The Autumn Tipple: Amaro Ammazzacaffè

Amaro Ammazzacaffè

Keep your voices down, Boozers. It’s possible that last night we took the “Thirsty Thursday” festivities a little too seriously, and we are suffering for it today. A little coffee and hair of the dog is in order, so we prefer to follow the example of the Italians and combine it all in our version of an ammazzacaffè, also known as a “coffee killer”, because the alcohol kills the bitter taste of the coffee. Bitter or not, we need help.

Because tequila was our drink of choice last night — forgive us, for we have sinned — we think we’ll have to toss that back in an effort to regain some equilibrium, but we’re adding some amaro, an Italian digestive, in an effort to settle our wonky tum just a bit. Either that or we’ll just be tipsy again, which may be the only way we’ll make it until happy hour. We’ll rack up a few more Hail Marys in the meantime.

Amaro Ammazzacaffè

If you aren’t familiar with amaro, then it’s time to become acquainted. They range from seriously bitter to lightly sweet, with a syrupy quality that coats the tongue. We are fortunate to have a domestic amaro made by a real Italian right here in the neighborhood, with undertones of autumnal sweet fennel, but some people like to start with an amaro with more of a caramel finish, which can be easier on an American palate.

3 ounces strong black coffee at room temperature

1 ounce amaro (we like Don Ciccio & Figli’s Amaro delle Sirene)

1 ounce tequila (we prefer a botanical silver variety like Avión )

1 teaspoon lemon simple syrup

fresh lemon peel for garnish

Mix the first four ingredients gently over ice, then strain into a glass. Twist the lemon peel over the liquid to release the essential oils and serve immediately. It’s best to drink this down quickly in a few big sips.

The Garden Tipple: Sugarbaby Daiquiri

Sugarbaby Daiquiri

We’re parched, Boozers. Gardening is hard work, and we’ve done enough tilling, weeding, watering, and harvesting in the height of summer to last a lifetime — and it’s not even August. The air-conditioned comfort of the grocery store’s produce section begins to look mighty good when you’re covered in sweat and compost while you battle aphids and whatever just chewed up half your tomatoes during the night. But then the sugarbabies arrived and things started to look up.

A Sugar Baby is a common variety of miniature watermelon, often found in farmers markets and grocery stores under the moniker “personal watermelon”. They are small, and sweet, and utterly hydrating on a hot summer day, especially when rum is involved. We don’t usually go in for frozen drinks, and we generally like our daiquiris Hemingway-style, but sometimes an adult slurpee is really the only way to go when the mercury is on the rise. Slurp it up and drink it down.

Sugarbaby Daiquiri

Most frozen drinks are made with ice cubes, but we turn our noses up at that when we have watermelon available. As you might imagine, watermelon is mostly water and so, when cut into cubes, they freeze perfectly. They also freeze fairly quickly, so you’ll be ready to whip up your daiquiris within a couple of hours of freezing.

One Sugar Baby watermelon, preferably seedless, cut into chunks

2 ounces rum, preferably a lighter variety such as silver or gold (we used Mount Gay this time)

1 ounce hibiscus liqueur (we used Don Ciccio & Figli; if you don’t have that available to you, use St. Germain elderflower liqueur to add a floral note, or even Maraschino liqueur, which is generally used in traditional daiquiris)

1 fresh lime

Place the watermelon chunks into a plastic Ziploc bag and freeze until solid, about an hour or two. To make a good-sized daiquiri, place one cup of frozen watermelon chunks in a blender with the rum, liqueur, and the juice of half a lime. Blend on high for a few seconds — it won’t take long to break down the cubes and you want them to maintain a perfectly drinkable frozen purée. Serve immediately.

The Garden Tipple: Midsummer Night’s Beer Punch

Midsummer Night's Beer Punch

We have had a most rare vision, dear Boozers. Sunlight slanting low and golden across quiet orderly rows of tomatoes, beans, and peppers, suddenly distorted by the higgledy-piggledy madness of raspberry canes, climbing every which way in tangled curls of green and crimson. Warmed by the late-day sunshine, the scent is intoxicating and you find your fingers and lips stained with their sweetness. Such is a midsummer night, when inhibitions are thrown out into the soft breeze and a magical stillness settles into a contented soul.

Midsummer is an important time in many cultures, as the longest day of the year arrives with great fanfare, only to be immediately followed by gradually shortening days that herald the inevitable coming of winter. Fueled by a sense of urgency, we feel the need to gather our friends and dance with abandon in the open air, surrounded by barbecues and beer cans as we chase our dreams through the shadows. We like to celebrate such folly with our Midsummer Night’s Beer Punch, a heady blend of raspberry-infused gin, limoncello-spiked lemonade, and crisp summer ale. Consider yourself forewarned: though she be but little, she is fierce.

Midsummer Night’s Beer Punch

Here in the U.S., we tend to come just a bit late to the party by celebrating midsummer on the Fourth of July, and this punch is just right for a crowd. The trick is to try to keep everything well-chilled until just before serving — go rustic by mixing the lemonade and gin together in a large mason jar, then add a couple of cold beers to the jar as your guests begin to arrive. To keep it extra cold, try throwing in a few beer cubes.

2 cups chilled lemonade with 3/4 cup limoncello added (we like our local Don Ciccio & Figli limoncello)

1 cup chilled gin infused with raspberries and lemongrass (recipe here)

3 chilled beers (we used a summery ale by our local DC Brau)

Several slices of fresh orange and lemon

Using a punch bowl or a large mason jar, add all ingredients and stir together well. Serve immediately and replenish as necessary. Garnish with fresh lemongrass stalks if you have it.

 

The Garden Tipple: Cantaloupe Cantina Cooler

Cantaloupe Cantina

It’s tequila time, Boozers. After a long week slogging away in a grown-up world of trading gossip by the water cooler, listening to the C-suite droning away about budgetary propriety, and spending yet another morning commute stuck in a tunnel on a disabled subway car, you’ve earned every precious drop.

If your paycheck doesn’t seem to be commensurate with the amount of overtime you put in every week, then you’re probably looking for ways to stretch your cocktail budget. We understand this all too well, so our advice is to spend as much as you can afford on a good bottle of tequila (we like Avión Silver, which is smooth and herbaceous with a pleasant kick, yet reasonably priced) and then head to the farmers market at the end of the day. Why? Because this is the time when farmers try to lighten their load by actually giving away the produce they haven’t sold yet.

We picked up two rather overlarge cantaloupes this way this week and immediately thought of making cantaloupe juice, an embarrassingly easy little job. Until our summer cocktail garden fills in, we’ve been rejoicing in the beautiful fresh fruits and vegetables to be found at the farmers market, where the farmers have a jump on the rest of us by growing their products in greenhouses during the cooler spring months. The cantaloupes right now have that fresh early summer brightness that matches just about perfectly with tequila.

So finish up that really important report for the boss, then hit the farmers’ line around 5 to see what you can score, without having to resort to dumpster diving. You deserve a drink.

Cantaloupe Cantina Cooler

We said it was embarrassingly easy to make cantaloupe juice and we weren’t kidding. Scoop out the flesh of a ripe cantaloupe and throw it into a blender. Blend on high until liquified, then strain through a coffee filter until you have a beautiful clear liquid. At this point, we like to add the juice of one fresh lime and about 2 teaspoons of light agave nectar. Can be stored for up to two days in the refrigerator, but best if used immediately.

3 ounces fresh cantaloupe juice

1.5 ounces tequila

1 ounce prickly pear liqueur (we love this, especially from our local maker Don Ciccio & Figli, and it adds something special to tequila, but go ahead and use triple sec if you can’t find prickly pear liqueur at your liquor store)

Chilled club soda

2 wedges of lime

Put first four ingredients into a cocktail shaker and stir well, then pour over a tall glass filled with ice. Squeeze one wedge of lime into the drink, then garnish with an additional wedge of lime.

 

The Garden Tipple: Iced Amalfi Americano

Iced Amalfi Americano

We’re preparing for deprivation, Boozers. Apparently there’s a coffee shortage looming, courtesy of drought and disease, so we feel the need to stock up while we can. With the temperatures rising, we began to crave Thai Iced Coffee, but a charming little Cinnamon Basil plant jauntily growing in the windowbox made us consider a more Mediterranean twist — logically bringing us to our friends at Don Ciccio & Figli and their tasty little Italian liqueur known as Concerto, brimming with the flavors of the Amalfi coast.

This summer, as we explore cocktails from the garden, we’re bringing you a Garden Tipple each week, with today’s offering, the Iced Amalfi Americano, featuring one of our favorite tricks: the cocktail cube. A few weeks back, we picked up a Cinnamon Basil plant from the local home improvement store for a couple of bucks, and we’re obsessed with its spicy cinnamon flavor, which adds a zingy essence when chopped up and added to an ice cube. As the cube melts into your drink, the flavors subtly shift and deepen — the easiest way to add new layers to what could be an otherwise ordinary drink. Try it with fresh mint for a mojito, thyme for a gin-and-lemonade, and even garlic chives for an amped-up Bloody Mary.

Iced Amalfi Americano

A confection made from barley and espresso, Concerto is just about perfection when used in a coffee-based cocktail, but another coffee-based liqueur will do just as well, such as a traditional Kahlua or Patron XO Cafe.

3 ounces cold-brewed coffee with a pinch of dried cardamom

1.5 ounces espresso-based liqueur

2 ounces coconut milk half-n-half (we like So Delicious; you can use regular half-n-half)

1 ounce unaged whiskey (this is optional, but we strongly suggest it; we used Catoctin Creek Mosby’s Spirit)

4 cinnamon basil ice cubes

We like to make sure that every element of this cocktail is well-chilled, so it’s nice to put together some of the elements in advance and put them back in the refrigerator to chill for an hour or so before serving — or mix up enough for four or five drinks and leave it in the refrigerator for up to a week, ready to drink when you are.

First, make the cubes. You’ll need several clean cinnamon basil leaves (other varieties of basil work well also, such as Thai basil), cut into a fine chiffonade. Put the basil leaves and about half a cup of water into a blender and blend on high until the leaves are pulverized and the water is green. Pour into an ice cube tray and freeze until solid.

Next, mix together the coffee and espresso liqueur and put in the refrigerator to chill, then mix together the half-n-half and the unaged whiskey and put that into the refrigerator to chill.

To assemble the drink: Pour the chilled half-n-half mixture into the bottom of a tall glass. Add several of the basil cubes and then pour the coffee mixture into the glass. Enjoy.

 

The Friday Tipple: La Primavera

La Primavera

We’re back on the spring bandwagon, Boozers. It keeps creeping ever closer, little by little, and we’re not about to argue. Flowers are blossoming, bees are buzzing, and the farmers markets are starting to feature fresh vegetables that did not grow under the ground — not that we don’t enjoy a good root vegetable as much as the next person. What we’re crushing on this week are those little darlings of spring, fresh sweet peas.

Before you recoil in horror, let us say that these are not cafeteria peas, cooked down to mush with a color that can only be described as, well, pea green. These are those charmingly cherubic spheres that are the brightest hue of spring green, like a new blade of grass and just as sweet. And, yes, they make a lovely cocktail. We know it’s hard to fathom, but open your minds, just like you are opening your windows to a soft spring breeze — if you must drink your vegetables, then this is surely the way to do it.

La Primavera

We created this recipe for Don Ciccio & Figli, an absolutely wonderful distiller of seriously hand-made Italian liqueurs in Washington, DC. Each flavor is like a jewel-toned work of art; this particular drink features limoncello, and a good limoncello should be a clear lemon-yellow color (not day-glo yellow, which likely means artificial colors have been added) and you should be overwhelmed with the scent of fresh lemons when you open the bottle — if it smells like Country Time Lemonade, then something has gone seriously wrong.

1 ounce fresh pea juice
2 ounces limoncello
1 ounce gin (we always use Catoctin Creek Watershed Gin; please support your local distiller)
chilled club soda (optional — see below)

Make the fresh pea juice: take 1/2 cup clean peas (you can use frozen peas if fresh are not available, just defrost them first) and put them in a blender with 1/2 cup water. Purée thoroughly, then strain completely so that you have just a clear green liquid. Can be refrigerated for up to two days.

Place first three ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake thoroughly. At this point, you have two options: strain into a cosmopolitan glass and drink it as is, or pour into a tall glass filled with ice and top with chilled club soda. It’s preferable to garnish with early spring strawberries, sweet cherry tomatoes, or a few fresh pea shoots, but a lemon wedge will do just as well.

 

The Friday Tipple: Dilbert’s Dilemma

Dilbert's Dilemma

Feeling downtrodden, dear Boozers? We understand. In a world where there are those who delight in stepping on the backs of others to achieve their petty goals, it’s hard to be the guy who just wants to quietly punch the clock and pick up a paycheck. Not everyone cares about movin’ on up, but try telling that to the eager beaver who just assigned you a 200-page analysis of the efficacy of traditional paper clips versus mini binder clips, in the hopes that it will bump them up in the estimation of some pencil-pushing muckety-muck who never heard of paying overtime.

Sigh.

All this means that you’re really going to need a drink when you get home from a weary day of banging your head softly against the wall of your cubicle. A classic drink of the workingman is the Boilermaker — essentially just a beer and a shot of whiskey, clearly designed to take the pain away before the factory whistle has even finished blowing at the end of the workday. We call our version Dilbert’s Dilemma, a slightly more subtle combination that can be savored as you slump gratefully in the La-Z-Boy in front of a flickering screen. Don’t let The Man get you down.

Dilbert’s Dilemma

While a beer syrup forms the basis of this cocktail — a simple combination of beer, sugar, and some spices — it’s the simple act of coating the interior glass with a small amount of orange liqueur that creates a new depth of flavor.

2 ounces of whiskey (or 3 if it’s been a rough week; we like Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye)

1/2 ounce Beer Syrup (recipe here)

1/4 ounce orange liqueur (Don Ciccio & Figli Mandarinetto, Grand Marnier, or Triple Sec will work)

orange peel for garnish

Pour the whiskey and beer syrup into a cocktail shaker and stir briskly to combine. Pour the orange liqueur into the glass and swirl it all around the inside of the glass to coat completely. Add the blended whiskey and beer syrup to the glass and garnish with orange peel. Drink up.

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: Et Tu, Brutus?

Et Tu, Brutus?

We’re feeling nostalgic again, Boozers. A common winter ailment has left us craving vitamin C, which caused us to reminisce fondly about that childhood food court staple, the Orange Julius. Frothy and delicious, creamy and orange, there was no treat more prized when dragged to the mall in search of new snow boots or Power Rangers underwear. The promise of it served to make the torture of waiting for Mother to purchase the perfect pocket squares for Dad almost bearable.

While an Orange Julius has next to nothing to do with the Roman emperor of the same name, we find ourselves thinking of togas and chariot races nonetheless, and Italy is, of course, simply dripping with fresh oranges, so we don’t think it such a stretch to imagine that Caesar would have enjoyed a refreshing frozen orange concoction to help him while away a long hot afternoon at the baths. Et Tu, Brutus? is our version, just kicked up a notch or two. Enjoy it as you plan your next conquest.

Et Tu, Brutus?

Vanilla-laced vodka and mandarinetto – basically limoncello made with oranges – are a lovely combination for this grown-up treat. If you can, infuse a good vodka with a couple of split vanilla beans for a week or two; otherwise you can use a good vodka and scrape a vanilla bean into the mixture or simply add a good quality pure vanilla extract. Most homemade versions of the Orange Julius will tell you to use defrosted orange juice concentrate and ice cubes, but we prefer to make ours with frozen orange juice cubes – simply pour fresh orange juice into an ice cube tray and freeze until solid, about two hours.

4 frozen orange juice cubes

1 ounce vodka (we prefer Boyd & Blair)

1 ounce Mandarinetto (our favorite is Don Ciccio & Figli – you can use another orange liqueur like Grand Marnier if necessary)

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (or scrape one vanilla bean)

2 ounces coconut milk or cream (we like So Delicious Coconut Milk Half-n-Half)

1 teaspoon orange blossom honey or other sweetener

1/2 teaspoon baking soda (this counteracts the acidity of the orange juice)

additional ice cubes and fresh orange juice as needed

orange wedge for garnish

Put first seven ingredients in a blender and blend until well-combined, thick, and frothy. Add additional ice cubes if too liquid, add orange juice if too frozen. Pour into a tall glass and garnish with orange wedge and a straw; serve immediately.

The Friday Tipple: Sochi Dreams

Sochi Dreams

We’re feeling a little international, Boozers. There are those who say that sports transcend geographical borders, drawing people together from all parts of the globe to cheer on their favorite athletes in every sport imaginable, from ping-pong to diving to cricket to curling. Some sports place emphasis on the individual while others are all about team effort.

A cocktail, of course, is a team effort in which each individual must play its part to complete the whole. We’ve been honored to work with some tasty liqueurs by one of our hometown favorites, Don Ciccio & Figli, crafting several combinations that celebrate flavors from around the world. With the Winter Olympics approaching, we’ve decided to cozy up with our version of a White Russian, which we’re calling Sochi Dreams. Sip it whether you dream of Olympic glory or for greater equality everywhere. За любовь!

Sochi Dreams

For this particular cocktail, we combined Don Ciccio & Figli’s Concerto (a barley and espresso-based liqueur) with Catoctin Creek Mosby’s Spirit, a white whiskey that we think makes a great substitute for vodka. However, we enjoy vodka as much as the next person, so when we make this with vodka, we like Boyd & Blair potato vodka, which has a nice clean and crisp finish.

1 ounce Don Ciccio & Figli Concerto 
1 ounce white whiskey or vodka
2 ounces coconut milk (we used So Delicious Coconut Creamer)
1/2 ounce cinnamon tincture (Bittermen’s Hiver Amer works really well also)

Put all ingredients into a cocktail shaker, shake thoroughly, and strain into a chilled cocktail coupe or martini glass. Dust with grated nutmeg (optional). For a variation, pour over ice into a rocks glass, preferably coffee ice cubes instead of just plain ice cubes.