I’m definitely a Cynar lover, so I’ve been on the hunt for more things to do with my bittersweet little pal. Turns out there’s a fantastic Manhattan variation called Little Italy that’s right up my alley. Word on the street is it was created by The Pegu Club in NYC, but seems like it has spread to other bars and become a favorite at-home drink as well. I love Manhattans, but I also adore the herbal kick that Cynar adds to the equation. (I also love an excuse to make my own maraschino cherries.)
2 ounces rye
1/2 ounce Cynar
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
Maraschino cherries for garnish
Stir all ingredients with ice, then strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with maraschino cherries.
Thyme Paloma from 10th Kitchen
We’re oh-so-close to Spring! This means that a lot of the exciting fruits we’re waiting to cocktail with aren’t in season yet. Don’t fret. Our friend the grapefruit is here to help. It’s one of my favorite cocktail ingredients, because of its subtle tartness and light touch. Grapefruit cocktails are refreshing and a little unexpected. Here are a few for you to sip on:
Grapefruit Margarita ~ This twist on the Margarita offers a nice bridge between a tart and strong traditional Margarita and the sweet and fruity ones, like a Strawberry Margarita. So good!
Dirty Diana ~ “Tastes like fresh grapefruit sprinkled with brown sugar” + dark rum? I’m in.
Thyme Paloma ~ Tequila or mezcal pair so well with fresh grapefruit, and a little thyme adds a new herbal dimension to this classic refresher.
Hemingway Daiquiri ~ Hemingway knew how to write, yes. But he also knew how to drink. Adding a little grapefruit to a traditional Daiquiri was a great idea.
Little Tybee Latitude ~ Basil, grapefruit, and gin are best friends. Yum. Best friends, I say!
Any New Orleans cocktail is going to be good. Milk Punch is great for brunch (very late brunches, since there’s a lot of booze in it!) or cozy evening parties. It’s lightly sweet and has the homey goodness of eggnog in a much lighter drink.
I like it best with bourbon, but brandy is also a traditional choice. It’s even good with blended scotch. For a lighter version, you can use whole milk instead of half and half. (It won’t be as creamy, of course, but the flavor will be just as good.)
Bourbon Milk Punch
1 1/2 ounces bourbon
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1 1/2 ounces half and half
3 dashes Angostura bitters
1 dash vanilla extract
Nutmeg for garnish
Shake all ingredients well over ice, then strain into glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with freshly ground nutmeg.
There is no reason in the world to buy pre-made sour mix. There just isn’t! Banish those neon yellow and green mixes in favor of your own fresh mix. You can make it in advance!
Whether you use it for Margaritas, Whiskey Sours, or another drink of your own creation, all you need is a few minutes and some very (very) basic ingredients.
You can even jazz it up by subbing in some other citrus juice like orange or grapefruit. Just keep in mind they’re a little sweeter, so you’ll need to adjust to taste.
DIY Sour Mix
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
Boil the sugar and water, stirring to dissolve sugar. Let syrup cool. Strain lemon and lime juices (no pulp) into a resealable bottle and pour in the cooled syrup. Shake and use or refrigerate. Adding a little vodka will extend the life of your sour mix.
Photo by Liam Boylan
Does eating a Girl Scout cookie make you think, “I wish this were available as a cocktail?” No matter the answer, I promise you will be delighted with the Thin Mint Cocktail that I made with Savvy Housekeeping. It has all the satisfying chocolate and minty goodness of Thin Mints with the delightful addition of booze.
This cocktail hits the sweet spot, so to speak. It’s creamy without being too heavy. Fresh mint adds a pop to the chocolate that makes the drink perky and fun.
Though no cookies were harmed in the making of this cocktail, we were happy to buy some Thin Mints from a local Girl Scout for inspiration. Very important business-related snack purchase!
Thin Mint Cocktail
1 ounce vodka
1 1/2 ounce Baileys Irish Cream
2 sprigs fresh mint
1 tablespoon chocolate syrup (plus some for garnish)
Muddle the mint and vodka in a cocktail shaker, then add Baileys and a tablespoon chocolate syrup. Shake with ice and taste. Add more chocolate, if desired! Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass (with optional chocolate syrup garnish).
Photo by Savvy Housekeeping
The Old Fashioned is the original cocktail … but that doesn’t stop us from enjoying a bunch of variations on the drink. Using the same ratio as an Old Fashioned only with different spirits is a great jumping off point for creating your own cocktail. (My book goes into this in detail!)
Here I’ve taken tequila and paired it with agave syrup (a natural partner, since tequila is made with agave) and grapefruit bitters (grapefruit and tequila are also BFFs).
1 1/2 ounces tequila reposado
1 teaspoon agave syrup
3 dashes grapefruit bitters (I used DIY grapefruit bitters)
Pour the agave syrup and bitters into an old-fashioned glass and stir with a bar spoon. Add ice, then pour in tequila and stir. Optional: Garnish with slice of grapefruit.
Photo by Jackson Stakeman
Fanciulli Cocktail from Serious Eats
When it comes to bitter liquors, none elicits such fierce loyalty as Fernet Branca. It has a strong bitter-herbal-licorice flavor that can be a turn-off to many. But I live near San Francisco, where it’s a bartender’s drink of choice. Last year when I went to Argentina, where it is the most popular beverage hands-down, I was offered shots of Fernet or Fernet & Coke everywhere I went. So I’ve learned what it can do. And I like it. While I’m still not crazy about the shots, it does make for an interesting cocktail ingredient. Here are some drinks that tame Fernet a bit while still letting it shine.
Pimm’s Italiano ~ The very British (and delicious) Pimm’s Cup gets an Italian makeover with the help of some Fernet Branca. Light with bite!
The O’Hara ~ Bourbon, Benedictine, blackberries … and Branca. Herbal with a hint of sweetness, to prepare you for spring.
Fanciulli Cocktail ~ It’s a twist on the Manhattan, with Fernet stepping in on bitters duty. Can’t say no to that!
Fernet Flip ~ Apparently Carpano Antica and Fernet Branca are good friends. An egg and chocolate bitters make this a unique treat.
The Smoking Gun ~ Why tame the Fernet? Go bigger with some scotch! A rich brown sugar cordial and some bitters tie the whole drink together.
Cherry bitters isn’t exactly on every store shelf, but it’s surprisingly useful. I just ran out of the batch I made last year, and I’m about to make another! You can use homemade cherry bitters instead of Angostura in your Manhattan, Old Fashioned, or Champagne Cocktail to give your cocktail a hint of fruit while still doing what bitters does best.
I used Bing cherries, because that’s what is usually around. But go with whatever kind of cherry (or mix thereof) that you’re into. I live in the Bay Area, so finding gentian root was as easy as hopping over to some herbal shop in Berkeley. But you can also order them from Lhasa Karnak. California is also an easy place to find 151-proof spirits, so if that’s not around your neck of the woods, then go for the highest proof vodka you can get.
Lillet Sparkler from a Crimson Kiss
I don’t need an excuse to enjoy Champagne! But Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to dress up your bubbly for an elegant cocktail. Here are some champagne cocktails that are just right for romance.
The Little Kiss ~ Here’s another take on a chocolate and strawberry cocktail that uses sparkling wine, strawberry shrub, and creme de cacao. I’m imagining sipping this one in front of a cozy fire.
Lillet Sparkler ~ I love Lillet Rosé! Add Champagne and grapefruit bitters, and you have a simple yet special aperitif.
Shrinking Violet Cocktail ~ Champagne and flowers are a proven Valentine’s one-two punch, so here’s a fun way to combine them. Garnish with a violet, viola, or pansy for maximum gorgeousness.
Rosé French 75 ~ Rosé sparkling wine and blood oranges add a lovely twist and pink hue to the classic French 75.
From Russia With Love ~ Chocolate, raspberries, and Champagne. Romantic, no? Yes!
More Valentine’s Day Cocktails
It’s almost Valentines Day! This calls for a cocktail. Savvy Housekeeping and I have you covered with this delicious drink that has the delightful flavors of chocolate and fresh strawberries without being syrupy sweet. It’s actually light and refreshing!
The secret to chocolatey flavor without the heaviness of chocolate is chocolate-flavored vodka. Combine that with fresh strawberries and wow! I’m usually not a fan of commercial flavored vodkas because they taste fake to me. But 360 Double Chocolate vodka tastes like real chocolate and is made with natural ingredients. (You could make this with another chocolate vodka. I haven’t tried others, so I can’t tell you whether or not they taste like chemicals.)
This drink is pleasantly sweet with a full flavor that fills your mouth and gets better as it goes. The bitters is a must-have ingredient, because it tempers the sweetness to make it a more complex drink. Cointreau adds another layer that makes this a cocktail experience and not a dessert experience.
Chocolate Dipped Strawberry Cocktail
1 1/2 ounces chocolate vodka
1/2 ounce Cointreau or triple sec
2 ounces fresh strawberry juice (about 4-5 strawberries)
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Make the strawberry juice with a juicer or blender. Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.
Photo by Savvy Housekeeping