Dusk to Dawn

With more hours of sunshine, buds appearing on trees, and my first seed garden happily sprouting on the windowsill, I’m in full spring mode and planning for patio entertaining. Springtime encourages me to transition from the richness of whiskey cocktails to the lightness of gin cocktails, but I crafted this cocktail with a barrel-aged gin to make that transition smoother. As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, barrel-aged gin is an excellent option for guests who are weary of the juniper and other herbal notes of traditional gins. Aged gins tend to carry the richer oaky mouthfeel of whiskey with a smoother layer of herbal flavor.

KOVAL barrel-aged gin is one of my favorites, in part due to the flavor profile and in part due to the gorgeous bottle design (pro tip: keep the bottle once it’s empty and add a pour spout to use for storing olive oil on your kitchen counter).

Choosing a more rounded gin allowed me to add different herbal notes with one of my favorite new liqueur additions to the home bar: Italicus. This liqueur is technically an Italian aperitivo but it’s not bitter as you would expect. On the contrary, this liqueur is citrus and floral forward and incredibly bright. It’s primarily built with bergamot and another Italian citrus variety with the addition of chamomile, lavender, gentian, rose and melissa balm.

To continue along the path of juicy, fruit-forward flavors, I added muddled Champagne grapes to the mix. This grape variety is small, sweet, and crisp with just a hint of tartness. They’re wonderful muddled and double as a beautiful edible garnish for this cocktail. If you can’t find Champagne grapes in a store near you I’d recommend using ripe green grapes instead.

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I finished this drink off with a touch of lemon juice to balance the sweetness of the fruit and liqueur and a splash of club soda for bubbles.

The resulting cocktail is bursting with citrus, ripe fruit, and herbal notes yet is incredibly smooth and refreshing.

Dusk to Dawn

  • 1.5 oz barrel-aged gin

  • 0.5 oz Italicus liqueur

  • 1 palm-sized step of champagne grapes (with another step for garnishing)

  • 0.25 oz fresh lemon juice

  • Club soda, to top

Muddle grapes in a shaker until all juice has been released, then add ice and all ingredients other than the club soda. Shake until chilled and strain into a stemmed glass. Top with club soda as desired and garnish with additional grapes. Enjoy on the patio in the warm, tranquil dusk of springtime.

Thanks to Belen Aquino for the stunning cocktail photography and to Gather Vintage Tablescapes for the beautiful vintage glasses and tray.

Take it Sloe

This drink has two big cocktail firsts for me: sloe gin and a liquid mysteriously referred to as aquafaba. On the surface, it's a Sloe Gin Fizz with the rich addition of Japanese whisky. As you peel away the layers, you'll find it to be bursting with jam and spice flavors with a hint of savory notes and balanced sweetness. This Sloe Gin Fiz is also vegan, thanks to the aquafaba being used as a substitute for egg whites. 

To talk about the Sloe Gin Fizz, we need to back up and define sloe gin. Have you had it before? Or rather, have you had a good one before? If not, you really need to get your hands on some. 

Sloe gin dates back as far as the 17th century in the UK, when blackthorn hedges started being used to break up the land. The hedges yielded tart, plum-like berries that countryside folk steeped in alcohol and enjoyed as a wintertime treat after the autumn harvest. As sloe gin became more popular recently, many producers used added flavor rather than the actual berries to give sloe gin its distinctive color and taste.

I first discovered the liqueur through Sipsmith, so my standards were set high. Their take on sloe gin is made by infusing London Dry Gin with sloe berries picked in autumn and is absolutely delicious both on its own and in cocktails. The flavor is comparable to a black currant liqueur but not as sugary and with more spice and tartness. It's my absolute favorite liqueur to sip on the rocks by the fire after I come home on a cold winter day. 

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I wanted to give this cocktail more body for the coming of fall, so I chose to use Japanese whisky, rather than gin, for the base spirit. The Coffey Grain Whisky, by Nikka served me very well in this application. Distilled primarily from corn in Scottish Coffey stills imported to Japan in the ‘60s, this whisky is naturally sweet yet bold, with vibrant notes of spice and fruit. It balanced the sloe gin wonderfully with each ingredient shining through in the final cocktail.

Now that I have you hooked with two delicious spirits, it’s time to get a little weird. What, you ask, is aquafaba? It’s nothing more than a fancy name given to the liquid in a can of chickpeas to make it sound less scary. So yes, it’s essentially bean water, but look how beautiful it looks topping that lovely drink! If you avoid egg whites because you’re concerned about potential for bacteria, you’re vegan, or the smell bugs you, aquafaba is a great alternative for foam. I’d recommend using it in bolder cocktails, but it doesn’t have a strong flavor or smell. It’s important to choose a can with either no, or very minimal salt as that may interfere with the flavor of your cocktail. The preparation is similar as to what you’d do with an egg white cocktail - dry shake all of the ingredients with aquafaba to form the foam, then add ice and shake until chilled.

I added a healthy bit of lemon to give the drink a sour finish, and then formed the rich foam with the help of club soda. The secret to getting the most (and the most flawless) foam is to add the club soda to the glass first, and then pour all of the other ingredients from the shaker on top. As the foam from the shaker comes into contact with the club soda, it’ll continue to build and fluff out.

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If you’re feeling especially adventurous, you absolutely must try your hand at bitters art. As long as you have a fairly sturdy foundation of foam and a good dropper bottle for your bitters, it’s totally attainable. I used Angostura Bitters for the extra spice and pop of color but poured some into a small dropper bottle so I’d have more control. Make sure you have a fine-point tool like a toothpick or a cocktail pick to finish the design. Once you have everything ready, place 5 drops in an incomplete circle on the surface of the foam. Then, use your fine-point tool to gently trace the shape of the circle through the middle of each dot, forming a trailing heart shape. Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work the first few times - it’s just an excuse to have more cocktails!

The resulting drink is lovely to look at, creamy and satisfying while also wakening your taste buds with a delightful bouquet of jammy fruit, spice and tartness.

Take it Sloe

  • 1.5 oz Nikka Coffee Grain Whiskey

  • 0.75 oz Sipsmith Sloe Gin

  • 0.5 oz lemon juice

  • 0.75 oz aquafaba

  • 1 oz club soda

  • Angostura Bitters, for garnish

Add all ingredients other than club soda and bitters to a shaker and dry shake for 10-15 seconds to form the foam. Add ice and shake until chilled. Pour club soda into glass. Strain liquid from shaker slowly into glass over club soda, allowing foam to build. Top with several drops of bitters (instructions for bitters art shown above). Enjoy while escaping the first chill of fall for profound, cozy conversations with friends.

Thanks to Belen Aquino for the stunning cocktail photography and to Gather Vintage Tablescapes for the beautiful vintage glasses.

Electrify Me

A great lesson I learned from planning my wedding is that traditions are what you make them. In any celebration, we have the choice of which traditional components to accept and which to set aside in favor of more personalized practices. The same applies to Valentine's Day. My husband and I are always open to another excuse to celebrate our relationship but we don't entirely play by the rules. We try to do a staycation and a nice dinner sometime during the month of February because we've found experiences to often be more meaningful than possessions.

Instead of giving your partner or galentine flowers this week, consider sharing an experience with them by putting your effort into a beautiful, aromatic, and memorable cocktail. This drink takes inspiration from a timeless bouquet of roses, but I wanted to take the floral element in a different, surprising direction and to break the stereotype of floral drinks being a feminine enjoyment. 

I knew I wanted to build the drink on a base of gin but chose a more complex option - St. George Dry Rye Gin. I love that this gin is less Juniper forward and offers the rich grain finish of warm spice, similar to a rye whiskey. If you're weary of gins but haven't tried this one yet, it may just change your mind with its smooth yet peppery flavor. I further enhanced that electrifying kick with a 24 hour infusion of black peppercorns. The infusion is quite easy to achieve - simply add gin and cracked peppercorns to a glass jar in the proportions detailed below, then strain with a fine mesh strainer when finished. 

The peppery spice provided an excellent juxtaposition to the other key ingredient in this cocktail - hibiscus rose syrup. This syrup is made with dried hibiscus flowers and rosebuds (find these on Amazon or at a nicer grocery store) and is both tart and delicately floral. Both the hibiscus flowers and rosebuds also give the syrup, and the resulting cocktail, a stunning deep pink hue.

I finished the drink with egg white to smooth out the pepper to a palatable level and added some fresh lemon to enhance the tartness and help develop the egg white foam. To finish the cocktail, you can garnish with either fresh rose petals or the dried rosebuds you used for the syrup. The resulting drink is tart, pleasantly floral with an electrifying touch of peppery spice

Electrify Me

  • 1.5 oz black peppercorn-infused Dry Rye Gin*
  • 1 oz hibiscus rose syrup**
  • 0.5 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 egg white

To make cocktail, shake all ingredients without ice for about 10 seconds, occasionally releasing the pressure built up in the shaker. Add ice and shake until chilled. Double strain into a coupe glass and garnish with fresh flower petals or dried rosebuds. Enjoy with mood lighting and good company.

* For black peppercorn-infused Dry Rye Gin, add 1/2 tbsp freshly cracked black peppercorns and 1 cup of Dry Rye Gin to a glass jar and allow to sit for 24 hours, shaking occasionally. Strain with a fine mesh strainer.

*To make hibiscus rose syrup, add 1 tbsp dried hibiscus flowers, 1 heaping tbsp rosebuds and 1/4 cup sugar to a small saucepan with 1 cup water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes, then strain and allow to cool. Store excess in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.

Thanks to Belen Aquino for the stunning cocktail photography!

Festive Pines Punch

The thing I love most about my craft is the opportunity to share it with those I love. However, I try to strike a balance between being a good hostess, creating imaginative cocktails and actually enjoying the company of my loved ones. The best way I've found to accomplish all of those things is to create cocktails in punch form. You can make a punch fit any style of party by adjusting the presentation. This particular creation is meant for a festive holiday gathering.

Before we get to the drink itself, let's talk ice. Typical cloudy ice cubes just aren't the most attractive thing to look at and tend to melt fairly quickly due to the air bubbles they contain. You can always cover them up with punch garnishes such as flowers and citrus fruit but there's another, fairly effortless alternative: use a silicon bundt cake pan to make a decorative ring of ice. I picked this one up on Amazon for under $12 and was so impressed with the result. It didn't take too long to freeze (I made mine overnight), looked lovely, and melted slowly. You can fill yours with herbs and fruit if you wish, but I found that doing so discolored the ice and therefore added my garnish separately.

I had picked up a bottle of Far North Solveig Gin while travelling to Duluth, Minnesota and wanted to incorporate it into a festive cocktail that did the beautiful bottle justice. Aside from the eye-catching branding, the gin is really well done. It's made with winter rye grain and features citrus, pine, lavender, thyme and coriander flavors. While I always appreciate a straightforward gin, I get so excited to see distilleries playing with different grains and unique botanicals. 

The typical ingredient used for festive holiday color is the cranberry, but I wanted to explore an alternative and settled on concord grapes for both their high pigmentation and rich flavor. You may liken concord grapes to typical "grape" flavor but the fresh fruit is so much brighter and sweeter. I bought them at the height of their freshness and chose to preserve them in syrup form. I added rosemary to the syrup for a savory aromatic note and to complement the botanicals of the gin.

To finish off the cocktail, I added fragrant Meyer lemon juice and Cava, a Spanish variety of sparkling wine. I prefer to use lower cost sparkling wines when I'm adding them to cocktails instead of enjoying them on their own. The Cava category tends to offer a good selection of low cost options with a nice citrus flavor that doesn't steal the show. The resulting punch is wonderfully festive, fragrant and sweet-tart. While it features gin as the main spirit it's got enough other flavors in tow to appeal even to gin skeptics. 

Festive Pines Punch 

Ratios for 1 serving (scale up as needed):

  • 1 oz gin
  • 2 oz Cava sparkling wine
  • 0.5 oz concord grape rosemary syrup*
  • 0.25 oz Meyer lemon
  • Fresh rosemary, for garnish

Chill ingredients prior to serving. Scale up the recipe as needed and combine all ingredients other than garnish in a punch bowl over a ring of ice. Stir to chill and combine and then garnish with fresh rosemary. Enjoy with holiday cookies and good cheer.

* To make syrup, combine 1 lb grapes, 3 cups water and 1 cup sugar in a medium pot. Simmer for 15 minutes, then add 3 sprigs of rosemary. Simmer for 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally, then strain and allow to cool. Store excess in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.

Thanks to Belen Aquino for the stunning cocktail photography and to Gather Vintage Tablescapes for the punch bowl, cups and tray. 

 

The Swaying Stalk

If you've been following my blog for some time, you've probably noticed that I enjoy using infusions in my cocktails. They're quite easy to prepare if you understand the proper length of infusion time for various ingredients. Simply add fruit, herbs, tea or spices to liquor, wait while it infuses, and then strain out all of the solids to stop the process. Infusions are an excellent way to add complexity to a drink because they have no added sugars and don't water down the overall cocktail. I've done infusions for both flavor and color with great results.

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I was recently approached by the company Teroforma to test 1pt, their newest product line of artisanal spirit infusion blends. This blog is a space for me to share my findings on brands whose ingredients and value propositions I support, and 1pt met and exceeded my criteria. I've typically done infusions with one or maybe two ingredients at a time and then added additional flavors in the cocktail mixing process. In contrast, all of of 1pt's seven blends feature at least four thoughtfully layered herbs, spices and teas, meaning you don't need to add much to the infused spirit to make a fantastic cocktail. I chose to play with their Citrus Blend, a mix of lemongrass, ginger, lemon verbana, Yerba Mate, and marigold petals

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Given the freshness and citrus character of the infusion ingredients, I chose to use a London Dry Gin for the spirit. London Dry Gin's aren't necessarily made in London nowadays but tend to be more juniper-forward, higher proof, and with a citrus component. Beefeater is particularly great for infusions as it's very reasonably priced, fairly straightforward in taste profile and therefore quite versatile. 

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I wanted to use honey to completely smooth the bite of the gin and thus draw the focus entirely to the brightness of the infusion. Instead of using a plain honey syrup, I paired blackberries with wildflower honey for a pop of color and a delightfully tart fall flavor that I slightly accentuated with a bit of lemon. I then topped the drink with club soda to give it the refreshing feel of a gin and tonic.

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For garnish, I added a fresh stalk of lemongrass and a dehydrated citrus peel. If you'd like to learn how to make dehydrated citrus peel in your oven, check out this earlier post. The resulting cocktail was fresh, herbaceous, bright and complex.

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The Swaying Stalk 

  • 2 oz 1pt Citrus-infused London Dry Gin*
  • 0.75 oz honey blackberry syrup**
  • 0.25 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 oz club soda
  • Lemongrass stalk and/or dehydrated lemon slice, for garnish

Stir all ingredients other than garnish with ice, then strain into a stemmed glass and top with crushed ice. Garnish with lemongrass and dehydrated lemon and enjoy while taking a deep breath of cool air after a rainstorm.

*Infuse gin with 1pt Citrus Blend for 5 hours.

**To make syrup, bring 1 cup water and 1/2 cup blackberries to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Muddle the blackberries and then add 1/4 cup wildflower honey, stirring just until it dissolves. Allow to cool and store excess in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.

If you'd like to try 1pt for yourself, use the code valcohol10 for 10% off orders over $20.

 

Sunlit Reverie

The creation of this cocktail started with a very wonderful gin-centric adventure. London-based Sipsmith Gin sent me their London Dry Gin along with a beautiful collection of upcycled glass and copper tools adorned with their iconic swan. They then invited me to join them for an unforgettable, cocktail-filled evening at one of Chicago's top rooftop bars, DrumBar.  

Photo by Azuree Wiitala

Indisputably, the highlight of the evening was getting to meet Sipsmith Founder and Master Distiller, Jared Brown. Have you ever been able to tell instantly upon entering conversation that your partner is overflowing with knowledge, enthusiasm, and creativity? The opportunity to speak with Jared and hear about his journey in the world of spirits was both humbling and inspirational. He emerged into the industry spotlight with his website and book celebrating the martini and has since then continued a journey of lifelong learning while graciously sharing his wisdom. I took a chance at royally embarrassing myself when he offered to teach me how to "throw" a martini behind the bar but somehow managed not to spill! 

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Given the art and history behind Sipsmith's London Dry Gin, my gorgeous newly acquired tools, and the passion I felt from their entire team, I knew I wanted to create a truly special cocktail with vintage flair. I started with the idea to use an intricate crystal coupe, lemon cordial, and a fruit and herb component. Lemon cordial makes a great alternative to fresh lemon juice as it's thicker in texture like a limoncello yet preserves the brightness of the citrus. It's an excellent ingredient to take a cocktail from flat to multi-dimensional. If you whip up a batch for this cocktail and have some left over, give this delicious Rosé punch a try.

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To enhance the European roots of this cocktail, I decided to feature woodland strawberry tea as the fruit component. You've likely never had woodland strawberries if you're in the U.S. as they're native to Europe, but you can luckily still find them in tea form. Woodland strawberries are smaller, sweeter, and more fragrant than garden strawberries, and the tea luckily captures their vibrant flavor. You can typically find the tea at Eastern European food stores (woodland strawberries are called zemlyanika in Russian and poziomka in Polish).

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I cold brewed the tea overnight to get a more concentrated flavor and added fresh thyme from my rooftop for the herbal component. The pairing was absolutely delightful and transported me to being in a sunlit forest grove at the height of summer. Use the excess tea mixture to spice up lemonade or simply enjoy it chilled on its own. 

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I've found it best to stir rather than shake drinks with cold-brewed tea to avoid over-dilution. Stirring this cocktail chilled the ingredients while maintaining the potency of the flavors. To finish it off and enhance the sensory experience, I added some flowering fresh thyme garnish. The resulting drink was unbelievably smooth with a light fruity sweetness enhanced by a bouquet of herbal notes.

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Sunlit Reverie

  • 50 ml Sipsmith London Dry Gin
  • 100 ml woodland strawberry thyme cold-brew*
  • 25 ml lemon cordial**
  • Fresh thyme, for garnish

Stir first three ingredients with ice until chilled then strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a sprig of fresh thyme and enjoy while dreamily watching a spectacular summer sunset. Note that the ingredients for this cocktail are listed in metric units as Sipsmith provided me with a lovely metric measuring tool. If you don't have metric tools on hand, use a ratio of 1.5:3:0.75 fluid oz. 

* To make cold-brew, add 24 oz of water, 4 teabags of woodland strawberry tea, and a bunch of thyme to a glass jar. Shake to incorporate and leave to infuse overnight. Strain and store excess in the fridge for up to 1 month.

** To make lemon cordial, heat the peel of 3 lemons, 3 cups of water, 2 cups of sugar and 1 tsp citric acid in a saucepan for about 7 minutes. Remove from heat and add the juice of 7 lemons. Allow to cool, then strain. Store excess cordial in a glass container in the fridge. 

Thanks to Azuree Wiitala for the event action shot, Belen Aquino for the stunning cocktail photography and to Gather Vintage Tablescapes for the beautiful vintage glasses and tray.

Philosopher's Path

In spring of 2011, I finally realized one of my dreams – visiting Japan. My curiosity with Japanese culture was spiked by the book Shōgun and Miyazaki movies (extra Valcohol points if you’ve seen Totoro). I went on to take an elective Japanese history course at college and one of the themes that stood out to me most was celebrating the beauty of the fleeting moment. So many aspects of the culture center on this concept and teach the indispensable patience it takes to appreciate that beauty.

I was lucky to have a friend teaching English in Fukuoka so I started my voyage there and then continued on to Kyoto and Osaka. One of the most ephemeral yet timeless spots on our journey was the blooming Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto. Walking along the cobbled pathways by the side of a babbling canal and surrounded by flowering trees and ancient temples, I truly lost myself to the breathtaking beauty of the moment. While the cultural site has so much history behind it, the state of the path is always changing as nature works it course. 

I wanted this cocktail to evoke the transience of nature and the richness of Japanese culture, so I chose to craft it with matcha tea and a likeness to cherry blossoms. Matcha tea is a powdered form of green tea leaves traditionally used for the Japanese tea ceremony. Similar to other Japanese green teas, matcha is bold, grassy and vibrant in flavor. Because the leaves are actually consumed in the powdered form, matcha is especially high in antioxidant and vitamin content. Matcha can range considerably in price depending on its intended use. I recommend selecting a less expensive, culinary grade variety for a cocktail application. 

Natural cherry blossom flavoring is surprisingly difficult to find outside of Japan, so I had to get creative with my substitutions. I knew I needed a floral element, a hint of cherry and a sweet aroma. The combination of rose water and Bittercube's Cherry Bark Vanilla Bitters was the perfect solution. Note that there's no need to overpay for rose water since it's a common component of Middle Eastern cooking and therefore available in much more cost effective form than what you would find at a gourmet grocery store. 

To emphasize the grassy and floral notes of the cocktail, I used a base of Death's Door Gin. Simple and always delivering in quality, Death's Door has been one of my favorite gins since I first started exploring the spirit. Of course, I especially love that it hails from Wisconsin. 

I finished the cocktail with egg white and fresh lemon to smooth the boldness of the matcha and the strength of the floral flavor. Lemon balanced the sweetness of the matcha syrup and gave the drink a pleasant, lingering tartness. The resulting cocktail is truly one of my personal favorites with its lovely marriage of grassy tea, bright botanicals, aromatic blooms and creamy finish. 

The Philosopher's Path

  • 1.5 oz Death's Door Gin
  • 0.75 oz matcha syrup*
  • 1 barspoon rose water
  • 6 drops Cherry Bark Vanilla Bitters
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 egg white

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 coupe glass and garnish with a fresh blossom. Enjoy while losing yourself in the transient beauty of spring.

* To make matcha syrup, heat 1 cup water and 1/2 cup sugar in a small saucepan until sugar dissolves. Add 1/2 tbsp matcha powder and whisk until dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Excess can be stored in the fridge for several weeks but should be shaken before use as some settling may occur. Try adding the leftover syrup to some almond milk for a matcha latte or using it in baking if you're feeling adventurous!

Thanks to Belen Aquino for the stunning cocktail photography and to Gather Vintage Tablescapes for the tray, spoon and lovely vintage coupes.

 

 

Parla Italiano

I'm thrilled to share this cocktail with you for several reasons:

  1. It features three distinctive and lively Italian spirits, and
  2. I finally figured out how to mix with Fernet.

Fernet Branca is an Italian amaro, or bitter spirit, dating back to the mid-1800s. Its vibrant blend of 27 various herbs, roots and plants lends it to often be enjoyed as a "digestif," or a drink enjoyed following a meal to ease digestion. Through some experimentation, I discovered that this was a tricky one to mix with for mass appeal due to its boldness of flavor. I found Fernet Branca to start on the fresher side, hinting at mint or eucalyptus, and to finish dry and bitter. Both the freshness and bitterness can easily overwhelm a drink if not used sparingly or with the right complements. 

I decided to try balancing the Fernet with fruit and tartness to mellow the bitterness while harnessing the herbal brightness. Conveniently, I had recently received two perfect spirits for the task - Malfy Italian Lemon Gin and Fabrizia Spirits Limoncello

Malfy Gin is an excellent first step for gin non-believers. It hits with lemon rather than juniper on both the nose and the palette and is surprisingly smooth even when enjoyed on the rocks. If (unlike me) you don't seek out gins that make you feel like you're drinking a forest, then I encourage you to give this one a shot!

I chose to further enhance the citrus tang of this drink with Fabrizia's delicious Limoncello. If you haven't yet tried a limoncello, it's a traditional Italian lemon liqueur made from soaking lemon peel in neutral spirit and then adding simple syrup. Most of the limoncello liqueurs I had tried to date were overly sugary to the point of being undrinkable, but I truly can't get enough of this one. I love that it's true to the lemon taste and aroma with a balanced sweetness and an almost creamy finish. It's clear that this limoncello is made with huge attention to detail and generous fruit content - I really can't recommend it enough.

When I think of my travels to Italy, I immediately picture the colorful cliffs and blissful beaches of Cinque Terre. I wanted this drink to channel those sights and the timeless, carefree feel of the quaint coastal towns. I added color and lightened the cocktail with cold brewed hibiscus tea. Hibiscus adds a deep, fuchsia hue and is pleasantly tart for a floral ingredient. Using hibiscus allowed me to bypass using any additional citrus, making this a a fairly easy and convenient drink to make in bulk for spring entertaining. 

I garnished the cocktail with fresh mint to highlight the freshness of the Fernet and a lemon twist for an extra pop of color and uplifting citrus scent. The resulting cocktail is zesty, fresh and incredibly drinkable for all palettes! 

Parla Italiano

  • 1.5 oz Malfy Gin
  • 0.75 oz Fabrizia Limoncello
  • 0.5 oz Fernet Branca
  • 2 oz cold-brewed hibiscus tea*

Shake all ingredients with ice to chill, then strain into a sturdy, wide-mouthed wine glass over ice. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint and a lemon twist. Enjoy outdoors with a wood-fired pizza and a view of the Mediterranean Sea. 

*To make cold-brewed hibiscus tea, steep 2 tbsp of dried hibiscus flowers per 8 oz of water for about 45 minutes, shaking occasionally. Strain and store excess in the fridge. 

Thanks to Belen Aquino for the stunning cocktail photography and to Gather Vintage Tablescapes for the glasses. The blue lacquered tray is from CB2

 

A Modern Bouquet

Let's face it, roses, teddy bears, and the standard Hallmark festivities have gotten a bit too routine. This Valentine's Day, I encourage you to challenge tradition and present your sweetheart, best bud or gal pals with an unforgettably delicious cocktail. I guarantee that they'll be pleasantly surprised by the complex flavors and thoughtful presentation. Who knows, maybe this show of affection will pave the way of celebratory signature cocktails as your new tradition!

The inspiration for this cocktail grew out of a collaboration with KOVAL and West Elm. In selecting the glassware and serving essentials, I was looking for items that channeled vintage vibes with a modern air. I wanted to re-imagine the Valentine's Day color palette to appeal to a broader audience. In other words, I believe that the color pink can be enjoyed by everyone if executed with taste (and paired with gin). 

From the perspective of the cocktail itself, I was aiming for a rose hue, an elaborate garnish, and a flavor profile to please whiskey and gin drinkers alike. KOVAL's Barreled Gin built the foundation with it's oaky depth and balanced herbal notes. I've always loved the combination of gin and grapefruit, so I added fresh squeezed red grapefruit juice and supplemented with fresh blueberries to accomplish the rose color I was looking for.

I used a homemade honey cardamom syrup for sweetness to play up the touch of spice in the barreled gin and finished the cocktail off with cherry bark vanilla bitters to impart an almost creamy lingering smoothness. For garnish, I peeled several strips of fresh grapefruit skin, cut one of the long sides of each peel, then wrapped them in a spiral that I pierced with a cocktail pick. Note that it's best to pierce the spirals closer to the top so they don't keep flipping upside down. 

The resulting cocktail is a sensory experience of stunning natural color and well-rounded yet subtly unique taste. 

A Modern Bouquet

  • 1.5 oz KOVAL Barreled Gin
  • 2 oz fresh red grapefruit juice
  • 0.5 oz honey cardamom syrup
  • 1 oz blueberries
  • 5 drops cherry bark vanilla bitters

To make syrup, heat 1 cup honey, 1 cup water and 2 tbsp cardamom seeds in a small saucepan on low heat. Stir until honey dissolves and mixture has taken on the cardamom flavor (about 15 minutes).

To make cocktail, muddle blueberries in a cocktail shaker, then add ice and other ingredients. Shake until chilled and double strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a grapefruit peel rose. 

Thanks to Belen Aquino for the stunning cocktail photography. You can find the West Elm items from this shoot, here, here, herehere and here

Vintage Daydream

Chances are, you have a strong feeling about anise and therefore about absinthe. Either it's a spirit you swear by to bring an edge to your cocktails and pay homage to classic recipes, or you avoid it at all costs. I used to be part of the latter group but I tend to view flavor dislikes as an exciting challenge. In my opinion, it's far more rewarding to make a cocktail you love with an ingredient you're weary of than with an ingredient you invariably enjoy. 

I had only experimented with absinthe once in the past, and it was somewhat of a rocky start. I didn't think twice about starting out with a 0.5 oz pour of the absinthe in a gin-based cocktail and then spent over an hour trying to keep it from overpowering all the other flavors. On my second try, I approached more cautiously. Chicago Distilling Company graciously shared a beautiful bottle of their Lanfray's Trigger Green Absinthe (available locally) and I wanted to highlight its character in a drink with broad appeal. I had recently acquired a bar spoon and decided this would be the perfect occasion to try it as a unit of measurement. It's far easier to add more of an ingredient than to have to correct for an overly zealous pour.

To complement the abinthe's herbal character, I used Chicago Distilling's Finn's Gin. Finn's is a more modern take on gin and therefore a pleasure to mix with - think less juniper and more other exciting botanicals such as green cardamom, Szechuan peppercorn and hibiscus. If you need any more reason to give it a try, Finn's keeps it local by using entirely Illinois grain. 

I wanted the herbal quality of this cocktail to be appreciable yet smoothed over for broader appeal. Egg white foam balanced out the bite from the gin and absinthe while blood orange added a bright freshness and honey contributed a pleasant hint of sweetness. I added just a bit of lemon to maintain some tartness as blood orange is much sweeter than your typical citrus fruit. The resulting drink is creamy, dreamy and reminiscent of the classics with a modern twist.

If you have some time on your hands and want to experiment with adventurous garnish, I recommend trying your hand at dehydrated citrus slices. They'll last in an air-tight container in the fridge long after your favorite citrus fruit goes out of season. Plus, though dehydrated citrus is a tad time intensive to make, the process itself is quite easy. Simply cut up the citrus (I used blood oranges for this cocktail) into 1/4" slices, place on a cooling rack layered on top of an aluminum baking sheet and place in the oven on 180 degrees Fahrenheit for about 6 hours, flipping the citrus slices halfway through the baking time. 

The Vintage Daydream

  • 1.5 oz gin
  • 1 bar spoon absinthe
  • 0.5 oz honey syrup
  • Juice of 1/2 blood orange
  • Juice of 1/4 lemon
  • 1 egg white

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 coupe glass and garnish with a dehydrated blood orange slice. Enjoy while lounging on a velvet settee and getting lost in some vintage tunes.

*To make honey syrup, heat a half cup of honey and a half cup of water in a small pot at low heat. Stir frequently until honey dissolves to avoid boiling. Allow to cool and store excess in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.

Thanks to Belen Aquino for the stunning cocktail photography and to Gather Vintage Tablescapes for the tray and lovely vintage coupes.

 

Fireside Pact

This time of the year, while a whirlwind of giving and celebration, is also an important time to look inward and consider your own fulfillment. My mixology craft has brought me so much satisfaction through the ability to grow creatively, the positive feedback loop with my followers, and the relationships I've been able to build with like-minded brands nationwide. The excitement of sharing something delectable and beautiful can truly cure me of any worry.

Earlier this month, I had the very special experience of getting a private tour and tasting at KOVAL, one of my favorite local distilleries. Learning about the brand gave me such a profound appreciation of KOVAL's innovation, attention to ingredient quality, and inspired brand design. I enjoyed every spirit and liqueur I sampled, but was especially impressed with the barreled gin and barreled peach brandy. Not only were both bottles absolutely stunning, but the spirits themselves were unique, well-balanced and begging to be mixed into a delicious beverage.

I figured the barrel-aged flavors of the gin and peach brandy would pair well but wanted to make sure both spirits were highlighted in the resulting concoction. Honey and Meyer lemon came to mind as the perfect complements. A honey simple syrup contributed smooth, buttery sweetness while fresh squeezed Meyer lemon and lemon twist garnish brought a touch of tartness and enhanced the cocktail's botanical profile. I also added a dash of ginger bitters to enhance the spirits' spice without diluting the drink's strength.

The result is a definite crowd pleaser for gin and whiskey drinkers alike with its sweet, lightly spiced body, balanced tartness and pleasant herbal finish.

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The Fireside Pact

  • 1 oz KOVAL barreled gin
  • 1 oz KOVAL barreled peach brandy
  • 0.5 oz honey syrup*
  • 4 drops ginger bitters
  • Juice of 1/2 Meyer lemon

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass over ice and stir until chilled. Strain into a coupe glass, garnish with a lemon twist and enjoy over a spirited chat by a roaring fire.

*To make honey syrup, heat a half cup of honey and a half cup of water in a small pot at low heat. Stir frequently until honey dissolves to avoid boiling. Allow to cool and store excess in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.

Thanks to Belen Aquino for the stunning cocktail photography and to Gather Vintage Tablescapes for the lovely crystal coupes.

 

Black Barrel

Fun personal fact (which you may have also gathered from the general health-minded nature of this blog) – I’m not a typical dessert eater. People can be chowing down chocolate, doughnuts or ice cream sundaes right next to me while I feel no temptation. It’s a trait I’m hugely thankful for. One of my favorite treats to follow up dinner is actually a few walnuts. The rich buttery texture and nutty flavor is more than enough to leave me satisfied.
 
You may not share my dessert sentiments, but perhaps you’ll be hooked on this autumnal alcoholic ode to walnuts. 

If you haven't yet tried any Fee Brothers Bitters, I highly recommend picking up a few. I've enjoyed all the flavors I've tried thus far but the black walnut is hands down my favorite. In case you're new to bitters, be sure to use them sparingly. Bitters tend to be extremely concentrated so more than a few drops can offset your cocktail's flavor profile. On the other hand, I love how bitters can add focused complexity without watering a drink down (as well as their cost effectiveness). 

I chose to pair the black walnut bitters with spiced apple cider as the combination expresses everything I love about fall - apple picking in Southeastern Wisconsin, enjoying a fire in the fireplace and getting cozy with spiced treats. I initially thought of rye to further play up the spice element but then wondered if barrel finished gin could accomplish a similar effect. If you tend to stay away from gin and favor whiskey instead, I suggest you give barrel finished gin a chance. The varieties I've sampled tend to have less of the sharpness of vodka and more of the smooth oak profile of whiskey, but with added herbal complexity. Finn's Gin by Chicago Distilling Company is one of my favorites (plus, it's local).

To round out the cocktail and give it some decadence, I added a touch of lemon and egg white foam. The result is smooth, nutty, lightly sweet and thoughtfully complex.

The Black Barrel

  • 1.5 oz barrel finished gin
  • 1.5 oz spiced apple cider
  • 1/4 large lemon
  • 1 egg white
  • 3 drops black walnut bitters

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 coupe glass and garnish with a touch of fall spice (star anise, cinnamon or fresh nutmeg). Enjoy while skipping through a sea of multicolored leaves in your favorite fall sweater.

Thanks to Belen Aquino for the stunning cocktail photography and to Gather Vintage Tablescapes for the lovely tray and gold-rimmed coupes.

A Wrinkle in Thyme

Have you ever cooked with or otherwise used thyme? If you enjoy herbal flavors but haven't given this particular one a chance, drop everything you're doing and go to the store. Thyme is a fantastic complement to many different fruits. It's likewise magical in soups and just about anything roasted. Within the realm of cocktails, I tend to use thyme alongside pear and apple flavors. The results never disappoint.

This cocktail, apart from paying homage to the Madeleine L'Engle novel that got me started on science fiction (5 points if you got that reference), combines thyme, pear, gin and bitter lemon with dangerously drinkable ratios. Pear is a tricky fruit to work with raw, so I tend to buy natural pear juices/nectars to make my life easier. If you have a juicer, you can reap the extra health benefits of homemade fresh pear juice (fiber, vitamins and minerals galore). 

I chose to use gin as the spirit as it's always beautifully elevated when paired with fresh herbs and botanicals. If you're curious about which types of gin I tend to favor, I highly recommend trying Koval Dry Gin (local to Chicago) or any variety of St. George gin (CA). St. George is especially great for narrowing down the botanical mix you prefer (spice, floral, or earthy notes).

To add some natural fizz with a twist, I topped the cocktail with Seasons Soda Bitter Lemon Tonic. This soda is local to Chicago and features a blend of maple, orange blossom honey, aromatics and bitters. I loved that it heightened the complexity of the cocktail rather than watering it down. Plus, no refined sugars or preservatives!

If you're feeling extra fancy when you make this one, you can garnish with a lemon peel spiral and a thyme sprig as shown in the photos. I prefer to make my spirals using a channel knife - starting at the top of the lemon, I trail the channel knife in a spiral path, maintaining constant pressure. You may need to physically twist the peel into a spiral after you separate it from the lemon. I also find that lemons with thicker peels lead to better spirals due to the relative rigidity of the skin.

A Wrinkle in Thyme

  • 2 oz gin
  • 1 oz pear juice
  • 1/2 oz thyme syrup*
  • 3 oz bitter lemon soda
  • fresh thyme sprig (garnish)
  • lemon peel (garnish)

Shake first three ingredients with ice until chilled. Strain into rocks glass over a large ice cubic or spherical ice cube. Top with soda and garnish. Enjoy while discussing the implications of time travel with your nerdy friends.

*To make syrup, heat 4:1 parts water:sugar in a small saucepan until sugar dissolves. Add thyme and keep on heat for 5 minutes, making sure thyme is fully submerged. Strain, allow to cool and store excess in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.

Thanks to Belen Aquino for the stunning cocktail photography and to Gather Vintage Tablescapes for the inspiring glassware.

Sunshine State of Mind

One of the reasons that I so love mixology is that it's an ever-changing science experiment. New inspiration is constantly popping up in terms of ingredients, tools and methods. While I try to keep this blog beginner-friendly, I also want to encourage you to have some of your own science experiment fun alongside me (and to hopefully learn from where I've struggled).

This cocktail features several techniques I've been curious to try out - roasting and dehydrating. The bad news is that both require some degree of planning ahead. But trust me, it's so worth it if you want to take your flavor profile and garnish game to the next level. Plus, no complex tools are necessary - a simple oven does the trick.

Let's start with roasting.

Roasting your citrus (oranges, in this case) with some sprinkled sugar brings out the juicy sweetness and achieves a nice, slightly caramelized flavor. After a bit of research, I chose to follow the instructions that I found here and was very satisfied with the end results:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees
  2. Slice oranges in half and top with a pinch of brown sugar
  3. Bake on a parchment-paper lined sheet for 30 minutes
  4. Finish the process by broiling for 5 minutes (the goal is to get the oranges slightly browned but make sure to check on them frequently so they don't burn)

If the summer heat has you avoiding the oven at all costs, try grilling the oranges instead. You'll get a more smoky flavor using the grill and will need to adjust cooking time accordingly. 

Dehydrating is a completely optional bonus step if you're feeling adventurous.

If you've never before seen dehydrated citrus garnish at a cocktail bar, think of a typical citrus wheel with a more papery, translucent texture and shrunken size. The cool thing about this type of garnish is you can make it in bulk and have it on hand for a long time (drying something out is a basic means of preservation). If you don't have the time to devote to this extra step, a thin slice of fresh orange will also make a beautiful martini topper.

Citrus dehydration steps are as follows:

  1. Slice citrus into 1/4" thick slices
  2. Place citrus slices onto a cooling rack on top of a baking sheet
  3. Bake at 170 degrees for 6 hours (turning rack every 2 hours)

I didn't have the luxury of time so I baked my orange slices at 200 degrees for 4 hours. While they weren't completely dried out, they were most of the way there and achieved the look I was going for. 

To craft the Sunshine State of Mind martini, I juiced the roasted oranges, and added vermouth, gin, orange bitters and homemade honey syrup. The result was delightfully sweet with a refreshing orange freshness and a nice depth given by the gin. 

Sunshine State of Mind

  • 2 oz gin
  • 1/2 oz sweet vermouth
  • 1/2 roasted orange
  • 1/2 oz honey syrup*
  • Dash of orange bitters

Fill shaker with a handful of ice, then add juice from the roasted orange. Top with the remaining ingredients and shake vigorously until shaker is frosted (this is a boozy one so the colder, the better). Strain into a martini glass and garnish with a dehydrated orange wheel or a thin orange slice. Enjoy while soaking up the sun on your next beach getaway.

*To make honey syrup, heat 1/2 cup honey and 1 cup water over medium heat until honey dissolves. Make sure to stir frequently and turn down the heat if the mixture starts to boil. Syrup can be made in advance and stored in the fridge for a few weeks.

Photography and glassware by Belen Aquino.

 

Shanghai Tea

The sun is out and I’m basking in the blissful freedom of being done with an actuarial exam! The hope is that this will be my last (after over 8 years of taking exams) but there may be another sitting in my future depending on how this one went. Regardless, no studying means more time for developing new cocktails and sharing my adventures with you!

I’ve been so excited to share this latest development. After travelling to China, I fell in love with milk tea and often find myself having cravings for it. We explored 4 different cities on our trip (Beijing, Nanjing, Hangzhou and Shanghai) and sought out milk tea in each one. Major noms. Authentic milk tea can be difficult to find in the US without making the trek out to Chinatown. If you’ve never had it, I really can’t recommend it enough. Imagine a cold, refreshing black tea-based latte with honey sweetness. You can usually get it in bubble tea form with tapioca pearls but it’s fantastic without them as well.

Since the trip, I’ve been testing out creating the perfect milk tea at home. I’ve found that it’s tricky to get the black tea strong enough to maintain flavor when being mixed with milk but not bitter from over-brewing. Then I had a very exciting moment of clarity – what if I used tea-infused liquor and made milk tea in cocktail form?

Best. Choice. Ever.

Tea-infused liquor is a lot less daunting than it sounds. Alcohol tends to pull flavor out of anything you add to it – fresh fruit, herbs or in this case, tea. All you need to do is add a few tea bags to a bottle and let it sit for about 20-40 minutes, monitoring the color of the liquor throughout the process (and having a few tastes along the way). When the liquor is infused to your liking, simply remove the tea bags and you’re done! You may need to use more or less time depending on the tea (black and green tea could cause bitterness if kept in too long whereas herbal tea is safe to leave in for longer).

You also don’t need to use a bottle from your fancy stash if you’re doing an infusion as most of the taste profile will be covered by the tea. The $10 bottle of London Dry Gin I picked up at Trader Joe’s did the trick without breaking the bank. I chose to use Earl Grey tea over regular black tea as I prefer the floral flavor of bergamot. As a side note, Earl Grey-infused tea is one of the most amazing cocktail ingredients I’ve worked with to date.

I chose almond milk over regular milk because I prefer the lightness and slight nutty flavor. Also, dairy-free is the way to be when you're dealing with spring allergies. For the honey component, I recommend making a simple syrup to make the honey easier to mix in. All you need to do is heat 1:1 ratios of honey and water in a small saucepan on medium heat, stirring until the honey dissolves. The syrup can conveniently be stored in the fridge for future cocktail endeavors.

Shanghai Tea

Place all ingredients, along with ice, in a shaker and shake vigorously until chilled and slightly foamy. Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with a sweet Chinese treat. Enjoy while giving in to the urge to plan another international vacation.

Infatuation

With Valentine's Day coming up, you may be wondering how to best treat your significant other, your crush or, better yet, yourself. This year, I encourage you to skip the flowers and chocolates and get your indulgence fix with a well-made cocktail. Creamy, tart and herbal, this take on the classic gin fizz will leave nothing to be desired in both looks and taste. Because nothing says intense passion like gin, juicy blackberries, a dash of rosemary and a topping of airy foam.

This cocktail is a tad more complex than some of the others I've shared as it requires making your own simple syrup and incorporates egg whites. While both of those may seem intimidating, I promise you - they're really not. Simple syrup just takes a little patience. Heat water, sugar and whatever flavor agent you're adding until the sugar dissolves and the flavor has sufficiently been infused into the syrup (or just follow my instructions below to take the guesswork out of it). It's a really great way to incorporate herbs into your drinks while adding some sweetness. Sage, lavender, basil and rosemary are some of my favorite variations thus far, but I look forward to experimenting with many more.

Now that we've crossed that bridge, let's tackle egg whites. Getting a little squeamish at the thought of consuming raw eggs? I feel you. I used to avoid egg white cocktails at all costs. However, I now strongly regret my wasted years of not drinking deliciously foamy concoctions. It's true that egg whites carry the risk of salmonella. Using fresh, pasteurized eggs makes that risk virtually nonexistent. So how do you turn goopy eggs into magical froth topping? In the process of shaking egg white with citrus, the egg white proteins are emulsified - or broken down in structure to create a foamy texture. Citrus and proper agitation are key. Get ready to work out those cocktail shaking muscles!

If you loved egg whites in this cocktail and want to try more - check out this previous post.

The Infatuation

  • 2 oz gin
  • 0.75 oz rosemary simple syrup (recipe below)*
  • 0.5 oz lemon juice
  • 1 pasteurized egg white (egg whites from a carton are easy and create less waste)
  • 5 ripe blackberries

Place blackberries in a cocktail shaker and muddle to release the liquid. Add gin, rosemary simple syrup, lemon juice and egg white. Shake vigorously for about 15 seconds, making sure you're holding the top of the shaker so it doesn't fly off due to the developing pressure. Carefully open the shaker to add a few ice cubes. Shake again until shaker is frosted over, then strain into a stemmed or embellished glass. You may have to wiggle the shaker a bit when pouring as the blackberry pulp will plug the holes. Garnish with a rosemary sprig and serve to your sweetheart. 

* To make rosemary simple syrup, add 2 cups filtered water, 0.5 cup sugar and a handful of fresh rosemary to a small sauce pan. Cook over low heat for approximately 5 minutes or until sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally. Strain out rosemary and allow to cool, then transfer unused portion to a jar and store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

 

 

Gin + Pineapple: Level Class

Let’s continue our gin and pineapple adventure from the previous post but add a touch of class. This variation is a great choice to impress a date or a gaggle of guests (which is convenient given that many of you will likely be cooking with your sweethearts for Valentine’s Day or gathering for football festivities this Sunday). While the flavor profile of this cocktail has more dimension, it’s still surprisingly easy to prepare. Winning all around.

The story of how this cocktail came to be starts with a confession: I have trouble staying focused at grocery stores. By “trouble staying focused,” I mean that I tend to wander into the aisle containing natural/exotic juices and mixers and majorly nerd out. This often results in me carrying home significantly heavier groceries than I had bargained for. Luckily, it’s usually worth it and my excitement to try something new propels me home in record time.

On one such trip to an average grocery store (Jewel, for those of you who are local to Chicago), I discovered Sipp soda. I generally use Izze or San Pellegrino in my drinks as they’re both relatively low sugar and high flavor for a reasonable price. Sipp drew my eye in the natural aisle due to the creative combination of flavors in each soda. I settled on the Lemon Flower (lemon, elderflower and tarragon) and Ginger Blossom (ginger, vanilla and lime) though it took a lot of self-control to not buy them all. Yes, it’s pricier than a bottle of ginger ale. However, it uses high-quality ingredients, avoids artificial flavors/low quality sweeteners (meaning less chance of a hangover) and elevates your cocktail making adventures without much effort. One bottle will also give you enough for 4 drinks without compromising on flavor.

This recipe uses Lemon Flower Sipp soda, along with gin, pineapple juice and a touch of lemon. It’s wonderfully easy to make in bulk (I whipped up 12 glasses for my family’s Christmas party) and doesn’t require any complicated tools (just something to stir with).

Gin + Pineapple: Level Class

  • 2 oz gin
  • Roughly 3 oz pineapple juice (evenly split the 8.5 oz can between 3 glasses -> you can also split between 2 glasses to avoid waste without a significant effect on the drink’s flavor)­
  • 3 oz Sipp Lemon Flower
  • ¼ lemon

Fill a rocks or tall glass approximately 1/3 full of ice. Top with first 3 ingredients and add the squeezed lemon quarter. Stir to chill and blend. If you’re feeling extra classy, top your glass with a lemon slice or a sprig of fresh tarragon. Serve to those you wish to impress and consequently feel extra impressive.

Gin + Pineapple: Level Chill

Ever since a road trip to Canada seven years ago (because we could legally drink and go clubbing in Canada - thank you, Canada), I've known that gin pairs effortlessly and perfectly with grapefruit juice. It's an easy two-ingredient drink to pick up at a bar that doesn't have it's own cocktail menu and it's a lot more exciting/lower in sugar than your typical vodka + cranberry. In 2015, I discovered another unlikely contender for gin's perfect partner: pineapple juice. The tropical sweetness and light acidity of pineapple juice creates an excellent balance to gin's herbal flavor profile. An additional bonus is that pineapple juice can easily be found without any added sugar in small cans that don't need to be refrigerated (I get mine at TJs). This means less waste, which is always a plus in my book.

The beauty of gin + pineapple is that it can be presented in so many different ways, depending on how fancy you're feeling. This post will cover a more chill option that's easy to make without much planning or when you're over at a friend's house. A later post will offer a more exciting option for when you want to impress. 

I was inspired to create this drink while visiting my friend during a recruiting trip at my alma mater, UW-Madison. I had recently given him a bottle of gin and both of us wanted to unwind with a movie and a drink (or two) after a long day. Since I wasn't at my own home, I didn't have access to my usual cocktail arsenal and needed some easy to find and relatively inexpensive ingredients. Enter, pineapple juice and unsweetened black tea. The beauty of this combination is that you can have it on hand in your pantry and whip it up at a moment's notice.

Later, I wanted to recreate the drink at home but didn't have any bottled black tea on hand. A ruined opportunity? Certainly not. Luckily, you can easily cold brew black tea at home if you have just 20-30 minutes of patience (you can also infuse your spirits with tea, but that's for a later post). To do this, simply fill a glass with room temperature filtered water and several tea bags. Drunk the tea bags up and down several times to start the brewing process, then let the tea sit for 20-30 minutes or until it has taken on a rich, dark brown color typical of brewed black tea. After you remove the tea bags, you can store any unused tea in the fridge. Since it doesn't have any added sugar, it should keep for several weeks!

Gin + Pineapple: Level Chill

  • 2 oz gin
  • 4 oz pineapple juice (it's sold in roughly 8.5 oz cans, making it perfect for two cocktails)
  • 3 oz unsweetened black tea (from a bottle or cold brewed)

Pour ingredients into a pint glass over ice and stir. Easy peasy.


G + T

I'm not generally a big gin and tonic fan due to the bitterness of tonic water. Gin, however, is my favorite. Why? It single-handedly adds so much complexity to a cocktail, especially if you choose a gin with a wider variety of botanicals than just juniper. After getting some very exciting additions to my cocktail arsenal for the holidays (my friends know me very well), I thought to give the classic G + T another chance, but with a twist. An elderflower and cucumber twist.

My neighbors have always been supportive of my cocktail adventures and were very sweet to gift me FeverTree elderflower tonic water and an exciting array of bitters. Another friend gave me a cucumber and lime syrup from quince & apple. If you have never heard of quince & apple, now is your chance to fix that and eat and drink everything made by them. I may be partial to them because they're based out of Madison, WI but their cocktail syrups and jams are inventive, natural and absolutely delicious! Another plus is that the syrups are very concentrated so a little goes a long way.

Conveniently, elderflower, cucumber and citrus are always a wonderful combination of flavors - light, floral and refreshing - and pair well with multiple types of liquor. To sweeten the deal, I used Rehorst Gin by Great Lakes Distillery. Three cheers for mixing with local ingredients! My friend had long talked about Rehorst being the only gin she enjoys and I understand why - it's different from the rest. Rehorst is made with sweet basil and Wisconsin ginseng, making it a touch more floral and earthy than other gins. In other words, it doesn't just taste like drinking Christmas.

The G + T

  • 2 oz gin
  • 1 tbsp quince & apple cucumber and lime syrup
  • 1 quarter lime
  • FeverTree elderflower tonic water

Cut a sliver off the lime wedge and set aside for garnish. Squeeze the rest into a tall glass filled roughly halfway with ice. Add gin, cucumber and lime syrup and elderflower tonic water per your personal preference. Stir, then garnish with the remaining lime sliver and a colorful straw. Enjoy to cool down after an adventure-filled day.

Emerald Elixir

Companionship is important when you are a hobby mixologist. Companions allow you to test your creations and enable your craft with new and exciting ingredients. In one such situation, my husband, Will, surprised me with a liqueur after I finished a grueling written actuarial exam (and several months of no social life). I had been dreaming of this liqueur for months and was overjoyed to receive as part of my cocktail arsenal. Did I mention Will has excellent powers of observation (for which he is often rewarded in Valcohol)?

That liqueur was green Chartreuse - a magical herbal concoction originally created by French monks in the 1700s from over 130 different plants and flowers. You may have seen it on the menus at fancy cocktail bars and wondered what to expect from an ingredient you can't pronounce ("shar-troose"). Having tried it on its own, I've found it packs a punch of herbal, sweet and slightly bitter flavors. This means a little bit goes a long way and the price tag is more than justified for the concentrated complexity you'll get out of it. I chose to pair it with one of my favorite gins (Terroir by St. George), green apple shrub, ginger liqueur and lemon juice. The result was slightly sweet, deliciously herbal and greater than the sum of its parts.

The Emerald Elixir

  • 2 oz gin (I recommend a more complex gin - something with more than just juniper flavor)
  • 1 tbsp each of:
    • Green Chartreuse
    • Ginger liqueur
    • Lemon juice
    • Green apple shrub
  • 2 oz filtered water (alternatively, you can top this cocktail with sparkling wine after shaking the above ingredients with ice and straining into a glass)

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker with a couple of ice cubes per cocktail and shake vigorously until frosted. Strain into a small stemmed glass and enjoy while discussing the awesomeness of French monks (optional).