Sunlit Reverie

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

Photo by Azuree Wiitala

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunlit Reverie

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

 

 

 

Strawberry Season

I have a confession.

I don't like tequila. While it has grown on me tremendously since college, you won't find me sipping any on the rocks or volunteering to consume it in shot form. Maybe being Eastern European gives me a poor tequila tolerance to offset my excellent vodka tolerance?

That being said, a lot of other people find tequila enjoyable so I can't leave it out of my cocktail repertoire. It's good to stick with the ingredients you know you love but challenging yourself to move beyond your comfort zone can have surprisingly good consequences. This cocktail is one of those good consequences.

In the past, I've started with a traditional margarita recipe and tried adding egg whites. Why? I thought the foam created by egg whites could smooth out some of the bite of the tequila flavor and bring it down to a level I could find agreeable. The egg whites accomplished exactly what I was hoping for and so much more. 

I particularly enjoy this margarita variation when paired with another fruit flavor. Since strawberries are currently wonderfully ripe and abundant, they served as my fruit of choice. As an extra step, I spent a few hours infusing my tequila with a few bags of wild strawberry tea (steps: put tea bags into tequila -> taste until desired flavor is achieved -> take tea bags out of tequila). The bottle I had on hand was a cheap one but excellent for mixing, especially when given some extra flavor with an infusion. You can snag it for under $10 at Trader Joe's!

One final word of advice - having tested multiple ways of preparing strawberry cocktails, I highly recommend either boiling them to create a syrup or blending them if you prefer to have the fresh fruit. You simply can't get as much goodness out of them if you muddle and then strain. 

Strawberry Season

  • 1.5 oz strawberry tea infused tequila
  • 2-3 blended strawberries
  • 0.5 oz orange liqueur (I swear by this one)
  • 1 small lime
  • 1 egg white

Cut a slice out of the center of the lime and set aside for garnish. Juice the rest of the lime into a shaker and add all other ingredients. Shake without ice for 10-15 seconds, making sure to periodically release the pressure from the top of the shaker (pressure will build as the egg white starts to foam). Add ice and shake until chilled, then strain into a stemmed glass and garnish with a lime wheel. Enjoy outdoors with good company.

Photography by Belen Aquino, glassware by Gather Vintage Tablescapes