How To: Make Ice Blocks

ice block in jack daniel's

I love to drink my whiskey with a single, rough-cut ice block (I call them icebergs). It makes me proud when I serve a drink at my home bar and someone asks “did you make this ice?” I realize that’s borderline crazy, as making ice involves nothing more than freezing water, but I know you other home bartenders also take pride in the details, like getting your liquors and garnishes just right, so here’s a step-by-step guide to how I make my icebergs:

Step 1: add about 2″ of spring or distilled water in a breadpan and freeze overnight.

Step 2: once frozen, run the breadpan under cold, then warm, then hot water to break the ice free.

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Step 3: Lay your ice block on a cutting board. Put a towel under it to tame the shrapnel.

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Step 4: I’ve tried a lot of ways to do this, including ice picks, scoring lines in the ice, or gently chopping in the ice with a knife. I’ve found the best way is to just chop it in one blow with a really sharp knife, samurai-style.

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Step 4, continued: keep chopping the ice into blocks until you’re satisfied with the size. As you can see, I usually get about 7 or 8 big ice blocks that are 2-3″ and a few other scraps that I use in Gin and Tonics.

Step 5: store in a plastic container in the freezer. I use semi-disposable food storage boxes like Ziploc or Rubbermaid. Enjoy your ice blocks!

 

Art in the Age SAGE

art in the age sage in bloom cocktail

SAGE is one of 4 small-batch liquors that Philadelphia-based Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction produces, including ROOT, SNAP, and RHUBARB liqueurs as well. SAGE is a tough one to categorize, as it’s basically a juniper-less, sage-heavy gin, a base for a more herbal martini maybe.

SAGE, then, is a unique bottle for your home bar. If gin is not a liquor you enjoy, SAGE may give you a fresh-tasting and suitable alternative. For gin lovers, SAGE has a pretty distinct flavor, so give it a taste and let me know what you think. I used SAGE in this cocktail, which is a refreshing sipper for a spring garden party:

In Bloom (by Greg Mays)

  • 2 oz SAGE
  • 1/2 oz Royal Rose: Rose Syrup
  • 3/4 oz lemon juice
  • shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass
  • garnish with a lemon wedge

 

Breaking Bad: The Cocktail

breaking bad cocktail

I was talking with someone from out of town recently, and they asked if Breaking Bad has given Albuquerque a bad name, y’know, since it’s a TV show about drugs, drug dealers, and violence, and since it proudly mentions that Albuquerque is the place that all of this is happening.

I snickered in my response: Breaking Bad has actually brought a strange local pride to Albuquerque, not shame. There are spas that sell “Bathing Bad” bath salts and soaps. A local donut store has their own Breaking Bad donuts. Local confectioner The Candy Lady sells little baggies of blue rock candy, in fact, they’re the company that made the props for the TV show.

It’s about time that we (Albuquerque) came up with our own Breaking Bad Cocktail. This is a simple recipe provided that you can find some candy “blue meth.” While you prepare to make the drink, crush the candy with a big knife butt just like Tuco Salamanca. Then using lemon juice, rim an old fashioned glass with the crushed candy.

breaking bad cocktail

In Albuquerque, Tequila is the second-best selling spirit (just behind vodka), so we should certainly use tequila as the base. Here’s the recipe, which is a Tequila Sour with the addition of blue meth candy. That makes it break bad, right?

Breaking Bad Cocktail (by Greg Mays)

  • fill a “blue meth” rimmed old fashioned glass with ice
  • in a shaker add:
  • 2 oz tequila
  • 3/4 oz lemon juice
  • 1/4 oz simple syrup
  • shake with ice and strain into the old fashioned glass

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Smirnoff Sorbet Light

smirnoff sorbet light vodkas recipes

Low-calorie liquor is a big deal these days. From the multimillion dollar Skinny Girl empire down to the traditional liquor brands, it seems low-cal may be the “what’s next” after flavored vodkas. Smirnoff has introduced 3 flavors of low-calorie vodka recently to the market and dubbed it Sorbet Light.

Is it sweet? Yes. Does it taste like sorbet? Yes. Is it good? Yeah, I think so. For comparison purposes, 1 ounce of Smirnoff (the red label one) is 70 calories. An ounce of Sorbet Light is around 50 calories. So you’re looking at a 30% drop in calories overall. Each of the flavors makes for some good sweet cocktails, and I made the following drinks with Smirnoff’s recipes to try them out (pictured above).

Light Tropical Martini

  • 1 1/2 oz Smirnoff Sorbet Light Mango Passion Fruit
  • 1 1/2 oz coconut water
  • 1 oz pineapple juice
  • shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass

Light Lemon Mojito

  • add the following to an old fashioned glass:
  • 1 1/2 oz Smirnoff Sorbet Light Lemon
  • 3/4 oz lemon juice
  • 10 mint leaves
  • stir, fill the glass with crushed ice and stir more
  • top with club soda
  • garnish with a lemon wedge and mint sprig

Light RazPom Cosmopolitan

  • 1 1/2 oz Smirnoff Sorbet Light Raspberry Pomegranate
  • 2 oz cranberry juice
  • 1/4 oz lime juice
  • shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass
  • garnish with a lime wheel

Don Julio Tequila

don julio tequilas

Don Julio proudly proclaims itself the “original premium tequila.” Sold in unique but similar bottle shapes each with a wooden stopper, the standard line on Don Julios will run you between $45-60, depending on the age. The Blanco is fruity and beachy. The Reposado (which they claim is the bestselling tequila in Mexico) is mellower, a touch spicy, and very smooth. The Añejo is a little more bold from the extended time in the barrel. You could use the Blanco in a cocktail, but all of these are very tasty and smooth drunk straight.

These are excellent tequilas without a doubt – surely the best tequilas I’ve yet tasted. There’s a world of difference between these and a bargain-basement $20 tequila, even one that’s 100% agave.

don julio high end tequilas

Don Julio also has a premium line of tequilas – as if their standard line isn’t premium enough. 70 is an añejo tequila that’s clear and has characteristics of a blanco. It’s crisp and herbal, a bit less like a tequila and more like a premium vodka in some ways. 70 will run you $68 a bottle. 1942 is an older tequila, with a lot of tropical and whiskey-like characteristics. It smells like vanilla and coconut and is ultimately the spiciest of the bunch. 1942 is $125. Lastly, Don Julio Real is a knockout. It’s smooth and quite savory (is that cheese and nuts I smell?). Real is drinkable, wonderfully flavorful, full, and complex. You may have heard: Real is $360 a bottle. The question to ask is are these worth their costs? If I was in the market for a $360 tequila, I’d totally buy this one. I also liked the 70 a lot, too. While 1942 is good, but I didn’t find it to be quite as amazing as the others in this range.

 

Casa Noble Tequila

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With spring just starting to warm up and Cinco de Mayo on the horizon, that means it’s tequila season! I’m working hard to dig up more classic recipes with tequila because I’m pretty limited in what I can make, which is usually Margaritas with the blancos, Old Fashioneds with the reposados or añejos, or drinking the good añejos neat in a snifter.

Casa Noble is a 100% agave tequila (the only kind you should buy) that’s $40 in a sexy, thick hand-blown glass bottle with an shiny pewter stopper. Backed by Carlos Santana, Casa Noble is available in the usual varieties: unaged silver (which Casa Noble calls Crystal), “rested” resposado, and “old” añejo, as well as some high end premium single-barrel varieties.

If you taste it neat, Casa Noble Crystal begins with the initial, familiar blanco tequila smell – a little punchy, a little sour – but as you sip it, it’s very smooth with a fresh, grassy, roasted taste. It goes well in this classic tequila recipe:

Tequardo

  • 1 oz tequila
  • 1 oz rum
  • 1 oz orange juice
  • 1/4 oz triple sec
  • shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass
  • garnish with an orange twist

 

Tallarico Vodka

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Tallarico Vodka is a new entry into the premium vodka market.  It’s sold in a tall, black bottle that fades to clear at the bottom to give you a peek at the vodka inside. Tallarico is distilled from rye and wheat, and for the whiskey lovers out there, that often translates to spice and sweet. Sounds good so far, right?

Tallarico is a flavorful vodka, sold for $45 a bottle and distilled in the U.S. Spice is the primary taste, and because of this, a rye-like but un-woody vodka is a fun alternative to use in your cocktails instead of rye whiskey. Tallarico tastes good on the rocks, and while alcohol burn is almost non-existent, the rye spice gives it a good bite.

I took a recipe that I normally use rye whiskey in and replaced it with Tallarico. I ended up with a very good cocktail, a crystal-clear Old Fashioned is incredibly cool looking, and this drink really works with the “premium” branding of Tallarico.

Vodka Old Fashioned

  • in an old fashioned glass, add:
  • 1 1/2 tsp simple syrup
  • 3 dashes of orange bitters (this helps to keep the drink crystal-clear)
  • 2 oz Tallarico vodka
  • stir briefly
  • add a single, large ice chunk (2″ or larger)
  • stir again until well-chilled
  • garnish with an orange peel and a cherry

 

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.

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