Winter Warmer Old Fashioned


Old Fashioned are considered one of the oldest cocktails.  Pretty simple premise: sugar and bitters muddled together with a measure of whisky added.  Now days you will find that Old Fashioneds have evolved to often include an orange slice and cherries muddled with the sugar and bitters.  I find in general Old Fashioneds because of their classic bones are a great cocktail to riff on.  And while we will talk about the classic one at a later date, I found this amazing one right before Christmas that I made a few changes to and can’t help but share it.  The simple syrup may take a little prep, but I promise you it’s quick and makes the house smell of all good things winter.

Winter Warmer Simple Syrup:

1 apple peeled, cored and cubed

handful of walnut pieces

3 cinnamon sticks, smashed

6 whole cloves, or large pinch of powdered

whole nutmeg, or large pinch of powdered

1 cup raw sugar, (dememara or turbinado,  or the heck with it, white if it’s all you got!)

Bring to a boil in a sauce pan, and then lower to simmer for about 20 minutes.  Strain and let cool.  (The leftover walnuts and apples are a delicious snack!)

Winter Warmer Old Fashioned

2 ounces rye, (or bourbon or irish whisky)

1/2 ounce winter warmer simple syrup

4 dashes Reagan’s orange bitters

2 swaths of orange rind

Large ice ball or cube, if available, otherwise a few regular ice cubes

Muddle syrup, bitters and one swath of orange rind in the bottom of a rocks glass.  Add rye and large ice cube and stir. Twist remaining orange rind over the glass and rub the edge with it before using it as a garnish in the glass.

I was reminded of this cocktail by a post by Deb at Smitten Kitchen here:

Her post was based on a recipe by David Mitten which was first published by Imbibe Magazine.  Here is the original link:






Hot Toddies

So after a ‘not as brief as I would have liked’ hiatus, I’m back! And figured early January is the perfect time to talk about hot toddies.  First, it’s cold, like really, really cold. And it is also cold and flu season, for which hot toddies are medicinal.

The traditional, classic hot toddy consists of hot water, lemon juice, honey and booze. There is debate on whether that booze should be whisky, rum or brandy. I personally favor whisky. And I’ll use any whisky, but find bourbon is my favorite.

If you google hot toddy, you will find many many variations. Some people insist you need to add a tea bag to that hot water and use tea as the backbone. Some feel strongly about adding spices, especially cinnamon or nutmeg, perhaps ginger.  You will also find a few alternate spellings, such as totty and tottie.  However, toddy seems to be the most common spelling

I have fallen in love with a variation of the hot toddy that I read about on Joy the Baker’s blog which substitutes half a fresh squeezed orange for the lemon. ( It is ethereal.

So here is the recipe for your (freezing) cold weather enjoyment.

In a mug, squeeze half of an orange.


Add a hefty dose of bourbon. (I don’t measure, but at least 2 ounces.)


Get a big spoonful of honey. (Only you know how sweet you like things, and yes, you can always add more!)


Fill the mug with not quite boiling water and stir with the spoonful of honey.


What I love about this recipe, like most of the cocktails I make, is that you personalize it. You can put in more or less whisky, honey or hot water. The half of orange, fresh-squeezed is harder to alter, but if necessary, that is what the other half is for!

Enjoy and stay warm!



I love margaritas.  I especially love margaritas that aren’t full of all the artificial crap you find in margarita mix.  A classic margarita is both delicious and about 200 calories, which is about the same calorie count as you get when you add tequila to a pre-mixed bottle of margarita mix.

Classic margaritas are based on the 1:1:1 ratio which is the same ratio used in a Side Car and a few other classic cocktails.  It’s a simple one part tequila, one part orange liquor, and one part lime juice.  Now your orange liquor can be triple sec, which is relatively cheap.  My worry about cheap triple sec is that it is likely full of the crap we are trying to avoid in margarita mix, namely artificial flavors.  If you can afford Cointreau, Grand Marnier, Gran Gala or other expensive orange liquors, your margarita will definitely benefit.  However, I’ll be the first to tell you, even with plain old triple sec, these margaritas knock the pre-mixed ones out of the park.  So, let’s get started.

We are going to use a 1.5 oz to 1.5 oz to 1.5 oz measurement today.  (1.5 ounces happen to be the amount of a “jigger”, who knew?).  This makes a nice sized margarita, with 3 ounces of alcohol in it.

Good margaritas really require a bunch of limes and a good lime juicer.


In general, you will need one and a half limes to get 1.5 ounces of juice, but that depends on the limes.  You will also need a little left over for garnish and salting the rim.


To get the perfect salt rim, use kosher salt spread on a plate.  Rub the rim of the glass with a wedge of lime and then dip into the salt.  And voila!  A beautiful salted rim!


Fill your glass with ice.  Add your lime juice, triple sec and tequila to your shaker with some ice.  Shake until the outside of the shaker is frosty, and strain into your prepared cup.  The key to margaritas, as it is with all drinks, is to tweak the recipe to your tastes.  If you are used to pre-mixed margaritas, I recommend upping the triple sec to make this a little sweeter.  If you like them tarter, more lime juice can be added.  And if, you like a stronger margarita, use more tequila.

If you do have a bottle of Grand Marnier sitting around but don’t want to use it up in margaritas, here is a secret to the best tasting margaritas I have made.  I often use relatively cheap tequila, regular old triple sec, fresh lime juice, mix as usual, pour over my rocks, and then pour a “float” of Grand marnier on the top.


A float is a fancy word for gently pouring a liquor on the top of a drink so that it “floats” on top.  The best way can be to pour it slowly over an upside down spoon held over the drink.   Grand marnier floats causes the margarita transcend its relatively lower end ingredients to become way more than the sum of the parts.


Manhattans, or why I don’t hate Fall (so much)


I welcome fall kicking and screaming. I love summer and actually enjoy fall, but I know fall portends of winter. Fall is a season I used to love, but as I get older, the grumpy old lady comes out in me. I hate, in no particular order, the cold (especially when there is a bitter wind when I walk to work), the difficult of driving in snow, and the astronomical amount of money I spend on fuel oil.

The good news of the night’s cooler weather is that it is once again Manhattan time. Now, I know there are people out there who contend that Manhattans, even all cocktails, can be consumed any time. I disagree and would argue that summer calls for sangria, gin and tonics, and icy cold beer. And I am not against all whiskey cocktails in the summer. A good whiskey sour is on my list of all time best summer sippers.

However a Manhattan is a heavier drink with richer, more complex flavors and it is why I don’t hate the colder nights coming on.  It warms you going down and lingers with a strong finish.  If your only experience with Manhattans comes from pre-mixed bottles of it from your youth or from ordering it at your local sports bar, please give it a second chance.  The Manhattan is a drink that really needs quality ingredients to shine.  And a bad one isn’t worth drinking.

A Manhattan is made with three ingredients, either rye or bourbon, sweet vermouth and bitters.  The choice between rye or bourbon is a personal one.   And while I wouldn’t use my good sipping $80-a–bottle, Whistlepig rye in a Manhattan, I have used 10 year ryes in my Manhattans, and I will tell you why.  As opposed to whiskey sours in which the lemon juice and simple syrup have such a strong presence and obscure the nuances of a high-end aged whiskey, Manhattans are very balanced with the individual flavors shining through.  Now, that said, use what you have, I mostly make mine with a $25-$30 bottle of rye or bourbon and am very happy.  (For those looking for some advice on where to start, I recommend Redemption or  Rittenhouse rye and Buffalo Trace or Eagle Rare bourbon).  But here is what I will also tell you, my very favorite, top-of-the-line cocktail bars use Old Overholt as their house rye.  It is cheap, but their drinks are amazingly good, so don’t let price keep you from buying a bottle of rye. For well under $20, get Old Overholt for your mixed drinks.

Sweet vermouth, however, I have a very strong opinion about, and for me, it makes or breaks the cocktail.  Antica Carpano is an imported Italian sweet vermouth.  It is definitely WAY more expensive than the cheap ones you will find at your average liquor store.  I am blessed with an amazing liquor store with people who really know cocktails. When I went to buy my first bottle, “Nate” told me Antica Carpano was the only way to go and he promised, at $40 for a liter bottle it would be well worth it.  It is a sweet vermouth that you can also drink as an aperitif while you are cooking dinner, by throwing it in a wine glass with ice, a splash of soda and an orange twist.  An $8 bottle of sweet vermouth would never be drank straight, take my word for it.  The good news is that it will last you for quite a while.

The bitters are where the fun/creative part of Manhattan’s comes in.  Everyone has heard of Angostura bitters, and they are fine in the Manhattan.  But if you want to elevate your Manhattan to an ethereal plane, buy orange bitters.  And even within orange bitters there is variation.  And if you do a side-by-side comparison of Manhattans made with Reagan’s orange bitters to Manhattans made with Fee Brother’s orange bitters, you will definitely note a difference.  Reagan’s has more “bitter” to it, while Fee Brother’s has more orange flavor.  I have read recently about vanilla bitters, and if I can get my hands on some, I promise you, I will test it out and see if it is as delicious with vanilla bitters as it seems it would be.

The last important thing you need is a good sized swath of orange peel for a garnish.  Use a vegetable peeler and peel a good sized wide piece, being sure to avoid as much of the white pith as possible.  Take a sip of your Manhattan before you twist the orange rind over the drink, and then after you have given it a good twist to spray a light layer of orange oil over the top of your drink.


Okay without further ado/lecturing here is the recipe:

Fill a shaker or jar partway with ice


2 ounces of rye or bourbon

1 ounce of sweet vermouth

3 dashes of orange bitters

Shake vigorously and strain into a coupe glass, martini glass, (small wine glass, whatever you’ve got!)

Twist a good-sized swath of orange peel over top of the drink and then use as a garnish.

Basil heaven, otherwise known as a Basil-Gin Smash

So next time you go to the farmer’s market or to your garden, if you are so lucky, grab some extra basil.  Taking a page from the whiskey sours I posted last time, we are going to do something similar but with gin and with the addition of fresh basil leaves.  This is a great indian summer drink and a wonderful way to use up some of that fresh basil you have hanging around.

If you have a favorite gin, then, by all means use it.  I have happened upon Boodles, which is relatively cheap and works for me.  I occasionally buy more expensive gins when I want to experiment and feel a little flush.

As this drink, like the whiskey sour uses simple syrup, I’m going to use this blog as an excuse to talk a little more about simple syrup.  So simple syrups are 1 part white sugar to 1 part water.  You throw them both in a sauce pan and heat to a boil, stirring occasionally.  And then remove from the heat and let cool.  You are basically just dissolving the sugar in the water.  I keep mine in a sterilized, (read: went through the dishwasher) recycled glass peanut butter jar in the refrigerator.  I have found it will last well over a month that way.  If it is clear and smells fine, it is fine.  There are plenty of variations on simple syrups including “rich” simple syrups and flavored/infused simple syrups which I can’t wait to talk to you about soon.

So along with the gin and simple syrup, the other ingredients for our drink today are fresh lemon juice and 5-6 basil leaves per drink.


Basil-Gin Smash

(recipe kindly shared by the Esquire Tavern of San Antonio)

Partially fill a shaker or clean jar with ice.  Add:

5-6 whole basil leaves*

2 ounces of gin

3/4 ounce of fresh lemon juice

3/4 ounce of simple syrup (see recipe here)

Put lid or top on shaker and shake ingredients hard for 20-30 seconds.  Strain into a chilled coupe/martini/wine glass.

The drink will have a beautiful basil-green hue to it.  Add a garnish of a fresh basil leaf.

* Note that you are not muddling the basil a la a Mojito, it will ruin the drink to do that, let the ice smashing up against the leaves pull the flavor from the basil for you.  

Clean eating meets craft cocktails

Like many people, over the lastDSC02879 few years or more, I have found myself cutting out processed food, eating local grown produce and generally invoking higher standards on my dining.  And while I have always bought pretty good booze, (otherwise what’s the point), I had never carried over these principles to my drinking.  I bought pre-made margarita mix and sour mix right out of the grocery store.

And then one day, as I went to mix a whiskey sour, I realized the sour mix was full of chemicals, and it tasted lousy.  A little online searching found some super easy three-ingredient recipes for homemade sour mix.  And that was my entree into craft cocktails which are simple whole ingredients mixed in alluring combinations to make delicious cocktails unsullied by preservatives and artificial flavored crap.

And so I give you the first cocktail I started making from scratch, the Whiskey Sour.  First, the liquor.  I use Irish whiskey or rye (which technically makes it a rye sour) in my sours.   I am a believer in having ‘house’ liquors, sort of like having house wines.  My ‘house’ whiskey is Jameson’s and my ‘house’ rye is Redemption.  You can also use any good quality whiskey or rye however.   Next the sour mix.  Sour mix is basically simple syrup mixed with lemon juice.  The simple syrup is simply sugar and water heated together to make a syrup.  I use regular cane sugar in mine.  If you prefer not to, you could use raw sugar, which will deepen the flavor a little.   Lastly, you need lemon juice.  Fresh squeezed lemon juice really does make a difference.  And fortunately, lemons are available all seasons and never cost that much to buy.  The traditional garnish is a maraschino cherry.  Please for the love of god, do not ruin this beautiful cocktail with a regular artificially colored and flavored maraschino cherry.  In specialty stores you can find Luxardo maraschino cherries, imported from Italy, they are cherries preserved in sugar syrup.  If you prefer to make your own, you can soak some fresh or dried cherries in bourbon, overnight or for a few days, and use those.

Whiskey Sours

Partially fill a cocktail shaker or clean jar with ice.


2 ounces of whiskey or rye

0.75 ounces of lemon juice*

0.75 ounces of simple syrup*

Shake and strain into a coupe or other “up” cocktail glass.  It can also be served over ice in a highball glass.

*The ratio of lemon juice to simple syrup is a very personal thing.  After tasting the drink, if you prefer it sweeter or more sour, add simple syrup or lemon juice to your taste.  You can just toss the whole thing back in the shaker, add your ingredient, reshake and strain.

Note: You can make this a stronger drink by using 2.5 ounces of whiskey.  You can make it lighter by topping it with some seltzer water.