Persimmon Boulevardier

You may not have tried the classic Boulevardier cocktail, but I'm betting you've been exposed to its cousin of sorts, the Negroni. Both are very booze-forward (aka entirely booze) with a hint of citrus, a lot of depth, and an overall bitter finish. The difference between the two is the base spirit - the Boulevardier features bourbon or rye whiskey while the Negroni is built on a foundation of gin.

I had never tried making the Boulevardier but thought that the richer flavor of whiskey could better balance the bitterness of the aperitif component and therefore wanted to explore further. Though the traditional recipe calls for Campari, I prefer using ingredients with all-natural color and flavors and thus chose to incorporate a new brand local to Chicago - Apologue Liqueurs.

With one of the founders of the company coming from an accomplished industry background at The Violet Hour and Letherbee Distillers, I figured Apologue would offer a quality product. I certainly wasn't disappointed. Robby and Jordan were able to create an offering of three unique and dynamic natural liqueurs crafted from predominantly local ingredients. I tend to always favor well-established French brands for liqueurs, but Apologue has really shaken things up by bringing a fresh perspective to the market, and I'm thrilled to see their products being incorporated at bars throughout Chicago.

For this drink, I used their take on Campari - Persimmon Bittersweet Liqueur. The liqueur is pleasantly sweet, with a burst of warm spice and a finish of smooth fruity bitterness. I don't typically enjoy simply sipping an aperitif but this liqueur is truly an exception.

While I wanted to combine the persimmon liqueur with whiskey, I didn't want all of the more subtle notes in the liqueur to be overshadowed. I therefore chose to use a white rye from KOVAL, a sweeter and almost vegetal counterpart to the oak-aged variety. As prescribed, I finished the drink with a touch of sweet red vermouth but decided to use slightly less than the traditional Boulevardier recipe calls for. Though I enjoy vermouth, I wanted it to bring the other two ingredients together rather than compete with either of them. The resulting cocktail is strong yet bright, palatably bitter, and perfect for warding off the winter chill

The Persimmon Boulevardier

  • 1.5 oz white rye whiskey
  • 1 oz Apologue Persimmon Liqueur
  • 0.75 sweet red vermouth (I used Noilly Prat)

Stir all ingredients with ice until chilled, then strain into a rocks glass over a large ice cube. Garnish with a dehydrated persimmon slice or an orange twist and enjoy while wrapped in a blanket cocoon

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

Mate Manhattan

You know you're getting older when your bedtime starts moving farther up and the question of whether or not to go out becomes an internal struggle. In these cases, the question tends to be "do I need another drink or some caffeine?" While an energy drink cocktail or a simple soda mixer may seem convenient, there are so many alternatives that will treat your body better. My next three posts will be devoted to natural, healthier energizing cocktails to keep the party going late into the night (aka, they'll help you make it to midnight).

I first discovered yerba mate at my favorite tea room in college - Dobra Tea (the Madison location sadly no longer exists but there are a few others scattered through the US and Europe). A popular drink in South America, yerba mate (pronounced maht-eh) dates back to the 16th century and is still widely enjoyed today for its balanced energy and nutrition. Yerba mate comes from the the evergreen holly rather than the tea plant but is brewed similarly to a tea and traditionally consumed from a gourd with a metal straw. Not only does yerba mate provide a more sustained, less acidic source of caffeine, but it also contains more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants than any other tea-based drink. I tend to enjoy it after lunch at the office for an extra kick of mental clarity without the stomach sensitivity caused by coffee. 

In flavor, yerba mate is best described as earthy, with a light sweetness and a grassy quality. The flavor isn't for everyone but you'll likely welcome it if you're already a fan of green tea. When brainstorming how to use it in a cocktail, I made the connection to sweet vermouth, a fortified wine with herbal character. I created a syrup with the yerba mate by brewing a strong batch with added sugar and used that syrup in place of vermouth in a Manhattan cocktail. 

A typical Manhattan is a stiff drink with three components - rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters. My lighter and more energizing approach incorporated KOVAL Four Grain Whiskey, yerba mate syrup and citrus bitters from Hella Cocktail Company. The creamy caramel palette and spicy finish of the four grain whiskey blended beautifully with the yerba mate and the citrus bitters added a brighter touch than the typical aromatic variety. 

Due to the high potency of a Manhattan, it's best to chill the drink while maintaining its integrity. I've been researching ways to create large clear ice at home for some time now, as clear ice doesn't crack and melts much slower than your typical homemade variety. Luckily, I stumbled upon an innovative company called Wintersmiths that makes the process very approachable. You can use water straight from the tap and your own home freezer to create these lovely, glowing orbs of perfection. The amount of time required depends on your freezer - mine take about 36 hours to freeze completely. Wintersmiths was kind enough to offer 10% off with the code "valcohol" if you want to snag one of their ice tools for yourself. 

To garnish the cocktail, I recommend expressing the oil of an orange peel, rubbing the rim with the orange oil and then twisting and dropping the orange peel into the drink. You've probably marveled at bartenders doing this at nicer cocktail bars, but the process is surprisingly easy to master at home. I peeled a fairly thin strip of orange peel and then held it over the drink as shown and gave it a firm squeeze with 3 fingers. If you've done it right, you'll see a spray of orange oil coat your cocktail. Don't get discouraged if you don't get it on the first try - it took me several to get the hang of it!

The resulting cocktail is amazingly full-bodied yet approachable, with an earthy, spiced and bright character.

Mate Manhattan

  • 2 oz KOVAL Four Grain Whiskey
  • 1 oz yerba mate syrup*
  • 5 dashes citrus bitters
  • Orange peel

Add all ingredients other than orange peel to a mixing glass with ice and stir until chilled. Strain into a rocks glass over a large ice cube and garnish with an orange peel. Enjoy to loosen up and invigorate for extra nerdy conversation.

To make yerba mate syrup, heat 1 cup of water to a boil in a small saucepan, then add 1/4 cup sugar and 2 tea bags of yerba mate. Allow to steep for 10 minutes, then strain, stir and allow to cool. Store excess in the fridge for up to three weeks. 

Thanks to Belen Aquino for the stunning cocktail photography and to Gather Vintage Tablescapes for the glasses, tray and tea canisters. The gold bar tool set is from West Elm

 

Campfire Tale

Lovers of bitter flavors rejoice - this cocktail is the first (and most potent) in a three part series covering my exploration of bitter spirits! Not a fan of bitter cocktails? You're probably best off avoiding this one - but I have some more manageable options coming your way. My goal was to find a spectrum of bitterness that everyone could enjoy so the two recipes to follow this one will be less booze/bitter forward and lighter in flavor profile. 

I was inspired to create this cocktail after a trip to Fonda Frontera in Wicker Park. They offered a modern take on the classic Vieux Carré cocktail with Añejo tequila replacing the cognac. I loved the smoky, bitter feeling of the drink and wanted to give it a try with the ingredients I had on hand in my home bar. 

I'm not much of a tequila drinker but I tend to love all forms of aged spirits for the richer, woodier taste they take on through barrel aging. Añejo tequila is aged in small oak barrels from 1 to 3 years and features an amber color and pleasantly smoky flavor and aroma. I recently received a bottle from Grand Centenario, and it's hands down the best tequila I've ever tried in terms of flavor and mouthfeel. 

I used Koval Distillery Rye but Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond Rye could be an alternative if you're looking to limit your costs. For the bitter element, I chose St. George Bruto Americano. I first discovered this delightful spirit when looking for a natural alternative to Campari (which uses red food coloring). I had a lot of faith in the St. George brand for their diverse line of gins and Spiced Pear Liqueur. Their take on an aperitivo liqueur certainly left an impression. The Bruto really packs a punch and can be used sparingly to add citrusy, woody and bitter complexity. 

I finished the drink off with a few dashes of orange bitters and an orange-peel wrapped Amarena cherry garnish to emphasize the citrus in the Bruto. The resulting cocktail is wonderfully deep in wood and smoke flavors yet surprisingly smooth given that it's 100% alcohol!

Campfire Tale

  • 1 oz Añejo tequila
  • .75 oz Rye whiskey
  • 0.5 oz St. George Bruto Americano
  • 3 drops orange bitters

Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice to chill, then strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with an orange twist, cocktail cherry, or both and enjoy while sharing gripping tales around a campfire. 

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

A Garden Feast

I imagined my second Thanksgiving cocktail recipe as the perfect complement to the main meal - slightly savory, unimposing and complimentary in flavor. I knew I wanted to work with a common fall vegetable, and carrots came to mind as a healthy and ubiquitous option. Surprised to hear me casually suggesting vegetable cocktails? I completely understand - I was initially suspicious as well. While I'm not keen on Bloody Marys and dirty martinis, I have thoroughly enjoyed well-executed cocktails featuring carrots, beets and even poblano peppers. It's all about using those unexpected flavors alongside more common ingredients to create drinkable, yet unique concoctions.

In my industry research (meaning drinking many cocktails), I've found that carrot is almost always mixed with ginger.  The flavor pairing works in both food dishes and cocktails alike and is a perfectly safe mixing option. However, I didn't want to do safe (because taking risks is undeniably more fun, even if it is sometimes at the expense of your cocktail tester/husband). I considered rosemary but thought that might make the drink far too savory. Instead, I needed something light, fresh and gently herbal: sage.

I brought the carrot and sage flavors together with some apple cider for sweetness (and bonus fall vibes) and lemon for a balanced tartness. To finish off the recipe, I chose to feature Koval white rye as the spirit. I had previously sampled white rye in a nitro cold brew cocktail at one of my favorite local restaurants (Beatrix) and was blown away by how smooth, sweet and pleasantly spiced it was. All un-aged whiskeys I had tried to date had left me feeling disappointed and overwhelmed with the booze forwardness but this one quickly became a staple in my creations.

This cocktail is truly a garden feast - earthy, refreshing and virtually guiltless! 

A Garden Feast

  • 2 oz white rye whiskey
  • 1 oz carrot juice (if you get a store-bought variety, make sure it doesn't have much, if any, added sugar)
  • 1 oz apple cider
  • 1 oz sage syrup*
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Several sage leaves, for garnish

Shake all ingredients other than fresh sage with ice until chilled, then strain into rocks glass. For a greater sensory experience (and lovely presentation), use mini clothespins to attach several fresh sage leaves to the rim of the glass. To make this drink in bulk, adjust the measurements for your guest count and stir ingredients in a pitcher with ice to chill. Divide between glasses, using a spoon to hold back the ice. Enjoy while strategically selecting a next to your favorite Thanksgiving dish. 

*To make syrup, heat 4:1 parts water:sugar in a small saucepan until sugar dissolves. Add sage leaves (1 small container of sage works well for 2 cups of water) and keep on heat for 5 minutes, making sure sage 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 lovely glasses, dishware 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.

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.

Apple Barrel

Once upon a time, Will and I visited a magical place of hope and wonder (and fantastic cocktails, food and music): New Orleans. While it was only a weekend trip, we had more than enough time to fall in love with the city's vibrant culture. One of the places that stood out the most in both our memories was The Apple Barrel - a tiny bar on Frenchmen Street. From the aging yet enthusiastic couple (I assume the owners) tending the bar to the wonderfully transportive blues tunes, this place was everything we had hoped for when we set out on the trip. The deliciously simple whiskey cocktails served by our hospitable bartenders just added to the evening's good vibes.

This cocktail gives us a way to kick back and reminisce about that perfect evening and I hope it inspires you to make a trip to New Orleans yourself! In this version of The Apple Barrel cocktail, I used Panther, an aged whiskey from Minnesota with a bit more bite than bourbon (a shout-out to our MN-dwelling friends Scott and Bre for such a great wedding gift). The apple cider and honey simple syrup rounds out the bite with some crisp sweetness while the lemon juice keeps the drink balanced (ie. keeps it from getting too sweet). Adding a touch of bitters can help highlight the spice profile of the whiskey, if you prefer to do so.

The Apple Barrel

  • 2 oz rye or aged whiskey
  • 4 oz apple cider
  • 1 oz honey simple syrup*
  • 1/2 oz lemon juice

Shake all ingredients with ice until chilled and strain into a mason jar. Serve on ice if you prefer a more refreshing drink or sans ice if you like your cocktails more boozy. Top with a dash of Angostura bitters to bring out a hint of spice.

* To make honey simple syrup, heat 1 part filtered water to 1 part honey in a pot on low heat, stirring frequently until honey is dissolved. Be sure to not let the mixture boil. When honey is dissolved, remove from heat and allow to cool. Unused simple syrup can be stored in the fridge for 1-2 weeks. I highly recommend making the simple syrup ahead of time if you plan to make this cocktail so you don't have to go through the agonizing impatience of waiting for the simple syrup to cool on the spot.