Barrel-Aging Cocktails: Claridge Cocktail

A barrel is a naturally evolving environment. As a spirit ages, the organic nature of the wood allows oxygen to interact with all of the components to create those unique, wonderful flavors we know and love. While Bourbon must be aged, by law, in new barrels, many other aged spirits, such as scotch, Canadian whisky, and even rum, depend on flavors that have been captured in a used barrel. Each time an unaged spirit is added to a used barrel, the spirit's aging process will be informed by what was in the barrel beforehand. This is a particularly important considering how vastly different a spirit that has been aged in a new barrel is from a spirit aged in a used barrel. Even finishing a spirit, which typically requires aging the spirit for at least two years in a different barrel, such as a sherry butt or port cask, can be used to layer in yet other flavors. Even something as small as the specific mash bill of a bourbon can greatly affect the flavors in a barrel that a white spirit can access while it rests. 

During barrel-aging, the flavors of the wood are infused into the white spirit. But this is only half of the equation. The flavors of the spirit are also suffused into the wood. Thus, when a subsequent new make spirit is added, the flavors of any earlier finished products will be imparted. But this is not an infinite process. As a barrel is reused, its own flavors are leeched away. Over time a neutral environment will result. Each liquid added to the barrel exists in its timeline. And when the product is taken out of a barrel it will not only represent a fixed point in the life cycle of the barrel, but it will also carry the impression of the barrel's history. I never really understood just how this worked until I started experimenting with my own small barrel.

The process is fascinating. The first spirit I aged would be the only one that would be 100 percent affected by the barrel. Because of this, the initial decision-making process is incredibly streamlined. Short of temperature and location decisions, the only remaining decision is when to empty the barrel. It was simply a question of time and taste. But every choice after that would get incrementally more complex.  The pisco I added to the barrel second has trace flavors of the rum I started with. The El Presidente cocktail that came next was influenced by both the pisco and the rum. As I started to understand how each decision impacted the next, my choices became more complex and more interesting. The effects of the flavors already in the barrel and how they would influence the next project needed to be accounted for. What kind of cocktail would benefit most from what had come before? This became the underlying theme of the entire process.

Enter the Claridge

I was first introduced to the Claridge Cocktail at a friend's house a couple of years ago. His knowledge of classic cocktails to this day exceeds my own, and I was happy to taste any beverage, new or old, that had captured his attention. For me it was the apricot brandy that made the cocktail so interesting. And yet it was such an old drink. But then again, I have always had a soft spot for classics.

Gary Regan outlined his opinions about the origins of the Claridge a couple of years ago in the San Francisco Chronicle. His research brought him from Harry Craddock's Savoy Cocktail Book, where I first discovered it, to Harry McElhone's 1927 Barflies and Cocktails. McElhone attributes it to "Leon, Bartender, Claridge's Hotel, Champs Elysee." Unfortunately, the trail runs cold thereafter.  

Given that the flavors of the El Presidente are bright and fruity, the Claridge seemed like a natural choice to follow it into the barrel.

Claridge Cocktail

1 ounce gin
1 ounce dry vermouth
1/2 ounce apricot brandy
1/2 ounce Cointreau

Combine ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Gordon's gin, Bitter Truth apricot brandy, and Dolin dry vermouth.

Fruity and bright, this is a cocktail that depends on the apricot brandy for its success. Delicate, yet still spirit forward, the Claridge is a perfect cocktail to use to test apricot brandies. Being the second cocktail that followed two spirits in my barrel, even after three months the influence of the barrel was slight. The oak of the barrel could be discerned as a hint in the after taste. A certain berry note from the grenadine in the El Presidente was apparent in the mid-palate. But it was an undercurrent of funk from the Wray and Nephew, still apparent after so much time, that hinted at the history of the barrel contained in this new cocktail.


What to Do With That Leftover Bottle of Cider: Apple Cider Syrups

Every fall without fail I crave hot mulled apple cider. There is nothing like settling down on the couch with a steaming mug under a blanket during those damp, cold nights of pre-winter. Sure, hot toddies are wonderful, but there is just something about the aroma of spiced cider. Add a slug of apple brandy and the apple flavors become that much more intense. Unfortunately, this craving disappears almost as soon as my mug is empty. And it is only when I open the fridge about a month later to a bloated half gallon of half-fermented cider that I remember that I don't really like apple cider. If I'm lucky, I discover this before the plastic jug has given in to the pressure, leaving a sticky puddle steadily expanding over the bottom of my refrigerator. This year as I noticed the the cider steadily making its way toward the back of the fridge, already half-hidden behind the orange juic and several vermouth bottles, I decided enough was enough. Instead of waiting for the cider to sour, this year I would make the cider not only more interesting but also last longer.

Mulled Cider

3 cups apple cider
2 cinnamon sticks
20 cloves, or more
35 allspice berries, or more
2 star anise
1 medium orange

1. Coarsely crush the spices and peel the orange. Half should do.

2. In a saucepan, combine the cider and the spices. Bring to an almost boil and reduce heat to a low.
3. Simmer for 20 minutes and then add the orange peel. Simmer 10 more minutes.
4. Strain out the spices and pour into your favorite mug.
5. Add brown sugar and/or apple brandy, to taste

This is my standard mulling recipe--granted the spice quantities will change depending on what is available or where my interests take me. Ginger would make an interesting addition or even some nutmeg, black pepper, or toasted fennel seeds. Using a Chinese five-spice blend would takethe drink in an interesting, albeit different direction. Also any citrus can be used. In fact, though I usually use an orange, in a pinch lemon peel or even grapefruit peel could work. The citrus contributes a certain brightness that contrasts the more earthy, dried spices.

As two cups of mulled cider was more than enough, I decided to make a syrup out of the excess. As the cider was already warm, this was extremely easy as well. Of course mulled cider syrup could just as easily be made separately. On a lark, I added molasses and brown sugar to provide an extra funkiness and depth. Even without these additions, this tasty syrup will work as well in cocktails as on pancakes, in oatmeal or even in tea. The spices aren't necessary either. A simple cider syrup is delicious on its own.

Mulled Cider Syrup

1 cup strained, mulled cider
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon molasses

Combine ingredients in a pan over low heat, stirring until sugar is completely incorporated. After letting the syrup cool, bottle and add 1 ounce of vodka (optional). Refrigerate.

Cider Syrup

1 cup cider
1 cup sugar

Combine ingredients in a bowl. Whisk until fully combined (no heat needed). Bottle and add 1 ounce of vodka (optional).


A Look at Apple Brandy: Moving Past the Spice

Before the leaves even start to turn here in Washington it seems that grocery stores are simply overflowing with apples. This is hardly surprising---apples are in season and Washington is the Apple State. With Thanksgiving rooting down the season in general, apple pie instantly pops into my mind. Apple-based spirits also  tend to get a lot of attention as well. I am a certainly guilty of consuming more apple brandy and Calvados (apple brandy made from Normand apple varietals that are then aged in French oak) in October and November. In the intervening months, I hardly ever think about either one. Sure there may be an occasion for a Stone Fence in the summer, or a Pink Lady in the spring. But fall is generally when I rediscover the deliciousness of apple brandy.

Relegating apple-based spirits to one season alone is really a shame. Recently I started asking myself why apple brandy cocktails don't play a greater role in my normal rotation. No other spirit is similarly pigeonholed. When I started recalling all of my favorite apple-brandy based cocktails, I noticed a suspicious pattern--almost all of them included what I will call "pie spices." Cloves and cinnamon, ginger and allspice, and even nutmeg and cardamom, all of these pair tremendously well with fall fruits. The cocktails that came to my mind first--Autumn Leaves, Northern Spy, Reveillon--all of them rely on this combination. Even an Applejack Old Fashioned has Angostura Bitters in it. Could my shortsightedness be related to an overdependence on apple pie flavors? Could it be that every year I just burn out on the spice quotient and take it out on the apple? The apple, such a versatile fruit, really deserves more than this. Recently I have allowed myself to learn that there are other options out there.


While it is impossible to completely mask the fruitiness of the apple in drinks that revolve around pie spices, the interplay between the ingredients is really the star. In fact, in many of these cocktails the apple merely provides the backbone that allows the spices shine. And while the brightness of the apple brandy does actually stand out in many cocktails, a large number also call for citrus. The only problem is that drinks like the Delicious Sour, the Jack Rose, and the newer Apple Jack Rabbit, while delicious, are not usually what I crave. So I decided to experiment. My inspiration came from the Vieux Carre and a recently acquisition, pamplemousse rose liqueur.

The Vieux Carre is one of my favorite cocktails. It has always reminded me of a lighter, more herbal Manhattan. A couple of years ago I was introduced to a wonderful variation by Chelsea at Sun Liquor Lounge. By swapping out the cognac for apple brandy, she created a similarly delightful cocktail. The flavor of the apple brings a wonderful fruity dimension to the cocktail and I have often returned to this variation for precisely this reason. So when I began thinking about what to pair with the apple brandy, the bright pink of the pamplemousse rose caught my eye. The rest is history. 

Lord Lambourne

1 ounce apple brandy
1 ounce rum
1 ounce Cocchi Americano
1/4 ounce pamplemousse rose liqueur
1 dash Peychaud's bitters

Combine ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange peel.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Laird's bonded apple brandy, Plantation 5-year rum, and Combier pamplemousse.


One of the greatest things about apples is their versatility. Sure things like apple pie, apple crisp, and coffee cake are what instantly come to mind when I think of apples. But the savory applications are lovely as well. Apples pair well with curry, celeriac, or even bitter greens such as escarole or arugula. Sadly, I had never thought of combining apples into cocktails with any of these flavors. It took Brian Lee to show me a more savory side to apple brandy.

Mela Seleri (inspired by Brian Lee, Canon)

1 1/2 ounces applejack
1 1/2 ounces Cocchi Americano
2 dashes celery bitters
Combine ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Laird's bonded applejack, and the Bittermens celery bitters.


Apple brandy is no stranger to herbal cocktails. Drinks like the Diamondback, combining apple brandy with green chartreuse, and the Newark, playing apple brandy off of Fernet Branca, have already established how well apple-based spirits play with herbal components. Even the Marconi Wireless, an Applejack Manhattan, depends on herbal interplay. Because I already knew that applejack worked well with Benedictine, from above, I decided to start there. But it was only when I came across a similar apple brandy recipe combining the spirit with Cynar that I started thinking about how artichokes might make applejack shine differently.

Bitter Apple (inspired by the Apple of Eden, Steven Shellenberger)

1 1/2 ounces apple brandy
3/4 ounces Cynar
1/4 ounce Benedictine
3 dashes Boker's Bitters

Combine ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Laird's bonded applejack.


The Brooklyn Cocktail: A Personal History

The Brooklyn was first mentioned in print in an obscure tome, J.A. Grohusko's Jack's Manual (1908). Though it was lost to history for over fifty years, its popularity has skyrocketed in recent years. It is yet another cocktail that has become a darling of the cocktail resurgence, embraced by craft bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts alike. But what an unlikely star. The combination of rye and dry vermouth is a hard sell for many, and even procuring a bottle of Amer Picon, or a suitable replacement, remains a challenge. Perhaps these details play a part in its popularity. Many formerly lost cocktails have resurfaced and are loved in part because of their polarizing flavors or hard to acquire ingredients. Regardless of the cultural weight of these details today, these two factors could have been what propelled such cocktails into obscurity in the first place. Despite all of this, the Brooklyn is my favorite cocktail.

I first came across the Brooklyn in the July/August 2007 issue of Imbibe magazine. The main article was centered on lost ingredients that were making a comeback in the bar world. Several do-it-yourself recipes were also included for the more ambitious. While allspice dram and creme de violette were mentioned alongside several others, it was the Amer Picon that drew me in. Looking back I am surprised that it wasn't the allspice dram that tempted my novice palate. At that point, I had never even tasted an amaro. But while the catalyst remains hidden, the Amer Replica, also known more commonly today as Amer Boudreau, was the first major cocktail ingredient I crafted at home, and with it came my introduction to the Brooklyn.

The hardest part about making homemade ingredients lies in replicating flavors that are sometimes slightly and sometimes completely out of reach. The Amer Picon used in that 1908 Brooklyn is not the same as the one available today. Sadly, the recipe was altered sometime in the 1940s and the resulting product is supposedly a shadow of its former self. Sure there are bottles of the old stuff out there--some hoarded, some just waiting to be found in the back of liquor stores in random corners of the world. But for most people, the original Amer Picon is unattainable. The current Amer Picon has not been imported into the United States for decades. In 2007, the closest substitute on the market, Torani Amer, was not available in Washington.

Of course I still remember my first Brooklyn. While I waited for the orange tincture to steep--the first step in making Amer Boudreau--I decided I needed more firsthand knowledge about this mysterious cocktail. Whenever I wanted to know more about an obscure classic cocktail, I would find myself at the Zig Zag sitting on a bar stool in front of Murray. He seemed to always know not only the recipe, but also some other tidbit of information that would propel me to uncover another drink. When I ordered a Brooklyn, he leaned in across the bar and asked me how old I was. I will admit I was surprised. But then he smiled and told me that only eighty-year-old men ordered that drink. While I am not sure how he solved the Amer Picon problem I do remember loving the resulting cocktail. And I have been drinking them ever since.


2 ounces rye
3/4 ounce dry vermouth
1/4 ounce Amer Picon
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur

In an ice-filled mixing glass, stir ingredients and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Optional: garnish with a lemon twist.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Maraska maraschino liqueur, Bulleit rye, and Vya's Whisper Dry vermouth.

Over the years, I have had many Brooklyn variations. Because of the nature of lost ingredients, it seems that everyone has a different solution to accommodate the absent Picon. (Don't even get me started on all of the recipes with different proportions!) I have seen amari blended--usually Rammazotti and Averna. Sometimes a bartender will use Amaro Ciociaro, which is widely recognized as a workable substitute. I have even had a Brooklyn with the current Amer Picon, which I returned from Paris with. And of course, I still have some of that homemade Amer Picon from all those years ago.

On a recent visit to San Francisco, I decided to order a Brooklyn at the Comstock Saloon. As soon as I tasted it, I knew that it was not the cocktail I had come to know and love. Though it did resemble most Brooklyns I had experienced, something was noticeably different. Almost immediately I knew it was the Amer component--after all, rye, dry vermouth and maraschino only differ so much among the various brands.What I didn't know was how lucky I was to have ordered that specific drink at that specific location. Finding a bar that was attempting to replicate the original Amer Picon was a wonderful surprise. With access to a bottle of the original Amer Picon, they decided that the combination of amontillado sherry, Bonal quinquina, and orange bitters best matched those long-sought after flavors. I can certainly understand the Bonal and bitters. Torani Amer, Ciociaro, and Ramazzotti (the base of Amer Boudreau) all have a strong orange flavor. It was the sherry that gave me pause. Jeff Hollinger explained to me that the savory, nuttiness of the sherry was the answer to the flavors of oxidation that they detected in the original. This was a curious detail about Amer Picon that I had never heard before. And while the resulting cocktail was tasty, the entire experience was still curious.

Brooklyn (as inspired by Comstock Saloon version)

2 ounces rye
3/4 ounce dry vermouth
1/2 ounce Amer mixture*
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur

Combine ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  

Notes on Ingredients: I used Bulleit rye, Whisper Dry vermouth and Maraska maraschino. 

Amer mixture (as inspired by Comstock Saloon version)
3 ounces Bonal
1.5 ounces dry amontillado sherry
3 dashes Angostura orange bitters

Note on Amer mixture: At the time, I failed to ask for the proportions used at Comstock and sought to replicate the flavor from memory. I hope that I was close, but I had the Brooklyn at the beginning of a long day.


Fall Cocktails: Pushing Past Brown, Bitter, and Stirred

As the first rains of the season created a staccato on my windows and the pavement outside, I knew that fall had officially arrived. Though I tried to keep my head buried in the proverbial sand, my taste buds were not so easily fooled. As the weather held off, my own denial seemed to intensify. But the glass never lies. As I bellied up to the bar, more often than not I heard myself utter those three words that seem to coincide with the change in season: brown, bitter and stirred. While I watched varied bartenders collect bottles of amari and bitters, I tried in vain to hold on to the last vestiges of summer. At long last the truth won out--summer had indeed fled and the dark days of pre-winter were here to stay.

For years whiskey defined brown, and thus fall. My entire drink repertoire revolved around Manhattans and anything even mildly related--Brooklyns, Boulevardiers, Rob Roys, even the venerable Seelbach. More recently, though, sweet vermouth and dark, earthy quinquinas usurped this role. Their rich, bold flavors shifted my intense focus from whiskey and allowed me to explore other spirits. Rum Manhattans, tequila negronis, and the Martinez followed. But cravings are not so easily understood. Last year, the flavor of the moment was apple brandy. Over the past month, I have explored even stranger flavor combinations. And while not all of them can be characterized as "brown," or even "bitter," they have all of course been "stirred." I am still me after all.

Tequila and Quinquina

This drink was not created specifically for me. I was sitting in front of the well on an average Wednesday or Thursday, watching Erik craft drinks at the Zig Zag. Though my drink was well-crafted and delicious, this other concoction, which had been made for an entirely different person, stole my attentions. With each new ingredient introduced into the mixing glass, my curiosity was piqued. Before long, I had pulled out a scrap of paper and jotted down my observations as best I could remember them. 

Unnamed Cocktail (inspired by Erik Hakkinen, Zig Zag)

1 3/4 ounces reposado tequila
3/4 ounce Bonal
1/3 ounce Benedictine
1 dash Peychaud's bitters
1/2 dropper Bittermens tiki bitters

Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Note on Ingredients:  I used Milagro reposado tequila.

When (re-)creating this cocktail, there was one obvious obstacle--I had never even tasted it. I didn't even know the magic words that had inspired its creation. I started with the golden ratio: 1 1/2 ounces spirit, 3/4 ounces vermouth (or quinquina), 1/4 ounce liqueur, 1 dash bitters. After a bit of fine-tuning, the assorted ingredients finally came together. Though I am sure this cocktail only barely resembles Erik's original, the intersection of flavors is well worth exploring. I discovered this drink while battling a bit of palate ennui. But this cocktail, with its unexpected depth and challenging flavors--the unusual combination of tequila and Benedictine alongside the earthy Bonal certainly helped revive my interest.

Mescal and Chartreuse

I discovered this drink during Sambar's last summer. Customers lined the bar, filling every table both inside and on the patio, while others stood anywhere they could, awaiting one last tipple at one of Seattle's most celebrated cocktail bars. From my seat, I could see the drink tickets piling up--never were there less than ten. I know that I should have been happy with a cocktail from the menu. But a last hurrah is after all an occasion. So, hoping he would forgive me, I forged ahead, requesting a stirred mezcal cocktail. The result was a tipple that expertly combined three of my absolute favorite ingredients. While the flavors could be described as light, nothing is sacrificed in the way of flavor. Its adept combination of smoky and herbal flavors seems perfect for fall days when dark and bitter has become mildly repetitive.

Unnamed Drink (Jay Kuehner, Sambar)

1 1/2 ounces mezcal
3/4 ounce Cocchi Americano
1/2 ounce Green Chartreuse

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a grapefruit twist.

Notes on Ingredients: I used del Maguey Minero mezcal.  

Notes on Preparation: I was sadly out of grapefruit and substituted Bittermens grapefruit bitters.

Bitter and Bitter

Inevitably, most of the cocktails I consume in the fall still contain some measure of bitterness. This fact, I am sure, surprises no one. In fact there are those who might claim that my tastes run toward the bitter in general. But given that most of the months in Seattle are dark, cold and primarily damp, it seems natural that high proof, full flavor spirits and amari tend to prevail. Then again, I can't imagine a season where I would turn down a cocktail that contains an amaro. Most often this bitter component comprises a fraction of the total ingredients, with the brown doing most of the heavy lifting. But this certainly isn't a rule. 

Unnamed Cocktail (Adam Fortuna, Bar Artusi)

1 1/2 ounces Santa Maria al Monte
3/4 ounce dry vermouth
3/4 ounce Cynar
1 dash aromatic bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Notes in Ingredients: I used Vya Whisper Dry vermouth and Angostura bitters.

This cocktail is surprisingly smooth for a cocktail that combines two different digestive bitters in addition to Angostura. The Santa Maria, perhaps the most mellow of Fernet-style amari, is surely responsibleSurely, using either Luxardo Fernet, Fernet Branca, or even the elusive bitter monster, Fernet Magnoberta, would drastically change the results. With the orange notes of the Santa Maria mingling with the almost grassy artichoke flavors of the Cynar, this drink is perfect for the cold damp temperatures that run rampant in autumnal Seattle. Regardless of season, however, this cocktail gives new meaning to the idea of brown, bitter and stirred.

While most of the drinks I consumed this fall could easily fit into themes of years past, exceptions do exist. And yet I know that my tastes have to expanded exponentially since my recent enchantment with the Martinez. This year, however, my cravings have led me farther from my comfort zone. But what happens when the distinct patterns of the past no longer apply? Perhaps it is time for a new perspective. This fall I have been celebrating surprises found in unlikely places, whether an unexpectedly earthy tequila drink, a smoky, herbal exercise in restraint, or even a bitter bomb. After all, we can celebrate brown bitter and stirred all winter.


Using Homemade Ingredients: Citrus Shrub

I love making homemade ingredients. All it takes is one idea--pepper syrup, rhubarb bitters, strawberry liqueur, lime cordial--and I'm off and running. And often when inspiration does hit, I end up knee-deep in four or five different projects simultaneously. Sometimes the bounty of goods at the farmer's market proves irresistible, sometimes it's just a spontaneous thought about a flavor combination. But regardless of the catalyst, as well as whether a project will take hours, days or even months to complete, the challenges always seem to spring up after the final results are in. Because homemade ingredients are often unique, finding interesting ways to use them can be the biggest obstacle. And time is not always on one's side. Bitters and liqueurs can change over extended periods. And while fortification and refrigeration can extend the life of most syrups, nothing contributes to future waste like lack of use.

Recently I ran into this problem after making two different kinds of vinegar-based citrus shrubs. Because a shrub is preserved with vinegar, it certainly has a longer shelf life than a fruit syrup. But when it comes to potential uses, this vinegar component can make success more difficult. Most fruit syrups can easily be incorporated into drinks where citrus juice or dry ingredients can balance the sweetness. More common shrubs, such as raspberry or blackberry, are challenging because of the vinegar component, but when citrus has been incorporated into the shrub, the options become even more limited. In the past, I have allowed experimental projects to languish in the back of my booze cabinet or even worse in the back of my refrigerator. But this time, I was more determined to find uses for these ingredients. 

Meyer Lemon Shrub
When starting from scratch, usually the best place to start is with something familiar. One of the first drinks I ever had that called for a shrub was a simple, elegant mixture of shrub and dry sherry. The bite of the vinegar's acetic acid pairs superbly with the almost savory dryness of sherry. Why not start there?  With the citrus element, and the inherent lightness of the sherry-shrub combination, gin seemed the natural choice for a base spirit. The bitters provided a necessary depth and contrast, but what really brought the entire cocktail together was quite surprising: salt.

Lemon Shrub Martini

1 3/4 ounces gin
1 1/4 ounces manzanilla sherry
1/2 ounce Meyer lemon shrub
1 dash Bitter Truth Creole bitters
1 pinch salt

Combine ingredients with ice in a mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Oxley gin and Lustau manzanilla sherry.

Grapefruit Shrub
Every time I started thinking about how to use the grapefruit shrub, the Hemingway daiquiri kept popping up in my mind. The combination of lime, grapefruit and rum  has always been a winner. Finding a way to balance out all of that acidity, however, would be the challenge. Well, that is besides figuring out how to deal with that pesky maraschino liqueur that is so crucial to the Hemingway. In the end, I decided to keep it simple and just omitted the maraschino altogether. Instead, I found that the more neutral simple syrup  smoothed out all of the citrus and vinegar. The more basic daiquiri recipe allowed the shrub to shine, and the resulting beverage was interesting and refreshing. Again, salt really pulled the drink together and pushed the flavors to the hilt.

Grapefruit Shrub Daiquiri

1 1/2 ounce white rum
3/4 ounce lime juice
1/2 ounce grapefruit shrub
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1 pinch salt

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Cruzan white rum and a homemade 1:1 simple syrup.

The Mistake--Or, Two Shrubs in One Glass
Considering that even finding a recipe for a vinegar-based citrus shrub proved nearly impossible, I was skeptical of using the Internet--where I usually begin all my searches--to locate an appropriate cocktail recipe. For the most part my assumptions were correct, though I did find one. Earlier this year in Aspen, Colorado, a certain Nathan Harnish from Pacifica Restaurant and Oyster Bar won the Aspen, Colorado, Iron Bartender competition with a drink that included both lemon shrub and grapefruit shrub. Or at least that is what i thought. How providential it seemed at the time! Taking in the recipe as a whole, though, I was even further astounded. It was the strangest assortment of flavors I had ever seen. Of course I had to try it.

Spice Trader Punch (as reported by eatApsen.com localFeast and then further adapted)

2 ounces Batavia arrack
3/4 ounce Grand Marnier
3/4 ounce cognac
3/4 ounce meyer lemon shrub
3/4  ounce grapefruit shrub

Combine ingredients with ice in a mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Pierre Ferrand 1840 cognac and Batava Arrack von Oosten.

Of course upon further research, I discovered that this was not the recipe that won the contest. The real recipe is an actual punch, complete with juice and tea. And though Harnish's original recipe does include a grapefruit element and a lemon shrub, he calls for grapefruit juice and a non-vinegar based lemon shrub. The website I initially stumbled onto was just offering a sneak peak of the contest entries, so this mistake is of little consequence in the grand scheme. But that mistaken recipe resulted in a drink that was not only delicious but also multilayered, interesting and exceptionally balanced. Go figure. Sometimes using homemade ingredients can lead you to unexpected experiences.


Baker's Cherry Beauty: The Parisien Cherry Ripe

You should never judge a cocktail solely on the way that its recipe reads. I have been disappointed by cocktails that on paper sounded delicious and pleasantly surprised by ones that seemed to present at best a hot mess. Like when dealing with people, giving a cocktail a chance can often provide a deeper insight into what is really going on beneath the surface. At the very least you will learn exactly what it is that you don't like instead of just guessing what you might not like. Knowledge comes in having the concrete details. Perhaps there is no better time to reserve judgment than when dealing with a Charles Baker drink.

We catch up with our unreliable narrator and guide in the City of Lights, fresh from an outing to Bois du Boulogne where he took in a bit of tennis. And once again we are faced with a drink that at least on paper seems incredibly suspicious. But what really had my mixing tins quaking was the fact that even Baker proclaims the drink "one of the most foetid conceptions ever to come out of a shaker when served improperly chilled." Baker drinks issued without such admonitions can be scary, but with them . . . terrifying to the point of prompting an immediate fit of page-flipping. Truth be told, I almost skipped it. But because I actually had all of the major ingredients and have been proven wrong on more than one occasion, I proceeded hesitantly.

Parisien Cherry Ripe 

1 1/2 ounces gin
3/4 ounce Cherry Marnier
3/4 ounce Kirsch

Blend with crushed ice. Float 1 tsp Cherry Marnier. Garnish with green and red maraschino cherries.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Beefeater gin and omitted the cherry garnish as I was out.

Notes on Method: Though normal practice would warrant stirring, as no juices or cream is included, Baker's requirement of extreme coldness prompted me to change tack. And while Baker describes using a Waring mixer, I chose instead to shake the ingredients with ice and strain the mixture over new freshly crushed ice. 
While this was not the vilest Baker concoction I have ever tasted, which surprised me, it definitely will not win any awards or new Baker followers. Initially it was just too much all cherry all the time. Though spirits make up 75 percent of the recipe, the Cherry Marnier still managed to dominate the drink with its slightly earthy, yet overwhelming sweetness. The dryness of the gin and the slightly nutty kirsch did pair nicely and actually peeked out on occasion, but it was not enough to save this cocktail. And as much as I love a good snow cone, this tipple only resonated on one note and could not hold my interest.

After perusing other cocktail guides as well as the Internet, I discovered that this drink actually predates Baker's world travels. This boozy cherry monster can be found in the Savoy Cocktail Book (1930) not under the moniker of the Parisien Cherry Ripe, but as one of a trio of drinks called the Rose Cocktail (French Style Nos. 1-3). Baker's cocktail and the French Rose No. 2 are exactly the same, except for Baker's decorative additions--the shaved ice and colorful maraschino cherries. The other two variations only include one cherry flavoring agent--either cherry liqueur or kirsch--not both. The French Rose Cocktail No. 1 replaces the kirsch with dry vermouth, while No. 3 replaces the cherry liqueur with syrup de groseille and the gin with dry vermouth.

While trying to figure out how to amend the Parisien Cherry Ripe, these two French Rose versions kept popping into my head. Perhaps the secret to fixing Baker's cocktail would be hidden in the differences. Both of these cocktails are noticeably less boozy. More important, though, might be their dryness as both call for dry vermouth. A bit of dryness certainly couldn't hurt. Though I usually try to stay true to the original ingredients, I decided an additional element might provide the balance and depth this cocktail was missing. Though dry vermouth may have been the natural choice, I chose to insert the acidity and dryness of sparkling wine. While it did help tone down the sweetness, it was the dash of orange bitters that really created an interesting contrast for the earthier flavors of the Cherry Marnier.

New Parisien Cherry Ripe

1 1/4 ounces gin
1/2 ounce Cherry Marnier
1/2 ounce Kirsch
1 dash orange bitters

Stir ingredients with ice in a chilled mixing glass. Strain into a chilled champagne flute or coupe. Add 1 1/2 ounces of dry champagne or sparkling wine.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Beefeater gin, Angostura orange bitters, and Yellowtail sparkling wine.

Trying to improve upon a Baker cocktail often results in a concoction that is only marginally better than the original. Usually it is the initial ingredients that provide the biggest obstacles. Whether the original is off-balance, lacking depth, or completely undrinkable, sometimes only one factor will stand for improvement. In this case, adding dryness and acidity certainly helped, but the result still wasn't the home run I had been hoping for. You can't win them all.


Barrel-Aging Cocktails: El Presidente

Barrel-aged cocktails seem to be everywhere. It is hard to imagine a back bar without a small one- or two-liter barrel perched on some out of the way corner or shelf. As more and more bartenders become barrel-obsessed, menus have expanded with the results of their experiments. But this trend that has so effected so many is quite understandable. My attention and interest were greatly captivated when I first read about Tony Conigliaro's and Jeffrey Morgenthaler's experiments aging cocktails. And while it is true that I was never all that interested in barrel-aging spirits myself until I did it, the idea of barrel-aging a cocktail has fascinated me for years.

With my seasoned barrel recently empty, and two wonderfully unique barrel-aged spirits on my shelf, it was finally time to try my hand at barrel-aging a cocktail. But which one?To me this choice was obvious. Years ago while at Clyde Common in Portland, Oregon, I was lucky enough to taste two of Jeffrey Morgenthaler's barrel-aged beauties: a Negroni and an El Presidente. And while the Negroni was superb, I could never forget the sublime taste of the El Presidente. As the choice seemed clear, then came the hard part--what recipe do I use. Which El Presidente had captured my heart?

The first El Presidente I ever tasted predates that outing to Portland. In fact, it must have been close to five years ago when I first concocted a drink with this name according to the recipe in the Art of the Bar. I remember enjoying it very much, but my memories stop there. Absent is that Wow factor that makes a cocktail stand out over time. As my interest in classic cocktails grew, I discovered that this version was less like an El Presidente and much more akin to the Palmetto, another rum and sweet vermouth cocktail that also happends to be a favorite. Essentially a rum Manhattan, the Palmetto can be traced at least to 1912, where it was included in an addendum to Cocktail Bill Boothby's The World's Drinks and How to Mix Them, originally published in 1908. Though the Hollinger/Schwartz version swaps Peychaud's for Angostura and uses proportions designed for more modern palates, the recipes are incredibly similar. 

El Presidente (Holllinger/Schwartz, Art of the Bar)

2 ounces Ron Pampero Anniversario rum
1/2 ounce Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
3 dashes Peychaud's bitters

Combine ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

But this is was not the El Presidente in the Clyde Common barrel that so affected me. That cocktail had a lightness and delicacy that sweet vermouth would have undermined. My search continued. What I discovered was a cocktail created in Cuba that gained popularity during Prohibition when many thirsty Americans flocked there. Though its specific origin is oft disputed, this is perhaps the most widely accepted recipe for the El Presidente.

El Presidente (Wayne Curtis, LOST magazine) 

1 1/2 ounces white rum
3/4 ounce dry vermouth
3/4 ounce orange curacao
1/2 teaspoon grenadine

Combine ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

Sadly, this recipe has never really worked for me. Something about the way the rum clashes against the dry vermouth has always pushed me away instead of drawing me in. Even after playing around with the proportions or substituting a more flavorful aged rum, the El Presidente has always remained a tough sell. That is, until I read the September/October 2011 issue of Imbibe magazine.

David Wondrich, cocktail historian extraordinaire, in his monthly column often discusses the origins of classic cocktail, and sometimes exceptionally obscure ones. He points out that cocktails that are truly indisputably classic "it has to have some kind of history, it has to have achieved lasting popularity or fame, and it has to taste great." His point is valid. A cocktail that deserves resurrection should stand out, it should transcend its time or place. Sure, ingredients may need to be fudged, or its proportions reevaluated, but without that certain something, why even bother? In his article on the El Presidente, Wondrich reveals a recipe that specifically calls for vermouth from Chambery, France. While French vermouth is often interpreted as meaning the dry style that is more common, there is a demi-sec white vermouth that actually hails from Chambery, Dolin blanc. Even more telling is the fact that Chambery was at that time widely known for this style of aperitif. If the substitution is made, the El Presidente is transformed from something easily forgettable into a well-balanced, delicious concoction.

One night while preparing to make a sweet white vermouth El Presidente, I noticed that I was dangerously low on Dolin blanc. A quick tour of the fortified wine section of my refrigerator revealed a bottle of Cocchi Americano. Thus, a night spent curled up with a new favorite quickly turned into an opportunity for an experiment. Sweet and light, with hints of orange and a twinge of bitterness, the Cocchi seemed to match the direction of the cocktail in theory. The resulting cocktail was wonderful and it is now my house El Presidente variation.

El Presidente (Randall house version)

1 1/2 ounces white rum
1 1/2 ounces Cocchi Americano
1 bar spoon curacao
1/2 bar spoon grenadine

Combine ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Twist an orange peel over the drink and discard.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Appleton white rum, Cointreau, and a homemade grenadine.

While I may never know the exact recipe of the El Presidente that Jeffrey Morgenthaler uses in his barrel, I always knew that it would be my first choice. Since I acquired a barrel shortly after discovering the sweet white vermouth El Presidente, it seemed obvious to use that recipe. In fact, my spirit of choice for the barrel-seasoning process was greatly informed by the ingredients in the El Presidente. If barrel-aging cocktails is going to be on the menu, it seems only natural to preplan your seasoning to further enhance the cocktail later on. And what results they were!

After six weeks in the barrel, the normal light, rich slightly fruity notes had deepened. Vanilla notes and the easily distinguishable taste of oak mingled with the lightly funky barrel-aged Wray and Nephew to added an additional layer of depth and interest. As the flavors evolved and transformed, the Cocchi seemed to stand out more and drive the flavor profile, though not dominate it. Indeed this barrel-aged El Presidente turned out better than I could have imagined.


Balancing Citrus and Vinegar: Enter the Grapefruit Shrub

Every year with spring's arrival, my drinking patterns shift away from the barrel-aged bitter cocktails that highlight the dark winter months. I dust off my cocktail shakers and start shaking Daiquiris and Aviations, Sidecars and Pisco Sours. Then, it is just a matter of time before I am sitting on a patio whiling away the extended evening hours with a citrus-laden tipple. This year my horizons have expanded. Flavored syrups and citrus-based bitters have found their way into my at-home experiments, as well as vinegar, usually in the form of a shrub.

Fruit shrubs are perfect for spring, whether in a long drink, a cocktail, or even a nonalcoholic beverage. The vinegary bite adds unexpected depth to an otherwise ordinary beverage. Classic cocktails can be bumped up with a shrub's savory notes, and just introducing a splash of shrub to some soda water can create a truly refreshing drink that's perfect for summer. The best part is that they are incredibly easy to make, and nearly any fruit can be used. My first attempts were with blackberries, raspberries, and peaches. Last year, I tackled rhubarb. This year as I toured the produce department, I was overwhelmed by the choices. But when a friend threw down the ultimate challenge--citrus shrub--my sense of purpose was renewed.

Historically, there are two types of shrub and they are remarkably dissimilar. One is, at its simplest form, a sort of a bottled sour, usually consisting of some form of citrus, a spirit, and a sweetening agent. The other is a fruit syrup, usually consisting of either currants or berries, additionally flavored and preserved with vinegar. Before the days of refrigeration, people used fruit vinegars to cover the flavor of meat turning bad. But by adding sweetener to these vinegars, shrub was born. The widespread availability of ice signaled the end for shrubs, though many are preserved in many old cocktail guides. Current interest in different historical cooking techniques has vinegar-based shrubs primed for a comeback.

Part of this trend was inevitable as shrubs are just plain delicious. But because achieving balance in a berry shrub is relatively easy and can be accomplished with a very basic recipe, making shrub is simple. Vinegar-based citrus shrubs, though, are more challenging and rare because of the one additional ingredient, citric acid. The way the citric acid is manipulated in conjunction with vinegar's acetic acid can greatly impact the overall balance of the shrub. Too much of either and the result is undrinkable. But with a little care and attention, achieving a complex, tasty batch of citrus shrub is easily within reach.

Basic Recipe for Grapefruit Shrub*

2 good size grapefruits (mine were pink)
sugar [1 3/4 cup]
vinegar [1/2 cup sherry vinegar, 1/4 cup champagne vinegar]
pinch of salt


Stage One: Oleo Saccharum

1. Peel the grapefruit avoiding white pith as much as possible.

2. Juice the grapefruit, measure it, and set it aside in the refrigerator. [1 3/4 cup]

3. Place an amount of sugar equal to the juice in a large bowl and add the peels. For 2 cups
of juice, use 2 cups of sugar.

4. Muddle the peels and sugar.

5. Set aside for at least 12 hours at room temperature. Note, I left mine for 2 days, and the flavor and aroma were incredible. The oleo saccharum will create a greater amount of depth than if you use just sugar and juice.

Stage Two: The Syrup

1. Combine the juice and the oleo saccharum.

2. Stir thoroughly until all of the sugar is dissolved.

3. Strain out the peels using a coarse strainer.

4. Add more sugar as needed to taste. This will depend heavily on the tartness of the grapefruit juice. Ideally, the syrup should still be tart but a bit sweeter than if it were completely balanced.

Stage Three: The Vinegar

Though this step really only comprises adding vinegar to your grapefruit syrup, it is the most crucial part. If you simply add all the vinegar at once, you could sacrifice all balance, leaving you with a syrup that is too vinegary.

1. Pick your vinegar. Think about what kind of flavors you want to highlight and what will pair well with your syrup. I used a blend of sherry vinegar and champagne vinegar, though it wasn't planned out ahead of time. Initially I chose sherry vinegar because grapefruit and sherry work well together in cocktails. Shortly after I started adding the vinegar, I noticed that the sherry overpowering the more delicate grapefruit syrup. Champagne vinegar is less strong and allowed the elements to come into balance.

2. Measure. Expect to use about half of your initial juice content. [approx. 3/4 cup vinegar]

3. Pour in a small amount of the vinegar, stir, and taste. This will give you an idea of where the flavors are heading. Starting with just a small amount before adding a bulk of vinegar will also help your palate adjust to what's going on in the shrub. Also, if the resulting flavor isn't what you were envisioning, you can still change vinegars.

4. Add more. Make this addition more substantial, at least half of what you measured [3/8 cup]. I added about half of my measured allotment before realizing it was getting too vinegary. Adding the champagne vinegar was more of a save than a plan. Sometimes this happens. Blend purposefully, take it slow, and pay attention to how each addition affects the overall balance.

5. Keep adding more vinegar until you are satisfied. Your palate will tell you when to stop. Trust it. 

6. Bottle and refrigerate overnight to let flavors marry.

*In order to make things a bit easier, I have added my own specific amounts in brackets to provide an example batch. Also note, by following these basic instructions, any citrus shrub is within reach. I myself made one with Meyer lemons.


Barrel-Aging Cocktails Prologue: Seasoning the Barrel

Unlike most cocktail enthusiasts, I have never been that interested in breaking in a newly charred oak barrel  Mind you, I can totally understand why someone--say an avid whisk(e)y drinker, for instance--might find the idea of aging a spirit at home seductive. What happens to a spirit while it rests in a barrel is truly magical. As the trend of aging your own spirits blossomed, I was happy to let this experience pass me by. It was the thought of aging cocktails that appealed to me. Unfortunately a new barrel's tannins and char will easily overwhelm the delicate flavors of a cocktail. So when a good friend gave me a two-liter oak barrel, entering the world of aging spirits became the first step on the road to aging cocktails.

To prepare a barrel for aging cocktails later, you must "season" it, like a newly purchased cast-iron skillet. This can only be accomplished by barrel-aging spirits first. While it may seem that there are countless options available, the best yield will come from aging an overproof white spirit. White dog tends to be the natural choice, but there are other roads. My mind immediately leaned toward white rum. Wray & Nephew seemed the obvious choice to stand up to a new barrel. After nine and a half weeks, the rum's characteristic gaminess had indeed mellowed. The molasses notes had deepened and the grassiness had thoroughly mingled with the oak. But nothing underscored the resulting vanilla flavors that had developed. Notably, the barrel-aged Wray & Nephew went down much smoother than a rum of 126 proof ought to, though its telltale heat is still apparent on the aftertaste.

With a newly empty barrel, surely it was time to batch up two liters of cocktail. But after reading a recent post on Stevi's adventures in barrel-aging at Two at the Most, I started to reconsider. Perhaps one more spirit round wouldn't be a bad idea; two unique barrel-aged spirits must be better than one.
You see, when a spirit is placed in a barrel, a certain amount will disappear. But it doesn't just evaporate. The wood soaks some of it up like a sponge, and the barrel is forever changed. Whatever goes in next will be affected. For example, if you barrel age a white whiskey, and then fill the barrel with gin, some of the barrel-aged whiskey flavors will be incorporated into the gin's flavor profile. But the barrel's flavor is not constant. Each time you change the contents, the barrel will take on the new flavors and yet lose some of its own.

While the rum was nearing completion, accidental inspiration hit me via the monthly LUPEC Seattle meeting that centered on Peru's indigenous spirit--pisco. What a perfect choice to barrel-age after rum! A white grape-based spirit with a lot of flavor, pisco is very similar to the white spirit that becomes brandy. The major difference comes down to grape variety and distilled strength. Piscos are usually distilled to proof, meaning the spirit is distilled only once and not watered down to bottling strength. Because of this, piscos have a noticeably funkier taste. The way that this characteristic funkiness would react with the barrel is exactly what interested me most. Usually when a funkier white spirit is placed in a barrel, the resulting barrel-aged spirit is just that much more interesting. As it is also illegal for Peruvian pisco to be aged in wood, I was all the more gung-ho to try it. But adding the oak flavor wouldn't be the only thing to affect the pisco, the flavors of the aged Wray & Nephew would also play their part.

After six weeks, the pisco had taken on a straw-like appearance and its flavors had developed into something new. Though the telltale grape aroma and flavor were still present, hints of oak and vanilla had also become apparent. The slightly fruity, slightly funky flavors of the barrel-aged rum emerged on the swallow. Of course, no judgment could be complete without submitting the results to the ultimate test: how does it work in a cocktail? This cocktail also works very well with non-barrel-aged pisco. But the oak and vanilla notes really push the flavors in an added dimension.

Pisco Blush

1 1/2 ounces barrel-aged pisco
3/4 ounce Cocchi Americano
1/4 ounce apricot brandy
1 dash Creole or Peychaud's bitters

Combine ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Notes on Ingredients: I used barrel-aged Piscologia pisco, Bitter Truth Creole bitters, and a 50-50 mixture of homemade and Rothman and Winter apricot brandies.


Bittering Up the Classics: The Japanese Cocktail

The Japanese cocktail was one of the first cocktails ever made. One of a handful of cocktail recipes published in Jerry Thomas's seminal cocktail guide, The Bar-Tender's Guide (1862), the Japanese is a wonderful drink that too often gets forgotten. Sure, most cocktail bloggers know it, as well as craft bartenders, but how often do you see someone actually order one. Perhaps the sole reason for this is that the Japanese cocktail is a bit sweeter than many contemporary cocktails. Notoriously in the nineteenth century, drinkers had more of a sweet tooth than drinkers today. And considering how much attention bitter cocktails receive these days, it seems that the Japanese will remain more commonly spoken about than drank.

I find the Japanese cocktail very enjoyable. The combination of the mellow brandy and the nutty, rich orgeat is tremendously extravagant. The bitters here are crucial. Historically the Japanese calls for Boker's, but this is one situation where the presence of aromatic bitters far outweighs the brand choice. It aptly combines sweetness in a inoffensive way, especially in light of its strength--two ounces of brandy is nothing to shake a stick at. After all, it is an early variation of the Old-Fashioned. But no matter how much lipservice I dare give it, the truth is that the Japanese cocktail doesn't get made very much at my house.  

 Japanese Cocktail

2 ounces brandy
1/2 ounce orgeat
2 dashes Boker's Bitters

Combine ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

In spite of its sweetness, something about the Japanese cocktail calls to me. Perhaps I am a sucker for an ancient cocktail, or the fact that it is boozy without seeming boozy. Or maybe it's just that it is so damn velvety smooth. I have the same problem with the Bobby Burns--historically a Scotch Manhattan with a bit of Benedictine in the place of bitters. Every year as Bobby Burns's birthday rolls around I assemble one, enjoy it thoroughly, and then promptly forget it exists. Regardless of how I savor it at the time, I do not crave it. Thus, I never drink them. The Japanese and I have a similar relationship. I love the flavor combination, but almost every time I think of making one, I hesitate. Mood is everything and sometimes all that richness is a turn off. 

Then one day late in December, an idea popped in my head--why not make a loose variation to highlight what I love about the Japanese cocktail and downplay the sweetness? So, with a cabinet full of amari, I decided to use bitterness to allay the sweetness. But one amaro after another yielded less than spectacular results. Fernet was too bracing, averna too delicate, and the amer picon was too unbalanced and frankly brought too much orange. But when I tried the Santa Maria with a scant bit of rye, it all came together. As I learned from my adventures with aquavit, sometimes investing in the foundation helps bring a new drink together.

Bitter Japanese Cocktail

1 1/2 ounces brandy
1/2 ounce rye
1/2 Santa Maria Amaro
1/4 ounce orgeat
2 dashes Spanish bitters

Combine ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with orange oils, but not a twist.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Sazerac 6-year rye, Paul Masson VSOP brandy, and B.J. Reynolds orgeat.


Underused Ingredients: Aquavit

My first introduction to aquavit came a couple of years ago at House Spirits Distillery in Portland. And while it was their Aviation gin that inspired the visit, it was their caraway-flavored spirit with the heavy notes of anise that really caught my attention. Of course, I went home with a bottle. At the time, I didn't have a lot of experience with aquavit, and it sat in my liquor cabinet for quite some time untouched. But thankfully all that has changed, and aquavit, with its complicated flavors, is one of my favorite things.

Aquavit, like gin, gives distillers the freedom to express their creativity and thus formulate a signature flavor. Fortunately, the boundaries are only limited by each distiller's imagination. Caraway is usually the dominant flavor, but other flavors like fennel, coriander, citrus peels and anise commonly round out the blend. Strangely, many of these ingredients are also used in gin recipes. But the presence of the caraway, as well as other more savory ingredients like cumin, dill or even amber (tree resin is used in the production of Aalborg), give aquavit a flavor profile all its own.

The only unfortunate thing about aquavit is its availability. Considering that more and more bartenders are becoming interested in experimenting with its notoriously savory flavors, historically only three brands have been imported: Aalborg (Denmark), Linie (Norway), and O.P. Andersson (Sweden). This is just a tiny fraction of the aquavit produced worldwide. The arrival of a new aquavit on the scene, Aquavit New York (Sweden, only imported to New York), may represent a much needed shift.

On the flip side, a few American craft distillers have recently become infatuated with the challenges and intricacies of aquavit. Who can blame them? These American aquavits have helped bolster the popularity of the spirit, making it a more common sight on back bars. Like many craft-distilled gins, American craft aquavits can often be characterized by their big, bold flavors. Krogstad Aquavit, from House Spirits, is unlike Scandinavian aquavits in that it has a whopping dose of anise in addition to the caraway. These bold flavors make a dram of this spirit a wonderfully intense experience. These powerful flavors make Krogstad especially well-suited for cocktails, because it can stand up to other bold flavors.

While aquavit's presence on cocktail menus has certainly grown, there is still plenty of room for improvement. But the caraway flavor can provide quite a challenge. Use too little, and you don't know it's there, too much and the results can be overly medicinal, at best. And like gin, even picking the best aquavit for a cocktail can prove problematic. American aquavits can easily overpower other delicate ingredients, and the Scandinavian aquavits can play the wallflower. All of these issues together have kept aquavit from receiving its moment in the sun. Hopefully this is about to change. Here are some of my more recent aquavit cocktail discoveries.  

Nordic Reviver (created by Evan Martin, Ba Bar)

3/4 ounce aquavit
3/4 ounce lemon juice
3/4 ounce Cointreau
3/4 ounce Swedish punsch

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass rinsed with absinthe.

Notes on Ingredients: I halved the aquavit between Krogstad and Linie and used homemade Swedish punsch.

Because of its herbal characteristics, aquavit can often often be substituted for gin, especially when the cocktail also includes fresh juices. In fact, like gin, aquavit can be easily be inserted in most vodka drinks to embolden the flavors.

This is one of my favorite Ccrpse revivers variations, though to be perfectly correct it is a variation of the Corpse Reviver 2a. In the original cocktail, Evan used Aalborg. I decided to blend a Norwegian aquavit, Linie, with an American one Krogstad, to bump up the flavors just a bit. The Linie differs from most of the other available aquavits as it has been mellowed for four and a half months in used Oloroso sherry casks. In the Nordic Reviver, the anise notes of the absinthe work exceptionally well with the caraway of the Linie, and the Swedish punsch adds a nice tannic, spice layer. I would think that the Krogstad would work equally well in this cocktail, though the absinthe rinse may not be needed.

[Unnamed Work in Progress] (created by Ben Philip Perri, Zig Zag Cafe)

1 1/2 ounces aquavit
1/2 ounce rye
1/2 ounce Punt e Mes
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
1 dash mescal

Combine ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Linie aquavit, Rittenhouse bonded rye, and Maraska maraschino. I chose the del Maguey Minero for the mescal.

Aquavit also pairs exceptionally well with rye. The Old Bay Ridge, David Wondrich's aquavit-rye old fashioned, showcases just how well this works in the simplest terms; it is a traditional old fashioned but with the spirit allotment split in half between the rye and aquavit. In cocktails with herbal vermouths, aquavit's affinity for rye becomes incredibly important--just a bit of rye mellows out the aquavit's herbaceousness and makes blending two very different herbal ingredients that much easier. While this cocktail is a loose variation on the Red Hook, it highlights what can happen when caraway intersects with rye. I find that the dash of mescal provides that extra level of oomph that really pushes this drink for good to great. Substituting a peaty scotch for the mescal would probably work as well, though it would still be quite different.

From Norway to Sicily

1 ounce aquavit
3/4 ounce Averna
1/2 ounce rye
1/8 ounce (bar spoon) Benedictine
2 dashes aromatic bitters

Combine ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Linie aquavit, Sazerac rye, and Angostura bitters.

Lately I have been kind of obsessed with adding amari to almost everything. So when I started thinking about aquavit, I thought, why not? Initially I was inspired to use Averna with its mild bitterness to match up with the mild Linie. Sweet vermouth was an option that I passed on. I really wanted to explore the intersection of the aquavit and the amaro. Using vermouth would have added a different feel, though it would have made the entire endeavour easier. Suffice it to say, the early attempts were ugly. Marley Tomic Beard of Sexton gave me some advice that led me to a perfect solution. Like in the above cocktail, the addition of rye really fixed this drink. Then the rest just fell into place. I am sure that further experimentation with aquavit and different amari would also yield really some really memorable drinks.


Some Thoughts on the Bittersweet: Berlioni

Lately, my thoughts have been lingering on the idea of bittersweet. Essentially composed of two opposing adjectives mashed together, its origins are not surprisingly connected to food. In the fourteenth century, this word gained recognition in association with a specific type of apples that still carry the same moniker today. Bittersweet apples are commonly used in English style ciders on account of their complex flavors. But it wasn't only medieval tastes that appreciated the bittersweet. Modern tastes have fully embraced the joys as well--just think about the popularity of bittersweet chocolate. Could it be that we secretly yearn for the inherent complexity, and will gladly risk bitter aftertaste. But taste is so easy, so present tense, so experiential.

Over time, of course, language shifted the adjective away from the concrete and into the abstract. By the sixteenth century, bittersweet was used differently, associated more with simultaneous feelings of pleasure and suffering or even pain. Here too its usage has become widespread. Perhaps we have even cut to the quick of the contemporary human condition. After we bundled together to form cities and flirted with the fleeting idea of civilization, only then did we learn to savor the double-edged sword that is the bittersweet. Though some of us may have just fallen under the spell of the falling snow.

In the context of cocktails, the word "bittersweet" generally reverts to its less abstract meaning, where there are entire categories of drinks dedicated to it. Negronis and all of its endless variations epitomize the boozy bittersweet. There, bitter and sweet are so intricately laced together, differentiating where one sensation begins and the other ends is futile. But as I waded through my nostalgic pangs, it was the Berlioni, a Negroni variation first created by Gonçalo De Sousa Monteiro in Berlin, that suited my mood. Though I had initially discovered it on the cocktail blog, Oh Gosh, my experience with the Berlioni began on a cold late November evening over a year ago. A mild snow was in the air, but that didn't stop me from wandering down to the Zig Zag. The bar was mostly empty except for the few willing to foolishly find warmth in the bottom of a glass and wait for the traffic to die down. With the sky full of flakes, there was a sense of thinly veiled mystery in the air--some sort of intangible feeling that something is different, that the world could be turned upside down in a matter of moments.

Bittersweet moments are ephemeral--it is almost how we can recognize them. Certain circumstances align, and we are given a glimpse of something sensational, otherworldly, and then before you can even blink, it's gone. How could you not feel a lingering malaise, which is so like a bitter aftertaste? And if you try to re-create the experience, you just end up rediscovering what you've lost. For me this drink is intertwined with the bittersweet. Perhaps it is unfair that such a delightful beverage has become mired in the melancholy. Undoubtedly, I ordered it on a whim, but the association has become too strong. But sometimes I sit down with a Berlioni, and remember a time when what is possible wasn't so limited and relive the bittersweet in my mind, just because I can.


1 ounce gin
2/3 ounce Cynar
1/2 ounce dry vermouth

Stir with ice in a mixing glass. Strain into a chilled whiskey glass or other smallish glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Plymouth gin and Dolin dry vermouth.

When I think of the word "bittersweet," examples easily come to mind that convey more than just regret or suffering in the face of happiness, more than unexpected complexity. But no one is safe from its call, so intertwined it is with the drama of living. Perhaps, though we don't like to admit it, the bittersweet is prized like nutmeg in the early days of the American colonies. Draped around one's neck, whether exposed like a status symbol, or hidden beneath layers of cloth and held, it is something we need to keep close. Perhaps not so much a sign of cosmopolitanism, but of the pitfalls of living life fully--a mantel of pride nonetheless.


Bittering Up the Classics: The Palmetto

Lately I have been all but obsessed with bittering up classic cocktail recipes. Though this may just be a consequence of having recently acquired a bunch of amari and quinquinas, almost all of my cocktail experiments have included something bitter. Recently, the Palmetto Cocktail in general has garnered a lot of attention in this respect. Simply a rum Manhattan, its recipe is relatively easy to manipulate in a variety of directions. Besides, the intersection of rum and either an amaro or fortified wine almost always yields interesting, tasty results.  

Recently, I found myself craving a brown, bitter stirred cocktail. My thoughts instantly went to the Palmetto. Mind you, I wasn't looking for some extensive experiment, just a simple tasty three-ingredient cocktail. But when I opened the refrigerator, I discovered that I had run out of sweet vermouth. I was even out of Punt e Mes. This was unsettling on many levels. As I cautiously eyed the dry vermouth, I noticed inspiration hiding behind the sherry: half a bottle of Bonal. Eureka!

Though it is relatively new to the United States, Bonal has been around since 1885. Quinquinas like Bonal are very similar to vermouth in that they are aromatized, fortified wines, usually based on white wine or mistelle--non-fermented or partially fermented grape juice with alcohol added. What makes them different is what is then added. A variety of herbs are used in both to create the unique flavor, but generally quinquinas have a significant amount of cinchona bark. Vermouths don't usually include this ingredient, and if they do, in much smaller quantities. Vermouths, on the other hand, were known for their inclusion of wormwood--"wermut" is the German word for wormwood. This distinction has become less important over the years, though some vermouths do still utilize scant amounts of wormwood in their recipes.

Because vermouth and quinquinas are relatively similar in many ways, they can be substituted for each other in many recipes. However, the increased bitterness of a quina may require slight changes in the proportions in order to achieve the proper balance. Bonal in particular has a wonderful earthy, slightly bitter flavor. Because of this, I tend to pair it with rum, though not exclusively. I find that its earth depth plays especially well  with rum's light, slightly sweet taste.

Bitter Orange

1 1/2 ounces rum
1 1/2 ounces Bonal
1/4 Cocchi Americano
1 dash aromatic bitters
1 dash orange bitters

Combine ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist, or not, as desired.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Bacardi 8, Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas Decanter bitters, and Angostura Orange bitters.