The “Amateur” in our title was accentuated again today with Eric Felten’s latest great cocktail article in the weekend Wall St. Journal. Like last year, this weeks topic was Halloween cocktails. He mention a drink containing Monin Pumpkin Spice syrup in passing and dismissed it out of hand. Ouch.  I didn’t hurt too much, really. I was thinking fast when I came up with the Pumpkin Spice cocktail, and still feel pretty good about it (It’s pretty much a daiquiri if you use rum, and we do like us some daiquiris. In fact, I’m having one now, made with Meyer’s Dark Rum left over from a try at a Jamaican Black Cake. That’s for another blog). That said, his suggested drink from this year’s column as well as the one put out last year deserve a try. Today he pulled one out of the Savoy Cocktail Book: Satan’s Whisker. Great name, no pumpkin flavoring, no blood colored ingredients, just the name. Worth trying, but beware – very little acid, so it might come off flabby. Put some dry ice in it. Ha ha

Satan’s Whisker

  • 1/2 oz gin
  • 1/2 oz sweet vermouth
  • 1/2 oz dry vermouth
  • 1/2 oz fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 1/2 oz Grand Marnier
  • dash of orange bitters

Stir and strain. Garnish with an orange peel.

The drink from last year’s column was in a somewhat similar vein. A dry cocktail without bizarre color or ingredient additions. One big plus for this one, it includes apple cider, a staple of our local apple industry. Unfortunately, the liquors called for aren’t carried by our ABC stores. Oh well – go to Green’s or Total Wine in Greenville SC and you will be rewarded. wink wink, nudge nudge

Wicked Witch

  • 1 oz Strega liquor
  • 1 oz Averna Amaro
  • 1 oz apple cider

Shake and strain.

Click here for another Averna recipe. It’s a good one.

Addendum (Nov 2nd): I’ve made several Satan’s Whiskers now. It is low acid as predicted, but very orangey without being cloying. I’m making mine as doubles – 1 oz of everything. That will give you enough to fill a decent sized cocktail glass



I’ve been meaning to write this posting for a while. About a month or so back we had a a sitter for the kids and a night out. This was the night we started at the Vault. After our experience at the Vault, I wanted a good drink and some people to watch. Our next stop was the Frog Bar at the Flying Frog Cafe. I had a great Sidecar there earlier this summer and have heard good things about the pear infused vodka.  Given my mood, I went for a Negroni. AC Gal ordered off the cocktail menu. They have a Cosmo varient made with Absolut Mandrin and Grand Marnier. You assume they are used in place of Absolut Citron and Cointreau that go into the original. Sounded good so she got one.

My Negroni hit the spot. The Cosmo variant was not so good. The orange aroma seemed artifical – like the flavor you get in an orange Fanta. I figured it was the Absolut vodka that was to blame. They mass produce the stuff, along with lord knows how many other “flavors.” You could safely assume each batch gets a squirt of the desired flavoring before it’s bottled and shipped. The idea behind the drink seemed reasonable, the selection of ingredients seemed to be what needed work.

With all the infusions I’ve done, an orange vodka seemed simple enough. Last spring I had made a Limoncello – lemon zest steeped in vodka for a long time, then sweetened with sugar syrup. Using proportions from that recipe, I zested one orange with a Microplane zester and added that to 375 ml of Gordon’s vodka. After two weeks I strained and had my orange vodka.

I had picked up half bottles of Absolut and Smirnoff orange flavored vodkas over the past few weeks. Before making drinks I set up a blind tasting of these for AC Gal.

I knew which one was in each glass and tried to be open minded as I tasted through them. The home made seemed the best to me. It tasted of fresh orange whereas the two commercial preparation tasted, well, commercial. The orange soda analogy came to mind again. AC Gal tasted blind. She picked the home made one as the best, saying that the Absolut tasted like orange candy. I think what we both noticed was a commercial orange flavoring at work.

This week’s How’s Your Drink column by Eric Felten is a tasting of drinks made from scratch and from a pre-made mix. He points out the problems from trying to preserve citrus flavors. Much of the flavor comes from volatile oils and terpenes that are altered during commercial preparation. I don’t know how the vodkas we tried are flavored, but the manufacturers must have found some way to get a consistent flavor profile from batch to batch. I can only imagine that soaking orange peels in the vodka would give an inconsistent result, so next best thing – one drop of orange flavoring per bottle.

A note on Grand Marnier before we start. David Embury summarizes well in the section on various liquors in the Fine Art of Mixing Drinks:

Grand Marnier (grawN marn-yay´) A dry, pungent, citrus liqueur—orange-flavored on a base of the finest grand champagne brandy. To me this is the absolute king of all liqueurs, excelling even Benedictine and Chartreuse. It lacks the antiquity of Goldwasser and Benedictine; it does not boast the religious parentage of Benedictine and Chartreuse; but for sheer excellence of flavor it is unsurpassed. It blends magnificently in all manner of cocktails, particularly of the Sour type. It is also superb in cooking, for all manner of dessert sauces, and, of course, it is an absolute “must” for crêpes suzette.

Well, on to the drink.

I took my Cosmo recipe from the Cocktail Database (who took it from Gary Regan’s Joy of Mixology)

  • 1 1/2 oz citrus vodka
  • 1 oz triple sec
  • 1/2 oz lime juice
  • splash of cranberry juice for flavor

Shake and strain.

I made my Grand Marnier Cosmo by substituting GM for the triple sec and orange vodka for the citrus flavored.

Got a nice orange color in each. The Absolut Cosmo had the fake-orange aroma and taste. When I smelled the drink, I was transported back to the Frog Bar. It was the soda pop aroma that turned us both off on the drink. The orange is also much stronger in the commercial vodkas. We both enjoyed the home version more.

One thing about my drinks, even with almost a 1/2 ounce of cranberry juice added, I didn’t get the pink color that a Cosmo should probably have. I added a splash of Pomegranate juice. It gave a cool looking layered effect until I stirred it up and got a pale red.

So…for a bar that prides itself on it’s infused vodkas, I say: When the Absolut Madrian runs out, consider a simple orange infused vodka for this drink.

I had a brief trip to Charlotte last night for a meeting. I was with a group of ten who descended on the Capital Grille for drinks after dinner. Very neat place. This is a higher-end chain steak house with outlets across the country. The Charlotte iteration was a pleasure to visit. We spent around two hours in the bar. It is a great space. Dark wood paneling, padded chairs and a brass topped bar whose construction seemed to conform to the dimension Dale DeGroof gives in his article in the second volume of the Mixologist (foot rest, 14 inches of space under the overhanging top for patrons to tuck in their feet and a proper width top that the bartenders can reach across while still giving the patrons a bit of room). The back bar was lined with a large selections of liquors. Various premium vodka brands are displayed to the right. Twenty or more bottles of scotch occupy the center area, with various supporting bottles below and to the left.

The bartenders were efficient with all our request. We hit them up for several standbys plus a few special requests. All drinks were free poured then shaken or stirred. My drinks were all in rocks glasses. I did notice that the cocktail glasses were well proportioned (7 ounces?) and not the monster glasses that seem so prevalent today. Garnishes were fresh, including twists when needed. Sour mix is fresh squeezed citrus per teh bar tender. The best thing I saw – a juice press behind the bar that saw frequent use. Martinis were stirred and served with a three-olive garnish.

I went with my standard Gimlet and Negroni. Both were quite good. The Gimlet had a double garnish, a lime and a lemon wedge. The bartender was unfamiliar with the Negroni, but after I spouted off the proportions it was mixed and served quickly. I noticed that while I was reciting the recipe, the second bartender was already coming over to us with a bottle (half-empty) of Campari. Someone was drinking it. Good drink here too.

Our crowd thinned out but we stuck it out to closing time. Toward the end of the night we struck up a conversation with a younger couple at the bar. I grabbed a Margarita for last call. It exceeded my standard two drink limit per night, but I really wanted to try something with the sour mix (plus I only had to walk to my hotel). It was a bit disappointing, built and served in a 16 oz glass. Not quite enough citrus for my taste. Jose Cuevo was the house brand, but I opted for silver Patron. That helped some.

All in all though, another keeper – good drinks with tremendous selection, an attentive bar staff, and an environment that was relaxing and conducive to conversation.

three out of three olives

The Capital Grille

201 North Tyron Street – IJL Financial Center

Charlotte, NC 28202

phone:  (704) 348-1400

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)