or two) that showcases the unique spring flavors of Alaska. Cheers!
The Vernal Equinox
- 2 oz rye whiskey
- ¾ oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
- ½ oz birch syrup
- ¼ oz simple syrup
- 1 egg white
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a tumbler. Garnish with a fresh rosemary sprig. To make an Autumnal Equinox, add a dash of grated cinnamon and garnish with a cinnamon stick.