Wednesday, February 12, 2014

10 Three-Ingredient Cocktails Everyone Should Learn to Make for Their Loved One

I admit, this post should be called "10 Three-Ingredient Cocktails Everyone Should Learn." But what is cocktail making for but to bring people together for happy moments. And who better to do that with than that special person in your life to make those non-special moments special.

It's been a long day, your feet are dragging, you open the door to your home and there, standing with a big smile on their face, your loved one is mixing one of your favorite cocktails. Or it's a lazy Sunday, no agenda, you've sat down on the couch to read your favorite magazine and a cocktail gets placed in front of you for no reason at all. Talk about love.

A cocktail made with a bit of TLC can be a simple romantic gesture that can instantaneously change the mood and atmosphere. The sound of a cocktail shaker, the presentation in a glass, the first sip - a wonderful ritual that adds a needed pause to the day, triggering conversation and intimacy.

Here are some simple three-ingredient cocktails (plus garnish) I like to make for my wife, quite simple to prepare with ingredients available at your local liquor store and market.

Some Classics


The Martini is a great cocktail to get to know more about your partner. Almost anyone you ask has their own preference in how it's made - the ratio of gin to vermouth, the garnish, shaken or stirred. Here is a more classic version of the Martini that can be tweaked to the likes of that special person in your life.

For a decadent pairing serve your Martini with some toast and creamy blue cheese.

2 oz. Gin
1 oz. Dry Vermouth
Dash of Orange Bitters

As I've noted before, traditionally Martinis are stirred. This allows it to be chilled without the greater dilution that comes from shaking and provides a crystal-clear presentation, avoiding the cloudiness of air bubbles and chipped ice that can result from shaking. When you stir be sure not to churn the ice but rather "push" it in a clockwise motion as demonstrated below.

Add the gin, vermouth and orange bitters to a mixing glass. Fill with plenty of ice. Stir for 15-20 seconds, strain into a cocktail glass (aka Martini glass) and garnish with a twist of lemon or olive depending on preference.

If you don't have a mixing glass the glass from a French coffee press will work great or it can be stirred in a cocktail shaker or tall, wide glass. Don't have a bar spoon? Try a long bamboo skewer. Works like magic.


For the bourbon or rye lover the Manhattan can't be beat. Simple to make, rich in flavor, aromatic, spicy, slightly sweet - a nice sipping cocktail.

2 oz. Bourbon or Rye
1 oz. Sweet Vermouth
2 Heavy Dashes Angostura Bitters
Lemon Twist

The Manhattan can be built in the glass it's served in but I prefer to use a mixing glass. Combine ingredients in a mixing glass, fill with ice, stir for about 10-15 seconds and strain into a rocks glass with fresh ice. Garnish with a twist of lemon.

Old Fashioned

Made right the Old Fashioned is smooth as silk. It's name derives from the "old fashioned" or original method of making a cocktail - a spirit with sugar, bitters and water (from diluted ice). There, now you have your conversation piece. Here is a version that predates the post-WWII style with muddled fruit.

2 oz. Bourbon or Rye
1/2 oz. Simple Syrup (1 part sugar dissolved entirely into 1 part hot water, chilled)
2 Heavy Dashes Angostura Bitters
Lemon Twist

In a mixing glass combine the bourbon or rye, simple syrup and bitters. Fill with ice and stir for 10-15 seconds. Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass and garnish with a lemon twist.


Sours are a type of cocktail that utilize mainly lemon or lime juice along with a spirit and sweetener. Though they should have a citrusy zing, they should also have a balanced sweetness. The pucker from these cocktails should come only from your loved one as they prepare to land a big fat kiss on your mouth after you've served them one.

Sours are very versatile, mainly made of 3-4 ingredients. Switch out the spirit, sweetener and citrus and you've got a whole new cocktail. Bourbon + Lemon Juice + Simple Syrup = Whiskey Sour. Cognac + Lemon Juice + Cointreau = Sidecar. Tequila + Lime Juice + Cointreau = Margarita. The possibilities are endless, but hey, here's how to make all three:

In all of these recipes I can't emphasize more the importance of using freshly-squeezed juice. Hands off the bottled stuff!

Whiskey Sour

Squeeze some lemon juice in advance and put it in a container to cut down on your cocktail-making time and optimize one-on-one time.

1.5 oz. Bourbon or Rye
1/2 oz. Simple Syrup (1 part sugar dissolved entirely into 1 part hot water, chilled)
1/2 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
Twist of Lemon
Maraschino Cherry (optional)

Easy to make and so delicious even for people who don't normally drink whiskey cocktails. Add bourbon or rye, simple syrup and lemon juice to a cocktail shaker, fill with ice and shake for 10-15 seconds until icy-cold. Strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice and garnish with a twist of lemon and a maraschino cherry (optional).


2 oz. Cognac
1 oz. Cointreau
1/2 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
Twist of Lemon

The cognac adds a nice caramel-vanilla tone to the cocktail. Crisp and refreshing. The orange citrus flavor of the Cointreau is brightened even more with the lemon juice. Add ingredients to a cocktail shaker, fill with ice and shake for 10-15 seconds until icy-cold. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist. For an added sweet touch you can begin by rimming the glass with sugar by moistening the rim with the flesh of a lemon and then rolling it in a layer of fine sugar.

Margarita (on the rocks)

1.5 oz. Tequila (preferably 100% Agave)
1/2 oz. Cointreau
1/2 oz. Fresh Lime Juice
Lime Wheel
Salt (optional)

It's the recipe of the original Margarita. Need I say more? Add ingredients to a cocktail shaker, fill with ice and shake for 10-15 seconds until icy-cold. Strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice and garnish with a wheel of lime. If preferred, salt the rim of the glass beforehand by rubbing the flesh of a lime wedge around the rim and then rolling the rim over a layer of salt.

A Swoop Down to the Tropics

If getting down to some warm islands with your main squeeze isn't happening soon, you can easily send your taste buds there. Here are a couple rum cocktails for a couple of romantics:

The Daiquiri

If it's a steamy hot day I might throw in an ice cube for some extra chill.

I know what you're thinking: slushy, candy-sweet, neon-red. Please. It's me, people. We're talking the original Daiquiri preferred by the likes of President John F. Kennedy and Ernest Hemingway.

2 oz. Light Rum
3/4 oz. Fresh Lime Juice
1/2 oz. Simple Syrup (1 part sugar dissolved entirely into 1 part hot water, chilled)
Lime Wheel

Light, crisp, and refreshing. Add ingredients to a cocktail shaker, fill with ice and shake for 10-15 seconds until icy-cold. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a lime wheel.

Dark 'n' Stormy

If you can't make it to Bermuda you can at least enjoy their national drink. Be sure to get ginger beer (as opposed to ginger ale) which is much more robust in flavor with a spicier kick.

2 oz. Gosling's Black Seal Rum (if unavailable, your favorite spiced rum will do)
Ginger Beer
Lime Wedge

Fill a tall glass with ice, add rum and top off with ginger beer and squeeze in a wedge of lime. So simple with a sensuous flavor.

For the Sweet Tooth

Though many of the drinks listed above have a balanced sweetness there are some out there who love to turn the dial up a bit more. If done correctly, swapping out a spirit with a liqueur can create a luxurious cocktail that avoids being candy-sweet while nectarous on the palate.

Amaretto Sour

1.5 oz. Amaretto
3/4 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
1/4 oz. Simple Syrup (1 part sugar dissolved entirely into 1 part hot water, chilled)
Maraschino Cherry

Remember those sours listed above? This is basically a Whiskey Sour but instead of bourbon or rye we're using Amaretto. The contrast of the tart lemon with the nutty Amaretto can be quite nice.

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker, fill with ice and shake for 10-15 seconds until icy-cold. Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass and garnish with a Maraschino cherry.

Something Creamy

For that special person who enjoys the velvety texture of cream laced with chocolate liqueur and hints of nutty caramel and vanilla flavors from a good cognac finished with a sprinkling of aromatic nutmeg, I bring you the Brandy Alexander.

Brandy Alexander

1.5 oz. Cognac
1 oz. Cream
1 oz. Creme de Cacao (dark)
Fresh Nutmeg

In a cocktail shaker combine the cognac, cream and creme de cacao. Fill with ice and shake for 10-15 seconds until icy-cold. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a dusting of fresh nutmeg.

So there you have it. Ten easy cocktails that if prepared often will not only become a breeze to make but will add more special moments to a relationship, bringing a smile and a wink and likely a smooch from that special person in your life.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Gateway Cocktail

I like to think of the Martini as the steak of cocktails. Extremely simple in nature with countless ways to make one and everyone has their preference. You take gin, dry vermouth and perhaps some bitters, stir it all on ice, strain into a cocktail glass and add your garnish of choice. Which gin and how much vermouth distinguishes each martini and the people who make them. There are those who prefer a one-to-one ratio of gin to vermouth and others who use barely any at all and everything in between. And then there are those like Winston Churchill who when once asked how much vermouth he would like in his martini is quoted as saying "I would like to observe the vermouth from across the room while I drink my martini." Though everyone will tell you their martini is the best and most authentic, you might as well argue over which cut of beef and technique makes the best steak.

"Sorry about that."

Though there is no right way to make a martini, over the past 50 years or so some serious delinquencies have evolved affecting martini culture. In my opinion, this was helped in some part by Hollywood's favorite secret agent. As much as I envy and secretly wish to be James Bond, his martini preference may have opened the door to the cocktail loosing its way on a bizarre walkabout. You see, in developing his character Bond needed to come across as a super bad ass, one so cool that he went against convention in all respects. Thus, the shaken vodka martini. This version laughed in the face of those craggy old gin drinkers with their tediously stirred martinis.* Over the decades the trend spread like wildfire almost to the point that the stirred gin martini was forgotten. What's more, martini became a "style," devoid of any link to its root with almost no limit to its definition with countless fill-in-the-blank "tinis" found on menus like the candy-sweet Appletini. Don't get me started on variations using flavored vodka. A Gummy Bear Martini, really!?

Then there's one of the biggest offenders, the Dirty Martini. I think this cocktail was solely concocted to sell cheap vodka, gin and vermouth, all so vile they had to be masked with the addition of cocktail olive brine. When I hear it ordered I cringe. Call me a cocktail snob, but seriously, you're drinking a spiked pickling solution from God knows where. And even with the opening of more and more bars with menus offering classic and innovative cocktails crafted from the finest ingredients, prepared with great technique, with selections to satisfy anyone's taste, orders of the Dirty Martini endure.

So in an effort to stop some of the madness and bring a more orthodox martini approach and appreciation to Dirty Martini drinkers I would like to offer an anti-dirty martini of sorts, something to satisfy your taste but open your eyes and guide you in a direction of what a martini should be. I bring you the Gateway Cocktail**:

Gateway Cocktail

2 oz. Gin
1 oz. Dry Vermouth
1-2 dashes of Celery Bitters (to taste)

Add ingredients to a mixing glass or a pint glass or any tall, wide glass you have. Add a couple scoops of ice and stir for about 15-20 seconds until icy cold. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with an olive.

This is essentially a martini, but as I don't want be accused of perpetuating a confused martini culture, I'm calling it a cocktail as it veers slightly off the traditional recipe with the addition of celery bitters. The bitters add a wonderful vegetal tone while the olive garnish adds a slight brininess. I love how both play with the botanicals of the gin and the minerality of the vermouth but don't overpower them. I prefer using a London dry-style of gin as gins with more botanical flare, like newer American-style gins, can be a bit too much, confusing the taste buds and making the cocktail taste off. Enjoy.

*As the ingredients of a Martini are all alcohol-based, tradition calls for it to be stirred (same for cocktails like the Manhattan or Old Fashioned). Many swear by this for a couple reasons. One, stirring, as opposed to shaking, will result in a much clearer cocktail. Shaking introduces air bubbles and shards of ice, clouding a cocktail. Stirring will also dilute your cocktail less, which apparently has been scientifically proven. Shaking intensifies the melting process. When you introduce ingredients like juices, mixers, shrubs, etc. that is when shaking is called for in order to thoroughly incorporate such ingredients.

**Disclosure: The addition of celery bitters to a somewhat standard martini recipe is not an original idea. I know bartenders who recommend it to customers or add it by request and some makers of celery bitters have suggested it on their websites. I have to give credit where credit is due.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

In a Glass of Their Own

Click to enlarge.

I know this is a cocktail blog but I probably drink just as much suds as I do the stirred or shaken stuff. By the way, my preference is a cold, crispy pilsner with a pleasant bitter bite but not overly hopped and a clean finish. So this brings me to my point: why do most bars in the US continue to serve all their beer in the ubiquitous pint glass? Go to most bars or restaurants and they have distinguishing glasses for different types of wine and cocktails. Order a cognac and it will likely come in a snifter. Order a whiskey or scotch and it will come in a rocks glass. Order some bubbly and it will show up in a flute. You'll even find different cups for coffee, espresso and cappuccinos.

I'm as excited as the next guy about the booming craft beer industry in the US, as well as our appreciation for well-made international beers. So why are we giving them all the same treatment? Why is my pilsner being served in the same glass as a bock, stout or hefeweizen? And I'm not talking about glasses made for certain beers as a marketing ploy so everyone sees what brand you're drinking. I'm talking about glasses applied to a genre of beer.

My days bartending were spent in Germany in the mid 1990s. Regardless of what you drank there was a different glass for each beer. It didn't matter if you were at a hole in the wall or the Ritz. When looking around a bar in Germany you can distinguish who is drinking a lager, pilsner, stout, kölsch or hefeweizen based on their glass. If a beer comes in the wrong glass it will be sent back. If it wasn't poured right it will be sent back, but that's a whole other blog post.

I understand from a financial and logistical standpoint that pint glasses are more durable than say a hefeweizen or tulip glass (used often for Belgian beers) and easier to store, but if we're showing the world that America is coming of age with its beer lets give our suds the respect they deserve.

The right glass helps a particular beer breathe better, present well and hit your palette in a way that accentuates its flavors and preserves its integrity. Why is a pilsner served in a flute? Because, like sparkling wine, it's quite fizzy and a flute can help maintain a nice frothy head for presentation. A tulip glass helps for many of the same reasons but has a pear-like base to help the beer stay cold and a blooming rim that helps promote the aroma of the many complex beers that come in them.

If brewers in the US and around the world are creating exceptional and complex beers in a class of their own, the last thing we want to do is dumb them down. Lets give them a glass of their own.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving Cocktails For the Adult Table

As you've likely seen on TV or online, Thanksgiving brings out the best in "creative" cocktail-making, incorporating what's on the table into what's in your glass in an almost adolescent way. To me that has its place and can be fun, but a cocktail that tastes like cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie seems a bit overkill to me. In my opinion, when pairing a drink with a meal or an occasion, instead of making it an exact match of its counterpart, it should act as a partner to enhance food or celebrations through its own uniqueness. How about a cocktail that distinguishes your pre-Thanksgiving imbibing with a bit of elegance, complexity and sophistication? A cocktail for adults.

I present to you the classic Americano:

1 oz. Campari
1 oz. Sweet Italian Vermouth
1-2 oz. Sparkling Water (to taste)

Combine ingredients in a glass with ice, stir and garnish with a slice of orange or lemon.

The Americano is an aperitif, which means it comes before the meal and is there to "awaken" the appetite. Why do I choose the Americano for Thanksgiving? One, its ingredients of essentially equal parts of Campari, sweet vermouth and sparkling water create a flavor reminiscent of the spices, herbs and fruits enjoyed during the holidays in a way unlike anything on your table. Sweet vermouth is a fortified wine typically infused with herbs and aromatics, many with flavors of stone fruit, cinnamon, vanilla, citrus and even mint and anise. Combine that with Campari's distinctive flavor of bitter orange, derived from its combination of the bitter cascarilla bark and dozens of other herbs, spices and citrus peels. The sparkling water blends and mellows the flavors into a smooth and effervescent texture perfect for pre-feast sipping. What's more, it's a low alcohol drink so your guests aren't too tipsy by mealtime.

Two, the Americano brings a delightful change of pace to the Thanksgiving tradition. It's easy to make (no abstract measurements and is built in the glass it's served in) and is a great way to bring everyone together to signify the coming meal. And for one of the most American of American holidays, it's name can't be beat. And its history goes deeper than that. In Philip Greene's book To Have and Have Another - A Hemingway Cocktail Companion he explains how Hemingway became fond of the Americano during his time living in Italy. The cocktail got its name from the many Americans who ordered it while on vacation in Italy during Prohibition. Americans had apparently grown a taste for bitters like Campari, which at the time were thought to have medicinal value. The laws of Prohibition had loopholes allowing for such bitters to be prescribed medically for certain "ailments." To add even more conversation to your aperitif, Greene goes on to say that the Americano is the first cocktail James Bond drinks in Ian Fleming's first 007 novel Casino Royale. Take that martini!

OK, so you want something with a little more oomph for your Thanksgiving, maybe something for later in the evening? Switch out the sparkling water with some bourbon or rye and you've got yourself a Boulevardier:

1.5 oz. Bourbon or Rye Whiskey (I prefer rye for a spicier tone)
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. Sweet Vermouth

Stir on ice until well chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a twist of lemon. Fall time in a glass! Earthy and bitter-sweet.

Toby Cecchini of the New York Times wrote a great "Case Study" on the Boulevardier telling of its origins in Paris in the late 1920s named after a literary magazine by American writer Erskine Gwynne.

Had your fill of sweet vermouth and Campari? How about a classic cocktail that incorporates two fruits of the fall-winter season, namely apples and pomegranates (ya, you hear me, pomegranates).

I give you the Jack Rose:

2 oz. Applejack (otherwise known as apple brandy - Use Laird's Applejack, the oldest family-owned distillery in the US. It's an old brand, as in George Washington was a fan. If that's not around a French Calvados will do the trick.)
1 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
1/2 oz Grenadine (preferably made from pomegranate juice)

Shake ingredients on ice until well chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass. Bright and fruity with a woody undertone and a crisp citric balance to wake up the taste buds.

Regarding the grenadine in the Jack Rose and other cocktails for that matter, brands such as Rose's tend to be highly processed with an ingredient list you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy. Historically grenadine was made with pomegranate juice. There might be specialty shops near you that carry it as well as a number that you can order online. OR, just make the simple recipe yourself. Et viola! Your contribution to the Thanksgiving spread.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

When a Gathering Was a Gathering

Recently I've been getting nostalgic for the "classic" years. Those not-too-long-ago days when social networking meant simply gathering together with friends. There were people, chairs, a table, some drinks, food, maybe some music in the background and that was it. The evening would be filled with long conversations and laughter, uninterrupted by buzzing smartphones. People gave their unadulterated attention to the moment because they weren't distracting themselves with the half-dozen other virtual conversations happening online in their pocket - a time when thumbs weren't doing the talking at the table.

I'm reminded of these times when I watch classic films. A character pours a drink, there's dialogue and the plot thickens. They're not checking e-mails, updating their Facebook status or uploading a picture of their drink to Twitter (I know, I'm one of the worst offenders).

Though the atmosphere of bar life and social interaction has changed, the classic cocktails enjoyed back then by the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery and Alec Guiness are thankfully still alive and thriving today. To celebrate this, the Museum of the American Cocktail hosted "Cocktails of the Silver Screen," (which I've written about here) highlighting cocktails from Hollywood classics like "Casablanca," "The Thin Man," James Bond and "Our Man in Havana." An all-star cast of DC's brightest bartenders paid homage to the greats like the Champagne Cocktail, French 75, Rum Collins, the Martini, the Knickerbocker Cocktail and the classic Daiquiri.

Though technology hasn't made it possilbe to go back to a time of less "interactive" imbibing, we definitely have the ability to bring those times back. Next time I go to meet friends at the bar, it'll be a classic cocktail for me and I think I'll hit the off switch on my phone (or maybe even leave it a home - GASP!) and see what happens.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Cocktails from Warmer Climes

From left: JP Caceres, Duane Sylvester and Jamie MacBain.
As the temperature climbs The Museum of the American Cocktail hosted a seminar with a trio of DC finest bartenders to enlighten us about the cocktails from South of the Border. Rum, Cachaça and Tequila took center stage at Bourbon Steak in DC. Duane Sylvester got swizzling as JP Caceres demonstrated dirty-dumps and dry-shakes while Jamie MacBain got his beet on. One stop shopping for your summer cocktails!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"On the Town" in DC with King Cocktail

If there is anyone to thank (and bow down to) for the for today's growing appreciation and revitalization of the US cocktail culture, it's Dale "King Cocktail" DeGroff. On April 12 Dale graced and intimate audience at the Warehouse Theater in Washington where he performed his “On the Town: A Tribute to Bars, Speaks, and Legendary Saloons,” incorporating tales and songs about the watering holes of yesteryear and Dale’s own career path as a bartender. It was a rare treat for all to hear Dale's stories of the New York cocktail scene from the late 1960s and its transformation, under his leadership, from fern bars serving processed, ready-made piña coladas to establishments such as Aurora and the Rainbow Room where he brought many cocktails such as the Gin Fizz and Singapore Sling back out of virtual extinction, using top-shelf spirits and fresh-squeezed juices. His style focused on bringing the profession of bartending back to its glory providing an atmosphere where the bartender took center stage in welcoming and interacting with guests.

Read my post about Dale's performance for The Museum of the American Cocktail.