Gifts for Drinkers

Holiday season is approaching, so I put together a list of things any beverage enthusiast would enjoy.


Bundaberg Ginger Beer ($5.99)


Munktiki Mugs (varies)


Vacuum Coffee Siphon ($110)


Japanese Barware (varies)


Flask Playing Cards ($29.98)


Subscription to Imbibe ($20)


Artisanal Cocktails ($24.95)


Happy Hour Glasses ($20)


iSi Soda Siphon ($62.99)


Lillet Blanc ($15)


Buffalo Trace Bourbon ($22)


DonQ Grande Anejo ($54)

Rock and Rye vs. Swine Flu (Round 1)

A panacea dating back to the late 19th century, Rock & Rye is a liqueur made from rye whiskey flavored with fruit or juice including citrus, sweetened with rock candy and often bottled with sliced fruit.  Oddly, I couldn’t find a recipe online, but with all this talk of N1H1, I thought it might be time for some old school snake oil to soothe the throat and weary soul.  Here’s the recipe for my first batch and a picture of it macerating.

rockrye1Rock &Rye

1 lemon
1 pint rye whiskey
1/2 cup raw sugar
1/4 cup rock candy

Thinly slice one half of the lemon and zest and then juice the other half.  Add slices, juice, zest, rye and raw sugar to a glass jar.  Swirl daily for 1-2 weeks, until the sugar has dissolved.  Add rock candy to jar.

Note: Commercial rock candy has odd flavors, so I use a more traditional rock sugar.  It’s the kind used to make umeshu and can be easily found at Asian grocery stores.

Fruit Juice Caviar

Molecular mixology was all the rage at Tales of the Cocktail this year.  It was like nobody there had turned on the Food Network in the past 3 years, because this stuff is old news in the culinary world.  I actually went to a seminar called “Mixologists and their Toys” where two of the three presenters, demoed how to make these sphericals, or “pearls.”  It was rather redundant.


The process is simple: when sodium alginate (not as scary as it sounds. It comes from seaweed… well, maybe that does sounds scary!) is mixed into a liquid, it doesn’t do much.  When that liquid touches a solution of calcium chloride (the main ingredient in Tums), it turns the liquid into jelly, so when you drip sodium alginate juice into a calcium chloride bath, the drips gel around the outside, while leaving the center liquid.  Essentially, like fish eggs, they burst when you bit into them.

Sourcing the materials isn’t hard either.  Bags of these ingredients are available at Le Sanctuaire online and are not expensive.  Pearls make a fun addition to any fruity cocktail, or you can substitute them for the juice in your favorite mixed drink or just dump a spoonful into a glass of champagne and watch them bounce around.

Carrot Caviar

1 cup carrot juice (or any kind of juice)
1 teaspoon sodium alginate
1 cup water
1 teaspoon calcium chloride

1. In a small saucepan, add sodium alginate to juice, gradually sprinkling while whisking vigorously over medium heat. If you have one, use an immersion blender instead.

2. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer for one minute.

3. Remove from heat and pour through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl and let cool to room temperature.

4. Combine water and calcium chloride in a bowl, stirring to dissolve.

5. Pour cooled juice into a plastic squeeze bottle or large syringe and drip it into the water until the bottom of the bowl is covered in a solid layer of spheres. Let sit one minute while you clean the goo out of your strainer.

6. Place strainer over a second bowl, then pour the contents of the first bowl through the strainer.

7. Rinse the pearls in the strainer and transfer to a kitchen towel to dry.

8. Repeat until you run out of juice.

Serve within an hour, because when I nipped one the morning after, it had gelled all the way through. Not bad, but not as exciting.

Homemade Cocktail Ingredients and Infusion Tips

img_4913For years I’ve been making cocktail ingredients at home. I’ve mentioned some favorite infusions and liqueurs, including roasted ginger vodka, chipotle tequila, firewater, pumpkin pie spiced rum and kumquatcello, but I have also been making sweeteners, including grenadine, flavored syrups and marmalades, and novelties like dried bing cherries reconstituted in port.  I’ve been wanting to make aromatic and potable bitters, but I haven’t gotten around to procuring the obscure ingredients.


Most recently, I remembered an experiment from my college days, dissolving a bag of gummy peaches in cheap peach schnapps, making a sweet, peachy goo that dissolved well in other things.  A month ago, I bought 5-ounce bags of Haribo Peach Rings and Fizzy Cola and dissolved each in a cup of vodka. After a couple weeks, both batches had reached an oozy equilibrium, but I haven’t concocted any good uses for them yet.

The latest trend according to GQ is Liquid Smoke, which is simple to make, but a slow, involved process.  As far as I am concerned, liquid smoke is already a common cocktail component called mezcal.

On a final note, instructions on infusing your own spirits are easy to come by online, but here are a few tips and tricks I’ve learned from experience and haven’t seen elsewhere:

Infusion Tips:

  • Smirnoff has an incredibly clean flavor, great for infusing, and is not an expensive vodka.
  • -With tequila, only use 100% agave, even if you are infusing with something strong.  It makes a difference.
  • -If an infusion is too strong, spicy, sweet, etc., decant some and dilute that with more booze until the levels are right, and keep track of the measurements so that you can repeat.  Don’t just keep adding more booze to the original infusion.
  • -Interesting glass vessels with tops or corks can do double duty as decoration while their contents mingle.
  • -If you are experimenting with ingredients that may not infuse at the same speed and desired intensity, infuse smaller, separate batches of each and combine teaspoonfuls to get the balance right before mixing the whole batch.
  • -Dried fruit infuses better than fresh fruit.  Water is the infusion killer.
  • -When infusing with herbs, bruise leafy herbs before adding, but insert woody herbs unharmed.

Classic Cocktails: 25 Preeminent Preparations


(Click the image to download a printable version of all these recipes)

The BarSmarts bartender education and certification program lists the following as 25 classic cocktails that every bartender should know how to make.
For a cocktail enthusiast, it’s good knowledge to have for making a lasting impression on the ladies, or for coaching a bartender (who didn’t get the memo) through making your drinks.

Aviation Cocktail

2 ounces London dry gin
½ ounce Maraschino liqueur
½ ounce lemon juice

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a Maraschino Cherry.


1½ ounces white peach puree
4 ounces Champagne
(Optional: ½-ounce peach liqueur)

Gently stir ingredients in a mixing glass and strain into a champagne flute. Optional: float a half-ounce of peach liqueur.

Blood and Sand

¾ ounce Scotch whisky
¾ ounce Cherry Heering
¾ ounce Italian sweet vermouth
¾ ounce fresh-squeezed orange juice

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange peel.

Bloody Mary

1½ ounces vodka
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
4 dashes Tabasco sauce
salt and pepper
¼ ounce fresh lemon juice
4 ounces tomato juice

Combine all ingredients in mixing glass and roll back and forth to mix. Strain into an chilled goblet. Garnish with a wedge of lemon, olives and a stick of celery. Celery salt and horseradish are optional.

Caipirinha (Caipirissima with Rum or Caipiroska with Vodka)

2 ounces cachaça
¾ ounce simple syrup
½ lime, quartered

Chill a rocks glass with cracked ice.  Muddle lime and simple syrup in a mixing glass. Add cachaça and the ice into the mixing glass and shake well.  Pour the entire contents back into the rocks glass and serve. Garnish with an orange peel.

Collins (Tom, John or Vodka)

1½ ounces London dry gin, bourbon, or vodka
1 ounce simple syrup
¾ ounce lemon juice
club soda

Shake spirits, sugar and lemon juice with ice, strain into an chilled collins glass and fill with soda. Garnish with a cherry and an orange slice.


1½ ounces citrus Vodka
¾ ounce Cointreau
¼ ounce fresh lime juice
1 ounce cranberry juice

Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange peel.


1½ ounce white rum
¾ ounce simple syrup
¾ ounce fresh lime juice

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a small cocktail glass. Note: Purists will hold out for the original recipe: juice of half a lime, ½ teaspoon superfine sugar, 2-ounces rum (assembled in that order, stirring the sugar into the lime juice before adding the rum).


2½ ounces London dry gin
½ ounce preserved lime juice

Shake ingredients well with ice and strain into a chilled martini glass or serve over ice in an old fashioned glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.

Gin Fizz
1½ ounces London dry gin
¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
1 ounce simple syrup
Club soda

Shake and strain into a highball glass. Fill with club soda. No garnish.

Irish Coffee

1½ ounces Irish whiskey
1 ounce brown sugar syrup
4 ounces coffee
lightly whipped unsweetened cream

Combine whiskey, coffee and syrup in an Irish coffee glass. Ladle one inch of cream on top.

Mai Tai

2 ounces aged rum (Jamaican if possible)
¾ ounce lime juice
¾ ounce orange curaçao
1 teaspoon orgeat syrup

Shake thoroughly with ice and strain into an old fashioned glass filled with ice. Garnish with a lime wheel, a mint sprig and, if possible, a sonya orchid.

2 ounces rye or bourbon whiskey
1 ounce Italian sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Pour all ingredients over ice in a mixing glass and stir. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with a cherry or a twist. You may substitute dry vermouth for a dry Manhattan with a lemon peel garnish, or half sweet and half dry for a “perfect” Manhattan.


2 ounces 100% agave tequila
1 ounce Cointreau
¾ ounce fresh lime juice
½ ounce of agave syrup (optional)
Coarse salt
Lime wedge

Combine first three ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Shake well and strain into a chilled, salted cocktail glass.

Dry Martini (traditional recipe)

1½ ounces London dry gin
1½ ounces dry vermouth
1-2 dashes orange bitters

Stir all ingredients with ice to chill and twist orange or lemon peel over the top. Substitute sweet vermouth for dry and you have a Martinez.

Extra Dry Martini

3 ounces London dry gin (or vodka if you must)
â…› ounce dry vermouth

Prepare a tall mixing glass with ice. Pour vermouth over ice and swirl to season, then strain vermouth off the ice.  Pour gin or vodka over seasoned ice and stir to chill. Strain into a chilled martini glass.  Garnish with an olive.

Mint Julep

½ ounce of simple syrup
2 sprigs of mint
2 ounces bourbon

Gently bruise one sprig of mint in the bottom of a highball glass with simple syrup. Add half of the bourbon and half fill with crushed ice. Swirl with a barspoon until the outside of the glass frosts. Add more crushed ice and the remaining bourbon and stir again. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

1½ ounces white rum
¾ ounce fresh lime juice
¾ ounce simple syrup
1 mint sprig and 4 mint leaves
1 ounce soda

In a tall mixing glass muddle mint leaves with simple syrup. Add lime juice and rum and fill with ice. Shake vigorously and strain over fresh ice into a highball glass. Top with soda and garnish with a sprig of mint.

1 ounce London dry gin
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce sweet vermouth
Soda (optional)

Combine all ingredients in an chilled old fashioned glass and stir. Garnish with an orange peel. Top with an ounce or two of soda or serve straight up, in which case it should be stirred with ice and strained into a chilled cocktail glass.

Old Fashioned

2 ounces bourbon
3 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 teaspoon sugar
2 orange slices
2 maraschino cherries
splash of soda

Carefully muddle the sugar, Angostura, one orange, one cherry, and a splash of soda in the bottom of an old fashioned glass.  Remove the orange rind and add bourbon, ice, and soda.  Garnish with a fresh orange slice and a cherry.
Note: The old-fashioned Old Fashioned recipe omits the fruit. Simply muddle the sugar and bitters in a splash of soda until the sugar is dissolved, forming a syrup. Add the whiskey and the ice, and stir. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Pisco Sour

2 ounces Pisco
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1 ounce simple syrup
1 small egg white
Several drops of Angostura Bitters

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a small cocktail glass. Garnish with several drops of Angostura Bitters on top of the foam.

Rob Roy

2½ ounces Scotch whisky
¾ ounces sweet vermouth
Dash Angostura Bitters

Pour all ingredients over ice in a mixing glass and stir as you would a Martini. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon peel.

2 ounces rye whiskey
2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
Splash of absinthe
½ ounce simple syrup
Herbsaint Anise Liqueur

Chill one rocks glass while preparing the drink in another. Splash the Herbsaint into the second glass, swirl it, then pour it out. Add rye, syrup, and bitters and stir with ice to chill. Strain into the chilled rocks glass and garnish with a lemon peel.


1½ ounces cognac
¾ ounce Cointreau
¾ ounce fresh lemon juice

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled old fashioned glass or cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange peel. Note: If served “up” strain into a small cocktail glass with a sugared rim.


2 ounces cognac
1 ounce white crème de Menthe

Shake both ingredients with ice and strain into an old fashioned glass filled with crushed ice or serve up in a chilled cocktail glass. Note that this is an exception to the rule that drinks with only liquors and liqueur should be stirred.

Whiskey Sour
2 ounces bourbon or rye whiskey
1 ounce simple syrup
¾ ounce fresh lemon juice

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into an old-fashioned glass or a special sour glass. Garnish with an orange slice and a cherry speared on a cocktail pick (known as a flag).

Adapted from BarSmarts

Ginger Infused Vodka

“The ultimate addition to lemonade on a hot day, or a glass of ginger ale when you are under the weather.”

All the recipes I’ve found are raw root, but roasting ginger makes for a superior infused vodka.  It’s great in any number of cocktails (heat up a Cosmo or give the Moscow Mule an extra kick) or as a shot,  and you could also add sugar to make ginger liqueur.

Ginger Infused Vodka

1 750-ml bottle of vodka
1 inch piece of fresh ginger

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
2. Pour one shot of vodka from bottle and drink.
3. Wrap ginger in aluminum foil and roast for 1 hour.
4. Allow ginger to cool enough to handle, peel and slice thinly across the grain.  Cut again so that pieces will fit into bottle without being forced (important for getting the ginger out of the bottle later).
5. Add ginger to bottle, replace cap and leave in freezer for two weeks.
6. Strain with fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth, rinse remnants from bottle and funnel vodka back into bottle.

Notes: I usually make a double batch using a 1.5 liter bottle and two inches of ginger root.
I prefer Smirnoff for making infused vodkas.  It has the cleanest flavor at a moderate price.

Fix That Drink


If you throw together a cocktail at home and aren’t thrilled with the result, take a tip from the kitchen. Rather than tossing it out and starting over, take a sip of your experimental concoction and ponder what it needs.

When making food, and your dish needs something, there’s a simple system:

  • Bland? Add salt, or if that isn’t it, add more of the herbs and spices already in use.
  • Lacking Depth? Up the umami with Worcestershire or soy sauce, anchovies, sun dried tomatoes or tomato paste.
  • Need acid? A squeeze of lemon juice, or splash of vinegar.
  • Too bitter? Add sugar, honey or maple syrup
  • Not rich enough? Add butter or cream.

For a cocktail, it’s about the same:

  • Too weak or strong? Add more spirits or mixers (Obvious, I know).
  • Lacking depth? Add a dash of bitters.
  • Need acid? A squirt of lemon or lime juice.
  • Too bitter? Add simple syrup, agave or maple syrup.
  • Not rich enough? fruit liqueurs like Cherry Heering and Chambord might give you what you seek.  Butter, probably won’t help, but bacon might!

Ginger Mango-Rita

September is unseasonably warm in San Francisco, justifying the occasional tropical, blended drink.  I was reminded by an old friend who came to visit last week, that I once seduced her with a frosty batch of frozen ginger mango margaritas.

Serves: 1
Don’t bother making a half recipe.
You will regret it when you run out.

1.5 cups ginger simple syrup*
6 ripe mangoes, pitted, peeled and cubed
3 limes, two juiced and one cut into wedges
4 cups ice
1.5 cups 100% agave tequila
1/2 cup Grand Marnier or Cointreau
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cayenne pepper

1. Combine mangoes, syrup, and lime juice in a food processor. Do this in batches if needed.
2. Add liquor and ice and blend until smooth. If not serving immediately, store in sealed container in the freezer.
3. Combine sugar and cayenne, stirring thoroughly on a small plate.
4. Wet the rim of a glass with a lime wedge, and dip it in the dish to coat the rim before filling.
5. Repeat with every glass before filling and garnish with a wedge of lime.

Note: in place of the cayenne sugar, you can substitute Sriracha Salt

*Ginger Simple Syrup

I like to keep this on hand. I store it in squeeze bottles for use in cocktails, desserts and sauces. It will keep for a few weeks.

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
3 inch piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

1. Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan.
2. Stir Constantly over medium heat until sugar dissolves.
3. Bring to a boil and simmer for five minutes.
4. Remove from heat and let steep for 1-2 hours.
5. Pour through fine mesh strainer and discard ginger pieces.