Last Meal Libations: Ciel Sombre

By Tom Lindstedt

There was always going to be a death-by-birds episode for Last Meal, so we looked to the skies for inspiration on a matching cocktail.  The Aviation cocktail has long been a favorite of Jessica Grimmer, so that was a natural source of inspiration.  For added visual effect, we played around with adding the distinct violette liqueur as a sunken “float” to mark the drink — thankfully it only required a small bit of the potently floral liqueur to stand out, and it was easily incorporated by a few gentle swirls from those imbibing the drink.

Along the way, there was talk of needing multiple drinks per episode, so we devised an Aviation flight (pardon the pun) of three cocktails, each with a different color scheme to represent the transformation of the sky.  Obviously the traditional Aviation was designated for the clear skies; the darker spirits and flavors of what became the Ciel Sombre (“somber sky”) meant to represent the heavens approaching nightfall.

As is always the case with filming, re-writes, and story editing, the need for three different drinks was scrapped and we chose the most unique of the flock.  Instants before we were to film the scene (after we had already shot the Ciel Sombre tutorial), we collectively realized that we should go back to the “original” Aviation since it made more sense — and was far prettier.  (Those who watch the birds episode of Last Meal will clearly note the bartender’s unsteady hand in dolloping the crème de violette, a result of nervous energy in executing the creative decision just minutes before cameras rolled.)  While it didn’t make it into the actual episode, the Ciel Sombre and it’s lithe duet of pear and Pernod reimagines the interplay between the floral and funky combination in the classic.



No need to splurge, but get something decent that you wouldn’t mind sipping on by itself.  There’s plenty of riper fruit present in the other ingredients, so a drier French brandy is perfectly apt.  Not saying that there aren’t quality American brandies being produced (there are!), but stick to the French stuff to stay on theme.


Don’t be confused: blanc vermouth is neither the dry version that people fear in their Martini, nor the sweet version that graces their Manhattan.  If anything, blanc vermouth is a pale version that drinks closer in style to a rouge vermouth.  More and more brands are releasing this style to complement their line-up, so availability is less an issue these days.  In a pinch, adding a richer simple syrup to a competent dry vermouth will suffice.



Pear liqueurs (brandies) range dramatically in flavor, so do a little research before shopping — some taste more natural than others, or capture more of a particular type of pear.  And while pear eau-de-vie is a delicious tipple, this recipe calls for its sweetened cousin.  We like the consistently tasty Rothman & Winter brand.  Another subtler option –worth sipping on its own– would be Belle de Brillet which blends cognac with the essence of Poire Williams.

Pernod here refers to the anise liqueur with the distinct licorice and fennel taste.  Their recently revised absinthe superieure expectedly carries all the same flavors (with additional bitterness and less sweetness) for a heftier price, and wouldn’t be out of place in this drink.  Equally, we’re fans of Herbsaint (the 100º version) for another balanced pastis option.  Your mileage may vary with what anisette or anise liqueurs are available, and each may have differently perceived sugar levels, so start with just a barspoon (a little less than a teaspoon) and adjust up as desired.

The category of amaro is quite diverse.  This recipe calls for one that is pleasantly “middle-of-the-road” to allow all the other flavors to shine — Averna, Ramazzotti, or Lucano all spring to mind as front-runners.  The weight of the amaro will have it sink to the bottom of the drink for a final, delightful sip.

From his very first stints at bartending, Tom has enjoyed scripting cocktail menus within specific themes.  Overseeing two restaurant cocktail programs (Biwa, Little Bird) prior to establishing those at Barlow and High Noon, Tom is drawn as much to the educational aspects of craft cocktailing as the actual service and hospitality elements. 

Barlow Cielo Sombre Portland Oregon