Posts Tagged ‘drinks’

It takes a few weeks for this limoncello recipe to be ready, but, hey…we’ve got nothing but time!

 

It starts with beautiful lemons…

 

Many years ago, my wife and I visited the Amalfi coast, and we spent several nights on the beautiful island of Capri. On our last night, we dined at the historic Grand Hotel Quisisana, and our meal ended with a glass of the most delicious limoncello I ever had.

I asked the waiter if it was possible to get the recipe of the limoncello, and he made a big deal about the recipe being a “secret.” Though disappointed, I understood, and I left Capri thinking that I would never taste it again.

 

Sure, you can buy limoncello from Capri in a bottle, but what fun is that?

 

Two weeks later, back at home, I was reading the latest issue of Conde Nast Traveler, and there in black and white, was the Quisisana limoncello recipe! WTF?

After making many batches of this limoncello, I started experimenting with other citrus, and the most successful by far was with grapefruit. Now I make a batch of each: lemon and grapefruit. It’s important to use 100-proof vodka in this recipe. Most vodka is 80-proof, so you’ll need to go to a liquor store with a better selection to find it. Absolut makes a good one, as does Stoli.

Four ingredients, easy to make. The toughest part is waiting for it to mellow a bit.

 

4 lbs. of lemons, but you only use the zest!

 

4 lbs. lemons, zest only
2 750-ml bottles 100 proof vodka
5 1/2 cups sugar
6 cups filtered water

Just the zest!

 

Peel the zest off all the lemons, trying not to get any of the white pith that could make the limoncello bitter. (There will always be some…that’s OK.) Place all the zest in the bottom of a one-gallon glass jar with a lid.

Pour the vodka on top of the lemon zest pieces, seal the jar, and keep it at room temperature for a week, swirling the jar around gently once a day.

 

Vodka and zest.

 

On the sixth day, combine the sugar and water in a pot over medium-high heat, and stir until all the sugar completely dissolves. Remove it from the heat, cover it, and let it thoroughly cool to room temperature (overnight is best.)

On day seven, strain the lemon zest, pouring the infused vodka into a clean glass jar. Discard the lemon zest.

Pour the sugar/water mixture into the vodka and mix it well.

At this point, you can pour the finished product into bottles. I like to let it mellow for about a month before drinking. (It’s worth the wait…although nobody says you can’t take a few “cheating sips” every now and then!)

I keep my limoncello refrigerated.

It’s Derby Day! Did you forget? I did! Thanks to my buddy, Roy, for the reminder!

The Mint Julep is such a perfect, classic and historic bourbon drink, it seems silly to wait until Derby day to have one. Of course, as any aficionado of spirits will tell you, there are as many right ways as wrong ways of making one.

The first step in my Mint Julep is making the simple syrup. Learning from one of my old radio buddies, my pal Rick O’B, I infuse mint into my simple syrup to take my cocktail to the next level. I use the standard ratio of 1 cup of clean, filtered water to 1 cup of sugar, using an organic product like Woodstock Farms Organic Pure Cane Sugar. I place the sugar and water in a saucepan and heat until just boiling. I’ve found that it needs to reach this stage for the sugar to really dissolve. As soon as it starts to boil, I remove the saucepan from the heat, and throw in a handful of freshly picked mint leaves, stirring to make sure the mint gets in there, and then I leave the saucepan to cool to room temperature. Once it’s at room temp, I strain the simple syrup into a bottle with a tight sealing lid, and place it in the refrigerator to cool. It will keep for about a week.

An equally important ingredient for a perfect Mint Julep is the ice, specifically crushed ice from clean, filtered water. Don’t even think of using tap water for any cocktail much less this one. Why ruin an expensive bottle of bourbon by going cheap on the ice? I make my own ice cubes, then put them in an untreated canvas ice bag and bash them with a mallet to the perfect crushed size. Untreated canvas bags for crushing ice can be purchased online from bar supply companies for about $30. I got an untreated canvas tool bag (the exact same shape and size) at Home Depot for 3 bucks.

Da bag.

The next step is a little tougher: which bourbon to choose. The explosion of choices on the bourbon market has made it all but impossible for the average imbiber to know which bourbon is best for their tastes. If you’re a beginner, I suggest you go to a trusted bartender and explain that you’re new to the bourbon world, and could you have the tiniest of tastes and sniffs of what he’s got at his bar. Chances are, you’ll get a sampling of some of the better known brands: Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve, perhaps Buffalo Trace or Bulleit, and the standard Jim Beam. This is a very good start. If you have deeper pockets, go to the manager of a trusted higher-end liquor store and explain that you’ve had all the rest, now what does he think is the best? (Also, hinting to wife and friends that “I’m trying new bourbons” around your birthday or Father’s Day inevitably gets you a few bottles as well!)

My go-to bourbon for Mint Juleps is the very affordable Eagle Rare 10-year-old at $32.99 a bottle…and you can never go wrong with the classic Maker’s Mark. It’s always on sale around Derby Day.

Finally, a Mint Julep needs a metal–not glass– Julep cup. Made of pewter or aluminum, it frosts on the outside as you stir your drink, keeping your beverage ice-cold on even the hottest of days.

 

3 oz. bourbon
1 oz. mint-infused simple syrup
crushed ice
Julep cup
Fresh mint for garnish

Crush the ice and pack it into the Julep cup, even letting it dome slightly over the top. Don’t worry…the alcohol will melt it.

I like to add 1.5 ounces of bourbon, then the ounce of simple syrup, then another 1.5 ounces of bourbon on top. Break off a few mint leaves from the stem and push into the ice. Using a long spoon, stir the drink well. A beautiful layer of frost will form on the outside of the cup. Add more ice, if necessary, and garnish with a sprig of mint.

A nice selection of bourbons. This is an old photo: that Pappy Van Winkle is long gone…but I saved the bottle!

 

Years ago, I gave my self an important research project: Create your own version of the perfect espresso martini.

It took painstaking research, which required drinking many espresso martinis in many a bar on my travels.

My favorite version came from a bartender working at Knave, the lobby bar at the at Parker New York, the former Le Parker Meridien Hotel in Manhattan. It featured Coole Swan, an Irish cream liqueur I had never heard of before. The bartender was nice enough to write down the recipe for me, but I guess I had a little too much to drink…because I lost it! So it was up to me to use those brain cells I didn’t fry and come up with my own combination.

A lot of mixing late into the night, and I came up with what I consider to be my perfect espresso martini. As the marines say: “There are many like it, but this one is mine.”

 

Alz Espresso martini

My espresso martini

 

 

3 oz. good quality vodka, like Belvedere
3 oz. freshly brewed espresso
1.5 oz. Kahlua
1.5 oz. Coole Swan

 

Chill your martini glasses. Pour all the ingredients into a large shaker with ice. Shake vigorously. Strain into chilled glasses.

This recipe makes 2 martinis. Let me tell ya…this tasted as good the first time as it did several martinis later! I’ve found that using a high-end vodka really does make a difference in the quality and taste of the martini…as does freshly brewing your espresso just before assembling the drink.

I love tequila. I love Pimm’s. And I love Dark & Stormies. I’m a lush. This cocktail has an interesting nod to all three.

tequila cup

 

 

3 oz. Patron silver tequila
1.5 oz Pimm’s No. 1
good squeeze of fresh lime juice
Chilled ginger beer
Ice cubes
Fresh mint
Cucumber slices (optional)

Combine the tequila, Pimm’s and lime juice in a highball glass filled with ice.
Place slices of cucumber in the glass, if desired.
Top it with your favorite ginger beer and stir gently.
Garnish with a mint sprig.

It used to be that only the big distilleries were able to age their finest spirits in charred oak barrels. But now, there’s a movement goin’ on…and hand-crafted oak barrels are available to aficionados at home.

Companies like Redhead Barrels (http://www.redheadoakbarrels.com) are offering oak barrels for aging that range in size from 1 liter to 20 liters. And that’s where this enthusiast comes in: with a 1-liter barrel, I’m able to age my favorite spirit–vodka, rum, whiskey, bourbon, mixed drinks, anything–in just a few weeks, elevating the flavors to levels previously unknown.

 

wood

My  1-liter barrel arrived with the spigot and bung separately. Curing the barrel is necessary before using it. I do this by rinsing the barrel out a few times to remove any loose pieces of wood chips or splinters that may still be inside. I hand-turn the spigot into the barrel until it fits snugly and place the barrel in the sink on the included stand. I fill the barrel with very hot water…and watch. Some barrels are totally watertight and will not leak. Others may take literally a few days of repeated fillings with hot water before it thoroughly seeps into the wood, expanding the wood fibers to seal the barrel.

Once there are no leaks, it’s ready to go. I empty the water out of the barrel and fill it with my favorite spirit. Because there is more wood surface area to less liquid (as compared to large barrels), alcohol will age faster…in weeks instead of years. Once I’ve aged it as much as I want (tasting it along the way is the best way to determine this), I simply pour it into a bottle to stop the aging process. I rinse the barrel out thoroughly, and I’m ready to age yet another spirit.

I chose to age a cocktail that I first savored at the Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland, Ohio, the brainchild of talented chef Jonathon Sawyer. The call it a Negroski, their take on a Negroni. It features equal parts Campari, Cocchi sweet vermouth, and OYO stone fruit vodka. They make large batches of it and keep it in a barrel until they serve it. So enamoured my wife and I were with this drink, that I begged the bartender to give me the recipe.

Doing the math, equal parts of each ingredient meant 1 1/3 cups of each to make a quart…which fit perfectly in my 1-liter barrel. Once I corked the top with the bung, it was time to let it age.

A slight daily rotation of the barrel gently rocks the liquid inside, exposing it to the barrel’s charred wood interior, giving it more flavor. And at the end of  a week, I was ready for my first tasting: the wood had a subtle influence, rounding out the flavors. I wanted a little more, so I waited another week…even better, but not quite there. It took a total of 3 weeks before the drink reached its flavorful peak.

I poured some of the drink into a cocktail shaker with ice, stirred briskly with a spoon, and strained it into a martini glass, garnishing with a twist of blood orange peel. Delicious!

 

cask

 

Since my first batch, I’ve aged Manhattans, my homemade Lithuanian honey liqueur (Krupnikas), and even simple spirits. It’s amazing how an average whiskey becomes something quite spectacular after just 3 weeks of aging!

Since we’re quarantining, it’s time to dig out those bottles of booze that might be lurking somewhere in the back of the old liquor cabinet. Inspired by my travels, I’d like to share some of the cocktails I’m rediscovering these days, as I lock myself in my basement bar!

A few years ago, I sampled a negroni-inspired cocktail in Cleveland, Ohio, dining at chef Jonathon Sawyer’s The Greenhouse Tavern. Crazy creative food, and this mind-blowing drink that inspired me to buy a small oak barrel and start cask-aging everything I could get my hands on at home. Alas, the OYO Stone Fruit Vodka, a key part of this cocktail, is not available here in Rhode Island. And my online source will no longer ship it! But I still have a little bit remaining in my stash…

 

 

OYO STONE FRUIT “NEGROSKI”

1 oz. OYO Stone Fruit Vodka
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. Cocchi Vermouth di Torino

 

If you’re doing it The Greenhouse Tavern way, combine large quantities of these ingredients in the right proportions and pour them into an oak cask, then let it age! Experience tells you that newer and smaller casks will mellow flavors faster than larger, older ones. But it’s all about experimentation. Having a taste every once in a while is must, because you don’t want to over-age it, either.

If you don’t have an oak cask lying around at home, it’s still delicious without it…

Combine all the ingredients in a rocks glass with ice. Stir gently, adding a splash of soda, and garnish with an orange peel.

 

OYO Stone Fruit Vodka gets its wonderful flavors from stone fruits: cherries, peaches, apricots and almonds. Terrific on its own, but amazing in this recipe.

Campari is a world-famous aperitif and bitters, and a must in any decent home bar.

Cocchi Vermouth di Torino is a sweet vermouth, made in Italy from the Moscato grape.

 

 

Being quarantined can get you down…or get you to go creative. I’ve decided to recreate some of the cocktails I’ve had at my favorite restaurants, using ingredients that I probably already have at home. When I did go out to the supermarket last time, I grabbed a couple of pineapples along with the rest of my groceries. I already had the bottle of Stoli Vanil in my EBSF (Emergency Booze Storage Facility).

 

 

Every major city in the United states has a Capital Grille, and it’s a great place to grab a solid dinner if you’re traveling. And right now, during quarantine, many locations are offering steaks and dinners to go. (Check with your local Capital Grille.) Although the Capital Grille in my town of Providence, RI, has moved from its original location, we can still boast that we had the very first one in the USA.

They don’t do crazy-trendy drinks at the Capital Grille. They keep a very well-stocked bar with high-end booze and they make solid cocktails. But there is one signature drink you can find there, and that’s the Stoli Doli. A Stoli Doli is simply Stoli vodka that has been infused with fresh pineapple. If you sit at the bar at the Capital Grille, you won’t be able to miss the very large jar of freshly-cut pineapple pieces swimming in vodka. They literally pour it “from the tap,” and serve it straight up, like a martini, or on the rocks. It’s delicious, and I’ve certainly had my share of them.

I decided to make my own at home one day, to serve to my friends at an upcoming party. But to my disappointment, I didn’t have any Stoli vodka in the house. (An embarrassment to most Lithuanians.) But…I found a bottle of Stoli Vanil, the vanilla-flavored vodka, and it was a real game-changer! I used that instead of regular Stoli and I came up with a sweeter, smoother drink that is now legendary among my friends. I call it…

 

VELVET ELVIS

2 ripe, sweet pineapples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1.75ml Stoli Vanil

Find a gallon-sized glass jar with a lid. Peel, core and slice the pineapples and drop the pieces in the jar. Pour the vodka in, mix well, and seal the jar. Keep it at room temperature for 7–10 days, giving it a gentle shake every day.

After 7–10 days (don’t worry…a little longer won’t hurt anything), strain it, squeezing the pineapple pieces to get every bit of liquid out. Discard the pineapple pieces. (As much as you might think they would be fun to munch, they’ve given up all their flavor to the cocktail, and taste terrible!)

Keep the Velvet Elvis refrigerated. Serve with rocks (or 1 big rock!), or shaken and poured into a martini glass.

 

As a martini, or on the rocks!

 

 

 

Did you have to go to work? Quarantined at home? either way, TGIF! Let’s make some drinks!

I’ve decided to look back at some of the more interesting cocktails I’ve had in my travels, and chances are, I still have most of the ingredients somewhere in the back of my bar to make them once again.

Coppa is a wonderful small enoteca in Boston’s South End, featuring small plates by award-winning chefs Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonette. (They’re also the 2 creative forces behind Toro in Boston and NYC.)

The food was incredible, and this drink, called “Hey, Neon,” was inspired. The glass was rimmed with dehydrated and finely chopped kalamata olives. I tried to recreate that at home, and couldn’t get the texture or the size right. And I could never get it to stick to the glass, either! Ultimately, I simply skewered a few kalamatas and placed them on the glass!

 

The original “Hey Neon” at Coppa.

 

 

“HEY NEON”

1 1/2 oz. Aalborg aquavit
3/4 oz. Punt e Mes
1/2 oz. Cynar
1/2 oz. Green Chartreuse

Add ice to a cocktail shaker and then add the ingredients. Stir well, until very cold. Strain into a martini glass. Add the skewer of kalamata olives.

 

Aalborg is a brand of aquavit (or akvavit), a clear alcohol similar to vodka but usually infused with other flavors, mainly caraway or dill, popular in Scandinavia.

Punt e Mes is a sweet vermouth, the so-called “little brother” of the granddaddy of all sweet vermouths: Carpano Antica Formula.

Cynar is an Italian bitter and digestif made from herbs, plants and artichokes. Strong in flavor, but delicious!

Chartruese is a French liqueur made by Carthusian monks since 1737, using a recipe that dates back to 1605. It contains 130 herbs and plants. It’s also one of the few liqueurs that ages in the bottle, changing over time. Green Chartreuse is 110 proof, and naturally colored from the maceration of its ingredients. Yellow Chartreuse, at 80 proof, is a milder and sweeter version.

 

My version of the “Hey Neon.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’ve all got bottles of booze in our bar that probably haven’t been used in a while. Well, for me, quarantine time is the time to break them out and create! Let me share some of my favorite recipes with you…

When I go out to dinner (hoping I’ll be able to do that again soon), I’m always on the lookout for a great cocktail. These days, a great restaurant very often requires a great mixologist at the bar…not someone who can simply whip up a Cosmo, but someone who puts as much creativity in their drinks as the chef does in their dishes.

The classic negroni is made with gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth. I love negronis, and this cocktail is inspired by them. It comes from chef Tony Maws’ restaurant Craigie on Main in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It’s been a decade since we dined there but the drink remains a favorite of mine. When our server communicated to the bartender that I was willing to be his guinea pig for creative cocktails, I was served this one–so new at the time, they didn’t have a name for it. I took a sip and exclaimed: “Holy S*#t!” and the server laughed and said: “That’s as good a name as any!”

 

 

“HOLY S*#T!” COCKTAIL

1 1/2 oz. Bols Genever
1 oz. Gran Classico
1/2 oz. Punt e Mes

Add some ice to a cocktail shaker, and add the ingredients. Stir well. Strain into a rocks glass with one large ice cube.

 

Bols Genever is a Dutch spirit, the ancestor of gin, created from lightly distilled Dutch grains and a complex botanical mix. It’s made according to the original 1820 Lucas Bols recipe which stood at the basis of the cocktail revolution in 19th century America.

Gran Classico is an alcoholic aperitif/digestif created following a recipe dating from the 1860s. It’s made by soaking a mixture of 25 aromatic herbs and roots in an alcohol/water solution to extract their flavors and aromas. The maceration creates a natural golden-amber color, although many other producers, like Campari and Cynar, dye their product red.

Punt e Mes is a pleasantly bitter, slightly sweet red vermouth, the “baby brother” of Carpano Formula Antica. The formula was developed in 1870 in Antonino Carpano’s bar in Piedmont, and the distinctive 15-herb recipe is still a family secret.

 

 

You’d think it would be Cinco de Mayo, but February 22nd is National Margarita Day.
My personal recipe uses no sour mix…just 4 basic ingredients. I still have a small stash of the HoneyBells mentioned here, but the original recipe, below, uses pineapple juice. Cheers!
Every year around January, we get a shipment of Cushman’s HoneyBells. They look like fiery red bell-shaped oranges, but they’re not really oranges at all, and their season is very limited.
 image
HoneyBells are a unique natural hybrid of Dancy Tangerine and Duncan Grapefruit. The plants are grafted to a sour orange root-stock, and when the tree reaches maturity, it looks just like a grapefruit tree…but with oranges growing on it.
I usually make my signature margarita, the Algarita, with pineapple juice. But when I get those HoneyBells in the mail, my recipe takes on a new twist:
 image
 
2 oz. Patron silver tequila (3 oz. is even better!)
1/2 oz. Cointreau orange liqueur
4 oz. pineapple juice (or fresh-squeezed HoneyBell juice, when in season)
1/2 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
Fill a cocktail shaker or tall glass with ice and add all the ingredients. Stir vigorously. Pour into a large margarita glass. Garnish with a lime wedge. Salt optional.
 image
 Either way: with HoneyBells or with pineapple juice, it’s a great way to celebrate National Margarita Day! Cheers!