Fall Cognac Crawl – SF Version

When I first began my spirit studies in earnest, I knew nothing about Cognac, save for the ancient bottle of Hennessy in my stash, inherited from one friends’ move or another.

As time went on, and as I build my cocktail catalog, I learned about the diversity and deliciousness of the amber queen.

Enter the marketing genius of the Cognac people, who worked with teams in New York and San Francisco to create a pop up cocktail tour, featuring inspired drinks made with cognac.














But first, a little lesson in Cognac.  Cognac is brandy, distilled in the Cognac region of France.  The prime grape source is Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano in Italian), but a small amount of Colombard and a smattering of lesser grape may also be used.

The most important thing to understand about Cognac is the labeling system of classification as, while it does not denote quality, it gives you a clue as to how long it has been aged.

  • V.S. (Very Special) is a blend in which the youngest brandy has been stored for at least two years
  • V.S.O.P. (Very Superior Old Pale) or Reserve is also a blend, but the youngest brandy has be aged for at least four years in a cask.
  • XO (Extra Old) or Napoléon is a blend where the youngest brandy is aged for at least 6 years.  This is changing however, because in 2018, the XO needs to be aged at least 8 years.
  • Hors d’âge (Beyond Age) really is the same as XO, but it’s a great marketing ploy to showcase the highest quality product offering, and gives the appearance of rarity and luxury.

Here in San Francisco, our crawl included 5 well known craft cocktail bars, with 5 equally crafty cocktails – all different, all delicious, and all showcasing the flexibility of cognac brandy.

First up, we met at Blackbird, a hidden gem in the no man’s land between the . Mission and the Castro, on the upper reaches of Market Street.  At Blackbird, we started our journey with the Carried Away, a refreshing concoction made with Rye Bread-Infused Cognac V.S., Cocchi Torino, Bonal, a splash of Benedictine and a dash of Peychaud’s Bitters – with just a hint of Absinthe to add something interesting.



Next, we wandered down the street to Elixir, one of my favorite whiskey bars in San Francisco.  With over 500 bottles lining the walls, it’s hard to focus on the task at hand, but owner H. has plans for us.   walking out the back door, through the pass through bathroom to what seemed like a speakeasy that never went out of style, we arrived at the Elixir classroom.  Here, H., an avid Cognac fan and educator, led us on a guided tasted of three distinct cognacs.

Once we were clear on the foundation of our drink, the mixologists at Elixir treated us to the Elixir of Cognac, a frothy tropically inspired punch with XO Cognac, Crème de Cassis, pineapple gum syrup and lemon juice.  To add the creamy froth, a bit of egg white is added in and the whole thing is shaken over ice.  Yum


Our next stop was Dalva, where we snuck through the back door to another, semi secret speakeasy type bar.  Here, while it was dimly lit, it was cozy with a few small tables and a well stocked and beautiful bar. This stop gave us the most pure drink so far, somewhat of a Cognac Manhattan if you will – or a Corpse Reviver #1.

At Dalva, this was The Cure For What Ails You – and it certain did!  I could have had many of these, a straight cocktail made with Cognac, Bonal, Fernet, whiskey bitters and some amazing smoked pear bitters.



Our next to last stop, and the last stop on foot, Wildhawk, was bustling and teeming with happy hour revelers.  Here, we departed the savory land for the somewhat sweet Kind of Fancy, with Cognac, Rye, Port, Yellow Chartreuse (people still use this this stuff?), and mole bitters.  I admit, this wasn’t my favorite, but I can see how enjoyable it would be on a cool fall day, particularly if you warmed it up a bit.


Our final stop required an Uber to meander through the hills of Bernal Heights, where we ended our tour at Holy Water.  Our last cocktail of the #congaccocktails crawl was a Stinger Royale, a minty, chocolatey wonder with cognac, Cremè de Menthe, Cremè de Cacao, Absinth (you fickle fairy you) and bitters.  It was rich and certainly served as dessert.

Sadly, I couldn’t get a good picture of this one, so be creative with your imagery.

My personal favorites were the first three stops, but there is a cocktail on this tour for everyone – and you get the added bonus of discovering some of the best craft cocktail bars the city has to fofer.  The best part?  Its only $30.  Have you ever had 5 cocktails for $30 in San Francisco – outside of a shot of well rye in a dive bar in the Tenderloin?


The Cognac Crawl continue through October 15th, so be sure to get your cocktail on and join int he fun!  Visit Good Passports to book yours today.

In New York?  There is a Manhattan version as well!

Special thanks to Teuwen Communications for the media preview, and H. from Elixir for joining the fun and providing a great Cognac class.

Stolen Fruit – from the minds of Sonoma’s best winegrowers

Stolen Fruit Cocktail Mixers Luscious Lushes I love to create; specifically, I love to create cocktails from amazing ingredients.  Being a Bay Area native and a Sonoma County resident (well, mostly), when I found out about Stolen Fruit Cocktail Mixers, I was excited to get my hands on them.

Created by wine country chef Peter Brown, and Healdsburg grapegrowing royalty Doug & Susan Provisor, these fascinating blends of ver jus (freshly pressed juice) are the perfect base from everything to amped up water, to mock-tails, to elegant cocktails for every season.

Beginning with some pretty spectacular grapes, much of which are used to create some delicious wines, these fresh juice mixers come in exotic flavor combinations like:

  • Lemongrass-Ginger-Sav Blanc
  • Jasmine-Juniper-Viognier
  • Blood Orange-Muscat
  • Fig-Grains of Paradise-Zinfandel
  • Hibiscus-Grenache (not reviewed)

The freshness of these components and creative blends make them perfect for playing in your cocktail bar, or just jazzing up the every day.

img_2705Lemongrass – Ginger – Sauvignon Blanc – I love the lively spice of the lemongrass and ginger, and this would make a perfect addition to your favorite sparkling wine on Sunday morning.  Gin-Mosa anyone?  I also love this with sparkling water.  Just a splash wake up the benign and helps you get those 8 glasses in.  It is also a natural base for any vodka or gin drink, such as the amped up Moscow Mule!

7 Mules for Sister Sara

  • Mix 2 ounces of Stolen Fruit with sparkling water to make a light soda.
  • Add 3 ounces of gin (or vodka)
  • Add 2 ounces of ruby red grapefruit juice
  • Stir over ice

img_2721Jasmine – Juniper – Viognier

The surprisingly piquant flavors of lychee and kiwi, with a floral finish pair perfectly with cucumber.

Juniper Martini

  • Pour 3 ounces of your favorite gin (Hendricks would work well here) over ice in mixing glass.
  • Add 2 ounces of Stolen Fruit.
  • Squeeze 1/4 fresh lemon on top and shake well
  • Strain in to a martini glass with 3-4 slices of fresh cucumber.

img_2720Blood Orange – Muscat

Brilliant fresh orange flavors and bright citrus jump out of the glass with a hint of nutmeg and tropical vanilla.  This reminds me of Pirates of the Caribbean, and screams for rum.

But, What About the Rum?

  • 2 ounces of Stolen Fruit
  • 3 ounces of dark rum
  • 3 ounces of light rum
  • A few shakes of tropical or Angostora bitters
  • Serve over ice in a coconut.


img_2707Fig-Grains of Paradise-Zinfandel

This dark and brooding baby is perfect for the fall.  Nutty with the fig notes, and a winter warmer, this is perfect for a fruity hot toddy.

Winter is Coming

  • 3 ounces Stolen Fruit
  • 1 ounces hot water 
  • 3 ounces bourbon (or, you can use a strong red wine)
  • cinnamon stick, cloves, star anise (to taste) or 1 tsbp mulling spices


And for yet another use, the Stolen Fruit mixers are fantastic for culinary sauces, dressings, and glazes!  Thank you to Verdant PR and Stolen Fruit for sharing these great bar items.  Pick some up today for $18 each, or the handy gift set!

In the Navy, I’ll sail to Spirit Works

spiritworks_logo_distressedI’ve long been a fan of Spirit Works, a small craft distillery in Sebastapol’s Barlow. Since their initial launch of vodka and gin in 2012, Tim & Ashby Marshall have been distilling grain to glass spirits that truly have a terroir of their own

Continuing their grain to glass philosophy, Spirit Works recently launched their new Navy Strength Gin.  Navy Strength Gin differs from traditional gin in that it tends to be both higher in alcohol, but also has a brighter expression of botanicals, and juniper.

Originally distilled for the British Navy, to help ease the physical and mental aches of a long voyage at sea, the Spirit Works’ iteration is a delicious departure from their traditional Gin.

Distilled from a red winter wheat base, this gin is much spicier than the more citrus driven Spirit Works gin.  Smooth and sturdy, this is a fine sipping gin with a prominent spice note, and firm backbone.

My picks for cocktails that shine a light on the gin are:

Classic G&T

  • Fill a highball or cocktail glass with ice.
  • Pour 3 oz of Spirit Works Navy Strength gin over the ice.
  • Add 3-4 cracked cardamon seeds.  I love how the cardamon plays with this gin, but you can also infuse with Star Anise to create a more earthy fall flavored cocktail.
  • Top with Fever Tree tonic water, or your favorite tonic (anything that isnt’ make with corn syrup!)

Gin Gimlet

  • juice of 1 lime (please don’t use sweetened lime juice!)
  • simple syrup to taste
  • 3 oz Spirit Works Navy Strength Gin
  • Pour all ingredients in to a cocktail shaker over ice.  Shake.
  • Strain in to a cocktail glass or coupe
Spirit Works is open daily, from 11am – 5pm for tastings, tours, and sales.  Stop by and see them some time in The Barlow, you won’t be sorry!  While you are there, visit some of our local wineries and stop in Zazu for a bacon tasting, and a specialty cocktail made with Spirit Works.
While this sample was provided by my friends at Verdant PR, I buy plenty of hooch from Spirit Works.  Support your local distiller! 

5 Indian Summer Cocktails that the Drapers Would Die For

Redwood Room

The back bar at the Redwood Room

Walking through the doors of the historic Clift Hotel in San Francisco, you can almost smell the years of cigar smoke and high powered financial deals that linger in the wood lined lobby.  Long the bastion of high powered deal making, the Clift opened it’s doors in 1913 by Frederick Clift on a family property, to serve the Pan Pacific Exposition.

Build to survive earthquake and fire, it still stands with the 1924 expansion of three additional floors.  At the time, it was the largest hotel in the state, and today, while it is now owned by the Morgans Hotel Group, it still remains much the same as when it initially opened.

The dark and brooding Redwood Room cocktail lounge feels like you are stepping back in history, with modern touches.  So named for the rich redwood panelled walls, and imposing etched glass and wood bar all pull us back to the original hotel’s glamour and clientele.  Enhancing to the unique flair, the Redwood Room boasts digital art work that will change when you are least expecting it – reminding me of a scene out of the cult movie Clue.

Clift’s famous and hanging array of digital artwork displayed on plasma television screens hung throughout the room. Snack on gourmet bites while sipping on delicious cocktails and enjoying curated music provided by well-known native San Francisco DJs along with world-class talent Thursday through Saturday nights.,

Master Mixologist Anthony Kim created the inventive and refreshing cocktail list just in time for Indian Summer, which is when us San Franciscians traditionally get some suIMG_1685nshine.  Using the freshest ingredients, these 5 cocktails represent traditional drinks that you might find in any bar, but with a twist of fresh, bright, and unique flavors.

A bit like a mai tai, this drink was named for two kings:  Bourbon, and basil.  This was my 2nd favorite of the night, because, naturally I love bourbon, and the addition of strawberries and basil adds a savory but sweet note that hits the spot.

A mimosa that is splashing out to play, the passion fruit and mint play off of each other in a dance of the Sugarplum Fairy, while the vodka adds a cool touch.  A smooth and refreshing aperitif.

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!


Ah amaro, how I love thee!  With hundreds of unique amari to choose from, Cynar is unusual in that it’s make from artichokes.  While it might seem odd that a beverage would be made from what is basically the flower of a thistle, there are so many uses for this!

From sipping straight, “like an Italian mama”, my friend would say, to using it as a bittering agent in cocktails, it was originally intended to be a digestif.  The unique bitterness combined with the sweetness of the chemical cynarin, as well as thirteen different botanical, it is quite versatile.

Now, Cynar comes in two versions:  Original Cynar,and the new Cynar 70 Proof.  Cynar 70 Proof is really just a more intense version of the original, and stands up to more complex cocktails.

This week, try out a couple of fun cocktails using Cynar!


The Cy-Groni

In a twist on the classic Negroni, substituent original Cynar to add the bitter complainant that Campari would normally occupy.  I am not the biggest fan of Campari as I find it almost too bitter, so I often use Cappalletti Aperitivo.  Here, the best of both worlds comes in to play.

In a cocktail shaker, add over ice:

  • 1/2 oz Cynar
  • 1/2 sweet vermouth
  • 3 oz gin (I love Ransom Old Tom)
  • 3 dashes orange bitters (try the Fee Bros Gin Barrel Aged)
  • 1 dash 5 by 5 Aged Citrus Bitters

Shake, and pour over ice, with an orange twist.  For fun, I used a blood orange rind.

A variation on the Negroni with bourbon, is the classic Boulevardier.   My friend Emma actually introduced me to this cocktail (I know, I should have know about this ages ago!).  The Cynar 70 Proof is perfect in this recipe because it is a bolder flavor and holds up to the whiskey.

Boulevard of Dreams

In a cocktail shaker, add over ice:

  • 1/2 oz Cynar 70 Proof
  • 1/2 sweet vermouth
  • 3 oz bourbon (Knob Creek Single Barrel knocked my socks off here!)
  • 3 dashes bitters (Fee Bros whiskey barrel aged cocktail bitters are the bomb)
  • 1 dash cherry bitters (check out Carlton Cocktail Company’s woodland cherry)
  • 1 dash fig bitters (for a bit of depth, again try Carlton Cocktail Company)
  • Shake, and pour over ice, with an orange twist and a good marachino cherry.


Being a bourbon lovin’ gal, I was really interested to try the Game, Set, Match

Courtesy of Basil Hayden’s recipe page, (more on that next week!) this delicious variation of the classic Manhattan, it packs a punch with the bittersweet addition of Cynar.  Bourbon on it’s own can have the perception of being sweet, and sweet vermouth is also sweet.  The Cynar adds a delicious bitter note that tones down the classically sweet Manhattan and makes a refreshing afternoon pick me up!

In a cocktail shaker, over ice add:

  • 3 oz bourbon
  • 1/2 oz sweet vermouth
  • 1/2 oz (I used a bit less)
  • 3 dashes orange bitters
  • Shakes, and strain.  Add a cherry or lemon garnish.

Thank you to Gruppo Campari, who owns Cynar, and MBooth for sharing these interesting sippers!  All recipes are my own, except the Game, Set, Match, originally sourced from Basil Hayden Bourbon.


With a Blade & Bow – History in a glass

Recently, the good folks at Diageo invited me to experience the re-launch of an iconic brand:  Blade & Bow.  Unique in it’s production technique, using a Solera system that is classical used for Sherry in Spain, no year is a single vintage. Instead, it is an ever evolving blend of many vintages as they tumble down the cascading pyramid of the solera.  In this case, the Blade & Bow solera is 5 barrels, with the oldest being from the original Stitzel distillery where blade & bow was originally born.


Stitzl-Weller was founded in 1935 in Louisville, and was distilling continuously until 1992.  When they shut down, the bourbon stock was sill aging, and therefore made it possible to create the oldest solera tiers that are available today.  The 22 year old Limited Release is a blend whiskies, distilled at both the historic location at 17th and Breckinridge in Louisville, Ky. and another historic distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky, creating this complex beauty.  This blend is then aged and bottled at Stitzel-Weller.

A beautiful expression of caramel, brown sugar, baked apples, and baking spice.  Sip this beauty straight, or make a killer Manhattan!  It’s fairly hard to put the glass down once you start drinking this sexy little number, and on these foggy summer nights, I am happy to have my little friend. $150


  I’ll Take Manhattain (with a Bow)

2 oz. Blade & Bow 22 Year old
.25 oz. Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth
1 dash Bob’s Abbot’s Bitters
1 Dash Fee Brother’s Aztec Chocolate Bitters
1/2 dash Aged Citrus Bitters
1/2 Dash Meyer Lemon Bitters

Shake over ice and strain in to a cocktail glass.  Garnish with a slice of lemon and a bourbon soaked cherry.  The Aztec Chocolate adds a sweet richness, while the lemon garnish adds enough acid IMG_9090to make the flavors pop.   This is a treat that you will get addicted to!

For those looking for a more affordable treat, the Blade & Bow Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is  a lighter and fresher bourbon, perfect over ice, or in your favorite cocktail.  The Blade & Bow Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is a  fine sipping bourbon, and is made from the solera stocks from Stitzel-Weller, blended with other whiskies to create the completed product.

Fresh and fruity, with notes of vanilla, fresh oranges, ripe pears, marzipan and gingerbread why not try an Old Fashioned Ginger?  $50


 Ginger Old Fashioned
2 oz Blade & Bow Kentucky Straight Bourbon
1 oz Ginger Liquor
splash ginger beer (preferably a dry one)
dash orange bitters

Muddle 1/2 tsp of sugar with the bitters and ginger liquor.  Add ice, and top with bourbon, and ginger beer.  Garnish with an orange wedge.

 The use of the solera cask system allows Blade & Bow to carry on a tradition that was once thought to be lost, preserving some of the oldest golden nectar for future generations to come.  I highly recommend the 22-year old, and if you are out at a bar and see the Kentucky Straight, give it a shot! Pun intended, of course.


Thank you to Blade & Bow and the Diageo team for a great night of cocktails and a dinner of Southern specialties with a twist, at Dirty Habit – a peach of a bourbon bar in the heart of San Francisco.

Seven Stills for 7 Cocktails: Don’t be bitter!

A few years ago, at my first Craft Cocktail Carnival here in San Francisco, I was fortunate enough to meet Tim Obert and Clint Potter of Seven Stills Vodka.  Masters of the craft cocktail movement, I was fortunately enough to taste through some of the unique creations that Tim had lurking in his cabinets.  One of those creations was the recently released Meyer Lemon Bitters, a zippy little number just waiting for a cocktail to show it’s beauty.


 Now, that first bitter moment has given rise to the new line of bitters.  To fund this project, they have turned to both a new Bitters Club (which, I clearly  need to join given my bitters obsession), and a Kickstarter Campaign for the ages.


When Seven Stills started making bitters, they set out to be both unique, and to use fresh, seasona, ingredients nad herbs that aid in digestion and overall health.  After all, that is what bitters were created for.

Each one of these unique creations is crafted with a base of non-GMO grain spirits (well there’s a new thing to watch for GMOs in!  Do you know if Monsanto sponsors your vodka?), and the secret recipe of over 30 herbs and spices, plus the primary flavor of the bitter.

This year, they are starting out with Prickly Pear, Cranberry, and classic Cocktail Bitters, to go along with the aforementioned Meyer Lemon Bitters.

dcole cocktail


dcole cocktail 4

dcole cocktail 3

Remember, bitters is for more than just cocktails!  Add a few drops to your water to add some interesting elements.  Water does get boring after all..  Suffering a hangover?  Add some bitters to tonic water and drink up.  The digestive effect of the bitters and the quinine in the tonic (if it’s real tonic) will soothe you in no time

Want to know more?  Check out the videos and recipies on the Kickstarter Page!

Happy drinking!


To your health! Cocktials as health food

I love a good cocktail as much as the next gal, but did you know some cocktails can be good for you?  Taking a cue from the elixirs, tinctures, and tonics of yesterday, and putting a new twist on them, the new book Apothecary Cocktails delves in to the history of some restoratives libations, and creates new recipes for today’s trendy bartender. When we look at some of the key ingredients in the modern bar, we can see behind the bourbon, vodka and other liquors to the mixers that were traditionally used as medicine.  Love a gin & tonic?  Tonic (real tonic, not this corn syrup flavored water that passes today) is made with quinine, a well known remedy for influenza.  Love to use bitters to flavor your cocktails?  Bitters were created as a digestive aid, originally in Angostura, Venezuela, as a tonic.  Brandy has long been carried by St. Bernard mountain dogs in the Swiss Alps for warmth and revival in the cold winter nights. I love to experiment with cocktails and flavors but Apothecary Cocktails categorizes their recopies by aliment:

  • Have a digestive issue?  Try a Sazerac.  The Peychaud’s bitters from New Orleans was originally used to heal stomach problems.
  • Cold to the bone?  Try some Navy Grog.  With Scurvy being a critical issue in sailors, this winter warmer with rum and lemon juice was used in the 17th & 18th centuries.
  • Sweltering in a sticky summer?  Almond Pastis is your cure.  Pastis is the cool drink of southern France, with cold anise flavored liquor that turns white when mixed with ice water.
  • If you’ve had all of the above and are feeling a bit green, restoratives hair of the dog cocktails like the Corpse Reviver, full of Caribbean flavors as well as spices and alcohol it will help you to forget.
  • Hot toddies have long been used to relax you after a long day.  How about Mexican Sleep Cure for your insomnia?  That Mescal will certainly help you sleep.
  • When I have a cold, I make my own Nyquil:  3 oz whiskey, healthy squeeze of lemon juice, 1 TBSP of brown sugar, cloves, and hot water.  Stir with a cinnamon stick.    You could also try a Lemon Balm Gin & Tonic.  Lemon Balm has been a popular herban pain killer for centuries, and is used in many digestives such as Amaro and Chartreuse.
  • Finally, if you’re in a bad mood – snap out of it!  Cheer in a glass, the Milk Thistle Spritz takes a commonly used herbal elixer detoxifies the liver and is a tasty treat.

Apothecary Cocktails also includes several recipes for syrups and infusions used in the cocktail creations, like Cardamon simple syrup, and Shrubb simple syrup. I’ve tried, twisted, and tweaked several of these recipes and it’s a great addition to any bar.  Enjoy!

The book was provided by the publisher for consideration but all cocktails were created from my own hooch!


Battle of the best: Cocktail Wars

Are you over turkey and cranberry sauce?  Done with wine pairings?  Well, Dishcrawl is at it again!  Bringing cocktail deliciosuness everywhere!  This season, they are launching Cocktail Wars, where North American mixologists from all over the country compete for the best, most creative, most delicious cocktails in 11 cities.

Here in the Bay Area, the first battle will be in San Jose on December 10th, which is co-hosted by Sacramento’s own Andrew Calisterio, current frontman at Maven San Francisco.

At the show, you can sit back and watch the panel of celebrity judges and hear the inspiration behind the drink while you sip some of the contenders.

But wait!  In January, to beat those mid-winter blues, you can also join the battle in San Francisco!  Stay tuned for more on that soon.

If you like a good, creative, inspired cocktail as much as I do – be sure not to miss it!  I’ll be there voting!

For tickets and more information please see Cocktail Wars!  Packages including tasting menus are available starting at $29.





When good wine gets…better

Ah vermouth, that mystical beverage that started it’s life as wine, and was elevated with aromatics and botanicals.  Vermouth varies so widely, it might as well be called the gin of the wine world!

While there are two distinct types of vermouth – dry, or white, and sweet, or red, the flavor profiles within each realm vary so widely that it is akin to determining who your favorite wine is.  For me, it’s impossible.

You have probably heard of, and used, the classic Martini & Rossi vermouths in your cocktails, be it a Manhattan or a Martini.  While these are inexpensive and readily available, there remind me of white zinfandel.  Fine, if you must, but must you?

Recently, I had the good fortune to taste a local vermouth by Sutton Cellars.  This delicious example of a craft vermouth is made from a white wine from Sonoma, and infused with a burst of citrus and baking spice, this is the perfect sipper of choice on these warm fall afternoons.
While most vermouth is used in cocktails, this beauty should be enjoyed alone, or with a minimum of other ingredients.

My two favorite cocktails with craft vermouth:

Sutton & Soda

Made by Carl Sutton himself, this was a gorgeous interlude before we completed our wine

tasting.  Simple, yet elegant, vermouth on the rocks with a splash of soda water and a grapefruit twist.  Delicious!

Not so French Kiss

I found this recipe online, and it uses both dry and sweet vermouths.  My version kicks it up a notch with the addition of some aromatic bitters for flavor emphasis.

Mix half sweet and half dry vermouth over rocks.  My choice for the sweet (or red) is the Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth.  While sweet is a bit of a reach, this rich red vermouth is dark ruby and complex, with orange marmalade, coffee, and spice.  Yum!

Add a dash of bitters and orange bitters, and top with a lemon slice.  Ahhh refreshing!  For extra fun, try cardamon bitters!  the earthy exotic spice works perfectly.  This is like a gingerbread man, smoking a cigar, in Marseilles.

Sutton Cellars is hosting a vermouth tasting in San Francisco, at 18 Reasons, on December 2nd.  If you are in the area, check it out!






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!

Cocktail of the week: Everybody loves a Ginger Linebacker!

Now it’s no secret that I’m not a big football fan, and I try to hide from the Superbowl as much as possible.  But as I drove home in the middle of the Superdome Blackout, I decided to honor the occasion with a cocktail.

Ginger is one of my favorite flavors in general, and a ginger cocktail seemed like just what the doctor ordered.  To achieve this concoction, I pulled a few tricks out of my sleeve.  Mister Ginger Linebacker hails from Australia, and here is how you make him appear in your living room!

In the bottom of a cocktail shaker, muddle a teaspoon of a good quality orange marmalade over 3canton ounces of rum.  I used Republic of Jam Clementine Marmalade, which has a distinct flavor and isn’t as sweet as others.  For the rum, I used my trusty Bundy, brought back from a long ago trip to Australia.  A rich, dark rum, Bundaberg, a classic molasses based rum.  Now, fill the shaker with ice, and pour about 3 ounces of a strong ginger beer over the muddle.  I also used Bundy Ginger Beer, but you can use any strongly flavored ginger beer.  Just don’t use ginger ale!  Ginger ale uses the least amount of ginger and doesn’t give you the zip you need.

Finally, float an ounce of ginger liquor on the top, and add a squeeze of fresh lime juice at the end.  I used Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur, but there are some wonderful craft ginger liquors that you can use as well.  This adds an extra punch of ginger which really is delicious.

Now for the secret ingredient:  Bitters come in all forms, and can impart distinctly different flavors in your cocktails.  In this case, I started with 2 dashes of Scrappy’s Cardamon bitters.  Cardamon is a unique flavor, and one that is present in most West Indian (and east Indian) cooking.  It makes a fine partner for ginger indeed.  Finally, a dash of lime bitters which is the pure essence of fresh lime, and brings out the flavors of the ginger and fresh lime juice, brightening the cocktail and giving it zing.

Shake your booty and strain in to your favorite glass!
Voila, a fresh Ginger Linebacker has come home to you.  Stay tuned for more about bitters, and next week’s cocktail, an Old Fashioned with a modern kick!



Cocktail of the week: Rocketship to the Moon

Hey!  We survived the end of the world!  Well at least I think we did.  Maybe we’re all wandering around the afterlife partying.  Who knows!

In honor of the non-pocolypse, I present my cocktail of the week, the Rocketship to the Moon.  Based on one of my old favorites, the Tang-tini, this is a flavor explosion sure to add zip to any of your holiday parties.  The astronauts drank tang, we have Rocketships!

Once again, using my favorite Pithy Little Soda Works sodas, you can make this with any craft soda and vodka.  I adore the Pithy sodas because they are pure in flavor, and use cane sugar.  Whatever soda you choose, make sure it has a high flavor impact, and is quality.  Sorry gang, no Orange Crush on this one!

In the bottom of a cocktail glass, add a generous teaspoon of excellent orange marmalade.  I recommend the Republic of Jam Orange Cinnamon Saffron.  Pour 3 oz of orange vodka over it; I recommend Hangar One Mandarin, but use your favorite craft vodka.  I use vodka since it’s a neutral flavor base.  Then, add 2 parts Pithy Orange Cream Soda, and one part Pithy Vanilla Cream Soda over ice.  As always, if you cannot locate Pithy, I suggest any craft soda.  Change the ratio of orange to vanilla to suit your taste.  Add 2-3 drops orange bitters, and stir with a cocktail spoon.  Finally, float 1 oz of Cointreau on top.

So curl up in front of a fire, turn on a movie, and enjoy one tonight.  Happy Friday!  Festive at last!  Enjoy, and happy holidays!

Next week, we will be creating Pom Poppers for the New Year!

Cocktail of the week: Chinese Cherry New Fashioned

Sometimes, a wine blogger needs to mix it up a bit and enjoy a delicious cocktail.  After attending the Craft Spirits Carnival, and having a blast at the Republic of Jam after the Wine Bloggers Conference, I was inspired to get crafty with my growing bar and some of these amazing spirits.

My friends at Pithy Little Wine Company in Paso Robles have branched out in to the craft soda business, and generously gave me some of their yummy sodas to experiment with.  These amazing, old fashioned sodas have bursts of natural flavors and are made with sugar and not that icky corn syrup, and you can really taste the difference.

First up:  Pithy Little Soda Works Black Cherry.  This rich black cherry soda is made with real cane sugar, and the black cherry and red vine licorice aromas will fill your glass as flavors of cherry candies and vanilla sparkle across your palate.

With this amazing black cherry flavor, I created a Chinese Cherry New Fashioned using the Bar Keep Chinese Bitters discovered at the Craft Spirits Carnival.  This line of bitters is a whole new world, with flavors like Chinese, Lavender, and Swedish Herb.  While bitters were originally crated as medicinal tinctures, but are now used more as digestifs or as flavor enhancements to cocktails.  These Chinese bitters are a blend of clove, fennel, cinnamon, star anise and Schezuan  peppercorn, which is a classic flavoring in Chinese dishes.  Adding this to a cocktail gives it an amazing kick.

  • First, measure out 3-5 ounces of good bourbon over ice.  I only had by stand by Knob Creek in the house, but the better the bourbon, the better the cocktail!  How much depends on how strong you like your cocktail.
  • Then, fill your old fashioned glass with the Pithy Black Cherry soda.
  • Add two dashes of Chinese Bitters, and stir.  Be careful not to use too much!  These are strong suckers.
  • Garnish with Republic of Jam Brandied Cherries, Marachino Cherries, or an orange slice.  In fact, next year when cherries are back in season I will make my own drunken cherries!

Voila!  Delicious.  Cheers!

Next week, I will be making a Rocketship to the Moon.  Stay tuned!