Grand Marnier

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

Not something I’d gravitate to, but one of the blog readers forwarded a link to another blog that runs a weekly cocktail contest. The theme for this coming week…Beer Cocktails. I’m a little conflicted about this one. Beer is where I started several years ago. The archetypal flavors in a glass of beer seem to express what the brewmaster wants you to taste – nothing more or less. The grains that were selected and their degree of roasting, the hop selection and timing of their addition conspire to make the drink. It isn’t meant to age or be messed with – the final product is what you get, just drink and enjoy.

That said, all cocktail mixing usually involves messing with the base drink to take it to another level. Even single malts aren’t immune from getting pressed into service for an occasional cocktail. We’ve done it with Champagne as well. What the heck, here goes.

I’ve been playing around a bit with rye whiskey, cherry brandy and juice, and sweet vermouth to try and come up with a Halloween cocktail. No final combination yet, but some of the ideas from that experiment were adapted to mixing with beer. Here’s what I came up with –

The Beer Heering

The ingredients shot

The ingredients shot

  • 12 oz Pale Ale
  • 1-1/2 oz Cherry Heering
  • 3/4 oz Orange curacao
  • lemon wedge

Add liqueurs to beer, squeeze lemon wedge into the glass and add as a garnish (or not). Stir gently and serve.

The amount of the liqueurs can vary to your taste, cut back the orange before you cut back on the cherry. The lemon helps cut down on the sweetness from the liqueurs. The beer is sufficiently bitter that you can skip adding another bittering agent. Remember that some pale ales are more hoppy (read: bitter) than others and the selection will affect the drink. I used Whole Foods house Pale Ale which is only mildly bitter.

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.

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.