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!

Festive Pines Punch

The thing I love most about my craft is the opportunity to share it with those I love. However, I try to strike a balance between being a good hostess, creating imaginative cocktails and actually enjoying the company of my loved ones. The best way I've found to accomplish all of those things is to create cocktails in punch form. You can make a punch fit any style of party by adjusting the presentation. This particular creation is meant for a festive holiday gathering.

Before we get to the drink itself, let's talk ice. Typical cloudy ice cubes just aren't the most attractive thing to look at and tend to melt fairly quickly due to the air bubbles they contain. You can always cover them up with punch garnishes such as flowers and citrus fruit but there's another, fairly effortless alternative: use a silicon bundt cake pan to make a decorative ring of ice. I picked this one up on Amazon for under $12 and was so impressed with the result. It didn't take too long to freeze (I made mine overnight), looked lovely, and melted slowly. You can fill yours with herbs and fruit if you wish, but I found that doing so discolored the ice and therefore added my garnish separately.

I had picked up a bottle of Far North Solveig Gin while travelling to Duluth, Minnesota and wanted to incorporate it into a festive cocktail that did the beautiful bottle justice. Aside from the eye-catching branding, the gin is really well done. It's made with winter rye grain and features citrus, pine, lavender, thyme and coriander flavors. While I always appreciate a straightforward gin, I get so excited to see distilleries playing with different grains and unique botanicals. 

The typical ingredient used for festive holiday color is the cranberry, but I wanted to explore an alternative and settled on concord grapes for both their high pigmentation and rich flavor. You may liken concord grapes to typical "grape" flavor but the fresh fruit is so much brighter and sweeter. I bought them at the height of their freshness and chose to preserve them in syrup form. I added rosemary to the syrup for a savory aromatic note and to complement the botanicals of the gin.

To finish off the cocktail, I added fragrant Meyer lemon juice and Cava, a Spanish variety of sparkling wine. I prefer to use lower cost sparkling wines when I'm adding them to cocktails instead of enjoying them on their own. The Cava category tends to offer a good selection of low cost options with a nice citrus flavor that doesn't steal the show. The resulting punch is wonderfully festive, fragrant and sweet-tart. While it features gin as the main spirit it's got enough other flavors in tow to appeal even to gin skeptics. 

Festive Pines Punch 

Ratios for 1 serving (scale up as needed):

  • 1 oz gin
  • 2 oz Cava sparkling wine
  • 0.5 oz concord grape rosemary syrup*
  • 0.25 oz Meyer lemon
  • Fresh rosemary, for garnish

Chill ingredients prior to serving. Scale up the recipe as needed and combine all ingredients other than garnish in a punch bowl over a ring of ice. Stir to chill and combine and then garnish with fresh rosemary. Enjoy with holiday cookies and good cheer.

* To make syrup, combine 1 lb grapes, 3 cups water and 1 cup sugar in a medium pot. Simmer for 15 minutes, then add 3 sprigs of rosemary. Simmer for 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally, 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 and to Gather Vintage Tablescapes for the punch bowl, cups and tray. 

 

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.

Madame Mirabelle

A surefire way to make a cocktail more exciting is to use an ingredient that, in it's raw form, is banned from being imported into the US. To clarify, this particular ingredient is not banned due to being dangerous or lacking in quality but because its a "protected-origin fruit." Intriguing. This means that the smaller, golden and flavorful Mirabelle plums can be found primarily in the Lorraine region of France. Clearly, this means that I need to pack my bags and go back to France, one of my all-time favorite travel destinations.

Assuming you don't have the means to set off to France on a whim, you're still in luck. You can find Mirabelle plums imported in processed form - such as syrups and jams. I stumbled upon one such syrup at my go-to grocery store for adventurous cocktail ingredients. Hidden away in the Chicago suburbs and masquerading as your typical discount store, this particular Shop&Save carries a multitude of goods from around the world, particularly from Eastern Europe. The products are both cheaper and purer than their American counterparts as European producers tend to use more natural ingredients. High quality fruit purees, syrups and teas are just a few of my Shop&Save cocktail treasures.

Ever since I picked up a Polish rhubarb and Mirabelle plum syrup (for under $5), I've been looking for the perfect cocktail combination to let it shine through. That perfect combination came to me this week when hosting friends who were all in the mood for whiskey sours: rhubarb, Mirabelle plum, Meyer lemons, bourbon and aromatic bitters. Yes, it was as amazing as it sounds. I loved this drink so much that I made it two nights in a row and the only thing stopping me tonight is that I ran out of Meyer lemons. This concoction is boozy and tart yet wonderfully smooth, lightly herbal from the Meyer lemons and with a touch of sweetness from the plum.

As with a fine wine, every sip uncovers a new flavor.

If you're as excited as I am about this cocktail, drop everything and find your nearest Polish/Eastern European grocery store to see if they have this syrup in stock. Believe me, you won't regret it. I'd also encourage you to use a larger ice cube, either cubic or spherical, as it will melt slower, thereby preserving the drink's flavor intensity. I've been quite satisfied with my recent large cube ice tray purchase - check it out here if you're interested. 

Madame Mirabelle

  • 2 oz bourbon (I used Basil Hayden's)
  • 1 Meyer lemon
  • 1 tbsp rhubarb Mirabelle plum syrup
  • Dash of aromatic bitters
  • 1 large ice cube

Cut a slice of Meyer lemon from the center and set aside for garnish. Juice the rest of the lemon into a cocktail shaker and add a few regular ice cubes, bourbon, syrup and bitters. Shake until frosted, then strain into a rocks glass over a large ice cube. Cut a notch in the Meyer lemon slice and place on the glass rim for garnish (and refreshing lemon scent to lift your spirits). Enjoy while discussing plans for your next travel adventure.

 

 

Wingding Juniper, Inspired by Holiday Cheer

Flavor profile: tart, herbal, refreshing

Holiday cheer before Thanksgiving confuses me. However, after a wonderful dinner celebration with friends and family, cold weather setting in and December just around the corner, I embrace it 110% - the aroma of fresh cut frasier firs, holiday lights twinkling in the windows, Celtic Christmas tunes and, of course, holiday-themed booze.

Today's cocktail is brought to you by me switching to full-on holiday mode and Will's father mis-hearing another cocktail I had mentioned (whiskey ginger) as "Wingding Juniper." An excellent name if I ever heard one.

There is no liquor that makes me more nostalgic for the holidays than, you guessed it, gin. It is commonly accepted knowledge that gin tastes like Christmas, especially when paired with cranberry flavor. I chose to add egg white to mellow out the tartness and it worked perfectly. We were also lucky to get to try all sorts of fancy new gins thanks to our engagement bottle shower - Nolet's is delicious! So here's a little gin-filled taste of Christmas for you all to enjoy:

The Wingding Juniper

  • 2 oz gin
  • 4 oz cranberry juice (I recommend spending a bit more to get the more flavorful 100% cranberry juice)
  • 1/2 oz lemon juice
  • 1 pasteurized egg white
  • 2 tbsp ginger liqueur (Domaine de Canton is the best choice)
  • Several drops of orange bitters

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously without ice to start forming foam. After 30 or so seconds, add ice and shake until the shaker frosts over (it's nice to use a kitchen towel to hold the shaker so your hands don't freeze). Strain into a stemmed glass and serve up while decorating your tree and listening to holiday tunes!