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.

Aunt Agatha

aunt agatha cocktail
Here’s a simple cocktail recipe with a pretty cool presentation: a rum Screwdriver with bitters on top. I got this from Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide (Amazon link), a classic recipe book with lots of tiki drinks.

Aunt Agatha

  • in an old fashioned glass filled with ice, add:
  • 1 1/2 oz rum
  • 2 oz orange juice
  • float a few drops of bitters on top
  • garnish with 1/4 orange wheel

Coffee Cocktail

coffee cocktail recipe

The Coffee Cocktail is a classic recipe, traced back to Jerry Thomas’ 1887 Bartender’s Guide (Amazon link). Thomas’ original recipe appears above, and thankfully, The Cocktail Spirit has translated the old-timey language (“pony,” “goblet,” etc) into modern measurements.

As Jerry Thomas says, the Coffee Cocktail is apparently named after it’s visual appearance, because it contains no coffee. Here it is:

coffee cocktail

Coffee Cocktail

  • 1 1/2 oz port
  • 1 1/2 oz brandy
  • 1 tsp simple syrup
  • 1 whole egg
  • dash of bitters
  • put all ingredients into a shaker and shake without ice to froth the egg
  • add ice to the shaker and shake more to chill
  • pour into a chilled wine or cocktail glass

Special thanks to St. Clair, a local winery who provided me with their excellent Port for this recipe.

Breakfast Martini


Here’s a simple recipe for the Breakfast Martini, invented in 2000 and the most famous marmalade cocktail.

Breakfast Martini

  • 1 1/2 oz gin (use a softer gin, like Tanqueray Malacca, Hendrick’s, or Bombay Sapphire)
  • 3/4 oz triple sec
  • 3/4 oz lemon juice
  • I tsp orange marmalade
  • shake and double strain (using a wire strainer) into a chilled cocktail glass

Agwa de Bolivia

agwa de bolivia cockail

You may have seen this electric green liqueur on the shelves at your local liquor store: Agwa de Bolivia. AGWA is a coca leaf liqueur, y’know coca, like cocaine? AGWA capitalizes on the fact that it’s got coca in it, that it’s distilled in Amsterdam, and it’s just so eye-catching. But legitimately, it’s a decent herbal liqueur, and while herbal liqueurs can range pretty broadly from Jagermeiser to Zwack to Fernet Branca, AGWA is unique from these three in that it’s flavor is balanced and cool, and it’s not so syrupy or abrasive.

AGWA’s pretty easy to mix into cocktails and most people I know who tried it liked it (unlike Fernet or Jager). Here’s a really simple, refreshing cocktail with Agwa de Bolivia, an AGWA and Soda:

Agwa Fresca

  • in a glass full of ice, add:
  • 1 1/2 oz Agwa de Bolivia
  • top with club soda

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.

Moonshine Bloody Mary

moonshine bloody mary

Using Moonshine in the place of vodka when you serve up a Bloody Mary is one way to change up a classic recipe. Fortunately, Ole Smoky makes a Bloody Mary mix that you can buy alongside a jar of their moonshine.

To garnish this cocktail, I used some of Tillen Farms‘ pickled vegetables which, like their cherries, is made with cocktails in mind. Here’s the recipe:

Moonshine Bloody Mary

  • build in a glass:
  • 1 1/5 oz of moonshine
  • 4 oz bloody mary mix
  • garnish of choice, preferably pickled, like those shown above, olives, gherkins, or a lemon wedge

Ok time for a heart-to-heart here. As someone born in East Tennessee, I get the fascination with moonshine. As a practical element of a home bar, though, moonshine has yet to earn it’s place beyond novelty. In this cocktail, I found the corn-sweetness of the moonshine actually clashed with the savory Bloody Mary. If you want to stick with the Ole Smoky brand for a Bloody Mary, use White Lightnin’, which is more flavorless than their Moonshine.

Ole Smoky’s Bloody Mary mix is good. It’s nice and thick, it has quality, natural ingredients, but lacks the spiciness of Zing Zang or the thick-deliciousness of Ubon’s. I added some Tabasco to pick up the burn.