Cucumber Martini

Cucumber Martini

This recipe comes courtesy of Sami Capshaw, bartender at Apothecary and my fellow Albuquerque the Magazine publishee.  This recipe will be one of many featured in my upcoming ebook “Simple Cocktails from the Experts.”  This is a tasty beverage (recipe below)!

Cucumber Martini

  • In a shaker, add a 1/2″ cucumber slice and 1/2 oz simple syrup.
  • Muddle that cucumber to bits.
  • Add 2 oz of Hendrick’s Gin and shake with lots of ice.
  • Double strain into a cocktail glass (pour through the shaker and a tight mesh strainer too).
  • Garnish with a cucumber wheel.

Midnight Moon Apple Pie Moonshine

mountaineer punch

Moonshine has it’s roots in the backwoods of the South during prohibition. Nowadays, it usually means unaged whiskey that’s usually clear (aging in barrels turns the booze brown). Junior Johnson distills a line of moonshines out of North Carolina, and while they have their flagship clear moonshine product, they also have a line of naturally flavored moonshines as well, including Apple Pie, Cherry, Strawberry, Blueberry, and Cranberry, all smartly packaged in 750 ml mason jars.

While the plain Midnight Moon is likely great for cocktails, much like Silver Coyote is, the apple pie flavor I tried is pretty great on its own, over ice.  It’s got apple juice mixed with it and a little piece of  cinnamon stick in the jar.  Midnight Moon Apple Pie is 35% ABV and has some sweetness from the apple juice, but wasn’t unbearably sweet for a guy who normally drinks pretty dry drinks.  It has a great, natural, apple and cinnamon flavor.

Midnight Moon’s flavors are a good choice at the liquor store because they’re an all-in-one drink – a jar of this and some ice, and you have some pretty decent drinks that most people will enjoy.  It’s less liquor-forward and is pretty accessible.  Here’s a recipe for a warm and toasty winter punch:

Mountaineer Punch (by Greg Mays)

  • combine:
  • 1 mason jar of Midnight Moon Apple Pie
  • 2 mason jars of apple cider
  • warm on the stovetop and serve at parties!

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New Mexico Vodka All-Stars

There are 3 distilleries in New Mexico, offering a gamut of products from 15-year-old rye whiskey to gin to vanilla extract.  All three, however, distill vodka.  Don Quixote offers Blue Corn Vodka, KGB Spirits has Vodka Viracocha, and Santa Fe Spirits has Expedition Vodka. Don Quixote and Santa Fe use corn as a base grain and KGB uses potatoes.

New Mexico Vodka

I thought a blind taste test was best since I have some personal ideas and allegiances to each of these distilleries.  Two of us sampled the vodkas, and here are the results:

Vodka #1: bright, citrusy, minty, alcohol burn, not a great mouth feel.

Vodka #2: desert and cherry aroma, sweet, malty, finishes a bit harsh.

Vodka #3: smooth, flavorless, no alcohol smell, feels good in the mouth, clean finish.

I knew right away when I had tasted the Don Quixote Blue Corn Vodka (number 2). The sweetness that comes through is the result of the blue corn that’s used.  Don Quixote calls it the “sweetest of the 4 varieties of corn.”  Also the desert aromas instantly reminded me of their Spirit de Santa Fe Gin, which I wasn’t a fan of, but the vodka fared much better. Vodka 1 was Vodka Viracocha from KGB Spirits, and Vodka 3 was Expedition Vodka by Santa Fe Spirits.

Each of these New Mexico vodkas is a worthy addition to your home bar and certainly better than 90% of what you’ll find at the grocery store.  The three are $25-35 per bottle, depending on where you purchase them.  Don Quixote sells through their website, Santa Fe at the distillery and online, and KGB products are available at several New Mexico stores.

What Are Bitters? [+ Contest!]

Fee Brothers Bitters

Depending on the circles you run in, bitters could mean several things.  If you watch enough British movies, you’ll run across the phrase “a pint of bitter.” While unfamiliar to us in the colonies, this just refers to a pale ale.

The second bitter you may have heard of would be a digestive bitter, an after-dinner liqueur that tastes more bitter than sweet, which would include Campari (my favorite), Aperol, Fernet Branca, and many more. These tend to be drunk straight, on ice, or mixed in a cocktail. You can buy them in full-size bottles and they’re similar in alcohol content to a port or vermouth.

The bitters that I will mention most on this blog, though, are cocktail bitters. Cocktail bitters add subtle flavoring and aroma to cocktails by adding just a dash or even a drop. These come in small bottles – usually 4-10 ounces – and some have very high alcohol content (like 45%), but as they can’t be drunk straight, you can find them at Target and other retailers, as well as grocery stores. They’re good for cooking as well. Brands of cocktail bitters include Angostura (the most popular), Fee Brothers, Bitter Truth, or Peychaud’s. Angostura is known for it’s oversized label:

The smell of cocktail bitters ranges from medicinal to herbal to fruity, depending on the brand and the flavor. Angostura is available in aromatic and orange versions, Fee Brothers and others make celery, grapefruit, aged whiskey, chocolate, and many other flavors of bitters. A traditional Martini recipe is gin, vermouth, and a dash of orange bitters. Manhattans cannot be made properly without aromatic bitters. The flavor of bitters are subtle, but you will likely notice when they’re not used in a drink.

Get a bottle of bitters. Use it in your cocktails, of course, but try it in soda or mineral water as well.  To get you started, I’ve got a bitters giveaway for two lucky readers.  One will win a bottle of Angostura Orange bitters and one will receive a bottle of Fee Bros. Aromatic bitters.  Here’s how you can win:

  • 1.  You must be a resident of the United States.
  • 2.  Follow @simpledrinks on Twitter.
  • 3.  Click here and “Like” Simple Cocktails on Facebook.
  • 4.  Comment below.  Tell me your favorite cocktail.
  • 5.  Winners will be chosen at random on August 1, 2012.  I’ll contact them shortly after they win to get their shipping address. The contest is now closed.



Absinthe service

Absinthe was illegal throughout most of the world for the past 100 years, including the United States, because it was rumored that its primary ingredient, Grande Wormwood, caused insanity.  This turned out not to be true, and since  2007 (when the ban was lifted), several brands have been introduced in the U.S., spearheaded by Lucid Absinthe Superieure.

While absinthe can be used in cocktails like the Sazerac or Death in the Afternoon, it is normally just taken with cold water, poured through and absinthe spoon with a sugar cube on it.  I personally love absinthe, certainly because of its sordid history, but also because I like the dry, herbal, anise (black licorice) flavor.  Recommended ratios are 1 oz absinthe to 3-5 oz of water, as mixing with water is essential because of the high alcohol content absinthe has, which is  usually 65-75% ABV (nearly double the ABV of vodka).  Without the water, your tongue will numb and you won’t be able to enjoy the flavor.

Together with Lucid, I tried 3 new types of absinthe from Viridian Spirits and Jade Liqueurs: C.F. Berger, Jade 1901, and Espirit Edouard, all of which are recreations of 100-year-old recipes.  These will be available in the U.S. in limited quantities for an MSRP of $110 per bottle, and are distilled in France, like Lucid.

Viridian Spirits Absinthes

Every one of these three limited edition absinthes is outstanding, and it is difficult to choose a favorite. Any one in particular did not stand out more than another, but the three of them are all excellent and flavorful, and any would be a worthy addition to any absinthe-lover’s collection.

Special thanks to KegWorks for the Absinthe Accessories Starter Kit used in this review.  Buy yours here.

Vodka Flavors Gone Wild

I will admit that I can have a snobby attitude about some vodkas, particularly the strange new flavored ones that have appeared in the stores recently, going way beyond fruit flavors to marshmallow or whipped cream vodkas! These flavored vodkas have begun to outsell nearly everything in the liquor stores, so it seems appropriate to at least give them a try.

van gogh pbj, three olives smores, three olives loopy vodkas

I tried three flavors of vodkas: Van Gogh PB&J (peanut butter and jelly), Three Olives S’mores, and Three Olives Loopy (Fruit Loops). Three Olives brand is about $20 a bottle retail, and Van Gogh is priced slightly higher. At first whiff, every single one of these smells exactly as the labels suggest they would. I made some simple cocktails with them, some recommended by the manufacturers. From left to right, these are pictured below:

S’mores Cocktail

  • 2 oz Three Olives S’mores Vodka
  • 1 oz half and half
  • 3 drops Fee Bros. Aztec Chocolate Bitters

PB&J Cocktail

  • 1 oz Van Gogh PB&J Vodka
  • 1 oz grape juice
  • grape garnish

BOC (“Breakfast or Champions” or “Bowl of Cereal”?)

  • 1 oz Three Olives Loopy Vodka
  • 2 oz milk

van gogh pbj, three olives smores, three olives loopy vodkas cocktails

This was an interesting experience, and the flavors were surprisingly accurate. Loopy in particular tasted so much like a boozy version of  it’s cereal brother, it was scary. I think that S’mores would be the most flexible permanent addition to a home bar as it could be used in White Russians and other cocktails featuring coffee or chocolate. The flavor of S’mores was also the most subtle of the three.

This is certainly one of those “you’ve got to try this” experiences, and the fact that these exist and sell well is a commentary on the state of modern alcohol consumption, though I’m not sure what to make of it or what to conclude.

All three of these vodkas had very interesting flavors and there’s room for creativity in how to use these flavors in cocktails, but I imagine these will mostly be consumed with a very simple mixer, like “PB&J and Soda,” or “S’mores and Coke,” or something like that.

Pink Pigeon Rum

pink pigeon rum

Let your mind wander toward Africa…..then go east a little bit to the island of Madagascar (home of the famous animated zoo animals), then think east again a few hundred miles to Mauritius. That’s where Pink Pigeon Rum comes from, named for the rare bird from that same island.

Local sugar cane and Madagascar vanilla beans are used to distill it, so the rum has a very pronounced vanilla scent and flavor. It’s somewhere between a white rum and a spiced rum as it’s not too mild or too spiced.

The bottle is pitch black with white and pink trim, so I was curious if the rum itself would be pink when I poured it. It’s not – it’s a light amber color, and when sipped straight, it’s got a good vanilla scent but doesn’t have the lingering sweetness I usually associate with rum. It has a strong, good bite at the finish.

I started working on ideas for a cocktail that would work with this special rum. The distiller says Pink Pigeon will work great in traditional rum drinks like daiquiris or mojitos, but I ended up creating an orange-and-cream cocktail instead:

pink pigeon rum creamsicle cocktail

Pink Pigeon Creamsicle (by Greg Mays)

  • 1 1/2 oz Pink Pigeon rum
  • 1 oz orange juice
  • 1 oz triple sec (orange liqueur)
  • 1/2 oz half-and-half
  • Stir with ice, strain into a cocktail glass.
  • Garnish with a 1/4 orange wheel.

Pink Pigeon is a great rum and makes some outstanding drinks. It’s about $35 a bottle and it has the flavor and smoothness of other spirits in that price range. It’s very tasty, not too sweet, and is a really unique.

Don Quixote Bourbon and Gin

“Clear alcohol is for rich women on diets.” ~Ron Swanson

Don Quixote Distillery in Los Alamos is one of only 3 distilleries in New Mexico right now (Santa Fe and KGB are the others).  Don Quixote makes 5 spirits, some ports, several wines, and even vanilla extract.

Don Quixote Bourbon

Don Quixote Blue Corn bourbon is “the world’s only bourbon made from New Mexico blue corn” and there’s no other way to say this: it’s outstanding.  I prefer gin most of the time and generally don’t like whiskey much, but this is by far the best bourbon I’ve ever had.  The sourness I usually dislike in whiskey (is it the “malt”?) isn’t there, and when you swallow, it’s cool and fresh tasting with very little alcohol burn.  This bourbon is smooth and sweet and I’m not going to use it in cocktails because it tastes too good on its own.  This will be perfect in a frozen glass with just an orange peel in it.

Don Quixote Spirit de Santa Fe Gin

Don Quixote Distillery also makes two types of gin, and I tried the Spirit de Santa Fe Gin, with “natural botancials; including juniper, pinion, chamisa, sage, and rose hips.”

This gin surprised me.  It’s extremely aromatic, and has a unique “desert” quality to the flavor, I think maybe the sage stands out the most.  The issue I had with this gin was the fact that the alcohol overpowers the initial flavor of it, only to be followed by a big aromatic, botanical finish.  This really prevents it from being good for sipping straight, as it’s just not smooth enough, so I tried it in some cocktails.

A Gin Old Fashioned is one of my favorite drinks, so I mixed the Spirit de Santa Fe Gin with simple syrup, aromatic and orange bitters, a splash of club soda, and an orange and cherry garnish.  This is a cocktail where the aromatics of the bitters and fruit tend to be the first thing that hits you, but not with this gin – that aromatic-desert-pungency remains the primary smell and flavor, just like when you drink the gin straight.

I finally got the idea to try this gin as a substitute for tequila in a margarita, and because of that aromatic-desert-pungency, that combination worked pretty well.

Don Quixote Blue Corn Bourbon is available for $30 at the Don Quixote Store online, or you can buy it at the distillery in Los Alamos.  The gin is sold in half or full bottles for $20 and $30 and it’s certainly something to try because of its unique flavor, though it may not be for everyone.

Don Quixote Distillery and Winery