Probably every year about this time I start feeling uneasy and mumble to myself, “I’m not ready yet”. Purity jokes aside, it usually means I’m all a fuss about the upcoming holiday season. I mean, it’s 80 outside. It sure doesn’t feel like Santa is hiding in my chimney, ready to come down and scold me for not baking enough cookies this year.
But just because I’m a bumbling mess doesn’t mean YOU have to be. This year I’m trying to be more proactive and bring you, readers, timely gift guides. Not like those I threw out in March, even though, well, St. Patrick’s Day is also a relative holiday in my field.
Today we’re going to ease into just thinking about fun gifts for those cocktail lovers/enthusiasts/entertainers in your life. Or you can make a list for yourself! Who cares?! I don’t; you should see my “to buy” list, many items of which will actually be appearing here in the next few weeks.
Since it is still pretty balmy out here in Southern California, I’m taking you on a boat trip – with boozy gifts.
You’ll need a good Navy Strength Rum on this boat, and a couple of shatter-resistant glasses (for when it gets rough). Who wants to carry a bunch of full size products when you can have mini bitters on board? Adult ice pops? Yes. Just don’t forget the ice bucket!
Recently I was browsing online and came across the phrase ‘amaro highballs’. There weren’t any recipes or guidelines, just the phrase, which was all I needed to start me thinking about what would fall under that category.
Amaro is Italian for bitter, and for this post I am specifically focusing on Italian Amari. So Amer Picon and Becherovka have to sit out this round (but not to worry, they’ll be back on here soon!). Usually used as a digestif (after dinner to help aid in digestion), these bitter liqueurs also make for great bases in cocktails. They range from mildly bitter to the insane, cough-syrupy varieties and may take some getting used to. Use this as a gateway to explore and add one to your liquor cabinet; it’s worth it.
I also wanted to focus on some lower alcohol content drinks for the Holiday season. I don’t know about you, but my normal intake of cocktails in a night somehow skyrockets during the holiday season (stress??) and I find that if I make myself a drink with a lower ABV I can convince myself it’s just like drinking water… flavorful water.
Not all Amari though have a low alcohol content, so read your bottles! You can always adjust to your liking and below I have two choices under 40ABV (although just marginally on the second recipe).
2 oz. Averna (29% ABV)
1/2 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice
4-1/2 oz. Q-Ginger
2 dashes ‘Elemakule Tiki Bitters
In a highball glass, build your drink by adding ice, then the Averna, lemon juice, bitters and then Q-Ginger. Express lemon peel oil over the drink and garnish on glass. Straw optional.
Averna is sweet and slightly syrupy, a gateway amaro with less bitterness, and here the sharpness of the ginger cuts through the sweetness to balance it out. The tiki bitters bring out more of the spice that is there while the lemon adds citrus to the nose and lingers in the background of the drink.
Fernet Branca Highball
1-3/4 oz. Fernet Branca (39% ABV)
3/4 oz. Orgeat
4-1/2 oz. Fever-Tree Indian Tonic Water
In a highball glass, build your drink by adding ice, then the Fernet Branca, orgeat, and tonic water. Express grapefruit peel oil over the drink and garnish on glass. Straw optional.
Fernet Branca is on the crazier side of the amaro scale with a very strong and distinct flavor. There’s some minty, bittery… gosh, I dunno, there’s a lot going on with that liqueur and although it’s clearly the star flavor, it’s cut back a bit by the almond-sweet orgeat and mellowed with the tonic. The effervescent nature of the tonic works incredibly well with the Fernet Branca and it disperses the grapefruit oil through out offering a slightly citrusy bitterness to the drink. It’s layers of bitter and sweetness in this glass.
One aspect that makes both these drinks versatile is that they work in warm and cold weather. They are both refreshing when it’s hot out, but also have a lot of spice that works well when it’s cold. If you venture to try one of these, let me know what you think. First time with an amaro? Awesome! Welcome to the club.
There are names of cocktails in the Canon of Tiki drinks that everyone is aware of, albeit they probably don’t know what goes in it or what it’s supposed to taste like. One such drink that I know I’ve had before but couldn’t remember anything at all about it was the Planter’s Punch cocktail. To be honest, grenadine is one of the ingredients and I wanted something I could use the syrup in as well.
Planter’s Punch, in my memory, was on the menu of every Polynesian restaurant that my family went to growing up back east. Polynesian also subbing in as a Chinese restaurant; I lived in Rhode Island, it’s a small state and had to be as compact as possible. This drink should also come with no less than 5 pieces of fruit as a garnish and at least one flower. Today we’ll have to suffice with a Tiki mug and my attempts at using a zester to make a lime peel garnish (still needs some work).
Planter’s Punch is a sweet and strong drink. A tad too sweet for my tastes, but a nice spiciness from the dark rum and the bitters. The amount of syrups added in would account for the sweet nature of the punch (sugar, grenadine, falernum). However, if you eat something along with this that is very savory, say a steak sandwich, that savoriness cuts right through the sweet making it a pleasing combo. Next time around I’d cut the syrups back and add more juice. Maybe get a little better with the zester too before throwing it out to the public.
3 cups of water
1 cup of freshly squeezed lime juice
3/4 cup of sugar
Heat all three ingredients over medium heat and stir to combine. Cool and transfer to a pitcher. (Those may look like lemons, but the Bears limes from my in-laws trees are more yellow than green this year).
Ferrand Dry Orange Curacao Syrup
1/2 cup of Ferrand Dry Orange Curacao
Simmer the curacao over medium heat until reduced in half. This can take about 10-12 minutes. Cool and bottle.
Combine the salt and vanilla bean and shake vigorously. Let sit for a few hours before use to allow the vanilla bean scent to permeate the salt. Store in an airtight container.
The result? Instead of a strong tequila forward/ sweet and sour mix, this cocktail becomes a softer, lighter version that is both fruity and floral, with a bite of citrus at the finish. Hibiscus and lime are a wonderful pair, and with a pinch of the vanilla salt, this drink is well balanced. I purposely made the limeade not too sweet so that I could control that with the orange curacao syrup. That syrup’s sweet orange contrasts quite well with the tart lime, creating a more dynamic version of a sweet and sour mix. The drink also has strong floral notes from the hibiscus tequila that are pushed forward more from the bitters and from the vanilla salt due to the Tahitian vanilla bean. Tahitian vanilla is more floral than Mexican or Madagascar vanilla beans. Don’t worry though, this doesn’t taste like perfume.
The name? It translates to the garden of my grandmother. And that came about because the rose scent and the hibiscus flowers reminded me of her garden. Why in Spanish? It’s a riff on a Margarita. I couldn’t just name it in English.
Thanks to Frederic for keeping Mixology Monday alive and to this month’s host Stewart. Cheers!
Couple notes here: Why heat? Testing the cooked method, I enjoyed the more syrupy consistency of the end result. It also resulted in a more intense “berry” flavor. Does orange flower water taste like orange? No. Have you ever smelled fresh blooms on an orange or lime tree? It’s like that, floral, not citrus.
Reminiscing about the grenadine, I thought, for nostalgia reasons, I’d make a Tequila Sunrise to test out the final batch. With a couple of tweaks it was just as satisfying as I remembered drinking it standing in my ‘bar’ of that first studio apartment.This time around, I juiced my own oranges in a rather large batch (I am finding new uses for this juicer we just committed to buying), which, because of how sweet they are this season, I decided on adding a touch of lime juice. And to round the whole drink out, a few dashes of Scrappy’s Aromatic Bitters.
2 oz. Avión Silver Tequila
2-1/2 oz. freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 oz. freshly squeezed lime juice
2 dashes of Scrappy’s Aromatic Bitters
Splash of grenadine (house made if you got it!)
In a shaker 2/3 filled with ice, combine tequila, orange juice, lime juice and bitters. Shake well to combine and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add the grenadine to the center of your drink so it drops to the bottom of the glass. Stir gently with a bar spoon and watch as the colors float up.
A touch of sweet earthiness from the grenadine floats throughout the drink. I know that in this case it’s mainly a beautiful way to add color, but the richness of the syrup cuts through some of the sweetness of the orange juice too. Those bitters provide a subtle balance to the drink, that tends to just be very citrus forward and not much else.
I hope this post shows just how easy it is to have this bar staple on hand! No need to buy, just shake or simmer…
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.
This is another of the Shrub-based cocktails that I’ve been playing with. This one was a winner for me. The Lemon Shrub bites through the rich sweetness of the Rye with a nice balance of sweet and sour. The smell of the shrub might be shocking for some on the nose at first but it mellows out once the drink sits for a bit.
No garnish is necessary, however candied lemon peel might quite well here.1-1/2 oz Rye Whiskey (Old Overholt is used here)
1 oz Extra Dry Vermouth
1/2 oz Lemon Shrub
2 dahses of Angostura Bitters
Combine all ingredients over ice. Stir and strain into either a cocktail glass or wide rocks glass. Served up.
It occurred to me today I’ve never made an Old Fashioned. Drank many of them, but never actually made any. And with the arrival of a GIANT bottle of Angostura bitters in the house (do they make a small bottle even?) now is the time for making one. Apparently there is a lot of hub-bub on how to properly make one. In my opinion, the less you mess with a classic the better it is.
1 sugar cube (La Perruche is in the house)
2 dashes of Angostura Bitters
2-3 drops of water
2-1/2oz Bourbon (I used Buffalo Trace)
1 lemon peel
Drop the sugar cube in an Old Fashioned glass. On top of that sugar cube drop the water and the bitters, muddle together. Add the bourbon and stir together to mix. Add 2 ice cubes. If you can successfully ignite a lemon peel (or orange peel- I would have chosen the orange but alas, none in the house), spark it and drop into the glass. If you’re like me, and have been shown by the bartender at Bigfoot West about 30 times now how to do this, but immediately forget once home- maybe consider muddling the peel with the sugar, or just giving it a good twist and dropping it in the glass. Tip back.
No notes. Just enjoyed some bourbon with aromatics.
There’s a bottle of Jim Beam in the house. Not sure when it arrived but it’s there.
A friend of mine sent this image to me a while back.
Sometimes I think my husband reminds me of Elliot Gould. I think he’d rather not hear that. He also gets called Wolverine in public by 7-11 clerks. And drunk guys in Vegas.
Tonight we’re watching the Long Goodbye. A movie I swear up and down I’ve never seen, but one he swears I have seen. The movie made me think of this poster and that I should use Elliot Gould as an excuse to use up some of this Jim Beam.
The first incarnation of this was so wrong. I had to cut down on the lemon juice and up the marmalade for added sweetness. This version though I’m pretty happy with. The drink has the right balance of sweet and sour, with really bright notes from the citrus. Also the citrus and the cherry elements play well off each other.
The Long Gould-night Sour
2-1/2oz Jim Beam
1/4 oz Lemon Juice
1/4 oz Grand Marnier
1 tablespoon of Mixed Citrus Chunky Marmalade (Considering this was a home made gift from a friend I do not have a recipe. However, I would suggest looking for a smoky concoction. Better even if it’s mixed with cherries. If you are using a fine cut marmalade, go less than a tablespoon- or rather, just do it to taste.)
3-4 dashes of Miracle Mile Sour Cherry Bitters
Luxardo Cherry garnish
In a shaker filled with ice, build up all of the ingredients sans cherry. Shake vigorously for at least 20-30 seconds to breakdown the marmalade as much as possible. There is going to be a lot o peel left in the shaker, but you’ll also get a lot of bits into your glass which is totally fine. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass containing one luxardo cherry at the bottom.
Necessity breeds imagination. Isn’t there a saying along those lines? This weekend we’ve holed up in the house for a couple reasons. One, work. Work work. My husband has a lot of it. 90% involving computer and programming and other things that make no sense to me. Second is also work. House work. Lots of dusting due to the start of what is to be a long, drawn out construction project that has already resulted in the loss of use of the downstairs bathroom. And a couple of fights with the home insurance agency. Third, the closure of the 405 freeway. For a short while now we’ve been warned by the transit authorities to STAY AWAY from the west side of town. Avoid the airport!! Avoid leaving your houses!! Better yet, just leave town until Monday morning. Last check all the freeways were green and I’m sure all those idiots who paid for expensive helicopter rides over what was supposed to be insane gridlock for 40 miles in every direction are kicking themselves right now. Deservedly so in my opinion.
Anyway, we bought some grill fixings and decided to just stay put for two days. No biggie. Except that we somehow forgot to stock up the liquor cabinet. It’s been slowing bleeding out for the last month or so. Company comes over and there goes that bottle of Buffalo Trace. And oddly a whole bottle of Jägermeister (how did that get in there?). And wasn’t there a bottle of Finlandia for Bloody Marys?
Surprisingly though we had a couple of almost depleted Tequila bottles. Enough to make some cocktails. But with no whole limes around the house either, a Margarita was out of the question. And I have just been informed by the husband that he really isn’t a fan of them anyway.
There was a whole bottle of Campari though. No gin- the Aviation got used up in some martinis two days ago. Home bartenders are hanging their heads at this sorry state of this liquor cabinet right now.
So a quick search on the internet for tequila and campari brought me to the A Dash of Bitters blog. And this post here. This recipe below is only a slight modification. I upped the Campari by a ¼ ounce to blow out the tequila and make the Campari stand out more (my reasoning was that I wanted this to taste like Campari, not just a slight bitter aftertaste). I also added a squeeze of lime. I felt it needed a touch of an acid. And tequila and lime, blah blah blah. So here you go! It’s slightly bitter and tangy and a hint of that rich reposado tequila is there in the background, which is where I wanted him to be.
2 oz. Cazadores Reposado Tequila
½ oz Campari
¼ oz French Dry Vermouth
¼ oz Fee Brothers Maraschino Cherry Syrup (finally broke into this!)
dash of Peychaud’s Bitters
Squeeze of a ¼ lime
Stir all of the ingredients together with ice. Strain into a chilled rocks glass. Garnish with spent lime.
After I made this I glanced down at the comments and realized that others were also adding limes. I think I’d nix the Maraschino syrup next time because I don’t feel like it adds much. In fact, for the next round I made this with Aperol instead of Campari and left out the syrup. Then I subbed out some Castillian Bitters from Miracle Mile Bitters (a local, artisanal bitters company in L.A.) I thought it worked, but another taste tester, not being a fan of the Aperol, thought it tasted too medicinal. To each his own.
I will be enjoying this on the porch by my little lime tree that is slooooooowwwly growing me some new limes. The biggest about the size of my thumb.