Out here in the southwest United States, we have a tasty beverage called Horchata (OR-cha-tah). It’s a sweet, creamy drink that’s a combination of rice, almonds, cinnamon, and other flavors. You might see it served out of a big glass jar by ladle or out of a waterfall juice machine.

RumChata takes this Mexican restaurant staple and bottles it with rum for the grownups. It’s a cream liqueur, similar to Baileys, and it is low in alcohol (13%). It’s got a great flavor and will only put you out $20 a bottle.  Add a shot of RumChata to a cup of coffee, or in this rum take on a White Russian:

Chata Café Cream (by Greg Mays)

  • 1 oz RumChata
  • 1 oz Kahlua
  • 1 oz rum
  • 1 oz milk
  • combine and stir in a old fashioned glass filled with ice
  • garnish with a cherry

Ransom Old Tom Gin

Ransom Old Tom Gin

Old Tom is a type of gin that dates back to the 1700s, and it ends up being the hybrid of London dry gin, genever, and whiskey (yes, whiskey). The legendary root of the “Old Tom” name is that in English alleyways during the gin craze, wooden cats would adorn the walls outside bars, and upon inserting your coin into the old tom cat, a proper dispense of gin would pour out, and you could be on your way after a slurp!

I started this review, then, by constructing a wooden cat dispenser in order to properly taste this gin.

I’m just kidding. It’s become a bit of a life’s goal for me, though, to try every gin that I can, and once I discovered that some new companies have begun distilling Old Tom, I had to get my hands on some. From what I can tell, only one brand of Old Tom gin is distilled and distributed in the United States: Ransom.

Old Tom is a sweeter gin than London dry, but more “gin-like” than genever. Ransom Old Tom’s base is malted barley (like scotch), and it’s aged for a short time in barrels, so I had no idea what to expect flavor-wise. I suppose I thought I would be drinking some sort of Southern Comfort-style sweet whiskey with some juniper flavor?

Now that I’ve cracked off it’s wax seal and had a taste, I can tell you that Ransom Old Tom is astounding gin, tasting completely gin-like and familiar, but with an added spice and a tiny sweetness that lingers long on the tongue. Ransom Old Tom is most definitely perfect in a Gin Old Fashioned:

Gin Old Fashioned

  • Add 1 sugar cube (or spoon of sugar) to an old fashioned glass
  • Douse with 3 dashes of Angostura bitters
  • Add a splash of club soda and stir well
  • Fill glass with ice, add 2 oz of old tom gin, stir until cold
  • Take a piece of orange peel, squeeze over the glass and rub it around the rim
  • Top with another splash of club soda
  • Garnish with the orange peel and a cherry (I wrap the cherry in the peel)

Ransom Old Tom Gin retails for $37.

Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine

Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine

Though I’ve grown up in the southwest U.S., I was born in east Tennessee. Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine is distilled in Gatlinburg just down the road from where I was born, and it’s bottled in a true southern relic: a sealed mason jar. Their products include jarred Moonshine Cherries, White Lightnin’, and other moonshine flavors, some of which are only available from their distillery store in Tennessee.

I got the chance to try some of Ole Smoky’s newest flavored moonshines: Blackberry and Peach. These are technically liqueurs because they’re a low 20% ABV and are sweet. They taste very natural and sweet sipped after dinner as cordials, and they’re pretty great in these simple cocktails:

ole smoky cocktails

Back Porch (by Greg Mays)

  • 1 1/2 oz bourbon (a sweeter one, like Maker’s Mark)
  • 1 1/2 oz Ole Smoky Blackberry
  • 3 dashes of Black Walnut bitters (Amazon link)
  • Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass with a lemon twist

Gourd Bird (by Greg Mays)
My great grandma and great grandpa used to sit out on the porch in Tennessee watching birds build nests in hollowed out gourds they’d make for them. I named this cocktail after that.

  • 1 1/2 oz vodka
  • 1 1/2 oz Ole Smoky Peach
  • 2 dashes of Whiskey Barrel Aged bitters (Amazon link)
  • Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass with an orange twist

Wheeler’s Western Dry Gin [+ Giveaway]

Wheeler's Western Dry Gin

Santa Fe Spirits has proudly introduced Wheeler’s Western Dry Gin to their spirits catalog this fall. As we learned with Aviation, Western Dry Gins are similar to London Drys, but usually have an additional stand-out flavor accompanying the juniper.

In Wheeler’s, the standout botanical is Osha Root, known for it’s “spicy celery” flavor and scent. Osha is indigenous to the southwest, and a good fit for this gin. Flavor-wise, Wheeler’s is like a London Dry style gin from serving through swallowing, but as you swallow it, the veggie/earthiness of the Osha sneaks in there. The finish is clearly spicy celery: Osha and Sage. Because Wheeler’s stand-out botanical has vegetation flavor, Fernet Branca is a good complement for Wheeler’s in a cocktail:

Wheeler’s Hanky Panky

  • 1 1/2 oz Wheeler’s Gin
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth
  • 1 dash Fernet Branca
  • Stir over ice, strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a celery stick.

Wheeler’s is available at most local Albuquerque and Santa Fe retail liquor stores, and online from the distillery. Santa Fe Spirits has offered Simple Cocktails readers a chance to win a Wheeler’s prize pack, including:

  • Wheeler’s Gin shirt
  • Santa Fe Spirits rocks glasses
  • Santa Fe Spirits Glencairn tasting glass
  • Santa Fe Spirits mini flask

To win, just leave a comment below and tell me where would you love to be while you’re sipping this gin? Winner will be selected at random on or around December 10, 2012 and will be contacted by email. U.S. residents only.

Piedra Azul Tequila

Piedra Azul Tequila

Piedra Azul is another quality entry into the 100% agave tequila market. It has the elements of a great tequila: a classic bottle, a beautiful label design, a wooden stopper, and an authentic tequila flavor.

Tequila is distilled and bottled in central Mexico from the blue agave plant that’s native to the region. 100% blue agave tequilas are often preferred to “mixto” tequilas, though they are more expensive, because their flavor is richer and more true to the agave they are distilled from. I have tasted tequilas with stand-out tropical, citrusy, muggy, swampy, spicy, or whiskey-like flavors. Piedra Azul (“blue stone”) has it’s own unique flavor that sets it apart as well – it’s earthy, herbal, and grassy, which makes it taste just a little bit like a pisco.

Outside of the traditional tequila shot with lime, here’s a simple cocktail recipe:

Brave Bull

  • 2 oz Piedra Azul blanco tequila
  • 1 oz coffee liqueur (such as Kahlua or Patron Cafe)
  • Serve in an old fashioned glass with lots of ice

Breckenridge Bourbon and Spiced Rum

Breckenridge Bourbon and Spiced Rum

I always like to seek out products that are distilled near me, and Breckenridge, Colorado is only about 350 miles north. I was anxious to taste the line of spirits that Breckenridge Distillery has coming off the line, and I got to try their award-winning bourbon and their spiced rum.

Their bourbon one of the spiciest I’ve tasted. Bourbon can run anywhere for sweet (like Don Quixote or Maker’s Mark) to really spicy (like Bulleit or Buffalo Trace), but Breckenridge is a bourbon that’s so spicy that you could initially mistake it for a rye whiskey. Is it a good bourbon? For a guy who likes both bourbons and ryes, you bet it is.

Breckenridge also makes a spiced rum, with a pirate-map label and a jolly roger wax seal. I can’t understate the quality and flavor of this rum. I don’t drink a lot of rum because I often find it too sugary, but Breckenridge rum is rich, warming, and spicy, and it finishes with just a trace of subtle sweetness. Whiskey drinkers should definitely get a bottle for their liquor cabinet, because it’s a pleasure to drink straight. Breckenridge spiced rum is great after dinner, and it’s a great complement to a cigar, too.

If you see Breckenridge bourbon or spiced rum in the stores, buy them. Breckenridge’s 750ml bottle of bourbon retails for $40, the 375ml bottle of rum for $25, and you can find them both with the distillery’s “Hooch Locating Tool” here.

Tequila Avión

Tequila Avión

Tequila Avión gets much of its reputation as the “tequila from Entourage,” which was apparently a sweet unpaid buddy deal. As I’ve yet to see Entourage, I just know Avión based on this tasting. Avión is available in Silver, Reposado, and Añejo varieties, with this Añejo clocking in at 2 years old.

Tasted alone, all three of these tequilas are world-class. There is a soapy note particularly in the Silver and Añejo varieties, as well as a bit of fruitiness in the Silver as well, and I’m sure it’s an outstanding mixer as a result. For a sipping tequila, the Reposado and Añejo are both great, but are significantly different from each other. The Reposado has a spicy woodyness that puts it more in line with whiskeys, and the Añejo is a smooth, mellow, subtler version of the the Silver.

avion autumn apple

Avión has a really good collection of recipes on their site, and I found one that looked the best for a Fall drink: The Avión Autumn Apple. I modified it just a bit for my own palate, so here’s my take on their recipe, which is high on the juice and pretty low on alcohol, so this would be a great party punch too:

  • 1 oz Avión Reposado
  • 2 oz apple juice or cider
  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup
  • serve over ice in a collins glass
  • garnish with an apple slice



One of the most important elements of a home bar is glassware. There are several styles of glasses you will find, and each of them fits with a particular drink. Of the absolutely necessary glassware, there are 2 to start with: old fashioned glasses and cocktail glasses.

Old fashioned glasses, also known as rocks glasses, are small and stout, much like the three glasses in the foreground of the photo above. These hold a volume of about 7-13 ounces and are best for serving whiskey straight and for cocktails like Old Fashioneds and  Sazeracs.

Next are cocktail glasses, sometimes called martini glasses. These are tall, stemmed glasses that hold 2 to 8 ounces and are used for drinks like Martinis, Negronis, and many other “martini-style” cocktails. Traditionally, the glassware used for these drinks was the old-style champagne coupes like those in the middle row above, which only hold about 2 1/2 ounces. These can almost exclusively be found used nowadays as glassware manufacturers have discovered that champagne holds it bubbles better in a long, tall glass.

As far as shopping is concerned, glassware can be found anywhere from Target to antique stores and most places in between. Because I like for my glassware to be unique and traditional, I look at thrift shops and antique stores almost exclusively. Here’s what I’ve discovered: Most glassware at Goodwill and other thrift shops will be between 15¢ and $1 each. You will often find multiples of the same glass, but it’s hard to find sets of 6 or more (usually those are missing at least one glass). Even the most ancient glassware can usually be totally redeemed with a good dishwasher and some Jet Dry.

Below is some of my favorite glassware in my home bar. Most of these I have in sets of 3-6 glasses and only one of these was purchased new (from World Market). The “free” glasses were gifts from friends.