Cocktails For Your Christmas Party

11 December 2013
Eggnog topped with cinnamon

Santa’s Helper

Festive Christmas parties provide a delightful excuse to serve a special cocktail or two, and goodness knows I love a special cocktail or two (or three or four). Over the years of writing this blog, I’ve come up with a number of cocktails ideal for holiday parties, but I’ve never assembled them in one place.

Here are the recipes of some of my very favorite drinks for the holidays, an array of concoctions using everything from gin and bourbon to mirto and arrack. I developed each of these recipes myself, working hands-on with the ingredients in my mixology laboratory, laboriously testing and tasting. I hope you find the results of my efforts as delicious as I did.



–4 parts Bourbon, pre-chilled

–1 part Triple Sec, pre-chilled (Stirrings makes an “all natural” version of this orange-flavored liqueur)

–1 part Ginger Liqueur, pre-chilled (a number are on the market, but Stirrings’ is less expensive than most others)

–9 parts Eggnog (1.5 times as much eggnog as alcohol. Use organic eggnog if possible, made from real eggs and cream.)

Pour all the ingredients, ending with the eggnog, in your glass or a pitcher. Stir to combine, and serve in a lowball or rocks glass. Do not use ice at any point in the process (if you’re making a pitcher and wish to keep it chilled, invest in non-melting ice cubes). The eggnog, orange, ginger and bourbon all have their moment on your palate, making for a delicious and surprisingly complex journey.

It’s traditional to top your eggnog with some freshly grated nutmeg, but that’s a pain, and there’s already plenty of nutmeg in most store-bought eggnogs. I prefer a little cinnamon powder on top of my nog. If you want to get fancy, top your eggnog with a touch of cinnamon and a sprinkle of ginger powder. Even fancier, top with a bit of ginger powder and garnish with a whole cinnamon stick.





Like a gin and tonic, the Czech Beton (Becherovka and tonic) features aromatic herbal and floral notes as well as a touch of bracing bitterness. But the Beton goes further, with strong flavors of clove, pine and even some cinnamon. A gin and tonic is unquestionably a summer cocktail, but a Beton is Christmas in a glass.

1 part Becherovka (a wonderful herbaceous and bitter spirit produced in the Czech spa town of Karlovy Vary)

1-1.5 parts Tonic

Gently mix the above in a highball glass with a large cube of ice or two. If you’re feeling fancy, garnish with a lime slice or a sprig of rosemary. If the ratio above proves too boozy for you, you can adjust it to your taste, of course.

I usually purchase my tonic at Whole Foods, which sells a corn syrup-free version in inexpensive six packs. But for this cocktail, I stopped at In Fine Spirits to pick up some “craft” tonics. After all, a cocktail this simple calls for quality ingredients.

Both Fever Tree and Fentimans are wildly expensive, but you can eke two cocktails out of the Fever Tree and three out of  the Fentimans. Mixed with the Becherovka, the Fever Tree version hit me with a lusty blast of clove,  juniper and cinnamon. It was a Christmas party in my mouth. The Fentimans Beton still felt very Christmasy, but it tasted somehow rounder and deeper — more like an intimate gift exchange by the fireplace.

Either tonic makes a beautiful Beton, but if you prefer Canada Dry or Schweppes, go for it. You’ll have a uniquely delicious cocktail in any case.



–2 parts White Lion VSOA (A Sri Lankan arrack distilled from coconut flower nectar, White Lion has appealingly fragrant aromas of bright vanilla cake and caramel, like a sweet cognac. It starts sweet and smooth on the palate, before blossoming into white-peppercorn spice and an aromatic finish of something savory and herbaceous.)

–1 part Orange Liqueur (I used Stirrings Triple Sec, but Cointreau or Gran Marnier would also be lovely)

–1 part Freshly-Squeezed Lemon Juice (do not use bottled juice or, heaven forbid, sour mix)

Juice your lemon, and use the amount of juice you get as the measure of one part. A standard lemon will make one large Sidecar or two small ones. Combine all the ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake vigorously, and strain into a martini glass. It’s traditional to rim the glass with sugar, but I can’t be bothered with that sort of thing. The cocktail had a luscious aroma of orange and caramel, and its darkly sweet flavors were balanced perfectly by the bright citrus. It’s a smashing drink.





2 parts Gin (I used Death’s Door)

1 part Mirto (A Sardinian myrtle-berry liqueur. It tastes of ripe cherries and something herbal, like eucalyptus perhaps, with cinnamon on the finish. You can order it online here, or check with a well-stocked liquor store.)

1/2 part Fresh-Squeezed Lemon Juice

Combine the above in a shaker filled with ice, agitate, and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon, if you’re feeling extra fancy. The drink starts with bright notes from the botanicals in the gin and moves into the more grounded, darker notes of the mirto before finishing with a flash of brandied cherries and cinnamon. The lemon holds it together, providing necessary texture and enhancing the flavors.


And because some people are wise enough not to booze it up every chance they get, I also recommend having at least one quality non-alcoholic cocktail on hand. Here are two of my favorites for this time of year:



(I didn’t make this one up — this is a classic German refreshment.)

–1 part Unfiltered Apple Cider

–2 parts Club Soda (or mineral water, if you want to be really authentic)

I prefer club soda in this cocktail because the larger bubbles stand up better to the apple cider, but Germans traditionally use mineral water, because they seem to be addicted to the stuff. Whichever way you go, fill up a tumbler about 2/3 full with club soda or mineral water, and top off with the apple cider. If you want to get really fancy, you can garnish with a long cinnamon stick.


Fancy Cherry Lemon Stuff

Fancy Cherry Lemon Stuff


(Suggestions for alternative names are welcome.)

–1 can of Club Soda

–Juice of one Lemon

–1 ounce Tart Cherry Juice (100% tart cherry juice tastes like rich cherry pie in a glass, which makes some sense, since the juice comes from the same cherries used for pies. But though the juice is sweet, it is by no means cloying or syrupy. If no sugar is added to the juice, it retains its tart punch and complexity.)

–1 Orange Slice

Juice the lemon. Pour the can of club soda over a little ice in a large tumbler. Add in the lemon juice, and a full shaker cap (about one ounce) of 100% tart cherry juice (available at Whole Foods). This cocktail tastes complex and sweet, but not too sweet. The orange garnish is important in this case. It adds another layer, the aroma mixing beautifully with the flavors of the drink.


And if you’re feeling courageous, and you have a fire extinguisher within easy reach, you might consider embarking on the adventure that is Feuerzangenbowle. This flaming German punch is too complex to explain in this post — you can see my full recipe and all my safety recommendations here — but it is thoroughly delicious, wonderfully festive, and I try to serve it at least once a year. It never fails to be a hit.

Campari Reconsidered

4 December 2013
Campari & Soda

Campari & Soda

Along with the free sample of Cynar I recently received, the sales representative included a bottle of Campari, Cynar’s much more famous cousin. This bitter bright-red liqueur is famous as the key component of cocktails such as Campari and orange juice, and Campari and soda. These rather simple cocktails taste fine, but honestly they have never thrilled me.

Yet I knew Campari could be a fascinating ingredient. Alone, it has a bitter medicinal taste leavened with sweetness and a brightly herbaceous, parsley-like overtone. On the rocks, it’s an effective digestif, but I prefer it in cocktails. The Negroni, for example, combines gin, sweet vermouth and Campari to great effect. I decided a little experimentation was in order.

According to Iconic Spirits by Mark Spivak, Campari came about as a backlash against the sweet vermouths popular in northern Italy in the mid- to late 19th century. The formula remains the same today as it did at the time of its invention around 1860, when Gaspare Campari “decided to infuse sixty herbs, spices, barks, and fruit peels into a mixture of alcohol and distilled water.” That year, Campari created a sensation in Milan when he opened up Caffé Campari and began serving his concoction to customers. Spivak writes that as of 2012 (when Iconic Spirits was published), sales of Campari had grown to 27 million bottles each year.

Popular though Campari and orange juice may be, my favorite mixology buddy and I decided that it was time to come up with something a little more interesting to do with Campari. Inspired by the Negroni, we started with gin and Campari, and eventually settled on the additions of ginger liqueur and lemon. The result tasted very zippy, spicy and sweet, but with a grounding bitterness provided by the Campari. I loved the balance of this cocktail, as well as the pretty pink-orange color. I’ll call it the Milano, after the hometown of Caffé Campari:


–2 parts gin (we used Death’s Door)

–1 part Campari

–1/2 part ginger liqueur (we used Koval)

–1/4 part fresh-squeezed lemon juice (do not use bottled)

Combine all the ingredients above in a shaker with ice, shake vigorously, and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon or orange, if you’re feeling fancy.

We also used the Campari and soda cocktail as an inspiration, goosing it up to give it a little extra pizzazz. This drink, which I’ll call the Gaspare, tasted wonderfully refreshing, a little sweet and a little bitter, making it a fine aperitif for both summer and winter afternoons:


–4 parts club soda

–1/2 part fresh-squeezed lime juice (do not use bottled)

–1/4 part simple syrup (1 part sugar dissolved in 1 part water)

–1 part Campari

Pour the club soda over ice, add in the lime juice and simple syrup, and stir. Then pour in the Campari, and garnish with a twist of lime or orange. The lime juice adds tartness as well as textural interest, and the simple syrup enhances the flavors. Sugar in a cocktail often acts like salt in food, enlivening flavors and bringing the various elements together.

These drinks surely only scratch the surface of Campari’s possibilities. With bitter-tinged cocktails becoming ever more popular, and rightly so, a bottle of Campari (or other bitter like Cynar or Fernet-Branca) helps complete the well-stocked home bar.

Bitter Is Better

27 November 2013

CynarI distinctly remember the first time I tried Cynar, an artichoke-based liqueur from Italy. About 10 years ago, a friend and I were in some small-town café in Umbria, and I spotted the bottle behind the bar. Even then I was interested in trying unusual spirits, and the idea of an artichoke liqueur proved irresistible. With no idea what this thing could possibly taste like, I ordered a glass. It was not to my liking. Aghast at Cynar’s bitterness, I discreetly carried the small snifter to the men’s room and poured the remainder down the drain.

I therefore felt a little apprehensive, as you might imagine, when I recently received a free sample of Cynar to review on this blog. But what a difference a decade makes. This time, my palate was prepared.

Tasted straight and well-chilled in the refrigerator, the Cynar had a pleasantly bittersweet aroma and a very bitter, intense flavor profile leavened with a strong dose of caramelly sweetness. It doesn’t taste at all like artichokes — it’s made with 12 other herbs and plants, according to its website — and I certainly didn’t want to pour it down the drain this time. Despite Cynar’s relatively low 16.5% alcohol content, it tasted powerful, bracing and surprisingly balanced.

Although it makes a fine digestif on the rocks, Cynar can add some wonderful depth to cocktails as well. My mixology buddy and I first tried it with some rye, but that proved to be too one-note and Robitussiny. We actually liked it better with gin, the aromatic and spicy notes of which worked wonderfully with Cynar’s bitter and sweet characteristics. Add a little lemon, and you have a cocktail that’s well-balanced and aromatic, with a fascinating underlying savory note. The citrus gives the drink the proper texture and keeps it from becoming too medicinal:

CARCIOFO (that’s “artichoke” in Italian)

–2 parts gin (we used Death’s Door)

–1 part Cynar

–1/2 part fresh-squeezed lemon juice

Combine the above in a shaker with a few large ice cubes, and shake vigorously. Strain into a martini glass, and garnish with a lemon or orange twist if you’re feeling fancy. If you’re making a bigger batch, use a pitcher instead, and stir for a minute or two instead of shaking to achieve an even smoother texture. I don’t usually reach for the gin at this time of year, but this complex cocktail felt perfect for a cold autumn evening.

You could also use Cynar to make a wonderfully refreshing aperitif, an ideal way to get your Thanksgiving or Christmas party started:


–1 part Cynar (chilled)

–4 parts club soda (chilled)

–1/4 part fresh-squeezed lemon juice

Pour the soda over a large ice cube or two in a lowball glass. Top with the lemon juice and the Cynar, and garnish with a lemon or orange twist if you like. This well-balanced cocktail is relatively low-alcohol, yet it packs a serious flavor punch. And though I associate spritzes with the summer, this version has enough depth to make it appropriate for the colder days now upon us.

Happy Thanksgiving all, and Cheers!

Cool Cocktails At Taverna 750

9 November 2013
Taverna 750

Taverna 750

One problem with my closest neighborhood cocktail bar, Marty’s, is that their fishbowl-size martinis warm up well before I finish them. I don’t go to Marty’s because I never enjoy the second half of my drink (and because I once caught a bartender substituting Razzmatazz in my cocktail for the Chambord listed on the menu). Oversize cocktails just aren’t for me.

Or so I thought until my visit to Taverna 750 in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. Here they’ve devised a simple and elegant solution for keeping that last half of your martini ice-cold: storing it on ice in a little glass pitcher until you’re ready to drink it. Each cocktail comes with this sidecar, whether you order off the menu or not.

But I do recommend ordering off the cocktail menu — we tried three different cocktails over the course of our shared small-plate dinner, and each was thoroughly delicious. I started with a Blood & Sand, a concoction which dates at least as far back as Bill Boothby’s 1934 cocktail guide, World Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em, which calls for scotch, Cherry Heering and fresh-squeezed orange juice. Taverna 750 gooses up that simple recipe by mixing together Glenmorangie Single-Malt Scotch, sweet vermouth, Cherry Heering, housemade orangecello, lemon juice and simple syrup.

Blood & Sand

Blood & Sand

A waiter placed the drink in front of me, sidecar and all, and asked, “One Colonel Gaddafi?” I must have had a pained look on my face as I chuckled. “Too soon?” Well, at least it wasn’t a Syria joke. In any case, I loved the Blood & Sand. My dining companion had a taste of it, rolled his eyes with pleasure and ordered one of his own. It had a creamy bitter-orange aroma, a profile carried through on the palate: rich, sweet and bitter, undergirded by orangey acids. The sidecar kept the second half of my drink ice-cold, with no loss of integrity as I finished the first.

My dining companion’s second drink — a classic Aviation made with Nolet’s Silver Dry Gin, Crème Yvette (a violet-infused liqueur), Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, fresh lemon juice and simple syrup — was just as good, if not as deeply complex. It looked pink and tasted purple, with an appealing floral/citrusy character.

I kept things on the bitter side of the spectrum with my Toronto, another classic (if unfamous) cocktail mixing whiskey, Fernet Branca (a very bitter amaro) and simple syrup. As with the Blood & Sand, Taverna 750 took this recipe up a notch by combining Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey, Fernet Branca, maple syrup and orange bitters. It smelled pleasantly green and bitter, and it presented a startling flavor profile of bitterness, then mint, and finally rich caramel. This Toronto packed a seriously boozey punch, but it felt remarkably smooth on the tongue. An excellent digestif.

We should have been finished at that point, but our personable waiter Chris asked if we would be interested in a complimentary shot of one of Taverna 750’s housemade ‘cellos. The most common of the ‘cellos is limoncello, made by steeping lemon zest in vodka and mixing in some sugar. I’ve also had ‘cellos made with the zest of other citrus fruits and even fennel, but never pistachio or espresso. Taverna 750’s unorthodox pistachiocello had a wonderful nutty thickness balanced out by some pointy citrusy notes, and the espressocello combined rich coffee flavor with the dense, sweet texture of a ‘cello. Both were delightful.

Marty’s and Taverna 750 both offer a stylish atmosphere, and they would ostensibly appeal to the same type of patron. But make no mistake: Taverna 750 is much better suited to cocktail connoisseurs. Marty’s, with its oversize and oversweet martinis, is for amateurs.

Taverna 750 on Urbanspoon

Toast Independence Day With A Bang

29 June 2013

Note: This is a repost from last year, with some modifications. I can’t think of a better drink for the 4th than this.

If I were to be perfectly honest, I would recommend cracking open a refreshing bottle of dry rosé with your July 4th barbeque. This is very likely what I’ll be drinking, but frankly, dry rosé seems too effete, too continental, for celebrating America’s Independence Day. We didn’t gain our independence by playing nice with the Brits, negotiating at endless length, relying on the hope of their essential good nature.

No longer able to bear, among other indignities, taxation without representation, our ancestors risked their lives and the well-being of their families so that we could live as a free people. They took up arms and kicked those colonial bastards out of the country by force, because force is the only language tyrants comprehend.

No, as delightful as dry rosé may be, it does not rise to the task of commemorating the wisdom, bravery and strength of our foremothers and forefathers. Independence Day calls for something unabashedly powerful and unashamedly American. Something with a bang. Something like Artillery Punch.

The first time I had Artillery Punch was at a friend’s holiday party. I remember consuming only about two glasses of the punch (along with, admittedly, a fistful of rum balls), before we all decided it would be a great idea to strip off our Christmas sweaters and take some topless group photos. It’s that kind of punch.

A number of recipes published in books and on the Internet purport to be Artillery Punch. Some, like this one, incorporate tea and cherries into the mix. This one goes further by adding pineapple as well, which to my mind dilutes the 18th-century revolutionary je ne sais quoi. Both recipes also make use of gin, an altogether too British spirit for this occasion.

I prefer to relate the simplest (and strongest) recipe I found, the dangerously delicious concoction described in David Wondrich’s Punch. Mr. Wondrich found this recipe in an 1885 copy of the Augusta Chronicle, which describes how Artillery Punch was created by a certain A.H. Luce in honor of Savannah’s Republican Blues visiting Macon’s Chatham Artillery sometime in the 1850s. It makes use of that very French spirit Cognac, but since the French were our allies, a bit of Cognac seems appropriate.

The original recipe calls for a horse bucket “of ordinary size” to be filled with crushed ice, whiskey, rum, bourbon, sugar and lemon, and then topped off with Champagne. Should you have a horse bucket of ordinary size at your disposal, I have no doubt it would be the hit of your barbeque, but failing that, an ordinary large punch bowl will do:

David Wondrich’s Artillery Punch (as adapted by Odd Bacchus):

12 lemons

2 cups raw sugar (the larger crystals of raw sugar are useful, but white sugar will also work)

1 bottle Cognac (Mr. Wondrich recommends VSOP, but the budget-conscious should opt for VS)

1 bottle Jamaican-style rum

1 bottle bourbon

3 bottles brut Champagne (or sparkling wine, for heaven’s sake)

1 bag of ice

Using a vegetable peeler, zest the twelve lemons, making the peels broad and long and as free of the white pith as possible. In a mixing bowl, muddle firmly with the sugar to extract the peels’ essential oils. Let the mixture stand in a warm place for 30 minutes to an hour.

Meanwhile, juice the 12 lemons. You’ll need about a pint of juice, so it’s wise to have a few extra lemons on hand. (Note that store-bought lemon juice will not be a good substitute.)

Add the lemon juice to the sugar/peel mixture and dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar is completely dissolved, pour the mixture through a strainer into another bowl in order to remove the peels. Using a funnel, empty the contents of the bowl into a clean wine bottle (or other 750-milliliter bottle) and top up with water. Cork, and refrigerate.

The above steps can all be done in advance of the party, and the sugar/lemon mixture will keep in the refrigerator for a few hours or even overnight.

Just before you want to serve the punch, fill a large punch bowl halfway with crushed ice (bash the bag of ice on the floor a few times to get smaller pieces, or hit it with a mallet). Add the bottle of sugar/lemon mixture and the bottles of Cognac, rum and bourbon. Top off with the three bottles of Champagne. As noted above, it need not be real French Champagne, but it should be a quality dry sparkling wine of some sort — don’t skimp too much here. A fine Cava could work, for example.

This thoroughly delicious punch goes down with surprising ease, so be sure to warn your guests of its strength. It’s enough to knock the socks off even the most self-confident of tyrants.


24 April 2013


Olga, it turns out, isn’t the only one in Costa Rica making moonshine. In fact, in an effort to curb the production of homemade sugarcane liquor, also known as guaro, the Costa Rican government began manufacturing the stuff itself, according to Wikipedia. Now, bottles of Cacique guaro, produced by the Fabrica Nacional de Licores-Fanal, appear behind nearly every bar in the country.

Of course, I took the opportunity to try Cacique both in cocktails and straight up. Sipped neat, this clear spirit (30% alcohol) reminded some of my fellow tasters at the bar of a smooth vodka. I didn’t disagree, but to my Odd Bacchus mind, it resembled a good-quality soju (a Korean spirit distilled from rice or sweet potatoes). The Cacique had a bare hint of sweetness and fruit at the beginning, followed by some white pepper spice.

Because of its basic lack of flavor, Cacique (translated as “chief,” as in the head of a tribe) makes for very versatile cocktail ingredient. I sampled it in a number of different concoctions during my stay in Costa Rica, each one more delicious than the last.

At a swim-up bar — a ridiculously fun addition to any pool — I sampled a wonderfully refreshing Mojito made with Cacique, fresh limes and fresh mint. Another evening, lacking electricity in my accommodations, I decamped to the bar for a delicious “Guapiriña,” a Caipirinha which substituted Cacique for the usual cachaça (a Brazilian sugarcane-based spirit). The simplicity of fresh limes muddled with sugar and mixed with guaro was pure delight. And at the very fancy Grano de Oro Hotel in San Jose, I indulged in a Tico Sour, a light and perfectly balanced mix of Cacique shaken with lemon and egg white.

As a matter of fact, as I go through the list of cocktails I sipped while in Costa Rica, I can’t think of a single stinker. The cocktail menus may not include the most innovative concoctions, but the bartenders I met excelled at mixing the classics. Fresh ingredients were the norm, not the exception, which made coming back from a day of steamy jungle hiking all the sweeter.

White Lion Of Sri Lanka – Part 2

17 April 2013
White Lion Mixology Session

White Lion Mixology Session

After I tasted White Lion VSOA‘s cognac-like flavor, I couldn’t wait to try working with it in some cocktails. This Sri Lankan spirit is distilled from the nectar of unopened coconut flowers, but it doesn’t taste especially like coconut. It starts sweet and smooth, gets spicy, and finishes with something savory and herbaceous (you can read more about White Lion VSOA in my previous post).

Because it reminded me of cognac, I wanted to see how it would perform in a classic Sidecar recipe.


–2 parts White Lion VSOA

–1 part Orange Liqueur (I used Stirrings Triple Sec, but Cointreau or Gran Marnier would also be lovely)

–1 part Freshly-Squeezed Lemon Juice (do not use bottled juice or, heaven forbid, sour mix)

Juice your lemon, and use the amount of juice you get as the measure of one part. A standard lemon will make one large Sidecar or two small ones. Combine all the ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake vigorously, and strain into a martini glass. It’s traditional to rim the glass with sugar, but I can’t be bothered with that sort of thing. The cocktail had a luscious aroma of orange and caramel, and its darkly sweet flavors were balanced perfectly by the bright citrus. It’s a smashing drink, and I made myself a second round the next day.

I’d experimented previously with ginger liqueur, and I had some success substituting it for the orange liqueur in the recipe above. This WHITE LION GINGER SIDECAR tastes wonderfully spicy and exotic, but the ginger can get a little overpowering if you use the proportions above. I recommend 2 parts White Lion, 3/4 part ginger liqueur (Koval or Stirrings), and 1 part freshly-squeezed lemon juice.

The White Lion website recommends a number of different cocktail recipes, including an “Aria,” which combines White Lion, lime juice, simple syrup and a lot of water. But why add the water? As my father is fond of saying, “Fish swim in it!” I tried the recipe without any dilution, and I don’t think it suffered:


–2 parts White Lion VSOA

–1 part Freshly-Squeezed Lime Juice

–Splash of Simple Syrup

As before, juice your lime(s) first, and use the amount of liquid you get as the measure of one part. Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice, shake vigorously, and strain into martini glasses or cocktail coupes. Garnish, if you like, with a lime wheel or wedge. This cocktail, in which White Lion takes the place of rum, tasted tropical, aromatic and citrusy — I felt like I should be drinking it in the courtyard of the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. Exotic and delicious.

Another recipe the White Lion website recommends is a classic arrack/ginger beer cocktail they call a GBA. I tried that combination, which is essentially a Dark ‘n’ Stormy substituting White Lion for rum, and I didn’t find it satisfying. It felt a little tight to me, and not rounded. Since I’d already juiced some limes, I decided to take it in more of a Moscow Mule direction. That worked wonders:


–2 parts Ginger Beer (Use the very best you can find. My go-to ginger beer is Reed’s.)

–1 part White Lion VSOA

–1/2 part Freshly-Squeezed Lime Juice

To maximize fizz, pour your chilled ginger beer in an empty tumbler. Carefully add a couple of large ice cubes, and then top off with the lime juice and White Lion. Give the drink a gentle stir to incorporate the ingredients. With the addition of the lime juice, the cocktail took on a new dimension, becoming a little sweeter, a little spicier, and definitely more well-balanced. A traditional Moscow Mule also includes mint, but I didn’t have any on hand, and so neither does this recipe.

I also attempted a classic Manhattan recipe using the White Lion, and again, it required a little tweaking for my palate. My first try, which combined White Lion, sweet vermouth and Angostura Bitters, tasted a little dry to me, but those who enjoy Perfect Manhattans will love this cocktail. I changed out the sweet vermouth for some Byrrh, and that made a cocktail I could really get behind:


–2 parts White Lion VSOA

–1 part Byrrh

–Few dashes of Angostura Bitters

Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously, or if you’re not rushed, try stirring everything for a minute or two to achieve an extra-smooth texture. The resulting red-orange cocktail tastes intriguingly sweet, bitter and savory, with some menthol and spice on the finish.

Finally, since White Lion is distilled from coconut flower nectar, I wanted to try mixing it with coconut water. That combination unfortunately tastes terrible. A little lemon juice helps immensely, however, especially if you like your cocktails on the savory side. Since this is the last cocktail in my White Lion round-up, I’ll call it the


–2 parts White Lion VSOA

–1 part Coconut Water

–1 part Freshly-Squeezed Lemon Juice

–Splash of Simple Syrup

As before, use the amount of juice you get from your lemon as the measure of a part. Combine the ingredients in a shaker with ice, and shake vigorously. Strain into a martini glass, or — why not — into a coconut shell. This mix has a uniquely savory flavor which is not at all unpleasant. You can omit the simple syrup, but I found that it brightened the citrus notes considerably.

These recipes but scratch the surface of the potential of White Lion in cocktails. It’s currently available online and in California, but expect distribution to the Midwest and East Coast in the near future. It can’t come to Chicago soon enough for me — I’ve already knocked off most of my bottle!

Lemon Ginger Margaritas For Taco Night

3 April 2013

Lemon Ginger MargaritaAs much as I enjoy drinking unusual wines, spirits and cocktails, sometimes I drink them out of simple necessity. Last Saturday evening, for example, I just wanted to make myself a simple margarita to drink with the tacos we prepared for dinner (see my favorite traditional margarita recipe here). Unfortunately, Whole Foods was under Easter siege during our shopping trip, and in my haste to escape, I neglected to buy any limes. All we had was a solitary lemon. If I wanted a margarita, it would have to be an unusual one.

As the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, make Lemon Ginger Margaritas. I had lemon and ginger on my mind in the wake of my experimentation with Koval Ginger Liqueur. Produced in a distillery just down the street, this liqueur worked well with vodka, bourbon, and cognac, so why not tequila? And fortunately, it tasted delicious with lemon as well.

The recipe of tequila, lemon juice, and ginger liqueur followed a classic mixology trinity: One Spirit, One Liqueur, One Juice. That gave me some hope. But lemon with tequila? Surely it’s been tried before, and surely it’s failed. After all, it’s not that hard to find strawberry, raspberry, mango, and even banana margaritas, but when is the last time you saw lemon? I felt less than optimistic, and I prayed this wouldn’t be a repeat of the Chimayó debacle.

I juiced the lemon, combined the ingredients in the shaker, and shook with fingers crossed. The result looked appealing, and it had a pleasantly citrusy smell. I took a sip, and it actually tasted quite good! The cocktail started off sweet, then moved to juicy citrus, a tight tartness, some smoke from the tequila, and finally an aftertaste of ginger. Paired with the tacos (actually tostadas topped with beans, beef, cheese, onions, guacamole, salsa and cilantro), the cocktail gained some zesty spiciness.

It’s a very fun drink, with a very easy recipe:


–2 parts Tequila (I used El Jimador Reposado, but any decent reposado or gold tequila should do the trick.)

–1.5 parts Ginger Liqueur (If you can’t find Koval‘s organic ginger liqueur, Stirrings makes a perfectly fine substitute.)

–1 part Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice (There’s no substitute for this. Use bottled juice or sour mix at your peril.)

–Splash of Simple Syrup (Available bottled, or make it yourself: simmer a cup of water, dissolve a cup of sugar in it, and let cool.)

Juice a whole lemon, and use the amount of juice you get as the measure of one part. Combine the lemon juice, tequila and ginger liqueur in a shaker with ice. I recommend adding the splash of simple syrup as well. The sugar enhances the flavors and rounds them out. You can make this cocktail without the simple syrup and it will taste fine, but a small splash really does wake it up. Shake vigorously, and strain into a large martini glass. Garnish, if you’re feeling fancy, with a slice of lemon or a strip of fresh ginger.


The Joys Of Ginger Liqueur

20 March 2013

Koval Ginger LiqueurOne of the great benefits of living in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood is the easy walk to both a brilliant brewery and a distinctive distillery. I’ve written before about the carefully crafted spirits produced by Koval Distillery, and I was recently fortunate enough to receive a tall, slender bottle of its Organic Ginger Liqueur as a gift from a friend.

Each 10-gallon batch of Koval’s Ginger Liqueur requires 60 pounds of fresh ginger, which explains both the deliciously rich ginger flavor as well as the periodic e-mails I receive encouraging me to come to Koval’s ginger peeling parties. The effort pays off — the liqueur (with 20% alcohol) has a seductively warm aroma of ginger and caramel, and it tastes lusciously smooth with a spicy bite at the end. It tastes so smooth, in fact, that my friend exclaimed, “It’s smooth enough, even a child could drink it!” This friend, reassuringly, has no children of his own.

As delicious as this liqueur was served neat, I had a feeling it could do wonders in a cocktail. My friend and I got to work. We kept things simple for our first attempt, a basic martini that  allowed the ginger flavor to shine. It’s strong but smooth, with a citrusy start, a ginger midsection and an alcoholic punch on the finish:


–2 parts vodka (For the money, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better vodka than Sobieski.)

–1 part Koval Organic Ginger Liqueur (or Stirrings Ginger Liqueur, should Koval be unavailable)

–1/2 part fresh-squeezed lemon juice

Squeeze half a lemon first, and use the amount of juice as the measure of half a part. Depending on the amount of juice you squeeze, you should be able to make one large drink or two small ones. Add all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a martini glass. If you’re so inclined, garnish with a twist of lemon peel or a thin slice of fresh ginger.


–1 part bourbon (I used Rowan’s Creek, because life is short.)

–1 part Koval Organic Ginger Liqueur

–2 or 3 dashes of Angostura bitters (or similar)

Combine all of the above in large cocktail shaker with ice, and if you’re not in too big of a hurry, stir it for 60 seconds or more for maximum smoothness. Or just give it a good shake and strain into a martini glass. If you’d like to garnish, I recommend a twist of orange zest. This combination makes a wonderfully bright and spicy Manhattan, but it has a surprising creamy quality to it. It’s not as sharp as you might expect.

And finally, my favorite:


–1 part Cognac (I used XO in this tasting, but if you’re not lucky enough to have a free sample bottle of that lying around, VS or VSOP will work just fine.)

–1 part Koval Organic Ginger Liqueur

–1/2 part fresh-squeezed lemon juice

Combine all of the above in a cocktail shaker with ice, stir or shake as is your preference, and strain into a martini glass. It’s traditional to rim the glass with sugar, but I can’t be bothered with that sort of thing. Garnish with a lemon twist if you like. This cocktail moved from flavors of molasses to citrus to ginger — it was stellar.

I’m sure this is only the beginning of the cocktail possibilities. A bottle of Ginger Liqueur belongs right next to the Triple Sec in your liquor cabinet. Happy mixing!

An Argument Lost At The Cocktail Club

9 March 2013

A Valiant Soldier at the Cocktail ClubThe Cocktail Club on north King Street in Charleston offers an atmospheric place to sip craft cocktails, accompanied occasionally by live music. I had settled in with my drink at the bar when I overheard the young lady next to me ordering drinks:

Woman: “Hi there. I need something for a girl and something for a guy [indicating the fellow next to her].”

The bartender, to his credit, delved further into their taste in cocktails, made some recommendations and got mixing. I felt fascinated — especially after attending a conference dedicated to women and Cognac — to hear her order drinks this way, as if gender had something to do with palate.

Me: “I couldn’t help but hear you order your cocktails, and I wanted to ask — why did you order them that way? I mean, do you think women have different palates than men?”

Woman: “Oh, that’s interesting — I don’t really know why I did that, actually. I’m actually a bartender myself, and I like all sorts of things.”

Me: “Right, absolutely. I mean, what if I’m a guy in the mood for something sweet and spicy, and I see this cocktail on the menu here with cinnamon, chili peppers, chocolate vodka and so forth. I probably won’t order it because it’s called ‘For Her Pleasure.’ But why is it called that? Because it’s a dessert drink?”

Woman: “Yeah, I don’t know. But it’s funny, because I actually ended up with a pretty strong martini, and my boyfriend’s is on the sweeter side. So I’m not sure me ordering the way I did made much of a difference after all. What are you drinking?”

Me: “Ahem. This is a ‘Valiant Soldier.'”

Woman: [Raises eyebrows.]

Oops. And with that, this valiant soldier was forced into retreat!

« Previous PageNext Page »