Tag Archives: gin

Mixology Monday: Spice — Cranberry Spice Sidecar

Cranberry Spice Sidecar

This month, Mixology Monday is hosted by Craig of Tiki Drink & Indigo Firmaments. The theme this time around is Spice.

I use spices and herbs often in cocktails, so this theme gave me a chance to explore variations in my favorite recipes. My first thought was a cranberry variation on the Blackberry Gin Daisy from this summer — a winter version of a late summer drink.

I love a gin hot toddy with lemon and a stick of cinnamon, and that was my other inspiration. Cinnamon works with cranberries; cinnamon works with gin; lemon works with all of them. Let’s bring them together for a party.

For cranberry syrup, I put 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water, and 2 cups fresh cranberries in a pot, along with about a half stick of cinnamon and 6 or so whole cloves. (Next time I might add even more spices, and maybe some dried orange peel too.) Simmered 4 minutes, let cool until just about room temp. (Here they are simmering and cooling.) Strained with finest available strainer.

First drink: a cranberry variation on the gin daisy. It turned out to be much too tart. Cranberries are not, in fact, berries. Eat one and you’ll discover how not berry they are. So the syrup was sweet but not so sweet as grenadine, nor as sweet as the blackberry syrup I made this summer. Additional sweetness was in order.

Obvious choice: Cointreau. it’s delicious in everything, and its orange flavor works beautifully with both cranberries and warm spices.

Cranberry Spice Daisy

2 oz gin (Plymouth)
1 oz cranberry spice syrup
.5 oz lemon juice
.25 oz Cointreau

Shake with ice. Strain into cocktail glass, top with spritzer. Garnish with three fresh cranberries.

This was good, but the balance of sweet and tart seemed delicate. Hard to manage, too tricky for my taste.

Knowing how nicely brandy plays with Cointreau and orange, I tried a different tack.

Cranberry Sidecar

2 oz cognac or brandy (Courvoisier in this case)
1 oz cranberry spice syrup
.5 oz lemon juice
.25 oz Cointreau

Shake with ice. Strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with three fresh cranberries.

This was a much better drink.The cognac blended easily with the various flavors, and everything ended up warm and welcoming (yet nicely chilled by the ice). The spices are subtle, but there’s enough of them to change what might otherwise be a fruity beverage into something more special.

I still think a little spritz of seltzer isn’t out of place, to lighten the drink.

Important note: If you’re the type who likes to munch on your garnish, take care with these drinks. Even after they’ve soaked in booze for a while, fresh cranberries are tart little things.

Thanks to Craig for hosting MxMo this month and choosing such a terrific theme. Please check out his site for a full wrap up of creative drink ideas.


(Photo credit: Cranberry Spice Sidecar, originally uploaded by cynthiacloskey.)

Mixology Monday: Local Flavor

Blackberry Daisy

The theme for this month’s Mixology Monday is Local Flavor. Our host is Kevin of Save the Drinkers, and while I don’t despise globalization as he does, I echo his affection for local flavors and specialties.

Living here in western Pennsylvania, particularly in summertime, I’m lucky to have delightful, fresh ingredients right at hand. Corn is the big crop here now; if you have any occaision to come through this area in the next few weeks, make a point of stopping at any of the gazillion roadside stands and picking up a few dozen ears. You don’t have to cook them. Just eat them raw. You’ll be spoiled for anything other than extremely fresh corn again, but it will be worth it.

Still, for MxMo purposes I didn’t think corn was the right choice. Interesting, but too complicated. Instead, I thought back to my childhood, and I headed to my parents’ back yard.

Their yard looks like this:


When I was growing up here, we picked blackberries every summer, right at the center point in that photo. In my memory, the summer weather was always ridiculously hot and humid, but for berry picking we bundled up in long sleeves and jeans because the bushes are studded throughout with thorns, and there were poison ivy vines mingled throughout as well.

Still, the effort wasn’t that great, because you could reach out and lift up one single branch. Underneath it you’d find great bunches of blackberries, hanging thick as bunches of grapes, and nearly as big.

Please note that blackberries aren’t the same as raspberries, or even black raspberries. They’re a bit more tart, and they hang onto a bit of stem inside instead of being kind of hollow like a raspberry. They go great with peaches (which we also used to grow at home). The plants grow like weeds (as Stevi points out), but they’re also a bit fickle about whether they’ll give you happy huge berries or sad little ones.

My mother had said there wasn’t a huge crop this year, and on my first pass around I thought she was right.

The thing is, blackberries are sneaky. You look at a bush, and you see maybe just a few berries. But carefully grasp a stalk and pull up, and you may find great globs of juicy goodness.

In all, I came away with about two pints of berries, huge and gorgeous and sweet/tart as blackberries could ever be, and as organic as anyone could ask.

As to what to do with them: I thought back to January and the homemade grenadine I cooked up for that month’s MxMo. I figured blackberries would be an interesting alternative.

But I’d also searched around a bit and spotted this recipe for a syrup of blackberries and rosemary.

So. I made two batches of syrup, one with rosemary and one without. They both took far longer than the listed 20 minutes to cook, but each was delicious and drool-worthy.

I mixed up two Brandy Daisies, trying the blackberry syrup and blackberry-herb syrup each in place of the grenadine. These syrups were not nearly as thick and sugary as my grenadine though. I had to fiddle with ratios to get it right (a task made harder by the ridiculously tart lemons I have).

The rosemary-enhanced syrup turned out to be vastly more interesting than the plain berry syrup — lots of complicated flavor, a little bit of surprise. Honestly, I was blown away by it. I want to put it on everything and eat it by the spoonful.

Then I thought the daisy cocktail recipe with blackberry-herb syrup might work well with gin instead of brandy, so I pulled out a bottle of Plymouth. The result is this, my suggestion for the month:

Blackberry Gin Daisy

2 oz gin
1 oz blackberry-rosemary syrup
.25 to .5 oz lemon juice (depending on tartness and taste)
sprig rosemary and additional berries to garnish

Shake gin, syrup, and lemon juice with ice. Serve in cocktail glass with rosemary and berries.

Even if you don’t have the berries to garnish, put a fresh rosemary sprig in the glass. It’s interesting to look at, and it adds an amazing scent to the drink.

Please check out the other ideas and inspiration in this month’s MxMo — watch Save the Drinkers for the summary post. Cheers!

Mixology Monday: Gin

Gin tasting

It’s Mixology Monday, hosted by the wise-beyond-his-years Jay Hepburn of Oh Gosh! Our topic this month is gin. A fantastic topic it is too. Too many people lack experience with gin, thinking it’s good only for Martinis and G&Ts. It’s terrific in both, of course, but it’s versatile, and now we get to discover many ways in which it can be enjoyed.

Because November is Month Impossible for me, I wanted to write a quick and easy post. I failed, big time. But that’s lucky for you, because it means I will now spend many entertaining paragraphs (I hope they will be entertaining…) explaining what went wrong and offering alternatives and additions. Here we go.

The Cocktail

Faintly from the back of my mind, I recalled that there was a gin recipe that I’d not tried in one of my cocktail books. Atomic Cocktails is chock full of style, but its recipes are hit-or-miss. Still, I had been interested in this one, if only for the blatant Fitzgerald name-drop. Here’s the full recipe including prologue:

Webster’s F-Street Layaway Plan

This was the martini of choice for F. Scott Fitzgerald, patron saint of the mixed beverage. Could this wild hybrid of good gin and complex Chartreuse be the reason Scott and Zelda were always dancing in those fountains? In any event, the Layaway — a specialty of notorious Bay Area bar master Jamie Reynolds — is best served the way Fitzgerald liked it: day and night.

1/4 ounce green Chartreuse
1 1/2 cups cracked ice or 6 ice cubes
2 ounces dry gin
1 lemon twist for garnish

1. Chill a martini glass.

2. Pour the Chartreuse into the chilled glass; swirl it around to coat the interior, and discard any excess.

3. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add the gin. Shake vigorously to chill, or use a long-handled bar spoon and stir gently about 20 times. The key is to work quickly so the ice doesn’t melt and dilute the gin.

4. Strain the gin into the chilled glass. Garnish with the lemon twist.

Serves 1

Pretty much everything about this drink sounded bogus to me. The recipe is nothing like a cocktail recipe from the early 20th century; it’s gin in a coated glass, which I’m sure wasn’t popular when Fitzgerald was alive. I’m unable to turn up anything about Bay Area bar master Jamie Reynolds. Plus, "stir gently 20 times"? Please.

Still, this drink would give me a use for the Chartreuse that’s been taking up space in my cupboard — as far as I could tell it was undrinkable. Maybe I’d finally found it’s place in the bar world.

I mixed the drink as described, using the gin I had on hand, Hendrick’s. (I know: not ideal for mixing. But I like it straight so I keep it in stock.) And I was thoroughly displeased with the result. The Chartreuse (green? yellow? I can’t tell — it’s chartreuse! Most likely what I have is yellow) and the Hendrick’s fought for attention and refused to blend. The lemon tried to make everyone play nice, but it was outdone.

So ok, this drink was no good. I was going to simply report my experience and be done with this MxMo post. And then I skipped around the internet and found Jamie Boudreau’s MxMo post, in which (among other topics) he explains that Chartreuse and gin are the best of friends.

The Bijou he described sounded delightful … everything that my Layaway Plan drink was meant to be. I didn’t have quite the ingredients listed, so I subbed in what I could:

Not-a-Bijou (with apologies to Jamie Boudreau)

1 1/2 oz gin
3/4 oz yellow Chartreuse
3/4 oz sweet Vya (which I bought because PeterB said I should)
2 dashes orange bitters

Stir, strain into cocktail glass. Lemon twist garnish.

This is a lovely drink, in stark contrast to what I’d made earlier. Incidentally, I had the outstanding fortune to visit Vessel a couple of times recently and thus to have drinks mixed by Mr. Boudreau himself, and I would describe this drink as being characteristically his style: complex and multi-layered and balanced. (Also: very strong.)

And but so, now I’ve given you one lame recipe for MxMo, and one recipe that was blatantly copied from another MxMo participant. What value am I adding to this world?

To make up for everything, I present the following investigative report: the results of a gin tasting I held a little while ago. Please enjoy!

The "My Brilliant Mistakes" Gin Tasting

Some months back, I received this email:

Dear Cindy,

Your blog is very interesting and would appreciate our new G’Vine Gin. G’VINE breaks away from the traditional juniper based "London dry" and is truly a unique product. Thanks to its versatility, G’Vine offers many new drinking options. Please visit this funny video/blog, which presents G’VINE as true innovation and an alternative to vodka. Feel free to share your great experiences with gin and/or vodka and share this blog with your friends. We are happy to link their blog to yours in "Gin, Juice & Other Blogs" category. We would appreciate it if you would link back to us as well. Enjoy.



So I checked out the website. The video was light and kind of amusing. But before I could recommend it to you, my beloved readers, I felt I should try the alcohol in question. And that I could not do, because I couldn’t find G’Vine Gin in any local Pennsylvania liquor stores. I deleted the email and figured that was that.

Another week passed and I received the same email again. I wrote back:

Hi there,

Thank you for the email. I’m interested in knowing more about your product. I haven’t been able to find it in stores — is it available in Pennsylvania? I’d prefer to try it before recommending it to my readers.


They wrote back with a nice note, promising to send me a sample. And sure enough, some time later I received a package with two cute airplane-sized bottles of G’Vine, plus an impressive pile of marketing literature and a CD of images.

Being a marketer, and a blogger, and a person who enjoys gin, I liked their approach. Get the word out, use online technologies to reach your target market, get the product in the hands and glasses of people who can spread the good news. And send Cindy free gin. An excellent strategy.

The thing was, I felt quite unsure of the underlying concept of G’Vine. I mean, G’Vine is gin that doesn’t taste like juniper — which, to me, is pretty much the point of gin … the tasting like juniper bit. There are other flavors there too, different botanicals and whatnot depending on which gin you’re drinking. But the gin-ness of gin, if you will, is the juniper. Take away the juniper, and what’s left?

I thought I should try this juniper-lite gin along with other gins, to figure out what juniper brings to the party and what else is possible. And rather than drink great quantities of gin by my lonesome, I decided to invite over some gin-drinking pals to help.

The New York Times did a similar tasting earlier this year, mixing a variety of gins into Martinis and dissecting the results. I didn’t want to repeat their work. For my tasting, I would serve the gin stirred with ice and strained. Mostly, this would mean I’d have more tasters: My gin-drinking friends mix their Martinis with the "pour the gin and look across the room at the bottle of vermouth" method, and I feared they’d be thrown off if I tried to introduce any other ingredients into the drinks.

But that was just as well, because this gin-only tasting would allow us to focus more on the gin flavors without vermouth or olives or any such.

My tasters were my brother-in-law Mike, and my friends Jud and Paul. And me. All of us have been known to enjoy a variety of spirits, although I can’t recall Jud or Paul every drinking vodka.

For this tasting our responses were subjective of course — your mileage will vary — but looking through our notes you can see trends: I like the flowery and sweeter gins, Jud and Paul despise them, Mike has a wide range of taste. All the same, the common points are interesting.

Gin   Tasters’ notes

G’Vine   Mike: one star
Smells a little like witch hazel. Tastes like it is diluted already. Slightly sweet grape taste, not very good by itself. A lot like Vodka — maybe it would be good mixed. Not very ginny. "Tastes a lot like Bankers Club Vodka."
Don’t buy it. Probably better with soda or tonic.
Medicinal taste. Tastes "premixed." The French should stick to brandy. Would disappear in a mixer.
    Cindy: —
Herby. Citrus? Lavender? Like it’s already mixed with something. Would be lost with a mixer.

Tangueray   Mike: four and a half stars (second favorite)
Smells like gin — you can smell the juniper. Yummy by itself. Quite smooth, not too dry. Not a very complicated flavor, pretty mild.
Straight. Nice gin flavor — mild. Not dry / pine tree-ish. Good with tonic. [Ed note: Paul brought this bottle to the tasting.]
Tingles the tongue. Very easy to drink straight up. "Tastes like gin." Nice "burn" down the throat.
Can be drunk straight. Not super dry. Simple. Wouldn’t want a lot of it.

Burnett’s   Mike: three stars
Smells like gin but very slightly — not much juniper. Vegetable taste — pretty mild — middle of the road smoothness. Vodka back taste.
Vegetable / cucumber-y. Mild, not dry. Not worth trying again on purpose, but OK in a pinch.
Bite-y. Fairly wet, sweet. Upfront "veggie" taste. Alcohol back taste.
    Cindy: +
Juniper, cucumber or fresh green pepper. Front-loaded, not a lot of body. Similar to Hendrick’s. Slightly sweet.

Hendrick’s   Editor’s note: Here is where spelling and handwriting begin to falter in everyone’s notes.
    Mike: four stars
Smells like gin — juniper. Pretty smooth. Front and back taste the same. Back taste has a little cucumber. Something floral. Good by itself.
Very mild smell. Nice kick. Cool? as a cuke. Don’t think it would mix with vermouth. Rocks? Shaken w/ice? Flowery: rose petal. Try with tonic.
Pine then cucumber taste. Fairly smooth, flowery. Would hold up in a G&T.
    Cindy: + +
Pine, cuke. Smoother. Once you think "rose petal" you can identify the flowery taste.

Broker’s   Mike: five stars (my favorite)
Smells like gin — a lot like Tangueray. Pretty dry to start and gets sweet in your mouth. Sweet back taste. Lemony.
Mild gin smell. Like a drier Tangueray. Would probably be OK with tonic or as a martini gin. Sweet but not too sweet. All-purpose.
Wet, yet dry finish. Smooth, sweet, slightly citrus. Stands up by itself. Martini or G&T.
    Cindy: + + +
Juniper and sweet. Stronger proof. Versatile — mixable.

Seagram’s Extra Dry   Mike: two stars (my least favorite)
Very little smell — just alcohol. Tastes like vodka. Very dry — not too good.
Strong sweet smell, low taste. Big burn. Not very good. Big ‘no’ for martinis. Maybe OK in a pinch for G&T. Not an herbal taste – more medicinal.
Fairly flavorless. No bite or tingle. "Gin joint" taste.
    Cindy: –
Little flavor — like vodka. Burning for 80 proof. Paul’s gin in college.

Plymouth   Mike: three stars
Very mild smell. Very strong taste. Floral. Somewhat ginny, very dry. Strong back taste. Martini?
Mild gin smell. Smooth start — very strong finish. Nice and dry — martini? Flowery linger. I wouldn’t seek it out again but would be OK w/tonic.
Wet, full body, strong finsh. Floral taste. Mild smell, heavy aftertaste. Good mixer, but not on its own.
    Cindy: + +
Low smell, high flavor. Brings gin to the party, but floral. (What do I mean?? Probably that it tastes juniperish and floral, both.)

Junipero   Mike: one star
Juniper! Juniper! Juniper! Very floral. The taste stay in your mouth for a long time. If you like the "pine tree" taste, this is it.
Very strong juniper — too much for me. Strong start, strong finish, strong a couple minutes later. A big ‘no’ for me.
All about the flowers. Much bouquet — literally. Too much for stand-alone. Long-lasting flavor. Good for chewing gum, not gin.
    MBM: + +
Juniper up front. Flowery. Full finsh. Rose petal or lavender?

Bombay Sapphire   Mike: four and a half stars (third favorite)
Mild smell, quite complex. Clean taste. Same front and back taste. Very dry. Probably great for a martini. Very consistent taste.
Very clean start and finish. Nice "gin" taste — not overpowered by any one flavor, nice blend. Best on its own — little vermouth, no tonic. Still my favorite.
Clean flavor. Tingles the tongue — up the nose. Consistent taste before and after. Mild smell. Good straight up or with very little vermouth.
    Cindy: + +
Clean with flavor. Has fragrance. Subtleties. Blendy — balanced flavor.


So what have we learned?

  • I wanted to like G’Vine, hoped that I would find something appealing in it, but I couldn’t find a way to drink it. After the main tasting I tried mixing it in a Martini with just a little vermouth, and then in a Gin and Tonic with a slice of lime. The Martini did not work at all for me, and the G’Vine was lost in the G&T.
  • Broker’s is a damn fine gin. Also, the bottle comes with an adorable little bowler hat. That makes it seem chintzy even though the stuff is expensive. But the gin is lovely.
  • After tasting all the other gins, with the wide range of flavors and strengths, I expected to find the Bombay Sapphire thin or bland. It was not. It still had plenty of flavor and subtlety. I didn’t think it was quite as versatile and tasty as Broker’s, but I was impressed with it.
  • Nine gins is a lot of gins to try. Even if one is having just a sip of each, those sips add up.
  • Taste plays a big role in enjoyment. Whether you’ll agree with any of our tasters is, well, a matter of taste.

OK! It’s time to see what others have devised for the Gin Mixology Monday. Please visit Oh Gosh! and see what can be seen. Cheers, and thanks to Jay for hosting!

Gin: the original flavored vodka

I’m not a big gin drinker, but I’m a fan of Bombay Sapphire. Yes, it’s pricey, but it’s also crisp and has pleasing herbal flavors. Ten botanicals, to be exact: almonds, lemon peel, liquorice, juniper, orris, angelica, coriander, cassia bark, cubeb berries, and grains of paradise. The grains of paradise make the drink, of course.

How much do I like Bombay Sapphire? I have a spritzer of Bombay Sapphire perfume. No, it’s not just gin in a perfume bottle. The Bombay Spirits Company had a promotion a few years back, in which an internationally known perfume designer created a cologne that evoked the sensibility and scent of Bombay Sapphire. Or something to that effect. You could buy it for a limited time in certain international airport Duty Free shops, or you could fill in a form to try to win a bottle.

I filled in the form, and I won. It even has the signature of the perfume designer on it, in gold marker. So if you notice that I smell like a nice Martini first thing in the morning, now you know why.

But back to our current story. The main flavor of most gins is juniper berries — they’re the key difference between gin and vodkas, the simplest of the distilled spirits. Various gins blend in other herbs as well and this is what distinguishes one high-end gin from another. If you’re having a drink that uses a flavorful mixer, like a Gin and Tonic, a Tom Collins, or a Gimlet, then a middle of the road gin will do fine — you wouldn’t taste the subtles herbs anyway. But if you’re having a Martini or a Gibson, then it’s worth your while to pick a special gin.

As much as I enjoy my Sapphire Martini, sometimes I want variety. In this frame of mind, I recently picked up a single-serving bottle of Hendrick’s at the checkout counter. The bottle is practically medicinal-looking: dark amber, round and slightly squat, with a very old-fashioned label. It looks like something milady would call for when she’s overcome with the vapors.

Hendrick’s doesn’t smell much different from Bombay Sapphire, but boy, does it taste different. It’s distilled in Scotland, so one might expect it to have a bit of bite. What one might not expect is the massive pine flavor it carries. Kind of like chewing on a branch of Christmas tree, or maybe a sprig of rosemary. Once the pine calms down, the juniper comes in, and the drink tastes like gin again.

The offical website talks about cucumber and rose petals, and they might have been there but they aren’t the main players. The pine flavor, on the other hand, sticks around to the bottom of the glass. A Hendrick’s Martini is not one that goes down quickly; rather, it insists on slow sipping, savoring, contemplation.

Has Hendrick’s replaced Sapphire in my liquor cabinet? It hasn’t replaced it, but I’m inclined to keep Hendrick’s on hand, for thoughtful evenings. It could become my winter gin — an alternative not to other gins but to a bourbon by the fire.