Tipple Tuesday: Dirty Negroni

It is Negroni week!

I’m not obsessing over it here because I’ve covered them before (aged negronis, boulevardiers, French negronis and other variations), but I’m certainly drinking a few this week.

Here is an uncommon one that I really enjoy: A Dirty Negroni. It doesn’t contain any dry gin, vermouth, or Campari. But it tastes like it does.

Instead, we use 2oz of Cynar, that delightful artichoke-based amaro, with 1oz of Old Tom-style gin. It sounds funky, but it works. The traditional sweetness from the red vermouth now comes from both the Old Tom gin and the Cynar. The bitterness comes from the Cynar, and the botanical bite of the gin now comes from both the Old Tom and the Cynar.

Bonus: It is even easier to mix than a regular negroni. Build it in a rocks glass with ice and stir it briefly with your finger. Everything about this drink is dirty.

Negroni Week is Coming. Age Your Negronis Now.

Negroni Week (June 4-10) starts in five days.

I remembered this morning and mixed up 500ml of my favorite equal parts cocktail in a glass flask and dropped in a charred oak stick.

To prepare for the celebration next week, check out some of my other Negroni-related posts:

Review of The One-Bottle Cocktail by Maggie Hoffman

I picked up The One-Bottle Cocktail by Maggie Hoffman when it came out at the beginning of March. Each cocktail recipe in the book only contains a single spirit, so you only need one bottle to make a cocktail. I loved it so much that I sent a copy to my friends Tyler Machovina and Erin Carlson, who garden and make cocktails as much as we do. (They had significant input on this post!)

This book is great for home cocktail makers. How many times do you say, “I have a bottle of gin. What else can I make besides a G&T?” or “What can I do with this tequila besides more margaritas?”

I love cocktails. I write about them a lot here. The reason I love this book is that it taught me a new way of looking at them: Focus on the non-alcoholic ingredients primarily for the flavor (fresh juices, spices, herbs, fruit, and teas) instead of liquors. I’ve learned a ton from this book about which flavors work together, how certain flavors interact with certain liquors, and how much the flavor of certain herbs and fruits can vary from plant to plant and piece to piece.

The other thing I love about this book is that it has bonus drinks at the end of each section, noting where you can substitute the same liquor from that section into other drinks in the book.

So far, our favorite cocktails are The Gincident, Barkeep’s Breakfast, and Midnight in the Garden.

The Gincident

It isn’t quite blueberry season here, but we had some wild blueberries in the freezer and we have fresh basil and rosemary growing in pots on our windowsills. The botanicals in the gin, fresh basil, and fresh rosemary give it a deep forest flavor, and the blueberry syrup balances out the tart lemon juice. This cocktail is fantastic. Amanda requested that we make this a new house regular.


Barkeep’s Breakfast

I love Earl Grey, so this stood out to me immediately. I went a little off-recipe, though. Instead of using Rye, I used barrel-aged gin as the base spirit. I had a bottle from a Hudson Valley Distillers (http://www.hudsonvalleydistillers.com/) that I’d been itching to use, and I had a hunch that the botanicals might work well with Earl Grey. I was right. This was a great drink for a cold day.


Midnight in the Garden

I think this drink will be fantastic in the summer when the local strawberries come in. The late-winter grocery store strawberries just weren’t sweet enough to properly balance the balsamic vinegar. My fault for not having the patience to wait until summer to try this. Definitely making this again as soon as we get fresh strawberries.


Erin and Tyler liked Newton’s Law and Rose of all Roses. Here is what they had to say:

Newton’s Law

Even though it’s a little out of season we chose to make the Newton’s law because we had all the ingredients and were so excited to try something out of our new cocktail book. Also, I used the last of the apple butter that Chuck and Amanda gave us for Christmas! Overall, this a tasty drink but was a little bit thin. If I were to make it again I’d probably use maple syrup instead of brown sugar. I think it give it a thicker mouthfeel, so something to keep in mind when the fall rolls around.

Isn’t the pictured dish towel fantastic? Erin makes them. Check her work out on Instagram.


Rose of all Roses

This is a great drink! I used Aviation gin, my favorite for martinis, but I think this drink would be even better with Hendricks. It was pretty cold out when I made these, but I’m looking forward to remembering this drink for afternoon barbecue. (Kiko approves.)

Back to Chuck:

The next cocktails I want to try: Newton’s Law, Sassy Flower, French Canadian, and Spanish Penny. We’re looking forward to drinking our way through the rest of this book. It will really be great this spring and summer when we will have easy access to edible flowers and herbs. If you haven’t picked up a copy yet, you need to.

Mocktails that Don’t Suck

Nolan Morehouse asks:

I want to make some mocktails. Any recipes that you recommend?

My response:


What I dislike about most mocktails is that they tend to be cloyingly sweet. What I tried to do with this list below is find complex mocktails with some bitter elements, herbal notes, and tartness, while staying away from the overly sweet things that people try to pass off as mocktails. The best real cocktails aren’t overly sweet, so the best mocktails shouldn’t be, either.

  1. Vinegar Shrubs – https://cooklikechuck.com/2017/03/blackberry-honey-and-vinegar-shrub/

  2. Pomegranate mulled ‘wine’ – http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2011/03/zero-proof-mulled-pomegranate-wine-mocktails-alcohol-free-winter-cocktails.html

  3. Moscow Mule Mocktail – Add mint! http://themerrythought.com/diy/moscow-mule-mocktail/

  4. French 75 Mocktail – http://www.alwaysorderdessert.com/2014/12/french-75-mocktail-non-alcoholic.html

  5. Non-alcoholic Sangria – https://simpleveganblog.com/non-alcoholic-sangria/

  6. Non-Alcoholic mojito – https://mixthatdrink.com/nojito-cocktail-non-alcoholic/

  7. Shisho Fine – http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2015/05/shiso-fine-nonalcoholic-mocktail-mint-cucumber-shiso-vinegar.html

  8. Fig and Balsamic Soda – http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2014/08/homemade-fig-balsamic-soda-recipe.html

  9. Non-alcoholic Rhubarb Lime Gimlet – http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2013/04/alcohol-free-cocktail-rhubarb-lime-gimlet-variation-mocktail-drink-recipe.html

  10. Orange, Rosewater, and Mint Sparkler – http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2013/01/alcohol-free-cocktail-orange-rosewater-mint-sparkler-mocktail-recipe.html

Nolan did a write up afterward of making a few of these mocktails! Here is Nolan:

I chose two from a list of mocktails Chuck gave me; They were the Moscow Mule and the vinegar shrubs.

First I started with the Moscow Mule. It used lime juice, ginger beer, and sparkling water, and I also bought a copper mug to serve it in. The drink was delicious and very sour, and the ginger made a great pairing with the lime. It was fun to make and GREAT to drink. Here’s how it turned out:
Next, I decided I’d make the shrubs too. I haven’t gotten to taste it yet because it’s still sitting in my fridge to form. It used blackberries, honey, and apple cider vinegar, and a mason jar to hold it. Making it was quick and easy, and I’m very excited to try it. Here’s how it looks so far:
Making them was a lot of fun, and makes me excited to continue making mocktails. Thanks for the list, Chuck!

5 Barrel Aged Cocktail Recipes

One of the gifts I’m giving to a family member this Christmas is a 2L charred American Oak cocktail aging barrel.

Here are 5 cocktail recipe options I scaled up to 2L to go along with the barrel. All of these cocktails age very well. You can’t go wrong with any of them!

One thing to note about these recipes: I only age the liquor in the barrel. I add sugars/sweeteners and bitters directly to the glass before mixing in the aged liquor for two reasons: 1) Sugars don’t really mix in or age well, and they have a shorter shelf life. 2) Bitters don’t scale up linearly like the liquor does.

What’s Aging Next: Vieux Carré

I bottled my barrel aged Manhattans so that I can move on to aging the next thing: Vieux Carré. It is a classic New Orleans cocktail named after the French name for the Old Square (the French Quarter.)

At its core, the Vieux Carré is a Manhattan variation. The addition of cognac makes it slighly sweeter with a deeper caramel and oak flavor. Two different varieties of bitters and the herbal Benedictine cut the sweetness of the cognac and vermouth to give it dimension. If you use a high proof rye, this is a boozy cocktail that you’ll want to sip.

I had a three week aged Vieux Carre at Harper’s in Dobbs Ferry last winter and loved it. The individual components seem to take on aging well, so I think it will be a great follow-up to the Manhattans I did earlier in the year.

Here is the recipe for a single drink:


Here is how I’m scaling it for my barrel and what I’m using:

  • 1 bottle (25.36 oz) of Rittenhouse Rye. This is my favorite rye. It is pretty strong at 100 proof.
  • 1 bottle (25.36 oz) of Carpano Antica sweet vermouth. None better!
  • 1 bottle (25.36 oz) of Darvelle Freres VSOP. This is a mid-range French brandy with lots of caramel and spice aromas. Great for mixing.
  • 3 oz of Benedictine

Just like with the Manhattan, I’m not adding the bitters directly to the barrel. I’ll put them in the mixing glass with the ice and then pour in the liquor from the tap.

I plan on aging this for two months. While I’m patiently waiting for it to age, I’ll probably make another batch of maraschino cherries, with a more syrupy liquid this time so that they are closer to Luxardo cherries. I’ll let you know how it goes!


New Cocktails Section is Live!

I added a new section to Cook Like Chuck: Cocktails!

Now you will find my 27 favorite cocktail recipes with notes on how to make them, the cocktail books I recommend to people most often, and the tools I use to make cocktails here at home.

Check back as often as you’d like. I’m continually adding new cocktails, books, and tools as I come across them. If there is anything you love that I should know about, drop me a line!




Barrel Aging Manhattans

I experimented with aging cocktails in bottles with charred oak staves last fall, but now I’m stepping up my game because my parents got me a charred oak barrel for Christmas.

After filling it with water and topping it off daily for two weeks, the wood swelled enough to prevent leaks and I was ready to start.

I picked Manhattans to start with because 1) This barrel holds 32 cocktails and not everyone likes the taste of Campari and 2) The flavors aren’t as intense as gin and Campari, so it is less likely to impact future spirits in the barrel.

Starting with my Manhattan recipe as a base, I scaled up the rye and vermouth. I opted to add the bitters to the glass before serving because bitters are so strong that they do not scale linearly like other liquors. A small amount goes a long way, so dumping half a bottle of bitters into the barrel might ruin the rest of the contents.

I measured the volume of my barrel and scaled accordingly. I needed 80 oz of rye (I opted for Rittenhouse) and 24 oz of sweet vermouth (I opted for Carpano Antica). I grabbed my trusty stainless steel funnel and went to work.

barrel_aged_manhattans - 1

I put the barrel on a shelf out of direct sunlight and left it there. I jostled it around once every few days to circulate the contents a little bit.

barrel_aged_manhattans - 2

We sampled it after three weeks, but it was clear that it wasn’t ready yet. It still had too much of a bite. I knew it could be better. We went a whole month without trying it again.

Now the Manhattans have been aging in the barrel for ten weeks. They’ve really smoothed out and picked up hints of vanilla, oak, and charcoal. I’m not tasting any oxidation on the vermouth. I’m very pleased with how this batch turned out.

To serve two drinks, I put a large ice cube in my cocktail mixing glass, add 6 dashes of Regan’s orange bitters, fill the glass up from the spigot, and stir to cool the drinks down. I let it sit for a minute as I get an orange peel ready in each coupe, then I pour the now-chilled liquor in each glass.

It is going to take us a while to finish the contents of this barrel. It makes enough for 32 cocktails overall. After another week or so, I’m going to bottle this and start aging something else. I haven’t decided quite what it will be yet, but I’ll definitely let you know.

Aging Homemade Pear Brandy

Back in January my friend Zak Schusterman of Sleepy Hollow Handiwerks gave me a toasted oak stick to use for aging cocktails. He had been over for drinks the week before and he sampled my aged Negroni. Since he does a lot of woodworking, I asked if he could give me some sources for buying untreated American Oak to make more staves of my own. Being the gracious guy that he is, Zak not only found some, he even toasted it for me.

Zak’s toasting notes: Wrap the staves in foil and toast in the oven for 1.5 hrs at 400F, then .5 hrs at 450F.

Zak posted a photo of the oak sticks after coming out of the oven.

I knew immediately what I wanted to use the oak stave for: My Dad passed along some unaged homemade pear brandy made by a friend of his. It was too harsh to drink (almost like Everclear), so it had been sitting in my cabinet for two months. This was just the stuff that aging was made for.

Traditional brandies are aged in oak casks, which serves two goals:

  1. Integrating the vanilla overtones of the oak with the fruit flavors of the brandy.
  2. Allowing the brandy to breathe and expel alcohol, which concentrates the flavors as time passes.

The toasted oak stave will do the job of number 1. Since these are toasted instead of charred, they will impart vanilla instead of smokey flavors that charred stick would into the spirit they are aged with.

To mimic number 2, I read around on home distilling forums and found that the most common way to let a spirit breathe is to put it in a glass bottle with a coffee filter over the top, so I did just that. It has been aging in my bar cabinet for the past two months.

Here are some photos of the aging process, beginning January 26 and ending March 26.

I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome! After just two months, this spirit turn into something that is almost sippable. It is still a little hot, but the flavors have really opened up. I enjoyed the couple of ounces I had. The alcohol has toned down quite a bit and the pear flavors are shining through. The oak definitely imparted some very nice vanilla and caramel notes. I even taste some honey on the end of each sip.

For now, I’d say that it is still a mixing brandy. After a few more months, it will probably be a regular sipper!

Blackberry, Honey, and Vinegar Shrub

Amanda and I were in Ohio over Christmas and we spent one evening visiting our friends Tyler Machovina and Erin Carlson. They had us over for dinner, and upon arriving Erin greeted us with a fantastic selection of vinegar shrubs.

A shrub is a beverage made from fruit, some sort of acid, and a sugar. A vinegar shrub uses vinegar as the acidic component. They were popular in colonial America as a means of preserving fruit without refrigeration. The vinegar breaks down the fruit and the sugar sweetens everything up a bit. The result is a tangy, sweet, complex mixture that is very refreshing when mixed with soda water.

Erin had four different shrubs made with different fruits, herbs, flowers, and spices. I decided after one sip that I had to make some of my own.

blackberry_shrub - 1 (1).jpg
Here we are at Erin and Tyler’s house playing Carcassonne, remnant of a shrub to my right.

When we went home a week later, I got to work. I did some research on shrub components and compared them with my notes from Erin. Then, I picked up some blackberries from the store, made sure I had enough Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar on-hand, and heated up the local honey that had crystalized in my cabinet.

I mixed everything up and put it in the fridge for a few weeks. I tasted it first at the end of January, then sealed it back up for all of February (Whole 30 month), and forgot about it until the middle of March.

When I tasted it a few days ago, the flavors had come together swimmingly: The vinegar mellowed out, the blackberries had totally broken down, and the honey smoothed everything out. Here’s the recipe I used:

Blackberry, Honey, and Vinegar Shrub

  • 1 cup whole blackberries, washed
  • 1 cup Apple Cider Vinegar (I use Bragg’s)
  • 1/2 cup honey, heated up so that it mixes into the vinegar better

Pour everything together into a quart mason jar. Put the lid on and shake it up. Put it in the fridge for at least a month, shaking it again when you remember it is there.

To serve: Mix the shrub 50/50 with club soda or sparkling water. Make sure to filter the shrub through a strainer. Add ice and stir. Garnish with a fresh mint sprig.

If you want to make it boozy, this would mix well with rum: 2oz rum to 1oz shrub.


I’m eager to try variations as soon as the weather gets warm again. Here is what’s on my short list:

  • Trying different sugars: Turbinado, brown sugar, molasses, etc.
  • Different fruits: Peaches, raspberries, apricots, rhubarb, orange peels, cherries, plums, strawberries, limes, and lemons. I’m going to pick things that are in season to maximize flavor.
  • Different vinegars: Balsamic, red wine, and rice vinegars.
  • Herbs and spices: Lavender, mint, juniper, vanilla, ginger, and rose hips.

Michael Dietsch has two different methods for making shrubs over at Serious Eats:

  1. Heating the sugar and fruit on the stove before adding the vinegar.
  2. A two-step cold method

Check out his methods over at Serious Eats. I’ll probably give them both a try, too.

If you want a faster way of breaking down the fruit and infusing the flavors without evaporating out the vinegar, you could try a sous vide infusion. I’ll probably give this a try, too, and report back.