This month’s “homegrown” cocktail at The Lion’s Share: Champs de Lavande

The Lion’s Share is one of the best cocktail bars here in sunny San Diego, and a place that I’ve been going regularly nearly since it opened about three and a half years ago. Ever since they opened, they have featured on their cocktail a monthly special called the “Homegrown Cocktail,” which is a recipe created by a local bartender from the San Diego area. A bunch of great cocktails have been featured as the homegrown over the years. Among my favorites is a recipe called the Great Scot, which is a great combination of Laphroaig, Campari, and (gasp) egg white. I still wish I had the exact version of that recipe, and not just the reverse engineered recipe that I linked to above.

The chalkboard that announces each month's homegrown cocktail on the wall at The Lion's Share

With all the great history behind the Homegrown, I am super excited that this month the featured recipe was created by yours truly! We call it the Champs de Lavande.

The Champs de Lavande cocktail on the bar at The Lion's Share

The Champs de Lavande cocktail

Champs de Lavande

1 oz Old Forester Bourbon
1 oz Carpano Bianco Vermouth
0.75 oz Lemon Juice
0.5 oz Salers gentian liqueur
0.5 oz Honey syrup (1:1)
2 dashes Scrappy’s Lavender bitters
1 dash Regan’s Orange bitters

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon peel.

Salers is not always available, but you can substitute Suze. Dolin Blanc is a reasonable substitute for the Carpano Bianco.

This drink is a variation on a recipe that I’ve been serving at home for more than a year to strong reviews, called the Lavender Mistake (so-called because my original recipe called for Mezcal, but one day I accidentally made it with Rye whiskey instead and the result was far superior).

The Lavender Mistake

1.5 oz Rye Whiskey (Sazerac 6 year)
0.5 oz Benedictine
0.5 oz Salers
0.25 oz Honey syrup (1:1)
1 dash Scrappy’s Lavender bitters

Stir and strain into a cocktail glass. No garnish.

The key to both this drink and the Champs de Lavande is the interplay between the Salers, honey, and lavender flavors, particularly the gentian liqueur and lavender. This latter combination was first introduced to me by a bartender at the Experimental Cocktail Club in Paris, who when asked to make a White Negroni with Suze produced a drink that also included lavender bitters to great effect.

Although the Lavender Mistake is a great drink, I decided to modify it for the Homegrown because the original is rather spirit forward and I wanted a recipe that was a little more refreshing and accessible. Adding a sour-style component, through the lemon juice, was a straight-forward way to accomplish this goal, but the result was that the citrus dominated the more subtle flavors of the Salers and lavender that I wanted to highlight. To fix this, I borrowed a concept from the classic Scofflaw cocktail, which uses an ounce of dry vermouth as a means to soften the combination of a sour-style mix of lemon juice and grenadine with rye whiskey. The result in the Champs de Lavande is a cocktail with a complex intermingling of flavors without any dominating the others.

If you’re in San Diego, please head down to The Lion’s Share to try it out! As an extra incentive, $1 from each Homegrown cocktail sold is donated to charity. This month, Naomi and I selected California Labs & More Dog Rescue as our charity of choice, from which we recently adopted our dog, Cookie Monster. So, when you order the drink, know that you’re also helping out a great cause!

Our recently adopted dog, Cookie Monster, a lab/shepherd mix

My Visit to Three Washington, DC Cocktail Bars

The White House at night

Two weeks ago, I had the chance to visit Washington, DC while on a business trip.  I didn’t have a lot of time while I was in the area, and I needed to get up early every morning, but I still wanted to get out and try at least one or two of the many cocktail bars that I had heard about in the area. David Wondrich’s write-up on the best bars in Washington, DC last summer made The Columbia Room sound like a good first stop, and I was fortunate enough to be able to get a reservation.  I arrived a bit early for my reservation though, and I also needed to eat, so I visited another bar from the same owners that is just down the street: Hogo.

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The Portland Connection: Krogstad Aquavit and Calisaya

Two cocktails with Calisaya bottle prominently visible to the right

Tonight started off with a simple goal: use some of the week-old lemons in the fruit bowl in a cocktail. Obviously there are a ton of citrus cocktail options and I wanted to try something that I hadn’t had in awhile. I settled on the Aviation, which is a classic among classics and combines gin, lemon juice, maraschino liqueur, and creme de violette.  After I had all the ingredients out in front of me, including the creme de violette that was hiding behind several bottles on a bottom shelf, I had the following thought: how can I make a new cocktail by substituting the creme de violette for something else? Continue reading

What We Drink Book…Available Now!

Anyone who follows me on social media, at least Twitter and Facebook, is probably aware that my wife and I have been working on a cocktail book for the last year.  Originally, the idea was to create a book to give to our friends as a gift for Christmas 2012, but obviously we were a little too ambitious and it took us until early December 2013 to finalize a draft that we were happy to print and share with friends. Hey, at least we finished it!

As of mid-December, you can now purchase either a hardcover or a paperback version of the book on Blurb, a relatively high-quality printer of one-off books. This means that the books are currently a lot more expensive than they would be if produced in bulk, but the output is still fairly high quality.

If your browser is compatible with the Blurb book preview widget, then you should see a complete preview of the book that you can scroll through below.  Otherwise, click here.

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Tasting Several Aged Gins

I was very happy today when my new bottle of St. George Spirits Dry Rye Reposado Gin arrived on my doorstep. Aging gin has become trendy in the last year or so among many microdistilleries and this aged version of St. George’s Dry Rye gin, which is much like a genever, is one of the latest to be released. This seemed like a fun occasion to write another blog entry, for the first time in awhile, and to break out some of the other aged gins from my collection.

Here’s what I tried out:

  • The aforementioned St. George Dry Rye Reposado Gin (49.5 abv)
  • Rusty Blade Gin (K&L exclusive batch KL1112, 62% abv)
  • Peterman Platinum Graanjenever Special Reserve (40% abv)
  • Ransom Old Tom Gin (44% abv)

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Mixology Monday: Ashtray Heart & The Warning Label

I can’t believe that a month has already passed since the last Mixology Monday, but my disbelief may have something to do with being almost a week late with my previous (and first ever) MxMo post. In fact, it hasn’t quite been a month yet since I wrote that first post. This month the theme is “Humbug!” and is hosted by JFL of Rated R Cocktails. If you couldn’t guess from the title, the goal is to explore anti-holiday cocktails.

I spent a bit of time brainstorming about what would make a cocktail “anti-holiday.” The suggestions in the introduction to the theme make sense. Tiki drinks are appropriate given that they’re tropical and fruity. Bitter and spirited cocktails could be anti-holiday, provided they aren’t too spiced or herbal. My two best ideas ended up being a little too hard to execute on the short lead time that I gave myself: 1) a cocktail designed for sharing but with the straws tied together and a “no sharing” sign, or 2) a cocktail that takes the “humbug” a little too literally and is garnished with a deep fried insect (which also would have been good for last month’s theme).

Instead, I turned to my cocktail books. Beta Cocktails seemed like a particularly good source for anti-holiday cocktails, and I was not disappointed. Right there on the second page of recipes was the Ashtray Heart, a dark, bitter, and smokey cocktail that combines Smith & Cross with two vermouths and a mezcal rinse.

Ashtray Heart cocktail

Ashtray Heart
Erik Ellestad, courtesy of Beta Cocktails
1 oz Smith & Cross
1 oz Punt e Mes
1 oz Dry Vermouth (Dolin Dry)
Mezcal (rinse)
Stir and strain into a coupe rinsed with a smokey mezcal. Express the oil from a grapefruit twist and discard.

The name for this drink is very appropriate. The normally distinctive hogo flavor of the Smith & Cross merges with the bitterness of the Punt e Mes to create a flavor that is very reminiscent of the aroma of an overfull ashtray that should have been emptied a week ago. The smokiness of the mezcal furthers this notion, though I think it would have worked better with a smokier mezcal than I had available (I used Sombra).

A further exploration of Beta Cocktails revealed several other anti-holiday cocktail possibilities, and I also chose to try out The Warning Label.

The Warning Label cocktail

The Warning Label
Maks, courtesy of Beta Cocktails
1 oz Cynar
1 oz Demerara 151 rum
1 oz Punt e Mes
1 dash Regan’s orange bitters
1 dash Grapefruit bitters
Campari (rinse)
Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass rinsed with Campari. Garnish with a lemon twist.

This cocktail opens with a fairly prominent citrus note, especially given that it contains no juice, and then some of the bitter notes of the Cynar and Punt e Mes become apparent. It is not obvious that it contains a 151 proof rum, though I imagine that it might be if you tried more than one. I would say this was the preferred cocktail of both my wife and I, which probably makes it less anti-holiday than the Ashtray Heart. I expect that I’ll be making it again, perhaps in the near future.

Mixology Monday: The Isolated Garnish & The Rope Burn Cocktail

Mixology Monday logo (MxMo)This month’s Mixology Monday topic is “Garnish Grandiloquence,” hosted by Joseph Tkach of the fantastic blog Measure and Stir. This is the first time that I’ve attempted to participate in Mixology Monday and I found this theme to be a particularly challenging topic on which to start. I think the reason it was difficult is that, in my experience, garnishes break down into two categories: simple garnishes like citrus peels that add an important element to the drink and complex garnishes like the sausage and bacon on a stick in a bloody mary that look cool but add very little to the drink. The former category is straight-forward and seems to have very little room for innovation, whereas the latter category just doesn’t seem that important.

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Bar Reviews: The Big Island of Hawai’i

For the week of Independence Day, my wife and I were lucky enough to take a trip to the big island of Hawai’i. As always, I spent a little time researching the bar scene in advance of the trip, and going into the trip I was not that optimistic. My fears were largely confirmed when the bartender at one of the fairly expensive hotel bars we visited agreed to make me a Negroni and returned with an odd combination of gin, campari, and soda water. I guess we can call that a Negronicano for the mixture of the recipes for the Negroni and Americano?

We did find two places that I liked however, and conveniently they are on opposite sides of the island. You’re always within an hour of a good drink no matter where you are on the island!

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Quotes: David Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks

I just started reading David Embury’s classic book The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. Very early on I found this passage that I wanted to save for later:

The well-made cocktail is one of the most gracious of drinks. It pleases the senses. The shared delight of those who partake in common of this refreshing nectar breaks the ice of formal reserve. Taut nerves relax; taut muscles relax; tired eyes brighten; tongues loosen; friendships deepen; the whole world becomes a better place in which to live.

Found on page 33 of the reprint edition that I own.