Tuesday, March 31, 2015


I think of the Gimlet as a decidedly old-fashioned drink. I know it's a classic cocktail, but I can't remember ever seeing it on a bar menu. I know Betty Draper ordered one in the second episode of Mad Men, but that doesn't do much to convince me of its moderninity.

But I do love gin, and I wanted to cover the classics here. So I made a Gimlet. And wow. I really enjoyed it. It's a simple cocktail - just simple syrup, lime juice, and gin - but it's a perfect gin cocktail. The flavor of the gin is highlighted without being too spirit-forward. It's frightfully easy to drink.

The recipe I used called for 1 oz. of simple syrup and 3/4 oz. lime juice, which seemed like it would be too sweet. In fact, I think I'm going to declare GarnishGirl's First Rule of Mixology: the amount of sweetener in a cocktail should never exceed the amount of citrus juice. I find that a 1:1 ratio of lemon or lime to simple syrup is usually appropriate, and sure enough, that's what I preferred here.

History: Like many of the oldest cocktails, the Gimlet's origin is elusive. My favorite version is that it was invented by Sir Thomas Gimlette, a surgeon in the British Royal Navy, to coerce sailors to consume lime to prevent scurvy. Although another fascinating fact is that a mixture of gin, lime juice, sugar, and water taken every four hours was prescribed as a remedy for cholera patients in Calcutta by one Dr. Soorjo Coomar Goodeve Chuckerbutty in 1861. It remains unclear how that particular concoction would have made it into the 20th century American bartender's recipe book. A gimlet is also a tool used for boring holes, so the cocktail may have been named for its "penetrating" effects on the drinker.

The Gimlet was made famous by Raymond Chandler in his novel The Long Goodbye. His protagonist, the bourbon-swilling detective Philip Marlowe, befriends a fellow drinker named Terry Lennox who declares that "A real gimlet is half gin and half Rose's Lime Juice and nothing else. It beats martinis hollow."

If you've ever used Rose's Lime Juice, you probably cringed a bit (as I did) while reading that passage. But the Rose's Lime Juice of 1953 was a different formulation from the high-fructose-corn-syrup-dyed-green that it is today, invented as a way to preserve lime for sailors at sea. Using fresh lime juice and simple syrup probably yields a more authentic version of the cocktail.

A vodka Gimlet uses vodka instead of gin. Replace the gin with rum, and you've got a traditional Daiquiri.


2 oz. gin
3/4 oz. lime juice
3/4 oz. simple syrup

Combine ingredients in a shaker. Add ice and shake until well chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass or coupe and garnish with a slice of lime.

Recipe adapted from Vintage Cocktails.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Bottle Buy: Campari and Aperol

The best way to build a home bar is to slowly accumulate new ingredients. When you're first starting out, you want to make sure you choose things that will be versatile and show up in a lot of cocktail recipes. The first three bottles I recommend are St. Germain, Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, and Campari or Aperol. I'll talk about all of these in the next few weeks.

Campari and Aperol are both herbal Italian aperitifs, meaning they are meant to be consumed before a meal. Their flavor is bitter and herbal. Some might consider it an acquired taste. If you're apprehensive about the bitter flavor, you might try Aperol first; it's slightly sweeter and has strong citrus notes. Campari also has a higher alcohol content (25% vs. 11%). Because of these differences, which one you use can significantly change the taste of a recipe. So they aren't really interchangeable. But purchasing either one can add a lot of cocktails to your repertoire.

History: Campari was invented in 1860 by Gaspare Campari, who mixed up flavored cordials in the basement of his Milan bar, Caffe Campari. The mix of herbs that give it its bitter flavor is a trade secret. Gaspare's son came up with the idea of mixing Campari with soda in 1932. Aperol was invented in 1919 by two brothers, Luigi and Silvio Barbieri, in Padova. They specifically kept its alcohol content low and advertised it as a healthier alternative to other spirits. Campari acquired Aperol in 2003, so these one-time competitors are now on the same team. Their manufacturers insist that both have remained faithful to their original recipes, which are regarded as trade secrets.


Price: $30
Alcohol Content: 25%
Popular Cocktails: Campari & Soda, Negroni, Americano


Price: $22
Alcohol Content: 11%
Popular Cocktails: Aperol Spritz

The two cocktails here are basic drinks meant to showcase the flavor of these two liqueurs. They are so classic, in fact, that both are featured on the backs of their respective bottles. I love drinking Campari with club soda and an orange slice, a popular before-dinner drink in Italy. When I tried the same cocktail with Aperol instead, it just wasn't right. This may be why an Aperol Spritz recommends adding sparkling wine to the mix, for a balanced, just-sweet-enough aperitif that seemed more popular than its cousin when I visited other parts of Europe.

Campari + Soda

1 1/2 oz. Campari
3 oz. club soda
Orange slice

Pour Campari into a rocks glass. Add ice and top with soda. Twist an orange slice into the drink and stir. Picture yourself in an open-air bar in Venice.

Aperol Spritz

3 oz. sparkling wine
2 oz. Aperol
1 oz. club soda
Orange slice

Combine all ingredients in a rocks glass or wine glass. Add ice and gently stir. Garnish with the orange slice. Picture yourself in an open-air bar in Vienna.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Classic Martini

I have always thought the Martini was just so utterly cool. Martini drinkers know what they want. Dry or dirty, gin or vodka, olive or twist. They order their drink while their friends are still ruminating over the cocktail list. I wanted to be a Martini drinker.

So imagine my disappointment the first time I tasted one and really didn't like it. The second time, too. This potent mixture of gin or vodka and vermouth is definitely an acquired taste. But once you acquire it, you'll realize that sometimes nothing hits the spot quite like a Martini. Without a hint of sweetness, it's an excellent aperitif.

The Martini many variations. It can be made with gin or vodka, and garnished with olives or a lemon twist. A "dirty Martini" has some olive juice added to the mix. The higher the ratio of gin or vodka to vermouth, the "drier" the Martini will be. Early versions of the cocktail had a very high proportion of gin to vermouth, as much as 1:1, but modern Martinis have much less vermouth (Noel Coward famously said that "A perfect Martini should be made by filling a glass with gin, then waving it in the general direction of Italy.") Personally, I like a 5:1 ratio of gin to vermouth and lots of olives.

History: The exact origin of this cocktail is delightfully murky. Not only are there multiple stories to explain its invention, but you'll find them told differently depending on where you look. The Martini may trace its roots back to the Martinez, a mixture of gin, sweet vermouth, and maraschino liqueur, which was supposedly invented by a bartender in California for a gold miner who had just struck it rich. Either the bar was in Martinez, or the gold miner was headed to Martinez. Or the cocktail may have been invented at the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco and sold to commuters on their way to Martinez by ferry. Or the incident with the miner may have occurred at the Occidental Hotel. Or the Martini may have nothing to do with the Martinez, taking its name instead from Martini and Rossi vermouth. Or it may have been invented at the Knickerbocker Hotel in New York, and named after one of their bartenders.

Classic Martini

2 1/2 oz. gin or vodka
1/2 oz. vermouth
olives or a lemon twist

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass. Fill with ice and stir. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with olives or a lemon twist. Congratulations - you're a Martini drinker.

Thursday, March 26, 2015


People can be particular about their cocktails. But when it comes to certain drinks, some people become militantly so. Take David Wondrich's Esquire article on the Manhattan, for example. He says to stir your Manhattan, but if you prefer to shake it, "There's nothing wrong with that, really.... If you like your Manhattan cloudy and topped with an algae-like foam, shake away." Message received. He is similarly firm on the topic of bourbon vs. rye in a Manhattan: "For a real Manhattan, you need rye whiskey. No amount of fiddling with the vermouth and bitters can save this drink if you've got bourbon in the foundations; it's just too sticky-sweet."

So imagine my distress when I go to make my Manhattan for this post and remember that I've run out of rye. I consider moving on to the next drink on my list, but the thought was a bit disappointing; I was looking forward to the Manhattan. I eye the bottle of Four Roses Bourbon on the bar. I glance around. No one is watching. Certainly not David Wondrich. Quietly, I reach for it.

In all seriousness, I don't think most people would fault you for making a bourbon Manhattan. While trying to decide whether to pair my shameful bourbon with Punt e Mes or another sweet vermouth, I came across this post at Cocktail Buzz that compares rye vs. bourbon and Punt e Mes vs. Carpano Antica Formula (aka everybody's-favorite-sweet-vermouth-that-I-have-yet-to-try) in a Manhattan. I was pleased to hear that they liked all of the combinations. They did advise that Punt e Mes would give a spicier, less sweet cocktail than the Carpano Antico, so I used that in my bourbon Manhattan to avoid the "sticky-sweet" flavor that Wondrich warned against. Was it a really, truly good Manhattan? I thought so, and that's all that matters.

Still, I look forward to the day when I'm enough of a cocktail snob to be that opinionated. It's what I aspire to.

History: The traditional story of the Manhattan's creation is that it was developed at the Manhattan Club in New York in 1874 for a party thrown by Jennie Jerome Churchill, the wife of Randolph Churchill and mother of Winston Churchill, to celebrate the election of New York governor Samuel J. Tilden. (Tilden would later go on to win the popular vote in the 1876 presidential election, but lose to Rutherford B. Hayes in the electoral college, a situation much like what happened in the 2000 elections.) However, this story cannot be accurate, as Lady Churchill was in England at this time, giving birth to Winston. There were still two banquets held at the Manhattan Club for Tilden, and I'm not sure why no one seems to think the cocktail might still have originated at one of them even if Jennie wasn't present.

The other main contender is a man we only know as Black. Bartender William F. Mulhall, who worked at New York's Hoffman House, claimed that Black had invented the drink in the 1860's. He said only that Black "kept a place ten doors below Houston Street on Broadway." The story was printed in a 1923 issue of Valentine's Manual of New York.

Either way, the Manhattan was popular enough by 1882 that the first known mention of it was made in print. In a short feature about mixed drinks, The Democrat of Olean, New York printed:

"It is but a short time ago that a mixture of whiskey, vermouth and bitters came into vogue. It went under various names - the Manhattan cocktail, Turf Club cocktail, and Jockey Club cocktail. Bartenders at first were sorely puzzled what was wanted when it was demanded. But now they are fully cognizant of its various aliases and no difficulty is encountered."


2 oz. rye whiskey (or bourbon, if you dare)
1 oz. sweet vermouth
1-2 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir until chilled. Don't shake unless you like algae-like foam. Strain into a cocktail glass or coupe, or serve on the rocks. Garnish with a maraschino or brandied cherry (or three).

Recipe from Esquire.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Pegu Club

When a friend gifted me a copy of the beautiful book Vintage Cocktails, the Pegu Club was one of the first recipes I earmarked to try, even though I was missing a critical ingredient, Orange Curacao. As I worked my way through the simpler cocktails, I waffled on whether to spring for a bottle. I have to admit, when I finally came across Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao ($30), its nostalgic label and interesting shape were part of what sold me on it. And it turned out to be a surprisingly versatile purchase for my bar. Not only is it specifically called for in a number of classic cocktails, it can also be used as a less-sweet substitute for other orange liqueurs.

The Pegu Club is a lovely, slightly tropical combination of gin, orange curacao, lime juice, and two types of bitters. Its orange color makes you think it will be sweet, but it's much more tart and bitter than you might expect. In that way, it's a nice departure from other cocktails associated with tropical locales.

History: Though you may hear the name and think of the New York cocktail bar, the original Pegu Club was actually in Burma, now Myanmar, in southeast Asia. Located just outside of the capital city of Rangoon (now Yangon), it was a gentleman's club similar to countless others throughout the British Empire where foreigners could go to socialize in the manner to which they were accustomed without the inconvenience of running into any natives. It was probably named for the Pegu River (now the Bago River), which runs through the city. The club opened in 1882, and though the cocktail's exact origin is unknown, it was popular enough in 1927 to appear in Harry Craddock's Barflies and Cocktails.

Pegu Club

2 oz. gin
1 oz. orange curacao
3/4 oz. lime juice
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash orange bitters

Combine ingredients in a shaker. Add ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with a lime twist or slice of lime. Sip your cocktail and appreciate the fact that you now know what the capital of Myanmar is.

Recipe from Vintage Cocktails.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Old Fashioned

Everyone should know how to make an Old Fashioned. It's easy, it's classic, and it's a crowd pleaser because it can be tailored to a variety of tastes. There's no one perfect recipe. If I'm serving a friend who doesn't usually drink spirit-forward cocktails, I'll muddle up the orange and cherries and add some extra simple syrup. If I have a guest who is a big whiskey drinker, I'll go easier on the sweetness. And if someone doesn't like their cocktails too strong, I'll even add some club soda (while silently judging them).

The Old Fashioned is traditionally made with rye, though you can substitute bourbon or whiskey. I recommend Old Overholt--it's really cheap ($18) but lots of people swear by it for the price. I've heard a good upgrade is Rittenhouse Rye ($24). With the money you save, go out and buy a jar of Luxardo maraschino cherries. You'll never touch the bright neon red ones again.

History: The Old Fashioned is the original "cocktail." The first known definition of this term appeared in an 1806 issue of a New York newspaper called The Balance and Columbian Repository as "a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters." As cocktail recipes became more elaborate, this original cocktail was referred to as an "old fashioned." It gained significant popularity in the 2000's as Don Draper's signature drink on Mad Men.

The recipe below is the one I've settled on to suit my taste; play around with it and find your own.

Old Fashioned

2.5 oz. rye
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1/2 tsp. simple syrup
1/2 tsp. cherry juice from the jar
1 orange slice
3 Luxardo maraschino cherries

Add the orange slice, simple syrup, and cherry juice to an old fashioned glass and muddle just a little. Top with the rye and bitters. Add ice and stir. Garnish with the cherries.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Bar School: The Basic Home Bar

Building a home bar can seem like an intimidating process. If you're starting from scratch, it would be a huge expense to purchase everything you need to be able to tackle even half the recipes in your average cocktail book. But a good bar is built up over time. And the great thing about cocktails is that you can do a lot with just a little. The Kitchn's excellent 9-Bottle Bar series is an example of this; Roger Kamholz lists the nine essential ingredients for any home bar, and then provides recipes for the dozens of cocktails you can make. Most of the classic cocktails have only a few simple ingredients.

I've already got more than nine bottles in my bar, but part of my goal with this blog is to start from scratch and really learn more about cocktails and their ingredients. I'll start with recipes that only use the basics, and introduce new ones with occasional "Bottle Buys." I'll research different spirits and techniques and learn as I go - hopefully along with you.

So: the basics. The one problem with buying your "basic" spirits is that there are so many different options. We've all got that one friend who knows everything about bourbon and insists on this one small-batch distillery, or claims they would rather drink sewer water than go anywhere near a bottle of Smirnoff. But let's face it: if you're just starting out, you're probably not going to know the difference. I mean, if I had you do a blind tasting of Smirnoff vs. Grey Goose, you'd probably realize that the Grey Goose was much more drinkable. But in a Moscow Mule or a Cosmopolitan, it's less obvious. I don't suggest going straight for the bottom shelf at the liquor store, but you can start out on the cheaper side and work your way up as you get a better idea of what you like and what's worth splurging on.

Here's what I recommend stocking your bar with to start out, including the budget-friendly brands I currently have in my own bar:

-Rye or Bourbon Whiskey (Old Overholt, Four Roses)
-London Dry Gin (Tanqueray)
-Tequila Blanco (Espolon)
-Light Rum (Bacardi, Flor de Cana)
-Vodka (Tito's)
-Dry Vermouth (Martini)
-Sweet Vermouth (Punt e Mes)
-Aromatic Bitters (Angostura)
-Orange Liqueur (Triple Sec, Orange Curacao)

You'll also need a shaker, a jigger with measurements (mine has 1 oz. and 1/2 oz.), lots of lemons, limes, and oranges, and simple syrup. Simple syrup is just a sugar syrup for sweetening cocktails. To make it, put equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan, heat until the sugar is dissolved, and let cool. It will keep for several weeks in the fridge.

I'm really excited to get started. Cheers!