Liquor in general is a pretty colorful industry and the players involved can be quite fascinating on their own. Chartreuse stands as one of the most fascinating and legendary liquors ever, and I’m really excited to feature it for you. Here is the Chartreuse story:

In 1605, at the Chartreuse monastery in France, the monks received a gift from an agent of the king: an aged manuscript for an “Elixir of Long Life” that was thought to be the work of a 16th century alchemist with a unparalleled knowledge of herbs. This manuscript included detailed instructions for blending, infusing, and macerating 130 herbs to form the perfect tonic.

100 years later, the manuscript was sent into the mountains of the Mother House of the Order of La Grande Chartreuse. The Apothecary of the monastery studied the manuscript in detail and, in 1737, drew up a formula for the actual preparation of the Elixir.

Since 1737, this green liqueur has been made by Chartreuse Monks, who use the money they raise from the liqueur to enable them to dedicate their lives to prayer and meditation. Only two brothers know the Chartreuse recipe at any time.

The most fascinating thing about Chartreuse is that its legends are true, unlike the “deer blood” Jagermeister story or the “fly wings” Fernet Branca legend. The two most common varieties of Chartreuse, both of which will run you about $55, are:

Green Chartreuse (55% alcohol) is the original 1737 green liqueur, made from the 1605 recipe by Chartreuse Monks even today. The color chartreuse is named after this liqueur.

Yellow Chartreuse (40% alcohol) was introduced in the 1800’s and is a milder, sweeter flavor and aroma than it’s older brother.

Here’s a common Yellow Chartreuse cocktail (pictured above):

Alaska Cocktail

  • 1 1/2 ounces gin
  • 1/2 ounce yellow Chartreuse
  • 1 dash orange bitters
  • stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass
  • garnish with a lemon peel

Real McCoy Rum

real mccoy rum

I’ve started to realize that aged rum may just be my favorite drink to pair with a quality cigar. A quality aged rum delivers a flavorful sweetness that complements the warm spiciness that cigars bring to the palate.

Real McCoy Rum is currently only available in Connecticut (where it’s distilled), Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. This is a sipping rum, just like a quality bourbon or whisky, and while you could mix it in a cocktail, it’s probably best enjoyed neat or on the rocks.

In a matter of perfect timing, Real McCoy arrived a few days before a big local cigar event (see my photos here), so I took it there to get some opinions from people. Smooth was first word everyone said after sipping Real McCoy, and everyone seemed really fond of it, including a self-proclaimed Puerto Rican rum lover. It’s got a good flavor with basically no alcohol burn and a mild spiciness from the barrel aging. Ice is an optional addition, but because of the low alcohol (40% ABV), I ended up preferring to drink it neat.

If you’re near the 3 states that carry Real McCoy 5 Year Old at this point, it’s definitely a good buy at $29. You may also find 3-year-old and 12-year-old varieties as well.

Bee’s Knees

mr lees bees knees

The Bee’s Knees is a classic gin cocktail, and I’ve added a dash of cocktail bitters to this drink to give it a new twist. I used Prairie Gin for this cocktail, like it’s Vodka bother, is an affordable ($20) organic gin that’s “made with respect” in Minnesota. This gin is definitely in the vein of the modern American gins, that is, toned down juniper with a more floral nose and a light, herbal finish.

The bitters I added to this drink are Mr. Lee’s Ancient Chinese Secret by Dashfire, and Mr. Lee’s adds an eastern aroma to your drinks – aromatics that will make you think of India, Egypt, and China. Because a Bee’s Knees doesn’t normally contain bitters (feel free to exclude them if you prefer to make the original drink) I updated the name for the cocktail, too:

Chinese Bee’s Knees (by Greg Mays)

  • 1 oz gin
  • 1/4 oz lemon
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 2 drops of Mr. Lee’s Ancient Chinese Bitters
  • shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass
  • garnish with a lemon wedge


lair's applejack

Brandy is a spirit distilled from fruit and named for either the methods that it’s made by or for the region it’s distilled in. The most common variations of brandy include Cognac, Armagnac, Pisco, Calvados, Grappa, Apple Brandy, and Applejack.

So what’s the difference between Applejack and Apple Brandy? Both are distilled from apple cider, but Apple Brandy is traditionally distilled and aged while Applejack is jacked somehow. In the case of Laird’s Applejack, this means their Apple Brandy is blended with neutral spirits. Others may use freeze distillation to create theirs, but once the Brandy gets jacked, it becomes Applejack.

Laird’s is probably the most common brand of Applejack you’ll see, and it runs around $17 a bottle. Never having Applejack before this (though I have tried Apple Brandy), Laird’s a cool, mellow, naturally sweet, and freshly harvested apple flavor. This is easy to drink neat (straight – no ice) as the low alcohol doesn’t need watering down to enjoy it. I will definitely drink this through the fall with some cranberry bitters, and this simple cocktail is a great fit for Applejack, too:

Applejack Cocktail

  • 1 1/2 oz applejack
  • 1 tsp grenadine
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass

Bols Yogurt Liqueur

bols yogurt liqueur with cocktails

Bols is one of the largest liqueur manufacturers in the world, and they have just introduced a new yogurt-flavored label into their rainbow-colored lineup. As a brand, Bols offers a decent product that’s not too expensive – usually about $18 a bottle. It’s got a middle-of-the-road price point, between inexpensive brands like DeKuyper and pricy specialty liqueurs like Cointreau.

The bottles of Bols have always looked like bowling pins, but as this one comes in frosted white, it’s now become the spittin’ image of one. Though I’ll probably never drink it this way, Yogurt tastes fine by itself. The taste is more like the flavor of frozen yogurt than breakfast yogurt, so sweeter and less sour. As the liqueur landscape has a pretty limited amount of cream varieties, this is a fun option for creative cocktail creators.

Instagram friends @aztnass (Pheonix bartender Travis Nass) and @realcountess (SipWatchTweet creator Rose Perry) gave me some great ideas for compatible cocktail ingredients, and I invented some drinks based on their ideas. Here are two Yogurt cocktails for you to try:

 Hazy Shade (by Greg and Travis)

  • 2 oz scotch
  • 1 oz Bols Yogurt
  • 1/2 oz Fernet Branca
  • shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass

Tiffany’s Martini (by Greg and Rose)

  • in a shaker, add:
  • 10 mint leaves,
  • 2 oz cucumber vodka,
  • 1 oz Bols Yogurt,
  • shake with ice twice as long as usual (to get the mint flavor into the drink)
  • double strain into a chilled cocktail glass
  • mint leaf garnish

Prairie Cucumber Vodka

prairie cucumber vodka

Prairie Spirits distills gin, vodka, and cucumber vodka. Their motto “made with respect,” explains their organic farming and distilling policies, and unusually, their liquor doesn’t cost a fortune in the light of these higher standards (a bottle will only run you $20).

Prairie’s Cucumber Vodka is a touch sweet, and like I found with Cathead Honeysuckle, it’s a pleasant, natural, subtle flavor that’s very easily enjoyed on the rocks. Here’s a really refreshing simple cocktail you can make with cucumber vodka, (if you’re not able to find Prairie, just infuse your own).

Green Garden (by Greg Mays)

  • with 15 mint leaves in a mixing glass, add:
  • 1/2 oz of melon liqueur
  • 2 oz of Prairie Cucumber Vodka
  • muddle mint in the liquid well
  • add ice and stir until very cold
  • double-strain into a chilled cocktail glass
  • garnish with a mint leaf

Maple Old Fashioned

maple old fashioned

The Old Fashioned is arguably the greatest and most versatile cocktail on earth, and I love to try new twists on it from time to time. It is by definition a “true” cocktail: spirit, sugar, water, and bitters. Here’s a twist I tried on the Old Fashioned recently:

Maple Old Fashioned (by Greg Mays)

  • add 1 tsp of maple syrup (the real stuff, from trees) to an old fashioned glass
  • add 2 dashes of orange bitters (I used Dashfire)
  • fill the glass with ice
  • add 1 1/2 oz of bourbon and 1/2 oz aged rum
  • stir until cold
  • garnish with a long, curled orange peel (use a channel knife)

What variations do you like to try on your Old Fashioneds? Here are a few of the variations I’ve featured here at Simple Cocktails so far: Irish | Gin | Old Tom Gin | Tequila | Vodka

Johnnie Walker Platinum Virtual Tasting

johnnie walker platinum

Arriving to fill the void in the middle of their product line, a new bottling of Johnnie Walker has just been released: Johnnie Walker Platinum. Platinum currently fits squarely between the sub-$100 Johnnies (Red, Black, and Double Black), and the top-of-the-line Johnnie Walker Blue ($200+).

I joined two of my favorite spirits writers – Geoff Kleinman of DrinkSpirits and Christopher Null of DrinkHacker – in a virtual tasting of this new scotch whisky. Here is the video replay of the live tasting (live broadcast September 12, 2013 at 11am MST):

Read the written reviews from Geoff and Christopher.

Planters Punch

planters punch cocktail

I came across this recipe recently for a not-too-complex tiki drink. As I was getting ready to photograph it, though, I found some awesome vintage glassware at a local thrift shop that is made specifically for this cocktail and I knew I had to show it off.

Planters Punch

  • 1 1/2 oz dark rum
  • 3/4 oz lime juice
  • 3/4 oz orange juice
  • 2 tsp grenadine
  • a dash of bitters
  • top with soda water in an ice-filled collins glass
  • garnish with a peach slice