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Mixing Islay: The Coal Fire Cocktail

The Coal Fire Cocktail - Wonderland Kitchen

At home, I’ve been on a bit of a single malt scotch kick recently. The smokier and peatier the better. Maybe it’s the time of year, but right now there is nothing more satisfying to me than 2 ounces of peaty, smoky, and briny Isaly scotch. It could also be that I’m just projecting our desire for a wood burning fireplace in our living room into my glass. But let’s not get too psychoanalytic.

Though single malts are best taken neat with just a few drops of water, I simply couldn’t resist trying to find a way to get those flavors into a cocktail. If you think you would like the taste of the last log in the fireplace, burned all the way down, embers ashy yet aglow, then this cocktail is definitely for you. That description pretty much sums it up. The recipe calls for Ardbeg 10, but any smoky and peaty Islay single malt—like a Lagavulin 16 or Laphroaig Quarter Cask—would certainly make an acceptable substitute. Sláinte!

Coal Fire

1 1/2 oz. Pikesville Rye
1/2 oz. Ardbeg 10 Year Islay Single Malt Scotch
1/2 oz. Taylor Madeira Wine
1/2 oz. Grade B Maple Syrup
1/4 tsp. Los Nahaules Mezcal Joven
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Flamed orange peel for garnish

Combine the rye, scotch, Madeira, maple syrup, mezcal, and bitters in a mixing glass. Stir with ice and strain into a chilled coupe. Flame an orange peel and drop it in for garnish.

Champagne Cocktails for Valentine’s Day

Champagne Cocktails for Valentine's Day

The devil is in the details. An idiom, a truism, and something I firmly believe. It’s the little things—the subtleties—that make something truly sparkle and definitely very sexy. And when it comes to champagne cocktails, for me, at least, subtlety is key. If I’ve got good bubbles, I want to taste them. But just the right amount of subtle accent can take a flute of champagne to a whole other level. I created this trio of distinct champagne cocktails in honor of Valentine’s Day with the hope that you can take your love to the next level. Cheers.

Champagne Cocktail: French Kiss
A riff on the classic French 75, French Kiss is the lightest of the three champagne cocktails presented here. A subtle sweetness from the St-Germain and spice from the ginger liqueur mingle with herbaceous, sour, and dry, adding a surprising layer to this “fruit-on-the-bottom” drink.

French Kiss

1 oz. Plymouth Gin
1/4 oz. Lemon Juice
1/4 oz. St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur
1 barspoon Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur
4 oz. Moët & Chandon Imperial Champagne
Lemon twist for garnish

Place a sugar cube in a champagne flute. Combine the gin, lemon juice, St-Germain, and ginger liqueur in a mixing glass. Shake with cracked ice and strain into the champagne flute. Top with the champagne and garnish with a lemon twist.

Champagne Cocktail: Rich and Famous
My personal favorite of the bunch, Rich and Famous is at least half of its name. Hopefully the famous part will follow.

Rich and Famous

1 oz. Pierre Ferrand Ambre Cognac
1/2 oz. Bénédictine
1/4 oz. St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
3 1/2 oz. Moët & Chandon Imperial Champagne
3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
3 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 demerara sugar cube

Place a demerara sugar cube in a champagne flute and drench with the bitters. Combine the cognac, Bénédictine, and allspice dram in a mixing glass. Stir with ice and strain into the champagne flute. Top with the champagne.

Champagne Cocktail: Difficult Loves
A trinity of Italian ingredients come together in this bitter but savory champagne cocktail, named in honor of Italian writer Italo Calvino’s short story collection of the same name.

Difficult Loves

1/2 oz. Cynar
1/2 oz. Carpano Antica Formula
1/2 oz. Cocchi Americano
4 oz. Moët & Chandon Imperial Champagne
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 sugar cube
Orange twist for garnish

Combine the Cynar, Carpano Antica, and Cocchi Americano in a mixing glass. Stir with ice and strain into the champagne flute. Top with champagne and garnish with an orange twist.

Champagne Cocktails

Award Winning: Lonely Angel No. 35

Lonely Angel #35

A cocktail is always infinitely more compelling to me if it has an interesting story to accompany it. And of the original recipes I’ve created, Lonely Angel No. 35, a Negroni variation that uses the French St-Germain elderflower liqueur, definitely takes the cake in the story department.

I created this drink on the night of Thursday, October 4, 2012. It was my birthday. But it was a birthday night devoid of the usual birthday accoutrements. There was no cake. There was no dinner out at a restaurant (or an exquisitely prepared feast at home). No friends or family around to celebrate, as Molly was in NYC on business. Boo-hoo, right? I wasn’t even home for most of the evening myself as I had performed a concert earlier that night. So when I arrived back at home at 10:30 p.m. that night, I decided that I’d fix myself a drink. Always up for an experiment, I decided to mix a variation on my beloved Negroni.

My choice of ingredients was influenced as much by what we currently had on the shelf as by the disappointment I was still nursing after learning that my cocktail The French Intervention wasn’t eligible for Martha Stewart and St-Germain’s Fifth Annual Can-Can Classic Cocktail Competition because it didn’t feature enough St-Germain. The contest rules–which I originally neglected to read, of course–specified that submitted drinks needed to include 1 oz. of St-Germain; The French Intervention only uses 1/2 oz. A Negroni variation, I thought, could be the perfect showcase for that volume of the liqueur as long as the other ingredients could stand up to it.

I chose Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage Bourbon in place of the gin and Cynar instead of Campari to shade it more towards the mellow side. The coup de grâce, however, was my decision to float four dashes of Angostura for an initial added kick of bitterness. That simple tweak makes the drink. If you know St-Germain, you know that it finishes strong. So putting the Angostura front and center sets up a really neat effect and balances the drink as it progresses across the palate.

I ended up submitting this drink to the Can-Can Classic Cocktail Competition and promptly forgot that I had. That is until two weeks ago when I received emails from both St-Germain and Martha Stewart Living. Though Lonely Angel No. 35 wasn’t the grand prize winner, it was chosen as a runner up. As a prize I received a bottle of St-Germain as well as a custom St-Germain bicycle. Not too shabby!

Lonely Angel #35

So, the name. The ‘lonely’ part should be obvious—I was alone on my birthday. What’s more lonely than that? The ‘angel’ in the title is a bit more cryptic and convoluted. My birthday is October 4. Written out numerically it is 1004. If you say that number in Korean—one thousand four—it is pronounced chun-sa. In the Korean language that is also a homonym for ‘angel.’ Get it? And No. 35? It was my thirty-fifth birthday. So there you have it.

Lonely Angel No. 35
Runner Up, Fifth Annual Can-Can Classic Cocktail Competition

1 oz. Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage Bourbon
1 oz. Cynar
1 oz. St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur
4 dashes Angostura Bitters
Wide orange twist for garnish

Combine the bourbon, Cynar, and St-Germain in a mixing glass. Stir with ice and strain over one large ice cube into a rocks glass. Float four dashes of the bitters and garnish with a wide orange twist.

Fall Tequila Cocktail: The French Intervention


Crafting original cocktails—for me, at least—is a process that calls for one part imagination and at least five parts experimentation. While Version 1.0 of any given recipe rarely passes muster, it opens doors to any number of paths leading to the final destination. Sometimes the solution is simple, though most often it requires a good bit of refinement. Around here, recently, it’s been more of the latter. In order to dial in the spec for The Cylburn, we hosted a tasting party that featured sundry variations on the theme; while in the case of my Suze-infused White Negroni I almost scrubbed the whole project after exhaustive attempts to tweak it to perfection didn’t seem to get me any closer to my desired result. However, every so often lightning strikes and a first draft is deemed of superior quality, being instantly advanced to final draft status without having to undergo any editing or further scrutinization. Call it the product of accrued mixological experience or call it a fluke, but such was the case with The French Intervention, a cocktail whose name even came easily.

A confluence of two things sparked the idea for this drink. First, there was tequila. In an unfortunate case of guilt by association, tequila often gets a bad rap as a liquor to be consumed in one gulp, in mass quantities, and with a side of salt and lime. Yet, it seemed to me that its earthy flavor profile might make it an excellent, not to mention unexpected, candidate as the base spirit in a fall cocktail. And having just picked up a bottle of El Espolòn, I was eager to test my hypothesis. The second was something I happened upon while wandering the aisles of a local wine and spirits shop—a postcard advertising the Can-Can Classic Cocktail Competition, a challenge to create a new drink using the French St-Germain elderflower liqueur. I accepted the challenge, dreamt up the recipe you see below, and was surprised that my maiden voyage produced such an interesting and balanced result—a cocktail I truly believed coulda been a contender.

The French Intervention: Pour

Well, it turns out the drink actually couldn’t have been a contender, as close inspection of the fine print revealed that submitted cocktails need contain 1 oz. of St-Germain. My scant 1/2 oz. just wasn’t going to cut it. (Queue sad trombone sound.) But, to me, the drink was definitely a winner and rather than mess with success for a chance at a $10,000 cash prize—who needs that anyway, right?—I was content to simply add it to Wonderland Kitchen’s fall cocktail menu.

A word on the name. The French Intervention refers to Napoleon III of France’s invasion of Mexico in 1861—a campaign meant to give President Benito Juárez a collective piece of Britain, Spain, and France’s mind after the former decided to stop sending interest payments to the three nations, who so happened to be Mexico’s major creditors. But it wasn’t just a debt-collecting mission for Napoleon III—Britain and Spain actually backed out when they found out there was an actual invasion planned—there was also a little something about financing his empire with the Mexican silver that was just laying around waiting to be mined, as well as keeping the burgeoning power of the United States in check while it was somewhat preoccupied with its own Civil War. Sneaky guy.

As a coda, while double checking to see that The French Invention had not already been ascribed to an alcoholic concoction, I serendipitously discovered that the drink’s spec tips its hat to Harry Craddock’s Napoleon cocktail. Granted, not the same Napoleon, but close enough for jazz.

The French Intervention

2 oz. El Espolòn Tequila Blanco
1/2 oz. Cynar
1/2 oz. St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Wide lemon twist for garnish

Combine the tequila, Cynar, St-Germain, and bitters in a mixing glass. Stir with ice and strain into a chilled coupe. Twist the lemon peel over the drink to express the oils and garnish.

First Taste of Autumn: The Cylburn


People sometimes speak of seasons transitioning from one to the next, but for me it always seems to happen suddenly. One morning, I’m setting out in shorts and a t-shirt and the next I’m sporting long pants, a sweater, and possibly a wool coat. Not that I’m complaining. Fall is my favorite season and, for me, there’s nothing quite like the feel of autumn’s chilly morning air, the smell of a freshly raked leaf pile, or the sight of leaves changing color and trees with half bare branches. To celebrate autumn’s arrival, I came up with this crisp and herbaceous gin-based cocktail. The drink gets its name from the Cylburn Arboretum, a beautiful 207-acre arboretum and botanical garden in Baltimore, and a perfect place to peep the autumn leaves.

First Taste of Autumn: The Cylburn

The Cylburn

1 oz. Ransom Old Tom Gin
1/2 oz. Hayman’s Old Tom Gin
3/4 oz. Lustau Manzanilla Sherry
1/2 oz. Bénédictine
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Sprig of thyme for garnish

Combine the gin, sherry, Bénédictine, and bitters in a mixing glass. Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a sprig of thyme.

The Ultimate Baltimore Beer Cocktail: Way Down in the Hole


Beer cocktails. So hot right now. And if you believe the Baltimore Sun, they are something of a trend in Charm City, not to mention elsewhere. I must admit to being late to the party, not really getting wind of this so-called trend until browsing the drinks menu at Of Love & Regret not too long ago. But I’m not really a trendy guy. Nevertheless, you’ll have to believe me that the idea for this concoction came to me not as a result of trying to hop on some bibulous bandwagon, but rather as an attempt to remix elements of drinks from a couple of famous barkeeps—one local and one not—with some ingredients indigenous to Baltimore into a cocktail that captures the flavor of the city, cigarette butts and all.

At its core, Way Down in the Hole is a modified Michelada, but it also pays homage to Jim Meehan’s Beer and a Smoke as well as my buddy Russell de Ocampo’s infamous Kosher Boh. Like Baltimore City, Way Down in the Hole could be an acquired taste for some. I have never licked a Baltimore sidewalk and am happy believing that this drink serves up enough tastes of the town so that I will never have to. All kidding aside, I was pretty impressed—and, to be honest, more than a bit surprised—with how good this cocktail tasted. What you get is an earthy, yet refreshing and well-balanced palate with a hint of smoke along with a bit of heat creeping in on the finish and lingering well after each sip. Sounds like Baltimore to me.

The Ultimate Baltimore Beer Cocktail: Way Down in the Hole

Way Down in the Hole

1 oz. Los Nahuales Mezcal Joven
1/2 oz. Pikesville Rye
3/4 oz. Lime Juice
1 dash Fee Brothers Celery Bitters
4-6 dashes Woodberry Kitchen Snake Oil hot sauce
1 bar spoon Soy Sauce
6 oz. National Bohemian Beer
Old Bay
Zest of Orange and Lime for garnish

Combine the mezcal, rye, lime juice, bitters, hot sauce, and soy sauce in a mixing glass. Shake with ice and strain into a chilled Collins glass rimmed with Old Bay and half-filled with ice. Top with beer and add the orange and lime zest for garnish.