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Beyond The Margarita: 10 Tequila Cocktails To Try Image

Salt, shoot, suck. Then grit your teeth and shake your head to clear out the fire burning in your throat. This tequila ritual is familiar to many college students, but if you haven’t sipped the agave-based spirit since you were younger, it’s time for a refresher course.

The liquor is experiencing a renaissance, and producers are crafting single-estate and vintage dated tequilas. These artisanal tequilas have little in common with the processed stuff that stung your throat back in the day.

By Mexican law tequila, which is made by distilling the fermented juices of the blue agave plant, must be 51 percent agave. But that means the other 49 percent can be artificial ickiness. “Called mixto, the cheap stuff contains lots of added sugar and even caramel coloring, which mass producers use in an effort to reproduce the complex flavors in aged tequila,” says Ted Gibson, a bartender who heads up the new All Agave Project tequila tasting program at Rancho Valencia in California.

Not all tequila is alike

Different tequilas may look the same, but their flavors can be very different. Credit: Copyright Thinkstock

Different tequilas may look the same, but their flavors can be very different. Credit: Copyright Thinkstock

Any bottle worth drinking bears the label 100 percent agave. “Quality tequila is an unprocessed natural spirit with depth of flavor,” Gibson says. The best producers focus on terroir, just like with fine wines. A particular tequila’s flavor depends on the growing conditions, altitude and sunlight.

“Typically, an agave plant grown in the highlands (above 6,000 feet) is bigger and contains more stored sugar, and its tequila tends to have a floral essence,” Gibson says. “Tequila from plants grown in the lowlands are often more vegetal and spicy.”

Now, we could just take Gibson’s word for it that tequila is a versatile spirit that you should be mixing into more than margaritas. But where’s the fun in that? Find out for yourself with these 10 inventive recipes that he created. It’s a lineup of cocktails that you can serve at a slew of occasions — the perfect sip for a barbecue, a bacon-garnished beverage for brunch, a twist on an Old Fashioned that’s just right for an after-dinner delicacy and more. Move over, margarita — the tequila game just got a whole lot more interesting. Get ready for 10 surprising new ways to enjoy this spirit. Salud!

Gallagher’s Smash

When we think of fruit and tequila, lemons and limes come to mind. But there are many other varieties that pair perfectly with the spirit. In Gibson's Gallagher's Smash, watermelon makes a sweet counterpart to blanco tequila. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

When we think of fruit and tequila, lemons and limes come to mind. But there are many other varieties that pair perfectly with the spirit. In Gibson’s Gallagher’s Smash, watermelon makes a sweet counterpart to blanco tequila. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

Yield: one drink

Ingredients

2 ounces blanco tequila

1 ounce lime juice

1/2 ounce simple syrup

5 cubes watermelon

3 sage leaves

Directions

Combine ingredients in mixing glass; muddle. Add ice, then shake. Double strain over fresh ice and garnish with a watermelon cube and a sage leaf.

Raspberry Beret

Gibson's Raspberry Beret is a cinch for a party. The recipe below serves one, but it's easy to turn it into a big batch. Just make the raspberry-mint lemonade in advance (purée lemonade, raspberries and mint leaves, then strain), and add the booze once it's party time. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

Gibson’s Raspberry Beret is a cinch for a party. The recipe below serves one, but it’s easy to turn it into a big batch. Just make the raspberry-mint lemonade in advance (purée lemonade, raspberries and mint leaves, then strain), and add the booze once it’s party time. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

Yield:  1 drink

Ingredients

2 ounces blanco tequila

3 ounces lemonade

4 raspberries

5 to 6 mint leaves

Directions

Combine ingredients in mixing glass; gently muddle. Add ice, then shake. Double strain over fresh ice. Garnish with a raspberry and a sprig of fresh mint.

Juan-y Appleseed

"Herbs go well with blanco tequila, due to the spirit's vegetal and floral flavors," Gibson says. This recipe calls for licorice-scented tarragon, but mint, thyme, sage and cilantro all complement tequila. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

“Herbs go well with blanco tequila, due to the spirit’s vegetal and floral flavors,” Gibson says. This recipe calls for licorice-scented tarragon, but mint, thyme, sage and cilantro all complement tequila. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

Yield: 1 drink

Ingredients

1 1/2 ounces blanco tequila

3/4 ounce St. Germain

1 ounce granny smith apple juice

3/4 ounce lemon juice

1/2 ounce agave syrup

1 sprig tarragon

Directions

Combine ingredients in mixing glass; gently muddle. Add ice, then shake. Double strain over fresh ice and garnish with an apple slice and a sprig of tarragon.

 El Jardin

The Pimm's Cup, a classic gin-based English cocktail, is Pimm's No. 1, cucumber and lemonade, lemon-lime soda or ginger ale. Mix things up by swapping the gin for tequila for a clean, refreshing beverage. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

The Pimm’s Cup, a classic gin-based English cocktail, is Pimm’s No. 1, cucumber and lemonade, lemon-lime soda or ginger ale. Mix things up by swapping the gin for tequila for a clean, refreshing beverage. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

Yield:  1 drink

Ingredients

1 1/2 ounces blanco tequila

3/4 ounce Pimm’s No. 1

2 ounces lemonade

3 dashes Bitter Truth Celery Bitters

3 slices cucumber

3 basil leaves

Directions

Combine ingredients in mixing glass; gently muddle. Add ice, then shake. Double strain over fresh ice and garnish with a cucumber ribbon and a basil leaf.

La Piñata

"It's simple to make your own pepper-infused tequila," says Gibson, who admits that La Piñata is his favorite of the tequila creations he makes, because the cilantro and the heat are a match made in mixology heaven. Just slice one serrano in half lengthwise and drop it into a bottle of tequila. Let it sit for 24 hours, then taste. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

“It’s simple to make your own pepper-infused tequila,” says Gibson, who admits that La Piñata is his favorite of the tequila creations he makes, because the cilantro and the heat are a match made in mixology heaven. Just slice one serrano in half lengthwise and drop it into a bottle of tequila. Let it sit for 24 hours, then taste. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

Yield: 1 drink

Ingredients

2 ounces serrano-infused blanco tequila

1 ounce fresh pineapple juice

3/4 ounce lime juice

1/2 ounce agave syrup

2 pineapple leaves

1 lime wheel

3 sprigs cilantro, leaves torn

Directions

Shake ingredients in mixing glass with ice. Double strain over fresh ice and garnish with pineapple leaves, a lime wheel and cilantro.

La Siesta

A Paloma is a beloved cocktail made with tequila and grapefruit juice. Give it a modern twist by charring the grapefruit before you juice it so it caramelizes slightly (simply halve the grapefruit and toss it onto a hot grill until you see grill marks). For a garnish, a charred grapefruit slice adds visual interest and even more smoky flavor. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

A Paloma is a beloved cocktail made with tequila and grapefruit juice. Give it a modern twist by charring the grapefruit before you juice it so it caramelizes slightly (simply halve the grapefruit and toss it onto a hot grill until you see grill marks). For a garnish, a charred grapefruit slice adds visual interest and even more smoky flavor. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

Yield: 1 drink

Ingredients

2 ounces reposado tequila

2 ounces charred grapefruit juice

1/2 ounce lime juice

1/2 ounce cinnamon simple syrup

1 charred grapefruit segment

2 cinnamon sticks

Directions

Shake ingredients in mixing glass with ice. Double strain over fresh ice and garnish with charred grapefruit segment and cinnamon sticks.

The Palomino

Vanilla plays well with reposado tequila, bringing out its rich barrel-aged flavor. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

Vanilla plays well with reposado tequila, bringing out its rich barrel-aged flavor. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

For this recipe, it’s simple to make your own vanilla bean syrup. Simply combine 1 cup each of sugar and water in a small saucepan, along with a vanilla bean (slice it down the middle and scrape the black seeds into the liquid mixture, along with the pod). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the sugar has dissolved. If you don’t feel like making your own syrup, substitute Licor 43, a Spanish liquor with hints of vanilla and citrus, for the syrup and lime juice called for in the recipe.

Yield: 1 drink

Ingredients

2 ounces reposado tequila

1 ounce lime juice

1/2 ounce vanilla bean syrup

1/2 ounce ginger juice

1 lime wheel

1 candied ginger

Directions

Shake ingredients in mixing glass with ice. Strain over fresh ice and garnish with a lime wheel and candied ginger.

Thyme Me

The Thyme Me is a fun alternative to a Bloody Mary, featuring classic breakfast flavors like maple syrup and bacon. Keep the garnish in place as you sip, so you get the aromatics from the bacon. Then, when you've finished your drink, it's snack time. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

The Thyme Me is a fun alternative to a Bloody Mary, featuring classic breakfast flavors like maple syrup and bacon. Keep the garnish in place as you sip, so you get the aromatics from the bacon. Then, when you’ve finished your drink, it’s snack time. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

Yield: 1 drink

Ingredients

2 ounces reposado tequila

1 ounce lemon juice

3/4 ounce maple syrup

1 bacon strip

3 sprigs thyme

Directions

Combine ingredients in mixing glass; gently muddle. Add ice, then shake. Double strain over fresh ice. Garnish with a strip of crispy bacon and a thyme sprig.

Loosen the Reins

This cocktail, deep and complex, is basically an Old Fashioned made with tequila instead of bourbon. It's perfect for after dinner -- like dessert in a glass, thanks to the addition of the chocolate bitters. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

This cocktail, deep and complex, is basically an Old Fashioned made with tequila instead of bourbon. It’s perfect for after dinner — like dessert in a glass, thanks to the addition of the chocolate bitters. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

Yield: 1 drink

Ingredients

2 1/2 ounces añejo tequila

1/2 ounce agave syrup

3 to 4 dashes Fee Brothers Aztec chocolate bitters

1 orange peel

Directions

Combine ingredients in mixing glass. Add ice, then stir. Strain over fresh ice. Express orange peel over drink and around rim.

Tiny Bubbles

Who knew tequila and prosecco, champagne or cava would work so well together? Balanced, light and perfect for brunch, this cocktail shows that the spirit isn't all muscle and fire. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

Who knew tequila and prosecco, champagne or cava would work so well together? Balanced, light and perfect for brunch, this cocktail shows that the spirit isn’t all muscle and fire. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

Yield: 1 drink

Ingredients

1 ounce blanco tequila

1/2 ounce grapefruit-infused St. Germain

1/2 ounce lemon juice

1 lemon peel

4 to 5 seedless red grapes

Sparkling wine

Directions

Combine ingredients (except for sparkling wine) in mixing glass; muddle. Add ice, then shake. Double strain over fresh ice, then top with sparkling wine. Garnish with a lemon peel and grapes.

Main photo: Tequila is experiencing a renaissance, with producers crafting single-estate and vintage-dated tequilas. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

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Distiller’s Green Chile Vodka Adds A Kick To Cocktails Image

One whiff, and I knew the guys at St. George had done it again — their new line of vodkas hit all the right notes, albeit some unusual ones. The bottle I was sniffing was the Green Chile Vodka, made with jalapeño, serrano and habanero chile peppers, and red and yellow bell peppers as well as lime zest and cilantro. The sweet heat and spice of the peppers was palpable, and a quick sip followed through with pure chile pepper flavors backed with a surprisingly subtle heat, a nice mix that got the juices flowing.

St. George Spirits has been a pioneer in the craft-distilling movement for more than 30 years. Back in the company’s infancy, it created eau-de-vie in a copper-pot still using a recipe from founder Jorg Rupf’s German childhood. Master distiller Lance Winters joined Rupf years later, and the two came up with the idea of making flavor-infused vodka using the eau-de-vie method. The process involves fermenting ripe fruit and roasted grains, building the flavor on the front end before distillation. “We learn more from chefs and perfume makers than from other distillers,” Winters said in a recent interview.

Hangar 1 Vodka is born

The St. George Spirits distillery. Credit: Copyright 2015 Brooke Jackson

The St. George Spirits distillery. Credit: Copyright 2015 Brooke Jackson

They called their vodka Hangar 1, named after the airplane hangar at the defunct Alameda Naval Air Station in Northern California that now houses the distillery. The first flavor used mandarin blossoms, which were fermented and then distilled. They made 200 cases, priced it at $40 a bottle and sold out almost immediately.

Next up they made a kaffir lime flavor, which reflected their love of food from Southeast Asia; it had an appealing soft, woody quality that was very popular. Finally, the pair got a case of Buddha’s hand, the unusual, intensely floral citrus fruit, and fermented and distilled that; this became Winters’ favorite flavor, and the legend of Hangar 1 vodka was born.

Hangar 1 was so popular it was hard for Rupf and Winters to keep up with production, which prompted them to move into the spacious airplane hangar from their first distillery. The brand’s wild success exceeded both of their expectations.

In 2010, they sold off Hangar 1 to Proximo Spirits and, not long after, Rupf retired. The management at St. George signed a non-compete agreement in effect until the beginning of this year, when it released a trio of new vodkas. Besides the green chile flavor, the distiller crafted California Citrus Vodka out of Valencia and Seville oranges and bergamot and All Purpose Vodka made with a non-GMO base spirit and a touch of distilled pears. By all accounts, each variety is stellar, garnering a lot of praise from the press and liquor industry pundits.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the green chile variety is a “real stunner,”and K&L Wine Merchants published this compliment on its website: “All hail the new kings of American vodka. The boys from the East Bay are back to claim the crown and the throne.”

A little heat for your cocktails

The Green Chile Vodka from St. George Spirits. Credit: Copyright 2015 Jason Tinacci

The Green Chile Vodka from St. George Spirits. Credit: Copyright 2015 Jason Tinacci

The Green Chile Vodka is by far the most unusual and was inspired by a stint in the early 1990s when Winters worked at a brewpub and would drink the leftover liquid from the house-made salsa fresca. Given that pedigree, the spirit is perfect in bloody Mary cocktails, including an offbeat one made with garden-fresh summer tomatoes, lemon juice and zest and a touch of Sriracha sauce (see recipe below).

The flavor also lends itself to any cocktail with fresh fruit juices. Hopscotch restaurant in Oakland, California, makes one called Your Cheatin’ Heart with pineapple and lime juices and a rim dip of smoked salt. The Spicy Paloma (from St. George) pairs the vodka with grapefruit and lime juices and club soda. Spiking a traditional agua fresca with the chile-laced spirit is a natural, especially when made with any type of melon juice (see recipe below).

Winters and his sidekick, distiller Dave Smith, are original thinkers, artists who use unusual ingredients as their paintbrush and the still as their canvas. The addition of these vodkas to their existing portfolio of 18 liquors — running from fruit brandy to single malt to agricole rum — continues the spirit of originality that has guided the distillery since its inception.

Chile-spiked Agua Fresca

Chile-spiked Agua Fresca. Credit: Copyright 2015 Brooke Jackson

Chile-spiked Agua Fresca. Credit: Copyright 2015 Brooke Jackson

Yield: 1 drink

Ingredients

1 cup watermelon pulp, whirred in a blender to juice

Juice of 1/2 lime

1 1/2 ounces St. George Green Chile Vodka

Lime wedge for garnish

Directions

1. Shake the first three ingredients with ice and strain into a coupe glass.

2. Garnish with a lime wedge

Zippy Bloody Mary

A Zippy Bloody Mary. Credit: Copyright 2015 Brooke Jackson

A Zippy Bloody Mary. Credit: Copyright 2015 Brooke Jackson

Yield: 1 drink

Ingredients

1 medium juicy, ripe tomato, whirred in a blender to thin to a purée

1/2 teaspoon Sriracha sauce

Juice and zest of 1 small lemon

1 1/2 ounces of St. George Green Chile Vodka

Yellow pear or Sungold cherry tomatoes and celery stick for garnish

Directions

1. Shake the first four ingredients with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

2. Garnish with skewered cherry tomatoes and a celery stick.

 

Main photo: St. George Spirits owner and master distiller Lance Winters, left, and distiller and blender Dave Smith. Credit: Copyright 2015 Ben Krantz

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8 Cocktails Lift Whiskey Off The Rocks Image

With microdistilleries putting out pure flavor perfection in handcrafted vodkas and whiskeys, barkeeps and mixologists don’t need to invent the next rocket-fueled concoction, they just need to get the classics right. Serving up the perfect Manhattan, Old Fashioned or whiskey sour is back to being an art form all its own with the right glass, the perfectly aged blend and a classic finishing touch.

So to celebrate the signature style of your new favorite whiskey, skip the ethereal search for the latest cocktail craze and just master these eight simple classics or settle into an easy chair with a tumbler of “brown spirits” served neat or on the rocks. Because whether it’s Kentucky bourbon, Tennessee whiskey or Single Malt Islay Scotch, there’s no better way to catch the subtleties, nuances and complexities of a truly great blend than when it’s served straight up.

More from Zester Daily:

» 10 ways fresh herbs can give cocktails a kick

» Rye whiskey, once classic, rises again

» Fruit-infused booze for bold sippers

» Lakes Distillery whiskey captures spirit of the UK

Main photo: A Bourbon & Blood Orange. Credit: Copyright 2015 Caroline J. Beck

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10 Ways Fresh Herbs Can Give Cocktails A Kick Image

The best summer cocktails are light and refreshing and reflect the flavors of the season. Across the United States, bartenders are turning to summer herbs to add bright, fresh flavors to their drinks. Here are 10 easy ways to add your favorite herbs to your own cocktails.

More from Zester Daily:

»  10 ways to take summer herbs beyond garnish

»  How to grow the best herbs at home

»  Preserve herb flavors with compound butter

»  Lavender: 7 ways to perfume your food

Main photo: Give your summer cocktails a summer kick with basil, rosemary, thyme and other herbs. Credit: Copyright Josh Wand

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Cocktail Tip: Infusing Vodka With Summer Fruit Image

Infusing vodka with fruit is perfect for summer and holiday entertaining. Colorful and easy to make, all you do is place the washed fruit into a clean glass jar, pour in the unflavored vodka, cover and store until the fruit has transferred its flavors to the vodka. The resulting infused spirit can be sipped by itself or used in a deliciously refreshing cocktail. That’s it. Wash, pour, cover, wait and enjoy.

Flavored vs. infused

Umeshu after one year. Credit: Copyright David Latt

Umeshu, after one year. Credit: Copyright David Latt

All the popular spirits — bourbon, tequila, gin, brandy and rum — can be infused with savory or sweet flavors. Vodka is the easiest because it is more neutral than the others.

You may have seen vodkas labeled as infused with lemons, oranges, cranberries, pomegranates and raspberries. In point of fact, they are actually flavored artificially. The taste of those vodkas ranges from passable to medicinal.

Creating your own flavors allows you to control the quality and the strength of the infusion. Using a farmers-market-fresh approach will bring a farm-to-table excellence to your cocktails.

How long to infuse?

Ume or green at Marukai Market (West Los Angeles, CA), sold to make umeshu. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Ume or green plums at Marukai Market in West Los Angeles. They’re used to make umeshu. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Generally speaking, soft fruit needs less time to transfer its flavors. Strawberries for instance need only a few hours or a day at most. With quick infusions, taste frequently and strain out the fruit when you have the flavor you want. When the fruit is removed, the infusion stops.

With a firmer fruit such as cherries, infusion can take longer. To make the Italian liqueur limoncello, lemon peels remain in the vodka for several months. When making umeshu, Japanese plum wine made with green plums called ume, the plums take a year to complete the infusion process.

When making infusions, no need to use premium vodkas. The fruit so dominates the flavor, buying affordable vodka is definitely the way to go.

Infused vodkas can be used as the basis of any number of cocktails. Personally, I enjoy them over ice, neat or with a mix of soda water. Simpler is better. The result is deliciously refreshing, especially on a warm summer day.

Cherry-Infused Vodka

Bing cherries being washed in a colander. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Bing cherries are best for vodka infusions. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Buy good quality, unblemished cherries, preferably Bing cherries because they are fat and sweet. The cherries can be pitted, in which case they will give up their flavor more quickly. But over time the cherries will become less firm. I prefer to keep them whole so they can be served as an adult dessert.

Use glass jars, any size you have on hand. Wash the jars and tops in hot, soapy water and rinse well. Quart juice or canning jars work very well. Use the cherries separately as a dessert by themselves, with plain yogurt or as a topping on ice cream.

The infused vodka can be served cold as a shooter with a cherry as garnish or in a mixed cocktail of your choice. Leave the cherry whole or finely chop when using as a garnish.

Add more vodka when needed to keep the cherries covered. Keep refrigerated.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Infusion time: a week to a month

Yield: two quarts

Ingredients

3 pounds fresh cherries, preferably Bing, washed, pat dried, stems removed

1 quart unflavored vodka

Directions

1. Examine each cherry. Reserve for another use any that are blemished or over ripe.

2. Remove and discard any stems.

3. Place the whole cherries into the jars.

4. Fill with unflavored vodka.

5. Cap and place in the back of the refrigerator.

6. Serve cold. Pour the infused vodka into small glasses garnished with cherries (whole or finely chopped) from the jar.

7. Add vodka to keep the cherries covered. Refrigerate.

Umeshu or Japanese Plum Wine

Ume or green plums, Japanese rock sugar, unflavored vodka in a glass jar to make umeshu. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Mix ume or green plums, Japanese rock sugar, unflavored vodka in a glass jar to make umeshu. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Although frequently called plum wine, ume is actually more of a apricot and umeshu is a liqueur. Available in Japanese and Korean markets, ume are also sold in Middle Eastern grocery stores. Armenians and Iranians eat the unripened plums raw but do not use them to prepare a liquor. In Asia, ume are also eaten preserved in salt and called umebsoshi in Japan.

Sold at a premium price because of the short growing season in the spring, only use green, unripe fruit. Ripe ume should not be used.

Mention umeshu to someone from Japan and invariably they will smile

Umeshu shooters with chopped macerated ume (Japanese green plums). Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Umeshu shooters with chopped macerated ume (Japanese green plums). Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Traditionally umeshu is made by grandmothers. In the spring when the plums appear in the markets, dull green and hard as rocks, the grandmothers buy up all they can find, place them in a large jar, add rock sugar and shōchū (similar in taste to vodka). The jar is placed under the sink and everyone waits a year until the plums soften and the shōchū has mellowed.

After a year in their sweetened, alcoholic bath, the ume can be eaten. I like to include them in the cocktail, either whole or cut off the pit, chopped up and added as a flavor garnish that can be eaten with a small spoon.

Only use unblemished, unripe fruit.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Infusion time: one year

Yield: 2 quarts umeshu, 2 quarts macerated umeIngredients

2 pounds ume or green plums, washed, stems removed

1 pound Japanese rock sugar

1.75 ml unflavored vodka

Directions

1. Wash well a gallon glass jar.

2. Place the ume into the jar.

3. Add the rock sugar.

4. Pour in the vodka. Stir well.

5. Cover.

6. Place in a dark, cool area where the jar will be undisturbed for a year.

7. Serve ice cold with macerated ume whole or chopped up as garnish.

 Top photo: Bing cherry-infused vodka in quart jars. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

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5 Cocktails That Will Carry You Away Image

I’ve always felt that the best wine experiences can be divided into two categories: immersion and transportation.

The former is a sip of Pinot in a dank Burgundian cellar, the barrel sample pulled by a vigneron in must-spattered boots. The latter is any great Burgundy on your table that carries you back to that moment.

Food can do the same: biting into Dungeness crab within the sound of crashing surf on the Oregon Coast, or a perfectly crafted risotto that takes you back to an Italian piazza. These flavors are grounded in geography. They immerse you more deeply into where you are, or they transport you in an instant to a place where you’ve been or someday hope to go.

So for this reason, I’ve always cast a wary eye on cocktails. It might be due to the fact that I came of age in the dark days of Jell-O shots and butterscotch schnapps, long before the current cocktail renaissance. But I’ve also found it difficult to reconcile this notion of immersion and transportation with mixed drinks. Is there a sense of geography in a cocktail when it can be made almost anywhere by a skilled hand and the right ingredients?

I recently set out to explore this question, and was surprised by what I found.

Art Tierce is assistant winemaker at Ransom Wine & Spirits. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Baker

To experiment with making cocktails, mixologist Art Tierce suggests sticking to known recipes then tweaking one ingredient at a time until you get what you want. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Baker

Creative Mixology

Art Tierce might be the perfect person to ask about cocktails and terroir, that flexible French notion that loosely translates as sense of place. He’s an assistant winemaker at Ransom Wines & Spirits and grew up in wine country in Santa Rosa, California, where the vineyards started just beyond center field of his little league ballpark. But he strayed into the world of bartending with stints in Las Vegas and Portland before joining Ransom in Sheridan, Oregon, to make wine.

When Tierce isn’t manning the pumps or working harvest, he serves as resident mixologist, finding creative ways to showcase Ransom’s artisanal spirits in mixed drinks. When I arrived at the distillery, Tierce was waiting with an upended whiskey barrel arrayed with the gear needed to mix three cocktails evocative of the Northwest in late winter — all of them featuring Ransom’s sweet vermouth, produced with the region’s grapes.

“The trends tend to be darker, heavier, richer flavors in the winter,” said Tierce as he mixed a cocktail he calls “Empty Chamber,” a full-flavored, low-alcohol drink with sherry, vermouth and egg white. “The flavors represent cold winter months, but you’re not going to get this waft of alcohol.”

And indeed, the complexity of the flavors combined with the richness of the mouthfeel and texture evoked the roiling maritime clouds that slip over the Coast Range and hang over the valley for much of the season.

Next up was “New World Voyages,” a rum-based drink that places the spirits up front. “I’ve always found that in the winter, and especially living in Oregon with the dark, cloudy, overcast skies, that I love rum,” Tierce said, shaking a drink that may call winter skies to mind, but also offers a hint of brightness. “I think most people think of rum as their summer beverage.”

His last suggestion, “The Emerald, by Ransom,” is a twist on a classic Manhattan that uses their Irish whiskey, The Emerald 1865. It is a recreation of a recipe from the late 19th century discovered buried in archives. “It historically represents how dense and aromatic the Irish whiskies of the heyday were,” Tierce said of their flagship spirit, stirring a drink that served as a foundation, showcasing the whiskey’s malty notes, and creating something strong enough to stand up to the season.

With the three drinks lined up on a barrel in an Oregon Coast Range distillery, the ornate onion dome of the Ransom still looming overhead like something out of a Jules Verne novel, I certainly started to feel that sense of place as we tasted through Tierce’s creations.

Art Tierce, of Ransom Wine & Spirits, creates cocktails that evoke the stormy Oregon coast. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Baker

Cocktails are ephemeral — they begin to change as soon as ice begins to melt and the zest of orange dissipates. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Baker

The Human Factor

I carried this question of cocktail terroir to my local mixologist. Michael Monroe tends bar at a cozy college town speakeasy in Corvallis, Oregon. Not even visible from the street, you need to slip through the front door of a restaurant called Magenta and descend a flight of stairs to find SnugBar, where Monroe focuses on cultivating the next generation of cocktail connoisseurs.

At my elbow in the tight quarters, a college-age drinker ordered a whiskey sour. Monroe checked his ID and grew excited. “Hey man, have you always ordered good cocktails?” he asked.

The kid shrugged. After Monroe mixed the drink, he leaned over to me: “That kid turned 21 a few months ago and he just ordered a nine-dollar whiskey sour.” It’s not the price tag that earned Monroe’s enthusiasm. “If I wasn’t striving to make a really good whiskey sour that’s worth the money, they wouldn’t be doing that.”

For Monroe, his aim is to cultivate long-term customers. He’d much rather see them savor a pair of well-crafted drinks and keep coming back for years rather than load up and burn out early on the bar scene. Quality, sustainability and moderation go together.

When I shared my concept of transportation and immersion, Monroe mixed me a Kingston Club from their drink menu, one based on a recipe from Portland bartender and writer Jeffrey Morganthaler. Centered on Drambuie, with the spirit’s malt whiskey, spice and honey conjuring its Scottish roots (hailing from a region that also knows a thing or two about clouds), the drink offsets this heaviness with a hint of tropical fruit to let in a little sunshine. It’s a balancing act. More immersion and transportation at work.

Moveable Terroir

I found that good cocktails do conjure a sense of place. The process is different from food, where it can take months to cultivate a kitchen garden to produce hyper-local produce, or wine, which requires an entire season to capture a year’s worth of weather to store in a barrel and then bottle.

With cocktails, you can even take a DIY approach. “Home mixology is at an all-time high. It’s amazing and it’s fun to be creative,” Tierce said. For those wanting to experiment, he suggests sticking to known recipes and then tweaking one ingredient at a time until you get a feel for what you want to accomplish. He also recommends Morganthaler’s “The Bar Book” as a starting point.

Tierce’s key advice? Use the best ingredients: “You can never fake fresh, ever.”

Emily Mistell, who mixes drinks at Portland, Oregon’s popular Rum Club, underscores the importance of freshness. “We change our menu at the club with the seasons, trying to utilize as many fresh local ingredients as we can,” she said.

As for Mistell’s recommendation for a drink that can send you somewhere else? “My all-time favorite cocktail year round might have to be a drink from Martinique (French Virgin Islands) called the Ti’ Punch.”

It’s been said that the three key ingredients of terroir are weather, soil and people. With cocktails, the human factor is critical — a person creates a great drink right before your eyes. Cocktails are ephemeral, effervescent. They begin to change as soon as the ice begins to melt and the zest of orange dissipates. But your bartender remains, ready to mix the next drink. It’s all about good ingredients combined with performance art. The terroir isn’t a gravelly hillside or the black loam of Granny’s river bottom garden — it’s the flesh, bone and creativity of your resident mixologist.

Empty Chamber

Yield: one drink

Ingredients

1.5 ounces Ransom Sweet Vermouth
3/4 ounce oloroso sherry
1/2 ounce Ransom Old Tom Gin
1/2 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/4 ounce rich demerara syrup
White of one egg
Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters

Directions

Dry shake, then add ice. Shake, strain and garnish with Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters dripped on top with a design.

New World Voyages

Yield: one drink

Ingredients

1 ounce Ransom Old Tom Gin
1 ounce Ransom Sweet Vermouth
1 ounce Pampero Aniversario Rum
2 dashes orange bitters
Zest and peel of 1 orange and 1 lemon

Directions

Stir over ice, strain into an old-fashioned glass with a big cube of ice. Add zest and peel of an orange and a lemon.

The Emerald, by Ransom

Yield: one drink

Ingredients

2 1/4 ounces Ransom 1865
3/4 ounce Ransom Sweet Vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 dash orange bitters
Zest and peel of 1 orange

Directions

Stir, strain into a coupe, add zest and peel of an orange.

The Kingston Club

Yield: one drink

Ingredients

1 1/2ounces Drambuie
1 1/2 ounces pineapple juice
3/4 ounce lime juice
1 teaspoon Fernet Branca
3 dashes Angostura bitters
1 ounce soda water

Directions

Shake ingredients with ice and finish with 1 ounce soda water. Strain mix over fresh ice into a chilled Collins glass and garnish with an orange twist.

Ti’ Punch

Yield: one drink

Ingredients

2 ounces Rhum agricole (my favorite is Clement Canne Bleue or Neisson)
Fresh sugar cane syrup
Fresh limes

Directions

Experiment with your own lime and sugar ratios: everyone likes something different. Using ice is optional, but Mistell suggests one large cube.

Recipes: Empty Chamber, New World Voyages and The Emerald, by Ransom courtesy Art Tierce, Ransom Wines & Spirits; Kingston Club courtesy Jeffrey Morganthaler; Ti’Punch courtesy Emily Mistell of the Rum Club

Main photo: Art Tierce, assistant winemaker at Ransom Wine & Spirits, is also a mixologist who specializes in cocktails with rich, evocative flavors. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Baker

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Gin Makes The Perfect Winter Cocktail Image

Gin, a crystal-clear distilled grain spirit, dates to at least the 1600s and was initially touted as a medicinal cure for everything from stomachaches to gout. Its predominant flavor comes from juniper berries, a fragrant spice that I think is especially suited to winter tastes.

An ingredient in many classic cocktails, gin is one of those spirits that is much better in mixed drinks. In fact, gin is used in more cocktails than any other spirit. It’s a key ingredient in the martini, gin and tonic, Negroni, Gimlet and dozens more.

This holiday season, try a classic Italian Negroni or one of the signature cocktails curated by celebrity mixologist Kathy Casey and the gintologists at Martin Miller’s Gin.

Negroni

Courtesy: Berkshire Mountain Distillers

Yield: 1 serving

Ingredients

1 ounce gin

1 ounce Campari

1 ounce sweet vermouth

Orange or lemon twist

Directions

1. Pour gin, Campari and sweet vermouth into a mixing glass. Add ice.

2. Stir well with a bar spoon for 40 to 45 revolutions.

3. Strain into a chilled martini cocktail glass.

4. Garnish with orange or lemon twist.

Snow Drift

Snow Drift is frothy and light. Credit: Martin Miller Gin licate frothiness reminiscent of fresh snow.

Perfect for après-ski, the Snow Drift is light and festive with a delicate frothiness reminiscent of fresh snow. Credit: Martin Miller’s Gin

Courtesy: Martin Miller’s Gin

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

4 ounces (1/2 cup) gin

1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) fresh lemon juice

1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) cranberry ginger syrup (recipe follows)

1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) pasteurized egg whites

1 cup of ice

Optional garnish: candied ginger and fresh cranberry

Directions

1. Combine the gin, lemon juice, syrup and egg whites in a blender with 1 cup of ice.

2. Blend on high until ice is totally blended and drink is frothy.

3. Pour into coupe glasses. Garnish with candied ginger and a cranberry on a toothpick, if you like.

Cranberry Ginger Syrup

Yield: Makes about 20 ounces or enough for 12 cocktails

Ingredients

1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries

4 teaspoons finely grated orange zest

4 teaspoons finely minced fresh ginger

2 cups sugar

Directions

1. Put the cranberries, orange zest, ginger, sugar and 2 cups of water into a small sauce pan.

2. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat for 1 minute then turn off heat.

3. Let steep for 30 minutes.

4. Strain through a fine mesh strainer. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Citrus Sparkle

Citrus Sparkle includes clementines or tangerines. Credit: Martin Miller Gin rtin Miller Gin

Rosemary is a lovely addition to the natural juniper and other herbal flavors in gin. Credit: Martin Miller’s Gin

Courtesy: Martin Miller’s Gin

Yield:  1 serving

Ingredients

1/4 clementine, tangerine or mandarin

3 ounces (1/3 cup) Citrus Gin Pre-Mix (recipe follows)

1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) brut Champagne or sparkling wine, chilled

Small rosemary sprig as garnish

Directions

1. Squeeze the clementine and put it into a cocktail shaker.

2. Add the Citrus Gin Pre-Mix, fill with ice, and shake vigorously.

3. Strain into a champagne flute.

4. Top with champagne and garnish with a small sprig of rosemary.

Citrus Gin Pre-Mix

Yield: Makes enough for about 10 to 12 cocktails

Ingredients

1/2 cup Cointreau

1/2 cup simple syrup

2/3 cup fresh lemon juice

Directions

1. Combine the Cointreau, simple syrup and lemon juice.

2. Pour into a sealable bottle or jar and store refrigerated for up to 7 days.

Gin Party Punch

This party punch is made with gin and Orange Pekoe tea. Credit: Martin Miller Gin

This punch is perfect for a large crowd and can be made up to four days in advance. Credit: Martin Miller’s Gin

Courtesy: Martin Miller’s Gin

This punch is perfect for a large crowd and can be made up to four days in advance. For a festive look, serve in a large crystal bowl over an ice mold studded with sliced mandarin oranges and pomegranate seeds.

Yield: About 16 to 20 servings

Ingredients

3 Orange Pekoe tea bags

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 bottle (750 ml) Martin Miller’s Gin

1 cup pomegranate juice

3/4 cups fresh orange juice

3/4 cups pineapple juice

1 cup fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons Angostura bitters

Optional garnishes: pomegranate seeds, sliced mandarin, oranges, lemons

Nutmeg

Directions

1. Bring 3 cups water and tea bags to a boil.

2. Add the sugar, stirring to dissolve.

3. Remove from heat, let steep 10 minutes, then strain and cool.

4. Add the gin, pomegranate, orange, pineapple and lemon juices, and bitters.

5. Stir and chill until ready to serve.

6. Add sliced mandarins or oranges or lemons and pomegranate seeds before serving, if desired.

7. Serve in ice-filled glasses topped with grated, fresh nutmeg.

Main photo: The classic Italian Negroni is made with gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. Credit: Francine Segan

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Caribbean Sorel Adds A Splash Of Color To Cocktails Image

My father’s home of Trinidad & Tobago is filled with astounding diversity — its ecology, its people and, not least of all, its food. Featuring a cuisine that is a mix of African, East Indian, Chinese, Native Islander, Spanish and Portuguese influences, holidays in the twin-island nation run the gamut of cultures.

At Christmastime, Spanish pasteles made by the dozens by some families are sold by street vendors, and costumed bands sing parang or, really, paranda — that is, Spanish ballads — door to door. A rummy fruitcake descended and evolved from the original made by 18th-century Irish indentures is a must have, as is sorel, a punch made from steeped Roselle hibiscus flowers native to West Africa that came to the Caribbean and Latin America as part of the Atlantic slave trade. Sorel drinks, like peanut punch and a wide canon of Trinidadian recipes, have a strong foundation in the cuisine of West Africans brought as slaves to the island in the 16th, 17th and early 18th centuries.

Sorel can be used in alcoholic, nonalcoholic drinks

Sorel is made from the calyxes of Roselle hibiscuses. Naturally tart, the flower mixture is sweetened with sugar and made aromatic with cinnamon and clove. In Trinidad, where it has become popular year-round, bay leaf is also added, while ginger is a common addition in other island nations such as Jamaica.

Sorel is most often made at home during the holiday season, and then rum or gin can be added as desired. In the United States, Jackie Summers, a former publishing executive from Brooklyn, began bottling Sorel, a premixed alcoholic version of the drink, in 2012.

“My first encounter with sorel was around (at) 5 years old at the annual West Indian Day parade in Brooklyn,” said Summers, who often refers to himself as “the Liquortarian.” “There was dancing and floats and steel drum music and beef patties and this delicious tart drink that tasted like nothing I’d ever had.”

As an adult, Summers tinkered with making Sorel in his home kitchen, eventually bottling an alcoholic version of the drink for family and friends.

“I’d been making Sorel at home for friends and family for almost 20 years with no commercial aspirations,” he said. “Then four years ago I had a cancer scare. When I was lucky enough to come out of surgery and found that the tumor on my spine was benign and I found out I was going to live, I knew I couldn’t go back to my old life in corporate America.”

After a promising start in 2012 and then devastation of his Red Hook facilities during Hurricane Sandy later that year, Summers rebuilt what is now an award-winning brand. You can find where Sorel is sold near you using this locator.

Summers’ version of the traditional drink is smooth yet complex, proving itself an ideal mixer for all manner of holiday cocktails. Moroccan Roselle hibiscus is mixed with a pure wheat alcohol that is both certified organic and kosher then spiced with Nigerian ginger, Indonesian nutmeg, cassia and Brazilian clove.

Sorel works particularly well with sparkling wine or in the Crown Heights Negroni (see recipe below), developed by Summers. The liqueur’s rich red color adds vibrancy to yuletide or New Year’s cocktail gatherings.

Whether making sorel at home with the recipe below or buying Summers’ variety, home mixologists will find this sweet-tart ruby elixir an indispensable twist for holiday entertaining.

Homemade Sorel

This traditional version of sorel is nonalcoholic and can be served as a refreshing punch for all or spiked with a little rum, vodka or gin. It is particularly nice mixed in equal parts with sparkling wine. The addition of ginger varies from island to island — it’s always used in Jamaica, for example, but never in Trinidad. Add it or not, according to your tastes. This drink can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: About 30 minutes

Total time: About 35 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

2 cups dried hibiscus flowers (available in Caribbean and Middle Eastern markets) or 4 bags pure hibiscus tea (for example, Yogi)

1 cup sugar

1/2 cinnamon stick

1 whole clove

1 teaspoon grated ginger (optional)

7 cups water, divided

Directions

1. Combine the hibiscus flowers or tea bags, sugar, cinnamon stick, clove, ginger (if using) and 3 cups of water in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and allow to simmer for 20 minutes or until reduced by half.

2. Remove from heat and cover the pan. Allow to steep for 1 hour, then strain. Add remaining 4 cups of cold water and let chill.

Sorel-Coconut Vodka Martini

Coconut is mild and naturally sweet, while the sorel is tangy and bright with a gorgeous ruby-red hue. The two flavors combine beautifully in this drink enhanced by the warm spices in the hibiscus tisane.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Total time: 10 minutes

Yield: 2 cocktails

Ingredients

1/4 cup coconut palm sugar

2 curls of lime rind, about 3 inches long

2 cinnamon sticks

4 ice cubes

4 ounces coconut vodka (for example, Pearl), plus extra for rimming

1 ounce Rose’s lime juice

4 ounces homemade sorel

Directions

1. Place the coconut palm sugar in a shallow bowl or saucer and set aside.

2. Wet a folded, clean paper towel with some of the coconut vodka and wipe around the rims of two large martini glasses.

3. Holding the glasses by the stems, tip the rims into the sugar, twirling to coat evenly.

4. Curl the lime rind loosely around each cinnamon stick and carefully place the cinnamon sticks in the glasses; set aside.

5. Pour the ice cubes, coconut vodka, Rose’s lime juice and sorel into a martini shaker. Shake until the outside of the shaker is cold.

6. Pour the cocktails into the prepared glasses.

Crown Heights Negroni

Crown Heights Negroni. Credit:  Maya Guez

Crown Heights Negroni. Credit: Maya Guez

This gorgeous winter cocktail was created by Jackie Summers, creator and maker of Sorel hibiscus liqueur.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Total time: 5 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

8 ounces gin (for example, Tanqueray Malacca)

2 ounces Sorel

2 ounces sweet vermouth (for example, Carpano Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth)

2 ounces Campari

1 cup ice (optional)

4 dehydrated orange slices for garnish (fresh may be used, too)

Directions
1. Combine the gin, Sorel, vermouth and Campari in a pitcher with the ice (if using). Stir.

2. Garnish four martini glasses with an orange slice and divide the mixture evenly among them. Serve.

Hot Buttered Sorel

Brewed with warm spices, sorel is a natural, if surprising, twist on hot buttered rum. This recipe, from Jackie Summers, makes for a cozy drink on a chilly winter’s day.

Prep and cook time: 10 minutes

Yield: 4 cocktails

Ingredients

4 tablespoon butter

8 heaped tablespoons brown sugar

12 ounces Sorel

2 ounces spiced rum

4 thin lemon slices

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions

1. Melt the butter over low heat in a medium saucepan, then add the brown sugar. Whisk well and continue to whisk until the sugar melts and begins to caramelize, about 2 minutes.

2. Stir the Sorel into the caramel mixture, whisking well.

3. Divide the mixture among 4 mugs and add an equal amount of the spiced rum to each.

4. Garnish each mug with a lemon slice and a pinch of grated nutmeg and cinnamon. Serve warm.

Main photo: Sorel, a hibiscus punch, mixes well with a variety of liquors and tropical juices. Credit: Dreamstime

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