Morgan and Alice launched The Drink Blog. Morgan has done his bartending certification. They were nominated by Saveur for the 2015 Saveur Blog Awards under the Best Spirits or Cocktail Coverage as one of the six bestest (totally a word) cocktail slinging sites out there.
Valentine’s Day, ah, what a magical time of year. Everything is pink and fluffy and full of gushy and bleh. It’s not really my thing. Sure, I’ll celebrate, but it’s more an at-home, make a good meal kinda thing. It’s not go out, have a big showoff be fancy deal. There’s no need to score internet points by being extremely extravagant in your grand gestures (especially if they’re reserved for only one day a year). Let’s all fill our hearts with love and joy by having a nice drink, like the Bitter Valentine.
The last time I made a big effort to go out on Valentine’s Day, I decided Alice and I should eat at one of our favorite restaurants in LA: The Foundry on Melrose. There’s nothing we didn’t love about that place, the food was amazing, the service was second to none, the grilled cheese was mind blowing, it’s still the best burger I’ve ever had, the cocktails were on point, literally (thanks Bobby [there’s a story there too, but that’s another post]) everything was stupendous.
However, the downside of going on the big V day is that it’s always a set menu. I completely understand this as it’s difficult to knock out a full menu when you’re trying to turn tables and get in as many love birds as possible. Still, the meal was good, but I knew I wanted to go back for the full experience — mostly because a few of my favorites weren’t on the set menu.
Then they closed.
We never did get that final meal there. Eric Greenspan is still one of the best chefs I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet (he would come by every table, chat a little, make sure food was good, then go back to ruling the kitchen), but having to shut down the Foundry before we got that final full meal was a little bittersweet.
Anyway, back to the beginning, the cocktail in question, the Bitter Valentine. I’ve been wanting to play with bitter flavors recently, so I grabbed a bottle of Amaro Lucano, took a swig and imagined some Valentine flavors.
That’s how I work my mysterious cocktail divination ways. The magic behind the drinks.
I had two thoughts, one I ignored because I might explore that later and the second was strawberry.
If you’ve never tried Amaro Lucano, it’s earthy, bitter and has some unique botanical notes. One of the things that it really works with is strawberry. If you don’t believe me, go take a swig and consider for yourself. I’ll wait.
After deciding to go down Strawberry Lane, I must have been inspired by spring’s encroaching nature (at least here in California where it’s hovering around 77°F today) and figured a nice tequila would work famously.
Now we were set with Amaro Lucano, tequila, strawberry liqueur and something. We needed something else in there to round out the flavors. That something else turned out to be lemon.
Mix those all together and you have yourself a refreshing, slightly bitter, slightly sweet, endlessly tasty cocktail. Whether you love the big day for teddy bears or hate it, you’ll enjoy the Bitter Valentine.
For everyone else, let’s get to the Bitter Valentine!
Bitter Valentine: A Bitter Tequila Cocktail for Valentine's
We have an annual tradition in our house where we celebrate everything that’s great about American overindulgence on a single day — typically around some American football game. I think it’s the championship or something; I don’t really follow American football. The food is good though. This year, I decided we needed a special edition cocktail to go with it, introducing the Superb Owl Cocktail!
I’m subtle like that.
Clearly, I was riffing on the name of said sporting event, but I still don’t care to name it outright. I did, however, take inspiration from Harry Potter and butterbeer. Yes!
My thoughts were twofold, if you’re like me and you don’t care if it’s the Arizona Thundarrs or the New York Battlecats in the game, but you immediately catch both of those references, you’ll probably appreciate a butterbeer influenced drink and you’ll enjoy that it resembles a very serious grown up drink, the Old Fashioned.
We’ll call this the Refreshment of Awesome Deception (RAD for short).
I started with what I knew was a requirement: butterscotch schnapps. The biggest problem with butterscotch schnapps is that it’s awfully powerful, so it was then a matter of balancing that sweetness and rounding out the flavors.
Through some pondering and consideration, after visiting potions class, I knew that a spiced rum would work very nicely with the rich flavors. Now we had a solid base of rum and butterscotch, which is pretty good alone, but still needed some friends.
To accent the good notes, tamper down the bad ones, and let everyone harmonize to manage some mischief, I added peach brandy (booyacasha) and ginger schnapps.
Like that my friends, we have a Superb Owl of splendid construction and deceptive appearances.
Garnish with cherries and you really have a perfect likeness to an Old Fashioned — except it’s an adult butterbeer.
Oh, yeah, I’m sure you can just get cream soda and pour in some butterscotch schnapps for a more “authentic” butterbeer, but that’s not as exciting. We wanted to go high class with this. It’s fancy enough to fool people at your own celebration of American overindulgence, but it’s still a RAD riff off a fantasy story drink that some might argue is for children (the story, not the drink).
No matter who you’re rooting for, the Thundarrs or the Battlecats, make sure the Superb Owl Cocktail is on your menu!
Superb Owl Cocktail: A Deceptive Butterbeer Cocktail
A friend of mine asked me to help her come up with a cocktail for a birthday party she’s putting together with the instructions of, “How about something in a coupe? Oh, I love gin. And champagne. It’s a ’30s era party.” I was set. Naturally, I figured ’20s era because the Roaring ’20s (fun fact: it’s almost time again for some Roaring ’20s). After a little fiddling, I came up with the Southside Fizz, Locke Edition.
To begin again at the beginning, a classic take on the Southside Fizz is some gin, some mint, lemon, some simple syrup, and club soda (we even did a non-fizzy edition Southside before, but that’s a different post).
This being a party, the first thing that I knew I had to do was swap out the club soda for bubbly. If you’re going to celebrate, then celebrate. In this version, anything that’s a brute will work very nicely — though I’ve found that true most of the time.
Straight lemon seemed a little tame, so I tested out the tried-and-true lemon and lime combo. As I suspected (because I’m not really breaking new ground here, a few people have used lemon and lime in at least one or two drinks out there), it provided a nice balance to the cocktail overall, complementing the gin and champagne.
Finally, it was a matter of the mint. In a traditional Southside, you muddle the mint and the lemon, shake your cocktail, then strain it into your glass. That’s all fine and dandy, but when you’re having a party, that’s a bit of extra labor that you shouldn’t have to do when you’re entertaining guests. I opted to go with one of my favorite tricks: make a mint simple syrup.
To make your own, all you need to do is take a whole heaping mess (very technical here) of mint and put it in a pot with one-part water and one-part sugar. Bring that to a boil (to dissolve the sugar), then turn off the heat and let it cool. Strain out the mint and you have mint syrup.
Oh, the ’20s angle? That comes from (apocryphal) stories about how this someone invented the cocktail in Chicago, on the south side, during the ’20s. It was all about the high quality (read: sarcasm) bathtub gin, illicit jazz clubs, and mobsters. We’ll go with the idealized version of those stories and leave the dirty history for other sites who like to make people question the goodness of humanity. Us here? We’re in for a cocktail and enjoying everyone! (Oh, the real invention? More than likely a bartender at the Southside Sportsmen’s Club on Long Island, New York invented it sometime in the late 19th century.)
Now, onto the Southside Fizz, Locke Edition! (Oh, yeah, so the name — my friend’s last name is Locke.)
Southside Fizz, Locke Edition: Gin, Champagne, and Mint
Add your gin, lime, lemon, and mint syrup to your shaker with ice.
Strain into your coupe.
Only fill half.
Maybe I should have said that first.
Anyway, take your half-filled coupe and top with champagne.
Garnish with a sprig of mint.
If you're making a big batch of this, here you go: 1-part mint syrup, 1.5-parts lemon juice, 1.5-parts lime juice, 3-parts gin. Put those in a pitcher (as large or small as you'd like) to combine and stick it in a fridge to get cold. Don't add ice, that will water it down. Then, when it's party time, take the pitcher out, half fill your coupes, then top with champagne, and garnish with sprigs of mint. Now let's party!
Say one thing about me, say I love chocolate. I’ll happily take it in chip form, bars, hunks, milks, cookies, you get the idea. When I can get it in cocktail form, then I am quite the happy camper. There’s even a rumor — nay, a legend — that every time I go to Vegas (something I try to do at least twice a year), I like to start every day with a Chocolate Martini. What about the end of the night? What about when it’s time to settle down with something in the bourbon family? We have the Chocolate Maple Pecan Cocktail for that!
Bourbon? You can double check that.
What I’m saying here is that this is the best chocolate pecan pie you’ve ever had, but in drink form! Oh, and less cloyingly sweet. (Not that there’s anything wrong with a pecan pie, but that’s why you add the bittersweet chocolate in there to cut that extra super, duper sweetness.)
I’ll break down how my thinking went.
“Man, the holidays came and went again, and I didn’t get a single slice of pecan pie. I don’t want to bake an entire pie just for me because then I’ll eat an entire pie. Let’s see if we can’t make a drink out of that.”
And ta da!
With this recipe, I used pecan-infused bourbon. There are two ways to going about this, you can take pecans and bourbon, stick them in a jar, stick said jar in a cool dark spot, and in two weeks you’ll have pecan-infused bourbon. It’s not a difficult proposition, it’ll just take you fourteen long days of waiting.
Or, you can do what I did: infuse it with a cream whipper for a rapid infusion. This works great if you have a cream whipper (the kind you stick nitrous on; it’s not just for going faster). In that case, you take your pecans, you take your bourbon, pop them in your cream whipper, close it, add the nitrous, swirl for 30 seconds, let sit for two minutes, de-gas it, then pour and strain out your final liquid. Total time about four minutes.
It’s up to you, both methods work great, but it’s a difference of fourteen days vs. four minutes. If you don’t already have a cream whipper, this is the perfect excuse to get one.
Now, with our pecan bourbon, we add some maple syrup (the darker, richer, tastier, the better), some dark crème de cacao, and a little chocolate bitters. Yes, a damn fine after dinner drink if ever there was one.
Whenever I get Mexican food (a favorite, but growing up in Southern California that almost goes without saying), I always, without fail, every single time order horchata. If you’re unfamiliar with horchata, it’s a magical elixir of tastiness — think of it as rice pudding, but in drink form and lighter. It’s refreshing. Knowing that, it was only a matter of time for me to tackle this most amazing of drinks in booze form, let’s get down with the Horchata Cocktail!
The first thing to know about horchata is that it’s a rice drink — you basically soak rice in water overnight, with some cinnamon, then blend the hell out of it, strain and you have a rough approximation. There are variations with almonds, other spices, etc. I tend to prefer a little bit of almond flavor, so I started there.
My experimentation began with almond milk. I didn’t want it to be too heavy, hence avoiding milk, cream or anything similar. With the Horchata Cocktail, I was looking for a refreshing, yet slightly boozy, rendition. If you want pure dessert, check out the Tres Leches Martini — that’ll satisfy your inner sweet tooth.
From there, it was about hitting on the other big flavor in horchata: cinnamon. I knew that just tossing some cinnamon on top would look nice (and hey look, we did!), but it wouldn’t infuse the cocktail with enough flavor. Time for one of our favorite tricks: infused simple syrup.
To make the cinnamon infused simple syrup, you just take one part of sugar to one part of water, bring to a boil with a cinnamon stick or three, then let hang out until cool. The longer it hangs out, the more infused it’ll become.
After I’d locked down the base flavor (almond milk) and accent flavor (cinnamon simple syrup), it was a matter of picking the alcohol. Well, we are talking a Mexican favorite here, there really wasn’t any choice. Hello Mr. Tequila. Oh, and as a background play, let’s bring in some almond liqueur as well.
Now we’re cooking with tasty, refreshing, elixir of the gods!
I’m a huge fan of champagne. I’ll admit that’s not the most outrageous of statements, but still, I stand by it. Oh, and cut the pedantic stuff out — sparkling wine from California and elsewhere is great too. While technically the wine should come from the Champagne region for people to consider it champagne “officially,” let’s not let the details derail us from a good story. If it’s quality, tasty and bubbly, I’m a fan. Now, if it’s good solo, it’s also good in a cocktail. Let’s do, shall we? On to the Death of the Champagne Cocktail!
My father, who is himself not much of a drinker, will occasionally enjoy a nice OJ and Pernod. Growing up, all I had to do was smell it and I knew I didn’t want to try it.
At least, not until I was a little older.
Then, when I finally did try it — shock of shocks — I wasn’t a fan. Black licorice and I aren’t the best of mates.
However, a little older, a little wiser and after the absinthe renaissance, now I can see what my father was onto with his cocktail of choice. It’s not a bad little combination.
That got me thinking, OJ + absinthe is good, OJ + champagne is good, therefore OJ + champagne + absinthe must be good.
Turns out, not quite.
Alice and I fiddled with fresh OJ, but we could never quite get the proportions right. The absinthe always took over, killing all the other flavors.
That got me thinking, if the classic Champagne Cocktail (that’d be a sugar cube, bitters and champagne) worked (PS, it does), then what if we adjusted to use orange bitters instead of regular ones? That I knew could give us a strong orange flavor that would stand up to absinthe.
I knew that because the Hemingway classic Death in the Afternoon (absinthe and champagne) worked, then we should be able to combine these two functional cocktails together to finally find success.
Finally, nailed it.
Now, if you’re like both Alice and I, settle in and enjoy a Death of the Champagne Cocktail (now you see where the name comes from: Death in the Afternoon + Champagne Cocktail).
However, what should you do if you’re not sure what bubbles to add to this? Know what you should do? Get yourself to Bubblyfest!
It’s coming up in Avila (full disclosure, I went to school at Cal Poly and Avila is amazing), they have over 50 (!) bubbly producers and you get to try a whole bunch of tasty, fizzy, yummy drinks. If you’re wondering, “Should I go?” The answer is simple: yes.
I mean, unless you don’t like champagne, sparkling wine or, you know, have good taste. Then by all means, you do you. The rest of us? We’ll be heading to Avila for Bubblyfest (by way of stopping by Splash first — nothing gets you ready for a few drinks like epic clam chowder).
And now, onto the Death of the Champagne Cocktail!
And we’re back! In my mind, I imagined Jeremey Clarkson in old new Top Gear saying that after a long absence. Alice and I took a slight sabbatical after having our first child! Hooray for kids! Fun fact, nothing makes you appreciate a cocktail at the end of the night like a finally asleep child. True story. With that in mind, let’s return to the goodness with the Hazelnut Chocolate Matcha Cocktail!
This one has it all, nutty goodness, chocolate richness and that earthy I-feel-like-I’m-doing-something-good-for-myself-but-am-still-having-a-cocktail-ness tastiness of matcha.
As I’m still not a big coffee fan (Thor’s Coffee, obviously notwithstanding — and I’ve grown to appreciate it in a nice tiramisu), whenever we go to a coffee shop, I inevitably get their version of a blended matcha or chai. Plus one for the grown up milkshake! That got the wheels spinning.
Oh, and the sudden prevalence of matcha candy everywhere — especially you Matcha Kit Kat. I wish I could quit you.
All I had to do was turn that lovely candy flavor and adult milkshake (if you think those blended tea and/or coffee drinks are anything other than adult milkshakes, I’ll give you the freedom to keep pretending) into an adult after dinner (or before dinner, or lunch) treat.
On the matcha front, I’ll be the first to admit I’m a bit of a novice when it comes to which to buy. I went with a ceremonial one from Japan and it tasted great. Undoubtedly, there’s a whole blackhole you can fall into when it comes to which to buy, from where, for what reason, etc., but I don’t pretend to be a tea aficionado, I just know what I like. I’m confident, if you get a decent one, you’ll make a great matcha cocktail.
For the chocolate, I (boastfully, proudly?) recommend our Homemade White Crème de Cacao. However, if you don’t have the time or inclination, I’m fairly sure that this will turn out splendid with whatever you can procure. Though, it might be on the sweeter side, so adjust the vanilla simple syrup to your taste.
Darn, you’ll have to experiment by making more cocktails. Listen, I know it’s a tough job, but you’re up to it.
Finally, the vanilla simple syrup that I call for, that’s just regular ol’ simple syrup (a 1:1 mix of sugar to water) that I steeped a vanilla bean pod into for that amazing vanilla flavor. If you don’t have a pod floating around, add in a splash of vanilla extract.
Now, without further ado, let’s get down to the Hazelnut Chocolate Matcha Cocktail!
Admittedly, I’m not the world’s foremost authority when it comes to music. Hell, my musical taste falls somewhere between “what now” and “uh, ok.” Alice, on the other hand, she knows music. That’s why back when we started working together and she told me that her officemate Doug had a band and that they were good, I knew they were gonna be good. That was my introduction to Lucid Fly and (drum roll) they’re finally releasing their first studio album! Doug asked if we could come up with a cocktail for their album, who was I to say no? Introducing the Lucid Fly Cocktail!
First things first: go check out their album Building Castles in Air and buy a copy or three (you’ll love it, promise).
Second things second: Doug decided he wanted to task us with some challenges for this Lucid Fly-inspired cocktail. As if it wasn’t enough of a challenge already? Fine by me. I like a good challenge.
Our challenges were that this cocktail would have to be something that they could pre-make into a batch for serving from a pitcher or dispenser and they wanted a non-alcoholic version for, uh, reasons escaping me, but I’m sure they are very good reasons.
Piece of astronaut ice cream I figured — totally doable.
For inspiration, I riffed off the meaning behind their band name with space, space flight and astronauts (now you see where I figured it’d be as easy as a piece of astronaut ice cream).
To that end, there was only one base this cocktail could have — the drink of the spacemen, Tang!
From there, it was a matter of thinking like a rock star. What good rock star doesn’t appreciate bourbon? None that I can imagine. Near as I can tell, if a Jack on the rocks good enough for the Chairman of the Board (that’s Frank Sinatra for you non-Sinatra folks out there), then every musically inclined star approves of bourbon as a rule.
Now that we had a solid base of Tang (epic!) and bourbon, I wanted to play with their album Building Castles in Air and the first single, “Visions of Grandeur.” Those both have dreaming, imagination and vision in common. The tool to help? Absinthe.
Now we’re talking. Space drink? Check. Approved by musical royalty? Check. A libation purported to help you have visions? Check.
After toying around with the flavors, we added cherry liqueur and cherry bitters to round everything out nicely.
Oh, and the non-alcoholic version? Done and done. Tang plus cherry juice plus star anise simple syrup. Won’t give you visions. Or a buzz. But tastes pretty good.
Add your bourbon, cherry herring (that’s the liqueur), Tang and absinthe to your cocktail shaker with ice.
Fill your old-fashioned glass with ice.
Pour in your Lucid Fly Cocktail.
Garnish with an orange round.
Listen to Building Castles in Air.
Rock out my friends, rock out.
Now, let’s upsize this. It’s 1 part bourbon, 1 part cherry herring, 2 parts Tang, 1/24 part absinthe and 1/32 part cherry bitters. You can see where those numbers get wonky, so let’s do some easy math for everyone.
1 bottle of bourbon (750ml) 1 bottle of cherry herring (750ml) 1.5 liters of Tang 1 oz. absinthe ¾ oz. cherry bitters
Add all of those in your pitcher without ice (you don’t want to water it down). Stir, shake, rattle, roll or whatever you want to combine. Toss in some orange slices to look awesome. Then distribute to whatever drinking glasses you use. Those will have your ice. Oh, garnish those with orange rounds too if you’re feeling super decorative.
If you want to make the boring non-alcoholic version, that’s 3 parts Tang, 1 part cherry juice, 1 part star anise simple syrup (take one part water and one part sugar, boil them with a bunch of star anise in it). If you’d like more volume, I’ll let you handle that math.
The resurgence of cocktail connoisseurs has also been a boon to the classic ingredient market. Not long ago, you could hardly find anything beyond iridescent grenadine or sweet and sour mix. Now, there’s artisanal everything, produced by some bearded fella who wears suspenders and probably rides a unicycle to and from his collective (I jest — but only a little). This is great when you’re feeling lazy. However, when you’re ambitious, you take up the mantle yourself and make your own mixers. Much like Homemade Orgeat!
Let’s get the obvious out of the way up top: yes, you can buy perfectly fine orgeat. I’d recommend one of the pricier ones without any of the odd fillers and strange things that don’t sound like ingredients for good food.
Heck, we’ve done it, purchased a few and they’re perfectly adequate.
However, the fun is in the journey and making your own gives you the power to create orgeat exactly to your liking! Here, we like flavor. Subtle is nice, I’m a fan of subtle, just not when it comes to my drinks, jokes, conversations, stories or anything that falls within the more interesting category.
Alrighty, so, orgeat is, in its most basic, easy to think about form almond syrup.
That means that the easiest form of Homemade Orgeat is pulverized almonds that have steeped in simple syrup. Ta da! Magic. Jazz hands.
For those pedants out there, you might be getting a little huffy right about now, “But a true, authentic orgeat has orange water in it! You need that extra flavor because it’s in there!” Sure, yeah, there’s that. That’s the best part about when you make your own: you get to control what you want in it.
For our recipe, we tested with various different sugars: white, brown (fun fact: turns out it’s white with molasses added back to it) and turbinado. After some tests, we concluded that we like a combination of white and turbinado — the white brings the sweet and the turbinado brings out the earthy characteristics of the almonds.
After the sweet factor, there’s the almonds themselves. Here’s another thing that you might have already noticed: our Homemade Orgeat isn’t opaque or milky white. Nope, it’s brown. That’s thanks to the turbinado sugar (flavor, see, it’s a good thing) and because we left the skins on the almonds.
Here again, sorry to you pedantic folks out there who’d prefer a whiter version. You can do that, just remove the skins from the almonds — you’ll get less flavor, but I guess it’ll be more aesthetically pleasing (to you, me, I’m good with brown). That’s the fun of making it yourself, you get to control your destiny.
Anyway, we take our almonds and we toast them. That’s going to up the nutty flavor, bring out some of those essential oils and let them get cozy with the syrup.
The final note is that when it’s all done, if you want to add a splash or two of vodka for some longevity (for you and the Homemade Orgeat), go for it. You can also add that orange water (we don’t, but feel free to). Oh, if it’s just not almondy enough for you, you can also add in some almond extract. However, I’m quietly confident that this will have much of that almond flavor that you’ve been missing out on from your standard store-bought orgeat.
As we’ve shown, tiki cocktails need not only be rum. They can be tequila (hello Tropical Paloma), they can be moonshine (hey there Tropical Prohibition Paradise), but can you make them extra fancy with Scotch? Oh yes you can. We figured for National Scotch Day, which happens to fall right at the end of Tiki Month, we’d have to do just that. Let’s get a little Scotchy with the Luau Smoked Pineapple!
Before I get too far into this, I should start with a warning: if you didn’t get it from the intro, yes, we’re using Scotch in a cocktail. That means we’re taking your precious little sipper and blending it. AGHAST! BLASPHEMER!
Yeah, so, if you’re easily offended and a little uptight about your booze drinking habits, then you’re probably both reading the wrong site and maybe shouldn’t try this cocktail. Though, you might like our Margarita, it’s a very nice drink indeed — and almost standard (but better).
For the rest of us who remember that drinking should be fun, let’s dive into the Luau Smoked Pineapple!
Onto the Scotch! You’re going to need two of those. It is National Scotch Day after all, why have one when you can have two?
For your first one, I recommend a smoky, peaty, monster of flavor. Luckily for us, our friends over at Ardbeg sent us a sample of their Ardbeg Dark Cove, which was exactly what we needed. Rich, smoky, peaty, hints of sherry and citrus, yes, this will work nicely for what we’re building (that’s the smoked part from the luau).
With your second Scotch, we already have the smokiness covered, you need something a touch softer, but that will bring the entire flavor together: you need a quality blend. Luckily for us, our friends over at Syndicate sent us their Syndicate 58/6, which is a damn tasty blend. With this one, you’ll get some notes of grains, cinnamon, orange, a hint of smokiness — yeah, just enough to tie everything together.
We are talking about a luau here. Citrus, smokiness, character and flavor are all in order.
Now that we have our two Scotches handled (smoky and ultra complimentary), it’s time to bring together the rest of the party. To that, we’ll add pineapple juice, lime juice, lemon juice and orgeat (homemade, naturally).
Rather than just that list of ingredients, I’ll give you a little insight into what we were thinking with everything.
Ever had grilled pineapple? If not, I’ll pause while you do that. It’s epic. Hence, we knew pineapple would be a great backbone to go with our peaty Scotch.
Next was rounding out the brightness with the lemon and lime juices.
Then, we wanted to add a bit of richness, hence the orgeat. That worked to bring everything a little earthier richness (the almond flavor really worked in this one), which our final Scotch buddied up to and made more awesome. Turner, meet Hooch.
When you put it all together, will you offended some really snooty Scotch drinkers? Yeah, probably. And that’s totally cool. You know why? Because on National Scotch Day, it’s all about celebrating the awesomeness that is Scotch in all its forms, be it neat, with a single rock or even in a (if I do say so myself) damn fine tiki cocktail.