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Celebrating Triangles and Venice

Triangles1December is a popular time for celebrations. This December I had the honor of designing the cocktail program for a party celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Dulles Triangles, a local LBGTQ+ social group. Dubbed the "Gay-la," the party's theme was a Venetian masked ball. Ms. Cocktail Den and I love Venice, the inspiration for my Venetian Kiss. So what did the stylishly dressed partygoers drink? A creative mix of alcoholic and what I call 3/4 (non-alcoholic) cocktails.

Acqua Alta -- Italian for "high water," this is how the locals refer to the floodwaters that periodically soak the city (Ms. Cocktail Den and I literally got caught in historic flooding in 2019). The drink is a minimally modified Frank Sinatra. Combine 2 ounces vodka, .5 ounces blue curaçao, .5 ounces lemon juice, .25 ounces super simple syrup, and ice. Shake and strain.

Canareggio -- Named for the low key and fun district a little off the tourist path. The cocktail is a non-alcoholic Cosmopolitan. This one has .5 ounces lime juice, .25 ounces cranberry juice, .25 ounces super simple syrup, and ice. Shake and strain, then top with 2 ounces sparkling orange water.

Gondola -- I don't need to explain what a gondola is, do I? Ms. Cocktail Den persuaded a skeptical me to take a gondola ride at sunset, and the experience turned out to be sublime. This non-alcoholic drink has a vague tiki vibe. Combine 2 ounces pineapple juice, .5 ounces lime juice, .5 ounces super simple syrup, 2 dashes Angostura bitters, and ice. Shake and strain.

Triangles2Grand Canal -- The key waterway snaking past Venice's major landmarks. Add one ounce of dark rum to the Gondola. This was the Gay-la's "secret" drink, meaning you had to ask the bartender for one.

Palazzo -- These former palaces are the stately homes overlooking the Grand Canal and other parts of the city. Who says bubbly drinks need booze? Combine .5 ounces of lemon juice with .5 ounces of grenadine syrup and ice, shake and strain, then top with 2 ounces sparkling apple cider and edible cocktail glitter.

Sprezzatura -- This wonderful Italian word roughly means making something complex and difficult look effortless. Think of an elite athlete or artist doing what they do best. The drink is a renamed Champagne Cocktail. Place a sugar cube at the bottom of a champagne flute, add 2 or 3 dashes of Angostura bitters, then add sparkling wine and edible cocktail glitter.

St. Mark's Square -- The focal point of Venice. If you've only seen one picture of Venice, it probably was of this. I renamed my Flattening Curve here. This one has 1.5 ounces bourbon, 1 ounce Aperol, .25 ounces super simple syrup, 2 dashes Angostura bitters, and ice. Stir and strain.

The Gay-la was a great mix of old friends, new friends, elaborate masks and costumes ... and elegantly simple cocktails. The end result? Fun. To the Dulles Triangles, I say grazie mille for letting the Den be a part of the Gay-la. Cin cin!


A High Flying Drink -- The Paper Plane

You may have made and thrown one as a kid. As an adult, you can drink one. The Paper Plane flew onto the scene in 2008 when Sam Ross, the New York City bartender who created the Penicillin, created it for the opening of The Violet Hour bar in Chicago. Named for the M.I.A. song Paper Planes, it took off in Chicago and New York and made its way onto cocktail menus around the world.

Paper Plane.75 ounces bourbon
.75 ounces Amaro Nonino
.75 ounces Aperol
Juice from 1/2 lemon (.75 ounces)

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake to the theme from Rocky (the tune's title is "Gonna Fly Now"), and strain into a chilled glass, preferably a coupe. Lemon peel garnish optional.

Following the equal proportions of four ingredients format of the Last Word, the Paper Plane is easy to make (the same goes for the Naked and Famous). Bourbon and Aperol, used in cocktails such as the Venetian Kiss, are easy to acquire. Amaro Nonino, a bittersweet grappa based amaro from northern Italy, can be tougher to find, but thankfully we have the Internet. Originally the Paper Plane used Campari, but within days of unveiling it Ross changed his mind and used Aperol instead. The result is a really well balanced cocktail. In terms of balance and format, the Paper Plane more resembles the thematically similar Burnt Fuselage than the Aviation.

Looking to rack up some cocktail frequent flier miles? Then it's time to board the Paper Plane.


Cocktail GPS -- The Navigator

Navigating helps you get where you're going. When Ms. Cocktail Den and I travel on vacation, she's frequently the navigator. If it wasn't for her, we might still be lost on picturesque desert highways in New Mexico, empty rural roads in Ireland, or the congested urban maze of Bangkok.  The Navigator comes from London, where Jamie Terrell created it in 2005.

Navigator2 ounces gin
.75 ounces lupo limoncello
Juice from 1/4 grapefruit

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake as if you're zipping across the waves or through the sky, and strain into a chilled glass. Grapefruit peel garnish optional.  

If you're looking for a surprisingly pleasant sour drink, the Navigator is it. Gin pairs well with lemon, e.g. the Bee's Knees, and lime, e.g. the Last Word, so there's no reason it wouldn't pair well with grapefruit. The Navigator brings gin together with two citrus flavors. The sugar in the limoncello keeps the Navigator from overpowering you with citrus and botanicals. The flavor balance could come at a price if you're not careful. Overindulge in Navigators and you could end up way off course, both literally and sobrietally. 

To paraphrase the Bible verse, seek a Navigator and you shall find a really good drink.


Dangerously Drinkable -- The Peligroso

Peligroso is the Spanish word for dangerous. The Peligroso comes from the excellent La Factoría bar in San Juan. Ms. Cocktail Den and I visited La Factoria many times when we went to Puerto Rico for part one and part two of Tales of La Isla del Encanto. Like the original Peligroso, the danger in my minor adaptation only lies in its smoothness.

Peligroso1.5 ounces light rum (I like Don Q)
.5 ounces Campari
.5 ounces Averna
.25 ounces allspice dram
Juice from 3/4 lime
.5 ounces super simple syrup 
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake as if you're a dangerously good bartender, and strain into a chilled glass, preferably a coupe. Lime peel garnish optional.

The Peligroso is creative and complex. Combining rum with amari (bittersweet liqueurs) might seem odd, but it's not. After all, the classic Jungle Bird has rum and Campari, a part of drinks such as the Bitter Rasputin. Incorporating Averna, used in drinks such as the Midnight Train, and allspice dram give the Peligroso a hint of richness. La Factoría's Peligroso uses spiced syrup with allspice berries and sugar. My easy workaround includes allspice dram, part of my Les Bon Temps Roulé, and super simple syrup.

Do you want to bring some good danger into your life? Have a Peligroso.


Romantically Blissful Drinking -- The Honeymoon

The word "honeymoon" evokes thoughts of happiness and new beginnings. It can refer specifically to a honeymoon after a wedding (Ms. Cocktail Den and I went to Hawaii), or more generally to the period after a positive change in your life. First mentioned in a 1916 book from Hugo Ensslin, who also gave us the Aviation, the Honeymoon was a featured drink at the famous but now defunct Brown Derby restaurant in Los Angeles.

Honeymoon2 ounces applejack or apple brandy
.5 ounces Benedictine DOM
.5 ounces triple sec (see below)
Juice from 1/2 lemon

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the passion of (use your imagination), and strain into a chilled glass.

When you compare apples to apples, you'll know today applejack is a blend of apple brandy and grain neutral spirits, and apple brandy is exactly what it sounds like (Laird's makes both). Either spirit works well in the Honeymoon. If you like cocktails with an apple flavor, try the classic Jack Rose, the underappreciated Diamondback, or my original American Apple. Brought to us by French monks (not the ones behind Chartreuse), Benedictine DOM is an herbal liqueur used in drinks such as my Whiskey Queen. A little goes a long way, and it more than justifies its price. The Widow's Kiss is an excellent example of another cocktail combining Benedictine with apple brandy. Triple sec is a generic term for an orange liqueur.  Different Honeymoon recipes call for specific ones.  Even though I'm a big fan of Cointreau, use whichever one you like.

What do you get when you put all of these flavors together in a Honeymoon? A drink that warms your soul and introduces a new period in your cocktail life.


Tales of Virtual Catalysts

Attending the Tales of the Cocktail conference inspired me and Ms. Cocktail Den to launch this blog in 2014. Since then, we've attended numerous Tales conferences in New Orleans, as well as Tales on Tour in Edinburgh and San Juan. We've met fascinating people, learned a lot, and had great experiences such as when we mixed beats and drinks that led to the creation of the Les Bon Temps Roule.

This year was different. The COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible to have Tales in person.  So what did Tales do in this extraordinary and challenging time in history? It went 100% virtual for the first time. Adapting to a dynamic situation, this Tales involved another first -- it was 100% free. This made Tales available to anyone with a computer or smartphone and a decent Internet connection. 

Catalyst was the theme of this year's Tales. Everyone is a catalyst in their own way, and human catalysts affect everyone. Maybe you listen to a presentation or read a post on a website that leads you to try a new drink. You get the idea. Compared to years past, this year's Tales programming had an increased focus on the people in the cocktail industry. This is a good thing. As with many other industries around the world, the pandemic has had a devastating effect on people's livelihoods. People are resilient, but no one truly knows how how the landscape of the cocktail industry will look once the pandemic subsides.

Tales of Virtual Catalysts
I couldn't see the iconic Jackson Square in New Orleans this year, so I'll wait until the next Tales.

The sessions I attended generally fell into one of three categories -- spirits (e.g. Amaro 101, Low ABV Cocktails), history (e.g. The Man Behind James Bond, The Rat Pack), and topics that transcend  the cocktail community (e.g. You Sell Cocktails Now Sell Yourself, Storytelling Behind The Bar). As with sessions at live Tales conferences, I learned all sorts of interesting things. For example, did you know Ian Fleming was a big fan of bourbon? I didn't, and I'm a James Bond geek.  

So what were the pros and cons of the first virtual Tales? The big pro for me was the flexibility. You could absorb the presenters' content as it occurred or later. This convenience meant you didn't have to run (occasionally literally) from event to event. Sometimes a live Tales or Tales on Tour gives you a sense of underlying FOMO. As in, "I want to hear ____ talk about ____ but it's the same time as the session on ______." That wasn't an issue this year because you had the convenience of seeing and hearing everything and everyone you wanted. All of the sessions were on demand (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL60KktNa23J0tn7NAf3-NSLigFRYjJy9W). A silver lining pro that's actually the result of a con? I didn't gain weight from eating really good local food.

The con of the virtual Tales has nothing to do with the people involved in the conference or the sessions. It was the inability to have the spontaneous and serendipitous in person encounters that make Tales truly memorable. For example, Ms. Cocktail Den and I always will remember meeting Vodka Girl ATX, who we had been following online, in a small conference room at the Hotel Monteleone, or bonding in Edinburgh with a diverse group who became the self-anointed Inebriants. I miss having opportunities to connect like that. Meeting people virtually is fine, but it's a poor substitute for meeting in person. Thanks a lot, COVID-19. Of course, the virus also prevented me from being in the unique city of New Orleans.

There was one aspect of the virtual Tales that, depending on your perspective, was a pro or a con. To what do I refer? No mandatory controlled day drinking. During the days of Tales or a Tales on Tour you're always trying new spirits and cocktails. I'm not saying I abstained from booze during this year's Tales. I'm simply saying I drank far less than I did at any other Tales or Tales on Tour.  

As for Tales, here's my wish -- next year in New Orleans!


A Cold And Beautiful Cockail -- The Alaska

Alaska is a state unlike any other in the United States of America.  Ms. Cocktail Den and I have had the good fortune to visit the 49th and by far the northernmost state. The Alaska first appeared in 1913 in Straub's Manual of Mixed Drinks by bartender Jacques Straub. More than 100 years later, it still is strikingly elegant.

Alaska2 ounces Old Tom gin
1 ounce yellow Chartreuse
2 dashes orange bitters

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, stir with the sharp edged grace of a glacier calving (I've seen it happen and it is amazing), and strain into a chilled glass, preferably a coupe.

If you see an Alaska on a cocktail menu these days, it's most likely to have the ubiquitous London Dry style of gin. Go with Old Tom style gin, which you'll see in a classic Martinez, if you can. Not only is it authentic, but Old Tom style gin makes the Alaska a richer experience.  Yellow Chartreuse, which you can use in drinks such as the Renegade, is an integral component of this cocktail. There are multiple variations of the Alaska, and this is the one I prefer. Even though there are many things in the state of Alaska that are potentially deadly (bears, ridiculously low temperatures), the Alaska drink is not potentially deadly as long as you remember to cocktail responsibly.

Whether or not you've been to the unique state of Alaska, it's time to savor this cold beauty of a cocktail!


It's A Long Cocktail Way -- The Tipperary

"It's a Long Way to Tipperary" was a popular song during World War One. Referring to a town and county in southern Ireland (Ms. Cocktail Den and I drove near it but did not go there), the first mention of the Tipperary cocktail came in 1916, four years after the song. The recipe evolved over time. I first had a Tipperary at the excellent Here Nor There bar in Austin.

Tipperary1.5 ounces Irish whiskey
1 ounce sweet vermouth
.5 ounces green Chartreuse

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, stir with the determination of wanting to see your significant other again, and strain into a chilled glass. Amarena cherry or lemon peel garnish optional.

First appearing in Hugo Ensslin's cocktail recipe book (the same book that gave us the Aviation), the original Tipperary has the same proportions as the modern Luck of the Irish. That's a good drink if you really like green Chartreuse. As for the Irish whiskey, use whichever one you prefer. Subsequent versions of the Tipperary call for slightly more Irish whiskey, and some add Angostura or orange bitters.  I like the simplicity of this Tipperary because of its 3:2:1 ratio. It's not a long way to this great cocktail.

Intrigued by pairing green Chartreuse and sweet vermouth?  Try a Bijou.  Like Irish themed cocktails?  Try a Good Cork, Intense Irish, or the iconic Irish Coffee. What will your liver say?  Slainte!


Dawn Of A New Day -- The Alba Dorata

Alba DorataSunrise speaks to a new day, a new beginning, a new opportunity. Translating as "golden sunrise" in Italian, the Alba Dorata evokes that potential in cocktail form. The Alba Dorata is a new creation from Christiano Luciano at the Bar Longhi in the Gritti Palace hotel in Venice. Ms. Cocktail Den and I had a wonderful experience staying at the Gritti Palace and meeting people there; our journey inspired the Venetian Kiss. So how do you make this liquid gold?

1.5 ounces cachaça
1.5 ounces ginger liqueur (ciao Barrow's Intense, see below)
Juice from 1/2 lime
.25 ounces super simple syrup

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the joy of discovering a new love, and strain into a chilled glass.  Lime peel or mint sprig garnish optional.

Alba Dorata 2
Gritti Palace, Venice (photo taken from across the Grand Canal).

Cachaça is very similar to many rums, as it comes from fermented sugar cane juice. I'm a big fan of Barrows's Intense, and not just because I'm a small investor. It gives you a clean, strong, and unmistakably ginger taste. Courtesy of the cachaça and super simple syrup (Luciano calls for a few drops of it), the Alba Dorata is a little sweet at first, but then the ginger liqueur and lime juice kick in and give it a nice little afterburn. It's a lovely drink, particularly in warm weather. Luciano described the Alba Dorata as "expressing our wishes for a new beginning." Like Luciano, who created the Alba Dorata at home during the COVID-19 pandemic (which inspired my Flattening Curve), I hope the drink leads you to a new and promising chapter in your journey.

Join me and Signore Luciano, have an Alba Dorata, and declare bravo e cin cin!


Tweety's Cousin -- The Bluebird

I tawt I taw a deewishus dwink! I grew up with Warner Brothers cartoons such as Tweety Bird's adventures with Sylvester. The Bluebird has nothing to do with cartoons, which I indirectly featured in the Matador and the Racketeer. According to Simon Difford of Difford's Guide, the Bluebird may have originated in the late 1950s in the Montmartre section of Paris, the birthplace of the Bee's Knees and the inspiration for the Champs Élysées.

Bluebird2 ounces gin
1 ounce blue curaçao
Juice from 1/2 lemon
.25 ounces orgeat syrup

Don't let the bright color fool you. The Bluebird is stronger than it looks (like many pink drinks). Despite a similar name, it has no crossover with the Jungle Bird. In terms of color and taste, the Bluebird is quite similar to the Frank Sinatra. Both have a clear base spirit, blue curaçao, lemon juice, and a sweetener.  The Bluebird's use of orgeat syrup, which you find in the well known Mai Tai and the not as well known Attorney Client Privilege, is unusual but it works. Other versions of the Bluebird have no syrup and lemon juice, but add triple sec. However, curaçao is a type of triple sec, so if you add a second triple sec there's a risk of going overboard with the orange flavor. I prefer a more balanced Bluebird that's still tart and refreshing.

The Bluebird is a good warm weather drink.  Of course, there's no reason you can't have it year round. Anyone who says otherwise is just a bad old puddy tat.