Podcast Episode: How Starting My Blog Led to Opening You & Yours Distilling Co.

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I recently had the pleasure of being a guest on my friend and fellow blogger, Nihan‘s podcast: The Secret Life of Bloggers. We chat all things You & Yours, Distillerista, and specifically how starting this blog (when I had ZERO idea how to break into the spirits industry) really helped clear a path to where I am today.

Listen to the episode here! Episode 11: Creating An Instagrammable Business, and be sure to follow Nihan over here!

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How We Make Our Flagship Spirits

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I often get asked about our flagship spirits, specifically the fact that they’re grape-based. “Isn’t that technically Grappa, then?” Nope. While I’d highly suggest stopping in for a full distillery tour, the information below is a somewhat abridged version of what I call “Act Three,” of our typical tour program. 

To make our flagship Y&Y Vodka and Sunday Gin, we start with a 172 proof 100% grape-based neutral spirit, i.e. fermented grape “wine” that has been distilled to 190 proof. Side note: Grappa is typically going to be distilled to a lower proof, therefore maintaining more grape flavor and heat, and proofed down very little, if at all. The grape-based neutral spirit makes it’s way to us in 500 gallon totes from a production facility in in Central California, purchased and shipped via a third party wholesaler, UltraPure.

There are a handful reasons we start with grape neutral spirit (more easily referred to as GNS) for these two core spirits…

  1. Vodka and Gin must both be distilled from neutral spirits… Vodka is typically – err, should be – a simple mixture of high proof distillate (another name for GNS) and enough water to achieve the desired alcohol content for bottling. Gin is simply high proof distillate that’s undergone a flavoring process (most commonly a gin basket distillation) and enough water to achieve the desired alcohol content, essentially making Gin a – wait for it! – juniper-flavored vodka. Yep, Gin is really just the OG flavored vodka! Although, if we’re getting picky here, Gin pre-dates Vodka in the history of spirit-making but I digress…
  2. The large production facility where the GNS is made is far more efficient at making GNS than we at You & Yours ever will be. And that’s just a fact. We don’t want to be a factory distillery, which means we’ll never want or need to invest in the type of high volume, continuous distilling equipment or large scale production warehouses that they have. Because of this, they have far larger economies of scale and therefore, increased efficiency when it comes to yield and production than we ever hope to boast. These facts allow them to produce GNS cheaper more efficiently and cheaper than we ever will. Which leads me to #3…
  3. It’s soooooooooo much cheaper than trying to make it ourselves. In effort to extend a reasonable price tag to the consumer, purchasing ready-made GNS is a huge help. The time (labor costs) and resources (raw material costs) it would take me to make the same volume of GNS in house would cost me minimum 2-3 weeks in my production schedule more than TEN times what I pay for it.
  4. These two products are un-aged, meaning they do not spend any time in oak or other barrels before bottling. Therefore, I’m not particularly interested in putting any type of proprietary spin or character mark on the GNS itself. When it comes to vodka, I put my mark on the spirit in a couple of other ways, which we’ll talk about later, and for Gin, the personal touches I’m concerned with come with the gin basket distillation and botanical recipe.
  5. I’m not trying to make headlines for how good I am at making GNS. I want to be known for our gins, specifically, my ability to create flavor profiles and complexity within a spirit using ingredients and various distillation methods. I’m not trying to win any awards for the GNS itself. Not to mention, when 99% of the gin distillers I love and respect are using purchased GNS for their base, I don’t really feel a need to reinvent the wheel.

THIS IS ALL TO SAY, if I do decide in the future to produce a premium or higher-end vodka, a vodka that aims to showcase terroir or a vodka that aims to showcase a single varietal grape distillate, I would then absolutely invest in distilling my own GNS. The same goes for our Old Tom Gin. We recently milled and mashed two batches of 100% two-row malted barley, open-top fermented in house to encourage proprietary yeast, bacteria and funk, then stripped, distilled and now have them snoozing in two used red wine barrels. When it came to our Old Tom, which gets a little hibernation period in oak and relies on the delicious, malty character of it’s base, it was super important for me to start from grain.

Wheeew. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s move on to the distillation process shall we!?

VODKA… pretty simple. We take our 172% Grape GNS, put it in our still and run it through our ten-inch, eight-plate column at a happy medium rate. Not too slow, not too fast. We get rid of the little bit of heads that remain (alcohols or congeners that come off before ethanol), collect the hearts and then – here’s where I start to make some proprietary decisions as distiller – make a pretty late tails cut. This means I wait until we collect roughly 5 – 10 % of the tails (alcohols or congeners that come off after ethanol) before I finish collecting what I’m going to eventually bottle.

The reason I keep a bit of the tails in the allotment for bottling, is that the early tails on this grape GNS have a lovely, creamy vanilla note that has become the hallmark of our Y&Y vodka. This creaminess and luxurious texture add to the spirit’s overall drinkability and perceived quality.

We then run the tails off until they get to about ~40 % and store them separately for a few reasons…

  1. Just incase the batch ends up needing a bit more tails after proofing/sitting, before bottling, to maintain consistency with previous batches.
  2. To add to the next vodka run for consistency in flavor.
  3. To save money! Tails still contain a fair amount of alcohol and ABV = $$.

GIN… same. exact. process. EXCEPT for two differences:

  1. I make an early tails cut so I have a base of straight neutral hearts (I don’t want those creamy, heavier vanilla flavors competing with the botanicals).
  2. The hearts make their way through a gin basket packed with botanicals before re-condensing and being collected. When we’re making gin, we layer our gin basket (a cylindrical perforated-metal tea bag of sorts) first with a thin later cheese cloth, then with our dry botanicals (for Sunday, that’s gently cracked juniper, ground coriander seed and dried rose hips), then fresh botanicals (grapefruit peel, orange peel and mint) then more of the dry (as we want to protect the fresh ingredients as much as possible so they don’t “cook” too quickly). We run the GNS very slowly so as to maximize the flavor extraction from every single little bit of botanicals! Gotta get your money’s worth when working expensive ingredients, but we also want to maximize flavor so we get the very best out of every run.

After that, both spirits will sit in their stainless steel collection tanks, un-proofed, for at least a day or two to settle and off-gas (release any ill-tasting gasses they may be holding on to), before being proofed (reverse osmosis water is added to bring the high proof spirit down the the desired alcohol content for bottling and sale, both of which are a standard 40% or 80 proof). Once a batch is proofed, we’ll let that sit for another day or so to marry and settle again. After that it’s into the bottle! We don’t filter any of our spirits beyond a simple coffee filter-like mesh strainer situation just to make sure no solids, dust or distillery dog hair make it into the final product.

After getting their respective labels and neck tags, they get a quick visual check to make sure everything’s gone on correctly, packed up in cases and either head to the bar for front of house bottle sales or off to our distributor for account delivery! 

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Spirit Review: Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz Gin

 

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Product: Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz Flavored Gin

Category: Flavored Gin

Distillery: Four Pillars Distillery, Australia

ABV: 37.8% or 75.5 proof

Price: fluctuates based on market but typically found between $36 and $40

Tasting Notes: grassy, earthy, tea, chamomile, gentian, bitter

Ideal Cocktail Pairings: My favorite way to use this spirit is in place of Sweet Vermouth or pretty much anytime a cocktail calls for an Amaro. The shiraz grapes give the gin a ton of bitter, tea-like notes that remind me of an Italian-style bitter liqueur so that’s where my mind goes first.

It’d also be an obvious replacement for Sloe Gin in a Sloe Gin Fizz, or in place of whiskey in a New York Sour! I also love just topping it with a splash or two of sparkling water or your favorite Lacroix flavor for a quick and easy spritz.

Similar Products: Sloe Gin and other Gin liqueurs.

Final Thoughts: A really fun product to play around with, with a ton of applications, regardless of season. I’m a huge fan of Sloe Gins and Sloe Gin-style Gins in theory, but have had a hard time finding one that’s pleasantly balanced, so with this Shiraz Gin, I feel like I’ve finally found something within that realm that I actually like.

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Valentine’s Day 2018 Gift Guide

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I’m admittedly not much of a Valentine’s Day fan… I struggle to think of anything less appealing than braving crowds for an over-priced prix fixe menu just to celebrate a somewhat meaningless holiday. Ever since we’ve been together, Luke and I opt instead for a quiet meal and great bottle of wine at home, which is pretty much my ideal date night. However, what I AM a fan of is any excuse for a romantic little gift exchange! Hopefully this gift guide inspires you to treat someone this Valentines Day, fancy dinner reservations or not.

1. Art of The Bar Cart, a gorgeous new coffee table book, photographed by one of my favorite cocktail bloggers.

2. I FLIPPED out when I saw that Hangar 1 released this Rosé Vodka. My bottle just arrived and I can assure you it tastes as gorgeous as it looks, which is really saying something!

3. A GOLD SWAN PUNCH BOWL! Just ordered two for the distillery, but one mayyyyy end up sneaking home with me ;).

4. A teeeeeensy bit of a departure from our usual distilling/cocktail content, but I’ve been LIVING in this FP Bra and you totally need one too.

5. A Distillery Tour, duh. No matter where you live, just search your city and “distillery tour” and I guarantee you’ve got a craft distillery nearby. And if you live in San Diego, come on down to You & Yours!

6. This sweet Cherry Blossom Matcha Set is perfect for your matcha-obsessed bestie.

7. Use Bloody Shiraz Gin (actually a liqueur!) in place of Sweet Vermouth in a Negroni or mix with Berry Lacroix for a fun, low ABV spritz.

8. A chic Rose Gold & Leather Bar Cart – at a great price point, no less – would be the perfect companion gift to idea #1.

9. Heart Shaped Ice Molds are a sweet gift for your co-worker or whiskey enthusiast s/o.

10. Love these Blush Pink Rocks Glasses …or a better yet, grab a set of vintage glasses from local San Diego retailer Collins & Coupe.

11. And last but definitely not least, tickets for two to a Cocktail Making Class! Enjoy expertly made craft cocktails while learning how to whip them up at home yourself on those cozy date nights in.

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My 5 Favorite Spirits for Fall

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I don’t know what it is but as soon as the weather starts to change I develop an absolute aversion to refreshing, effervescent drinks and immediately crave moodier, more direct cocktails, made with warming fall spirits. The five spirits below are the ones I turn to when I want to forgo the spritzy G&Ts and tequila cocktails of summertime and craft a more seasonally appropriate tipple.

Old Tom and Barrel-Rested Gin. As a surprise to absolutely no one, my favorite spirit to drink when temps start to drop is still gin, just different styles! Old Tom Gin, often thought of as the bridge spirit between malty, sweet Genever and crisp, clean London Dry, is a super approachable style of gin that is either a. post-sweetened and/or b. stored for some amount of time in new or used barrels. Several American distillers have also been releasing barrel rested gins, forgoing the somewhat difficult marketing issue of calling them Old Tom gins, seeing as not very many people know what Old Tom Gin is. My favorites from this category are Ransom Old Tom and Spirit Works Barrel Rested Gin. Once you’re familiar with “Barrel Rested” or “Barrel Finished” Gin, I guarantee you’ll start seeing them everywhere!

Peated Bourbon. Bourbon is a go-to any time of year but when the temps drop and there’s a chill in the air, I like to switch it up to something a bit smokier. Peated Bourbon refers to a Bourbon that has a peated malt – heavy mash bill. Meaning in addition to corn, they’ve added some percentage of peated malted barley into their mash and fermentation. The addition of peated malt gives the finished whiskey a bit more richness and smokey flavor than what you would normally find in a textbook Bourbon. King’s County in Brooklyn makes a great version that’s lightly smoky without being over-powering. Aged for at least one year and incorporating just 15% peated malt, it’s a beautiful entry point into the world of peated whiskeys and Scotch whiskeys.

Mezcal. Mezcal is an incredibly complex spirit with strong similarities to Scotch in its smoky qualities. A cousin to Tequila, this agave spirit is made from fermented agave that has been charred, roasted and smoked, as opposed to just roasted or steamed, as is customary for Tequila. The more aggressive cooking methods applied to the agave give the spirit tons of smokey character, making it an incredible addition to cocktails. Enjoying Mezcal straight is very similar to enjoying Scotch straight, in that (in my opinion) – working up to the keyword here – enjoying the experience is somewhat of an acquired taste. Nonetheless, once you get used to Mezcal, you’ll never go back. It has an incredibly rich sense of terroir, more so than any other spirit, which makes you’ll taste wildly varying differences between Mezcals from distillers and producers, just based the region the agave was grown in. Check out my guide to Mezcal here – Part 1 & Part 2.

Sloe Gin. Sloe Gin is another one of those niche styles of gin I turn to when the leaves change! You can read more about sloe gin here, but it’s basically a gin that has been steeped with sloe berries and then post-sweetened, technically making it a liqueur. Don’t let the “liqueur” label scare you, as the natural tartness of the sloe berries negates any cloying sweetness. Enjoy it neat, in a cocktail, as a substitute for sweet vermouth, or even warm! as they do in Scotland. My favorites are Plymouth, Spirit Works, Greenhook, and Boodles.

Spiced Rum. Spiced rum is perhaps the most obvious spirit for the cooler, festive months and I’m happy to say that there are several high-quality, craft options hitting the market these days. Two, in fact, can be found right here in San Diego! Malahat Spiced Rum is an absolutely delicious concoction of warm spices and Liberty Call is made with lots of cinnamon and clove. I like to enjoy Spiced Rum in big batch cocktails, as the spiciness and gentle sweetness are crowdpleasers, making them great for gatherings.

 

What are your favorite fall spirits? Let me know in the comments below! // Top image via.

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San Fransisco Sales Trip!

SF-Sales-Trip-Distillerista-2{ Gin selection at Bitters + Bottles }

With a day to kill before meeting up with a friend in San Fransisco a few weekends ago, I decided to plan a few sales appointments with our California distributor. We’d previously intended to focus solely on San Diego accounts for at least the first few months and had given securing accounts in Northern California little thought. But with a full day to myself and that start-up mentality need to be productive at all times, it felt like the perfect thing to do!

SF-Sales-Trip-Distillerista-1{ THE cutest mini flask of Yellow Chartreuse @ Bitters + Bottles }

First, we hit a few key off-premise accounts, a.k.a. super cool little boutique bottle shops scattered all over the Bay Area. The first one, Bitters + Bottles, in South San Fransisco, was especially cool to visit because the owner had actually visited us at the distillery the week prior while on vacation! I was pretty pleased to be leaving her samples that she could return home to after the rest of her trip, with the experience still fresh in her mind.

SF-Sales-Trip-Distillerista-5{ The shelf of my dreams at Alchemy Bottle Shop }

Second stop was Alchemy Bottle Shop in Oakland. This place had such a clean and airy vibe to it, it reminded me of our own tasting room! Beautiful shelves painted the softest blue really let the bottles of premium spirits pop. I can’t wait to see our product alongside their gorgeous current line-up. Another fun thing about Alchemy is their Gin of the Month Club! Fingers crossed, members may see Sunday Gin as one of their upcoming shipments. 😉

SF-Sales-Trip-Distillerista-4{ Can’t wait to make a batch of Martinis with this! }

Our last off-premise account was a quaint little liquor store in Berkley selling wines, specialty bottled beers and a small but thoughtful selection of spirits. The owner, who tasted on the spot, was incredibly friendly and supportive and raved about what we’re doing at You & Yours. It was such an adrenaline rush to hear that positive of a reaction from someone miles away from San Diego, who had surely never heard of us, but really appreciated both my story and the spirits themselves.  Such a fun moment!

SF-Sales-Trip-Distillerista-6{ Carefully curated spirits selection in downtown Berkely }

Hopefully, Bay Area residents can find Y&Y Vodka and Sunday Gin at all three of the above bottle shops very soon!

SF-Sales-Trip-Distillerista-3{ The perfect Aperitivo cart at Bitter + Bottles }

To close out the day, we stopped by one of my dream accounts, Whitechapel, back in the city. Whitechapel, if you’re not familiar, is a hip cocktail bar in the Tenderloin that focusses on gin, boasting one of the largest selections of gin in the whole country! To see Sunday Gin at Whitechapel, even if just on the back bar alongside all the other gins I love to drink, is a dream come true! Thanks so much to Megan at Whitechapel for the kind words and for helping me check the box on one of my bucket list accounts. :)

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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

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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 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 }

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