Powered by Squarespace


Hot Toddy Time

Okay, so in the interest of full disclosure I have lived in Northern California now for 15 years.  We don't get those kind of cold nights that make people wear snuggies or write songs about sleigh bells.  But I spent the majority of my liMmmm... BUTTER!fe living in places that were cold as hell, so I grew up around men and women that made regular use of the tot toddy to warm themselves after shoveling their driveway (or ice fishing or curling, etc.). 

At its core, the toddy is a very simple drink.  Pick a spirit, add some hot water and some sweetener - and by gawd you have got yourself a hot toddy.  The trick here, as you may have guessed, is to make it taste good.  Luckily for us, each Winter a lot of good folks put forth the effort to do just that.  

As Northern California endures yet another Wintry night where the temps have sunk into the 50s, I thought that I would list out my three favorite hot toddy recipes.  Here goes...


Hot Buttered Rum
Adapted from David Wondrich's fine book Imbibe!

2 oz. Demarara rum (substitute Jamaican rum if needed)
1 oz. apple cider
1 tsp. granulated sugar
1 dash ground allspice
1 dash ground cloves
1 thin slice (say 1/4 tbsp) unsalted butter
3-4 oz boiling water

Place the sugar and spices into a small tea or coffee cup.  Add the rum and cider and stir.  Drop the thin slice of butter into your cup, top off with the boiling water and serve

Now THAT is a perfect Wintertime warmer!  What's not to love?  The sweetness of apple cider with the brown sugar character of a Demarara rum.  Allspice.  Clove.  BUTTER!  


The American Hot Toddy
Liberty Bar - Seattle, WA 
Courtesy of the Nov/Dec 2013 issue of Imbibe Magazine

2 oz. Laird's Applejack
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 oz. simple syrup (1:1 sugar and H2O) 
1/2 oz. Lemon Hart 151 rum
1/4 oz. St. Elizabeth's pimento (allspice) dram
4 dashes orange bitters (I prefer Fee Brothers here for its cinnamon and herbal qualities)

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and heat to a boil.  Serve in a mug.  I personally chose to add a dash of nutmeg or possibly cinnamon on top.   

I like this drink primarily because I am a huge fan of pimento dram.  I love the warm, allspice flavor alongside the cidery sharpness of the hot applejack.  The extra kick from the 151-proof rum is enough to win me over.  A strong drink sufficient to stand up to even the worst night New England can muster.  


Apple Toddy
Adapted from David Wondrich's fine book Imbibe!

 2 oz. Laird's Straight Apple Brandy (bottled in bond)
1 tbsp. granulated sugar
1/2 oz. apple cider (optional)
1/2 of a baked apple (see below)
3-4 oz. boiling water
grated nutmeg (as garnish) 

Place the sugar in a heated tea or coffee cup.  Add a splash of the boiling water and stir to combine.  Add the brandy and the rest of the ingredients, stir some more.  Top with the rest of the boiling water and serve with the grated nutmeg garnish.  


Baked Apple
Peel and core an apple.  Cut the apple in half and wrap in a wet brown paper bag. Place in an oven at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes until it is completely soft.  

Be sure to check on the bag frequently - if it gets too dry in the oven it can catch on fire.  

 This one takes a little bit of forethought - what with the baked apple and all - but it makes up for it in the finish.  Thinner and slightly more astringent than the buttered rum drink above, this one is for you if you are the old-school type that wants his warm brandy without all those hoity-toity spices and stuff.  This one takes me back to Bangor, WI circa 1993, watching my friend's dad Bob tipple on a toddy before heading down to the lanes for a few frames (of course I never partook - I was underage).

Now where do you suppose them walleye are biting this time of year?



Broken Saddle

I have long been a big fan of Pizzaiolo over in Oakland.  As I wrote about here, they were a big part of the reason that I got into cocktails back in the day.  They serve amazing food and drink at both their original location and at their sister spot, Boot & Shoe Service.  

Mrs. The Ace and I were at Pizzaiolo a few weeks back and we were both delighted with this little ditty from their current menu.  The fresh bite of the lemon is offset nicely by the smoky essence of the tequila and the bittersweet quality of the aperol & carpano.  And as usual the server was kind enough to jot down the proportions for me to dabble with at The Ace!

The Broken Saddle
Pizzaiolo Restaurant, Oakland, CA

1 oz. tequila blanco (or subsitute reposado if you like a little smokier flavor)
1/2 oz. aperol
1/2 oz. carpano d'antica
3/4 oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice 
tonic (use Jack Rudy tonic syrup + sparkling water if at all possible - see below)

Mix all ingredients except tonic in cocktail shaker with ice.  Shake and strain into a tall collins glass over ice.  Top off glass with the tonic water and serve.  

Please, PLEASE try looking online or around your neighborhood to see if you can score a bottle of Jack Rudy tonic syrup for this (or any other) cocktail in the place of traditional tonic water.  You just pre-mix a simple ratio of syrup to sparkling water in advance so that you have a mixture to top off your drink when complete.  The Jack Rudy syrup combines the slightly bitter quality of quinine alongside a little bit of sugar and lemongrass and orange peel.  This stuff blows away your Mom and Dad's Schweppes tonic, folks...  

There you have it.  A complex little cocktail.  I recently served this drink at a party and it was a definite crowd-pleaser.    

A special thanks to the folks at Pizzaiolo for their willingness to talk cocktail shop with their patrons.  If you're in their neighborhood, stop by and check them out for yourself.  


Kicking off the Holiday Season Right

Thanksgiving sits smack in the middle of the cocktail desert.  I mean, let's face it - by this time I have packed away the Mai Tais and Margaritas for the Winter.  There won't be a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables here in California for several months (er, kale-infused daiquiri, anyone?).  And at this point I am sick and tired of flopping the past several years at Holiday Parties with old-school holiday go-tos like Hot Buttered Rum, Tom & Jerry and mulled wines.  

Disclaimer - these are actually really good drinks.  But every year my Holiday partygoers try them, make those "Oh, that's good," faces and inquire as to the location of the nearest bottle of wine.  Then it's just me at the bar drinking my own kool-aid, so to speak.  sigh...

Apple, cinnamon, butter, whiskey... What's not to like?So this year I tried something completely different.  I went mainstream.  I went to the bookstore and picked up the December issue of Imbibe magazine.  They asked around to a series of barkeeps around the country and came up with a number of Holiday cocktail recipes inspired by Winter flavors.  I went straight off the page and mixed in three or four of the cocktails from Imbibe alongside a few of my go-to whiskey drinks, and you guessed it, found myself busy making cocktails at this year's Holiday Party instead of drinking them.  

A special shout to Robert Ortenzio of Yardbird Southern Table & Bar in Miami, who is credited with this crowd favorite.  Next time you are in Miami, look him up and thank him for me!

The Spiced Apple
December 2012 Issue of Imbibe Magazine 
Thanks to Robert Ortenzio, Yardbird Southern Table & Bar, Miami, FL

1 1/4 oz. spiced apple bourbon (see below)
3/4 oz. chardonnay
1/2 oz. unfiltered apple juice (cider can work in a pinch)
1/2 oz. cinnamon syrup (see below)
3 dashes orange bitters

Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake until chilled - 15-30 seconds. Place a large-format cube of ice in a rocks glass.  Strain drink into the glass and garnish with a very thin slice of apple.    

This drink was advertised as apple pie in a glass - and I have to admit that this description hits pretty close to home.  The spiced bourbon recipe is fragrant and delicious, and the chardonnay delivers an amazing buttery quality to round out the drink.  A really amazing cocktail here.

Spiced Apple Bourbon

1 liter bourbon 
4 Gala apples (go with what you can find locally, but Gala really did the trick for me)
2 whole star anise
4 whole cloves
6 cinnamon sticks

Core and cut each apple into 8 pieces.  Combine all ingredients in any sealable container, cover and let rest at room remperature for 24 hours.  

Don't go crazy or anything on the bourbon.  I used Old Fitzgerald with outstanding results.  Go with whatever apples you can find locally, but I used Gala apples in this instance and they imparted an amazing apple finish to the bourbon.  I used pair of large mason jars to age the bourbon infusion, placing half of the recipe in each jar.  

Cinnamon Syrup 

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
4 cinnamon sticks, broken into large pieces

Bring ingredients to a boil over medium heat.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.  Remove from heat and allow cool & steep.  Discard cinnamon sticks and strain into a glass jar or squeeze bottles for use.  Store refrigerated for ~2 weeks.  


A Tiki Drink for the Ages

As those that have read this rag for any period of time already know, The Ace is a lover of the Tiki cocktail.  And as a resident of Oakland, that means that The Ace loves to hang out at Forbidden Island in Alameda.  Oh sure, The Ace will occasionally darken Trader Vic's door in Emeryville (just for nostalgia's sake) or that of Kona Club on Piedmont Ave. (in theory at least I could crawl home from the joint).  But there's no beating Forbidden Island for legit Tiki drinks made the way they were intended to be - served in an awesome retro oasis complete with wall-to-wall Tiki kitsch.  

Years ago The Ace was perched at the bar on the Island when I found myself face to face with a drink that had been a winner in a customer recipe contest.  Rich with the warm spice of grapefruit and cinnamon, this cocktail still retained a strong, reassuring kick in the butt from its rhum spirit. This was one amazing drink.  

As luck would have it, the creator of this fine drink was a fellow cocktail blogger, so I was able to add this fine cocktail to The Ace Saloon's stable of Tiki drinks.  A special thanks to Craig Hermann of for creating his Gantt's Caipirissima cocktail and for graciously sharing the recipe on his fine site.  You can click here to see Craig's original post about this cocktail.  

It is really fascinating how well cinnamon and grapefruit work together in this and in many other cocktails. This combination is a remnant of one of the true legends of the Tiki genre - Donn Beach.  Donn (born Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt) is most famous for his showmanship and his chain of Don the Beachcomber bars/restaurants - but he was a genuine cocktail innovator as well.  He created countless code-named mixes which were used in many of his bar's cocktail recipes.  These pre-made mixes doubled as mixology time-savers and also as a way of masking the cocktail ingredients from patrons as well as bartenders (which were prone to be hired away by competitors) in the cutthroat world of Tiki in the 1950s.   

One of the most famous of these mixes was simply named "Don's Mix."  It was comprised of 2 parts grapefruit juice to 1 part cinnamon-infused sugar syrup.  This simple, unlikely combination of flavors make give this drink its outstanding qualities and make it a true crowd-pleaser for any setting.   

Gantt's Caipirissima

2 oz. Rhum Agricole* 
1 oz. cinnamon simple syrup (see below)
1/4 white grapefruit** - cut into 3 to 4 pieces

Muddle the grapefruit and the cinnamon simple syrup in the bottom of a double old-fashioned glass.  Add crushed ice up to 3/4 of the height of the glass, then pour the rhum over the ice.  Stir to mix the drink and serve with a cinnamon stick garnish.  

* Clement VSOP is optimal, but I have used La Favorite Rhum Vieux with success.  In a pinch (and when hosting larger parties) I have even substituted Rhum Barbancourt 8 in the place of the Agricole Rhum.  This is clearly more than a little sacreligious, but this makes for a great "well" version of this cocktail when you are serving 50-75 of these drinks per night, and it is still a huge crowd pleaser even in its well variety.

** White grapefruit is clearly preferred over the ruby red variety in this drink.  Here in California that limits this drink to a wintertime cocktail - when the famed Oro Blanco becomes seasonally available.  Trust me - it's worth the wait... 

Cinnamon Simple Syrup

2 parts granulated cane juice (sugar)
1 part water
3 cinnamon sticks, crushed

Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan.  Add the sugar and stir to combine.  Add the crushed cinnamon sticks to the syrup and lower heat, allowing the syrup to simmer for 2-3 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow the mixture to cool for around 2 hours.  Once cool, strain to remove the cinnamon and pour into a squeeze bottle for storage.  Syrup will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator.


Barrel-Aged Cocktails

Some months back I had read this great post from Jeffrey Morgenthaler's great blog about aged cocktails.  The notion of taking an already delicious cocktail and stuffing it into a used whiskey or wine cask to age for about 6 weeks - making the cocktail even better - really had me hooked from the start.  And of course watching this video didn't help matters in the least.  I was hooked.  I HAD to figure this cocktail aging thing out for myself... 

Having finished my first batch last week I can attest that barrel aging a cocktail creates an absolutely amazing result.  My barrel-aged Negroni is soft and voluptuous, the charred oak removed any rough edges normally associated with gin and Campari, replacing it with a full-bodied richness and a smoky, almost sweet finish.  And now I have several bottles of the stuff lining my liquor cabinet - enough to last me for maybe as much as a year. Even here in the cocktail Mecca that is San Francisco Bay Area an aged Negroni cocktail is hard to find - I have a virtually unlimited supply of one of my new favorite drinks.  And come time to entertain guests I now have a guaranteed money drink at my disposal, one that is sure to leave my guests talking.  If you are a cocktail enthusiast, a home-brewer of beer or even a foodie with a yen for alchemy it may be worth giving barrel aging a shot.  

Note to the intrepid home mixologist:  As it turns out, the process of making barrel-aged cocktails can be quite expensive and time-consuming.  Unless you are a hard-core cocktail person (endowed with a strong dose of patience) this may be an endeavor best left to bars that have the foot traffic to use - say - 6 gallons of cocktail. 

So if you're still reading, I'll stop mucking around and get down to it.  Here are some of my production notes and the recipe for a lovely barrel-aged Negroni.  Stay tuned for more adventures with a barrel-aged Trident and possibly a Martini.  

A Few Words About Barrels

Hurry up Negroni... The Ace is thirsty!I followed Mr. Morgenthaler's advice and purchased my barrel from the guys at Tuthilltown Spirits in New York.  I was able to get a 6-gallon barrel that had formerly held bourbon whiskey for ~$125 plus shipping.  It is very important that you find a quality barrel for your process.  For my aged Negroni I wanted a barrel that had been flame-charred and then had stored bourbon (or rye) whiskey for a number of years.  And you want to get the barrel directly after its primary purpose as a whiskey storage vessel has been completed.  You obviously don't want a barrel that has been drying out in someone's back forty for the past couple of years, and you certainly don't want the barrel your Uncle Cooter has been using as his card table for decades.  

I spent a lot of time over the Summer months looking for other suppliers for barrels and could not find any other sources for whiskey-cured barrels. I even spoke to the folks at the Buffalo Trace distillery in Kentucky to see whay more distillers don't sell barrels to bars and other mixologists. It seems that many distillers sell their used whiskey barrels to lower-cost whiskey producers (Think Jim Beam and Canadian Club) to be recycled aging their whiskey products.  As a result whiskey barrels are pretty expensive and a bit hard to find. 

That said, the barrels are recyclable - so you may not need to buy more than one to be used on multiple projects.  Now that my Negroni aging process is finished I just bought a couple gallons of cheap blended scotch whiskey to re-condition my barrel in preparation for the next project - a Trident cocktail.  Other barrel-aged recipes call for wine-cured barrels (Mssr. Morgenthaler's aged Manhattan recipe in fact calls for a barrel cured with Madeira wine).  Those may be easier to find if you live in a wine-producing area of the world.  

A Few More Words About Proportions

When considering the amount of cocktail that you would like to produce, be sure to assess the cost of buying 10 or more bottles of spirits.  Luckily, the spirits involved in a Negroni (gin, sweet vermouth & campari) are all reasonably priced at $15-30 per bottle.  But even so you should expect to spend $200-300 in spirits, depending on the size of your batch.  

Don't forget to hold on to those dead soldiers... They'll come in handy in about 6 weeksThe recipe below assumes a 3-gallon batch of aged Negroni.  It resulted in just slightly less than 3 gallons of cocktail - the Angel's Share was approximately 1/2 a bottle of spirits.  BE SURE TO KEEP YOUR SPENT SPIRITS BOTTLES.  They will come in handy after the barrel aging process is complete and you need to store your cocktail in glass bottles until you are ready to serve.  



Barrel-Aged Negroni
Adapted from

4 750ml bottles Campari
4 750ml bottles gin (I used Boodles, but Plymouth is also great)
3 1liter bottles Carpano D'Antica sweet vermouth

Combine all ingredients into a large bucket or mixing bowl (without ice).  Stir and pour using a funnel into the barrel.  Use a rubber mallet to hammer the bung (stopper) into place and store in a cool place for 4-6 weeks.  Save your spirits bottles for storage when aging process is complete! 

Beginning at about 4 weeks its okay to take a little sample of the cocktail to check on the progress of your concoction.  I found that 6 weeks was just right in my case.

When aging process is finished pour the liquid out of barrel into a bucket or mixing bowl and then strain the liquid (to remove the charred wood chips) into the original spirits bottles with a funnel.  

To serve cocktail, pour pre-mixed cocktail into a mixing glass with ice.  stir vigorously to chill drink and strain into an up glass.  Serve with orange peel if desired.