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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!


Three for Brunch Please

So I am headed off tomorrow morning for a little New Year's brunch at some friends' house, and Mrs. The Ace signed me up for brunch cocktails for the event. From a mixology perspective, weekend brunches can be very tough events for mixing cocktails. You normally get a lot of folks that don't prefer to tipple on some combination of the following occasions:

  1. Ever;
  2. Before noontime; or
  3. While their kids are running around the joint looking for steep staircases and/or sharp objects.

So The Ace keeps it simple at brunches. Money drinks only, folks. For tomorrow's little soiree I have picked three of my favorites. The process of prepping the drinks tonight inspired me - so here goes. This is what's on my brunch menu tomorrow AM. Stop by if you're in the neighborhood...


Ramos Gin Fizz
Adapted from Henry Ramos recipe at New Orleans' Meyer's Restaurant (1880s)

2 oz. Hayman's Old Tom Gin
1/2 oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 oz. heavy whipping cream
1 egg white
1 oz. simple syrup or gum arabic
3 dashes orange flower water
2 drops vanilla extract
club soda
Orange Bitters

Pour all ingredients except for club soda and bitters into a shaker WITHOUT ICE for at least 30-60 seconds - long enough to emulsify the egg white into a nice frothy head. Then add ice and shake for another 60 seconds until the drink is extremely cold and frothy.  

Pour the contents of the shaker through a fine strainer into a tall collins glass.  Use a barspoon to stir the drink while pouring approximately 1 inch of club soda over top of the drink. The club soda will turn the frothy head of the drink into something like a meringue topping for the drink.  Finish the drink with a couple drops of the orange bitters.  

Okay - this drink takes a fair bit of work to prepare.  And the cream and the egg white might scare off one or two of you. But this drink is absolutely worth the time and effort. This is like cocktail comfort food - think orange dreamsicle for adults. Truly an incredible drink. The Ace uses this in all instances when the brunch companion claims that they "don't really like cocktails."   


St. Germain Cocktail
St. Germain's website  

2 oz. white wine (something simple and inexpensive will do just fine here) 
2 oz. club soda
1 1/2 oz. St. Germain elderflower liqueur

Pour the wine and St. Germain into a tall collins glass with 3 perfect ice cubes.  Use a bar spoon to stir the drink as you pour the club soda over the top of the drink.  Serve

This cocktail is not unusual nor is it particularly creative mixology.  It is, after all, straight off the distributor's promotional materials.  But that doesn't change the fact that this drink is perfect for this situation.  It is light, bright and bubbly (just like the The Ace!) and just tastes damned good.  


Celery Mary
Adapted from Scott Beattie's Artisanal Cocktails (2008)

1 1/2 oz. vodka (I use Hangar One Chipotle)
2 oz.  heirloom tomato juice (see recipe below)
1/2 oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 oz. Apple Farm apple balsamic vinegar
celery salt
kosher salt
black pepper 
15 pickled celery root matchsticks (see below)
13 young celery leaves

Combine the vodka, juices, vinegar, celery salt & pepper in a shaker and stir well. Add the celery root shoestrings and 10 of the celery leaves, fill the shaker with ice and shake. Pour the contents into a tall collins glass and garnish with the remaining celery leaves to serve. 

Heirloom Tomato Juice
Makes about 2.5 cups - enough for 10 cocktails

1 1/2 pounds heirloom tomatoes, at room temperature
1/2 tsp. kosher salt

Core the tomatoes and place them in a blender with the salt.  Puree until smooth, then strain the puree through a fine mesh strainer.  Press the puree through the strainer to get as much juice as possible.  

Note: Yes, I live in locavore Northern California.  And of course I am cheating - this is New Year's Day and I am using out-of-season heirloom tomatoes shipped in from god-knows-where.  My most sincere apologies.  This drink really is better with in-season tomatoes. I am working through my guilt one day at a time.  

Celery Root Matchsticks
Makes 150 pieces - enough for about 10 cocktails

1 pound celery root
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 tablespoon dill seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons fenugreek
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 cups white wine vinegar
2 cloves
1 large bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
1 dried chili pepper

Trim the outside edges of the celery root into the shape of a cube.  Slice the cube into 1/8 inch thick squares, then slice the squares into matchstick-size pieces.  Set aside. 

Heat a stainless steel saute pan over medium heat.  Add the fennel, dill, fenugreek and coriander to the hot pan and shake the pan to evenly distribute the seeds over the surface of the pan.  Let the seeds rest over the heat until little wisps of smoke begin to rise out of the seeds (just a few seconds).  Remove the pan from heat and toss the spices in the pan a few times and set aside.  

Combine the sugar and vinegar in a stainless steel pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Stir in the toasted spice seeds and the cloves, bay leaf, cinnamon stick and chili pepper, then remove from heat.   

Place the celery root matchsticks into an airtight container along with the still-hot pickling juice and cool the mixture in the refrigerator before using.  The pickled matchsticks will keep in the refrigerator for 2-3 months.  

So again this is a pretty labor-intensive drink. But this is not your parents' bloody mary, folks. It's fresh and spicy (especially if you use the Hangar One Chipotle vodka), a little sweet with a yummy vinegar kick.  I tend to make a few batches of the celery sticks at once - pickled vegetables have a very half life in the fridge.  And the tomato juice is easy to whip up the night before.

Notes on preparation: 

  • The star of this drink is the apple balsamic vinegar.  It is truly beautiful stuff. It adds a little sweetness and a nice sharp acidity to the drink. Here's the website from the folks at Philo Apple Farm to order it - and YES they deliver.  
  • Celery leaves can be a little tricky to find, but they are essential to the drink. They give off a delicious celery aroma and a little grassy flavor - without any of the unpleasant stringy texture of actual celery. I usually get them at Berkeley Bowl - but when in a pinch I usually can find celery stalks at the big chain grocery stores with the leaves still attached.     

The Rehabilitation of the Daiquiri

Yesterday I posted about the much-maligned Mai Tai and its sad state of ruination at the hands of blue curacao and grenadine.  Last week I posted about the Margarita, which has has also suffered miserably in recent years. So now I am feeling on a roll and thought I would cover another once-proud cocktail brought to its knees - this time by the blender and frozen fruits.  Yes, I am talking about the Daiquiri.  

You'd never know it by ordering one at most bars, but the Daiquiri is a grand old dame of the cocktail world. It dates back to the 1890s, well before blenders were even invented - and in its heyday it was the talk of the town amongst the fashionable drinkers of New York City and Havana. All without the assistance of frozen strawberries and banana puree!

The origin myth of the Daiquiri is one of those great stories of colonial Cuba that I hope is true.  According to Charles Baker of The Gentleman's Companion, back in 1898 Cuba;

"There was fever.  Doctors still thought that a lot of yellowjack malaria cases came from drinking water and swamp mists.  They couldn't turn off the swamp mists but they knew that diluted alcohol was a disinfectant against germs.  So they put a little rum in their boiled drinking water.  This tasted pretty bad so some bright citizen squeezed a lime into the thing, and a little sugar to modify the acid.  Ice made from distilled water took the tropical blood heat off the thing."
"Jigger, Beaker and Glass: Drinking Around the World" (Derrydale Press - 2001) 

So from this story came the invention of one of the truly great cocktails of the pre-prohibition era.  The recipe was simple - just rum, sugar, lime and ice - but amazingly effective.  

The One and Only Tropical Daiquiri
Adapted from Jigger, Beaker and Glass: Drinking Around the World by Charles Baker

1 1/2 oz. rum (I absolutely adore Smith & Cross in this drink if you can find it)
The juice of 1/2 lime
1/4 oz. simple syrup or gum arabic

Combine all ingredients in a shaker half-full of ice. Shake vigorously for at least 10 seconds. Pour contents of the shaker (including ice) into a double-old fashioned glass.  Drop the spent 1/2 lime into the glass and serve.  

Notes on Preparation:  While it is true that Smith & Cross is absolutely incredible in this drink, I have used other rums in this drink to great effect.  The cool thing about te Daiquiri is that it is so simple - it tastes great with any rum that you like to drink.  For 10-Bottle Bar readers, Appleton Estate V/X and Bacardi 8 are such nice rums that they are excellent in this recipe as well.  

The Baker version of this cocktail calls for crushed ice instead of regular cubed ice.  The cocktail pictured above uses crushed ice as called for by Mr. Baker. The drink comes out just fine using this method, but I prefer to use regular cubed ice in my Daiquiri. I find that the crushed ice melts a bit faster than I would like in this drink - and I prefer to keep the flavors of the Daiquiri intact as long as possible.  


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.  



The Castle Harbor Special

A few years back I came across this drink on the menu at Sidebar, a nice little neighborhood restaurant in Oakland.  The menu attributed the drink to The Gentleman's Companion Vol. II by Charles Baker.  At the time, I had never heard of Mr. Baker or his book, so I went out and grabbed a copy for myself.  The book - republished as Jigger, Beaker & Glass - Drinking Around the World immediately became a staple of my cocktail library.  

Here was the recipe according to Charles Baker:

Castle Harbor Special (original)

Jigger, Beaker & Glass - Drinking Around the World - By Charles Baker

1 1/2 jigger (2 1/4 oz) Barbados, Demerara or Martinique rum*
1/2 jigger (3/4 oz) White Bacardi rum
1 tsp. sweet pineapple soda fountain syrup 
1 tsp. grenadine (optional)
juice of 1/2 lime
4 small dices of ripe pineapple

* The book references the Gosling Brothers.  Gosling's is a Barbados rum - so I went with it

Combine all ingredients in a bar (mixing) glass and stir with a lump of ice.  Turn contents  into a small goblet half filled with cracked ice.   

So first off, the ratios of spirit to sweetener were a little off.  Perhaps the book was referring to a different jigger measurement - as you can see here the term jigger is not necessarily a fixed measurement depending on when and where it is based.  So I toned down the alcohol contents slightly to 1 1/2 oz Gosling's Black Seal (I used 80-proof) and 1/2 oz white Bacardi.  I opted to keep the grenadine (just a dash) and used 1/2 oz of Small Hand Foods pineapple gum syrup in the place of the fountain syrup and the pineapple slices.  

I was pretty skeptical about mixing Gosling's in anything but a Dark & Stormy - but surprisingly the drink did work reasonably well.  I also tried the drink with a La Favorite rhum vieux from Martinique (not good) and with a El Dorado 5-year Demerara rum (which worked well).  

Finally I got the bright idea to ask the barkeep at Sidebar, and they were using a Jamaican rum for their adaptation of the drink.  This was the clear winner to me.  I found that the best option was an Appleton V/X, but the Coruba Dark in my cabinet also worked as a "well" option.  

Castle Harbor Special (Adapted)

Adapted from Jigger, Beaker & Glass - Drinking Around the World - By Charles Baker

1 1/2 oz Appleton Estate V/X rum
1/2 oz pineapple gum syrup 
juice from 1/2 a lime (should be 1/2 oz)
dash of grenadine

Combine all ingredients in a your shaker with several cubes of ice.  Shake well, then pour entire contents (including the ice) into a double old-fashioned glass.  Drop the spent half a lime in the glass and serve.  

I like this adaptation of the drink because I really love Appleton V/X in general and in this cocktail the spirit picks up an herbaceous undercurrent.  This is no brawny cocktail - the lime keeps this drink fresh and light, and the pineapple gum and grenadine add a little taste of the beach to the drink.

And no worries - if you bought a Bacardi 8 for your 10-Bottle Bar it also will work for this drink.  If you really like the drink then try the Appleton V/X next time.   

The Castle Harbor was one of my earliest money drinks (meaning that it is one of those drinks that you use when you have an uncertain or skeptical patron).  Its also a great cocktail for anyone to try out from the 10-Bottle Bar.