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According to the calendar, summer is now officially over!  I took a little summer vaca from writing, but not from imbibing.  Here are a few cocktail highlights from my summer.

My favorite summer cocktail

My friends Brian and Jeff introduced me to the Intro to Aperol and I fell in love at first sip.  It is the perfect combination of bitter, savory, tart and sweet—and it is amazingly drinkable!

Intro to Aperol (from Pegu Club)

2 oz Aperol

1 oz gin

¾ oz lemon juice

½ oz simple syrup

dash Angostura

Old Man Peter

Nothing says summer like a garden full of delicious veggies.  And the thought of a lush vegetable garden reminds me of the childhood tale of Peter Rabbit, the mischievous bunny who gobbles up Mr. McGregor’s crops.  What would the sneaky rabbit sip on in his old age?  When I heard Sam Treadway at Backbar had a Negroni variation that attempted to answer this question, I couldn’t resist. The vegetal qualities of Cold River gin was the perfect choice to combine with the carrot-infused Aperol.

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Old Man Peter (created by Sam Treadway, Backbar)

1 oz Cold River gin

1 oz Cinzano Sweet vermouth

1 oz carrot infused Aperol (created with pickled carrots, blended into Aperol and fine strained out)

Shake and double strain into a chilled rocks glass, rinsed with chartreuse.

Sex on the Beach

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I celebrated a friend’s 25th anniversary of his arrival in America by going back in cocktail-time.  Arriving at the 80s themed party, I thought “what cocktails were people drinking in the 80s?”  From an interesting list that included White Russian, Tequila Sunrise, and Alabama Slammer, I chose Sex on the Beach.  I’m not going to lie, the vodka, peach schnapps, orange and cranberry juice combo was kind of delicious.  Time travel can be fun.

To the memories of beautiful summer day and to the wonders of fall ahead. Cheers!

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One of my favorite things about summer is popsicles.  This summer I thought it would be fun to experiment with mixing up combinations of my favorite cocktail ingredients in popsicle form.  Let the boozy popsicle experiment begin.  First up, Orange-grapefruit Aperol; and it was quite a delicious pop, if I do say so myself.  It was just the right combination of sweet and bitter.

Here’s my recipe (inspired by various bitter-sweet recipes I found online):

1 1/2 cups juice, combination of orange and grapefruit (I used mostly oranges with 1 grapefruit); squeeze and strain the juice

1/4 cup simple syrup (1:1 ration)

1/2 cup Aperol

This filled my 8-popsicle tray.

To the delicious combination of juice and booze. Let the summer of popsicles begin. Cheers!

Once again, I joined the masses, the cocktail masses, that is, in New York City for the Manhattan Cocktail Classic.  And once again, I had a fabulous weekend.  There were familiar friends and new faces, the laughs seemed endless, and of course, there were more cocktails than I can (or care to) count.  This year my adventures took me all over NYC from the Gala at the NY Public Library to the Lower East Side then to Queens and Brooklyn and then back to the upper West Side.  Here are some moments and cocktails that stand out amongst the rest:

Napoleon House

My MCC experience began Friday evening at Napoleon House—a penthouse suite party at the Andaz Hotel hosted by Mandarine Napoleon.  With the bar manned by the fabulous San Francisco bar trio known as The Bon Vivants, the party was the perfect way to kick off the weekend.  I mean, who doesn’t want to hang out on an 11th floor balcony sipping delicious cocktails? Look at the view:

Josh, Steve and Alex, The Bon Vivants, are super nice and mixed up some great drinks.  Mandarine Napoleon, is new to me. Although I recently got a bottle, I haven’t experimented much with it.  Well, now I know what to do.  The Leroi Crusta, my first official cocktail of MCC 2012, with its combination of sweet, tart, spicy ginger, and bitter Fernet, stands out.

Leroi Crusta (created by The Bon Vivants, San Francisco)

1 ½ oz Mandarine Napoleon

½ oz Fernet Branca

1 oz lemon juice

½ oz ginger syrup

Shake and serve over crushed ice with a sugar rimmed glass.

Angostura Bitters

The miniature army of Angostura bottles that came home with me

Yes, Angostura is a classic that can be found on just about every bar, even the home bar of a cocktail neophyte, but sometimes we need a little reminding of the wonders of something right in front of our eyes.  As sponsors of the “Official Bar” at the Andaz, home base for industry folks (a new feature to this year’s festivities), Angostura showcased the versatility of this venerable bar staple in both cocktails and food.  I took the taste test and agreed that a gin and tonic is improved by Angostura. And it is also good in brunch classics, hello, biscuits and Hollandaise.  One of my favorite drinks of the weekend was the Angostura Eye Opener, the perfect cocktail to get us going after Friday night’s gala.

Angostura Eye Opener

1 ½ oz white peach puree

½ oz Aperol

¼ oz St. Germain

2 dashes Angostura orange bitters

1 dash Angostura bitters

Mix over ice. Strain into a flute and top with 4 oz sparkling wine.

Experimental Cocktail Club

We took a break from MCC events Saturday night and made our way down to the Lower East Side to the newly opened Experimental Cocktail Club.  Inspired by its European counterparts, the vibe is comfortable, sophisticated, cool.  The hospitality is fantastic—and I’m not just saying that because my friend CoCo took excellent care of us.

One of the best and most interesting things I drank all weekend was the Mancora that I had at ECC. [The entire menu looks amazing, we sampled five drinks, but I wish we had more stamina and could have tried the entire lot.  Next visit to NYC, I will definitely make another visit.]  The Mancora was made with Chai Roiboos-infused La Diablada Pisco, Malbec wine syrup, lime juice, Dolin Rouge sweet vermouth, and a Fernet rinse.  I admit on the menu this drink looked to be a bit much—how would all those flavors work together? But CoCo suggested I get it and I was not at all disappointed.  It was earthly and rich, slightly tart and herbally.  Really unique. Really delicious.

Hendrick’s Gin at Dutch Kills

Our Sunday began in Queens at Dutch Kills for a Behind the Bar event.  We were greeted by owner Richard Boccato, grabbed seats at the back bar and were quickly shaken a delicious Harvard Veritas, a yummy Sidecar variation with Hendrick’s (the event’s sponsor), Combier, lemon and a barspoon of Cassis.  We then heard a bit about the story of how Dutch Kills came to be, an overview with tastings of the components that make up Hendrick’s gin from Jim Ryan (who I should note has been nominated for a Spirit Award at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail for Best International Spirits Rep), and quite a bit about ice from Zac Gelnaw-Rubin of Hundred Weight Ice, whose shop is next door to Dutch Kills.

Harvard Veritas

1 ½ oz Hendrick’s gin

1 oz Combier

½ oz lemon

Barspoon of Cassis

Shake over ice. Strain into coupe.

These highlights just scratch the surface of the many delicious cocktails and good times had—wait, I just remembered our cab ride up the West Side Highway singing “And She Was” by Talking Heads. Best cab driver ever!  Until next year MCC, Cheers!

Last Monday night a menu of ten original cocktails each showcasing Spanish influence around the globe tempted Julie and I as we settled onto our bar-stools at Estragon.  Sahil Mehta described his Spanish Sip cocktail menu as “a bar-stool voyage around world.”  Along with some very yummy $1 tapas, Julie and I sampled quite a few things on the cocktail menu.  Here are my impressions and taste notes about my favorites, as well as Sahil’s explanation of his inspiration.

I started my journey with the Simon Bolivar (Pisco, yerba mate, pineapple juice, mango syrup, lime, Angostura bitters)I couldn’t resist the allure of yerba mate, a species of holly native to subtropical South America that is popularly made into a tea-like drink, or the temptation of mango syrup.  With this drink I appreciated the subtleness of the pineapple and mango which did not overpower as can sometimes happen with these flavors.  Instead the hint of tropical fruit surrounded the woodiness and vegetal qualities of the pisco and yerba mate.  I liked that the sweet and woody flavors seemed to be competing for my taste buds’ attention—each sip was an interesting one.  Sahil’s approach to this drink might account for this.  He explained: I wanted a cocktail that drew inspiration from northern South America – Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela, and from the south -Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Bolivia. Since I was combining large parts of the continent in one cocktail, I decided to name it Simon Bolivar – a tongue-in-cheek reference to Bolivar’s ambitious plan to unite Spanish colonies into a single nation. The former group of nations produces a rich bounty of fruits, while the latter is known for its fondness of yerba mate.”

For my second drink I had the Utrecht-Baden which Sahil had suggested because of my fondness for the Negroni.  Did you know that the Netherlands and parts of Italy were Spanish colonies at one point?  (I actually did because of my museum work and art history background.)   This historical fact inspired the combination of Dutch genever with Italian liqueurs and amaros for an herbal, bitter and boozy result.  Sahil was right—this was right up my alley.  Just the layering of flavors of Bols genever, Aperol, and sweet vermouth (in Negroni style) would have been delicious, but then add a little of the ultra bitter, potent Fernet Branca and mirto, that myrtle berry liqueur that suggests mint, eucalyptus, and even pepper on your palette, and my mouth was buzzing with happiness.  The drink is named for two early 18th C treaties related to Spain’s colonization efforts; quite complicated and intriguing stuff, like the flavor of the cocktail.

When Tiki Met Tequila was Julie’s first choice and I agree with her that this was also quite delicious.  We are both huge fans of all-spice dram.  But instead of tasting like your typical rum-based tiki drink, the hibiscus tequila mixed with velvet falernum, all-spice dram and lime, took things in a different direction.  Sahil’s explanation:“Mexico was the inspiration…I wanted a drink that incorporated some elements of Mexico’s Caribbean coast… I did it by mixing ingredients that are normally used in rum-based Tiki drinks, but using a floral, hibiscus-infused tequila.” Hence the drink’s name.


This was my first visit to Estragon; it will not be my last.  I absolutely loved the art deco décor (the wallpaper in the bathroom is amazing), but even more appealing is the opportunity to spend more time with Sahil.  Not only is he a great bartender, but its clear from his gracious hospitality and big smile that he’s quite passionate about what he does.  To Spain and all its influences, and to Sahil Mehta for introducing me to Estragon and many fabulous Spanish sips. Cheers!

I ventured to New York City this weekend for the Manhattan Cocktail Classic—five days of events celebrating all the wonder that is the cocktail.  Even though I was only there for three days, if I write about everything we drank this would be the world’s longest blog post.  So, instead I will stick to sharing some highlights.

Brian and I enjoying our Floradoras

Brian, Jeff and I began our weekend of imbibing at Friday night’s Gala at the New York Public Library.  Almost fifty bars each featuring a different spirit filled four floors of the historic building– seriously, it was amazingly insane!  A bit overwhelming at first, we quickly got into the spirit—just try as many drinks as possible and only finish the ones I really liked.  The possibilities were endless, and our glasses were full all night.  Early in the evening I was drawn to the Aperol bar—it may have been the table full of gorgeously pink-orange hued liqueur or the three very cute Italian bartenders mixing the drinks.  Either way I was not disappointed.  I was served an Italian Job. The drink was slightly sweet, perfectly bitter and herbally all at once.  A really fabulous start to the evening.

Italian Job

1 oz limoncello
3/4 oz Aperol
3/4 oz lime juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
4 basil leaves
5 drops orange bitter
Prosecco
Muddle basil with sugar and lime juice, add remaining ingredients. Shake. Strain. Top with Prosecco.

Jeff and the Hendricks Queen

Some other highlights were our Hendricks drink. Not only were the drinks yum, but it was a fun spot.  The presence of the Hendricks “Queen” atop of the bar generated quite a buzz.  I loved my Floradora—gin, lime juice, raspberry liqueur topped with gingerbeer!  We also really liked our Mary Pickfords with Zacapa Rum—yum!

Saturday we attended a workshop on Champagne cocktails with Dale DeGroff and Doug Frost.  After tasting five different sparkling wines, we had four different classic Champagne cocktails.  I cannot believe I am admitting this, but I am not so fond of Champagne. I know that sounds crazy, but I prefer California sparkling wines and Prosecco   There, I said it!

Since a traditional Champagne Cocktail, the French 75 and Bellini were all things I have enjoyed before, I was particularly interested in The Ritz.  This version was developed by DeGroff in the late 1980s while he was working at the Rainbow Room as a tribute to the traditional Champagne cocktails of the Ritz hotels in London, Paris and Madrid.  Apparently, this recipe gained DeGroff his first in print props—in Playboy magazine!  The cognac makes this sparkler richer than the others we tried.  The Cointreau adds a warm orange flavor, balanced by the nuttiness of the Luxardo Maraschino.

 

 

The Ritz (Dale DeGroff’s recipe)

The Ritz in the foreground...all my empty glasses in the background

¾ oz cognac

½ oz Cointreau

¼ oz Luxardo maraschino liqueur

¼ oz lemon juice

Shake over ice.  Strain. Top with Champagne and serve with a burnt orange peel.

 

 

 

 

 

On Sunday, we went to a “Behind the Bar” event at Employees Only.  This was an opportunity to spend time with two of the creators of EO, Jay Kosmas and Dushan Zaric.  We heard the story of how Employees Only began, why the bar is shaped the way it is, how they developed their menu, and of course sampled some of their amazing drinks.  We also learned a lot about Plymouth gin from master distiller Sean Harrison—and I was reminded how much I love a British accent!  One of the highlights was the Provencal made with house-made gin infused with lavendar and vermouth infused with herbs de provence.  My favorite of our cocktails here was the Nerina—a variation on the Negroni (which is one of my favorite cocktails).  In this version, the gin remains, Punt de Mes is the vermouth and Meletti Amaro (that delicious carmelly-cinnamon bitter that I have recently fallen in love with) replaces the Campari.  So good!  This is the way to experience a bar—a couple hours with the owners and bartenders, hearing their stories, tasting their drinks, and laughing along with their jokes.

Three days in Manhattan, countless cocktails and lots of fun with my two best guys! Cheers!

After three days on the couch, I needed to shed my sick-self and get out of the house.  So, I mustered up the strength to get it together (and I managed to keep my coughing to a minimum—cocktails really do soothe a sore throat!) and met Karaugh at Green Street for DrinkBoston’s event that featured 4 rising stars of the Boston bar scene.  We got to sample  unique creations, nibble on some yum food, and chat with the bartenders and fellow cocktail enthusiasts.  What a fun Sunday night!

Here is what we drank and who made it:

Our first cocktail was created by Carrie Cole (Craigie on Main).  Her Loose Translation was made of Scorpion Mezcal, Aperol, Mathilde XO Orange Cognac, pineapple syrup, lime juice, Allspice Dram, Angostura orange bitters, and a splash of ginger ale served on the rocks.  What a wonderful start—smoky, bitter, with a little fruitiness.

Look at this tower of coupe glasses ready to receive the Peralta

Evan Harrison (Deep Ellum) made our second drink.  It was the Peralta: Old Overholt Rye, Cynar, green Chartreuse, grapefruit juice, orange and grapefruit bitters.  I really enjoyed the combo of herbally Chartruese and the bitter/tart grapefruit.

Bob McCoy's Saving Daylight

The 3rd drink was by Bob McCoy (Eastern Standard). His Saving Daylight was really spectacular.  The cocktail was Plymouth Gin, homemade “golden” vermouth, St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, Cointreau and homemade bitters.  From the first sip, I was struck by the unique flavor of this drink.  I expected something sweet with the St. Germain and Cointreau, but instead I tasted a delicious caramel flavor that came from Bob’s homemade vermouth and bitters.

Emily Stanley's William of Orange

Our final cocktail was Emily Stanley’s (Green Street) William of Orange.  With Bols Genever, Benedictine, Punt E Mes, Aperol, and orange bitters this was a perfect ending to the evening—heavy, herbally, bitter, yum!

Cheers!

[Thanks for the photos, Karaugh!]

Tonight I met Susan at Craigie on Main and we decided to do the Cocktail Whim—four half-sized cocktails that our bartender Carrie chose for us beginning with a French 75 version and ending with an Italian-inspired flip.  I have done this before and really love it for a number of reasons:

1. You really don’t have to make a decision;

2. You try drinks you might not normally chose for yourself (and if you’re not crazy about it, hey, it’s only a small drink);

3. You get to enjoy your drinks in super-cute mini-glasses.

Susan and I had lots of catching up to do and were talking a lot, so my thoughts on the drinks a bit more cursory than my usual reviews.  Admittedly, I was more focused on talking than on drinking.  So, I guess this post is like the cocktail whim itself, a little taste to pique your interest.

The Kingston 75

We started with a Kingston 75—a version of a French 75 with Appleton rum, triple sec, lemon juice, topped with Champagne.  Its a warmer version of one of my favorite cocktails.  A really nice light beginning.

Susan with our 2nd drink-- look at that beautiful pink color courtesy of the Aperol

The second drink, which both Susan and I really liked, is a creation of Carrie’s and it had yet to be named.  It was made with mezcal, Aperol, grapefruit juice, lime juice, agave syrup, Fee Bros Whiskey Barrel bitters, and a pinch of salt.  The mezcal made it smoky and the Aperol added that citrus bitterness that I love.

#3 The Mediterranean Union

Our third drink, the Mediterranean Union, was my favorite. This had Fighting Cock bourbon, house-made amer picon (a French bitter liqueur), and Cynar.  The bitterness of the amer picon plays very nicely with the bourbon and the buttery artichokey Cynar.  I love this kind of thing of a cold winter evening—it warms you from the inside.  Yum!

A Florentine Flip for the finale

We finished with the Florentine Flip which was Susan’s favorite (she loves flips!).  This herbalicious flip has lots going on—Punt de Mes, Amaro Nonino (a wonderful Italian herbal liqueur that was a new one for me), Benedictine, Angostura bitters, a dash of orange blossom, an egg (of course), finished with flamed essence of mint.  A delicious ending to our cocktail quartet!

Cheers!

Wednesday night I went to Craigie on Main with Julie, Bridget, Chris and Phil for their Cocktail Whim—four half cocktails decided upon by the bartender.  Carrie took us on a fun cocktail adventure that began with a light appley sparkling cocktail and ended with a rich, dessert-like sherry flip. Along the way she shared lots of little tidbits about the yum ingredients in our cocktails.  This bartender’s whim is a great way to experiment and try some new stuff and maybe you’ll discover a new favorite—my new find was Becherovka.

Our first drink was the Tavern Sparkler.

Apple cider and honey syrup are matched up with Becherovka, and a little champagne tops it off.  This was my first experience with Becherovka, and it may soon become a favorite.  Like many of these traditional liqueurs, this bitter one from the Czech Republic, was traditionally used as a home remedy for stuff like toothaches and arthritis.  Cinnamon is the most prominent of the over thirty two herbs and spices in this secret recipe.  In this drink that cinnamon-herbal flavor perfectly compliments the apple cider and honey.  Then the champagne adds just enough sparkle to make the cocktail even more interesting—it’s bubbly, but not too bubbly.  Apple, cinnamon and honey are such familiar flavors and for me made drinking this cocktail a comforting experience.   Especially on a cold winter evening it warmed the soul.  This wonderful start was Julie’s favorite.

For drink #2, we had the Final Ward.  And this picture does not do this amazing drink justice.

This is a variation of the Last Word—one for my absolute favorite drinks—which is equal parts (3/4 ounces to be exact) gin, maraschino, green Chartreuse and lime juice.  Carrie explained that this version was developed by New York bartender Phil Ward.  Rye replaces gin and lemon replaces the lime.  And while I didn’t think you could improve on a drink as good as the Last Word this is pretty damn good.  The spiciness of the rye adds a depth to the already delicious mix of herbally Chartreuse and maraschino. And anything served with one of those Luxardo maraschino cherries is delicious!

Next came the 3-2-1.

This one has Fighting Cock bourbon, Aperol, sloe gin and whiskey barrel aged bitters.  The woody flavor of the savory bourbon and bitters are a solid foundation for this drink.  But the real punch comes from the Aperol.  Like Campari, Aperol is a bitter liqueur made from citrus (oranges to be exact), and it’s the most prominent part of this drink—which I really like.  The sloe gin adds not only sweet berriness which slightly mellows the bourbon and bitterness, but also makes the cocktails beautiful with that rich red color.   I loved the orange aroma and flavor that bookend this drink—I was drawn in by the robust orange fragrance and loved the way the orange bitter flavor lingers in your mouth long after the sip has been swallowed.  This may have been my favorite.

We finished with the Jerez Flip.


While I am getting over my fear of eggs in cocktails and am really becoming a flip convert, this was my least favorite of the night.  There was a lot going on—oloroso sherry, Pimm’s, Benedictine, demarara syrup, angostura and mole bitters.  I loved the Benedictine and really enjoy the richness thatan egg adds to a cocktail and who doesn’t love trying to get every last drop of foam from the glass.  Although I admit I am not as patient as Chris was in making that happen.  The reason for my hesitation with this particular flip was the inclusion of oloroso sherry—I am not a huge fan of sherry.  This was, however, one of Bridget’s favorite, which is the beauty of the Cocktail Whim, one person’s least favorite is another’s favorite.

Four yum cocktails, some good bar food (shoe string fries, thinner than any shoe string I have had,  were reminescent of those potato sticks in a can from childhood), and friends, of course, made for a good Wednesday.  And I can’t forget to mention how much I loved thetotally adorable mini-glasses.  Salute!

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