Dublin to Kentucky

With St. Patrick's Day right around the corner, it's time to let you in on one of my favorite cocktail discoveries - dairy-free Irish Cream. Have you ever tried an Irish Car Bomb? The concept is to drop a shot of Irish Cream into a pint of Guinness and chug it down before the dairy in the Irish Cream curdles. The roasty flavors of Guinness blend beautifully with the creaminess of Irish Cream, but you can't pause to savor the taste without your drink turning into sour milk.

Also, you get drunk really quickly (which may or may not be your end goal).

My husband, being of Irish descent and particularly fond of the Guinness/Irish Cream blend, asked me to see if I could find a way to turn the flavor combination into a cocktail that can be slowly enjoyed rather than consumed at lightning speed. The search began with a focus on homemade, dairy-free Irish Cream that wouldn't react to the acidity of the Guinness. After much research and multiple tests, I'm happy to say I've found the perfect recipe! It’s absolutely delicious, natural and decadent (yet healthier than bottled Irish Cream).

I chose to do half coconut cream and half almond milk for the base to lighten it up and make the coconut flavor less dominant (you’ll just get a hint of coconut with this recipe). The Grade B maple syrup adds delectable caramel sweetness while espresso establishes the roasted depth with the added benefit of caffeine. Bourbon mixes in smoothly, leaving less bite than other types of whiskey.  

Dublin to Kentucky

  • 14 oz can coconut cream
  • 14 oz almond milk (use the empty coconut cream can to measure)
  • ½ cup espresso or strong brewed coffee (4 tbsp ground coffee to ½ cup water)
  • ¾ cup Kentucky Bourbon
  • ¼ cup Grade B maple syrup
  • 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 can of chilled Guinness

Allow espresso/coffee to cool, then mix with other ingredients (not including the Guinness) in a blender until texture is consistent and frothy. Transfer Irish Cream mixture to a glass container that is easy to pour from. Whatever you don't use that day can be refrigerated for a few weeks (though you'll most likely consume it before then). Pour Guinness into your glass of choice and top with 2 oz of Irish Cream (stir if you like - the texture will appear slightly "grainy" due to the different physical properties of coconut cream and Guinness). Enjoy with friends while sharing tales of yore from the Emerald Isle. Sláinte!


Blood Orange Pimm's Cup

One of the greatest things about mixology is getting to try spirits from around the world and to learn about how they spread from their origin to new destinations. For example, let's take Pimm's - a low proof British gin-based liqueur with spice and fruit flavors originally created almost 200 years ago.  The traditional way of enjoying Pimm's No. 1 is to mix it with a variety of fresh fruit and top with ginger ale or lemonade. It's dangerously drinkable, refreshing and perfect for warm summer nights (this particular version is also perfect for frigid winter nights). These qualities made it a worthy candidate of being adopted as a staple cocktail of New Orleans in the 1940s, though it's now also enjoyed all around the world. Thank you, globalization.

Where am I going with this? One, booze history is always fascinating. Two, I was throwing a New Orleans themed potluck for Will's birthday and was looking for the perfect cocktail -> enter the Pimm's Cup. I knew I wanted to use winter fruit to adapt it to the season and chose to add basil rather than mint for a more interesting flavor combination. I decided not to follow the typical method of putting fruit in a glass and topping with Pimm's and ginger ale because I wanted fuller fruit flavors and less sugar (three cheers for guilt-free cocktails, relatively speaking). Instead, I muddled strawberries and basil (meaning, I squished them into pulp with a muddler to release more goodness), added fresh squeezed blood orange juice and garnished the drink with a slice of fresh blood orange to play with the sense of smell. The result was ridiculously delicious and I encourage you to try it while blood oranges are in season!

Blood Orange Pimm's Cup

  • 3 oz Pimm's No. 1
  • 2 strawberries
  • 1 small blood orange
  • Handful of fresh basil
  • Club soda, to top

Muddle strawberries and basil in a tall glass (set aside one basil leaf for garnish). Add 3-4 ice cubes to the glass then top with the Pimm's. Cut a slice out of the middle of the blood orange and set aside for garnish. Juice the remainder of the blood orange into the glass. Stir the cocktail gently until it starts to cool, then top with a bit of club soda for fizz. Cut a small indent into the blood orange slice to hang it on the rim of the glass and lower the remaining basil leaf into the front-facing side of the glass using your stirrer (or chop stick). Turn on some blues, munch on jambalaya and sip away to your heart's content!

Getting Cozy with Alcoholic Hot Chocolate

Living in Chicago, I have an appreciation for seasons or, in other words, I'm really good at rationalizing the 6 months of cold weather I face each year. Winter may hurt your face, make you a couch potato and limit your fashion options to looking like a gender-abstract marshmallow, but it's also the best time for getting cozy at home with friends and family. The recipe for the perfect cozy evening (or really any time of day) is easy: invite everyone to your home so you don't have to venture outside, light a fire and make alcoholic hot chocolate!


You could, of course, grab some generic hot chocolate packets with slightly stale marshmallows at the grocery store, but that would result in very underwhelming and overly sweet hot chocolate. The secret to the cup of alcoholic hot chocolate is starting with unsweetened cocoa powder. Since you'll be adding a very sweet liqueur and possibly topping with whipped cream, starting with unsweetened cocoa allows you to get the wonderful chocolatey depth without the syrupy sugar high and simply gives you more control over the final product.

I also recommend experimenting with your milk options. Personally, I love using almond milk because it has the creamy consistency I'm looking for without the heaviness. The slight nutty flavor gets thoroughly masked by the chocolate and liqueur you layer with it. I may still add homemade whipped cream on top for an extra treat but starting with almond milk keeps the whole drink from getting too heavy. Though I haven't tried this myself, coconut or cashew milk would likely make great options as well.

Next, let's talk about consistency. Froth is your friend because it makes your alcoholic hot chocolate all the more magical and the process for making froth has the desired consequence of making sure all your cocoa powder is dissolved (because no one likes questionable lumps in their drink). The quickest way I've found to make this happen is to use a blender - either immersion or regular. Assuming you start with hot milk, it breaks up the added cocoa powder and adds air into the liquid to give a hint of froth. Trust me, the heavenly consistency is worth the blender clean-up.

Finally, let's talk liqueurs. This component gives you the most freedom to experiment with the flavor profile of your drink because liqueurs have such a concentrated taste and can take you in a ton of different directions. Some of the ones I've enjoyed using include Bailey's (or any decent knock-off), Kahlua, local Minnesota maple walnut cream and Crater Lake (an all sorts of amazing hazelnut espresso vodka, available locally at Binny's!) You could also add a fruity twist by using a raspberry liqueur or a flavorful triple sec.

With the details discussed, let's get down to business! My process, per cup of alcoholic hot chocolate, is as follows:

  1. Fill your serving mug 3/4 of the way full of your desired milk type and microwave until hot (I generally do a minute per mug). I've found this to be the easiest way to measure out how much milk I need since the mug size I use always varies. Note that you don't want your milk to be boiling as that would defeat the purpose of alcoholic hot chocolate.
  2. Empty the hot milk from your mug(s) into a blender. Add 1 tbsp of unsweetened cocoa powder per mug of milk. Blend until you see a froth start to form then add 1 oz of liqueur per mug and blend a bit more just to mix it in. 
  3. Divide the hot chocolate mixture evenly between mugs.
  4. If you'd like to add whipped cream, I suggest using an electric mixer, heavy whipping cream and powdered sugar to make your own. Again, this gives you more control over the sugar content. I generally use 1 tbsp of powdered sugar per 1/4 cup of heavy whipping cream but you should find your desired ratio depending on your sweet tooth (this makes enough for several cups of hot chocolate). The process is very easy - add whipping cream and powdered sugar to bowl, then mix until it thickens to the point of retaining its shape (I've found the whisk mixer attachment to work well for this). Use a spoon or a frosting tool to top your hot chocolate with whipped cream.
  5. Finally, add some sort of sprinkle topping to make your guests (or yourself) feel extra special. I love Trader Joe's cocoa/coffee bean/sugar grinder and cinnamon sugar grinder for this purpose (they're also super cheap and last forever)!
  6. Savor your creation in front of the fire!