The after-dinner drink is a tricky thing. Served with dessert, a nightcap must be subtle enough to complement something sweet yet still bold enough to be enjoyed on its own. “Balance is the key,” says McCrady’s bartender Morgan Chapman, who successfully achieved this lofty goal with his cocktail creation for the Charleston Wine + Food Festival’s Critics Dinner last September. Inspired by the event’s historical theme as well as Edward McCrady, the founder of the 223-year-old restaurant, Chapman based the drink around Madeira. This fortified wine from the island of Madeira off the coast of Portugal is making a comeback from its local heyday more than 150 years ago. McCrady was one of the first to import the spirit—a favorite of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington (the latter a visitor to McCrady’s in 1791)—to our shores.
“I like to use Historic Series Madeira Charleston Sercial Special Reserve because of its historical connection,” says Chapman. To offset the wine’s sweetness, Chapman adds cognac; coffee; and a house-made simple syrup infused with coffee, vanilla, and Teeccino, a caffeine-free herbal coffee substitute in hazelnut flavor, which adds subtle layers of warm nuttiness. Depending on your taste for java, pour in as much or little coffee as you like. Even though the drink is served over ice, its toasty flavors and smoky undertones are a perfect ending to a holiday feast. “An after-dinner drink should have a long, complex finish,” says Chapman. “And a hint of caffeine never hurts after a nice meal.”