They Are Us - A Cocktail For Day of the Dead

They Are Us
They Are Us

All photos by Amanda Schuster.

I love Halloween, but it's Day of the Dead that I really look forward to every year.

Día de los Muertos is the traditional Mexican holiday of remembrance, when gatherings of friends and family remember those they have lost, taking place between All Hallow's Eve and November 2nd. Private alters, ofrendas, are adorned with sugar skulls, ornate skeleton figures, marigolds, photographs and other colorful ornamentation and mementos, and it is custom to bring the deceased an offering of their favorite foods and beverages. Starting on Halloween, the children of a family decorate the alter as an invitation for the spirits of departed children, angelitos, to visit. On November 1, All Saints Day, the adult spirits are thought to stop by. November 2, All Souls Day, is spent decorating the tombs of loved ones. Some families plan the three-day fiesta all year. In modern Mexico, the name Día de los Muertos has come to be replaced with the term Flor de Muerto (Flower of Dead), because the flowers on the ofrendas are thought to attract souls of the dead to the alters. The whole celebration is a tradition thought to have originated centuries ago with the Aztecs, and the symbols and ceremony have become so delightfully infectious that it has spread throughout the world, celebrated in many places outside of Mexico.

In the US, of course, Day of the Dead, has turned into yet another excuse to gorge on tacos and pound margaritas, though for many it really is like walking the zombie apocalypse, being right after all those Halloween parties and all. Thankfully, more establishments are taking the tradition seriously, offering special menus of Mexican autumn fare. It's also an excellent excuse to break out the good agave spirits and make seasonal cocktails!

Here is my Day of the Dead offering. It's most delicious with a little extra work and lead time to make the Aperol infusion. The sweetness of the pear and vanilla really play off the orange bitter of the Aperol, and the thyme punctuates the elixir with a note of savory. (You could also do this in a pinch with plain old Aperol, and add a little vanilla and spices to your liking, but the work ahead is totally worth it, plus it will keep for other uses.) Fidencio Clásico is a mild, slightly barbecue-smoky Mezcal that provides the perfect base for the bittersweet Aperol, while the Cocchi Rosa is a softer vermouth, adding a velvety layer without cloying. Chocolate bitters highlight the vanilla even more! The name comes from a line in the 1985 George Romero classic, Day of the Dead.

I'd sure appreciate this brought to my grave some November 2nd when the time comes...

Pears and Aperol, Day One
Pears and Aperol, Day One

They Are Us 

This Mezcal Negroni riff was inspired by the Taco Truck cocktail at The Corner Door in Los Angeles by Beau du Bois, as brought to my attention by Noemi Valdez.

Combine all ingredients except the garnishes in a mixing glass and stir with ice until well-chilled. Strain into a rocks or Old Fashioned glass with fresh ice. Garnish. Toast to your departed loved ones! ¡Salud!

*Pear/Vanilla/Thyme-infused Aperol

  • 2/3 of a bottle of Aperol
  • 2 whole pears, cored and cut into pieces
  • one vanilla pod, cut into thirds
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme

Combine the Aperol and pears in a Mason jar, close and gently turn the jar upside down and upright again once or twice to thoroughly soak the pears. Store at room temperature overnight. Add vanilla and thyme and move that mixture around in the jar again to soak and distribute, doing so once a day. Store at room temperature for another 2 - 3 days. Strain through a paper towel-lined sieve into bowl and transfer to a bottle or slightly smaller jar. Have fun with your creation - it's alive!!!