Man, protracted writer’s block the past few months. This blog was conceived with two thoughts in mind – give me a place to organize and collect my thoughts, and also give a place to try my hand at writing. The latter was becoming a chore and taking away some of the fun of the whole thing. We haven’t been sitting still, just not making too many notes about what was going on.

A brief update – the Pokeberry ink turned out so-so. It lost the brillant purple of the fresh berries turning a deep purple that went on to turn brown as it dried. Not a failure, but not a screaming success. One good thing – I now know where the poke bushes are so I was able to grab some poke sallit a few weeks back. Fried it up in bacon fat and scrambled it with eggs.You have to boil the greens twice before eating them. After that treatment, there isn’t much flavor left. Beyond the color, it didn’t add much to the eggs. I could see the attraction 100 years ago though when this was the first green thing you got to eat after a long winter of grains, cured meats and maybe canned fruits or vegetables.

We also had a little work done on the fire pit. Winter was not kind to it. The walls crumbled in a bit turning it into more

Latest Fire Accessory

of a fire depression. You can’t fight nature, so I turned it into a proper fire ring with more level ground surrounding it. Got my survival guides and I’m looking forward to cooking all manner of things on the campfire this summer.

The last big change was finally getting around to planting a vegetable garden. We’ve got a great spot. The dirt is mostly clay thought – it is cut into the hill that is the back yard. I’ve been through it a couple of times tilling, adding compost and all that. It’s still clay. My last great plan was to haul off the top 18 to 24 inches of clay, put in a drainage field then come back and fill it up with top soil. Right.

Future Julep or Southside

Bailed on that one for now. It was miles easier to put in two small raised beds and fill those with mostly good dirt. Root vegetables seem to do well around here so carrots (lots of carrots), beets, parsnips and radishes are in the mix, some  in the beds, some in the clay around them. For the kids – two tomatoes, a couple of watermelon plants and one or two sunflowers, For daddy – Fava beans, cabbages, brussel sprouts and corn. For future cocktails, I set out some raspberries and a mini raised bed of mint (synthetic plant pot with the bottom cut out – the stuff can run and take over a garden). The raspberries were an after thought, but an “ah-ha moment.” Why didn’t I think of them sooner? The wineberries up the street look great again this year. I hope to spend some time this summer extending the bed for the raspberries and put more plants out next spring. The mint is doing fine. As it gets warmer, I’m thinking Mint Juleps with the Peach infused Bourbon. We also have some horehound starting to sprout. I never did get around to making Rock and Rye last year. Hopefully it will work out this go round

As far as drinks go, rumor has it one of the private clubs in town is looking for a signature cocktail to serve. The idea got me thinking about the qualities of a drink that would fit their style . I would think something with a traditional style – a brown liquor base, with at least one local component, but no precious or obscure ingredients. It would need to be something a busy bartender could reproduce quickly, but still have some flair. It would also have to appeal to men and woman. Tough order. My first attempt:

The Private Club Cocktail #1

  • 1-1/2 oz Cognac
  • 1/2 oz Grand Marnier
  • 1/2 oz lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz Blackberry syrup
  • 2-3 dashes of Angostura bitters
  • 4-5 oz Champagne

Shake and strain the first four ingredients, top with the champagne, serve with a lemon twist.

It’s a more enriched variation of the French 75. The blackberry syrup is fairly easy to make. I used frozen berries for this batch. Fresh ones would be a treat. You could also plug-in a syrup from whatever fruit was current, or use crème de cassis or Chambord. As a nod to the local apple orchards I suppose you could use Apple Brandy or Calvados. Mmmm, may have to try that one once.

Blackberry Syrup

  • 4 cups of Blackberries
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • juice of one lemon

Simmer all ingredients for 10-20 minutes. Add to containers when it cools and refrigerate. This made about 500 ml.


Commercial Brûlot Mix

We’re back after an extended hiatus. Lots going on. Work seems to pick up this time every year as people who’ve been putting things off decide to get it done before the end of the year. That, plus catching up on continuing ed credits and a certification exam deadline combined to make time tight.  Taking the time to mix a cocktail actually became a luxury I couldn’t afford. Maybe I just couldn’t get myself to relax enough to take the time to enjoy one. I opted for easier drinks – beer and wine. Not much thought needed for those, just pop and pour.

Time is less compressed now that the holidays are here. We made our annual pre-Christmas visit to Atlanta. A stop at Tower Beverage got my thoughts back to mixing some up. They have a great selection of base liquors and modifying spirits – both yellow and green Chartreuse, Cherry Heering and many others. I made it home with a couple of minibottles of St. Germain elderflower liqueur, some Angorustera Orange bitters and a bottle of Barbancort 8 year Rum. I almost picked up some Columbian Aguaradente for the shear novelty. I ended up talking myself out of it because I had no idea what to do with it. A gentleman from New Orleans also passed on a copy of New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix em. This is a great, inexpensive guide to drinks from the only city in the US with a distinct cocktail culture. Looking through, one drink really struck me – the Café Brûlot.

The name means Spiced Coffee and that’s what it is. A mixture of Cognac and orange liqueur flavored with cloves, cinnamon and brown sugar. The drink is mixed like a punch at table side by pouring the burning liquor mix into a bowl of coffee. Did I say “burning”? I did, and that is quite cool.

Now a bowl of burning coffee isn’t practical on a day to day basis. The challenge was to come up with some Brulot mix that could be used for a single cup. There are a few recipes on the web, plus the one in the New Orleans book. Looking at those, I came up with the following infused liquor base:

ACG Café Brûlot base

Brûlot Starting Point


Step 1

  • 1 cup Cognac
  • zest of one orange

Steep the orange zest in the cognac for 2 to 3 days, then strain.

This is done to limit the orange flavor which can get quite strong.

Step 2

  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1 tbsp of cinnamon chips or a 2 inch stick broken up

Steep the above items in the cognac for a week, then strain.

Alternatively, you could add the orange zest to the mix three days before the end of the week.

Step 3

  • ½ cup Grand Marnier
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar

Add these to you cognac base then store in a glass container until needed. This mix has a wonderful aroma.

The portions above will just about fill a split (375 ml half wine bottle).

Café Brûlot

Brew a cup of chicory coffee. To make this, I mix equal parts roasted chicory with ground regular and decaf coffee then measure and brew like you I for regular coffee.

Warm up 3 to 4 oz of your mix in a non-flammable container, I used a 1/4 cup metal measuring cup, ignite, then add to the coffee.


Try to keep it between the lines

We’ve had several experiments going on the last week or so. Unfortunately, no big hits with any of them. Got coalsaround to trying out the barbecue pit. It worked fairly well, but I don’t think I let the fire go long enough to build the proper amount of coals to get the cooking done. It was fun sitting out by the fire early last Saturday morning while it was still a little cold outside. The area around the pit needs some work to make it more comfortable. Once that’s done, we’ll try again but shoot for three or more hours of fire to get a good bed of coals.honeysuckle

One other idea came up while walking the dogs. Honeysuckle is in bloom now. The flower aroma is strong when you go by a large patch of it – seemed like a natural to put into a cocktail. After the dogs finished their loop, I went back around with a jar and filled it with blossoms. That measured 3.5 gms of material. Covered that with vodka and let it steep overnight. It must have been too long. The Amateur Cocktail Spouse got some stemmy flavors in a cocktail I made with it the following day. I still have most of the bottle left. I added a little sugar to part of it. We’ll let it sit for a while and see how it evolves.

Pre-made cocktails components get a bad rep. A really good cocktail starts with really good ingredients. There are a lot of crappy pre-made things out there, but there are also a lot of well made products waiting to be discovered. It’s all relative. Everything can’t be made from scratch. And so, to a degree you have to allow for a little slack. The degree you allow probably defines your approach to other things as well. Last year’s tarragon soda was a nice find. I guess to some people it’s a kin to using Collins mix, but it was unusual for this cocktail drinker (and good).

The first attempt at Honeysuckle vodka didn’t turn out so well. The current rage seems to be St. Germain Elderflower liqueur. It’s a new product concocted by an American. It has shown up in our local ABC stores, but at $30 a bottle it’s a bit of a luxury. It is a modern riff on elderflower syrup. A little searching will turn up several commercial varieties of the syrup, the most promising of which is here. You can also make you own.

There are others. I turned up an artisanal Rose syrup made in Lebanon. This came from Kalustyan’s in New York, a great source for the unusual or odd ethnic spice or cooking ingredient. Digging deeper, turn up quince lemon syrup and Sekanjebin (?) syrup. These last two will have to wait, but with the rose syrup in hand, we made a standard Tom Collins, substituting the rose syrup for the simple syrupRose Collins

Rose SyrupRose Collins

  • 1 1/2 oz gin
  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz Rose Syrup
  • 4 or so oz of sparkling water

Add first three ingredient to a Collins glass with ice, stir, add sparkling water and sir gently again. Enjoy on the back porch. Repeat.

Refreshing and enjoyable. One thing about the Lavender infusions from last year – Lavender gets used so much in toiletries, you could make yourself think you were drinking hand cream when your drink smells like lavender. The rose scent in today’s drink takes me back to the cheap hotel soap we encountered in China. The herbal tinge of the gin helps mitigate it a bit. I need to try it out one some friends to get an unbiased view.

Back to the classics! I turned up some blood oranges while Cruising through Greenlife Grocery a couple of days ago. These hold a special spot in my heart. During a short stint in the Navy, they were the first fresh food we had after an extended time at sea. We were eating them (and stuffing them in our pockets) while we passed crates from the supply ship to storage areas below the deck. That was off the coast of Sicily – home of the best blood oranges.

Because of that memory, the Blood and Sand cocktail recipe stuck with me. I read about in Eric Felten’s column last year. It’s a drink from the cocktail golden age that on first glance seems like an odd combination. I had made some a while back with regular orange juice (fresh squeezed) and thought they were a little flabby. Blood orange juice has a little more acidity and makes the drink-

Blood and Sand from Eric Felten

  • 1-1/2 oz Scotch
  • 3/4 oz orange juice
  • 3/4 oz Cherry Heering
  • 3/4 oz sweet vermouth

Shake and strain.

Lovely. You get the base liquor flavor up front, the fruit flavors in the middle and a lingering finish of vermouth.

I put a southern twist on it for my second round using Borboun in place of the Scotch. Not quite as good. Next test will be with some rye – cheers

Two discoveries this week. I put together an Amazon order last week that included a copy of Mixellany’s facsimile reprint of the Cafe Royal Cocktail Book. This was originally published in London in the late 1930’s.  According to the preface, it collects together many recipes from the Savoy Cocktail Book and adds a few. I also received three glasses I picked up on eBay last week. The concurrence seemed worth celebrating. I selected a recipe from the book and went to work – the Claridge


  • 1 oz gin
  • 1 oz Apricot Brandy
  • 1/2 oz dry vermouth
  • 1/2 oz Cointreau

Stir and strain.

Pretty color that looks great in the glass. A bit too sweet for me though. Went back to the Cranberry vodka and tried to make a cassis

  • 2 oz Cranberry/Orange infused vodka
  • 1/2 oz creme de cassis
  • 1/4 oz lemon juice

Shake and strain

Not bad and a beautiful deep red color. Works equally well with less or no lemon juice.

Great break the last few days. We had some family in town for Thanksgiving. Nice full court meal at lunch and some postprandial laying about the rest of the day. With the kids off playing and some good tunes on the stereo, the evening seemed like a good time to shake up a few drinks. The Cranberry Vodka was pressed into service for what turned out to be two good drinks. The vodka has a brilliant red color that is striking on it’s own. There is a strong cranberry flavor and nice faint bouquet of orange from the zest. First up, the Crantini (couldn’t resist) a vodka sour made with our cranberry infused vodka. The proportions follow David Embury’s magic ratio. A dash of maraschino in the second round added a note of complexity. Both keepers.


ACG Crantini

(ie Cranberry Sour)

  • 2 oz Cranberry-orange infused vodka
  • 1/2 oz lemon juice
  • 1/4 oz 3:1 simple syrup
  • dash or two  of Maraschino (optional)

Shake and strain. If you left out the maraschino and added a dash of orange bitters or Cointreau you’d have something approaching a Cosmo.

The similarity of this vodka to Sloe Gin was not lost on me.

Cranberry Chaplin

  • 30 cc Cranberry Vodka
  • 30 cc Apricot Brandy
  • 20 cc Lime Juice

Shake and strain

I made a Charlie Chaplin for my house guest along with the Cranberry version. The Cranberry was drier and more refreshing.

All of these fruit flavored items were too much for the Amateur Cocktail Sibling who wanted gin with “just a little something in it.” He professes an allergy to Vermouth (pine nuts??) so out came the Grand Marnier for a French Kiss. This from the Cocktail Database. Three parts gin, one part Grand Marnier, stirred. Not bad, but I had another Cranberry Chaplin.

Next up: a Cranssis – a Vodka Cassis with our homebrew.

This is one of those liquors I had heard about, but didn’t know about. Sloe Gin Fizz is a geat name for a drink. The “sloe” part is what makes it. You think “slow” and relaxing, exactly what a good drink should be. I had picked up a pint bottle of Mr. Boston’s Sloe Gin this past summer, but never got around to doing anything with it. Two recent articles got me thinking about it again.

Eric Felten wrote about Sloe Gin this June in his column. The latest issue of Imbibe also has a brief article available online. It seems like both were sparked by a bottle of Plymouth Sloe Gin. Sloe gin is well described in Wikipedia – basically an infused gin made with sloes (duh), a relative of the plum that grows on short Blackthorn trees that make up hedges across England. A little foot work lead to a bottle of Plymouth Sloe Gin finding it’s way to the ACG test kitchen.

The Imbibe article included three recipes, one for a Sloe Gin Fizz which is basically a Tom Collins with Sloe Gin, one called the Charlie Chaplin and one called the Wibble. The Fizz seemed more like a summer drink so we skipped that. The Charlie Chaplin recipe was taken from The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks (David Embury). Well, almost taken from that great book. They modified the recipe to include equal parts of all ingredients, resulting in more lime juice. I suppose that was done to make it easier to mix. The Wibble seems to be a modern concoction that includes blackberry liqueur, grapefruit and lemon juice.

We made them all and reached some conclusions. First off, Sloe Gin is good. The gin elements are fairly well hidden behind the red stone fruit aromas of the sloes. Good info when you get the standard “I just don’t like gin” response when it comes up. David Embury dismisses Sloe Gin as being too sweet to make a decent cocktail, but Plymouth’s take on it is not overly sweety and could be enjoyed neat.

I very much enjoyed the Charlie Chaplin, when made to the original recipe. The lime flavor was too noticable in Imbibe’s recipe. The original proportions let the acid of the lime balance the two sweet liqueurs without disrupting the drink. Highly recommended. The Wibble with it’s five ingredients was good, but tasted a little too fruity and was too fussy to make.

Charlie Chaplin

  • from The Fine Art of Mixing Drink
  • 2 parts Lime Juice
  • 3 parts Sloe Gin
  • 3 part Apricot Brandy

Shake with ice and strain. We used Marie Brizard Apricot Brandy. The measurements look hard to reproduce, but here’s how: make two drinks at a time and measure in ounces, or get a small measuring cup like the OXO that has metric measures and use 20ml to 30 to 30. Both work fine.

Pick up the latest copy of Imbibe for the Wibble recipe, but be prepared to track down some creme de mure (we substituted creme de cassis).

The Plymouth web site has several recipes, including this one that seems worth a try:

Blackthorn English



25 ml sweet vermouth

8 drops orange bitters

35 ml Sloe Gin

25 ml Plymouth Gin


Stir with ice and strain. It’s a Martini variant.

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