Category Archives: education

Happy Birthday Charles Tanqueray!

charles tanqueray simple cocktails

There are few historical figures that I celebrate on an annual basis, but Charles Tanqueray (born March 27, 1810) is one of them. Gin was the first spirit I fell in love with, and Tanqueray has always been my gold standard for London Drys. The following is an excerpt of an interview I did with Tom Nicol, Tanqueray’s previous master distiller.

“Tanqueray was a genius” says Nicol, explaining that  Charles was passionate about making things and he invented many items – other than gin – over the course of his life. Some examples include a formula for horse saddle polish and medicines for injured animals.

It’s often reported that Charles rejected his father’s life in the church to distill gin, but there’s no evidence that Charles was on track to the clergy at any point. He was smart, to be sure, but Charles didn’t show any interest in attending university, and that was required for the pulpit. He sought to invent, to create, and to experiment.

Charles eyed other successful British gin distillers Felix Booth and Alexander Gordon, and decided to create “a better gin than theirs,” says Nichol. In his early 20’s, Charles Tanqueray developed several gin recipes, but it was his London Dry recipe that proved unforgettable. Nichol says “Charles won the lottery with that one.”

Charles Tanqueray reveled in his success. “He wasn’t the genius recluse like we sometimes see today, but Nicol recons that he was a genius who told everybody he was a genius. From his proud stature, to his knee-length frock coat, to his stately moustache and beard, Nichol says that “Charles liked to show off his success.”

Though he was a proud man, Tanqueray’s personal life is strangely undocumented. This leaves us to wonder: was Tanqueray obsessed with his business, but absent from his family? Or was he just a very private man who sought to protect his loved ones? By any account, we know few details of his personal life, in fact, we’re not exactly sure how many children Charles had.

The one child we do know of, though, is Charles Waugh Tanqueray, who took over his father’s distillery after his father died at 58. Tanqueray’s historians call Charles Waugh “an upright Christian gentleman of forceful character yet with social conscience,” and just like his father, Charles Waugh was a very young man when he began distilling. More of a businessman than an inventor, Charles’ son placed his attention on gin exclusively, resulting in Charles Waugh growing the Tanqueray brand much larger than his father, including his facilitating a merger with Gordon’s Gin—one of his father’s inspirations and competitors—in  the late 1800’s.

Charles Tanqueray really seems to have been a proud genius who both flaunted his talent and shrouded his family in mystery. Today, Tanqueray stands as one of the oldest and most successful gins in the history of the world.

*Photo courtesy Diageo Archives.

Simple Cocktails at SACC!

sacc2016

Happy New Year everyone!

Now that we’re coming back from the holidays, we’re thrilled to announce that we’re going to be heading to Texas next week for the San Antonio Cocktail Conference. We will be hosting a seminar on Cigar and Cocktail pairing – cost is $55 for attendees and we’d love to see you there!

There in the midst of cocktail enthusiasts, we’ll be recording interviews which we’ll use for a special podcast episode just like we did at Tales of the Cocktail last year.

For those who can’t attend, we’re sure you’ll love the podcasts and for now, you can read our blog post on cigar and cocktail pairing! Cheers and we’ll see you in San Antonio!

A Simple Bloody Mary Bar

bloody mary bar

Bloody Marys are an interesting cocktail in many ways. Firstly, they’re not simple – both the ingredients and garnishes can be huge lists of spices and pickled things. Second, they occupy the very fun day drinking and traditional brunch-drink space with Mimosas and Bellinis.

That being said, we still like to keep things simple, even with something as complex as the Bloody Mary. If you visit the reviews page at this blog, you’ll see that I’ve tasted many natural ‘Mary mixes, and many of them are awesomely delicious. Recently, we had brunch at Simple Cocktails headquarters, and here’s how we did the Bloody Mary bar.

Get the liquor and the Bloody Mary mix in a pitcher, with ice, ahead of time. We got them ready 1/2 hour before brunch. I used regular vodka. while you may be tempted to break out the Hot Monkey for this occasion, not everyone likes a spicy  Bloody Mary. For our mix this time around, I got a jug of Trader Joe’s Garden Patch juice, which contains lots of tomato juice, several other veggie juices, plus a little lemon juice. We discovered it’s pretty great for Bloody Marys.

When your Bloody Mary is in the pitcher, you can go about setting out your garnishes. In this case, we set out celery sticks, jalapeño olives, regular olives, cornichons, Sriracha, salt and pepper, lemon and lime wedges. I pre-rimmed the glasses with Crazy Steve’s Bloody Mary Salt, too.

Once the party started, it was a simple process for everyone: pour your Bloody Mary into your glass and toss in all the garnishes you want. A small amount of prep will make is so that you have a simple, self-serve Bloody Mary bar next time you brunch!

 

How to Make a Cocktail For Someone Who Doesn’t Know What They Want

home bartender. photo by matt and tish

Now that I’ve spent a few years as a home bartender, I’ve picked up some tricks on how to make drinks for people who aren’t quite sure what type of cocktail they like.

Whether a new drinker (just turned 21), or simply an intimidated bar drinker, I’ve found that the majority of people that I make drinks for haven’t tried enough cocktails in their life to know exactly what they like, so here are 5 questions I always ask people before I make them a drink:

  1. What flavors do you like – especially citrus, even foods, etc? If they love oranges, make an Orange Blossom Special or Screwdriver. Or avoid the Cucumber Martini if they hate cucumber.
  2. Do you have a liquor preference? Often, people will know enough to say “I hate gin,” or “I love gin,” (both of which I hear pretty regularly). If they like rum, make them a tiki drink. I once heard, “I’m allergic to juniper,” which as well all know, is a curse worse than death, because gin is awesome.
  3. How sweet do you like your cocktails? This one is huge, because even if they say the like Margaritas, for instance, but don’t like sweet drinks, you can just ease up on the Triple Sec a bit. If they love sweet and love vodka (see #2), then I’ll make them a simple 2 oz vodka + 1 1/2 oz liqueur cocktail like this one.
  4. What are some cocktails you already like? Here’s a specific one I do a lot: when people tell me they love Gins and Tonics, I tell them “let me make you the best G&T you’ve ever had,” and I get out the Jack Rudy Tonic syrup. Making upgraded versions of drinks they already love is an awesome route.
  5. Do you like it? At a commercial bar, this is nearly impossible, but one of the biggest advantages of a home bar is that it’s a lot easier to say you don’t like something. I always ask people if they like the drink I made, and I let them know it’s ok if they don’t, I’ll gladly pour it out (or maybe drink it myself) and make them something else.

 Special thanks to Matt&Tish for the photo.

Back to School Gift Ideas

back to school cocktail accessories

Well, that sad time of the year has returned: back to school time. Here are some booze-related gift ideas for the favorite professors in your life:

Buy a Community College ProfessorPorcelain Party Cup – $10. This is not New England. You do things humbly around here and you’re proud to say your favorite cocktail ingredient is Mountain Dew. Amazon link.

Buy a Seminary ProfessorFlask Disguised as a Book – $17. While Jesus was a wine man, some of your colleges haven’t developed the taste for fine Bourbon that you have. It’s best to keep this tipple on the bookshelf, particularly for sharing with likeminded individuals. Amazon link.

Buy an Ivy League ProfessorFlask Tie – $25. You spend your time in important meetings and talking about important things. You’re a bestselling author and known for your academic prowess. You drink expensive Scotch, so it’s helpful to have some on you at all times. The flask tie holds a good volume of liquor (8 oz) in the front while concealing a Camelbak-style sip nozzle in the back for drinks on the run. Amazon link.

Custom Party Drinks

party bar with garnishes

Recently I bartended a graduation party for some friends and I wanted to create some special cocktails for the event. I have very limited professional bartending experience (I’ve never bartended outside of my house or at parties). Here are some things I learned when you’re creating custom drinks for parties:

1. Keep the recipes simple (see below for the recipes I chose). If you have to explain the list of ingredients to people over and over, the line at the bar will back up. Occasionally Mrs. Simple Cocktails jumped in to help me, too, and I didn’t want to annoy her with complicated recipes. All four drinks I made only had 2 ingredients to pour together.

2. Lean towards sweet in your recipe ingredients. This was a summer party with a pretty even divide of men and women, and three of my four drinks were either fruity or sweet.

3. Garnishes are important. Nice-looking fruit or citrus really makes cocktails extra special. Also, pre-cut all of your garnishes.

4. Don’t get too creative. I named these drinks after professors at their school, which they loved, but the cocktails didn’t have any unusual or unfamiliar ingredients.

5. Watch the alcohol content. Try to keep the percent of alcohol down near wine or beer levels. That allows the guests to try multiple cocktails and enjoy their night without being three sheets to the wind.

party cocktails

Here are the recipes, pictured above from left to right:

Clem Club

This is a renamed Gentleman’s Club cocktail. I pre-mixed the liquor so I could make the cocktails quickly.

  • in an empty liquor or wine bottle, mix 1 cup gin, 1 cup brandy, and 1 cup sweet vermouth
  • pour 2 oz of the mixture in a cup full of ice
  • top with soda water (about 1 oz)
  • garnish with a cherry

Holcomb & Tonic

A simple vodka tonic.

  • pour 1 1/2 oz of vodka (I used Smirnoff Blue Label) in a cup full of ice
  • top with tonic water
  • garnish with a lime slice

Blackberry Bruskas

This was a favorite. This was a pre-mixed punch in a pitcher, ready to pour.

  • in a pitcher full of ice, add:
  • 1/2 jar (about 13 oz) of Ole Smoky Blackberry Moonshine
  • 3/4 carton of Newman’s Own Organic Virgin Lemonade
  • fill cups with ice and 3 fresh blackberries before pouring

Driscoll Bay

The most popular by far, a very simple take on a Piña Colada.

  • in a cup full of ice, add:
  • 1 1/2 oz rum (I used Bacardi Gold)
  • top with Trader Joe’s Tropical Carrot Juice
  • garnish with an orange slice

 

Credit for both photos: Latisha Lyn Photography.

Ignore the Experts

serving a drink

Sometimes you just have to ignore the experts.

Part of a booze writer’s job as an “expert” is to teach you things about liquor and drinking. I’ve written posts about how to serve absinthe, how to make an Old Fashioned, or how to make a Martini at this very blog. Here’s a sampling of what you will hear us say from time to time:

  • Never put ice in scotch.
  • A Martini is made with gin. If you make the drink with vodka, it’s called a Kangaroo. And don’t shake a martini either.
  • Never muddle fruit in an Old Fashioned.
  • Make sure you buy tequila that’s distilled from 100% Weber Blue Agave.
  • Flavored vodkas are the scum of the earth and we’d all be better off if we could purge them.

I’m writing this post to tell you that just because we might have more booze wisdom than your everyday drinker, we do not have the right to tell you that if you’re not doing our way, you’re wrong. Just so you know, I’ve broken lots of drinking taboos in my life. I drank brandy on the rocks once. I used to regularly drink Vodka Martinis, shaken, not stirred. I make my Old Fashioneds with a splash of club soda. I even tried Fruit Loop vodka once (who wouldn’t?), though I rewrote my post on it several times because I was worried about my rep with the Cocktail Elite.

So if you have a favorite drinking practice or recipe that us “experts” disparage, ignore us and do it your way! Do you like ice in your scotch? Awesome. You think Jagermeister and Red Bull is a “cocktail?” Enjoy. How about a glass of Brown Wine (Jim Beam and Coke)? Go for it.

My girl Mrs. Simple Cocktails has a favorite “martini” recipe that calls for 2 oz vodka, 3/4 oz of olive brine (you read that right), and a splash of vermouth with 4 huge olives as a garnish. I make them for her all the time and I don’t preach at her about how she’s really drinking some sort of a Bastardized Kangaroo, not a martini, because she likes the damn things and she can call them what she likes.

So from one member of the Cocktail Elite, you should drink what you like, how you like to drink it. We may have strong opinions on booze and drinking practices, but that’s because we drink a lot of it and we’re probably cocktail history freaks, too. We may think you’re nuts for using sour mix instead of squeezing real citrus. We might think that a shaken martini is sacrilegious, but who cares? There are a plethora of bottles on the store shelves and there’s something in them for every type of drinker, even one who likes Donut Vodka (how dare you?).

Here’s my girl’s recipe again for those who dare try it:

Mrs. Simple Cocktails I-Can-Call-It-What-I-Want Martini

  • 2 oz vodka
  • 3/4 oz olive brine
  • splash of dry vermouth
  • shake on ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass
  • garnish with 4 olives on a pick

Father’s Day Gift Ideas

father's day gift ideas

Father’s Day is coming up! As a father myself, I think the best rules of thumb are: know what dad likes, and get something creative and interesting. How about Scotch, cigars, coffee, and sweets for a start? If you caught my segment about this on The Morning Brew, welcome!

scotch

Scotch. A bottle of booze for dad! If he’s not a Scotch guy, try a rye or Tennessee whiskey. Suggestions: Dewar’s Highlander Honey, Speyburn, or Balblair.

  • How much: starting at about $20 for blended Scotch. Single malts will be more like $70.
  • Where: your favorite local liquor store.
  • Buy for: the dad who loves a tasty glass of whisky.
  • Buy because: dad will appreciate the addition to his home bar.

cigars for father's day

Cigars. If dad’s a smoker, you can’t go wrong at your local cigar shop. In fact, there are so many options you may have a tough time deciding what to get him. Consider things like: a multi-pack of cigars, a torch lighter, a cutter, a leather case, a beefy ashtray, or a classy humidor. And these will go well with the bottle of Scotch you buy him, too.

  • How much: $15 and up. A quality humidor will run $125+.
  • Where: your favorite local cigar joint. I got everything above from Monte’s in Albuquerque.
  • Buy for: the guy who loves a good Summer smoke on the porch.
  • Buy because: cigars send a nice message: relax and enjoy yourself, dad.

le creuset coffee set

Le Creuset Coffee Set. If dad loves coffee, get him a set like this one, which includes ceramic mugs, a French press, and a coffee storage container. Available in manly gray (pictured), red, blue, or Le Creuset orange.

  • How much: $125.
  • Where: entire set online at Le Creuset or buy individual pieces from Amazon.
  • Buy for: the dad who loves good, strong coffee in the morning.
  • Buy because: your dad is picky about his coffee.

bourbon marshmallows

Bourbon Marshmallows. If dad’s favorite vice is sugar, order a few boxes of 1″x1″ snacking marshmallows from Wondermade, who’s Father’s Day gift set includes boxes of bourbon (made with Maker’s Mark), coffee, Guinness, and maple bacon ‘mallows. These’ll pair great with the coffee he makes in that French press!

  • How much: $7.50 per box.
  • Where: online.
  • Buy for: the dad with a sweet tooth.
  • Buy because: the thought of eating Guinness marshmallows will put a huge smile on your dad’s face. If you’re looking for creative and interesting, this is the gift to buy.

 

Walk the Line: Bacardi

bacardi bottles product line

This is Walk the Line: a series where I explore the entire product lines of the most popular liquor brands together with a panel of friends and tasters. Click here to view the entire Walk the Line series.


Bacardi is the world’s top-selling rum and one of the top liquor brands in the world. Originally made over 100 years ago in Cuba, Bacardi is now distilled in Puerto Rico and it’s used in drinks like the Bacardi Cocktail or the Cuba Libre – a rum and Coke with lime that was originally mixed in 1900.

Bacardi Superior. Aged 1-2 years in oak and charcoal filtered twice, Superior is really the the standard for mixable white rums and the one to buy for Mojitos, Daiquiris, or Rum and Cokes. Maybe it’s the aging process, maybe it’s how it’s distilled, but Bacardi always tastes like Bacardi, it’s one of the most iconic flavors I’ve ever experienced. Tasters found it pleasant tasting with a strong burn and a smell that almost reminded them of nail polish remover. Superior will run you $13 a bottle, and this is the one to buy for Caribbean and South American Cocktails.

Bacardi Gold. Gold is an alternative to Superior that’s a bit more complex in flavor, a little richer, but is still simple enough that it makes great cocktails. Tasters said it has a little more buttery, there was a little less of the familiar Bacardi taste, and that it was heavier overall. Gold is a better choice for Tiki drinks and will also run you $13 a bottle.

Bacardi Oakheart. This is Bacardi’s entry into the spiced rum market, it’s name playing off the oak aging that all Bacardi rums enjoy. In its cool looking knobby bottle, Oakheat is sweet and smoother than it’s brethren, and I’d guess there is a touch of sugar within to smooth it out (it’s also slightly lower in alcohol). Tasters thought this one had a great flavor and discovered lots of vanilla and cinnamon, most said it’d be great in Coke. Oakheart will run you $14 a bottle.

Bacardi 8. Aged 8 years in oak, this brand of Bacardi is meant for sipping. Priced modestly at $25, this definitely tastes like a more mature Gold. A lot of Gold’s familiar flavors are there, though Bacardi 8 is mellower, cooler, and has a bitter raisin or maybe banana bread taste that’s not present in the younger Bacardis. There’s less alcohol burn, too, and it finishes clean and dry. I’ll probably use Bacardi 8 to make Daiquiris as I’ve started to love the was they taste with aged rum, and for the price, it’s a good aged rum for mixing in cocktails.

Walk the Line: Smirnoff

smirnoff vodka product line

This is Walk the Line: a series where I explore the entire product lines of the most popular liquor brands together with a panel of friends and tasters. Click here to view the entire Walk the Line series.


Smirnoff is not only the best-selling vodka in the world, but it’s the best-selling spirit brand in the world, too. While most of it’s varieties are just in different flavors, I stuck with what I consider to be the basics: two versions of Smirnoff and two classic vodka flavors. All in all, Smirnoff falls right in the middle: for the price, you could do much, much worse, but it’s not a perfect vodka.

Smirnoff. This is the standard red label Smirnoff vodka, also known as “Recipe No. 21.” Distilled from a corn, 80 proof, and selling for $10-15 a bottle, Smirnoff is a pretty safe buy. Tasters found it had a bit of an alcohol bite, particularly in the smell, but that it was a pretty smooth-tasting vodka overall.

Smirnoff Blue Label. Also known as “Recipe No. 57,” Blue Label is 100 proof and is slightly more expensive than the Red Label ($17). It really ignites your taste buds all around when you sip it and tasters found that the burn you get from it is a significant step up from Red Label. There are a few reasons to choose Blue Label over Red: to make infused vodkas, to make stronger cocktails, because you have the extra money to spend, or…let’s be honest here: because you want to get drunk faster.

Smirnoff Citrus. Citrus is one of the “original” vodka favors, from way back in the days when Fruit Loop vodka was unheard of. Citrus vodka is recommended when you make a Cosmopolitan. Smirnoff Citrus has a fresh, clean, and dry lemon flavor. Tasters said it was very smooth and one said they could easily sip it on the rocks. For $14, this is a great choice if you’re looking to incorporate some vodka flavors into your home bar without embarrassing yourself.

Smirnoff Vanilla. The Vanilla vairety is quite a bit sweeter than Citrus, but still fells like a classic vodka flavor. Tasters liked it in general, and said they could see this one used in a Chocolate Martini or give White Russians a nice flavor boost. The taste of Vanilla felt a little manufactured, particularly when compared to the Citrus, but like the other Smirnoffs, Vanilla is a decent buy at $14.