Spiced Pear Fizz Cocktails

This post is brought to you by Everclear. Recipes and ideas are my own.

Are you browsing sites that are still offering to ship presents before Christmas? I am. I could have sworn I was done a week ago but there keeps popping up a missed gift or two. I’ve had to shoot a text to a few family members letting them know that their present might not make it in time (I wasn’t about to call and admit I forgot); an issue when your entire family lives 3,000 miles away and everything has to be handled by the post office or UPS and it’s obvious when you just plumb forgot.

I also found myself a little sad today that the holiday party season is coming to a close. My quota of warm punches and bottled cocktails was definitely not met. BUT! We still have New Years and I’ve been thinking about the perfect cocktail to serve for that, the last of the year’s parties.

I love the juicy, slightly citrus flavor that pears impart to cocktails and love them even more when they cozy up to some strong baking spices. My signature NYE cocktail will have all that with a touch more citrus bite from fresh lemon juice and a hint of smooth, rich maple to round the whole drink out.

The base of the cocktail uses Everclear to start and I infused that with cinnamon, black pepper, cloves, green cardamom and allspice using my favorite quick infusion method (cream whipper I love you). I keep that separate so that I can tinker with the adjustments to make the final cocktail perfectly spiced; it’s just of the ways I’ve used Everclear this season for cocktails. You can check out the myriad of ways Everclear is transforming craft cocktails as part of their Make It Your Own campaign.

If all these spices seem like a lot to go and buy, remember you can purchase in bulk online for cheap. I like having the option of whole spices at home for using in recipes or infusions, and when I need ground spices, I can make them fresh and keep some small jars on hand. It’s a little extra legwork up front for better tasting infusions and food down the line.

This cocktail also batches up well so, as the spiced Everclear base will make about 8 drinks. Feel free to adjust the recipe below to accommodate the number of guests you’ll be serving. No need to make individual drinks at the party this year; you can plop all this in the pitcher and mingle.

Spiced Pear Fizz Cocktail (~28 proof)

1 ounce spiced Everclear (recipe follows)
1-1/2 ounces pear nectar
1/2 ounce maple syrup
3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 -4 ounces soda water, chilled
pear slices for garnish

  • Combine spiced Everclear, pear nectar, maple syrup and lemon juice in a shaker 2/3 filled with ice. Shake about 20 seconds and strain into a champagne flute. Top with chilled soda water and garnish with pear slices.

For the Quick Infused Spiced Everclear:

8 ounces Everclear
2 cinnamon sticks
4-5 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
5 dried allspice berries
1 tablespoon whole black pepper
3-4 whole cloves

  • Into a whipping canister (I use the ISI brand canister), add Everclear and spices. Screw on the top and charge with one charger of N2O. Discard charger and let the mixture sit for one minute. Release pressure, open the top and strain Everclear into a clean vessel for storage. Use spiced Everclear immediately or keep sealed in a cool, dark place for up to six months for optimal flavor.

The Fig and Tonic Cocktail

Fig and Tonic Cocktail with Everclear // stirandstrain.comThis post is brought to you by Everclear. Recipes and ideas are my own.

Figs were never eaten around my house growing up. Unless you count that ubiquitous yellow box of cookies that I feel every 80’s parent was forcing on their kid because it might be seen as healthy. Fig Newtons were so weird. They had those crunchy bits and they weren’t that sweet, and yet they were called cookies. I probably couldn’t recognize a fig until I reached my twenties when I started working for a company that imported gourmet food. And then came the chocolate covered figs at holiday time. OH man–SO many people calling asking for those. The figs were not just covered in chocolate, they were enrobed. Which somehow just that word made them the most sexiest thing on the shelf. Enrobed in chocolate… I’d like to be enrobed in chocolate.

Fig and Tonic Cocktail with Everclear // stirandstrain.comSo, one word of marketing and suddenly figs were a delicacy, not an unidentifiable fruit. Now they’re a common farmer’s market item. They’ve lost a little of their sultry shine but I still find them a touch exotic. And this past week I received a whole basket of them in our CSA box and decided they were ripe for a cocktail.

Fig and Tonic Cocktail with Everclear // stirandstrain.comToday I’m mixing up this cocktail with Everclear as part of their Make It Your Own campaign. We’ve been using Everclear on the site for years to make everything from infusions to liqueurs to tinctures. And now we’re using it to make cocktails too! Let’s be clear, Everclear on its own is 190 proof, but when you mix it with non-proof ingredients like syrup and water, then the final proof will significantly reduce. Here we’re only looking at a total of 27 to 32 proof depending on how much tonic water you desire–the less tonic the higher the proof.

Fig and Tonic Cocktail with Everclear // stirandstrain.comWhy mix with Everclear? Because I wanted to taste the ingredients and not so much another liquor flavor in the cocktail this time. It also makes for a stronger cocktail that doesn’t get watered down from the tonic. And what a complex tasting cocktail this is!

Fig and Tonic Cocktail with Everclear // stirandstrain.comLetting the muddled figs steep in the Everclear for a bit makes the honeyed juice more prominent. Then to complement the figgy flavor, I created a vanilla syrup that gets some extra warming spice from black pepper, green cardamom, star anise and cloves. The vanilla really comes through but is much more complex in flavor from this spice blend. To offset some of the sweetness, a good dose of tonic water incorporates some bitterness into the cocktail while its effervescent bubbles distribute the flavors and bring out some aroma to your nose. The resulting cocktail is complex and yet clean tasting, refreshing and packs a punch. Ready to try one out?

Fig and Tonic Cocktail with Everclear // stirandstrain.comFig and Tonic Cocktail (27-32 proof)

1 ounce Everclear
2 figs, roughly chopped
3/4 ounce Spiced Vanilla Syrup (recipe below)
4-5 ounces tonic water

In the bottom of a shaker, muddle Everclear and figs. Let steep for 5 minutes. Add syrup and ice and shake for 20 seconds. Strain into a collins glass filled with fresh ice. Top with tonic water. Garnish with fig slice.

Spiced Vanilla Syrup

2 vanilla beans cut into 2″ pieces
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
3 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 star anise
4 whole cloves
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of water

Scrape seeds from the vanilla pieces and add to a small sauce pan. Then add in the vanilla pieces, peppercorns, cardamom pods, star anise, cloves, sugar and water. Stir to combine and turn heat to high. Bring to just a boil and lower heat to a simmer for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, remove from heat and let cool. Once cool, strain syrup into an airtight container. Syrup will keep up to one month in the refrigerator.

The Best Vodka Martini has garlic in it

The Best Vodka Martini: with garlic and black pepper // stirandstrain.comDo you all remember the first time you heard about blogs? I forget in what order these things go, but I know I paid attention to food blogs the most first. But then I forget that when I was younger, much younger, I created a site where I reviewed live music shows local to Los Angeles. This actually led to a brief period of my life where I got paid to write for music publications and got sent free music to review. At the time, this was akin to winning the lottery.

The Best Vodka Martini: with garlic and black pepper // stirandstrain.comFood blogs were an interesting mix of recipes and people spilling their guts out to the public (not much change there). Their casualness led to a renewed interest for me of cooking in the kitchen. These people clearly were not chefs and just look at what they were making! And then in 2010 I was preparing to get married and stumbled into the even larger and insane world of lifestyle/wedding/etc blogs that kept me up crying and hyperventilating into a paper bag. I still occasionally look at these for no reason at all, but I’m thankful that I only had to spend a brief period of my life picking out color schemes for napkins and talking about chair cushion choices.

And then came the drink blogs. I had no idea these existed but there was a period in 2009 when a whole crop of them (now mostly retired) sprung up. I make no secret around here that after reading Morgenthaler’s site I decided to start writing again and created a space (this space) to write down my recipes and to use the site as a reason to learn all I could about cocktails and such. I’m about to hit 5 years writing this thing and the biggest transition in my thinking, and what I see many bars and bartenders starting to follow as well, is to stop being a dick. OK, well, a snob. There is a lot less snobbery in the cocktail world now. What might have been a backlash at first again the conventional drinking world and a fight to bring back old spirits and even older recipes often resulted in people feeling ostracized and a whole lot of suspenders. None of this is news though, but looking back on early posts I can definitely see where I was echoing a lot of that sentiment. Especially when it came to vodka.

The Best Vodka Martini: with garlic and black pepper // stirandstrain.comDo I have vodka in my bar? Yes. Lots really. Brands send it to me and I try it, curious to see what this new one will taste like, if anything. Do I drink vodka martinis? Not really; I am used to the taste of a gin martini and I prefer all the flavor it has. However, I am not dismissing it. I am however going to make it fancy.

And I do have a favorite vodka martini recipe now. It is barely tweaked from a food blogger’s recipe, the vodka being swapped in for gin. Actually, it comes from this blogger’s book, because a lot of the earlier bloggers all seem to have books. This blog, Orangette, is an early blog. I feel like it touches upon the territory of when no one was writing them and maybe because of the unknown, it also didn’t quite fit that mold of “food blog”. There was a lot of writing, not many photos (or if there were, maybe not of food), and names of entries might have nothing to do with what the person was cooking. The site is pretty much the same, even after being around for over a decade. Her books read like an extension of her site, just a long format version and in between pages of what it was like for your husband to one day decide to open a restaurant after NEVER having any experience in the field whatsoever, there are a few well selected recipes. This martini recipe was one of those.

One note before you go trying this: one must enjoy garlic. Even if you don’t add the cloves back in after you strain it, the drink is still pretty pungent. Me, I enjoy the ever increasing garlic flavor that becomes almost a dare to finish when you’re down to the last few sips. And I finish it of course. The black pepper you can also adjust to your liking as well. I like a little bite, but I don’t enjoy crunching on every sip so just a few turns of the pepper grinder is enough for me. And if you couldn’t quite tell, it’s a very savory cocktail.

The Best Vodka Martini: with garlic and black pepper // stirandstrain.com

Garlic Black Pepper Vodka Martini

barely adapted from Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage

2 ounces vodka, Hangar 1 used here*
1/2 ounce dry vermouth, Vya Extra Dry used here
1 garlic clove, sliced
2 grinds black pepper, on the coarse side

In a shaker 2/3 filled with ice, combine vodka, vermouth, garlic slices and black pepper. Shake hard for 20 seconds and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Optionally add the garlic slices back to the glass.

*This bottle of Hangar 1 was generously given gratis and appears here because I like drinking it. For more info on sponsored products, affiliate links, and gifted booze, please visit the About page.

Cranberry-Black Pepper Shrub Cocktail For when you wish you could drink the cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving...

Cranberry Black Pepper Shrub Cocktail // stirandstrain.comThis space is too lighthearted to get very political or get in-depth about current news events, but with Thanksgiving coming next week, it’s a good reminder to be thankful for whatever you have in your life. And if it’s Thanksgiving, I’m shoving cranberry sauce in my face like no one is watching.Cranberry Black Pepper Shrub Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

I’m of the camp that you need a little sweet with the savory. And while I enjoy pretty much all the flavors that grace the holiday table (except maybe you, green bean casserole), you bet that on every forkful of turkey or potatoes or creamed onions, there is a little bit of cranberry sauce. Ok, maybe a LOT of cranberry sauce.

And I’m not picky either. You want to feed me the jello version from the can? Sure, I’ll take it. Or you made a passed down recipe from your great-grandmother that is laced with a little booze? Sure, I’ll take that too. I’ll take them all.Cranberry Black Pepper Shrub Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

So why am I not eating it more often so that when Turkey Day comes I’m not feeding myself like a ravenous zombie? Well, I kinda forget about it. I think the ensuing coma from eating resets my brain every year and I spend the rest of the time oblivious until a week or so before Thanksgiving when I see some ad in a magazine and my mouth starts salivating in a Pavlovian response.Cranberry Black Pepper Shrub Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

This year it was decided that since I have such a short window of time to enjoy cranberries, I’ll make the most of it and enjoy them by not only eating those berries, but also drinking them! In fact, I figured if I made a shrub with them, I’d get to enjoy them a little bit longer (although, it’s so darn tasty I doubt it will stick around for very long).

This black pepper–spiced cranberry shrub is sweet, savory, and tart. It mixes up quick and with a fruity sparkling wine and citrusy bitters, the drink works wonderfully to lighten a meal packed with sweet potatoes, stuffing, turkey, and more. And if you don’t use up the whole shrub in one go, it will keep in the fridge for at least a month.Cranberry Black Pepper Shrub Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

For the Cranberry-Black Pepper Shrub

2 cups (approximately 10 ounces by weight) cranberries
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns, lightly crushed
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water

In a nonreactive saucepan, combine cranberries, peppercorns, apple cider vinegar, sugar, and water. Stir to combine. Cover and place over medium-high heat. Cook, opening the lid and stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves and some of the cranberries begin popping open, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, uncover, and allow to cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Pour entire mixture into an airtight, nonreactive container. Refrigerate at least 8 and up to 12 hours. Strain mixture twice through a fine-mesh strainer, transfer to an airtight container, and refrigerate for up to one month.Cranberry Black Pepper Shrub Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

For the Cocktails (yields 12 drinks)

36 ounces chilled sparkling wine (from 2 bottles)
20 dashes orange bitters, Regan’s used here
12 ounces chilled Cranberry-Black Pepper Shrub
Cranberries, for garnish

Slowly pour chilled sparkling wine into a pitcher. Add bitters and chilled cranberry-black pepper shrub. Stir very gently to mix. Serve immediately. Individual glasses can be garnished with cranberries.

Note: For a non-alcoholic alternative, combine 1 ounce of the cranberry-black pepper shrub, 1/4 ounce simple syrup, and 3 ounces club soda (I love Q-Club!) in a wine glass. (Add two dashes of orange bitters, if desired—they contain a tiny amount of alcohol.) Garnish with cranberries and serve.
This recipe originally appeared on Serious Eats

Spiced Averna Toddy

Spiced Averna Hot Toddy Cocktail // stirandstrain.comThis winter season you’re going to drink some hot cocktails (unless you’re in the Southern Hemisphere where you got another 6 months for that. Unless you like hot drinks in hot months. Hey, I drink iced coffee all year round now.) and more than likely a lot of them will have the same old familiar base. While whiskey is always a good partner, or even some nice aged rum, today I turn to a maybe an unlikely addition: Averna.

I love Averna, and you’ve seen it pop up on this site from time to time, but never warmed up. And now that I’ve had it warmed up, I can’t believe it took me so long to do it!Spiced Averna Hot Toddy Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

Serious Eats had asked me to come up with a hot drink for this cool season and frankly it took a moment of head scratching to figure out what to make. I kept struggling with how I’d make hot whiskey interesting…until I nixed the whiskey altogether. Then what you get is a flavorful hot toddy that’s low on the ABV and the perfect beverage you can start offering with brunch all the way up through dinner. I like a cocktail that has that much potential.Spiced Averna Hot Toddy Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

Now you know I can’t leave good enough alone, and I always give you a bit of homework on here in order to make some of these drinks, so it should come as no surprise that I’m requiring a deep, dark brown sugar syrup steeped with peppercorns and cinnamon to accompany this toddy. As much as I like Averna, adding this syrup in there gives it so much flavor, and it kinda comes out tasting like a spicy tea (without the tea).

So curl up alongside a fire with a good cocktail book and one of these Averna Toddies this winter. And save the whiskey for something else.Spiced Averna Hot Toddy Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

For the Spiced Syrup:

1 cup water
1 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
4 cinnamon sticks

  • Combine water, brown sugar, peppercorns, and cinnamon sticks in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to simmer, stirring, and remove from heat. Cover and let sit for an hour and a half. Strain and store in an airtight container, refrigerated, for up to two weeks.

For the Cocktail:

1 ounce Averna
1/2 ounce spiced syrup
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed juice from half a lemon
4 ounces boiling water
Lemon peel for garnish

  • In a heat proof mug, combine Averna, spiced syrup, lemon juice, and boling water. Garnish with lemon peel and serve immediately.

Warm and bright from the lemon. Lots of strong spice with hints of caramel and a touch of bitterness. The cinnamon lingers around but is not overpowering. Sweet, but light on the palate.

Spicy Tomato Water Martini

Absolut Spicy Tomato Water Cocktail // stirandstrain.comThis is a sponsored post. 

Today I just realized that soon, tomato season will be over. This is a hard pill to swallow because somehow this summer sped by so fast that I don’t feel I indulged on enough tomatoes. To compensate, I went to the farmer’s market this weekend and I, perhaps, overbought by a pallet or two.Absolut Spicy Tomato Water Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

Lately, if you’ve been reading on here with any regularity, you might have noticed that I’ve been lamenting the summer produce as it starts to slowly leave the aisles of the local farmer’s markets. Using seasonal products has always been a priority on here, and really, for many people now, it’s not a very new concept anymore. However, after years of living with the same produce available all year round, I find that I’m still getting used to this idea. You mean I can’t have fresh tomato pasta in a few weeks? No more bruschetta? No more PEACH DAIQUIRIS?!?!

OK, I’m calm now but I still have this giant bag of tomatoes that have to get preserved somehow. Well, I can eat only so many of these guys, so then I turned to preserving the flavor of tomatoes. Yup, the flavor.Absolut Spicy Tomato Water Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

For this recipe, in partnership with Absolut Vodka, I get to hang on to that summer tomato flavor for as long as I have this bottle handy (which actually could get used up pretty quick in my house). Absolut is a good match because they also care about making things seasonal and local; in making Absolut Original they use local ingredients and keep farming and production in the surrounding community of Åhus, Sweden. They have a craft approach to details, like using crop rotation to naturally restore the area’s wheat fields, and making all the famous bottles at a 300 year old glassworks nearby. Their name for keeping everything in Åhus is One Source. They even feed the local farm animals the spent grains from production; talk about a happy cow!Absolut Spicy Tomato Water Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

For the base, I chose cherry tomatoes over larger ones so that I could get a nice mix of tart, sweet and sour flavors to make the “water” more layered and not just a single note. I also decided to add a touch of salt to each individual cocktail instead of the larger infused batch. This was done so that serving this, guests who liked things a little salty could add more salt, and those who might even want to forego salt altogether could (although I wouldn’t suggest it).  The base itself then would remain a consistent flavor. Using the Absolut Original vodka also means that I have a consistent flavor and quality in all the cocktails.

The black pepper and thai bird chili give the base its earthy, spicy flavor and the heat factor is completely up to you (as it should be). I like enough heat so that the cocktail has some zip to it, but I don’t let it overpower the other star ingredients. Otherwise I would have made you a chili pepper cocktail.

Let’s make a drink!Absolut Spicy Tomato Water Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

Spicy Tomato Water Infused Absolut Vodka
750 ml bottle Absolut Original Vodka (a little over 3 cups)*
3 cups cherry tomatoes, chopped
2 thai bird chili peppers, roughly chopped with seeds
1 tablespoon black peppercorns, whole

Combine all ingredients in an airtight container. Leave in a cool, dark place for 3 days. Strain ingredients through a cheesecloth lined fine strainer into a clean, airtight container. For optimal flavor, use within 6 months. This recipe can easily be scaled down or up.

Spicy Tomato Water Martini
3 parts Spicy Tomato Water Infused Absolut Vodka (recipe above)
1/4 part Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth
pinch of good sea salt
cherry tomato and cocktail onions for garnish

In a mixing glass filled 2/3 with ice, add vodka, dry vermouth and salt. Stir about 20 seconds and strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with cherry tomato and cocktail onions.Absolut Spicy Tomato Water Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

*This post is sponsored by Absolut Vodka. If you’d like to find out more on their consistent commitment to exceptional quality vodka, please visit them here!

Apple Elixir Cocktail

Apple Elixir Cocktail // stirandstrain.comThis is quite possibly the most APPLE cocktail I’ve ever made. But it’s October so who cares! Let’s enjoy it!

I was bouncing ideas around with the Serious Eats people and decided on creating a multi-layered apple cocktail. One where you’re getting hit with apple flavor from all directions: apple cider concentrate, hard apple cider, apple brandy. Heck, I even threw on an apple chip garnish. You might be thinking to yourself…how one note this seems. But no! It’s super flavorful in unexpected ways, and if you don’t have the time you can even skip on the garnish.Apple Elixir Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

Apple cider brings me back to my childhood in New England. Or rather, it brings me back to unrealistic longings of days gone by. It is true, you can’t seem to throw a rock without hitting an apple orchard there. Especially if you hail from Rhode Island, where you can’t throw a rock without hitting Massachusetts or Connecticut either (it’s a really small state). My grandparents lived near an orchard. My aunt and uncle HAVE an apple orchard. Cider was just synonymous with Fall. Now I have to deal with 90°F and over temps through October in Los Angeles. The only saving grace of it all is not having to deal with deicing my car come January anymore (please don’t throw rocks at me). Apple Elixir Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

Being an adult means I’ll always have conflicting feelings about my childhood. All those sweet memories of riding around on the back of a wagon in a corn field, and there’s the actual reality of having to go to school and being told what to do and all the unpleasantness of being a kid that I tend to forget about. One thing that I don’t have any conflicting feelings about is making this cocktail. So let’s do that!

Apple Elixir Cocktail // stirandstrain.comFor the Spiced Cider Concentrate:

4 cups fresh apple cider
2 cinnamon sticks
4 allspice berries, whole
1 teaspoon cloves, whole
2 teaspoons black peppercorns, whole

In a medium saucepan, combine cider, cinnamon, allspice, cloves and black pepper. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Keep at a simmer, uncovered, until reduced by 3/4, and consistency is viscous like maple syrup, about 2 hours. Strain and let cool to room temperature. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a month.

*Note: you can also buy apple cider concentrate if you don’t have the time or if apple cider (*gasp*) is not available in your neck of the woods. Find some here!

For the Cocktail:

2 ounces Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy
1 ounce apple cider concentrate syrup
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice from about half a lemon
4 ounces hard cider such as Samuel Smith’s Organic Cider
Apple slice or apple chip for garnish (optional)

Combine apple brandy, spiced cider concentrate, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Shake until well chilled, about 20 seconds. Strain into an ice-filled highball glass. Top with hard cider. Garnish with apple slice or apple chip if desired.

A small amount of lemon juice not only brightens up the drink, but the acid helps meld the flavors and prevents a sensation of just apple after apple after apple. The result is refreshing, boozy, and a tad dry.

{now closed} Cucumber Basil Caesar and a Caesars Cocktail Book Giveaway!

Cucumber Basil Caesar Cocktail and a Giveaway! // stirandstrain.comHappy Canada Day to all my Canadian readers out there! I know you exist (my stats tell me so). Today I honor all of you with your national drink, the Caesar.

However, I’m not excluding all of the rest of the world with this post, because I’m also opening up a contest for all my Canadian and US readers with a cocktail book giveaway on this very drink. For the next week, enter win your own copy of Caesars: The Essential Guide to Your Favourite Cocktail by Clint Pattemore.Cucumber Basil Caesar Cocktail and a Giveaway! // stirandstrain.com

And for everyone across the globe, I’m also giving you a cocktail to try out. Because you’ve read this far.

I have to admit it, I didn’t realize that a Caesar was specifically a Canadian invention. Like many drinks with a history, I had a vague idea of its origins. Wasn’t it a cousin to the Bloody Mary, just with clam juice? Well, I consider myself schooled now. The Caesar I still work into the realm of day drinks, or even Sunday morning drinks (or Monday morning if Sunday was rough). And today I’m gussying up the classic with some fresh Persian cucumbers and basil from my garden. It’s seasonal and refreshing and only has a touch of savory flavor to contrast against the bright vegetable flavor.Cucumber Basil Caesar Cocktail and a Giveaway! // stirandstrain.com

Try this, or one of the many (like, over 50) ways to create a Caesar from your own copy of the book. But! You have to enter to win a copy first!

Actually, let’s make a drink first…

Slightly Adapted from the Caesars cocktail book
4 cucumber slices (preferably Persian cucumbers that you don’t have to peel)
4-6 basil leaves
3 dashes hot sauce (I use Tapatio)
freshly cracked black pepper to taste
1-1/2 ounces gin
4 ounces Clamato

1 tbsp smoked salt, 1 tsp pepper, cucumber spears for garnish

Garnish your highball glass (or small goblet) first by rimming the outside of the glass with a cucumber slice then dip in salt and pepper mixture poured into a small bowl. In a mixing glass, muddle together cucumber slices, basil, hot sauce and pepper. Add gin and Clamato. Stir and strain into a highball glass filled with ice. Finish garnishing with a cucumber spear. Straws are always optional!

Enter below for your chance to win a copy of Caesars: The Essential Guide to Your Favourite Cocktail! You can get up to NINE entries to win. Contest runs until midnight PST Wednesday, July 9th, 2014. Please see terms and conditions below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Smoky Beer Sangrita

Smoky Beer Sangrita Cocktail // stirandstrain.comMemorial Day weekend kicks off the official start of grilling season. It also kicks off cut off shorts season and burn until you look like a lobster season. It’s a season of magic.

In my efforts for making your drinking experiences more efficient this summer, I will have a bunch of upcoming recipes that are batched for your convenience. Take 10 minutes the night before, or first thing in the morning, to put together the bases, and then top off as needed day of. Easy.

First up is a drink I made for Serious Eats (guys, drinks is no longer its own site, it’s incorporated into just one big Eats site now, so don’t get confused) where I use BEER as the alcohol base. Yes, yet another beer cocktail on this site for the year. It is the topper for a spicy, smoky sangrita-like base that you can make ahead of time.Smoky Beer Sangrita Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

Sangrita-like might be stretching it; it’s really just sangrita made with a bunch of delicious citrus with a dollop of harissa. Not familiar with harissa? If you like spice and smoke you’ll like this peppery paste that has its roots in North African cuisine. It’s not normally used in drinks, but I love the extra level of spice it adds. Also, a little goes a long way, so you can keep it around to experiment with food later.

Usually, sangrita is just the sidekick to a shot of tequila, but I love the rich flavors of tomato and citrus so much I thought it deserved its own spot at the bar (or backyard BBQ) as a cocktail. Since it’s a low alcohol drink, you could easily sip on these all afternoon, playing horseshoes or whatever it is people do outside.

Sangrita Base

1/2 teaspoon harissa, or more to taste
8 ounces tomato juice
6 ounces freshly squeezed juice from about 2 grapefruits
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces freshly squeezed juice from about 2 oranges
1-1/2 ounces freshly squeezed juice from 2 lemons
2 ounces freshly squeezed juice from 2 to 3 limes

For Your Cocktail

Grapefruit wedge
Coarse smoked sea salt
4 ounces Sangrita Base
4 ounces Sculpin IPA, or any hoppy IPA

  • To make the base, in a pitcher, whisk together harissa, black pepper and tomato juice. Add grapefruit juice, orange juice, lemon and lime juice. Stir to combine. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 8 hours maximum.
  • To make the cocktail, wet the rim of a highball glass with grapefruit wedge, dip moistened edge in smoked sea salt. Add ice and 4 ounces of the sangrita base. Top with 4 ounces of IPA. Garnish with grapefruit wedge and serve.

Citrus is an ideal match for a hoppy IPA. The Sculpin IPA from Ballast imparts a lot of grapefruit and lemon in the flavor, as well as in the aroma, which not only compliments the tomato-citrus base, but also adds some needed bitterness to round out the drink. With beer cocktails, the effervescent quality will significantly lift a heavier based drink which can sometimes seem like a challenge to drink. It can also provide a smoother, creamy texture, making the drink feel more like a “cocktail” and less like juice (or in this case Gazpacho). If the Sculpin is not available in your area, look for a beer with this kind of citrus profile. And at the end of the day, if you run out of the base, this beer pairs excellently with barbecue too.

Sparkling and Spiced Winter Sangria with Ginger, Cranberries, Black Pepper and Citrus

Sparkling and Spiced WInter Sangria // stirandstrain.comI don’t know about you guys, but I’m so ready for Christmas. After having to by-pass the two other major Fall holidays this year, all I want is to unpack my 200+ nutcrackers and put up a dang tree. Christmas shopping is already underway (it still counts if it’s for me and I say it’s ‘for christmas’) and I already broke out my Christmas DVDs. Now all I need is a drink.

It’s funny how with the invention of Pinterest that I realize that many other like-minded people are also dreaming of winter cocktails, and even further into that niche, they are thinking about winter sangria. Yep, I totally want to throw cranberries into all kinds of things lately, including this drink, but not quite the way you’d think to include them. If you’ve looked at my previous sangria recipes this year (which you can find here and here) you might notice that they tend to become quite layered. The reason is, if it’s not, I find it boring.Sparkling and Spiced WInter Sangria // stirandstrain.com

A few weeks ago I was invited to be part of the “media” who judged a sangria contest sponsored by Pavan liqueur. I won’t point out who, but some of the drinks I found to be just one-note beverages. They were flat; they were boring. That’s so sad. When I did like the drink, it was because the bartender had put a lot of thought into the layers that were making up the recipe. Flavor after flavor that both was interesting, worked as a whole, and was not boring. And that’s what I want when I am drinking sangria and when others might possibly be ingesting the drink too.

Fast forward to last week where I put the finishing touches on this sangria recipe I had been dreaming about and up it went on the Serious Drinks site. I will be posting some recipes this month on their site, so please jump on over there from time to time and check them out. Outtakes and the usual nonsense will be found here still.

For the cranberry-black pepper syrup:

3/4 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup fresh whole cranberries
½ cup whole black peppercorns

For the base:

1/4 cup of sliced kumquats, about 5-6 kumquats
1 satsuma tangerine, sliced
1 ounce of Shrub & Co. Spicy Ginger Shrub
2 ounces of cranberry-black pepper syrup
4 ounces of Pavan

For each drink:

4-5 ounces of Brut Cava, such as German Gilabert

  1. For the syrup, combine water, sugar, cranberries and peppercorns in a medium-sized sauce pan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Cover and let stand for 30 minutes. Cool and fine-strain mixture through cheesecloth or a coffee filter into an air-tight container. Will keep refrigerated for one week, or add half an ounce of vodka to the mixture to prolong freshness up to 3 months.
  2. For the base, combine sliced kumquats and tangerines in the base of an airtight container with ginger shrub, syrup and pavan. Refrigerate for at least two days and up to four days.
  3. For individual servings, pour 1 and a half ounces of base into the bottom of a white wine or rocks glass along with any desired fruit from the base. Add ice cubes and top with 4 ounces of the Cava. Gently stir to combine and serve.
  4. For a full pitcher, add the entire bottle of Cava to a pitcher containing the base. Stir gently to combine, and pour into individual serving glasses.

Lots of flavor with sharp, spiciness from the ginger and pepper. The dry cava balances out the sweet, syrupy base.

Sparkling and Spiced WInter Sangria // stirandstrain.comGentlemen, this is a sangria drink for you too; it bites back. I served this drink at a private party this weekend and one guy had 6 servings. Granted, the alcohol content is not too high, but seriously: SIX. He dragged people over to try it and they were also converted. I’m convinced all of your guests will love this.