A Friday the 13th Tipple: Margarita Memory

margarita

The Ides of March is upon us, dear Boozers. Historically speaking, it marks the day that Caesar was assassinated — “Et tu, Brute?” — although the term “Ides” simply refers to either the 13th or the 15th day of the month, as the Romans couldn’t make anything simple. We like to use it as a time to lift a glass in memory of friends and loved ones — and as our dear ones all seem to have had a penchant for margaritas, that most communal of libations — we are celebrating today with a Margarita Memory.

A margarita is really a classic blend of sweet and sour, to which we like to add notes of spice — creating a perfect representation of a life well-lived. It can be made with a variety of citrus, from traditional lime to blood oranges, mandarins, and grapefruit, and its flavor can be subtly altered by the type of tequila you use — blanco, mixto, reposado, and so forth — or you could even substitute with an unaged whiskey (we’ve done this often with Catoctin Creek’s Mosby’s Spirit with excellent *hic* results) or even a smoky mezcal. Most importantly, to make a Margarita Memory really sing, choose ingredients that really reflect the person you are remembering — sweet, smooth, fresh, rich, perky, snarky, optimistic — and then savor every drop.

Margarita Memory

Our version today contains some muddled peach and a blend of lime and orange juice, because it reminds us of happy days drinking margaritas on the beach with special people. We added a peachy pink peppercorn syrup to pack a bit of punch  — because peaches are not in season now, we actually used the syrup from canned peaches as our base.

2 ounces silver tequila

1 ounce Cointreau

1/2 ounce Amaretto

2 ounces fresh lime and orange juice

Slice or two of peach (canned is fine if peaches are out of season)

1 tablespoon peachy pink peppercorn syrup, or to taste (recipe below)

dash of citrus bitters (such as Urban Moonshine or even Bitter Ends Thai Bitters)

Wedge of lime or other citrus for garnish

Muddle a couple of slices of peach in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Add tequila, cointreau, citrus juices, syrup, and bitters; add a few ice cubes and shake vigorously. Strain into a margarita glass (salt optional) filled with ice and float a little Amaretto over the top. Garnish with lime and serve immediately.

To make peachy pink peppercorn syrup: Strain syrup from canned peaches into a small saucepan. Add 2 tablespoons of whole pink peppercorns and simmer over very low heat for about 30 minutes. Cool completely, then strain and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

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The Friday Tipple: Brighter Than Sunshine

Brighter Than Sunshine

We’re waving the white flag, Boozers. Faced with another frigid day on a dreary winter landscape, we’re dreaming of summer and sunshine, even as we know we’ll regret those dreams on a muggy August midnight. No matter, as we cry “Uncle” repeatedly… Whither are thou, o Persephone, goddess of spring?

While we generally embrace the locavore mindset, even we have to give in every so often and search for products that can only be found in some far-off clime in that other hemisphere, where they are reveling in the glories of summer as we shiver here in the frozen north. And so we gravitated toward a box of luscious ruby-red raspberries, beckoning to us with their plump cheeriness, sweetly tart and sparking long-ago memories of rustling barefoot through the raspberry canes in the mid-summer sunshine, fingers and lips stained red with their juice, an Aqualung tune providing a wistfully appropriate soundtrack.

To those weighed down by a long winter, we present you with Brighter Than Sunshine. You deserve it.

Brighter Than Sunshine

We are so desperate for a shot of sunshine that we won’t waste time by waxing poetic any longer. Stop on the way home tonight for a box of raspberries, a couple of lemons, club soda, gin and limoncello, and you’ll be good to go.

2 ounces gin (yes, vodka is fine too. We just happen to like Catoctin Creek Watershed Gin. A lot.)

1 ounce limoncello (we use our local Don Ciccio and Figli)

1 tablespoon simple syrup

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

6 fresh raspberries

chilled club soda

sugared lemon wheel for garnish

Place raspberries in the bottom of a tall glass and lightly crush with a bar spoon. Add simple syrup, lemon juice, and gin and stir together; top with several ice cubes and fill glass with club soda, stirring to combine. Pour limoncello over the top and garnish with sugared lemon wheel. Serve immediately.

 

 

The Friday Tipple: This Little Figgy

This Little Figgy

We’re feeling figgy, Boozers. The neighbors just dropped off a giant bag of fresh figs, because their tree is overflowing and it is, after all, fig season. You may have seen these funny little wonders in the farmer’s market and wondered what to do with them. Fig bars? Figgy pudding? Toasted under the broiler with gorgonzola? The list is endless, really.

We, of course, lean toward the cocktail. Figs lend themselves to cocktails quite well, actually — when added into alcohol, their texture provides a certain silky mouthfeel which makes any drink seem quite sexy. They also have a luscious sweetness which combines well with many other flavors. For our concoction, which we fondly call This Little Figgy, we like the addition of Finocchietto, a fennel liqueur made by one of our favorite local distillers, Don Ciccio & Figgli, but you could substitute another anise-based liqueur such as absinthe or even dust off that bottle of Galliano that you are never quite sure how to use. Get your fig on.

This Little Figgy

On a recent trip to the great state of New York, we were intrigued to discover Core Vodka, which is distilled from apples. The flavor is clean and crisp — this is not an apple-flavored vodka, but simply the essence of apples distilled into vodka. Paired with the fresh fall flavors of fennel and fig, This Little Figgy is like a bright September day poured into a glass.

2 fresh figs

3 ounces vodka

1 ounce Finocchietto or other anise liqueur

2 dashes orange or grapefruit bitters (The Bitter Truth has good varieties of each)

Cut the figs in half and use a spoon to remove the flesh from three of the halves, setting the final half aside for garnish. Put the fig flesh into a cocktail shaker and add the vodka, mashing together. Set aside for a few minutes, then add the Finocchietto, bitters, and a couple of ice cubes. Shake vigorously. Remove the larger pieces of fig (this makes it easier to strain) and strain into a cosmopolitan glass. Garnish with the remaining half of fig.

The Friday Tipple: Stormy Mojito

Stormy Mojito

We’re waterlogged, Boozers. It’s been a particularly rainy and stormy summer, which hasn’t helped deepen our tan, but has certainly produced a bumper crop of mint. As we always say, when life hands you mint, make mojitos.

Mojitos, of course, need rum, and it occurred to us that there must be a way to incorporate two of our favorite rum-based summer cocktails, namely the Dark n’ Stormy and the classic Mojito. So we grabbed an umbrella and stood over the grill to fire up some ginger, which gave it an intensified spicy-smoky flavor for a perfect weekend happy hour. Don’t let the rain get you down. Drink up.

Stormy Mojito

Mojitos are basically sugar, mint, lime, rum and club soda, and a Dark n’ Stormy is simply ginger beer, dark rum, and lime, so combining the two drinks isn’t rocket science. However, to get the best flavor, we like to grate a little of the grilled ginger into the bottom of the glass (in addition to throwing in a whole chunk) and grind it into the mint with some superfine sugar. Although cane syrup is usually called upon for a mojito, we like the way the granulated sugar helps bruise the mint leaves and heighten the flavor of the ginger.

one thickly-sliced two-inch disk of ginger

handful of clean mint leaves

2 teaspoons superfine sugar (regular granulated sugar will do fine as well)

3 ounces chilled club soda

1.5 ounces rum, preferably Gosling’s Black Seal 151 proof

2 wedges of lime

additional mint leaves, for garnish

Grill the ginger over an open flame, about 30 seconds per side. Put into a cocktail shaker or a small bowl with the mint leaves and cover for about 5 minutes. Then grate a little of the ginger into the bottom of a highball glass and add the rest of the ginger disk, the mint leaves, and the sugar. Squeeze one wedge of lime over all, then use a muddler or a spoon to lightly bruise the mint leaves. Add several ice cubes and chilled club soda; stir briskly. Pour rum over the top and garnish with another wedge of lime and additional mint leaves.

 

The Friday Tipple: Wicked Cherry Pop

Wicked Cherry Pop

Sometimes life hands you lemons, Boozers. Or, in our case, cherries that were more sour than sweet, leaving us in a bit of a quandary. So we did the only thing we could think of in such a dire situation: threw them in a jar with some sugar and vinegar and forgot about them for a few days in the refrigerator. Voilà — pickled cherries. But more importantly, pickled cherry juice, a tasty base for a wicked summer cocktail.

We have fond childhood memories of cooling off in the July sunshine with an icy cold bottle of Cheerwine, the cultish cherry soda pop from North Carolina. Popping the top of the bottle brought a sudden spray of fizzy goodness that seemed to drop the outside temperature by 20 degrees. Nothing could be finer.

Our Wicked Cherry Pop starts off with a pickled cherry syrup, enhanced by pickled cherries muddled in unaged white whiskey. The effect, when topped off with carbonated water, is oh-so-wicked, a cherry pop for grown-ups that you may want to disguise in an old Cheerwine bottle while you’re flipping burgers at Grandma’s family picnic. It’ll be our little secret.

Wicked Cherry Pop

Unaged white whiskey is not your momma’s moonshine, but a good white whiskey has a smooth flavor with a bit of a kick and never leaves your throat raw; our personal local favorite is Catoctin Creek’s Mosby’s Spirit, but there are many white whiskeys across the country now, including Hudson New York Corn Whiskey, Wasmund’s Rye Spirit, and Death’s Door White Whisky. We like to use it in place of tequila for a twist on a margarita, and it balances well with the pickled cherries here to provide a sweet-and-sour counterpoint.

2 tablespoons pickled cherry syrup (recipe below)

4 or 5 pickled cherries

fresh herb (you could use a few leaves of fresh mint — we used pineapple sage)

1.5 ounces unaged white whiskey

chilled club soda

Make the pickled cherry syrup: Okay, first you have to pickle the cherries, which, as we described above, is quite easy. Just halve about a cup of cherries, discarding the pits, throw them in a jar, add about a 1/4 cup of granulated sugar (more if you want it sweeter), and cover with vinegar (white, red wine, or apple cider vinegar will all work here). Cover and place in the refrigerator for a few days, shaking the jar occasionally. Then strain off the pickling juice into a small saucepan, add a 1/2 cup sugar, and simmer over low heat until thickened, about 30 minutes or so. Cool to room temperature and refrigerate for up to two weeks.

To assemble the Wicked Cherry Pop: Put the pickled cherry syrup, pickled cherries, and a few leaves of fresh herb into the bottom of a Collins glass. Add the white whiskey and muddle lightly. Top with ice and chilled club soda and stir briskly before serving.

The Friday Tipple: Smokey Sour

Smokey Sour

Fire up the grill, Boozers. It’s been too hot to cook indoors, so we’re livin’ large in the backyard, armed with charcoal, a pair of tongs, and a few toe-tapping R&B tunes. Of course, we see no reason to restrict our grilling glory to chunks of protein or marshmallows on a stick, so we decided to grill us up a cocktail. Welcome to the Smokey Sour.

Inspired by our own Whiskey Cherry Syrup, a jar of which now resides in the fridge from last Friday’s delectable Michigan Cherry Beer, we felt in the mood for riffing off a classic Whiskey Sour. A basic sour mix consists of fresh lemon juice and simple syrup, creating a lip-puckering base, but we mixed things up a little by throwing several different kinds of citrus straight onto the barbecue. Lightly charred, these lemons, limes, and oranges plump up with an intensified flavor that is fragrant with both smoke and sunshine. Should you be deprived of a backyard grill, don’t despair — an open flame of any kind will do the trick. Just crank up some Motown and get groovin’.

Smokey Sour

While this grilled sour base is a mix of citrus fruits, we prefer to keep it lemony with a hint of orange for sweetness, then we add our favorite local rye whiskey from Catoctin Creek to give it a peppery undertone — the result is a perfect combination of sweet, sour, spicy, and smoky.

6 large lemons, halved

3 limes, halved

1 orange, halved

Whiskey Cherry Syrup (click here to find the recipe)

2 ounces whiskey

a whisper of Grand Marnier (triple sec will work, too)

chilled lemon-lime soda (we love small-batch varieties like Maine Root)

slices of grilled lemon and orange for garnish (technically optional, but do it anyway)

Place citrus fruits flesh-side down onto a hot grill over a medium-high flame. Grill for a minute or two until the flesh just starts to blister and char, then place into a large heat-proof bowl. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and allow the fruit to cool. When cooled, juice the fruit, mix all the juices together, and discard the seeds. The juice may now be refrigerated for up to two weeks.

In a cocktail shaker, add 3 ounces of the juice, 2 teaspoons of the Whiskey Cherry Syrup, 2 ounces of whiskey, and the barest splash of Grand Marnier. Add several ice cubes, cover, and shake vigorously. Pour contents into a highball glass, add a few cherries from the Whiskey Cherry Syrup, and top with a generous splash of lemon-lime soda. Garnish with grilled citrus slices.

The Friday Tipple: Michigan Cherry Beer

Michigan Cherry Beer

We’re feeling fruity, Boozers. Now firmly ensconced in the heart of summer, we find ourselves surrounded on all sides by the freshest of fruits, bursting with their warm juicy goodness. On a hot summer day, lazily swinging in the backyard hammock, there’s nothing we like more than a cold beer laced with the flavors of summer.

Last year we passed a pleasant week or so on the shores of Lake Michigan in the charming hamlet of St. Joseph – St. Joe’s to those in the know – and fell in love with a tasty little Cherry Beer Cocktail which turned out to be little more than a standard PBR laced with maraschino cherry juice straight out of the jar. Just goes to prove that it doesn’t take much to create heaven on earth.

We decided to take this one step further in making our own Michigan Cherry Beer, and, with all due modesty, have heard this described as “Michigan summer in a pint glass” by natives of the Mitten State. We agree. Mix it up wherever you are and dream of sitting lakeside beneath the pine trees.

Michigan Cherry Beer

Chill a light summery lager or ale while you whip up the Whiskey Cherry Syrup that flavors this delicious cocktail. As always, we encourage sourcing ingredients that are local to wherever you are at the moment – this is especially fun when you are on vacation; if you can’t get out of town, you might create a vacation atmosphere by finding beer and whiskey local to the place where you wish you were. Dream on.

1/2 cup fresh cherries, pitted and halved
1 cup whiskey (we used Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye)
1 cup cane sugar
Cold beer (we used the citrusy Shift Pale Lager this time)

Put the cherries, whiskey, and sugar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and stir well. Bring up to a rolling simmer then lower heat and allow to simmer gently until liquid reduces by about a third and has a glossy syrupy texture (about 30 minutes). Remove from heat and cool completely; can be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Chill a tall glass then spoon about two tablespoons of the Whiskey Cherry Syrup into the bottom of the glass, being sure to include a few cherries. Fill the rest of the glass with chilled beer and stir gently with a bar spoon. Garnish with a fresh cherry and enjoy.

The Friday Tipple: Masala Moonshine

Masala Moonshine

We’re spicing things up, Boozers. An interesting ingredient recently came our way and we simply couldn’t resist the idea of incorporating it into a cocktail: turmeric. To be precise, fresh turmeric root, which looks a bit like a fingerling potato until you cut it open to reveal its bright marigold interior and get hit with its lovely fresh scent, which has a certain earthy ginger quality.

What we did with it was to make a turmeric juice, purported to have amazing health benefits for people with arthritis or diabetes, among many other ailments. While fresh turmeric is best for this recipe (and can be found at many ethnic markets, so we suggest a road trip), we’ve also included a way to make it with ground turmeric powder, which is readily available at any grocery store. Because turmeric has a strong flavor, we decided to turn up the volume when creating our Masala Moonshine — this is no time to be shy. Instead, we included the flavors of lime, bitter orange, fresh mint, and a healthy dose of unaged whiskey, or moonshine, to create a cocktail that really packs a punch. And, if you’re getting ready for Cinco de Mayo, you can easily turn this into a Masala Margarita by substituting tequila for the moonshine. Go global.

Masala Moonshine

As our dear Boozers know, we love to use a flavored ice cube to shake things up — what better way to add a new layer of flavor to a drink than with an ice cube that deepens the essence of the cocktail as it melts into the glass? For this particular recipe, we made a lavender honey and ginger cube for an added kick of spice.

2 ounces fresh turmeric juice (recipe below)

2 ounces unaged whiskey (we used Catoctin Creek’s Mosby’s Spirits)

1/2 ounce Triple Sec

2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

2 ounces chilled club soda

several fresh mint leaves

wedge of fresh lime and fresh mint for garnish

3 – 4 honey-ginger ice cubes (recipe below)

Put first four ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. Place mint leaves in bottom of a tall glass, lightly bruising, and add honey-ginger cubes. Pour turmeric juice-whiskey blend into glass, top with chilled club soda, and stir thoroughly with a bar spoon. Garnish with fresh lime and mint.

Turmeric Juice:

Peel several small turmeric root* and place into a small saucepan. Cover with cold water and bring to a simmer over low heat. Allow to simmer for about 30 minutes or until turmeric is soft and liquid has reduced by about half. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Put the turmeric and liquid into a blender, add 1 cup cold water and 1/4 cup light agave nectar. Blend on high until completely liquified. Add more sweetener to taste. Strain liquid several times through a sieve until you get a smooth liquid. Can be refrigerated for up to two weeks.

* note: if you can’t find fresh turmeric root, you can create a similar liquid by substituting two tablespoons of ground turmeric for the fresh ingredient — add the first tablespoon and mix up the liquid, then add the remaining tablespoon a little at a time until you get a flavor that is gingery but not overpowering.

Honey-ginger cubes

1/4 cup freshly grated ginger

2 tablespoons lavender honey (or sweetener of your choice)

1/2 cup hot water

1/2 cup cold water

Mix first three ingredients together in a small bowl until well-blended, then add cold water and blend again. Pour into ice cube tray and freeze until solid.

The Friday Tipple: Banana River Sunset

Banana River Sunset

It’s Spring Break somewhere, dear Boozers. Whether you’re lucky enough to be vacationing in Florida, the land of the endless summer or simply turning up the heat and walking around the rumpus room in a bikini in your basement in Minnesota, there’s never a bad time to enjoy a tasty libation as the sun sets in the western sky.

In the old days, this concoction was likely a Tequila Sunrise, as Floridians like their citrus liberally laced with alcohol, but it seems somehow backwards to drink a sunrise-themed drink at the end of the day. Hence, the Banana River Sunset, a cocktail that pays homage to last rays of the day as they stretch out across one of the Sunshine State’s prettiest lagoons, home to manatees and dolphins and the occasional ‘gator. It’s a drink that’s lightly bitter at the start with a sweet finish, a perfect way to end the day in the subtropics — or Minnesota. Dive in.

Banana River Sunset

This drink packs a lot of citrus punch, from orange blossom honey to a gin-laced grapefruit granita. Squeeze the orange juice fresh if you can, as it will become laced with fresh oils from the rind, which enhances the bitterness of the Campari.

1 teaspoon orange blossom honey

5 or 6 pineapple sage leaves (you can substitute fresh mint or basil)

2 large tablespoons grapefruit-gin granita

3 ounces freshly-squeezed orange juice

1 ounce Campari

Pour the honey in the bottom of a tall chilled glass. Muddle the pineapple sage leaves into the honey until lightly crushed, then add the grapefruit-gin granita on top. Quickly shake the orange juice in a cocktail shaker filled with ice and strain into the glass. Float the Campari over the juice and enjoy.

The Friday Tipple: Equalitini

Equalitini

It’s time to put down those protest signs, Boozers. The Justices have packed up their robes for the weekend and it’s time for a wee drink. Or perhaps two — holding the scales of justice is a tough job. Time for a martini.

A martini is a perfect marriage of just a few essential elements, like any relationship. For some, a true martini can be made only with gin, while others eschew anything but vodka. Shaken or stirred, an olive or a twist of lemon — these are all a matter of opinion. We don’t judge, we just mix. That’s what we call Equalitini.

Equalitini

Unlike Prop 8, V8 believes in the concept of E pluribus unum: out of many, one. This tasty little vegetable juice adds a spring-like depth to this cocktail, but it’s the chunk of fresh horseradish — a root that is readily available in most grocery stores during this Passover season — that gives it a real kick in the pants. 

2 ounces gin or vodka (we used Catoctin Creek’s Watershed Gin, but we firmly support your right to choose any liquor you prefer)

1 ounce V8 or other vegetable juice

1-inch chunk of fresh horseradish, peeled

splash of vermouth

two strips of paper-thin fresh horseradish, for garnish

Put all ingredients into a cocktail shaker with several cubes of ice. Shake vigorously then strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with strips of horseradish.