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Friday, February 27, 2009

Manhattan Cocktail

My wife called from Williams Sonoma to ask if I had any Stirrings® Blood Orange Bitters.  I had to admit that I did not have any, and had never had any as far as I knew, so she brought home a bottle.  I was surprised to see that the Blood Orange bitters said “refrigerate after opening” while Angostura® bitters do not.  I discovered the difference, interestingly enough, is that the Angostura contain 40% alcohol while the Stirrings Blood Orange don’t contain any.  Next, I decided to check out the recipes they had on the bottle.  The Mighty Manhattan caught my eye, so I decided to give it a try later in the evening.  There is also a recipe for a Champagne Cocktail that I will have to experiment with the next time I’m doing champagne.  I tasted a few drops (this helps you to understand what an ingredient is contributing to the cocktail) and discovered a complex flavor with the requisite bitter finish, sweeter than other bitters, but with the blood orange flavor coming across well.  A bottle of Angostura bitters has a small spout on top, so that a “dash” is a drop or two.  Interestingly, the Blood Orange bitters don’t have one, so a dash of Blood Orange will be much larger than a dash of Angostura.

After dinner I was getting ready to watch Apocalypse Now Redux on cable and thinking about a cocktail, so I decided it was time to give The Mighty Manhattan a try.  I popped a cocktail glass into the freezer, and started digging around in my bar for the other ingredients, only to discover I was out of Rye.  (I need to improve my inventory process, but Rye is now on the shopping list.)  Fortunately, you can make a Manhattan with Bourbon (Rye is the traditional whiskey to use for the classic Manhattan) and Stirrings’ recipe even says “Rye or Bourbon,” so I decided to substitute Jim Beam® Black Label.  Their recipe also says “shake gently,” but I decide to draw the line at that.  Manhattans are traditionally stirred to avoid clouding the drink.  This does, however, make it more important to use a chilled glass.  I enjoyed sipping the Mighty Manhattan, the major drawback being that one doesn’t last long enough for a three hour plus movie. 

Recipes for the Mighty Manhattan and a classic Manhattan follow.  As usual, feel free to fiddle with the recipe to arrive at your own, perfect Manhattan, and be sure to write down your version for later use.  There are many more Manhattan recipes to use as starting points available on the web if these don’t work for you.


The Mighty Manhattan

2 oz Rye or Bourbon whiskey

½ oz sweet vermouth

dash Stirrings® Blood Orange bitters

Add the ingredients to a mixing glass half full of ice cubes.  Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with a maraschino cherry.



2 oz Rye or Bourbon whiskey

½ oz sweet vermouth

2 dashes Angostura® bitters

Add the ingredients to a mixing glass half full of ice cubes and stir.  Rub the cut edge of an orange peel around the lip of the chilled cocktail glass.  Strain the drink into the glass and garnish with a maraschino cherry.  If you would like to try a Dry Manhattan, substitute a dash of dry vermouth, leave out the bitters, and garnish with a lemon twist.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Basil Mojito

Another Mardi Gras is over.  I just tried my first Basil Mojito, and it was great.  I want to thank my friend John Mahaffie, who follows this blog, for bringing this delicious cocktail to my attention.  I had always enjoyed the classic Mojito that is made with mint.  When John mentioned in a response to my Mardi Gras post that he had seen a Basil Mojito on a cooking show, I had my doubts, but I knew I had to try it, so I googled the recipe and found several.  For some reason, the first grocery store I went to was out of mint.  I feared a pre-Mardi Gras mint rush (in Salt Lake City???) was in progress, but the next store had plenty.  Both stores had fresh organic basil in stock.  I was ready for Mardi Gras.  (FYI, look for both mint and basil in the produce department with the herbs.   When you get your herbs home, go through them and throw out any damaged or blackened leaves or stems, carefully washing and draining the remainder (which should be most of your purchase if you did a good job of selecting them at the store).  Store them in plastic bags in the crisper of your fridge.)

As soon as President Obama was done speaking (well, actually it was shortly after Bobby Jindal began speaking) I headed for the bar.  I prepared three glasses, putting a teaspoon of sugar into each.  Then into the first I put all mint leaves, into the second I put half mint leaves and half basil leaves, and into the third I put all basil leaves.  Finally, I cut two fresh limes in half, and squeezed a half-lime into each of the three glasses, reserving the final lime half for a fourth Mojito, TBD.  You should have smelled the room when I went to work with my favorite Muddler.  Having muddled through, I poured the measure of light rum into each glass and stirred to ensure the sugar was dissolved.  Then I added ice and topped off each glass with soda water from my Soda Siphon.  (If you don’t have a siphon, feel free to use bottled or canned soda water.)  The results were amazing.  I had had my doubts about using basil, but the Basil Mojito was great.  It actually seemed to taste a little smoother and cooler than the traditional mint Mojito, and I’m torn between the two.  I will definitely have more Basil Mojitos in the future, but I won’t become a traditional Mojito apostate, either.  If you get the chance, try these side by side and decide for yourself.  This would be a great new cocktail to introduce to your friends at a Drink-of-the-Month club gathering.


Basil Mojito

2 oz light Rum

fresh squeezed juice of ½ Lime (½ oz )

1 tsp bar sugar

6-8 basil leaves (optionally use some mint)

soda water

Put the basil leaves and sugar into an Old Fashion glass.  Squeeze the lime juice into the glass.  Muddle well to bring out the smell and flavor of the basil.  For a Basil Mint Mojito, replace some of the basil leaves with mint leaves.  Add the rum and stir to dissolve the sugar.  Fill the glass with ice, then top off with soda water and stir lightly.  Garnish with a lime wheel and serve with a straw.  Vary the basil to suit your taste.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Jack Rose

As I was scanning the cocktail tweets on Twitter today, I saw a reference to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow (love her show) from @ethanethan.  In the video (embedded below), Rachel is shaking a Jack Rose.  I had to laugh out loud.  I used to order Jacks at the Playboy Club in Chicago back when I was in my twenties.  I hate to date myself, but cocktails and the all-you-can-eat buffet in the Living Room, where Oscar Peterson performed live, could each be had for under three dollars.  Usually, the Bunnies had never heard of Jack Rose, but the bartenders had.  So Rachel is into Sazeracs and Jack Roses?  I wonder how old the crowd she hangs with is.  At least they love classic cocktails, so they can’t be all bad.

The Jack Rose is a “classic American cocktail” that is at least 80 years old.  I had read its name in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (a good book to read in your twenties) and decided to give it a try.  (Actually, Hemingway got me into wine, too, but that’s another story…)  It’s a great drink that’s easy to make, but you might not have everything you need, since the key ingredient is apple jack.  Real apple jack is 100 proof.  I dug around in my bar and managed to locate a bottle of Calvados (French apple brandy that’s a little more expensive than AJ) from Normandie, which will do in a pinch, as will any apple brandy.  Don’t go too cheap on the apple brandy, though – it is the main ingredient.

Jack Rose

2 oz Laird® Apple Jack or Calvados

½ oz Grenadine syrup

fresh squeezed juice of ½ Lime (½ oz )

Add the Apple Jack and Grenadine to a shaker full of ice.  Squeeze in the lime juice.  Rachel says to shake it until your hands are so cold they hurt, and then shake it some more.  Who am I to argue? (This can, however, be tiring if you have an insulated shaker.)  Pour into a pre-chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with a maraschino cherry, a slice of apple, or even a lime wheel.


Monday, February 23, 2009

Cocktails for Mardi Gras

This week-end my wife and I attended the annual Alliance Française Mardi Gras celebration where wine, but no cocktails, was served. Mardi Gras, however, is a time for cocktails, so I’ll have to make my own. No place in the US is as associated with Mardi Gras as New Orleans, home of the Sazerac cocktail. Legend has it that the Sazerac was invented in New Orleans in the early nineteenth century by Antoine Amadie Peychaud, who also originated Peychaud’s Bitters. The drink was originally made with Cognac, but today Rye whiskey is most commonly used. Use a good Rye, since you’ll be sipping it almost straight. Peychaud’s Bitters can be hard to find, so substitute Angostura Bitters if necessary. Bourbon can make a good Sazarac too. On my last trip to DC, I had a “Sazer-Jack” at Poste in Hotel Monaco that was made with Jack Daniels® and Sazerac Rye® with gomme syrup.

I don’t know why, but when I think of Mardi Gras and New Orleans I think of Jazz and hurricanes, so I thought I would include a Hurricane recipe in this post. I love the difference amoretto makes in this drink. You can find a lot more Hurricane recipes online if this one doesn’t match your taste. This cocktail is a double, so be careful it doesn’t blow you away. Ladies, earn those beads!

If you’re wondering why Mardi Gras celebrations seem bigger in the tropics, it’s because it’s too damn cold to run around outside drunk and under-dressed in much of the northern hemisphere during February (unless you’re sprinting for the hot tub). So for my last two Mardi Gras cocktails I selected an old stand-by, the Mai Tai, and the more trendy, but never-the-less venerable, Mojito. Both are rum-based drinks you’re sure to enjoy. I first got hooked on Mai Tais years ago, sitting in a semi-private tea room at Kiyo’s Japanese Restaurant on Clark Street in Chicago. Kiyo’s served their Mai Tais in ceramic crocks filled with crushed ice that fond memory estimates at about six inches in diameter and four inches in height. The presentation was exquisite, as one would expect at a good Japanese restaurant, and garnishes included mandarin orange slices, a pineapple wedge, fresh mint leaves, thin slices of lemon and lime, and a maraschino cherry. Exquisite and powerful. I know from experience that if you ordered three in the course of an evening, the bartender would bring the third one to check out who was drinking so much.

I had my first Mojito (see photo) at a beachfront hotel in Miami. It was so long ago that I can’t remember its name (the hotel’s name, that is), but I do remember the Mojito. Fresh mint leaves are an absolute requirement for a good Mojito. Accept no substitutes. I once unsuccessfully experimented with using minute amounts of mint extract in a futile attempt to make a Mojito without ever coming up with an acceptable result. Bacardi® has a great video of making a Mojito here.

So that’s my Mardi Gras line-up for 2009. If nothing appeals to you, search online. There are plenty of good cocktail recipes out there just waiting for you to sample them. If your Mardi Gras tastes run even farther south than the Crescent City, check out Colleen’s selections at for some good Brazilian options.


2 ounces Rye whiskey (or Bourbon or Cognac)

1 tsp bar sugar or simple syrup

3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters (or substitute Angostura)

½ tsp. Absinthe (or other anise-based liqueur like Pernod, Ricard, etc.)

lemon twist

Chill an old-fashioned glass in the freezer. Put the sugar or syrup in a mixing glass; add the bitters (and a couple of drops of water, if using sugar), and stir until you have a smooth liquid. Add the whiskey and some ice cubes and stir. Retrieve the chilled glass and add the Absinthe; roll the glass to coat the inside with Absinthe and dump the excess. Strain the whiskey mixture into the prepared glass; twist the piece of lemon peel over the glass, rub it once around the rim, and drop it in.


1 ½ oz light Rum

1 ½ oz Gosling’s Black Seal® dark rum

¾ oz amaretto almond liqueur

3 oz Passion Fruit juice (you may substitute Orange juice)

fresh squeezed juice of ½ Lime (½ oz )

Combine ingredients with cracked ice in a shaker. (Feel free to cut the rums back to 1 oz each if this seems too strong.) Squeeze in the lime juice. Shake well while imagining you’re on a Mardi Gras parade float. Strain into a Hurricane Glass full of ice. If you don’t have an official Hurricane glass, serve it in a tall white wine glass or a Collins glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry and a slice of orange (or other fruit). Serve with a straw. If you like your cocktails sweeter, add 1 tsp simple syrup or bar sugar before you shake.

Mai Tai

1 oz Gosling’s Black Seal® dark rum

1 oz light Rum

½ oz Amaretto almond liqueur

1 oz Cointreau (or Triple Sec)

2 oz Guava juice (you may substitute Orange juice)

3 oz Pineapple juice

1 lime wedge

Combine ingredients with cracked ice in a shaker. Shake well while thinking about the dancers at the old Intercontinental hotel in Wailea, Maui. Strain into a Collins glass full of ice. Garnish with a wedge of pineapple and a maraschino cherry. Float just enough Gosling’s Black Seal® dark rum to cover the top of the glass, finish it with a squeeze of fresh lime juice, drop the lime wedge in and enjoy.


2 oz light Rum

fresh squeezed juice of ½ Lime (½ oz )

1 tsp bar sugar

6-8 mint leaves

soda water

Put the mint leaves and sugar into an Old Fashion glass. Squeeze the lime juice into the glass. Muddle well to bring out the smell and flavor of the mint. Add the rum and stir to dissolve the sugar. Fill the glass with ice, then top off with soda water and stir. Garnish with a sprig of mint and serve with a straw. Vary the mint to suit your taste.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

National Margarita Day

According to this article in The New York Daily News, February 22 is National Margarita Day.  It sounds like another made-up holiday to me, but any excuse is a good excuse to have a Margarita.  Not only is this cocktail one of my favorites, but it’s a national favorite, too. Tequila Herradura (not sure if they’re a totally objective source) claims that the margarita represents 18 percent of all mixed drink sales in the U.S., followed by the Martini, Rum and Coke, and Vodka and Tonic.  The Margarita has an average hourly sale rate of 185,000 – that’s over four million a day!  In a country with over 305 million people, it’s obvious that some people are not pulling their weight.

So get out your limes and blender (or shaker), and have at it.  My recipe is here, and there are plenty more available online.  Try out a new recipe February 22, and tailor it to your own taste.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Venerable Rum and Coke

What can you say about the old stand-by, Rum and Coke?  “Not very imaginative?”  “The lazy man’s cocktail?”  “Is it really a cocktail?”  “Do they even put that recipe in the cocktail books?”  These statements may all have some validity, but the simple truth about Rum and Coke is that it just plain tastes good.  Rum is made from sugar cane by-products, and is distilled almost everywhere that sugar cane grows (and probably some places it’s not); it’s usually aged in wood (often oak) barrels.  Rum comes in three colors: light (I know – not really a color), gold (or amber), and dark, with the usual wide range of quality common to distilled spirits, not to mention the different styles and flavors due to place of origin.  I have used light rum, gold rum, and even dark rum in my Rum and Coke, and enjoyed them all.  Almost any rum can make a good Rum and Coke, but you might want to reserve your good sipping rum for just that – sipping on the rocks with a squeeze of lime.  Even the Bacardi® Light based Rum and Coke served by the airlines tastes pretty good. 

As for the lime, I consider it an essential ingredient of a Rum and Coke, rendering the Cuba Libre non-existent.  (I used to make snap judgments of bartenders based on whether or not they automatically gave me lime with my Rum and Coke.)  If you are too lazy to squeeze a fresh lime, use a squirt of lime juice.  As for the coke, I prefer the real thing; some of the alternatives are too sweet.  For a lower cal drink, use Diet Coke.


Rum and Coke

1 shot Rum

Coke® or Diet Coke®

Juice of ½ lime

Lime wedge or wheel

Fill a highball glass with ice.  (If you like more coke, use less ice or a bigger glass).  Squeeze the lime juice into the glass, then rub the lime rind around the rim to enhance the essential scent and taste of lime.  Add rum (and maybe a little extra).  Fill glass with Coke (no need to stir, the bubbles do it for you).  Don't be afraid to experiment with proportions to arrive at your ideal Rum and Coke.  Garnish with lime wedge or wheel.  Heavenly!


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hot Rum Toddy

My wife and I both seem to be coming down with either a cold or a sore throat, so she suggested we have a Hot Rum Toddy.  Once upon a time, she attended nursing school, so who am I to argue?  The most important ingredient of an HRT is some good, dark rum.  I recommend Gosling’s Black Seal® or Myer’s Planters Punch®.  Gosling’s is an excellent rum, and it’s a bargain at under $20/750 ml.  The recipe below is easy to throw together in just a couple of minutes, and is guaranteed to cure what ails you (or at least warm you up on a cold winter’s night).  Remember, though, that an HRT is one cocktail that is definitely better stirred than shaken.  


Hot Rum Toddy

1 shot Gosling’s Black Seal® rum

1 dash  Ground nutmeg

1 dash  Ground cinnamon

3 Whole cloves

½ Lemon wheel

1 pat of Butter

Boiling water

Put the butter in a warm cup or mug.  Fill 2/3 full with boiling water.  Stir until butter is melted.  Stick the cloves into the lemon wheel and add to the cup.  Add the shot of rum (and a little more if there’s room).  Sprinkle with nutmeg and cinnamon and serve with a teaspoon for stirring.


Since this recipe is pretty basic, I thought I would see if I could find a more sophisticated one for you on the web.  I found a nice one at  Try it if you want something a little more elaborate.  I finished my first HRT while I was writing this post, now I’m off to make another.  Stay Healthy!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Brain Cell Alert

Good news for all of you that have been worrying about alcohol slowly killing off your brain cells.  I was just watching the "Miracle Berry" episode of "Food Detectives" on The Food Network.  They (Jake Ward from Popular Science magazine, an expert in a white lab coat, which makes him an unimpeachable expert as far as I'm concerned (so whatever he says must be true)) said that unless you have a serious drinking problem, alcohol will not kill brain cells.    The only way for alcohol to kill brain cells is to crack open your skull and pour alcohol directly onto your brain (not recommended).  This was good news to me, since my wife was watching the show and waiting to pounce.  Jake also mentioned that light to moderate drinking may reduce the risk of dementia.  This shifts cocktails into the "plus" column as far as health is concerned.  (Don't forget the anti-oxidants in the limes in Margaritas, Rum and Coke®, and other cocktails.)

This doesn't mean that there are no physiological reactions from alcohol: reaction time, judgement, and inhibition are all impaired, which can cause you problems that may have serious consequences, or that there are not serious consequences to heavy, long term drinking (there are).  It does, however, mean that if you've been worrying about a cocktail or two killing your brain, you can stop worrying.  That's good news.  I was worried about all of those Cranberry Champagne Cocktails that I had on Valentine's Day.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Valentine’s Day Cocktails – Chocolate

As promised, here are some chocolate-based drinks for your sweet tooth on Valentine’s Day.  Chocolate-based drinks tend to be sweeter and heavier; if you’re looking for something light, see the post on Valentine’s Day Cocktails – Red.  I first saw a shot version of Chocolate Covered Cherry on  It was delicious, but I couldn’t resist converting it into a Valentine’s cocktail.  This is, of course, a sweet drink as you can tell from the ingredients.  I found the Chocomintini at a bar in (I think) San Francisco long enough ago that I can’t remember which one…  I’ve seen similar recipes on the web under different names.  Another chocolate cocktail that is sure to please your Democratic devotee is my Barack Obama Cocktail (click through for the recipe).



1¾ oz Godiva White Chocolate® Liqueur

1¾ oz Stoli Vanil® vodka

¾ oz Peppermint Schnapps

Combine ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass rimmed with chocolate rimming sugar or sweetened cocoa.  Garnish with a maraschino cherry and serve. 


Chocolate Covered Cherry Cocktail

¾ oz DeKuyper® Crème de Cacao (dark)

¾ oz Amoretto

¾ oz Kahlua®

¾ oz Cream (optional)

Chocolate rimming sugar or sweetened cocoa

Combine ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake enthusiastically and strain into a chilled cocktail glass rimmed with chocolate rimming sugar or sweetened cocoa.  Add a maraschino cherry to the glass and serve.  If you leave out the cream, use a full ounce of the other ingredients for a three ounce cocktail.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Valentine’s Day Cocktails – Red

As I was starting to plan our Saint Valentine’s Day festivities (my wife and I have been married almost 34 years), I realized I should have a variety of cocktails lined up so that we might move whichever direction the good saint takes us.  For Valentine’s Day cocktails, I think either red (for color) or chocolate (for flavor).  You might say this isn’t very imaginative, but I’m in it for the taste.

I’ll start out with an aperitif that is simplicity itself – the Kir Royale.  This drink only requires a little Crème de Cassis and whatever Champagne you have lying around the house.  (You did stock up on Champagne for Valentine’s Day, didn’t you?)

Keeping things simple (in case you’re cooking a gourmet dinner for your Valentine… I know I will be) is easy with a Cranberry Champagne Cocktail.  All it takes is a little Grand Marnier (or triple sec), a little cranberry juice, and more of your precious stock of champagne.

Now for a classic.  Where would Valentine’s Day be without the Cosmopolitan?  You don’t really have to measure the cranberry juice, a good splash will do.  I like them tart, but feel free to adjust the lime juice to your own taste.  A variation on the Cosmo is the Mango Kiss.  The name is more romantic (in honor of the day) and makes me think of love on a tropical island.

For holidays, I like to vary my garnishes.  I sometimes take the sugar-coated jelly candies that are available in grocery or drug stores around the holiday, cut a slit with a sharp knife, and slide them onto the lip of the glass.  Cocktail purists may complain, but some people (those with a sweet tooth) eat them up.  For Valentine’s Day, look for hearts or cupids.  If this is too sweet, drop in a few red berries or some dried Montmorency cherries for a different look.

That’s four cocktails, and we haven’t even gotten to the chocolate ones.  I’ll have to save them for the next post.


Kir Royale

½ to 1 oz Crème de Cassis


Pour Crème de Cassis into a champagne flute. (Adjust quantity inversely with the quality of the Champagne.)   Fill flute with ice cold Champagne.  Enjoy the music. (Note: For a Kir, just use white wine.  Great any day while cooking dinner)


Cranberry Champagne Cocktail

¼ oz Grand Marnier®

1 oz cranberry juice


Pour Grand Marnier into a champagne flute.  Add cranberry juice.   Fill flute with ice cold Champagne.  Garnish with sliver of orange peel.



2 oz vodka, straight from the freezer

½ oz triple sec (or Grand Marnier®)

Juice of ¼ lime

2 oz cranberry juice

Add the ingredients to a shaker full of ice.  Shake con brio until you know it’s ready.  Pour into a chilled cocktail glass.   For the classic Cosmo, garnish with a lime wheel.  To get a deeper red color, add more cranberry juice and use Grand Marnier instead of triple sec.


Mango Kiss

2 oz Finlandia Mango Fusion® vodka

½ oz triple sec (or Grand Marnier®)

Juice of ¼ lime

2 oz cranberry juice

Add the ingredients to a shaker full of ice.  Shake while you contemplate the evening ahead.  Pour into a chilled cocktail glass.   Garnish with a lime wheel. 


Tuesday, February 10, 2009


When you begin to outfit your bar, one of your first purchases should be a Cocktail Shaker. Shakers have two purposes: to mix the ingredients well and (when used with ice) to chill them rapidly. You should start out with one, but if you are truly interested in cocktails, you will end up with many. Having more than one can be very convenient. If you’re having a cocktail party and you have several shakers, you can avoid having to rinse the shaker between drinks by using (for example) one for Martinis, one for Cosmopolitans, and one (that you will have to rinse) for everything else. Don’t worry about having to buy several, though. Once your family and friends find out about your interest in cocktails, you should receive much of the barware you need as birthday and/or holiday gifts. If you don’t, drop some hints and sign up for wish-lists on sites like to get them moving in the right direction. You can get shakers (and strainers) online from Amazon (see the barware product carousel). You can sometimes find barware sets at budget stores like T.J. Maxx or Tuesday Morning.

There are two main types of shakers: the Boston and the Cobbler. The Cobbler is a three piece shaker, usually made of stainless steel, which has a built-in strainer. The bottom is usually a large, tapered cup where the ingredients are placed for mixing. Next there is a tight-fitting lid resembling a truncated, curvaceous Dairy Queen® that has a built-in strainer. The third piece is cap that fits on the lid. Put ice in the cup, pour in the ingredients, put on the lid and cap, and then shake enthusiastically. The temperature of the shaker should drop rapidly as the cocktail is chilled. Remove the cap, strain the cocktail into the glass, and enjoy! I love making cocktails in the summer when the shaker frosts up from the humidity…

The Boston Shaker is two pieces: a mixing glass (that you can also use to prepare stirred cocktails) and a large, tapered cup, much like the bottom of a Cobbler, that is large enough for the inverted mixing glass to fit into and form a seal. The mixing glass will often have engraved measurements, which I tend not to use, but that can make it easy to mix several drinks at a time. Put ice in the cup, pour the ingredients into the mixing glass, flip the ingredients into the cup as you invert the glass into the cup, and then shake enthusiastically. Never shake one-handed if there are any carbonated ingredients, the gas pressure can cause the seal to pop. Remember that everything will end up in the cup, so don’t get overconfident and use more liquid and ice than will fit. The temperature of the shaker will drop rapidly as the cocktail is chilled. This will cause the cup to shrink and form a very tight seal with the glass. If you can’t separate them when you’re done shaking, carefully tap the glass on the side of the bar to break the seal (but not the glass!) The next step is to pour the cocktail. Usually, you can separate the ice using a strainer, but you can also use the glass to strain the cocktail by holding it just inside the lip of the cup as you pour. If you’ve never done this, avoid embarrassment by practicing with some ice-water before your guests arrive. Both ways work, so it’s just a matter of personal preference. Having received two strainers as gifts, I usually use one.

I advise beginning shakers to use two hands. As your confidence grows, you may develop a one-handed shake if you have a strong enough grip and a large enough hand to do it safely. Be careful! It would be embarrassing to have part of your shaker go flying, especially if it hits something. Once my wife bought me a cool looking Cobbler that had a glass cup with a metal lip (so it could seal with the lid). It soon became one of my favorites for colorful cocktails because my guests could see their cocktails as they were being shaken. I’m lazy and tend to use cubed ice, plus I like to shake hard to break some ice crystals into the cocktail. One evening, just as I was getting a really good shake on, the glass shaker broke in my hand. I stood there not quite realizing what had happened, thinking that somehow the lid had come off, until I realized that the bottom had broken. It turned out that the glass on the sides of the bottom was quite thin, but that I couldn’t actually see how thin it was because of the metal lip around its top. Farewell, beloved shaker.

Need Barware? Check out my store.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Finding Cocktail Recipes

Whether you’re trying to find a new cocktail recipe for your drink-of-the-month club, for a cocktail party, or just for your own enjoyment, you have literally thousands of sources available.  Besides websites (links given below), there are plenty of recipes available in hardcopy.  Magazines like Food & Wine and Gourmet are always presenting new recipes for seasonal cocktails.  There are plenty of books available, too.  If you’re on a budget, look in used bookstores or on Amazon Marketplace.  Don’t buy too many yourself; once your friends and family know about your interest in cocktails, they’ll have books and barware in mind for gift ideas around your birthday and the holidays.  I like to have a copy of Robyn M. Feller’s The Complete Bartender on hand because it’s easier to access a book than my laptop during a cocktail party.  (As an amateur bartender, there are many, many cocktail recipes that I don’t know.)  I’ve enhanced my copy for fast access by tagging the first page for each letter with a little post-it tag.

BarNoneDrinks contains a lot of cocktail recipes and other info, including a huge online dictionary of cocktail ingredients.

DrinkStreet has loads of drink recipes and an online basic-bartending course.  This is one of the first sites I found when I got interested in cocktails; and I use this useful and entertaining site often.

DrinkNation claims over 8,000 drink recipes, and their advanced search gives you a lot of options for finding drinks.

Webtender calls itself an On-Line Bartender.  While it can’t pour you a cocktail, it has a lot of cocktail recipes.  It makes up for its lack of visual appeal with a good drink database (over 6,000 drinks).

For a kick, Project Gutenberg has an online copy of a 1917 book, The Ideal Bartender by Tom Bullock, that includes a lot of classic recipes.

For you Martini lovers, MartiniArt has a catalog site that also includes a lot of great Martini recipes.

If any of you post links to good sites in responses, I’ll update this list so the links will be all together for future readers.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Ultimate Vodka Martini

Since the primary ingredient of a Vodka Martini is vodka, you will want to use your best, and be sure to store it in the freezer. (See my paragraph on vodka in Stocking Your Bar.) The best Vodka Martini I ever had was at La Caille Restaurant right here in Utah while attending a private party. A friend told me they had great Martinis, so I asked the server for one and he recommended a dry, Grey Goose® Martini. I ordered one with two olives and had it in my hand about three minutes later. It was fantastic! The vodka was straight from the freezer and you could actually feel ice crystals in it as you drank. The worst Vodka Martini I ever had was at La Caille Restaurant right here in Utah at the very same party. We had just sat down at the table, and since the first martini was so good, I decided to have another. (This is not always the prudent thing to do, but I wasn’t driving.) The server brought it 25 minutes later, so I thought that the bar must really be backed up. The first tepid sip revealed the real problem – the server had let my drink sit on the bar for at least 20 minutes. What a disappointment. There is a lesson there, though. Martinis should be served and sipped as soon as they are poured.

The glass is key to a good Martini. The best glass for Martinis is (you guessed it) a Martini glass. The purpose of the stem is to keep your hands away from the drink and consequently to keep the drink cold. Once you get hooked on Martinis, you will want to invest in some glasses. Chill your glasses in ice or in the freezer (preferred) for five to ten minutes or longer. Chilling glasses is good for all cocktails, but especially for Martinis.

Good vodka is, of course, the essential element. My current favorite is Teton Glacier® potato vodka, but feel free to substitute. Keep it in the freezer until you’re ready to shake. When your freezer vodka is on the bar, keep the lid on so that moisture from the air does not condense inside the bottle. For garnish, some people prefer olives in their Martinis (this is obviously the only way to go for a dirty Martini), others prefer a twist of lemon peel (twist it above the glass to release the oils before dropping it in). I go both ways, depending on mood. I like to serve this Martini with a twist and drop three dried Montmorency cherries into the glass. These tart cherries soaked in ice-cold vodka are delicious. Be sure to provide a toothpick so your guests don’t have to fish for cherries with their fingers.

Vodka Martini

2 oz Teton Glacier® potato vodka

1/2 teaspoon Noilly Prat® dry vermouth

Pour vodka into a shaker half full of cracked ice. Shake briskly 15-20 times to infuse the vodka with ice crystals. Let it rest while you fetch a glass from the freezer. Add the vermouth to the glass and swish it around to coat the glass. Feel free to pour out any excess vermouth if you like. Strain the Martini into the glass, add your selected garnish, and enjoy!

For a dirty Martini, add 1/2 oz olive brine to the shaker, but take my word for it: you’re better off not doing this.

For a lazy man’s martini, you can just pour the freezer vodka straight into the prepared glass without shaking and add garnish, but where’s the fun in that?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Margaritas are my favorite tequila drink.  I prefer frozen Margaritas because any other kind goes down too fast, but if you drink a frozen Margarita too fast, you’ll get brain freeze.  For making frozen (or blended) drinks, as opposed to shaken drinks, you need a good quality blender.  If you have to buy a new blender, check with consumer reports to make sure you’re getting a high quality brand.  I have a great KitchenAid ProLine® blender that I got a good deal on several years ago.

As I mentioned in my post on Stocking Your Bar, I usually use gold tequila (for everyday) or better (for special occasions) tequila.  I usually use Sauza® Gold and (sometimes) Jose Cuervo® Especial for Margaritas.  There are a lot of more expensive tequilas available, and I’ll sometimes buy a bottle of Reposado or Añejo when I find a good one on sale.  You can taste a difference, even in Margaritas, but any good, smooth tequila will make a fine Margarita.

The following recipe references “bar sugar”.  By bar sugar I mean sugar that is more finely ground than normal sugar, but not powdered sugar.  If you can’t find bar sugar, buy “Bakers’ Sugar” and use it.  The finer sugar dissolves faster in cocktails.  I keep some in a small container in my bar, and refill it as necessary.  That said, I prefer not to put sugar in my Margaritas, but my wife likes hers sweet.  Margaritas taste better when you use freshly squeezed lime juice, but you can use ReaLime® lime juice with (optional) sugar or Rose’s® Sweetened Lime Juice (and skip the sugar).  See my post On Limes to find out more on limes and how best to squeeze them.

This is my own finely tuned Margarita recipe.  If you drink a lot of Margaritas, you may want to alter the proportions to fit your own taste and create your own recipe.  These same proportions will work for a Margarita rocks, or one shaken and served straight up. If you use a high quality Tequila, you might want to upgrade the Triple Sec to Cointreau® or Grand Marnier®. 


2 oz. Tequila

Juice of one freshly squeezed lime (about 1 oz.) or lime juice

½ oz. Triple Sec

1 tsp. Bar Sugar (optional!)

Blend with ice (9 cubes from my ice maker – experiment).  A frozen Margarita should be thick enough to form peaks, but liquid enough to pour into a glass rimmed with salt (see my special rimming technique) and garnished with a lime wheel.  Enjoy!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Stocking Your Bar – Part Deux

In Stocking Your Bar – Part 1, I helped you get started on stocking your bar. In this post I’ll continue by discussing Bourbon, Tequila, Brandy, Whiskey and a selection of liqueurs. Remember, all of these spirits are available across a broad range of price and quality. For depression era entertaining, you should know how much you can afford to spend and look for the best value within your budget. You may want to spend more on your favorite varieties and go budget on those you don’t use much. Use the web as an information source to compare brands, but be skeptical and look for multiple opinions. Try to determine if you’re paying for a difference in quality and taste, or just for a brand name. Try to find results of independent, blind taste tests. Be sure to consult Wikipedia if you would like to learn more about the history and manufacture of these products.

Tequila has always been rumored to not cause hangovers. In recent years, most of the incidents where I feared I might end up with a hangover involved Margaritas. Although I never quite had a hangover, I sometimes “felt a little off,” perhaps due to heavy consumption of Triple Sec? Of the five types, cheap Blanco (or Plata) tequila usually has a harsher taste, so I usually go gold (for everyday) or have a good Plata or higher (like Milagro®) for special occasions. I don’t drink much straight tequila (you should try a Reposado for that), so I stock some Sauza® Gold or Jose Cuervo® Especial. There are a lot of more expensive tequilas available, and I’ll invest in them when I feel like treating myself. You can taste the difference, even in Margaritas, so you might want to have a party to do side-by-side tastes tests some Saturday night to decide which one to stock. Be sure your tequila is “hecho in Mexico,” otherwise it may be much more conducive to hangovers.

Brandy is most often made from distilled grapes, and is available in many styles, some with regional names (Cognac), and many different ages that roughly correspond to quality. Many of the brandies made from other fruits are called something else (e.g. Calvados, Kirschwasser, Slivovitz), but even they are sometimes called brandy. I won’t, however, try to cover them here. For cocktails, I’m currently mixing E&J® VSOP, although I have used less expensive brandies with acceptable results. For sipping, I usually go with a cognac like Hennessy® VS or Courvoisier® VS, leaving the more expensive varieties to those that can afford them.

Whiskey comes in a stunning number of types (American, Canadian, Irish and Scotch, to name a few) that are distilled from different types of grain mash (such as wheat, rye, barley) and (usually) aged in oak. Quality depends on both the distillation process and the aging process. For your basic bar, I recommend a bottle of Canadian Club® for a good, basic whiskey, although there is room to move down in price and still get a decent product. I’m only an occasional Scotch drinker, so if you’re not either, but want to have a bottle around for those that are “just in case”, I would go with Dewar’s® White Label, which is a good basic Scotch.

Bourbon is technically a subset of whiskey. Made mostly from corn, it has enough of a distinctive taste to be mentioned separately. I use it frequently in cocktails and like to pour Jim Beam® Black Label (I stock up when it’s on sale), but there are certainly many other Bourbons good enough for mixing in cocktails at a lower price point (Jim Beam® white label for example). For sipping, Maker’s Mark® comes to mind, but better consult a Bourbon expert. Tennessee whiskey (e.g. Jack Daniels®) is made in a manner similar to Bourbon, diverging in the filtering process.

Liqueurs are often used as flavorings in cocktails, although some may be drunk on their own or are the key ingredient. This is one area where it’s easy to let your bar evolve; buy liqueurs as you need them for specific cocktails. For many types (e.g. Crème de Cacao, Crème de Menthe) just find a decent brand, like DeKuyper®, to use. For other types (Amoretto, Benedictine, Cointreau, Drambuie, and perhaps Kahlua) look at how you will use them (as a flavoring (“add ½ oz.”) or main component of a cocktail?) before deciding between a name brand and a cheaper substitute. For example, Cointreau is a triple sec (orange-flavored) liqueur. It’s pricey, and for Margaritas you can always substitute a much cheaper triple sec and get good results. If you want to be sure you have the liqueurs you need for a basic bar, buy a 375 ml. bottle of each listed in boldface type above until you know what you’ll really be using. (Hint: If you like Margaritas, however, you might want to go with a full bottle of triple sec.)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Stocking Your Bar – Part 1

The first step in stocking your bar is to take stock.  Most amateur mixologists are not starting from scratch.  By the time you decide that you want to learn how to shake and pour your own cocktails, you have probably been imbibing alcohol in some form or other for a while and mixing simple drinks.  What kind of liquor do you have around the house?  What bottles have your friends left after parties?  Gather it all together and see what you have.  Don’t bother with wine and beer at this point; you’ll need to have some around for parties and everyday consumption, but I don’t consider them to be part of your cocktail bar.

Space is also an issue.  It’s often a better deal to buy bigger bottles, but you may not have room for very many of these in your bar.  I prefer 750 ml. bottles for my bar due to limited space; I already have an overflow area in the pantry.  I do buy 1750 ml. bottles when they’re a good deal, but I use them to refill the smaller bottles that I keep in my bar.  Don’t try to deceive your guests by refilling expensive bottles with cheap booze; you will fool very few people, and hurt your reputation in the process. 

Begin by stocking a basic bar.  As you buy needed ingredients for cocktails, your bar will grow and evolve (this will happen organically if you start a drink-of-the-month club).  If you’re on a budget, don’t try to buy everything at once.  If you buy bottles as you need them, you will be able to afford better brands.  If you and your friends lean toward a certain type of drink (e.g. rum or gin), address those needs first.  You should also consider the types of cocktails you will be pouring.  If you plan on making gin or vodka Martinis you will want to buy better quality brands than if you plan on making Vodka Collins or Tom Collins. 

All spirits can be purchased across a broad spectrum of quality and prices.  There is a loose, but not absolute, correlation between these two factors.  Some assign themselves higher prices in an attempt to make you think they are better than they are, much like some people you may know.  Search the web for brand comparisons if you’re not sure which ones are the best, or ask your friends.  If you discover any great bargains, post them as responses to this post so that others may benefit.  To find out more about any type of liquor, try the Wikipedia. Here’s what you need to make a good start on your bar:

Rum – There are three varieties of rum: light, gold, and dark (not to mention all the flavored rums now available).  For flavor, I like dark rum the best (Goslings Black Seal Rum® is my favorite), but you will need the light and gold varieties for cocktails (try to buy Bacardi® or better).  If your budget is limited, start with a bottle of light because it will not impact the color of translucent cocktails.  Add a bottle of dark to float on Mai Tais when you can afford it, and fill in the gold as you go along.

Vodka – There are countless varieties of vodka, and you may acquire several as you shake different cocktail recipes, but start out with a bottle of unflavored vodka, versatile enough to go into a large variety of cocktails.  All brands have their fans and detractors.  Many say that potato vodkas are the best, and indeed my current favorite is Teton Glacier® potato vodka.  There are many excellent grain based vodkas; French vodkas are currently in vogue.  Last year my wife and I did an unscientific blind tasting of straight-from-the-freezer shots of Grey Goose®, Costco® French vodka (not available in Utah, I’m sad to say), Absolut®, and Skyy®.  Grey Goose barely edged out the Costco, but not by enough to justify the price differential for the Goose.  Those two brands scored well ahead of the others.  For mixing in cocktails, buy Smirnoff® or better, for Martinis go with one of the better brands, Absolut or better with Teton Glacier highly recommended.

Gin – Once again, variety is the name of the game.  Basic gin is flavored with juniper berries for starters, but different brands add other flavorings.  Bombay Sapphire®, for example, is flavored with “ten carefully selected botanical ingredients”.  The most common type of gin in the US is London Dry gin.  The appellation “London” used to indicate that the gin was made in London.  Plymouth® is a brand name, but also a distinct type of gin, and probably the last type of gin the pilgrim fathers had before sailing to America.  Bombay and Plymouth are good for Martinis.  Feel free to move quite a bit downscale for a gin to mix in cocktails, but don’t go below Seagram’s®.  

You should also stock Bourbon, Tequila, Brandy, and Whiskey; for mixing cocktails, you will also need a selection of liqueurs and mixers.  I’ll cover those in another post.

A quick note on bar safety.  If you have children in your home, keep your bar locked or out of reach.  By the time they’re teenagers, locked is the best option.  Alcohol and kids do not mix.  We used to keep ours (bottles, not kids) in a cabinet above the fridge You may think you can trust your kids, and you may be right, but what about their friends? Be safe and avoid heartbreak.