Equal parts cocktails: American Royal Zephyr

This cocktail hails from one of my favorite Brooklyn bars, and appropriately enough appears in a new cocktail collection called Brooklyn Bartender. I love that this drink not only contains equal parts whiskey & Lillet, but also equal parts of 3 types of bitters. Score!

American Royal Zephyr

Damon Boelte, Grand Army; as printed in Brooklyn Bartender, by Carey Jones

1 oz bonded bourbon

1 oz Lillet rosé

2 dashes Angostura bitters

2 dashes orange bitters

2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters


Combine all ingredients except Champagne in a mixing glass with ice. Stir until well chilled and strain into a coupe. Top with Champagne and garnish with a cherry.

Talking and tippling with the 3 “Vermouth-kateers”

The "Vermouth-kateers":  Carl Sutton, Neil Kopplin and Andrew Quady

The “Vermouth-kateers”: Carl Sutton, Neil Kopplin and Andrew Quady

Julia Child splashed French vermouth into much of her cooking. James Bond added Italian vermouth to his famous “shaken, not stirred,” martinis. But American-made vermouth is what’s now taking the cocktail world by storm.

So on April 8, it was my pleasure to moderate a panel of West Coast wine and vermouth producers, “Fountain of Vermouth,” at the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference in San Francisco.

The three panelists- who jokingly refer to themselves as “vermouth-kateers“-  were Neil Kopplin, a former bartender and current partner of Portland, Oregon’s Imbue Cellars, who makes his Bittersweet Vermouth with Willamette Valley Pinot Gris; Carl Sutton, owner of Sutton Cellars in Sonoma, Calif.; and Andrew Quady, a Madera, California-based winemaker who also produces vermouth under the Vya label.

Quady first provided the attendees with a definition of the aromatized, fortified “wine-but more than just wine,” including an overview of some of the botanicals used to flavor it.

That was followed by a lively debate between Kopplin and Sutton, who have divergent philosophies about what makes for good vermouth. Sutton said he starts with both wine and brandy that is “absolutely neutral” in character: “I want a completely blank canvas, something I can project onto.” He then adds as many as 17 ingredients for flavoring.

Kopplin, for his part, insisted that since the wine makes up 75-80% of what’s in the glass, it should be “the bright shining star” that the botanicals are selected to complement. He fully expects his vermouth to change from year to year, he added, since he switches up the base wine with each vintage. This year, he’s using local Pinot Gris; next year, the base will be Sémillon.

To cap it all off,  Sutton mixed up a round of Bamboo cocktails for the crowd – here’s the recipe:

Bamboo Cocktail

1½ oz. Lustau amontillado sherry

1½ oz. Sutton Cellars dry vermouth

2 dashes orange bitters

1 dash Angostura bitters

Stir together all ingredients with ice, and strain into a cocktail glass.   Garnish with a lemon peel twist.

Cocktail recipe: East River Defense


My article, Your Cocktail’s Been A-Saltedappears in the March/April 2013 issue of Arrive Magazine, which –for once!– I got to read in hard copy format as I trundled along from NY to Baltimore and back again last week on Amtrak.

Gotta love any publication that lets me get away with a pun like that in the headline!

I’ve been looking forward to showcasing the East River Defense cocktail in the photo above ever since I first went to Northern Spy, a sweet little locavore spot in the East Village about a year ago.  I was there to interview Co-owner and Beverage Director Chris Ronis for a Wine Enthusiast feature about Aperitif Cocktails, and although it wasn’t part of the article, this was the drink I walked away thinking about — it had the strangest sweet-salty-tart-refreshing combination.

Northern Spy doesn’t have a full liquor license — they can serve only wine and beer. Luckily, that includes fortified wines (like sherry) and aperitif wines, so the drinks list still is robust and interesting.  In part, it’s that way because Ronis brought in mixologist Erick Castro to create the drinks. (If Castro’s name sounds familiar, perhaps that’s because you’ve been reading about his buzz-y new bar in San Diego, Polite Provisions.)

Although Ronis told me that this is based on a classic Cobbler, I think it’s even closer to the Paloma, a tequila drink made with grapefruit soda. Either way, it’s a perfect cocktail to transition into early spring.

East River Defense

Created by Erick Castro for Northern Spy ((New York, NY).  Nubbly “sea-salted ice” plus briny Manzanilla sherry gives the drink a refreshing salt-air tang.

1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt

3 ounces Manzanilla sherry

1 ounce lemon juice

1 ounce simple syrup

3 dashes Scrappy’s grapefruit bitters

Soda water

Scoop ice into a Collins glass, and sprinkle with coarse sea salt. In a cocktail shaker, combine sherry, lemon juice, simple syrup and bitters. Shake well, and strain into glass over the sea-salted ice. Top with soda water. Garnish with a grapefruit wedge and serve with a straw.

Two Cordiall recipes from MFK Fisher

M.F.K. Fisher was not a drinks writer. She wrote wonderfully and extensively about food, but to the extent that she considered beverages at all, especially during her writing days in France and later, California, generally she preferred wine.

So when my husband found this 1963 copy of “A Cordiall Water” by Fisher, he sweetly thought he was buying for me a treasure — one of my favorite writers, writing about one of my favorite topics. It’s not hard to see why — doesn’t that drawing suggest a botanical gin, guzzled from a coupe glass?

Sadly, the book is almost entirely about health remedies, ranging from “useless quackery” to alarming and clearly dangerous. And frankly, I really could have done without the pontification on ways human excrement has been used through history to enhance one’s health and beauty.

That said, it’s fascinating to see how many times booze is invoked in health cures, including a couple of promising-sounding recipes for spirituous elixirs. For example, this unnamed one:

Take the flowers of at least 15 kinds of meadow plants, and the roots of at least five more, such as Peony, Licorice, and Hepatica. Clean and slice them finely, and cover them with white wine, to steep three days. Stir well, night and morning. Bring to the boil, and strain.

Mix with equal parts fine honey and with five parts of good fruit brandy. Store in a wooden cask for one year, and bottle. Drink cold or lukewarm on an empty stomach, to restore appetite, or a full one, to encourage it.

And here’s another tonic, which previously began “Take 12 quart bottles of the best bourbon whiskey…” but Fisher decoded “into a puny pint-size formula”:

Mrs. Lackner’s Mountain Bitters

Take Western sage blossoms, which must be gathered thoroughly dried and cured in the sun, and pack them into an empty pint bottle to the depth of two inches or more. Add to this the peel of one lemon which has been detached from its fruit and thoroughly dried in the sun. Fill the bottle to the top with good bourbon, and let stand for at least two weeks before using…the longer the better.”

Though I’d never make either of these for medicinal purposes, I’d still love to run these past people who are making bitters and infusions at home — are these viable recipes worth experimenting with today?

You’re invited to Drink.Think!


On Wednesday, October 19, I’m hosting an event for drink and food writers. — the first spoken-word event dedicated to celebrating what we drink!

If you’ll be in the New York area, I hope you’ll come out to Lolita Bar to enjoy a cocktail, and hear some amazing writers read from their work about beverages. Here are all the details on where, when, and most important, WHO is reading. You can also find writer profiles and more on the Drink.Think site.

Date & Time: Wednesday, October 19, 2011. Come by at 6:30 for a drink – the reading starts at 7pm.

Location: Lolita Bar – 266 Broome Street at Allen St., NY, NY

Admission: FREE admission, but drinks are on you, buddy.

Featured Readers: Curated by wine and spirits writer Kara Newman, participants include:

Books will be available for purchase and signing.

Perfect pairing for ballpark franks? Mustard cocktails

Just when I think I’ve seen it all, from curry cocktails to brisket bitters, the drink universe throws me yet another delightful curveball:  Mustard Mixology!

Maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised –after all, I included a “wasabi-tini” in the Spice & Ice book, and (some) wasabi is made partly from mustard. But somehow, nothing quite compares to the inspired nuttiness going on at Drink Dogma, the blog for Houston’s Anvil Bar & Refuge Bar.

“Mustard has a spicy, acidic, vinegar quality that actually shares so much with more common cocktail ingredients like bitters, shrubs, and citrus,” explains Anvil bartender Matt Tanner (I *think* that’s the author of the post, it’s not entirely clear. The photos on the post are certainly his).  And put that way, mustard cocktails begin to make sense.

Furthermore, Tanner says, he’s found in the course of experimenting that two major approaches work:  infusing whole mustard seeds (“quick and extremely flavorful and typically only takes about twenty-four hours to take hold of a spirit,”), and fresh mustard, particularly a bold spicy Dijon. Infusions are more versatile, playing well with herbs and bitters, while using fresh mustard is “a little more precarious.”  Here’s one of Tanner’s mustard cocktail creations:

Cassis de Dijon

1 oz. Cruzan Blackstrap Rum
¾ oz. Crème de Cassis
½ oz. Lemon Juice
1 Barspoon of Turbinado-Based Simple Syrup
½ Barspoon Dijon Mustard

Shake and strain into a highball glass with crushed ice. Garnish with a lemon wedge and blackberry.

You can also track down golden-hued mustard liqueur, or brew up a batch of “sinus-clearing” mustard bitters, using “a whole ton of mustard seed.”

And I have to give snaps to all the evil geniuses involved in mustard mixology:  not one suggested a campy mini-frankfurter to garnish the mustard-spiked cocktails.

Image courtesy of the National Mustard Museum.

Q&A with Mark Buettler of Brooklyn Hemispherical Sriracha Bitters

A few weeks ago, I interviewed bartender John Byrd, at The Bedford restaurant in Brooklyn — the same day that his “Wake Up, Doc” cocktail was featured in a Grub Street spread of vegetable cocktails. The secret ingredient in the drink? Brooklyn Hemispherical Sriracha Bitters. Now, I’m no stranger to sriracha in cocktails, nor to spicy bitters. But this was the first time I’d encountered both in the same product!

After a bit of wrangling, I arranged an interview with Mark Buettler, co-owner of Brooklyn Hemispherical Bitters. In addition to the Sriracha Bitters, he’s also on the cusp of releasing Black Mission Fig Bitters, Meyer Lemon Bitters, and other exciting flavors. 

A bit about Mark:  he was formerly head bartender at Dressler in Brooklyn, where John Byrd also worked, and where he met co-conspirator Jason Rowan, then a Dressler barfly.  Mark still “bartends all over town,” as he puts it, when not working for wine/liquor distributor Empire Merchants, or playing proud papa to a newborn baby.

Why bitters?

MB:  As a bartender, I focus on organic, homemade, and fresh. I started with making celery bitters. My first attempts were based on something found online — these days you can find anything you need or want online.

Why sriracha?

MB:  I love sriracha. I had visited Thailand maybe 2-3 years ago, and spent a little over a month in Thailand with my then-girlfriend, now wife.  Sriracha originates from a small town named Sriracha. There’s nothing like tasting where it originates. You know sriracha – the bottles here with the green top and rooster.

I talked to some people over there to learn how to make sriracha. The ingredients are chile, garlic, vinegar, sugar, water, maybe a little variation here or there. Pretty straightforward. I’ve been taking some traditional recipes people were willing to share, some research online, and then marrying them together and coming up with my own in my apartment here. It’s a pretty simple process.

So how do you make sriracha bitters?

MB:  First I make the base bitters – I take the barks and herbs, and just throw them in there. As I started playing around with flavors, I found that I had more control over the taste of it if I started with base bitters & brewed it first for several weeks. From there, adding flavor was secondary. I let it steep in there after I strain out the other ingredients. You get more pure expression. Then you’re not dealing with the bitters still brewing with barks and herbs and getting stronger.

So the bitters brew three weeks. I strain them. Then I make the sriracha and let it sit and mingle and the flavors become one. You get the pepper heat and flavor in the bitters that way. You have to add a lot.

How did you know when you got it right?

MB:  I kept bringing John Byrd the samples. We found you have to make it VERY hot, and add a bunch of sriracha to it.  Since you only add a few drops of bitters here or there to a drink, maybe ¼ teaspoon, not much more, the heat needs to be extra concentrated.

For a few weeks I had a tongue that was constantly numb and on fire. I had to bring it to John,  saying “I blew my taste buds out, I can’t taste anything.” When I thought they were too fiery and hot they were perfect for a drink. It needs to be very potent for it to affect the taste profile of your drink.

Many lost taste buds later… we had the sriracha bitters down.

How do you use sriracha bitters in a cocktail?

MB:  Being part of the food industry for many years, I’ve noticed more people experimenting with heat and spice in food, and embracing it more. That was not the case 5-10 years ago, not as much as it is these days. Which is one of the reasons I thought it would be fun to do these bitters. 

Thus far, we’ve experimented with using them in traditional drinks and riffs on traditional drinks that would already have bitters. Warmer liquors that would hold up to heat & take that flavor –whiskey, bourbon, rye – were our natural first go-to. We developed a Sazerac called the “Sriracha-rac.” It seemed like it would work in theory, and it turned out beautifully, with the sugar, and little bit of acid/oils from the lemon. It’s also a natural with tequila – we did a riff on the Paloma with the bitters.

It gives a fun, earthy, subtle hint of spice in the background. I’m excited to get it out there in the hands of other bartenders so they can do things I never thought of.

So how do we get our hands on a bottle of those Sriracha Bitters?

MB:  We’re still fledgling. I can be contacted directly through the Brooklyn Barman site. I can also be contacted at www.brooklynbitters.com. We’ll have a Paypal link up and order form in the next few weeks. I‘m looking forward to getting it to the bartending community. What’s most important to us is keeping things local and seasonal.  The bitters are made in Brooklyn, and as much as possible the ingredients ae sourced in Brooklyn.

Anything else spicy in the works?

MB:  We’re working with a restaurant opening in Greenpoint that has their own spicy rub for meat, which they’re looking to work into bitters. Spicy, but also savory. I think they’ll be called “Carne Asada Bitters.”  It won’t be made with meat, but it will have an earthy, meaty flavor.

Ever thought of making Bacon Bitters?

MB:  Bacon Bitters!!  Well, I am now.

Hellfire Bitters part 2, or, “when all else fails, follow directions”

So for the past two weeks, I’ve been eyeing my first batch of Hellfire Bitters, which have been infusing in my refrigerator.  I waited as long as I could in high anticipation, then forgot about it for a week, which certainly made waiting a bit more bearable.

I finally opened the jar and tried them this past weekend!  And….they were disappointing. Why? Because I didn’t follow the directions properly. Booo.

Credit goes to bitters manufacturer Zach Feldman for gently pointing out my error first.  When I posted the details & photos from my experiment, he astutely noted:

Not to be a weenis, but I noticed that the recipe calls for straining *after* the two weeks is up — did you choose to strain beforehand because chilies infuse so quickly? It’s just that without any solids in your mix, there’s nothing for the vodka to keep pulling flavor from.

I went back and checked the directions — darn, he was right. I had strained out the chiles too soon, assuming that a two-week steep would yield intolerably too-hot bitters. I was wrong.  Tasting the bitters straight up, there was a little bit of capsaicin tingle (mostly around my gums, which was rather offputting). But when added to a drink, the bitters added nothing at all, just a swirl of brown color.

Blogger and fellow cocktail geek Frederic saw this coming a mile away, commenting:

Keep in mind that “unbearable” for an infusion drank straight is different than “unbearable” for an infusion used dashwise…

Right said, Fred. It’s back to the drawing board for me!

Hot Stuff: How to make Hellfire Bitters

For the longest time, I thought Hellfire Bitters were just an urban myth.

I’d see them listed on the occasional bar menu – but when I asked to try some at my favorite bar, the bartender just scratched his head. “Let me know if you find some,” he said. “They sound great.”  As a peace offering, he mixed me a drink made with clove-scented Angostura bitters.

I asked Seattle-based mixologist Kathy Casey, who was a finalist in the 2009 Tales of the Cocktail bitters competition. (She steeped her bitters with bark and pine needles from her own Douglas Fir tree!) She hadn’t heard of Hellfire Bitters either, but gave me pointers on “bittering agents” such as gentian and chinchona bark.

And then, a wise cocktailian friend whispered in my ear:  “Hellfire bitters are something one makes, not something one buys.”

A few more well-meaning whispers later, and I was staring online at the cover of a 1939 book, “Gentlemen’s Companion,” by Charles Baker Jr., and I had the recipe. Apparently, San Francisco-based cocktail maven Erik Ellestad has cleverly adapted a recipe for Hellfire Bitters from this very book.   He jokingly refers to them as “Weaponized Bitters of Mass Destruction.”

This morning, I made a batch of Hellfire Bitters. I’m pleased to have solved the mystery. And especially, I’m pleased to share the recipe (and photos)  here with you, so you can make them too– since obviously, you can’t buy them.  Check back in 2 weeks – I’ll let you know how the bitters turned out, and will try them out in a cocktail!

Hellfire Bitters

Adapted by Erik Ellestad from “Gentlemen’s Companion” by Charles Baker Jr.


2 cups very hot chiles, such as such as Thai birds-eye chiles

2 Tablespoons molasses

2 cups vodka  (preferably 100 proof)

2 limes, quartered

½ tsp Cinchona Bark Powder (Quinine bark powder)*    (note – I subbed in Gentian, another bittering agent)

16 allspice berries, crushed 

Combine all ingredients and blend briefly in a blender. Place in a sterile jar for two weeks, shaking intermittently.  Strain through cheesecloth to remove solids and sediment, and decant into a small bottle. 

*Note: quinine can be poisonous in large doses, so resist the urge to add larger amounts to your bitters.

Raw ingredients. The little bowl contains allspice berries.

I used a meat mallet to crush the allspice berries.

Everything gets dumped into the Cuisinart. Photo before blending...

...and after blending. Isn't this attractive? The white dots are tiny chile pepper seeds.

Next step: strain through cheesecloth. Between the molasses and allspice, the liquid smelled like gingerbread.

Decanted to closed container, labeled, and refrigerated. See you in two weeks, bitters!

Drink recipe: De La Tierra

Earlier this week I was invited to a “tequila dinner” hosted by Patron spirits, with Patron master distiller Francisco Alcaraz as the guest of honor. Naturally, there was tequila in EVERYTHING, from the crudite dip straight on through to the laced tiramisu dessert, with cocktails to pair with everything.  Barman Terry Miller was overheard quipping:  “I bet even the napkins have tequila.”

Not that I’m complaining, mind you…

One of the nicest surprises of the evening (besides Francisco, who was utterly charming) was Miller’s “De La Tierra” cocktail, which translates from Spanish as “Of the Earth.” It’s a perfect name for a drink that indeed has an earthy flavor, a bit savory, a bit rich from the egg white, just a touch sweet. Miller said the drink is loosely based on an “anejo mole fizz,” which I’m not familiar with. But I do know that an anejo (“aged”) tequila would be older than the reposado (“rested”) tequila used for the incarnation served at the event.

The drink (recipe and photo below) might need some translating if you’re planning to try to make this. First, the “rich demarara syrup” means a simple syrup made with golden demarara sugar rather than the usual refined white stuff. Also, simple syrup usually is made with 1 part sugar to 1 part water. “Rich” simple syrup means 2 parts sugar to 1 part water.

Second, the term “dry shake” was new to me. Apparently it just means “shaken without ice.”

De La TierraDe La Tierra

(created by Terence Miller of Stone Rose)

1 1/2 oz.  Patron reposado tequila

1 egg white

1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice

3/4 oz. rich Demarara syrup

1 1/2 teaspoon mole paste

Orange bitters

Combine all ingredients in mixing glass and dry shake vigorously to emulsify. Then add ice and shake vigorously again before straining into coupe. Should develop nice frothy top similar to a fizz. Place 3 drops of orange bitters on top.