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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.  


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 Old Fashioned

This past week I was in the Chicago area hanging out with Josh, an old friend from my grad school days.  I was away from the friendly confines of The Ace, but I wanted to be able to mix up a few drinks while away on vacation.  

The local liquor store was a little low on quality spirits available, but I was able to find a nice rye on offer (Michter's Single Barrel Rye) and they had Angostura's orange bitters.  So the answer was obvious - I would make my friend Josh and me some Old Fashioned cocktails.  

The Old Fashioned is perfect for these occasions.  It's a simple recipe with only a few easy-to-find ingredients, and it is relatively easy to make without a lot of bar tools.  Oh yeah - and it's an outstanding cocktail.  

The Old Fashioned also has the distinction of being another one of those classic cocktails that has been bastardized and nearly destroyed in the modern era.  Many overzealous bartenders have tried to soften the lovely hard edges of this fine drink with too much sugar, orange slices and/or maraschino cherries.  When all is said and done, the Old Fashioned is a mixture of whiskey, bitters, sugar and a little water with a tad of citrus oil for aroma.    

Being one of the true classic cocktails - and one with an outstanding name - the Old Fashioned has a significant place in American cocktail culture.  Many words have been written about the Old Fashioned.  A few of the more recent ones can be found on the American Drink blog here and here.  The drink even got a nice boost to its rugged manliness recently thanks to our friend Don Draper.   

Because of its general simplicity, the art of the Old Fashioned is in its proportions and in its preparation. You as the bartender are certainly welcome to play with the proportions to your taste - but I strongly recommend not playing with the preparation method.  100 years of this cocktail can't be all that wrong...

Here is the version that my friend Josh and I used to polish off that bottle of Michter's rye last week.

Old Fashioned Cocktail

2 oz. rye whiskey (bourbon works too, but rye is more historically accurate)
Angostura bitters (orange-flavored if available - but its fine to use their plan bitters if not)
club soda
1 sugar cube (or 1 tsp. of sugar if no cubes available)
1 orange

Place the sugar in a double old-fashioned glass.  Shake 2-4 dashes of bitters onto the sugar and muddle the bitters into the sugar to make a nice slurry of sugar-bitters in the bottom of the glass.  

Pour the whiskey into a separate mixing glass 1/2 full of ice and stir for at least 30 seconds - to get the whiskey nice and cold.  Pour the chilled whiskey and ice into the old-fashioned glass on top of the sugar-bitters slurry.  Pour a little club soda on top of the drink, and use a vegetable peeler to take a wide slab of peel from the orange.  Place the orange peel slab into the drink.  

Preparation Notes: 

  • It's fine to use bourbon - but rye whiskey is more indicative of the time from which The Old Fashioned originated
  • Orange-flavored Angostura bitters are clearly preferred here - but you may also use another orange bitters if you choose (Regan's No. 6 is great) or you can also just use Angostura's original bitters here to great effect 
  • Be sure to peel the orange over top of your drink glass to let the orange oils expunged in the peeling process fall into your drink
  • Peel off only the oily rind of your orange - try to avoid the pith (the white part) of the orange peel 

For Grapefruit Lovers Only

A year or two ago Mrs. The Ace came back from Beretta restaurant in San Francisco raving about the cocktail she had with her dinner than evening.  A well-documented lover of grapefruit flavors in her cocktail, she was downright titillated by this combination of grapefruit and pineapple.  I counted my lucky stars that she hadn't run off with the bartender right then and there, and decided that I had best heed her request to figure out how to make this drink for her at home.    

Beretta's cocktail menu names the drink the Il Gitano, and it lists the ingredients as amaro, lime, pineapple gomme, grapefruit, bitters.  After a few iterations, I adapted the proportions as follows.  

Le Pamplemousse D'Amour
Adapted from Beretta Restaurant's Il Gitano cocktail

1 oz. Amaro
1 oz. fresh-squeezed white grapefruit juice (i recommend oro blanco when in season)
1/4 to 1/2 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice (I usually split the middle at 1/3 oz)
3/4oz. Small Hand Foods pineapple gum syrup
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters 

Place an up glass in the freezer to chill - or place ice and water in the glass - and set aside for 2-3 minutes.  Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake for 10 seconds.  Strain the chilled drink into the glass using a fine strainer.  Grate a fine zest of the lime rind onto the thin head of foam that should be floating on top of the drink and serve.  


If you can find it, Amaro Nonino is simply amazing in this cocktail (here's a link to K and L Wine Merchants' site to find it).  It adds a light citrus touch that plays perfectly with the juices in the drink.  I have also made it with Ramazotti - which I really appreciate for its classic amaro bitterness.  You get a slightly different but nevertheless excellent cocktail with either one.  

This drink is a classic crowd pleaser.  It also makes a very nice aperitif - it has a blend of citrus juices with a little sweetness from the pineapple gomme syrup.  Amaro is a nice low-proof spirit that is often served straight up as an aperitif. 

And yes, this story has a happy ending... Mrs. The Ace hasn't left with that (or any other) bartender just yet.  In fact, she even claims that the adapted version is better than the original!  Having since tried the Il Gitano for myself, I would say that this stacks up right next to Beretta's very fine cocktail.