An Esteemed Guest

All of us cocktail adventurers tend to have spirits we favor and those that make us slightly uncomfortable. Even as I broaden my horizons, I find that I have to consciously challenge myself to stray outside my comfort zone. Is the extra effort worth it if you can already make good drinks with ingredients you know?


As with all other aspects of life, challenge leads to growth and feelings of accomplishment. Of course, the strongest feeling of accomplishment comes when you can create a recipe you enjoy, but this is easier than you may think. The next time you’re at a nice cocktail bar, order a drink with a new, intimidating liquor and pay attention to the complementary ingredients and balance of flavor. This is typically how I start mapping out the possibilities with a new spirit or mixer for home mixology.

The last cocktail of my Thanksgiving series features two new ingredients to my arsenal – Drambuie (a liqueur dating back to early 20th century Scotland, consisting of Scotch whiskey, heather honey, herbs and spices) and a Single Malt Scotch Whiskey. I’m not a big Scotch drinker and I tend to stray from smoky flavors. However, I found Drambuie to be an excellent cold weather liqueur with its sweet, spiced profile, and this $17 Trader Joe’s find was a noncommittal opportunity to try a smooth, young Scotch option for mixing. 

I wanted this cocktail to channel everything I love about pumpkin pie – sweet pumpkin puree, creamy texture and fall spice galore. I found that it’s quite easy to use canned or homemade pumpkin puree in cocktails if you shake all the ingredients together vigorously for an even mix. If you want to avoid the pumpkin sediment, you can always use a finer mesh strainer when pouring the cocktail. 

Egg white and lemon helped me achieve the creamy texture and perfect froth. A lemon twist also made for lovely garnish for the final presentation. If you’re like me and can’t get enough of fall spice, you can top the drink with some cinnamon sugar, pumpkin spice blend or freshly grated nutmeg. The result melts in your mouth with delightful sweetness and makes a wonderful substitute or pairing for the dessert course.

An Esteemed Guest

  • 1.5 oz Single Malt Scotch Whiskey
  • 0.5 oz Drambuie
  • 1 oz pumpkin puree
  • 1 egg white
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon

Dry shake all ingredients (without ice) for 10-15 seconds, popping the cap occasionally to release the pressure from the egg white. Add ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a stemmed crystal glass and garnish with a touch of fall spice and a lemon twist. Enjoy while toasting to a Thanksgiving gathering to remember!

Thanks to Belen Aquino for the stunning cocktail photography and to Gather Vintage Tablescapes for the lovely crystal stemware and other table adornments.

White Ukrainian

As you might have guessed, this drink happens to be a play on the infamous "White Russian." My version is (creatively) dubbed the "White Ukrainian" due to being thought up by a white Ukrainian (me). However, the only tie to Eastern Europe, as with the original recipe, is the vodka

In theory, the original White Russian seems like a decadent and extremely satisfying cocktail - boozy, rich, roasty-toasty and sweet. My main qualms with it were:

  1. It was simply too rich to drink on regular occasions,
  2. Mixing it with citrus-based drinks over the course of the evening would give me quite the stomach ache, and
  3. I felt like the vodka was overpowering for my liking.

Basically, I wanted a lighter, more well-balanced and dairy-free alternative that I could enjoy sans guilt. With those goals in mind, I tested out almond milk instead of cream and played with the ratios of coffee liqueur and vodka. I also experimented with craft coffee liqueurs as alternative to Kahlua. Some of my favorites include Crater Lake Hazelnut Espresso Vodka and St. George NOLA Coffee Liqueur (for the record, I absolutely love anything made by St. George and recommend you give their gin and other products a try). If you're local to Chicago, West Loop-based CH Distillery has also recently partnered with Dark Matter Coffee to make their own take on coffee liqueur (which is next on my boozy shopping list).

My favorite feature of this cocktail is the creamy coffee flavor, and craft coffee liqueurs tend to outperform their mass-produced counterparts. Think more coffee and less syrupy sweetness. To keep the coffee flavor highlighted, I used less vodka for the same amount of liqueur recommended in a traditional White Russian recipe. I also used more almond milk than the recommended amount of cream, as almond milk has a lot less fat and therefore thinner flavor. If you're a fan of other nut milks (coconut, cashew), feel free to experiment!

The last ingredient is optional but really makes the White Ukrainian shine: espresso. I first tried a White Russian with espresso on a weekend adventure to New Orleans and couldn't get enough. It's the perfect solution to the extreme indecisiveness and lack of motivation your get upon finishing dinner on a weekend. If you need to pump yourself up for going out while also satisfying your craving for dessert, trust me, this will do it.

What if you don't have a fancy expensive espresso machine? That's completely fine. My super versatile espresso tool, the Aeropress, cost me around $30. I've been using it for over four years now and still love the simplicity, efficiency and flavor it offers. Alternatively, you could sub in a strong cold brew coffee for a similar effect.

The White Ukrainian

  • 1 oz vodka
  • 1 oz coffee liqueur
  • 1 shot espresso (optional)
  • 4 oz sweetened almond milk

Pour all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake vigorously until cocktail is chilled and a light foam has formed. Strain into a rocks glass over a large ice cube. Garnish with cocoa nibs, cinnamon sugar or the awesome blend of sugar/chocolate/coffee beans from Trader Joe's (pictured in the ingredient shot above). Enjoy along following a steaming bowl of borscht while decked out in your best blue and yellow attire (5 points if you get the blue and yellow reference -> points are redeemable for Valcohol).