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Friday Musings: Let’s Make it Perfect!

Friday Musings: Let’s Make it Perfect!


So I have the reputation for being a bit of a perfectionist. Does that surprise you? It’s not in every aspect of my life and it’s definitely changed as I’ve gotten older. For example, I can tolerate a less than pristine house now (that seems to have come with having raised three kids), but I do still like it to at least be organized. Books are alphabetized on my shelves, clothes are grouped by color in my closet, and I can be a bit of a menace with a label maker. But that’s not so bad, right? Where I think I really demand perfection is in things that I personally do or make. So if I’m hanging a group of pictures on a wall they had better all be level and evenly placed or it’ll keep me awake at night. The same goes for baking a lopsided cake or making a sauce that doesn’t quite turn out right. Since I’ve started this blog I’ve become acutely aware of how much I’m bothered by a typo or a misplaced word, or a photograph that’s slightly blurred. And that last one can be a real challenge when you have only the rim of the glass to focus on. Thank God for garnishes in more ways than one! Speaking of garnishes, that begs me to ask the question: do you think I’m a perfectionist when it comes to making cocktails? I can hear you laughing. Of course I am! For me, it just makes no sense to be any other way, especially as a home bartender. If I’m not measuring, shaking, stirring, or pouring correctly then there’s just no way for me to consistently make you a good drink. It would be different every time, and that simply would never do.

How can you get as close to perfect as possible when making drinks at home? Here are some thoughts:

  • Use the best ingredients you can and measure everything. One of the reasons I’ve enjoyed posting about Philly Craft Spirits Week so much is that it’s given me the opportunity to try some of the products being made right here in the Philadelphia area, and to truly appreciate the thought and care that goes into making spirits that are small batch and handcrafted. Talk about perfectionism! This idea extends to the bitters and mixers you choose as well.
  • Citrus juices should be freshly squeezed and never out of a bottle. It’s okay for other juices to be bottled, but just be sure they’re all juice and don’t have added sugar that can change the composition of the drink.
  • Try making your own simple syrups. There’s a reason why they’re called simple: they are easy to make and you get the added benefit of being able to infuse them with other flavors. That’s not to say that you can’t ever buy something that catches your eye. Look how obsessed I’ve become with Tippleman’s Burnt Sugar syrup!
  • Make sure that your cocktails are the right temperature. In other words, make sure you’re shaking and stirring them for the right amount of time. Once you have that timing down, do it  consistently each and every time you make a drink.
  • Step up your ice game. Silicone ice trays are a fairly inexpensive way to make large and medium format cubes that won’t dilute your drinks as quickly as small cubes do. And they are so much prettier to look at!
  • Don’t overmuddle! When a recipe calls for fruit or herbs to be muddled that does not mean mashing and grinding them into nothingness in the bottom of your shaker tin. It’s a very gentle process that’s intended to just release flavor, especially when it comes to herbs. Think about just disturbing those little hairs that you see on a mint leaf – anything more than that and you’ll end up with bitterness instead of flavor.
  • Try to develop a flow to your cocktail making and aim to do it that way every time. There’s something very zen and peaceful about this idea and it will help you develop consistency, which I can’t stress enough. Remember that this is a creative process; you are actually making something here!

Those are my ideas on how we can all be better bartenders at home. Try them out this weekend by making my Autumn cocktail recipe for today using whiskey from Manatawny Still Works in Pottstown, PA. And then we can alphabetize the bookshelves, organize the closet, and make some labels!


Chai Apple Whiskey Sour

2 oz Manatawny Still Works Whiskey
1/2 oz Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur
3/4 oz Chai tea syrup*
1 oz apple cider
1 egg white**

Place all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker and dry shake for 15 seconds or so. Add the ice (1 large cube and 2 small if you can) and shake for another 15 seconds or until well chilled. Strain into an old-fashioned glass or a goblet. Garnish with whole cloves and an apple slice dusted with cinnamon. Enjoy!

*To make the Chai tea simple syrup, boil 1/2 cup of water and add 3 Chai tea bags. Let them steep for 5 minutes. Add 1/3 of a cup of sugar and reheat gently until the sugar has completely dissolved. Store in a Mason jar in the fridge.

**Use up to the full egg white, or 1 oz of a vegan substitute such as chick pea liquid, or omit it entirely.

Vintage glass a recent thrift store find. I’m always on the lookout.

Have a great weekend – see you all next week! I’ll be continuing with more recipes for cocktails made with Philly Spirits!


Philly Craft Spirits Week: Oct 27th – Nov 4th!

Philly Craft Spirits Week: Oct 27th – Nov 4th!

phillycraftspiritsweek2Pictured above are 3 classic cocktails, each with its own story that dates back to the Prohibition Era and beyond. The Diamondback, on the left, was once the house cocktail at the Lord Baltimore Hotel in Maryland. It’s named after the Diamondback Terrapin, the official mascot of the Maryland ‘Terps. In the middle is the Old-Fashioned, thought to have been brought to the Waldorf Astoria in New York City by bartender James E. Pepper in 1880 who had originally crafted the drink for the Pendennis Club in Louisville, Ky. The last cocktail is the Ward 8, which hails from Boston, and has 3 different accounts as to who created it, dated 1902, 1936, and 1940 respectively. There’s something very cool about making cocktails that have been around for so long and have so much history behind them. Think of all the bartenders who have mixed them over the years! That cool factor skyrockets for me when these same drinks are made with handcrafted spirits from local distilleries that are less than 5 years old!

Rather than do an official Thursday Barlogue post this week, I wanted to share some details with you about the first annual Philly Craft Spirits Week which officially starts today. There are 11 local distilleries that are being featured throughout the week at many Philadelphia bars and restaurants. Included in that list are Dad’s Hat, Philadelphia Distilling (makers of Bluecoat Gin), New Liberty Distillery, Manatawny Stillworks, Bluebird Distilling, Cooper River Distillers, Five Saints Distilling, Liberty Gin, Red Brick Craft Distilling, Rowhouse Spirits, and Federal Distilling (makers of Stateside Urbancraft Vodka). You can find links to each of their websites on Philly Craft Spirit Week’s page above, along with a list of the week’s highlights like the Sunday Funday Cocktail Competition at Heritage in Northern Liberties, as well as a day to day guide of the official happenings around the city. Many bars and restaurants will be doing their own celebrating off-record, so it’s worth checking in to see what your favorites might have planned. Philly Craft Spirits Week is an important event for cocktails in the city of Philadelphia because it’s a celebration of the pride these local distillers take in the quality of their work. This is how spirits were originally made: handcrafted one small batch at a time with much dedication and determination. Come out this week and join the party!



2 oz Cooper Distillers Cooper River Rye
1/2 oz Laird’s Bonded Applejack
1/2 Yellow Chartreuse
Luxardo cherry for garnishing

Place all the ingredients except for the cherry into a mixing glass and fill 2/3 full with ice. Stir with a long handled bar spoon until very cold (about 30 – 45 seconds). Strain using a julep strainer, and pour into a child cocktail glass. Garnish with the cherry. Enjoy!


Ward 8 

2 oz Dad’s Hat Rye
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz fresh orange juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
1 tsp grenadine
Lemon twist for garnishing

Place all the ingredients in the bottom half of a shaker and then add your 1 large cube and 2 small. Shake for 15—20 seconds or until cold. If you don’t have any large format cubes on hand, then fill the shaker 2/3 full with regular ice. Double strain using a Hawthorne strainer and a mesh strainer and pour into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the lemon twist. Enjoy!

You can find my Old-Fashioned recipe here. Just use the Bluebird Distilling Four Grain Bourbon!


Whiskey Cocktail #3: It’s the Great Rye Pumpkin!

Whiskey Cocktail #3: It’s the Great Rye Pumpkin!


Since Halloween is almost upon us, and since I’m still trying to convince some members of the anti-whiskey crowd to switch over, I thought I’d offer up another Autumn cocktail. I had two absolutes in mind when creating this drink: first, it had to have pumpkin in it, and secondly, I wanted to use Cooper River Rye Whiskey made right here in Camden, NJ. Cooper River Distillers is another one of the distilleries being featured during the first Philly Craft Spirits Week, starting this Thursday, October 27th. When I opened the bottle the aroma hit me right away: vanilla, honey, and spices. I found the same to be true with the taste; it was extremely smooth and I was picking up lots of spice, especially cinnamon and clove. I wanted to add an Amaro to the drink, just to give it some more depth and that elusive quality that comes from the fact that the Italians won’t tell us what’s in the bottle. The Amari are also spicy, and can be quite bitter, but I chose Amaro Montenegro because it tends to be the mildest (and the sweetest) of those that I’ve tasted. It’s also my favorite! To finish out the bitter side of the equation, I went with two dashes of aromatic bitters. Now let’s talk about the sweet side. To get the pumpkin flavor into the drink, I knew I wanted to use pumpkin butter rather than purée because I thought it would have more flavor and sweetness. I’ve seen it listed as an ingredient in other cocktails and it has always intrigued me. I also thought this was a perfect opportunity to use the Tippleman’s Burnt Sugar Syrup that I’d purchased from the Art in the Age store in Philly. I needed citrus to brighten everything up so I chose to go with orange juice; I love the way it works with the rye whiskey and the pumpkin. Finally, I decided to top the whole drink off with some pumpkin ale. I recommend going with one that’s more assertive than subtle when it comes to flavor, but you can take it in whatever direction you’d like.pumpkinandrye2

It’s the Great Rye Pumpkin!

1 oz Cooper River Rye Whiskey
3/4 oz Amaro Montenegro
1 tablespoon pumpkin butter
1/4 oz fresh orange juice
1/4 oz Tippleman’s Burnt Sugar Syrup*
2 dashes aromatic bitters
2 oz Pumpkin Ale
Orange strip for garnishing

Place all the ingredients except the orange strip and the pumpkin ale in the bottom half of a shaker tin and then add your 1 large cube and 2 small. Shake for 15—20 seconds or until cold. If you don’t have any large format cubes on hand, then fill the shaker 2/3 full with regular ice. Strain using a Hawthorne strainer and pour into an Old-fashioned glass with one large cube in it. Top off with the Pumpkin Ale and add your garnish. Enjoy!

*You can certainly substitute regular simple syrup here. Place equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan. Heat gently until dissolved and clear. Store in fridge.


Bourbon Cider Smash: Showing off this dark spirit’s lighter side

Bourbon Cider Smash: Showing off this dark spirit’s lighter side

bourboncidersmashJust in case you’re thinking that bourbon is one of those spirits that is only consumed sip by sip in a very dark bar while you think serious thoughts, I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. And just in case you’re thinking that you’ll never be able to drink brown liquor, I’m also here to tell you that you’re wrong. You can and you should – especially in this drink! I wanted to create a cocktail whose flavors would definitely work for the fall season, but would still be refreshing and fun, and I wanted to illustrate bourbon’s versatility by showing that it does have this lighter, totally drinkable side. The cocktail that I came up with is a slight variation of a traditional bourbon smash, which generally contains citrus, sugar, and mint. (Think along the lines of a mint julep). In my Bourbon Cider Smash, I’ve left a bit of the citrus in, removed the mint, swapped out the sugar for some maple syrup, and added the cider and ginger ale. The result is a totally drinkable Autumn cocktail whose flavors will work from Halloween right through to Thanksgiving. Since Philadelphia is getting ready to celebrate it’s first Philly Craft Spirits Week, I wanted to be sure to use a bourbon that is crafted locally. I chose Bluebird Distilling’s Four Grain Bourbon, made in Phoenixville, Pa. from a blend of corn, rye, red winter wheat, and barley. It’s sweet and smooth, pairing perfectly with the citrus, cider, and especially the maple syrup. Go ahead- give it a try!bourboncidersmash2

Bourbon Cider Smash

1 1/2 oz Bluebird Distilling Four Grains Bourbon
1 1/2 oz apple cider
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz real maple syrup
2 dashes of aromatic bitters
2 oz Fever Tree ginger ale
1 candied ginger cube for garnishing

Place all the ingredients except the ginger ale and the ginger garnish in the bottom half of a shaker tin and then add your 1 large cube and 2 small. Shake for 15—20 seconds or until cold. If you don’t have any large format cubes on hand, then fill the shaker 2/3 full with regular ice. Strain using a Hawthorne and pour into a Collins glass or a goblet like the one I used above. Garnish with the candied ginger cube on a cocktail pick. Enjoy!


American Whiskey: A Natural Born Leader

American Whiskey: A Natural Born Leader


We are ready to move into the world of “brown” liquor today, and what better place to start than with American Whiskey, which is like the brilliant leader who can stand on his own, but who also recognizes that he can shine even more when he surrounds himself with other talented people. Whiskey is the featured ingredient in so many classic cocktails, like the Old-fashioned, the Manhatten, and the Sazerac to name a few, but it can also be served neat or on the rocks. When it’s paired together with other spirits in a drink like the Manhatten, those secondary ingredients enhance the flavor of the whiskey and take things to a whole new level. These ingredients can also be changed to give the cocktail a totally different flavor profile which you’ll see in today’s recipe for my take on a Manhatten for the fall season. Before we get to that let’s talk very simply about the different types of whiskey made here in America.

Bourbon is a whiskey that must be made from at least 51% corn (the other 49% can be other grains) and it cannot have any else added to it other than water. If the bourbon is to be labeled as “straight bourbon” then it must be aged in charred new-oak barrels for at least 2 years. It does not have to come from Kentucky (although many bourbons do), but it does have to come from the United States. There are a number of distilleries right here in the Philadelphia area, some of which are going to be featured during the Philly Craft Spirits Week which kicks off this Thursday. Bourbon will generally have a sweeter and softer flavor than rye whiskey; think of the difference between rye bread and corn bread and you’ll begin to get the idea. Some bourbons are smooth like Buffalo Trace and Bulleit, where others have a very distinctive bite to them like Widow Jane, which is distilled in Brooklyn.

Rye whiskey must be made from 51% rye grain and, once again, it cannot have any other additive besides water. If it’s going to be labeled as “straight rye” then it must be aged for 2 years in charred new-oak barrels as well. Rye has a sharper and spicier flavor profile than bourbon and it is the whiskey featured in the Manhatten. Old Overholt, Redemption, Rittenhouse, and Bulleit are all excellent choices for your bar at home and are also reasonably priced. I’ll be using Dad’s Hat in my Manhatten today because it’s distilled here in Philadelphia.

Wheat whiskeys like Maker’s Mark substitute wheat grain for rye and all the same restrictions apply.

It can take a while to find what your favorite bourbon or rye whiskey is going to be. Sometimes it may vary depending upon what drink you’ll be using it in. A cocktail made with citrus or fruit might need a softer whiskey, while one with a minimal amount of ingredients in it like an Old-fashioned might require a whiskey that’s a bit more assertive. Tasting (side by side if possible) is always your best way to quickly learn what you do and don’t like.

We’ll close today out with my Autumn in Manhatten recipe. I’m using Dad’s Hat rye, Punt e Mes sweet vermouth, Velvet Falernum, and 2 dashes of Jack Rudy’s aromatic bitters. I’ll admit that the Velvet Falernum is a bit of an odd ingredient to find in in a whiskey cocktail, but I love the way its sweet spice drop flavor works with the spiciness of the rye whisky, and plays against the bitterness of the Punt E Mes.


Autumn in Manhatten 

2 1/2 oz Dad’s Hat rye whiskey
1/2 oz Punt E Mes Sweet Vermouth*
1/4 oz Velvet Falernum
2 dashes Jack Rudy Aromatic bitters

Place all ingredients into a mixing glass and add ice. Stir until well chilled and strain into an old-fashioned glass with ice or into a cocktail glass without ice. Garnish with a Luxardo or Woodford Reserve cherry. Enjoy!

See you all tomorrow when we’ll be talking about another whiskey cocktail for fall: a Bourbon Cider Smash!