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I’m old enough to be that guy at the end of the bar Drinkificating (thanks Brockmire) about music back in my day and telling the kid bartender how I saw R.E.M. on the Chronic Town tour at Joe’s Star Lounge with less than 50 people in Ann Arbor. A few drinks more and I’d launch into the tale of catching their State Theatre gig with The dB’s opening. dB’s drummer Will Rigby was a friend at the time. Yeah – we lost touch over time but that’s life, isn’t it? After the show, I ended up with Will & Gene Holder at a random dB’s fan’s house eating sloppy joes at midnight. Somehow (my memory is a bit foggy on this) we ended up going back to the tour hotel (possibly on the thought there was an after-party?) only to find most of the band in asleep and Mike Mills wandering the halls in his underwear looking for the ice machine. I consider the “I Once Saw R.E.M.’s Mike Mills In His Underwear Looking For Ice” to be in my Top 5 Stories From My Music Biz Days.
Yes, this is a humble brag roundabout way of saying I’ve been a R.E.M. fan since the beginning. I unequivocally loved everything up to Green. Not to say there are not some brilliant tracks post- Green; just that there is a slow decline in quality until they became temporarily dead to me with Up. It wasn’t until Accelerate that they once again captured the brilliance I first saw in that small club in Ann Arbor.
So, when I started experimenting with making homemade sodas for the currently dormant (but soon to be resurrected) Drink-A-Rama project, one of the first recipes came straight from childhood nostalgia: orange soda. That immediately led me to R.E.M. for the theme song.
Yes – I know there is already a drink called “Orange Crush”. I also know it is a dreadful concoction of artificial everything and tastes like orange-colored hell. I grew up on crap orange soda. When I say “childhood nostalgia” I mean I loved Faygo Orange Soda even though it is in fact crap soda. Even with the whole small craft beverage explosion, I have yet to find a great orange soda. The answer – as usual – was to make it myself.
The syrup is made using a modified oleo-saccharum method. After juicing the oranges, I macerate the rinds in granulated sugar. This is left out at room temperature four hours and stirred every hour. The sugar will break down, pull moisture and oils from the rinds, and create a syrup. That syrup has a deeper, more floral taste than just using orange juice and simple syrup. While I have used turbinado to make this syrup, the larger crystals do not break down as well resulting in a syrup that requires secondary processing – usually thinning with water.
What I ended up with was a perfect orange syrup – big notes of orange flavor with the brightness of the oils from the rinds. Mixed with a bit of seltzer from my favorite soda siphon and I finally have a soda I can truly call my Orange Crush.
Cold-brewed orange syrup, seltzer
Makes 1 drink
4 ounces orange syrup
3-4 ice cubes
Place ice in a 12-ounce glass. Pour orange syrup over ice. Fill the glass with seltzer. Stir.
1 part orange rinds
1/2 part granulated sugar
NOTE: The proportions of this recipe are based on the weight of the orange. If you have 16 ounces of orange rinds you’ll need and 8 ounces sugar.
Cut orange rinds in quarters and place them in a medium bowl. Sprinkle with sugar and stir to thoroughly combine. Cover and let sit on the counter for at least 4 hours – stirring every 30 – 45 minutes. Using a fine-mesh strainer, strain syrup. In small batches, press rinds in the mesh strainer with a spoon to get every drop. Pour into bottle and store in the refrigerator.