How to Throw a DIY Gin & Tonic Party

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Guys, I’m so excited about today’s post. Aside from being my 100th (!!!) post since starting Distillerista, this is an idea I’ve wanted to feature on the blog for. EVER. While it might not be particularly monumental, it happens to be my idea of a picture-perfect (i.e. low-key) entertaining situation and let me tell you why… because A. I love any excuse to just set out a bunch of stuff and let my friends take care of themselves and B. I LOVE a good G&T. A gin & tonic is crisp, refreshing, classy af and virtually fool-proof to put together, making it the ideal cocktail for a DIY bar setup.

A little background on my love for the G&T: “gin and tonic, extra lime” quickly became my go-to order when I first fell in love with gin a few years ago. I’m so fond of the juniper-laden goodness that I’ve graduated to ordering a more streamlined (& low-sugar) version: gin & soda with a splash of tonic to let the gin shine through a bit more. But #adulting aside, any way you make a G&T, they’re always sure to please. There’s just something about those crisp little bubbles and fragrant botanicals together as one, #amirite?

Whether you’re throwing a #GalentinesDay party for your pals, planning an upcoming bridal shower or bachelorette party, or just want an excuse to round up the #squad, a DIY G&T bar is pure, easy fun.

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Here’s how to set up a DIY Gin & Tonic Bar…

Glassware – Keep in mind your glasses don’t all need to match. Just make sure they’re clean and free of cracks or chips. Double old fashioned glasses, mason jars, hi-balls, rocks, juice and water glasses are all fair game.

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Ice – “Invest” in a pretty ice bucket. Retailers like Target often have cute and affordable options. A small scoop, pair of tongs or large serving spoon is appreciated for hands-free scooping.

Paper straws – Love these hearts, this floral print or the classic striped.

Garnishes Include classics like lemon and lime wheels, as well as lots of fresh mint. Encourage guests to give the mint a little smack in the palm of his or her hand and place in the glass first. Then garnish with a bit more on top of the drink. Other garnish ideas to include: citrus peels (fresh or candied!), edible flowers and cracked juniper berries.

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Cocktail napkins – These are too cute, these are v. on theme or perhaps something more simple.

Jiggers – Set out a jigger or 1.5 oz shot glass measure on the bar so that the gin doesn’t flow too quickly ;).

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Selection of gin – The idea is to have a good mix (3-4x) of different styles of gin, however it’s not exactly cost effective to go out and buy a bunch of niche spirits just for a casual get together. I totally get it. If you’re willing and able, consider offering your guests 1. a classic London Dry gin, 2. a more modern Western or American style gin, 3. a Sloe gin and 4. an Old Tom gin. Alternatively, ask a few close friends to cohost/contribute a bottle of a certain style and you’re sure to have a diverse spread! Scroll down for deets on the gins included in this photo set and a list of my favorites in each category mentioned above at the end of this post.

Selection of tonic – Mix it up! Include a classic brand like Schweppes or Canada Dry, a “light” or sugar-free version, as well as a pricier premium tonic. Then if the budget allows, add in one or two flavored tonics for some added fun like aromatic, bitter lemon, or grapefruit. Include some soda or sparkling water too just incase anyone is seriously quinine-averse. Flavored Lacroix’s are also a great addition. My favorite brands are East Imperial, Fever Tree, Llanllyr Source and Q.

{ Tonics seen in photoset: East Imperial Grapefruit Tonic, East Imperial Yuzu Tonic, Q Tonic, Llanllyr Source Bitter Lemon (lemon flavored tonic water) and Llanllyr Tonic Water. My favorite brands are East Imperial, Fever Tree, Llanllyr Source and Q. }

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{ Gins seen in photoset: Hendrick’s, St. George Dry Rye, Krobar Botanical Brandy, Woody Creek Gin, Plymouth Sloe Gin }

Other favorites… Tanqueray No. 10, St. George Botanivore, Aviation; Ransom Old Tom, Spirit Works’ Barreled Gin, Sloe Gin & Barreled Sloe Gin, Death’s Door, Distillery No. 209.

Photos by Caroline Potter.

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Winter Gin Punch

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When creating a cocktail for our very first ever You & Yours event last month, a seasonal take on my popular simple gin punch was in order. I wanted to make something simple enough to throw together for upwards of 100 people, yet complex enough to be a few steps up from something you could easily make at home. To achieve that, I stuck to my basic formula (spirit, citrus, a fun syrup and something bubbly), but I brought out all the stops with the syrup. Two types of sugar and two hearty winter herbs take this seasonal sipper over the top. :)

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Ingredients:

  • 2 parts your favorite gin scroll down for a sneak peek at my (& your soon-to-be) favorite gin 😉
  • 1 part fresh grapefruit juice
  • 1/2 part rosemary thyme simple syrup, recipe to follow
  • sparkling water to top
  • fresh herb sprig of choice to garnish

Directions:

  1. Add gin, grapefruit and simple syrup to a cocktail shaker with ice.
  2. Shake for 10-15 seconds; strain into a tumbler over fresh ice.
  3. Top with a splash or two of sparkling water and garnish as desired. Enjoy!

For the rosemary simple syrup: in a small saucepan combine 1/4 cup raw local honey, 1/4 cup brown sugar and 1/2 cup water; simmer until fully dissolved, 3 minutes or so. Add three or four large sprigs of fresh rosemary and three sprigs of fresh thyme. Let the herbs steep while the syrup cools, half an hour or so. Strain and discard herbs; transfer to a sealable container and store in fridge for up to one month.  

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{ photos by Lindsey Marie }

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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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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 }

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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 }

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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 }

 

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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.

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Fall-Inspired Spiced Mango Ginger Punch

img_2497Did you know mangos have two seasons? The first peaks as spring turns to summer and the second as fall gives way to winter, overlapping to provide an almost year-round season for delicious, juicy mangos! I was completely unaware of this delightful fact when searching the interwebs for inspiration regarding two lonely mangos past their prime in the back of my fridge. As soon as I realized mangos weren’t just for summer poolside rum-soaked applications, I couldn’t wait to create a more fall-inspired cocktail.

With Thanksgiving just next week (!!), I also thought it’d be wise to batch this festive cocktail out for all your group drinking needs. Below are recipes for both one drink and ten. Note: the recipes have slight variations in order to make the batched version more hostess-friendly. As I alluded to in Tuesday’s post, I’ve been on the hunt for high-quality mixers for You & Yours‘ debut cocktail program and am #obsessed with East Imperial Mombasa Ginger Beer at the moment. You can buy a 24-pack here (they will not go to waste, trust me!), but feel free to use your favorite ginger beer.

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Recipe for 1 drink.

Ingredients:

  • 1. 5 oz aged or spiced rum
  • 2 oz. mango juice, puree or nectar (this can be store bought; *recipe for homemade to follow)
  • 1 oz. lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz. brown sugar simple syrup, *recipe to follow
  • ginger beer to top
  • 2 T coconut or raw cane sugar for sugar rim, optional
  • mango (fresh, dried or candied!) chunk or slice for garnish, optional

Directions:

  1. Pour brown sugar into a small shallow bowl and use a lemon wedge to wet the rim of a collins/highball glass or other tumbler. Gently dip the rim of the glass in the sugar and fill with fresh ice. Set aside.
  2. Combine rum, mango puree, lemon juice and syrup in a cocktail shaker with ice.
  3. Shake for 10 seconds and strain into sugar rimmed glass. Top with ginger beer.
  4. Garnish as desired and enjoy!

Recipe for homemade mango puree: In a blender combine 1 peeled, chopped mango (or 1 cup frozen mango, thawed) and a splash or two of water. Blend on high until completely smooth, 1 minute or more. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and refrigerate until ready to use, up to one day.

Recipe for brown sugar simple syrup: In a small sauce pan, combine one cup each brown sugar and water and simmer over medium-low heat until completely dissolved. Let cool and store any leftovers in a sealed jar or container for up to one month.

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Recipe & Directions for batched version (10-12 drinks).

In a large drink dispenser or punch bowl, combine 1 750 mL bottle dark or spiced rum, 1 quart (32 oz) mango nectar, 1 cup (16 oz) brown sugar simple syrup, 1 cup lemon juice and 2 cups ginger beer. Give it a good stir and adjust the sugar syrup and lemon juice to taste if needed. Pro tip: If using a punch bowl, freeze lemon slices in water in a bundt pan and use as one giant ice cube! When the ice melts and the lemon slices float it will be beautiful.

Shopping list for batched version:

  • One 750 mL bottle of your favorite aged or spiced rum; San Diegans – check out Malahat or Liberty Call
  • One quart mango juice, nectar or puree; a mango juice blend or mango lemonade would also work just fine!
  • 6-8 lemons or 8 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • One quart of your favorite ginger beer (be sure to use ginger beer, as ginger ale will likely make the drink too sweet)

pantry items: brown sugar, raw sugar or coconut sugar

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{ Photos by Caroline Potter }

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My New Favorite Cocktail Ingredient

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With construction at the distillery space well under way (follow me on Snap to see some behind the scenes progress! @laurakj11), we’ve finally begun recipe testing for our debut cocktail menu! Being the Distillerista that I am, I’ve always known that my place of business would never be the type of establishment to serve generic mixers out of a gun.  That in mind, I went to town sourcing specialty tonics and sodas for our cocktail program. Enter East Imperial. East Imperial is a New Zealand-based company specializing in super high quality and super low sugar mixers. I like to think of them as the hipper, southern hemisphere version of Fever Tree.

The guys at East Imperial were kind enough to send us a sampling of each of their products and although my love for their ginger beer knows no bounds, it’s this Yuzu Tonic that has me most excited! If you’re not familiar with yuzu, it’s a north-Asian citrus fruit that tastes like a cross between a mandarin and a Meyer lemon. This yuzu-flavored tonic water is both the perfect subtle twist on my usual G&T and a necessary exclamation point to this yuzu-based cocktail I created for a competition recently. The yuzu flavor is true as can be, not at all artificial, and subtle enough to compliment but not overwhelm premium spirits. If you’re looking to delight and impress your holiday guests this season, pick up a twenty-four-pack here (Trust me, they’ll go fast!).

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Yuzu Gin Sour

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This Yuzu Gin Sour is award-winning. Literally. A few months ago our dear friends hosted an “Iron Chef” themed cooking competition. Each “chef” team had to create a dish for 25+ people featuring the secret ingredient: Citrus! Luke and I presented a Meyer lemon crab cake slider with lemon vinaigrette-dressed frisée and preserved lemon aïoli on lemon butter-toasted baby brioche. Oh, and a #casual fried quail egg on top. As if that wasn’t enough to sweep the competition, we also paired the slider with a yuzu gin sour, #GoBigOrGoHome. Spoiler alert… we won!

The yuzu gin sours, in particular, were such a hit that I’ve continued to make them several times since. I finally got around to getting them photographed (by my incredibly talented friend Caroline Potter) and am so excited to share the recipe with you here!

For the night of the competition, I combined some home-infused Meyer lemon London Dry (juniper-forward) gin, yuzu juice, Meyer and conventional lemon juices, and lime honey simple syrup. The combo was absolutely perfect. Not too tart from the yuzu, not too puckery from the lemons and not too limey from the syrup. I’ve since tweaked and tinkered with the recipe, and the ingredients and directions below reflect what I think is the simplest, best way to achieve the perfect, award-winning Yuzu Gin Sour!

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Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. In a cocktail shaker combine the gin, juices, syrup and ice.
  2. Shake for 15 seconds and strain into a chilled coupe or martini glass.
  3. Top with a splash of East Imperial’s Yuzu Tonic for an extra punch of Yuzu flavor if desired.
  4. Garnish with an edible flower (such as micro daisies or elderberry blossoms) and enjoy!

img_2458 img_2450 img_2455img_2462 { East Imperial Yuzu Tonic Water c/o }

img_2447 img_2464 { Woody Creek Gin c/o }

A few notes…

  • Thank you to Woody Creek for the gin! You may have heard of Woody Creek Vodka but did you know they produce gin and rye whiskey as well? London Dry lovers will fall hard for their local, hand-picked Colorado juniper-forward gin and the rye whiskey is so good, the bottle barely lasted a week in our house.
  • Thank you to East Imperial for the tonics! East Imperial is a New Zealand-based company offering exceptionally high-quality, low-sugar cocktail mixers. They’re my gold standard for sodas, tonics, etc. Their ginger beer specifically is the only ginger beer on the market I would recommend.
  • I get yuzu juice at my local Asian market but I also see it regularly at Whole Foods and on Amazon.
  • I love stopping by Specialty Produce to pick up micros for complimentary and impactful garnishes – basil (seen here), marigolds (seen here) and elderflower (as seen in this post) especially.
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