Basil & Grape Smash

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Blogging is weird. You write about stuff you like and hope people enjoy it. But more so, you also kind of hope people start sending you things and maybe you even hope to make a little cash money, #LBH. When the former finally happens and a brand reaches out to you, it’s kind of the coolest thing ever. Now don’t you worry, I am highly aware that Distillerista is VERY small potatoes when it comes to my little corner of the interwebs… but when I received a sample bottle of product for review from Cobble Ridge Artisan Distillery earlier this year, it felt like my little craft spirits blog was really something! And now that I’m finally sharing some Cobble Ridge content here, it felt like a good time to say thank you! Thank you for reading and thank you for being here! :)

Now that my baby blogger update is complete, let’s get down to what you came for: this gorgeous grape and basil grappa smash! It’s base spirit, Cobble Ridge Grappa Moonshine, is an interesting product partly because it labels itself a moonshine. Although a trendy product category, in today’s craft spirit world, pretty much any unaged alcohol can be considered a “moonshine.” It’s worth noting though that in the early days of bootleg/bathtub distilling, “moonshine” referred to a very specific mash bill, consisting of mostly corn and other grains. Once the corn-heavy white whiskey came off the still, it was consumed immediately without seeing any oak or age whatsoever. And there you have it – moonshine was born.

This “moonshine” from Cobble Ridge however is made from grapes, making it a grappa-style spirit. Grappa is a traditionally Italian spirit, most often distilled from winemakers’ leftover grape must. The base material of spent grape skins tends to result in an extremely hot and unrefined end product, IMO but there are a few grappas on the market that manage to temper that hot grape-y bite. I would have to say Cobble Ridge is definitely one of them.

When creating a cocktail around this spirit, I knew I wanted to incorporate grapes because I knew they’d naturally play nice with the spirit. I love grape and gorgonzola salads (don’t worry, no blue cheese here) and thought of the garnish I’d pair – basil. I happened to have some basil simple syrup in the fridge and bam – the drink was done. This gorgeous drink is perfect for Halloween celebrations or a more elegant holiday dinner party. I hope you enjoy!

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Ingredients:

  • 1.5 oz. Cobble Ridge Grappa Moonshine (can substitute with a grape-based vodka like Ciroc)
  • 8 concord grapes
  • 3/4 oz. lemon juice
  • 3/4 oz. basil simple syrup, recipe to follow
  • baby or micro basil for garnish, optional

for the basil simple syrup: combine 1/4 cup superfine sugar and 1/4 cup water over medium-low heat and stir until the sugar dissolves, one minute. Add a packed cup of basil leaves and turn the heat off. Let basil steep as syrup cools to room temp, about an hour. Strain and discard basil. Store in an air-tight jar or container in the fridge for up to 1 month.

Directions:

  1. Muddle grapes in the bottom of a cocktail shaker using a muddler or wooden spoon.
  2. Add lemon juice, Grappa, simple syrup, and ice and shake for 10 seconds.
  3. Strain into a coupe and garnish with a sprig of basil

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{ Photos by the lovely & talented Caroline Potter. }

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Summer Drink Diary 2.0

Distillerista-Drink-DiaryWell, it’s a few months since summer left us, but I couldn’t resist rounding up all the delicious things I sipped on this past season! I love scrolling through my camera roll and being transported back to an event, garnish, weekend getaway or combination of flavors that was so arresting I had to stop and snap a photo. I hope you enjoy too!

Drink-Diary-June

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Weekend Brunch // Oddly enough, summer 2016 kicked off just as last year’s did! With weekend brunch and fitting cocktails. I was dying to try The Cheese Store‘s new brunch menu (bagels! quiche! baked eggs!) and their prickly pear mimosa did not disappoint.

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“Working remotely” // My sweet friend and her fam invited me on their annual trip to Mexico and although I had just about a million things to do at the time, I couldn’t pass up a chance to relax a bit and hang with one of my “second” families! There were several margaritas taken down over the course of the trip of course but for our last night we opted for sparkling rosé while we waited for our table at El Farallon.

Drink-Diary-July

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Vegas// We took a short but incredibly fun trip to Las Vegas with friends for the pretty much the sole purpose of eating and drinking all our favorite things! This cocktail above is always my first stop once we’ve checked into our hotel: the Mexican Gin & Tonic from Jose Andres’ China Poblano at the Cosmopolitan. I love the flavors so much, I recreated the drink here for the blog!

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Vegas, cont. // This was an epic Manhattan from one of my all-time favorite restaurants in Vegas, Giada at the Cromwell. Giada’s namesake establishment is one of fewer than five places in the United States to use a custom ice maker that carves her signature “G” inside (INSIDE!) the ice sphere. #Goals.

fullsizerender-15Iron Chef: CITRUS! // When your dear friends throw an Iron Chef battle and you’re competitive as I am, it’s go big or go home. My team’s dish was the crab cake slider & yuzu sour (spoiler alert: we WON!), but this opening cocktail was a total hit. Our friend Eder mixed them up and garnished each with a blistered shishito. P.S. My recipe for the Yuzu Gin Sour is coming to the blog soon so stay tuned!

fullsizerender-12Post-work cocktails on the patio // A long work day and warm evening called for this “Flight to Paradise” from my Speakeasy Co. subscription box. Learn how to make it here! RIP that cute cocktail pick to my garbage disposal.

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fullsizerender-5Family happy hour // My man and I took his (New Zealand-hailing) parents to visit my hometown and meet some of my extended family. The kiwis definitely got the “Texas” experience, as it was 95+ degrees the entire trip. Luckily my mom had plenty of ice, a brand new blender and some mixed berries on their last legs. I just added a bit of lemon juice, some vodka and topped them off with mint and soda water!

fullsizerender-9Brunching again // The summer wound down the same way it started – with some delightful brunch cocktails. A new restaurant I’m loving in San Diego right now is Trust and their mimosa-Aperol spritz hybrid is a thing of beauty. I dare you to have just one!

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Tequila vs. Mezcal // Perhaps the most satisfying event of the summer was the Tequila v. Mezcal summer bash at new Barrio Logon venue, The Goldleaf Project. A Miho Experience stole the show once again with their incredible cocktails (see menu below) and wait for it… a NACHO BAR! Sorry, nachos not pictured but I promise you they were BOMB.

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Watermelon Lavender Agua Fresca

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Fall may be in full force when you check the calendar but temps are climbing to the high eighties here in San Diego this week. Just when we thought we could feel a slight chill in the air, another heat wave has emerged. With the temps soaring and the sunshine going strong, I thought I’d share one last summer-inspired cocktail recipe. I’ve had this one up my sleeve for a while now, waiting for just the right moment! This drink recipe was originally inspired by a cocktail we had at our pool party at the Westgate hotel earlier in the summer.
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I love the combo of lavender with watermelon because it makes something so familiar and nostalgic feel really elegant. The touch of lavender syrup elevates the juiciness of the melon while the soda water float keeps it from being too saccharine. This drink may require a bit of prep but it’s so worth it. Incorporating watermelon into cocktails is ideal because the bright pink flesh happens to be a surprisingly versatile cocktail ingredient. Thanks to it’s high water content, watermelon turns into a thin, manageable liquid when processed and strained. When berries are treated similarly, for instance, there’s so much pulp and not a whole lot of useful liquid left over.
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Ingredients:
  • 2 oz your favorite gin (or vodka)
  • 3 oz fresh watermelon juice, directions to follow
  • .5 oz lavender syrup, recipe to follow
  • .25 oz lemon juice
  • soda water to top, optional
  • lavender sprig to garnish, optional
Directions:
  1. For the syrup, bring 1/4 cup water, 1/4 cup superfine sugar and 1 tsp culinary lavender buds to a simmer over medium heat until sugar dissolves, 1 minute. Let steep while the syrup cools to room temp and strain; discard lavender buds.
  2. For the watermelon juice, blend 1/2 cup watermelon chunks in a blender until smooth. Strain and discard pulp.
  3. To finish the drink combine gin, watermelon juice, a squeeze of lemon, lavender syrup and ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake for 10 seconds. Strain into a glass over fresh ice and top with a splash of soda water if desired. Garnish with a lavender sprig.

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{ photos & styling by Caroline Potter }

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Six Tips for Incorporating Cocktails into Your Wedding

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I recently had the honor of contributing to Exquisite Weddings Magazine’s Fall/Winter 2016 issue – I wrote about my favorite ways to incorporate craft spirits and cocktails into your wedding celebrations. Although the finished piece only ended up including a few small blurbs (see article above), I wanted to share the entirety of the tips here. Wedding season might be coming to coming to a close but that can only mean one thing: engagement season is right around the corner! Send these tips to a bride- or groom-to-be and you’ll be one happy guest. 😉

1. Choose a cocktail with significance.

Not surprisingly, I’m a big fan of featuring signature cocktails at your wedding. They provide a little something extra, compared to just beer and wine, and are a great way to placate the liquor-loving crowd without blowing your budget on a full bar. Having said that, I feel strongly that the cocktail(s) chosen should mean something to the bride and groom. Don’t just go with the trend of the moment – I can’t tell you how many weddings I’ve been to where the same tired version of a Moscow Mule was being served, much to my judgy chagrin. If your favorite cocktail truly is a Mule then, by all means, serve them (extra points for then offering the – engraved perhaps?! – copper mugs as favors). But what I really find special is when the bride and groom feature something with a story. Perhaps the drink your fiancé made you when you had dinner at his/her place the first time or, the cocktail you shared on your first weekend away together.

2. Cocktail kits as favors.

Another cocktail-inspired idea I love is putting together or purchasing cocktail kits for your wedding favors. My Youtube crush Claire Thomas (of The Kitchy Kitchen) really set the bar with this idea. She and her now husband made their own bitters (!!!) then included little bottles of them in a mini cocktail kit, along with the rest of the ingredients to mix up an Old Fashioned (her favorite drink) for each guest to take home. Talk about a meaningful, intentional and totally useful wedding favor. If that seems like a bit more effort than you’re willing to put in for wedding favors, bid guests adieu with W&P Design’s Carry-On cocktail kits for the plane ride home!

3. Take Champagne to the next level.

One way to easily incorporate cocktails into your wedding is with a champagne toast. Champagne cocktails are easy and affordable to throw together for a crowd (just sparkling wine and your favorite liqueur or juice) while being elegant and celebratory at the same time. Or perhaps consider greeting guests after the ceremony with a simple champagne cocktail (sugar cube + dash of bitters + bubbles) instead of plain Brut.

4. Feature both light and dark spirits in contrasting applications.

If featuring more than one signature cocktail, try to choose one that calls for a clear liquor and one aged liquor to give all imbibers an option. I.e. my two favorites – a fresh gin gimlet and a Bourbon boulevardier – create a nice contrast. The gimlet is light and refreshing while the boulevardier is more direct and warming.  

5. Call in the experts.

There are some fabulous cocktail-centric caterers out there these days. Work with companies like Barçon or Snake Oil to create a unique, custom cocktail (or two!) and offer hand lettered recipe cards with your names and the date of your wedding for a special touch. Guests can then think of the happy couple when they recreate the drink at home!

6. Add a little touch of home.

Craft distilleries are popping up everywhere – did you know that there’s now a craft distillery in every state? If your wedding celebration is far from home, incorporate spirits from a distillery in your hometown or state as a little nod to your provenance. Some of my favorite California distillers are St. George Spirits in Alameda, Spirit Works in Sebastopol, Green Bar Distillery in LA and Malahat Spirit Co. here in San Diego. Each has a wide range of spirits to choose from. Alternatively, offer an airplane-sized or other small format bottle (250 or 375 mL) of a local spirit as wedding favors if you’re having a destination wedding in a locale where there exist popular local craft distilleries.

 

Looking for more entertaining tips? I shared how to throw a craft spirits-inspired football brunch here

 

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A Brief History of the Moscow Mule

The experts at Speakeasy Co. are back again with #BartenderKnowHow. This week’s installment? A brief history of a true classic, the Moscow Mule. 

Oh, forget the copper mugs already! Yes, the “traditional” Moscow Mule is supposed to be served in a copper mug, in exactly the same way every kiss begins with Kay, and every Charger jersey is washed with Tide, the official laundry detergent of the NFL.

Before the 1950s, no one wanted to drink vodka in America. Until, that is, the (then American owned) Smirnoff Company channeled the power of marketing. As legend has it, one day in 1946 an exec in the Smirnoff Company lamented to the owner of the Cock’n’Bull tavern in Hollywood about his inability to sell vodka. The owner of the tavern related that he, too, couldn’t sell his product, a spicy ginger beer he had been making that no one would touch. A spark of inspiration, a twist of lime, and a whimsically nonsensical name later, the Moscow Mule was born.

But what of the copper mug?

Simply put, Cock’n’Bull served beer out of copper mugs at the time the drink was conceived, and they had too many in storage.

A bartender said in an interview that he was just trying to “clear out the basement.” But copper is cool and shiny, and vodka was brand new, and so they instantly became part of the experience. Additionally, instant photography had literally just been invented, so the marketing geniuses handed out mugs, taking pictures of bartenders and their shiny copper drinking apparatuses. Bartenders posted this new “Polaroid” magic on the back bar, fueling the spread of the classic and their association. Alas, the mug is an accessory, required for neither the production nor enjoyment of a Moscow Mule.

We say the Moscow Mule is a fine drink. It’s simple, it’s spicy, bright and refreshing, and one cocktail that’s (arguably) better with vodka than with any other spirit. If you can find a copper mug, enjoy it. Drinking out of ice-cold copper is super fun. If not, it’s still good. A mule in any other glass tastes just as sweet.

{ this content originally appeared here }

P.S. – Everything You Need to Know About Cocktail Subscription Service Speakeasy Co.

Plus more #BartenderKnowHow:

 

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The 12 Best Store Bought Cocktail Mixers

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I love whipping up my own syrups and infusions at home but occasionally I want a cocktail mixer that’s already done for me, ready to go. This mostly happens when I’m either a. traveling or b. mixing cocktails for a big group of people. Say we’re staying at an Airbnb for a few days – I’d much rather buy something fun and pre-made than bring along honey, sugar, herbs, etc. etc. for a homemade syrup or mixer. And when I know I’ve got a large group coming over, pre-made mixes are my best friend (just don’t tell my friends! 😉 ). There are so many high quality cocktail mixers, syrups, cordials and the like out there now days, it seems criminal that I haven’t written a post on my favorites until now. Below you’ll find all of my favorite cocktail mixers that you can find right at your local grocer or liquor store. Or via my favorite way of procuring items I probably don’t need but nonetheless want, Amazon!

1. Favorite Soda Water | Boylan Heritage Club Soda

This is the clean, crisp soda water I reach for again and again. It also happens to have super sleek, minimalist packaging thanks to the geniuses at W&P Design. Win-win!

2. Favorite Tonic Water | Fever Tree Naturally Light Indian Tonic Water

I love a splash tonic water to finish a gin or tequila cocktail but I just hate the high sugar content. This “naturally light” tonic from Fever Tree has half the sugar of other brands yet still maintains that quintessential quinine punchiness.

3. Favorite Ginger Beer | East Imperial Mombasa Ginger Beer

This is – no joke – the best ginger beer I’ve ever tasted. Not sure if it’s just me, but I find most widely available ginger beers either way too sweet or way too spicy. This East Imperial is the Goldilocks of ginger beers. Tons of fresh, true ginger flavor without being too spicy plus the perfect amount of sweetness. And the best part? That spicy ginger heat lingers just long enough to make you want the next sip.

4. Favorite Margarita Mix | Tres Agaves Organic Margarita Mix

This has been my go-to marg mix for years. I can usually find it at Costco (always a plus) and I love that it uses all natural and organic ingredients. It’s not too sweet and doesn’t have that awful artificial taste that most margarita mixes suffer from.

5. Favorite Bloody Mary Mix | Powell & Mahoney Bloody Mary Mix

I’m not a huge Bloody Mary drinker but this mix is a real crowd pleaser. It provides a great canvas for adding your own personal twist with hot sauces or other ingredients but is also robust enough on it’s own.

6. Favorite Flavored Simple Syrup | Royal Rose Lavender Lemon Simple Syrup

The syrup I make most at home is lavender honey simple syrup, (You may remember seeing me call for it here and here!) but I’m well aware that most folks don’t have the time or the desire to go out and buy culinary lavender to make their own. That’s precisely why I love that I can recommend this brand of syrups for those who’d rather buy something than make it themselves. Royal Rose has tons of incredible flavors beyond the lavender I’ve linked to above and all are made in super small batches. Their Rose is another favorite of mine.

7. Favorite Mixer for Whiskey Cocktails | White Whale Auntie’s Old Fashioned Bold Mixer

Made with youngberries, pear and rosemary, this is an epic ready-to-drink twist on an Old Fashioned. Might want to buy two.

8. Favorite Big Batch Cocktail Starter | American Juice Company Lady Lychee Cocktail Blend

Developed originally for Michelin Starred chefs, this high end cocktail mixer is comprised of strawberries, lychees and rose petals. Simply combine a bottle of this with approx. 750 mL of your preferred spirit and top with soda water for a quick and insanely impressive big batch cocktail!

9. Favorite Shrub | Pok Pok Som Thai Basil Drinking Vinegar

Have you eaten at Pok Pok?! If you haven’t, I recommend you get your ass to Portland, Los Angeles or NYC and do so IMMEDIATELY. Chef Andy Ricker’s authentic af northern Thai food is the stuff of dreams and his cocktail programs are equally as impressive. The fact that his drinking vinegars, or shrubs as they’re also called, are available for at-home consumption is an absolute Christmas miracle.

10. Favorite Elevated Tonic | Jack Rudy Elderflower Tonic Syrup

When you’re looking for a little something extra in your next G&T, look no further. This elderflower tonic syrup is gorgeous and floral without being too cloying. Just mix gin (or vodka) with this elderflower tonic syrup and sparkling water and you’ve got an upscale cocktail worthy of the fanciest dinner party.

11. Favorite “Instant Craft Cocktail” Mixer | Belvoir Elderflower and Rose Lemonade

This beautiful rose and elderflower lemonade from the UK’s Belvoir fruit farms is a serious workhorse. All you have to do is add a jigger of your spirit of choice and Boom! – you instantly have a craft cocktail bar worthy libation at your finger tips.

12. Favorite Wildcard Cocktail Ingredient | Liber & Co. Pineapple Gum Syrup

If you’re a fan of the Tiki movement or Tiki-esque cocktails in general, this is the thing for you! This tropical fruit laden cocktail syrup (it’s 60% fresh pineapple juice!) is a must for mixing up island-inspired classics like a Jungle Bird or putting a fresh spin on Margaritas.

{ What are your favorite store bought cocktail mixers? I’d love to hear. Top image via. }

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Raspberry Rose Hip Gin Lemonade

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One of the products I want to jump into R&D for as soon as we get the distillery open is my own spin on a classic sloe gin! Sloe gin, or sloe gin liqueur as it’s sometimes referred to, is gin that has been allowed to sit with sloe berries for days, weeks or even months. Sloe berries are tiny, very tart (rather unpleasant tasting, actually) berries that grow in hedges all over England. Once the distiller has a finished gin, he or she dumps a whole mess of berries into the spirit and allows them to steep for a period of time and not only do they impart a lovely earthy, tart flavor but also turn the gin a stunning dark cranberry color. Because the sloe berries are naturally tart and rather astringent on their own, a small amount of sugar may be added after the berries are strained out and before bottling.

As you might imagine sloe berries are very difficult to find in the states, however, a few American distillers have managed to either grow, find or import the tart tiny fruit and take their own stab at the British classic. My personal favorite stateside rendition is by Spirit Works in Sebastopol, CA. Their Sloe Gin and barrel-aged Sloe Gin are some of the most successful American takes on traditional spirits I’ve tasted. If you happen to spot either, definitely pick up a bottle! A classic (and probably the most easily accessible) Sloe Gin would be Plymouth Sloe Gin, another excellent choice.

Obviously the Brits were on to something taking a borderline inedible fruit and soaking it in booze to make it palatable, but theoretically the method could be adapted for any type of berry. Sloe-style gin with local San Diego strawberries, anyone?! 😉 Or in today’s post’s case, raspberries! I had a couple gallons or so of a less-than-successful R&D gin run and was thinking of ways I could repurpose it without running it back through the still (to completely neutralize). The only issue with the gin was that the rose hip was overpowering all the other botanicals, but otherwise it was completely drinkable. An underrated flavor pairing – imo – is raspberry and rose, so I decided to dump the pint of forgotten raspberries from the back of my crisper drawer into the rose hip heavy gin and see what happened. Spoiler alert: what happened was delicious and beautiful! And the best part is you don’t have to be a distiller to have your own sloe-style gin at home. Just take whatever gin you have (or vodka), throw in your berries of choice, and let it steep! I let mine go for a few weeks but taste every few days until your desired flavor profile is achieved. More info on the process below.

This cocktail is a seriously delicious way to enjoy any type of sloe gin. The muddled raspberries and lemon juice create the most luxurious layer of creamy foam on top and the color, omg. It’s just so good. Use a traditional sloe gin and this transforms from a refreshing summer cocktail to a rich and complex fall tipple. Enjoy!

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Raspberry Rose Hip Gin Lemonade. Makes 1 drink.

Ingredients:

  • 5 raspberries
  • 2 oz raspberry rose hip gin (recipe to follow), can substitute with your favorite Sloe Gin
  • 3 oz fresh honey lemonade (recipe to follow), can substitute with your favorite store bought lemonade

Directions:

  1. Muddle 4 raspberries in the bottom of a cocktail shaker
  2. Add gin, lemonade and ice.
  3. Shake for ten seconds, strain into a glass over fresh ice
  4. Garnish with remaining raspberry and enjoy!

Raspberry Rose Hip Gin: Gently muddle one 6 oz. clamshell of organic raspberries with a heaping tablespoon of dried culinary rose hips (I get mine my local home brew shop). Add 25-30 oz. of your favorite gin, seal and shake vigorously. Store in a cool dry place for two weeks or longer, shaking daily. When the flavor is to your liking, strain and discard solids.

Fresh Honey Lemonade: Combine 1 cup fresh lemon juice, 1 cup honey simple syrup (1/2 cup each honey and water, simmered over low heat until homogeneous), and 2-3 cups cold filtered water. Stir or shake to combine.

Are you following me on snap?! (@laurakj11)

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Ballast Point Gin & Tonic

Distillerista-Ballast-Point-GT-RTDI first heard canned cocktails were in the works for Ballast Point when I interviewed for a distilling position there years ago. Emotions were mixed upon hearing the news: Canned cocktails? RTDs? In the US? (Traditionally, stats have shown Americans don’t exactly jump for joy re: pre-mixed drinks) I mean I know your Ballast f-ing Point, but you really think you can make that work? #LOLZ… Well guys, they worked. They’re low-key all over grocery stores and liquor stores here in California and to add insult to injury, my local Trader Joes has a whole area permanently dedicated to the colorful 6-packs of all four canned cocktail iterations: Bloody Mary, Rum & Cola, Rum & Ginger and Gin & Tonic. At this point, I think it’s safe to say things are changing on this side of the pond. RTDs (ready to drink, pre-mixed alcoholic beverages) are here to stay stateside and Ballast Point’s entry to the market has done a lot to solidify that. With Labor Day weekend upon us – #RIPWhitePants – I thought it’d be fitting to review one of these cuties for your on-the-go holiday weekend drinking pleasure.

Somewhat unfairly perhaps, I always approach an RTD with caution. I never assume it’s going to be great. This canned G&T was a delightful surprise. Tons of bright, spritz-y effervescence hits you right away thanks to the down right delicious house made grapefruit and elderflower tonic. The gin is there but not nearly as assertive as I like in my G&Ts. After a few more sips, I wanted to pour it over ice and add a shot of my own gin, #sorrynotsorrry. It just didn’t pack enough punch for me. Overall, the flavor and texture are impressive and satisfying. It’s definitely a departure from your classic G&T but I think it’s important and smart for BP to shake things up with the flavored tonic. Excluding the Bloody Mary, all of these cocktail are simple, straight-forward two ingredients cocktails, sans garnish. I mean, isn’t it almost – dangerously so in fact – as easy to pour some gin and some tonic water over ice as it is to pop open a can? By tempting you with that elevated flavored tonic, they’ve given you all the reason you need to give these a try. And in my opinion, you totally should. Just BYO flask of gin, maybe. 😉

Happy Labor Day weekend to all! Xo

p.s. check out my last RTD review: BuzzBoxes

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Cuba Libre

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Artisan bitters, thought of as the salt and pepper to cocktail recipes, are popping up everywhere these days.  Now if you don’t regularly make manhattans or martinis, I wouldn’t expect bitters to be part of your heavy home cocktail bar rotation, but if you enjoy making cocktails at home I highly recommend you pick up a bottle or two! Very much like salt and pepper, bitters have the ability to transform a cocktail. They’re integral to classics like Old Fashioneds and Champagne Cocktails, but they can elevate even the most basic of mixed drinks. A vodka soda with a dash or two of orange bitters is instantly a better, more complex drink.

Because they’re so versatile and transformative, I love experimenting with new flavors of bitters in my cocktails at home. Lime bitters give my Pineapple Vodka Limeades a nice complexity, Classic Aromatic take my Lemon Whiskey Cider cocktails to a whole new level and Black Walnut bitters send this After Midnight nightcap over the edge. But enough about bitters (I swear I’m getting to the point of this post). The reason for the shameless bitters plug is because one of my favorite bitters makers, Hella Company, has branched out from bitters into cocktail syrups and mixers! The guys at Hella were kind enough to send me a couple of their new products, one of which was this yummy craft cola cocktail syrup.

My favorite thing about these new Hella cocktail syrups is that they’re not sickly sweet like some others can be. They’re beautifully balanced by just a hint of – you guessed it – bitter notes! With the perfect touch of sweet, familiar cola-esque minerality, this Hella Cola syrup is no exception. Not overly cloying while still maintaining enough classic cola flavor to stand up to the aged rum. If you think you’ve never had a Cuba Libre, well, you have. It’s a fancy name for a rum + coke. Thanks, Cuba.

Scroll down for the super easy, 3-ingredient recipe and check out my previous Hella collaboration, Hibiscus Greyhounds.

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Ingredients:

  • 1.5 oz dark or aged rum, I like to keep it classic with Havana Club
  • 1 oz Hella Cola Mixer, c/o
  • 3.5 oz club soda, sparkling water or seltzer
  • lime wedge to garnish, optional

Directions: Fill high ball glass with ice, rum, cola syrups and soda water. Stir gently and garnish with a lime wedge.

 

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Thanks to Hella Co. for inspiring this post!

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Bartender Know-How: Cocktail Garnishes

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Speakeasy Co. is back with Cocktail Garnishes 101.

DO NOT OVERLOOK THE GARNISH!

“You eat first with your eyes, then your nose, and then your mouth.”

Yeah, it’s an old saying, but it’s particularly germane this month. And, for the record, we couldn’t agree more. As soon as a dish is served, you’re assessing it without even knowing it. The crust on the steak, the vivid green of the broccoli, plump grains of rice through hot steam. You’re tasting it with your eyes and nose before you ever actually taste it, and a good chef will have you loving the dish before it ever touches your tongue.

Just as it does for food, this holds true for cocktails as well. And this brings us to the garnish.

Garnishes…

As bartenders, there’s nothing that annoys us more than going to a bar and getting a slimy lemon or a gross, browning lime. There’s honestly no better way to tell your customers that you don’t care about what you’re doing than that. Citrus wedges are basic, 101 stuff — appropriate at times, but unimpressive in both sight and smell — and if your bartender can’t do that right, how are you supposed to trust them with an actual drink?

Every time we train a bar-staff, we hit this as hard as we can: garnishes should leap out of the glass. Their job — their only job — is to make the cocktail more appealing. The garnish should smell great, look even better, and get your mouth watering to drink that cocktail.

Most people think garnishes are just what’s in those ugly plastic trays at sports bars: lemons, limes, oranges, olives, and cherries. The truth, obviously, is that anything can be a garnish, especially if you think of them as a way to enhance your aroma, or showcase your creativity, or both.

What’s the coolest or craziest garnish you’ve ever seen? Bloody Marys are famous in this game, as are Tiki drinks. At one bar, Linwood Essentials in Toronto, we’ve seen a cocktail garnished with a love poem, attached to the rim of the glass with a miniature clothespin. It was amazing.

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