Fernet Branca Cocktails

Fanciulli Cocktail from Serious Eats

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.

DIY Cherry Bitters

cherry-bittersCherry 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.

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Champagne Cocktails for Valentine’s Day

Lillet Sparkler from a Crimson Kiss

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

Chocolate Dipped Strawberry Cocktail

chocolatedippedstrawberrycocktailIt’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

Tea Cocktails

Sweet Tea Bourbon Cocktail from Joy the Baker

Sweet Tea Bourbon Cocktail from Joy the Baker

Tea has deep and complex herbal flavors that will mix up your cocktail mixing routine. Whether hot or cold, tea cocktails are where it’s at, man! Here are a few to try.

High-Tea Cocktail ~ Black tea, cardamom, and ginger accent the botanicals in the gin. Sweet vermouth and orange bitters elevate the drink into fancy-pants territory.

Maple Bourbon Chai Tea Toddy ~ This creamy, spiced cocktail calls for maple bourbon, but you can just as easily use plain old bourbon and maple syrup.

Green Tea and Ginger Cocktail ~ Gin and tea are BFFs! In this case, green tea is a good accompaniment to ginger liqueur and a break from the usual black tea.

Sweet Tea Bourbon Cocktail ~ While the bourbon is southern, this sweet tea isn’t. Agave syrup, orange, and mint make the sweet tea for this specialty cocktail.

Hot Rum Tea ~ If you need something to warm you up, this tipple is up for the job!

Blood Orange Old Fashioned

bloodorangeoldfashioned
Now is the time of the dramatic and beautiful blood orange! So Savvy Housekeeping and I concocted a simple and simply delicious drink for the occasion, a variation on the Old Fashioned made with blood orange and maple syrup.

Like the original Old Fashioned, this drink is a good way to enjoy bourbon without hiding it’s flavor. Maple syrup and blood orange are a surprisingly good pair, adding a bittersweet touch to the heat and sweet undertones of bourbon.

If you are one of those Super-Bowl-lovin’ types, maybe this could be your Super Bowl drink? Don’t one of the teams wear orange costumes? Theme drink!

Blood Orange Old Fashioned

2 ounces bourbon
1/2 ounce blood orange juice
1 teaspoon maple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Twist of orange to garnish

In a glass, combine bourbon, juice, bitters, and maple syrup. Stir with ice. Garnish with orange twist.

Photo by Savvy Housekeeping

Fennel Cocktails

Cranberry Fennel Refresher from The Boys Club

Cranberry Fennel Refresher from The Boys Club

I love fennel! It has a fresh, mild licorice flavor that complements so many ingredients. It’s also a surprising element that will shake up your cocktail repertoire. Here are a few drinks to try that get a little help from fennel.

Fennel Delight ~ I’ve seen a lot of beautiful grapefruit in stores lately. Mix it with fresh fennel, a hint of lime, and smoky mezcal for a unique winter sipper.

Campari Fennel Aperitif ~ If you have a few leftover fennel fronds, muddle them with lemon, simple syrup, Campari, and sparkling wine in this sophisticated Italian aperitif.

Golden Bowl ~ This one gets points for combining flavors I never would have thought would be pals! Fennel, ginger, rye, orange, absinthe, and lemon (along with a hint of sugar and salt) come together for a creative cocktail.

Cranberry Fennel Refresher ~ Fennel syrup turns the familiar vodka-cran-lime combo into a special occasion.

The CSA Cocktail ~ Cinnamon, juniper and a variety of citrus adding complex layers to a vodka cocktail. Cucumber and fennel are the fresh flavor stars of the drink, though.

Rosemary Cocktails

Rosemary, Baby! from Serious Eats

Rosemary, Baby! from Serious Eats

Come winter it’s a little harder to get your hands on fresh herbs. However, rosemary is less temperamental than a lot of the herbs commonly used in cocktails. And the good news is, it’s just as fragrant and delightful as any of them. I live in California, so it might not be the case where you live, but I can’t go two feet without seeing a full rosemary bush. (In general, they are hardy plants so you likely see them around or have one yourself, too.)

Rosemary pairs well with most fruit and booze. Hurray! Don’t forget, sprigs of rosemary make great garnishes, too. Use ‘em as spears!

Ruby Red and Rosemary Honey Cocktail ~ Ruby Red grapefruit, vodka, honey simple syrup with a little lemon and rosemary … tastes fresh and refreshing. It would also be good with gin instead of vodka.

Apple Ginger Rosemary Cocktail ~ This vodka-based cocktail balances the wintry and exciting flavors of apple, ginger, and rosemary with a hint of lemon to tie it all together.

Rosemary, Baby! ~ I love everything about this, including the fun name. Aperol infused with rosemary adds an herbaceous touch to a bourbon and honey sparkling punch. Party time.

Rosemary Refresher ~ Another grapefruit-rosemary combo that works like a charm. This time it’s a margarita-like tequila drink batched for a crowd. Party time, part 2.

Mistral Mauve ~ Sparkling wine and creme de violette (one of my favorite combos) is spiced up with a little rosemary-infused simple syrup. Garden flavor in your glass!

Orange Cocktails

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Seven Foals Cocktail from 10th Kitchen

While some of these cocktails are orange in color, I’m talking about orange the fruit! Here in winter time, a lot of the exciting fruits aren’t available. (Or if they are, they’re not in top form.) So let’s not forget the trusty (and delicious) orange. Winter cocktail time!

Roasted Orange Negroni Sbagliato ~ This Negroni variation made with vermouth has an extra level of oomph, thanks to the flavor of a charred orange wedge.

Red Lion Cocktail ~ This simple concoction of gin, triple sec, lemon and orange juices is refreshing and light. Best of all, it’s made with ingredients most home bars always have on hand.

Seven Foals Cocktail ~ For a more complex and layered drink, try this one. Orange, fennel, dry vermouth, aquavit, and celery bitters and a Pernod rinse! (You can use homemade aquavit, DIY celery bitters, and even  homemade pastis.)

Painkiller ~ Tiki Time! Orange, coconut, pineapple, and rum will make you feel like you’re on a sunny beach no matter what winter throws your way.

Orange Basil Gimlet ~ The original is made with blood oranges, but you can also use plain old oranges for an amazing gimlet twist.

Smoky Old Mate

smokyoldmateThe idea of aging a cocktail in a barrel (similar to how whiskey is aged) has always sounded like an intriguing experiment, but I’d sipped some aged cocktails before with mixed results. Some didn’t stand out or seem worth the trouble. A few were damn tasty but also damn expensive, since the bar had to store a bunch of barrels for a month or more and charged for the effort. So I’ve never tried the DIY version.

But The Black Grouse sent me a cocktail aging kit, a recipe, and some of its scotch—the perfect incentive to give barrel-aging cocktails a try. Instead of a whole barrel, this kit came with some barrel staves (tiny aged barrel sticks!) and a small bottle. All I had to do was pop a stave in the bottle, pour in the drink ingredients, and wait a week.

Verdict: Delicious! I sampled the drink before aging it, and while it tasted good, the aging mellowed the flavors and made them deeper. The combination of bitter and sweet flavors seemed more integrated after a week in the bottle. Continue reading