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How to Drink: A (Holiday) Instruction Manual – Pomegranate Bourbon Cocktail

This holiday season, while most people relaxed and enjoyed themselves, I was hard at work perfecting what will years from now be looked back on as the perfect Christmas drink repertoire. The way I see it, every self-respecting drinker needs five go-to libations to get them through the five drinking stages of Christmas: (1) pre-Christmas; (2) Christmas Eve Dinner; (3) Christmas Eve After-Dinner; (4) Christmas Morning; (5) Christmas After-Dinner. Serve a little wine with Christmas dinner and this collection of seasonal drinks will guide you smoothly through next year’s “most wonderful time of the year.” I’ve already discussed the perfect pre-Christmas drink, Rye Egg Nog, so lets move on to Christmas Eve . . .

Stage 2: Christmas Eve – Pomegranate Bourbon Cocktail (from Serious Eats)

1/4 oz pomegranate molasses

1/2 oz pomegranate juice

1/2 oz fresh squeezed orange juice

1/4 oz simple syrup

2 oz bourbon

Dash of Angostura bitters

Orange peel for garnish

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add pomegranate molasses, pomegranate juice, orange juice, whiskey and bitters.

Shake vigorously for 10 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass. Gently squeeze together the orange peel to release the oils, then place into cocktail and serve.

For Christmas Eve I chose something appropriate for the season – a warm brown spirit paired with the tart, acidic, and slightly sweet pomegranate. I found the pomegranate molasses used here at Whole Foods, and it adds a unexpected tartness which pairs perfectly with a sweet bourbon. I added 1/4 oz simple syrup to the original recipe, but only to overcome the fact that the oranges we juiced were a bit flat. You might adjust the sugar based on the sweetness of your oranges.

This drink is very nicely balanced. The tartness of the pomegranate works really well with the whiskey, complementing rather than overpowering the bourbon. Definitely a spirit forward drink, but any whiskey lovers should enjoy this complex and subtly fruity winter cocktail.

Coming soon – Christmas After-Dinner: Tom & Jerry

Previous post – How to Drink: A (Holiday) Instruction Manual – Rye Egg Nog

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Law and . . . Bitters?

I’m currently working my way through Brad Thomas Parsons’ new book Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classics Cure-All. Not only does this book tell the fascinating history of this crucial cocktail component, it has some intriguing recipes for making your own bitters at home. Personally, I can’t wait to try to make the apple bitters just as soon as I can find my friendly local cinchona bark retailer.

While I’m overall enamored with this book, the most interesting part so far was this little nugget that my wife found:

“In the case Siegert v. Abbott, the two bitters manufacturers fought over the use of the word “Angostura” in their name (it refers to both an ingredient in the bitters and to the town in Venezuela where they were made). After losing the case, Abbott’s had to change their labels and advertising, while Siegert’s Angostura went on to become the go-to bitters, the Angostura aromatic bitters that’s still around today. Despite the trademark lawsuit, Abbott’s actually survived Prohibition, but due to poor business management the brand dried up in the 1940s, and now it lives on only in memory, and on online auction sites.”

Worlds colliding. Love it. Pick up this book, and watch for some homemade bitters on this blog soon!

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Best of 2011

A few of my favorite things from the year 2011, in no particular order:

1. Eagle Rare 10

What an absolute revelation in affordable bourbon. This became my go-to for an inexpensive but enjoyable whiskey neat in 2011, and I was never let down. The smoothness and complexity of this bourbon evokes a much more expensive bottle, and I’d recommend it highly to any bourbon lover.

2. Willett Pot Still

While a bit more expensive, this whiskey is well worth it for a special occasion. In fact, in October 2011 my groomsmen and I trekked through the streets of Seattle (in the rain, of course) to procure a bottle for pre-wedding imbibing. We succeeded, and sipped on this beautiful bottle while getting ready. Sweet and unbelievably smooth, I always keep my eye out for this whiskey at any bar.

3. Copa D’Oro (Santa Monica)

A true cocktail bar that takes pride in their craft. Strong emphasis on fresh ingredients, creativity, and top of the line spirits. The bartenders are knowledgeable and friendly, and I’ve had some great evenings tasting their craft. They even have Pappy! (occassionally). If you’re ever in Santa Monica make sure to stop by and have a cocktail, you won’t be disappointed.

4. Elements (Pasadena)

I’ve always wanted to become a regular at a bar, and I couldn’t have picked a better place than Elements Pasadena. To me, this place is a true hidden gem, my favorite local bar, and perhaps Pasadena’s best kept secret. My instinct was to keep this place to myself, but the cocktails and the staff are so exceptional that they deserve your adulation. So, I share. Without a doubt, J.P. and Kiera make some of the best craft cocktails I’ve ever had. Not only are they talented bartenders, they are simply great people to share a drink with. Perhaps the thing I miss most about leaving Los Angeles is pulling up a barstool at Elements and having J.P. and Kiera treat me to an evening of whatever new creation they’ve been working on.

5. Boozehound: On the Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits by Jason Wilson

Reading Boozehound opened my eyes to the wider world of cocktails and spirits. Wilson is the spirits writer for the Washington Post, and the book is a great introduction to some of the more interesting ingredients that are becoming increasingly popular with the rise of craft cocktails. Besides compelling anecdotes about drinking aquavitrhum agricole, and genever, the book includes a number of recipes to help develop a taste for these unique flavors.

6. Knee High Stocking Co. (Seattle)

This place is the antithesis to your stuffy, overwrought craft cocktail bar. Enter through the unmarked door into what can only be described as if your best friend made amazing cocktails out of the basement of his house. This place is so relaxed, and the people are so unpretentious, but they still make some of the best cocktails I had all year. Have a glass of the house punch while you peruse the menu, and don’t miss the food if you’re hungry. My groomsmen and I had a blast here on a “last night out” before my wedding.

7. Needle & Thread (Seattle)

This bar was also part of my “last night out” with my groomsmen, and it was quite a treat. Located above Tavern Law and only accessible through an unmarked bank vault door, this bar oozes Prohibition era charm. The drinks were impeccably crafted, creative, and honed to our individual preferences. One of my groomsmen swore they made the best Boulevardier he had ever had. Reservations are a must, but well worth the effort if you’re in Seattle.

8. Campari

2011 could easily be called the year of Campari – I discovered and fell in love with this bitter in the past 12 months. Not only has the Negroni become one of my go-to cocktails, especially in the summer months, I’ve also discovered a slew of Campari based cocktails that I can’t get enough of: Boulevardier (bourbon, Campari, sweet vermouth), Lua Bonita (cachaca, Campari, sweet vermouth), Jasmine (gin, Campari, Cointreau, lemon juice), Old Pal (rye, Campari, dry vermouth). I’m looking forward to discovering new uses for Campari in the coming year.

9. Chateau du Breuil VSOP Calvados

This just snuck on to the list at the close of the year, but it certainly deserves to be here. I’ve wanted to try Calvados ever since reading Boozehound and Jason Wilson’s description of this sublime French apple brandy, and after a delicious meal at Restaurant Nora I ordered a glass for dessert. Unbelievable. Each sip starts with an earthy, funky note, followed by a long finish of soft baked apple sweetness. I’m so glad I finally got a chance to try Calvados, and I look forward to exploring this spirit further.

10. The Society

Everyone needs good drinking buddies, and I have some of the best. With our shared love of whiskey, scotch and cocktails we’ve had more than a few “fantastic” evenings. Thanks for the memories guys, you know who you are.

Bonus: Best Cocktail of 2011 – The Left Hand

Expertly served by J.P., formerly of Elements Pasadena

1 1/2 oz bourbon

3/4 oz Campari

3/4 oz Carpano Antica sweet vermouth

2 dashes chocolate bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

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How to Drink: A (Holiday) Instruction Manual – Rye Egg Nog

This holiday season, while most people relaxed and enjoyed themselves, I was hard at work perfecting what will years from now be looked back on as the perfect Christmas drink repertoire. The way I see it, every self-respecting drinker needs five go-to libations to get them through the five drinking stages of Christmas: (1) pre-Christmas; (2) Christmas Eve Dinner; (3) Christmas Eve After-Dinner; (4) Christmas Morning; (5) Christmas After-Dinner. Serve a little wine with Christmas dinner and this collection of seasonal drinks will guide you smoothly through next year’s “most wonderful time of the year.” So without further ado, I give you the perfect pre-Christmas drink . . .

Stage 1: Pre-Christmas – Rye Egg Nog

Growing up all I knew of egg nog was the rich, syrupy sweet store-bought stuff that always arrived in our house around the holidays. It wasn’t until last year that I discovered the homemade stuff, and now I can’t imagine ever buying another carton. Not only is homemade egg nog delicious, it’s a lot of fun to make, especially when you factor in the anticipation of having to let it age for three weeks. Making a big batch around Thanksgiving and giving it a few weeks mature ensures that you have an easy crowd-pleaser on hand for unexpected guests. It also does the trick to wash away those long stressful days of last minute shopping, or as a boozy treat to help get you in the holiday spirit.

Rye Egg Nog (adapted from CHOW, makes about 1 gallon)

12 large eggs (read this to allay concerns about using raw eggs)

2 cups granulated sugar

1 cup heavy cream

4 cups whole milk

4 cups Old Overholt rye whiskey

1/2 cup Myer’s dark rum

1 cup Korbel XS Brandy

Pinch of kosher salt

Whole or ground nutmeg (for garnish)

1. Separate egg yolks and whites. Combine yolks and sugar in a large mixing bowl and whisk until blended and creamy.

2. Add cream, milk, rye, rum, brandy and salt, then stir

3. Bottle and refrigerate immediately for a minimum of 3 weeks to allow egg nog to age.

I love the spicy bite that using a rye brings to the drink, but if you are looking for something a little sweeter, bourbon will also work well here. I’ve made this with regular Korbel brandy and with the XS, and I prefer the XS for its sweetness. Plus, Korbel is a surprisingly nice bottle for the price. That being said, any quality brandy or cognac will work, and it would be interesting to experiment with some different combinations.

There are plenty of egg nog recipes out there, but the magic of this particular one is the aging. Beware, when you first prepare this and put it in the canister it will taste and smell like pure gasoline – practically unpalatable, all booze, no nuance. But somehow by sitting for three weeks it emerges as a much softer, sweeter, and rounder drink. The boozy flavors are certainly still there (I can attest that a glass of this packs a punch) but without the harshness or burn you would expect from a drink with this much liquor. I like to think of the aging process as rounding out the edges. And while three weeks in the minimum time to age before serving, some suggest aging for 6 months or even a year for maximum effect. Needless to say, this egg nog will keep for a good amount of time, I’m just not sure I’m willing to wait that long.

The egg nog can be served a number of ways. This year we ladled ours into Irish Coffee glasses with some homemade whipped cream and a dusting of nutmeg. The nog also does great on the rocks, but always with a good dusting of nutmeg. And for those of you really trying to ramp up the presentation, whip up 10 egg whites and 1 1/2 cups heavy cream to soft peaks and fold them into the eggnog, topped with nutmeg. Enjoy!

Watch for the How to Drink: A (Holiday) Instruction Manual part 2 featuring the perfect Christmas Eve Dinner libation – The Pomegranate Bourbon Cocktail!

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Porch Swing

I love the idea of incorporating different fresh herbs into cocktails. We all know that muddled mint adds the perfect note to a mojito or julep, and I’ve written previously about the sweet, spicy, and stellar Gin Basil Smash. So when Esquire posted Bartender Wisdom: End-of-Summer Drink Edition I was immediately drawn to Paul King’s Porch Swing. King, head bartender at Calexico in Brooklyn, has used thyme to create “basically a watermelon tequila press. It’s refreshing as all hell, but boozy nevertheless.”

Porch Swing

4  muddled sprigs of thyme

2 oz blanco tequila

2 oz watermelon puree

1/2 oz agave nectar

Stir ingredients and then strain over ice. Top off with seltzer, then serve in a highball glass with chili salt on the rim and a lime wheel and thyme sprig as garnish.

Some notes on the preparation. I made the watermelon puree by blending watermelon chunks until they were liquified. I then strained that mixture through a tea strainer to remove the pulp. For the tequila, I once again reached for the Milagro Silver, an affordable 100% blue agave that is perfect for mixing. And as the pictures clearly show, I omitted the chili salt rim and the lime wheel. Forgive me Mr. King.

This is a refreshing fruit based cocktail that doesn’t try to hide the tequila (another good reason to put some thought into your brand choice to ensure you enjoy your booze . . . no mixto!). The thyme is aromatic but not overpowering, providing a subtle tang to complement the velvety watermelon and tequila. The agave nectar gives this a light note of sweetness without taking the drink to a silly place. This is a well crafted herbal summer beverage that should please any fan of tequila.

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Back From the Dead . . . With Mango Margaritas

The Bar Exam has come and gone. Thanks to a raucous Vegas bachelor party and a leisurely week out of town, I’ve regained some of the sanity I lost while prepping for the world’s worst exam. In the coming months I’ll be getting married, moving across the country, and hopefully getting back to regular cocktail writing. But enough back story, lets talk about drinking . . .

Since I was buried in my study cave for a good deal of this summer, I’ve been trying to squeeze three months of enjoyment into the one free month I have left. This of course means diving headlong into summer cocktails. Since my fiancée and I just got a shiny new blender as a wedding present, the Margarita seemed like a natural place to start. The Margarita is such a simple concoction that is too frequently marred by artificial ingredients. Skip the neon sweet and sour mix and use fresh stuff for a supremely satisfying drink. In this case, I incorporated mangoes for a tropical twist on the classic recipe.

Mango Margarita (adapted from (makes 2 drinks)

1/2 cup silver tequila (Milagro)

1 oz Cointreau

2/3 cup mango nectar

3/4 cup frozen mango pieces

2 oz simple syrup

3 tbsp lime juice

1 cup ice

Blend all ingredients in blender. Add ice to reach desired consistency. Pour into margarita glass.

Interestingly, I was able to get all of the ingredients for this drink at Trader Joe’s. They carry Milagro tequila, which I like as a reasonably priced 100% agave tequila for mixing. As far as the mango, I experimented with both the Trader Joe’s frozen mango halves and pieces, and found that the halves impart much more mango flavor and are preferable to the pieces.

This is a delicious and simple summer drink that is a real crowd-pleaser. The mango flavor is clear but not overpowering, and the drink remains balanced, slightly tart, and not overly sweet. Since I can’t always serve my favorite summer cocktail (Negronis) to guests (their loss!), its convenient to have a reliable alternative that tastes more complicated than it actually is. Cheers!

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