Drink of the Week: The Black Ginger

The Black Ginger.In the world of higher end hard liquor, it seems as if whiskey is the big man on campus these days. I say that because the relative new kids in the world of super premium booze — tequila and rum — often try to emulate whiskey just a little. I am not opposed. While it might be less than advisable for Richie Cunningham to go around in a leather jacket like the Fonz, many of these whiskeyish expressions are actually pretty interesting cross pollinations, retaining enough of their own essential character to be interesting.

So it is with Hornitos Black Barrel, this week’s intriguing free-booze-I-got-in-the-mail. It’s been aged in wooden barrels to give it a more woody and very slightly sweet flavor that will likely remind you of a decent rye or bourbon, while also making you think even more of a pretty good tequila. It works nicely in an Old Fashioned, which is always my test for just about any booze, but especially one that has whiskey aspirations.

As for this week’s recipe offered by the Hornitos people, it’s not the flat-out cocktail home run they offered for my July 4th post a few weeks back to promote their perfectly-good plata, but it’ll do if you like sweet, refreshing drinks with a small dash of complexity.

The Black Ginger

1 1/2 ounces Hornitos Black Barrel Tequila
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
ginger beer (to top off)
1/2 ounce simple syrup or roughly or 2 1/2 teaspoons superfine sugar
1 sprig of fresh rosemary

Get a collins or highball glass and place your sprig of rosemary in it. Muddle it gently — think of it as a love tap — to get a bit more of the flavor into your glass. Next, combine all the remaining ingredients, except for the ginger beer, in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain into your glass, to which you have added fresh ice. Top off with the ginger beer of your choice.


As I mentioned above, this drink is definitely not one for sweet phobics, but it’s not at all bad if you get one of the tangier ginger beers and use enough of it. Due to some confusion, I first tried this in a smaller rocks/old fashioned glass, and it wasn’t as good. Lesson learned.

The Black Ginger reminds me somewhat of a better than average tiki drink, minus a little exoticism, with the rosemary being a nicely subtle alternative to the mint you find more often in cocktails. (If mint’s totally your thing, by the way, the Hornitos folks are also promulgating their own version of a Mint Julep…which could be the perfect thing to have during one of the many years when Derby Day and Cinco de Mayo coincide.)

I tried the Black Ginger with a couple of different brands of ginger beer, which both worked fine. However, my first night out, I used some Verner’s ginger ale — which I thought might be fine because it’s the most-gingery of the well known commercial ginger ales. It wasn’t. I know that ginger beer, which is always non-alcoholic, is comparable in price to actual beer, but you need it for this drink. Proper cocktailing is not the cheapest hobby.


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Drink of the Week: The Rye Ball

the Rye Ball.I often praise simplicity in cocktails. This is partly because my mission in these posts is to show you how, taking very little time, you can make drinks that taste at least 100 percent better than what you’re likely to get at your typical bar. That’s because, unlike the staff of your standard dive or chain bar, you won’t use sour mix and you will have enough time to actually measure your ingredients.

The other reason I like simple cocktails is that I’m lazy! I have a day job and, while bellyaching about getting free booze in the mail and making mostly very good cocktails would be unseemly, doing the stuff that’s necessary for these posts does take a bit of time. So, especially during a week when I was recuperating from a cold I picked up on the way to Comic-Con, and then Comic-Con itself, and then the Dracula-like return of my cold, the simplest possible drink was bordering on a necessity.

Moreover, with a brand new bottle of very good Alberta Rye Dark Batch on hand after my earlier uncorking misadventure, the cleverly named Rye Ball pitched at me by the Alberta PR team seemed like the perfect beverage. It is, in fact, basically a highball (any hard liquor and any beverage, i.e., Scotch and soda, 7 and 7, rum and Coke, etc.) but with hard cider providing the fizz. A dash of bitters gives the thing some cocktailing respectability. See what you think.

The Rye Ball

1 ounce Alberta Rye Dark Batch
4-5 ounces hard cider
1 dash aromatic bitters

Build in a highball or collins glass with ice. Stir. See, I said this was simple!

Considering the high proportion of hard cider here, your choice in this regard is obviously going to make an enormous difference. The Rye Ball is still something of a work in progress in that I have yet to find perfect pairing. Still, with a growing number of hard ciders on the market, the sky is pretty much the limit and I encourage folks to experiment with this refreshing cocktail concept.

I happen to enjoy hard ciders quite a bit, and I definitely dig them on the drier side. Still, to stand up to the whiskey and bitters, I definitely leaned towards the sweeter brews for a Rye Ball. Smith and Forge Hard Cider produced a full bodied blend, though I also enjoyed using the even sweeter Strong Bow Honey and Apple Hard Cider almost as much. No offense to the bottle of Henry Hotspur’s Hard Pressed for Cider I picked up at Trader Joe’s, but I was less partial to the result. It wasn’t bad, just a bit overly sophisticated and boozy tasting for my mood that night. I guess some part of me still expects cider to taste a little bit like apple juice.

The one thing I will say is that I strongly suggest going with four ounces of cider rather than five. I have no idea why this should be, but using more cider somehow resulted in a more medicinal flavor.

I should add, by the way, that the recipe doesn’t specify an apple cider, so feel free to try this with pear cider or whatever else you can find. While I still think Albert Rye makes a truly outstanding Old Fashioned, the Rye Ball is something of an unexplored drinking frontier, so there’s no need to be overly cautious.


Drink of the Week: The Diamondback

The Diamondback. It’s named for a terrapin turtle, not a rattlesnake, but this is a drink with a bite. Make no mistake about that.

Showing up in print first in Ted Saucier’s 1951 cocktail guide, Bottom’s Up, the Diamondback comes from the post-war boom in cocktail culture. That’s the one that inspired people to buy those cocktail sets that were handed down to some of us by our parents, grandparents,or great-grandparents. Nevertheless, as any true cocktail snob will tell you, that was a far cry from the highpoint of pre-prohibition cocktail creativity, despite the era’s booze-loving trappings. By the 1950s, cocktails were a pretty basic matter for the most part. In a funny way, the ingredients in a Diamondback feel almost like a throwback to a much earlier time in tippling history since both rye and apple brandies became increasingly rare in U.S. stores in the second half of the 20th century. Indeed, it was apparently the house drink at a venerable East coast bar, and it’s possible it’s history actually goes back a bit further than I know.

So, yes, the makings here are bit old school for the cast of “Mad Men” but not hard to find these days,though also not exactly inexpensive; the Diamondback contains chartreuse, an herbaceous and powerful product that a bunch of monks have a monopoly on; I hope they’re doing good works with the $50.00 or so you typically have to spend on one of their bottlings. Also, being comprised of three very potent brews, one a bit outre, this is a drink that Roger Sterling, at least, might have appreciated.

The Diamondback

1 1/2 ounces rye whiskey
3/4 ounce applejack (i.e., American apple brandy)
3/4 green chartreuse
1 cocktail cherry (garnish)

Combine your ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass with plenty of ice. You can stir this one if you like, but it will come out very, very strong. I shake it. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, add your cocktail cherry. You may toast our amphibian friend, the diamondback terrapin. More than one of these drinks and you won’t be moving much faster than one.

According to cocktail blogger Doug Ford, the Diamondback was originally the Diamondback Lounge Cocktail and was the house beverage of the Lord Baltimore Hotel bar in guess-what-southeastern city? Originally, it was made with yellow chartreuse, which is milder, but most modern recipes call for the green variant. And let’s be clear, by “milder” we mean 80 proof. Green chartreuse clocks in at a stunning 110.

It gets worse, or perhaps better, because most of the people making this drink at various Internet locales are using 100 proof ryes like Rittenhouse and Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy, which is also bottled in bond, i.e., 100 proof. My gut reaction is to think that this might be a little too much of a good thing. In any case, the reality is that most of the boozes I actually had on hand this week were very slightly milder, which I thought might compensate to some degree for using the oh-so strong, but admittedly flavorful, green chartreuse.

The first time I made a Diamondback, I frankly found it a too strong. I used the last of the only 100 proof rye I had, 1776, but compensated for its strength via that fact that I’m too cheap to own a bottle of Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy at present; I went with Laird’s somewhat maligned  80 proof Applejack. (It’s blended with neutral spirits for a lighter taste which I think is very pleasant.) Then, I realized that, contrary to the cocktail snob’s dictum that drinks without juices should be always be stirred, the Diamondback was originally shaken. Especially as I don’t buy that particular dogma one little bit, I thought that made for a major improvement.

I also tried the Diamondback with 90 proof Bulleit Rye and Alberta Dark Rye. Both were just fine, but I give the slight edge to the one named after a Canadian province. It wasn’t the fact that it’s makers finally decided to send me a replacement bottle after the incident of the torn off plastic thingy, at least I don’t think it was. It’s just the gentler, sweeter flavor seemed to mellow out this fire-breathing turtle of a concoction.


Drink of the Week: The Firework Fizz

the Firework Fizz.We’ve been missing/ignoring a lot of holidays lately here at DOTW. However, with everything that’s been going on our country lately — a time when it’s tempting to pull out the Charles Dickens and talk about it being both the best of times and the worst of times — I don’t think it would be right to avoid the annual celebration of all that’s really good about our nation.

Moving on, regular readers may be happy to now that, beyond this link to a cocktail from three months back, I’ll make no references to any musical comedy-dramas featuring our founding fathers. Instead, I’m pleased to present a drink that some nameless genius associated with Hornitos Tequila has come up with.

While I’m fond of presenting cocktails that are, well, way old, the presumably rather new Firework Fizz is truly classic in its simplicity and thoroughly delightful in its flavor. Really, it’s not the free booze from the Hornitos people talking when I say it’s good enough to join any list of classic cocktails. With a relatively low amount of booze and a very high level of flavorful refreshment, not to mention two actual entire pieces of fresh fruit, it’s about as perfect a cocktail as you make on a hot July 4th. Let’s not waste any more time.

The Firework Fizz

1 1/4 ounce Hornitos Plata Tequila
2 strawberries
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup or 2 1/2 teaspoons superfine sugar
1 big splash of soda water

Combine the tequila, one of your two strawberries, lemon juice, and sweetener to a cocktail shaker. Muddle the strawberry into a gorgeous, juice-laden pulp. Add ice and shake very vigorously. Strain into a collins or highball type-glass filled with fresh ice — be sure to use a traditional bar strainer. The strainers that come with home cocktail shakers won’t work because the strawberry pulp will block the tiny holes and, for this drink, I think you want as much strawberry pulp as possible to end up in the beverage.

After the straining is done, top off with soda water, add the other strawberry as a garnish, sip slowly and toast a country that’s big enough to allow that tequila is every bit as American a base spirit as bourbon, rye, or applejack. It just is.


I tried this with a Brand X tequila fairly comparable to Hornitos in terms of price, and it wasn’t terrible. Still, it does seem to work especially with the brand that brung it.

My one major suggestion with this drink is to ignore the temptation to stir the thing, though it won’t be the end of the world if you do. Indeed, the photography Hornitos sent, and that I chose not to use, had a light pink hue that seemed to imply that you’re supposed to stir it. I used my own, much less professional image because it’s closer to the way I think the Firework Fizz should look. I found it much more interesting to let the soda sit on top and gently make its way down. That way you start off with a slightly strawberry/lemon/tequila flavored soda and slowly find yourself enjoying a delightful candy center.

Happy Independence Day everyone and, remember, no one can “get their country back” because it already belongs to all of us.



Drink of the Week: The Parisian Cocktail

the Parisian Cocktail.A while ago, I picked up a half-size bottle of Mathilde brand cassis (black currant) liqueur. Often referred to with some pretension as “creme de cassis” in recipes, the distinction between creme de cassis and just plain cassis seems vague at best. Anyhow, though extremely sweet, my plain old cassis had a nice flavor and I decided it was time to give it a whirl in an appropriate cocktail setting.

Also known as the Paris Cocktail, the Parisian shows up in the 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book and Dale DeGroff’s much more recent The Craft of the Cocktail. However, a 2009 Savoy Stomp blog post by Erik Ellestad traces the drink to a slightly earlier 1929 recipe published by Harry MacElhone. He’s the “Harry” of Paris’s famed Harry’s New York Bar, so I guess this drink might actually be consumed by actual Parisians.

French cocktailing bonafides or not, I did find the original recipe a bit overly sweet. So, partly by accident and partly inspired by the slight monkeying with the recipe Mr. Ellestad performed, I came up with a version I prefer. It’s a bit lighter and more refreshing — and still plenty sweet; almost a high end gin and juice, if you will, even if this version has more vermouth than gin.

The Parisian Cocktail

1 1/2 ounces dry vermouth (aka French vermouth)
3/4 ounce cassis
3/4 ounce gin
1 lemon peel (optional, but I think very desirable, garnish)

Combine your liquids in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Since cassis is so fruity, the cocktail gods seem to agree that this drink demands to be shaken. Do so vigorously. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and, I say, add a traditional twist of lemon to cut the sweetness just a bit.

As for your toast, toast Paris, of course. People who’ve been there say it’s amazing and the rest of us have the dreams of Paris we get from the movies and what not. That’s pretty okay, too.


If you want to try the classic version of the Paris/Parisian Cocktail, just use equal parts of all three primary ingredients, i.e., one ounce each. You’ll find that it’s a fairly tasty drink but very, very, sweet. Definitely use the lemon twist garnish in tha case. (Dale DeGroff suggests using his signature flamed lemon peel, if you’re feeling brave.)

Since I only have one brand of cassis and dry vermouth on hand, I didn’t get to play around with different brands as much as I might have. However, I did find that this version of the Parisian works very nicely with either Bombay Dry Gin or the very inexpensive, but still quite decent, Gordon’s Gin. The latter variation especially reminded me of a classier, more drinkable version of the first alcoholic beverage I ever consumed.

Yes, if you were ever wondering what Manischewitz Concord Grape would taste like if it were actually good, the Parisian Cocktail is close as you’re likely to get. And Paris, Las Vegas is as close to Paris as I’m likely to get any time soon. C’est la vie.


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