Fruit Puree

You’ll see that a few cocktail recipes call for a fruit puree of some kind. You have a few options when it comes to purees. You can buy them already made up or you can make your own. Unless you are making a large volume of drinks (for say a party), I suggest you make your own. It’s really easy and the purees are fresh.

Mango Puree
2 mangos, peeled and pitted
2 tablespoons baker’s sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Pear Puree
2 pears, peeled and cored
2 tablespoons baker’s sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

In a blender or food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the fruit, sugar, water and lemon juice; process to a smooth puree, about 30 seconds. Add more sugar to taste. Strain through a fine metal sieve set over a bowl. Use a rubber spatula to stir and press the puree through the sieve; discard solids. Refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 6 months.

I store my purees in those GladWare Mini Round 1/2 cup (4 oz) platic containers. They freeze well and you can label them with your type of fruit and the date. This size is perfect for making about 4 cocktails at a time.

spicy tango mango pepper vodka cocktail feature

Spicy Tango

Even though I really enjoy wine, I often like to pair cocktails with food. This drink, the Spicy Tango, complements Latin food because it’s a nice balance of spicy and sweet, with just enough heat. But it also works well on its own—my wife and I recently enjoyed these during our happy hour with Cheeze-Its! This is proof that there are no rules to drinking cocktails.

Spicy Tango
4-6 cilantro leaves
1 oz Absolut Mango
1+1/2 oz Absolut Peppar
1/2 oz Harlequin Orange Liqueur
1 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
2 tablespoons fresh mango puree

Fill a shaker 1/3 full of ice. Muddle the cilantro leaves. Fill rest of shaker with ice. Add the vodkas, orange liqueur, lime juice, simple syrup and mango puree. Cap the shaker and shake vigorously for 15-20 seconds. Double strain (to remove large cilantro pieces) into a 10 oz chilled martini glass with a sugared rim. Garnish with a fresh sprig of cilantro.

Every Friday at our office, we have a happy hour party that we call “Snacky,” and this past week’s theme was “heaven and hell” which inspired the creation of this drink. I hastily threw a version of this together to capture both heaven and hell in a single cocktail. While it was drinkable, I refined it later at home by adding the cilantro and adjusting the proportions.

spicy tango mango pepper vodka cocktail Spicy Tango

Shaking vs. Stirring Cocktails

A question that comes up often is: when do I shake a cocktail and when do I stir? The basic rule of thumb is this:

Shaking Cocktails
You shake any cocktail that contains juice, cream, eggs or other cloudy ingredients.

Stirring Cocktails
You stir a cocktail when the ingredients are all spirits.

I think this video from Imbibe (featuring Jeffrey Morgenthaler) demonstrates the difference well.

Sometimes I break the rules and shake my Manhattans or Martinis if I want little ice shards floating in my drink.

Basil-Infused Bianco Vermouth

This infusion makes a nice summertime sipper by adding club soda. You can also use it in other cocktails like the Cinzano Basil Martini. You will need to make this at least a day before you plan to use it so that the basil has a chance to flavor the vermouth. You can keep it in your fridge and use it whenever the mood strikes.

Basil-Infused Bianco Vermouth
1 bottle (750ml) Cinzano Bianco
15-20 large basil leaves, washed, dried and stemmed

Pour the vermouth into a glass container with a tight-fitting lid and add the basil leaves (save the bottle for later). Stir briefly, close the container and set aside overnight.

Skim the basil leaves out of the container and discard. Pour the infused vermouth through a fine mesh strainer back into the empty vermouth bottle. Store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

cinzano bianco vermouth vodka basil martini feature

Cinzano Basil Martini

Years ago I came across a recipe for basil-infused Bianco Vermouth, which makes a wonderful summertime drink by adding club soda. It seemed to me that this would also make a nice alternative to regular dry vermouth in a martini. So here it is: the Basil Martini!

Basil Martini
3 oz Pearl Vodka
1/4 oz basil-infused Bianco Vermouth

Fill a mixing glass halfway with ice. Add the vodka and vermouth. Gently stir for 20-30 seconds and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a basil leaf and a lemon twist.

I think using basil-infused vermouth is an interesting alternative to infusing the vodka. It’s more of a throwback to a classic martini with a twist. Try it and let me know what you think.

cinzano bianco vermouth vodka basil martini Cinzano Basil Martini

Asian Peartini

asian peartini ginger vodka cocktail Asian Peartini

I was inspired to make this drink one day because I ran across a bottle of Yazi Ginger Vodka (made in Portland by Hood River Distillers) in the back of my liquor cabinet that I forgot I had bought a couple of years prior. I like the taste of ginger, but found this vodka to be pretty intense on its own (which is why it sat so long). So I started experimenting with other ingredients in my home bar to come up with a way to both complement the ginger flavor and to smooth out its spiciness. The result is a really drinkable cocktail that showcases the Yazi.

Asian Peartini
1 oz Yazi Ginger Vodka
1+1/2 oz Absolut Pears vodka
1/2 oz Harlequin Orange Liqueur
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1 oz simple syrup
1 tablespoon fresh pear puree
Fresh nutmeg

Fill a shaker with ice. Add the vodkas, orange liqueur, juices, simple syrup and pear puree. Cap the shaker and shake vigorously for 15-20 seconds. Strain (or double strain if you prefer a smoother cocktail) into a 10 oz chilled martini glass and garnish with a pear slice and a light dusting of fresh nutmeg.

Tip: You can substitute triple sec for the Harlequin, but I prefer Harlequin because of the richness of the cognac.

how to make syrups feature

Homemade Syrups

The easiest way to make drinks sweet is to add sugar syrup. Syrups are easy to make and keep well in the fridge for a couple of weeks in a tight fitting container. You can also make flavored syrups to give your cocktail an extra dimension.

Simple Syrup

If you’re wondering what simple syrup is then you’ve come to the right place. Simple syrup is a common ingredient for certain cocktails that require a little sweetness. The best simple syrup is to make your own—if you buy it you’re likely to get a bunch of preservatives and other things in it you don’t need. And, it’s cheaper to make your own anyway. Here are a few ways to make simple syrup.

Rich Simple Syrup
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup distilled water

Place sugar and water in a small saucepan and stir until dissolved. Bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until syrup is slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Transfer syrup to a container with a tight-fitting lid, cover, refrigerate and use as needed.

Quick Simple Syrup
1 cup baker’s sugar
1 cup distilled water

Combine sugar and water in a bottle with a tight fitting lid, and shake it until dissolved. It will be cloudy for a bit, but will eventually clear up. Cover and store in the fridge until needed. This method comes in handy if you run out in the middle of making drinks, or if you’re kinda lazy like me.

Whatever method you choose, you can also substitute Splenda Granulated Sweetner for sugar if you want a sugar free alternative. I use this when I make a drink for my Dad who is diabetic. You can also make flavored syrups, but I will update this post when I include recipes that call for those.

Demerara Syrup

Demerara syrup is called for in some tropical drinks. You just follow the recipe for Rich Simple Syrup, but use demerara sugar instead of granulated sugar. Demerara is a natural brown sugar found at many specialty food stores.

Demerara Simple Syrup
2 cups demerara sugar
1 cup distilled water

Place sugar and water in a small saucepan and stir until dissolved. Bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until syrup is slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Transfer syrup to a container with a tight-fitting lid, cover, refrigerate and use as needed.

Honey Syrup

If you’ve ever tried to make cocktails using honey, you’ll quickly find that it’s difficult to work with in the shaker. It’s messy and often freezes after you’ve given the tin a few good shakes. I prefer to use honey syrup. You get the flavor of the honey but is easier to use and mixes up better.

Honey Syrup
1 cup honey
1 cup distilled water

Place honey and water in a small saucepan and stir until dissolved. Bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until syrup is slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Transfer syrup to a container with a tight-fitting lid, cover, refrigerate and use as needed.

Ginger Syrup

Are you seeing the syrup pattern yet? Yep, just sugar and water boiled together. You can add other ingredients to give your syrup a special flavor. Here’s a good and quick recipe for ginger syrup.

Ginger Syrup
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup distilled water
6 equal-sized pieces of fresh, peeled ginger

Place sugar and water in a small saucepan and stir until dissolved. Add ginger and bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until syrup is slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Transfer syrup to a container with a tight-fitting lid, cover, refrigerate and use as needed.

One thing to keep in mind about ginger syrup—it loses its flavor fairly quickly. Make it in small batches and keep for up to one week.