Cocktail Crawl: Little Italy San Diego

Introducing a new series: Cocktail Crawls! These posts will act as my version of neighborhood guides, complete with my favorite spots to drink, chat and snack. First up is my home turf: Little Italy!

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1. Kick things off at Crack ShackRichard Blais’ all day chicken and eggs concept, with a frothy Frosé and some schmaltz fries (both pictured above) to fuel up for an afternoon of drinking. Theirs is one of the better versions of the white-hot trend I’ve had, made with Giffard strawberry liqueur and pureed berries. 2266 Kettner Blvd

2. Head a few blocks south for a refreshing Diego by the Bay at Kettner Exchange. It’s not on the menu anymore but chances are they’ll still shake one up for you. Gin, grapefruit, rhubarb bitters and soda create the perfect golden hour sipper. If you’re feeling another bite, go for the shishito peppers or spicy shrimp. The latter are an exact replica of Nobu’s rock shrimp creamy spicy. 2001 Kettner Blvd

3. Hike one block east up to India Street and cruise down to Prep Kitchen. The cozy upstairs space overlooks a bustling corner of Little Italy, perfect for warming up with a Comfort Blanket – orange tea-infused Bourbon, vanilla and orange – and some people watching. 1660 India St

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4. Peel yourself away and walk less than a block to San Diego’s OG craft cocktail mecca, Craft & Commerce. Their newly renovated and expanded space is definitely a sight to behold. I’ve been a big fan of the Lay Lady Lay (pictured above), a lambic beer cocktail, since they first opened in 2010. Fun fact: it’s one of the few cocktails they’ve brought back from the original menu. Plus, sneaking in a low ABV cocktail on a crawl probably isn’t the worst idea, #amiright? 675 W Beech St

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5. Last but not least, cap things off at Bracero Cocina (pictured above) across the street. You really can’t go wrong here but my favorites on the cocktail menu are the No Mames, a balanced and warming Mezcal cocktail, or the Passion of the Cristo with St. George Chile Vodka & Campari. And don’t even thinking about leaving without a Mexiterranean Adobada taco (or two) and some Shrimp & Bone Marrow Sopes. Thank me later! 1490 Kettner Blvd

What are your favorite spots for cocktails in Little Italy? What San Diego neighborhood would you like to crawl through next? Let me know in the comments below!

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Elderflower Manhattan

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When Woody Creek sent me a bottle of their 100% Rye Whiskey my mind went wild thinking of fun ideas for cocktails to share with you. As usual, I brainstormed a few original, season applications and then moved on to twists on classics like this Elderflower Manhattan… Minor hiccup: the stuff was so damn delicious that by the time I got around to recipe testing and photographing, the bottle was basically gone! Yes, THAT good.

Having long loved both wheat- and rye-heavy Bourbons, I got really into straight ryes this past year and this Woody Creek rye has to be one of the most well-balanced ones I’ve tried. In addition to the smooth warmth, stunning complexity and seductive vanilla notes, I love knowing that Woody Creek distillers mill, mash, ferment and distill every single drop themselves. There are a ton of great rye whiskeys on the market today but it’s difficult to find a craft producer that actually does it all. I so appreciate Woody Creek’s dedication to the art of distilling, and will definitely be buying this whiskey as soon as I see it. Do yourself a favor and pick up a second bottle when you do – the first goes too fast. 😉

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Elderflower Manhattan. Makes 1.

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz. Woody Creek rye whiskey
  • 1 oz elderflower cordial or liqueur
  • 2 dashes passionfruit bitters

Directions:

  1. If using a non-alcoholic cordial*, add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker and shake gently with ice for 5 seconds. If using a liqueur, such as St. Germain, add all ingredients to a mixing glass with ice and stir for 10-15 seconds.
  2. Strain into a rocks or DOF glass over a large cube or sphere ice mold.
  3. Garnish with fresh elderflower blossoms and enjoy!

Notes: 

  • *Traditionally any cocktail recipe that calls for a non-alcoholic syrup, cordial or fresh juice should be shaken, but I wanted this cocktail to mimic the smooth, velvety texture of a proper stirred Manhattan. To achieve that with the Belvoir Farms cordial pictured below (I had run out of St. Germain, an alcoholic elderflower liqueur I prefer to use in applications like these), I shook the ingredients gently so not to break up the ice in the shaker too much and maintain as much of the natural texture of the Rye as possible, while still mixing the components thoroughly. I’d recommend using a liqueur like St. Germain and the correct mixing glass method if at all possible.
  • I find all my fresh edible flower garnishes at Specialty Produce. If you’re not located in the San Diego area, check with your local restaurant wholesale produce supplier!

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Ultimate Guide to Gin // {Infographic} Fix.com

We’re barely a week into 2017 and the guys at Fix.com have already beat me to one of my big content goals for Distillerista this year – creating beautiful, informative graphic guides to my favorite spirits… I was honored to contribute very, very minimally to their Ultimate Guide to Gin Infographic {below} and thought I’d share it with you! – Laura


Source: Fix.com Blog

2016 FAQ & Mini Office Tour

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Happy (almost) 2017! For those of you who may be new to me or Distillerista, allow me to re-introduce myself via a little FAQ situation! Below are the questions I got A. LOT. in 2016… Keep scrolling down for more questions and a few photos of my home office I recently revamped. With the distillery construction still underway, I wanted to give myself a fresh space to work from in the new year. I hope you enjoy!

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Who tf are you? I’m Laura! I’m the professionally trained distiller behind this blog. I’m also in the process of opening my first distilling operation in downtown San Diego: You & Yours Distilling Co.

That’s an *interesting* name, what’s You & Yours all about? Y&Y is a boutique craft spirits destination distillery focused on bringing people together over elevated hospitality experiences. In addition to producing different styles of gin and eau de vies (double-distilled, unaged fruit brandies) on our custom hybrid still, our tasting room will be open to the public Thursday through Sunday offering tasting flights, cocktails and bottle sales. You can also come for a distillery tour and guided tasting on weekends. Sign up info coming soon!

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How did you get into distilling? Short version? I had an interest in and appreciation for spirits from a relatively early age. I was the one trying to convince my friends to mix up cocktails at house parties in high school instead of grabbing another 12-pack of Natty Light. I went on my first distillery tour at 18 and it was all over after that. After finishing undergrad at USD I traveled for the better part of a year taking classes, attending workshops and apprenticing at various distilleries around the country.

Do you have a chemistry or home brewing background? Nope.

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When are you opening?! You & Yours Distilling Co. will finally open to the public this coming January 2017. As fiercely as I wish I could give everyone a hard-and-fast date, those just don’t exist when you’re juggling a 4-fold permitting process AND a 7+ month long construction build-out. Stay tuned, I promise the light at the end of the tunnel is near!

What’s the mf’in hold up? See: 4-fold permitting process AND a 7+ month long build-out. Thanks to pre-prohibition era regulations and an archaic three-tier system, a legal distillery has to obtain Federal, State, City, and – in our case – Civic permits to operate a legal distillery (we’re the very first urban distillery in California!). “It’s been a process,” is the understatement of 2016.

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Where can I buy You & Yours Distilling Co. merch? Right here! (These aren’t regular shirts, these are cool shirts)

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Are you hiring? We’ll begin interviewing after the holidays for a small but mighty team of “spirits specialists” to help man the tasting room and retail areas. These positions will closely reflect your standard bartender, barback and server roles. If you’re interested in joining our front of house team, email a resume and cover letter to LKJ@YouAndYours.com with the subject line ‘YAYDC JOBS.’

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How can I stay in touch, involved and in-the-know? You know the drill… follow You & Yours (@YouAndYoursSD across all platforms) on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and sign up for the You & Yours email list here.

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You can also follow ME on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat (@laurakj11)!

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Thanks for stopping by. I’d love to get to know you if I don’t already, please leave me a comment below!

Cranberry Mule

When it comes to Holiday feasts, my family passes on the cranberry sauce. Although the contrasting tart-sweet flavor component makes sense to cleanse your palate between all the savory bites, we’ve never really bothered with it for some reason. So when I had my mother and brother in town for Thanksgiving, it came as no surprise that the bag of cranberries sat in the back of fridge well past November 24th. A week or so later I decided to make a syrup with the forgotten cranberries, a clamshell of raspberries on their last legs and the leftover herbs from our Thanksgiving meal. The end result was so layered and complex, I’ve been using the stuff non-stop ever since! I add it to espresso and cocoa powder in to make cran-raspberry mochas, mix it into salad dressings, drizzle it over butternut squash soup and (obviously) shake it into cocktails. I’ve mixed it up with gin and lemon juice, Bourbon and a touch of sweet vermouth, and splashed it into champagne, but this festive cranberry “Mule” might be my favorite application yet!

Cranberry Mule. Makes 1.

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz your favorite vodka (mine here)
  • 1 oz cranberry syrup recipe to follow
  • Llanyllr Source ginger ale to top
  • Fresh mint and cranberries to garnish, optional

for the cranberry syrup: in a small sauce pan combine 1 bag of cranberries, 1 small clamshell of raspberries, 1/3 cup of sugar, a handful of mint and 3 sprigs each, thyme and rosemary over medium-low heat. Let simmer for 30 minutes or so, splashing in some water if it becomes too thick. Continue adding water until a syrupy consistency forms and almost all the cranberries have popped. Let cool for a few minutes, remove hearty herb stems and then blend for two minutes in a Vitamix or food processor. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and store in a sealed container in the fridge for up to one week. This will be much thicker than your usual simple syrup.

Directions:

  1. In a cocktail shaker combine vodka and cranberry syrup and shake over ice until thoroughly combined, 5-10 seconds
  2. Strain into a tumbler over fresh ice; Top with Llanyllr Source Ginger Ale
  3. Garnish as desired and enjoy!

Notes:

Llanyllr Source is an all natural mixers company that produces a wide range of premium cocktail mixers. I’m pretty picky about my ginger beer so I decided to use their Ginger Ale in this recipe to keep things a little more refreshing. You can check out their other cocktail-accompanying products like bitter lemon, lemonade and light tonic here! They also offer still and sparkling water, produced from fresh spring water drawn from organic fields in Llanyllr, Wales. Thanks to the Llanyllr team for sending over a few samples!

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{ Photos by Lindsey Marie }

Last Minute Stocking Stuffer Idea

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Let’s be honest, no one ever objects to alcohol as a gift. And that’s why stuffing your loved ones’ stockings with little 50 mL bottles of spirits is a slam dunk last minute gift idea if I’ve ever heard one! Attn: procrastination-inclined late shoppers, make a quick trip to your local Bevmo or liquor store and grab a bunch of mini airplane-szed (50 mL) bottles. I like to get a mix of no-brainer choices (vodka, tequila, Bourbon, cocktail bitters) and so-bad-they’re-awesome choices. Examples of the latter category would include Jack Daniels Honey, Fireball, flavored vodkas, and coconut rum. It’s all about options 😉

In addition to being a cute and easy stocking stuffer idea, my mom actually does this for my brother and I and our significant others every Christmas. Now that I have my own stockings to fill, I secretly look forward to carrying on this sweet, simple tradition! I hope it becomes one of yours too. <3

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DIY Cocktail Kits

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I was inspired by my blogger crush, Claire Thomas, to gift DIY cocktail kits this year. After watching this YT video of her DIY Old Fashioned Kit, I couldn’t help but recreate the idea at home with my own cocktail ingredients. The idea was so up my alley, I wanted to kick myself for not thinking of it first! I always have random batches of syrups and little R&D infusion projects laying around, so these were a cinch to put together when I needed a last minute gift last week. To put together your own DIY cocktail kits, here’s a rough idea list of things you’ll need…

  • decorative straw, mesh or wire basket
  • a cloth napkin, cute kitchen towel or raffia to act a base layer in the bottom of the basket
  • 2-3 mini (50 mL) bottles of liquor or a mason jar of a homemade infused spirit (see ideas here, here and here)
  • a cocktail syrup, purchased or homemade (equal parts sugar and water, simmered until dissolved)
  • a small bottle of your favorite mixer, i.e. tonic, soda, ginger beer
  • a whole lemon, lime or orange
  • cute paper straws
  • twine, sticky labels and/or gift tags to label ingredients
  • festive card, to write the cocktail recipe inside

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Here’s what I included in my basket last week: rosemary mint honey simple syrup (recipe below), a mason jar of the first official batch of You & Yours‘ flagship gin, East Imperial soda water, a lemon, three paper straws in a holiday color palette and the following recipe written inside a cute card…

Lemon + Winter Herb Gin Spritz: Shake 2 oz gin, 1 oz rosemary syrup and 1 oz lemon juice with ice, strain over fresh ice and top with 2 oz. soda water. Garnish with a lemon wedge and enjoy!

For the rosemary mint simple syrup… combine 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup honey and 1 cup water in a small sauce pan over medium-low heat. Add five sprigs of rosemary and a generous handful of fresh mint. Simmer until fully dissolved and let cool completely off the heat. Strain into a sealable container.

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Other ideas of things to include in the cocktail kits…

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Happy gifting! Let me know what ingredients you’d include in your DIY Cocktail Kits in the comments below :)

{ Photos by Lindsey Marie }

DIY Hazelnut Liqueur

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Some of my favorite things to gift during the holidays are homemade syrups, condiments, spice blends and infused spirits. They’re inexpensive and fun to make and the thought and effort go a long way. As a Frangelico addict, this hazelnut-infused liqueur might be my favorite of all the infusions I’ve DIY’d thus far and is so, so easy to make. If you still have a few folks to cross off your Christmas list, this sweet gift is sure to please anyone who enjoys a good craft cocktail… a.k.a. almost everyone? I also love the idea of making a big batch and divvying it up into mini bottles to give away as favors after a holiday party or open house.

DIY Hazelnut Liqueur. Recipe adapted from this one here.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups whole hazelnuts
  • 2 cups neutral spirit of choice i.e. vodkawhite rumbrandy or Everclear
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • optional add ins: orange peel, split vanilla bean, cinnamon stick, coffee beans, cacao nibs

Directions:

  1. Toast your hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet in a 275-degree oven for 10-12 minutes until fragrant
  2. Let nuts cool slightly and transfer onto a kitchen towel
  3. Double the kitchen towel over the nuts and roll back and forth until skins are removed (this step is optional… removing the skins will result in a clear liqueur, but I actually prefer a creamy, opaque appearance in my final product, as seen in these photos).
  4. Transfer skinned hazelnuts to a chopping board or food processor and give them a rough chop to increase surface area. The more finely chopped the nuts, the quicker they will infuse.
  5. Combine the neutral spirit and nuts in a large sealable jar or container, or split into two 1 liter mason jars. Let infuse in a cool dry place for 1-2 weeks. If adding any optional ingredients, like the orange peel or cinnamon stick, add those ingredients after the hazelnuts have infused on their own for 1 week.
  6. Strain and discard solids using a few squares of cheesecloth draped over a fine mesh sieve.
  7. In a small sauce pan over medium low heat combine honey, sugar and water to make a syrup. Turn off the heat once the sugars are dissolved and let cool.
  8. Combine the infused spirits with the syrup and shake well to combine. Store finished liqueur in the fridge for up to one month.

**Obviously Christmas is less than a week away, so feel free to gift the liqueur with the hazelnuts still infusing inside the jar or container. The recipient will be able to instantly recognize what’s inside! Include a small card with finishing directions (shake often, discard solids after XX date, add syrup and refrigerate for up to one month) along with the premade syrup and a couple squares of cheesecloth so they can strain out the nuts easily. Secure a cute bow around the jars or containers and – voila! – an easy, inexpensive DIY gift with endless applications!**

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A few of my favorite ways to use Hazelnut Liqueur…

  • Shake with equal parts lime juice for a chocolate cake-like nightcap (sounds weird but trust me, it’s delicious)
  • Splash into glasses of Prosecco and garnish with a lemon twist
  • Combine one shot of espresso with 1 oz. of hazelnut liqueur and top with a scoop of hazelnut or vanilla gelato for a hazelnut affogato – the perfect end to a holiday dinner party
  • Splash into your morning coffee over the holiday break for a little extra pick-me-up 😉
  • Add 1 oz. hazelnut liqueur to your favorite Old Fashioned recipe for a wintery take on the classic whiskey cocktail
  • Use in place of the coffee liqueur in my Dirty Chai Hot Toddies!

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Happy gifting! What other ways would you use this hazelnut liqueur? Let me know in the comments below.

{ STUNNING photos by the lovely & talented Lindsey Marie }

Dirty Chai Hot Toddy

img_2441‘Tis the season for hot toddies! Even sunny San Diego has been showing some chilly temps as of late, so much so that I’m starting to rethink our Christmas camping trip to the Central Coast… *adds “go to Costco to get a space heater for tent” to to-do list* But there’s something to be said about frigid weather over the holidays – it just puts you in the festive spirit! Much like warming, whiskey-laced cocktails do. 😉 This one in particular, with chai tea-infused whiskey and my favorite coffee liqueur, is packed with flavor, warmth and spice. It’s also wonderfully versatile: Serve these dirty chai hot toddies in place of dessert after a dinner party, as nightcaps on Christmas eve, or best yet, as a Christmas morning gift to the grown-ups while the kids attack the tree. Any way you enjoy them, I hope you have a very merry and festive holiday! Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Dirty Chai Hot Toddy. Recipe makes 1, but can be multiplied to suit any number of toddies desired.

Ingredients:

  • 1 oz. chai tea infused whiskey, recipe to follow
  • 1 oz. Leopold Bros. Coffee Liqueur
  • .5 oz cinnamon honey simple syrup, recipe to follow
  • steamed almond milk to taste, optional
  • hot water to top
  • ground cinnamon and/or cinnamon stick for garnish, optional

For the chai tea infused whiskey: Combine 2 cups table whiskey and 4 chai (or any black tea) tea bags in a large mason jar or other sealed container. Let stand for up to a week. Remove tea bags and store in a cool, dark place. *This infused whiskey makes a lovely DIY gift!

For the cinnamon honey simple syrup: Combine 1 cup each raw local honey and water in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Drop in two cinnamon sticks, broken in half. Simmer until honey has dissolved and let cool to room temperature. Once completely cool (after about an hour), strain and discard solids. Store in the fridge for up to 2 months.

Directions:

  1. Combine whiskey, liqueur and cinnamon syrup in a warmed mug. Stir to combine thoroughly.
  2. Top with hot water and a splash of steamed almond milk, if desired. Give one final stir and garnish with a cinnamon stick or a sprinkle of ground cinnamon.

Notes:

  • The whiskey you use to infuse doesn’t need to be fancy! This is a great time to pick up a bottle of Old Crow or Jim Beam.
  • Make sure when you’re putting together the toddies that all your ingredients are at room temperature and that your hot water is simmering, if not at a low boil. This will ensure everything blends together nicely for a smooth toddy that stays hot!
  • Multiply each ingredient by 12 and serve a batch of toddies from your Crock Pot set to keep warm.

img_2435img_2442img_2439{ Photos by Caroline Potter }

 

R.S.V.P. Cocktail Skinnies

Distillerista-RSVP-SkinniesFeeling a little stuffed after yesterday’s feast? Trying not to completely blow your workout regime/healthy eating lifestyle this holiday season? Or perhaps you’re a DEVOUT vodka soda gal (or guy) desperately looking to spice things up without extra calories and sugar… whatever your reasons for watching your alcohol intake this party season, I have a fun little surprise for you! Enter: R.S.V.P. Cocktail Skinnies.

R.S.V.P. Skinnies are sugar-free, zero-calorie powdered cocktail mixers that you combine with 4 oz. water and 1.5 oz. of liquor. They come in four flavors: Baja Margarita, New York Cosmo, Maui Mai Tai (formerly “Miami Breeze?”) and London Gimlet. The first three of which I’ll be chatting about here. No need for any other ingredients, as long as you have your little packet, h2O and some booze, you’re good to go.

I was sent some samples a looooooong while back and if we’re being honest, wasn’t THAT excited about them. I outgrew my Crystal Light habit back in high school and I’m just not a fan in general of that,uhumm… other “Skinny” brand, cough cough. Nonetheless, I owed these little drink mixes a try and wanted to share my opinions here. Without further ado, scroll down for my thoughts on each flavor.

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Distillerista-RSVP-Skinnies-Baja-Margarita Baja Margarita: As directed, I combined the drink mix with tequila and water before pouring over ice. To put to bluntly, it wasn’t terrible. It tasted similar to that aforementioned “Skinny…” brand Margarita but lighter. The flavors weren’t overly artificial-tasting and the color was obviously not natural but not too far off from other margarita mixes. Would I drink this again? Yes. Verdict: Somewhat Recommended.

Distillerista-RSVP-Skinnies-cocktail-2 Miami Breeze (Now Maui Mai Tai): This one was a bit more confusing… what is a Miami Breeze? Is it trying to be a Bay Breeze? A Sea Breeze? What does it taste like? Well, I couldn’t really tell ya. As it’s (I’m assuming) new name suggests, it seemed like more of a tropical, tiki-style drink so I made it with white rum. Considering the overly saccharine sweetness and the fact that there was no specific flavor mentioned, the color just put me off. What is it trying to be? Perhaps if there was more clarity in regards to the flavor and intention of the final product I’d be more into it. But probably not. Verdict: Not Recommended.

RSVP-Skinnies-Cosmo-DistilleristaNew York Cosmo: This one is a bit of a mixed bag. I can definitely see those in the vodka soda camp liking it but it was a little bland for me. It tasted like a strong vodka water (my go-to drink when I should definitely have been cut off 3 drinks ago, #hah) with a splash of cranberry, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I think if it was served over ice and mixed with a little less water (maybe 3 oz. as opposed to 4), I’d be into it. Disclaimer: I’d be into it if it was my only option. Verdict: Recommended with reservations, let’s say.