Sunday, December 30, 2012

Vieille Ruelle

I have riffed on the Vieux Carré before with very pleasing results.  This time, I was prompted by a broken cap on my resident bottle of Benedictine which forced me to try and use whatever I could.  There are a lot of substitutions here, but I decided to keep the naming similar and use the French for "old alley".

1 oz white rum (I used the positively superb Plantation 3 Stars, which I cannot recommend highly enough)
1 oz Laird's Straight Apple Brandy (no substitutions, please)
1 oz Cocchi Americano
2 dashes Benedictine (~1/2 tsp)
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 dashes orange bitters

Shake briefly or stir well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with an orange peel.

Sunday, December 16, 2012


A french-y version of the wonderful Itatian-ish Negroni, one of my personal favorite cocktails?  Sure, and why not call it something that nobody will be able to pronounce correctly?  Say the first part like "beinget".

1 oz cognac
1 oz Cynar
1 oz sweet vermouth
1 dash orange bitters

Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

The Calm Shallows

This drink tasted vegetal, pungent, and even slightly briny to me at first, but wasn't dark enough to merit the name "The Briny Deep".  I think I'll have to make something befitting that before long, but for now:

1 1/2 oz aquavit (I absolutely love North Shore, but use Linie if you can't find that)
1 1/2 oz dry vermouth (Dolin in this case)
1/2 oz persimmon syrup
4 dashes orange bitters

Stir in a rocks glass over ice and top with a dash of soda water.  Stir again and garnish with an orange twist.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Jaqueline Rose

Here's a nice, light rendition of the excellent Jack Rose cocktail:

3/4 oz applejack (I like Laird's Straight Apple Brandy)
3/4 oz rye whiskey
3/4 oz dry vermouth
3/4 oz real pomegranate grenadine
3/4 oz lime juice

Shake and strain into a small cocktail glass.  Garnish with a lemon twist if you're like that.

Just some simple experimentation, but I like the result in this case.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

French 75 Variations

I am a big fan of the French 75, which is itself a riff on the Collins, the grandfather of all long drinks.  Here are a couple of random, experimental variations which proved too tasty not to write down.

1 3/4 oz Plymouth gin (London Dy would work well too)
1/2 oz Aperol
1/2 oz real pomegranate grenadine
1/2 oz lemon juice

1 3/4 oz aquavit (I used North Shore, which is recommended if you can find it, Linie if you cannot)
3/4 oz Cocchi Americano
1/2 oz citrus syrup
1/3 oz orange juice
1/3 oz lemon juice

1 3/4 oz cognac
1/2 Galliano
1/2 oz Rothman & Winter apricot liqueur
3/4 oz lemon juice

For all of the above: shake and strain over fresh rocks in a tall glass, then top with 1 oz Champagne or Cava.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Citron Soda

Here's a good (and somewhat rare for me!) non-alcoholic recipe.  It's essentially my attempt to recreate San Pellegrino Pompelmo (an actual grapefruit soda, unlike my ironically-titled Grownup version) with some enhancements to just pretty much every citrus-related ingredient I had at hand.

6 oz lemon syrup (a standard simple made with extensive lemon zest, one of my favorites)
6 oz fresh ruby red grapefruit juice
2 oz fresh lime juice
20 oz soda water
6 dashes orange bitters
6 drops orange flower water

Combine the above in a 1-liter glass bottle.

This is tasty just served over ice as a refresher.  Of course, if you want something boozy, I find that this makes a delicious gimlet/tonic hybrid if combined with dry gin (or vodka, or light rum, or white tequila) in about a 2:1 (soda : liquor) ratio.  I also like to spike this with a quick dash of Aperol or Campari for color and to back up the grapefruit flavor.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Carriage Redux

I think I'd like to recant and offer a slightly different version of the Golden Carriage as final.  This one is my favorite yet.

1 1/2 oz blended scotch
1/2 oz Matilde Poire
1/2 oz Cocchi Americano
1/2 oz dry vermouth (Noilly Prat here, other good brands would be welcome)
2 dashes orange bitters
2 dashes aromatic bitters (Angostura here)

Rinse a coupe with absinthe, let chill, etc etc.  Stir the above then strain into the coupe.  Garnish with a flamed orange peel.

This version is a little more dilute, and winds up comfortably filling the coupe.  I think I'm going to submit it for the next cocktail menu at the restaurant.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Rosa Dama

Here's a random happy accident.

1 oz resposado tequila
1 oz dry vermouth
1 oz pomegranate juice (I use POM)
1 oz soda water
2 dashes Bittercube Bolivar bitters
2 dashes ras el hanout bitters

Combine in a double old fashioned glass over rocks and stir.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Golden Carriage

I have to admit that this one is not entirely my own - or it is, but directly inspired by one of our new bartender's cocktails, a drink known as Another Castle.  Since nobody really reads this anyway, the construction of this beverage is as follows:

1 oz Plymouth gin
1/4 oz Matilde Peche liqueur
1/4 oz Cocchi Americano
1/4 oz dry vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters (I think Fee's was used originally)

Rinse a coupe with absinthe and place in the freezer to chill (or "season", as they say with Sazeracs).  Stir the above over rocks and then strain into the coupe, then twist a strip of orange peel over the top and whirl it into a tight circle resembling a flower; perch this on the rim as garnish.

Now, that's a damned fine beverage, no doubt about it.  After sampling one after work, I got home and wondered if I could try something similar with Matilde Poire, which had been hanging out in my cabinet for some time.  Gin didn't seem quite right, so I switched to rye, which was just way too assertive.  So I did something that I thought a little crazy and tried scotch instead.  A couple minor adjustments later and we have the beverage below:

1 oz blended scotch (use a single malt if you like, just something mild - you don't want too much peat here)
1/4 oz Matilde Poire liqueur
1/4 oz Cocchi Americano
1/4 oz sweet vermouth (Punt e Mes is also nice)
2 dashes Regan's No. 6 orange bitters

Rinse a coupe with absinthe, etc etc.  Do the same fanciness with the orange peel, if you like, or just squeeze an orange coin over the top and drop in.

(Being something of a lush, I actually find that the above is a rather small drink for my tastes.  If you think the same, double all of the proportions and use a classic martini glass instead.)

This to me is proof that experimentation and substitution can be the origin of many a fine cocktail.  That is after all how we got from Manhattans to Martinis, and from Sidecars to Margaritas.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Stoplight Special

I keep feeling like someone must have invented this one before - it just seems a little too easy.  But it's also damned good, and it's proven a surprisingly flexible formula.  Anyway, I'll take credit for naming it (based on the colors of its three main flavoring agents).

2 oz Laird's Applejack
1/3 oz green Chartreuse
1/3 oz Cocchi Americano (Lillet Blanc could work, if supplemented with a dash of orange bitters)
1/3 oz Aperol (or Campari, in a pinch)

Stir over rocks and strain over one large ice cube in a rocks glass.  Squeeze an orange peel over the top and discard.

I list applejack here only because it's my favorite variation so far.  Like the Pirate, this lends itself to easy substitution.  I've tried it with rye, bourbon, and genever, all of them successfully.  I haven't used brandy or an aged tequila yet, but I'm sure these could be good options too.  Rum, not so much, but you could give it a whirl.

Potential Return

This is probably the third or fourth "I'm back" post that I've written - it's starting to become a habit.  That "fall menu" took a bit of a right turn with a new bartender and a new role at the restaurant for myself.  New cocktails fell by the wayside for a while in favor of revisiting some classics and old recipes, but mixology just seems to get more compelling with the approach of colder weather.  I won't call this a permanent return, but I'll make an effort to share recipes a little more frequently.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Fall Menu Frenzy

The recent dearth of recipes is mostly because I haven't really been experimenting lately.  This summer has been an oppressively hot one, making simple long drinks the go-to choice.  I've also been expanding my beer and wine horizons (including some very fine sangria) but proper cocktails have been limited in number and held to old favorites.  Ah well.

That's probably due to change, though; the end of the summer is in sight, and a new cocktail menu is around the corner at the restaurant.  I'd like to have at least a half-dozen strong submissions this time around, so trial runs are likely to abound for the next month or two.  I'll try to be better about recording them here.

Home Bar Basics

After work last weekend I hopped down to a nearby watering hole for a quick burger and beer.  Mid-meal a couple of ladies planted themselves a short distance down and begged the bartender's opinion on the best way to get started on a simple home bar.  That caught my attention, as did the bartender's answer: start with five or so base spirits (whiskey, gin, rum, vodka, and tequila) and buy gradually more expensive items as they need replacement.  I couldn't help but pipe in at this point, with a strongly worded suggestion that liqueurs, vermouth, and bitters be included too.

The conversation continued after I settled up and left, and it held my interest on the drive home.  It's a damned good question: what do you really need in a home bar?  We all have to start somewhere, and we definitely can't all stock up right away.  Tools are pretty basic, honestly.  You can get by and make most drinks with no more than a couple of items:
  1. a shaker you like (assuming it's the easy-to-find 3-piece "cobbler" style, you can stir and strain using this too)
  2. something to stir with (a bar spoon is the classic tool, but a plastic reusable chopstick works just fine too)
  3. a muddler (wood or metal is best, plastic not so much)
  4. a small knife for garnishes (you probably already have something suitable
  5. a measuring device (something in increments of 1/4 oz or smaller; you could even use a set of measuring spoons, since 1 tablespoon = 1/2 liquid oz)
Really, that's about it.  Obviously you can deck yourself out with Boston shakers, julep strainers, jiggers, pour spouts, and anything else, but the five above are the true minimum for 99% of cocktail recipes.  As you can see, you've probably already got many items that will do simply by having access to a basic kitchen.  To be fair, you'll need something to drink out of too, but glassware is largely up to you.  I'd go with martini glasses for drinks served up, standard water glasses for highballs, and rocks/juice glasses for stuff in between.  You could add champagne flutes too for bubbly stuff, or just all-purpose small wine glasses.  Beyond that it's whatever you like and can afford.

Ingredients are the complicated part, but for a flexible yet basic home bar, there are some ground rules.  Base spirits are the obvious part.  You'll want a selection of at least three, out of the list of available options:
  • Vodka, which I don't regard as all that essential
  • Gin, a key part of so many classic cocktails
  • Tequila, 100% agave or don't bother
  • Rum, aged or not
  • Whiskey, anything from bourbon to rye to scotch
  • Brandy, including varieties such as cognac and pisco
Regarding price point, I'm really not convinced that top-shelf ingredients are essential to crafting excellent cocktails.  Lower-end spirits have their place too, particularly if you're using a mixer; the finest rum available is overkill if you're pouring it over ice with Coke.  That said, try to stay away from the very bottom shelf.  Most of the stuff down there is cheap grain alcohol, diluted with water and flavored with artificial agents; it's poor imitation of the real deal at best.  The top shelf is all well and good, but if you're setting up a basic home bar for the first time, why spend an arm and a leg on ingredients that you haven't even played around with yet?  Aim for the middle; there are very fine deals here.  In generally I usually find that top-shelf spirits cost roughly five times more than their bottom-shelf counterparts (great bourbon costs $50, cheap whiskey costs $10).  Search out the stuff that's half as expensive as the best bottle, but twice as expensive as the cheapest ($20-25 in our example above).  You're bound to find a wide variety to choose from, and you can always upgrade later if you find a spirit you particularly enjoy.

Base spirits alone, though, do not make for anything close to a well-rounded bar.  For every liquor in your cabinet, there's a mandatory bottle of accent.  After all, it's the possibility of endless combination that differentiates cocktails from wine and beer - not that there's anything wrong with those, and in fairness they need fewer tools to enjoy.  But cocktails should be exciting, creative, and spontaneous, and you'll never get that from just pouring whiskey on the rocks.

First of all, there are sweetening agents.  I think you can reasonably get by with two: an orange liqueur, and something else.  The orange liqueur can be either triple sec (drier) or curacao (sweeter).  On balance I prefer triple sec, specifically Cointreau.  This ingredient is central to many popular classics, from the Margarita to the Sidecar and the Cosmopolitan, and it plays very well with a wide range of ingredients.  The other sweetener is your choice, depending on what you like and what's seasonal.  There are plenty of possibilities: Chambord, St. Germain, Beneditctine, maraschino (Luxardo the clear preference), Drambuie, Chartreuse... Marie Brizard and Rothman & Winter both make some very fine lines as well.  Should you find a couple of these that you really like, you could justifiably replace that orange liqueur too, but I'd prefer to supplement rather than replace.  Remember that you can afford to spend a little more on ingredients in this category, because you'll use them in lower quantity than your base spirits.  Try and avoid bottom-shelf liqueurs; they're more artificial, more cloyingly sweet, and much less complex in flavor than the good stuff.  Spring for a couple of decent bottles that will last a while.

Second, vermouth is an absolutely critical accent.  Vermouth makes a Dry Martini or Manhattan what they are, and I wouldn't want to have a bar that couldn't produce them.  Moreover, vermouth can add sweetness, bitterness, and herbal complexity to a drink all at the same time, making it a great ingredient for experimentation.  You're best off having both the dry/white/French and sweet/red/Italian varieties; other "rose" and "blanc" styles also exist, and have some interesting uses, but they're less common in drink recipes.  Plenty of major brands (Noilly Prat and the iconic Martini among my favorites) come in half-bottle sizes, which is usually what I buy.  Being based on wine, vermouth can oxidize, losing its pleasant flavor in the process and replacing it with an acrid twang.  I sincerely believe that there's a special corner of hell reserved for those bartenders who store their vermouth with a speed pourer on the bar rail.  Always, always, keep your vermouth in the fridge. It will last longer and taste far better.  Buying half-bottles ensures that you replace them more frequently, keeping your supply fresh.

Third, there are bitters, an ingredient central to the original definition of the word "cocktail".  These are extremely potent infusions of flavorful herbs and spices, and serve as the spice rack in mixology; a little dash can add a ton of flavor and transform a drink into something else entirely.  There are two major types of bitters: "potable" versions, often from Italy and mostly based on wine (like vermouth), and classical bitters, based on spirits and meant to be used in very small quantities.  Potable bitters, called amaros in Italy, can be used all on their own, and are typified by the well-known Campari.  I highly suggest keeping a bottle around (if not Campari, then its close cousin Aperol, or others such as Averna and Cynar) but wouldn't call them absolutely essential to a basic bar.  Make them one of your first expansions, though.  They are brilliantly flexible and can be used in whatever quantity you want, from small dashes to add a little bite and complexity, all the way up to the spirit in a light highball (Campari & soda, anyone?)  

Classic bitters are an entirely different animal, and are typified by the ubiquitous Angostura.  Used in small dashes, they primarily add depth and spice to cocktails.  They're readily available and almost never have to be replaced, so it just doesn't make sense to omit them from your basic setup.  Angostura and other "aromatic" bitters can be found just about everywhere, and just about any will serve.  If possible, look for a bottle of orange bitters as well.  These are typically lighter and fresher, and have seen a huge resurgence within the last five years; many decent liquor stores will carry them, and dozens of varieties can be found online.  Bitters can transform a drink from okay to outstanding, and since they're used in such small quantity they take a very small part of your total investment.

I won't go beyond mentioning basic elements like fresh juices and syrups; these are a minor part of your investment and should be added as needed for whatever strikes your fancy.  If you're making Sidecars, pick up a couple of lemons; if you're making Mojitos, grab limes and mint and whip up some simple syrup.  Mixers such as tonic, soda, and ginger ale are good to keep around, particularly in the summer when long drinks are the name of the game.  You can produce these yourself, of course; I've detailed my fondness for the soda siphon before, but that may be going too far for a basic home bar.  Oh, and of course there's ice: both an ingredient and a tool, really.  Keep plenty of it around.

So really, that's about it!  Seems like a lot, I realize, but I truly think this is the minimum investment for a toolkit that will let you produce the vast majority of classic cocktails.  Even without branching out, you've got plenty of room for experimentation, substitution, and creativity.  Make a few additions gradually, and you'll have a full semi-professional bar with which to astound your friends and produce some damned fine drinks.

Friday, June 15, 2012


I never much used to care for the classic gin & tonic, but I've gradually come around and now heartily embrace this easy and well-known highball.  It's an absolutely essential summer drink, though when I make mine I can hardly resist a little tweaking.

I'm sure legions of mixologists have used both the name and basic concept of this one before, both being far too obvious.  But I don't care.

1 1/2 oz London Dry gin (Beefeater here, any would do)
1/3 oz maraschino liqueur (I shouldn't really have to specify Luxardo anymore)
3-4 oz chilled tonic water, to taste (I use Q Tonic generally, but have been dying to try making my own)
1-2 dashes orange bitters, to taste

Build in a Collins glass over large ice cubes.

The G&T has become the GMT (Gin, Maraschino, Tonic).  The orange bitters here lend a little complexity and keep the drink from becoming too sweet.  I find that Fee Brother's new Gin-Barrel Aged Orange Bitters are perfect here, though the regular version works well too; you want something with a nice fresh flavor.  The maraschino is meant to be an accent, since this is still a highball at heart.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Doubly-Improved Cocktail

Here's a fine and very old-fashioned drink indeed, conceived while playing around with obscure liquors.

1 oz genever (Bols, preferably)
1 oz peach brandy (the classic distilled-from-peaches kind, in this case Dutch's)
1 dash maraschino liqueur (as always Luxardo)
1 dash absinthe
1 dash dry vermouth
1 dash aromatic bitters
1 dash orange bitters

Stir well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass; garnish with a lemon twist.

This reminds me of the Peach Pit, but more old-school (and a bit more potent).

Grownup Grapefruit Soda

This was just an attempt to take something more exciting to a bottle of wine to a gathering, and it wound up being a hit.  This is another soda siphon cocktail that can be pre-mixed and pre-carbonated, although I have included single-serving amounts as well in italics.

100 ml (1 oz) white tequila
100 ml (1 oz) lavender-infused vodka
100 ml (1 oz) apricot-mint syrup
50 ml (1/2 oz) Cointreau
50 ml (1/2 oz) Aperol
50 ml (1/2 oz) lime juice
500 ml (5 oz) water/soda water

Pour into a soda siphon (if using), carbonate and let refrigerate for at least 4 hours.  To serve, pour over ice in a tall wine glass.  Garnish with whatever citrus or berries are at hand.

The name of this one came to me as a description of its final taste, though I then had to explain that there wasn't really any grapefruit in it.  If bringing this to a party, I recommend dispensing it slowly into a clean 1-liter bottle (preferably with a stopper-top) which makes transportation easier and preempts the foam you get when serving directly from the siphon.

If you're in a pinch, you could substitute St. Germain for the lavender vodka and an apricot liqueur (Rothman & Winter the best choice) for the syrup, although you will have a slightly stronger final product.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Chattanooga Cooler

I know this drink is in no way representative of the city of Chattanooga (apologies if you live in Tennessee) but I just like the name.  It just kinda rolls off the tongue, and the drink turned out quite well too.

1 1/4 oz white whiskey
3/4 oz rose petal liqueur
3/4 oz peach shrub

Pour over plentiful ice in a Collins glass and add 2-3 oz of soda water to taste.  Stir well and garnish with a lemon wheel.

I know, I know - you'll have to make two of these ingredients yourself.  Neither is too hard, really.  For the liqueur, combine 1 tablespoon dried rose petals with 1 cup 100-proof vodka and 1/2 cup of regular simple syrup (a 1:1 ratio of water to sugar) then let infuse for a week or so.  The shrub is even more flexible, if a bit more difficult, although you can make as much or as little as desired.  Just take 1 part chopped and pitted fresh peach, and add 1 part apple cider vinegar or champagne vinegar.  Let this infuse in the refrigerator for a week, then strain and add 1 part sugar.  Keep this in the fridge, shaking every day for a week or so until the sugar has all dissolved, then use wherever - non-alcoholic sodas, cocktails such as the one above, or on top of pancakes.  Seriously, that last one is worth a shot.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Soda Siphon Experiments

With the approach of warmer weather, I've been spending a lot more time perched on our patio, drink in one hand, book in the other.  That drink is usually a long one, something thirst-quenching and relatively low in alcohol - a caress rather than a punch.  Most recently, I've been experimenting with my beloved soda siphon, using it to construct pre-made carbonated cocktails.

Once you've got a decent set of bar tools and glassware, a soda siphon is a logical step in specialized equipment.  Sure, they cost a little bit, and the chargers aren't free either, although you can find them cheap in bulk online.  Yet a splash of soda water adds life and lightness to many drinks, and opens up a whole world of easy homemade sodas when you want (or need) something non-alcoholic.  You can buy acrid, overly sharp soda water in bottles that go flat within hours of opening, or you can bite the bullet and invest in the tools to make your own on demand.  I think it's obvious which route I recommend.

Not included in the manufacturer's directions (which you should obviously read) is the possibility for adding more than just water to your siphon.  It's best not to use anything very acidic or thick, since you don't want to corrode or gum up the inner workings, but that still leaves a lot of room to maneuver.  For example, I poured in a somewhat boring bottle of sweet rhubarb wine, augmented with a splash of crisp Sauvignon Blanc and topped off with water.  After charging and letting rest in the fridge (which helps hold the carbonation better for some reason) I had a light and refreshing sparkling wine spritzer enjoyed by all.

Below is an example of a general formula I've hashed out over time.  The proportions make for a light and refreshingly bitter highball, best served in a tall glass with plentiful ice.  You can serve as much or as little as desired, and substitute ingredients to your whim.

This particular recipe is a riff on the Americano, the father of the Negroni, with a couple of well-placed accents.  The weirdo total volume is because a 1-liter soda siphon holds slightly less than that when you account for a small amount of necessary airspace.

200 ml Aperol (or Campari)
100 ml gin (London Dry, Old Tom, or Hendrick's are all welcome)
50 ml maraschino liqueur (Luxardo, duh)
600 ml cucumber water

Pour into a 1-liter soda siphon, charge, and let chill for at least 2 hours.  Pour slowly over plentiful ice and garnish with cucumber slices.

If you're not using a siphon, use the following proportions per serving.

1 1/3 oz Aperol; 2/3 oz gin; 1/3 oz Luxardo; 2 oz soda water; 2 oz cucumber water

Again, this is a formula highly amenable to substitution.  Try the following combinations in the same proportions as above.

Cynar - silver tequila - St. Germain - cantaloupe water

Punt e Mes - blended scotch - Cointreau - lemon water

I have a few tonic recipes around and may try a precharged version soon.  It's getting close to G&T season. In the meantime, any of these do very nicely.

Saturday, May 26, 2012


More playing around with mezcal.

3/4 oz Sombra mezcal
1 1/4 oz pineapple-tequila-sage liqueur (you'll have to make this one yourself, although I may very well provide a recipe soon)
1/2 oz Cocchi Americano

Stir well over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with a lime coin squeezed on both sides to express the oil and juice and drop in.

This one was experimental but worked out very nicely indeed.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


I was absolutely delighted to receive an order of exotic spirits this week, which had been hunted down specifically because I'd never seen their ilk in any of my local liquor stores.  Among them was a bottle of Sombra mezcal, a spirit I'd been itching to experiment with.  I popped it open almost immediately.  "Whoa!" I called to my wife, "this smells like somebody chucked a pineapple into a campfire."  To which she wrinkled her nose and agreed.

Turns out, I wasn't far off.  The process of making mezcal, a cousin of tequila, consists of digging a large pit, filling it with hot rocks, then tossing in a bunch of agave piña (also the Spanish for "pineapple", which it closely resembles).  After roasting for days, these are mashed and left to ferment, finally resulting in a powerful spirit that tastes something like tequila infused with cigar smoke.  The silver Sombra mezcal that I received is particularly intense, and it took some taming.  Still, it holds its flavor very well in cocktails, and lends a resounding smoky flavor.

This particular drink was just me playing around, and is named after the place where Sombra is made: Oaxaca, Mexico.  Silver jewelry shops are a major component of the tourist trade there.

1 oz Sombra mezcal
1 oz pineapple-infused tequila (I used resposado
1/2 oz Cynar
1/2 oz kumquat syrup
1 dash lime juice

Shake with plentiful ice and pour into an old-fashioned glass; garnish with a caramelized pineapple slice if you're feeling fancy, or nothing if you're feeling lazy.

Peach Pit II

This is a simple rework of the Peach Pit with a more assertive peachiness.  I liked the original, but I regard this as an improvement.

1 1/2 oz peach-infused Laird's Applejack
3/4 oz Bols genever
3/4 oz Lillet Rose (Cocchi Americano would be appropriate, but reduce to 1/2 oz)
2 dashes peach bitters
2 dashes aromatic bitters

Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass; garnish with a slice of dried peach.

This has a lingering peach sweetness backed up by some malty spice, but it's not quite as rich as the original.  That makes the whole cocktail much fresher, akin to biting into a sour peach rather than a sweet peach.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Jimador's Fortune

My wife told me to use up a few things in the fridge, so I did - with very successful results.  The name is a mash-up of the Spanish term for those who harvest the blue agave that makes tequila and the genus of the kumquat family.  Turns out that the two play very nicely together.

2 oz resposado tequila
1/3 oz (2 barspoons) raw agave nectar
7 kumquats
2 fresh sage leaves
2 dashes aleppo chili tincture

Cut the kumquats in half, setting one half aside for garnish; muddle the others with the sage and tequila, then add the agave and aleppo tincture.  Shake well with ice and double-strain (through a fine filter) into a chilled double old-fashioned glass.  Top off with a squirt or two of soda water to taste and drop in the final kumquat half (or wrap it in a sage leaf on a pick) as garnish.

I for one love aleppo - the restaurant where I work uses it in a variety of spice blends.  It's a relatively mild and fruity chili that adapts very well to mixology.  I use this tincture all over the place to add a little heat and a nice sweet-smoky character.  It's very easy to make; all you need do is combine a heaping tablespoon of ground aleppo (pretty much the only way you'll find it) with a cup or so of high-proof vodka (Everclear, if you can find it, if not a 100-plus proof at least).  Let that sit for a week or so, shaking daily, and pour through a fine strainer.  I bottle the finished product in a dropper for precise application, or you can use a bitters-style cruet to add small dashes.

Black & Blue

One final Sazerac version, this one with a strong dark fruit focus.

1 1/2 Clear Creek Blue Plum Brandy (yum; one of the best digestifs I can imagine)
1/2 oz rye whiskey
1 barspoon blueberry-blackberry-black pepper syrup

Rinse a rocks glass with absinthe and set in the freezer.  Pour listed ingredients over ice and stir, then strain into the prepared glass.  Squeeze a lemon coin over the drink; drop in if you're feeling straightforward, discard it and add a blueberry instead if you're feeling fancy.

I admit that this one doesn't work perfectly with the standard Sazerac preparation - I'd rather see it in classic, straight-up Cocktail form with a nice dash of bitters to round out the unaged brandy and rounded fruit flavors.  Not that this is entirely unsuccessful, or I wouldn't post it here.


Another Sazerac rendition, this one using rhum agricole.  This name comes from the original colonial name of Haiti, where Rhum Barbancourt is made.

1 1/2 oz Rhum Barbancourt (I used the 8-year-old Five Star, but the slightly younger Three Star would be fine too)
1/2 rye whiskey
1 barspoon pineapple syrup

Rinse a rocks glass with absinthe and set in the freezer.  Pour listed ingredients over ice and stir, then strain into the prepared glass.  Squeeze an orange peel coin over the drink and drop in for garnish.

I like the way the absinthe here reinforces the herbal character of the Barbancourt while the rye gives it a little bit of characteristic Sazerac edge.  This makes me want to try a half-and-half blend in Improved Cocktail format (a fancified Jerry Thomas rendition with dashes of maraschino and absinthe).  Might pop up here before too long...

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Dutch Quarter

I had a taste for genever and a taste for a Sazerac at the same time, so I made this.  It became one of a couple variations, which will be chronicled next.

2 oz genever (must be an oude, and I like Bols)
1 barspoon (1/6 oz) blackberry syrup
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
2 dashes aromatic bitters

Rinse a rocks glass with absinthe (I use an atomizer, which coats the inside of a glass with little waste) and set in the freezer.  Pour listed ingredients over ice and stir, then strain into the prepared glass.  Squeeze a lemon coin over the drink; drop in if you're feeling straightforward, discard it and add a blackberry instead if you're feeling fancy.

Genever and blackberry have a pleasant synthesis, sort of like bourbon and peaches.  Genever also responds to the Sazerac treatment very well with its nice maltiness and juniper spice.  The name here is a double homage to the origin of the Sazerac (New Orleans) and the origin of genever.  This recipe would not unduly suffer from substituting 1/2 oz of the genever for cognac, just to smooth things out a little bit.  I might try adding black pepper somehow, either in the syrup or by infusing a small amount of absinthe.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Peach Pit

This one turned out very well.

1 1/4 oz peach-infused Laird's Applejack
1 oz Bols genever
1/2 oz orange curacao
2 dashes Peychaud's Bitters
2 dashes aromatic bitters

Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

I really dig how this has a sustained peach presence (applejack helps) without being cloyingly sweet, and how it carries a nice malty bite afterward.  Very old-school, and a very fine cocktail (if I do say so myself).

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Two Easy Drinks

How sad - that's a little too long between posts.  I'll try and get back in the spirit of at least weekly updates.

Part of the reason for the hiatus is that I haven't been creating many original drinks lately.  Instead I've been going back to basics, mixing clean and simple classics.  But I guess there's nothing wrong with that - let's share some easy options.

I had a lime and a ton of pineapple syrup, so combining those made sense.  First came a slightly modified Ti-Punch:

  • 2 oz VSOP rhum agricole
  • 1/4 oz pineapple syrup
  • 1 lime coin (sliced right off the side so it still holds some flesh)

Pour the rhum and syrup over finely cracked ice, then swizzle (that is, stir aggressively).  Squeeze the lime coin on both sides to catch the juice from the flesh, and the oil from the peel, then drop in.  Top with more ice to fill and stir again.

That is a very simple and effective drink - basically a Sling, one among the proto-Cocktails.  The only problem is its base spirit, which is both delicious and rare in my local liquor stores.  Notice that like a number of tropical drinks, this makes good use of citrus.  Another such drink is the Margarita, which makes use of tequila.  I made a modified attempt as such:

  • 2 oz resposado tequila
  • 1/2 oz pineapple syrup
  • Juice of 1/2 lime (reserved from the previous drink, in this case)

Shake and strain over cracked ice; insert a thin lime wheel as garnish.  A salted rim is optional (though I might have to try a spiced rim of some kind).

This one is really just a tequila Sour, another proto-Cocktail, but it serves.  Tequila and pineapple work splendidly together - maybe I'll attempt a pineapple liqueur to get closer to a classic Margarita formula.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Correct Dry Martini

That recent post about the Turf Club started to bring together a bunch of thoughts I've been working up on perhaps one of the most hotly debated topics in mixology: the Martini.  While a lot of speculation has gone into the origin of this particular drink (and its name) I personally have less interest in that topic than in how to actually make one properly.  Be warned, ye who enter here: I have some fairly intensive thoughts on this aspect  of the drink, so get yourself ready for some screed.

So, let's take a fine look at that most revered of cocktails, one which conjures classic, sophisticated images of old movies and young, beautiful socialites.  It's sadly one that has experienced a slow downfall in the Post-Prohibition years, though it's seen a recent semi-revival.  Friends, meet the Dry Martini.

Understand please that I'm not referring to just any old concoction served chilled in that iconic conical glass.  In many bars these days the term "martini" is basically interchangeable with "cocktail": a broad category, not a specific recipe, which is a sad dilution.  I want nothing to do with such misbegotten creations as the Chocolate Martini (though we may someday make an attempt to save them).  No, I mean the kind you envision with an olive, crystal clear, and speckled with hints of dew: the Martini that coined the term.  What I mean is that the Martini is to the cocktail as Kleenex is to the tissue or Band-Aid is to the disposable bandage: the standout in its genre.

Yet we must be more specific.  Nowadays, order a Martini at a reputable bar and you get a short quiz.  Gin or vodka?  How dry?  Olive or twist?  These, at least, are the questions I ask when one of my guests places their order.  This semi-modern treatment (although I associate it with old-school steakhouses for some reason, don't ask why) is just fine, but it is not the old-fashioned way that I want to espouse here.  If you like your Martinis with vodka, okay; if you like them extra dirty, then that's fine too.  But please don't call them "Martinis", it wounds me.  It's missing everything that makes the original, classic Dry Martini; it's like calling a shot of rum a "Margarita" (another drink we may make an effort to rescue at a later date).  Let's have a new name for this sort of thing, please.  And yes, I do have one: the Olivia.  Makes sense, right?  Olive-ia?  Not to mention that I've mostly seen ladies ordering this one in lieu of something sweet.  The same drink ordered by a man, however, has a different name: the Douchebag Martini.  At least when made with Gray Goose.

Okay, so, ranting and raving aside, what exactly am I talking about?  When I say Dry Martini, I'm referring to a mixture of good gin, a healthy amount of dry vermouth (or "French" vermouth, though it's not always from France) and a solid dash of orange bitters.  In this case the old ways are definitely best.

There are some rules to doing this right.  First, plenty of vermouth.  Yeah, yeah, I've heard all the corny lines about how much (i.e. how very little, if any) vermouth to use.  Wave a bottle over the glass, glance at the vermouth from across the room, whisper the word "vermouth" as you pour.  This, frankly, is not only lame but simply and completely wrong.  Vermouth is the core of this drink's appeal, and its absence is a terrible mistake.  For one, a Martini without vermouth is really just chilled gin (or vodka, fine) served in a fancy glass.  Just ask for gin if that's what you want.  For two, it's got way too strong a punch, with absolutely nothing to balance out the liquor, missing the whole wonderful synergy between vermouth and gin entirely.  For three, this rendition is the one that drove today's tippling public away from gin into vodka's arms, and for that it cannot be forgiven.  Sure, vermouth-less is how Winston Churchill made his, but he was a statesman, not a bartender.  As long as we're renaming some of these problematic "Martinis", let's call this one the Churchill Martini.  It's a good way to get hammered, especially if you're fighting off a German invasion, but simply not a very pleasant drink (though, in fairness, getting vermouth was problematic at the time).

Now, the traditional Dry Martini is a drink all about the synergy between gin and vermouth; you cannot have a true Martini without it.  But truth be told, the precise amount to use should vary according to your own preference and the gin you're using.  The "standard" recipe from around 1900 given by David Wondrich in Imbibe! calls for equal parts gin and vermouth.  Although relatively dry compared to other drinks of the age, this 1:1 ratio seems completely insane today, and there are indeed some compelling reasons to up the gin content, both of which have to do with the ingredients available back in the day.  For one, spirits were slightly rougher and higher-proof in 1900, requiring more vermouth to balance out their punch.  For two, vermouth is an aromatized wine, and just like any other white wine, French vermouth will lose its flavor if not kept sealed and refrigerated.  Given the paucity of commercial refrigeration and shipping technologies at the time, it would be surprising if today's vermouth weren't more strongly aromatic than its forefathers.  As a side note, this is why you should always store your dry vermouth in the fridge (red vermouth is more highly fortified with sugar and can be kept at room temperature, though chilling helps).

I like the classics (obviously, right?) and thus prefer my Martinis with a 2:1 ratio of gin to vermouth, especially if using a good London Dry.  This is still far wetter than the modern version, but I find it a smooth and seductive drink, not at all like the raw slap of a Churchill.  There is some room for disagreement here.  Many of the classic-cocktail-revival recipes I've seen call for a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of gin to vermouth, which is a bit punchier but still lovely.  I particularly like this ratio if using a softer, sweeter gin such as Old Tom or Plymouth, as it helps highlight the botanicals which are more subtle than in a London Dry.  Any lower than 8:1 and you're getting into Churchill territory, where the vermouth is a lonely voice in the gin wilderness. No matter how much vermouth you prefer, please don't forget the orange bitters.  Many varieties are widely available and they round off the bright citrus character of the vermouth with a deeper note, helping it integrate with the gin.  There's a reason that those classic recipes invariably include this component even if they disagree on the exact ratio of gin-to-vermouth.

There is one other rule of Martini-making that cannot be forgotten.  This drink must always be stirred - shake, and you'll ruin the whole thing.  Many people associate the Martini with the adventures of 007 and that great line ("shaken, not stirred") which so happens to be completely wrong from a mixological standpoint.  Shaking a Martini does two things: it introduces air bubbles, which cloud the finished product, and it waters the whole thing down.  The first is excusable, but the second is not, particularly when we've spent so much time finding the perfect balance of flavor.  More water flattens out the vermouth completely, and reduces the gin to a faint junipery shadow of its true self.  Instead, pour and stir the ingredients well over large, cold ice cubes, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and you'll be rewarded with a silky texture and complex flavor, the exact things that make the Martini so very appealing.

As a side note I should mention that there is a more traditional James Bond variation on the Martini, a rather storied drink that provides a source for the odd preference to shake (I shall provide only a short retelling here).  Ian Fleming's original spy novel, Casino Royale, contains a scene in which the protagonist Bond orders a "Vesper", named after the book's femme fatale.  As he describes it in detail, this is a drink made of three parts gin, one part vodka, and one part Kina Lillet.  This last became something of a holy grail for cocktail archaeologists when Lillet changed the recipe for the American market and toned down the bitter component, making this drink nigh-impossible to replicate.  Fortunately, with the recent resurgence of a couple ingredients you have two distinct options.  You can either go ahead and use Lillet Blanc supplemented with a dash or two of orange bitters, or use the lovely Cocchi Americano which serves as a perfect substitution (both here and in other cocktails).  This drink is typically shaken, which lightens it somewhat; not a bad thing here, and also why the vodka is present.  Yet I just as often stir mine.  Which you choose depends on exactly which Vesper you want; either a smooth, citric, and slightly bitter Martini variation (if stirred) or a somewhat more airy and approachable drink (if shaken).  Garnish either with a nice big swath of lemon peel.  This is probably one of my favorite classic cocktails ever, so I apologize if I'm nerding out a bit.  If you can find it, please just buy the Cocchi for this drink; it is also an incredibly tasty and flexible ingredient.

We've covered before another classic, the Turf Club, that forgotten love child of Mr. Manhattan and Mrs. Martini.  This needs no further description; I'll only add that I love authentic Old Tom gin here too.  This cocktail points the way to many other Martini variations.  If you're swapping out dry vermouth for sweet vermouth, why not just about any other aromatized wine?  Indeed, Dubonnet Rouge fits very well into the Martini formula, especially if used in a 3:2 ratio supplemented with an extra dash of orange bitters.  You can use other esoteric vermouth types, such as blanc or bianco vermouth, which I particularly like with Peychaud's bitters and a highly citric gin (Tanqueray Rangpur is a nice choice).  Hell, if you've got a sweet tooth you could even try a fortified wine such as madiera or sherry, though I would keep the proportion low and back it up with plenty of extra bitters.  The one thing you don't want to use is a bitter Italian amaro or cocchi, which in general totally overwhelm the gin and knock the drink way out of balance; I tried this once and never again.

We'll stop here, without delving into the many other cocktails you can create with spirits beyond gin, such as the aforementioned Manhattan.  The same rules don't always quite apply, but they're similar in terms of construction, balance, and staying power.  If nothing else, the whole category serves as a lesson in simplicity of form and importance of execution.  Shake a Martini, and you ruin it; stir with the perfect balance of gin and vermouth, and it's divine.  Nor can that perfect balance or the exact chill be achieved through a recipe; it takes care and consideration.  It's a drink that to me perfectly embodies the definition of an art: something that takes a short time to learn and a lifetime to master.

Okay, fine - that's entirely too highfalutin.  Let's just say the Martini is one hell of a drink, and a fine starting point for the enthusiastic amateur.  Try your own, and learn a little something in the process.  You'll be glad.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Melongrass Liqueur

A most successful experiment.

1 750-ml bottle resposado tequila
1 cup cantaloupe, chopped
4 oz amber agave nectar
6 fresh sage leaves, chopped

Combine in a large mason jar and macerate for 7-10 days to taste, agitating daily.  Strain through a fine sieve, bottle, and chill.

This is really wonderful stuff - gentle tropical fruit, intense herbal quality, nice light honey tones, yet still a little bit of bite.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


1 750-ml bottle dry gin
1 medium cucumber, sliced
1 medium lemon, zested
3 oz strawberry-thyme syrup (made using the standard method)
3 tbsp dried rose petals

Combine in a mason jar and store in a cool place for 7-10 days, agitating daily.  Strain through a fine sieve and keep chilled.

I created this one mostly out of a jealous dislike of Hendrick's gin, which although tasty is both over-advertised and over-priced.  It's definitely sweeter than its namesake, but it makes one hell of a gin-and-tonic...

Flower Power

1 750-ml bottle Powers' Gold Label Whiskey
2 tbsp dried rose petals
1 tbsp chamomile
2 tsp dried elderflower
1 tsp dried lavender
1 tsp dried hibiscus
1 tsp bitter orange peel
2-4 oz honey, to taste

Combine in a large mason jar and let stand for 7-10 days, agitating daily.  Strain through a fine sieve and bottle.

The name is really what does it for me on this one, but this is a wonderful liqueur to sip straight - robust and wonderfully floral.  Fuck St. Germain, I'll take this stuff any day of the week.


Do you notice how I completely missed St. Patrick's Day this year?  Kinda weird for an itinerant bartender, huh?  Fact of the matter is, I barely noticed the "holiday", largely because I don't consider it one - an excuse to drink, sure, but some of us need no excuse.

However, I did celebrate in my own fashion by cracking open a couple of liqueurs which I'd started some weeks ago.  I have to say, I've built up a fondness for liqueurs lately, partly because they're basically cocktails waiting to happen.  They can be mixed in other recipes, or served by themselves either on the rocks or shaken, with the presence of absence of bitters, soda, or citrus juice.  But there's also the fact that making them is a breeze - the DIY approach really only takes a cool resting place and some patience, and can be subjected to endless variation.

I think I've mentioned before that I want to include recipes here for many things beyond cocktails, and liqueurs seem like a logical step.  We've already discussed syrups, which have wide application and can be used in the creation of many liqueurs.  These take things a step further by integrating an alcoholic base, which can pull even more flavors out of the desired ingredient by extracting alcohol-soluble flavors and allowing for much longer maceration.

Anyway: a couple of recipes for your consideration.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Redbreast

Riff number two on the same basic theme.  Essentially the same formulation with some substitutions.

1 1/2 oz genever
1 oz dry vermouth
1/2 oz strawberry-thyme syrup
1/2 oz lemon juice
3 dashes rhubarb bitters
3 dashes cardamom tincture

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass; garnish with a half strawberry, either frozen or on a cocktail pick.

The Blackbird

A riff on a theme which splits the difference between a Martini and a Sour.

1 1/2 oz brandy
1 oz dry vermouth
1/2 oz blackberry syrup
1/2 oz lemon juice
3 dashes orange bitters
3 dashes cinnamon tincture

Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a blackberry, either frozen or on a cocktail pick.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Tiki Masala

This is a drink that started with a wonderful name, a perfect bartender's pun.  It's made with a garam masala spice blend which our restaurant makes in-house, based on the classical blend behind most Indian curries (yum).  Its sweet, fruit-forward profile is representative of tiki-style drinks, and given that I watch entirely too much British television a riff on what is apparently "the most popular dish in British restaurants" seemed obvious.

1 3/4 oz rum (light, aged, or split the difference according to preference)
1 oz garam masala syrup
3/4 oz pineapple juice
1/4-1/2 oz lime juice (to taste)
3 drops chili pepper tincture

Shake like hell and strain over fresh rocks into a double-old-fashioned glass.  Garnish with all the tiki frippery that you like or just insert a lime wheel.

This one was a big hit.  Our final product made for a very easy drink to produce en masse by combining the bottom four ingredients into a so-called "Masala Mix" - we also added a bit of egg white to produce a creamy, frothy texture.  One part rum plus one part Masala Mix made for a fast, delicious, and unique beverage indeed.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Oasis

Another very simple, very straightforward drink with some interesting layers.

2 oz London Dry gin (a good strong one: Tanqueray, Beefeater, etc.)
2 oz mango-peppercorn-ginger syrup (not quite the standard procedure with this one; this is nothing more than 4 cups of mango juice, simmered with two tablespoons each of black peppercorns and roughly chopped ginger until it's reduced to about 2 1/2 cups, or roughly 2/3 of its original volume)
1/4 oz Luxardo
1/4 oz lime juice

Pour into a Collins glass over copious ice and stir.

This is aimed at the highball crowd - slightly aromatic, moderately sweet, and very approachable.  Since we change our cocktail list every 3-4 months, I also expect that this will remain on our list until the early days of summer, and will definitely get more appealing as the weather gets warmer.

Prince of Saud Cocktail

This is a modified version of a classic cocktail that I found in Imbibe! and promptly fell in love with, the Prince of Wales Cocktail.  In terms of construction, it's similar to one of our current best-selling cocktails (though stripped-down for speed) and thus fills the bubbly cocktail slot on our menu nicely.

3/4 oz rye whiskey
1/2 oz pineapple juice
4-5 dashes ras-el-hanout bitters
4 oz brut cava

Drop a sugar cube into a champagne flute and soak with the bitters; add a little ice, top up with whiskey, and then cava.

I don't think this really needs any more explanation - it's a remarkably simple drink which successfully marries the luxurious flavor of the Prince of Wales with the crispness of a champagne cocktail.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Final Vindication

I once found in Imbibe magazine a recipe for a "Bubbly Manhattan" wherein the bitters normally used were replaced with a few ounces of hoppy, bitter IPA, and have been obsessed with creating my own beer cocktail ever since.  I tried a few iterations out over our last couple menus but have always been shot down by both our chef and head bartender.  Finally, I found the missing link (celery bitters!) and came up with one they liked, and if it winds up on our menu, this will be its rightful name.

1 oz spicy bourbon or rye whiskey (I've used both Maker's Mark and Bulleit Rye with great success)
1 oz apricot liqueur (Rothman & Winter is good, or you could always make your own)
1 dash lime juice
3 dashes celery bitters (Bitter Truth's version is most effective and Fee Brothers' is to be avoided)
2-3 oz IPA (or similar hoppy, bitter beer)

Combine the first four ingredients over ice; top off with beer and raise aloft in victory.

I am fucking proud of this one, as you can probably tell.  Something about the synergy of spicy bourbon, round apricot, sharp lime, and grassy-vegetal hops - it's an intriguing combination, even if it's not for everybody.  If you can't decide between cocktail or beer, this manages to bridge the gap.

La Plaza Vieja (redux)

I've done a version of this drink before, but this is a somewhat more subtle take.

1 oz aged rum (3 years old at least, preferably 5+)
1 oz aged tequila (either a resposado or a young-ish anejo seem to work)
1 oz sweet vermouth (preferably Italian)
2 dashes aromatic bitters (we'll be using a fantastic ras-el-hanout bitters at the restaurant)
2 dashes orange bitters
2 dashes celery bitters
2 drops liquid smoke (yes, drops)

Stir and strain into a cocktail glass.  Garnish with a lime wheel.

The recipe for this version is a little more complex, but if making a bunch of them you can premix the last five ingredients.  Better yet, use a good embittered vermouth like Carpano Antica or Cocchi Torino, adding only celery bitters and liquid smoke.


Sorry for the absence.  I've been working on a long, long post that will publish once I find a little time to finish it - maybe tomorrow.  For now, it's new menu time at my resident restaurant.  Three bartenders will submit six cocktails each, and we'll pick the best of them as our new cocktail list.  The following are some of my submissions.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Turf Club

I have been repeatedly disappointed in approaching a bar, ordering a Turf Club, and having to explain how to make one.  This is a wonderful and classic recipe, people!  It's basically the missing link between the Manhattan and the Martini, held together with orange bitters; subtle and potent and complex, all in one.  Should I ever own a bar, this will be on my "Classics" list.

2 1/2 oz gin (you want something round and slightly sweet here; Damrak, Old Tom, and Plymouth all work well)
1 oz sweet vermouth
4-5 dashes orange bitters

Stir well with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass; garnish with an orange or lemon twist, depending on your gin.

I especially like this with Old Tom, as it's an old-school recipe and the stuff is most certainly authentic.  It will make your drink sweeter, so depending on your preference you may like to increase the bitters or reduce the vermouth.  Alternately, you could use a dash of simple syrup with Damrak or Plymouth.  I don't recommend a London dry here, nor anything as light as New Amsterdam or Bombay Sapphire.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Red Light District

I'm sure there are a million drinks that go by the same name, but I wanted to add my contribution.

2 oz Damrak gin (I don't usually like to specify brands, but it's part of the namesake)
1/2 blackberry syrup
7-8 dashes Peychaud's bitters
1 dash red wine vinegar

Stir over plentiful rocks in a small barglass.  Garnish with a brandied cherry if you like.

Damrak calls itself an "Amsterdam Gin", whatever that means, named after a city famous for its red light districts.  Peychaud's is found in many New Orleans cocktails, a city equally famous for revelry (less so since the disastrous hurricane, sadly).  The red wine vinegar is present to tart things up a bit.  Together they produce a delightfully dark and sultry red hue.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Hamlet Cocktails

Allow me to subject you to a bit of revisionism.  When I first stumbled on the preliminary "Hamlet's Cocktail" (equal parts aquavit, Cherry Heering, and Cynar, stirred well) it seemed that I'd found a classic yet apparently original combination.  As often happens, I took to tinkering, and found that the savory herb-cherry-bitters profile could be adapted into a number of cocktails.  Here are four renditions, one for each season, together demonstrating how a cocktail can be riffed on to produce seasonal specialties.

The King's Ghost (spring version)
Hamlet's meeting of his father's ghost is the opening scene of the play, so it seemed only appropriate to include the ectoplasm-colored absinthe in this one.

1 1/4 oz aquavit (North Shore is my preference here; use the clear Aalborg if you must)
1/2 oz Cherry Heering
1/2 oz Luxardo
1 oz Cocchi Americano
1 dash orange bitters

Rinse a small bar glass with absinthe and toss out the remainder; set this in the chiller to "season" as with the classic Sazerac.  Stir the above over ice and strain into the seasoned glass, then fill up with fresh ice.  Garnish with an orange twist.

Flowers From Ophelia (summer version)
I just really like this name.  Ophelia's a bit crazy and this one is too, though it makes a fine summer tonic.

1 1/4 oz aquavit (Aalborg is actually perfect here)
1/4 oz kirschwasser
1/2 oz Luxardo
1/2 oz orange curacao
1/2 oz Aperol (could use Campari in a pinch)

Pour the above over large ice cubes in a large Collins glass and fill up with soda water.  Garnish with a couple of orange half-wheels inserted into the drink, plus an edible flower on top if you're feeling pretentious.

That Sleep of Death (fall version)
Somewhat morbidly titled, but hey, Hamlet is a tragedy.  This is closest to the original in construction, with minor modifications.

1 1/2 oz aquavit (North Shore, please; your best substitute is Linie for this one)
1 1/4 oz Cherry Heering
3/4 oz Cynar

Stir the above well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass; garnish with a flamed orange coin.

Alas, Poor Yorick (winter version)
A few of these would be enough to kill just about any clown (look it up, kids).

2 oz aquavit (Linie is most appropriate here)
1 1/2 oz Cherry Heering
10 dashes Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas' Own Decanter Bitters
1 dash orange curacao (optional, honestly)

Stir gently (you don't want this one too cold) and strain into a chilled cocktail glass; garnish with a brandied cherry (carved into the shape of a skull if you can manage it) and a bit of fresh-grated nutmeg.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Hamlet's Cocktail (Alas, Poor Yorick)

Another unusual drink, this one somewhat simpler in construction.

1 1/2 oz aquavit (I like North Shore's very interesting, domestically made rendition)
1 1/2 oz Cherry Heering (really the only cherry liqueur that works for this, unless you make your own at home)
3/4 oz Cynar (bizarre, artichoke-y goodness)

Shake lightly and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with an orange wheel, brandied cherry, or old skull.  Gaze deeply and solemnly into the glass before knocking back.

It took a couple days for this one to percolate, but now the name seems perfectly obvious.  Both aquavit and Heering are traditionally Danish and fit for a prince (Heering was an official purveyor to the Royal Danish Court).  The entire thing is rather dark, somewhat bitter, lightly shaken, and highly profound--there's a lot of flavor to digest here.

I'm rather proud to call this one original, if a bit weird.  When I shared this recipe with one of my bartending mentors and friends, his immediate reaction was "Wow, that might be a bit too strange for me."  Take that as you will.  I'm not saying it's for everybody, I'm just saying it merits a try if you happen to have these ingredients on hand.

The Gang's All Here

I just really like the name of this one.  The mix of different ingredients is rather unusual, but somehow manages to balance the qualities of each base against each other.  Like the Widow's Kiss, it's a drink that doesn't really look like it should work but somehow does.

3/4 oz London Dry gin
3/4 oz applejack (I like Laird's 100-proof Apple Brandy)
3/4 oz cognac (regular old brandy won't cut it here)
1 oz yellow Chartreuse (though I love it, the green stuff is too concentrated to work here)
1 dash simple syrup
4 dashes orange bitters

Stir and strain into a coupe or cocktail glass; garnish with an orange or lemon wheel and sip carefully.

Look, it's not a drink for everyone.  Not at all.  It's very much a drink for people like myself, who like weird stuff like the Widow's Kiss.  But I think it deserves a try.

The Blinding Sour

Clearing out the backlog a bit...

Here's a simple, highly effective use of a somewhat tricky ingredient - moonshine, white whiskey, call it what you will.  I picked some up on a whim and had a troubled time finding uses for it, but I like the funk this adds to an otherwise straightforward, relatively basic sour.

2 oz white whiskey
1 oz maraschino liqueur (Luxardo per usual)
1 oz fresh lemon juice

Shake well and strain over fresh rocks in a double old-fashioned glass.  Add a brandied cherry and a half lemon wheel if you're like that.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Pink Panther

I always loved the old Pink Panther cartoons.  Somehow this drink's color and insinuating, troublemaking punch reminded me of the namesake.

(per 2 drinks)
4 oz genever (grey-bottle Bols)
1 oz maraschino liqueur (Luxardo, obviously)
1 1/2 oz blackberry syrup (homemade)
Juice of 1 lemon
White of 1 egg

Shake all of the above vigorously over large cold ice cubes, strain into chilled fizz glasses and top up with 2-3 oz of soda water each.  Garnish with a lemon twist, if you like.

Friday, January 13, 2012


Back in the day, the "cobbler" was hot stuff.  Or cold, refreshing stuff best enjoyed on a summer day.  Right about the time of the French Revolution, among other things, a little thing called "ice" was coming into fashion in the United States.  Along with the now well-known Mint Julep, this recipe (named after the little "cobbles" of ice it's built upon) helped make frozen water a ubiquitous part of the bar.  I think it goes without saying that the mixological arts aren't be the same without ice.  Let's have a little tribute, eh?

For the ice in question, I saved a fountain cup full of cheap machine ice from Jimmy John's.  This would normally be worthless for mixing, but it makes a perfect cobbler.  At home, you could just take some regular tray stuff, wrap it in a towel, and give it a couple good whacks with a rolling pin.

This is less a recipe than a method.  Take a glass (somewhere in the 7-10oz range) and pack it full of your crushed ice.  Add a fortified wine of your choice to fill (sherry, port, madiera, and marsala all work), 3-5 half-wheels of orange, and a dash of syrup (simple or flavored).  Pour this rapidly back and forth using a mixing tin a few times, add a few berries if you like, and sip through a straw (or not if none is available).

My suggested combinations: port wine and blackberry syrup; marsala and date syrup; sherry and ginger syrup. Yum.  Care for a little more punch?  You can spike your cobbler with a quick shot of a choice spirit.  Good old brandy would work well for just about any cobbler recipe.

Enjoy, and have a fine weekend.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Plaza Vieja

This name may seem like nonsense if you don't speak Spanish, but it's essentially a trilingual pun by a guy who speaks only English.  I realize that statement needs additional explanation.

So: the Vieux Carré.  This is one of my favorite "forgotten cocktails" - a subtle, incisive Manhattan variation.  Take one ounce each of rye whiskey, cognac, and red vermouth; add a double dash each of Benedictine, Angostura bitters, and Peychaud's bitters; shake the whole thing and strain into a cocktail glass with a lemon twist.  Good stuff.

Here is a riff, swapping out the cognac for añejo tequila.  Renaming to match, I translated from the drink's namesake (the old name for the French Quarter in New Orleans) to a reasonably equivalent term in Spanish.  I'm not saying it's a perfect translation, but it's a cool name!

1 oz rye whiskey (I really like Bulleit)
1 oz añejo tequila
1 oz blanc or bianco vermouth
2 dashes Bénédictine (~1/2 tsp)
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 dashes orange bitters

Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with an orange peel and enjoy.

The result of this experimentation is more herbal than the original, and somewhat lighter in body; a very satisfying drink when the weather is warmer than normal.  Minnesota, man - go figure.

Rather Nuts

Here's a drink that didn't seem like it should work, but very much did.

1 1/2 oz genever (I use the "grey-bottle Bols")
1/2 oz blanc or bianco vermouth
1/2 oz marsala wine (or medium-dry sherry/madiera)
Dash of simple syrup (to taste; adjust per your wine of choice)
3 dashes Fee's Black Walnut Bitters

Stir well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass; add a couple hazelnuts, an orange peel, or both if you'd like.

The closest comparison I can make for this is a good Martinez, with a little nutty, Manhattan-ish quality from the genever (assuming you use an oude style).  The Black Walnut Bitters is a little tough to find, but brings a very round, spicy, bitter-nutty flavor to the mix.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Burgundy Sour

I love it when a cocktail idea turns out so much better than I had anticipated.

1 1/2 oz Rogue Pink Spruce Gin*
1/2 oz ruby port (I use Graham's "Six Grapes", which is wonderfully lush)
1/2 oz blackberry syrup (or grenadine, so long as it's homemade)
3/4 oz fresh lemon juice

Shake and strain into a small cocktail glass; garnish with a lemon twist if you like.

This is basically a gin variation on the New York Sour, with a bold flavor and full texture.  The name was natural given its color and richness.

*I hate to be a dick and insist upon a bizarre, small-batch, impossible-to-find brand, but there you have it.  Trust me, the botanicals in this one are just perfect for the recipe.  It's a very odd gin, one worth tracking down if just to try something completely different.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Oveja Negra Fizz

Here's a drink that was even more essential the morning after New Year's.  The name comes from Spanish for "black sheep", and from a bar in Costa Rica that was also a welcome respite in my time of need.

2 oz rye whiskey (I like Bulleit)
3/4 oz blackberry syrup (homemade per the standard process)
1 medium egg (use the smallest you can find)
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Shake very well, strain into a chilled fizz glass, and top up with 2-3 oz of soda water to taste.  Garnish with a lemon twist if you like, or drink straight away if you need.

Yes, this drink makes use of a whole chicken berry - if you're squeamish, use pasteurized eggs.  If all you can find are large or extra-large eggs (as might be the case with pasteurized) then make 2 drinks per whole egg.

That Old Voodoo Magic

Here's a drink that had to happen after yet another Service Industry New Year.  The name comes from its similarity in mixing to the Corpse Reviver #2, perhaps one of my favorite "forgotten cocktails".

1 oz aged rhum agricole (I used Depaz)
1 oz orange curacao (I used Torres because it's what I had, but GrandmaMarie Brizard, or any other brandy-based orange liqueur would do)
1 oz Dubonnet
3/4 oz fresh lime juice
3-4 drops absinthe (seriously, drops)

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass (or coupe).  Garnish with a lime wheel and smile.

This is an incisive, herbal, round and honeyed punch of a drink, and I am damned proud of it.  Especially the name; I love a name that you just have to explain.  I might try a variation with aged tequila in place of rhum and Cocchi Americano in place of Dubonnet.

Happy 2012.  Welcome to the end of the world!