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.

Tea Time

Ever since I can remember, I've had a strong love for tea. Fresh, energizing green teas tend to be my favorites, but I've truly enjoyed most varieties I've tried and always look forward to expanding my tea knowledge. Without doubt, I have my father to thank for this appreciation. He's been teaching me about tea since my youth and continues to share new ones that he's discovered. Perhaps you can say that each of our food and beverage loves is a mix of genuine flavor perception and nostalgic or emotional value.

Given my feelings toward tea, I take hot toddies very seriously. The traditional hot toddy is a cocktail made with tea or warm water, liquor, lemon, honey, and optional spices. In my opinion, if all you can get at a bar is a Lipton tea bag with a packet of sugar, a piece of lemon, and a hearty pour of rail whiskey, perhaps grab a beer instead. Hot toddies are a drink to be treasured and appreciated because they allow so much room for experimentation. You can dream up countless combinations by swapping teas and playing with herbal and spirit components. Even the variety of honey you choose plays a pivotal role in the flavor profile of the finished cocktail.

I wanted to take the hot toddy inspiration to a more imaginative level with an unexpected tea, surprising botanicals, a quality spirit, and the use of my favorite type of honey. If all of these ingredients seem daunting, feel free to play around while sticking with the basic rations. Consider starting with a tea and honey you have in your pantry, then work your way to acquiring these specific ingredients if you're hooked on the hot toddy concept. 

I started with a base of hot osmathus oolong tea and added Copper and Kings American Craft Brandy, buckwheat honey, fresh lemon and 11th Orchard Birch Bark Bitters. The tea has a buttery sweetness with floral and fruity notes from the osmanthus. It's wonderful enjoyed on its own and really makes this drink shine by creating a smooth and complex foundation. I took special care selecting a smooth spirit to add to the cocktail as serving a drink warm can amp up the bite of sharper varieties. Copper and Kings American Craft Brandy gave me exactly what I wanted - oak-aged smoothness with a hint of fruity spice.

If you've never tried buckwheat honey, I highly recommend you get your hands on it. It's on the dark end of the honey spectrum, almost like a molasses, with a distinctive scent and a rich, nutty, slightly bitter flavor. It's not for everyone but it'll be a game changer in your drinks if you enjoy the taste. I grab mine at a local honey farm in Southern Wisconsin which offers the added bonus of helping with seasonal allergies (eating local honey can help with pollen sensitivity). The honey added smoothness and aroma to this cocktail, blending beautifully with the oolong and brandy.

I finished off the drink with some fresh lemon for balance and a dropper of birch bark bitters for brightness. The bitters are from a new Chicago-based company called 11th Orchard who specialize in locally foraged ingredients that are indigenous to the area. All of their products are fantastic but the birch bark variety really surprised me with its minty sweetness. You won't be able to find these bitters in stores outside of Chicago, but they're available for purchase online. 

The resulting cocktail is warming, unbelievable smooth and uplifting with its rich bouquet of fruity, nutty and floral aromatics. If you have a tea set at home, it'll make the presentation even more lovely and special for your guests. 

Tea Time

  • 5 oz freshly brewed osmanthus oolong tea
  • 1 oz aged brandy
  • 1 tsp buckwheat honey
  • 0.25 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 15 drops (roughly 1 dropper) birch bark bitters

To make cocktail, brew and strain tea and allow to cool to drinking temperature. Stir in buckwheat honey until dissolved, then add brandy, lemon juice and bitters. Serve in a tea cup and garnish with a fresh or dehydrated lemon slice. Enjoy while savoring the last few weeks of winter and calming your eager anticipation for springtime. 

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

 

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!

Fourth of Rosé

When I think of summer libations, strawberries, lemonade and rosé wine instantly come to mind. While they're all excellent on a standalone basis, can you imagine how fantastic they'd be mixed together? I tested this theory with a punch-format cocktail and found the result to be absolutely wonderful. The natural red hue of this punch makes it a great fit for your Fourth of July entertaining, but it's a recipe you're bound to enjoy all summer long.

One of my favorite features of this punch is that the ingredients can be prepared fairly far in advance and the final prep is effortless. Since the fruit components are preserved via infusion and cordial, you can find the freshest fruit when it's available or well-priced and use it before it has the chance to spoil. To give the punch a bit more of a kick (pun intended), I incorporated strawberry hibiscus infused vodka. The nice thing about a fruit infusion is that it provides so much flavor that you can, and should, use a more mid-range spirit - I picked an organic vodka from Trader Joe's, which I'm convinced is made by Prairie Organic but with the friendlier price tag of $13.99. I recommend using organic fruit for infusions as alcohol will pull any pesticides from the fruit along with the color and flavor. Luckily, organic strawberries are much easier to come by in the summer. Hibiscus is best bought in bulk online, but you can also use a hibiscus tea from the grocery store.

Note that you'll need to plan ahead for this component of the punch as fruit infusions reach their peak after 5 days

Instead of using fresh lemon, I chose to work with lemon cordial. I discovered lemon cordial when collaborating with the Bar Manager of Chicago Distilling Company on a bar takeover and have been using it in pretty much everything since then. Lemon cordial is effectively a lemon syrup, something akin to limoncello but quicker to make and non-alcoholic. Lemon juice is best enjoyed on the day it's squeezed, but lemon cordial allows you to preserve that flavor brightness and achieve both tartness and sweetness with one ingredient. The basic premise is to boil lemon peel with water and sugar, mix in lemon juice, pour into a sterilized glass bottle and store in the fridge (more details in the recipe below). I also recommend adding some citric acid to strengthen the tartness, but you can substitute with fresh lemon juice when preparing the actual punch if you prefer. 

The rest of the punch is quite straightforward - rosé as the main component and club soda for a bit of fizz. I found this particular rosé to work beautifully with the other ingredients, but most fruit-forward varieties should fit the bill. If you want to class up the punch for the 4th, float some rinsed white spray roses in the punch bowl or garnish with fresh blueberries. The resulting drink is fruity, balanced and unbelievably smooth. 

Fourth of Rosé

Individual format:

  • 1.5 oz strawberry hibiscus infused vodka*
  • 2 oz rosé wine
  • 0.5 oz lemon cordial**
  • 1 oz club soda

Or, to serve 12:

  • 2 and 1/3 cups strawberry hibiscus infused vodka*
  • 1 bottle rosé wine
  • 3/4 cup lemon cordial**
  • 1.5 cups club soda

Stir all ingredients with ice to chill and pour into your favorite celebratory glassware over ice. If making in bulk, simply mix in a pitcher or punch bowl with a bit of ice. For an extra festive experience, garnish with white spray roses and blueberries. Enjoy while reliving your childhood amidst firework fun. 

* To make strawberry hibiscus infused vodka, add 2 cup chopped strawberries, 2 tbsp dried hibiscus flowers and 1 bottle of vodka to a sealable glass jar (split into 2 batches if you don't have a 1 jar that's big enough). Put the jar in a dark place (like a cupboard or pantry) and allow to infuse for 5 days, shaking occasionally. After 5 days, strain with a fine mesh strainer. The infused vodka should be fine to store at room temperature if you remove all the fruit solids. 

** 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 Belen Aquino for the stunning cocktail photography and to Gather Vintage Tablescapes for the beautiful vintage glasses and pitcher. If you're local to Chicago and want to learn how to craft some delicious punches in person, check out my upcoming class with KOVAL and West Elm.

 

 

 

 

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

 

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.

 

Midnight Soirée

In Eastern European culture, New Year's Eve is undoubtedly considered the most significant party of the year. What I find most special is how that significance is expressed. It's not about what you do and where you go, but rather who you are with. I grew up with countless memories of my family joining forces with their friends to create unforgettable celebrations - full of good food, drink and even silly performances. The depth of these experiences are simply incomparable to an impersonal night out.

Starting with my college years, my priority has been to greet the new year surrounded by my closest friends. As I don't get to see some of these wonderful people often enough, I aim to spoil them with a variety of delicious cocktails. However, I also want to ensure that my recipes are efficient enough to leave me time to partake in the festivities. This particular creation is unique in flavor, festive in hue and quick to serve up in bulk.

In honor of the upcoming Year of the Rooster, I wanted to craft a naturally red sparkling cocktail. Hibiscus flowers came to mind as a source of both beautiful color and tartness. I incorporated the flowers via a liquor infusion rather than cold brewing them as a tea to keep the cocktail strong and full of bright flavor. One of my other key goals was make this drink a true crowd pleaser for both ladies and gentlemen (a goal that can be difficult to achieve with sparkling cocktails). With this aim, I chose to feature KOVAL white rye as the main spirit. After experimenting with this white rye on multiple occasions, I've found it to be versatile like a vodka but with the pleasant finish of rye spice. Infusing it with hibiscus flowers enhanced rather than dampened this wealth of flavor.

I rounded out the cocktail with KOVAL's rose hip liqueur, lemon and Cava. The jammy, citrusy rose hip liqueur paired perfectly with the hibiscus flavors while the lemon balanced the liqueur's sweetness. A hearty splash of Cava rounded off the drink with the obligatory celebratory bubbles without overshadowing the other ingredients (this $7 bottle gets the job done without breaking the bank). The resulting cocktail is delightfully sour, lightly spiced and pleasantly effervescent.

The Midnight Soirée

  • 1.5 oz hisbiscus-infused KOVAL white rye*

  • 1 oz KOVAL rosehip liqueur

  • Juice of 1/4 lemon

  • Cava, to top

Add first three ingredients to a shaker with ice and shake until chilled. Strain into your favorite festive glass and top with Cava to taste. If you're feeling especially crafty, garnish with a DIY tinsel swizzle stick (they're surprisingly quick to make). Enjoy while counting down to midnight in your shnazziest attire. 

*To make hibiscus-infused white rye, add 4:1 ratio of white rye to dried hibiscus flowers to a mason jar and allow to sit for 5 hours, shaking occasionally. Strain, label and store unused portion for up to several months.

Thanks to Belen Aquino for the stunning cocktail photography and to Gather Vintage Tablescapes for the lovely MCM glasses.

Winter Spice Sangria

No matter your comfort level with mixology, cocktails aren't made in a vacuum. Rather, cocktails are the embodiment of our performance as a host to our friends and loved ones. It's crucial to be a good listener and to adapt to the preferences of your audience because their satisfaction is your ultimate reward. The key is creating an experience rather than simply a beverage. You know how sandwiches always taste better when someone else makes them for you? Cocktails follow the same principle.

One of my biggest goals has been to develop recipes that align with the tastes and preferences of my family. They're open to new things if I make them, but I know that they love red wine and tend to stay away from harder spirits. Therefore, I've looked for ways to ease the alcohol content of some of my favorite recipes and created new recipes built upon lower ABV ingredients.

This sangria recipe is family tested and both mother and father approved!

To me, a well-made sangria is dressed with fruit flavors that complement rather than mask the underlying wine. In other words, it should taste like a wine cocktail rather than fruit soda. For this time of the year, I chose to add fresh squeezed Meyer lemon and orange juice as well as bottled apple cider and tart cranberry juice. I recommend using fresh squeezed juices whenever possible or checking the sugar content on the bottles you purchase so you're not surprised by the sweetness of the final product.

In order to give this sangria a holiday feel, I added flavors reminiscent of mulling spices. The quickest way to do this is grabbing a bottle of Chicago-based Jo Snow's Christmas in a Cup syrup (think brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, molasses and orange). A little bit of this delicious, small batch and all-natural syrup goes a long way and it's equally wonderful in cup of coffee. If you prefer to make you own, I'd recommend using brown sugar or dark maple syrup along with cinnamon sticks, cloves and several strips of orange peel. 

Winter Spice Sangria

  • 1 bottle red wine (I recommend a Cab)
  • Juice of 1 orange
  • Juice of 1 Meyer lemon
  • 6 oz Jo Snow Christmas in a Cup
  • 0.5 cup VSOP brandy
  • 0.5 cup tart cranberry juice
  • 0.5 cup apple cider
  • Club soda, to top
  • Citrus slices, for garnish

Mix all ingredients other than soda and citrus slices in a large pitcher, bottle or jar (at least 1.5 liters). For both flavor and ease, I strongly recommend making the sangria in advance and storing in the fridge for 1-2 days. When you're ready to serve, simply pour into a punch bowl, top with desired amount of club soda and garnish with fresh slices of orange and lemon. Enjoy with family.

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

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?

YES

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.

Old Crow

One of the great things about being a cocktail enthusiast is that all your friends tend to pick up on your passion and share their cocktail discoveries with you. Seeing as how my friends have spread out all around the world, I'm lucky to catch glimpses into the local cocktail scene when I travel.

For our honeymoon this past May, Will and I chose to pay a visit to Zurich, Switzerland, and the surrounding mountain scenery. We settled on this specific stop to reconnect with our good friend Livia who we had the pleasure of meeting in Chicago while she studied abroad. She diligently planned out the top restaurants and cocktail bars to introduce us to, and one of the latter stood out as a huge source of mixology and hosting inspiration.

The Old Crow was everything a classic bar should be: tucked away on a winding cobbled street, full of cozy nooks and dim lighting, walls covered with bottles from around the world and a true gentleman of a bartender making sure you enjoyed the cocktail experience to the fullest. He patiently walked us through the extensive menu, making suggestions based on his preferences and offering helpful insight. This extra degree of service always enhances my cocktail experience by creating a personal connection and an environment of discovery. 

I settled upon the Lumberjack cocktail - featuring Calvados, red wine syrup, maple syrup, lemon and egg white. While I hadn't previously had much experience with aged apple brandy, I loved the dimension it gave to the drink. The strong wine flavor balanced with the creaminess of the egg white and the entire concoction served as the perfect tribute to fall. I knew I had to work these flavors into my own mixology experimentation, and I hope you enjoy the result just in time for the dancing leaves, crisp nights and stunning color arrays.

I made two adjustments for my own take on this cocktail - substituting overproof rye whiskey for apple brandy and incorporating Seasons Soda Maple Demi-Sec for both maple flavor and effervescence (sidenote: this is hands down the most delicious soda I've ever tried and I don't even like soda). Feel free to play with the flavors to your own liking depending on what you prefer - spice, sweetness or a hint of fruit. Customization is what makes mixology so enjoyable! 

The Old Crow

  • 1.5 oz rye whiskey (I used Rittenhouse Rye)
  • 4 oz Seasons Soda Maple Demi-Sec
  • Juice of 0.5 lemon
  • Egg white
  • 1 tbsp red wine syrup*
  • Ground nutmeg, for garnish

Combine all ingredients other than soda and nutmeg in a shaker. Dry shake (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 glass and top with maple soda. Dust with ground nutmeg and enjoy while adventuring into the depths of historically rich locales. 

*To make red wine syrup, heat 2 parts red table wine and 1 part sugar in a small sauce pan, stirring until sugar dissolves. Store in the fridge for 2-3 weeks.

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

Kyoto Chiller

As I'm sure you've realized by now, one of the guiding principles of my approach to mixology is to provide recipes that are fresh, natural, and lower in sugar content. While cocktails can't be considered definitively healthy, I make sure my recipes aren't definitively unhealthy (in other words, you can enjoy a few and still feel good the next day).

I'm constantly on the look for new ingredients that live up to my standards in terms of content and nutrition. My latest find, launched in Chicago's own Green City Market and serving as the inspiration for my next series of posts, is Seasons Soda. All three of their creative flavors are free of refined sweeteners, colors, preservatives, and artificial flavors. Plus, the sugar content is wonderfully reasonable - just 14 grams per bottle. 

The Honeymint Demi-Sec flavor begged to be paired with cold-brewed green tea for a magically refreshing libation. Because let's be honest, you can never go wrong with the combination of tea, honey and mint. All types of green tea are high on my list but the Japanese Sencha is specially delicious due to its deep and grassy flavor. The strength of flavor ensured that it didn't get lost among the other ingredients of this cocktail.

I chose to stay with the Japanese theme and keep the alcohol content light by using sake (a huge thanks to our Binny's helper who recommended this particular variety). Finally, I added a touch of lemon to balance out the soda's light sweetness. The result was lightly effervescent, energizing and perfect for a hot summer day. 

The Kyoto Chiller

  • 2 oz sake
  • 2 oz cold-brewed green tea*
  • 2 oz Honeymint Demi-Sec soda
  • 1/4 lemon
  • fresh mint sprig

Shake all ingredients other than the fresh mint in a shaker with ice until chilled. Strain into a tall, cylindrical glass over crushed ice and garnish the mint sprig. Enjoy while reading up on Japanese history and culture on your next lazy weekend.

* To make cold-brewed green tea, follow a ratio of roughly 1 tea bag to 8 oz room temperature water. Allow to steep for 30-40 minutes. Cold-brewed tea can also be stored in the fridge for future use.

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

Boardwalk Bay

After taking some time to travel the world for our belated honeymoon, I’m back to share some exciting summer entertaining cocktails with you. Conveniently, you’ll have these recipes just in time to create an unforgettable 4th of July party!

For us, summer is all about spending time outdoors with friends and enjoying the fresh flavors and availability of seasonal fruit and herbs. It helps to have a rooftop garden with over 10 different herbs just a few steps away! If you enjoy herbal flavors in your cocktails, growing herbs is a much more cost-effective way to satisfy your palette.

Don’t have a green thumb? In my experience, mint is the heartiest and easiest to maintain! It's a great first step to creating your own self-replenishing herb garden.

My first recipe in the summer entertaining series incorporates an herb that’s as beautiful as it is fragrant – lavender. I’ve found lavender to be a great cocktail addition in syrup form and wanted to test out pairing it with a fresh summer fruit as a next step. Peaches came to mind as I thought the natural syrupy sweetness would be nicely offset with some herbal freshness.

I’ve learned through multiple iterations of this cocktail that the flavor profile is heavily driven by the ripeness of the peaches. Less ripe peaches will yield a more herbal result while more ripe peaches will create a fruit-forward cocktail. You can try to pick ones out based on smell and firmness but it’s hard to be sure until you bite in (which can be an awkward testing approach at the grocery store).

I started this cocktail by creating a peach, lavender and brown sugar syrup. While simple syrup recipes typically call for a 1:1 ratio of liquid to sugar, this syrup gets most of its sweetness from the peaches. The touch of brown sugar just rounds it off with a nice, caramel flavor. This recipe is a spin on a whiskey sour but the syrup is also fantastic with sparkling wine or vodka. I suggest making it in bulk and keeping it on hand for future concoctions.

I wanted something tart, yet refreshing and easy to make in bulk. Cold brewed tea is always a great mixer for that purpose as you typically have everything you need to make it on hand and it tames otherwise boozy cocktails without watering down the flavor profile.

The resulting mix of peach, lavender, tea, bourbon and lemon is a wonderfully peachy, slightly herbal, refreshing whiskey sour.

 The Boardwalk Bay

  • 2 oz bourbon
  • 2 oz peach lavender syrup*
  • 2 oz cold brewed black tea**
  • 1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
  • lavender sprig (if available)

If making 1-4 drinks, mix all ingredients in a shaker, shake with ice and strain into a rocks glass over a large ice cube. If making in bulk, adjust recipe for the desired number of servings and mix in a large pitcher. Serve over ice while frolicking under glorious summer sunset.

* To create peach lavender syrup, cut up 8 small peaches and place in a medium pot with 1/3 cup of brown sugar and 3 cups water. Bring to a boil and stir occasionally. It will take about half an hour for the peaches to start to break apart when you press on them with a spoon. At that point, add a heaping tablespoon of dried lavender and boil for about 5 more minutes. Strain the syrup by pouring through a fine mesh strainer and pressing down on the peach mash with a large mixing spoon to extract all of the liquid. You can bottle up what you don't use and store in the fridge for around 2 weeks.

** To make cold brewed black tea, follow a ratio of roughly 1 tea bag to 8 oz room temperature water. Allow to steep for 30-40 minutes. Cold brewed tea can also be stored in the fridge for future use.

A huge shoutout to Belen Aquino for the stunning cocktail photography and to Gather Vintage Tablescapes for the inspiring glassware.

Rye Blossom

I admit it, when it comes to whiskey, I tend to gravitate to bourbon. The sweet smoothness just blends so well in just about anything I can think to whip up. Every now and then, however, smoothness isn't the goal at hand. Rather, I'm looking for a cocktail with depth, spice and complexity. Rye whiskey is the natural choice in this case. I got inspired to try out a particular bottle when a waiter at The Aviary suggested I seek out Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond Rye.

Seeing as how I trust the opinion of anyone working at The Aviary, I hurried over to Binny's to seek out said rye and a few other new ingredients for inspired experimentation. Surprisingly, the bottle was under $30 for 100 proof strength and a delectably described flavor profile. Some quick research helped me to understand that the concept of Bottled-in-Bond dates back to an effort to regulate the quality production of whiskey in the late 1800s.

Bottled-in-Bond whiskeys must be:

  • created in one distillation season,
  • made by one distiller and at one distillery,
  • aged for a minimum of four years under government supervision, and
  • bottled at 100 proof.

While small craft whiskeys have been taking over the market, Bottled-in-Bond options are dependably sourced, quality alternatives with a punch. Rittenhouse Rye is considered one of the best of this winning category and I'm so glad to have it in my arsenal. 

This cocktail was my second Rittenhouse Rye adventure. How, you ask, did the idea materialize? Will was in the mood for cherry flavor and a boozy composition, and a vibrant rye seemed like the perfect complement. I have quite a few jars of cherries hanging out in my fridge for cocktail purposes, but Morello cherries are one of my favorites. I love the tart, authentic cherry flavor that I can get from both the syrup and the cherry, and this version from TJs is both affordable and not overly sweet. As a finishing touch, I added a bit of lemon juice to highlight the tartness of the cherry and Quince and Apple Rhubarb Hops for a bit of lingering, almost pie-like sweetness.

Lastly, if you're like me and enjoy getting fancy with your garnishes, investing in these cocktail spears is the best idea for winning presentation

Rye Blossom

  • 2 oz rye whiskey
  • 1 oz Morello cherry syrup
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp rhubarb hops
  • 3 Morello cherries

Shake the first four ingredients with ice until shaker is frosted. Strain into a coupe glass. For an extra special touch, garnish by threading 3 Morello cherries on a cocktail spear and setting on the rim of the glass. Enjoy while celebrating National Cocktail Day and the coming of spring.

Cliffs of Moher

With all of the gimmicky artificial green beverages popping up around this time of year, I took on the challenge of finding an all-natural and flavorful alternative to bring on the St. Patrick's Day cheer. Confession: none of the ingredients in this drink have much to do with Ireland. However, the color is PERFECT and the flavor is tart, fruity and packs a punch. Hence the name, reminiscent of the beautifully vibrant Irish coastline.

I found kiwi/green apple juice (the extremely Eastern European carton shown below) for the cocktail base. I'm in love with juices from that part of the world because (a) I'm from there and (b) they tend to only consist of natural colors and flavors without being too costly. If you don't have a Polish or other Eastern European grocery store nearby, consider making your own puree from fresh kiwi and green apples and mixing in some sugar and water to make the consistency similar to juice.

I stuck with vodka for the liquor because I wanted a more neutral spirit that would get lost in the vibrant bouquet of flavors featured by this cocktail. You really don't need anything fancy, just something to play nicely with the other ingredients (in other words, stay away from the plastic handles). To round out the flavor and keep the drink from getting too sweet, I incorporated a bit of lemon juice and green apple shrub. Shrub is essentially drinking vinegar infused with herbs or fruit. It may sound strange, but I've found that I keep returning to it for added depth in my drinks. If you've ever tried a stronger kombucha, the flavor profile of shrub is quite similar. The cool thing is that you can even make your own! I'll report back once I give homemade shrub a try and have some tips to share. (Don't worry if you're not a fan of vinegar - the amount in this cocktail is so small that it's almost imperceptible).

The Cliffs of Moher

  • 2 oz vodka
  • 2.5 oz kiwi green apple juice
  • 1 tbsp green apple shrub
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

Place all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake vigorously until a light foam has formed and the shaker is chilled, then strain into a coupe glass. Enjoy while dreaming of letting your Border Collie run free with the sheep of the Irish coast. 

Rose-colored Glass(es)

As far as general life outlook goes, I consider myself a (realistic) optimist. I strive to find excitement, gratitude and passion to counteract stress and worry. In a way, cocktails are one source of my optimism as they bring me an outlet for creative expression and the joy of sharing a craft with others. A delicious, memorable cocktail can brighten the way I see the events of the past day and improve my outlook. Hence the happy in happy hour.

You see where this is going?

exciting cocktails = very effective rose-colored glasses

This floral creation, which substantially lifted my mood after a long workday, consists of rose elixir, brandy and Meyer lemon. The rose elixir was another exciting find at my favorite Polish grocery store (more on this in my previous post). I didn't know exactly what to expect (in other words, I was weary of drinking something that tasted like potpourri), but I was extremely intrigued. Unlike rose water, this elixir came in a reasonably sized carton and contained no artificial coloring or fragrance. Oh, and it also cost under $2.

If you don't have imported Eastern European goods easily accessible, consider using a rose syrup like this one by Monin or making your own by boiling washed rose petals, water and sugar to taste. Adjust the recipe amount based on your desired overall sweetness as these alternatives are likely to contain more sugar.

And don't worry, this cocktail definitely does not taste like drinking potpourri. The light acidity of the Meyer lemon and the soft sweetness of the brandy dominate the flavor, while the essence of rose lingers on the palette. 

The Rose-colored Glass(es)

  • 2 oz brandy
  • 2 oz rose elixir
  • 1 Meyer lemon

Cut a slice from the Meyer lemon for garnish and juice the rest into a shaker over a few ice cubes. Add the brandy and rose elixir, then shake vigorously until the shaker is frosted. Strain into a coupe glass and top with the slice you had set aside for garnish. Ideally, enjoy while singing "everything is awesome" (Lego movie reference).



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.

Mountain View

This past Friday, I got some amazing news - I discovered that I had passed my latest actuarial exam, meaning that I am now only 1 exam away from total freedom and a fancy pantsy professional designation. Total freedom meaning more time to focus on things like cocktail adventures. Needless to say, I was a slightly hyperventilating, prancing mess of a person. When I finally made it home that evening, I was greeted with a congratulatory bottle of goodness from my wonderful husband. He had noticed me excitedly mentioning apricot liqueur on multiple occasions and thought it would be a great way to mark the occasion. It certainly was.

Why was I so excited about apricot liqueur? I had tried it in cocktails when going out and had always been impressed at how accurate and bright the apricot flavor was. Some flavored liqueurs stray very far from the original fruit and end up tasting more medicinal than fresh. Apricot liqueur is not part of that unfortunate category. Will picked up this particular bottle at our local Binny's - which we love due to the vast selection and knowledgeable staff. Rothman & Winter Orchard Apricot Liqueur is a delicious Austrian-made mixture of eau-de-vie apricot brandy and ripe apricot juice. Not going to lie, we couldn't resist just drinking some of it on ice - and I highly recommend that you buy it if you enjoy fresh apricots in booze form.

I chose to mix the apricot liqueur with a sweeter liquor - and bourbon fit perfectly. Basil Hayden's Kentucky Bourbon worked especially well because it added a hint of spice. I also experimented by adding basil to enhance the freshness of an otherwise strong cocktail and balanced it out with some lemon juice and water. Bitters are optional but I found that including a few drops of aromatic bitters highlighted the spice element I was looking for in this cocktail. The result was pleasantly sweet and spicy with a lovely hint of herbal bitterness.

The Mountain View

  • 2 oz bourbon 
  • 1 oz apricot liqueur
  • 1 oz filtered water
  • 1/2 oz lemon juice
  • Sprig of fresh basil
  • Couple drops of aromatic bitters

Set aside one small basil leaf for garnish and place the rest of the basil in the cocktail shaker. Add bourbon and muddle the basil and bourbon mixture. Add remaining ingredients and several ice cubes, then shake vigorously until the shaker is frosted. Strain into a stemmed glass, making sure you have shaken the cocktail enough to form a light froth. Top with the small basil leaf and enjoy at a cozy chalet overlooking a glorious mountain view.