Cocktails – Zester Daily Zester Daily Fri, 05 Jan 2018 10:00:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Punch Up Your Holiday Party With A Bowl Full Of Cheer /drinking/punch-up-your-holiday-party-with-a-bowl-full-of-cheer/ /drinking/punch-up-your-holiday-party-with-a-bowl-full-of-cheer/#respond Wed, 20 Dec 2017 10:00:59 +0000 /?p=76368 Serving punch at a holiday party is an easy way to keep the drinks flowing. Credit: Copyright 2016 Kathy Hunt

If I’ve learned one thing from throwing holiday parties, it’s this: I have neither the time nor the space to mix individual cocktails. When I need drinks for a big bash, I drag out my mother’s 1960s-era, cut-glass punch bowl and start pouring in ingredients. Punch — it’s the harried host’s friend.

What defines a punch varies. If you believe the word is a derivation of the 17th-century Sanskrit panch, which means “five,” punch is a blend of five ingredients: liquor, water, fruit, sugar and spices. Under this definition, sangria and wassail would be punches. Homemade eggnog would not.

If you opt for the Late Middle English term puncheon to explain punch, all you need is a large cask of liquids. No spices, sugar or water are needed. One of my quickest holiday concoctions, blood orange screwdrivers, fits this description. It’s a simple mixture of vodka and blood orange juice served from a large bowl.

Punch bowl pitfalls

If you don't have a punch bowl, you can keep drinks fresh by periodically making batches and serving it from pitchers -- a practice known as “cups.” Credit: Copyright 2016 Kathy Hunt

If you don’t have a punch bowl, you can keep drinks fresh by periodically making batches and serving it from pitchers — a practice known as “cups.” Credit: Copyright 2017 Kathy Hunt

No matter whether my creations use two or 10 ingredients, I try to make them as winning as possible. Even so, I occasionally fail. Take, for instance, my first attempt at “cran-cran-Pro-cran.” Made with cranberry juice, cranberry liqueur, Prosecco and frozen cranberries, this intoxicating red potion seemed a sure hit.

It began well. At the start of the evening, its luscious ruby color beckoned guests to the punch bowl. Pleasingly plump, bobbing cranberries enticed them to ladle out cup after cup. The promise of chilled, tart-yet-sweet, sparkling alcohol caused an eager line to form. Everyone wanted a sip of this cheery punch.

After two hours of steady stirring and scooping, the punch started to fizzle out. Those pert, round cranberries that had danced across the red sea? They now sat forlorn and misshapen at the bottom of the bowl.

Washed out punch aside, I did learn from my mistake. Unless I plan on periodically making fresh batches of sparkling, berry-dotted punch and serving it from pitchers — a practice known as “cups” — I now opt for a less delicate libation.

On cold party nights, a hot, spiked beverage sounds delightful. At least that’s how I once thought of my family’s holiday tradition of wassail.

A medieval drink associated with winter, wassail customarily contains ale or wine, spices, sugar and apples. My family recipe amps up the warming properties by calling for hot apple cider and a generous amount of white rum.

With wispy steam and hints of cinnamon, cloves and ginger rising from the punch bowl, wassail looks and smells perfect for the season. Unfortunately, as with sparkling wine-based drinks, hours of sitting out are not kind to this hot, spiced brew.

As you might expect, if left in a traditional punch bowl, wassail eventually grows cold. However, when placed in stockpot on the stove or in a slow cooker on low heat, it cooks down and becomes cloyingly sweet. Neither scenario results in an appealing beverage. Except on low-key nights when I can periodically slip into the kitchen and replenish the supply of warm, fresh wassail, I go with a different offering.

Try a punch that looks and tastes good

Keep fruit-based punches cold by pouring juice into ice cube trays and adding it to the bowl throughout the evening. Credit: Copyright 2016 Kathy Hunt

Keep fruit-based punches cold by pouring juice into ice cube trays and adding the cubes to the bowl throughout the evening. Credit: Copyright 2017 Kathy Hunt

What never lets my guests or me down is a cold punch. With the exception of the historic Fish House Punch, which requires a ring of ice to cool and temper the strong combination of rum, cognac and brandy, I don’t add ice. Instead I fill insulated buckets with ice and let people chill their own drinks.

If my drink includes fruit juice, I freeze ice cube trays filled with juice and toss the cubes into the bowl as guests arrive. In the case of decadent Moose Milk (see recipe below), I substitute a half-gallon block of vanilla ice cream for ice cubes. With that, the rich, spicy eggnog stays frosty and flavorful long into the night.

When making holiday punches, I aim for looks as well as taste. Colorful cocktails such as the French white wine and crème de cassis combo Kir, the cranberry juice- and vodka-based Cape Codder and red sangria make lovely chilled punches. In truth, most cocktails look and taste fabulous when ladled from a punch bowl. Just remember to multiply the amounts required to match the head count.

This holiday season, save yourself the headache of mixing a variety of drinks. Instead, dust off the old family punch bowl, gather together a few festive ingredients and let the celebrations begin.

Moose Milk

Prep time: 5 minutes

Total time: 5 minutes

Yield: Makes 20 or more servings


1/2 gallon skim milk

1/2 gallon homemade or store-bought eggnog

2 cups dark rum

1 cup brandy

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Pinch of ground allspice

2 1/2 teaspoons grated cinnamon, divided

1 teaspoon grated nutmeg, divided

1/2 gallon good-quality vanilla ice cream


1. Place the milk, eggnog, rum, brandy, vanilla extract, allspice and half the cinnamon and nutmeg in a large punch or serving bowl and stir to combine. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

2. About 10 minutes before your guests arrive, remove the punch from the refrigerator and place the block of ice cream in the center. Sprinkle the remaining cinnamon and nutmeg over top. Serve chilled.

/drinking/punch-up-your-holiday-party-with-a-bowl-full-of-cheer/feed/ 0
Turmeric Candy: Give A Gift of Health & Drink to It Too /cooking/turmeric-candy-give-gift-health-drink/ Sun, 17 Dec 2017 10:00:25 +0000 /?p=57753 Candied turmeric provides a gift for friends -- and for yourself. The simple syrup left over from the candied turmeric recipe makes a wonderful flavoring for cocktails. Credit: David Hagerman

By now, you’ve probably heard about turmeric: the yellow-orange rhizome native to South Asia recognized for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

The ingredient in Indian and southeast Asian cuisines that colors curries and other dishes gold, turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a staple in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicines. Studies suggest that the rhizome may be helpful in treating osteoarthritis, viral and bacterial infections, stomach ulcers, cancer and other conditions.

I’ve known of turmeric’s usefulness in treating the common cold since 2008, when I stumbled upon sugar-coated slices of the rhizome at the central market in Hoi An, Vietnam. I’d been nursing a scratchy throat and runny nose for three chilly, drizzly days. When a vendor heard me cough, she pushed a bag of candied turmeric in my direction and motioned toward my throat and red eyes. I ate several slices then and there and intermittently snacked on the turmeric for the rest of the day. By morning, my sore throat was gone. By day two, I felt good as new.

A Not-So-Common Cure for the Common Cold

Over the last few years I’ve incorporated turmeric into my daily diet, usually combined with green tea, ginger and lemongrass in the form of a powerhouse infusion. I drink the refreshing, slightly spicy and astringent elixir iced, as a preventive. I haven’t suffered a cold since late 2011.

So this Christmas, I’m giving friends the gift of good health in the form of jars of candied turmeric slices (and making extra for myself to carry with me on travels). The lovely orange flesh of the rhizome has a slight bitterness that proves a wonderful foil for a coating of white sugar. To increase the snack’s healthfulness, I add black pepper — believed to increase the body’s ability to absorb turmeric’s beneficial ingredient, curcumin to the simple syrup in which I poach thin slices of turmeric.

An Unexpected Extra That You Can Tip Your Glass To

At the end, I’m left with a bonus: a beautiful, astringent-bitter simple syrup that makes a great flavoring for cocktails.

Like ginger, turmeric peels most easily with the edge of a spoon. The rhizome stains anything it touches (wear an apron) and will leave a dark orange, tacky goo on your spoon and knife. To remove it and the color that’s left on your hands, cutting board and other kitchen surfaces, wash with a kitchen cream cleanser.

Look for fresh turmeric at Whole Foods and other specialty grocery stores, gourmet markets and southeast Asian and Indian groceries.

Candied Turmeric

Prep time: 15 to 20 minutes to peel and slice the turmeric plus up to 6 hours to dry the turmeric slices.

Cook time: 20 to 25 minutes

Yield: 3/4 to 1 cup candied turmeric slices

Thin slices are paramount here, as is allowing ample time for your turmeric to dry after poaching. Rush this step and you’ll end up with unattractive clumps of sugar and rhizome.


3/4 pound fresh turmeric

1 cup water

3/4 cup sugar, plus 1/3 cup for tossing the poached turmeric


Prepping the turmeric:

1. Break any small knobs off of the main turmeric root and use the edge of a spoon to peel the skin off of all of the rhizome pieces. Use a paring knife to peel away any stubborn bits of skin.

2. Rinse the peeled turmeric and slice it as thinly as possible into coins and strips.

To candy the turmeric: 

1. In a medium saucepan, heat the water. Add 3/4 cup sugar and stir to dissolve.

2. Add the turmeric, stir to submerge all of the pieces and bring the syrup to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer briskly until the turmeric slices are tender but not limp, about 25 minutes.

3. Drain the turmeric in a colander or sieve placed over a bowl, then transfer the turmeric slices to a cooling rack set over a baking sheet or piece of foil or parchment paper. (Set the turmeric syrup aside to cool and use to flavor sparkling water and cocktails.) Arrange the turmeric slices on the rack so that they do not overlap and place in a well-ventilated spot (underneath a ceiling fan is ideal). Allow the turmeric to dry until the slices are slightly tacky but no longer wet, at least 3 hours and as many as 6 hours, depending on the temperature and ventilation in the room.

4. Toss the turmeric slices in 1/3 cup of sugar until coated. (Don’t throw away leftover sugar; it’s delicious in tea.) Store the turmeric in a clean, dry jar or other container. If you live in a hot, humid climate you may need to refrigerate it to keep the sugar from dissolving.

The Orangutang

Yield: 1 cocktail

Syrup and orange juice make this pretty and potent bourbon cocktail a little bit sweet. Campari and turmeric add a nice astringent-bitter edge; lemon juice adds a hint of tartness.


2 ounces bourbon

1 ounce Campari

1 ounce orange juice

1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) turmeric simply syrup (see Candied Turmeric recipe, above)

2 teaspoons lemon juice

Orange slice, for serving


Pour all of the ingredients except for the orange slice into a cocktail shaker. Add a handful of ice. Shake and pour the cocktail and ice into a short glass. Garnish the rim of the glass with the orange slice.

Main photo: Candied turmeric provides a gift for friends — and for yourself. The simple syrup left over from the candied turmeric recipe makes a wonderful flavoring for cocktails. Credit: Copyright 2017 David Hagerman

Bitters: Spice + Time = Cocktail And Cookie Frosting Magic /cooking/bitters-spice-time-cocktail-magic/ /cooking/bitters-spice-time-cocktail-magic/#comments Sat, 02 Dec 2017 10:00:03 +0000 /?p=40879 Making homemade bitters requires spices, alcohol, and above all, patience. Credit: Susan Lutz

Nothing gives a cocktail a kick quite like bitters. Whether it’s an Old Fashioned, a Manhattan or a Champagne Cocktail, those quick dashes from a paper-wrapped bottle turn simple alcohol into something mysterious, tangy and alluring. There are big-name bitters — Angostura and Peychauds — with secret recipes and exotic back stories. At some hipster cocktail bars, you will find mixologists with steam-punk facial hair who have whipped-up their own concoctions of bitters that are just as mysterious and secret.

But if I’m going to use bitters when sharing an Old Fashioned with my husband, I’m going to want to make my own. And that required some research.

It turns out that bitters have a long and distinguished history, a history that stretches back before the invention of distilled spirits. The angostura bitters that you find at supermarkets and liquor stores began life not as a cocktail mixer, but as a medicine.

The bitters recipe created by Dr. Johann Siegert in the town of Angostura, Venezuela, in the 1820s was meant as a digestive aid for the troops of Simon Bolivar. Folk medicine has long held that a bitter taste helps digestion. For centuries, herbalists and self-taught doctors have known that healing plants can be preserved if saved in tincture form. And a tincture is simply an herb that has been left in alcohol long enough.

I dove into online research with gusto, discovering the high-alcohol patent medicines of the 19th  century colonial era, and even some stretching back to medieval medical writers such as St. Hildegard of Bingen. But these historic recipes were extensive and required access to some bizarre herbs. Even a fairly modern recipe reverse-engineered from the Angostura original required roots and seeds that I wouldn’t find at my local grocery store.

Then I stumbled upon a simple answer: a kit.

Dash Bitters is the brainchild of Gina and Brian Hutchinson, a husband-and-wife team of DIY cocktail mavens who ran into the same problem I had.

“We found lots of old recipes online from small-town pharmacies,” Gina told me, “but when we tried to order the ingredients, we could only order in big bulk batches.” Herbs like gentian root, wormwood and burdock could only be ordered by the pound.

“You only need a teaspoon of gentian root for bitters,” Gina said, “A pound is more than any person will need in their entire lifetime. It would have been nice to have just bought a kit and not have to pay for shipping of each five times over.” That was their brainstorm. Dash Bitters was born.

Making bitters at home

I immediately went to and ordered the 1889 kit, meant to reproduce the Angosturian digestive aid for Simon Bolivar’s troops. Dash’s packaging is simple and elegant, but the herbal ingredients were the real revelation: pungent, beautiful, each with their own stories that stretched back to the era when medicine and magic were nearly identical.

Gentian Root,  the star ingredient,  actually has medical value as an anti-inflammatory and antiseptic. But in 1653 British herbalist Nicholas Culpeper noted that gentian “comforts the heart and preserves it against faintings and swoonings: the powder of the dry roots helps the biting of mad dogs and venomous beasts.” That makes for a powerful Manhattan.

The Dash kit also contains a redolent packet of cardamom. Its sweetness is a nice balance to the bitterness of gentian, and Bolivar’s army would have found it useful because it’s a proven aid for heartburn and gastric complaints.

The most interesting of the herbs to me were the round peppery seeds called grains of paradise. This West African spice was first discovered by Europeans during the Renaissance. My research took me away from the Internet and into the real world, where I had the pleasure of visiting the extraordinary collection of medieval texts of The Institute for the Preservation of Medical Traditions. Its scientific director, Alain Touwaide, showed me reproductions of historic texts and illustrations of Grains of Paradise, which he told me was more popular than black pepper in 14th-century France, and three times more expensive.

According to Touwaide’s copy of the “Tractatus de Herbis,” the spice’s pungent flavor was said to have the properties of “warming, drying and giving ease.” In “The Boke of Nurture,” John Russell described Grains of Paradise as provoking “hot and moist humors,” and apparently, that was medieval code for “aphrodisiac.” Oddly enough, a 2002 medical study showed that extracts of Grains of Paradise “significantly increased” the sexual activity of lab rats.

Microscopic view of Grains of Paradise. Credit: Susan Lutz

Microscopic view of Grains of Paradise. Credit: Copyright 2017 Susan Lutz

Dog bite treatment, gastric cure, aphrodisiac … you can see why bitters quickly migrated from the medicine chest to the cocktail bar.

Extracting the essence of these magical herbs is not a short process, and I felt like a medieval alchemist as I boiled, strained and transferred the herbal concoction from one tincture jar to another. Three weeks later, I had my own small jar of pungent, aromatic bitters, ready for its first introduction to some locally-made bourbon and a bit of sugar.

But I discovered one other interesting fact about making bitters that Gina had warned me about.  Even a small kit gives you a lot more bitters than you’ll use on your own. The solution: cooking with bitters!

So as you sip your Manhattan or Old Fashioned, you can use the rest of your alchemical digestive aid on a batch of chocolate cookie sandwiches with cherry walnut bitters frosting. It’s for your health, after all.

Chocolate Cookie Sandwiches With Cherry Walnut Bitters Frosting

(Recipe courtesy of Dash Bitters)

Makes approximately 12 small, sandwich cookies


1½ cup almond flour
¼ teaspoon salt for cookies, plus an additional pinch for frosting
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup arrowroot powder
⅛ cup cocoa powder
¼ cup grapeseed oil
⅓ cup agave nectar
⅔ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon Cherry Walnut Bitters
1½ to 1¾ cups confectioners’ sugar


1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a large bowl, mix almond flour, salt, baking soda, arrowroot powder and cocoa powder.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together the grapeseed oil, agave nectar and vanilla extract. Pour the wet ingredients into the almond flour mixture and stir until thoroughly combined.

4. With a teaspoon, scoop the dough one teaspoon at a time onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving at least two inches between each cookie. The dough will spread.

5. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until the tops of the cookies look dry and the color darkens.

6. Remove the cookies from the oven and allow the cookies to cool on a cooling rack for 10 minutes while you make the frosting.

7. Beat together cream cheese and butter on medium speed until mixture is fluffy, about one minute. Scrape down bowl with a spatula. Add cherry walnut bitters and salt. Mix on low for another minute.

8. With the mixer on low, slowly add 1 cup of the confectioners’ sugar; beat for 20 seconds. Scrape down bowl. If consistency is too soft to hold its shape, add additional confectioners’ sugar, one tablespoon at a time, until desired consistency is reached. Frosting can be kept refrigerated, in an airtight container with plastic wrap pressed on the surface, for several days.

Top photo: Making homemade bitters requires spices, alcohol and, above all, patience. Credit: Copyright 2017 Susan Lutz

/cooking/bitters-spice-time-cocktail-magic/feed/ 2
Watermelon Ice Cubes Make A Cool Summer Cocktail /drinking/74814/ /drinking/74814/#respond Thu, 10 Aug 2017 09:00:57 +0000 /?p=74814 Watermelon Surprise, watermelon ice cubes in a vodka cocktail. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

You love summer but not when it is uncomfortably hot. For relief, you could jump into the pool. Or, you could cut a thick slice of watermelon and let the sweet juices cool you down. Even better, you could fill a tall glass with a watermelon cocktail made with watermelon ice cubes and straight-from-the-freezer vodka and settle into the chaise lounge. You stir the ice cubes. Bits of watermelon juice break free. The crystal clear vodka turns pink. You sip, stir and eat a watermelon ice cube and suddenly you are not overheated any longer.  Now, you are cool and happy.

Summertime and the livin’ is easy

August is a good month for watermelon. They grow quickly in the heat of the sun, producing fat, heavy fruit loaded with sweetness.

At the farmers market I was always told to use a hand to thump on the melon. When the sound was deep and resonant, the melon was ripe, ready to eat. If there is a farmer you frequent at your neighborhood market, ask for advice about a good melon that’s ready to eat.

Prices for watermelon vary greatly. At Asian and Latin markets, watermelon can sell for as little as 10 cents a pound. At upscale supermarkets and farmers markets, the prices can be significantly higher.

A melon is delicious at room temperature or ice cold. I like to chill the melon overnight in the refrigerator. Of course, the easiest way to eat watermelon is to use a sharp knife to cut out a thick slice.

But when I was in Zurich recently I met Olivier Rais, a talented chef who runs the bistro Rive Gauche in the iconic hotel Baur au Lac across the street from Lake Geneva. He had just returned from working with Tal Ronnen, the celebrated chef who created Crossroads Kitchen, an upscale Los Angeles restaurant devoted to vegan cuisine.

Rais made several vegan dishes for me to taste, one of which was a watermelon-gazpacho served in a glass.

I love watermelon but had never thought of extracting the juice. When I replicated his gazpacho at home, I had watermelon juice left over. Deciding to experiment, I reduced the juice in a sauce pan over a low flame. Once the juice cooled, I poured it into a mini-ice cube tray.

Watermelon ice cubes in an ice cube tray. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

Watermelon ice cubes in an ice cube tray. Credit: Copyright 2017 David Latt

That night I added the ice cubes to vodka that we keep in the freezer. I dropped in an espresso spoon, settled into a chair and stirred my drink. After a few sips, I realized that I had stumbled onto an easy-to-make, deliciously refreshing cocktail. Summer’s perfect drink.

Serve the cocktail with an espresso or small spoon. One of the pleasures of the drink is stirring the ice cubes. As the ice cubes melt, the watermelon juice infuses the vodka. The mellow sweetness takes the edge off the vodka.

As you stir, the ice cubes crater and reduce by half. Use the spoon to scoop up the icy bits. In an effervescent moment, the softened ice cubes dissolve like pop rocks in your mouth.

Watermelon Surprise

Watermelon slices. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

Watermelon slices. Credit: Copyright 2017 David Latt

Use any size plastic ice cube tray. The mini-trays that make 1” square ice cubes work well because the ice cubes melt easily. Use only unflavored premium vodka, and for non-alcoholic drinks, add the ice cubes to glasses of carbonated water or lemonade.

Prep time: 30 minutes

Freezer time: 1 hour or overnight depending on the temperature of the freezer

Total time: 1 hour 30 minutes or overnight and 30 minutes

Yield: 4 servings


1 (3-pound) watermelon, washed

8 ounces unflavored premium vodka


1. Place the vodka bottle in the freezer the night before serving.

2. Using a sharp knife, remove the rind from the watermelon. Discard.

3. Cut the melon into chunks, removing any seeds.

4. Place a food mill or a fine mesh strainer over a non-reactive bowl.

5. Press the watermelon chunks through the food mill or strainer, capturing all the juice in the bowl. Discard any pulp and seeds.

6. Pour the juice into a sauce pan over low heat. Reduce volume by 30%. Remove from stove. Allow to cool.

7. Pour the reduced juice into the ice cube tray.

8. Place into freezer.

9. Just before serving, pour 1½ ounces ice cold vodka into each glass. Place 5 to 6 ice cubes into each glass.

10. Serve with an espresso or small spoon.

Main photo: Watermelon Surprise, watermelon ice cubes in a vodka cocktail. Credit: Copyright 2017 David Latt

/drinking/74814/feed/ 0
Cocktail Tip: Infusing Vodka With Summer Fruit /drinking/cocktail-tip-infusing-vodka-summer-fruit/ /drinking/cocktail-tip-infusing-vodka-summer-fruit/#comments Thu, 13 Jul 2017 09:00:48 +0000 /?p=66066 Bing cherry infused vodka in quart jars. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

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 2017 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 2017 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


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

1 quart unflavored vodka


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 2017 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 2017 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


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 2017 David Latt

/drinking/cocktail-tip-infusing-vodka-summer-fruit/feed/ 5
7 Genius Hacks For The Perfect Picnic /cooking/7-ideas-elevate-picnic-plain-glam/ /cooking/7-ideas-elevate-picnic-plain-glam/#comments Fri, 28 Apr 2017 09:00:07 +0000 /?p=65556 A smattering of food on a summer picnic.

You’re standing on a rooftop in Portland, Ore., Aperol spritz in hand. The bubbly orange cocktail matches the summer sky at sunset. Prosciutto-wrapped grissini — long, crispy breadsticks enveloped in buttery ham — appear as if by magic for snacking. City lights sparkle below and bridges reach across the Willamette River as you dine on a salad of juicy peaches, creamy burrata and fresh basil, followed by succulent roast pork with green garlic sauce. Dessert is zabaglione with ripe berries. When the sun goes down, all eyes turn to the crisp white sheet taped to the wall, where a projector beams Stanley Tucci’s “Big Night,” a film about two brothers from Italy who open a restaurant in New Jersey. You sigh contentedly as you munch on a bowl of Pecorino popcorn.

This may sound like a delicious culinary dream, but it was the Portland Picnic Society’s La Dolce Vita gathering last summer. This group of 20 ladies meets monthly in the spring and summer to throw fabulous fetes. With summer on the horizon, we’re anxious to steal some of their picnic pointers. But don’t fret if an Italian-themed al fresco gathering seems like too much to plan. “Picnics are so flexible: You can dress them up with involved recipes and elegant touches, or you can head to your favorite market and throw together a pop-up party in a matter of minutes,” says Jen Stevenson, a founding member of the Portland Picnic Society, co-author of “The Picnic: Recipes and Inspiration from Basket to Blanket,” and the gastronomical genius behind the food blog Under the Table With Jen. Get inspired for your own gathering with these ideas.

Rethink deviled eggs

Deviled eggs for a summer picnic

Making deviled eggs for a picnic? Mix it up with some different fillings. Credit: Copyright Jen Stevenson

The classic recipe always pleases, but it’s fun to take a crack at a new version. Here, two that Stevenson loves:

Try a BLT: Mix minced cooked bacon into the filling; garnish with ½ cherry tomato and a piece of baby arugula.

Perk it up with pesto: Mix in a bit of store-bought pesto to the filling, then top with tiny fresh basil leaves.

Make a daring dip

Dips for picnics

Turn your usual dips into something spectacular with color. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Reamer


Crudité and dip are an easy appetizer, but it’s fun to wow your guests with a shock of color.

“Hummus doesn’t have to be boring,” says Stevenson. “Add roasted red beets to turn the dip a gorgeous shade of magenta, or blend in a handful of parsley for a fresh flavor and a pretty green hue.”

Prep individual desserts

Desserts in individual containers

Don’t use out-of-the-box desserts. Instead, make your own in individual containers. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Reamer


What’s cuter than a mini mason jar? A sweet treat for one inside that itty-bitty container. Serve lemon curd topped with whipped cream, chocolate pudding with fresh strawberries, or a fruit and yogurt parfait. Or bake a crumble (like the Portland Picnic Society’s drool-worthy Blueberry Cardamom Crumble, pictured here) right in the jar.

“Most crumble recipes can be baked in jars or ramekins; just be careful not to overfill since they tend to bubble up while cooking,” recommends Stevenson.

Forget tired sandwiches

No ham and cheese sandwiches here. Instead, make a classic pan bagnat based on salade Nicoise. Credit: Copyright Andrea Slonecker

No ham and cheese sandwiches here. Instead, make a classic pan bagnat based on salade Nicoise. Credit: Copyright Andrea Slonecker

Turkey or tuna salad on whole wheat screams “school lunch,” not glam outdoor gathering. One of the most colorful and delicious sandwiches to bring is the classic pan bagnat, which is based on salade Nicoise.

It’s easy: Split a fresh baguette from your favorite bakery, then layer it with high-quality canned tuna, sliced hard-boiled eggs, anchovies, olives, sliced fresh tomatoes and lettuce. This is a seriously picnic-proof sandwich; the hardy crust protects the gourmet goods you stuff inside. It’s a cinch to transport if you wait and slice on-site (bring toothpicks to secure each individual sammy).

Get creative with props

Forget the plastic knives and forks. Glam up your picnic with jam jars and everyday kitchenware. Credit: Copyright Andrea Slonecker

Forget the plastic knives and forks. Glam up your picnic with jam jars and everyday kitchenware. Credit: Copyright Andrea Slonecker


Sometimes the most picturesque spots lack a picnic table, but a basket with a flat, hard top can serve as a miniature table once it’s unpacked. You can also incorporate everyday kitchenware into your spread for easier serving. Bring cutting boards and platters to set food on.

“We like to fill a Le Creuset Dutch oven with ice, then keep our wine and bottled cocktails in it,” says Stevenson. “Eight-ounce jam jars make the perfect glasses, because they’re easy to nestle into the grass.”

Another idea: Schlep goodies from the car to the picnic site in an old-school red wagon, then use the wagon as a table. If someone asks you to pass the three-bean salad, you can just give the wagon a push in her direction.

Sip in style

Skip the lemonade and try a classic Pimm's Cup with a twist. Credit: Copyright Andrea Slonecker

Skip the lemonade and try a classic Pimm’s Cup with a twist. Credit: Copyright Andrea Slonecker


With all those delicious snacks, don’t forget about drinks. The Pimm’s Cup, a classic gin-based English cocktail, is refreshing but not too sweet. With this version, from “The Picnic,” each guest gets his or her own mason-jar cocktail for easy transport.

Elderflower Pimm’s Cup

Yield: 1 serving

Excerpted from “The Picnic” by Marnie Hanel, Andrea Slonecker and Jen Stevenson (Artisan). Copyright 2015. Photographs by David Reamer.


Lemon Simple Syrup:

½ cup sugar

½ cup water

1 small lemon, zested with a peeler into ½-inch strips

Pimm’s Cup:

2 ounces Pimm’s No. 1 Cup

1 ounce St. Germain liqueur

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon Lemon Simple Syrup

1 strawberry, hulled and quartered

1 thin slice orange, quartered

3 thin slices cucumber

Club soda

1 mint sprig

1 1/2 strips lemon peel, from Lemon Simple Syrup

Mint sprigs

Paper straws


Club soda


Before the picnic:

1. Make Lemon Simple Syrup by bringing sugar and water to a gentle simmer in a small pot. Stir frequently until the sugar has dissolved and the syrup is clear. Remove from heat and add the lemon peel. Let the syrup steep for one hour. Strain the syrup into a jar. Reserve the lemon peel for garnish.

2. Combine the booze, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a Mason jar. Add the strawberry, orange, and cucumber. Replace the lid and pack in a cooler filled with ice.

At the picnic:

3. Add ice, top with club soda, garnish with a mint sprig and lemon peel strip, add a straw, and serve.

Pick a theme

Rather than just throwing food together, give your picnic a theme. Credit: Copyright Jen Stevenson

Rather than just throwing food together, give your picnic a theme. Credit: Copyright Jen Stevenson


Instead of just throwing food in your basket willynilly, pick a theme to tie everything together. Make it meze madness (meze are small plates, dips and salads common throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East) with feta-topped figs, bunches of fresh grapes, hummus and pita, kalamata olives, and dolma (grape leaves stuffed with rice).

Host a Southern soiree with deviled eggs, macaroni salad, fried chicken and sweet tea. Plan a Parisian party with roast chicken; Lyonnaise potato salad; crusty baguette with brie, Camembert and chevre; rainbow-hued macarons; and plenty of rosé.

Main photo: Turn your picnic into a feast with a few simple twists. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Reamer, from “The Picnic” by Marnie Hanel, Andrea Slonecker and Jen Stevenson (Artisan).

/cooking/7-ideas-elevate-picnic-plain-glam/feed/ 1
A Kitchen Gypsy’s Journey To Find Her Home /cooking/kitchen-gypsys-journey-find-home/ /cooking/kitchen-gypsys-journey-find-home/#comments Fri, 18 Dec 2015 10:00:39 +0000 /?p=71054 Main photo: Joanne Weir serves up fresh, seasonal food at Copita Tequileria y Comida in Sausalito, California. Credit: Credit: Copyright Chuck Miller

It all began (or shall I say culminated?) on a boat with a friendly competition between friends. We were cruising along the coast of southern Mexico on the Mindy, Larry Mindel’s beautiful yacht, when my friend and famed restaurateur challenged me to a margarita competition.

I measured my ingredients carefully into a cocktail shaker and loaded it with ice. After shaking so vigorously my hands turned numb and frost coated the metal cup, I strained the magical elixir into a chilled glass garnished with a lime wheel and handed it to Larry. In my clear-as-day memory, he took one sip and declared, “This is the best margarita I’ve ever had.” Larry tells a different tale, one in which his cocktail was the victor, but we all know tequila has a tendency to do that to people.

Regardless of the details, my way with tequila inspired Larry to propose opening a restaurant together. Though I’d never told anyone, opening my own restaurant had always topped my bucket list, but only if I had the right partner. With a résumé as long as my arm, including nearly 100 successful restaurants like Chianti in Los Angeles, Prego in San Francisco and the Il Fornaio restaurants all over the West Coast, Larry Mindel was certainly the perfect partner. He was also smart, worldly and dashingly handsome. I was thrilled and terrified, but mainly I was worried it was just the tequila talking. I desperately hoped something would actually come of Larry’s proposal.

A culinary journey

Joanne Weir's new cookbook features a rhubarb crostata with chestnut honey ice cream. Credit: Copyright 2015 Thomas J. Story

Joanne Weir’s new cookbook features a rhubarb crostata with chestnut honey ice cream. Credit: Copyright 2015 Thomas J. Story

My lifelong love affair with food began on my grandparents’ farms (yes, plural — both my maternal and paternal grandparents ran farms in New England), infusing me with a passion for seasonal, homemade, homegrown and artisanal food. I had forged a successful career in the food industry without working in a restaurant since my days as a cook at Chez Panisse in the mid-1980s. And yet I always suspected owning a restaurant was something I was destined to do.

Each step in my winding culinary journey through the world laid the foundation for restaurant ownership. During a rigorous year with Madeleine Kamman earning my Master Chef degree, I learned that loving food meant knowing it inside and out: the origin, history and science behind a dish. Madeleine taught me to sample and truly taste the nuances of individual ingredients and dishes as a whole. She was tough and didn’t take any crap, another lesson that’s served me well in the food world, and life in general.

I followed up my studies with Madeleine at Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse, my culinary mecca. At the time, Chez Panisse was at the epicenter of the California food revolution, and I was lucky enough to experience everything firsthand. Committed to serving seasonal, local, organic and sustainable food, the restaurant let California’s abundant ingredients speak for themselves without masking their flavor, a philosophy that inspires my cooking to this day. Chez Panisse confirmed what I’d intuited on the farm: highest-quality, fresh ingredients are paramount to good cuisine.

Inspired by seasonal ingredients

Goat Cheese Salad

Copita’s menu is seasonal, changing regularly based on inspiration and availability of fresh ingredients. Here, goat cheese tops a salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 Thomas J. Story

As I’ve traveled the world teaching cooking classes in some of the most picturesque locations, I continue to reaffirm that the quality of your ingredients will make or break a meal. Many of my favorite travel memories include trips to the local market — whether shopping the Rialto in Venice, the souk in Marrakech, or the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in my adopted hometown of San Francisco, the market truly is my happy place.

Surrounded by beautiful, fresh, seasonal ingredients, I am inspired. I always take ideas home with me from my journeys — from markets, local restaurants, purveyors and friends I encounter along the way. I am literally bursting with ideas … ideas that desperately need a restaurant menu as an outlet. I’d done everything else, and the idea of a restaurant was still gnawing at my heart. I wanted to put everything I’d learned along the way from my grandfather, my mother and my travels to work all in one place and see a restaurant come to fruition. It would be fun, creative and truly the challenge I was looking for.

So when, a few months after that fated cruise and margarita competition, I found myself looking at restaurant spaces with Larry, I decided it was finally time to reach my destiny. Thirty years after my first stint in the kitchens of Chez Panisse, I’m back in the exhilarating environment of a restaurant, this time at the helm of Copita Tequileria y Comida in beautiful Sausalito, California. Our menu is seasonal, changing regularly based on inspiration and availability of fresh ingredients. I know for a fact my grandparents would be proud.

It feels like this kitchen gypsy’s culinary journey has finally landed her home. Thank goodness for friends. With boats. And margaritas.

Copita Margarita

The Copita Margarita which began Joanne Weir's path to restaurant owning. Credit: Courtesy of Copita

The Copita Margarita, which began Joanne Weir’s path to restaurant ownership. Credit: Copyright 2015 Thomas J. Story

Yield: Serves 1


2 ounces blanco tequila, 100% agave

1/2 ounce agave nectar

3/4 ounce water

1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice

1 ice cube, 1 3/4-inch square

1 lime wheel, thinly sliced


Place the tequila, agave nectar, water, lime juice and plenty of ice in a cocktail shaker.  Shake vigorously for 5 seconds or until you see the frost on the outside of the shaker.  Place 1 ice cube in a glass. Strain the margarita into the glass and garnish with a lime wheel.

Main photo: Joanne Weir serves up fresh, seasonal food at Copita Tequileria y Comida in Sausalito, California. Credit: Copyright Chuck Miller

/cooking/kitchen-gypsys-journey-find-home/feed/ 1
Upstate N.Y. Craft Distillers Get Creative With Gin /drinking/upstate-n-y-craft-distillers-get-creative-with-gin/ /drinking/upstate-n-y-craft-distillers-get-creative-with-gin/#respond Sun, 04 Oct 2015 09:00:11 +0000 /?p=69707 Gin Cocktail with fresh lime and burnt orange peel at Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge, Syracuse, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

With fall approaching and colder months on the horizon, it’s time to switch from ice cold bottles of beer, glasses of crisp chardonnay, salt-rimmed margaritas and minty mojitos. On a recent trip to the Finger Lakes Region in upstate New York, James Ouderkirk, general manager at Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge introduced me to a cocktail he thought perfect to celebrate the change of seasons: a gin cocktail flavored with apricot preserves and burnt orange peel.

Like many cities in the Northeast that prospered during the early part of the 20th century, Syracuse suffered when heavy industries declined in the 1970s. Now enjoying a resurgence, a revitalized downtown centered on Armory Square is home to new restaurants, bars and shops. One of those is Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge.

A trip back in time

The long bar at Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge, Syracuse, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

The long bar at Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge, Syracuse, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

The bar’s storefront has served many masters. Once a beauty school and then a cigar store, as Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge the space was transformed into the kind of bar my grandfather would have visited in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The walls are painted bordello red or built out of weathered bricks. Besides the front area, there are several rooms, one filled with overstuffed upholstered sofas and chairs. Another has a pool table. Yet another is filled with arcade style video machines.

With a large plate glass window facing South Clinton Street and a two-story-high ceiling, the main room is focused on a 35-foot wooden bar behind which the floor-to-ceiling shelves are filled with an encyclopedic collection of spirits curated locally and from around the world.

A custom cocktail to suit your mood

James Ouderkirk, General Manager at Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge, Syracuse, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

James Ouderkirk, General Manager at Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge, Syracuse, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Unlike many bars serving craft cocktails, Al’s does not have a cocktail menu. According to Ouderkirk, the philosophy of the bar is that patrons should describe how they are feeling and which spirits they enjoy, then the bartender will make a drink that will make them feel better.

On the night we met, I was tired. I very much needed a cocktail that would improve my mood. I wasn’t certain what I wanted to drink. I had one specific request: I wanted him to use a local product.

Discovering hard cider in the Finger Lakes

Oak barrels used to age hard apple cider into 2-year aged Apple Jack at Apple Country Spirits, Williamson, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Oak barrels used to age hard apple cider into 2-year aged Apple Jack at Apple Country Spirits, Williamson, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

For the past several days I had been traveling through the Finger Lakes region, visiting orchards that distilled their apples, pears, peaches and plums into spirits.

On the trip, I tasted hard apple ciders with an effervescence as light as champagne at Embark Craft Ciderworks in Williamson and at the Finger Lakes Cider House in Interlaken. At Apple Country Spirits, I sampled brandies made from apples, pears, peaches and plums as good as any eau-de-vie I enjoyed in France and Switzerland. The biggest news for me on the trip was the fact that in the region apples were being used to create premium vodkas and gins.

Local sourcing for gin and other spirits

Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards/1911 Distillery, LaFayette, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards/1911 Distillery, LaFayette, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Tree Vodka is produced from apples grown in the Apple Country Spirits orchards in Wayne County close to Lake Ontario. 1911 Vodka and 1911 Gin are produced from apples grown at Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards in LaFayette. Different from vodka and gin flavored with apples, these distillations are mellow with a clean flavor.

Ouderkirk suggested he make a cocktail using 1911 Gin. With a portion of St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur, a splash of soda water and a hint of freshly squeezed lime juice, he quickly mixed the drink. After he placed a piece of burnt orange peel on top, I gave it a taste. The cocktail had a light summer freshness. The aromatic gin anchored the flavors while the apricot preserves and burnt orange peel hinted at the fall.

To accompany the cocktail, Ouderkirk platted a selection of local cheeses and charcuterie. Sitting in the darkened room, sipping my cocktail, half listening to conversations at the bar and sampling Camembert, goat cheeses, cheddar and salami, I forgot entirely how tired I had been after my very long road trip.

1911 Gin, Apricot, Lime and Burnt Orange Peel Cocktail

As with all cocktails, the best and freshest ingredients will yield better results. Use a quality gin, apricot preserve and farmers market citrus.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Yield: 1 cocktail


1 3/4 ounce 1911 Gin (or a gin of your choice)

3/4 ounce St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur

Dash of freshly squeezed lime juice

1 teaspoon apricot preserve

Splash unflavored soda water

2-inch-by-1-inch orange peel, unblemished, washed


1. Mix together all the ingredients except the orange peel. Shake well with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass.

2. Hold the orange peel against the flame of a lighter or a gas stove burner until the peel lightly burns but does not blacken.

3. Place the burnt orange peel atop the cocktail and serve icy cold.

Main photo: Gin Cocktail with fresh lime and burnt orange peel at Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge, Syracuse, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

/drinking/upstate-n-y-craft-distillers-get-creative-with-gin/feed/ 0
10 Ways Fresh Herbs Can Give Cocktails A Kick /drinking/10-ways-fresh-herbs-can-give-cocktails-kick/ /drinking/10-ways-fresh-herbs-can-give-cocktails-kick/#respond Wed, 29 Jul 2015 09:00:45 +0000 /?p=67935 Give your summer cocktails a summer kick with basil, rosemary, thyme and other herbs. Credit: Copyright Josh Wand

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

/drinking/10-ways-fresh-herbs-can-give-cocktails-kick/feed/ 0
Spirits Rise With New York Retro Gins /drinking/brooklyn-new-york-retro-gins/ /drinking/brooklyn-new-york-retro-gins/#respond Tue, 30 Jun 2015 09:00:00 +0000 /?p=67253 The New York Distilling Company also includes an 850-square-foot bar and tasting room at The Shanty. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

Ask a New York history buff about Dorothy Parker or Chief Gowanus and you might hear a discourse on the legendary writer and wit or the leader of the Canarsie Native American tribe. Mention these names to a spirits enthusiast and instead you may be sidling up to a bar and sampling gins from the New York Distilling Company. This Brooklyn-based distillery produces both the Dorothy Parker American and Chief Gowanus New-Netherland gins.

Looking at history

The New York Distilling Company

The New York Distilling Company uses historical recipes for inspiration. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

Located in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, the New York Distilling Company is the brainchild of Brooklyn Brewery co-founder Tom Potter, his son Bill Potter and spirits and cocktails expert Allen Katz. The trio also own the adjacent, 850-square-foot bar and tasting room The Shanty, which overlooks the distillery’s production floor. This full-fledged bar serves mixed drinks made from the New York Distilling Company’s goods as well as other producers’ liquors and beer.

With the New York Distilling Company the men have set out to create exceptional American gins and rye whiskeys. They employ historical recipes for inspiration and the state of New York for their ingredients.

‘Golden era of cocktails’

On the 78th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition, Dec. 5, 2011, the distillery opened and began selling Dorothy Parker, Chief Gowanus and Perry's Tot gins. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

On the 78th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition, Dec. 5, 2011, the distillery opened and began selling Dorothy Parker, Chief Gowanus and Perry’s Tot gins. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

“Gin and rye are appropriate for the geographic area,” says Bill Potter, master distiller and production manager. He points out that, prior to Prohibition, New York farm distilleries produced these intoxicants from locally grown grains and fruit. He adds, “They are part of the golden era of cocktails, the 1800s.”

On the 78th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition, Dec. 5, 2011, the distillery opened and began selling Dorothy Parker, Chief Gowanus and Perry’s Tot gins. Named for Matthew Calbraith Perry, 1840s commandant of the Brooklyn Navy Yard and a founder of its Navy Lyceum, Perry’s Tot is a traditional navy strength gin.

“So much of what we think of as gin is only one type of gin, the London dry gin,” Potter says.

The juniper-driven London dry gin ranges between 40 to 45 percent alcohol by volume or 80 to 90 proof. Navy strength clocks in at 57 percent or 114 proof. Sometimes referred to as overproof, barrel strength or cask strength, this high alcohol gin imparts both balance and intensity to beverages.

Tapping into craft craze

The distillery's Dorothy Parker, Perry's Tot and Chief Gowanus New-Netherland gins. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

The distillery’s Dorothy Parker, Perry’s Tot and Chief Gowanus New-Netherland gins. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

According to Potter, the plan from day one was to release the gins first. By doing so, the rye whiskey could age for at least three years. To bottle it any sooner would mean that they were proffering a lightly aged, rather than straight, rye. This was not the goal for the distillery.

The timing of their gin and whiskey production couldn’t be better. The U.S. craft cocktail movement is in full swing and nowhere more so than in New York City. With its emphasis on handmade beverages featuring fresh and high quality ingredients, the craft cocktail craze has bartenders reaching for artisanal liquors to feature in their libations.

Mr. Katz’s Rock & Rye

A steel fermentation tank and aging barrels at the New York Distilling Company. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

A steel fermentation tank and aging barrels at the New York Distilling Company. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

Craft producers such as the New York Distilling Company can only profit from this desire for artfully prepared and historically rooted drinks.

Harkening back to the pre-Prohibition period is the distillery’s October 2014 release of Mr. Katz’s Rock & Rye. This much-anticipated spirit is the first among the New York Distilling Company’s upcoming rye whiskeys.

Historically, American bartenders created rock and rye by mixing rye whiskey with rock candy sugar syrup and the occasional citrus peel or spice. The goal of this late 19th-century combination was to temper the flavor of a young and unpalatable rye. The outcome was a sweet, amber-colored liquor called rock and rye that quickly became the go-to alcohol “for whatever ails you.”

Mr. Katz’s Rock & Rye pays homage to this American standard. Yet, with its tang of sour cherries, warmth of cinnamon and hint of citrus, it stands to become a classic in its own right.

Adding straight rye whiskey

The Shanty Bar serves drinks made from the New York Distilling Company's products.

The Shanty bar and tasting room overlooks the distillery’s production floor. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

At the Shanty, head bartender Nate Dumas showcases Mr. Katz’s Rock & Rye in such house creations as Cave Creek and Martini Robbins. The latter drink pairs Mr. Katz’s Rock & Rye with the distillery’s Dorothy Parker American Gin and sweet vermouth. A versatile whiskey, Mr. Katz’s Rock & Rye can also be enjoyed neat or on the rocks.

In September, Ragtime Rye will join Mr. Katz’s Rock & Rye, Dorothy Parker, Chief Gowanus and Perry’s Tot on the roster of New York Distilling Company originals. Aged for more than three years in upstate New York, Ragtime Rye is the distillery’s first straight rye whiskey.

Cave Creek

The Cave Creek

The Cave Creek is made with Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye. Credit: Copyright The New York Distilling Company


Recipes created by Nate Dumas, bar director, The Shanty at the New York Distilling Company 


1¼ ounces Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye

1 ounce Glenlivet 12-year-old Scotch whisky

¾ ounce fresh lemon juice

½ ounce Real Grenadine

¼ ounce Campari


Shake ingredients over ice and strain into a collins glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with an lemon twist.  Serve with  a straw.

The Harper’s Ferry

The Harper's Ferry

The Harper’s Ferry combines Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye, cognac and rum. Credit: Copyright: The New York Distilling Company



1 ounce Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye

¾ ounce Pierre Ferrand cognac 1840

½ ounce Botran rum

¾ ounce fresh lemon juice

½ oz  simple syrup


Shake ingredients over ice and fine strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Lightly garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.

Main photo: The New York Distilling Company also includes an 850-square-foot bar and tasting room at The Shanty. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

/drinking/brooklyn-new-york-retro-gins/feed/ 0