Sauza Sparkling Margaritas

sauza sparkling margarita

Sparkling Margaritas are a line of pre-made cocktails from tequila brand Sauza, available in original, wild berry, mango-peach, and the newest flavor: watermelon. A bottle will run you about $12 for a 750ml, with alcohol is right at 10% for all of the flavors.

I expected these to be something like a wine cooler or Bacardi Silver, based on malt liquor or maybe wine, but I was pleasantly surprised to see the ingredient list: silver tequila, triple sec, carbonation, and flavor – those are the actual ingredients to a Margarita!

When I make margaritas at home, I usually include a splash of club soda, so this is a familiar experience for me, though I’d admit that the Sparkling Margaritas are sweeter than I’m used to. These are a great party drink though because they’re so easy to serve, and if you drink them on the rocks, it cuts the sweetness down a bit.

sauza sparkling margarita

As far as the individual flavors, we had a tasting party and Original and the Watermelon were the favorites of the bunch (which the photo above helps to illustrate). The interesting thing is that Original and Watermelon are flavored “naturally”, while Wild Berry and Mango-Peach eliminate the word natural from their label.

It’s rare that you find decent bottled cocktails in stores, but this one fits the bill as good as any I have seen yet. Sauza Sparkling Margaritas get the ingredients right and outside of the usual cocktails, beer and wine, they’re a nice option to include at a party, too.

We tasted Sauza Sparkling Margaritas on the first episode of the Simple Cocktails Podcast.

Simple Cocktails Podcast Episode 1

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“Have you heard of Sauza Sparkling Margaritas?” The blasphemy of Margaritas without salt rims. Is a cherry a berry?  Lisa makes a Vodka Sour.

Download Episode 1.

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If you enjoyed the show, please write a brief review on iTunes. That would help us get the word out and raise the visibility of the show. Thank you!

Brancamenta Cocktails

brancamenta bottle

I have written about Fernet Branca in the past, an increasingly popular and pretty legendary bitter liqueur. BrancaMenta is a companion liqueur, Fernet Branca combined with mint syrup, which makes the liqueur mintier and sweeter (obviously), but actually changes the taste of the whole thing a bit.

While Fernet Branca is more bitter and is a stronger alcohol experience, BrancaMenta is a sweeter and more palatable drink for many. In side-by-side tests at my home bar, folks who didn’t like Fernet Branca usually liked BrancaMenta when they tried it. One said it “tastes like a Thin Mint,” and that’s not too far off the mark as BrancaMenta is more chocolaty and sweet than it’s big brother.

I was challenged to come up with some original cocktail ideas with BrancaMenta, and it’s a surprisingly easy liqueur to mix. Since it’s not overly sweet, you can use it in place of a liqueur or a base liquor. I made two types of recipes: BrancaMenta plus and cocktails with BrancaMenta. Try these out:

brancamenta cocktails

Creamy Mint Stout (by Greg Mays)

  • add 1 1/2 oz of BrancaMenta to a chilled 14-oz glass
  • top with cream stout (I used St. Peter’s)

Branca Moji-Tea (by Greg Mays)

  • add 1 oz BrancaMenta to an ice-filled collins glass
  • top with cold lime or mint tea (preferably both – I used Argo Mojitea)
  • (stainless steel straw courtesy of KegWorks)

brancamenta cocktails

I’m going to be really straight with you here: I didn’t expect these next two drinks to be as great as they are. They looked good when I was photographing them, sure, but when I tasted these cocktails, they were excellent, simple, balanced, and refreshing. I’ll be making these regularly at the home bar for sure:

White Italian (by Greg Mays)

  • in a double old fashioned  glass filled with ice, add:
  • 1 1/2 oz BrancaMenta
  • 1 1/2 oz half-and-half
  • 2 oz strong, cold coffee (I used unsweetened Illy issumo Coffee)
  • stir until combined and garnish with a mint sprig

CocoMenta Cocktail (by Greg Mays)

  • in a shaker, combine:
  • 2 oz BrancaMenta
  • 2 oz coconut water
  • 3 dashes of orange bitters
  • fill with ice and shake well (the coconut water will make the drink a little bit foamy)
  • strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with mint leaves

Fat Trout Scotch

fat trout scotch

I’ve spoken about it before, but it’s been quite a process for me to become a scotch drinker. As such, the majority of scotch that I am sent are low-dollar blended scotches that are typically less than $30 a bottle. Fat Trout is no exception – it’s a $25 blended scotch.

A relatively new U.S. import, The Fat Trout is branded the “Sportman’s Choice” by the bottler and aged a minimum of three years, which is relatively young for scotch. The initial scent of Fat Trout is bananas and tropical fruit, certainly quite sweet. When tasting, this scotch is a touch immature, with a stronger flavor on the tongue that’s not as sweet as it smells.

In you can imagine a spectrum that includes American-palate-friendly scotches on one end (like Dewars or Johnnie Walker), and smoky, peaty scotches on the other (like Bruichladdich or Laphroig), I’d place The Fat Trout at maybe the 25% mark. It has a richer barley bite and a touch of peat, but it’s definitely not as polarizing as some of the advanced single malts that I’ve tried.  

Ultimately, at $25, this is a good baby-step scotch for an American whiskey drinker. The Fat Trout is not too complex, and this whisky has a pretty pleasant sweet nose+barley flavor combination that inserts it into the flavor midrange of scotches.

Russian Cocktail

russian cocktail

Here’s a 2-ounce cocktail that’s ghostly white and is a really accessible recipe for most people. I found this one in Gary Regan’s Bartender’s Bible and it’s pretty different from it’s popular brother, the White Russian.

Remember that the general rule of thumb is if a drink is all spirits (liquors, liqueurs, vermouth), you should stir it, and if a cocktail has citrus or cream, you should shake it. Freeze a cordial glass to get it nice an cold, then stir this drink with as much ice as you can for as long as you can. You’ll end up with a nice, cold, chocolaty drink:

Russian Cocktail

  • 1 oz vodka
  • 1/2 oz white creme de cacao
  • 1/2 oz gin
  • stir with lots of ice and serve in a chilled cordial glass

Crème de Banane Cocktails

creme de banane cocktails

Recently, a friend gave me a bottle of Crème de Banane, a banana liqueur and a staple ingredient in several Tiki drinks. Since I’ve never had a bottle of this liqueur, I had some fun looking up classic recipes and experimenting with them. These are my favorite Creme de Banane cocktails:

Elephant Lips

  • 1 1/2 oz dark rum
  • 1/2 oz crème de banane
  • 1/2 oz lemon juice
  • shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass
  • garnish with a lemon wedge

Bananarama

  • 1 oz crème de banane
  • 1/2 oz triple sec
  • 1 oz cream
  • 1 dash bitters
  • shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass or oversized shot glass

Let me know in the comments what your favorite Crème de Banane cocktails are.

Chartreuse Élixir Végétal

Chartreuse Élixir Végétal

I’ve covered Chartreuse before and it’s an amazing, storied liqueur. It’s the only spirit that’s still actually distilled by monks, and it even had a color named after it.

So what is this small medicine bottle – the Élixir Végétal variety of Chartreuse? The 10 cl (3+ oz) bottle is packaged in a custom-carved wooden sleeve, this 69% alcohol elixir is meant to be used in small doses. Ignoring it’s questionable legality in the U.S., how do you use this elixir in cocktails?

My suggestion is that you either use Élixir Végétal in the place of cocktail bitters, or drink it as you would absinthe: 1 oz of Élixir topped with very cold water poured over a sugar cube. If the black-licorice flavor of absinthe hasn’t appealed to you in the past, this herbal liqueur is different enough that you may enjoy it instead. For me, I created a cocktail with it that’s a twist on the Old Fashioned:

Monk’s Old Fashioned (by Greg Mays)

American Harvest

american harvest

American Harvest is an interesting liquor. It’s tempting to refer to it as vodka, but that’s not exactly what it is. The distillers refer to American Harvest as an organic spirit, a 80-proof combination of organic vodka and organic flavor.

The ingredients of American Harvest are mostly harvested in Idaho, and this not-exactly-vodka has the earmarks of a tasty liquor: organic, wheat-based, no artificial additives, sustainable ingredients from a family farm….you get the idea. So when you combine natural ingredients and a something-like-vodka, I’d say the big questions have to be: how does it taste, and is it a vodka replacement?

American Harvest is pretty guarded about what that “organic flavor” actually is, but to me, it’s a mixture of sweet and spicy. Similar to the rye vodka Tallarico, it has a bit of a spice in the middle of it’s flavor. In the scent and finish of the liquor, though, there’s also a sweetness and I can’t really tell if that’s from the wheat (which can be quite sweet), or whether the liquor itself is sweetened. I’d guess that it’s both, but there’s no way to know for sure since the recipe and ingredients (other than wheat) are a secret. It’s a tasty liquor though, that’s for sure.

As far as a “vodka replacement”, American Harvest has a bit more character than your usual vodka, I prefer sipping it on the rocks with a lemon twist. The character of the flavor makes it a great cigar companion for those who enjoy a stogie, too. In cocktails, it’s best reserved for subtler vodka drinks, like a Vodka Martini or a Sour.

Don Alberto Cocktail

don alberto cocktail

This is another cocktail that I had to try from Trader Vic’s book. To be honest, outside of the Pisco Sour that I made almost 2 years ago, I never reach for the Pisco in my home bar, so it’s definitely time I dug up another good Pisco recipe.

And this is a good one! It’s pretty sweet with both triple sec and grenadine, so even those who don’t like stronger drinks might want to give this one a shot. Here’s how you make it:

Don Alberto

  • 1 1/2 oz pisco
  • 1 1/2 oz Italian (red) vermouth
  • 3/4 oz triple sec
  • 3/4 oz grenadine (I used Jack Rudy)
  • stir well with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass

Los Angeles Cocktail

los angeles cocktail

I have several cocktail books that I find recipes in, and while I love books like The Savoy and Jerry Thomas, these 100-year-old guides often have recipes that are hard to follow or antiquated. With drinks like smashes and sangarees and measurement sizes like ponys and wineglasses, I browse through them regularly, but hardly ever choose recipes to make cocktails from.

One of the most useful recipe books I have, though, with a nice balance between old school and modern, is Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide. I was flipping through Trader Vic’s this weekend and found a tasty recipe for a Los Angeles cocktail. It’s rich and refreshing, with similarities to a Whiskey Sour. Try it out:

Los Angeles Cocktail

  • in a shaker, combine:
  • 1 1/2 oz of bourbon
  • 1 dash of Italian (red) vermouth
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • 1 egg
  • juice of 1/4 lemon
  • dry shake (no ice) the ingredients, then add ice and shake well
  • pour into a cocktail glass or small old fashioned and garnish with a lemon slice
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