Boozy, Edible Christmas Gift Roundup

Go the extra mile this year and make them something delicious for the holidays. Just make sure there’s booze in it.

Eggnog Jello Shots

Fernet Branca Jelly

Angostura and Luxardo Cherry Brownies

Meyer Lemon Bitters

Vanilla Bourbon Caramel Sauce

Mocha Pecan Rum Balls

Kiss of Fire (Aperol and Cayenne Jellies)

 
Holiday Spice Syrups

4th of July Drinking Guide

Fire up those grills and break out your blocks of ice.

Black Cherry + Green Tea Cocktails with White Claw // stirandstrain.com

Black Cherry + Green Tea Cocktails

Aquafaba: what is it and how to make cocktails with it! Like a Vegan Sloe Gin Fizz // stirandstrain.com

Vegan Sloe Gin Fizz

Brûléed Grapefruit and Mixed Citrus Punch with Vanilla and Piloncillo Reduction // stirandstrain.com

Brûléed Grapefruit and Mixed Citrus Punch

 Fun In Jalisco Cocktail // stirandstrain.com
Fun In Jalisco Cocktail

Frozen Blood and Sand Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

Frozen Blood and Sand Cocktail

Aperol Spritz Break: Summer Adventure // stirandstrain.com

Aperol Spritz

Smoky Sage Punch // stirandstrain.com

Smoky Sage Punch

Blueberry Basil Lemon Smash (and some notes on blogging) // stirandstrain.com

Blueberry Basil Lemon Smash

Improved Aviation Cocktail

Improved Aviation Cocktail

3..2..1.. Aperol Spritz Break! Indoors or Outdoors, Summer Adventure is Go

Aperol Spritz Break // stirandstrain.comThis post is brought to you by Aperol. Ideas are my own.

Today’s post is a kind of choose your own adventure. Whether you prefer to stay in an air conditioned home bar, or off under a shady tree on a hot summer day, I’m here to help make sure that wherever you do go, you have a pretty sweet bar set up.

I’ve teamed up with Aperol this summer to help kick off your very own Aperol Spritz Break. What’s that you ask? Italy’s favorite spirit, Aperol, has it’s own signature cocktail that’s the perfect reason to stop and take a moment to relax. Where you relax is up to you, so let’s get you set up for your #SpritzBreak.Aperol Spritz Break: Summer Adventure // stirandstrain.com

The Home Bar

Although you may have a serious case of missing out looking at everyone’s Instagram account that shows off their mid-century bar cart, let me tell you that a decent home bar does not require one. I don’t have one, and look, I have a whole website devoted to cocktails made out of a home bar. This set up just requires you have a small rectangle of space to devote to your seasonal drink.

A seasonal drink? Yes. Why? Because cluttering up your space with a bunch of bottles is messy and if you have everything picked out ready to go, you look so smart when guests drop in and you can offer them a drink within seconds. It also means you get to switch out the area every season and fill it up with a new recipe and accoutrements; man I love the accoutrements. For the summer I’m enjoying an Aperol Spritz.Aperol Spritz Break: Summer Adventure // stirandstrain.com

What makes a great space? The details. Your bar set up should be a tiny party waiting to happen. It should look like fun, but it should also be neat and have everything you need.

Like the proper bottles: have all the bottles you need for your seasonal drink ready and full. And then some. I love the small bottles from Q-Club and Fevertree for when I’m having a cocktail or two at home, or if a friend or Christopher is there enjoying one with me. For the larger crowds I use a soda siphon. Special dibs to you if you have a vintage one that works!

Ice: invest in a good ice bucket that will keep your ice cool. I like to break out my bronze pineapple when I have guests, but if it’s couple night at the house, I have a rugged OXO insulated bucket that gets the job done.

Aperol Spritz Break: Summer Adventure // stirandstrain.comTools & Glassware: for the Aperol Spritz, no shaker is necessary. Just a stir stick to give it a final swirl before serving. For this punchy-colored cocktail I prefer an equal punchy-colored stirrer. These birds came from South America, but you can just go as far as Amazon and find some colorful ones. For serving, I like to have a few different size glasses available since this recipe is so adaptable. A few stemless wine glasses and some larger goblets for when you’re in the mood. And don’t forget a small knife for your fruit.

And speaking of fruit: always have a full bowl of fruit. Always. It’s not like they need to be kept refrigerated, they pretty up the space, and you’ll need lots of orange slices on hand for that Aperol Spritz.

Aperol Spritz Break: Summer Adventure // stirandstrain.comExtras: It may seem obvious, but have some napkins for you and your guests. I always have paper and cloth napkins at the ready. You know there are just some people you’ll have over that either need a lot of napkins or are going to destroy your nice hand-stamped linen ones: give them paper. Alternatively, there are going to be some folks who scoff at paper. Whether it’s because of the environment or they’re a whole bunch of haughty hoo-haw: give them the cloth. Chances are they know enough not to spit their gum out in it.  This same reasoning goes with straws too. Both napkins and straws are the quickest way to change up the whole theme of your bar area.

And lastly, flowers: I’m a glutton for fresh flowers around the house. If I had my way there would be a constant rotation of flowers and my house would always smell amazing. A little bouquet just perks up the bar area and you don’t have to get super fancy. BONUS: get edible flowers and use them in your drinks.

Aperol Spritz Break: Summer Adventure // stirandstrain.comThe Outside Bar

Whether you’re moving the party outside to the stoop, out to the park, or over to the beach, sometimes you need to just take it out of the house. Everything you need to have your own Spritz Break party can easily fit into a small insulated bag like this; just stop and get some ice on the way!

Aperol Spritz Break: Summer Adventure // stirandstrain.comMany of the same requirements for your home bar set up work out in the wild:

  1. Bring only what you need: a bottle of Aperol, a bottle of prosecco, and two small bottles of club soda is enough for you and a small group of friends to have a nice round of drinks.
  2. Have the right tools: napkins, straws, a bottle open, a selfie-stick. Only the essentials.
  3. Glassware: leave the real glass at home. Invest in some nice quality plastic for trips out.
  4. A place to sit: blankets are lovely.

Aperol Spritz Break: Summer Adventure // stirandstrain.comPlan ahead though too:

  1. Chill your bottles beforehand. That way your ice doesn’t immediately melt as soon as it hits the liquid.
  2. Cut your garnishes at home. Then you don’t have to bring a cutting board, a knife, and attract bees (trust me on the bees).
  3. Bring along some lazy games like playing cards or dominoes. Or Cards Against Humanity. Something that you only need to give a quarter of your attention to so you really do feel like you’re taking a break.

Regardless of where you head this summer, use these tips to make sure you have the best bar set up, and you’re sure to have a relaxing Spritz Break.

Aperol Spritz Break: Summer Adventure // stirandstrain.comNever had an Aperol Spritz before, or need a recipe refresher? It’s as easy as 3, 2, 1:

3 parts prosecco, Cinzano Prosecco used here
2 parts Aperol
1 part club soda, Q-Club used here

  • Add prosecco, Aperol and club soda to a glass filled with ice. There’s really no cap on the size of each part; I’ve been known to fill a goblet or two. Top your glass off with a slice of orange, maybe a straw or two, and you’re ready for your #SpritzBreak!

For more Aperol Spritz Break ideas, please head on over to Aperol.com!

Sierra Madre Sunrise

Sierra Madre Sunrise Cocktail // stirandstrain.comThere is this very clear memory I have of accompanying my mother to this one liquor store when I was a child. We were probably there to buy wine coolers for her (as was the hip thing for moms to drink in the late 80’s). In my memory the store was gigantic, like a well-lit supermarket, but instead of produce or cereal boxes, it was just aisle after aisle of colorful and exotic liquors that I felt the need to stop and read all the labels of.

I’m sure that it wasn’t that big, but I do remember that this was the first place I ever saw tequila at. You know, the kind with the scorpions at the bottom. I don’t remember how or when I learned that not all tequila requires there to be a scorpion, but there’s a good chance it is much later in life than I am willing to admit to.Sierra Madre Sunrise Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

I wish I could remember the first time I tried mezcal, or even heard of it. Although I’ve tried to rack my brain for that one time, it exists as if I somehow always knew about it. I wish I was that cool. Probably it was sometime over the past 5, maybe 7, years when we collectively started giving other liquors a chance to star in our drinks.Sierra Madre Sunrise Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

Now I like to put mezcal in everything. And today’s drink is one from my ongoing “to make” list. Here my notes were: meaty, but refreshing. I’m guessing this was a late night scribbling where I had something particular in mind but what exactly is no longer clear. But I like these challenges. To make things even more interesting, bitters will play a unique supporting role in transforming the drink into two different sips. For a slightly savory cocktail, Angostura will be dashed in. And for a sweeter alternative, chocolate bitters will be used. All versions have Aperol there, an assertive liquor that stands up next to the flavors of mezcal without getting lost.

It’s kind of a choose your own adventure cocktail.Sierra Madre Sunrise Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

Now that I’m remembering that liquor store, I’m realizing that the other reason I liked going over there was that next door there was a Christian store that sold Bible action figures like Samson and Delilah. What a way to get kids thrilled about the Old Testament. When I was Catholic I was all in, until I wasn’t anymore.

Ok, enough about Bible Liquor stores. Let’s get to cocktail making!

1 ounce mezcal, Del Maguey Vida Organic used here
3/4 ounce Aperol
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice from 1/2 lemon
3 ounces club soda
2-3 dashes of either Angostura or Chocolate bitters, like Scrappy’s Chocolate Cocktail Bitters

lemon peel for garnish

  • In a shaker 2/3 filled with ice, add mezcal, Aperol, lemon juice and bitters of your choice. Shake to combine and then strain into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice. Top with club soda and garnish with lemon peel.

I’m using the Vida mezcal here because it’s both a wonderful sipping liquor and it mixes well with others. It’s assertive without being aggressive. Aperol is not too bitter and not too sweet. (But it’s just the right amount of both that you don’t need to add another sweetener.) Freshly squeezed lemon juice adds in a touch of tartness, and the whole thing is topped off with a glug of club soda to mellow it out and give some effervescent pep. Angostura adds spice that compliments some of the cinnamon and earthy flavors found in the mezcal. Or you can change that up with a few dashes of chocolate bitters. The sweet, roasted chocolate flavors in the bitters play up the sweet and bitter orange in the Aperol and also some of the vanilla found in the mezcal. This makes the drink excellent for a slightly sweet digestif or a surprisingly refreshing nightcap.

*I originally created this recipe for Serious Eats.

MxMo: Night Call

Mixology Monday: Night Call Cocktail // stirandstrain.com
Mixology Monday LogoIt’s been awhile since I’ve done something simple on here. By that I don’t mean poured some whiskey in a glass handed it to you as a post; you don’t need a post on how to do that. I hope.

What I mean is something straightforward. Something you don’t need a timer to make, or cheesecloth, or 48 hours to wait until you can drink it. And for this month’s Mixology Monday theme of “The Unknown”, I have just the recipe. Chris from A Bar Above has dared us all to work with an ingredient (or technique) that we have never worked with before and I spent over a week thinking about just what I would do. Mixology Monday: Night Call Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

And then I had an answer: I chose balsamic vinegar. Yes! That liquid you pour on your salad! Actually, this has been on my ideas list for some time now, but the opportunity never really came up to make something with it. I’m distinguishing this from shrubs, which I have used, because in those cases I made the shrub and also because I haven’t used grape musts before, which is the base for the balsamic I am using. The one caveat here is that I am using a reduced balsamic, which is more of a syrupy consistency. I was initially going to reduce a balsamic vinegar for the recipe but I’m trying to be simple, and I love the flavor of the one I have on hand. So, there you go…one less step.

Mixology Monday: Night Call Cocktail // stirandstrain.comBalsamic vinegar by itself is a pretty powerful ingredient. Even in this condensed, sweeter form, Crema di Balsamico still sings back to its vinegary beginnings. So I had to find another powerful star for this drink, and for that I turned to mezcal. In fact, all of the components to this drink are stand outs, but together in the cocktail they somehow work to balance each other out. They all become team players here instead of divas.

So let’s crack into the Unknown and make a drink.

1-1/2 ounces mezcal, Montelobos used here
1 ounce freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
3/4 ounce Aperol
1/2 ounce Crema di Balsamico
grapefruit peel for garnish

  • In a shaker 2/3 filled with ice, combine mezcal, grapefruit juice, Aperol and balsamic. Shake hard to mix well (that balsamic might need some help getting out of the jigger too) for about 25 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a grapefruit peel.

While the mezcal does provide a hefty backbone to this drink it doesn’t overpower the whole. Grapefruit gives a bit of sweetness and also a touch of bitterness while the crema di balsamico adds the essence of “tang” instead of “vinegar”. Aperol was a later addition to the drink and ended up connecting the dots of the cocktail, roundimg out the flavors and making them work well together.

 

Big thanks to Chris this month for hosting Mixology Monday and as always to Fred for keeping it alive. Looking forward to everyone’s submissions. 

Monday Booze News space beers, Real Housewife wine, and Indiana sure does make a lot of "craft" whiskey

Aperol Spritzes are my brunch jam.
Aperol Spritzes are my brunch jam.

Make It: Kiss of Fire (Aperol and Cayenne Jellies)

Kiss of Fire Aperol Jellies // stirandstrain.comOverachiever. Two posts for Mixology Monday and you can start to attribute that to yourself. I’m not officially submitting this, since it’s an alcoholic dessert, but the FIRE theme this month is the reason why this post went up.

I’ve actually had this idea in my back pocket for awhile now. There was this recipe in the Los Angeles times online for Prosecco gelee and I knew I’d have to make them sometime with some liquor. The time had to be right, and the flavors needed to make sparks (otherwise it would just be a fancy jello shot).

Kiss of Fire Aperol Jellies // stirandstrain.com

In the Eyes of Angelique post, I started to play around with Campari and cayenne in a foam, and when that combination came together, I thought I would try a more straight on approach to the flavors, more concentrated, and Aperol and cayenne seemed like the duo to try. There is a touch of chipotle powder in there to bring an earthiness to the sweet, bitter and hot flavors.

This might seem like a project, but it’s really hands off, and the sugar coating is optional. In fact, here’s a tip with that. If you do go the way of sifting the jellies with sugar, coat them twice. There is an issue with something called ‘weeping’ that happens when the sugar starts to melt a bit (after they’ve sat for awhile). So if you do sugar them, coat twice and then eat immediately! Otherwise the unsugared jellies will stay firm in the fridge up to 4 days, covered.Kiss of Fire Aperol Jellies // stirandstrain.com

Recipe adapted from L.A. Times
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 water
12 oz. Aperol
3/4 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp chipotle powder
9 sheets of gold gelatin

Combine sugar and water in a sauce pan. Bring to just about a boil and remove from heat. Soften gelatin sheets in a bowl of water for 2 minutes, ring water out and mix them into the sugar syrup. Stir until gelatin is dissolved. Add Aperol, cayenne and chipotle powders to the syrup and stir to combine. Line a 8″x8″ pan with plastic wrap and pour mixture into the pan. You can also pour into individual silicone molds. Refrigerate overnight to set. To serve, cut into squares.

Optional sugar coating:
Pour a 1/2 cup of granulated sugar into a bowl. Add jellies a few at a time to coat. Shake off excess and coat a second time. Serve immediately.

Each little square has the sweet bitter flavor of the Aperol, but with an earthy fire from the powders. That cayenne heats hits the back of your throat for a nice spicy bite. You do not need to sugar coat them, but if you do, you could pass them off as elegant candies.

Sugar, Spice and Citrus Play Nice Cocktail

Occasionally while I’m looking through cocktail books, I’ll make a list of liquors and ingredients I want to purchase to use in the future. Then I buy them. And they sit on my liquor shelf. For ever.

I picked up a bottle of Canton awhile back, but I wasn’t really head over heels in love with it when I tried it. I figured it was best mixed in to something, however I had some serious failures the first couple times until I hit upon this drink.

Remember those roasted oranges from last time? I put some brown sugar on a couple when I roasted them and decided to muddle them here.

1-1/2 oz. Broker’s Gin
3/4 oz. Domaine de Canton
3/4 oz. Aperol
3 slices of roasted brown sugar orange rounds (reserve the nicest for garnish)
3 dashes of Scrappy’s Aromatic Bitters

Muddle the orange slices with the Canton in the bottom of a mixing glass. Add ice to about half way up the glass, then add in the rest of the ingredients. Shake and strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with a twisted, brown sugar coated orange wheel.

The very syrupy Canton evens out here and the drink is quite light and refreshing. There is a nice bite from the ginger and aromatic bitters with subtle orange notes. The garnish also repeats the citrus nose with a wonderful sweetness and in the back somewhere a sharpness from the browned sugar.

Side note: I recently went nuts at Bar Keeper here in Los Angeles and picked up a bunch of bitters to play around with. It’s my goal to feature all of the bottles here in a recipe in the coming months. This bottle of Scrappy’s Aromatic Bitters I got in a sampler pack is quickly becoming an occasional substitute in Manhattans. It has a nice level of spice that works well if you are using Carpano Antica for sweet vermouth.

The Aquavit Solution

I’m starting to amass a collection a liqueurs that I don’t know what to do with. Part of the problem is that for months now I’ve wanted nothing more to drink than champagne and Manhattan’s night after night. That tends to leave bottles of things like Aquavit lying around looking sad. But today I couldn’t take that sad little Scandinavian face any longer and decided to try it. Hey, I’m half Scandinavian myself and caraway and I go way back.

A bit stumped I looked at all the other bottles hanging out with it and decided just to think about flavors and smells. There’s a lot going on in the flavor department with Aquavit, but at the same time I thought it could use a little sweet and citrus. So I grabbed Aperol. And rounded out the spice with Angostura.

When using any kind of bitter aperitif like Aperol, a little goes along way. But I like that smack of bitterness you get, so I use more. If you’re not a huge lover, just add less. You should enjoy what you’re drinking after all.

1-1/2 oz Aquavit
1 oz Aperol
2 dashes Angostura bitters

In a mixing glass filled with ice combine all of the ingredients. Stir to chill and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Even though this is a cold drink, there is something very warming about all the spiciness you get from it. Underneath the Aperol, the Aquavit provides layers of fennel and caraway.

I think that I might just go through all the weirdo random bottles I have accumulated in the past two years. Half a bottle of Ouzo? Check. Goldschläger? Really? Check. Be prepared folks.

Aperol G&T

I enjoy Gin and Tonics like some people enjoy water, or cocaine. They go down pretty easily and are light enough that I can have them with the heaviest of meals. Occasionally though they get quite dull and an extra oomph of something is needed. I like to think that many cocktails are given birth with that thought process. Foul, rancid water? Hey, let’s add some beer to that! And so forth.

So a week or so ago we went over to BevMo and stocked up on some more items for the bar. On a recommendation we found and picked up a bottle of Aperol. Aperol is another of those Italian aperitifs… slightly bitter, slightly sweet. This one tastes of oranges.

The syrupy nature of this liqueror made me think that it needed a couple of ingredients to cut that down.. and so I thought of a gin and tonic. And the conclusion? So. freaking. tasty. I need to make a barrel of my own tonic water because I think this concoction might just become my new summer drink.

2 oz Beefeater Gin
1 oz Aperol
Tonic water

Fill a Collins glass 2/3rds with ice and build up with gin and aperol. Top glass with tonic water.