Powered by Squarespace


Molasses in Your Cocktail

Maybe I should have been a pirate. On second thought - I would have been lousy at the killing and the swabbing of decks and the constant sunburn... I should have been a Purser in the British Navy. You know - the guy that doled out the rum rations to the the sailors - and who therefore sat on one of the most prized possessions in the British Navy - the rum. Oh sure, there would have been the occasional mutiny and perhaps a watery grave along the way - but the RUM! I do love that rum. 

Dark and StormyI have always been pretty much a sucker for the flavors of Caribbean rums. The beauty of them is that they are so varied - nearly every island in the area has its own distinct rum culture and rum flavor profile. Today I wanted to talk about two rum cocktails that use a traditional strain of rum that is distilled from the molasses that is a by-product of sugar cane production. The viscous, dark brown qualities of the molasses itself are passed down to the rums made from molasses. The resulting rums are dark in color and sweet yet grassy on the palate.   

One of these cocktails is very easy to find on many bar menus - so much so that it is somewhat passe today. 


Dark and Stormy
Adapted from the Barbados Buck cocktail of Jigger, Beaker & Glass by Charles Baker (1939)

2 oz. Dark rum (Gosling's Black Seal 151 rum is the standard - I have also used Cruzan Blackstrap with great effect)
3 oz. ginger beer (I strongly recommend Bundaberg or Fentiman's)
1/4 oz. lime juice
1-2 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass and stir gently (don't abuse the bubbles in the ginger beer) for a few seconds to mix the ingredients. Fill a tall collins glass with ice and pour the drink over the ice to serve. Garnish with a slice of lime. 

This is by now a standard at many bars, but it is still one of the most basic and tasty of the rum cocktails out there. You get the fresh lime and the ginger beer on the nose, and the spicy characteristics of the ginger beer offset by the molasses flavors of the rum at the end. Straight-laced and tasty.

Note that the choice of ginger beers is important. I enjoy the flavors of Reed's or The Ginger People ginger beers on their own, but i find that they do not mix as well in a Dark & Stormy as Bundaberg or Fentiman's do. I also like Cock & Bull here, and use it when I do not have my preferred ginger beers in the house. 

The other recipe is a Corn and Oil - an obscure drink that has started to catch on in hipster circles but that still lingers in the shadows of most of America's cocktail menus. It features an amazing spirit called velvet falernum, which is actually a flavored rum product distilled from sugar cane and infused with a number of botanicals such as almond, ginger, cloves and lime. 

Corn & Oil
Adapted from recipe on back of John D. Taylor's Velvet Falernum bottle

2 oz. Cruzan Blackstrap rum
1/2 oz. velvet falernum
Dash of Fee Brothers' aromatic bitters (recommended for its heavy cinnamon flavor)
1/2 lime

Combine the rum, falernum, bitters and the juice from the lime in a shaker with lots of ice and shake for at least 20 seconds to chill. Pour (including the ice) into a highball glass and add the spent 1/2 lime in the glass as a garnish.

Corn and OilThere is quite a bit of variation with respect to the proportions of rum to falernum to be mixed in this drink. Mr. Taylor clearly wants to sell a lot of falernum, as he recommends mixing 3.5 parts falernum to 1 part rum (ick) - and on the other side of the spectrum I have seen ratios of 6 parts rum to 1 part falernum. It's really just a style preference for you. I have chosen 4:1 ratio of rum to falernum to ensure that the falernum flavor comes through without overpowering the rum with its sweetness. There is also some disagreement on whether the lime is needed - but I hold steadfast that the lime is essential to the drink.  

So there you have it - two cocktails that serve as good starters into the dark side of the rum world. These drinks will help you decide for yourself if the molasses-based rums are for you or not - the rich, dark flavors of these rums are not for everyone and are just now beginning to enter the American flavor palette. But if these rum flavors agree with you then perhaps you have a future in the pirate industry.   


You're in the Navy (Grog) Now

Mrs. The Ace just got back from a long weekend in Florida. Before she left, she was looking forward to:

  1. Getting out of the house for a few days; and
  2. Checking out this tiki bar in Ft. Lauderdale called the Mai-Kai.  

Unfortunately for me - the only part that ended being as good as advertised was the part about getting away from me.  Turns out the Mai-Kai has focused their energies away from that silly rum stuff (they only carried 10 rums on their menu - most were Bacardi) in favor of the Polynesian Islander Revue and a heart-healthy menu. What would Donn Beach say about that?

Just goes to show that good tiki bars have gotten very hard to find.  Oh sure, here in the SF Bay Area there are still a number of excellent ones (Forbidden Island in Alameda is my drop-dead fave, but there's also Smuggler's Cove in San Francisco, The Kona Club in Oakland and the newly redone Trader Vic's in Emeryville) to choose from. But it's getting harder and harder to find a good spot for a tiki drink out there...

So in light of my wife's failed attempt to replace The Ace with some tiki joint in South Florida, I thought that I'd break out my tiki recipes a little early this Spring. Call it self-preservation.

It's worth re-stating that any conversation about tiki history and/or mixology begins and ends with Jeff "Beachbum" Berry. Jeff's great books on all things tiki have been treasured titles for me since my first Mai Tai years ago. And his blog ain't bad either.

Let's jump right in with my favorite tiki drink - a potion called a Navy Grog. My apologies to Mr. Berry - I cannot find the link in to this recipe, but I am sure his site was the source for this recipe at some point along the way.

Navy Grog
Adapted from Jeff "Beachbum" Berry's blog

1 oz. Dark Jamaican rum (I used Coruba Dark - but if you're fancy use Appleton Estate Extra)
1 oz. Jamaican rum (I used Smith & Cross, but Appleton V/X is most widely used here)
1 oz. Demarara rum (use Lemon Hart 151 if you can find it - but I cannot so I used El Dorado 5) 
1/2 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
1/2 oz. fresh-squeezed white grapefruit juice
3/4 oz. honey mix*
1/4 oz. pimento (allspice) dram (I use St. Elizabeth's)
dash orange curacao (Cointreau or Combier)

* Honey mix is a 1:1 mix of honey and boiling water, stirred enough to melt and dissolve the honey.

Take a large handful (or two) of ice from the freezer and crush it using a device like this. Pour the crushed ice into your cocktail shaker - enough to fil the glass at least 2/3 full. Add the rest of the ingredients to the shaker and shake for at least 10-15 seconds, enough to make the metail half of your shaker frosty cold. Uncover your shaker and pour the drink (ice and all) into a tall highball glass and serve.

A word to the wise - this drink is not for the intrepid tiki drinker. The allspice dram packs a flavor wallop - one that not everyone out there will enjoy. But if you're one of the lucky ones that can handle the taste of allspice dram, then the world of tiki drinks is yours. Aside from the allspice dram wrinkle, this is a classic tiki drink all the way. It has plenty of delicious rum, some fruit juice, a strong flavor package and a little sweetness. 10 out of 10 in my book - I hope that you like it too. 

Like much of rum culture, there is a great backstory to the term 'grog' that dates back to British colonialism and the British Navy. Read this Wikipedia post, and then thank your chosen higher power that you weren't in the actual British Navy drinking the original Navy Grog.


Three Rounds of Classic Whiskey Cocktails

Let's knock off a trio of classic cocktails from the 10-Bottle Bar list. These three hold a pretty special place in my heart. All three of these drinks entered my recipe rotation relatively early on in my cocktail travels - and each helped me grow to love the process of making (and drinking) cocktails.  

I also love these drinks because they each follow the classic cocktail formula of spirit, sugar and water plus flavor of choice. For all of the eccentric recipes and ingredients that bartenders out there may conjure up, cocktails generally follow a pretty simple pattern of ingredients. That said - despite all of their similarities each of these drinks are quite unique and each conjure up memories of different times of the year for me.  

  • The Whiskey Sour - with its lemony freshness and sweet finish - is a Spring/Summer drink for me.
  • The Mint Julep is straight Summertime.  Aside from the obvious Kentucky Derby references, this drink revels in its frosty nip and its minty freshness.  
  • The Sazerac is great all year long, but its warm flavors may be at their best in the Winter months.  

So lets get down to it - here are three whiskey drinks from the 10-Bottle Bar that every beginning mixologist should have in their rotation.  

Whiskey Sour

2 oz. bourbon
3/4 oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup or gomme syrup
1 egg white

Place an up glass in the freezer to chill. Place all ingredients in a shaker without ice and shake for at least 30 seconds to emulsify the egg white**.  Add ice to the shaker and shake for another 10 seconds to thoroughly chill the drink. Strain into the chilled up glass and serve with a few dashes of Angostura bitters on top of the egg white head.

** Tip - crack the egg on the shaker glass and use the bottom half of the eggshell to retain the yolk while letting the white run over the edges and into your shaker.

This is a classic drink from the "sour" category of drinks (similar to a pisco sour). The sugar softens the strength of the whiskey a bit and the lemon adds a little brightness.  But the egg white is the star here - it adds a silky smoothness to the drink and makes this cocktail a sure-fire money drink for those who are somewhat whiskey-averse. But don't just take my word for it - here is a pretty solid profile on the drink


Mint Julep
Adapted from

2 oz. bourbon
1 tbsp. simple syrup
8-10 fresh mint leaves, plus a sprig for garnish
Finely crushed ice
Pewter or silver julep cups (optional but highly recommended)

Fill (literally pack to the top) the pewter julep cup with crushed ice (see link for an ice crusher here). Place the mint leaves in a bowl or a glass with the simple syrup and muddle until the mint leaves have broken down and the oil from the leaves has spread into the syrup. Pour the minty syrup on top of the crushed ice in the cup.  Next pour the bourbon over the ice and minty syrup.  Add one more thin layer of crushed ice on top of the drink to cover what should be a slushy-looking whiskey/sugar/mint mixture. The sides of the pewter cup should be very frosty.  Poke the branch of the sprig of mint into the ice and serve.

Most people have the mental image of old ladies and young socialites drinking juleps at the Derby. Okay - so that's partially true. But the high whiskey concentration of this drink is burly enough to command your respect and to make it sufficiently macho for even the toughest of tough guys to order. And on a hot Summer day the frosty glass and super-chilled whiskey with mint is SO refreshing that you'll soon forget the heat!  Oh yeah, and once the ice melts a bit and dilutes the drink a bit the drink gets even better. 

Postnote on how NOT to make a Mint Julep: I happened across this link at Jeffrey Morganthaler's site tonight.  This is culturally relevant, folks - there are bars that actually serve this drink!  Mmmm - can I get one of those Mojitos with bourbon instead of rum?  Yeah, that Mint Julep thingy... the one with Rose's lime AND sugar AND sour mix AND Sprite.  I LOVE that one... And don't get me started about bars that substitute cleavage for cocktails.


2 oz. rye whiskey (bourbon will do as well and some also use VSOP cognac)
1 tsp. of simple syrup
4 dashes Peychaud's bitters
lemon peel for garnish

Set an old-fashioned glass in the freezer to chill. Combine the whiskey, syrup and bitters in a mixing glass with lots of ice. Stir for at least 30 seconds to thoroughly chill the drink. Remove the glass from the freezer and pour a few dashes of absinthe in the glass. Roll the absinthe around the glass to rinse the glass and discard the remainder of the absinthe.

Strain the chilled whiskey/syrup/bitters mixture into the old-fashioned glass, peel a lemon over the drink to ensure that the oils from the rind fall into the drink then toss the lemon peel into the drink (note that some purists toss the peel out). Serve neat. 

This is a classic New Orleans cocktail (in fact it seems that the Louisiana Senate has even dubbed the Sazerac as the official drink of New Orleans. This is a very simple drink in its ingredients, but not so in its preparation. There is little margin for error - as there is no egg white to smooth over any mistakes and there is no extra water (as in the mint julep) that can dilute the drink if you do not make it quite right. But once you get the hang of the preparation this drink has a serious payoff. The whiskey is strong and undiluted, with a lovely whiff of lemon oil floating on top of the drink and the ghost of absinthe running around in the drink's undercurrent.  

Note: I tried out my new bottle of Whistlepig rye on this recipe just to see how it worked in a Sazerac, and frankly I do not recommend this particular rye in this drink.  Whistlepig is a truly amazing rye whiskey and is simply devine on its own, but its spicy flavor with vanilla and floral notes do not quite work in this drink. Stick with Rittenhouse 100 rye or - as Jason Wilson recommends here - try a nice VSOP cognac for this drink.

These three drinks start to hint at the importance of preparation and serving style in mixology.  None of these drinks require a special syrup or the preparation of an unusual potion in advance.  What they do require, however, is attention to detail to ensure that the drink is served at the right temperature with the right delivery of the flavors.  This is what really sucked me into the mixology game - the connection to well-prepared foods and the sneaky difficulty in pulling off the preparation just right to make the result taste better than the sum of the parts.  Perhaps you will find some enjoyment in this too!


Shaken not Stirred

Since I am rolling with the 10-Bottle Bar stuff - I may as well post a bit about the Martini. Yes - the mixologist's most hated cocktail does have a place here. Oh sure - it's easy for mixologists to hate on the martini.  After all - America's taste in liquor has now reduced this drink down to nothing more than a glass of chilled vodka (a little cold, unflavored spirit, anyone???). Alas, if only the industry had stopped there in destroying this fine old cocktail - but cotton candy martinis? Perish the thought.  

So yes, there is still a place at The Ace for a well-crafted martini. But I will focus only on versions that I find to be more interesting and that I would serve in my home (which luckily for me also happens to be my bar).  I will assume that everyone reading this already knows how to chill the hell out of gin or vodka and pour it into an up glass - so I will focus on some more interesting, old-school versions of this classic cocktail.  Here goes nothing..

Dry Martini
Adapted from Savoy Cocktail Book (1930) by Harry Craddock

2 oz. gin (Old Tom is historically appropriate here if you have it)
1 oz. dry (french) vermouth
1-2 dashes orange bitters

Place an up glass in the freezer to chill. Pour ingredients into a shaker with lots of ice and shake well for at least 30 seconds until the drink is well-chilled.  Strain into the chilled up glass and serve with a long strip of lemon peel (be sure to express the oils from the skin into the drink before placing into the glass).  

So its worth mentioning here that the Martini had evolved substantially by the time that Craddock included it in his seminal Savoy Cocktail Book in 1930. The drink started out in Jerry Thomas' era as a 1:1 ratio of Old Tom gin and sweet vermouth with a little orange bitters thrown in for good measure. This makes sense given that it is generally accepted that the Martini descended from the Martinez cocktail (see below). The use of sweet vermouth had fallen out of fashion by the 1930s (dry cocktails were "in" and sweet ones were gauche by then). But I kept the Old Tom gin (also out of fashion by this time) and the orange bitters in this version because I wanted to capture a slightly older-school version of this cocktail and because I like bitters.  

This was actually a damned fine cocktail.  Nothing like the bare-bones cold vodka or gin special - the vermouth took the edge off the gin and added a pleasant smoothness to the drink. This is historically accurate - as vermouth was originally mixed with gin cocktails to mask the questionable character of the bathtub gins of the era.  If I were to get picky, I guess that I could complain that the high ratio of vermouth robbed this drink of its boozey nature and left it just a tad on the bland side for my personal palette.  But compared to a chilled vodka in a glass this drink has character to spare!

Next let's hop into the way-back machine and try the cocktail that spawned the Martini from way back in the 1800s.  

Martinez No. 1
From Imbibe! (2007) by David Wondrich

1 oz. dry gin (Plymouth)
2 oz. Sweet Vermouth (Carpano D'Antica)
1 tsp Luxardo Maraschino
1 dash orange bitters

Place an up glass in the freezer to chill. Pour ingredients into a shaker with lots of ice and shake well for at least 30 seconds until the drink is well-chilled.  Strain into the chilled up glass and serve with a long strip of lemon peel (be sure to express the oils from the skin into the drink before placing into the glass).

So as much as I wanted to like this, one of the oldest of old-school cocktails, I just could not.  The high concentration of sweet vermouth makes this drink taste overwhelmingly sweet, or "raisiny" as Mrs. The Ace put it. There's not much more to say about this one. Let's keep trying...



Next I decided to turn to my The Art of the Bar (2006) book by Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz. Mr. Hollinger runs Comstock Saloon in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood, where he serves my favorite old-school cocktails with a smile (and sometimes with a handlebar mustache). Mssrs. Hollinger's and Schwartz's Martinez cocktail recipe is as follows:

Martinez Cocktail No. 2
From The Art of the Bar (2006) by Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz

2 oz. Plymouth gin
1 oz. Dolin dry vermouth
Splash of maraschino liqueur
1-2 dashes orange bitters
Lemon twist for garnish
Olive for garnish

Combine all liquid ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Stir gently for 20-30 seconds, until, cold, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the lemon twist and olive.   

This is a nice improvement on the original Martinez cocktail, recognizing the change in American tastes toward drier spirits alongside their white spirits like gin. Note that this cocktail ends up being pretty similar to the Martini cocktail above - with the addition of maraschino liqueur and a more modern gin like Plymouth to the mix.  But similar to the Martini cocktail above, in my opinion this cocktail is still missing that little something special to take it over the top. 

I tried changing up the drink by substituting the dry vermouth in this Martinez with a mix of 1/2 ounce dry vermouth and 1/2 ounce of Bonal Gentiane-Quina.  Winner winner chicken dinner!

Martinez No. 3

2 oz. No. 209 gin (could also be Plymouth)
1/2 oz. dry vermouth (I used Sutton Cellars Brown Label but Dolin is just fine too)
1/2 oz Bonal Gentiane-Quina 
Splash of maraschino liqueur
1-2 dashes orange bitters
Lemon twist for garnish 

Place an up glass in the freezer to chill. Pour ingredients into a shaker with lots of ice and shake well for at least 30 seconds until the drink is well-chilled.  Strain into the chilled up glass and serve with a long strip of lemon peel (be sure to express the oils from the skin into the drink before placing into the glass).

I really liked this version of the cocktail. The Bonal adds a little bit of extra dryness and a little bitter to the mix of flavors in the drink.  The drink is transformed into a complex little drink with lots of things going on  in there. This is no Manhattan - but it does have enough character and charm to be approachable but still be interesting to modern cocktail drinkers.  

But no discourse in martinis would be complete without a crack at the Vesper - popularized by James Bond in the novels of the 50s and the movies since then. What could be cooler than ordering a martini "shaken not stirred"? Well, actually lots of things, but that's beside the point.  James Bond's martini is very alluring to lots of drinkers - so much so that it has been shamelessly stolen by vodka makers as their own. In reality, vodka is the stepchild to gin in James' drink.  Here is how Ian Fleming's introduced us to Bond's favorite quaff in his 1953 novel Casino Royale.  

"A dry martini," [Bond] said. "One. In a deep champagne goblet."
"Oui, monsieur."
"Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?"
"Certainly, monsieur." The barman seemed pleased with the idea.
"Gosh, that's certainly a drink," said Leiter.

Seems pretty simple, eh?  So let's try it.  

Vesper Martini
Adapted from James 

2 oz. No. 209 gin (or Plymouth)
1/2 oz. vodka (I cut down Bond's proportions so as not to interfere with the gin)
1/2 oz. Cocchi Americano

Place an up glass in the freezer to chill. Pour ingredients into a shaker with lots of ice and shake well for at least 30 seconds until the drink is well-chilled.  Strain into the chilled up glass and serve with a long strip of lemon peel (be sure to express the oils from the skin into the drink before placing into the glass). 

A nice drink here. Simple and clean, this drink most resembles the Don Draper martini. But the addition of the Cocchi Americano gives this drink the little zip that Bond called for when he asked for the Kina Lillet. As you can read here, Cocchi Americano is a new spirit imported from Italy by Haus Alpenz that nicely impersonates what Lillet used to taste like before the quinine was stripped from the recipe in the 80s.  

For those raised on modern martinis (I mean ones without Midori or apple sour mix) this is likely to be your favorite cocktail in this post.  If this is you, then use this drink as your gateway drink toward the Corpse Reviver No. 2 and the Aviation


The Aviation

I haven't posted a 10-Bottle Bar recipe in a while, so I thought I'd go with one of the drinks that got me into mixology back a few years ago.  

This was back in 2007 when spirits like Creme De Violette were just hitting the US market and the SF Chronicle was starting to write more words about the great cocktail that could be made with these spirits. As it happened, I had just read a piece profiling Creme De Violette and Pimento Dram (both of which had just been imported to the States for the first time in many years by Haus Alpenz) and the many great cocktails that one could make with these spirits. The star of the article was the Aviation, and as it happened I walked into Pizzaiolo in Oakland that same evening and found - gasp- an Aviation on the menu! Naturally I ordered one (or was it two?) and the first incantation of The Ace Saloon was incorporated the next day with my purchase of a bottle each of Maraschino and Creme De Violette.  

But enough of my not-all-that-interesting Genesis story.  Lets talk about the Aviation. So here's the recipe.

The Aviation
Adapted by Gary Regan from Hugo Ensslin's Recipes for Mixed Drinks (1916)

1 1/2 oz. dry gin (I use No. 209 or Plymouth)
1/2 oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 oz. Luxardo Maraschino
1/2 oz. Creme De Violette (Rothman & Winter) 

Place an up glass in the freezer to chill.  Combine all liquids in a shaker with LOTS of ice and shake vigorously for at least 10 seconds (the side of your metal shaker ought to be coated with a layer of frost).  Strain the drink into your now frosted up glass and garnish with a brandy-soaked marasca cherry.  

It's interesting - my personal tastes have moved toward the brown spirits (whiskey, rum, brandy) so I hadn't made this drink in quite a while. But as I whipped one up (and drank it, of course) for this post all of those same emotions that I felt back in 2007 came rushing back again. The tartness of the lemon against the floral flavors of the gin is refreshing...  The alchemy of the lemon and the Maraschino adds an almost grainy texture to the gin... And that translucent grey-purple color!!! This is a damn good drink.

For those of you wondering where the Creme De Violette is on the 10-Bottle Bar - it isn't.  As it happens, Gary Regan actually adapted this cocktail recipe first with just the gin, lemon and maraschino back in 2005 when Creme De Violette was not yet widely available in the States.  This version is still quite tasty - though it loses the floral quality and the purple color of the Violette. It wasn't until Haus Alpenz began importing Creme De Violette sometime around 2007 that Mr. Regan adapted his recipe once again for the Violette, thereby taking this drink - in his words - "to the moon."