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Raise a Glass: Cocktails for the Holiday Season

Holiday Cocktail Round-Up

While dashing in and out of hotel lobbies and swank bars with He Spoke Style as we shot a holiday campaign video for Banana Republic (see end of post), I got a little nostalgic for the excellent cocktail recipes he created for Wonderland Kitchen last winter. (I can’t be the only one already excitedly anticipating the Christmas tree even as I plan my Thanksgiving dinner. But I know, I know, I’ll tamp it down.) With the colder temperatures and celebratory parties upon us again, however, it seemed like the perfect time to revisit a few of these warming cocktails.

What drinks will you be sharing with your guests this holiday season?

First Taste of Autumn: The Cylburn


Fall Tequila Cocktail: The French Intervention


In the Russet Gold of This Vain Hour


Rye and Maple Thanksgiving Cocktail: Poor Sap

Rye and Maple Thanksgiving Cocktail: Poor Sap

Scotch Cocktail: The Lamplighter

Scotch Cocktail: The Lamplighter Cocktail

A Cocktail for the Rest of Us: St. Festivus Flip

Festivus Cocktail: St. Festivus Flip

Mixing Islay: The Coal Fire Cocktail

The Coal Fire Cocktail - Wonderland Kitchen

A Bittersweet Sip: DIY Tonic Water

DIY Tonic Water

I’m not sure I fully understood what tonic water actually was until my friend Alex explained why she loved it. I vaguely recalled accidentally ordering this somewhat bitter carbonated beverage in a restaurant as a teenager, but beyond that I hadn’t given it much consideration. The G&T had never been my drink.

Still, with such an enthusiastic recommendation as Alex’s filed away, I couldn’t resist picking up a liter on my next grocery run. I felt a little silly buying soda when I had my own private supply of bubbly at home, but tonic water had bonus ingredients: namely, high fructose corn syrup and quinine. I suppose it’s just a little of that “grass is always greener” human flaw, but I found myself increasingly attracted to the tonic’s bite. My own homemade fizzy water was starting to taste a little flat.

Commercial Tonic Water

Spiting my evolving addiction to tonic water was the aforementioned supply of straight up CO2 carbonation that I had installed in my kitchen specifically to avoid those plastic bottles in the recycling bin, as well as the uber sweetness of the commercial drink. Serve me savory any day, but you can keep the candy and soda pop for yourself. Surely someone had already figured out how to DIY the tonic side of the sparkling water shelf? Of course they had. And I just happened to have the cinchona bark and citric acid the recipe required in my pantry! (See previous cheese making and Wicked Witch of the West posts for details.)

DIY Tonic Water Ingredients

Having already enjoyed the results of Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s ginger beer on several occasions, I settled on his recipe for my first tonic outing and was not disappointed. The gist is that you make a syrup which you can then mix with seltzer for a superior–dare I say artisanal? I do not–sparkling beverage. If you’re of a mind, you may also add gin.

I had some cardamon seeds and juniper berries in the pantry as well, so I opted to toss a bit of those into the mix. There’s a lot of room for experimentation here, however, so you should feel free to shape each batch to suit your own taste preferences. In the unlikely event that the over-sized mosquitoes that have taken up residence in my backyard are carrying malaria, this tonic probably won’t help one bit, but it sure is delicious.

DIY Tonic Water Syrup

DIY Tonic Water Syrup
Half of Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s recipe with the addition of juniper and cardamon

Note: To make a gin and tonic cocktail, Morgenthaler suggests a 3/4 ounce of syrup, 1 1/2 ounces of gin and 2 ounces of soda over ice. To enjoy a glass of tonic solo, I found that just a few tablespoons flavored a cup nicely without becoming too sweet of a drink. Obviously, you should feel free to follow your own tastes.

zest and juice of 1/2 a lemon
zest and juice of 1/2 a lime
zest and juice of 1/2 an orange
1/2 cup chopped lemon grass
1/8 cup powdered cinchona bark**
1/8 cup citric acid
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
6 allspice berries
10 juniper berries
4 cardamon seeds
2 cups water
11 ounces light agave syrup

Place all ingredients except for the agave in a sauce pan and bring to a full boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.

Strain the mixture. I used a two-step process that involved a fine mesh tea basket and then a Chemex coffee filter set inside a large funnel (it took about 30 minutes to strain through) and found that to work very well.

DIY Tonic Water: Second Strain

Transfer to a glass container and add agave syrup to the warm liquid (reheat if necessary). Stir until fully combined. Allow to cool and store in the refrigerator until needed.

To serve, add to seltzer water one tablespoon at a time until desired strength is achieved. I find three tablespoons per cup strikes an ideal balance.

**If you need a mail order source, I’ve been really impressed with the products from the Dandelion Botanical Company.

DIY Tonic Water

DIY Summer Seltzer Season

DIY Seltzer from Wonderland Kitchen

With a holiday weekend on the horizon and rising temperatures (at least in the Mid-Atlantic) hinting at the swamp, I mean, summer ahead, it seemed like a prime time to revisit the seltzer maker I built for the kitchen almost three (yikes!) years back. If you’re the tl;dr type, the sum up is that it still rocks. You may proceed to the directions to construct your very own.

To be clear, I in no way invented this mad scientist contraption. Rather, at a time when the family recycling bin was overflowing with plastic one-liter bottles–my legs sore from carting them home and my stomach clenching over the packaging waste–I started digging around to see what my make-at-home options might be. Even back then, the SodaStream was a thing. But it was an expensive thing, with what seemed to be a high ongoing fee for the specialty CO2 cylinders it required. However, as with many problems, if you’re willing to get a little weird, the internet will provide. That’s how I ended up with this:

DIY Seltzer from Wonderland Kitchen

Truth be told, I’m not sure if I would have proceeded were it not for the fact that my dad has sold welding and gas supplies since I was a kid. (One of my favorite toys looked something like this mask, which probably explains more than a few things about me.) As a result, none of the necessary items were all that foreign to my eye and, while I admittedly carbonated my first bottle in the backyard a safe distance from the house just in case anything exploded, I was reasonably confident that I knew what I was doing. I asked my dad if this all seemed okay. He was also reasonably confident. The internet said it would be fine. And it was! Many, many bottles later, I haven’t had a single mishap.

DIY Seltzer from Wonderland Kitchen

To build the carbonation machine, you will need:

  • 5lb CO2 cylinder, or a size to suit your needs (if you know beer brewers, ask around and see if anyone if looking to get rid of one cheap)
  • Dual gauge regulator that can be set to deliver 20-50 psi
  • Flexible polyethylene tubing (4ft), 2 hose clamps, and a gas ball lock quick disconnect (now conveniently sold by Amazon as a single item)
  • Carbonater cap

NOTE: I tried assembling my own carbonater cap out of a tire stem as suggested (also by the internet), but could not get rid of the “just purchased from AutoZone!” smell, no matter what I washed or soaked it in. Possibly not a big deal in the long run, but the $12 carbonater cap I purchased has made scentless work of it for years and seems to have earned its keep just fine.

DIY Seltzer from Wonderland Kitchen

You will also need to upcycle at least one plastic bottle in very good condition. I steal new bottles from friends’ recycling bins when they are not looking in order to replace my bottles every few months, but you’ll definitely want to swap them out if you notice any visible wear.

Now, I’ve never used a SodaStream myself, but I’m willing to bet the look of the machine and the process of making the fizzy water is a little classier. Still, I have to say, with one of these babies in the kitchen, it’s automatic house party conversation material!

DIY Seltzer from Wonderland Kitchen

To carbonate water:

Fill the plastic bottle with water 7/8 full (I go to the top of where the label is) and chill. Very cold water is important for better CO2 absorption.

When cold, squeeze air out of the bottle and screw on carbonater cap.

DIY Seltzer from Wonderland Kitchen

Attach quick disconnect to the carbonater cap. Check to make sure the output valve on your regulator is completely closed. Turn on the gas and check/adjust the psi to suit your needs. I do mine at about 25 psi, but others go higher.

Holding tightly to your bottle in one hand, slowly open the output valve. The bottle will fill with gas. Shake the bottle vigorously for about 10-20 seconds.

Shut off the CO2 and close the output valve. Disconnect the bottle from the hose and refrigerate for at least several hours before removing the carbonater cap. (Unless, of course, you are looking to demonstrate a volcano eruption for the kids!)

The Verdict

The total cost of the unit, if all pieces are purchased brand new via Amazon, is $134.66. Plus you need to fill the tank. Locally, that cost me $15. I admit that the grand total can be something of a shock, but ask around and you just might be able to get some of these things for much cheaper.

Research indicates that I should be able to get about 280 one-liter bottles per tank. We have definitely had our runs of two-bottle-a-day consumption, and then a month without a single bottle made, but after what I swear are hundreds of bottles, we’re still on the same tank. I carbonate at a lower psi, so perhaps that bridges the gap. In any event, I’m cruising in on three years of stress-free, last-minute, in-home seltzer. I consider that a real coup, and a conversation piece to boot!

DIY Seltzer from Wonderland Kitchen

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.