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.
Amanda and I have had a cold all week, complete with a runny nose, sore throat, and cough. We got sick of NyQuil’s taste, but still wanted something to soothe our throats and knock us out before bed. Hot Toddys were just the thing we wanted in this cold weather.
I use whatever whiskey I have on hand. This week we used up a bunch of different types of bourbon and rye that just had a few ounces left in each bottle. You can probably use brandy or rum if you have some you are itching to use up. Hot Toddys are a great way to clean out your liquor cabinet.
2 oz Whiskey
3/4 oz Honey (we get our honey locally, which helps us deal with local allergens)
3/4 oz Lemon Juice
1/2 oz Allspice Dram
6 oz Boiling Water
Stir whiskey, honey, lemon juice, and allspice dram in a mug and top with boiling water. Garnish with a lemon peel. You can forgo the allspice dram if you don’t have any on hand. Cinnamon sticks make a nice substitute.
Today’s tipple is a simple 1:1 combination. I hesitate to even call it a cocktail. But it is delicious and a wonderful complement to your holiday cheer.
Making the drink is simple: Pour equal parts Benedictine and Brandy into a snifter. Done!
Tasting notes: Warming, herbal, and sweet, with notes of honey, rosemary, nutmeg, sage, anise, and orange peel.
Most liquor stores carry a pre-mixed version of this called B&B, but you should skip out on that and mix it yourself. This lets you pick your brandy of choice, which you can also enjoy on its own or in another wonderful holiday cocktail, the Brandy Alexander. And you’ll have leftover Benedictine to make Vieux Carres.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Integrating the vanilla overtones of the oak with the fruit flavors of the brandy.
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!
If your holiday festivities include alcohol, consider putting a lighter drink in the rotation to refresh your palate from all the heavy bourbon, egg nog, and dark rum drinks.
I suggest a variation on the Sidecar made with Calvados, a French apple brandy made up in Normandy with the same care as their southern neighbors make cognac. The sweet calvados and Cointreau mixed with the tart citrus bite of the lemon juice make the Calvados Sidecar a lively cocktail that will lighten your holiday spirits.
Head over to the best liquor store in your area and find a decent bottle of Calvados and pick up a few lemons and oranges at the grocery store. I’m sure you still have a bottle of Cointreau on your shelf left over from this summer.
Calvados is also a good sipper. Treat it like brandy and serve it in a snifter.
If sweet vermouth is your thing, stir equal parts calvados and sweet vermouth with ice and strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon peel. That is called a Bentley. (Optionally add 2 dashes of bitters, I prefer orange.)
Calvados Sidecar Recipe
1 oz Calvados
1 oz Cointreau
1 oz fresh lemon juice
Add all ingredients into a shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a coupe and garnish with an orange peel.
Chuck’s note: This is a guest post from my friend Tyler Machovina. We have very similar tastes and he recommended this drink to me. The only drink-related thing we disagree on is whether the Negroni or Boulevardier is superior.
To continue on theme of potable bitters for hot summer days I present the Paper Plane: A deliciously dry pre-dinner aperitivo for when it is too hot to contemplate eating. Have one and it will probably have cooled off a bit. Still a bit balmy? Have another, or two. Who needs dinner anyway when there is Campari to be enjoyed?
I had some trouble tracking down a solid history for this drink but it seems it was invented by Sammy J Ross of Milk & Honey and originally calls for Buffalo Trace bourbon. Well, I had already spent $50 on Amaro Nonino on this trip so I decided on the still delicious and sweet Old Grand Dad. Don’t feel bad about buying cheap bourbon! Though Chuck may disagree with the State setting standards, anything labeled as bourbon in the US is held to a very high standard so you’ll probably never find anything too terrible for mixing. Of course, it all depends on the drink—I might not use OGD for an Old Fashioned, but a shaken cocktail with strong flavors like Campari, Nonino, and lemon juice I think the Grand Dad will work just fine.
As a shaken cocktail I recommend making the Paper Plane with a boston shaker and a Hawthorne strainer as those shakers with a built in strainer just make a mess and are a pain to clean. I would also advise double straining to keep the tiny ice shards out of the final drink – this gives a cleaner presentation and a smoother mouth feel.
Add equal parts (3/4 oz for one drink) of lemon juice, Amaro Nonino, Campari, and bourbon into a shaker filled with ice and shake vigorously for about twenty seconds. Double strain into a chilled coupe glass (or small wine glass). No garnish needed.
It’s possible the original recipe called for Aperol rather than Campari. The history of cocktails can be a bit… hazy. The Aperol variation is a bit sweeter and has a beautiful bright salmon color but lacks the refreshing grapefruit dryness that the Campari brings.
Can’t find Amaro Nonino? This recipe appears to be often misprinted with Ramazzotti rather than Nonino and apparently still yields tasty results.
Let’s get right to business: Equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth. Make it even better with orange bitters and an orange peel. If the bitterness of the classic Negroni isn’t your thing, use Lillet Blanc instead of Campari to make a French Negroni.
Regular readers know how much I love the classic Negroni. That wonderfully bitter flavor profile from the Campari isn’t for everyone, though. If you prefer something sweeter that still has a lot of complexity, the French Negroni might be the drink for you.
The French Negroni subs Lillet for the Campari in the original recipe. This adds a sweeter floral flavor to the drink.
I learned about the French Negroni from the Speaking Easy Podcast (which you should definitely listen to):
Here is a drink for your next bonfire or fall outing.
Not only does apple cider make this drink festive, but it includes Campari (which if you are a regular reader, you know I love), spicy rye, and a good vermouth. It also scales well. You can easily make a large batch for your next party.
Credit for this recipe goes to Serious Eats. I merely scaled it for one, made it, and took photos of it.
Heat all of the liquid ingredients in a small saucepan just to a simmer, then immediately remove from heat and stir. Pour into a small cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon peel. Serve with a slice of apple pie.