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

Grenadine Compared


Grenadine is probably the second home bar syrup you’ll get, right after you make some simple syrup. Wikipedia says Grenadine is “a commonly used bar syrup, characterized by a flavor that is both tart and sweet, and a deep red color…..Grenadine was originally prepared from pomegranate juice, sugar, and water.” As you can see, this can cause some confusion: does grenadine contain pomegranate? Not always. In fact, many popular brands have no pomegranate at all, which you’ll see below.

Here’s a bottle-by-bottle comparison of several popular grenadine brands, including some of the newer craft varieties. They’re pictured here from left to right.


Sonoma Syrup.

  • Visual: Light red, almost orange.
  • Ingredients: Pure cane sugar, pomegranate juice from concentrate, filtered water, citric acid, vanilla extract, vitamin C (ascorbic acid), sea salt.
  • Cost per ounce: 95¢
  • Sonoma is the most expensive and is marketed as “Pomegranate Grenadine Simple Syrup” and you can tell. It’s the most subtle and mild flavor of all those we tasted, and it tastes the most like pomegranate. You may have to increase the amount of this syrup just to get the flavors right in your cocktails.

Jack Rudy.

  • Visual: Natural reddish-brown.
  • Ingredients: Pomegranate, cane sugar, citric acid, orange flower water.
  • Cost per ounce: 94¢
  • You may recall when I tried Jack Rudy tonic too, which is great. This grenadine, like Sonoma, actually tastes like pomegranate. This syrup is sweeter than Sonoma, but natural ingredients lead to a different colored drink than some may expect, leaving Shirley Temples more copper-colored than red as a result. This one has good balance and isn’t overly sweet.

Fee Bros. American Beauty.

  • Visual: Dark syrupy red.
  • Ingredients: Corn sweetener, water, natural and artificial flavor, citric acid, less than 1/10 of 1% Benzoate of Soda as a preservative, FD&C Red #40 and Blue #1
  • Cost per ounce: 83¢
  • “Corn sweetener” in this ingredient list is just another word for corn syrup. Comparing the ingredient list with Rose’s (below), it’s a very similar product at nearly triple the price. Fee Bros. definitely has a very familiar grenadine flavor, and it’s the most syrupy and sticky of this bunch.


  • Visual: Bright red.
  • Ingredients: Pure cane sugar, water, citric acid, natural and artificial grenadine flavor, FD&C red #40
  • Cost per ounce: 63¢
  • I like Monin’s syrup the best of these 5, because it’s a happy medium of the traditional (syrupy, red, sweet) and the craft grenadines (more fruity in flavor, less sweet, less red). Plus, because the Monin bottle is so big (750 ml), the cost per ounce is very low.


  • Visual: Bright red.
  • Ingredients: High fructose corn syrup, water, citric acid, sodium citrate, sodium benzoate, Red #40, natural and artificial flavors, Blue #1.
  • Cost per ounce: 33¢
  • Rose’s is the iconic brand of bar grenadine, and you’ll be able to find it in grocery stores nationally. As you can see, it has the dreaded HFCS in it as ingredient #1. There’s no pomegranate in it, it’s really just a sticky, syrupy red and features water as the only natural ingredient. Cost is the only advantage here – Rose’s tastes like snow cone flavoring.

Click here to get the Simple Cocktails Guide to Grenadine as a downloadable PDF.