My 2017 Cocktail Resolutions, Part 2: Going Beyond Bourbon

Though my home bar sports a few dozen different bottles—whiskeys, gins, vodkas, brandies, amari, and on down the line—I fully admit that the ones that get emptied fastest are the bourbons (and sometimes the ryes). I make no bones about American whiskey being my spirit of choice, and my knee-jerk cocktail is often bound to be a whiskey sour, a Paper Plane, or a Manhattan.

But woman cannot live on whiskey alone, so my second cocktail resolution this year was to challenge myself to branch out a bit and turn to other types of booze when mixing drinks.

Into Brandyland

As part of my efforts to learn more about brandy (so I could share that knowledge with all of you, natch), I spent some time in that world in February and March, so much of my branching out happened in that particular family tree.

There were Sidecars, of course, and they were predictably delicious, but I also went a bit farther afield.

The Saratoga cocktail from Julie Reiner's  The New Cocktail Hour

The Saratoga cocktail from Julie Reiner's The New Cocktail Hour

So, yes: the Saratoga from The New Cocktail Hour by Julie Reiner does in fact have rye in it, but it also has cognac, sweet vermouth, and orange bitters, so I'm totally counting it in my not-just-American-whiskey tally, especially since it was delicious. (I'm sure these charming pressed glass Nick and Nora glasses enhanced the taste even more.)

Andrew Friedman's Bardstown

Andrew Friedman's Bardstown

Next up was the Bardstown cocktail from Seattle bartender and bar owner Andrew Friedman. I picked this one while flipping through the book West Coast Libations because, let me be honest here, it was the drink that required the least effort (no infusions, no emulsions, no special syrups), and for which I had all the ingredients on hand. 

Was one of those ingredients rye? Yes. Yes, it was. You might sense a theme here. But what if I defend myself by noting that this beauty also has applejack, and thus fits with the whole brandy theme?  (Bonus: I served it in one of these classic "bamboo stem" coupes.)


By Andrew Friedman of Liberty Bar, Seattle; from West Coast Libations by Ted Munat

2 oz. Rittenhouse 100-proof rye

1 oz. Laird's applejack

1/2 oz. Cointreau

1 dash orange bitters

1 dash Angostura bitters

Long orange twist, for garnish

Stir all ingredients with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with the orange twist.


The A.J. cocktail: just crazy enough to work

The A.J. cocktail: just crazy enough to work

I wrapped up my time in Brandytown with a cocktail called the A.J., from Mittie Hellmich's Ultimate Bar Book. The A.J. combines applejack, grapefruit juice, and grenadine, and, on paper, looks suspect at best. (Applejack and grapefruit??) But friends, somehow it works.

Last Stop: Campari

I wish I could tell you that beyond my tinkering with various brandies I got into some truly creative stuff, and finally figured out what to do with that bottle of Ramazzotti, or that crazy-ass coca leaf liqueur my friend Rob gave me for my birthday back in, um, 2011, or that rhubarb liqueur that's been all but untouched for years now. 

In fact, I did none of those things. But I did keep putzing around.

Tequila, let's do this.

Tequila, let's do this.

On one of the coldest nights we had all winter (yes, that's a relative measure in Northern California, but still), I dusted off my bottle of silver tequila, squeezed a grapefruit, and made Palomas. Tequila is a spirit that has never excited me (and sorry, mezcal, but smoky just isn't my thing), but in the Paloma, I can start to see its appeal.

Celebrating St. Patrick's Day a la Dale DeGroff

Celebrating St. Patrick's Day a la Dale DeGroff

St. Patrick's Day here at In Our Cups world HQ involved not green beer (or, in fact, any beer) or terrible shots, but instead a round of Wild Irish Roses, Dale DeGroff's take on the Jack Rose, which subs Irish whiskey for applejack. That bottle of Bushmill's at the back of my bar hadn't seen so much action in years. (Love those Libbey Royal Fern glasses? Find 'em here.)

Tally ho, sbagliato!

Tally ho, sbagliato!

Finally, I rounded out March with the Negroni Sbagliato, the "mistaken" version of that classic with Prosecco standing in for the gin. (And check out those charming Libbey Tally Ho lowballs!) If I'm drinking something bitter and bubbly, there's a 99% chance it's an Aperol Spritz, so, hey, double pat on the back for a cocktail that's neither a spritz nor features American whiskey. 

I've got plenty more exploring to do over the coming months—I will open that bottle of falernum! I will figure out something to do with cachaça other than make Caipirinhas! And dammit, Ramazzotti, I'm coming for you. And let's be honest: I didn't actually go way out in left field with most of my cocktailing over these last couple of months. 

But it did feel good to crack open some infrequently used bottles, and to get myself out of my whiskey-first habit for a bit. If you, like me, have neglected bottles hanging around your home bar, I definitely encourage showing them some love.

My 2017 Cocktail Resolutions, Part 1: Balance Boozy with Light

I'm not exactly a master of keeping New Year's resolutions (let's not count how many years I've vowed to drink 64 ounces of water a day—though I'm still trying to stick with that one), so I tend not to make many of them.

However, this year I figured I'd try something a bit different: instead of going for the usual, I'd set goals related to cocktails. Hello, motivation! And to keep things even more interesting, my plan is to work on one resolution per month, rather than making a whole batch at the beginning of the year and then having to try to keep them all going at once.

So join me on this year-long adventure of (let's be honest) completely softball goal setting and achieving. First up: lightening up.

Un-Dry January

Many people aim to take a month off from drinking after the holidays, which has spawned the idea of dry January. First of all, were I to lay off the hooch altogether, I'd pick a month without 31 days (hello, sweet 'n' petite February). But second of all, unless I had a compelling medical reason not to drink (or consume carbs, or enjoy chocolate, or start every damn day with coffee), trying to go cold turkey for a full month would just make me feel grumpy and resentful.

However, that doesn't mean there's nothing to be said for taking it a bit easier this month as a way of resetting and rebalancing after the holidays. 

Keeping Level

This tasty sipper is the Apparent Sour from bartender Bobby Heugel. Three ingredients, lots of deliciousness.

This tasty sipper is the Apparent Sour from bartender Bobby Heugel. Three ingredients, lots of deliciousness.

Enter The Art of the Shim: Low-Alcohol Drinks to Keep You Level, by Dinah Sanders. Sanders argues that while delicious high-test cocktails—that is, those made from full-proof spirits (whiskey, vodka, gin, etc.)—are delightful, sometimes they're not quite right. Maybe you're having a drink before or after a dinner that includes lots of wine, for example, or maybe you're enjoying some day drinking. In both cases, hitching your wagon to Manhattans may leave you tipsier (and fuller) than you want to be. So, shims to the rescue.

Shims are cocktails made with amari, vermouth, sherry, cordials, or lighter liqueurs that don't pack the same punch as full spirits (think Chartreuse, allspice dram, and the like). These aren't necessarily simpler cocktails than their boozier kin; they're just less alcoholic. As Sanders writes, the goal of a shim is "more drink, less drunk."

Test Run

There are a few dozen recipes in this book, each categorized by Kind (such as Spiritous Dry or Juicy Bubbles), Mood (Spicy & Stimulating, Lively & Cooling), and Era (Prohibition, Years of Reform). They also run the gamut from exceptionally easy to bartender-ly involved (i.e., involving homemade spiced syrups and the like). 

I picked one of the easiest in the book, Bobby Heugel's Apparent Sour, because I had just come off a five-day hellscape of a cold and was feeling lazy. But while the cocktail took only slightly more than zero effort on my part (shake Aperol, St.-Germain, and lime juice; strain; consume), it had a delicious complexity, and, as the name suggests, was pleasantly tart. 

It also had the benefit of not wearing me out as I sipped it while I made dinner. Bonus.

I'm not going to claim I've gone completely without boozy cocktails this month, but it has definitely been nice to take things in a lighter direction for a few weeks. And in the two remaining weeks of January, I have plenty of more complex shims to choose from in Sanders' book. 

It's all in the name of sticking to my goals.