Celebrate American Whiskey with Basil Hayden Bourbon

I did it!  Last month, after a year and a half, I passed my Certified Spirits Specialist exam.  PHEW!  A must do for anyone who is serious about spirits, this credential, administered by the Society of Wine Educators was more rigorous than I anticipated, but delves deep in to the history and production of spirits from around the world.

That said, I’ve always had a bit of a passion for whiskey, ever since I visited Scotland for the first time.  Today, I am learning more and more about American whiskey.  Today, I am playing around with Basil Hayden Kentucky Bourbon.

The first time I tried Basil Hayden Kentucky Bourbon, I wrinkled my nose and said to my friend “thanks for smoking me out”.  As a whiskey girl who shies away from peaty Scotch and smokey whiskey in general, I wasn’t sure about the flavor profile back then.  Today, that has changed as I have experienced a wide variety of bourbons and American whiskey in general.

This is a great beginner’s drink, as it’s affordable and an easy drinker.  With lemon, fresh cream, and yellow cake mix on nose, classic vanilla and mild campfire smoke mesh with the baking spice and anise on the palate.

Introduced by Jim Beam brands in 1992 as part of their small batch collection, the mash bill is said to be similar to the original Basil’s, and thus is his namesake.The primarily corn based recipe lends itself to a clean but richer style, and it’s perfect for a cocktail or over an ice cube or two.

Tonight, enjoy some Basil Hayden Bourbon in a Country Lawyer, or celebrate Whiskey Sour day on Friday!

Country Lawyer

original recipe adapted from the classic Park Tavern drink

  • 3 oz Basil Hayden Bourbon
  • 1 oz Rhubarb Amaro (Zucca is the most common but I used Art in the Age.)
  • 1/4 oz Benedictine
  • 1/4 oz Vya Sweet Vermouth
  • 3 dashes Fee Bros Aztec Chocolate bitters
  • shake well over ice, and pour neat and garnish with lemon.

To celebrate Friday’s Whiskey Sour Day, why not try a Basil Hayden‘s® Summer Sour brought to you by San Francisco Mixologist Matt Grippo.

  •  1 ½ parts Basil Hayden’s®  Bourbon
  • ½ part Fresh Lemon Juice
  • ¾ part Sweet Vermouth
  • ¼ part Tonic Syrup
  • 2 dashes of Angostura® Bitters
  • Orange Twist (for garnish)

I’ll be testing this one and will get back to you with my tweaks!


This bottle was provided for consideration, and I considered it so much I went out and bought another!

Cocktail of the week: Gintonica

Put on your yalmulka, here comes gin-tonica,
Its so much fun-akkah to celebrate gin-tonica!

With all due respect to Adam Sandler and his holiday chuckles, a well crafted Gin & Tonic is one of my favorite cocktails.  The wide Gin tonic isolated on white background. Stock Photo - 7066244variety of gins available these days is far reaching, and goes beyond hte bathtub varieties of Prohibition, and past the mass market varieties that resemble little more than nail polish with a fancy label.

Blade Gin

Before I delve in my three favorite Gin & Tonic recipes for your Friday enjoyment, let’s look a little bit at the history at gin.  I first became fascinated with gin when I first went to Spain, where the Gintonic has long been held as a sacred ritual and art form.  As it turns out, filed under the heading strange but true facts about booze, Spain boasts the third highest per capita consumption of gin around the world, after (oddly enough) the Phillipines and the United States.  Britain, which is what pops in to most minds when you say gin, falls fourth in line.  Considering that Spain produces world class wine, this is a pretty crazy statistic – but this Luscious Lushes is happy to have stumbled in to the country where a gin & tonic is a creative outlet for even the most back country bartender takes pride in.

Gin was originally derived from juniper berries in the Middle Ages, and was used as an herbal medicine.  Today, gins are any clear spirit that is made from botanicals, and can be floral, herbal, woodsy, or juiper-y.  The key difference here, is that while vodka is a flavorless spirit, gin has a ton of flavor, and distillers pride themselves on a unique and secret combination of herbs, flowers, and spices, to give their own special twist to their version.

legance in a glass.  There are two distinct types of spirit that can be called gin:Today, with the craft cocktail craze sweeping the US and the world, gin is no longer a medicinal beverage or a poor man’s drink – it is e

  1. Gin – This is a juniper flavored spirit made by adding natural flavors to a neutral spirit.  The predominant flavor must be juniper.
  2. London Gin – must be at least 70% ABV and cannot have any added sugar beyond .1 grams per liter.  Because there is not
    added sugar, London Gin is usually called London Dry Gin.

My favorite gins are all quite different, and I continue to explore and disvoer new versions that are as widely varied in falvvor as a Bordeaux is from a California Pinot Noir:

  • St. George Spirits Terroir Gin – St. George Spirits, the makers of Hangar One Vodka, is across the bay from me and prouces three gins.  Terroir is my favorite, with earthy, forest flavors, minty goodness and cedar notes.
  • Old World Spirits Blade Gin – fruity and spicy, with ginger and hot pepper notes this is a citrus driven gin with earthy bones that really sing.
  • Hendricks Dry London GIn – clean, crisp, dry.  The perfect classic London gin.

Now on to the cocktails!  The key to a good cocktail is having the right flavors, blended together perfectly.  In this case, for my three favorite Gin & Tonics, I like to use bitters to enhance the flavor of the gin, along with different tonics which highlight key notes in the gin.  Tonic makes all the difference!  There are so many craft tonics out there these days, step away from the mass market brands and branch out to Fentimans, Q, or Fever Tree.  If you’re very adventerous, try making your own tonic!

First up:

Terroir Terror

  • St George Terroir Gin
  • Fentiman’s Tonic Water
  • 1 dash lime bitters
  • dash lavender bitters
  • dash cardomon bitters
  • slice of lime

The aromatics of the lavender bitters plays particularly well off of the Terroir; the herbal notes of the bitters and the forest floor qualities of the gin are a stunning combination.  The cardamon adds a hint of exotic spice that you wouldn’t otherwise expect, dancing off of your tongue, while the lime enhances the natural compliment of a fresh slice on top.  The tonic of choice for this is Fentimans, as Schwepps is to flat in flavor, and the Fever Tree, while a tasty tonic, doesn’t pack the punch that makes this Gin & Tonic speical.  I prefer the Fentimans for the lemongrass notes and citrus burst.

Blade Trinity

  • Blade Gin
  • Fentimans Tonic Water
  • Slice of lime

A simple classic, the lightness of the Fever Tree enhances the Blade gin.  Pure and simple.

Sliced Blade

  • Blade Gin
  • tonic syrup, mixed with sparkling water to make tonic water
  • dash grapefruit bitters
  • C&B Old Fashioned Quinine syrup, mixed per directions
  • Antica Fomula vermouth, a premier sipping quality vermouth

The tonic syrup is a unique flavor, and naturally brown, as quinine turns when it ages.  The adition of the grapefruit bitters pop the flavors up in this mixture, and the touch of vermouth brings a roundness and a caramelized sweet note that is pleasing on the palate.  Make sure you don’t use white vermouth or an inferior quality!

I hope these drinks inspire you, and I encourage you to go out and make up your own drinks!

Happy Friday!

It’s a Carnival of taste! Craft Spirits Carnival

It’s hard to believe that next weekend is Memorial Day.  Where did the spring go?  Summer is rapidly approaching, and with that, some great summer cocktails!CSC logo

Be sure to catch all the action at the Craft Spirits Carnival in San Francisco on June 15th & 16th.  This unique event combines the showcase of an old fashioned big top, with hundreds of craft creations:  small batch mezcal, tequila, whisky, bourbon, vodka, gin, rum and absinthe, and an assortment of flavors and libations you’ve never known before.

Each purveyor will present their delicious spirits, as well as a signature cocktail.  This is not to be missed!  The best part about this carnival?  If you taste something you can’t live without, you can purchase it at the end of the day so you can recreate the magic at home.

Check out local favorites St. George Spirits and Charbay, as well as small batch distillers from Oregon, New York, and all over the country.

Buy your tickets now – and get 60% event pricing, just $32-40 for a full day of sipping!  VIP packages include both days and early entry so if you are a mixologist in the making, make sure to grab your discount early.  So many discoveries were made here last year.

See you there!



1:00pm – 4:00pm
Fort Mason Center, Festival Pavilion



Cocktail, laughter, and damn fine jam

After we meandered through the Walk in the Park, the Blitz Carlton crew headed back in to town and met up at Republic of Jam for cocktails and catching up.

The Republic of Jam is a unique shop that specializes in jams and culinary concoctions of distinction made from local farms and suppliers.  Each jar of jam contains at least one pound of fresh fruit, with half of the sugar of traditional jams – making them deliciously savory as well as sweet.  These are not your average jams!  With flavors like Apricot Vanilla Riesling and Mango Viognier, you are sure to have your taste buds teased and enthralled.

Lynnette creating Plum Royales
Photo courtesy of Josh Chang

In this little slice of heaven, members of the Jam Nation (the shop’s quarterly club) can wander the shelves of little gems like the much coveted Pacific Berry Jam, only made once a year, or perhaps some Cherry Black Pepper jam to spread on your pork chop.  With other items such as Spiced Pomegranate Culinary Syrup as well as mustards, the sky is the limit when it comes with creative uses of these sauces and spreads.

Republic of Jam’s proprietresses, Amy Wilder and Lynnette Shaw, are creative and inspired jam masters who are only limited by the supply of season fruit.  The creative recipies and inspirations that they come up with are truly amazing.

On our visit, we were treated to several nibbles as well as three cocktails, using both jams and culinary syrups.

Photo courtesy of Josh Chang (I swear I took pictures, but clearly not of the cocktails!)

Try some fresh chevre or farmers cheese with a little blueberry jam, or perhaps a Smoked Tomato jam with bacon sandwich!

The first cocktail was Plum Ginger culinary syrup, paired wit local winery Kramer Vineyards Brut.  This created a Plum Royale, and the flavor of the plums make it a refreshingly fun sparkler, with a twist.  When I got home, I had a bottle of Spiced Pomegranate syrup, so I tried that as well – and boy!  What a way to ring in the holidays!

Next up locally crafted artisan gin was paired with Blueberry Lemon jam, slowly dissolved in a glass with a generous slug of gin, topped with sparkling water.  Lemon Blueberry Gin fizz anyone?  I had two…or three!  Hey, I was walking 2 blocks back to the B&B and the restaurant for dinner was next door.

Our final jam libation was a Strawberry Mint Julep, created with Temperance Trader Bourbon, bitters, and Strawberry Black Pepper culinary syrup.  With the unexpected kick of pepper at the end of a sweet julep, this was absolutely delicious.

If you are in Carlton, be sure to stop by!  Situated between 7 of Hearts winery and Horseradish cafe, you can stroll the main street all day and never be bored.

As for me, I have about 7 jars of jam collected on my counter, and 3 culinary syrups in my fridge.  This weekend is the Craft Spirits Carnival, and I will be doing my best mixology routine tomorrow!  We’ll see how it goes…

Happy jamming!

Carnival of Spirits

Fall is here!

Reluctantly crouched at the starting line.

To borrow a line from CAKE, I am reluctantly embracing Fall.  Somehow summer passed us by and didn’t even wave hello.

But here we are, at the end of September.  Luckily, I have a few events to keep me busy and distracted from the cold, foggy soup out there.

First up, October 13th and 14th is the first annual Craft Spirits Carnival!  Brought to you by the good folks who created teh San Francisco Vintner’s Market, The Craft Spirits Carnival promises to be a one of kind tasting room for handcrafted ultra-premium spirits.  I’m especially looking forward to it, as my bar is sadly empty, and I need to stock up on some great spirits.

Craft spirits are wildly popular, and with well known names like Charbay and Hangar One, many other producers are offering unlimited tastings (yikes!) of over 100 spirits from some of the world’s best producers.  One of the key features of this event, like the SFVM, is that if you like a spirit, you will be able to purchase that day.  This is  a unique opportunity to take that hooch home with you!

To add a special flair to the show, there will be a carnival sideshow, featuring top aerialists, trapeze acts, fire eaters, sword swallowers, knife throwers, contortionists, burlesque, and so much more. Watch these incredible performances in the middle of the largest walk-around tasting of ultra-premium craft spirits – all included in the price of admission.

Tickets for the Craft Spirits Festival are available for $125 for one day, or $200 for two days.  If you HURRY you can get the early bird discount until 11pm TONIGHT for $100!  If you are attending the SFVM, you can get a discount on the Craft Spirits Fair, but more on that shortly.
I can’t wait, and I hope to see you there!

Nectar of the Gods and other tales from the Navy

A couple of Saturdays ago, I decided to head on over to St. George Spirits, home of Hangar 1 vodka and other delights, for their annual Holiday Open House.  For those of you who don’t know, St. George Spirits is housed in the old Alameda Naval Air Station, in, well, Hangar number 1.  The best part of the trip over there, other than the delicious libations, is the unobstructed view over the old airfield, to the cityscape beyond.

When I RSVP’ed for this event, I decided to go for the whole shebang – tasting the traditional offerings of vodka and Eau de Vies, but also included the special bottlings of brandies as well as the mescal and absinthe.  I’m not sure how much I can tell you about the latter, but I have plenty to say about the amazing vodkas and other clear liquors!  It started out with 3 inventive cocktails, made from the offerings we were going to taste.  But first, you should hear the story.

St George Spirits began over twenty years ago, by a German emigrant that found a new home in San Francsico.  Jörg Rupf began educating the American palate as to the virtues and beauty of finely crafted eau de vie., or the Water of Life.  The story of St. George Spirits really starts with the Eu de Vie, which in many cultures is th eonly way to make the fruits of summer last forever.  It all starts with the source fruits, which have to be the best examples.  The examples I tasted at the open house truely were the cream of the crop, and were luscious libations of the first class.

Aqua Perfecta is the name of the fruit brandies that St. George produces.  The word brandy here really does not bear any relationship to the sticky sweet concoctions that many American’s associate iwth the drink.  These are the essence of the fruit, suspende din fire water, which will warm you even on the coldest of days.

The Pear Eau de Vie tastes of deep buttery pears, with just a touch of spice.  It is made with over 15 pounds of pears in each bottle and it really shows!  The fruit itself comes from local sources in Northern California, and the essense tastes of pears that have been poaches and pureed.

The Framboise tastes exactly like the essense of raspberries you would expect it too.  One sniff, and you are transported to the fields of the Northwest, with powerful berry aromas and intense berry flavors.  You would never mistake this for another liquor.  This would be amazing over ice cream, with some fresh berries sprinkled on top.

This is probably the most traditional of the spirits offered, other than the plain vodka.  This Kirsch is one of the most difficult to perfect, since it is a spirit loved the world over.  The cherry flavor is tinged with an almond essense, which is developed from the fermenting pits.  The cherries used to make this spirit are not hte sweet reds that we eat, because they do not ferment well.  Rather, they are Montmorencies, a sour variety grown in Michigan.  This Kirch would be wonderful with Marzipan treats, as well as the traditional uses in fondue both cheese & chocolate.

Grappa is an aquired taste.  It is an intense flavor that can be brutal goign down.  Anyone who has seen My Big Fat Greek Weddign can understand!  Traditional Grappa is distilled from pomace, the remains of grapes after they’ve been pressed for wine, making this a very green beverage as we are using what would normally be put to compost to continue the fermentation process.  I have tasted many a grappa in my travels, but St. George makes it differently.  this grappa is actually used from another urban beverage supplier down the road – Rosenblum’s Rockpile Road Zinfandel.  This grappa is very smooth and I can really pull out the intensity of the zinfandel flavors sipping on it.

The same amazing source fruit that is used ot make the Eau de Vie is used to make the Aqua Perfecta Liquors.  These are fortiified liqueurs, which are terriffic on their own or poured over a big bowl of ice cream.  The brilliant red of the Raspberry Aqua Perfecta is stunning to look at, and even better to taste.  It is like drinking raspberry puree with a kick!  While not sweet, it has all of the fruity goodness of eating a basket of the best raspbreries during the height of summer.

The Kaffir Lime is a funny looking creature from Indonesia.  The leaves often are used in Thai dishes, and provide an intense aromatic to this vodka.  This has a refreshing fresh lime flavor.

The Buddha’s Hand Lemon is a spikey strange object, which doesn’t really look like a lemon at all, but rather some creature from the black lagoon.
It has an intense aroma of lemons that really swoops out of the glass,  This is a terrific sipping vodka, but also would make an unbelievable Lemon Drop or Martini.

Mandarin Blosson – Smells like you have an orange in your glass.  The aromatics of this vodka are like the essential oils used in room fresheners, but in a good way!  This is a truely deliciosu sipper, and I went back for several samples, poured through a giant ice sculpture luge to chill the vodka.  Mmmm it would make a delicious cosmo, but it’s really wonderful on it’s own.

One of the special offerings was the Spiced Pear Vodka.  This was a clear vodka, but had the essence of pears, with an added spice flavor that was perfect for the holidays.  I really enjoyed this vodka, and can see it over ice in front of the Christmas tree.

My notes are lacking for the further offerings, as you can imagine, but I look forward to tasting at Hangar 1 again soon!