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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Lavender Colada: new twist on old cocktail recipe

Readers of these posts will remember that the cocktails in the list of Top 10 Summer Cooler Cocktails were all pretty simple to throw together. An urge for something different led to the mixing and enjoyment of some Piña Coladas the other evening. The Piña Colada is a delicious cocktail, especially if you enjoy sweeter cocktails, rum-based cocktails, or tiki cocktails. Enjoying my first, long sip, my eye fell upon two bottles of vodka that were being infused: one with lavender and the other with lavender and vanilla. (If you have lavender in your yard, now is the time (in northern Utah, anyway) to be making lavender-infused liquors and syrups.) Could either of them replace rum in a Piña Colada? How would they taste? Would anyone want to drink a Lavender Colada? Questions like these demand answers, so my “to do” list for the following evening was set. I tried this drink with both types of infused vodka, going back and forth several times (being an amateur mixologist is a dirty job, but…), and the plain lavender came out on top. The vanilla-lavender just didn’t seem to have the right finish to me, but if you enjoy infused vodkas, try the comparison yourself and let me know what you think.

I like to use Coco Reál® Cream of Coconut for my cocoanut drinks, it’s so thick and creamy. On the other hand, if you measure it it’s almost impossible to get all of it out of your measuring glass, so I tend to “guestimate” the amount and just use one or two good squirts directly from the squeeze bottle into the mixing cup or blender, depending on how much is needed. The lazy (i.e. those who don’t want to wash the blender) can build this cocktail in a highball glass. The Coco Reál might not completely dissolve if you’re just stirring, so you should stir only the liquid ingredients briskly until there are no lumps before adding ice to ensure the cocktail is well mixed. This is not a problem, however, if you’re using a blender.

Lavender Colada

2 oz Lavender infused Vodka

½ - 1 oz Coco Reál® Cream of Coconut

4 oz Pineapple juice

Combine the ingredients in a highball glass and stir well to dissolve the Coco Reál. Fill the glass with crushed ice and stir again. (To blend, just combine the ingredients with ice in a blender.) Garnish with a sprig of lavender (in bloom if possible), plop a bright red maraschino cherry on top, and serve with a straw.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Paris Magique: recipes for two great Cassis cocktails

Today you get two great cocktail recipes, similar but different, for the price of one. On Father’s Day I received a bottle of Cartron Crème de Cassis and mentioned it on Twitter. I soon received a tweet from @kingvonelk (Kelvin Kong) with an interesting recipe to try: 1/3 each of Gin, Dry Vermouth, and Crème de Cassis. It sounded like something definitely worth trying, so I gave it a go. It was delicious (a trifle on the sweet side) with the Cassis dominating the flavors. After requesting the name of this delectable cocktail from Kelvin via Twitter, I started doing some research on the web and discovered a cocktail with similar ingredients: the Magique. Kelvin soon messaged me with the name of his cocktail: the Paris. The Paris cocktail has been around a while: it shows up in the Savoy Cocktail Book (1930) under the name “Parisian Cocktail”.

In the Magique, the flavor of the Vermouth comes out more as that ingredient predominates, resulting in a dryer cocktailthat still delivers that great Cassis flavor. So if you’re looking for a good Cassis-based cocktail, these two should be high on your list. Try the Magique if you want something on the dry side; the Paris if you want something a little sweeter. The two dominant ingredients in these cocktails are the Crème de Cassis and the Dry Vermouth. When buying Crème de Cassis, you should avoid the really cheap stuff that my wife says tastes like cough syrup, and stay in the $20 or higher price range. Having a bottle of Crème de Cassis around the house is also your gateway to great apertifs like Kir and Kir Royale. As for the Vermouth, Noilly Prat is a good, dry French Vermouth that will improve your Martinis as well provide a nice boost to these cocktails, so pick some up if you don’t already stock it.

Paris Cocktail

1 oz Bombay Sapphire® Gin

1 oz Cartron Crème de Cassis

1 oz Noilly Prat® Vermouth

Combine ingredients in a shaker half full of ice. Shake enthusiastically while remembering your last romantic night in Paris (use your imagination if necessary). Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with a twist of lemon. Salut!


1 oz Bombay Sapphire® Gin

½ oz Cartron Crème de Cassis

1 ½ oz Noilly Prat® Vermouth

Combine ingredients in a shaker half full of ice. Shake enthusiastically while imaging a magique night in Paris. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with a twist of lemon. Santé!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Cocktails for Father’s Day: give the old man five!

It’s Father’s Day and you’re unemployed and broke. What can you do for your Dad to make him happy he has you around? How about making him a special cocktail? Whether you’re home for a visit, or still living with Dad, the smile on his face when he takes his first sip of the great looking cocktail you just shook up for him will be your reward as well as his. If Dad’s not a drinker, you’ll have to find some other way to make him happy (mow the lawn?), but then you can enjoy your own cocktail when you get back home. I must admit to being a little self-centered in making up this list; I just came up with five cocktails that I would like my kids to mix for me (hint). On the other hand, I think there is enough variety here that you and your father can find something to enjoy. So with your Dad’s (and your) satisfaction as my goal, I offer you this handful of cocktails to consider for Father’s Day. Enjoy!

Old Fashioned there’s something here for almost any Dad! While the classic Old Fashioned uses Bourbon, an Old Fashioned can also be mixed with Canadian Club, Brandy, Gin, or Rum, so you can almost make an Old Fashioned with your Dad’s favorite liquor, whatever it is.

Margarita – if Dad likes Tequila, he’s almost certain to love Margaritas. I like mine blended to moderate the speed of consumption.

Manhattan – Dad may already be an aficionado of this classic “man’s drink”. If he’s not, it’s high time you introduced him to this American original.

Sazerac – if Dad is partial to Rye, he will love this cocktail; if he’s not, maybe it’s time he and Rye were introduced. Warning: you will need an anise based liqueur (preferably Absinthe) to make a good Sazerac.

Sidecar – have you ever noticed Dad sipping on a Cognac or a fine brandy? If yes, chances are that he would enjoy a Sidecar. Why not help him give it a try? Be sure to tell him that the Sidecar is probably older than he is…

View a Slide Show of these cocktails.

Need Barware? Check out my store.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Vodka Gimlet: a tart treat of a cocktail

I came back to the Vodka Gimlet cocktail in a round-about way. My wife was reading Julie Powell’s book Julie & Julia when she noticed she didn’t actually have time to read it, so she decided she would listen to the second half on CD while driving to and from work. The point of all this is that one evening she came home and commanded that I prepare her a Vodka Gimlet because inside the CD case for the book is a recipe card for a “Perfect Gimlet”. I won’t duplicate the book’s recipe here, but a quick perusal of the recipe card indicated that it was an avenue I would not travel due to the inclusion of Rose’s Lime Juice. Now I have nothing against Rose’s except the sugar and the fact that it’s bottled lime juice. I don’t mind getting the carbos in the alcohol (they are, after all, a necessary evil), but I try to avoid empty sugar calories. Many Gimlet recipes insist on Rose’s, but unless you had your first Gimlet with Rose’s at your mother’s knee, you shouldn’t mind a little substitution.

It had been many years since I had had one (that’s no longer true), but I remembered it as a very simple drink and Julie’s recipe had confirmed that: Vodka + sweetened lime juice = Vodka Gimlet (a Gimlet familiaris is made with Gin, originally this was probably bathtub gin due to the cocktail’s birth during the roaring twenties). I set to work to forge my own recipe, immediately upgrading the Rose’s to freshly squeezed lime juice combined with zero-calorie, vegetable-based sweetener. I like things tart, so I used the equivalent of one teaspoon of sugar with three-quarters of an ounce of freshly squeezed lime juice. (Note: I always specify sugar in my recipes, even if I’m not actually using it. Feel free to substitute your sweetener of choice, or even to use Rose’s if you must.) As usual, you should adjust the lime juice and sweetener to suit your taste.

You may have noticed that there is a lot of potential here for a tall summer cooler. Prepare as below, but increase the lime juice and sweetener to taste, strain into a Collins glass full of ice, fill with soda, garnish with a lime wheel or wedge, and serve with a straw.

Vodka Gimlet

2 oz Vodka

¾ oz Lime juice, freshly squeezed

1 tsp Simple Syrup

Combine ingredients in a shaker ¾ full of ice. Shake to the beat of the Charleston while thinking of a flapper in a short skirt (but not your grandmother). Strain into a pre-chilled cocktail glass, garnish with a lime wheel, and settle down to enjoy one of life’s tarter pleasures.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sidecar: the perfect cocktail to end a bumpy day

I was flipping through the Savoy Cocktail Book the other day when I noticed another well known cocktail that I had never tried: the Sidecar. The Sidecar is another venerable World War I era cocktail that sounds like something your dad would order. Everyone has heard of it, but few have tried it. Its popularity has declined enough that it’s no longer on the IBA short-list of cocktails. Its name seems to imply a good, stiff drink… exactly what you would need after bouncing down an unpaved road in France in a rickety motorcycle sidecar. No one knows precisely where or when it was invented; it is first mentioned in print in 1922.

The Sidecar owes its longevity to simplicity and great taste. Its winning combination of cognac (or brandy), orange liqueur, and lemon could be just what you are looking for in a cocktail. Of course, if your taste runs to American whiskeys, you can substitute your favorite Bourbon for the brandy. Play around with the proportions until you get the right balance of sweet and sour for your palate. If your first one’s too sour, add a little simple syrup.


1 ½ oz Cognac or quality brandy (some prefer Bourbon)

¾ oz Grand Marnier®

¾ oz freshly squeezed lemon juice

Combine ingredients in a shaker ¾ full of ice. Shake as you imagine dodging the shells falling all around you. Strain into a pre-chilled cocktail glass, garnish with a wedge of orange or a twist of lemon, and savor your first sip.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Top Ten Summer Cooler Cocktails

Summer is rapidly approaching. That’s a strange thing to say in Utah in June, but June has been cool and wet so far. One of these days, though, the heat will arrive with a vengeance. When that happens, your best bet is to have a selection of summer cooler cocktail recipes available to mix and enjoy on those hot week-end days as you sit and think of the yard work you should be doing. Better yet, have the ingredients for two or three of them available for your next summer cook-out. Your guests will thank you, and you may even want to thank yourself. If you’re not having a cook-out, they’re great to enjoy while you’re sitting in your lawn chair when you’re supposed to be mowing the lawn…

Links to the recipes follow, but first view the slideshow. Find a cooler you like the looks of, and then return here to click through to the recipe (or recipes).

Mai Tai
Tom Collins
Rum and Coke
Dark and Stormy
Pomegranate Rum Rickey
Singapore Sling
Gin and Tonic
Margarita Cooler

Photograph © J. Mathews

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Explore my Cocktail Brain

How much time have you wasted running Google searches in attempts to find bits of cocktail lore or new cocktail recipes? For me, the answer was plenty! Sometimes I can’t find what I’m looking for, or can only find it after repeatedly refining my search and clicking through to lots of disappointing web sites. Other times I would serendipitously find a really cool site and bookmark it, even though I knew I might never remember to go back to it again due to the size of my cocktail bookmark folder. I knew I really needed an effective way to organize my cocktail knowledge, but had no idea how to do it.

Then one day I was playing with the Personal Brain software I had downloaded when inspiration hit: I should build a Cocktail Brain. It would be a repository of all my cocktail knowledge. It would include my best bookmarks and give me an easy way to find them by linking items together by topic and relationship. I started, and it was like eating popcorn. I kept enhancing my Cocktail Brain: adding new thoughts, building new links, adding new topical areas, refining my knowledge…

I think it’s a really cool way to look at cocktails, and I plan to work on it continually. It will change and grow, just like a real brain. An early version is now available on the web, just follow the link below. I would like your feedback if you have time. What do you think? Is it useful? Could you find what you’re looking for? What was your experience? Did you like it? Just reply to this post with your opinions, any questions you may have, or any ideas for improvement. I promise to get back to you unless the response is truly overwhelming. Welcome to my Cocktail Brain. When you get there, check out the “Welcome” and “Help” documents and the start exploring.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Top 10 tips: how to order a cocktail

Have you ever been at a loss when it comes to ordering a cocktail? Do you ever order “the same old thing” because you don’t know what else to order? That is about to change. Whether you’re seated at the bar, at a table, or standing at a cocktail party, you can use these tips to become a cocktail bon vivant (or at least to enhance the illusion that you are one). Remember that your server, whether a bartender, a cocktail waitress, or a server in a restaurant, is there to serve and to make your visit enjoyable; you should expect that. On the other hand, you owe them respect and courtesy. They have a tough job and may be busy; don’t give them a hard time or be too demanding – you must walk a fine line. At a cocktail party, your server may not be as knowledgeable or experienced and there may not be a menu, so be prepared to go with one of your favorites if these tips don’t seem to get you anywhere.

  1. If the bar or restaurant has a cocktail menu, check it out. Is there anything that jumps out at you and says “drink me!”? If yes, give it a try. This is also an opportunity to see what brands they say they are pouring.
  2. Ask your server questions: What are the house specialties? What drinks are “hot?” What are people ordering now? If anything sounds interesting or exciting, give it a try. This is also an opportunity to begin assessing the quality and class of the service, always within the context of how busy they are. If they’re not very busy, but can’t make time to talk to you, you have to mark down the service. Use good judgment, though.
  3. Know what type of cocktail(s) you like: Sweet or dry? Tiki or blended? Mixed and strained or on the rocks? Weak or strong? Short or tall? Use your preferences 1) to guide your selection, and 2) to answer questions such as “what kind of cocktail do you like?”
  4. If you’re at the bar, chat up the bartender (once again assuming he’s not too busy) and see if he enjoys his work. If he does, ask him what new cocktails he’s working on or mixing. Ask what cocktails s/he recommends, and give one of them a try.
  5. See what brands of liquor are on display, and try to determine if they are actually used in the drinks. If the liquor is (shall we say) less expensive, stick with tall, dilute drinks that are more mix than booze, or get a mixed drink on the rocks. If you like the brands they’re pouring, you might want to try a Martini, a Manhattan, or even a Sazarac.
  6. As you take your first sip, look around and decide if you would come back again or recommend the joint to friends. How is your cocktail? Does it taste as it should (assuming it’s something that you’re familiar with). Does it taste like the advertised brand was used, or was a “lesser brand” substituted. Is it at the correct temperature? Sad to say, many establishments don’t pre-chill their glasses, but you should never get a cocktail in a glass that’s still warm from the dishwasher; that’s a sign that they just don’t care. How do you like the atmosphere and the decor? Are the servers friendly and knowledgeable? How did they answer your questions? What do you think of the clientele? Do you and your friends fit in (and, if not, would you like to)? Or do you feel uncomfortable? If there’s something you don’t like, leave soon and don’t return.
  7. Keep a PDA or notebook handy. Note the name and ingredients of any cocktail you like so you can order it again or try to make one at home. (Cocktail menus often list the main ingredients of the cocktails.) You may even discover a new addition to your short list of favorite cocktails.
  8. Be on the look-out for new cocktails, or those with ingredients you don’t have at home (e.g. Chartreuse), so you can sample them without having to buy bottles of liquors or liqueurs that you might only use once, or very seldom.
  9. Have a short-list of your favorite cocktails to fall back on (your list should change and evolve over time), but don’t go there first unless you recently made a new addition or have a new favorite. If necessary, keep your list in your notebook or PDA for inspiration. Old stand-bys are dependable and may even be reliable, but this is your chance to try something different.
  10. Drink responsibly. Your goal is to have fun and feel good, not to get plastered. If you’re driving, don’t drink. If you’re drinking, stop after two or three cocktails and switch to water or soft drinks. Another cocktail won’t make you feel any better tonight, and it certainly won’t make you any smarter. Knowing when to stop will, however, make you feel better tomorrow.

Photograph ©

Friday, June 12, 2009

Margarita Cooler – go south for your summer cocktail

For my final (and tenth) top summer cooler, I decided to recommend a delicious Margarita Cooler.  Think of it as a Margarita without the salt.  I recommend a Blanco or Plata (Silver) Tequila in this cooler.  If all you have is a Joven or Oro (Gold) Tequila, go ahead and use it; it probably won’t kill you.  These proportions are based on my finely tuned Margarita recipe.  If you have your own Margarita recipe, you may want to alter the proportions to follow your own recipe and better suit your taste.  If you do stick with a high quality Tequila (like a nice Plata), you might want to upgrade the Triple Sec to Cointreau® or Grand Marnier®.


Margarita Cooler

2 oz. Blanco or Plata Tequila

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

½ oz. Triple Sec

1 tsp. Simple Syrup, Bar Sugar or sweetener of your choice

Pour the Tequila, lime juice, and Triple Sec into an empty Collins glass.  Add the syrup or sugar and stir (if using sugar, stir until the sugar is dissolved).  Fill the Collins glass about ¾ full of ice, top off with soda water, and stir lightly.  Garnish with a lime wheel, serve with a straw, and enjoy.  Olé!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Gin and Tonic: classic summer cocktail recipe

The Gin and Tonic is another classic cocktail that is great as a summer cooler.  I had my first Gin and Tonic back in my early twenties and thought it was just OK.  That was before I ever had one made with good gin.  Quality gin is the key to a good Gin and Tonic.  I like to use Bombay Sapphire®; sip it slowly and savor the flavor of the ten botanicals.  The Gin and Tonic was invented by the British in eighteenth century India to offset the taste of the quinine they were drinking to combat malaria, but it remains a popular cocktail whenever the weather turns warm.  I always thought that the Gin and Tonic was a low-carb drink until one day I saw a bottle of Diet Tonic Water and said “huh?”  It turns out that Tonic Water is loaded with sugar to offset the bitter taste of the quinine, so if you want to limit your carb intake to the alcohol carbs, be sure to buy Diet Tonic.


Gin and Tonic

2 oz Bombay Sapphire® Gin

5-6 oz Tonic Water

Fill a Collins or Highball glass with ice cubes.  Add the gin and fill the glass with Tonic Water and stir lightly.  Garnish with a lime wedge or wheel.  Serve with a straw so you won’t have to over-exert yourself to drink it, put your feet up, and enjoy.


cocktail recipe, Gin and Tonic, summer

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A cooling summer cocktail: Pomegranate Rum Rickey

The Pomegranate Rum Rickey is a summer cooler that’s hard to beat.  A Rickey is a cocktail made from a liquor, some lime juice, a little sweetener (optional), and soda water.  The Pomegranate Rum Rickey fills the bill and adds a little pomegranate juice to boost the flavor.  I had my first Rickey – a Gin Rickey – ages ago at a favorite campground in Wisconsin.  After a hot day of rock-climbing (and sometimes a cooling swim) we would repair to the campground for a short (well, not always) cocktail hour before dinner.  Ice-cold beer, Rum and Coke, Gin and Tonic, and (of course) Gin Rickeys were regular items on the cocktail hour menu, along with a delicious variety of hors-d’oeuvres destined to ruin our appetite for dinner.

Rickeys are as thirst quenching today as they were back then.  Their simplicity makes them an ideal cocktail for mixing and drinking as you’re running around getting the grill ready for  ribs, or just sitting and listening to the ribs cook, and they’re just as great for relaxing on porch or patio any hot afternoon after work.

 Like all of my cocktail recipes, the Pomegranate Rum Rickey has plenty of room for improvisation.  If you like your Rickeys a little less sweet, you can cut back on the pomegranate syrup or substitute a splash of pomegranate juice.  If you like them a little less tart, decrease the lime juice, and you can always adjust the amount of rum.


Pomegranate Rum Rickey

1 ½ oz gold rum (white will do)

½ oz freshly squeezed lime juice (optional)

1 oz pomegranate syrup

4-5 oz soda water

Pour the rum, lime juice, and pomegranate syrup into a cocktail shaker half full of ice.  Shake long enough to hum a few lines of Summertime.  Strain into a Collins glass ¾ full of ice, fill with soda water, and stir lightly.  Garnish with a lime wheel, serve with a straw, and enjoy.    You may also build this drink in the glass, but that will melt more of the ice.