Tea Time

Ever since I can remember, I've had a strong love for tea. Fresh, energizing green teas tend to be my favorites, but I've truly enjoyed most varieties I've tried and always look forward to expanding my tea knowledge. Without doubt, I have my father to thank for this appreciation. He's been teaching me about tea since my youth and continues to share new ones that he's discovered. Perhaps you can say that each of our food and beverage loves is a mix of genuine flavor perception and nostalgic or emotional value.

Given my feelings toward tea, I take hot toddies very seriously. The traditional hot toddy is a cocktail made with tea or warm water, liquor, lemon, honey, and optional spices. In my opinion, if all you can get at a bar is a Lipton tea bag with a packet of sugar, a piece of lemon, and a hearty pour of rail whiskey, perhaps grab a beer instead. Hot toddies are a drink to be treasured and appreciated because they allow so much room for experimentation. You can dream up countless combinations by swapping teas and playing with herbal and spirit components. Even the variety of honey you choose plays a pivotal role in the flavor profile of the finished cocktail.

I wanted to take the hot toddy inspiration to a more imaginative level with an unexpected tea, surprising botanicals, a quality spirit, and the use of my favorite type of honey. If all of these ingredients seem daunting, feel free to play around while sticking with the basic rations. Consider starting with a tea and honey you have in your pantry, then work your way to acquiring these specific ingredients if you're hooked on the hot toddy concept. 

I started with a base of hot osmathus oolong tea and added Copper and Kings American Craft Brandy, buckwheat honey, fresh lemon and 11th Orchard Birch Bark Bitters. The tea has a buttery sweetness with floral and fruity notes from the osmanthus. It's wonderful enjoyed on its own and really makes this drink shine by creating a smooth and complex foundation. I took special care selecting a smooth spirit to add to the cocktail as serving a drink warm can amp up the bite of sharper varieties. Copper and Kings American Craft Brandy gave me exactly what I wanted - oak-aged smoothness with a hint of fruity spice.

If you've never tried buckwheat honey, I highly recommend you get your hands on it. It's on the dark end of the honey spectrum, almost like a molasses, with a distinctive scent and a rich, nutty, slightly bitter flavor. It's not for everyone but it'll be a game changer in your drinks if you enjoy the taste. I grab mine at a local honey farm in Southern Wisconsin which offers the added bonus of helping with seasonal allergies (eating local honey can help with pollen sensitivity). The honey added smoothness and aroma to this cocktail, blending beautifully with the oolong and brandy.

I finished off the drink with some fresh lemon for balance and a dropper of birch bark bitters for brightness. The bitters are from a new Chicago-based company called 11th Orchard who specialize in locally foraged ingredients that are indigenous to the area. All of their products are fantastic but the birch bark variety really surprised me with its minty sweetness. You won't be able to find these bitters in stores outside of Chicago, but they're available for purchase online. 

The resulting cocktail is warming, unbelievable smooth and uplifting with its rich bouquet of fruity, nutty and floral aromatics. If you have a tea set at home, it'll make the presentation even more lovely and special for your guests. 

Tea Time

  • 5 oz freshly brewed osmanthus oolong tea
  • 1 oz aged brandy
  • 1 tsp buckwheat honey
  • 0.25 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 15 drops (roughly 1 dropper) birch bark bitters

To make cocktail, brew and strain tea and allow to cool to drinking temperature. Stir in buckwheat honey until dissolved, then add brandy, lemon juice and bitters. Serve in a tea cup and garnish with a fresh or dehydrated lemon slice. Enjoy while savoring the last few weeks of winter and calming your eager anticipation for springtime. 

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

 

Faraway Plains

After first setting eyes on a Smoking Gun at Apogee Lounge, one of the most imaginative bars in Chicago, I knew I'd eventually need to add one to my arsenal of mixology toys. Quite conveniently, the maker Breville reached out and offered to provide me with one in exchange for participating in a virtual holiday "mix-off" along with 9 other influential bartenders and mixologists. Getting the opportunity to play with a new medium made me want to take my cocktail creation in a completely different direction from anything I'd done before.

I selected Japanese whiskey and sherry to form the backbone of my cocktail. Both are ingredients that are praised in modern cocktails yet I had only tried them when going out for drinks. I quickly found that Japanese whiskeys come in quite a range of prices and flavor notes but Kikori Whiskey seemed like a particularly intriguing option to mix with. Made entirely from rice and aged in sherry casks, Kikori feels like a mash-up of the best attributes of saké and more traditional whiskey. It's a wonderfully unique addition to the world of whiskey and features a floral aroma with a caramel smooth finish. 

I also learned that sherries come in many varieties, each of which boast a unique flavor profile. Sherry is defined as Spanish fortified wine crafted in the region surrounding the city of Jerez de la Frontera (the word "sherry" stems from "Jerez"). Within that category, the wines vary from very dry to sweetened and have undergone different degrees of aging and oxidization. I chose the Manzanilla variety which falls on the drier end of the spectrum and was named with the Spanish word for chamomile tea due to flavor similarities. 

I played up the floral notes in the whiskey and manzanilla sherry with fragrant fresh-squeezed Meyer lemon juice and a wildflower honey syrup. The honey syrup balanced the dryness of the sherry, and the Meyer lemon juice tied the other ingredients together with a touch of pleasant acidity. 

The coolest thing about using the Smoking Gun in creating a cocktail is that you can fill it with a number of different wood chips, dried herbs or dehydrated fruit. This allows you to enhance the drink's flavors by engaging the sense of smell and truly takes the cocktail to the next level. I used applewood chips and dried chamomile flowers to smoke this drink. The applewood chips created a sweeter, fruity smoke and were a perfect match for the floral sweetness of chamomile. As a sidenote, I highly recommend getting dried chamomile flowers in bulk instead of buying it in teabag form - it's cheaper, more flavorful and lovely for garnishing!

The resulting cocktail is a bouquet of flavors unlike any I've enjoyed before - it starts out with a bit of floral dryness, transitions to the creamy smoothness of the honey and whiskey and finishes with a touch of sweet smoke.

Faraway Plains

  • 2 oz Kikori Japanese Rice Whiskey
  • 0.5 oz Manzanilla Sherry
  • 0.5 oz wildflower honey syrup*
  • 0.25 oz fresh Meyer lemon juice
  • Dried chamomile and applewood chips, for smoke
  • Fresh chamomile flowers, for garnish

Add first four ingredients to a mixing glass over ice and stir until chilled. Cover mixing glass with a julep strainer so only the spout is exposed. Insert the tube of the smoke gun through the mixing glass spout. Place a light covering of applewood chips and dried chamomile in the burn chamber of the smoke gun, ignite, and use the higher fan setting to fill the mixing glass with smoke. Once filled, remove the smoke gun tube from the mixing glass, change the orientation of the julep strainer so the handle covers the spout and allow for the cocktail to infuse with smoke for several minutes. Give the mixing glass a swirl and strain the contents into a Japanese tea cup or punch glass. Garnish with fresh chamomile flowers. 

* To make wildflower honey syrup, add 1:1 parts wildflower honey and almost boiling water to a leak-proof glass jar and shake until honey is dissolved. Open jar to allow syrup to cool and store excess in the fridge for up to 1 month. 

Thanks to Belen Aquino for the stunning cocktail photography and Breville for the Smoking Gun.

The Swaying Stalk

If you've been following my blog for some time, you've probably noticed that I enjoy using infusions in my cocktails. They're quite easy to prepare if you understand the proper length of infusion time for various ingredients. Simply add fruit, herbs, tea or spices to liquor, wait while it infuses, and then strain out all of the solids to stop the process. Infusions are an excellent way to add complexity to a drink because they have no added sugars and don't water down the overall cocktail. I've done infusions for both flavor and color with great results.

DSC_0342landscape.jpg

I was recently approached by the company Teroforma to test 1pt, their newest product line of artisanal spirit infusion blends. This blog is a space for me to share my findings on brands whose ingredients and value propositions I support, and 1pt met and exceeded my criteria. I've typically done infusions with one or maybe two ingredients at a time and then added additional flavors in the cocktail mixing process. In contrast, all of of 1pt's seven blends feature at least four thoughtfully layered herbs, spices and teas, meaning you don't need to add much to the infused spirit to make a fantastic cocktail. I chose to play with their Citrus Blend, a mix of lemongrass, ginger, lemon verbana, Yerba Mate, and marigold petals

DSC_0356landscape.jpg
DSC_0363landscape.jpg

Given the freshness and citrus character of the infusion ingredients, I chose to use a London Dry Gin for the spirit. London Dry Gin's aren't necessarily made in London nowadays but tend to be more juniper-forward, higher proof, and with a citrus component. Beefeater is particularly great for infusions as it's very reasonably priced, fairly straightforward in taste profile and therefore quite versatile. 

DSC_0391landscape.jpg

I wanted to use honey to completely smooth the bite of the gin and thus draw the focus entirely to the brightness of the infusion. Instead of using a plain honey syrup, I paired blackberries with wildflower honey for a pop of color and a delightfully tart fall flavor that I slightly accentuated with a bit of lemon. I then topped the drink with club soda to give it the refreshing feel of a gin and tonic.

DSC_0395landscape.jpg

For garnish, I added a fresh stalk of lemongrass and a dehydrated citrus peel. If you'd like to learn how to make dehydrated citrus peel in your oven, check out this earlier post. The resulting cocktail was fresh, herbaceous, bright and complex.

DSC_0397landscape.jpg

The Swaying Stalk 

  • 2 oz 1pt Citrus-infused London Dry Gin*
  • 0.75 oz honey blackberry syrup**
  • 0.25 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 oz club soda
  • Lemongrass stalk and/or dehydrated lemon slice, for garnish

Stir all ingredients other than garnish with ice, then strain into a stemmed glass and top with crushed ice. Garnish with lemongrass and dehydrated lemon and enjoy while taking a deep breath of cool air after a rainstorm.

*Infuse gin with 1pt Citrus Blend for 5 hours.

**To make syrup, bring 1 cup water and 1/2 cup blackberries to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Muddle the blackberries and then add 1/4 cup wildflower honey, stirring just until it dissolves. Allow to cool and store excess in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.

If you'd like to try 1pt for yourself, use the code valcohol10 for 10% off orders over $20.

 

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.

 

 

Philosopher's Path

In spring of 2011, I finally realized one of my dreams – visiting Japan. My curiosity with Japanese culture was spiked by the book Shōgun and Miyazaki movies (extra Valcohol points if you’ve seen Totoro). I went on to take an elective Japanese history course at college and one of the themes that stood out to me most was celebrating the beauty of the fleeting moment. So many aspects of the culture center on this concept and teach the indispensable patience it takes to appreciate that beauty.

I was lucky to have a friend teaching English in Fukuoka so I started my voyage there and then continued on to Kyoto and Osaka. One of the most ephemeral yet timeless spots on our journey was the blooming Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto. Walking along the cobbled pathways by the side of a babbling canal and surrounded by flowering trees and ancient temples, I truly lost myself to the breathtaking beauty of the moment. While the cultural site has so much history behind it, the state of the path is always changing as nature works it course. 

I wanted this cocktail to evoke the transience of nature and the richness of Japanese culture, so I chose to craft it with matcha tea and a likeness to cherry blossoms. Matcha tea is a powdered form of green tea leaves traditionally used for the Japanese tea ceremony. Similar to other Japanese green teas, matcha is bold, grassy and vibrant in flavor. Because the leaves are actually consumed in the powdered form, matcha is especially high in antioxidant and vitamin content. Matcha can range considerably in price depending on its intended use. I recommend selecting a less expensive, culinary grade variety for a cocktail application. 

Natural cherry blossom flavoring is surprisingly difficult to find outside of Japan, so I had to get creative with my substitutions. I knew I needed a floral element, a hint of cherry and a sweet aroma. The combination of rose water and Bittercube's Cherry Bark Vanilla Bitters was the perfect solution. Note that there's no need to overpay for rose water since it's a common component of Middle Eastern cooking and therefore available in much more cost effective form than what you would find at a gourmet grocery store. 

To emphasize the grassy and floral notes of the cocktail, I used a base of Death's Door Gin. Simple and always delivering in quality, Death's Door has been one of my favorite gins since I first started exploring the spirit. Of course, I especially love that it hails from Wisconsin. 

I finished the cocktail with egg white and fresh lemon to smooth the boldness of the matcha and the strength of the floral flavor. Lemon balanced the sweetness of the matcha syrup and gave the drink a pleasant, lingering tartness. The resulting cocktail is truly one of my personal favorites with its lovely marriage of grassy tea, bright botanicals, aromatic blooms and creamy finish. 

The Philosopher's Path

  • 1.5 oz Death's Door Gin
  • 0.75 oz matcha syrup*
  • 1 barspoon rose water
  • 6 drops Cherry Bark Vanilla Bitters
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 egg white

Dry shake all ingredients (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 coupe glass and garnish with a fresh blossom. Enjoy while losing yourself in the transient beauty of spring.

* To make matcha syrup, heat 1 cup water and 1/2 cup sugar in a small saucepan until sugar dissolves. Add 1/2 tbsp matcha powder and whisk until dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Excess can be stored in the fridge for several weeks but should be shaken before use as some settling may occur. Try adding the leftover syrup to some almond milk for a matcha latte or using it in baking if you're feeling adventurous!

Thanks to Belen Aquino for the stunning cocktail photography and to Gather Vintage Tablescapes for the tray, spoon and lovely vintage coupes.

 

 

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

 

Chai Fig Sour

I love tea, deeply and truly. That love has been ingrained in me since childhood by my family as tea is a staple in Ukrainian culture. Hosting and tea are practically synonymous (with plenty of snacks and sweets covering the table, of course). Growing up, I explored grassy Japanese greens, floral Chinese oolongs, invigorating British blacks and spicy Indian chais. I've spent countless hours connecting with friends in cozy tea rooms around the world, curling up with a comforting cup to brave the Midwestern winters and cooling off with iced tea on a sunny day.

You get the point - I think tea is kind of a BIG deal.

Of course this means that tea serves a crucial role in my mixology toolbox. Tea can add so much depth and complexity without loading up your drink with sugar or watering it down. Thus far, I've used it to both infuse liquors and mix with in cold brew form - I've never been disappointed with either approach. This particular cocktail incorporates my favorite tea for fall: chai. I stumbled upon a particularly attractive container of black mission figs at the store and chai came to mind as the perfect spiced flavor pairing. 

I chose make the figs into a syrup rather than muddling them to extract the most flavor possible. Muddling is ideal for herbs or fruit that holds a lot of juice but not quite as effective for fleshier fruit like figs. As with any fruit syrup, figs simply need to be boiled with water and sugar until they start to fall apart (roughly 30 minutes). The mixture should then be strained through a fine mesh strainer (a spoon can be used to press the liquid through).

I rounded off the fig and spice flavors with an exciting small batch bourbon I hadn't previously tried and some lemon to keep the drink on the sour side. The outcome was hands down the best whiskey sour I've ever tried - all of the flavors mingled together fabulously and really helped each other shine. One key thing to note is that this is an excellent drink to make in bulk because only the syrup is labor intensive. I would highly recommend scaling it up for your fall entertaining needs!

Chai Fig Sour

  • 2 oz bourbon
  • 2 oz cold brew chai tea (I used Tazo)
  • 1 oz fig syrup (1 quart black mission figs : 2 cups water : 1/2 cup brown sugar)*
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a rocks glass over a large ice cube. Alternatively, if making in bulk, stir in a pitcher with ice until chilled, then pour into rocks glasses. Garnish with fresh fig slices and enjoy while wrapped in your favorite fall sweater.

*To create syrup, heat all ingredients to a boil in a small saucepan and simmer for 30 minutes, or until figs start to disintegrate at the touch of a spoon. Strain through a fine mesh strainer 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 lovely tray, glasses and pitcher.

 

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.

Shanghai Tea

The sun is out and I’m basking in the blissful freedom of being done with an actuarial exam! The hope is that this will be my last (after over 8 years of taking exams) but there may be another sitting in my future depending on how this one went. Regardless, no studying means more time for developing new cocktails and sharing my adventures with you!

I’ve been so excited to share this latest development. After travelling to China, I fell in love with milk tea and often find myself having cravings for it. We explored 4 different cities on our trip (Beijing, Nanjing, Hangzhou and Shanghai) and sought out milk tea in each one. Major noms. Authentic milk tea can be difficult to find in the US without making the trek out to Chinatown. If you’ve never had it, I really can’t recommend it enough. Imagine a cold, refreshing black tea-based latte with honey sweetness. You can usually get it in bubble tea form with tapioca pearls but it’s fantastic without them as well.

Since the trip, I’ve been testing out creating the perfect milk tea at home. I’ve found that it’s tricky to get the black tea strong enough to maintain flavor when being mixed with milk but not bitter from over-brewing. Then I had a very exciting moment of clarity – what if I used tea-infused liquor and made milk tea in cocktail form?

Best. Choice. Ever.

Tea-infused liquor is a lot less daunting than it sounds. Alcohol tends to pull flavor out of anything you add to it – fresh fruit, herbs or in this case, tea. All you need to do is add a few tea bags to a bottle and let it sit for about 20-40 minutes, monitoring the color of the liquor throughout the process (and having a few tastes along the way). When the liquor is infused to your liking, simply remove the tea bags and you’re done! You may need to use more or less time depending on the tea (black and green tea could cause bitterness if kept in too long whereas herbal tea is safe to leave in for longer).

You also don’t need to use a bottle from your fancy stash if you’re doing an infusion as most of the taste profile will be covered by the tea. The $10 bottle of London Dry Gin I picked up at Trader Joe’s did the trick without breaking the bank. I chose to use Earl Grey tea over regular black tea as I prefer the floral flavor of bergamot. As a side note, Earl Grey-infused tea is one of the most amazing cocktail ingredients I’ve worked with to date.

I chose almond milk over regular milk because I prefer the lightness and slight nutty flavor. Also, dairy-free is the way to be when you're dealing with spring allergies. For the honey component, I recommend making a simple syrup to make the honey easier to mix in. All you need to do is heat 1:1 ratios of honey and water in a small saucepan on medium heat, stirring until the honey dissolves. The syrup can conveniently be stored in the fridge for future cocktail endeavors.

Shanghai Tea

Place all ingredients, along with ice, in a shaker and shake vigorously until chilled and slightly foamy. Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with a sweet Chinese treat. Enjoy while giving in to the urge to plan another international vacation.