It may be twisting the knife to say so when half the country is trapped under ice, but here in Southern California we have a certain problem when February rolls around. It's the peak of citrus season. We're simply buried right now.
I wanted to be sure I had the best possible liqueur-making method, aiming to figure out if fresh or dry apricots were best, if the apricot pits added anything to the flavor, and whether adding the sweetener before or after the infusion period was better.
The fun thing about infusing spirits or concocting a liqueur is that there aren't a lot of rules and complicated techniques. Most of the time it really is just mixing together things that sound like they'd taste good and seeing what happens. However, there are some really common mistakes that can ruin the fun.
Most orange soda has more in common with orange the color than the fruit, but that doesn't stop me from craving it. The reason I drink soda isn't because I think it's full of vitamins and minerals. I drink it because it tastes good. My idea of the perfect orange soda is the fast-food fountain Orange Crush and Sunkist that I grew up with, even though as an adult I know it's just a bunch of corn syrup and artificial flavoring. Luckily, DIY orange soda delivers the same satisfying combination of sweet and tart you get from the commercial version without the questionable ingredients.
Not that long ago, mole bitters seemed like an exotic and strange ingredient. But now they're all over cocktail menus and I have come to consider them a drink-mixing necessity. I've always liked the combination of chocolate and spice, but being able to use these flavors to liven up my cocktails has been a revelation.
I like to think of root beer as the gateway beverage into the big, bad world of booze. Even though it's a big leap from A&W to Fernet Branca, there's definitely a connection between what makes a good root beer and what makes a good alcoholic beverage. This homemade root beer liqueur has more in common with an aperitif than it does with a soda, because the sugar is dialed back and the root-and-bark goodness can shine through.
A few dashes of grapefruit bitters can put a so-so sparkling wine cocktail into fabulous territory or turn a limp Paloma or Gin & Tonic into a bright and balanced thing of beauty. But even though grapefruit bitters have been called for in cocktail recipes since the 1860s, many liquor stores don't carry them. DIY to the rescue!
Most grape-flavored things don't taste like grape at all—they taste like purple. Commercial grape soda walks the line between the taste of real grapes and sugary artificial flavor. Grape soda should be the non-alcoholic, fizzy sister to wine, but instead it seems to be the least appreciated of the sodas. I've had a soft spot for this deep purple, bubbly beverage since childhood, so I was inspired to make a DIY version that has a more natural flavor.
Asking me to pick my favorite cocktail is sort of like asking parents which of their kids is the best. It's a hard question to answer, but deep in my heart, I know. Sorry, Sazerac and Martini, even though I love you so, the Manhattan is easily my favorite drink. So I was surprised that a simple change to this classic drink made me love it even more.
I was pleased to find out that no alarm bells went off when I poured honey and spices into my Scotch—and the resulting concoction was delicious. This DIY Drambuie isn't a carbon copy of the original—and that's the point.
Cherry cola is amazing. Cherry Coke, on the other hand, is a disgusting tease. For a split second there's some cherry flavor, but then it's replaced by a chemical finish that reminds you that no cherries were harmed while making that beverage. I've done some experimenting with adding cherry syrup to store-bought cola, which was good. But making my own cola and cherrying it up was even better.
When I was a kid, Dutch relatives would bring my family all the treats that were hard to find here in the states. My favorite was hagelslag, which are candy sprinkles that you put on buttered bread. (Boxes of hagelslag guaranteed that I would be allowed to eat candy for breakfast.) The grownups, however, got all excited about a ochre-colored liqueur called advocaat. It looked like an avocado-and-mustard milkshake to me, so when they'd pour themselves a big glass for Christmas, I was never tempted to sneak a sip. After all, these were the same adults who'd rave about salty black licorice, which I knew for a fact was the worst thing I'd ever tasted.
Forget about the big jugs of watery cranberry juice on the grocery store shelves—the best way to put these gorgeous red fruits into your drinks is with a homemade cranberry liqueur. Fresh cranberries are ubiquitous this time of year, and turning them into liqueur is a snap. So not only will you have a versatile ingredient for festive Thanksgiving cocktails, but a bottle of this beautiful crimson liqueur also makes a great gift come December.
Prohibition did more than inspire an HBO gangster drama about how Steve Buscemi is rich and sleeps with showgirls while people get shot. Making booze illegal changed the way America drank, banishing a lot of popular ingredients to obscurity. One of the cocktail casualties was Swedish Punsch, a liqueur made with citrus, spices, rum, and a southeastern Asian liquor made with sugar cane and red rice called Batavia Arrack.
Don's Mix is the perfect project for the passing of the seasons. The smell of sugar and cinnamon bubbling on the stove will make you feel ready for all things autumnal. Grapefruit, a perfect citrus for summer by the sea, will also remind you that the day will come, mid-December, when, if you are lucky, you'll look down and find a box of seasonal citrus on your door.
Making your own honey liqueur is dead simple. You don't have to do anything but heat the honey with some water and then mix it with vodka. I like to let the liqueur sit overnight to ensure the flavors are totally integrated, but if you're truly impatient you can use it right away. As much as I love Bärenjäger, when I compared it side-by-side I liked the homemade stuff just as much and it was a hell of a lot cheaper.