Sunday, December 15, 2013

Tasting #1

Well, friends, I've been busy.  On Thursday I conducted a cocktail seminar for a friend's holiday party. I hope it'll be the first of many, because I had a ridiculous amount of fun!  An hour to blather on about cocktails for a captive audience?  Yes please.

In honor of the occasion, here are my drink notes from the event.  I turned this into a little menu/brochure (also including some recommendations on cocktail books and local bars) to provide as a handout and reference.

1/2 oz creme de cassis (Mathilde)
~5 oz dry sparkling wine (Cava)
To build: Pour the creme de cassis into a champagne flute and slowly add the wine.
Other notes: Bubbles are always a great pre-dinner or special event beverage.  This is a very easy drink which you can adjust to your personal taste.

2 oz rye whiskey (Bulleit)
1 tsp holiday spice syrup (a simple syrup with cranberry, cinnamon, and other spices)
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
2 dashes Angostura bitters
To build: Pour a small amount of absinthe into a short glass and swirl to coat the inside (or spray with an atomizer) then let the glass chill in the freezer.  Stir the other ingredients over ice and strain into the prepared glass.
Other notes: The Sazerac is a very old-school drink, and is the official cocktail of the city of New Orleans.  Don't be afraid of the absinthe.

1 1/2 oz white rum (Plantation 3 Star)
3/4 oz creme de cassis (Mathilde)
3/4 oz lime juice
To build: Shake over ice and strain into a cocktail glass.  Add a lime wheel if you like.
Other notes: This is a great example of the Sour genre of drinks, and can be remixed with almost any spirit and liqueur you have on hand.

1 1/2 oz dry gin (Tanqueray)
1/2 oz Cocchi Americano
1/2 oz creme de cacao (any brand)
1/2 oz lemon juice
To build: Shake over ice and strain into a cocktail glass.  Add a strip of lemon peel or a bit of grated chocolate as garnish.
Other notes: This makes an excellent test if you want to see how knowledgeable your bartender really is.

3/4 oz rye whiskey (Bulleit)
3/4 oz white rum (Plantation 3 Star)
3/4 oz Cocchi Americano
3/4 oz creme de cacao
3/4 oz holiday spice syrup
3/4 oz heavy cream (or half-and-half)
1/2 egg (or egg white)
To build: Shake all of the above without ice until frothy, then shake again with ice and strain into an old-fashioned glass.  Garnish with a dusting of nutmeg.
Other notes: 1 large egg is usually enough for 2 drinks, or use smaller eggs for a single serving.  The silky texture of this drink makes it a perfect liquid dessert.

I made half-size versions of each of these, to share between each of the couples in attendance.  That worked out perfectly, providing just enough to taste, but not enough to completely inebriate.  The Winter Daquiri wound up being the crowd favorite, but the Flip was well-received too.

This whole experience has me very seriously thinking about how to monetize (or at least subsidize) this little hobby of mine.  A few of the folks in attendance expressed interest in events of their own, and I sincerely hope that we can make it happen, because I'd love to do this again.  I was also asked about wedding consulting, personal liquor shopping... seems like the sky's the limit!  Stay tuned, because I'll most certainly post about it.

Gondola Hook

The merging of two cocktails: the Gondolier and the Red Hook.

2 oz blended scotch (I've been digging Pig's Nose lately and it works well here)
1/3 oz Luxardo maraschino liqueur
1/3 oz Punt e Mes

Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with lemon peel if you like.

I really enjoy this particular combination of accents.  I could see a number of different "Hooks" with different bases - the Boat Hook with navy-strength gin, the Captain's Hook with rum, the Golden Hook with cognac...

Monday, November 25, 2013

Carina Collins

That's right, friends, it's another of my patented Unexplained Absences!  I shouldn't feel too bad - we did just buy a house, after all, and I've recently noticed that many (better-known) cocktail blogs are subject to their own random hiatuses.  Ah well.  I had to check in to be sure that I got this one down.

2 oz London Dry gin (Tanqueray in this case, although Boodles would be welcome)
1 1/4 oz lime juice (about a full medium-sized lime)
3/4 oz strawberry-saffron syrup
1/2 oz Licor 43
1 dash orange bitters

Shake and strain over large ice cubes, then top with soda water to taste (about 2 oz for me) and stir gently.

I named this one after a constellation visible in the Southern hemisphere during the summer months - appropriate, since I'm not sure why I came up with this only once the weather turned frigid.  Go figure.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Sugar Beet

Some folks pickle their leftover vegetables.  Some nerds (like myself) turn them into liqueur instead.  I've made a surprisingly effective sweet pepper liqueur in the past, but this one might be one of the most successful:

16 oz vodka
1 oz honey
1 medium diced red beet

Combine in a mason jar; macerate and shake daily for 10 days and store in the fridge.  Try the end result on its own - it actually takes like real

Here's a recipe making prime use of this wonderful stuff:

1 oz London Dry gin
1 oz beet liqueur
1 oz bianco or blanc vermouth
3 dashes Angostura bitters
3 drops celery bitters (I love Bitter Truth's version)

Stir over a large ice cube in an old-fashioned glass (I keep everything chilled to facilitate this without excessive dilution).  Garnish with a shaved beet slice if you have one handy, or just sip if you don't.  Try not to spill this on the carpet because beet juice will stain like crazy.


Sorry for the gap - we're in the middle of moving, job transitions, helping with friends' weddings... It's been a busy few weeks, without much time for mixology.

About three months ago we bought a juicing machine, and I've found that it makes an excellent tool for using up produce that's on the verge of going bad.  The problem is that (as recently stated by a friend) is that then you have to drink the stuff.  I myself prefer to get around this issue by combining it with delicious, delicious booze.  Which probably offsets any health or nutritional benefits gained from the stuff, but there you go.

Combining vegetable juice with beer or cider turns out to be a surprisingly effective way to make it very palatable while accentuating its natural flavor.  Here are a couple very successful riffs on the concept - give them a try, you might be surprised.

1 oz bourbon (nothing fancy, I used Four Roses)
1 oz fresh carrot juice
1/2 oz lime juice
1/4 oz pineapple syrup
~3-4 oz dry alcoholic apple cider

1 oz London Dry gin
1 oz fresh beet juice
1/2 oz lemon juice
1/4 oz cranberry syrup (or grenadine, but I think of this as fall/winter grenadine)
~3-4 oz dry alcoholic apple cider

1 oz bourbon
1 oz fresh beet juice
1/4 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz pineapple syrup
~3-4 oz India Pale Ale (any brand, really; I forget what we used)

For all of the above, shake the first 4 ingredients, strain over fresh ice, then top with the cider or beer and gently stir.  Feel free to play around with other variations; we certainly did.  I think we tested just about every variation of the formula:

1 oz spirit (bourbon or gin)
1 oz veggie juice (beet or carrot)
1/4-1/2 oz lemon or lime juice
1/4-1/2 oz pineapple or cranberry syrup (less if using cider or lighter beer, more if using bitter beer)
3-4 oz beer or cider

A couple dashes of whatever bitters you like in these don't hurt either.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Girdle Popper

My wife and I visited a local cocktail bar last night, and she ordered a drink dubbed the Panty Dropper.  I couldn't quite reconstruct it at home, but two out of three ain't bad.

1 1/4 oz navy-strength gin (Few's Standard Issue once again - I found a backup bottle!)
1 barspoon lemon juice

Stir over ice in a tall fizz glass, then top with 3 oz of Hana Hou Hou Shu Sparkling Sake (delightfully weird, delicious, pink stuff, pick some up if you can).

I just couldn't resist the name.

Pirate Dram

Here's a random Friday-evening old-school nightcap, cobbled together (as always seems to be the case) out of ingredients I'm trying to use up in preparation for our move.

3/4 oz Pyrat XO rum (or similar spicy, navy-style rum; Admiral Pusser's, perhaps)
3/4 oz VS brandy (technically I used a Torres 5 Year, but the style is similar)
1/2 oz Highlands scotch (or other smoky, peaty goodness)
1 barspoon Licor 43
1 barspoon honey-sage syrup
3 dashes Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas' Own Decanter bitters

Stir and strain into a cocktail glass.  Garnish?  What's that?

You could probably bump up the scotch if that's your pleasure.  The overall effect was oddly close to Drambuie, hence the name.

Monday, August 26, 2013


I have to admit that on my last trip there, I very much enjoyed my time in New York (due in large part to my favorite bar yet - my only complaint is that it's half a continent away) but I have a real fondness for Upstate.  Reminds me of home, probably; more so than the hustle and bustle of Manhattan.  Here's a drink named in its honor (think of it as "halfway to Toronto").

1 oz rye whiskey (Rittenhouse, appropriately)
1 oz applejack (Laird's Straight Apple Brandy in this case)
3/4 oz sweet vermouth (Dolin here)
1/2 oz Fernet Branca
1 dash aromatic bitters (Angostura)

Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish?  What's that?

If you want to use a decent Italian vermouth (Carpano Antica or its ilk) you can probably back off to 1/2 oz and possibly omit the bitters, though I haven't tried it this way.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Gin & Juice, Fancy Style

Are you familiar with the Minnesota State Fair?  I went along today at the family's behest, and it was only a flask of Few Standard Issue Gin that kept me alive through the experience.  Turns out that it serves as a wonderful spike for all manner of mixers.  Here is a drink that I made afterward to carry forward the trend.

1 1/2 oz navy strength gin (most brands should work in this)
1/2 oz pomegranate-blueberry syrup
1/2 oz lemon juice

Shake and strain over fresh ice.  Top with 2-3 oz carbonated cucumber water to taste.  Stir and spritz a quick blast of absinthe over the top using an atomizer.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Double-Dry Martinez

The concept of a "dry Martinez" is faintly ridiculous, since the Martinez is essentially the older, sweeter cousin to today's Martini.  For bonus irony points, this isn't even really all that dry, though it is a fairly-dry rendition of the Martinez formula.  It is brand-specific (that's the "double" part of the name) and I apologize for that, but this Dry Rye stuff really does deserve hunting down.

2 oz St. George Dry Rye gin
1/2 oz dry vermouth (Dolin here)
1/4 oz sweet vermouth (Dolin again, any decent vermouth would do fine)
1/4 oz maraschino (do I even need to specify Luxardo at this point?)
1 dash simple syrup (not exactly "dry" but helps with the balance)
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash Bittercube Cherry Bark Vanilla bitters (an astonishing combo with the Luxardo)

Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass; squeeze an orange twist over the top if available and discard, then garnish with a lemon twist.  That's what I did, anyway; a twist of either citrus will do just fine as garnish.

Glorious Evening Fizz

Here's a somewhat random variation on the "Morning Glory Fizz", a curiously tasty cocktail that I stumbled across in Imbibe! and which has become a personal favorite hangover helper.  I made this one on a warm summer evening, hence the name, and it was just too tasty not to write down.

2 oz scotch
3/4 oz ginger syrup (a nice spicy version created by combining juiced ginger and sugar)
3/4 oz lime juice
3 dashes celery bitters
1 egg yolk

Rinse the inside of a fizz glass with absinthe and place in the freezer to chill.  Combine the above over ice, shake well, and strain into the prepared glass.  Top with 3-4 oz of chilled, carbonated cucumber water to taste, then twist a lemon peel over the top and discard.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Malaccan Madness

I was thrilled to hunt down a couple bottles of Tanqueray Malacca today - I'd bought a couple before, recently after the news of its reissue, but the supply in my local market seems to be drying up and I found only one store with remaining stock.  I might have to invest in a couple more, or exercise more willpower in using the stuff.  It's really a very lovely gin, and I hope that its current limited run gets extended.

Anyway, should you have an open bottle of your own, here's a nice way to sling it around (although Malacca seems to work well in just about any pre-Prohibition gin cocktail).  What with this name, it's entirely brand-specific (sorry about that) but you could use another relatively soft, Old Tom style gin.  Seek out the real deal if you can.

2 oz Tanqueray Malacca gin
1/2 oz Licor 43
1/3 oz lemon juice
1 dash creme de violette
1 dash aromatic bitters
1 dash Bittercube Bolivar bitters

Shake briefly and strain over a large ice cube.  Garnish with a twist of lemon if you feel.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Notebook Cocktail #9

Somewhere in here I had a rather unhealthy fixation on double-base cocktails, meaning those that combine two different liquors in equal proportion.  Classic examples such as the Vieux Carre are among my favorite drinks (you may have noticed a couple variations) and I like trying to get spirits playing off one another.  It's a damned difficult trick to pull off; out of maybe a half-dozen cocktails that I vaguely recall, this was the only one enjoyable enough to deserve recording.

1 oz rye (Wild Turkey here)
1 oz Bak's Bison Grass vodka
3/4 oz Cynar
1/4 oz Licor 43
2 dashes aromatic bitters

Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass; garnish with a wide swath of orange peel.

And that, my friends, concludes the run of Notebook Cocktails (representing maybe 10% at most of my output during this latest hiatus).  I'll try to spread these out a little in future.  In the meantime, I wish all of you a very pleasant July 4th weekend (those of you reading from the U.S., anyway).

Notebook Cocktail #8

This was just born out of playing with a range of liqueurs taking up space in my cabinet.

1 oz London Dry gin (you could bump this up to 1 1/2 oz if using a less-assertive gin)
1/2 oz triple sec (Luxardo's version has become my favorite, but any will do)
1/2 oz Pimm's Cup No. 1
1/2 oz Aperol
1 oz lime juice

Shake well and strain over fresh ice.  Garnish with an orange wheel if you're feeling fancy.

Notebook Cocktail #7

Basically a French 75 variant using some of the ingredients on hand.  We tried a couple different versions with one citrus or another before splitting the difference.

2 oz London Dry gin (really any gin would do fine here; cheap gin would be suitably authentic)
3/4 oz rhubarb syrup (the same lightly-spiced version from N.C. #6)
3/4 oz lime juice
3/4 oz grapefruit juice (I used a nice sweet Ruby Red variety)

Shake and strain over fresh ice, then top with about 2 oz rose cava or champagne (I think we actually used a Baron de Seillac Brut Rose, which is from Provence and therefore technically neither, but that's irrelevant; anything pink and bubbly and dry will do fine).

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Notebook Cocktail #6

This one actually comes with a proper name ("The Greenway Sour") but it's in the same notepad as the others, so it counts as a Notebook Cocktail.  It may be one of my favorites.

1 oz white rum (Plantation 3 Star, duh)
1 oz London Dry gin (Beefeater in this case, but my love of Boodles is well known)
3/4 oz rhubarb syrup (a slightly spiced version with nutmeg and lemon peel)
3/4 oz lime juice

Shake briefly and strain over ice, then top with about 1 1/2 oz charged cucumber water (an excellent mixer and a fine use for those left-over cucumber solids).

Notebook Cocktail #5

This one should look like a recombination of some of the ingredients from the last few Notebook Cocktails, mostly because it's exactly that.

2 oz white rum (Plantation 3 Star again)
1 1/4 oz cryo-cucumber juice (for which see N.C. #4)
3/4 oz mango shrub (nearly identical to the cranberry version from N.C. #1)
1 large dash Bittercube Bolivar bitters*

Stir well over ice and top with about 1 oz soda water.

*Troublesome brand specifications again, I know.  The problem in this case is that I really don't know anything that is quite like these particular bitters.  You could maybe try a dash each of Peychaud's and orange, but it won't be nearly the same thing.

Notebook Cocktail #4

This one surprised me enough to write down.  I don't usually care much for coconut water; nor apparently does my wife, who bought a small carton only to take a small sip and immediately declare her disgust.  Using the remainder immediately became my challenge of the evening.

2 oz Bak's Bison Grass vodka (other brands would presumably be fine)
3/4 oz thyme syrup (fairly rich with a small touch of honey in my version)
1 1/2 oz coconut water
1 1/2 oz "cryo-juiced" cucumber juice*
1 oz lemon juice

Stir vigorously over ice and add a quick charge of soda water.  Alternatively, combine the above in the appropriate proportions and charge the whole thing in your soda siphon.

*This stuff is amazing.  I found the recipe (or method, really) in Kevin Liu's excellent new book (the companion blog reprints occasional sections for those of you who want a representative sample) and have been making it every week since then.  It's delicious and couldn't be easier.  Just slice a cucumber or two into very thin wheels (a mandolin is nice for this) then pop them into a resealable plastic bag and chuck into the freezer.  Once frozen, pull the bag out, let the cucumbers thaw completely (I recommend a drip tray from personal experience) and then return to the freezer for a second go.  Once fully frozen and thawed again, pop the bag's top and pour off the resulting juice, squeezing the cucumbers through the bag to extract every drop you can.  One reasonably sized cucumber seems to yield about 4-5 oz of bright green juice.  Don't toss the drained wheels, either - you can drop them back into a pitcher to make cucumber water.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Notebook Cocktail #3

This one is a bit of a dick move.  I'm sorry.

1 1/2 oz oak-aged St. George Dry Rye gin
3/4 oz green Chartreuse
3/4 oz red vermouth
1 large dash Jerry Thomas' Own Decanter bitters

Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass; flame a large swath of orange peel over the top.

The problem with this drink is that it's so brand-specific.  Personally, I love St. George Dry Rye for being so crazy unique; aging it for a month is just icing on the cake.  If I were to even attempt substitution, it would probably be with equal parts good bourbon, Bols genever (the barrel-aged version would be best), and Plymouth gin.  Does that sound insane or delicious?  That will probably determine your reaction to this oaky version of a Bijou Cocktail.

Notebook Cocktail #2

Here's a sort of vaguely julep-style concoction, created largely because I had a huge bundle of mint to use up.  Also, Armagnac, which I love deeply.

1 oz Armagnac brandy
1 oz rye whiskey
1/2 oz passionfruit juice
1/4 oz mango shrub
1 dash aromatic bitters (Angostura in this case)
1 large bunch mint (about 20 leaves)
1 Demerara sugar cube

Muddle the mint and sugar in a mixing glass (add a small dash of water if needed).  Add ice, shake briefly, and strain over fresh finely cracked ice.  Garnish with a fresh bunch of mint.

Notebook Cocktail #1

I've been making a lot of shrubs lately - they're easy and tasty and flexible.  Here is a simple and straightforward way to use them:

1 1/2 oz rye whiskey (I can't remember what brand, but 100-proof is recommended)
3/4 oz Cocchi Americano
3/4 oz cranberry shrub* (see below)

Shake and strain over one large cube in a double old-fashioned glass.

I also wrote down a variation using Plantation Three Star (my new go-to white rum) which turned out nicely.

*Lightly muddle 1 cup of fresh cranberries in a large mason jar, then add 1/2 cup each of apple cider vinegar and white wine vinegar.  Let this infuse in the refrigerator for a week, shaking every other day, then add 1 1/2 cups raw sugar.  Let this infuse for another week, shaking daily, then fine-strain into a clean container.  Add about 1/2 oz 100-proof (or higher) neutral grain spirit and keep refrigerated.

Return Redux

Whooo, sudden absences and apologetic returns!  It's becoming something of a regular event.

Chalk this one up to equal parts intimidation and laziness.  Over the last few months, I've been doing a lot less original mixing, and much more of two alternatives: easy long drinks, and carefully sampled classics.  The former includes endless, mindless riffs on the Collins or Gin & Tonic or a quick sangria; a tall, inoffensive, easily assembled drink is about all you need sometimes.  The latter involves mixing the same thing over and over again with small variations in recipe and proportion.  I see this as a really helpful exercise to compare different brand, test the effects of small changes on a known recipe, and hone my palate, but it doesn't exactly make for interesting reading.  I write here when I think there's something worth writing, and that has been recently lacking.

I'm quite impressed at the number of really good cocktail books and blogs floating around these days, and when I read them it's hard to feel especially creative.  When I try an original recipe, the result is often a bit disappointing in comparison to those culled from other sources.  That doesn't exactly stop me from trying again, but it does discourage me from writing down my recipes.  Which has to change, I think, for two main reasons.  First, these are people who have spent much more time experimenting and refining than I have, and it's crazy to expect that every one of my own drinks should rival theirs.  Second, the whole point of a log is to remember and refine, and I'm doing so only in fragments.

So, in the spirit of getting back on track, allow me to present a whole slew of recipes that deserved to be recorded (or at least I thought so at the time).  I'm transcribing these from a notepad usually reserved for writing down phone numbers or sketching ideas.  They're a bit all over the place and none of them have names, but they are finally here.  Enjoy.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Spiced Pear Goodness

I don't normally post specific syrup recipes, mostly because they never really deviate from the standard method, but this one is a little more complicated. Plus it turned out too well not to brag about.

1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 cup water
1 stick cinnamon
8-10 whole cloves
4-5 whole allspice berries
1 large pear

Dissolve the sugar in the water over medium heat. Add the spices, cover, and reduce the heat to low. Simmer (don't boil!) for about 20 minutes, then kill the heat and let stand for another 10 minutes.

Chop the pear into 1/4-inch cubes and place into a French press or other nonreactive vessel. Pour the hot syrup over the pear pieces while straining out the spices. Let stand for about12 hours, then strain again and store in the refrigerator for up to a month.

This is calibrated for about 2 cups of syrup, which is about all I ever make for home use.

As a bonus, here's a damned fine use of the above:

1 1/2 oz cognac or French brandy
1/2 oz spiced pear syrup
3/4 oz orange juice

Shake and strain over fresh ice in a double old-fashioned glass , then top with 2 oz dry Prosecco or Cava. Stir gently and serve with a twist of orange peel.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Moroccan Haze

Here's a potent and slightly foggy cocktail that was too good not to write down.

1 1/4 oz cognac (VSOP grade or better would be nice)
1/4 oz absinthe
1/4 oz Cynar (I haven't tried Cocchi Torino, Carpano Antica, or other reasonably bitter vermouths, but I have every reason to expect that any of them would work; however, the herbal notes of Cynar have an interesting synthesis with the absinthe)
1/4 oz rooibos tea syrup
2 dashes ras-el-hanout bitters (I'll get around to publishing a recipe someday, I swear)
2 dashes orange bitters

Stir and strain into a cocktail glass; garnish with a large orange coin squeezed to express the oil.