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 ūüėČ

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. vodka,¬†white rum,¬†brandy¬†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 ūüėČ
  • 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. ūüėČ 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.

Distillerista-Product-Review-RSVP-Skinnies-Cocktails

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.

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.

img_2498

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.

img_2507

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

img_2501 img_2508 img_2502 img_2504

 

{ Photos by Caroline Potter }

My New Favorite Cocktail Ingredient

img_2462

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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Spirit Review: Woody Creek Gin

img_2464 { Woody Creek Gin c/o }

Product: Woody Creek Gin

Category: Juniper-forward American gin

Distillery: Woody Creek Distillers of Basalt, CO

ABV: 47% / 94 proof

Price: $36

Tasting Notes: Unabashedly juniper-forward with fleeting notes of citrus and lemongrass. Reminiscent of a London Dry but the use of fresh orange, lemon and lime keeps it modern.

Ideal Cocktail Pairings: For London Dry lovers, this will please in just about any application. I prefer masking the overwhelming juniper just a touch by pairing with bolder flavors, such as yuzu, pomegranate or something of the like.

Similar Products: Aviation and Brooklyn are both modern American gins with a strong juniper presence and fresh citrus elements. I would, however, say that neither rival Woody Creek in terms of the level of juniper strength.

Final Thoughts: Although a slightly stronger juniper flavor profile than I prefer, I’ve enjoyed mixing it (equal parts) with Sloe Gin to lighten both the juniper notes and the alcohol content. Just add some tonic, soda or even lemonade! If you don’t have Sloe Gin, try mixing 1 oz Woody Creek Gin with a half oz of your favorite liqueur and top with soda water for a simple and low sugar cocktail. All in all, London Dry lovers will adore this and any gin lover is sure to get a kick out of it’s brash piney-ness. A worthy buy all around.

img_2458 { Try this Yuzu Gin Sour with Woody Creek Gin }

Past Spirit Reviews:

All photos by Caroline Potter.

Yuzu Gin Sour

yuzu-gin-sour-distillerista

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 fris√©e and preserved lemon a√Įoli 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!

img_2453

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.

Spirit Review: Cobble Ridge Grappa Moonshine

img_2481{ Grappa Moonshine, c/o Cobble Ridge Artisan Distillery }

Introducing a new series, Distillerista Spirit Reviews! All spirits featured in this series are products I’ve personally purchased/acquired unless stated otherwise.

Product: Grappa Moonshine

Category: unaged grape-based spirit

Distillery: Cobble Ridge Artisan Distillery of Bangor, CA

ABV: 80 proof / 40% ABV

Price: $50

Tasting Notes: Fruit-forward and floral. Full-bodied. Pleasantly sweet and smooth.

Ideal Cocktail Pairings: I can’t say I have a soft spot for Grappas or Moonshines, so I’m choosing to approach this spirit as a grape-based vodka. I happen to love grape-based vodkas and this spirit would certainly fit well in any vodka cocktail application. A few of my favorites are my pineapple vodka limeades, simple but elegant vodka sodas and hibiscus greyhounds. I also specially created this¬†Grape and Basil Smash to highlight and enhance the flavor profile of this Moonshine, so definitely check that out.

Similar Products: As I mentioned, I would most accurately compare this to a grape-based vodka such as Hangar 1 or Ciroc. You will also find several similarities among this spirit and unaged grape brandies.

Final Thoughts:¬†A well-crafted and enjoyable spirit. It definitely opened my eyes in terms of what assumptions I make internally when I hear “Moonshine,” or “Grappa.” This product has taught me not to judge a spirit by it’s category.

Be sure to check out Cobble Ridge Artisan Distillery if you ever happen to be in the Sacramento area!

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{ Basil Grape Smash feat. Cobble Ridge Grappa Moonshine }

Past Spirit Reviews:

All photos by Caroline Potter.