Category Archives: Cocktails

A Gold Rim Dinner Party

It doesn’t take much for me to find a quick and easy theme and throw a dinner party around it. In this instance the gold rim of these cocktail glasses provided all the impetus Andy and I needed to surround ourselves with four of our favorite people. The earliest hints of the upcoming holiday season glittered in the background as I served up a few Ginger Gold Rushes, recipe below.

GINGER GOLD RUSH

1 ½ OZ. BOURBON (BLACK MAPLE HILL)
1 ½ OZ. GINGER LIQUEUR (CANTON)
½ OZ. FRESH LEMON JUICE
SERVE WITH CITRUS TWIST. 

Of course the real secret to a good dinner party is not in the cocktails or hors d’oeuvre, not in the tablescape or entree, but always, and only, in the guests. Which is what made this gathering one of the best. 

“Well, you never knew exactly how much space you occupied in people’s lives. Yet from this fog his affection emerged–the best contacts are when one knows the obstacles and still wants to preserve a relation.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald
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An Unclassic Cocktail: The Martinez

Libation literature would have it that a classic cocktail has to be tried and true with minor but not major room for variation. The Martinez defies this, made in several wildly differing forms, each one just too drastically separate from other incarnations because in this one every ingredient is vital, and every change results in a totally new drink. For my purposes, I used one of the more common versions to get a feel for the usual before branching out into anything outrageous. Only when you know the rules can you break them. 

With its gin and sweet vermouth base, this is largely considered the love child of a martini and a negroni. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about that, since I love each dearly, and can’t picture a happy hybrid. Fortunately, like its parents, the Martinez is distinctive enough to stand on its own. Consider it the Liza Minelli of cocktails. Here’s the recipe I used for my first try:

The Martinez 
  • 3 1/2 ounces Old Tom Gin
  • 1 3/4 ounces sweet vermouth
  • 2 bar spoons maraschino liqueur, preferably Luxardo
  • 4 dashes orange bitters
  • Ice
  • Orange twist, for garnish (optional)

They say Old Tom Gin is the traditional one for this, but I used the Bombay that was already open. For me, the key to this drink being good is in the sweet vermouth. There’s a lot of crappy sweet vermouth out there, and more dangerously, the longer vermouth stands on your shelf, the worse it gets. It’s imperative to use fresh sweet vermouth – the Carpano Antica Formula is delightful, and it conveniently comes in smaller bottles to avoid a batch getting stale. (You can also drink enough on a regular basis so that this isn’t even a question.) In a negroni, the campari is so prominent that you sometimes get away with less than stellar sweet vermouth – in this one you need the best, because there’s no disguising it. 

The other trick is to get that bottle of maraschino liqueur – you will use it for the Last Word if you have any sense. And bitters. Orange bitters. They will accentuate and highlight the orange peel with a deeper complexity and resonance than if you make one or the other stand alone. The devil may be in the details, but heaven is there too. 

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Future Dinner Party

Somehow we have twisted fate into finding an agreeable dinner date for a gathering with four of my favorite people, and I’m about to begin planning an adults-only dinner with a Gold Rim theme. (Everybody wants to go for the obvious rim-job reference, but it’s really just based on the cocktail glasses you see here. Sickos.)

For a Gold Rim glass, one needs a proper gold-themed cocktail to go with it. This is a perfect match:

GINGER GOLD RUSH

1 ½ oz. Bourbon (Black Maple Hill)
1 ½ oz. ginger liqueur (Canton)
½ oz. fresh lemon juice
Serve with citrus twist.

We’ll also have sidecars on hand, and lots of gold, including a new pair of curtains I bought specifically for the season. Yes, I’m that anal. It’s a Gold Rim party. What did you expect? The only question is which Tom Ford Private Blend best goes with gold. I’m torn between Amber Absolute and Rive d’Ambre. A delicious dilemma. 

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Simple Spring/Summer Spritzer

I love Campari. It’s a bit of an acquired taste – its bitterness is not instantly user-friendly, especially to a generation of drinkers weened on appletinis and other such nonsense. For the adults, a bit of Campari adds sophistication and flair to many cocktails. My favorite is the negroni, but simpler delights call to me when the weather turns lighter and brighter. For instance, this Campari spritzer – the simplest thing on earth. Just some Campari and club soda on chipped ice. When spring verges on summer, the simpler that things get, the better.

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The Hemingway Daiquiri

Don’t be fooled as I’d been for so many years: the daiquiri is no joke. The pretty thing packs a pretty punch, no matter how fancy the glass or presentation might be. This recipe is a rather rugged spin on the frozen concoction – with white rum, lime juice grapefruit juice and maraschino liqueur forming the base of it all, served over copious amounts of crushed ice. It’s a perfect poolside libation – easy to craft, fresh and vibrant in spirit and taste, and pretty with its peachy-pink tint. But again, it’s no joke. Hell, it was named after Hemingway, who knew his way around rum and gin.

Fridays are for cocktails. Grab yours.

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Fancy Boston Watering Hole

I’ve held this one close to my chest because I’m always afraid of overexposing a good thing when I find it, but with my four readers I don’t anticipate this causing too much of a jam. The Hawthorne Bar, at the bottom of the Hotel Commonwealth, is one of my favorite bars in Boston, and on a recent stop-in I found out that they also serve some of the best deviled eggs too. They are surely splendiferous to look at, and their flavor matches their beauty.

The cocktails are an Eastside (we’re moving on up) and something with chartreuse and aperol in it. Though the latter fought a bit too much with itself, I appreciate the experimentation. No risk, no glory.

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The Harvey Wallbanger

My only previous exposure to Mr. Harvey Wallbanger (and the only reason we have an impossible-to-store bottle of Galliano in the house) was in this Harvey Wallbanger cake. That thing was heavenly, and in the years since I made it, I’ve been tip-toeing around the original cocktail from which the cake was derived. I finally tried it a couple of weeks ago, with some fresh Florida oranges, and I have to say that I was less than impressed. It turns out I don’t like Galliano all that much. It has a sweet medicinal property that disagrees with my palate completely. Still, there are those who will wax nostalgic for this, and if you happen to have some Galliano still hanging around from the 70’s, now’s your chance to give it a whirl.

 Harvey Wallbanger 

  • 1 1/2 ounces vodka
  • 4 ounces orange juice
  • 1/2 ounce Galliano
  • 1 orange slice for garnish

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A Winter Cocktail Classic

Behold the Manhattan.

Though I prefer most of my cocktails on the less-sweet side of things, I do indulge in a Maker’s Mark Manhattan now and then. It’s not technically winter yet, but at 30 degrees it certainly feels like it, so I say let Manhattan season begin. This is my favorite warming drink. As cold as it is, the whiskey just warms the soul from the inside out.

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Christmas In A Glass

In a season of love and friendship, I’m sharing a recipe that was shared by my friend Joann, who got it from friends across-the-pond. Sharing is what this season is all about, and nothing is better to share than a good cocktail recipe. It’s the perfect cup of holiday cheer, and was even monikered “Christmas In a Glass” which is about as festive as one can get. This is a simple, but potent, recipe for Mulled Wine. I made it for New Year’s Eve last year and, truth be told, drank most of it myself since Andy and Suzie weren’t as tickled by it. (There’s no accounting for taste.)

It comes from another across-the-pond gent, Jamie Oliver (better known in these parts as The Naked Chef). While not the biggest fan of hot cocktails (if you’ve ever tried to finish a mug of hot buttered rum you know what I’m talking about) once or twice a season I can get into the spirit. In this case, there’s such a glorious alchemy of citrus and spices that it absolutely transforms a simple Italian red wine into something magical. The key ingredients on which you cannot skimp are the freshly grated nutmeg and vanilla bean – both are integral to the pungent wonder of this holiday affair.

Jamie’s Mulled Wine ~“Christmas in a Glass”

Ingredients

  • 2 clementines (peeled and juiced)
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 lime
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 3 fresh bay leaves
  • 1 whole nutmeg , for grating
  • 1 vanilla pod , halved lengthways
  • 2 star anise
  • 2 bottles Chianti or other Italian red wine 

Method

Peel large sections of peel from your clementines, lemon and lime. Put the sugar in a large saucepan over a medium heat, add the pieces of peel and clementine juice. Add the cloves, cinnamon stick, bay leaves and about 10 to 12 gratings of nutmeg. Throw in the halved vanilla pod and stir in just enough red wine to cover the sugar.
Let this simmer until the sugar has completely dissolved into the red wine and then bring to a boil. Keep on a rolling boil for about 4 to 5 minutes, or until you’ve got a beautiful thick syrup. It’s important to make a syrup base first because it needs to be quite hot, and if you do this with both bottles of wine in there you’ll burn off the alcohol.
When your syrup is ready, turn the heat down to low and add your star anise and the rest of the wine. Gently heat the wine and after around 5 minutes, when it’s warm and delicious, ladle it into glasses and serve.

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An Extra Virgin Cocktail

I’m not sure how I feel about this. It’s a trio of extra virgin olive oil drops plunked down in the midst of a ‘Steady Cocktail’ – a fanciful take on the traditional martini (with some élixir végétal thrown in, and a small bowl of olives on the side). I like my cocktails on the dry shade of the spectrum, and as I get older I find myself leaning toward the savory over the sweet. (You won’t see me sipping from any sort of fruity/chocolatey/bullshit-tini monstrosity any time soon.) In this instance, those three drops threw me for a bit of a loop. They quickly coalesced into one larger pool of EVOO, and though such fleeting prettiness has a certain appeal, I’m not sure I liked the end result. Personal preference, of course, as all cocktails are, and maybe it’s just my stubborn refusal to open my mind to the idea of oil in my drink.

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The Importance of a Proper Garnish

The proper garnish can make or break a cocktail, and yet it is often one of most widely  I can’t tell you the countless number of times my martini glass has arrived with a hefty chunk of citrus rudely cut into a wedge and stuck on the rim like some parasitic overgrowth.

A wedge of lemon is never right for anything other than a clam bake, and wedges of orange or grapefruit are simply obnoxious. The twist is more than enough, and it’s what any decent bartender will serve when you ask for a particular fruit.

Sometimes, though, more is more – such as in these featured photos from a recent drink at Wink & Nod. A gin-based cocktail, it plays up the peppery notes with a pepper-dipped slice of cucumber, which, when dunked in the drink, adds an effervescent bite, the melon-like coolness of the cuke spiked with the freshly grated spice of the peppercorn. A good cocktail is all about that balance, and the proper garnish.

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Summer Refreshment

A cocktail off-the-fly. Or is it on-the-fly? No matter. Here’s a quick do-it-your-own-damn-self cob-job of a cocktail that incorporates vodka, limoncello, lemon juice, St. Germain, and a couple of basil leaves – shaken with ice – and poured out poolside to satisfy a summer afternoon idyll. What’s your favorite refreshment for a sunny summer day?

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The Sakura Cocktail

If there were no
 cherry blossoms 

in this world

How much more tranquil

our hearts would be in spring.

~ Ariwara no Narihira

It was a blustery spring day in Washington, DC. The wind had taken most of the cherry blossoms a week or two prior to my arrival, but some of the Kwanzan trees still held their pink beauties. Outside the Jefferson Hotel, a stand of tulips fought the wind, and in a lull they stood with the afternoon sun slanting through their luminous petals. I was early for a dinner with Chris and Darcey, and in an effort to escape the cold wind (while enjoying one of my favorite watering holes) I ducked into the marble hallway leading to Quill.

It was the tail end of cherry blossom season, but the city was still feeling its blush. On the cocktail menu was something that held a number of my favorite libations: the Sakura. The listed ingredients included two mainstays: gin and grapefruit juice. The remaining elements were just as enchanting, and taken together they made the same beautiful promise that every cherry blossom bud made: the promise of beauty and hope and a spring that always comes back.

Listed ingredients:

  • Bluecoat gin
  • Yellow chartreuse
  • Yuzu
  • Grapefruit
  • Honey Syrup
  • Rhubarb bitters

The drink arrived, and it was very much a sip of spring. The shading was unexpected – a soft buttery yellow that flirted with peach – but that only made it feel all the sunnier. The taste was sublime – tart and slightly fruity, with the welcome herbal challenge of the chartreuse and the warm lilt of honey, sparked by the exquisite jolt of the yuzu and rhubarb bitters.

When I returned home, and on an equally blustery day, I managed to procure all the ingredients and try my hand at assembling a decent approximation of the magic of the original Sakura by Quill. It turns out I needed everything but the gin, as my kitchen is not equipped with yuzu or yellow chartreuse or rhubarb bitters. It is now – and every ingredient is important for this one to be successful.

For proportions, I used one part gin, one part grapefruit juice, 1/3 part chartreuse, 1/5 part honey syrup, and a few healthy drops each of the yuzu and bitters.

The variable that enchantingly influences how this cocktail looks is the grapefruit juice. I extracted the nectar from a fresh ruby red grapefruit, which takes the yellow chartreuse and yuzu into cantaloupe-shaded territory. I actually preferred the yellowish version of the original, so the next time I try this I’ll use a white grapefruit instead. Either way, it sings of spring.

Outside, the wind whipped wildly. A shower of white apple blossom petals fell like snow and whirled around my feet. Inside me, I held the memory of the Sakura. In spite of the wind, the world felt a little warmer.

Look at the cherry blossoms!

Their color and scent fall with them,

Are gone forever,

Yet mindless

The spring comes again.

~ Ikkyu

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A Daisy Birthday Party

My dear friend JoAnn just celebrated her birthday, and for the occasion I threw a gathering in Boston for her chosen Cape Crew. The guest list was all girls (as per request) but I’ve never shied away from female company. I’ve known most of these lovely ladies for years, so in some respects it felt like a reunion of sorts, and a very happy one at that. There’s a long history there, and I felt honored to be a small part of it.

There was a slight daisy theme running through the proceedings, in honor of one of JoAnn’s favorite flowers. A lemongrass ginger cocktail was on hand, because a single cocktail is easier than setting up a full bar. This particular cocktail is as easy as they come: 2 parts vodka or gin, ½ part lemongrass-ginger simple syrup, then top with seltzer to your liking. Garnish with a stick of lemongrass. (I saved a bunch from last season’s garden, frozen in a zip-lock freezer bag.)

As already explained, the wardrobe was a simple one, and the only fanciness was to be found in this selection of whimsical straws.

Kira had arrived the evening before to help put things in order, and we toasted our friends en route.

It was, as always, the people who made the party, and JoAnn has a great group of friends in her life. She’s always been good at that. People grow and leave, lives change, and sometimes you have to let go whether you want to or not, but that’s the ebb and flow of life and friendship. Such fluidity keeps things interesting.

Sarah made this amazing cake – a carrot cake with extra pizzazz, and I mean it: this thing was packed with moist, rich flavor and a cream cheese frosting to-die-for. (I’m not ashamed to say I had some for breakfast the next day.)

In the end, it was the guests that mattered, and the fun that transpired whenever JoAnn’s friends get together. Let’s do it again!

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A Cocktail, Not a Cock Tale

A cocktail fit for an Easter Sunday – or any Sunday for that matter – as there’s an egg white in it, this is the Ramos Gin Fizz. Some shy away from raw egg whites, but I love what they do for a drink. (Prairie oysters, anyone?) Protein and froth and tiny bubbles – perfect for a brunch treat. This one also packs a deceptively strong gin kick, while the addition of orange flower water sends it into another stratosphere of perfumed glory.

The Ramos Gin Fizz was invented in the 1880s by Henry C. Ramos, and remains one of New Orleans‘ most famous drinks. I’ve had a love-affair with New Orleans ever since I lost my gay virginity on the banks of the Mississippi River, but that’s another story somewhere else on this blog. (This is not a cock tale.)

History has it that Louisiana governor Huey Long brought Mr. Ramos to New York’s Roosevelt Hotel to have him train the bartenders there how to make the Ramos Gin Fizz the right way. Further proof that knowledge is power.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 ounces gin
  • ½ ounce lemon juice
  • ½ ounce lime juice
  • 1 ounce simple syrup
  • 3 small dashes orange flower water
  • 1 ounce cream
  • 1 egg white
  • Soda water

METHOD:

Shake all ingredients except the soda water without ice very vigorously for at least one minute, more if possible (you should shake until your arms give out). Then add ice and shake for 1-2 minutes until extremely cold and frothy. Strain into a Collins glass, or a large old fashioned glass, and top with soda water. Stir gently.

The only word of warning I have to give is on the orange blossom water. It’s potent stuff, and its fragrance is so lovely that you’ll be tempted to use a lot more than the prescribed three dashes. Be strong and resist the urge, as a little of it goes a long way. You don’t really want to taste it as much as smell it vaguely on the surface. I also didn’t bother straining anything, as I enjoy a frothy mix, and a few bits of lemon and lime never bothered anyone who had their priorities correct. All in all, this will be a great early summer cocktail, and the perfect pairing with Tom Ford’s Neroli Portofino. (Yes, I match my cocktails to my cologne. What kind of heathen doesn’t?)

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