Loyal readers of this blog might remember my struggle to come up with a drink I could enjoy that contains Campari. The Amateur Cocktail Spouse is a fan, but me not so much so. I inflicted a great number of blindingly bitter drinks on myself and friends while I played around with it. Campari and orange juice was the only one I enjoyed but I was forced to pass on actually drinking those after watching a video from the producer that called the mixture “one for the ladies.”

My great discover has been another Italian bitters called Cynar. It is made from artichokes, is not quite as bitter as Campari and is sufficiently obscure to be just the ticket. I saw a recipe that included this in a recent issue of Imbibe – the Norma Jean (apparently Marilyn Monroe was the Artichoke Queen at one point). This drink includes gin, Cynar, lemon juice, sugar and mint.  Seemed like a good mixture, minus the mint. After playing with ratios and ingredients I came up with tonight’s favorite, the Cynar-Gin cocktail:

  • 1 1/2 oz gin
  • 1 1/2 oz Cynar
  • 3/4 oz lemon/lime juice
  • 1/2 oz 2:1 simple syrup
  • 2-3 dashes of Fee Brothers Old Fashion Bitters

Shake with ice and strain, lime or lemon twist for garnish.

This is a very enjoyable drink that has a satisfying bitter taste without being over-the-top. The Old Fashion bitters give it a spicy nose. Don’t go up on the citrus or you’ll start getting a lemonade quality to the drink.

Pokeberry update: Something funny happened shortly after my last transfer. The pokeberry wine is now pokeberry vinegar. A lovely, thick mother of vinegar formed on top of the liquid pretty quickly after I strained it off the solids.  I blame the catch-and-release fruit fly trap I had next to the fermentation container as the cause. Too many fruit flies and too little attention to hygiene on my part. Oh well, it may turn out for the best. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of pokeberry vinegar, so I can claim to be the originator of that. More importantly, there is no longer much temptation to drink the liquid – and– the increased acetic acid may help preserve the color of the ink longer. I have read that acetic acid helps set the color when poke juice is used as to dye cloth or fiber.  I still have my first batch in the refrigerator and it seems to be okay. I’ll do some comparison testing of the two liquids and see how they perform over time.


Rose Gimlet

Last night’s Collins brought on tonight’s drink – a gimlet made with Rose Syrup in place of sweetened Lime Juice. It seemed fairly straight forward but the rose syrup proved to be a little too sweet on it’s own. Two dash of Angostura bitters helped nicely and brought this one in as a bit of a hybrid between a Pink Gin and a Gimlet.

Rose Gimlet

  • 2 oz gin
  • 1/2 oz Rose syrup
  • 2-3 dashes of Angostura bitters

Stir in ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Lots of herbal goodness with a tinge of sweetness.

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.

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.

Last night’s Cranberry Vodka drinks were so good, we decided to pass out some as gifts this Christmas. A quick shopping list was assembled and then trips to Greenlife Grocery for more organic cranberries and oranges and the ABC store for vodka. I’ve been using Smirnoff 80 proof for most of my infusions. It’s not the cheapest stuff, but also not the most expensive. I had always bought this in 75 cl bottles ($14 in NC). It never dawned on me to price it in the bigger bottles. Surprise, surprise – about $8.15 for 75 cl if you buy the 1.75 liter bottle. Two of those came home with me. As I mentioned in the last post, the similarity of Sloe Gin to Cranberry infused vodka struck me. A Cranberry infused gin seemed worth trying. For this I splurged a bit. Plymouth is on sale for $20 a bottle so I brought one home. I’m sure Gordon’s or Booker’s would have done well ($8 and $13 respectively), but for test purposes a comparison of Plymouth Sloe to Plymouth Cranberry seemed better. Cranberry Gin

The berries were rinsed and picked over several times to remove bruised or spoiled fruit. As I mentioned in the first Cranberry post, un-popped berries seemed to add nothing to the vodka, so this go round all the berries were popped. I did this in 12 oz  lots, simmering over medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes. Each batch was allowed to a cool a few minutes before going into the infusion jar. Next, I added the zest from three oranges to each 12 oz cranberry batch. My Microplane grater was indispensable for this step.

The first picture is a single batch (gin) just after the spirit was added.

Our plan was for three bottles worth of vodka. Fortunately, I have a very large jar salvaged during a previous recycling run that will hold a gallon. It was pressed into service again (it was the home for the spiced rum infusion). Perfect size for three bottles worth of vodka and fruit.

You can see that the gin has already taken on some of the red color. The bottles in the back are from the first batch. I’m trying to filter out some of the sediment. With the current batch, I’m going to try for a three week infusion before straining.

Cranberry / Orange Infused Vodka

  • 75 cl 80 proof vodka
  • 12 oz fresh cranberries
  • zest of 3 oranges

Wash and pick over cranberries discarding any damaged fruit. Simmer cranberries with a little water over medium heat until most of the berries have popped, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and pop any remaining whole berries. Let cool, then add to infusion vessel. Add orange zest and then vodka. Let stand 2 to 4 weeks, stirring daily. Pop any berries that float up. Strain and bottle when flavor reaches your preference, around 2 to 4 weeks.

That is the final recipe.

The gin is a one-off test. Another thought would be to use silver rum. Then you could give Daiquiris and any other rum drinks a festive, bright red cranberry tinge.

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.

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


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