July 22, 2022
To be fair and up-front and all, let me start by saying that I recently received a selection of Drake’s Spiced Ice in the mail (these things sometimes happen – there is no need to be jealous!). As it’s nearing the end of July, and even up here in Seattle, W-A the sun is blaring (not nearly as bad as in many areas, where I know it’s dangerously hot, so please, be safe pals), and the mercury ticking up, which means it’s hot out, and which also means – what a fantastic time to receive some booze-y delights that are served ice cold! That’s awfully fortuitous.
For some background, Drake’s is a sustainable spirts company making vodka, rums, boxed cocktails, and Spiked Ices, one that started in the Midwest, holds five official certifications (vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO, Kosher, USDA organic – they say they’re the first and only spirit brand with all five, and I have no reason to doubt them), and give a portion of their proceeds to animal welfare orgs – it’s almost like they’re a spirits company I was born to like!
Of course, one can like a company in the abstract, but to like their products (when it comes to spirits companies especially), there’s a little thing called “taste” or “yumminess” that matters quite a bit, too. Which is why I was as excited as I ever get for hot summer days to have it be a hot summer day, because an icy treat such as these should be tasted under the sun to get maximum effect, and I wanted to take the Drake’s Spiked Ice out for a spin to test the taste, and hopefully the sun hasn’t bothered my brain and this all makes sense. Anyway! There are currently three ice pop choices: Mango Vodka Punch, Black Cherry Limeade, and Watermelon Tini. Each boasting a refreshing 12% ABV and only 100 calories (good for shorts and swimsuit season I suppose), while being crafted from USDA Organic fruit juice and Drake’s own organic vodka. I gotta admit: I liked them all. To begin with, they aren’t too sweet, which is a problem with some pre-made frozen and other mixes. That higher ABV gives them a solid kick, like they’re frozen cocktails more in umph factor, skipping the sugar overload. Of the three, the Black Cherry Limeade was my fav, as it had that summery cherry slight sweetness on the front with a real lime tang following. The Mango Vodka Punch was gently mango-y, too, and if you’re a mango nut, you’d probably lean towards it. Our final ice, the Watermelon Tini (admittedly, as you know. I’m not a fan of the “Tini” in a name, but hey, I wasn’t consulted on that) for me had the least fruitiness, but I find watermelon a tricky essence to capture. Could I have ten of these in a row? Probably not without brain freeze! But I certainly enjoyed them as the sun was a’blazing. Could I take these back in time and give ten to a 25-year-old-me and then they could have ten? Probably (if time-travel was available)! Overall, Drake’s Spiked Ices are a icy booze-y treat for a sunshine-y summer’s day, ideal for the backyard, by the pool (or, as in my case, a tin bucket filled with water to put hot feet in), or on the deck.
February 18, 2022
Blood oranges are strange (in a good way, like so many strange things). They can appear from the outside as many of their citrus siblings, from oranges to mandarins. But then, cut them open, and the blood (or blood-esque juiciness) starts flowing. Though, within that bloodiness, there can really be lots of variation in color, even if the darker rich ruby color is probably the main type (hehehe). At first, I was a bit freaked out by them, but now I love them and their sweet, tart, tangy flavor. They can make, as you might imagine, a memorable liqueur, like so many fruits. Years back when I was writing Luscious Liqueurs (a book renowned by at least my mother for its genius), I played around with blood orange liqueur ideas, and came up with the below, which I am still fond of – the hint of cloves adds a strange, and strangely nice to me, touch. So, when I ended up with a batch of blood oranges recently, I decided to revisit the recipe, and still was fond of it.
It’s a yummy winter’s treat, too (hitting hints of the season while reminding of summer).
The Blood Orange’s Revenge
4 blood oranges
1/4 teaspoon cloves
2 cups vodka
1-1/2 cups simple syrup
1. Peel the oranges and lemons, getting just the fruit rind and as little of the pith as possible. Place the peels in a large glass container that has a good lid.
2. Then remove the layer of pith from the flesh of two of the blood oranges (juice the final two oranges and the lemon for drinks or cooking). Cut each of the two un-pithed oranges into pieces, and add the pieces to the container. Stir slightly with a muddler or wooden spoon to smash up the oranges.
3. Add the vodka and cloves to the fruits. Stir a little more and seal. Place the container in a cool, dry spot away from the sun. Let sit for two weeks, swirling occasionally.
4. Once the two weeks have faded into the past, add the simple syrup to the container, stir well, and reseal. Let the mix sit two more weeks, swirling occasionally.
5. After the next two weeks have passed, strain the liquid through a fine mesh strainer, to filter out the larger orange parts. Be careful that you strain into a container big enough that no liqueur is lost.
6. Next, strain the liqueur through double sheets of cheesecloth into a pitcher or other container, one that easy to pour from.
7. Finally, strain the liqueur through two new sheets of cheesecloth into bottles or jars, or one larger bottle or jar.
A Note: Blood oranges, if you don’t know, are a member of the orange family whose flesh contains the pigment anthocyanin, which turns it a dark red color. Their taste is similar to oranges. You do not have to be a vampire to eat them.
January 14, 2022
Way back last year (haha, I kid, I kid – I mean, it was last year, but solely weeks ago, not months) right before Christmas I had a recipe for a delicious (said humbly) Homemade Irish Cream Liqueur. It was so delicious (said, again, humbly, or ‘umbly, if you’re feeling like Uriah Heep in David Copperfield), and a hit around the holiday fires, that I had to make another one to satisfy all the requests. But instead of making another batch of the same version, because where would be the fun in that?, I decided to tweak the recipe, and then tweak a little more, to move into new territory. It is the new year! Though, admittedly, my tweaks did make this almost more winter-holiday-y, which leads to the name Holly Jolly. See, I went with a few winter-y spices (cinnamon, ginger), and also changed the base to vodka slightly infused with mandarin orange zest and juice (mandarins seem a little winter holiday-y to me, too). But it’s still lush and lovely and velvety and creamy, just veering off in the flavor hints. A hit, me thinks (humbly, of course).
Holly Jolly Homemade Cream Liqueur
1-2/3 cups vodka
Peel (pithless as possible) and juice from 1 mandarin orange
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1 cup heavy cream
4 Tablespoons chocolate syrup
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1. Add the vodka and mandarin peel and juice to a good-sized glass container with a lid. Let sit in a cool, dry spot at least a week, swirling occasionally.
2. Strain the combo from Step 1 through cheesecloth into a pitcher, and then pour the mandarin-bit-less vodka into a blender (or just strain straight into the blender, but do make sure you get the bits strained out).
3. Add all the other ingredients to the blender. Blend well. Pour the mixture (using a funnel if needed) into a large (at least 1-1/2 liters) or a number of small bottles or jars. Seal, and put into the refrigerator. Consume within two weeks.
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 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”