August 27, 2021
It’s funny (to me, if no-one else) to have a very tough drink name like “Fugger’s Revenge” for a light-bodied, friendly, vermouthy (in a way, though I’m not calling this vermouth, cause I don’t want the vermouth board after me), aperitif-style sipper (the aperitif board is much less ferocious). But the backstory really is not so tough, but is one of my fav wine stories (one that some people say isn’t true, is just apocryphal, etc. Some people are also fuddy-duddies and no fun to have a drink with. Avoid them). Anyway, it starts early in the year 1111. A forward-thinking German bishop named Johann Fugger was getting ready to travel to Rome for the Holy Roman Emperor’s coronation (this one was Henry V). Because he was forward-thinking, Fugger sent his assistant along the road first, to scope out the local wine, chalking the pubs or bars or 12th-century what-have-yous that had good wine with the word “est,” which is Latin for “there is” (the full phrase he kept in his wine journal was I believe “vinum est bonum” or “wine is good” basically). When this intrepid wine scout came into the town of Montefiascone, he so enjoyed the wines that he A: had a lot, and B: wrote Est! Est!! Est!!! on the bar’s outside wall to show his enthusiasm. I believe bishop Fugger himself liked these particular wines so well he never made it to the coronation, just stayed in Montefiascone drinking wine, and is buried there today. And, the white wines designated Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone are still made and enjoyed. And (here’s where it also comes back around), this particular homemade aperitif uses an Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone wine as it’s base! Neat! Awesome! Story!
There aren’t a wide range of these whites available here, but Pietro Est! Est!! Est!!! tends to be available, and it’s what I used. Light, apple-y, dry, and very refreshing, it provided the perfect platform for building this summertime aperitif (and it won’t set you back too much). The other flavorings almost all came from my yard, including white currants (want to know way more about my white currant bush? Check out the Currant Current liqueur, Strawcurranterry, a white currant strawberry liqueur, and A Particular Friend, a white currant mint number), fresh mint, and fresh marjoram. A little gentian root because life is bitter (but not, one hopes too bitter most days), a little vodka to im-proof things a bit (but not too much, as this is a very light-on-its-feet charmer), and a little simple syrup to round our edges without making it sweet. Altogether, this late summer aperitif rises to the level of the wine story with delicate herbal and fruit notes. Pretty swell on its own, chilled or over ice, but also a pleasant pal in cocktails (heck, though it is not a vermouth, it would make a mean Martini-esque drink when paired with a London-style gin).
1/2 cup white currants
1/3 cup fresh mint
1/4 teaspoon gentian root
1 Tablespoon marjoram
1 750 ml bottle Pietro Est! Est!! Est!! white wine
1 cup vodka
1/2 cup simple syrup
1. Add the currants, mint, gentian, and marjoram to a large glass jar with a good lid. Muddle well, but not wackily (you do want to break up the currants as much as possible).
2. Add the wine and vodka, and stir. Put in a cool dry place and let sit for two weeks, swirling regularly.
3. Open up the jar of joy and add the simple syrup. Stir again, and re-place in that cool dry place. Let sit two more weeks, swirling as you will.
4. Strain – I like to strain once through a fine mesh strainer, then twice (or as needed) through cheesecloth – into a good glass bottle. Store in the fridge (to keep nice and chilled).
April 9, 2021
You know (well, if you don’t, I’m about to tell you, and in some ways this is a rhetorical question just to set up the drink we’re going to have as this week’s Friday Night Cocktail) that some drinks get sadly relegated to only being had on very specific occasions – paired in a type of liquid wedlock, if you will – and not enjoyed year round. Take this drink, the Blushing Bride, whose name has led me to only suggesting it be had at weddings and wedding-related events. Which is sad, cause this delicious, multi-base-spirit drink is a treat (and a rarity, in a way, with brandy or Cognac and vodka together), with enough heft to get you through a chillier day (or a long relationship!), but enough fruitiness to make a summer day dawdle by in the best possible way, and then a cuddle of sweet that matches, well, springtime, as it is right now. So, take my advice, and have drinks you like any day of the 365, no matter if they carry a particular daily connection.
The Blushing Bride, from Dark Spirits
6 fresh raspberries
3 lime wedges
2 ounces Cognac
1 ounce vodka
1/2 ounce Simple Syrup
1. Put the raspberries and 2 of the lime wedges into a cocktail shaker. Using a muddler or wooden spoon, muddle well.
2. Fill the cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add the Cognac, vodka, and simple syrup. Shake very well.
3. Strain the mix into a cocktail glass through a fine strainer. Garnish with the remaining lime wedge.
February 12, 2021
Here’s something that may have confused you for years (heck, it confused me – maybe still does): citrus fruits, those sunny suntime suntreats, are often associated with gloomy old greytime cloudypants winter months. Weird, right? I suppose (this is how I’m telling it to myself at least, and, I guess, you) that it’s because said citrus fruit delivers said sunshine within these wintery grey months, a juicy daydream of the beach when the rain or snow or ice is descending from unfriendly skies. Why this fruity ramble? Well, as an intro way of saying that recently I felt the need to make a little Mandarino, the mandarin orange liqueur, to bring said sun beams into my glass and my dreary days, and, well, let me assure you that it did just that! I was hulu-ing and be-shorted in no time. I first made this, my version of Mandarino, way back for Luscious Liqueurs, and you can sip it solo, on ice, or as the orange component in a Margarita or other cocktail, any time of the year. Though maybe it’s best in winter.
6 Mandarin oranges
2 cups vodka
2 cups simple syrup
1. Wash, dry, and peel the oranges and 1/2 of the lemon, working to not end up with any of the white pith (if the Mandarin peels just slip off, as they often do, then scrap any excess pith off the inner sides with a paring knife). Put the peels in a glass container that gets cozy with its lid (meaning, the lid fits well). Use the fruit for juicing or cooking or just eating.
2. Add the vodka, stir a little, and seal. Place the container in a cool, dry spot away from the sun. Let it relax for two weeks, swirling every 3 or 4 days.
3. Add the simple syrup, stir well, and reseal. Leave the Mandarino to get pretty for two more weeks, stopping by to swirl every 3 or 4 days.
4. Strain the liqueur through double sheets of cheesecloth into a pitcher or other easy pouring vessel. Strain again through 2 new sheets of cheesecloth into bottles or jars, or one larger bottle or jar.
October 23, 2020
We recently here in the wondrous Seattle, W-A went through (as did CA and OR) some awful, deadly, smoky air (as if everything else in 2020 wasn’t enough of a shitestorm), leaving most stuck in inside, as walking outside was anything but safe. At least at my house we were stocked up on booze and streaming TV and books and peanut butter, which I can’t do without. And during that timeframe, I utilized the first in that list to make this here drink, which aligned in a way with the smoke – I think I felt if I could drink the smoke a bit, perhaps it would lessen it in the sky; perhaps I felt since my nose and throat were getting smoked out, I might as well go with it. Either way, it ended up being a pretty neat sipper, if I can be so bold. And I was going to name it after the smoked-out skies in some way, but then I didn’t want to give the smoke the honor of being attached to this drink. During this trying smoky time, while being stuck inside, we also needed some wiring and such fixed up, so called in a friendly electrician, and so I decided instead that this dandy cocktail should be named after them.
So, how to build a drink for such a smokocalypse? Well, I didn’t want it to solely smoky, because the earth is still growing and all that, which led me to leaning fruity, too, but how to balance, and what fruit? Pomegranate seemed the ticket after a little picking and grinning (or testing) so I went with Pama, a tangy pomegranate liqueur, combined with a smoky, savory duo: mezcal, and Chase Smoked vodka (which you can read more about in the A Kindred Spirit cocktail recipe). But that wasn’t it (though I do like a good three-bottle drink). Because it was a bitter time, I decided some bitter notes were needed, coming via Breckenridge Bitter (which isn’t a “bitters” as you might think of, but a bitter herbs and rootsy aperitif) and old charmer Peychaud’s bitters (which is a “bitters” in exactly the way you know). To curve the edges of the various ingredients, a drop or three of simple syrup. In hindsight, maybe those drops made it a stitch sweet, but, hmm, on the other side, maybe not. You decide!
1-1/2 ounce Chase Smoked vodka
3/4 ounce mezcal
1/2 ounce Pama Pomegranate liqueur
1/2 ounce Breckenridge Bitter
Dash Peychaud’s bitters
1/4 ounce simple syrup
Cherry (Rainer is nice), for garnish
1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add everything but the cherry. Shake well.
2. Add the cherry to a cocktail glass, and strain the mix from Step 1 into the glass. Enjoy, but not while actually, you know, doing electrical work.
October 2, 2020
Here’s a fine kettle of various ingredients mixed with booze. I had the mad/smart/odd/random/bored/inventive/normal idea not more than a couple weeks ago that I should make up a wine-based liqueur or aperitivo if you like (I like, so I’m gonna call it that), and that it should have basil in it (cause my basil plants were doing so well then, if, admittedly, not as well now as summer has dwindled), and maybe orange (cause I had an orange), and a roasted peach (which also was around and needed to be used, sans pit, but the roasting felt important), and some spices but not too many, and a hint of bitterness cause the best aperitivos (or many of them) tend to have that, and it should be pretty as that hour on a sunny late-summer day when night is nearly there, but not quite there, the hour you realize once again that summer and all things are transient, ephemeral, lovely. Whew, seems like a lot to ask of something made in a big glass jar!
But, you know, it worked out quite well. Not sure I reached the full heights I wanted, but came close-ish, to my taste, which might be different than yours. The basil is the strangest part of the equation, as it lost some of its, well, basil-ness if that makes sense. There’s not overriding basil smell or taste, or any, or very little; instead, it adds a slightly vegetal minty-ness. Interesting! The orange notes come through strong, with a little other citrus (thanks to lemon) and a dream of toasty peach, and the spice notes (tiny bits of ginger, star anise) are more inferred than active, if that makes sense. Oh, I should have started with: the wine I used as the base was an Orvieto Classico white wine, which I love, and which is dry-ish, but fruit-y-ish (more peach notes here), and grape-ish enough to bring a lot of flavor. I also added some vodka, as the wine solo didn’t seem to have enough umph for the end-of-summer delicate sadness I wanted. Sure, I’m weird! Gentian, the bittering agent of choice for so many things, underlines that thought, as well as balancing the sweetness. Really, all joshing and flighty language aside, Caducitivo (caduco in Italian meaning transient or ephemeral) was an awfully fun, and tasty, experiment, a fine pre-dinner, sipper, with a layered, light, orange-citrus-herb flavor containing a friendly bitter back end. Heck, I think I’ll make it again next year! And, with the below recipe, you can try it, too. I like sipping it at room temp, but think it’s best over ice, or chilled a bit. While I haven’t tried it yet, my guess is it’d be great with Prosecco, and also as a cocktail ingredient.
2 cups basil
1 roasted peach (see Note)
1 whole star anise
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
3 wide orange twists
2 wide lemon twists
2-1/2 cups Orvieto Classico (I used Ruffino, which is nice, solid, and not overly pricey)
1/2 cup vodka (I used Prairie Organic vodka, which is swell and came in the mail)
1 cup simple syrup
1/4 teaspoon crushed gentian
1. Add the basil, peach, star anise, ginger, and citrus twists to a large glass container with a good lid. Muddle nicely. Add the wine and vodka, stir, and put that lid on it. Store in a cool dark place away from the sun. Let sit two weeks, swirling occasionally.
2. Open it back up, add the simple syrup and gentian (see Second Note), and stir well. Place it back in the cool dark place, and let sit two more weeks, swirling occasionally.
3. Strain – I went once through a decent fine strainer to get the fruit out, and then through cheesecloth to add more clarity. You might need a third straining, too.
A Note: For the peach, I just baked it at 425 F until it was slightly roasted, not charred. Also, I didn’t use the pit, just the peach itself.
A Second Note: You could add this in Step 1, but I had unexpectedly ran out, so couldn’t. And there’s something (probably nothing) in adding that bittering agent later, letting the other ingredients meet up first.
June 19, 2020
So, it was just a few weeks ago when I was talking about how flavored vodkas weren’t necessarily my boozy jam, but then went and talked about this Cucumbers and Tonic highball I was having and how tasty it was. And now here I am, doing it again! Sorta. I mean, here, I’m talking (typing?) about, or about to type about, a smoked vodka that I really am liking. Specifically, Chase Smoke flavored vodka, a bottle of which showed up in the mails recently (lucky for me, and then some!). It’s made by smoking spring water with English Oak for five good days, and then blending with Chase vodka (which itself is made from British potatoes, grown on a farm in Herefordshire – same farm the distillery is on if I have it all right). But what does it all mean? It seems like it could go perfectly wrong, but it goes perfectly right! With a memorable and lovely oak smokiness, and echoes of the forest and campfires and sunsets in fall. That last bit too much? Well, sometimes that’s okay! Sadly, right up front, I have to admit I don’t think it’s available in my own state of WA at this moment – but soon, one hopes. Secondly up front, I think this smoked vodka dream was really designed to craft legendary Bloody Marys – and I don’t like Bloody Marys. SHHHH! Don’t tell.
But I believe this vodka is actually a treat on its own, or over a little ice. And good in other drinks, including A Kindred Spirit, which I’m going to detail right here. Influenced by the Oaxacan Old Fashioned, a favorite of my wife’s, and another smoky delight. Which means I’m upping the smoke quotient! And also going to go with two base spirits — upping the base spirits! We’re going up here! Second base spirit: mezcal (you may have guessed this already, with the smoke talk). But with two base spirits, need to make sure they get along, so also here, a little rosemary brown sugar simple syrup. And then, for the final ingredients, a little Angostura bitters, to add a few herbal undercurrents, and a wide orange twist for some rich citrus hints. Everything comes together to form a lovely sipper for the back patio, or in front of the fire, or wherever you please (you’re sipping, after all), as well as a swell way to showcase the swell Chase Smoked Vodka.
A Kindred Spirit
2 ounces Chase Smoke flavored vodka
1/2 ounce Montelobos mezcal
1/2 ounce simple syrup (see Note)
Dash Angostura bitters
Big ice cube, or a few regular ice cubes
Wide orange twist, for garnish
1. Add everything but ice to an Old Fashioned glass. Stir well.
2. Add a big ice cubes or a couple regular ice cubes. Stir again, briefly. Garnish with the twist.
A Note: I used a rosemary-y brown sugar simple syrup here, and it was yumski. However, regular could work, too! For the rosemary, just add some to your normal recipe.
June 16, 2020
Hey, first up: don’t forget to read the Father Brown Part I Cocktail Talk, or you’ll hate yourself when you wake up from your nap. Done? Back? We are into the second now, from the Complete Father Brown Stories by ol’ G.K. Chesterton. In this story (as in many) the good Father is traipsing around the globe, solving mysteries, making friends, spreading the legend. In this particular story, he’s in the midst of millionaires and revolutionaries (the amount of millionaires Father Brown hangs with is wild, really), and drinks, a bit, with murder right around the corner.
Perhaps the one point in common to the two council chambers was that both violated the American Constitution by the display of strong drink. Cocktails, of various colors had stood before the three millionaires. Halket, the most violent of the Bolshevists, thought it only appropriate to drink vodka. He was a long, hulking fellow with a menacing stoop, and his very profile was aggressive, the nose and lips thrust out together, the latter carrying a ragged red moustache and the whole curling outwards with perpetual scorn. John Elias was a dark watchful man in spectacles, with a black pointed beard, and he had learnt in many European cafes a taste for absinthe.
— G.K. Chesterton, “The Ghost of Gideon Wise”
June 5, 2020
I gotta be straight with y’all. I tend to not be into flavored boozes – pre-flavored, that is. Too many taste, to me, like chemical-ized messes. Though, to flip flop, I can say that in our modern world of boozes, with more small, focused distillers using high-end and natural ingredients, there are more and more of these types of bottles that do taste better than in the dark days of yore. And, we are luckier for it. Speaking of lucky, I myself received a bottle in the mail (don’t be upset at me, just be happy for me) just the other day, Prairie Organic Cucumber vodka, and you know what? It’s darn delicious. The cucumber flavor is very natural in essence and personality, smooth, and not overwhelming, approachable and in a positive way, delicate. Nice (well, unless you don’t like cucumber). The base is Prairie’s normal vodka, made from organic corn from a co-op of Minnesota farmers. Also, nice! Their products are becoming more and more available, even in spots as remote as the one I’m typing from, Seattle W-A. Triple nice!
Prairie’s Cucumber vodka is just perfectly ideal for summer, too. And you know what, summer is (by the calendar at least – it may feel already here for some!) only days away. With this in my mind, I recently whipped up a tasty tall treat using said vodka, one that’s a mighty match or summer, easy to make (as you want in summer to reduce sweating), and sure to become a favorite under that bright summer sun: Cucumbers and Tonic. Seems simple, and it is. In it, I up the vodka’s cucumber quotient with a little fresh cucumber, and the rest is much as you’d think it. Go forth now, and enjoy that sunshine.
Cucumbers and Tonic
Two fresh cucumber rounds
1-1/2 ounce Prairie Organic Cucumber vodka
4 to 5 ounces tonic (I used Fever Tree and it worked a treat)
Cucumber spear for garnish
1. Add the cucumber rounds to a cocktail shaker. Muddle well.
2. Fill the cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add the vodka. Shake well.
3. Fill a highball or comparable glass three-quarters up with ice cubes. Strain the cuc and cuc vodka into the glass and over the ice.
4. Add the tonic to the glass (go a little stronger or lighter as desired with tonic), and stir well. Add the cucumber spear. Summer awaits.