Tag Archives: bourbon

The Fall Manhattan

Well, dear readers, it’s been quite a busy month. Apologies to any of you who were waiting with baited breath to find out how my latest infusion turned out. It was finished soaking in all those lovely fall flavors a couple of weeks ago, but I haven’t had time to write about it. After straining the mixture (cheese cloth is best for this, but you can also use a coffee filter and a funnel) into a large mason jar, I chilled it and tasted it. The results were undeniably delicious and very autumnal. The strongest flavors were cinnamon and clove, with the vanilla mellowing and sweetening it just the right amount, but I could hardly taste the ginger at all. Luckily I like cinnamon and clove! Next time, I might think about putting a touch less of those two and doubling the amount of ginger, or leaving the ginger out entirely since it didn’t have much effect on the flavor.

So, now that you’ve got this delightful fall concoction, what do you do with it? It’s great chilled or over ice all on its own, but seeing as how this is a cocktail blog, I couldn’t just leave it alone. This little autumn beauty works best in a simple, classic cocktail: the Manhattan. The Manhattan, unlike the Old-fashioned, has remained relatively pure over the years. Some people garnish it with an orange twist instead of a cherry, and some leave out the bitters, but other than that, the recipe doesn’t vary from bar to bar. There is a bit of controversy about where and when it was first invented, which you can read about here, if you’re interested.

Doesn't it just look perfect for those chilly fall nights?

Doesn’t it just look perfect for those chilly fall nights?

The Fall Manhattan:

2oz infused bourbon

1/2 oz sweet vermouth

3 dashes bitters

I prefer to shake my Manhattans over ice and then strain into a fancy glass, but some people like them on the rocks. Garnish with a maraschino cherry, an orange twist, or even a bourbon soaked cherry if you want to get all fancy about it. Happy mixing!

 

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Bourbon Infusion #2: Flavors of the Fall

Fall is in the air! Well, actually it’s been 70 degrees here in San Francisco the last couple of days, but hey, a girl can dream. What better way to celebrate fall than with flavors like cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and of course, bourbon. There used to be a cocktail lounge in the Bellagio, Las Vegas called the Fontana. It has been replaced with something much trendier, which makes me very very sad. It was very old-school Vegas, had the most amazing cover band with a lady singer who could do Shakira’s “Suerte” in Spanish, and (to get to my point) had a Manhattan on the menu made with Maker’s Mark that they infused in-house with “a secret blend of herbs and spices.” It was delightful, and I’ve been dreaming of recreating it for years. This week, I finally took a crack at it, and in keeping with my new mission of consistency, I wrote down exact amounts of everything I used. I made a big batch, because we still have some people to thank for all their help with the wedding, and what better way to thank people than with booze? If you re-create this recipe for home use, I’d recommend halving all the amounts, unless you throw a lot of cocktail parties. Here’s my recipe:

1.75L bourbon

6 whole vanilla beans (scored lengthwise)

2 large cinnamon sticks

1/2 cup fresh ginger (coarsely chopped)

20 whole cloves

dash nutmeg

teaspoon brown sugar

My ingredients. Aren't they pretty?

My ingredients. Aren’t they pretty?

The infusion process at work.

The infusion process at work.

Put all the ingredients in a 2-quart mason jar with a sealing lid. Then you just let it sit for 2 weeks or so and shake it up a few times a day. Usually I’m nervous about my ingredients overpowering the bourbon, but in the end the flavor turns out to be quite subtle. This time I decided to go bold. In addition to the usual fall spices, I added some ginger for a little bite. I didn’t have any whole nutmeg, so I just put a dash of the ground stuff in…we’ll see how that goes. I also added a little sugar to counteract the bitterness of the cloves and nutmeg, but you could leave that out. It’s got another week of infusing. Check back soon for the results. Happy mixing!

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A Good Old-Fashioned Controversy

Today’s post starts with a bit of cocktail history, as in my personal history with cocktails. I first started training to be a bartender when I was 19. I was hostessing at an old-school, Italian family owned seafood joint on the pier in Santa Cruz my sophomore year of college. The hostess stand was right next to the bar, so I ended up talking to the bartenders a lot. There was a bartender named Dave, who was the embodiment of the quintessential bartender: early 50’s, handsome yet a little grizzled, comforting and ready to listen, but didn’t take guff from anyone, could tell you the history of every drink he made while giving you solid life advice. At some point I realized that I wanted to be him when I grew up, and became obsessed with the idea of becoming a bartender. Since I wasn’t 21, technically I wasn’t allowed behind the bar, but Dave decided to take me under his wing. He gave me a couple of books to study at home, and started quizzing me every time an order came in. “What goes in a Singapore Sling, Sarah?” “What kind of garnish do you put on a Mai Tai?” “What’s the difference between a gimlet and a gibson?” He also gave me sage advice about love and encouraged my artistic pursuits. He was pretty much my favorite person at the time.

Fast forward a few years, and with a little fast talking and fudging of my resume, I landed a job bartending at a nightclub. The money was great, but the hours were terrible, and “bartending” really meant pouring beers, shots, and the occasional rum-and-coke. All I wanted in life was to mix fancy shaker drinks. I left that job to wait tables at a high-end restaurant, and after a few months I finally convinced the manager to let me behind the bar. This was the late 90s, the height of Sex and the City fame, so most of what I was making was specialty martinis: Cosmos, Manhattans, 007s, Appletinis. I became very adept with a cocktail shaker. One day, a gentleman came in to the bar and ordered an old-fashioned. I remembered seeing it in the bartender’s guide, but I had never actually made one. Luckily, I was working with another bartender that night, a veteran, but even she shot me a look like “Who orders an old-fashioned anyway?” This is how she made it: Put an orange slice, a maraschino cherry, a sugar cube (or one sugar packet) in a rocks glass, add 7 dashes of bitters, muddle all that together, add ice, and pour 2 oz bourbon over it.

And that’s the way I always made them. Granted, my last professional bartending gig was in 2004, pre-Mad Men, so I can count on one hand the number of old-fashioned cocktails I made in that time, but for some reason the recipe always stuck with me. Then along comes Don Draper and the resurgence of the “craft cocktail,” and suddenly every high-end bar has an old-fashioned on their specialty menu. And you know what? It turns out I’d been making them wrong all these years. Well not wrong, so much as the nouveau bastardized way, rather than the purist way. Apparently, the old-fashioned is somewhat of a controversial cocktail, especially amongst hipster bartenders and curmudgeonly old men who still wax poetic about the days when bread was 10 cents. In their eyes, a real old-fashioned is just sugar, bitters, and bourbon, and maybe an orange or lemon peel for garnish. The orange slice and cherry got added in sometime in the 70s/80s, when things started going from “less is more” to “more is more.” There’s an interesting Slate article written about the controversy, with some great recipes as well.

This old fashioned is so pure, they won't even let the orange peel touch the bourbon.

This old-fashioned is so pure, they won’t even let the orange peel touch the bourbon.

Maybe it’s because we’re a bourbon household, or maybe it’s because we watch a lot of Mad Men, but the old-fashioned makes a pretty regular appearance around here. Being a big fan of both experimentation and personalization, I’ve come up with my own old-fashioned recipe, and I’d encourage you to do the same. Here’s mine if you want to try it:

1 slice citrus (orange will make it sweeter, lemon will make it more tart, grapefruit and blood orange are fun too!)

1 sugar cube, sugar packet, or the equivalent amount of white sugar

7 dashes bitters

a few dashes of grenadine syrup (hard to measure, so I just use the cap)

1 1/2-2oz bourbon, depending on how strong you like it (use good bourbon…no cheap stuff!)

Those rocks glasses were a favor from a friend's wedding last year. Adorable and functional!

Those rocks glasses were a favor from a friend’s wedding last year. Adorable and functional!

Muddle the citrus, sugar, bitters, and grenadine in a rocks glass. You can use a wooden spoon if you don’t have a muddler, but really, you should just get a muddler right? Add ice. I highly recommend getting an ice tray that makes those huge cocktail ice cubes. We got ours at Crate and Barrel. Pour bourbon over ice and stir with a spoon. I usually take out the citrus peel, but some people like to leave it in. Simply delicious. Happy mixing!

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Wedding Cocktails!

As I mentioned in the previous post, I got recently got married. It was a lot of work, but totally worth it. Me being me, I wouldn’t throw any kind of party without a signature cocktail, or in this case, two. We knew we wanted a bourbon cocktail and a champagne cocktail.

The bourbon cocktail was fairly easy to decide on. After test-driving a couple different recipes, we settled on the Lady Shirley, with some slight modification, because, well, I just can’t ever seem to follow a recipe exactly. The recipe I found online gives you a pretty sweet little cocktail, which might be perfect for some, but here in the Savage-Liszanckie household we like our bourbon cocktails a little stronger. My recipe was more like: 2oz bourbon, 1/2oz grenadine, 1oz lemon juice (or about half a lemon if you’re squeezing them fresh), top with soda water.

We served them in mason jars. They were delicious.

We served them in mason jars. They were delicious.

The champagne cocktail took a little more experimentation to settle upon. Luckily we have plenty of willing guinea-pigs…er, friends, who very patiently drank the cocktails and gave me their opinions. Tough job, I know. What we ended up with was the Feathers McGraw, named after our favorite Wallace and Gromit character. The inspiration for this cocktail came from Martha Stewart, but of course I made a few changes. First, I made a mint-infused simple syrup. For the cocktail recipe, I upped the amount of Campari and Champagne, and lowered the amount of grapefruit juice and simple syrup. What can I say, Martha’s recipe just wasn’t boozy enough for me. Recipe for this one: 1oz Campari, 1/2oz mint simple syrup, fill glass 3/4 full with champagne (approx 4oz), top with a splash or two of grapefruit juice. The result is something like a grapefruit-y mimosa with a boozy Campari kick. Delicious!

The original Feathers McGraw. Ours was just a tasty tribute.

The original Feathers McGraw. Ours was just a tasty tribute.

The great thing about both these cocktails is that you can easily make them by the pitcher for a party…or a wedding. Just keep the proportions the same and increase by the number of cocktails you want to make. I promise, your guests will be impressed. Happy mixing!

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Tour De New York

The cocktail shaker in our apartment has bee less active this summer due to some extensive traveling (all domestic, rather than exotic I’m afraid). I did manage to finally get my hands on some lavender to make a simple syrup. The recipe and drink suggestions will follow shortly. While in New York last week, my fiance and I were treated to a tour of the Big Apple’s finest cocktail establishments, courtesy of our friend Ryan. As everyone knows, the key to a woman’s heart is a fancy cocktail (or maybe that’s just me), and these places definitely won me over.

First stop was the hotel bar at the Crosby Street Hotel, which had the most artistic decor of the evening, with a wall of lamps made out of telephones.

Hello? Is anybody there?

I had a lemongrass-pear bellini, which was nice enough, but I definitely had drink envy of Sarah’s mojito. Ryan ordered a tequila-based cocktail called “Peppers and Peach,” which looked amazing, but spicy drinks are not my thing. Nor is tequila really.  Too many shots of Jose Cuervo in college, I guess. The most interesting drink in this bar was Justin’s “Kentucky Julius,” which consisted of Buffalo Trace bourbon, Liquor 43, orange juice, egg white, cinnamon simple, Lagunitas IPA, nutmeg, with the Lagunitas IPA served as a shot inside the empty egg shell floating on top of the glass like a little boat. Unfortunately, the egg whites prevented me from trying it, but he assured me it was damn tasty.

Not our actual cocktails. We drank them too fast to get photos.

Next stop was the The Bourgeois Pig, famous for its plushy chaise lounges and champagne punch. I ordered the Bergamont Toddy, which had Earl Grey-infused Lillet Blanc, lemon, and honey. All I can say is that my next infusion will be vodka with Earl Grey tea in an attempt to recreate this cocktail at home. Our friends ordered one of the champagne punch bowls. I think it had blackberries in it? In any case, it was delicious, but dangerous. The menus says it serves 2-4, but if two people finished it off by themselves, it might not be pretty. It arrived in a giant metal bowl with a giant round ice cube floating in the middle and some dainty Victorian crystal mugs with which to scoop the punch out of the bowl.

This is not one of my friends, nor is this our actual punch bowl. The lighting was too dim for photos. Or maybe we just forgot. In any case, ours looked just like this one, if you substitute a smiling redhead for the smiling blonde girl.

Even with four of us helping, we closed down the bar and stumbled out of there. Not content to let the night end, however, because damnit, this is New York! Bars here close at 4am, and it was only a mere 2:30. So what if it was a Wednesday night, there had to be something open. Luckily Ryan was captaining the ship and lead us to a place called Employees Only, which will be reviewed in another post because, well, this one is already too long. I also realized that I skipped one from the beginning of the night. Until next time, dear readers.

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Cocktail Hour at Home

My bourbon infusion was ready to go, so I decided to invite my lovely friend Brynn over for dinner and cocktails. Before we get into the drink recipes, let’s talk about the infusion by itself. How much do I love grapefruit? So much that I would write an ode to it, if I were any good at writing odes. The substitution of grapefruit zest for lemon and orange was a stroke of pure genius. The citrus did kind of overwhelm the vanilla, though, which was barely detectable. Next time I’d go with two vanilla beans instead of one. Still, it was quite nice, and could easily be a stand alone drink, chilled and served up. But where’s the fun in that?

No, my friends, the fun is all in the mixing, so on we go to the cocktails. The first concoction is something I’ve been making in various configurations for a while now, so it deserves a name. I hereby dub thee “The Savage Refresher.” Doesn’t that sound like something you want to drink?

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It consists of: bourbon (this time I used the infusion, but it’s also delicious with regular bourbon), muddled mint, bitters, and freshly squeezed grapefruit. You can add a little sugar or simple syrup if you like your drinks on the sweet side of tart. Muddle a handful of mint, sugar (if you want), 10ish drops of bitters, and a little ice in a shaker. Add 2 oz of bourbon (depending on how strong you like it), half a grapefruit (squeezed), and some more ice. Shake and serve up in a cocktail glass of your choosing.

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I squeeze the grapefruit by hand, but what I really want is a dedicated grapefruit squeezer like this one. Also, despite our arsenal of bar tools, we still don’t have a muddler at home, which makes me sad. Now you know what to get me for my birthday, right?

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The Savage Refreshers went perfectly with our dinner…I threw some mint in the salad too. Yummy!

Then it was on to post dinner conversation and round two. If you’re as obsessed with Mad Men as I am, you’ve probably had a hankering for an Old Fashioned sometime in the last few months. If you’re a purist, like Don Draper, here is a recipe for the classic Old Fashioned, complements of Esquire magazine. Most bars these days make it with and orange slice and a maraschino cherry, but apparently that’s a recent edition. Fascinating!

Seeing as how I’m all grapefruit obsessed at the moment, I use a grapefruit slice instead of the now-traditional orange slice, a smidge of grenadine, and regular sugar, because really, who has sugar cubes and maraschino cherries at home?

How to make a Grapefruit Old Fashioned: In a cocktail shaker, muddle a large slice of grapefruit, a teaspoon-ish of sugar, a dash or two of grenadine (one cherry’s worth if you can figure that out), and 3-4 dashes of bitters. Once that has been muddled, you add 2 oz or so of bourbon and shake. I like to top it off with another squeeze of grapefruit, but that’s just me. Traditionally, you’d serve this in a rocks glass over ice. What can I say, I’ve never been all that traditional.

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The photo may not look all that impressive, but trust me, they’re delicious. This cocktail makes a frequent appearance in our house. Typically while we’re watching Mad Men. In our fedoras.

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Bourbon Infusion #1

Since this is my first post, I thought I’d start out with an infusion. When you bust out home-made infusions at parties or while hosting guests, it never ceases to amaze people. The oohs and aahs you get are great for the ego. Little do most people know, making the infusion is incredibly easy. The real art lies in coming up with interesting and delicious ingredient combinations. It takes a little experimenting, but it’s pretty tough to come up with something that doesn’t taste good, as long as you start with a liquor you already like to drink.

In my household, we are a bourbon family. We’ve also made a series of delicious, candy-infused vodka, but bourbon is our go-to for cocktails. My recent favorite is Samuel Grant. Why? Because it’s always on sale for cheap at the Safeway across the street. I recently found out that this is because it’s the house brand. Safeway makes its own booze, who knew?

The infusion I made is based on a recipe I found on Culinary Anthropologist, but I used less vanilla, and grapefruit zest instead of lemon and orange, mostly because I had some lovely organic grapefruits from Rainbow Grocery. Grapefruit is also my latest obsession as a cocktail ingredient. Put freshly squeezed grapefruit in any drink, and I defy you not to love it.

I started by putting the bourbon in a large bowl, in order to catch all the oils of grapefruity goodness that splatter with zesting. This proved a bit difficult later on for pouring, so next time I’d go with a wide-mouthed jar or pitcher instead. I cut open a fresh vanilla bean with a knife to expose the seeds, and zested two grapefruits with a vegetable peeler, over the bowl.

                               

Now you might be asking yourself, “Where in the heck do you get whole vanilla beans?” At least that’s what I was asking myself when I first found this recipe. The answer is Xanath , on Valencia St, which also makes dynamite ice cream…though nothing vegan as of yet. If you aren’t lucky enough to live in San Francisco like me, they also operate Saffron, which will ship them to you anywhere in the US.

After everything was in the bowl, I proceeded to pour it all into a mason jar. Mason jars are perfect for infusions, though the process of pouring, as aforementioned, was a bit messy, even with a funnel. Turns out, bowls are not so good for pouring liquid in an organized fashion. Live and learn. Life is all about experimentation! Make sure all the leftover bits of zest make it into the jar.

Once everything was in the jar, I added just a touch of honey, to take away some of the bitterness, in case I wasn’t as careful with the zesting as I should have been, and because of this math equation:  bourbon+honey=deliciousness. Math doesn’t lie people. Once it’s in the jar, you just store it in a dark-ish place, like a pantry, and shake it a couple of times a day for about a week. Mine will be ready on Sunday. The next post will feature whatever concoction I mix it up with. Happy infusing!

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