The Amateur Cocktail family went out on a little local discovery trip this past weekend. Back in March, I found a small market that caters to our local growing Ukrainian and Eastern European community. I came home with some Polish pickles that were a hit. That was a good enough reason to head back together to pick up some more and see what else we might find. The kids found a couple of candies (sold by the pound) that they enjoyed. I found a bottle of Tarragon flavored soda. I had never even considered that someone would flavor soda with herbs. I’m flexible though. It was a pretty hot day, so I was thinking Tom Collins, or maybe an “Ivan Collins.”

Finally got around to it today.

  • 1-1/2 oz gin
  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • 4-5 oz Chersi Tarragon soda

Build over ice and stir,

Not bad. The color from the soda is impressive. Not sure I got much Tarragon flavor off the drink. Not sweet, but not bitter, I’d say it fell between a Collins and a G&T.

I’m going to head back for a few more bottles. After reading Gary Regan’s article on a souped up Tom Collins, I think I’d like to try it with a 1/4 oz of Maraschino or some Cointreau.


addendum: Well, nothin is new I guess. Turned up other references to a Tarragon cocktail. This one is from San Francisco bar Bourbon and Branch. They make a Collins with a tarragon infused simple syrup which I suspect gives a cleaner taste. More info at:

Closer to our endevour is this reference to a Tarragon Gin Fizz using tarragon infused gin, lemon juice and a Tarragon soda like ours: It sounds a lot like my Collins. Here again, some real tarragon flavor is introduced by way of the gin. A picture of the drink is here: It has the same neon green color from the soda, but interestingly, it is served neat. References to the event where this was served are included in several other blog postings. It must have been a hit.

I actually have a small tarragon plant in our garden. The trouble is, if I take enough of it to make an infusion, I’ll kill the poor thing. Time to look out for some in the local markets and hit the Costco liquor store for some bulk gin on our next trip to SC.

A friend in town turned me on to Agave Syrup a few weeks back. We were headed to Atlanta for a visit. He suggested a stop at Trader Joe’s to pick some up. I didn’t quite know what to do with it at first but figured it should work in a cocktail. It is a fructose syrup and therefore sweeter than sucrose. You can use less volume when mixing.

The syrup looks like honey. So, a cocktail with honey seemed like a good starting point. I turned up the Bee’s Knees. This was a spawn of Prohibition made with equal parts gin, honey and lemon juice.  Strog mixers to hide the bad gin. David Embury has a comment in his Fine Art of Mixing Drinks:

Small wonder, then, that this period gave birth to such pernicious recipes as the Alexander—equal parts of gin, crème de cacao, and sweet cream; the Orange Blossom —equal parts of gin and orange juice, with or without the white of an egg; the Bee’s Knees—equal parts of gin, lemon juice, and honey; and so on ad nauseam. And it is only by regarding them as a more or less logical, albeit regrettable, aftermath of prohibition influence that one can account for the many ridiculous formulas still found in the average book of cocktail recipes of today. 

Uhh, is it even worth trying one? Dale DeGroof tweaks the recipe to get the sweet and sour back in proportion (cutting down the honey). He uses honey dissolved in equal parts water to aid mixing and, I suppose, bulk up the volume. I tweaked it a bit more to come up with the Bee Sting. Less dilution, more flavor. It is a keeper, but serve it in a smaller volume glass:

The Bee Sting

  • 1 1/2 to 2 ounces gin
  • 1 ounce fresh, strained lemon juice
  • 1/2 ounce Trader Joe’s Blue Agave Syrup

       (or a comparable syrup with 60 calores per tablespoon)

Place lemon juice in a mixing glass, add syrup and dissolve with stirring. (1/2 oz of syrup is equal to about two bar spoonfulls) Add gin, shake or stir with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Agave is the base for Tequila, so an obvious variation would be to use that in place of the gin. I did. It works great, but add two or three dashes of orange bitters to approxiamate a Margarita.

(Apparently this is how it’s done at Tres Agaves restaurant in San Francisco, sans the bitters)

I mentioned in the Lavender Syrup post that I had too much Lavender after my recent collecting trip. It was a bit of a chore to gather and I really didn’t want to let it go to waste. What to do? It smelled great, and I do like Gin…hey, Lavender Infused Gin. Why not? Infusing Vodka seems to be all the rage. One of the first articles in Imbibe! covered the topic. I’ve come across several articles on the web and numerous blog postings (just Google “Infused Vodka” to get started) and even see local bars using their own vodka infusions in cocktails. I knew it was mainstream though when my older brother started telling me about his homemade Lychee infused vodka.

I’ve played around with it a little in the past – tea infused vodka (Assam) and cognac (Double Earl Gray), and some ginger infused cognac. These were small batches. I couldn’t get into the flavors. I have some of each left and will probably come back to them. But for now, I want something more in line with my current drinking (it ain’t cognac and it ain’t vodka).

A little googling on “Lavender infused vodka” turned up a couple of recipes. All of them were pretty restrained with the amount of lavender to use. I started putting two tablespoonfuls of lavender florets into 75 cl of gin, but it just didn’t seem like enough. I added some whole flowers, with the stalks trimmed to the first row of flowers, until I had a total of about 1/2 cup in the bottle. I watched (and smelled) it through the day. A very pretty faint purple color came over the gin, while the purple flowers slowly turned green. After about 6 hours I strained it and then ran that liquid through a coffee filter to clean up the last little bits. That’s a Bombay bottle it’s soaking in.

I now have a bottle of lavender scented gin. No citrus in the house today, but I do have a bottle of Rose’s Lime Juice. Gimet it is-

1 oz lavender infused gin

1 oz Boodles gin

1/2 oz Rose’s Lime juice

1/2 oz 2:1 simple syrup

Stirred with ice and strained.

Verdict: Not too good. Notice I diluted the infused gin with some straigt gin. Even with this the lavender gave a medicinal edge that just wasn’t enjoyable.

Next attempt will be either a G&T, a Collins or maybe a Corpse Reviver. Updates to follow.

Cucina 24

The week before our beach trip was a week without kids. They were off with the grandparents. That gave Lynn and I the chance to check out some spots around town that were new to us. Our first night was a visit to the Frog Bar (for a nice Sidecar, sugar rim glass included) and then Sante! Nice experience at both. Thursday night we showed up at Cucina 24 without a reservation. Fortunately, there were high tables available in the bar area. A quick check of the bottles behind the bar and I spotted something that looked promising: Fee Brothers bitters! A bar with these is a bar that could shake up cocktails. Lynn ordered a glass of white wine while I opted for a Gimlet. What a treat – ice cold, well proportioned and served in a chilled cocktail glass. The bartender (and General Manager) Brian Candee came by to take our second round order. The cocktail menu has several drinks unique to Cucina. I was tempted, but when I mentioned a Negroni, I think Brian’s eyes lit up. He described his construction of the drink and offered that he used an artisanal Vermouth. I was sold. Again, well proportioned and balanced. Served on the rocks (at my request). Best one I’ve ever had.

While I choose to drink my dinner that night, Lynn went for an order of Bucatini Carbonara. Quite good (I sampled liberally). Further conversation with Brian turned up that he makes his sour mix fresh daily – “Six lemons and six limes.” Was it possible? Had I died and found a little piece of cocktail heaven? He really cares about what goes in the glass. The obvious attention to the small details at the bar are hopefully an indication of attention paid to other aspects of the restaurant. This one’s a keeper. We’ll be back. Maybe with a reservation, or maybe we’ll just hang at the bar.

Three out of three olives
(Need a graphic for that one)

The amateur cocktail family is taking our annual leave to Folly Beach, just outside Charleston SC. I think this is our fourth year here. We’ve never settled on one house and have rented a different one each visit. This year we opted for a house on the west side of the island facing the salt marsh. Previous years we have had beach front houses. We’ve never been terribly thrilled with any of the beach front places. They’re expensive and always seem a little run down. My mental math would lead me to think that if I was paying the same per night as a hotel, I should get clean sheets, intermittent maid service, some soap in the bathroom…you get it. This year’s house was a little less expensive then the others so my expectations weren’t that high.

Man, was I wrong. This actually feels like a house someone would want to live in. It’s finished nicely, decorated and has furnished baths and bedrooms. I am very happy we found it. The views out the back at sunset are spectacular. Now, most importantly for the blog, it has some rudimentary bar supplies. I’m pretty sure house guest are encouraged to “mix it up.” The little sign on the cabinet holding the cocktail glasses says “Martini Time.”

We turned up some shakers and a small bottle of dry vermouth in the cabinets. Funny coincidence, we had brought perishable items from home to use  up, including six lemons and limes (hated to see them go to waste while we were gone) as well as several bottles of sparkling mineral water to drink instead of the fairly hard tap water. Call me superstitious, but the combination of our discoveries and the supplies we brought with us made me think we were meant to make some drinks. We just needed a couple of things. I made a half recipe of simple syrup. Our next trip off the island included a stop at the mecca that is Total Wine & More. In South Carolina, the “& More” is a liquor store, the right-hand half of our store.

Total Wine

This an interesting place. Lots of the wines are sourced directly by buyers for the chain.  This seems to be the case for some of the liquor as well. I came away with a bottle of Maxim’s Gin for a very fair price, $5 less per bottle than our current favorite-Boodles. Haven’t seen it anywhere else. It is made in Cognac from a grain base spirit:  I don’t know the whole story behind it, but for mixing, it seemed servicable.

So, with everything in hand, we squezed the limes and lemons and built a couple of Tom Collins.


(Ignore the tasty World Market Blood Orange soda in the far left glass)

Eric Felten’s Tom Collins recipe:

  1-1/2 ounce gin

  juice of 1/2 lemon

  1/4 to 1/2 ounce of 2:1 simple syrup

  2 to 3 ounces of soda water

Build on the rocks in a short highball glass.


With drinks in hand we headed to the back porch to enjoy a beautiful sunset



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