The New Orleans Bourbon Festival blew me away. And, having a crew of 50 or more Bourbon Women made it like a reunion. I can't wait until next year. While traipsing around the French Quarter we would up in one of the oldest bars in the area, the Absinthe House. It had a delectable list of absinthes, and if my check liver light hadn't already been on, I would have stayed the entire afternoon. My Mom was with me on her first trip to New Orleans. She ordered an Absinthe Frappe, a light, airy, minty absinthe drink. It was fun and refreshing, completely unexpected.
So, when we got back to Kentucky, I decided to see if I could recreate it. It is so simple and easy, and it is a perfect refreshing summer drink. But I'll be honest, I won't just drink this in summer. This was one of the simplest recipes I came across for it. The crushed or pebble ice is crucial to getting the right light licorice taste.
1 oz absinthe
1/2 oz simple syrup
seltzer water to top
Take a few leaves of mint and rub the inside of the rocks glass thoroughly. Discard the mint leaves. Fill with crushed ice, the absinthe and the simple syrup. Swirl a few times with the barspoon and top with a little seltzer water. Take fresh mint sprig, spank it and tuck it in the cocktail right next to the straw. Enjoy!
What's cooler than a great cocktail? A cocktail that changes as you drink it! We cook with heat, but we make cocktails with ice. Ice melts, and if you use flavorings in your ice you create a cocktail that evolves as it sits and the ice melts.
In the previous post I mentioned that Peggy Noe Stevens, bourbon goddess, first female master taster and founder of the Bourbon Women invited Bourbon Women to her house for an evening of Noe Boundaries focused on bourbon, entertaining and women in the field. I created two cocktails for the evening, the first a summer crowd-pleaser for bourbon and non-bourbon drinkers alike (the Berry Fine).
For this drink, I wanted to keep to a classic, but make something that could be easily assembled for a large number of guests, in keeping with the entertaining theme. Sazeracs, an old and classic drink, fit the bill, and by creating an ice cube with everything except the whiskey, you can place once in a glass, add your rye and be on the way to an amazing cocktail.
A traditional sazerac has a bit of absinthe (usually in the form of a rinsed glass), rye whiskey, sugar and Peychaud's bitters. For this recipe, I put the bitters and the simple syrup into the ice cube with a garnish of an anise seed. I call this one Darwin's Sazerac since it becomes more sweet and bitter as the ice cube melts into the rye whiskey.
Sazerac Ice Cubes
To make 12 in a cupcake tin
6 oz simple syrup
36 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
12 oz water
Combine ingredients in a measuring cup, stir well, and pour a little more than 1.5 ounces in each cupcake bowl. If you choose to put a garnish in with it, lemon peel and star anise are both great for Sazeracs. Freeze at least 24 hours. To remove from the tin, place the tin in a shallow dish of warm (not hot) water and check every 20 to 30 seconds to see if they are loose enough to remove. Store in the freezer until needed.
1 Sazerac Ice Cube
2 oz chilled Michter’s rye
Spritz of absinthe
Spritz a rocks glass with a couple sprays of absinthe in an atomizer. Drop in one Sazerac ice cube. Add 2 ounces of chilled Michter’s rye. Garnish with a lemon twist. Let the ice melt slowly and enjoy the evolution. (Chilling the rye helps extend the amount of time the cocktail evolves.)
And finally, at the end, when it's melted, it's pure joy!
Peggy Noe Stevens, the first female master taster in the bourbon industry and founder of the Bourbon Women, put together a special dinner for the Bourbon Women Siposium and asked yours truly to create a couple of cocktails for the gathering.
The theme of the gathering was "Noe Boundaries" and Peggy wanted to highlight bourbon and entertaining. Bourbon women love to entertain and share their love of the whiskey spirits, so I wanted to create two different cocktails. One that would be approachable for non-bourbon drinkers and one that whiskey lovers would enjoy.
For the first one, I wanted to create a cocktail that wasn't too difficult to put together, but one that was beautiful when served. I love the summer flavor of blackberries and wanted to pair that with the aromatics of basil, which is getting to the end of its growing season right now.
I put together a blackberry basil simple syrup, added some lovely Michter's bourbon (the sponsor of the dinner and one of my favorite distilleries ever), a little lemonade and topped it off with peach and black walnut bitters. Since we're doing this for a party, I've put together the cocktail recipe as a batch for 8 servings. This is not a strong drink, and isn't bourbon-forward, but it's an easy sipper and low enough in alcohol to be a session cocktail.
Berry Fine (Batched for 8)
1.5 cups of Michter’s bourbon
½ cup of blackberry simple syrup (add basil for aromatics)
16 dashes black walnut bitters (2 tsp)
24 dashes peach bitters (3 tsp)
½ to ¾ cup water
32 oz lemonade
Combine ingredients in a large pitcher, punch bowl or urn (at least 1.75 quarts or 54 ounces). Float large decorative ice cubes to keep it chilled and serve over ice. Garnish with fresh basil and fresh or frozen blackberries.
I'll talk about the second cocktail in the next post!
Blackberry-Basil Simple Syrup
1.5 cup sugar
3 cups frozen blackberries
2 sprigs of basil
1/4 cup water
Combine ingredients in a saucepan and cook until the blackberries until thawed, soft and very juicy. Simmer once it starts to boil for 10 minutes. Add the basil leaves and let the syrup cool for 20 minutes. Strain the blackberries out, pressing on them to get as much juice out of them as possible. Let cool and store in a bottle in the fridge for one to two weeks. If you add a bit of vodka to it you'll extend the shelf life considerably.
***** Save the strained out blackberries! Use them to top vanilla ice cream and it'll taste like you're eating blackberry cobbler! *****
Who wants to win a cocktail competition? You do! Coming up with a winning cocktail for an amateur contest, especially the Bourbon Women’s annual Not Your Pink Drink contest, isn’t hard work. It just takes a little experimentation to get something you love. And the best part :you get to taste test your cocktail! Since I’m assisting judging this year and not competing, I wanted to put together a how-to list for you to design your own cocktail and win the contest.
Did I mention you get to drink all your test cocktails as part of the process? Seriously, the best part!
I’ve put together some tips to help you create your own winning cocktails for the contest and will be sharing a few each week until the submission deadline on July 27th. Here are the first two:
Play with Classic Cocktail Recipes
There’s a reason we love bourbon so much. Not only is it magnificent by itself, it’s stellar in cocktails. Throughout it’s history whiskey (specifically bourbon) has been used as a base for iconic cocktails in the US and internationally.
Think of the Manhattan, a classic cocktail of whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters. Or the old fashioned, a combination of whiskey, bitters and sugar. Or the mint julep, highball, sazerac, sour, smash, toddy, or brown derby. There are a LOT of classic whiskey cocktails out there.
This first tip is simple. Start with a classic cocktail recipe and tweak it. For example, the French Quarter Manhattan that won the contest in 2015 was built on a classic Manhattan structure. A Manhattan combines 2 ounces of whiskey with 1 ounce of sweet vermouth and some bitters. For the French Quarter Manhattan, you would swap out the vermouth for pecan liqueur and use chocolate bitters. That’s it. Voila, new cocktail.
Or you can take something like the old fashioned and riff off that classic. Generally, an old fashioned has a couple of ounces of whiskey, some bitters and quarter to half ounce of simple syrup. You can reduce the amount of whiskey and replace it with a different liqueur or spirit, add in flavored simple syrups instead of a white sugar or demerara syrup, or change out the bitters. I've made blackberry old fashioneds, chocolate old fashioneds, pecan pie old fashioneds, and s’mores old fashioneds. In putting together the cocktails, I just swapped out some of the ingredients in a basic old fashioned cocktail and designed a new one.
The possibilities are as endless as the spirits selection at an amazing liquor store.
Make Bourbon the Star
In building a winning cocktail for the Bourbon Women you must remember that Bourbon Women want to taste their bourbon. We enjoy cocktails, but we don’t want some frilly, pink, foo-foo drink. We want to taste the bourbon in our cocktails. We’re proud to be Bourbon Women who can nose and taste whiskies for days (especially at our Bourbon Women Siposium every August). So don’t hide the bourbon, and don’t overwhelm it with other flavors.
Make the bourbon stand out in your cocktail.
To that end, make sure you choose a proof of bourbon that keeps the bourbon detectable in the cocktail. If you keep a low proof bourbon as the base of the cocktail and use other strong flavors, you might lose the strength of the bourbon in the taste of the drink. Many mixologists prefer to use 100 proof or higher bourbon in their cocktails, to make sure the spirit stands forward in taste. The cocktail doesn’t have to be hot or high in proof, but you want to be able to savor the bourbon in the cocktail. You can choose ingredients that work with the bourbon, and bitters and garnishes that accentuate bourbon
I hope these first two tips have helped you start your mixology journey toward the Not Your Pink Drink contest. I’ll be sharing more in a bit to give you some more ideas for your cocktails. In the meantime, happy mixing!
Today I discovered that the official drink of Thurby is the old fashioned. How appropriate, since Thurby is billed as Louisville's Day at the Races and the old fashioned is the official drink of the city of Louisville.
(As an aside I should note for those of you not in the know that Thurby has become the designated day for Louisvillians and those native to the area to go to the track. Oaks Day, the day before the Kentucky Derby, used to be the day we would all head to Churchill Downs, but that's become just as busy and overrun with out-of-towners as Derby, so we moved our day back by one and gave the day a funny name. Holiday invented. I suppose now we all have to take Thursday off as well as Friday and Saturday.)
And I have this lovely jar of violet blackberry simple syrup that's just begging to be used. So let's mix up a blackberry old fashioned (AKA the Purple Thurby). As a nod to my being raised on the Indiana side of things, I've added in a little of Huber's Starlight Blackberry Whiskey.
1 1/2 oz bourbon
1/2 oz blackberry simple syrup
1/2 oz Huber's Starlight Blackberry Flavored Whiskey
3 dashes Fee Brothers walnut bitters
Garnish: Fresh basil and blackberries
Add the bourbon, blackberry simple, blackberry whiskey and bitters to a mixing glass. Add ice and stir until well chilled. Strain into a rocks glass with a large ice cube and garnish with fresh basil and blackberries.
Blackberry Simple Syrup
2 cups blackberries, fresh or frozen
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
Add ingredients to a saucepan and on medium-high until the sugar has dissolved and the it starts to simmer. Simmer for about 5 minutes, then turn the heat down for about 10 minutes. Turn the heat off, let it cool completely and double strain into a container. Keep refrigerated. Use within a few weeks. If you add a little vodka, it will keep much longer.
So good! This was voted the best drink ever at the 2017 informal Wibbels Derby gathering. I think the best part was 1) using a kitchen torch to make individual toasted marshmallows to use to garnish each drink. 2) Eating the toasted marshmallows once you finished the drink! The only bad part was my husband kept sneaking into the kitchen to the eat the extras I'd toasted.
1 1/2 oz Kentucky bourbon 90-100 proof
1/2 oz Ballotin chocolate whiskey
3/4 oz Toasted marshmallow syrup (see below)
3 dashes Fee Brothers chocolate bitters
Mint for garnish
Toasted Marshmallow for garnish
Put the first four ingredients into the mixing glass and add ice. Stir until combined and strain into a julep cup filled with fresh crushed ice. Take a sprig of mint, spank it across the back of your hand and put in in the drink right next to the straw. Impale the marshmallow on a cocktail straw and put it next to the drinking straw. Try not to eat the marshmallow right away.
Toasted Marshmallow Simple Syrup
1 cup water
1 cup white sugar
10-12 large marshmallows (Must be toasted - use the stove or a kitchen torch. Or a fire if you have one)
1 tsp vanilla
Heat the water and sugar on the stove until it is dissolved and starts to simmer. Add the toasted marshmallows and let them dissolve. Simmer for 3 minutes. Watch it carefully because it WILL boil over. Take it off the stove and let it cool completely. Add the vanilla extract. If you want to know how good it's going to taste, you can taste-test it. But it will be hard to stop. Strain the mixture through a fine metal sieve or cheesecloth and keep in the fridge. Add a bit of vodka to make it last 4-6 weeks.
It's Derby week, y'all. Finally, one week out of the year where juleps can be enjoyed and celebrated! Juleps get a lot of hate, and at the track, they aren't particularly tasty, but when you think about it, a mint julep is a riff on on old fashioned.
Think about it: a classic old fashioned is about 2 ounces of bourbon or rye and small amount of sweetener, say 1/4 to 1/2 ounce. This is very similar in proportion to the mint julep. They traditionally start with two ounces of bourbon and add in about 1/2 ounce of simple syrup, getting some of the mint flavor by muddling the mint leaves in the bottom of the glass. But an old fashioned thrives on its bitters, and I wanted to do the same here.
Ballotin Whiskey makes a chocolate mint variety and it tastes just like you're eating a thin mint. So why not put it in a julep, and feel like you're sneaking a girl scout cookie while at the track or enjoying a Derby party?
Thin Mint Julep
1.5 oz Old Forester bourbon
1.5 oz Ballotin Chocolate Mint
15 drops Scrappy's chocolate bitters
Garnish: Sprig of fresh mint.
Combine all ingredients except the garnish in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir until well chilled. Strain and pour into a julep cup filled with crushed or cracked ice. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint that you've spanked across the other wrist. Spanking the mint wakes up the mint, lightly bruising some of the leaves, making them more aromatic. Next, put the straw into the drink right at the mint so that your nose dips into the mint every time you take a sip. Try to drink slowly.
The Bourbon Women and Bourbon Brotherhood invited me to put together a presentation “A Cocktail for All Palates” for their She Sips He Sips blind tasting event. Of course, what better cocktail to use than the old fashioned! It’s a simple cocktail with three components, spirits, sugar and bitters, but hundreds (if not thousands) of variations are possible. I came up with three cocktails, one traditional, but bold, another sweet and a third nutty.
For the Bold Old (above), I kept close to a traditional old fashioned recipe, but I wanted to add a few things to it to make it a little more aggressive. I started with a high proof spirit, and at 110 proof, Pikesville Rye definitely fits the bill. It’s a well-rounded, complex rye, and one with a great mouth-feel.
I wanted to build the cocktail around it but make it a little more upfront. Specifically, I wanted to use hot or spicy bitters. I found the perfect match in Hella Bitters Smoked Chili bitters. As soon as I taste-tested these bitters, I knew they were going to be a perfect match for the Pikesville Rye whiskey. Instead of competing with the complexity and flavors in the rye, they build on it. The smoke adds a little more of the barrel into the cocktail. It’s a smoke that reminds me of how it smells on the cooperage floor near the barrel-charring stations. It’s got smoke, but not an overwhelming amount.
In addition to the smoke, the bitters also bring some heat to the cocktail. In the way that cayenne is used in Mexican hot chocolate, the bitters increase the heat on the mouthfeel and extend the finish without adding a lot of flavor other than smoke to the cocktail, leaving the whiskey as the star.
For the sugar, I used a demerara syrup with a 1:1 ratio of water to demerara or turbinado/raw sugar. I wanted a sweetness that had a little caramel in its flavor, but not one that would overwhelm the drink as a whole. Demarara fit the bill.
To finish the drink we’ll look to a freshly charred cinnamon stick. The heat activates the cinnamon oils in the stick and the char on the stick accentuates the smoke in the bitters, tying the drink together.
The Bold Old
2 oz Pikesville Rye
½ oz demerara syrup
3-4 dashes Hella Bitters Smoked Chili Bitters
Garnish: Charred cinnamon stick
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir and strain into a rocks glass with ice. Garnish with a charred cinnamon stick.
For the second old fashioned, I wanted a cocktail that had nutty flavors that would match well with a bourbon. I started with Larceny bourbon, a much lower proof than Pikesville, but one that would blend well with the nutty flavors I was thinking of. For the syrup, we’re adding a home-made pecan syrup that is amazing on pancakes and waffles when not being used in a cocktail. To increase the nutty flavors, I’ve added a little Rivulet Pecan Liqueur, one of my favorite nut liqueurs.
For the bitters, to match the nutty theme, I wanted to add Fee Brothers Black Walnut bitters. The bitters bring a lovely punch to the drink, but do tend to make it a little dark. To brighten up the cocktail I added just a little of Barkeep Apple Bitters. Just a dash helped bring the cocktail back into balance.
1 ½ oz Larceny
½ oz Rivulet pecan liqueur
½ oz pecan syrup*
2 dashes Fee Brothers Black Walnut bitters
1 dash Barkeep Organic Apple bitters
Garnish: Toasted Pecan
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir and strain into a rocks glass with ice. Garnish with a toasted pecan or three.
*Pecan Syrup: Heat 1 cup water, add 1 cup sugar and 1 cup chopped toasted pecans. Steep for 30 min to an hour. Run through a blender, then strain through a metal sieve and coffee filter/cheesecloth.
For the third old fashioned (above) I wanted to step away from the higher proof, aggressive Bold Old and the nutty flavor of the Nutter OF to a cocktail that was sweet and easy to drink. We started with Elijah Craig Small Batch and matched it with Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur. The Domaine de Canton is sweet but has that little burn of the ginger to it, matching well with the Elijah Craig.
We have the bourbon and some ginger liqueur, but I wanted a sugar in the drink that would fit well with both of those. The answer was a honey syrup. Made with a 1:1 ratio, the syrup is a perfect complement of the flavors that taste so good in honeyed ginger tea or a hot toddy made with a slice of ginger. For the bitters, I wanted to emphasize the ginger bitters, and decided to go with Hella Bitters Ginger Bitters. They have a great ginger burn and stand out against the sweetness of the honey syrup. For the garnish, what could be better than a little piece of candied ginger? And when you’re finished with the drink, you get a little bourbon-soaked piece of ginger to nibble on.
And the name, well, who’s the most famous ginger I know?
1 ½ oz Elijah Craig Small Batch
½ oz Domaine de Canton Ginger liqueur
½ oz honey syrup
3-4 dashes Hella Bitters Ginger Bitters
Garnish: slice of candied ginger
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir and strain into a rocks glass with ice. Garnish with a small slice of candied ginger.
Blood Oranges appear this time of year, and before I fell in love with creating cocktails, I never knew what to do with them. Now, the possibilities seem endless. The deep red color of their juice is sweet, although some look almost black when you cut them up.
I tried several versions of this, but until I started to add lemon juice back into the cocktail, it didn’t have that classic sweet-sour balance that a good whiskey sour has. To dress it up, you can add different bitters to it, but keep them light and sweet, not anything too earthy or deep.
To get that lovely foam and soft mouth feel, the egg white is a must. If you worried about using raw egg-white, you can use pasteurized eggs that come in a carton. Some people are sticklers for raw egg white, but there are times I’ll choose the easy option over something a little more complicated. Using the egg white changes the flavors, mutes them a bit, makes them meld together, and makes the drink taste completely different.
I do advocate, however, always making sours with fresh juice. Actually, if it’s possible, make all cocktails with fresh juice. I do suggesting you strain the juice before putting it in the cocktail shaker, even if you are using an egg white.
Bloody Orange Sour
1 oz Blood Orange juice
1/2 oz lemon juice
2 oz bourbon
1 oz simple
2 dashes orange bitters
3/4 oz egg white
Garnish: Orange wheel
Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Seal the shaker and shaker for about 30 – 45 seconds to froth up the egg white. Crack the seal, add ice and shake again for 15-20 seconds. Double strain to a chilled coupe glass express an orange peel over the foam. Garnish with an orange wheel.
It’s a Friday, I have a new bottle of PAMA liqueur and I felt like experimenting. I wanted something light, with a little whiskey in it and not too sweet. I came up with a cocktail that’s a combination of bourbon, PAMA and champagne with a little dash of black walnut bitters to add a nutty note.
If you prefer a sweeter champagne cocktail, use a champagne or sparkling wine that’s sweeter. The PAMA, a pomegranate liqueur, isn’t overly sweet. It has a slight sour taste to it, like fresh pomegranate juice.
So you have The Pilfer, when you need to sneak a little out of the bottles without being noticed:
1/2 oz Larceny bourbon
1/2 oz Pama liqueur
1 dash Black walnut bitters
Amarena cocktail cherry
Add the bourbon, PAMA and bitters to a mixing glass with ice and stir briefly. Straing into a champagne glass and top with champagne or your choice of sparkling wine. Garnish with a sweet cocktail cherry and watch the bubbles rise from the cherry to the top of the glass.
Cheers to Fri-yay!
Heather Wibbels is a cocktail enthusiast who spends her time thinking about cocktails, researching cocktails and making cocktails. Mostly whiskey cocktails, given her Kentucky location.