You’re Invited: Summer Pool Party at The Westgate Hotel


For those of you in the San Diego area, I hope you’ll join me for a pool party on Saturday, August 13th at The Westgate Hotel downtown. The Westgate’s rooftop pool is straight up paradise and most importantly, the cocktails will be flowing thanks to resident mixologist Irving Gonzalez. Chef Fabrice Hardel will be serving up French Riviera-inspired dishes (in addition to a poolside seafood and raw bar) and DJ Aleko will be providing all the summer vibes. I look forward to meeting you!

Details and tickets here.

IMG_3619{ My co-hosts, from left to right: Kali, myself, Cecelia and Krystel }

IMG_3823IMG_3811-2{ All photos by Bryan Miller }


Bartender Know How: Using Lemon & Lime to Balance Cocktails

Citrus-Bartender-Know-How-Distillerista{ image via }

Ever wondered why almost every cocktail recipe on the planet (aside from direct, stirred booze-only drinks) calls for fresh lemon or lime juice? Speakeasy Co. has you covered with Citrus 101:

Cocktails, like most things, are all about balance. A great cocktail can take many different forms, but the one thing that unites all great cocktails is a perfect balance.

[Today], we’re going to talk the unsung heroes of the great cocktail; the unsexy, but necessary (and interesting!) supporting cast that enable it to be possible at all.

“Why is it always lemon and lime juice in cocktails? Why not strawberries? Why not do something new?”

This was a question put to me the other day by a novice bartender. Indeed, why is it that for every “shaken and refreshing” drink on every menu in town (as opposed to the “stirred and direct” drinks, with no juice or mixers at all) we always lean so heavily on lemon and lime for cocktail infrastructure?

The answer is deceptively simple, and instructive for anyone trying to make drinks at home: acidity.

Your [palate] can be engaged 5 ways: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and savory (umami), and the use of citrus recruits more of it. You may not be able (or willing) to drink gin on the rocks but you can drink a Tom Collins. The reason for that is because in a Collins, a big loud sweetener (sugar) matches up with a big loud acid (lemon), and their little balancing act provides misdirection for your tongue, essentially distracting you from the fact that alcohol would otherwise burn.

That is, in essence, the secret infrastructure of all shaken cocktails. A balance of two strong, opposing flavors, with alcohol on top of them as flavor.

Sours, as we call them, are the most satisfying drinks in the world. This is the same principle as lemonade and why it’s so refreshing. Have you ever noticed that Coca-Cola is very acidic? It’s because the acid (and the salt) balances the sweetness, and the whole thing is incredibly satisfying to drink. It’s also why coke, when added to rum, makes the bitter alcohol heat go away.

That’s why the majority of your favorite bar’s cocktail menu is devoted to drinks that have lemon and lime in them: because there aren’t many other ingredients that have the acidity required to make a sour. There are some — passionfruit, cumquats, vinegar, and a few others — but none have the versatility of our old friend citrus. Lemon and lime are cheap, and readily available, and they go with everything.

That’s why not strawberries. Not nearly enough acidity.


{ This post first appeared on the Speakeasy Co. (formerly Thirty3Club) blog. }

If you’re looking to test out some sour-style cocktails at home, try my Lavender Gin Lemonade, Blood of the Scorpion or Pineapple Vodka Limeade

Summer Cherry Boulevardier

Distillerista-Cherry-Boulevardier-Header{ DOF glasses | stainless steel cocktail picks }

Nothing says summer quite like the first bags of cherries at the farmers market. I used to hoover through a bag a day as a kid and I have to say, my love for them has only grown stronger as I’ve grown older.

Although cherry season (in North America) begins in April and peaks in June, I’ve been enjoying this cocktail for months now thanks to Leopold Bros. Tart Cherry Liqueur. I use it in place of sweet vermouth in a typical Boulevardier recipe (my favorite whiskey cocktail) and garnish with a cherry or a few blueberries instead of the standard orange peel. These have been my go-to night cap all summer and honestly, I don’t think I ever want to go back to regular vermouth in my Boulevardiers again!

The Montmorency tart cherries Leopold Bros. uses in their liqueur keep the drink from being too saccharine while the jammy quality plays well off the bitter liquor. In effort to keep it all in the family, I used Leopold Bros. Aperitivo, which I reviewed here last week. If you’re wondering, I promise Leopold Bros. is not sponsoring this post in any way! I just happen to be a huge fan and always have at least one of their spirits in heavy rotation.

Given cherry season and my recent obsession with this twist on a classic, I thought 4th of July would be the perfect time to finally share this cocktail idea with you. Can you imagine sitting outside under the stars, watching fire works and sipping on one of these?! Talk about Independence Day #goals. Happy 4th, everyone.

Cherry Boulevardier. Makes one drink.



  1. In a mixing glass combine whiskey, bitter liquor and cherry liqueur. Add ice.
  2. Using a bar spoon stir for 20-30 seconds, keeping the back of the spoon flush with the inside of the glass.
  3. Using a hawthorne strainer, strain liquid into a rocks, DOF or coupe glass (large format ice cube optional)
  4. Garnish as desired and enjoy!


You might also like:

When to Stir and When to Shake

Whiskey Lemon Cocktails for a Crowd

Bartender Know-How: The Essential Bar Tools & Glassware

Product Review: BuzzBox


One of my favorite things to do when I’m out shopping is peruse the spirit aisles at liquor or grocery stores. I like to look out for new products, existing spirits’ branding changes, new marketing campaigns, etc. It’s no secret that craft spirit brands are popping up left and right, but a separate alcoholic beverage category also currently sky-rocketing is the RTD (ready to drink) category. Think pre-packaged cocktails, bottled cocktail mixes, etc. that are specifically designed and packaged to be ready for consumption.

While RTDs are hugely popular in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, it could be argued they’ve never found a stable following in the states. However, thanks to break-out RTDs like Bud Light’s Lime-A-Ritas and SkinnyGirl bottled cocktails, it looks like America might finally be coming around to pre-mixed drinks.

While cruising through a Whole Foods a few weeks ago I stumbled upon these BuzzBoxes. Like most Americans (and certainly most craft cocktail fans), I usually wouldn’t touch a pre-mixed cocktail (in a box, no less) with a ten foot pole. For some reason the cute, compact packaging and cheeky “Shake it Baby!” slogan caught my eye that day and I just had to try them out.

I picked up the Perfect Margarita, Classic Greyhound and Extreme Coconut options but they have eight to choose from including Bloody Mary (couldn’t quite get my head around that one) and Whiskey Lemonade.

Here’s my honest take on each of the three…

Perfect Margarita… This was by far my favorite of the three. Not too sweet, great tequila flavor and the lime didn’t taste fake at all. I could definitely see myself sipping on one or two of these at the beach or packing them for a bike ride/picnic. I was particularly pleased with the strength of the margarita. I expected these to be pretty weak on the alcohol but all three actually had the perfect amount of bite. P.S. I snapped a few chats during this research process. Check it out below and please forgive my v amateur snap skills. More cocktails, cats and shenanigans at @laurakj11 :)

Classic Greyhound… This one was less impressive. Like I mentioned, the overall strength of the cocktail and the vodka flavor were on point but the grapefruit flavor came off as artificial. It also had a subtle but unpleasant aftertaste. I didn’t end up finishing this one.

Extreme Coconut Cocktail… I was optimistic about the simplicity of this one, – just vodka and coconut water – something I’ve whipped up myself before. Again, vodka strength and bite were sufficient. The coconut flavor was more pronounced than I’d expected but I didn’t hate it. I immediately wanted to pour it over ice, splash in some pineapple juice and call it a piña colada! I thoroughly enjoyed this one but in the future, I think I’d rather just mix my own vodka & coconut water.

Although this BuzzBox brand was hit-or-miss for me, the fact that I didn’t gag once has me looking forward to trying out a few more RTD brands this summer. With local brewing & sprits co. Ballast Point (recently acquired for a casual one billion) launching their line of canned cocktails just last year and several distilleries releasing barreled and bottled cocktails, I’m happy to say RTD culture might finally have legs this side of the pond!

What about you, have you tried any of these RTD products? If so, what’d you think? Let me know in the comments!

Distillerista-PR-Buzz-Boxes{ slate coasters }


You might also like:

Blood of the Scorpion

Distillerista-Thirty3Club-Blood-Scorpion-Title{ my favorite DOF glasses }

Who doesn’t love a classic spicy-citrus cocktail combo? They’re sweet and tart with just the right amount of spice. This seriously delicious blood orange & scorpion pepper cocktail definitely hits the mark and was just featured in cocktail subscription service Thirty3Club’s May Cocktail kit. If you’re not already familiar with Thirty3Club be sure to check out my previous post for everything you need to know!

Quick refresher: Thirty3Club is a monthly cocktail subscription service that delivers everything you need to make 4 delicious craft cocktails at home right to your door. (If Blue Apron and Birchbox had a baby, it would be Thirty3Club)




  1. Using the jigger, measure the following and add into the mixing glass: grapefruit syrup, blood orange juice, lemon juice and vodka
  2. Add ice to the mixing glass and place the shaker on top by giving it a firm tap (remember to test the seal). Shake vigorously for 10-15 seconds, allowing the mixture to go from one end of the shaker to the other.
  3. Separate the mixing glass by applying a firm tap where the glass and shaker are no longer flush, then pour the contents, ice and all, (without a strainer) into the rocks glass.
  4. Garnish with a slice or two of blood orange and enjoy!

*To make your own grapefruit syrup, dissolve 1/4 cup of superfine sugar in 1/4 cup of fresh grapefruit juice. Once sugar is fully dissolved, you’re good to go! Store any leftovers in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 3 days.


Thank you to Thirty3Club for sponsoring this post. You can find an instructional video showing how to make this drink and more information about the Blood of the Scorpion’s origins here.

Want your own box? Subscribe to Thirty3Club here.

Spirit Review: Leopold Brothers Aperitivo


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

Product: Aperitivo Liqueur

Distillery: Leopold Brothers of Denver, CO

Category: Italian style Bitter Liqueurs

ABV: 24% or 48 proof

Price: $30

Tasting notes: Plenty of the traditional bitter goodness you expect but softer and more pleasant than Italian favorites Campari or Aperol. Complex and balanced thanks to bright citrus flavor and pleasing floral qualities. Full of flavor and absolutely gorgeous color.

Ideal cocktail pairings: An American Negroni with Leopold Brothers Navy Strength Gin is an obvious choice. I’m also loving it in Boulevardiers at night and Spritzes by day. Try it splashed into my famous gin punch for something unexpected.

Similar products: St. George Spirits has recently released their version of this addictively bitter spirit, Bruto Americano. I haven’t had a chance to try it yet but let’s be honest, when has St.George ever f’ed anything up? Definitely worth checking out.

Final thoughts: A stellar American version of a beloved Italian product. I’m definitely keeping this one in heavy rotation, as evidenced by the half empty bottle above.

3 min read: A Guide to Italian Bitter Aperitivo Liqueurs, Punch.

{ You might also like: Peach Craft Spirits & Guide to American Vodkas }

A Beginner’s Guide to Mezcal: Part 2



Short answer: it’s really that good.

The vast majority of tequila production has, over the decades, become a thoroughly industrial process, with the big dominating producers cutting every corner available in service of making a low-quality spirit that can net their corporation the most amount of money.

To be clear, there are brilliant tequilas being made today by dedicated and passionate individuals all over Mexico, but those aren’t the ones people have heard of. The ones people have heard of are the ones in the supermarket, on which you had that terrible experience in college that still makes you hesitate to drink tequila to this day. As we like to say: there’s no such thing as a bad tequila experience, only an experience with bad tequila.

Enter mezcal, which thus far is relatively untouched by the hungry capitalistic maw. Mezcal yields are measured in hundreds of bottles, not millions of cases. They’re distilling out of clay pots and tree trunks south of the border. In tequila there are only two or three brands that still crush all their agaves with the traditional volcanic stone, while in mezcal that’s the norm. A small minority of quality minded tequila producers still slow-cook their agaves to render the sugars, while literally every single mezcal producer still does.

That’s why mezcal is so exciting. We cocktail enthusiasts want more flavor, not less, and mezcal has a complexity and a dynamic nature that no other spirit can touch. There’s no cheats, no shortcuts, no bottom line nonsense. It’s generations of tradition, hand harvested, packed on burros and walked down mountains to ferment and distill, and completely isolated from marketing budgets and board meetings. It’s been made the same way for hundreds of years and it tastes like the land from which it comes. Artisanal mezcal still has its soul completely intact, and you can taste every single wisp of it in the glass. That’s why you don’t meet mezcal fans so much as mezcal zealots. It’s because we fall in love with it.

FYI: The worm in the bottle was actually never a worm at all, but the larva of a moth that likes to live in agave plants. It is not tradition, but rather added early on as a gimmick. Few distillers continue to do so.

{This post originally appeared on cocktail subscription service Thirty3Club’s blog.}

A few of our favorite Distillerista approved spots to enjoy Mezcal:

Tijuana… La Mezcalera, Misión 19

Mexico City… La Clandestina, La Lavandería, El Bósforo, Hotel Condesa DF, Mercado Roma

Valle de Guadalupe… Deckman’s El Mogor, Finca Altozano

San Diego… Bracero

You might also like: Distillerista Guide to the Valle de Guadalupe & Summer Drink Diary

Bartender Know-How: The Essential Glassware & Bar Tools

 I’m excited to finally present a comprehensive, collaborative guide to the essential bar tools and glassware any home mixologist should have. In partnership with Thirty3Club.


1. Coupes and/or Martini glasses for drinks served up…

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 5.39.08 PMDistillerista tip: Use a coupe anywhere you’d use normally reach for a martini glass. Their curved lip is infinitely better at keeping the drink in your glass and not all over your new suede pumps. Love these from Anthro.

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 5.40.03 PMDistillerista Tip: Yes, the stem keeps your body heat from warming the drink but again, those new suede pumps. Alas, if you’re a fan of the classic conical shape then try a stemless version. Just be sure to hold it from the bottom to keep contents nice and cold!


2. High Ball glasses for tall drinks served over ice…

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 5.40.19 PM

Distillerista tip: These are my go-to cocktail tumblers. If you want a more traditional shape, these are also gorgeous.


3. Rocks glasses or tumblers for short drinks served with or without ice. Also called a DOF, or double old fashioned, glass…

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 5.40.30 PM

Distillerista tip: I’m a big fan of a heavy bottomed rocks glass. Maybe it’s just me but the substantial weight of the glass in my hand makes me feel like I’ve secretly infiltrated some swanky men’s club. Win-win!


4. A mixing glass & shaker tin (or a traditional 3-piece cocktail shaker) for creating cocktails that call for shaking…

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 5.40.38 PMScreen Shot 2016-03-03 at 5.40.55 PM

Distillerista tip: This is my favorite all-in-one bar tool kit including a great Boston shaker-style tin and mixing glass. P.S. Brush up on when to stir and when to shake.


5. A jigger for measuring spirits and other ingredients…

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 5.41.06 PM

Distillerista tip: I used to think I could eyeball everything but once I started using jigger, my cocktails were infinitely better. My favorite basic jigger, here.


6. A muddler & strainer

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 5.41.18 PM

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 5.41.40 PM

Distillerista tip: When using a Boston Shaker you’ll need a Hawthorne strainer (shown above). When using just a mixing glass (for stirred drinks) I prefer to use a julep strainer. My favorite dishwasher-safe muddler.


7. Bar Spoon

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 5.41.50 PMDistillerista Tip: A bar spoon is a must for stirred cocktails like Manhattans and Martinis. Love this rose gold one.


I hope you enjoyed learning about the essential bar tools and glassware for mixing phenomenal, craft cocktail bar-worthy cocktails at home. A couple of other essentials I keep around: a sharp knife, small cutting board, vegetable/fruit peeler for making citrus peel garnishes and a handheld citrus squeezer. Please comment below with your favorite bar tools and glassware!

{This article originally appeared on Thirty3Club’s Cocktail Education Blog}

A Beginner’s Guide to Mezcal: Part 1

Some friends and I just returned from an amazing long weekend in Mexico City and I’ve fallen head over heels in love with the Mezcal culture there. Although I’ve been a fan of the smoky, earthy, agave-based spirit for a while now, experiencing the charm of D.F.’s endless Mezcalerías these past few days solidified my obsession.

Seeing as Mezcal is the darling du jour of the craft cocktail world, I thought I’d share some 101 knowledge on the obscure cult spirit. In partnership with Thirty3Club.

Distillerista-Mezcal-KK{The traditional way to enjoy mezcal: neat, slightly chilled, with an orange slice & chili salt}

What mezcal is NOT:

– Low class tequila
– Made from cacti
– Related to psychedelic mescaline
– Any bottle with a worm in it
– A liquor that will kill you or blind you

So, what is mezcal?

Mezcal is a spirit made in Mexico, from any of the more than 30 different types of agave. The vast majority of mezcals are made from a quick-growing, high-yield version called Espadin (Es-pa-DEEN). Mezcal can be made in one of 8 different states of Mexico, but the heart is undoubtedly the southern, mountainous state of Oaxaca (Wa-ha-ka).

Tequila, on the other hand, is a mezcal, just a specific type (like how all bees are insects but not all insects are bees). Tequila must be produced in one of 5 designated states, with the vast majority coming from the western state of Jalisco, home of the town Tequila. Additionally, tequila must be made from a specific type of agave, blue weber.

How mezcal is cooked

Tequila producers (the good ones, anyway) steam their agaves in brick ovens for 24-48 hours, while mezcal producers dig a pit, and smoke their agaves over underground coals for up to 10 days. This is why most mezcals will have a smoky, sometimes rubbery, or meaty character, in intensities ranging from “oh, that’s interesting” to “OHMYGOD.”

How mezcal is distilled

Almost all spirits in the world are distilled to a high proof, and then watered down before bottling, which makes it smoother and milder. The higher the spirit is distilled, the more flavor is removed.

Mezcal has one of the lowest distillation proofs of any spirit in the world, traditionally between 45% and 52%, and is bottled however it comes out without adding water. Because of this, mezcal is an incredibly — startlingly — full-bodied and character-driven spirit. In other words, literally no effort at all has been made on the part of the distiller to make the product “mild.” They want as much flavor as can fit in the bottle.

What are other sprits distilled to?

– Bourbon ~70%
– Rum ~90%
– Vodka ~97%
– Tequila ~55%

What Does This All Mean For Taste?

Mezcal is an artisanal and dynamic product, that depending on how and from what it is made, can be earthy, smoky, fruity, creamy, or any combination thereof. It is monstrously flavorful, which is simultaneously a barrier to entry for the uninitiated, and the favorite trait of aficionados. Put simply: if it’s your first time drinking mezcal, it will be unusual and a little challenging. But like most acquired tastes, it’s worth it.

Stay tuned for part two next week! Until then, I leave you with this little gem of Oaxacan wisdom…

“Por todo mal, mezcal, y por todo bien también” — “For everything wrong, mezcal, and for everything right, mezcal as well.”

{ This post originally appeared on cocktail subscription service Thirty3Club’s blog // top image via }

Pineapple Vodka Limeade

Pineapple-Vodka-Limeade-Distillerista-2{ high ball glass | glass swizzle sticks (similar) }

Summer is so close I can taste it and the sunnier days have me craving light, refreshing cocktails with a good dose of tropical flair. My ideal concoction these days is anything reminiscent of  a swim-up bar somewhere in the Caribbean and guys, I pretty much nailed this one. These Pineapple Vodka Limeades are the perfect poolside treat and can easily transform into mocktail territory (just hold the vodka), making them a great option for your Memorial Day BBQ, summer baby showers showers or any sun soaked, kid-friendly event. I’ll definitely be enjoying these all summer long.

Pineapple Vodka Limeade. Makes 1 cocktail.

Pineapple-Vodka-Limeade-Distillerista-3{ Cheers! }


  • 2 oz. your favorite local vodka
  • 2 oz. fresh pineapple juice
  • 2 oz. fresh lime juice
  • 1/5 oz. lime honey simple syrup*
  • 1-2 dashes lime bitters
  • splash of good quality tonic water
  • lime wheel to garnish


  1. In a cocktail shaker combine vodka, pineapple juice, lime juice, lime honey simple syrup and bitters.
  2. Add ice and shake vigorously for 10 seconds.
  3. Strain into a collins glass over fresh ice and top with a splash of your favorite tonic water.

*Lime Honey Simple Syrup: Combine 1/4 cup each water and raw local honey in a small sauce pot. Simmer over medium low heat until honey is fully dissolved. Add 2 spent lime halves or the zest of one lime off the heat, transfer to a jar and let cool to room temperature, 30 minutes. Strain into a clean jar and keep in fridge for up to one month.

Extras: For even more tropical flavor, try a spirit infusion! Combine 4-5 large chunks of fresh pineapple and two cups vodka (or rum or tequila!) in a mason jar and store in a cool dry place for a week or more, agitating the jar a couple of times per day. Strain out pineapple when ready to use. Store any leftovers in the fridge.

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{My fave store bought pineapple juice options, from left: Trader Joe’s, Juice Saves, Trader Joe’s}