Vodka Feed

Nordic Beauty -- The Amber Aquatini

With its yellow and orange hues, amber can be a stunning gemstone. Ms. Cocktail Den and I saw a lot of amber jewelry when we traveled in Scandinavian countries. You know what else there's a lot of in Scandinavia? Aquavit. My original Amber Aquatini pays homage to the spirit and the stone.

Amber Aquatini2.5 ounces aged aquavit (I used Linie here)
.5 ounces dry vermouth
2 dashes bitters (see below)

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, stir with the cool crispness of a Scandinavian summer breeze, and strain into a glass, preferably martini or coupe. Lemon peel garnish optional.

Think of the Amber Aquatini as an older cousin of my Danish Road Rage, a twist (pun intended) on a Martini. The Danish Road Rage uses clear, young aquavit. For the Amber Aquatini, you really need aged aquavit to give it the right color. The bitters are the real variable. First I used cardamom, then I found orange bitters also work well. Don't have either of those? No problem. Most botanical or citrus flavored bitters should complement the aquavit and vermouth.

It doesn't matter whether or not you're nuts about Norway, fond of Finland, delighted by Denmark, or swooning over Sweden -- the Amber Aquatini will satisfy your eyes and tongue.


The Bitch Is Dead -- The Vesper

"The bitch is dead" -- this is what James Bond icily utters when he learns of the death of Vesper Lynd, the woman who broke his heart. In Casino Royale (both the novel and the movie starring Daniel Craig), Bond falls in love with Vesper before he learns she is a double agent. All of this happens after he creates a cocktail in her honor.

Vesper3 ounces gin
1 ounce vodka
.5 ounces Lillet Blanc

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the fury of Bond exacting vengeance, and strain into a chilled glass. Lemon peel garnish.

Bond’s original creation is not far removed from a Martini, either the original or his version. Bond's Vesper calls for “three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet.” Gordon’s was and is a popular gin. Use whatever gin you prefer or have on hand.  Kina Lillet was a French aperitif wine.  It no longer exists under that name, but with a new formula it’s now known as Lillet Blanc. As you would with vermouth, make sure the Lillet Blanc is fresh and keep it in the fridge. If you can't find Lillet Blanc, dry vermouth is a good substitute. Bond never specifies the vodka brand, which amuses me because in popular culture he forever will be associated with vodka. If you or your guest is not a fan of gin (like I once was), adjust the ratios of gin and vodka.

The Vesper is a big cocktail because it contains four ounces of high proof alcohol.  Go Bond or go home.


Emotional Support Dog -- The Charlie

Blessed with a sunny disposition, Charlie always was excited to see me when Ms. Cocktail Den and I visited our friends who owned him. While staying at their house during a stressful basketball tournament, Charlie calmly sat by my side as I watched my team battle for the title. I deemed him my emotional support dog. Charlie died last year, so I created this cocktail in his memory.

Charlie11.5 ounces vodka
.5 ounces Cointreau
.5 ounces honey syrup
Juice from 1/4 orange
1 dash orange bitters

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, stir with a calming and positive vibe, and strain into a chilled glass.

Vodka is a blank canvas for cocktail artists. Given its namesake, the Charlie had to be on the sweeter side, so I added a liqueur (you can use a different triple sec if you prefer) and honey syrup, a key part of the Bee's Knees and the Brown Derby. Honey and orange work well together, and here the orange juice (use fresh squeezed if you can) and orange bitters keep the Charlie from being aggressively sweet.

Want the cocktail equivalent of an emotional support dog? The Charlie is there for you.


M Is For Mystery -- The Martini

The Martini has been so famous and popular for so long, it should have a history as clear as it looks, right? If someone served you a Martini as murky as its history, you'd send it back. Its history is a mystery. Combining gin and vermouth in drinks such as the Martinez wasn't unusual in the 19th century. As time went by, the drinking public began to favor drier gins, and by 1896 what we now know as the Martini mixed dry gin and dry vermouth with an emphasis on the gin.

Martini2.5 ounces gin (sorry James Bond)
.5 ounces dry vermouth
1-2 dashes orange bitters

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, stir (sorry again Mr. Bond), and strain into a martini glass. Lemon peel garnish optional.

The world’s most famous fictitious Martini consuming Englishman drinks his with vodka (and shaken). The world’s most famous real Martini consuming Englishman, Winston Churchill, drank his with gin. Originally I only drank vodka Martinis, but since I found I like certain gins, I'm not as picky. Whatever you do, use fresh vermouth. I can't emphasize that enough. Feel free to experiment with how dry you like your Martini (more dry means less vermouth). Bitters aren't necessary, but they add a little zest to a clear, gin based cocktail. 

There's nothing mysterious about a Martini. All you have to do is savor one.


Massachusetts Marketing -- The Cape Cod(der)

Cape Cod is a peninsula in southeastern Massachusetts popular with the moneyed class and tourists. Originally known as the Red Devil, the Cape Cod (also known as the Cape Codder) cocktail was the brainchild of the Massachusetts based Ocean Spray company designed to move its prime product: cranberries. Ocean Spray created the cocktail in 1945, and it went mainstream by the end of the following decade.

Cape Codder2 ounces vodka
3 ounces cranberry juice
Juice from 1/4 lime

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the rhythm of ocean waves gently rolling onto shore, and strain into a glass over ice. Lime wedge garnish optional.

Think of the Cape Codder as the less boozy, older relative of the Cosmopolitan. Most versions of the Cape Codder call for squeezing the lime juice into the vodka-cranberry juice mixture. To me that goes against the Hamlet Cocktail Conundrum, so I shake everything instead of mixing in the glass. If the vodka-cranberrry juice-lime garnish combination seems familiar, it's because the Cape Codder is the basis of other popular drinks. You can substitute grapefruit juice (the Sea Breeze), orange juice (the Madras), pineapple juice (the Bay Breeze), or soda water (the Rose Kennedy).

If you want a refreshingly light cocktail, a Cape Codder is your cocktailian destination.


Nothing To Lose Drinking -- the Everything To GAIN

A new corporate client and a new original creation are auspicious signs. Late last year Government Marketing University asked me to present about successful branding, and design a signature cocktail for its GAIN 2020 conference. Guided by my previous experiences such as rocking the red carpet with Cognitio and a golden jubilee with Government Executive Media Group, the result was the unique Everything to GAIN.

Everything to GAIN2 ounces vodka
.5 ounces triple sec (I prefer Cointreau)
.5 ounces maple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, stir with a positive feeling, and strain into a chilled glass.

I was delighted when the people at Government Marketing University requested I use vodka as a base spirit. Using vodka presents sort of a challenge. It can act as a blank canvas for a cocktail, so you really have to tinker with the other ingredients and the ratios. For the Everything to GAIN I added Cointreau to bring a hint of citrus. Maple syrup is an unusual sweetener in cocktails, but it works nicely here just as it does in drinks such as the Japanese Maple. Like every other ingredient in the Everything to GAIN, maple syrup is easily accessible. 

Presenting at GAIN 2020 was a lot of fun even though it was different. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic (which is still around despite efforts towards the Flattening Curve), the presentation had to be pre-recorded, so there couldn't be any of the spontaneous give and take that I love so much.

When you have an Everything to GAIN, you have nothing to lose ... except your worries.


Hypnotic Russian Drinking -- The Bitter Rasputin

Grigori Rasputin was a self-anointed prophet during the the reign of Czar Nicholas II.  Nicknamed the "Mad Monk" even though he wasn't a monk, Rasputin was a charismatic figure. He insinuated himself into the Russian royal family after he supposedly cured the hemophilia of the Czar's only son (he actually may have hypnotized the boy).  Wary of his increasing influence, his enemies went to great lengths to murder him (cyanide poisoning, shooting, then drowning). Unlike its namesake, the Bitter Rasputin did not come out of early 20th century Russia. It's actually a 2014 creation from Jim Lindblad.

Bitter Rasputin2 ounces vodka
.75 ounces Campari
.5 ounces green Chartreuse
2 dashes orange bitters

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, stir with a hypnotic motion, and strain into a chilled glass.  Orange peel garnish optional.

No doubt about it, the Bitter Rasputin is strong. Vodka is a natural base for a Russian themed cocktail, da? As with other drinks such as my original Venetian Kiss, vodka pairs well with Campari. Combined with orange bitters, the Campari is what makes the cocktail bitter. Green Chartreuse, a key part of drinks such as the Bijou and the Last Word, injects a little liquid power and a hint of herbal sweetness. Mesmerizing as the Bitter Rasputin is, be careful.  You don't want to end up like Rasputin.

Ready for a possible cocktail epiphany? Once you taste it, you'll fall under the spell of the Bitter Rasputin.


A Unique and Lovely Drink -- The Venetian Kiss

Venetian Kiss 1
Taste the glory of Venice in this cocktail.

Venice is a unique city. Nicknamed "La Serenissima" ("the most serene" in Italian), there are many reasons it is on many people's travel bucket lists. Having returned from a recent trip where Ms. Cocktail Den and I got caught in historic acqua alta (high water) and flooding, Venice is the inspiration for this original creation for the new year.

1.5 ounces Aperol
1 ounce vodka
.5 ounces Campari

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, stir with the serenity of watching life go by on the Grand Canal, and strain into a chilled glass.

Venetian Kiss 2
Ms. Cocktail Den in Venice. The photo is real, and there's no filter.

Aperol and Campari are Italian amari (bitter liqueurs), and bottles of them are in bars everywhere in Venice. Campari, an indispensable part of cocktails such as the classic Negroni and my original Cancer Killer #1, has a stronger taste and is more bitter than Aperol, featured in drinks such as the Naked and Famous. That's why the Venetian Kiss has more Aperol than Campari. So why does it have vodka?  There's nothing inherently Italian or Venetian about vodka.  I included vodka because the Russian word literally means "little water," and it is a tribute to the water that surrounds Venice and frequently floods the city.  In addition, it brings balance and subtle potency to the Venetian Kiss. 

The 3:2:1 ratio of the ingredients gives the Venetian Kiss elegance in its simplicity. Its name may remind of you of the Almost Red Lips Rye, and its color may remind you of pink drinks such as the Cosmopolitan and my original Italian Sunrise. Have a Venetian Kiss, and savor liquid serenissima!


Sultry And Powerful -- The Chatham Artillery Punch

Imagine a sultry weekend in Savannah, Georgia, home of great bars such as Alley Cat Lounge and the fascinating American Prohibition Museum. In the summer of 1995 Ms. Cocktail Den and I discovered Chatham Artillery Punch, a flavorful and complex libation. Legend has it a local artillery unit (Savannah is in Chatham County) created it during the Revolutionary War. It's a great story. It's not true. Research from eminent cocktail historian David Wondrich indicates it was created in the 1850s and became more popular later that century.

Chatham Artillery Punch.75 ounces brandy
.75 ounces dark rum
.75 ounces bourbon
.5 ounces super simple syrup
.25 ounces lemon juice (1/8 lemon)
.25 ounces sweet tea vodka
.25 ounces red wine
Sparkling wine

Combine everything except the sparkling wine in a shaker with ice, shake with explosive force, strain into a chilled glass, and top with sparkling wine.

Yes, there are a lot of ingredients in the Chatham Artillery Punch, more than every other cocktail in the Den. The result is worth the effort. For the red wine, you can use whatever varietal you prefer, or a fortified wine such as madeira or port. You can make a simpler version of the Chatham Artillery Punch if you forego the sweet tea vodka and red wine, but then you lose the main flavors of the original concoction. This cocktail gives the word "punch" a double entendre. Originally created in mass quantities, this punch packs quite a punch. It's more potent than the Brown Bomber (the cocktail but not the late boxing champion for whom it was named).

Are you tough enough to take a Chatham Artillery Punch or two?


A Sexy Cocktail In The City (Or Anywhere) -- The Cosmopolitan

Some people think pink drinks are weak. Wrong. This misguided notion happens with cocktails such as the Cosmopolitan. Its history is a bit unclear, as a few people take credit for it. It may date to the 1970s, and it clearly was around in the mid 1980s when it became an insider's drink in New York City (the location of the "Sex and the City" television series, whose characters consumed many Cosmopolitans). The Cosmopolitan became ubiquitous on cocktail menus, and unfortunately too often it was a sickly sweet hot mess. A good cocktail should give you a pleasant drinking experience, not diabetes. When executed well, the Cosmopolitan is sexy and powerful.

Cosmopolitan2 ounces vodka
.75 ounces clear triple sec (I suggest Cointreau)
.5 ounces lime juice (1/2 lime)
.25 ounces cranberry juice
.25 ounces super simple syrup (optional, see below)

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the intensity of (look at the second word of this post's title and use your imagination), and strain into a chilled glass. Lime twist garnish optional.

Many versions of the Cosmopolitan call for citrus flavored vodka, but I think that's unnecessary. The Cointreau and lime juice give you all the citrus flavors you need. Cointreau is a brand of triple sec, a general term for orange liqueurs. Some people understandably think glorious grenadine makes the Cosmopolitan sweet and pink. The color comes from the tiny splash of cranberry juice. If you use unsweetened cranberry juice, I suggest adding super simple syrup unless you want a tart drink.  If you want a sweeter drink, rim the edge of the glass with sugar, add the super simple syrup, or both. For the cranberry juice, less is more. Ideally the Cosmopolitan should be a lighter pink like the El Presidente.

Don't let the color fool you and have a Cosmopolitan or two. Carrie and the ladies would approve.