a friendly guide to spirits, cocktails and beverages for beginners


St. Germain Elderflower – an artisinal liqueur that stands out!

Nowadays, we’re seeing more and more flavored liqueurs at the store. Odd flavors like Root Beer, Green Banana, Cotton Candy, Green Tea, Yogurt, Honey, etc. have all come out making it even easier for that boring bar to have the traditional martini list that features an Apple-tini, Pear-tini, Melon-tini and now even a Root Beer-tini, Cotton Cand-ini, Honey-tini, and the ever so unpopular Yogurt-ini.

You think I’m kidding about a Yogurt-ini? 

Not only do the majority of these liqueurs have a really fake, disgusting taste to them, they are the LAST thing you want to buy for your home unless you really like that flavor. If you feel you can splurge on a flavor and use it for everything from pancake syrup to frozen drinks, then go for it! Most of us would use one of these once or twice and then sit on a bottle of a syrupy disaster waiting to happen – imagine the monumental hangover you’d get when that’s the last thing at home with alcohol in it and you’re trying to get a buzz on after the bars have closed. Been there, done that….

One flavor that I DO recommend for home (and that I bring in to every bar) is St. Germain Elderflower liqueur because it is a quality product, it is very versatile and it is a unique product to surprise guests (at home or at a bar) with.

Quick Tech Notes: St. Germain is an elderflower liqueur made in France during a 4-6 month blossoming period. Somewhere between 40 and 50 ‘pickers’ will gently pick and deliver sacks and sacks of these delicate flowers for St. Germain to produce its elderflower liqueur. They are all hand-picked and immediately used, while fresh. This is what distiguishes St. Germain from most other liqueurs and even from other elderflower liqueurs – they don’t use fabricated flavors and they don’t freeze their ingredients!

So, besides having a funny looking french guy riding his bike full of fresh elderflowers, what else do they do? They add the elderflower flavor they create and an eau-de-vie (or neutral grape spirit, essentially like a vodka), pure cane sugar for sweetness (and to bring out the elderflower flavor) and Voila!

More importantly, what can you do with St. Germain? Here’s a couple cocktails you can try at home with your friends!

St. Germain Cocktail

2 parts Brut Champagne or Dry Sparkling Wine

1 1/2 parts St. Germain

2 parts Sparkling water or club soda

Directions: Stir ingredients in a tall ice-filled Collins glass, mixing completely. Garnish with a lemon twist.




St. Germain & Champagne 

1/2 part St. Germain

Top with Brut Champagne, Dry Sparkling wine or Brut Rosé

Directions: Pour ingredients into a chilled fluted glass and stir lightly. Float half a strawberry as a garnish.






Sangria Flora (serves 4 drinks)

3/4 cup St. Germain

3 cups Sauvignon Blanc or Dry White Wine

1 Fresh peach (diced)

5 Fresh strawberries (halved)

5 Fresh raspberries

10 Fresh white grapes (halved)

Directions: Stir ingredients in your carafe. Let the mixture soak for fifteen minutes, then pour into ice-filled glasses. Feel free to replace fruits with other types – your choice!



So if you’re looking for other options, St. Germain mixes with bourbon, tequila, almost anything! Feel free to make up your own or just put it into your coffee as sweetner. There are plenty of recipes that are great on their website, http://www.stgermain.fr/cocktails.php.

Next time you want to amaze that guy or girl with your in-home bartending, try some of these delicious libations. Thanks for reading!

I love booze, I hope you love booze too!


Single Malt Scotch – is one really different than the other? They’re all just peaty liquors aren’t they?

I mean really… is there a big difference between a ‘Glen’ this or a something something ‘toshen’? What’s one guy in a skirt do different from another guy forty miles away with the same ingredients (and the same skirt)?

Truthfully – one skirted man doesn’t do much different from another but what they decide to change makes ALL the difference. Slight nuances often make them completely different whiskies. Most people think of Scotch like they’re different types of American Chardonnay but you need to think of them as different types of wine – a Highland scotch can be like a big, bold Cabernet Sauvignon while a Lowland malt can be as light as a crisp Pinot Grigio!

Here is what I’ve learned from my Scotch 101 – it’s easiest to differentiate single malts regionally first, then age and lastly by producer.

Lowlands are typically softer whiskies than their counterparts. They are light in flavor with a touch of smoke and mild grassy tones. They usually are aged in used bourbon barrels so the whiskies pick up slight vanilla and caramel notes.

Speyside is a region that is still light but begins to have fruit flavors with grassy tones and light smoke.

Highlands begin to use a little more smoke and the whiskies are bigger and bolder. They are more warm and robust whiskies and often have sea-like, salty notes imparted by the sea-side location of distilleries.

Islands usually have slightly more peat-flavored malts with more use of smoke. The islands do stylistically vary depending on the distiller.

Islay is when you finally get your heavy-peat malts. Smoke, peat and briny notes are very common – this is the style that most Scotch aficionados crave when thinking of single malt scotch. The whiskies are very light in color since they re-use aged barrels that barely impart color into the liquor.

Aging is another huge differentiating factor between single malts. The more age, the more flavor is imparted on the whiskey by the barrel. There are a lot of factors though – what barrel? How much charr or toasting? Has it been used before? Scotch typically ages in used barrels from wine, cognac or bourbon. Some liquors and wines in the US and France legally require new oak while Scotch prefers previously used barrels. This will often impart sweet notes of caramel and vanilla. The more a whiskey is aged, it will also typically be a little heavier, more smokey and smoother.

Producers also make stylistically different whiskies – whether they want a lot or a little smoke, peat, briny-ness, saltiness, etc. If you buy an Ardbeg, expect peat. If you buy Dalwhinnie, expect something lighter. A Macallan or a Highland Park will be somewhere in between.

Here are some suggestions from Damien Lynch, the Scotch guru at Kimpton’s Bookstore Bar in Seattle (who carries over 75+ single malts along with 60+ other whiskies!). They are great representatives of the styles of each region:

Auchentoshan Triple Wood (Lowland) approx. $75 per bottle

Glenrothes 1994 (Speyside) approx. $70 per bottle

Highland Park 15 year (Island) approx. $50 per bottle

Glenmorangie La Santa (Highland) approx. $40 per bottle

Lagavulin 16 year (Islay) approx. $65 per bottle

This is a very BASIC intro into what whiskey is. It’s like trying to teach law in two minutes. The best way to learn is to go to a good whiskey bar and speak with the bartender or to look for a whiskey tasting in your town. If you’ve never tried single malts, start with the light styles and grow your palate. As you try more and more, you’ll be able to differentiate not only the different styles but your preference and you’ll fall in love with these traditional Scottish liquid gold creations.

Thanks for reading. I love booze, I hope you love booze too.

Some go to Church on Sundays, I pray to the God ‘Ninkasi’ instead


Some people go to church on Sundays but if I did that, I wouldn’t be able to be at a bar. If I don’t drink on Sundays, I no longer am supporting the hard workers at the breweries and their families. If I don’t support the workers, their kids don’t get to go to college. If their kids don’t go to college then our future brewers would be uneducated and their businesses would fail. In turn, the economy would crumble. The only logical and sustainable solution to keep the beer industry (and the global economy) alive is for me to keep drinking on Sundays. It’s OK guys… the reward for all of us is well worth the sacrifice I’m going to have to make.

As a rule of thumb, I always drink local. Whether its wine, beer or liquor. I found a new beer in San Diego during my religious endeavors – Ballast Point Sculpin IPA. The brewery started (and still operates) as a home brew supply store… to our benefit though, I guess that one guy stuck around to make beer! This is a limited release beer that like all Ballast Point beers is named after Pacific ocean fish. They have a Wahoo, a Yellowtail and more including the Sculpin.

What’s an IPA? It stands for India Pale Ale. They were named such because during their conception, they were shipped off to India from England in the 1800s. Their high levels of hops made their durability and age-ability ideal for the East India Company traders – and the fact that the two original brewers had eighteen month terms surely helped their cause.

Having come from the Northwest before this gig in San Diego, I’m used to big hops in my beers. Even the lightest of NW brews are extremely hoppy, heavy, enamel-removing delicacies. What are hops? Hops are female flower clusters used for flavoring beer. The

benefits of using hops is that they balance out the sweetness of malt, they provide an antibiotic type quality that helps develop brewer’s yeast and they stabilize beer for longevity. More important for you – hops provides bitterness. This SoCal special is refreshingly hop-heavy while having a full body, medium weight and an amazing floral aroma. The evergreen and pine bouquet is there but there’s also notes of peach, apricot and mango. The difference is that unlike the heavier of IPAs, it begs you to have more than one… like eight. As for fancy terms, its a 7% ABV – alcohol by volume. Most beers are between 3 and 5 percent. It has 70 IBUs or international bitter units, which measure how hoppy beers are. NW ales start in the 70s and gravitate towards the 100+ levels. As a reference, a Bud or Miller has 5 IBUs.

So next time you’re in San Diego, stop into a bar and get a local brew on tap – you won’t regret it. San Diego also houses micro breweries like Coronado Brewing Company and powerhouse Stone Brewing company -an amazing pioneer microbrew that is loved nationally as well as internationally.
That’s all for now… I love booze and I hope you love booze too.

Aperitifs – The weird bottles at the bar that no one drinks

An aperitif is the drink that is served before dinner to stimulate the appetite. This french word is derived from the latin word aperire meaning ‘to open’.

The purpose of an aperitif is to entice your senses and to excite the palate, to get the juices flowing and… well… to get the buzz going.

Aperitifs are a funny thing though – in the United States – few people know what they are and how to use them. They’re in almost every bar (if you look in the top shelf, covered in dust and to the left of the Cognacs) but most bartenders don’t know what the hell they’re for! They know how to put it in a shot, pour it on the rocks or shake it up and put it in a martini… creative huh?

The irony is that these liqueurs can make some of the most delicious cocktails you could ever try (and they’re super easy) but neither the drinker nor the drink-maker know about them.

If a bottle of liqueur isn’t used in a bar, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound when it cries? Yes it does.

I picked two aperitifs to focus on this time – Campari and Aperol. These Italian legends are two of the most typical liqueurs that you might find at a bar unless you’re in the deep south or in a town where the bar doubles as a gun store (in which case, well… finding Campari is the least of your problems). They’re both red-ish colored Italian bitters made by the same company. They’re both infusions of fruit and herbs in a bitter liqueur – where Campari has a heavier, rich wood-rhubarb-floral flavor profile, Aperol is lighter with mandarin and orange peel, higher sugar content and almost half the alcohol. Some people think they’re like Coca-Cola and Pepsi but the difference is actually more like Sprite and Lemonade; there’s similarities in the flavor profiles but they’re done completely differently.

In Europe, these are most commonly had on the rocks or in a cordial glass. They are also drank in simple spritzer cocktails with soda or with a fresh juice.

I’m gonna suggest sticking to what they’ve already discovered in Europe – the simpler the better, Here are three quick cocktails to try (and that will be easy to describe to the average bartender) – Aperol Orange, Aperol Spritz and a Negroni. If you’re making them at home, remember your proportions (or buy a jigger already): a tablespoon equals a half ounce so two tablespoons equal an ounce.

Aperol Orange

1.5 oz Aperol liqueur

4-5 oz fresh squeezed orange juice

Directions: Pour ingredients into a rocks glass, stir… Drink! Garnish with a slice of orange.

Aperol Spritzer

2 oz Aperol

3 oz prosecco

Splash of soda

Directions: Add Aperol and prosecco to a glass full of ice. Stir. Top with a splash of soda. Add a slice of orange as a garnish.


1 oz Plymouth gin

1 oz Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth or Noilly Prat Sweet Vermouth

1 oz Campari

Directions: Mix three ingredients into a large glass, stir, strain into a martini glass (or serve on the rocks). Garnish with an orange zest. (Home tip: Use a peeler to peel a nice piece of orange instead of zesting)

Important tip: Measure the ingredients! Any cocktail (but especially the Negroni) tastes amazing when they’re measured and the proportions are right. When there’s too much of one or not enough of the other, it’s all of the sudden too bitter or too sweet. It’s kind of like baking – too much flour or too much sugar and it’s not the way it is supposed to be. If you don’t have a jigger, measure out the exact proportions with spoons, shot glasses, measuring cups, candle holders, thimbles, ANYTHING; just make sure the proportions are 1:1:1.

So that was easy enough for you to make at home and easy enough to ask your bartender to make right? Now go reward yourself with a nice, refreshing bitter cocktail before dinner today!

Thanks for reading!

I love booze. I hope you love booze too.

Let’s get ready to Rum-ble

Although some people’s home bars rival a corner pub (and it worries the rest of their family), most people keep one or two of their favorite liquors at home and basic mixers, that’s it. If you want something unusual that’s why your neighborhood ‘Cheers’ is just down the street right? (Plus, you always look cool to others when ordering unique cocktails at a bar and it’s always fun to say ‘Wallbanger’ or ‘Fuzzy Navel’ anyways)

That’s the challenge I see for people to make unique cocktails at home; committing to buying an entire bottle of something they don’t know. I could recommend cocktails with ingredients like ‘Orange Curaçao’, ‘Absinthe’, ‘Fernet Branca’ and ‘chocolate bitters’, but really, why would you, the average consumer, pay $30 or more for ONE ingredient that you can use for ONE cocktail that you’ve never even tried?! You may not even like it and it may just sit on your shelf forever.

The purpose of this post is to give you a basic list of ingredients (that are inexpensive) that will make the following three great summer cocktails and that you’ll be able to use.

Quick buying tip: Liquor/Wine companies make small portions! Liquor comes in 50mL (hotel mini-bar size), 375mL (half bottles), 750mL (standard size/wine bottle size) and larger. Wine/Champagne comes in 187mL (one and a half glasses), 375mL (half bottles), 750mL (standard wine bottle size) and larger. Don’t buy the largest format if you aren’t going to use it but to save some cash commit to the larger sizes and FIND ways to use it.

Ingredient list: Dark Rum – Gosling’s Black Seal or Meyer’s Rum (est. $16-20), 6 limes, several Mexican Coca-cola (Sugar cane cola from Pepsi also works – est. $1-2 ea), bottle of Prosecco or Domaine St. Michelle Sparkling (est. $8-12 ea), honey and several ginger beer (fever-tree, reed’s or regatta – est. $1.50-2 ea).

Also, remember that a tablespoon equals 1/2 oz and two tablespoons equal 1 oz.

Dark and Stormy (a cocktail from Bermuda)

2 oz Dark rum

4 oz ginger beer (not ginger ale!)

1 lime wedge

Add rum into a glass with ice. Top off with ginger beer. Squeeze in a lime wedge and garnish with a fresh lime wedge.

Cuba Libre

2 oz rum

Fill with Mexican Coke

1 lime wedge

Add rum into a rocks (small) glass with ice. Top off with mexican coke. Squeeze in a lime wedge and garnish with a fresh lime wedge.

Air Mail

2 oz rum

1/2 oz lime juice

1 teaspoon honey

5 oz sparkling wine

In a bar: Add rum, lime juice and honey into a glass with ice. Stir. Strain into a collins glass with ice. Top with sparkling wine. Garnish with an edible flower or a lime wedge.

At home: Add rum, lime juice and honey into a glass with ice. Stir. Fill glass with ice and top with sparkling wine. Garnish with an edible flower or a lime wedge.

Thanks for reading the blog!

Now that you can make three simple cocktails for less than $50, invite some friends over and have a cocktail party. These summer cocktails are as easy as they are refreshing. Enjoy making them at home or asking your local bar wench to make them for you. Salud!

I love booze, I hope you love booze too.

‘Top Chef’ cocktail challenge!

I’ve given myself a ‘Top Chef’ challenge: to make a delicious cocktail with whatever my friend has in his fridge.

I haven’t even looked inside yet. All I know is that he tends to eat healthy, he likes to drink and that if this experiment fails, I can just delete and write another blog post. Purpose? To give the average person a fighting chance at making a delicious cocktail with nothing more than a typical fridge’s contents. Remember, I may love bars but my friend is a video-game distributor in Latin America who has an obsession with technology and masturbating. On the kitchen counter I see an old ‘Papa John’s’ box, a rotten banana, a hair band from the girl he hopes is coming back soon (she hasn’t called in six months) and a birthday card from his mom. He could easily be any of you.

As I open the fridge I find some pre-cut fruit from the grocery store (your typical melon, strawberries, pineapple, etc), yogurt, (I immediately think a blended… wait… no… It’s not the 90s anymore), an open bottle of red wine, vodka, cranberry and orange juices, cheap brandy, un-named crap beer, some old Chinese take out and several water bottles. Slim pickings, he eats out a lot… but I’m done thinking either way. Thank you Spain; I’m gonna make delicious SANGRIA!

Luckily (or unluckily), I’m in South Florida and it’s 85 degrees and sunny. I have a balcony that faces the water and I’m on vacation. I want something light, fruity and easy to make. I also want something that I can continue to drink with little or no work as I slowly slip of out sobriety. Perfect!

Quick history – Spain likes fruit, Spain likes wine. Do you need anymore history? By the 1700s, different recipes similar to Sangria were widespread throughout all of Europe. It was said to be more safe to drink than water (which was used for bathing animals, cleaning foods, etc). Originally, its main purpose wasn’t intended to be intoxicating; quite the opposite! It was meant to be softer than wine which was why fruit and sparkling water are often used in it. I once went to Spain and saw high-rise construction workers, hard hats on the table, drinking a pitcher of it… for their LUNCH BREAK!

Back to ‘Top Chef’ challenge: I grab the left-over cut fruit and toss it into a big bowl. Seriously… my friend doesn’t have anything that remotely resembles a pitcher. I put in a cup of brandy, toss in the left over wine, find another bottle of wine and throw it in, toss in a cup of orange juice and let that sit. I toss it back into the fridge and let it marinade. The key to sangria is letting the fruit marinade with the wine; it gives the wine a delicious, refreshing flavor. I find a lemon and a lime and slice them thin into wheels, toss them in and wait. Two hours later it’s done (or I’m done waiting)! I just add a little sparkling water/club soda to my glass and fizz up my drink. This is easily the best Sangria that was made by someone hung-over who didn’t want to walk to the corner store to find something else… an amazing achievement in my eyes. Lesson: the left-over casserole concept translates to booze too! If you have a cup of this and a swig of that, you can easily make a delicious concoction from your own fridge.

Traditional recipe: Serves about 12 drinks – Emeril Lagasse’s recipe

2 bottles of chilled dry red (Rioja or Bordeaux have historically been used. Luckily, Riojas are REALLY underappreciated still. You can find one for under $10 at your local store)

1 cup of brandy (Presidente or Cardinal Mendoza are favorites of mine. Presidente being the cheap and cheerful type)

1 cup of OJ

1/4 cup super-fine sugar (or you can make some simple syrup/sugary water by heating up equal parts sugar and water in the microwave so it melts and incorporates better)

Thin rounds from 2 oranges, 3 Meyer lemons, 3 key limes

2 apples cut into chunks

2 cups of cold club soda

Instructions: Combine wine, brandy, OJ and sugar in a bowl until the sugar dissolves. Add citrus and apples, then refrigerate for an hour. Add club soda and serve!

Now, feel free to add any other fruits, substitute red for white or even sparkling wine and play with it. The best sangria for you is the flavors YOU like. As long as you stick with fruit, liquor, sugar and wine, you’ll be fine.

Now I’m gonna go drink my drinks… I love booze. I hope you love booze too.

Take a bubble bath!

Sparkling wine is one of the most versatile beverages in existence. It’s great for celebrating , for mixing into cocktails and especially for that first date when you’re hoping to both get tipsy and make some mistakes. Remember, sparkling wine is a cure-all for inhibitions; after a glass each, “Well Jenny, we may as well finish off the bottle or if not it will go flat.” You can’t get away with saying that about anything else (red wine, beer keg, bottle of vodka – trust me, I’ve tried) but try that line with a bottle of delicious Prosecco and before you can say abra-cadabra they’re chugging from the bottle.

Most people know of the ‘Mimosa’ and a few have learned of the ‘Bellini’ but overall, sparkling cocktails are untapped by most. Since you can mix pretty much ANYTHING with sparkling wine, the opportunities are endless; just replace the juice and you have a new cocktail.

Recently, a family member called me complaining that every time her friends met on the weekends for brunch, they all had Mimosas. Since she had a lifeline ‘in the know’, she called me up and asked for a new recipe. Quick tip on sparkling wines– generally Cava (from Spain) tends to be dry, Prosecco (from Italy) tends to be sweet and US sparkling is somewhere in the middle. I would recommend Chateau St. Michelle sparkling or a Prosecco but if you use something dry then be ready to add simple syrup (sugary water) or more sweet fruit.

Here’s the basics and then a twist or two – as always remember, the more fresh the ingredients the more delicious it will be. Fresh juice is truly underrated. Also remember, 1 tablespoon is 1/2 oz and 1 and a half teaspoons is 1/4 oz.

Mimosa – typically half sparkling wine and half fresh squeezed OJ.  I prefer 70% sparkling topped with 30% orange juice – then again, I love booze.

Champagne cocktail– One cube of sugar, 2 dashes Angostura bitters topped with sparkling wine.

Bellini– typically 1 part white peach puree and 2 parts sparkling wine. The modern recipe by ‘Art of the drink’ – 2 oz peach puree, 1/4 oz peach schnapps, 1/4 oz lemon juice, top with sparkling wine.

Two fun variations for your weekend brunch event – Bobby Flay’s Grand Champagne and Freixenet’s Raspberry Delight:

Grand Champagne (serves 4) by Bobby Flay

4 shots of orange liqueur (Grand Marnier or sub Cointreau)

4 teaspoons of honey

4 fresh strawberries sliced thin

1 bottle of champagne

Mix orange liqueur, honey and strawberries in a pitcher well. (Flay recommends blending in a food processor but I prefer to not have a puree) Fill glass with half of mixture and top with sparkling wine. Salud!

Raspberry Delight (serves 10) by Freixenet

1 cup of raspberries

1 pint of raspberry sorbet

1 liter of sparkling water or club soda

2 bottles of dry Cava (Freixenet or Seguras Viudas)

Mix sorbet and sparkling water or club soda in a bowl until it has dissolved. Add sparkling wine and fresh raspberries. Add ice if needed. Drink!

Thanks for reading. I love booze. I hope you love booze too!