Tag Archives: cocktails

Mixology Monday: Bourbon

Bitter Bourbon
2 oz bourbon (drier varieties preferred)
.5 oz Campari
.5 oz green Chartreuse
dash orange bitters
Combine in a shaker with ice. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Serve with orange rind garnish.

It’s Mixology Monday again, and our hosts this month are the Scofflaw’s Den, lovable ruffians and scoundrels that they are. The theme they’ve chosen is: bourbon.

I’m a great fan of bourbon, but I found myself overwhelmed by this month’s theme. So many options! Also, I’ve written a fair bit about bourbon in the past, as has every other cocktail blogger. What new thing could I highlight?

Fortunately, external forces came to my rescue, in the form of weather. It’s now Summer (with a capital S) here in Pennsylvania, temperatures in the 90s and up and humidity arcing skyward. I saw my first firefly tonight; they’ve probably been out for a while, but I’ve been sequestering myself in air-conditioned environments, the better to survive.

(Dear Readers who live in truly hot and humid areas: Yes, I know. This is nothing. I’m a wimp. Think how I’d whine in a really steamy climate!)

Anyway, when the weather grows sticky like this, I’m drawn to one particular bottle: Campari. It’s brisk and bitter and syrupy-sweet all in unison. It comes from Milan, Italy, where things are hot and humid on a regular basis, and it’s based on bitter orange. Technically, it’s a bitter, but one you can mix in larger proportions. It clears the palate and contrasts with the sweltering air, cutting through everything. I adore it in hot weather.

(Side note: Here’s the Campari website. Please be warned that they have concocted a rather stretched fiction about a "world of passion" that needs to be restored, somehow incorporating their ads that involve Salma Hayek but also a bunch of other stuff, and that the whole thing is built in Flash. Enter at your own risk.)

So, this month’s MxMo gave me the opportunity to explore ways to combine two of my favorite liquors, Bourbon and Campari. The trick is what to put with them. Many bourbons come across as sweet, but not sweet enough to balance the tart/bitter one-two punch of Campari. I needed something that brought sugar to the party along with a bonus to unify and blend — herbiness, if possible.

The first thing I tried, which worked delightfully, was Benedictine. Most unfortunately, I used up my last bit of Benedictine in that preliminary experiment, and when I went to the local retail arm of the PLCB to get another bottle I was informed that the commonwealth of Pennsylvania no longer carries that item. I won’t waste the rest of this post with my curses on that particular arm of government.

It seems that a few other states face related Benedictine shortages, so I searched for an alternative. Maraschino liqueur was too sweet by far, Amari too thick. What to do?

I tried green Chartreuse, and my problems were solved. Chartreuse brings in the sweetness to balance Campari’s bitter elements, but not so much as to overwhelm. And it carries a few bits of herby flavor to boot.

For my bourbon, I used Wild Turkey (80 proof), which I find combines well with many things without losing its character, and which is quite reasonably priced. 

I suspect that the resulting cocktail will please me and few others. It’s a warm variant on a Negroni; the Negroni has been memorably described as "the reverse of a mullet — party in the front (sweet), and business in the back (mild bitter aftertaste)." The addition of bourbon warms the combination, while adding green Chartreuse makes it more complicated than related vermouth variations. If you do try it and like it, I’d love to know. If you’ve already invented it and have been drinking it for years, I’d definitely love to know — you can probably save me some experimentation in the future.

But in the meantime, everyone needs to swing over to Scofflaw’s Den, to see what they’ve been shaking up. It’s sure to be a delight.


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Mixology Monday: Midori Melon Margarita

Midori Margarita

Midori Margarita, originally uploaded by cynthiacloskey.

It’s Mixology Monday, and this month’s host is Anna at Morsels and Musings. Our theme is fruit liqueurs, interpreted for this as "a sweet alcoholic beverage infused with fruits or fruit flavours."

My immediate first thought for this theme was the bottle of Midori that has been languishing in my liquor cabinet. I do not like this stuff. It’s like candy, and not in a good way. Would it be possible to make a melon-flavored drink that tasted good?

The answer is a qualified ‘yes.’

Midori Melon Margarita

1 part Midori
2 parts tequila
1 part Triple Sec
1 part fresh lime juice

Shake with ice, strain, serve up or over ice; or blend and serve.

This recipe is slightly modified from the one in the little booklet that came with the Midori. I reduced the lime juice a little so the Midori could stand out a bit more — otherwise it was overwhelmed by the tequila and other flavors. In my version, there’s just a bit more melon flavor, a bit of late summer sweetness any time of the year.

It might not be the first thing I’d order, but I wouldn’t turn it down either.

Find more fruity, boozy treats from other Mixology Monday friends at Morsels and Musings’s summary, to be posted tomorrow or Wednesday. Cheers!

Drink — then you’ll see…

Through the kindness of friends, I recently acquired a bottle of Lucid, the sort-of-recently introduced legal absinthe that’s now available here in Pennsylvania and in the rest of the U.S.

It’s a very pricey spirit, costing over $60 in PA and about that much elsewhere. Perhaps you’ve wondered, as I did, is it worth the cost? And does it it cause one to want to cut off his/her ear or otherwise see things as they otherwise are not?

Lucid is 62% alcohol — 124 proof — but one doesn’t drink it straight. You can either add chilled water, or suspend a sugar cube over an ounce and a half of the liquor and pour chilled water over it, melting the sugar into the drink. Once the water hits the absinthe, it turns opaque and white and looks appropriately mysterious.

Previously I’d bought Absente, which is pretty widely available in PA and is touted as absinthe-like. Lucid makes a much more interesting beverage: herbier and lighter, much prettier, less sugary, more complex. It’s also more expensive and harder to get, but the availability may improve over time (especially if by some miracle the PLCB is privatized).

As for the stories of absinthe causing hallucinations: a myth as far as I can tell. Granted, even diluted with sugar and water, this stuff is strong. Drink a couple of glasses and I bet you’ll be seeing pretty colors and swirling lights, but the wormwood won’t necessarily be the cause.

With that said, I confess that at this moment, as I drink a glass of this interesting beverage, my right ear feels hot. Not both ears — just the right one. A hallucination? Shades of Van Gogh? Let’s hope not. Van Gogh cut off the lower part of his left ear, so it’s not quite the same anyway. But it does get one thinking….

Sazerac FTW!

Long-time readers of this site know my affection for the Sazerac, that classic cocktail of New Orleans. Rye, Peychaud bitters, a bit of sugar, and a dash of anisette combine to make a lovely glass indeed.

A Senator of Louisiana is about to embark on a campaign to have the Sazerac declared the official cocktail of Louisiana.

Here’s the email I wrote in support of this effort:

Dear Senator Murray:

I’m given to understand (via Intoxicated Zodiac) that you are about to undertake legislation that would make the Sazerac the official cocktail of the state of Louisiana.

I have not had the pleasure of visiting your fine state. I am a sorry Northerner. But I have looked with reverence toward Louisiana as the birthplace and home of many fine traditions — I am a great friend of jazz, for one.

More specifically, I am a fan of the Sazerac cocktail, which reports say was born in New Orleans. To me it is an ambassador of the Crescent City and Louisiana on the whole. A fine ambassador it is too.

I encourage you to promote this cocktail to this new honor. I wish I were a voter in your state, but if the opinion of an outsider matters, I thank you for your attention.

Warm regards,
Cynthia Closkey

I know many of my readers consider themselves to be light drinkers — no hard liquors for you. That’s cool. The thing is, I also know many of you appreciate the allure of the cocktail, the atmosphere that surrounds a well-made drink, and a unique drink. Each cocktail has its own appeal, its certain sensibility, its character.

The Sazerac combines sweetness and sass, a little mystery, a hefty kick, and a sublime aura. I can’t claim to a personal connection with the state of Louisiana, but for me the Sazerac presents the persona of that state in friendly, liquid form.

I encourage you to try a Sazerac, and to support the drive to name it the official cocktail of Louisiana.


All of this took less time than it took me to explain to a clerk at a PLCB “Premium Spirits” store what Armagnac was.

Peterb of Tea Leaves finds the mecca of quality liquor. It’s in Kansas City.

Actually, I’m confident that it’s just anywhere outside of the borders of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

To catch you up on the latest developments in my on-going saga to purchase creme de violette: I sent an email to the special order people of the PLCB and asked if I could order three bottles (the minimum order Peterb mentioned) of Creme de violette, even though it was not listed in the special order database. Within a few hours, I got a phone call from a nice-sounding young lady, checking the details of my order, finding out which retail store the order should be shipped to, and taking a credit card number for the deposit. A slow process, but not altogether painful. I rejoiced briefly and prepared to wait.

A few days later I got another call from the nice-sounding young lady. This time she was apologetic. "I’m sorry, but our distributor says they don’t have any creme de violette and they don’t know when they are going to get any."

Seeing no other option, I said, "OK."

Yesterday, when Peter Twittered that he was in a fabled land where the unobtainable could be obtained, I asked if creme de violette was available. It was, and I rejoice again. 

MxMo: Limit One, Irish Sazerac

An Irish Sazerac

This has been my most difficult Mixology Monday yet.

The theme is "Limit: One," set by this month’s host, Kaiser Penguin.


  • Consume and write about your favorite, strongest drink. You know, the one that that is delightful, complex, and will leave you wanting to stay home from work the next day. It should contain at least 3oz of 80-proof spirit or have less than 1/2oz of non-spiritness.
  • When you finish your post, please email me or post a comment with your link. I will include it in a round-up on Tuesday if I’ve recovered from trying as many of your drinks as I can.
  • Include a link in your post to Kaiser Penguin so those who haven’t heard of Mx Monday can join in.


  • Include a photo of your deadly potion; I plan to blatantly rip off Gabriel’s format from when he hosted, as it was just wonderful. So make sure to include a picture, unless you want a screen-shot of your blog text.
  • Include the Mixology Monday logo along with your post!

We love MxMo for its variations — or at least I do — but how to make the most of a focus on overindulgence?

{Editorial note: Due to the nature of this post, I will not be able to keep to my usual spelling and grammar standards. I will be eternally grateful if youl will overlook such errors here.}

My preferred strong drink, if the setting and bartending and my situation allows, is a Sazerac. (Have I spelled the name of this drink wrong for years? Yes. I’m OK with that. Thank you for your flexibility.) This is a classic drink, but one I  came to enjoy only while outside of Pennsylvania. It’s native to Louisiana but known many places, and the joy of it is its simplicity:


1 1/2 oz. Bourbon (in this case, Old Overholt Rye)
1/2 tsp. Pernod
3 dashes Peychaud Bitters
twist Lemon
2 tsp. Sugar Syrup

Coat rocks glass with Pernod. In shaker (no ice) mix Bourbon, sugar syrup and Bitters. Shake and pour into glass. Add lemon twist.

For this occasion, because I’d already written about the Sazerac, I thought I’d experiment with using an Irish whiskey in place of the rye. The Irish Whiskey I have is Power’s, and it’s mellow and sweet with just a trace of smoke. It’s not an easy fit to a Sazerac. I confess I went through many variations before I realized the simple answer was to reduce the amount of sugar in the basic recipe.

Here’s how to do it (and fit the Limit: One critiera):

Irish Sazerac

3 oz Powers whiskey
1/2 tsp. Pernod or absinthe
4 dashes Peychaud Bitters
1/2 tsp. Sugar Syrup

Coat rocks glass with Pernod or absinthe. In shaker (no ice) mix whiskey, sugar syrup and Bitters. Shake and pour into glass.

Note that the alcohol is doubled but the other ingredients are not. This is on purpose. Power’s is sweet from the start, and when I tried the drink as a straight substitution it was ridiculous. Halving the sugar helped. I tried adding Angostura bitters (bad idea), adding other bitter elements (no good), and finally realized that just reducing the sweetness solved the trouble.

Please check in with the Kaiser Penguin for the latest updates in the MxMo entries this month. Cheers!

Violets for your furs


Violets, originally uploaded by Il conte di Luna.

There’s an interesting discussion going on in the comments from my post on Monday about the question of privatizing the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. Do take a look and chime in with your views.

In the meantime, I want to add an example of what frustrates me about the PLCB: My inability to buy creme de violette in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Creme de violette is a violet-flavored liqueur. It’s an ingredient in various old-fashioned cocktails, where it adds a light flowery element and violet hue.

Or so I’ve read. I’ve never tasted or even seen the stuff.

I’ve asked for it at PA Wine and Spirits stores and no one I’ve spoken with has ever heard of such a thing — nor has anyone offered to help me order any. Of course it’s not listed in the PLCB retail website. It is conceivable that I can special order it, somehow, although I’m wary of the process.

To be fair, creme de violette is not available everywhere. Even famous bartenders brag about having five varieties.

But creme de violette is distributed in the United States, and it seems reasonable that I should be able to buy some. In Boston I could buy it. Or in New York. Or in California, although I guess that’s not too surprising — them hippies are crazy out there.

Is there any reason I shouldn’t be able to order a bottle over the internet, just as I can order a bouquet of actual violets? I can’t think of one. But order it I cannot.

My best options are to drive to New York and smuggle a bottle back (which is illegal — can’t bring bottles into our fair state), or to buy some flowers, pluck off their petals, and marinate them in alcohol to make my own violet liqueur.


MxMo: Variations on the Brandy Alexander


This month’s Mixology Monday theme is "Variations," hosted by Jimmy at Jimmy’s Cocktail Hour.

Sometimes it seems like every drink I make is a variation on the original. Probably it is. Good cocktail-making is like good cooking: You take a recipe, tune it to your tastes and to the tastes of those who will consume it, adjust for the ingredients on hand, and apply a little chance.

The Brandy Alexander is itself a variation on the Alexander, which is gin, creme de cacao, and cream in equal amounts, shaken with ice. The brandy variation took over its older brother long ago. I’ll guess this is because your average gin drinker doesn’t want his gin softened by a big splash of cream, while in contrast the brandy version turns out to be perhaps the original "girly" drink — soft and sweet but packing a hefty wallop for those who aren’t careful.

Feist (see video above) isn’t the only one to note its danger. It’s a Brandy Alexander that Jack Lemmon’s character orders for a virginal Lee Remick on their first date in Days of Wine and Roses. The sweet young lady loves her first-ever cocktail, and then 45 minutes later her child has nearly perished in a fire and she’s less than an hour from destroying her marriage, all because she can’t drag herself away from the bottle. So much danger in a simple cocktail glass, sprinkled with grated nutmeg.

Movies notwithstanding, the Brandy Alexander is a mild and friendly drink. It is, in fact, a dessert, with creme de cacao turning a perfectly respectable cocktail into a pseudo-chocolate slushie.

I wanted to find a variation that kept the kick of the brandy or cognac, plus the softness of the cream, but offered a bit more with the sweetness part — more flavor, a little subtlety.

I turned to Tuaca, a sweet Italian liqueur flavored with vanilla and fruity spices. This handled the sweetness admireably and brought in nice flavor, but couldn’t quite balance with the cream. So I added a drop or two of Cointreau and came up with a pleasant cocktail.

I have just a few minutes until midnight to post and can’t find a good name for this thing, so I’m going with the obvious:

Brilliant Alexander

1 oz brandy or cognac
1 oz Tuaca
2 or three drops of Cointreau to taste
1 oz light cream

Combine in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into cocktail glass and serve.

Enjoy! And please check out the creations that Jimmy collects for this Mixology Monday of variations. Cheers!

Privatize the PLCB

Sad looking liquor store

Sad looking liquor store, originally uploaded by camera_obscura.

Two weeks ago, Steve Twedt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette authored a series of articles on the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board: what it is, why this state says it needs to hold a monopoly on wine and liquor sales (but not beer sales), alternative reasons why it does this, and how the system affects businesses and individuals. The series starts with this article, and there you can find links to the rest of the coverage.

Pennsylvania’s liquor laws drive me absolutely mad, both because they make it impossible to find wines and liquors I want and because they’re clearly inefficient from a market standpoint.

I’d planned to write a rant about this, but I get so angry even thinking about it that I can’t write straight.

Fortunately, John McIntyre wrote a perfect column on this very subject, "Hitting the Bottle," in the Feb. 7 issue of City Paper.

Last Tuesday, a state Senator introduced a bill to privatize liquor sales. No word yet on the PCLB’s response. I suspect that bill will receive hard opposition.

In the past, state lawmakers have said there’s no reason to change the system because no one complains about it. The letters to the Post-Gazette seem to indicate there’s an unheard majority who want the state to get out of the business of selling wine and liquor. Let’s make our voices heard in Harrisburg.

Fat Tuesday

Mardi Gras Masks and Beads

Mardi Gras Masks and Beads, originally uploaded by biskuit.

It seems a kind of cheating to celebrate Mardi Gras when I have no intention of giving up anything for Lent.

Early in the evening I officially commemorated the holiday with a Sazerac cocktail — a classic drink of New Orleans. I listened to Madeleine Peyroux too, for extra Big Easy flair. I enjoyed both thoroughly.

I felt no extra thrill to them though: I may well have a Sazerac again before Easter, and Ms. Peyroux is almost certain to pop up again on my playlist. So what makes this evening different from any other for me?

I suppose there was one other way I celebrated: I skipped going to the gym.

Perhaps I can can turn today’s laziness to my advantage. I wrote a post some weeks back about needing a focus for my self- and health-improvement efforts. Here’s what I’ll do: For the next 40 days, I’ll exercise for at least 40 minutes each day. The exercise needn’t require a trip to the gym or a big sweat; 40 minutes of focused yoga or even dancing around the living room will do.

So, retroactively, I now feel a bit more justified in sitting about listening to music and drinking rye on Mardi Gras. And I look forward to arriving at Easter a little less gras.