Fruit Bowl

Blended drinks aren't often bucketed into the craft cocktail category. Perhaps that's because the term "blended" makes many of us think of candy-sweet classics like hurricane slushies, strawberry daiquiris, and piña coladas. I've been happy to see cocktail bars in Chicago and throughout the country challenging that stereotype by creating blended drinks with more depth and quality of ingredients. It seemed like a great idea to join the movement myself.

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I love a good blended cocktail for several reasons. They're

  • Easy to make in bulk
  • Surprisingly hydrating (you tend to consume a lot more of the ice then you would in a cocktail served on the rocks), and
  • Allow you to get away with using thicker textures, thus retaining more ingredient flavor.
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I chose to stay with rum for the spirit since it tends to be the go-to for so many tropical, blended beverages. Instead of using white rum, I featured Oak and Cane, an aged rum infused with orange peel, for more weight and character. I wanted the rum to add interest to the drink rather than simply getting lost amid the fruit flavors and this one certainly delivered. The cool (and rare) thing about Oak and Cane is that it's made in Florida of entirely American ingredients (Florida grown sugarcane and orange peels and American white oak barrels for aging). Its flavor profile is both woodsy and lightly bitter from the citrus yet delightfully smooth at 80 proof.

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For the fruit components, I used chunks of ripe pineapple, homemade peach puree, and freshly squeezed lime juice. It's true that incorporating the fruit in these forms takes more work, but it makes a world of difference in the finished product. Though pineapple juice can be an alternative if you can't find fresh pineapple, the flavor will be more muted and syrupy rather than vibrantly sweet/tart. I've also tried several different peach liqueurs but nothing ever came close to the fragrant sweetness of freshly made peach puree. That being said, ripe pineapples and peaches aren't always available so, if you really find that you love this drink, consider pureeing and freezing the fruit for future use. 

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Blending these ingredients with ice resulted in an absolutely beautiful (and ridiculously delicious) foam. The cocktail will separate after you pour it into the glasses and all of the froth will rise to the top. I garnished the drinks with dehydrated lime slices as they have a lovely scent and are a little bit lighter than fresh slices for sitting on top of foam. You can check out an earlier post for instructions on making dehydrated citrus at home. The resulting drink has a delightfully creamy texture and fresh fruit brightness intermingled with the woodsy depth of the rum.

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The Fruit Bowl

  • 2 oz Oak and Cane Rum
  • 1/4 cup pineapple chunks 
  • 1.5 oz peach puree
  • Juice of 1/4 lime
  • Dehydrated lime, for garnish

Add all ingredients other than dehydrated lime to a blender along with 4-5 ice cubes and blend on a medium/high speed until the texture is consistent and frothy. Pour into stemless glasses and top with the dehydrated lime. Enjoy whenever you need some extra sunshine in your life. 

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

 

Island Flair

If you’ve ever experienced a tiki drink, you probably know that tiki culture involves fun, flair, and plenty of flavor. I’m no tiki expert, but I’ve had blast seeking out tiki bars in my travels and often gravitate to tiki drinks for their delicious blend of fruit and nut ingredients. The trend started in mid-century America and has, in my opinion, seen a recent resurgence in popularity. It’s hard not to get behind a cocktail style that’s so theatrical and easy to enjoy.

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My biggest qualm with a lot of tiki drinks is that they tend to be deceptively debilitating. The drink tastes great as you’re enjoying it, but the aftermath can hit quite unpleasantly. Tiki drinks often contain a fair amount of booze but, more likely, it’s the sugar content that causes your hangover. Typical tiki syrups and liqueurs are high in sugar content on their own and are often used in combination with a slew of sweet fruit juices.  

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I wanted to create a cocktail that was true to tiki flavors and garnish while being easier on my body. After some brainstorming, I landed on a combination of an aged and spiced rum, fresh apricot puree, orgeat, and lime. I paired Grander, a high-proof Panamanian rum aged for 8 years in bourbon barrels, with Spytail, a ginger-spiced French rum with a delightful vanilla smoothness. Joining the rums with a 1-1 ratio gave me the spirit strength I wanted and allowed the spice flavors to elevate the drink rather than steal the show from the other ingredients. 

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I chose to include fresh, ripe apricots rather than apricot liqueur to control the sugar content and was rewarded with a burst of authentic flavor. To give the puree an easier consistency to work with, I added lime, water, and a bit of demerara sugar to the apricots before blending them. The leftover puree held up well in my fridge for about a week, allowing me to experiment adding it to other drinks without worrying about the whole fruit going bad.

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The real highlight of this drink is the homemade orgeat. Orgeat, pronounced "or-zhat," is a rich almond syrup with a hint of floral flavor. Store-bought varieties tend to be pricey, artificial or overly sweet, so I experimented with making my own. In a nutshell (pun intended), you grind up toasted almonds and then soak them in a simple syrup overnight for the nut oils to be released. Orange flower water is added for the floral flavor and a bit of vodka acts as a preservative. You can also use the discarded ground almonds as a topper for oatmeal or yogurt - just toast them in the oven after straining them out of the syrup. 

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Going in the tiki direction gave me an excuse to get really wild with my garnish. I've been mesmerized by flaming lime garnishes plenty of times at cocktail bars and found after some research that they're not too hard to recreate. The flame will burn longer if you use a stronger spirit so I recommend finding a cheap bottle of overproof liquor for this purpose. I wouldn't directly mix with the spirit I used for this garnish but it's great for making bitters. Because I care about your safety, please be sure to use a metal (not paper straw) or to add the straw after the flame dies out to avoid any unintended chaos.  

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Island Flair

  • 1 oz Grander Rum (aged rum)
  • 1 oz Spytail Rum (spiced rum)
  • 1.5 oz apricot puree*
  • 0.75 oz orgeat**
  • Shell of 1/2 lime
  • Sugar cube
  • Overproof spirit (I used 190 proof Polish pure spirit)

Stir first four ingredients with ice until chilled, then strain into a tiki mug or a colorful party glass over crushed ice. Add crushed ice as needed to fill your glass to the top, insert a metal straw, and nestle a hollow lime half into the ice, open side up. Place a sugar cube into the lime, pour a bit of overproof spirit over the sugar cube and then light the sugar cube to ignite the flame. Enjoy while wearing your most ridiculous Hawaiian shirt and dreaming of your next tropical getaway.

*To make the apricot puree, blend 8 ripe apricots (seeds removed), 0.5 oz lime juice, 1 tbsp demerara sugar and 1 oz water. Strain out any leftover solids if you prefer a smoother consistency and store the excess in the fridge for up to 1 week.

**To make the orgeat, broil 3 cups of almonds until toasted, then grind them up in a blender. Add 1 cup demerara sugar and 2 cups waster to a medium saucepan and heat until sugar is dissolved. Add the almonds to the syrup and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the syrup from heat, cover and allow to infuse for at least 12 hours. Strain out the solids, then pour into a glass jar or bottle and add 0.25 tsp orange flower water and 0.5 oz vodka. Store excess in the fridge for up to 1 month.

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

Root & Chalice

We've all shared the days of enjoying simple rail drinks at dive bars or parties. The ingredients tend to be fairly ubiquitous, ratios are forgiving and just about any bar can create one to your liking. For my next series of recipes, I was inspired to channel that rail drink nostalgia into more complex, healthier alternatives. You won't be able to find these ingredients at your typical bar but you will be able to reminisce upon your college days and broaden the comfort spheres of your pickiest friends. 

The first drink in my series is a take on the classic rum and coke. Typically, this rail contains its namesake ingredients of white rum and Coca-Cola with a splash of lime.  I've never been much of a soda drinker due to its sugar content and additives so I sought to replace that flavor profile with a more natural, balanced alternative.

As you have probably figured out by now, I absolutely love to use tea in cocktails. It's widely accessible, can be incorporated in a variety of ways and adds so much depth while giving you control over sweetness levels. In my endless search for natural cocktail mixers, I stumbled upon Pearl Soda Company, based out of Portland, Oregon. They kindly shared several of their tea-based soda syrups with me, and I was blown away by how much the Dancing Dragon variety (crafted with sarsaparilla root and pu-erh, yerba mate and honeybush teas) mimicked a true, old-style root beer with a touch of earthy depth. I also appreciated that the soda syrup was very concentrated - a little bit goes a long way and I expect to get plenty of use out of it this summer in both single and batched cocktails.

I gravitated to aged rum instead of the traditionally used white rum because I wanted something with deeper oak flavor to yield a smoother beverage. Luckily, I stumbled upon Grander Rum, an all natural rum produced with care in Panama and aged for 8 years in Kentucky bourbon barrels. I'm fairly new to the vast world of rum but learned from Grander's owner that many varieties can have small amounts of additives for color, sweetness and flavor. Inspired by the art of bourbon creation from his Kentucky roots, the owner sought to create a more authentic rum by starting with a great un-aged product and keeping the entire production process at one facility in Panama. I found the rum to have a wonderful aroma of caramel and vanilla and a great strength to form the backbone of balanced cocktails. 

To further enhance the sweet, spiced, earthy depth of this cocktail, I added some of Bittercube's Blackstrap Bitters. Crafted by a duo of Milwaukee-based cocktail consultants, Bittercube Bitters feature extremely well blended flavor combinations without any artificial ingredients. I've enjoyed all of their flavors but the Blackstrap variety truly made this cocktail shine with a deliciously aromatic mix of sarsaparilla, molasses and cinnamon. If you decide to give Bittercube Bitters a try, I strongly recommend investing in their mini sampler pack.

I chose to serve this cocktail with club soda for the obligatory bubbles and crushed ice to make it maximally refreshing. The resulting drink is comparable to a delightfully spiked root beer with a hint of herbal character and a molasses finish.

The Root & Chalice

  • 2 oz Grander Rum (aged rum)
  •  0.5 oz Pearl Soda Company Dancing Dragon Syrup
  • 6 drops Bittercube Blackstrap Bitters
  • 2 oz club soda

Stir all ingredients with ice in a mixing glass until chilled, then strain into a soda fountain glass and top with crushed ice. Serve with a straw and an optional slice of dehydrated lemon for some extra sunshine. Enjoy while recounting tales of your craziest college shenanigans. 

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

 

 

Rooftop Swizzle

Up until a few months ago, I hadn't ventured into the realm of tiki cocktails. This was unfortunate because I tend to really enjoy all of the contributing components: fresh fruit, herbs, aromatic bitters and rum. My interests were first peaked by a delicious cocktail at the local CH Distillery - the Sexy Tiki Goddess. The mix of tropical fruit, ginger, almond and mint flavors was refreshingly sweet and beautifully presented. I had never previously considered pairing those ingredients but was inspired to give it a try with my own spin. As a sidenote, I'm so thankful to the vibrant cocktail scene of Chicago for endless new ideas regarding both flavor and presentation. 

The final push I needed was from Mixology Monday - a monthly online cocktail party where bloggers submit recipes for a given theme. The April theme was (conveniently) swizzles.

So apart from being a really fun word to say out loud, what is a swizzle?

This category of cocktail hails from the Caribbean, is often served over crushed ice, and gets its name from the stirring device that is used to blend the cocktail ingredients with the ice (the swizzle stick). They tend to be extremely refreshing, slightly sweet and wonderfully bright. Given that this weekend brought beautiful weather and abundant sunshine to Chicago, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to craft and enjoy a swizzle on the rooftop (hence my creative name). 

I started with one of the more well known swizzle recipes - the Queens Park Swizzle - consisting of muddled mint, lime, sugar, rum and bitters. I happened to have some small batch barrel aged rum from Old Sugar Distillery in Madison, WI so I chose to work with that rather than the traditionally used white rum. To complement the heavy oaked flavors of the rum, I made a simple syrup using brown sugar (with a 1:4 sugar:water ratio). I was also lucky to find some perfectly fresh pineapple at the grocery store so I added that to the mix by blending it with the rum.

The result was basically summer in a glass.

I expect to do a lot more experimentation with variations of this recipe in the future (you should too)! It's a bit of work if you don't have a crushed ice machine on hand and need to pound the ice with a hammer in a ziplock bag (classy) but trust me, it is so so worth it. If you appreciate cocktail aesthetics, you'll also love the beautiful ombre color that results from topping the swizzle with Angostura bitters.

The Rooftop Swizzle

  • 2 oz barrel aged rum
  • 1/2 lime
  • 1 oz  brown sugar simple syrup*
  • 8-10 dashes of Angostura bitters
  • Handful of diced, ripe pineapple (set aside 1 piece for garnish)
  • Handful of mint (set aside one sprig for garnish)
  • Crushed ice

Add juice of 1/2 lime, brown sugar simple syrup and mint to a tall, narrow glass (such as a collins glass). Muddle mint leaves into the liquid until the mixture is aromatic. Blend pineapple chunks with rum and add to the glass. Top 1/2 of the way to the top of the glass with crushed ice. Now for the swizzling! Use a barspoon or, if you happen to have it, a swizzle stick to carefully stir the mixture until blended and chilled. Basically, you want to put your stirring device in the glass and rotate it with one or two hands (as you need to keep the glass steady). Once the liquid is chilled and well mixed with the ice, cover with more crushed ice up to the top of the glass. Top with 8-10 dashes of Angostura bitters and garnish with a a chunk of fresh pineapple, a sprig of mint and a (preferably colorful) straw. Enjoy on a rooftop while basking in the summer sun. 

*To make brown sugar simple syrup, heat 1 cup water with 1/4 cup brown sugar in a small pot, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Allow to cool and store any excess in the fridge for up to 3-4 weeks.

~A special thanks to Mixology Mondays and CocktailVirgin for hosting this month's online cocktail party!~