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Drunken Chef that I am, I like to invent cocktails in my spare time. I’m always looking for something to suit the weather or the season. Here are four of my favorites to carry you through the next year. As always, use moderation, or at least stop drinking when you forget where you are.
There are a few key rules when devising your own cocktails:
- Avoid mixing more than one spirit (whiskey, vodka, tequila, gin, rum, etc.). Each base spirit has unique qualities that you want to bring out in a drink.
- For flavoring, try unique fruit juices, cream, or a splash of liqueur to add layers of complexity.
- Stick to a few key flavors. Only amateurs add forty different ingredients to a cocktail.
- As in cooking, you can always add, but you can’t always subtract, so pour gently at first. If you like a stiffer drink, adjust at the end.
- While garnishes aren’t necessary, they add an extra touch that makes your drinks more entertaining and impressive. Be creative!
Spring: Tessa Maye
It’s almost the end of March in Chicago when the weather teeters precariously between bitter cold and almost perfect. There’s nothing better than a fresh light drink to toast the possibility of good weather.
Tessa, one of my good friends, has a 100 top things to-do in life. One of these items was to have a cocktail named after her. I fashioned this drink in her vibrant spirit of life. This cocktail is fizzy, smooth, sweet, full of lemon and sunshine, just like Tessa. Imagine yourself out on the porch, enjoying this drink with friends, and you’ll usher spring in with a bang.
4 oz. Champagne
3/4 - 1 oz Limoncello (to taste)
Splash Raspberry Liqueur or Syrup (syrup sinks better)
Raspberry stuffed with Mint Leaf
Combine Champagne and Limoncello into a champagne flute, stirring gently. Gently sink Raspberry liqueur/syrup into glass.
Garnish with Mint leaf stuffed into a raspberry. The berry will float playfully upon the bubbles, but be warned, it doesn’t taste as pretty as it looks. Mint leaf can be bitter!
Summer: Gin and Tea
My good friend Brian came up with this drink. It didn’t sound remotely tasty until I tried fixing a pitcher for myself. Green Tea and Gin are a natural pair. Cold green tea is subtle and refreshing, while the Gin adds a fragrant and citrus-infused bite. This is the new quintessential summer drink.
4 oz. strongly brewed Green Tea, chilled
1.5 oz. Gin
Sugar to taste (superfine sugar dissolves faster - you can make your own superfine by crushing regular sugar)
Splash of Fresh Lime Juice
Shake all ingredients in cocktail shaker and serve over ice in a highball glass. Garnish with wheel of lime.
Fall: Sweet Mulled Wine
The cooler months are a perfect time to enjoy a warm mug of sweet mulled wine with a group of friends. Spices add that extra layer of depth to the drink, while the fruit adds a hint of brightness. Keep the Chateau Lafite in the cellar and opt for a cheaper everyday wine, because you’ll bolster the flavor with fruit, sugar, and spice covering the subtle characteristics of a top end wine.
1.5 Liters of Red Wine
1/2 cup Dark Brown Sugar, packed (add more to taste if desired)
2 whole Oranges, sliced into thin wheels
Splash Grand Marnier
Combine the wine into a large saucepan, along with the slices of fruit, and sugar. Throw in a few cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, whole allspice berries, and a tiny bit of freshly ground nutmeg (add varying spice to personal tastes).
Allow the liquid to warm up, but do NOT let the wine boil – simply let the liquid warm up so it is nice and hot for sipping.
Before serving, remove Cloves and Allspice (they can be an unpleasant surprise if eaten). Ladle wine into mugs, use cinnamon stick as garnish, and be sure that everybody gets at least one wheel of fruit.
Winter: Whiskey and Cream
This drink is the perfect winter nightcap, because it’s comforting, honey-sweet, and warm. You can enjoy this one in front of a warm hearth when you can’t seem to find sleep, and good dreams will find you in no time.
4 ounces of Whole Milk or Cream (skim/soy may be substituted)
1.5 - 2 oz. Bourbon of your choice
Honey to taste
Heat milk in small saucepan, dissolving honey till desired sweetness is achieved. Combine in mug with Bourbon. Garnish with cinnamon stick and sprinkle a touch of nutmeg on top. Enjoy.