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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

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

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.

White Negroni: Anger That Forgot Where it Came From

White Negroni

I was originally planning to title this post “A White Negroni and the Trouble with Suze” as a way of venting the frustration I had accumulated while playing around with the bitter French aperitif to largely lackluster results. My struggle came not necessarily from the liqueur itself, but rather from how it seemingly refused to play well with others. I found that the very qualities that make Suze such a singular spirit when enjoyed on its own—a quick splash of sweetness followed by an intense and long, lingering bitterness—also make it somewhat difficult to tame in the context of a mixed drink. Definitely not an impossible task, but perhaps one of the reasons you don’t see a heck of a lot of cocktails with Suze in them.

White Negroni

Now, I like my bitter aperitifs as much as the next guy, but when it comes to cocktails I prefer balance. And that proved to be the main challenge in constructing this drink since despite many efforts to reign in Suze’s persistent bitterness in various ways, it continually bullied its way to the front of the palate. Eventually, thankfully, finally, and much to my pleasure, lest I feel as though I’d wasted a few weeks time not to mention half a bottle of a perfectly wonderful bitter liqueur, I arrived at a combination of gin, Suze, and vermouth that, to me, felt balanced. (And that, coming from a Libra, should carry some weight.) However, the perfectionist in me wasn’t quite content.

After tasting a version mixed with Old Tom and another with a London Dry—each lending their own unique and interesting flavor profiles—I decided to split the difference and go with equal parts Hayman’s Old Tom and Plymouth, which makes for a nice combination and also appeases the Negroni purist in me by keeping the drink in equal parts. The coup de grâce is a trio of lemon peels twisted over the drink. Of course, as always, you are free to play with the gins to satisfy your own taste, but the following is how the drink is served at our house.

Anger That Forgot Where it Came From

3/4 oz. Plymouth Gin
3/4 oz. Hayman’s Old Tom Gin
3/4 oz. Suze
3/4 oz. Dolin Blanc Vermouth
3 wide lemon twists

Combine the gin, Suze, and vermouth in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir until well chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, twist the three lemon peels over the drink, and drop one in for garnish.

Island Classics: Singapore Sling


What separates the Singapore Sling from other island classics is that it uses gin as its base spirit rather than rum. Also, unlike many of its rum-based counterparts, there is absolutely no question or disagreement about where this drink came from or who dreamt it up. That distinction goes to a fellow by the name of Ngiam Tong Boon, a barkeep at the Long Bar of the Raffles Hotel in, you guessed it, Singapore. He purportedly created the concoction around 1915 upon receiving a challenge from a British Colonial for something not only delectable, but befitting of the lovely women of Singapore as well. Or at least that’s the history touted on the website that also designates the drink as Singapore’s national cocktail.

Given the length of the ingredients list, you can almost forgive the Raffles Hotel for having created a special “mix” to handle the large volume of orders they are surely asked to fill. Almost. At home, though, you’re not likely under that kind of pressure so it’s good to view the extra prep time as a minor inconvenience on your way to making a completely captivating cocktail. That’s my opinion, at least.

Personally, I’m not one for sweets. I eschew candy and though I occasionally indulge in chocolate, I prefer the dark variety. I bring this up because it would be easy to look at the spec for this drink–with its pineapple, cherry, and grenadine–and jump to the conclusion that if you’re not into sweet, you should skip this one. However, that’s not the case, as the cherry brandy and Bénédictine hold their own and the lime adds just enough sour to balance the sweeter flavors. And if you make your own grenadine–1:1 POM pomegranate juice to superfine sugar–you’ll be doing even better. This recipe comes straight out of Jim Meehan’s The PDT Cocktail Book though I include a mint sprig as an additional garnish for an extra splash of color.

Singapore Sling

Singapore Sling
as seen in Jim Meehan’s The PDT Cocktail Book

2 oz. Pineapple Juice
1 1/2 oz. Plymouth Gin
1/2 oz. Cherry Heering
1/2 oz. House Grenadine
1/4 oz. Cointreau
1/4 oz. Bénédictine
1/4 oz. Lime Juice
1 dash Angostura Bitters
Cherry, Mint sprig, and Pineapple Slice for garnish

Combine pineapple juice, gin, cherry Heering, Cointreau, Bénédictine, lime juice, and bitters in a mixing glass. Shake with ice and strain into a chilled Collins glass filled with ice. Garnish with a cherry, mint sprig, and slice of pineapple.

Island Classics: The Fog Cutter


On the subject of gambling, Kenny Rogers famously sang, “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.” Riffing on that wisdom, I would say that when it comes to a cocktail, you’ve got to know when to drink it and know when to send it back. Such was the awkward position I found myself in one night at a hotel bar on the island of Kauai. The drink was the Fog Cutter and ordered, as it was, from the section of the cocktail menu offering up nostalgia (read: classic cocktails), I harbored a certain expectation, especially considering the list of ingredients. When the drink arrived, I was crushed, unlike the ice filling the stemless wine glass in which it was served. And though it did take me back, it wasn’t to the late 1940s, but rather to my undergraduate years when we considered the Screwdriver to be a cocktail.

While disappointment prevailed–and I did actually send the drink back–it got me thinking that surely there must be a “real” way to make this, not to mention a few of the other syrupy concoctions mixed at the pool bar and marketed under names I knew to be classics of the tiki/tropical genre. So when life gave me this lemon, I decided to squeeze it and mix up some classics.

Once back on the mainland, as expected I quickly unearthed some Fog Cutter recipes that would appear to yield results drastically different from the drink I’d tasted. The first came from Ted Haigh’s indispensable Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, which includes recipes from tiki cocktail godfathers Trader Vic and Don the Beachcomber, though the jury seems to be out on who and where it was first conceived. (Named for a kind of diving knife and characterized by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry as the Long Island Iced Tea of exotic drinks, have one too many with a lady friend and you may find yourself wondering where something else was conceived.) For a second opinion, I consulted The PDT Cocktail Book by Jim Meehan, finding something of a mashup between the two originals. My final bit of research came when a friend from The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co. in Philadelphia generously offered me their spec for the drink. The recipe below follows The Franklin recipe most closely, though I tweaked the rums to my personal liking.

Fog Cutter

Fog Cutter

1 oz. Appleton Estate V/X
1 oz. Smith & Cross
1 oz. Macchu Pisco
1/2 oz. Plymouth Gin
1 oz. Lemon Juice
3/4 oz. Orange Juice
1/2 oz. House Orgeat
1/2 oz. Harveys Bristol Cream Sherry
Mint sprig for garnish

Measure rums, pisco, gin, orgeat, and citrus juices into a mixing glass. Shake with ice and strain into a Pilsner glass. Add crushed ice then float 1/2 oz. of cream sherry. Garnish with a mint sprig.