I’m not much of a whiskey guy. Every time I tried Jack Daniels, I shivered at the taste. My friend is a Jameson fan, and I discovered that Irish whiskey has the smoothness I couldn’t find in its Tennessee brother. I found a bottle of Single Malt Irish Whiskey at Trader Joe’s (their house brand) to try out for $20. Jameson was $30 at Trader’s, but I know you can find it for $20 too if you shop around enough.
It’s good – definitely as good as Jameson – on my tongue. There’s some bite, but it’s very smooth, and there’s a great citrus nose (fancy drinking word) and aftertaste. I bought this as a “sippin’ whiskey,” so I haven’t bothered to mix it in a cocktail, though I’m likely to try and Old Fashioned and a Manhattan soon.
I had the opportunity to visit 206 Distillery in downtown Seattle recently, who make Counter Gin and Batch 206 Vodka, and got a tour from Rusty Figgins, their master distiller. Rusty let us start with a small (1/2 oz) colder-than-freezing taste of their vodka, which was good but not particularly different for other mid-range vodkas I’ve tried. After my palate was cleared, I had an ice-cold sip of their gin.
Rusty then showed us the distilling chambers and some of the new projects they’re working on, which were aging in barrels at the time (hint: whiskey and brandy) and let us see the clean red wheat that their vodka is distilled from.
All in all, it was a fun day, and Rusty is a lot of fun to hang out with. I bought a bottle of Counter Gin for $25, and it’s been well worth it. The gin is great, a good strong taste, very botanical. Rusty showed me the various botanics that go into the gin as part of the tour. To give it a review, it’s got plenty of juniper flavor and some burn, and I’d call it a gin-lover’s gin, which is to say it’s not as smooth and friendly as Hendrick’s is to the common man.
I have an aversion to high fructose corn syrup. I began avoiding it 4 years ago and lost a bunch of weight as a result. One of the final hurdles for my HFCS-avoidance is maraschino cherries. The jars of cherries at the store contain pitted cherries, red dye, and HFCS. I’ve been looking for alternatives, and found a simple recipe to make your own.
- Trader Joe’s Dried Bing Cherries (these are pitted too).
- Brandy of your choosing. I used Pierre Duchene, which is $8 at Trader Joe’s.
- A container.
Combine them so that the cherries are completely submerged, and leave some room because they’ll swell quite a bit.
Ew….but leave them in there for 2 days minimum, and here’s what you get:
Wow! I had to top it off again with brandy as they really swelled up on me. Now the result is a firm cherry, not sweet at all (I’m considering using a little sugar in the jar next time). I’ve used them in Old Fashioneds and they come out great!
This is a great opportunity to use your smaller glassware…the “classic” stuff.
- 2 oz. gin
- a splash of dry vermouth
- garnish with a cocktail onion
Some suggest that you simply wave the vermouth bottle over the glass, making for a truly dry drink (i.e. straight gin), I go with a little splash though. Shake or stir with lots of ice until freezing cold with a nice layer of ice on top, strain into a 2 1/2 oz cocktail glass and drink immediately.
As I noted with a martini before, put ice water in the empty glass while you’re mixing – it gets the glass just as cold as freezing it would, but it’s much easier. The key to this drink is cold!
This recipe will make about a gallon of margaritas, and is low-alcohol, so it’s great for a party or BBQ. It also tastes like watermelon Jolly Ranchers!
Get a bottle of White Zinfandel, a bottle of Trader Joe’s margarita mixer, some seedless watermelon, and lots of ice. Here’s how you make them:
- Puree 4 cups of watermelon in the blender, then stir with:
- 4 cups (the whole bottle) of Trader Joe’s margarita mixer.
- 2 cups of White Zinfandel.
Serve the mixture in a pitcher or large beverage dispenser of some sort with LOTS of ice, at least 4 cups or more. You’ll want the heat of the summer to get a little of the melted ice into the drink and get your dispenser all sweaty and cold.
Rim your glasses with salt (pink Himalayan looks particularly cool with this one) and serve on ice. Nothing like an electric pink beverage on a hot summer’s day!
“Happiness is a dry martini and a good woman…or a bad woman.” ~George Burns
The martini is the definitive “welcome home” drink from a hard day’s work. While there’s a tireless debate about gin or vodka, shaken or stirred, wet or dry, I’m going to present one recipe here in order to stay true to the “simple” moniker. Here’s my favorite vodka martini.
- 2 oz Tito’s Handmade vodka
- 1/2 oz dry vermouth
- 1 or more olives to garnish
- as JB says, “shaken, not stirred”
To chill the cocktail glass, I prefer using ice water (see picture above) while I build the drink. This is faster and requires less planning than freezing the glass.
I’ve been working up to this for a while, because it’s a great way to use coffee ice, which I made over several weeks and kept in a gallon bag in the freezer. Next, I got my favorite vodka, Tito’s Handmade and my second-favorite coffee liqueur, Starbucks (Patron XO Cafe is my favorite by far). Fill the glass with “coffee ice” and add:
- in a shaker, combine:
- 1 oz vodka
- 1 oz coffee liqueur
- 1 oz cream
- shake well with ice and strain into an ice-filled old fashioned glass
This recipe is a minor variation on the margarita for the summertime. First, puree mangoes with a bit of water and freeze the results in ice trays overnight. Using the “mango ice” instead of regular ice, build your margarita.
Mango Ice Margarita
- 1 1/2 oz of tequila
- 1 oz lime juice
- 1 oz triple sec
- on the mango rocks in a salt-rimmed glass
- no garnish (it distracts from the cool yellow cubes)
Now, recently, I’ve begun doing something to my margaritas that people say has made them even better. I add 1-2 ox of club soda/seltzer water on top and give it a stir. It mellows out the pungent nature of tequila and makes a more refreshing drink anyway, and in this one, it helps break down the mango cubes. You’ll want to let this one sit at the table before your guests start sipping so that the mango can get all sloshy in there. The mango flavor will be subtle, and not overpowering.
For several months, a Gin and Tonic has been a good go-to drink for me. I always get my tonic water at Whole Foods to avoid the high-fructose corn syrup that swims in Schwepp’s. They have their own 365 Every Day Value brand for $2.50 for a six-pack of bar-friendly cans. Now while I like the flavor of tonic water, I wish I could reduce the sweetness of it.
Tonic water is bubbly water with quinine, citrus, and sugar. Club soda is bubbly water, nothing more. Whole Foods has some of that too. I googled club soda, lime, and gin to discover it’s already a common cocktail that I have heard of several times: The Gin Rickey! Here’s the recipe:
- In a 10-oz glass filled with ice, combine:
- 1 1/2 oz gin
- juice of 1/2 to 1 whole lime (I like it with more)
- top with club soda (about 3-4 ounces)
You’ll end up with a drier, more refreshing, more sour alternative to the Gin & Tonic! Yum!
1 1/2 oz gin
3 or more dashes of bitters
Shake with ice, strain into cocktail glass.
About the simplest cocktail out there. Clearly, you should use good gin and I recommend Angostura or Peychaud’s bitters.