A Simple Translation From Bar to Home

My name is Luke Andrews and the following are some cocktails and thoughts I have put together while managing and tending bar over the last ten years.

This is a huge work in progress so thanks for reading!

If you are interested in my consulting services, or you happen to be a liquor brand that wants to send me overseas just to make sure they are still doing it right over there, please email me at your earliest convenience.

Subscribe to my email list if you want more content.

Now that all that jibber jabber is out of the way enjoy the drinks and information!


Guidelines:

Before you get too far in here are some rules I follow:

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Tools

Here are some unboozy things to collect:


With these things you can handle all of the drinks us bartenders make at a bar on a daily basis. You certainly won't need all of these things right away but I tend to reach for everything on this list at some time or another over a week. Somethings like the juicer I use daily while some things like the mallet I only use when ice is ready to be harvested.

“Always carry a corkscrew and the wine shall provide itself.” -Basil Bunting

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Glassware

Remember: a martini in a coffee cup is still a martini. The cocktail looks stunning in its straight sided namesake cocktail glass though. Also people won't think you have a drinking problem. In all honesty, if I had to choose one and only one glass to keep at my house it would be a white wine glass made by Riedel or Schott Zwiesel. They have a moderate bowl and a stem for keeping your hands from warming the contents. They are also durable if you treat them well. You can drink anything from cocktails to straight spirits, to beer, to wine, to sake, to carrot juice out of this glass. It is the best. HOWEVER, if you have the space I would recommend a few more shapes to fill out the cupboard.

I have spent a good deal of money on glassware and I think every penny has been worth it. The best online glass shop hands down is Umami Mart based out of Oakland, CA. They carry "hard strong" glass from the Toyo-Sasaki Glass factory in Chiba, Japan. I have linked to a few of my favorite things for rocks and collins glasses below. Beware: Once you get a taste for drinking out of crystal its hard to go back to glass...

  1. A switch hitter wine glass. 240 ml (or 8ish oz) for reds, whites, pinks, and fizzies.
  2. A smaller stemmed glass that holds around 150 ml (5ish oz) for after dinner digestifs and small cocktails. If you don't care for sherry or don't have the room you can skip these and use a rocks glass. I enjoy mine though...and you should drink more sherry. I like to drink small cocktails out of these.
  3. A rocks glass for, you guessed it, drinks served on the rocks. Short, heavy bottomed and can hold a good amount if full but never should be all the way.
  4. A glass for tall drinks and highballs. The highball being an underrated and delicious way to meander through an evening. Buy pretty ones and use a straw if you like.
  5. A beer glass. If in a pinch use your collins glasses but what I am talking about is a touch more classic, larger in volume, and with some weight at the base. Your wine glass will come in handy for funkier Belgians and a few of those new fangled California IPAs.
  6. A coupe glass. The classic Marie Antoinette glass suits cocktails and everyone is doing it. These glasses are pretty and you can find all kinds of vintage ones on Etsy and Ebay. Look for sherbet cups if coupes aren't in your price range.

  7. Optional

  8. A julep isn't a julep if it isn't in a silver julep cup. They are pricey but a great investment that will last forever. I dig around on Etsy for good deals.
  9. A Tiki mug or two are nice to have around for entertaining a hula party or limbo night. A collins glass or that footed beer glass will work fine too.


“I used to jog but the ice cubes kept falling out of my glass.” -David Lee Roth

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Cocktails: Spirit, Sugar, Bitters, and Water

To pen down anything and stake my name to a methodology or even the history of certain drinks opens me up to TONS of criticism from the bar community and other drink nuts alike. Little things like preferring Bourbon to rye in an old fashioned or to go as far as saying that the old fashioned is an idea or a style and not a cocktail gets people all in a tizzy. I think that is lame and at some point you just have to go with what you know and leave the fancy jargon to the guys with the arm garters on. These are the drinks I like and the drinks I make on a regular basis. Years of research, more bar time than is fair to brag about, and thousands of 500mg advil capsules have gone into making this list.

These are not all my personal recipes but I have always tried to make the best drink I could make at the time even if I needed to borrow one I found to taste better than mine either from an old book, a new book, or the bar down the street. The goal was always to put the best drink in front of not only myself but the person paying for it across the wood. This section is dedicated to anyone I have ever made a drink for and anyone that has ever made a drink for me. Without you I would not be the bartender I am today. My cocktails are a lot less sticky sweet than this intro. To the drinks!

“Cocktail bartenders should drink cocktails. If you prefer a beer, you are a hypocrite and are morally wrong. You probably make bad cocktails too. It’s like being an acupuncturist and going to see a western doctor when you get sick.” -Sasha Petraske

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Easy Syrups and Mixtures To Keep Around

Syrups are used for adding balance to the alcohol and acids in a cocktail. They are also a source of dilution because they are made up of water and something sweet. Most bars use simple syrup in a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio and it can be made on the fly with warm tap water and either stirring or shaking to incorporate. You can use whatever sugar you like but plain white granulated sugar is the go to for a 1-1. For making a 2-1 rich sugar syrup, you usually see a turbinado sugar for deeper flavor. Powdered or confectioner's sugar contains about 3% cornstarch and will add a silky texture to drinks. Better to measure by the scoop than to make a syrup. Experiment if you want to. I usually never bother. It has worked for the Matchbox in Chicago over at the corner of Milwaukee and Chicago for years and they make one of the better gimlets in the city.


Simple Syrup

I personally don’t use a 1:1 or a 2:1 but rather one right in the middle. I know that sounds silly to complicate something so…simple...but it is the best of both worlds. The added sugar to water helps the solution last longer yet keeps it pourable out of the bottle. All the drink recipes are based on the following sugar solution.

Really quickly you should understand how percentage composition works.

To find percentage composition:

Parts of Solute / One Hundred Parts of Solution

Sugar is the solute
Water is the solvent
A solution is the mixture of the two.
Also remember that water at room temp weighs in grams what its volume in milliliters is.

So to figure out a 1:1 sugar solution:

(1000 g of sugar) / (1000 g Sugar + 1000 g Water) X 100 = 50%

With the same math that means that a 2:1 is a 66.6% solution and is in no way double sweet as people seem to think. The solution I like to use comes out to about 58%. Right in the middle.


If there are still honey bees around when this all gets published I would recommend you keep honey syrup in the mix also.


You can make basically anything into a syrup by steeping or mushing fruit and sugar together. I am a fan of black pepper syrups, cordials, and citrus oleo-saccharum (oily sugar) for punches.

A very easy syrup to make if you already have simple syrup is raspberry syrup:


A set of special syrups to keep around are the basic "Tiki" Syrups.


Other Neat Things to Have Around


AMA Bitters are a mix of Angostura, Maraschino, and Absinthe that creates a really versatile mix to dash into a cocktail. I spent a good year putting this into every whiskey stirred drink I made. Think of it as Old Bay compared to Salt. Don’t over do it and it's not good in everything but sometimes it can be better than just ango in the right circumstances.

A 20% Saline Solution to put in sours to bring out some sweetness. You can add a free drop to a chilled pour of Campari to get rid of bitter. It is a good thing to have around and instead of pinching in salt you can just add a few drops of this.


Sweet huh?

A Living Bottle is a way to keep all those splashes and drops of bottles you have enjoyed in the past alive. I hate to waste anything and I also dislike not having enough booze left in a bottle to make what I need. So when I get down to about 30 mls left in a bottle of Scotch or rum I just dump it into a bottle of the same spirit and keep building my own blend. You could do this for other spirits like gin or Bourbon but I find they get muddy. With Scotch or rum I find that you can usually make something better than the sum of its parts.



You will get the hang of what works in your living blends as you go along.

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Citrus

Citrus is the acidic component in sour cocktails. Learning to make a sour is a critical step and one that is full of personal preference. Very quickly, I want to show you something:


This is important because these are the cornerstone classics that all other sours are built off of. Everything past these drinks at their most BASIC is just a riff on themselves off of which all other sours are built.

We of course could go on here by adding ingredients to each line. Soda, or sparking wine would make all of those a different drink. Adding an orange liqueur would modify again into another drink.

I try to keep citrus in its un-juiced form around the house at all times. It lasts longer in the fridge but juices easier after it has been sitting out on the counter. Volume of juice earned between the two is negligible but how hard you have to squeeze a cold lime vs a room temp lime is very apparent.

Note: Any measurement of citrus juice mentioned in this book as been strained through mesh. Pulp free if you will.

When juicing for myself alone, I juice through a mesh strainer over a jigger. When prepping juice for a group, I juice into a larger container through a mesh strainer the day of or the night before and save in the fridge. Using the Mexican Elbow as opposed to an electric juicer or one with more parts basically ensures that it will always be in working order. Reamers are dumb and take too long. Cut your fruit through the middle not end to end and place the cut side down in the juicer. Flip the top over and squeeze. In a bar setting the Sunkist J-1 (this thig is a tank) juicer is the way to go. If you want fluffy juice for great taste and better Instagram photos use a Breville juicer or just stick blend the oj before making your Garibaldi.

Zing!

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Ice

Pretty drinks always taste better. Of course, it's more than just aesthetics. Large ice melts slower thus keeping your beverage at its served strength longer. Good ice when mixing also breaks up slower thus diluting your drink less. Remember when shaking or stirring there can never be chilling without dilution and vice versa. But we are talking about frozen water here. And that should not cost you anything but time if done correctly at home. There are three main types of ice being served up at cocktail bars these days and here's what you need to know about them:


Make Clear Ice at Home

You can easily make all three styles at home by freezing a large block inside a cooler or hard sided insulated lunch box. This method will produce stunningly clear ice.

When I was the beverage director at the Whistler in Chicago we made all our block ice like this with many coolers on scheduled rotation and a chest freezer.

  1. Remove the ice maker from your freezer that makes crappy ice and just about everything else. If you haven't eaten it yet...you probably won't.
  2. Take a hard sided cooler like a Rubbermaid 10 quart lunch box and remove the lid.
  3. Fill it mostly full with hot water from the tap (less dissolved oxygen in hot water). No need to boil the water. No need to use special artesian magic water. Good old Lake Michigan tap water works fine for me. The whole point here is for the water to freeze in one direction like an inland body of water would do. That way all the air bubbles and gases are pushed to the bottom of your container.
  4. Optional: Leave the cooler out on your counter for a bit (hour or so) and tap it to get those pesky bubbles off the side walls.
  5. Wait 24-30 hours and check on the ice. If it's solid on top with a bit of unfrozen water on the bottom, remove the box from the freezer and let it temper on the counter to loosen up. Of course, if it is still watery, you may need to call the repairman or just give it some more time in the chill chest.
  6. Turn it over on a plastic cutting board in the sink and let the ice slide out. The bottom quarter or so will be cloudy or full of water because of trapped gasses but, after sitting out, it will be easy to separate.
  7. Score a line in the block with an old bread knife, tap the top of the knife evenly into the ice with a mallet and you will have removed the cloudy part (Don't use this. It is gross). Continue this somewhat therapeutic process by cracking the block into perfectly clear ice cubes and keep them in the freezer until ready to use and double check that you have all your fingers.
  8. Practice makes perfect.


Chill out!

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Pantry

Here is my checklist of what I try to keep around at all times. I don't think I ever go to the grocery store and leave without grabbing a lime or two, a lemon, and an orange. You need them for juice and garnish. I always keep carbonated water around too and a good bottle of bubbles.


You can make just about anything a guest can throw your way with these things...and a properly stocked liquor shelf of course.

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Measuring

If you have recently watched Tom Cruise's masterpiece Cocktail, like I did to prepare for writing all this, you will notice how damn cool he looked free pouring all that booze all over the floor. He can do what he wants (he is the last barman poet after all) but I will stick to measuring with a jigger. A jigger is a device with which to measure liquid for making drinks consistently. I do not know the origin of the name nor is that really important.

When it comes to measuring and making cocktails, you should treat it like baking until you fully grasp the concept. In baking you have to be exact or things do not work. Like using liquid measures to measure flour or not pressing brown sugar for a full measure. In all honesty I wish cocktail measuring here in the States would switch to the metric system as it is SO exact but this is America. However this is my website so my measures will be written out using ratios or the metric system.

At your house you shouldn't use pour spouts. They are sticky, dirty, lazy, and you will get fruit flies in your booze. We use them at a bar because we make hundreds of drinks a night and then we soak them and clean our bottles. At your home the corks or tops on the bottles will be removed and your spirit will be poured out into a jigger and then the bottle top is wiped and capped and put back. Easy.

You will learn how to measure with a jigger over time. With practice it won't matter but practice with water until you lose those shakes.

A quick bar rule is measure first with your cheapest ingredient and move up to the base spirit. Start with either sugar or citrus. Or vermouth as opposed to whiskey. That way if you mess up you have not wasted the main more expensive ingredient...or just don't mess up and make drinks in whatever order you like. Easy.

If you are having a neat pour of whiskey or rum to yourself after a long hard day of work don't measure it with anything other than your finger. There is something perfect about the glug glug sound right into a rocks glass and being old school with your three two fingers of whiskey. Coughlin would be proud.

Measure up!

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Mixing Technique

Rule of thumb: Shake drinks with juice or egg. Stir drinks that are all booze. Of course, all rules and thumbs can be broken. Like the rest of this information none of this section is gospel. These are just the best ways I have found to make cocktails. Building blocks if you will. These are also the techniques I use to make the cocktails listed out later. Refer back here if you ever have a question about cocktail techniques.


Shaking: The goal here is to chill liquid and pump it full of oxygen at the same time while diluting. I have seen a lot of fancy shaking in my time behind the stick but your look doesn't matter.

With a Boston shaker put your Ingredients in. A few chunks of ice or one large solid piece. Seal the shaker and shake it like it owes you money...it does. The idea here is to feel/hear the ice hit one end of the shaker and then force it back to the other over and over. Give it good ratatattat for ten-ish seconds. With just one large piece of ice you will need to shake longer to achieve a chilled and diluted drink. With the Boston shaker apparently the hardest part is getting those two pieces of metal apart. There is a perfect point on the shaker tin where they meet and make a straight edge. Follow the rim around until there is a tiny gap between the two tins. Smack it. Bingo. Remember: new tins will need breaking in so make lots of cocktails. Use a hawthorne strainer to hold the ice back and let the cocktail pour out. Use a mesh strainer to catch the ice bits if you like. I find that with one large piece of ice you won’t need to double strain.

My prefered method and tool is with a cobbler shaker. I start with the empty tin and I add my ingredients to it. I then add ice from smallest pieces to largest to fill the entire vessel. I place the top two pieces on and give them a smack to hold. Then I take off the cap and place it back on to "burp" the shaker more or less. These helps keep the whole thing from coming apart while shaking.

The technique for shaking with a cobbler is far different than shaking a Boston Shaker. I have found that the 500 ml cobblers fit in my hands well. You can find a size smaller or a size larger if you need. With the thumb of your dominate hand hold the cap in place and wrap that hand around the top of the shaker. Almost like palming a basketball (if I could do that). With your other hand balance the shaker underneath so it is suspended parallel to the ground and use your fingertips to hold the bottom.

Now begin to move the shaker back and forth but let your wrists be loose. Almost in a whip like motion. You are aiming for a cadence and also trying to treat the ice gently. It helps me to think more of the liquid moving back and forth around the ice as opposed to the ice crashing back and forth from end to end. It takes practice and to do that you can try shaking rice. It will help you find a rhythm and your own shaking pattern. Thinks happy thoughts!

You will feel the shaker getting colder and colder in your hands. This is good. I find that the cobbler takes a little longer than a Boston to chill and dilute appropriately. The other technique to master while using a cobbler is to try and aerate the drink as much as possible. You want the drink to have tiny micro bubbles that sit near the surface of the finished cocktail.

When the drink is done remove the cap and turn the shaker over your drinking vessel of choice to let it strain out. Here you can double strain through a mesh strainer if you like. Depending on the drink I may or may not. A little rattle helps get all the precious liquid out.

Shaking With Egg: The point of egg in a cocktail is to add some body and viscosity to the drink. All too often I see more egg white being used than is needed and a myraid of techniques to create a foam head that is actually pretty tough to drink around.

Just because a drink has egg white in it does not mean it needs a double shake/dry shake/wet shake then dry shake/dry shake while standing on one foot and then a wet shake while standing on the other etc. I have found more often than not simple sours shaken once with small amounts of egg white (15-20 ml) come out great. The mouth feel is exquisite because the egg is incorporated into the drink not floating on top as an elaborate garnish. Improper technique over time and Instagram cocktail porn has compounded on itself to ruin egg drinks.

For egg white drinks seperate the whites from the yolks ahead of time. Whip the whites with a fork or bar spoon to break them up just a touch. Keep them in a small container or bottle for no more than 12 hours. For shaking a drink just shake normally once and strain. If we are talking about a Ramos the rules are out the window. That drink NEEDS the full double shake work. The whole point of the drink (aside from calming that Bourbon Street hangover) is the crazy thick head--bartenders from New Orleans to Tokyo hold pride in how tall their foam stands. I am a fan of the "reverse shake" when it comes to this drink and I also add my ingredients at different times between shaking.

When shaking with a whole egg or just the yolk I would build the drink as normal. Shake with ice as described above. Strain the drink into the other tin. Get rid of the ice and then dry shake to fluff and serve without straining again. Then I assume garnish with nutmeg or some other Christmas stuff.

Stirring: My personal favorite bar technique aside from flirting. First off, the shaker tin you already have works great for stirring. Save yourself 40 bucks on a mixing glass (or snag a pint glass from a nice barman for free). The thing with the metal tin is that it gets cold instantly and hot instantly. Mixing glasses hold temperature and lead to inconsistent dilution unless you are planning for a warm or cold glass. Keep that in mind with your choice. Dave Arnold on the topic of glass or crystal mixing glasses says you must either always use chilled glasses or never use chilled glasses so as to stay consistent. I move for always use chilled glasses.

Process goes like this: Ice in the mixing glass. Pour water over the ice and stir like you would a cocktail to chill and remove the edges from the ice. Strain out the water (into a pitcher if you plan to reuse it) with a hawthorne strainer and build your cocktail quickly in the now chilled glass. Take a bar spoon and twirl it around the bottom edge of the glass. The goal is to have the back of the spoon always against the inside of the glass. The way you decide to hold the spoon is up to you. Confidence plays a huge role here. If you aren't perfect right away turn the bar spoon over so the business end is in the air and use the rounded bead on the bottom. Or use a chopstick like I do at my wife's parents house...or your finger. Practice with ice and water. Then see if you can do it with the other hand for bonus points. Then see if you can do two at once or even more! Practice. Practice.

Throwing: Is dumping liquid back and forth between two tins when one contains ice. If you need to aerate without over chilling and diluting this technique comes in handy. It also looks super cool if you can figure it out. Marian Beke and Luca Cinalli who both spent time at Nightjar in London (129 City Rd) have a few “fancy” cocktail videos online that show this technique executed perfectly. Watching these two masters will explain it better than I can type it out.

Take two Boston tins of the same size (like two bottoms) and build your cocktail. As you get better you will figure out how to do it with a larger and smaller standard tin set. Ice one of the tins and place a julep style hawthorne strainer in the iced tin. You need a strainer that fits into the shaker tin like a julep strainer will but you want it to have a spring like a hawthorne strainer has. With your longer arm (or dominate hand) grab the tin with the ice in it. Hold it above your head and slowly pour the mixture into the other tin by holding it at your waist. You want to get a good drop for the liquid to travel. Start with small gaps. Keep your eye on the lower receiving tin. When all the liquid is in the tin with no strainer just hold them in front of you and empty it quickly back into the iced tin right over the strainer. Repeat. You will have to practice to make it work. This technique can create great mouthfeel for a cocktail.

Swizzling: Basically a neat way of agitating and stirring with crushed ice. It is done with a swizzle stick but you are can just use your bar spoon. Once your ingredients are in the glass glass top it off with crushed ice and then you twist the spoon like you are making a fire without matches. Move the spoon up and down. The increased surface area of the crushed ice will make the drink tooth hurting cold and that is all there is to it. Top with more crushed ice and serve with an umbrella.

Muddling: Is used to incorporate vegetation or sugar or whatever else the kids are using these days into a drink by smashing and is usually overdone thusly chlorophyll is released by the plant matter and makes your drink all bitter and weird. I did not include a muddler in your equipment list so you can guess how I feel about this technique. If I am putting mint, in say a mojito, I just rough that stuff up with my hands and let the swizzle do the rest of the work. Cucumber in a shaken drink? Shake harder. If you are old school with your old fashioned and you want to use sugar cubes then pick one up. Who am I to tell you what the right way is to make an Old Fashioned at your house? I do not use a muddler behind the bar is basically what I mint to say from the start.

I got to work one night at Booker and Dax back when it was on 2nd Ave in Manhattan and got to see a whole plethora of techniques that I am not crazy enough to implement nor smart enough to explain correctly. My friend Austin Henely was tending bar there and invited me to see the ins and outs for a night and I felt like a kid in a candy shop. One of the techniques they used in a cocktail back then was nitro muddling. You would puts herbs in a shaker tin (I believe it was basil) and pour a tiny bit of liquid nitrogen over the top and then pulverize with a muddler. This would turn the herbs into a fine powder after the LN2 had disappeared. Then the drink could be built and shaken with perfect herb infusion. The flavor and color immaculately preserved in the finished drink.

Straining: So this one is controversial. Some people think you have to double strain everything to keep those little bits of ice out of your drink. Do you what you like. The new hawthorne strainers on the market are a vast improvement over what I started with and now take care of most of those icey bits. If I am using a cobbler strainer the shaker itself takes care of the majority and with the right shake the lil’ bits are small enough to be enjoyable. I now only double strain if I have vegetation (like mint or cucumber) in my shaken drinks...and I rarely do.

It seems as if the bar community is always pushing the envelope on techniques to makes drinks. I like to keep mine pretty simple. I do think rapid infusions with iSi canisters are great and that fat washing can do wonders for certain drinks. I also think techniques like that will come and go and that the simple straightforward ones will always be around. So those are the ones I try to perfect and the ones I like to use to make my drinks.

Freezing Spirits: I like to make some of my drinks with spirits that I have left in the freezer for sometime. The idea behind this is to slow dilution and to keep the drink colder longer once in the glass. This process really shines with clear spirits. I find that when using darker spirits I would rather use higher proof roomtemp products and dilute and chill to a level I enjoy.

Shake it up!

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Spirits: and other bottles needed to make the drinks ahead

When I first started writing all this out I was trying to put together a simple class for work. A cocktail 101 thing to help out the staff and some people that wanted to sit in. I tried originally to limit myself to a set number of bottles similar to the great 12 Bottle Bar book. As ten pages become fifty and onward I realized I was just going to write my own cocktail book. The drinks I like to make at home for myself, my wife, and our friends.

The following are some of the bottles you will need to have around to make the drinks in the Cocktails section. Don’t run out and snag em all in one day. Build a collection slowly. Rely on utility as opposed to fancy bottled gimmicks.

There are books, bars, and whole countries dedicated to the liquids ahead so I am doing my best to condense the information as best as I can. I will try to get the high points across but if you really want to get the gist of all these pick up a bottle or belly up to a friendly barman. Or shoot me an email! I love talking booze.

Last update: Wed Jul 12 11:52:00 CDT 2017


“It costs a lot more than it's worth
and yet there is no substitute
They keep it on a higher shelf
the older and more pure it grows”
-The Magnetic Fields

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Vodka

You’d be surprised how much there is to a well made vodka. By definition it is a neutral spirit made from anything that can be fermented and distilled. The goal is to be tasteless, odorless, clear, and pure. Then the spirit is cut with water before bottling down to a reasonable drinking percentage. We do not make a lot of cocktails with the stuff but for ages it has been the best selling spirit in the world (whiskey is catching up though). I keep a good bottle of vodka around for guests who ask for it. I also drink it on the rocks when I just want a simple drink in the easiest sense of the word. I put it in Bloody Marys and I sometimes drink it on airplanes. I use it to liven up a punch or liven up anything really. I use it for quick infusions. I use it to clean. Put it on a cut to sterilize or rinse out a bottle before filling it up. You should keep some vodka around.

CH Distillery Vodka is my pick. It is made right down the road from my Chicago apartment and they are great people making great vodka. I do also like to keep a bottle of Purity around but for making cocktails that can be a touch pricy. Russian Standard is a great utility bottle for drinks and I have been known on more than one occasion to enjoy a Stoli and grapefruit at a wedding or hotel bar.

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Gin

A neutral spirit flavored with juniper and other “botanicals” like coriander, orris root, cassia bark, and marketing. Speaking of, my first true love was the emerald bottle of Tanqueray that sits in every bar. (ProTip: If your spirit of choice is in every bar...you can always get your drink at any location…) For cocktails, go London Dry. This is a rather dense category of spirit and also the original flavored vodka. Really quick let's break this down. The Dutch lay claim to it. The English improved it. We continue to drink it today.

Please sit tight. I have to give you some of this history. There will not be a test.


For consistency go with Gordons. They have been making the same gin for ages and the price can't be beat. For a fun local Chicago fling keep Letherbee around. My personal favorite go to for a martini out or at the house is without a doubt Plymouth (not the Navy strength). I also like to keep a bottle of Beefeater as a standby and a bottle of Bombay Sapphire chilled and ready if my mother in law is in town: “Luke, could you make me a gin please?”

“Nothing is more destructive, either in regard to the health or the vigilance and industry of the poor, than the infamous liquor, the name of which, derived from Juniper in Dutch…shrunk into a monosyllable, intoxicating Gin” -Bernard Mandeville

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Rum

Rum is derived from sugar cane. Thanks to Columbus' second trip he dropped some of the sweet grassy canes off in the Caribbean and the rest is history. There are tons of different types of rums from tons of different types of places. Most rum is made from molasses which is a byproduct of making sugar and most rum is aged in a barrel before it is bottled...even if it is bottled clear-- thanks to carbon filtering.

Regional differences are what make rum interesting to me. A rum from Jamaica is going to taste a heck of a lot different to one from Haiti or Guyana regardless of age and or color.


Keep the blended (Trinidad, Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana, and Java) Banks 5 around for your Cube Libre or mojito and keep a bottle of Guyana's Eldorado 5 around for everything else. Also for a splurge and a treat keep a bottle of Hamilton St. Lucia 9 Year tucked in the back and away from fire.

“Why is the rum gone?” -Captain Jack Sparrow

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American Rye

For a lot cocktails rye is supreme, historic, and friendly on the wallet (as well as the palate). The spice and dryness that rye contributes to a cocktail makes it the perfect base for the classic old fashioned or the manhattan. Things have come a long way for American Rye in the past few years. It was not long ago that if someone came in asking for a Sazerac or a rye manhattan we would reach for the regally cloaked Crown Royal. The funny thing is that Canadian Whiskey or Canadian Rye really only contains a small amount of rye in its mash for flavor. Corn makes up most of the build...and that is all we need to say about the whiskey from our Northern neighbor.

For American Rye to be American Rye it has to follow a few rules very similar to Bourbon:

  1. It must be distilled from a mash of at least 51% rye.
  2. It can be distilled no higher than 80% abv / 160 proof.
  3. It cannot go into a barrel any higher than 62.5% abv / 125 proof.
  4. And those barrels have to be brand new charred oak.
  5. If aged for at least two years the Rye may be designated as a Straight Rye.

For your shelf, I have to put my recommendation with Heaven Hills Rittenhouse Bonded. It is bottled in bond thanks to the Bottled in Bond Act of 1897 meaning that:

  1. It is the product of one distillation season from one distiller at one distillery.
  2. It must be aged in a federally bonded warehouse under the strict supervision of the United States Government.
  3. It has to sit in that warehouse for at least four years.
  4. And that beautiful whiskey must be bottled at 50% abv / 100 proof. No more. No less.

Canada has nothing on this in terms of rules and flavor. They do have some new and interesting products popping up on the market now. The kids seem to be raving about Lot 40 and the (bottled in Vermont) Whistle Pig. I really enjoy the Crown Royal Northern Harvest and would recomend keeping that around if not just for the bag it comes in. If you want to splurge just a touch the six year old release from Sazerac is a fantastic buy and the empty bottle makes a killer vase.

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Bourbon

French by name and American by character. The history of this spirit is drenched with lore, lies, blood, families, and money. Corn instead of rye is the main ingredient in the mashbill here. In fact like American Rye Whiskey it must make up 51% of the bill. Corn is indigenous to the lands that are now known as Kentucky and Tennessee. It also grows quickly. The Native Americans knew this and the early settlers and distillers took note. Skipping a ton of info and jumping into today-- Bourbon is a hot topic. Everyone is looking for dusty bottles and good deals.

Most all Bourbon in the world is made in Kentucky. Part of this is due to the climate and limestone water that is available there. The rules are almost identical to American Rye but with corn: 51% Corn, Off the still at or under 160 Proof, in a barrel at or under 125 Proof, brand new charred oak container, bottled at or above 80 Proof, and no artificial coloring. It also must be made within in the United States and drank neat. Most all Bourbons are column distilled with the solids left in the mashing liquid.

Jargon To know:


Major Whiskey Distilling Producers in the US:


Some Non Distilling Producers in the US


My favorite author on the subject of whiskey production in the United States is Chuck Cowdery. I have only met him a handful of times but I always learn something new just just standing near him. His books, Bourbon, Straight and Bourbon, Strange, should be on your shelf if you want to dive in deeper. His blog is full of great information and history as well.

I like to keep Old Fitz Bonded or Wild Turkey 101 around for most things but if you can’t find those Evan Williams White Label is great. For sipping I lean towards interesting single barrel releases from different distilleries.

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Scotch

My favorite “brown” spirit. Scotch is rarely actually brown in color due to its prevalent use of previously used casks or barrels. A part of production that is forbidden for Bourbon and totally fine for Scotch ageing. Another big difference is the allowance of coloring but it is usually obvious, often relegated to blends, and the good producers proudly let you know on the label if they left it out.

When drinking single malts I try to seek out a whisky with these four signs of quality:

  1. Age Statement
  2. No Coloring Added
  3. It cannot go into a barrel any higher than 62.5% abv / 125 proof.
  4. No Chill Filtration
  5. 43-46% ABV or Higher

When drinking Blended Scotch Whisky I look for:

  1. A Rocks Glass With Ice
  2. A Highball Glass With Soda Water
  3. A Splash of Drambuie
  4. A Cigar

Scotland has way more major distilleries than the United States. I listed our eight big guys on the last page. Here are eight that start with the letter “A” in Scotland: Aberfeldy, Aberlour, Ardbeg, Ardmore, Arran, Auchentoshan, Auchroisk, Aultmore. And that's not even all of the “A’s!”

Scotch Whisky comes in two major variants you need to know about. Malt Whisky and Grain Whisky. Malted barley is the main ingredient used in Malt Whiskey production. Grain whisky on the other hand uses a mashbill that can include corn, wheat, rye etc. At some distilleries peat is burned to stop the germination process of the barley and the peaty characteristics will stay with the spirit through fermentation.

These categories can be broken down even further:


Malts are distilled with copper pot stills with the liquid from the barley mash. Grain whiskies are distilled through column stills similar to Bourbon production. The whiskies are then aged in wooden casks of varying sizes and type for at least three years. The casks can be previously used or new. Casks come from all over and may have previously held Bourbon, Wine, Sherry, and Port among other things. The age statement on the bottle will reflect the youngest whisky.

Then there are the regions


There is some pretense to drinking Single Malts mostly due to price but think nothing of it. I would put a decent Scottish Malt in the ring against a great Bourbon anyday. I like my Single Malts neat in a nosing glass with a splash of cool water. Size of splash depending on strength of spirit. Sometimes water ruins a whisky and then I know for next time. Single Malts are all about a relationship with the bottle and they change from bottle to bottle, year to year.

Blends came about to create consistency in the glass for the Scottish after work crowd. The reason Dewars tastes the same from bottle to bottle takes a ton of hard work. Some great blends out there include the stuff coming from Compass Box. I would take a bottle of their blended Asyla over many a Single Malt.

For cocktails I like to use Compass Boxes Great King Street line, Famous Grouse, Dewars or Old Parr. I usually have a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black around in case I long for memories of being stranded at an airport.

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Brandy

Eaux-de-vie. Burned wine. Blame it on the Henny. Etc. Brandy is basically the corner stone of distillation and aging spirits as we know it today. Brandy is made from fruit. It is very common to see grapes used as in Cognac or Armagnac but apples, peaches, plums, whatever can be used. Without brandy we would not have drinks like the immortal sidecar or the Crescent City's beautiful Vieux Carre. Also, without Korbel, every bar in the state of Wisconsin would probably go out of business. Next time you want to play a fun drinking game pour yourself a nice fingers worth of rye and brandy next to each other and see if you can tell what is what. You would be surprised.

The most planted grape in all of France? Ugni Blanc, ladies and gentleman. The king grape of Cognac. Of course as all of you know Cognac is located and fully AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) protected right above Bordeaux in the chalky soil of north western France and has beach front property on Atlantic Ocean. About 100 miles due south you will find yourself in a much warmer and sandier climate known for not only growing Ugni Blanc but a few others such as Folle Blanche and Colombard. This of course is the Armagnac region also protected by an AOC. Armagnac is traditionally distilled once through on a continuous still while Cognac goes twice around in a pot still. This gives these two styles very different end results with alcohol ranging from 46-48% for Armagnac and Cognac sitting happily watered down to 40% abv. Armagnac is usually given a vintage date and Cognac is almost always a blend of a few vintages for consistency. Limousine oak can be used for both in aging but Armagnac usually tastes a touch fatter with a smoky earthy nose in the glass while Cognac blows off peach, pear, and orange notes with an herbal floral nose in your snifter.

For cocktails at home, I recommend having a bottle of Pierre Ferrand 1840 kicking about or a bottle of Ansac VS. A good friend of mine likes to call it “camping brandy”. Also a bottle of Laird's Applejack will allow you to set the heat about five degrees cooler in your house saving tons of money over the years. If you are a Pisco Sour fan the Muscat grape is the star of the interesting spirit coming out of both Peru and Chile. They both argue over who does it best and both sides make it differently. Most people have no idea what the differences are and honestly most patrons don't want to discuss the intricacies between Muscat and Torontel grape distillate. They look at the bottles on the back bar and choose between the cheap one, the square one, and the one that looks like a spaceship.Just make sure you tread lightly comparing the two different regional styles. The locals are a bit touchy on who first produced it. If you want to be hip pick up a square bottle of Pisco Porton. It is a quality distillate and every now and then it is fun to whip up some Pisco Sours.

“No, Sir, claret is the liquor for boys; port, for men; but he who aspires to be a hero (smiling) must drink brandy.” -Samuel Johnson

Now onto more A-a-a-a-alcohol baby!

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Orange Liqueur

You know Triple sec or Curacao if you like to sound fancy! The stuff that Chili's has been up charging us for in our giant sugar town presidential margaritas for years. Originally produced on the island of Curacao in the Caribbean Sea, it is a liqueur (pronounced like the band The Cure would be announced at Pitchfork in Paris. “Next on stage….Le Cure!” le clap le clap le clap.) flavored with the dried peels of Valencia oranges that mutated under the arid island climate and became bitter and unable to be eaten. Curacao is not AOC protected in any way and can be made anywhere in the world as expensively or as cheaply as possible. Everyone always expects it to be sickeningly sweet yet it is actually very dry in flavor. The orange tricks the tongue as sweetness. It is normally clear or golden but occasionally a little bit of E133 Brilliant Blue finds its way into a bottle and a very unappetizing product is created with no change to taste. The base can either be a column distilled neutral grain spirit or a pot distilled spirit like grape brandy. A touch of sugar is added with the orange flavoring and viola! Orange liqueur.

Triple Sec on the other hand calls France its home and was originally made with less sugar than Curacao. To break down the word really quickly “Sec” means dry and “triple” is entirely marketing and has nothing to do with level of product or how many times it was distilled. Dry #3 just didn't have the same ring to it as Triple Sec. Orange you glad I explained all of that.

On the market there are a bazillion orange liqueurs like Grand Marnier (blended with cognac), Bols, Cointreau, Combier, Clement Creole, Mandarine Napoleon and more. At my house though, I keep the plain bottle of PF Dry Curacao. It is more expensive than Bols or the Marie Brizard brand and cheaper than Cointreau. It is a must have and can be drank neat after a meal if you are in the mood. You should go ahead and pick up a bottle of Cointreau also. I think of it as another ingredient all together and sometimes I will use both in the same drink.

Orange you glad all this info is here?!

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Bitters

The salt and pepper of cocktails. Great in drinks, soups, sodas, and medicines yet terrible for white cotton oxford shirts or any fabric for that matter. Really quickly we are going to talk about three very different bitters and you should collect them all.



So those are the key players. You of course can pick up coffee bitters, lemon bitters, fruit cake bitters, cucumber bitters, cherry vanilla bark bitters, bitter old ladies, and old VW Bug bitters, etc. Those bitters usually have a place in one specific drink or to liven up a gin and soda. I do not consider my home a desert island but for making cocktails at your house...these are the only three you need. If you can only grab one, make sure it is Angostura. Also I would recommend bottling a little bit of ango and carrying it with you on vacation. I have had trouble finding them out of the country unless I am near a major city with a cocktail scene.

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Vermouth and Other Fortified Wine

A broad term for aromatized and fortified wine. It is flavored similarly to gin with roots sticks, flowers, and barks. China actually can lay claim to first fortifying wine all the way back in 1250 BC (before cocktails) as an ancient stomach relief. Wormwood being a key ingredient and where Vermouth got its name from, the slick French pronunciation of Wermut. There is a ton of history as with anything wine related but I would rather not bore you with it. To make it very simple French vermouth is known as dry vermouth (white) and Italian vermouth is known as Sweet vermouth (red) in most of the world and surely behind my bar. HOWEVER, color really shouldn't be a factor in sweetness or dryness and you can have clear sweet vermouths and dry red ones.

Behind the bar, we keep a few different styles including Dolin Sweet, Dry, and Bianco which is one of those lighter sweet clear ones I mentioned earlier. Also, when making a manhattan or a Negroni most bars reach solely for the thick and syrupy Italian Carpano Antica. Over time I feel that Carpano sits flat in a cocktail. Surely a Manhattan should be about the Whiskey? The great thing about vermouth is being able to drastically change a cocktail by changing your vermouth. Finding those perfect combos for whiskey and sweet vermouth or gin and dry are as close to “mixology” as I like to flirt.

Along with vermouth there are plenty of other fortified wines to enjoy and use in cocktails: Port, Sherry, Madiera, and many others.

For your house, I would recommend keeping my personal favorite Noilly Prat Extra Dry and Cinzano Rosso for your sweet. I also like to keep a bottle of Martini Dry around. You can find these in smaller .375 ml bottles and I recommend that because they will go bad just like wine does. You also need to keep these in the fridge (I hope you made space) to insure their lifespan a little longer. If you taste it after it has gone bad, it is great for cooking with. Use it like you would use wine...that is what it is. I mix Cinzano with ice and soda all the time for a quick pick me up.

I would also stock a Manzanilla Sherry for pre dinner sharpeners and it pairs fantastically with sailing as I found out a few years ago. When picking wine to go sailing with the only options are actually rum, canned beer, or Champagne. If you can't get that drunk, don't want to get filled up, or can't afford a nice bottle of bubbles sherry is the next best thing and will keep you from going overboard in all those categories. I also like keeping a bottle of Lillet Blanc around for its slightly acid kiwi notes on the rocks and for the important roles it plays in cocktails like a Corpse Reviver #2.

It does make sense that people are scared of Vermouth. The comical bow to France or wave of a bottle makes sense when you think of how crappy drinks taste with vermouth that has been sitting on a back bar for months. We understand now how to keep it so make sure to trust a bartender when he asks how you take your vermouth cocktails. Odds are he counted the books down the night before and had a glass of the stuff to make sure it was still worth using.

A great book on this subject is The Mixellany Guide to Vermouth & Other Aperitifs by Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller. Give it a read.

“...suffused with herbs and spices from four continents...” -Leonard Rossiter

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Anise Liqueur

For whatever reason our American taste buds aren't really huge fans of anise the way just about every other culture is. The Turkish go nuts for Raki while the Greek drink their Ouzo. Sambuca is seen more on the table and less in the club in Italy and in Southern France, pastis and water is a great way to drink through an afternoon of playing Pétanque and smoking cigarettes. I am sure someone's grandmother you know used to make anisette cookies and their grandfather loved chomping down on black licorice. Then something happened and we lost that love of black jellybeans. It has always been a love or hate thing but as of late it seems to be on the outs.

I should mention Absinthe and its legal battles in history here. It is very much so a spirit and not a liqueur and was banned in many countries for containing Thujone which has psychedelic properties...also in France grapes were finally making a comeback after the Phylloxera epidemic and well...absinthe stood in the way of that. It was far easier to make it look bad to get people back to drinking Cognac. Anyways, enough of anything is a bad thing and when drinking absinthe that can be bottled over the 70% alcohol mark even a little can push you over the edge. You would be dead from alcohol poisoning before the Thujone made you see fairies and sage and tarragon actually contain measurable amounts of it. I usually stick to pastis.

Pastis is an anise flavored liquor that sits between 40%-45% alcohol by volume and you can even find N/A versions like Pacific made by Pernod Ricard (Google it for a great vintage swimsuit commercial). In the south of France it is known as the milk of Marseilles and that is fun to say and even more fun to drink.

REGARDLESS of your boules game skills, you have to keep a bottle of either Herbsaint, Prado, or Granier on the shelf in order to make a wide range of drinks because without it...the drinks just do not work. I really enjoy a nice glass of Prado Pastis and water (say 1 part Prado to 5 Parts cool water) on a hot day. It is a beautiful pale green and so refreshing. Getting near the end of the drink? Just top it off with water and like magic you are back to sipping that tongue numbing elixir. The milky color is due to an effect called louching which is all the ingredients that are not water soluble (like anise, fennel, and star anise) being suspended in the drink. It kills the sharpness of the liquid and makes it far more potent to your nose.

“After the first glass of absinthe you see things as you wish they were. After the second you see them as they are not. Finally you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.” -Oscar Wilde

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Campari

If the last bottle didn't leave a bitter taste in your mouth this one sure will. Campari is an Italian company and actually owns Wild Turkey down in Kentucky. For some more cool trivia it used to be colored with red bug shells but they stopped in 2006. If you care about rankings Wine Enthusiast gave it a 96 out of 100 a few years ago (post bugs) and that places it in great company with some of the other exemplary spirits of the world. Its alcohol percentage is different depending on what country it is being shipped to but we get ours at 24% abv here in the U S of A and it is labeled as Campari Aperitivo, and not Campari Bitter as many of the others, because they think we actually read the labels.

This potable bitter red stuff is reportedly a mix of alcohol, sugar, bugs, water, and an infusion of orange, rhubarb, ginseng, and secret herbs that only one guy knows. Basically a red secretive old fashioned in a bottle. The production involves a lot of steeping with giant tea bag like objects and lots of sugar and has been that way since its advent in the 1860’s.

You have to have this on your shelf because it is one of the prettier bottles out there and without it you cannot make a Negroni. Without the Negroni I wouldn't be writing this all out and behind a bar at all. So there. Campari is a rough one to get into, or into you rather, but give it some time and some soda and you will be drinking it over ice like Steve Zissou in no time.

“Ugh $@*#& God. GACK. Blech. What was that?” -New Barback (First Campari Taste)

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Amaro

Amaro translates very easily into bitter. Campari is actually an amaro but it is crucial enough to get its own section. You can drink these after dinner, or before, to stimulate the appetite and then help to settle the stomach. They have been used as a digestive aid forever and in cocktails they add a bittersweet layer that you could otherwise not achieve without. Depth if you will. They can be drank neat, with ice, with soda, with tonic, equal parts with another spirit, like go crazy you basically can't mess up using amari. You will also look super fancy if you bust one out at a dinner party with little cups for everyone to kickstart their digestive engines. The umbrella category covers a few different types of amari including the ever popular Fernet styles. The Italians actually break them down into a few different types more specifically but I do not think that they are all that important. Basically if they look a bit light in the bottle like Amaro Nonino they drink pretty light and if they are death black like Fernet they will drink like that exact color and work better all at once as opposed to sipping.

Similar styles are made around Europe mostly. The Germans have their regional Krautlikor, like The Hunting Master: Jägermeister, or if you are ever in Dusseldorf, Killeptsch (which I think means hard to pronounce). Gammel Dansk from Denmark, Beerenburg from Holland (whose base is…..Bingo! Genever...you guys are so smart), Unicum from Hungary, Pelinkovac is Croatian, and you can Czech Becherovka off this list too. While my editor spell check is still figuring out this paragraph I should also toss the French Benedictine in as a similar herbal liqueur and this list could even include the “monk made” Chartreuse brothers in green and yellow.

For cocktails these all have places on a shelf but for ease of use I would recommend going Italian and picking up a bottle of Averna or Luxardo Abano. Adding Chartreuse and Benedictine to the bottles you already have open up the ability for a good number of classics or a great way to enhance that coffee you are sipping on while you wait for the subway.

“This is the hunter’s badge of glory,
That he protect and tend his quarry,
Hunt with honour, as is due,
And through the beast to God is true."
-Translated back of Jäger Bottle

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Tequila and Mezcal

Quickly, all Tequila is Mezcal but not all Mezcal is Tequila. Got it? This category of Spirits is in an interesting stage due to new laws and the appreciation for Mezcal in the United States currently.

Tequila has been protected by law for a long time and has to follow a few rules. It can only be made in five states: Jalisco, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit and Tamaulipas. It also must be made with the Weber Blue Agave plant.

Mezcal on the other mano can be made with any agave plant that is native to Mexico (there are a lot) but the majority are made with Espadin. At least that is the case at the time I am writing this. I suspect that as the world is drinking through the agaves more regulations will come into play. Agaves take decades to mature until they are ready to be harvested. The work of harvesting is hard, hot, spiney, manual labor. The harvesting for both Tequila and mezcal is almost identical. Cut all the leaves off an agave with a sharp stick blade called a coa, and you are left with a pina or pineapple. This is where things get different.

For most tequila the pinas go through an industrial pressure cooker to convert the starches to sugar. Once cooked they are shredded to release the “mosto” or juices. Water is usually added while pressing. The mosto is transferred to fermentation tanks and yeast is added to help the sugars ferment. If sugar is added to the fermentation process it is a mixto and will not be able to be labeled as 100% agave. When the fermentation is done the liquid is distilled twice either through copper pot stills or column stills depending on the distillery. The tequila then is either diluted and bottled as a blanco or plata or sent to age in oak barrels. They will be diluted after resting in oak before bottling.

Blanco: No Age Reposado: 2 months to 1 year Añejo: 1-3 years Extra Añejo: 3+ Years

The mezcal fermentation process is a little different. The agaves are buried in a pit and cooked to convert their sugars to starch. The process takes a few days. This adds a smoky characteristic to mezcal. After the agave are cooked they need to be crushed. This process is done by a device called a tahona. Basically a horse (or tractor) pulls a giant round stone around a basin full of cooked agave to crush them. The mash is moved to a fermentation vessel and left to ferment. Then the mash is moved to a still either made from copper, clay, or wood and the alcohol is separated from the mash.

El Pelotón de la Muerte is my go to for cocktails at the house. I honestly don’t make a lot of mezcal cocktails. I enjoy sipping mezcal from time to time and I usually reach for the Madre Cuishe from Rey Campero or anything made from the Karwinski plant. For a Tequila I would recommend anything Enrique Fonseca had a hand in making. Go with Cimarron Blanco or Don Fulano to raise the bar (and proof). Just make sure the Tequila bottles say 100% Weber Blue Agave unless you like wasting money.

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Extra/Other Bottles To Keep Around

Chartreuse is expensive but there is nothing like it. You have two to choose from. Yellow Chartreuse makes use of honey and saffron to impart their golden tones to this aptly named liqueur which comes in at a lower proof than its envious brother Green Chartreuse. These intensely colored liqueurs have both been made by the Carthusian Monks since 1737 and are now produced in the south eastern French town of Voiron.

Maraschino Liqueur is a liqueur made from marasca cherries in Croatia. It is a syrupy boozy cherry flavored thing that can make or break drinks and has been driving bartenders crazy during inventory for years due to its ridiculous packaging. Not a necessity but a good thing to have around to fill out your bar. I like keeping it in a small dasher bottle to “improve” drinks. I use the Luxardo brand but there are others out there.

Bénédictine is one of those bottles that sits around and does nothing all too often. “To God, Most good, Most great” is their tagline and whether you believe that or not this is a bottle worthy of shelf space. Classic cocktails from New Orleans love using it and it is nice in mixed with brandy for a dryer sipper. It will be a hard sell but I would recommend just pulling the trigger. People will wonder why your cocktails have depth and taste better than theirs and you can smile and keep spiking your coffee.

Drumbuie is another one of those bottles that every bar has but no one knows where it got stashed last time. Crucial for a Rusty Nail and that is about it. It comes in a smaller bottle and is pretty pricey. Flavored with honey, herbs, and spices it is "the drink that satisfies."

Japanese Whisky should be mentioned and purchased if at all possible. Whisky production started in Japan around 1870 and there are currently nine active distilleries. Some of the distilleries are owned by the same brand. Suntory (who also owns Beam in the US) has the Yamizaki distillery between Osaka and Kyoto as well as the Hakushu distillery outside of Hokuto City in the Yamanashi Prefecture. They make very different whiskies but like all Japanese Whiskey exudes elegance with every sip. Nikka, another large producer has two distilleries: Yoichi (opened in 1934) and Miyagikyo (1969). Nikka also owns the Ben Nevis Distillery in Scotland. Some other distilleries to look out for would be Fuji Gotemba (owned by Kirin Brewing who owns Four Roses), Chichibu, and White Oak.

I will add to this list of extras when I have time. There are so many great bottles aside from the basics to keep around and I get to try new stuff daily. Cheers!

Send me stuff to try!

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Classic Cocktails

“Cock-tail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters—it is vulgarly called bittered sling, and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion, inasmuch as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head. It is said, also to be of great use to a democratic candidate: because a person, having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow any thing else.” -Harry Croswell May 13, 1806

Last update: Wed Aug 23 11:39:50 CDT 2017


This sums up what I consider the “basics.” There are so many more cocktails that are classics but these are my go-tos. Master these drinks. Love them. Memorize them and change them. Please write me when you come up with better ratios than I have. Tastes buds change. Citrus changes. Always taste for balance.

Enjoy these for now and check back for updates!

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Martini

The Martini is the quintessential cocktail and my personal favorite. It is so well known in fact that the glass vessel that contains one was even taken over by its name. Now anything that goes into a straight sided cocktail glass is a SOMETHING-tini. I say to drink whatever you like but if I am ordering a “Tini” it will be comprised of gin, dry vermouth, and orange bitters. Lemon twists during the day and Castelvetrano olives at night. A cocktail onion or even a large caper berry might make a brief appearance here and there if I am feeling coy and a grapefruit peel goes miles for certain gins. This cocktail can be made in a myriad of ways and I think most of them are correct...and you should go put a bottle of gin in your freezer now so by the time you are done reading all these cocktails you can have one.

The king of cocktails drifts with divinity,
As thin ice stretches over a cool lake.

Enjoy.

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The Perfect Luis Buñuel Martini

“To provoke, or sustain, a reverie in a bar, you have to drink English gin, especially in the form of the dry martini. To be frank, given the primordial role in my life played by the dry martini, I think I really ought to give it at least a page. Like all cocktails, the martini, composed essentially of gin and a few drops of Noilly Prat, seems to have been an American invention. Connoisseurs who like their martinis very dry suggest simply allowing a ray of sunlight to shine through a bottle of Noilly Prat before it hits the bottle of gin. At a certain period in America it was said that the making of a dry martini should resemble the Immaculate Conception, for, as Saint Thomas Aquinas once noted, the generative power of the Holy Ghost pierced the Virgin's hymen "like a ray of sunlight through a window-leaving it unbroken."

Another crucial recommendation is that the ice be so cold and hard that it won't melt, since nothing's worse than a watery martini. For those who are still with me, let me give you my personal recipe, the fruit of long experimentation and guaranteed to produce perfect results. The day before your guests arrive, put all the ingredients-glasses, gin, and shaker-in the refrigerator. Use a thermometer to make sure the ice is about twenty degrees below zero (centigrade). Don't take anything out until your friends arrive; then pour a few drops of Noilly Prat and half a demitasse spoon of Angostura bitters over the ice. Stir it, then pour it out, keeping only the ice, which retains a faint taste of both. Then pour straight gin over the ice, stir it again, and serve.

(During the 1940s, the director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York taught me a curious variation. Instead of Angostura, he used a dash of Pernod. Frankly, it seemed heretical to me, but apparently it was only a fad.)

-Excerpted from My Last Sigh by Luis Buñuel, trans., Abigail Israel. Translation Copyright ©1983 by Alfred A. Knopf Inc.

A friend of mine showed me a video once of Buñuel making a martini and it was fascinating. I am sure you could find it with a quick Youtube search. From watching this video and reading the excerpt I put together this recipe. Action!

Enjoy.

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Luke's Martini

This next Martini is a slight variation of the famous Dukes Martini. If you are at The Dukes Hotel (35 St James's Place, London) and you ask for a Martini; it will come table side poured from a bottle of frozen gin. No bitters just a dash of dry vermouth (to clean the carpet) and frozen gin. It will then have an organic lemon from the Amalfi coast peeled and squeezed over the top. I do mine slightly different but all in all in the same vein. My favorite way to go about it but very potent so I limit my consumption to special occasions. Also no measuring! Two of these and most people say I can be as charming as Alessandro Palazzi himself.

Enjoy.

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Gin & It

If you use sweet Italian (red) vermouth you can make a “sweet martini.” It is a lot better than it sounds. So good in fact that over time it was ordered as a Gin and Italian and that was slowly shortened to just a Gin and It. The great bartender, Sasha Petraske, loved this drink and it should be drank in memory of him. Withouts Sasha's determination and guts to open the brilliant Milk and Honey on New York's’ Lower East Side in 1999 we would not be where we are today in the world of cocktails. To you Sasha.


“Cocktails are not worth intellectualising, they are just something to be experienced. The fact that people talk about cocktails like one might talk about like wine, which you have to grow, is laughable. A cocktail is a simple thing - what matters is if you make it right.”-Sasha Petraske

Enjoy.

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Pink Gin

A simple drink that has been lost at sea for too long is the Pink Gin. You have a few choices here: bitters left in or bitters swirled and tossed. Also do you take it chilled or at room temp. The chilled version would be very similar to Mr. Buñuels Martini in a way. The purists say it can only be done with Plymouth gin like a true British officer would have drank. However, I have seen another Brit with a MI6 ranking drink a Pink Gin comprised of Beefeater with my own two eyes in the movie The Man With The Golden Gun and that is good enough for me. Do what you like. I take mine at shelf temperature sometimes if the wind is blowing me that way but I do like a slight chill to it over time. Also some charged water on the side is a nice lengthener.


“There comes a time when a man must spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”-H.L. Mencken

Enjoy.

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The Bronx Cocktail and Drinks I Don't Like

Another drink to toss your way would be the Bronx cocktail. Ranked at one time (1934) as the third most prefered cocktail in the States behind the martini and the Manhattan, I feel as if I should mention it but I don't have a recipe worth giving you. If someone orders this drink I will try to stir them in a different direction and also ask what book they have been reading. This drink has a gazillion recipes but, at its simplest, it is a perfect martini with orange juice. Perfect meaning equal parts sweet and dry vermouth. Any drink containing vermouth can be “perfected” by adding both. Not my jam as you can probably infer but some people swear by it.

While I am not giving out recipes I should mention the Martinez. I don’t like this drink. I didn’t even want to say anything about it but it is historical and I don’t want someone to think I forgot about it. I don’t care what it was the precursor to. The Model T was the precursor to the modern automobile and you don’t see them around anymore. Probably because they drove pretty rough and sucked and something better came along. Wood teeth are the precursor to denchers and you only see those on a nutcracker these days. Probably again because they sucked and rotted in your mouth. There are plenty of recipes for the Martinez in someone else's drink books if you want a disappointing cocktail. I consider drinks like this up for retirement. Their job has been done. Stop ordering them and keeping them employed. There are others like this....looking at you Bijou...

Sorry.

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Manhattan

This brings us to the Manhattan. Its origins are hazy as most cocktail history is. Some say Winston Churchill's mom had it made for her or that it was named for the color of sewer water in the Borough of New York that shares its name. I have even heard that the area code of Manhattan being 2-1-2 is the perfect ratio of the drink but I disagree. The Manhattan is my wife's favorite drink and boy am I thankful because I make a good one. She is always disapointed out by ordering one so I figured it is about time I should write down exactly how I do it.


Enjoy.

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Black Manhattan

This next drink is a variation that I rarely think of to make at home yet it is the first step down the “brown and stirred” pathway. It is uncreatively called the Black Manhattan and I have seen a few different interpretations. Some call for specialized bitters and even a dark rum float but I like to keep things simpler. Substituting an amaro for sweet vermouth and carrying on in that fashion best makes this drink. Averna is the usual standby and that works fine for me. I also add a few more bitters than my usual Manhattan recipe.


Enjoy.

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Old Fashioned

The Old Fashioned is a misnomer and a technique more than anything. Plenty of spirits make a good old fashioned as long as they are balanced with sugar and water and bitters as the method calls for. You can go read someone else’s blog about gin old fashions though, because I am here to talk whiskey.

I don't care if you use rye or Bourbon but I do care that it is one of those two. I don't care who made it either. You need to go for something with heat. Wild Turkey 101 comes to mind...or Noah’s Mill if you want to spend a touch more on a bottle. They both make a killer old fashioned. I like pulling out some bonded Old Fitzgerald for the task because I enjoy what the marshmallow sweetness of a wheater can bring to the table. No need to go with a barrel proof whiskey. Aim for something over the legal 80 proof.

A rye will give you a spicier end result but a good friend once told me that the old fashioned is a grandma drink. It is supposed to be on the sweet side.

I could care less what kind of sugar goes in. Bar staffs have split up over this argument. Demerara vs brown vs refined white. Cubes vs Ssoops vs syrups. While all this fighting is going on there is usually a guy at the end of the bar that just wants another beer. I use the same 58% simple syrup solution I use in all my cocktails. "But, Luke! What about the added flavor of using a darker less refined sugar?" Well, I am not drinking an old fashioned for the intricacies of the sugar used to calm down the whisky in my drink. I am drinking an old fashioned because it is too early or too late for a neat pour or I just felt like making something easy. Sometimes I don't want the strength of undiluted whiskey. Like how people buy sports cars with automatic transmissions.

There is so much talk about this drink and even books written solely about it. I believe everyone should be able to make this as simply or as complicated as they would like in the comfort of their own home. It is a home drink. It is a shot of whiskey with a tie on...or training wheels for that matter. I go back and forth on how it should be served but this has been the method for a while now:


Have one for me.

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Old Fashioned #2


Cheers.

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Sazerac

The Sazerac is the only stirred cocktail to rival the Martini. In all honesty, I think they could have been friends in another life. The worst one I have ever had was at the Sazerac Bar In the Grand Roosevelt Hotel located at 130 Roosevelt Way, New Orleans, LA. I recommend pours of Guinness across the street at The Erin Rose (811 Conti St.) if you find yourself there. Regardless, that sad drink made me realize that tracking down the birthplaces of cocktails usually leads to disappointment like the flabby (FAKE NEWS) Seelbach in Louisville or even a Mint Julep at Churchill Downs on Derby Day in the same town (more on the julep later). Though I hear the Bellini at Harry's Bar in Venice is just peachy and worth the trip. I have never had the privilege. Christian Hetter a friend and colleague of mine makes a great Sazerac and one that I do not get to enjoy often enough. You can visit him at The Berkshire Room located at 15 East Ohio in Chicago and try one of his out. Make sure you know a Southwest flight from Midway Airport down to NOLA may be cheaper than your cab fare in the Second City and depending on traffic may be shorter. Christian and I have disagreed on the inclusion of brandy for years now yet have never come to blows over it. We also disagree on baseball players and teams, briefs vs boxers, steps of service, Bourbon vs Scotch and music to play on a busy Friday night. (Agree to disagree my friend and go write your own damn cocktail book. I’d buy the first one printed.)


à votre santé

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The Vieux Carre and Cocktail a la Louisiane

If I haven't pissed you off yet with odd ingredients and picky technique yet, I am about to...or at least you will start to understand things that I hold as gospel and the things I think have a little wiggle room. A man named Walter Bergeron created a cocktail while tending bar at the world famous Hotel Monteleone located at 214 Royal Street in New Orleans that calls for a tiny touch of Benedictine among other things. Now I recommend you pick up a bottle of this stuff as I have mentioned before but if you do not have it you can substitute a small amount of an Italian amaro and end up with an amazing cocktail. Of course you cannot call it by its correct name but there are many other lovely neighborhoods in that vibrant city you could use for your new cocktail. I would be rather pleased plopping down at someone's home bar for a “Garden District” or a “Faubourg Marigny” just because they subbed out the Benedictine for some other liquid. For all we know Walter may have been the first Benedictine brand rep...and we all surely know that all the fun is over on Frenchman street or at the Milan Lounge (Go Cubs) and out of the Quarter anyways.

HISTORY ALERT: To bombard you with yet another cocktail from the Big Easy and the perfect sequel (possibly a historical prequel) to the Vieux Carre is the La Louisiane. This drink is just a Vieux Carre all mixed up with different proportions and if you open any cocktail book they all have different measurements from equal parts to the classic two half half. According to history the La Louisiane was the house cocktail of a restaurant (now closed) that opened in New Orleans in 1881. This is super important for a timeline because they both appear in Stanley Clisby Arthur’s book, Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em which was printed first in 1937. The Vieux Carre was featured for the first time in print in that book and the La Louisiane mentioned the use of Absinthe NOT Herbsaint by name, which appeared on the market in 1934. Absinthe was banned in the States in 1912 and the Hotel Monteleone (who lays claim to the more well known Vieux Carre) was built in 1886 with a lounge called the Swan Room but the spinning Carousel bar was not installed until 1949. What does this mean?! Well it means the Vieux Carre is actually a mixed around La Louisiane. You also should go get some Benedictine... Here is how I make the drink:


Cheers.

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The Old Pal and Boulevardier

Two quick drinks to touch on before going forward into some gin drinks would be the Old Pal and the Boulevardier. The Old Pal predates the Boulevardier with its first appearance in ABC’s of Mixing Cocktails by Harry MacElhone and that was printed in 1922 I believe. The Boulevardier shows up in his next book Barflies and Cocktails in 1927. I usually keep the latter premixed in quantity and bottled in an empty whiskey decanter during the winter so my lady can pour herself a cocktail when she gets home from work. The vermouth holds fine out of the fridge when mixed with spirits of higher proofs and I may be crazy but I think the drink when pre mixed improves with time the way etoufee does in the refrigerator.



Cheers.

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Negroni and Americanos

While we are stirring drinks with Campari it would be heresy to not mention the Negroni. According to the books it was invented around 1919 at a cafe in Florence Italy by a guy named Count Negroni. Why we don't drink at cafes anymore baffles me. He wanted his Americano (recipe to follow) to be just a touch stronger and as Counts do instructed the bartender specifically to hold the sparkling water and just add gin. Being the good sport that most barmen are he obliged and this quintessential cocktail was born.



There is a wonderful bar down South that makes a great Americano and they don’t do it by the book. When I say down South I mean all the way to Melbourne, Australia at The Everleigh (150-156 Gertrude St, Melbourne VIC 3065). Here is their tasty method:

Saluti, mate.

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The Highball

After mentioning the Americano highball I think it best to dive into that tall subcategory really quickly. Highballs are great ways to drink through an afternoon or early evening. A highball is basically spirit and mixer. A "one and one" as we used to call them. My favorite highball would be the classic (and very popular in Japanese drinking culture) whisky and soda (or water at dinner in substitution of wine). I am picky about how my highballs are made and I will explain thusly.


So I want to break this down for you. The problem with most highballs is that they are ruined immediately by speed and stupidity like people with sportscars and methamphetamines. The point of a highball is to be refreshing and sharp. At a bar you barely get a fizzy sip yet the majority of the drink was at one time carbonated! By chilling the spirit you give the CO2 something to adhere to because it is a water soluble gas that loves the cold. If it is poured into something room temp quickly all of that bottled up fizzy nose tickling excitement escapes into the ether just like the cash out of your wallet and you are left with a flat drink. So cold booze in a cold glass with a slowly poured cold carbonated mixer will stay fizzy longer. Fact. Science. Yadda Yadda. Just trust me and do it this way. This works for anything. Gin and tonic, vodka soda, rum and coke, Jager and redbull (making a point) whatever. This is also why I like to keep my spirits frozen. I like the spirit at its full force when I am diluting with a mixer. To each their own of course.

Cheers!

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Gin & Tonic

The g&t was my drink of choice for years and years. On a poor college student budget the gin was usually Taaka or Crystal Palace (both distilled at Buffalo Trace). The tonic was out of a gun and usually flat. Things have of course changed and I have a little bit more padding in the wallet for better ingredients. I can whip one up quickly but I find preserving the carbonation of the tonic to be the utmost important part of the drink or any highball for that matter. In order to do that you have to be careful about how you handle your ingredients.

Dave Arnold has some killer tips on making this drink but his simple lazy version recommends building the drink without ice and slowly adding the cubes afterwards with a barspoon. He is trying to prevent the loss of CO2 by minimizing nucleation points but with solid clear tempered ice and frozen gin I don’t find the difference between his method and mine to be noticeable. I also make mine a touch “weaker” than his but this is because I rarely have just one...I also eyeball them usually. It’s a gin and tonic-- not rocket science.


Cheers!

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Cuba Libre

Before we move on from simple highballs I would like to mention the Cuba Libre. The liberating rum and coke is a fantastic drink when the time calls for it and so easy to do. Build it like I have explained high balls previously and give it a good squeeze of lime. Glass bottled Mexican Coca Cola is crucial here. These taste best on vacation in hotel rooms or on the balcony overlooking the ocean.


“You bitch! Why didn't you just say a rum and Coke?!” -Brian Flanagan (Tom Cruise in Cocktail)

Cheers!

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Highball (Whisky)

The sacred whisky soda. A drink that is truly more than the sum of its parts. I mentioned the Japanese loving highballs earlier and the Mizuwari (just as it looks) is how the majority of whiskey is drank in Japan. Mizuwari means “water mix” and that is exactly what it is. It also allows them to drink whisky through dinner. Something we have been trying to figure out forever. Smart people. I do prefer this drink without a straw as the whiskey opens up immensely. It works great with blended malt whisky or a mix of a blend and a single malt. Or just straight single malts. It sings with lighter Japanese malt whiskys. Booker Noe the late master distiller of Jim Beam was known for drinking his whiskey cut with equal parts water...and that guy knows more about whiskey than I do so he must be onto something.


Cheers!

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Tom Collins, The Gin Rickey, and The Bucking Mules

While you have that collins glass out let's run through the best day game baseball companion save for light beer and sunflower seeds that I know of and that's the Old Tom Collins. This long drink at its simplest is gin with sparkling lemonade. Of course the Old Tom Collins should be made with Old Tom gin but I assure you that a standard London Dry will do you just fine and after the first one you will not care. I spent the entire summer of 2013 drinking this cocktail solely at The Bar at 327 Braun court located in Ann Arbor, Michigan and I would recommend that to anyone. Say hi for me. My picture is on the wall.


To make things simpler and far drier try the classic Japanese jinrickusha or rickshaw or as we know it today:


A slight variation on the Rickey is a Gin Buck. I used to have a guest back in Ann Arbor Paul “Glasses” Schute that loved the Gin Buck and I loved making them for him.


Cheers.

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Pimm's Cup

The Kentucky Derby has its Julep and Wimbledon has its Cup. The Pimm's Cup to be exact. This tasty summery long drink stems from a group of drinks classified as fruit cups or summer cups. They are English in style and usually include a soft drink mixer such as ginger ale or English lemonade added to a base of gin and a bunch of sliced fruit and herbs that can include berries, cucumbers, various citrus, apple and mint. Pimm's No.1 Cup just happens to be the super hip gin based aperitif you've been missing. Instead of Sprite or 7up I like to use (not kidding) Trader Joe’s Sparkling French Lemonade and you should too (it's over by all the cheap wine and also unchilled so plan ahead). This drink has been fancied up over and over but when I drink it I mix it simply and usually by the pitcher. Also make sure the thermometer weather app shows at least 75°F (that's right under 24°C for my readers over the pond) outside. This drink, like the summer, pairs fantastically with a clean pair of Rod Lavers or Stan Smiths btw.


Why should you never fall in love with a tennis player?
To them, "Love" means nothing.

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French 75

When I think brunch I think of course about le Canon de 75 modèle 1897. Don't you? I also think about how long the line is going to be over at Lula Cafe on a Saturday morning. After mulling it over and deciding to stay home I make sure have eggs, bacon, and a bottle of bubbles in the fridge. I put on my favorite French record (Human After All by Daft Punk) and start making French 75s. The French 75 at the simplest form is a Tom Collins with Champagne instead of charged water. I say that you must use Champagne and well...you have to. No ifs ands or buts about it. You may say I have fallen to some of the best marketing in the world but Cava or California sparkling is just not going to cut it here. It is an ingredient and a crucial one. So same method as the Tom Collins with a bit of a different build. Oh and put it in a Collins glass. Also if it is just you call your neighbor over for the prime time of their life also.


Enjoy.

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The Champagne Cocktail

While you have the Champers out (which should really be way more often) you need to make a quick Champagne Cocktail. Without a doubt the most elegant cocktail that can be made and that is coming from a Martini drinker. A friend of mine once recommended for me to take a long lunch consisting of me, a Champagne cocktail, and a dozen freshly shucked new friends. The place happened to be Balthazar at 80 Spring St. in Manhattan. Best lunch I have ever had. Yup. Can this lunch be recreated? Nope. There just happens to be no place like New York on that exact day...I recommend you try very often though. I keep doing it.


Enjoy.

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The Mojito

I never think of it as a Collins drink but the Mojito shares a few characteristics and if you look back far enough in the Cuban cocktail books it was originally called the Bacardi Collins and served at Sloppy Joes in Havana. I have read that during prohibition and long into the ‘50s Americans made up about 90% of the business there...I think now we are making up 100% of it. I am glad this drink got to our shores before the embargo went into effect and I am glad we are still drinking it today now that it is dissolving.


Enjoy.

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The Mint Julep For One

While you are crushing ice and have mint around I may as well touch on another drink that includes those ingredients. For the past couple years or so on the first Saturday in May I do a few things out of the ordinary the way Louisville, Kentucky has been doing on this day consecutively since 1875. I take the day off, I polish a silver julep cup, I wear white and I gamble. The Race for the Roses has been called the “most exciting two minutes in sports” and is the first race of the Triple Crown that is then followed by the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes later in the coming weeks.

I assume you have a bottle of Bourbon that sitting around the house somewhere. Check your husband's desk drawer? You should also own a julep cup if you are an adult. I buy a new one every year and that allows me to invite another friend over to watch the race each year and subsequently take their money when my exacta (a bet on the first and second horses in their exact order of finish) comes through. If you do not believe this is important you can use the small side of your Boston shaker set but it is shameful and utter disrespect for tradition...and I love tradition. Regardless this style of drink does not originate from the porch of a beautiful Southern plantation on a hot early summer's day it actually (ready for this?) comes from the Persian gulab or Arab julab style of drinks. It is international and we have no claim to it...though we may have perfected it.


...and they're off!

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More Than One Julep?


Enjoy.

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Cosmopolitan

This next drink for whatever reason gets bartenders in more of a tizzy than the Mojito. Again…most of these fakers have never sat down and actually had one so don’t let them scoff at you for ordering it. If you can learn how to balance a Cosmopolitan you can make anything. Another hazy history drink and I would rather not toss my hat in the ring on where it came from or from whose hands but I will tell you this: when someone asks for one use my recipe and just knock their socks off. They’ll come back tomorrow. The original recipe calls for citrus vodka which (not to be snobby but) I never have laying around behind the bar at work or home. Instead I cut back the vodka and add some sugar (flavored stuff is usually sweeter and lower proof) and lemon peel. This drink will always be around thanks to its popularity on television.


“Yes, I'd like a cheeseburger, please, large fries and a cosmopolitan.” -Carrie Bradshaw

Enjoy.

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The Many Faces and Colors of the Gin Fizz

To slide into another category the Fizz like the Collins is simply acid, sugar, spirit, and carbonated water in a short rocks glass with a cube or no ice at all. Meant to be knocked back rather quickly (as they all are). These really became popular between 1900-1940 in the United States and I assume that has a lot to do with the soda fountains rise in popularity as well as cocaine and the fact that we weren't supposed to be drinking in this country for half of that time.


From here if you add things to this drink such as egg white to really froth it up you would have a Silver Fizz. Add just the yolk for a Golden Fizz or toss the whole damn thing in for a Royal Fizz. The world famous (and the barkeeps least favorite last call drink) Ramos Gin Fizz adds some heavy cream, egg white, and orange flower water (hideous stuff) to the mix and serves it all tall and pretty. I have made my share of these yet never sat down to drink one myself. I find them to be a burden to make yet I always get a weird satisfaction out of making one for a guest...regardless I do not tolerate dairy and because of that I have always abstained from Henry C. Ramos’s New Orleans Fizz. It was first printed in George J Kappeler's Modern American Drinks in 1895. Look it up if you care to and modify his recipe. It seems the trick to this drink is to make yours taller than the other guys while disregarding taste...but how could it taste bad when you are basically creating a meringue topping for your gin? These should be enjoyed in the morning so I try to avoid this drink by never working at a bar that is open before six in the evening and sometimes that is still a little too early. I'll die with my personal recipe and I could personally go without making another as long as I live.

So there!

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Trader Vics Exotic Mai Tai

The king of rum drinks and my personal favorite of the Tiki trend is the Mai Tai. It should be everyone's favorite rum drink. Have a few and everything will start to become your favorite something or other. It came on the scene in 1944 and the credits go to Victor J. ‘Trader Vic’ Bergeron. There are rumors however that the recipe was stolen adapted from the 1937 Q.B. Cooler made by a man named Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt who we all know today as Donn Beach or just Don The Beachcomber for long. I think the drinks taste similar but are too far apart in composition to make this claim. Those Tiki guys are weird and like burying their recipes out on forgotten sandbars with their loot. The secret is though that most all Tiki style drinks follow the same formula: one sour, two sweet, three strong, and four weak. Here is the original Mai Tai:


At home I do things slightly different. I keep an old bottle around that I decant the last bits of other rums into. This creates a living rum bottle. Sometimes it’ s perfect other times it's a little sweet or too boozy/grassy/dunderpity/light/dark etc. but the average is great. I used to keep a list of what I had put in there but that was lost after a few rum fueled nights. If you want to make your own I recommend starting it out by filling a bottle about half way with a mix of some darker Jamaican rums and then about half of what's left with some weird funky pot still rums from wherever. The Trader was specific about what went in his but I like to be a little more open to the rums I use. The living bottle also saves me some valuable shelf space. The same idea works great for Scotch whiskies too.


There are many other tiki drinks and styles out there and please don’t let my lack of expansion for the style deter you. I assure you my Arthur Lyman record collection is as impressive as my fake tropical bird calls. I also know how to spell falernum and that Trader Vics middle name was Jules. I just happen to have lived in Chicago for the opening of Three Dots and a Dash (435 N Clark St around the back in the alley look for tiki torches and a blue light) and then the opening of Lost Lake (154 W Diversey Ave) right down the street from me. Then right after that two bars back home that I respect dearly ran a tiki menu for half a year. I just got over the fad because I had constant access to it and for whatever reason sugary rum drinks just put the hurt on me the next morning. Anyone else? Like I said there are gazillions of Tiki drinks and books so if this style truly peels your banana you have a ton of reading to do. However there is one more cocktail that makes my list but I wouldn't call it a “Tiki” drink per-say...and that is the humble Daiquiri.

He Mea Iki!

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The Humble Daiquiri and the Slow Night Snaquiri

The hard to spell Daiquiri came about in a village named just that not far from Santiago de Cuba near the Bacardi plant at the end of the 19th century. The water in the area was a touch dangerous for your health but boiling and a spot of rum helped to disinfect it. Of course hot rum water is not very appetizing and the locals took it upon themselves to add sugar and acid in the form of limes to balance the mix and well...there you go. Here is the traditional recipe minus the bronze john.


Plug and play with a Daiquiri is a blast on a slow night at work. You can toss in any rum or combination of rums and usually end up with a good drink. At least one to “snack” on with your bar back and door guy.


All at once! No sipping!

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Army & Navy

To bridge the gap between a rum drink and a gin drink is the lovely Army & Navy cocktail. It is one of those drinks that reads well on paper but has a hard time coming together in the shaker. The Army and Navy college football rivalry is one of the best in the sport. Being the son of a Navy Veteran we always pulled for Midshipmen. While I was at the Whistler I like to think I perfected this drink.


How about them Cowboys?

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Gimlet

Let’s fumble on over to the Gimlet. My father's favorite cocktail. He tells a story of being in the Navy and waking up on the floor of a bar one morning still in uniform. Someone with more stripes on his sleeves was sitting at the bar having his coffee and reading the paper. As my father started to rise the man didn't look up he just said “You might as well just start doing pushups.” For the longest time my father's recipe and method involved Rose's lime which is a lime cordial and gin. He would mix the two in some obscene ratio by the pitcher and place in the freezer to chill. I wish I would have known him then though I had not had my first drink yet...nor my first breath. I do not use Rose's personally but to each their own. I also have a dear friend that recommends this drink to be stirred and again I say to each their own. He is wrong though. I enjoy this drink with a few dashes of Angostura bitters in it and I believe that is called a Fitzgerald or something like that. Here are two ways to do it:


I love a good gimlet.

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Sidecar

In the same sour style we have the sidecar. This may be my second favorite cocktail but I do not think I have ever admitted that to anyone except my best drinking friend Eric Farrell. We had stayed up all night after Saturday's bar service and went for breakfast and I enjoyed this very cocktail at nine in the morning on a Sunday (sugar rim and all) garnished with the shocked glances of church goers having their eggs and coffee before redemption. Try it sometime. I make mine very dry because I drink through the sugar rim. If you do not like the idea of that or you think that makes it a “girly drink” then you can fuck right off. I don’t care if it's Sunday or not.


Cheers!

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White Lady

If you like substitute Gin for Cognac in a sidecar and leave the sugar rim off and you have a White Lady. Sometimes referred to as a gin sidecar it is a fantastic drink to start off your night. I like to make this drink on the smaller side and drink it fast. This drink for whatever reason has always been a favorite of mine. I like them ice cold and dry. I really enjoy this drink with a shimmering of dubious micro ice bits on top. They say one of the best in the world can be had at Bar High Five in the Ginza district of Tokyo (中央区銀座7-2-14第26ポールスタービル4F) from the skilled and well dressed proprietor-- Hidetsugu Ueno. I have been planning my trip for years. One day.


Cheers!

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Corpse Reviver No.2

When you have had too many cocktails the night before, sometimes all that will fix the next day is to keep going. That was the original intent of the Corpse Reviver family of drinks. Out of the family, the only one that survived with great acclaim was the second one. The Corpse Reviver No. 2.

The only time I have consumed the drink for its intended use was waking up after the Kentucky Derby and St. Patrick's Day landed on the same fateful date. I had tickets to an early baseball game, and after stumbling through my buddies door to meet for the game, he made me a Corpse Reviver. It only postponed the inevitable but it bought me some time and a yellow fizzy beer or two at the park helped also. That was a great rough Spring and Summer of drinking...sigh and the Tigers almost won it that year.


Cheers!

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Whiskey Sour

Using a similar build as the previous sours we can easily make a Whiskey Sour. Not my favorite drink at all but a lot of people do like them before they grow into drier cocktails. The Whiskey Sour has more than paid my phone bill, rent, and a couple nice dinners out a few times. People love it because it's a gateway cocktail. I can’t stress how important it is to learn how to make drinks like this one pleasing and balanced with a smile. No drink as easy as this one should be beneath a bartender.


Cheers!

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Gold Rush

If you master the whiskey sour but your guest wants something with a little more flavor toss in some honey and make it the same way. This is technically a modern classic as it only shows up in recent cocktail history and T.J. Siegal of Milk and Honey of New York (currently closed) gets the credits. I have not checked his recipe lately but I always made mine on the drier side I believe. Never got many complaints. Hard to mess up this combo…probably good warm too…


Bee's Knees

While you are here and if you have that honey syrup handy you should try out a Bees Knees...it is exactly that or those. Warning: Pediatricians recommend not serving honey to infants under a year old because it may contain spores that could cause botulism. Best to save this cocktail until they are legal to drink in the country you live in just to bee safe.


Cheers!

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The Lofty Aviation

The Aviation is an oldie that took flight again around the cocktail boom of the early 2000’s. Hugo Ensslin gets the credit for the creation of the drink. He was the lead barman at the Wallick Hotel located on the Southeast corner of Broadway and 43rd in Manhattan. It was originally the Cadillac Hotel but changed to the Wallick in 1913. Then soon after went back to its original Cadillac name sometime after 1918. All we know is that the drink hails from the Wallick so we can assume the drink came to be between 1913 and 1918. Seeing as man's first flight had only occurred ten years before, it seems like a fitting name. He even published it in his own book Recipes for Mixed Drinks in 1916. As most cocktails do, this one has its peculiar quirks. Ensslin’s original recipe calls for gin, maraschino liqueur, and lemon juice with a touch of creme de violette. As time went on and other books got published, the purple stuff was left off the bill. It was hard to find at the time and still today finding a quality one is hard. I have always thought creme de violette smells like Tresemme shampoo but...that is my wonky nose.


You are now free to drink about the area!

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The Hot Toddy

This next one is most often ordered on hot August afternoons. I have no idea why. Probably the same reason why crushed ice drinks get ordered during blizzards and sub freezing evenings. Most bars are not set up to make you a Toddy. Some are and some are great at it. I think the Toddy is more of a home drink. It tastes better in sweatpants and a loose flannel shirt while watching a holiday parade or your alma mater get thrashed in a bowl game on TV. Like Christmas music if you start too early and go too late you will hate it. Respect the Toddy...but use a tacky coffee mug. Think Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation.


Merry Christmas!

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A True Mans Drink: The Rusty Nail

One of my favorite night caps is a long pour of Single Malt Scotch. Sometimes however I feel like sweetening it up. In that case I grab a blend over ice and top it off with the honeyed and spiced Drambuie. The Rusty Nail as it is called now has been around for ages. The Rat Pack was usually seen with a round of Rusty Nails on the table to finish an evening…or start the morning. In the late thirties the Brits called it a B.I.F. and that stood for God knows what. My proper English ain’t all that great with acronyms. If you ranked highly in the US Air Force while in Vietnam you could order a MiG-21 at the Officers Club. Same drink. You could also be the guy that bellies up today and asks for a Knucklehead. You would be right…but you are what you drink. As it is, ever since the text dried on a 1963 print of The New York Times lauding the drink as a Rusty Nail the name has stuck. Make one like so:


Cheers.

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Pisco Sour

I thought about leaving this next drink off but I don’t think I really understood it until a few years ago. I would like to try to explain it the best I can. I got to meet Johnny Schuler, the head distiller for a certain square bottle of pisco, and he made me a sour. He went on to explain that they have been making this Peruvian drink for ages and that the American bartenders have basically ruined it by fancying it up. There is no need to double shake the drink and cover the top in a fancy bitters design. It really takes away from the drink. The egg should be to thicken the whole drink and make it silky rather than to separate and froth. The drop of bitters is so you don’t smell the egginess and not for decoration at all. So all you want to be Angostura Pollocks and Bitters Banksys can cool it.


Salud.

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Paloma (Dove)

I originally left Mezcal or the regionally specific Tequila off the list because I personally think it only has a place in two drinks. It usually plays a role in someone ending up in a pool or losing their phone, boyfriend, car etc. The two drinks are the Margarita and the Paloma. I do not mean to give the agave plant such a hard time. It makes a lovely spirit by itself and I love how it changes based on its region and method of simplifying its sugar for fermentation. I just think it shines in these drinks and brings down other cocktails when substituted in. I enjoy it better as a neat pour. I wish someone would prove me wrong. The Paloma can be as easy as squeezing a lime into a collins glass with a nice pour of tequila and topping with squirt soda (or my personal favorite brand called Ting) and ice. A bowl of kosher salt on the table would go a long way here. Like most things though people have fancied it up and bars do not usually carry good grapefruit soda if at all so they use grapefruit juice and soda water to fake it. Doesn't work.


¡Hasta Luego!

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Two For One Margaritas!

I have gone back and forth for years and years on the Margarita recipe I stand by. There are great ones out there all across the sweetness spectrum. Some call for lemon and lime. Some just call for one or the other. There are even some modern ones calling for Yellow Chartreuse. The thing with Margaritas is I am never planning ahead for one and some of the best ones I have had are at really bad Mexican food spots. Frozen, too tart, over sweet...personally I kinda just like them all. I have even had one at a spot pretty close to where I live that I swear incorporated Tang (but if you order by the pitcher they'll let you walk right out the door with the leftovers in a to-go coffee cup after the meal). Most margs are easily fixable with more salt, more lime, or an extra shot of tequila. Just make sure not to offend the person that made it if there is a language barrier. After all the research and all the al pastor and lengua tacos I have consumed the ratio I plant my flag by for a sunny afternoon margarita is Julio Bermejo’s. This recipe is from Tommy's Mexican Restaurant located in San Fran at 5929 Geary Blvd.


If I need a little more elegance and I have time to really focus on the drink I prefer one a little more towards the original. The recipe that came to be known as the original was introduced in the late ‘50s at a cocktail competition in Los Angeles. The bartender from a restaurant called Tail 'O the Cock, John Durlesser, used lime and lemon to make the drink and no sweetener at all. It was a sour cocktail and with a salted rim. The drink is a sad one. Named after his late lover who had died in a hunting accident years before. Of course all this is speculation and there are about four more theories on where the drink came from. Regardless I like to stick with lime juice over lemon and I leave the sweetener out. Think of this as a slightly modified white lady and make in a similar fashion.


“I'm growing older, but not up.” -Jimmy Buffett

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The Bloody Mary

I assume at this point you read through all of these drinks and made them at the same time. If that is the case here is a drink to fix you tomorrow. The Bloody Mary only works when you make it in quantity and not at all when making one at a time. Luckily it is basically the base for a gazpacho and will keep in the fridge thanks to the booze for a bit. Kingsley Amis wrote down the best recipe I have ever tasted. It sounds like it will be bland but I promise you it is not. I have added black pepper whereas he, I am sure, just forgot to add it in his recipe.


“For I am a sinner in the hands of an angry God.
Bloody Mary full of vodka, blessed are you among cocktails.
Pray for me now and at the hour of my death, which I hope is soon. Amen.”
-Sterling Archer (World's Deadliest Spy)

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The Best Thing to Order on Air Canada: The Caesar Cocktail

I couldn't mention the Bloody Mary without saying something about the Caesar. Canadians get hangovers too you know... Walter Chell invented this drink at an italian restaurant in Alberta Canada in the late 60s. It is as easy as can be and since I got married in Canada it sits highly on my list of favorite breakfast cocktails. I consider this to be more of a cocktail and the Bloody Mary to be more of a punch. If you ever fly Air Canada they'll make you a great one on board.


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Breakfast Drinks

Aside from tomato based drinks there are a few other drinks I like to mix up for the best meal of the day. I surely am not against a Corpse Reviver or a Sidecar in the morning if the day calls for it but to stay traditional I like one and one combos with citrus juice.

The Garibaldi cocktail is an oldie that barman Naren Young at New Yorks’ Dante in Greenwich Village (81 Macdougal St, New York, NY 10012) has brought back around with “fluffy” orange juice. In order to “fluff” the juice he makes the mixed drink to order and juices with a Breville juicer. I personally don’t have a Breville but I have had the same result by juicing like I normally would and then hitting it with an immersion blender for about 30 seconds. With Campari the sweetness and bitterness of both ingredients sing together.


If Campari for breakfast is not your thing try the same technique with Vodka or Gin to get a Screwdriver or a Gin & Juice.


If orange juice isn't your thing try my favorite the Greyhound or Salty Dog. There is a tiny debate on what goes in what in regards to spirit. I was always under the impression that a Greyhound was a vodka and grapefruit juice while a Salty Dog was gin and grapefruit with a salted rim. I think they can go either way these days. I fluff up my grapefruit juice too.


“I exercise strong self control. I never drink anything stronger than gin before breakfast.”
-W. C. Fields

What's for lunch?

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Texas Ranch Water

I am a Texan. Born and raised. All through college at Texas Tech University (if we weren't drinking booze) there was usually a cold Topo Chico in the hand of someone. You can’t really find them anymore but they used to have lime and grapefruit flavored ones and they really hit the spot. On hot evenings we would drink them with Crystal Palace (never again) gin and lots of lime.

People are still drinking Topo but they have started watering down their margaritas with it and I think this is a smashing idea. Here is how I make mine:


Yeehaw!

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The Clover Club for a Philadelphia Gentleman

I have always had an affinity for pinkish/red drinks. When I started drinking real cocktails I remember the glances I got for sitting in front of a negroni. To the layperson...yeah it looks like I am drinking a glass of snow cone syrup but that couldn't be farther from the truth. Speaking of someone should make a negroni slushy... The Clover Club dates back before prohibition to the dark wooden bar of a Gentleman's Club (no girls allowed) by that very name in Philadelphia. It is a funny drink for the time but if you happened to be a rich, cigar smoking, landowning guy in the prime of your life around 1910-- pink was the new not having tuberculosis.

There is a small debate on the addition of dry vermouth...I am for it. I also think this drink really comes down to the raspberry syrup you use and what side of the fence you are on with egg white handling.


Here is a super weird Japanese song about this drink. I recomend captions.

Cheers!

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The Pegu Club

This drink dates way back to 1920 and hails from a private British officers club of that name that was located in city of Rangoon (now Yangon) in Burma (now Myanmar). The club was for men only and about 40 years after its erection introduced the Pegu Cocktail named after the Pegu River.


Cheers!

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Ti' Time

I have talked about punch earlier and left you with the little caribbean ditty: “One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, and four of weak. Add some spice to make it nice!” This is all well and good for making punch and I have relied on it many times. We are talking about a different punch today though. We are talking about the little punch or petite punch that has been shortened to the ti’ punch thanks to the french creole slang on the island of Martinique.

I would give you an exact recipe if I could but this drink doesn't work that way. I make mine the way that Ed Hamilton showed me how to one blurry evening in Chicago.


These are a total doozy. You've been warned.

Cheers!

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The Hemingway Special Daiquiri

I will get to the low sugar (and lowish rum) Hemingway Daiquiri as the books do but it is doubtful that Hemingway would have drank or even enjoyed one of these. Hemingway hated anything sweet and loved his rum even more. The drink he slurped the majority of his time at the Floridita in Havana was lovingly called the Papa Doble by the locals or the Double Frozen Daiquiri by him.

Drinking a sugarless heavy handed frozen rum drink sounds great on paper, like Hemingway did, but in person it just doesn't have the same zing. To trust the taste buds from the tongue of Hemingway would be like asking a jockey to pilot a commercial flight. The bartenders in Havana tweaked the drink overtime to be pleasant to all rum lovers (save Ernest) and here is how I make it:


Cheers!

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My Cocktails

I am always weary of writing down my own cocktails because I don’t think they will really be a big deal in the future. The modern classics and creations of today are sometimes great strokes of genius for the time being but are too specific to carry on into the next decade. They are usually too specific and too complicated.

The nearly impossible to create three ingredient cocktail should always be the goal. Take the martini for example. That cocktail has been able to survive the test of time due to its ability to fluctuate in taste. The trend currently is to take a martini half and half because the bartenders of today have woken up to vermouth and treat it respectfully. In the past we would drink them bone dry because the vermouth was garbage or just because that is the way it was. Look at how dress suits change over time or how longhair comes and goes in fashion for both men and women. Drinking comes in phases and at the end of the day the goal should be to drink well no matter what is in vogue.

The phase we are currently in for drinking cocktails puts us in the mix of Tiki, super heavy stirred brown drinks, and tall sours made with imported white spirits like pisco or cachaca. Like all trends this soon shall pass.

So my point is we are making all of these drinks for this exact moment. Most of them are to fill a spot on a cocktail list. I couldn’t tell you how many meetings I have been in trying to figure out what to fill in for the third position on a cocktail list. “We already have a brown and stirred on the rocks” “We did rum shaken last menu” “What about a warm drink?” “Maybe we should bring back a port/sherry/pastis drink?”. A lot of work goes into these menus but the drinks themselves are fleeting in flavor and the terrible names surely won’t last either. But…would the martini or Manhattan be around today if someone had not scribbled their recipe on the back of a bev nap. Actually the martini probably predates the disposable napkins we use today. I guess there wasn’t a big need for someone’s phone number as the martini predates the common telephone as well.

So here are a few of my drinks that I hope someone one day tries one out. I have had to squeeze out countless drinks to fix or balance menus but these are the winners from over the years. The ones that people came back and asked for after a new menu had come out. You will see that my strengths lie in stirred cocktails and shaken sours.

Last update: Fri Jul 7 12:28:34 CDT 2017


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B-Side

This drink is a simple variation of a Boulevardier. The other side of the record. I simply exchanged rye for bourbon, sweet vermouth for a bitter vermouth and Campari for Aperol. First seen at 327 Braun Court.


Enjoy!

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Two Weeks Notice

This was my first cocktail on a list at the Whistler…after I left The Berkshire Room. In the style of my cocktail mentor and friend Benjamin Schiller-- boozy and brown..


Enjoy!

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Workers on the Tracks

This cocktail is my favorite of the ones I have ever created. Gary “Gaz” Regan even named it one of the best cocktails of 2016. I appreciate Billy Helmkemp’s (The Whistler) persistence for pushing me to submit it for review. If you have ever lived in Chicago and relied on the CTA for transportation you have surely heard “BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! Your attention please there are workers on the tracks ahead…”.


Enjoy!

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Daggerboard

This cocktail only came about because I was trying to get rid of an abundance of Escorial that had been ordered before I took over ordering at the Whistler. Escorial is a high proof (112*) herbal liqueur from Germany. Think Chartreuse with more mouthwash going on. For whatever reason the bar was sitting on a case of this stuff and had been for sometime. It needed to go. Turns out that everyone loved this drink and before long I had to order more..


Enjoy!

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Diamond Cutter

Yes this is named after Diamond Dallas Page’s signature wrestling move the Diamond Cutter. The other option was “Sweet Gin Music” (Shawn Michaels). Thanks to Matt “Birdman” Fleming (the biggest wrestling buff I know) for making the naming decision for me. This is a large drink. Use a big coupe. It was always big. Too hard to shrink down and heck…the people loved a big gin drink..


Enjoy!

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Divorce Papers

Oh yeah...this drink. The ladies loved it. The guys loved it. The bank loved it. The staff hated it. This drink is messy. It dirties up your entire bar. Measuring Coco Lopez is a pain. It’s slippery and greasy. It is kind of gross but strangely delicious in the right drinks. The red Meletti and the white Coco makes the drink an almost Pepto-Bismol pink that is perfect with an umbrella.


Enjoy!

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Lido Deck

Another weird summer slammer. The patio go-ers at the whistler loved these kind of drinks. Slightly funky, full of booze, and salty. Margarita knockoff..


Enjoy!

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Thank You

Thank you for reading all of this. You now know all of my secrets.

I would like to thank Eric Farrell and The Bar at 327 Braun Court, Austin Henley, Benjamin Schiller, Christian Hetter, Julieta Campos, Scotty Lobianco, The Berkshire Room, Johnny Costello, Mo Frechette, Mark Lucas, Steve Carrow, Zack Zavisa and the Ravens Club, Roben Shulz, Giancarlo Aversa and The Last Word bar, Stephen De Sena, Mike Grondin, Aeneas Coffey, Newcombe Clark, Donald Dunbar, Billy Helmkamp, Robert Brenner, Eric Henry and The Whistler. Also my parents Mark and Trish Andrews and my parents in law Bruce and Julie Dunbar. And my beautiful Caroline who without I would have no inspiration at all.

Note: I will surely keep adding to this list of thanks as my bar career continues and of course I will keep adding cocktails. Thanks again for reading. I hope you make all of the drinks.

Your bartender,

Luke Andrews

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