Vodka Feed

Fruit With Wildfire -- The Intense Spiced Pear Martini

Pear and ginger might sound like a weird combination.  Sometimes weird is good.  In the case of the Intense Spiced Pear Martini, it's really good. Why is it intense?  Because I used Barrow's Intense ginger liqueur (full disclosure -- Ms. Cocktail Den and I are small investors).  This original creation is an adaptation of a drink on the menu at a McCormick & Schmick's restaurant.

2 ounces pear vodka (I used Wild Roots) Intense Spiced Pear Martini 1
1 ounce Barrow's Intense ginger liqueur
Juice from 1/8 lime
1 dash cinnamon
1 dash nutmeg

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with fiery emphasis, and strain into a chilled glass. Candied ginger and/or nutmeg garnish optional.

There aren't many pear vodkas on the market.  If you can get your hands on Wild Roots, do it. We tasted its vodkas at the recent Tales of the Cocktail conference, and the people there generously provided us with some free bottles for cocktail experiments. Grey Goose also makes a good pear vodka, but Wild Roots has a more pronounced pear flavor. I tested two versions, one with Wild Roots and one with Grey Goose.  In our view the one with Wild Roots was the clear winner.

Barrow's Intense is in liquor stores in most states.  If it's not yet in your local store, you can get it online. Without Barrow's Intense, the drink just won't be the same. If you don't have pear vodka on hand, you can use Barrow's Intense to make something similar, such as an Intense Ginger Lime Martini.

This cocktail is spiced but not spicy. I thought the drink upon which it is based was unnecessarily complicated. That one had seven ingredients.  In comparison, the Intense Spiced Pear Martini has five and is far superior. If it's a little too spicy for you, add a little St. Germain elderflower liqueur (used in drinks such as the Flower of Normandy), orgeat syrup, or super simple syrup.

Do you want to be a little wild? A little spicy?  A little intense?  Then answer the call from the Intense Spiced Pear Martini.


Aqua What? -- Aquavit

AquavitAquavit isn't some fancy new flavored water. Derived from the Latin for "water of life" (just like whiskey means "water of life" in Gaelic), aquavit is a Scandinavian liquor that's becoming increasingly popular outside of Northern Europe, both on its own and in cocktails. Like vodka, aquavit is distilled from either grain or potato and then, like gin, it is flavored with spices and botanicals.  So what distinguishes aquavit?  Under European Union regulations, the predominant spice in aquavit has to be caraway or dill, and it must be at least 75 proof.  Do you like rye bread?  If you do (like me and Ms. Cocktail Den), you'll probably like aquavit.

Almost all aquavit currently on the market comes out of the Scandinavian countries -- Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.  There are some general national differences in aquavit styles.  Denmark and Sweden typically distill from grains, while Norway typically distills from potatoes. Aquavit can be relatively unaged and clear, e.g. Aalborg from Denmark, or aged and darker, e.g. Linie from Norway. As with other spirits such as rum and tequila, aging aquavit changes the flavor. Traditionally one drinks aquavit on its own. I had the opportunity to try different types when I was in Denmark and Sweden.  I enjoyed a couple of types of chilled  aquavit, and I found it goes great with herring (if you think that sounds disgusting, Ms. Cocktail Den agrees with you).

So why you should care about aquavit? Because it's a fascinating substitute for vodka, gin, and even whiskey in various cocktails.  Depending on your perspective, to some extent aquavit (also spelled akavit) is like vodka or gin that's flavored with caraway or dill. Try switching aquavit in for another spirit and see what happens. Sköl!


Na Zdrovye New York -- The Russian Vodka Room

Russian Vodka RoomGot vodka? The Russian Vodka Room does. A lot of it.  The Russian Vodka Room is a great and relatively inexpensive bar in the theater district of New York City.  Ms. Cocktail Den and I discovered it almost 20 years ago, and we go there every time we travel to New York. 

As the name suggests, vodka is the main focus at the Russian Vodka Room. It carries an impressive selection of "little water" (what vodka literally means).  The real showstoppers are the house infused vodkas. The flavors are different than you what might see at other bars.  My personal favorites include the garlic, pepper and dill, apple and pomegranate, and ginger. If you want to put some hair on your chest (metaphorically speaking), have the horseradish.  The food is quite good, too. I can embrace my Russian and Baltic ancestry by pairing vodka with herring (I think this combination is awesome, Ms. Cocktail Den thinks it's disgusting).

Vodka infusions in all their liquid glory.
Vodka infusions in all their liquid glory.

At any top notch bar the people are just as important, if not more, than what it serves.  The Russian Vodka Room is no exception.  We've always had great service from the bartenders (thank you Bo) and your fellow drinkers are sometimes very interesting.  For example, the last time Ms. Wulf Cocktail Den and I were there we had a great conversation with Dale Badway, a Tony award winning Broadway producer.  Speaking of people, another good thing about the Russian Vodka Room -- some native Russian speakers hang out there.

Whether or not you're like me and have some Russian blood in you (or blood from somewhere that used to be part of the Soviet Union), the Russian Vodka Room is a great place to have a drink or three. You'll be saying na zdrovye (the Russian equivalent of "cheers") in no time.


The Magnificent Seven Of Cocktails

The Magnificent Seven (the original starring Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen; I haven't seen the remake with Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt) is my favorite Western movie.  Everyone who loves movies should know about this film.   Carrie Allan, a cocktail columnist for the Washington Post, just wrote a great article about the 7 essential cocktails every drinker should know how to make.  Carrie is smart and hilarious, and my wife and I had the pleasure of meeting her at the Tales of the Cocktail conference in 2016.  She surveyed a number of acquaintances (full disclosure -- I participated in the survey) about classic cocktails before distilling (pun intended) the responses.

So what are these Magnificent Seven cocktails?  The Martini, Manhattan, Negroni, Old-Fashioned, Daiquiri, Margarita, and Gin and Tonic.   In addition, the article has links to related cocktails, e.g. the Sazerac and Hemingway Daiquiri.

All of these drinks are classics for good reason.  That doesn't mean you have to like all of them.  But if you're not familiar with some of them, try them.  You might be in for a pleasant surprise.       

To paraphrase Steve McQueen's character in The Magnificent Seven -- we deal in cocktails friend.


Unsung Cocktail Heroes -- Bitters, Vermouth, and Liqueurs

Reading about unsung cocktail heroes is good, but why read when you can listen?  Eric Kozlik, the CEO of Modern Bar Cart, interviewed me for his podcast.  It was a great experience. Here's our conversation about bitters, vermouth, and liqueurs (it's episode #8).        

Modern Bar Cart podcast 2Eric has interviewed a lot of really interesting people about some great cocktail subjects, so I encourage you to listen to the other episodes. I've learned a lot by listening to them. You probably will, too.  The podcast is a wonderful example of connecting over cocktails.  Ms. Wulf Cocktail Den and I met Eric at the Tales of the Cocktail conference in New Orleans, and we reconnected at an event in Washington, D.C. earlier this year.

Our podcast episode (you can listen below) covers a lot of topics such as how James Bond disrupted the Martini, and what I would order if I could drink with my late grandfathers. We also discussed general cocktail categories such as amari (bitter liqueurs), and specific cocktails like the Manhattan, the Ward 8, and the Derby.

If you listen to the episode, keep this in mind -- I wasn't kidding.  I have walked alone through the yard of a maximum security federal prison.  No, I was not incarcerated. Want to the hear the story? Buy me a good cocktail.


Warm Weather Drinking -- The Cool Summer Breeze #1 and #2

Warm weather calls for refreshing drinks.  This original creation incorporates fresh peaches, a classic summer fruit, with strong liquor and sweet honey to cool you down and take the edge off.  The difference between the Cool Summer Breezes lies only in the base spirit -- the #1 uses vodka, and the #2 uses bourbon.

Cool Summer Breeze2 ounces vodka or bourbon
3 teaspoons peach puree (roughly 1/2 peach)
1 ounce honey syrup

Combine in a shaker, shake with the force of a very stiff breeze, and strain into a chilled glass.

Peach puree sounds fancy, but it really isn't. To make it, remove the skin and pit from the peach, and then run the fruit through the blender. Blend the hell out of it.  The honey syrup is the same stuff that you use in A Thief In The Night.  Heat equal parts honey and water in a saucepan over medium heat, stir until the honey dissolves, and cool to room temperature. 

A Cool Summer Breeze goes with all sorts of music.  It depends on your mood.  Classical?  Vivaldi or pretty much anything from the Baroque period.  Classic rock?  Allman Brothers.  Hard rock that goes with the theme?  "Summer Nights" by Sammy Hagar era Van Halen.  Hard rock that uses the word peach (not in the context of the fruit)?  "Pour Some Sugar On Me" by Def Leppard or "Walk On Water" by Aerosmith.  Regardless of your musical tastes, a Cool Summer Breeze is just what you want on a warm day. So sit back and enjoy the Breeze!


Ol' Blue Eyes In A Glass -- The Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra 2The late Frank Sinatra was a great American artist and icon.  Among other things, he was a wonderful singer with a gifted voice, an ear for the nuance of language, and a captivating stage presence.  He also was a pretty good actor (watch the first Manchurian Candidate movie).  Thanks to Scott Deitche and his book Cocktail Noir for introducing me to the original cocktail, which I adapted.  In honor of Ol' Blue Eyes, and his son (a performer who I had the privilege of seeing) who recently died, drink this.

2.5 ounces vodka (hello Zyr or Belvedere)
.5 ounces blue curacao
Juice from 1/4 lemon
.25 ounces super simple syrup

Frank Sinatra 1Combine in a shaker with ice, shake as if you were swinging on stage like the Chairman Of The Board, and strain into a chilled glass.  Lemon garnish optional.

Jack Daniel's whiskey was Sinatra's alcohol of choice.   While I would have liked to incorporate it into this cocktail, it's impossible to have a vibrant blue cocktail using Jack Daniel's as the base.  Ol' Blue Eyes drank plenty of martinis over the course of his life, although I doubt he drank one that looked like this.

Just as Sinatra covered songs that other people made popular, I did the same with this cocktail.  I substituted vodka, lemon juice, and super simple syrup for the gin and sour mix in the original. 

When I perfected my version of the Frank Sinatra cocktail I put on some of his tunes and sang along.  Fortunately I've much better at making drinks than I am at singing. Making and drinking cocktails with another person can be a special form of dancing. As Sinatra sang in Come Dance With Me -- for what is dancing, making love set to music, playin'.


Another Cure For Cancer -- The Cancer Killer #2

Cancer KillerSometimes good things come in pairs.  Earlier this year I created the Cancer Killer #1 in honor of my friend Stephanie, who defeated breast cancer last year.  As my wife noted, breasts come in pairs, so it made sense to create a second Cancer Killer cocktail.  I wanted this one to be undeniably pink so there would be another way to drink pink to save the ta-tas.

2 ounces vodka (I like Zyr or Belvedere)
1 ounce Cointreau
.5 ounces Campari
1-2 dashes orange bitters

Cancer Killer #2Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with the conviction of giving cancer the fatal one-two punch, and strain into a chilled glass.

The Cancer Killer #2 substitutes vodka and orange bitters for the rye and Angostura bitters in the Cancer Killer #1.  Some people don't like rye or brown liquors in general, but chances are they will drink a cocktail with a vodka base.  Also, it's pretty much impossible to have a pink cocktail with a rye base.  That's not a problem with the Cancer Killer #2, as the bold red of Campari blends nicely with the clear vodka and Cointreau.

A word of caution -- be careful with the bitters. The first time I made the Cancer Killer #2 I used Regan's, which is quite strong and came close to overpowering the drink.  My suggestion is if you have strong bitters use one dash, and if you have something a little sweeter, e.g. Angostura orange bitters, use two dashes.

Want to cure cancer?  Have the Cancer Killer #1, the Cancer Killer #2, or both.  My friend Stephanie and others like her thank you.


Enter The Dragon -- The Emerald Dragon

I have many dragon sculptures, but the only emerald one is liquid.
I have many dragons. The only emerald one is liquid.

As we're on the verge of Lunar New Year (better known as Chinese New Year), the Emerald Dragon is a timely cocktail.   It has nothing to do with the iconic Bruce Lee movie to which the subject title refers.  However, like the late martial artist and actor, the Emerald Dragon is deceptively powerful.  Thanks to The Intoxicologist for introducing me to it.

2 ounces vodka (I recommend Zyr or Belvedere)
1 ounce Chambord or raspberry liqueur
.5 ounces blue curacao

Emerald DragonCombine in a shaker with ice, stir with Bruce Lee's speed and ferocity, and strain into a chilled glass.

The Emerald Dragon is sweeter than most of the other libations in the Wulf Cocktail Den.  This arguably makes it more dangerous, as it's easier to knock a couple of these back compared to other vodka based cocktails like a Vesper.  If you want an Asian themed vodka cocktail that isn't quite as sweet, try the Lychee Martini. When I made the Emerald Dragon the color really wasn't emerald (I know because my wife has a few pieces of emerald jewelry).  Maybe one of my Asian dragon sculptures distracted me.

So regardless of whether you celebrate Lunar New Year, or whether you want to monkey around with a new cocktail (this year will be the Year of the Monkey), have an Emerald Dragon!


Paint It Black -- The Berry Crush

Paint It Black is one of my favorite Rolling Stones tunes.  The Berry Crush has nothing to do with the song, but it does contain a particular type of berry -- yes, the blackberry. I slightly modified the recipe in Chilled magazine; someone at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas created the original cocktail.

Berry Crush1 ounce vodka (right now I'm drinking Belvedere)
1 ounce Cointreau
1/4 lime cut into small chunks
4 blackberries
.5 ounces super simple syrup

Muddle the blackberries and lime in the bottom of a shaker.  Add the other ingredients and ice, shake like you're Mick Jagger on stage, and strain into a chilled glass.  Blackberry garnish optional.

The original Berry Crush uses more lime, but I cut it back so the blackberry flavor is more pronounced. After all, this is the Berry Crush. The cocktail is messy, even if you muddle the fruits properly (press firmly but gently, don't beat the hell out of it).  I think I had to scrub the cocktail shaker two or three times before I finally removed all of the blackberry pulp.

The mess is worth the effort.  Now go make yourself a Berry Crush and get some liquid satisfaction.