May 3, 2019
A cosmopolitan affair, I found the Portofino in an Italian drink collection called Cocktails Classici & Esptoco (Demetra, 2002) which I picked up in a bella Florence (Italy, that is) bookstore. It’s an intriguing combo with English liqueur Pimm’s – specifically Pimm’s No. 1 Cup, which is “made to James Pimm’s original recipe from 1823, a closely guarded secret known only to 6 people,” a recipe of gin, herbs, and a touch of fruitiness. It’s the main Pimm’s variety today (at one time there were six, made on bases of gin, Scotch, brandy, rum, rye, and vodka) though you can find Pimm’s Winter Cup, based on brandy, spices, and orange peel, if you look. The second main ingredient is Italian favorite Aperol (the light, orange, and barely bitter dream that’s taking everywhere you can imagine by orange-y storm). Portofino, the city this is named after, is located on the Italian Riviera in the Genoa province and according to reports (that go all the way back to Pliny the Elder, and why would he lie?), the town was settled by the Romans and named Portus Delphini, which means Port of the Dolphin, due to the dolphins that frolicked in the gulf around it. Amazing, am I right?
2 ounces Pimm’s No. 1 Cup
1 ounce Aperol
Chilled ginger ale
Orange wedge for garnish
1. Fill a highball glass three quarters up with ice cubes. Add the Pimm’s and Aperol and stir briefly.
2. Fill the glass almost to the top with ginger ale. Stir again and garnish with the orange wedge.
October 5, 2018
Usually, I try not to have favorites in booze categories. Meaning, I wouldn’t say I have a favorite gin (I like too many, too well), or amaro, or vermouth. Or white wine. However, I might say I have a favorite red wine (other red wines, please turn away now). Or, at least a favorite red wine grape, that being Sagrantino. Growing only around Montefalco, in Umbria (lovely town, by the way, the Falcon’s Mount, also referred to the balcony of Umbria, and worth a visit – great churches, great museum, a few mummies, and more, and the wine, naturally), real Sagrantino di Montefalco uses 100 percent Sagrantino grapes, is aged 37 months at the shortest, and has a deep, rich, color (dark purple) and taste of dark stone fruits. Memorable stuff!
But here’s something I recently found out (thanks to a bottle coming my way). There’s also a Montefalco Rosso wine. It’s a bit like Sagrantino’s more playful younger sibling. Aged just 18 months and blended with 60-80% Sangiovese. The specific bottle I tasted was Tenuta Alzatura Montefalco Rosso, which is 70% Sangiovese, 15% Sangrantino, and 15% Merlot. It’s a beautiful wine, with a light ruby coloring, and also a lighter nature than Sagrantino, probably more approachable for a larger percentage of people, with a fruity nature (red fruit, juicy ones), and hints of spice on the nose and taste, but with a softer finish than its sibling. A nice red wine for a late-summer or fall day. And also, a nice one for making into a wine cocktail.
Of course, as you know, I have a hard time not experimenting with any ingredient I have at hand, and while a glass of this Montefalco Rosso by itself is dreamy, it plays well with others, too. Here, I brought in some Italian favorites, starting with light, slightly citrus, aperitif, Aperol. To match up with that and to balance some of the wine’s fruits, a few dashes of Fee Brothers Orange bitters added to the party – not Italian, but we do have another Italian fav, too. See, I wanted some strong undercurrents, too (sometimes in fall there’s a chill in the air), and wanted to stay Italian-style, and so brought in an underutilized cocktail ingredient: grappa. Specifically: Marolo Grappa di Amarone, which is aged in oak, and which has cherry notes, along with an adaptable nuttiness, that go with the wine perfectly. Altogether, this is a cocktail that’ll have you fantasizing of Italy – and savoring every sip.
On the Road to Montefalco
2 ounces Tenuta Alzatura Montefalco Rosso
1 ounce Aperol
1/2 ounce Marolo Grappa di Amarone
2 dashes Fee Brothers Orange bitters
1. Fill a cocktail shaker or mixing glass halfway full with cracked ice. Add everything. Stir well.
2. Strain into a cocktail glass. Bella, bella.
April 14, 2017
Vodka has gone from over-rated to under-rated. Due to an over-abundance of flavorless vodkas enjoyed more for their lack of character than taste, and then an over-abundance of drinks made with them during the dark days (like, the 80s and 90s) of drinking, vodka got a bad – if, perhaps, deserved – rap. But here’s the thing: there are plenty of good vodkas today, which bring flavor and personality to the party. I didn’t know, however, that one was made in Italy!
Until recently, that is, when I received a bottle of Purus organic vodka in the mail (I know, I know, lucky me). Made from Italian grain and water from the Italian Alps, up in northern Italy’s Piedmont region, it felt on first glance – no, on first hearing about it – that the vodka was made for me. Though admittedly I used to live in Central Italy, but hey, it’s ITALY! And it’s made by the Sacchetto family. Who I don’t know, but c’mon, they sound awesome – and they placed their vodka, certified GMP free and organic by the USDA, in a curvingly artistic bottle that’s lovely and recyclable, as is the bottle top.
So, with all that I say they’re an awesome family. Well, that and from this vodka, which not only sounds good, but is good. It’s clean and bright, with a lush slightly sweet essence mingled with notes of peach and plum and good grain and the Italian springtime. It’s that kind of tipple. If you don’t believe me, it’s won a bunch of awards, too, picked by famous people. It’s dandy solo, over an ice cube or two. I liked a twist of lemon with it, too, as it balances a bit. It’s also a willing and able contributor to cocktails, including this one, where I bring two other Italian favs, Strega and Aperol, into the mix, and a little lemon. I’ll probably have another drink up here with it before long, as well, so don’t be a stranger.
A Picturesque Procession
2 ounces Purus Organic Italian vodka
3/4 ounces Strega
1/2 ounce Aperol
1/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
Lemon twist, for garnish
1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add everything but the twist. Shake well in an Italian manner.
2. Strain through a fine strainer into a cocktail glass. Garnish with the twist. And a toast.
March 31, 2017
It’s spring right? I mean, according the calendar and all, spring started way back on the 20th. You’re frolicking right? In a meadow? Please tell me you are frolicking. FROLICKING! It’s spring, after all, when meadows should be begging to be frolicked in, as well as various other springtime spring-y-nesses. If you haven’t started your frolicking engines, then I suggest you drink a couple Ognams. They start the spring frolicking in a perfect way. Try it out – but be sure you have your frolicking clothes on.
Ognam, from Dark Spirits
1 1/2 ounces brandy
2 1/2 ounces mango juice
1/2 ounce Aperol
Chilled club soda
Lemon slice for garnish
1. Fill a highball or comparable glass with ice cubes. Add the brandy, mango juice, and Aperol. Stir well.
2. Fill the glass almost to the top with club soda. Stir again, well. Squeeze the lemon slice over the glass and drop it in. Frolic!
October 14, 2016
This is a globe-trotting flavorsome sipper, which actually uses ingredients from three different continents. Really! I think. Tell me if I’m wrong, but I think I’m right, though with the teutonic shifting, well, you never know what’s changed in the many years since my geography classes. What I do know is that it’s a swell mix, thanks in large part to the addition of Bundaberg ginger beer (some of which, lucky me, showed up in the mail not too long ago. Don’t hate me cause I’m lucky). Out of Australia, Bundaberg makes a variety of tasty beverages, but is at the moment best known for its ginger beer, a n/a version made from all-natural nature-y things (roots, spices) and being a very smooth drink, with a hint of sweet and good underlying gingerness. Here, I pair it with two other flavorsome friends: Peruvian brandy Pisco, and a little Euro insertion thanks to old chum Italian aperitif Aperol. As a trio, at first glance, they may seem oddly matched, but everything brings a little this, a little that, a little of their own personality. Lots of flavor, while still being refreshing.
The Burst of Feeling
1-1/2 ounces pisco
1/4 ounce Aperol
4 ounces Bundaberg ginger beer
1. Fill a cocktail shaker or mixing glass halfway full with cracked ice. Add the pisco and the Aperol. Stir well.
2. Fill a smallish highball or a good-sized Old Fashioned-y glass three-quarters up with ice cubes. Strain the mix from Step 1 into the glass.
3. Top with the Bundaberg. Stir well.
September 16, 2016
It’s a swell age for tonics. Heck, we have at least two good ones made here in Seattle (Bradley’s and & Tonic), both being tonic syrups you then add (usually) soda too, along with your spirits and such. There are also a number of worthy bubbly pre-bottled tonics – though be sure to give these non-pre-bubbled tonics a try, as they bring loads of flavor. With all the tonics, I’ve been drinking a lot of gin and tonics, as you might expect, and other things, like Sherry & Tonic. Recently, thanks to all-star pals Jon and Nicole, I tried another new tonic, Sir Teddy’s, from Wilks & Wilson out of Indianapolis (which, funny enough, is where Jon and Nicole are from), a company that calls themselves “purveyors of fine elixirs.”
In this case, at least, the product completely lives up to the billing. But I didn’t know this at first, cause you can’t believe everything you read, so I had to, you know, try it! I was going to go just straight G&T, but in the interest of being interesting, I decided why not try some other items and this tonic? And it was a good decision! The day was sunny, the mood was experimental, the time was in the aperitivo hours, and so I went with classic Italian aperitif Aperol (which I’m guessing everyone has had, but if not, it’s like Campari’s younger sister, meaning a hint bitter, but more citrus and a smidge sweet), and blanc vermouth. In this case, La Quintinye Vermouth Royal blanc, which is a light, herbal, scrumptious vermouth ideal for sunny days.
And then Sir Teddy’s of course, which has a swell taste – the quinine you’d expect, plus lime, spices, and a nice bitter current from gentian – and really a swell story. Turns out (as this legend goes – by the way, kudos to Wilks & Wilson for the stories, really good stuff) Sir Teddy after having a life at sea was known as the “Gentleman of the Night” as he doled out his famous tonic on the street of NYC. But go read the whole Sir Teddy story as you’re sipping one of the below. Both came out wonderfully. Each had its own personality, but I can’t say which I liked better. Luckily, you can make each and then make up your own mind. I’m just going to have to do more testing.
Aperol/Blanc Vermouth & Sir Teddy’s Tonic
3/4 ounce Sir Teddy’s tonic
1-1/2 ounce Aperol or La Quintinye Vermouth Royal blanc
3 ounces club soda
1. Add the Sir Teddy’s and your Aperol or vermouth to a brandy snifter (or highball, as the case may be). Stir briefly.
2. Add a goodly amount of ice to the glass. Top with the club soda. Stir well, but carefully.
3. Garnish with the twist. Drink. Then make whichever you didn’t make the first time.
February 26, 2016
I tend to make up, uncover from old books, try out, play around with, guess at, and just generally have a fair amount of cocktails. And usually when making them up, or trying to modify up an older recipe found in a deliciously dusty tome, I have good luck from the get-go. Which of course makes me cocky, and probably annoying to friends and family and dogs. However, fairly regularly I get reminded that I make lots of mistakes, too, and sometimes just can’t find that right proportional mix no matter what. Recently, I went through an evening like this, where I was (gasp!) throwing drink and drink out cause they stunk and I stunk. Finally, I just went to what I knew would come together nicely, and quit the wacky experimenting, and that’s gin and Aperol. Easy, friendly, and with a little Blanc vermouth and Scrappy’s orange, the savior of my night and ego. Of course, it helped that the gin was from local stars the Seattle Distilling Company, who make a darn fine gin (and whiskey, coffee liqueur, and vodka). Sometimes, when the night is stormy (even metaphorically so), it’s good to have friends around.
A Fool’s Paradise
1-1/2 ounces Seattle Distilling Company gin
1 ounce Aperol
1/2 ounce La Quintinye Vermouth Royal blanc
1 dash Scrappy’s orange bitters
1. Fill a mixing glass or cocktail shaker halfway full with cracked ice. Add it all. Stir well.
2. Strain into a cocktail glass. Be humble.
April 24, 2015
Sometimes, I even surprise myself when making drinks. This is one of those times! When I started messing around with the three ingredients in this drink, I was all, “there is no way these will come together,” and then, “yowza!” they worked better together than Sonny and Cher. During their good period. It started with Sidetrack Distillery’s new Shiso liqueur, which is made from the Asian herb it’s named after, and which is a singular, herby, botanical elixir that must be tasted to be believed, and which has a brilliant color to match its taste. I figured (rightly, as it turned out) that it would go well with gin, but I needed a gin that had a solid juniper taste, but also a little citrus, and some botanicals as well – and Copperworks gin is just like that (and it’s local to WA, much like the Shiso, so that was nice). But the third ingredient is a wild card – the Italian orange-y and a wee bitter-y aperitif, Aperol. I just worried the cocktail would get muddled with all those flavors, but dang, instead they all just shared the spotlight in a way that let the flavors shine. This is swell spring drink, and if you can track down these three, give it a whirl.
How Does Your Garden Grow
2 ounces Copperworks gin
1 ounce Sidetrack Distillery Shiso liqueur
1 ounce Aperol
Orange twist, for garnish
1. Fill a cocktail shaker or mixing glass halfway full with cracked ice. Add everything but the twist. Stir well.
2. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with the orange twist.