Category Archives: Drinkables

Improved Japanese Cocktail

Once upon a time, when curly mustachioes were un-ironic and tattoos were for peg-legged sailors,  a cocktail was a simple means to dress up your breakfast booze.  (The drinking habits of our forebears were a wee bit more…alcoholic, than today.)  You took some spirits, added a bit of sugar or liqueur and a dash of bitters.  Mix it up with some water or ice.  If you were feeling fancy, toss a citrus peel in it.  Finish it by slapping on some name that was “insert name of spirit” + cocktail.  Then down the hatch with whatever passed for Alka Seltzer in the days when Al Swearengen kept a saloon.

Eventually, you run out of booze names and have to start getting creative.  One of the original slingers behind the brass rail was “Professor” Jerry Thomas – he of the seminal 1860’s “Bar-Tender’s Guide”, which amongst its 230 plus recipes includes a “Japanese Cocktail” – brandy, orgeat, bitters & a lemon peel.

You’ll notice there isn’t anything obviously Japanese on that list.   Who knows why its called Japanese.  One theory – which is as good as any – starts in 1860 with New York City hosting the first Japanese mission to the United States.   The official translator for the envoy was a young bachelor named Tateishi Onojirou Noriyuki, called “Tommy” in the local press.  Apparently Tommy was fond of a few things – the saloons and the ladies of Manhattan amongst them.  (Though based on the rampant “yellow peril” racism of the era, who can know how much excessive bon vivant-ing Mr. Noriyuki actually engaged in.)  Professor Jerry ran the hottest spot in town at the time, so legend is that “Tommy” likely frequented the joint and the drink is named after him.

Either that, or its completely apocryphal bullshit.   Regardless, this version is a wee bit more balanced.   Or “improved” as the kids say.

Improved Japanese Cocktail

2 oz. brandy

1 oz. orgeat

1 oz. lemon

3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

Shake & strain.

Toby Cecchini, Long Island Bar



The traditional story has this classic being invented in Cuba in 1905 by Jennings Cox, an American mining engineer who was working in the town of Daiquiri.  The basic recipe involved pouring a teaspoon of sugar over a highball filled with cracked ice.  The juice of a lime or two was added, followed by white rum.  The drink was then stirred until frosty – basically, a simple swizzle.  This would evolve into a shaken drink with shaved ice.

It remained a Cuban drink until 1909, when U.S. Navy medical officer Admiral Lucius Johnson brought it to the States, to the Army & Navy Club in D.C.    Its popularity grew, particular in the Forties during wartime.   Rationing made most liquors like whiskey in short supply – but rum was relatively plentiful due to Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor policy liberalizing foreign relations and trade with Latin America.   Perhaps the biggest fan of the drink was Ernest “Papa” Hemingway – who would get his own version, the Hemingway Daiquiri or Papa Doble that added grapefruit and maraschino to the mix.  It wouldn’t take long before someone decided to toss one into a blender – which if you stick to fresh ingredients, isn’t a bad way to slurp your booze while sunning on a beach.

Personally, I prefer the base recipe – rum, sugar, lime.  Its hard to get much simpler than that.  (And amazingly, so easy to fuck up.)  If you stick to the basics, its easy to see why its a classic withs its clean, crisp flavor.  I’ve got a weakness for the family of drinks known as Sours – like the Sidecar, the Margarita, or the Whiskey Sour.  Cold, short, refreshing.  Use fresh lime and sugar, stay away from diesel fuel like Bacardi, and you’re in like Flynn.


Version 1

2.5 oz. aged rum
3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup

Shake & strain into cocktail glass.

Version 2

2 oz. light rum
3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
3/4 oz. simple syrup

Shake & strain into cocktail glass.


Gin may be cool, bourbon certainly sweet, and rye the next big thing – but brandy just rocks.  Cognac, Armagnac, American alembic – its all good.   And its even better in the only good cocktail to come out of Prohibition.  Because honestly, anything that involves mixing “bathtub” whatever with something is still going to taste like shit.  So it makes a certain amount of sense that the one good cocktail from that time period came from overseas where Prohibition was likely seen as the Americans going off on one of their periodic mass psychoses.

Where exactly the Sidecar was invented is lost to time,  but it is believed to have come from either London or Paris around World War I.   The Hotel Ritz in Paris claims to have come up with the recipe; others claim it was Harry’s Bar in Paris, a popular hangout for American expatriates of the Lost Generation.  The earliest recipes show up in 1922 in a couple of sources, including Harry MacElhone’s Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails.  (The same Harry from Harry’s Bar.)   In Harry’s own book, he originally claimed it was invented in London at the famous Buck’s Club by bartender Pat McGarry, who also invented the Buck’s Fizz, which we know as the Mimosa.  (What’s with all these famous Scottish bartenders from the 1920s? I have no idea – maybe its good training to grow up serving lots of ornery heavy drinkers in kilts.)  In later additions, Harry would claim he invented it himself.

My favorite origin story, because its so ridiculous, comes from Embury who claims it was the favorite drink of an American Army captain in Paris during WWI and named after the motorcycle sidecar the captain would ride in.  It was supposedly his favorite way to warm up  during the winter after a brisk ride in his sidecar.  Silly? Possibly.  Fucking awesome? A heavy drinking captain during the Great War zooming around on some insane contraption in the middle of Paris, his scarf flying in the wind like Snoopy fighting the Red Baron, regularly ending up at the same bar and downing a French twist on the American Cocktail? Hells yeah.

In truth, the Sidecar is a variation of a classic Sour – with brandy as the spirit and triple sec as the sweetener.  Regardless of who or where it was invented, today there are two basic recipes – the “French” version and the “English” version.   The French version calls for equal parts cognac, Cointreau and lemon juice – its a fairly light, citrusy, refreshing drink.   The alternative English version is the modern classic, more complex and robust with a 2:1:1 ratio.  I personally prefer the latter, but with the Sidecar, the exact proportions are entirely a matter of personal taste.  Some folks also like the addition of a sugared rim – but I often go without.


English version:

2 oz. brandy
1 oz. Cointreau
1 oz. lemon juice

French version:

1 oz. brandy
1 oz. Cointreau
1 oz. lemon juice

Shake and strain into cocktail glass.  Sugared rim optional.

Salty Dog

Loooooong blogging hiatus.  Turns out that regular blogging consumes a lot of time – and effort –  if its not your day job.  Particularly when it involves a regimen of regular boozing.  Regardless,  Mrs. ChinaNob has increasingly complained of late of the lack of booze-blogging – or rather, the lack of weekly cocktail tasting as a product of regular booze-blogging.  Eventually, one has to relent or suffer the marital consequences.

Tonight’s plan involved a lime.  Or, alternatively a lemon.  The crisper drawer had other plans.   Plenty of carrots from the CSA box.   As well as leeks, some beets, a bunch of kale.   Great if my plan involved cooking a winter stew.  Or an incredibly gross drink.  Buried in the back though was a Texas grapefruit I had completely forgotten about.

Grapefruit isn’t a particularly common cocktail citrus.  Lemons – try making a Sidecar or Whiskey Sour without one.  Limes – kiss a Margarita or Daiquiri goodbye without one.   But a grapefruit? There’s the classic Hemingway Daiquiri – but you also need a lime for that one.  Planter’s Punch is a good one, if you also have a lemon, a lime and an orange.  Sea Breeze?  Only if you are a 25 year old hipster reliving the 80’s you were never alive for – and you have cranberry juice and a bottle of grain neutral spirits.

Fortunately, there’s an old classic that is both easy drinking and easy making for the perennially lazy like myself – the Salty Dog.   Gin, grapefruit, salt.   Can’t get much easier than that unless you are just doing shots.   Cafe Van Kleef, a great little bar in Oakland, serves these without salt as Bulldogs.  You have to give some props to a live music dive-y joint whose house drink involves serving gin & fresh pressed grapefruit with a big honking slice of a garnish.  (Total aside – if you haven’t been, get thee hence to Oakland for a visit – best damn town in the Bay Area).   So, in homage to Van Kleef – a Salty Dog, with a big ole garnish.

Salty Dog

2 oz. gin
4 oz. grapefruit juice

Build in salt-rimmed highball with ice.  Obnoxious garnish optional.

MxMo LIX: Charentes Shrub

As soon as I saw the theme for this month’s Mixology Monday, I knew exactly which drink I was going to choose.  I had spied this cocktail as Imbibe Magazine’s Cover Cocktail Contest.  Besides looking as downright pretty as a Mardi Gras Indian, it combined two of my favorite beverage-ables – hoppy beer and odd homemade ingredients.  Plus, the recipe comes courtesy of a bartender from Worcester – Woostah! – so with the Masshole connection, how can you go wrong?

Host Frederic at Cocktail Virgin Slut chose Beer Cocktails, asking participants to –

“Find or concoct a drink recipe that uses beer as an ingredient. Discussing a glass of beer alone is best done elsewhere, but drop a shot of whiskey or gin in there for a Boilermaker or Dog’s Nose, well, now we’re talking. Feel free to use beer in a syrup, as the carbonation in a Fizz, or as the base “spirit” of the drink itself. Old like the Posset and Shandy or new does not matter. Modifying a soda or Champagne cocktail to a beer one?  Go for it.”

In addition to a hoppy IPA, this tall one calls for two homemade ingredients.  The first involves infusing Pineau des Charentes with Earl Grey Tea.  I had never heard of pineau before.  Its a fortified wine that comes from Western France, and is a combination of unfermented grape must combined with cognac, which is then aged in oak barrels.  I found it light and pleasant when chilled – not very complex, sweet, and easily drinkable, especially on a warm day.  I can see why old ladies in France drink it – for some, that might be considered a drawback.  But these days, in the era of mass produced lowest common denominator tastes, I’d say old French ladies probably know where its at.  Especially when you consider the kids are drinking Four Loko.

The second ingredient is a shrub.  Shrubs are generally a combination of fruit juice, sugar and either an acid (usually vinegar) or alcohol.  Erik at the Savoy Project has a nice run-down of some basics of the two different types.  Shrubs go back several centuries.  I’ve seen references to shrubs as a pre-refrigeration era means of preserving fruit for extended periods, being used as a summer beverage in the American Colonial period when mixed with water.  Regardless, they are a relatively easy way to add an usual twist to a cocktail while giving a shout-out to the historical antecedents of modern day cocktails.

It can take a while to get all of the ingredients together for this one, but its worth it.  It has a great combination of layers, while going down far too easy on a hot day.  You could knock these back like a six-pack of tall boys.  Which I guess is appropriate for a beer-inspired cocktail.

1 ½ oz. rye whiskey
¾ oz. Earl Grey-infused Pineau des Charentes
½ oz. rosemary-pineapple shrub
½ oz. fresh lemon juice
2 dashes Angostura orange bitters
2 oz. IPA

Combine all ingredients except the IPA.  Shake & strain into an ice-filled Collins glass.  Top with IPA.  Garnish with pineapple wedge and rosemary sprig.

Tea-infused Pineau des Charentes

Soak 1 Earl Grey teabag in half a 750 ml. bottle of Pineau for 1 ½ hours.

Rosemary-Pineapple Shrub

Slice a small pineapple and place in a jar and cover with cider vinegar.   Infuse for 4 days, shaking once a day. Filter through cheesecloth and bring 6 ounces of pineapple vinegar to a boil with 5 ounces of sugar.  Skim off top layer and add 1 sprig of fresh rosemary.  Boil for 10 minutes, remove from heat, filter and cool before bottling.

Recipe courtesy of David Delaney, The Citizen Wine Bar (via Imbibe.)

MxMo LVIII : Jack Rose

Been pretty sick the last month or so, which really has limited the tippling and the tipple blogging. I am finally over the last dregs of a spring flu, just in time for a Bay Area heat wave – that week or so in late June or early July when we get the kinds of sun, shorts and swimming weather that the rest of the country gets to enjoy all summer long. Which has me in the mood for crisp, icy shaken drinks as well as highballs.

Mixology Monday has rolled around and this month’s host Filip at Adventures in Cocktails has chosen Niche Spirits as his theme. He describes the theme as:

“…any cocktail where the base ingredient is not bourbon, gin, rum, rye, tequila, vodka etc would qualify. So whether you choose Mezcal or Armagnac get creative and showcase your favorite niche spirit.”

In rummaging around my liquor cabinet, I spied a bottle of applejack that I hadn’t touched in a while. Applejack is an American original – an apple brandy that dates to Colonial times that is a rougher, more rustic version of Calvados. It was made by concentrating hard cider through freeze distillation, also known as “jacking”. Today, applejack is made by one company – Laird’s, a company founded by William Laird, a Scotsman who settled in New Jersey in the late 1600s. His descendant’s would serve under George Washington (the only person outside the family to ever be given the recipe for Laird’s applejack) and found the country’s first licensed distillery. To this day, a goodly percentage of their “Jersey Lighting” is consumed in-state.

The modern product is made with a base of neutral grain spirit (aka vodka) combined with apple brandy and diluted to 80 proof. I much prefer Laird’s bottled-in-bond which is straight apple brandy at 100 proof and retains a much more intense apple flavor. Its a perfect base for a retro classic that combines the tartness of citrus and pomegranate with just enough sweetness to fully bring out all the best parts of an apple. And when shaken to an icy chill, a great thirst quencher to kick off the summer.

1 1/2 oz applejack or Laird’s Bottle-in-Bond apple brandy
1/2 oz lemon or lime juice
1/2 oz grenadine*

Shake with ice and strain. Garnish with lemon or lime wedge.

* For my grenadine I use a recipe that combines Tiare’s hibiscus grenadine with Morgenthaler’s pomegranate molasses version. Take 2 cups of pomegranate juice (fresh squeezed or bottled) and combine with 2 cups of sugar, 2 oz. pomegranate molasses, 1 tsp orange blossom water and a handful of dried hibiscus flowers. Warm ever slightly in microwave, just enough for sugar to dissolve. Let steep for an hour or two. Strain out hibiscus, bottle and store in fridge.

Hop Toad

What do you get when you take two guys from one of the godmothers of San Francisco’s market-driven, restaurant-cum-bar cocktail scene, move them into a turn-of-the-last-century Barbary Coast saloon replete with player piano, and then blend a cocktail list of revisited period classics with a dining menu that brings late nineteenth century bar food into the twenty-first?  Answer: Comstock Saloon, a pretty damn good place to spend an evening.  Jeff Hollinger (co-author of Art of the Bar) and Johnny Raglin have come up  with an almost dangerous combination – a menu of salty, savory small plate items like “beef shank & bone marrow pot pie” or “fried oyster & ham po’boy”  that are perfectly suited to devouring with well-crafted cocktails.  I am quite certain that it is a good thing (for me) that I no longer live in the neighborhood.

This is one of the obscure classics on their regular rotation.  David Wondrich has an early print appearance of the recipe coming from The Ideal Bartender (1917) by Tom Bullock of the St. Louis Country Club.  The 1917 version is fairly simple, containing only apricot eau-de-vie and lime juice.  Wondrich prefers that recipe, but its far too dry and one-dimensional for me.  Comstock features a variation that includes rum – in this case, the high proof, full hogo Smith & Cross.  In addition, it uses the sweet liqueur style “apricot brandy” instead of an eau-de-vie.  Finally, some bitters help round it out.  It’s still a drink on the drier side, but a more approachable modern one.

1 1/2 oz. Smith & Cross Jamaican rum
3/4 oz. lime juice
3/4 oz. Rothman & Winter apricot brandy
2 dash Angostura bitters

Shake & strain into cocktail glass.

Recipe courtesy of Comstock Saloon (via SFist).

Bobby Burns

I first came across this recipe in Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz’s excellent book – Art of the Bar: Cocktails Inspired by the Classics.  The book is from 2006 and captures a period when modern cocktail bars – focused on high quality ingredients, restored classics, a speakeasy style atmosphere – were just starting to open.  (Audrey Saunder’s Pegu Club, for example, had just opened about a year earlier.)  On the West Coast in the birthplace of Chez Panisse and California cuisine, this meant bartenders drawing inspiration from fresh, seasonal ingredients.   Jeff and Rob were managing the bar at Absinthe  Brasserie & Bar, a trend setting “New American” style restaurant that featured an equally excellent full bar program.  It was a combination that was rare at the time, but is now almost ubiquitous in the restaurant scene in places like San Francisco or New York.

Since then, of course, the movement has exploded to the point that even mid-sized cities and towns can boast of at least one “mixology” bar – when even my Rust Belt, blue collar  hometown has a speakeasy, you know a trend has gone national.    Things have changed rapidly and the quality of the bar scene has improved dramatically.  As a result, I’ve found the recipes in the book to be a bit of a mix.  Some still taste fresh and interesting, while others have a dated feel or don’t quite hit the mark.   Partially, I think that is due to a more limited access to niche spirits that we now take for granted.  (Shudder to think about those dark days when one couldn’t get creme de violette for an Aviation! God save Eric Seed.)  It was also during a transition time from the Cosmopolitan and Key Lime Pie on one side of the divide, and the Martinez and Ginger Rogers on the other – all recipes included in the book.

The flipside is many of the recipes are a bit more straight-forward, which is a blessing on those days when I come home exhausted from work and don’t feel like dealing with muddling or tinctures or ingredient lists seven items long.  If you like a Rob Roy, I think you’ll like this even better.  The addition of a barspoon full of herbal liqueur smoothes out the rough edges quite well.  Art of the Bar called for Benedictine, per the original published recipe in Old Waldorf Bar Days (1931).  However, David Embury in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks includes two recipes, one with Benedictine and the other with Drambuie.  I preferred the latter, but both are good.  Slainte!

2 oz. blended Scotch
1 oz. sweet vermouth
2 dashes Drambuie or Benedictine
dash of Peychaud’s or angostura bitters

Stir & strain into cocktail glass.  Garnish with lemon peel.

Recipe courtesy of Art of the Bar and Looka!.

Tippler’s Delight

If you were going to pick a random spirit to build a cocktail around, I’ll bet “slivovitz” isn’t the first thing to spring to mind.  Me neither – but here it works to fantastic results.  Slivovitz is a fruit brandy or eau-de-vie made from the fruit and pits of Damson plums, which have a fairly acidic skin and thus are most commonly used in making jams.  It’s often referred to as “plum brandy” or rakia in the Balkans.  Most slivovitz comes from the Slavic areas of Central and Eastern Europe – Serbia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria.  The majority of which is also consumed in those countries, or abroad by Eastern European emigrant communities.  Also known as: “my peeps”.

For some, it is the taste of an ancestral home, where boiled vegetables are considered a delicacy and vowels are an endangered species.  For others, it is the taste of diesel fuel infused with old wool socks aged in a damp basement.  In either case, it is not for the faint of heart.  Traditionally, it’s consumed in small shots while toasting, similar to Russians and their vodka, where the burn is likely part of the testosterone experience.  However, I have come across some craft distilleries putting out a domestic artisanal product.  The bottle I have from Clear Creek uses Pacific Northwest Italian blue plums and hews closer to the cleaner profile of the rest of their eau-de-vie lineup – with the exception of their Douglas fir experiment which has a taste only one of Santa’s elves could love.

Here, the often unruly slivovitz provides the backbone while its subtle plum and almond kernel features are brought forward.  It calls for an 8-year aged plum brandy by Navip fromSerbia.  I haven’t had the 8-year brandy before, but I assume the aging in wood mellows out the eau-de-vie and sweetens it.  Not wanting to invest in a second bottle of slivovitz, I used the Clear Creek I already had.  The result was so surprising that I think I’ll pick up a bottle of the cheaper-by-the-ounce Navip before I wind up draining the Clear Creek.  Brian MacGregor of Jardiniere who came up with the “tipple” says he could drink one of these every day – and I really can’t argue with him on that.

1 1/2 oz. Navip 8-year old slivovitz*
3/4 oz. elderflower liqueur
3/4 oz. lemon juice
2 dashes absinthe

Shake with ice and double strain.

Recipe courtesy of Brain MacGregor of Jardiniere (via Cocktail Town)

MxMo LVII: Sandalwood Sour

When I first proposed “Floral” as the theme for Mixology Monday, I had figured I would make some type of gin punch using a chamomile or jasmine infused gin.  But that was way back in the Fall.  By the time it actually rolled around, I had attended a book opening party for Left Coast Libations at Heaven’s Dog where a number of the recipes from the book were being featured for the event.  Although all the drinks we tried that night were fantastic, this particular one really stood out from the pack.  I wasn’t the only one who thought so – the bartenders were slammed making these all night.

The recipe requires two unusual ingredients.  First, you’ll need sandalwood (and not the kind in incense!)  I recommend hunting around in Indian grocery stores.  The other involves making a sharbat.  Sharbat is a type of flavored, non-alcoholic drink from the Middle East and India, served over ice.  Sharbat comes from the Arabic word ‘Sharbah’, meaning ‘a drink’.  It’s a syrup made from fruits and extracts of flowers and herbs.  Common flavorings include rose, sandalwood, saffron, hibiscus, pineapple and citrus.  The syrup gets diluted with water or evaporated milk and served with ice. It can also be used to pour over desserts.  The sharbat here uses rose and saffron as its flavors, providing a rich floral perfume to the drink, which is built off a gin sour.  A healthy amount of bitters adds an earthy tang, with a finish of sandalwood rounding out the exotic spices.  I could drink these all night long.

1 1/2 oz. Plymouth gin
1/2 z.  lemon juice
1/2 oz.  lime juice
1/2 oz. saffron sharbat (see below)
1 barspoon Angostura bitters
1 egg white

Dry shake without ice for 20-30 seconds.  Add ice and shake until frosty.  Strain into cocktail glass and garnish with grated sandalwood.

Saffron Sharbat

1 1/4 cups water
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup rosewater
1/4 rounded tsp. saffron
1 Tbs. boiling water

Place 1 Tbs. boiling water into a small bowl and add crushed saffron threads.  Steep for 15 minutes.  Add rosewater.

Mix water and sugar in a saucepan over low heat and dissolve.  Add rosewater saffron mixture.  Simmer for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat, let cool and store in bottle.  Store in refridgerator.  You can leave in saffron threads or strain.  Makes enough for 16 cocktails.  Can also be used as a flavored syrup with soda water.

Recipe courtesy of Anu Apte of Rob Roy. (via Left Coast Libations)