Robert and I recently traveled to Santa Fe for a family wedding. On the day of the big event, just as we were getting ready to head out the door, we were overcome by a serious storm. I’m talking hail the size of grapes and the fiercest rain I’ve ever seen. Leaving the house was out of the question, especially since we were wearing our finest wedding duds. What to do when you’re all dressed up and stranded indoors during a rainstorm? Make sangrita, of course!

Sangrita, which means “little blood” in Spanish, is a traditional accompaniment for tequila. With origins dating back to the 1920’s, this non-alcoholic beverage is meant to highlight the flavor of the tequila and alleviate some of the burn from the alcohol. It is traditionally served with blanco tequila but may also be served with reposado. Although some may call it a chaser, it is really meant to be sipped alternately with the tequila, complementing the tequila’s flavor and cleansing the palate between sips. The original version, hailing from the state of Jalisco, was made using Seville oranges and pomegranate juice, with powdered chilies added for heat. Lime juice and savory ingredients such as salt or white onion are sometimes added. Somewhere along the way, people started adding tomato juice to their sangrita, most likely in attempt to mimic the red color of the traditional versions. This modern style is extremely popular in America and many parts of Mexico these days—so much so, that many people insist this version is, in fact, the real sangrita. Whether you prefer authentic recipes or creative new approaches, it seems there is a sangrita out there for everyone.

We first learned about sangrita from Robert’s mom and her husband Mario. They sampled it during a trip to Mexico and started making their own version after returning home. Based on their rough description and a few recipes found online, we decided to give it a try. Our first attempts were less than spectacular. Now, trapped by the sudden rainstorm, we had an opportunity to watch the master at work! For his sangrita, Mario juiced 2 oranges, 1 grapefruit, 2 lemons and a handful of limes. To this, he added the tiniest amount of minced garlic and ginger and a few pinches of red chile powder. He then blended everything to get the chile powder to mix in uniformly. We took a moment to relax and admire the power of the sudden storm while sipping our sangrita and tequila. It was a nice treat. Citrus and chile are always a perfect match for tequila. The garlic and ginger provided the right amount of savory while keeping the sangrita from being too salsa-y. Mario’s sangrita is not complicated or fancy, but it was the perfect pick me up for an otherwise dreary afternoon.

Robert and I decided to give mixing up our own sangrita another try this weekend. We opted for a simplified version of Mario’s sangrita, using only freshly-squeezed lime and orange juice rather than the full citrus spectrum (I don’t have a fancy automatic citrus juicer like Mario does, and my spindly arms can only do so much with a hand-held juicer). We then added powdered red chile and a touch of garlic and ginger as a nod to Mario’s recipe. For an authentic touch, we added a splash of pomegranate juice. It definitely gave the sangrita that deep red color that the name implies. We blended it up and served it alongside Aha Toro reposado. It was delicious! It really highlighted the tequila’s sweet flavor.

Sangrita is one of those things just encourages experimentation. I wouldn’t mind trying a version made with cucumber or jicama. Or, you could use blood oranges for their red color. Robert and I even pondered the possibility of experimenting with beets. They would certainly fill the red requirement, and I’d be curious how their earthy flavor would pair with tequila. If you enjoy sipping tequila and are looking for a new way of serving it this summer, give sangrita a try. It’s a fun way to drink tequila with friends, whether you’re relaxing out in the sunshine or suddenly stuck in a rainstorm.

I’ve been a fan of whiskey-based cocktails for my entire adult life, but I have never enjoyed drinking whiskey straight. In fact, I’ve always found it to be pretty vile. One tiny sip of scotch or bourbon was enough to make me gag. Something must have clicked in me this year because I am now a full-fledged whiskey convert. These days, I’m just as likely drink whiskey straight as I am to mix it into a cocktail. Here is a roundup of what I’ve been sipping on lately.

Bourbon: My parents gave Robert a bottle of Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon for Christmas this year. Blanton’s, which came onto the market in 1984, was the very first single barrel bourbon in the country. Most distillers blend bourbons from different barrels in order to achieve a uniform & reliable whiskey. Blanton’s bourbon is not blended; instead, individual barrels are constantly monitored so that each one can be bottled at the peak of perfection. Because every barrel ages a little bit differently, each bottle of Blanton’s is unique. Blanton’s is not cheap, but it is an exceptional bourbon and worth every penny. If you are on a budget, a great option is Russell’s Reserve. Russell’s Reserve is a 10 year old bourbon distilled by Wild Turkey’s master distiller, Jimmy Russell. It isn’t nearly as rich or full-bodied as Blanton’s but, for the price, it is a surprisingly good sipping bourbon. And because it is relatively inexpensive, you won’t feel bad using it for cocktails. Russell’s has become the go to bourbon in our household. Splurging on a high-end bourbon might not always be possible, but having a bottle Russell’s on hand is a solid alternative.

Scotch: While perusing the scotch offerings at Dinette recently, Robert noticed a scotch that he was unfamiliar with: McCarthy’s by Oregon’s Clear Creek Distillery. Scotch…from Oregon? That’s heresy! OK, so it isn’t really a scotch—no whiskey outside of Scotland is allowed to be called scotch—but it is a single malt made from peat-malted Scottish barley and it does claim to be made in the Islay tradition. That sounds pretty darn close to scotch to me. We couldn’t resist trying it and boy are we glad we did! It was buttery and caramely and incredibly smooth. And like a good Islay scotch, it was heavy on the peat. I couldn’t stop smelling the glass long after the last drop was gone. I picked up a bottle at my local liquor store the very next day. I was prepared to hang my head in shame at the idea of buying this “scotch” from Oregon, but the gentleman behind the counter couldn’t say enough nice things about it. Neither can I. I love to rip on all things Oregon, but they got this one right! Pick up a bottle of McCarthy’s as a surprise for your scotch-loving friends.

Rye: After prohibition, rye whiskey fell out of favor and almost disappeared entirely. It has been experiencing a bit of a revival lately, and new brands of rye are cropping up across the country. It can still be hard to find a good bottle of rye in Washington State so we were surprised to see at least five or six different options on the menu at our neighborhood bar, Liberty. Our bartender had us sample several including Whistlepig Straight Rye, Pappy Van Winkle Rye and High West Rendezvous Rye from Utah State. The High West was our favorite hands down. Utah may not be known for its alcohol, but this rye was lovely—sweet and smooth with a perfect amount of that spicy, dry character rye is known for. This well-balanced whiskey is a great choice for anyone who is new to rye. If you want to try a more rugged rye, I suggest Hudson Manhattan Rye by Tuthilltown Spirits in New York State. This was the first rye whiskey to be made in New York since prohibition. It is strikingly different from anything I’ve had before. Unlike most whiskeys which tend to be sweet up front with slowly emerging bitter flavors, the Hudson Rye hits you with a bitterness right away and then finishes sweeter (though not too sweet…this is rye after all). Hudson Rye’s bold taste might not be for everyone. I’ve enjoyed sipping it neat, but I’m really looking forward to mixing it with some Carpano Antica and one of my homemade maraschino cherries for a truly deluxe Manhattan. In less than a year, I’ve gone from hating the sweetest of bourbons to being able to enjoy an assertive rye whiskey. A new world of rich and delicious drinking has been opened up to me, and I am loving it!

I’m always on the lookout for festive, colorful cocktails this time of year. Unfortunately, such cocktails are usually laden with sugary syrups and fruit juices and are inevitably too sweet for my tastes. Last month, my friend Jen hosted a fabulous cocktail party. As soon as I arrived, she was urging me to sample some of her beet-infused vodka. I’ll admit that I was initially shocked. I’ve heard of vodka being infused with all kinds of different things: vanilla, citrus, blueberries, even exotics like kaffir lime leaves, but never beets (in hindsight, I probably should have seen this coming—people are putting beets into everything these days!)

Almost immediately, I began warming up to the idea. I’m not much of a vodka drinker, but this combination sounded unusual and I could picture myself becoming a convert. Jen whipped up a drink for me using a hefty pour of beet vodka, fresh lemon and lime juice, simple syrup and a splash of raspberry liqueur. It was seriously beety…and absolutely delicious! The sweet raspberry flavor was perfectly offset by the earthiness of the beets. It tasted great and seemed almost healthy. Beets and citrus are supposed to be good for your liver so it makes perfect sense to mix them with alcohol. I started referring to this drink as “The Detox”!

The next morning, my eyes drifted up toward a bottle of vodka that had been gathering dust on top of my fridge for, oh, the last five years or so. It was time to put it to good use. I headed down to the farmers’ market to pick up some fresh red beets for my own beet-infused vodka. Making beet vodka couldn’t be easier. Simply add three or four peeled and quartered beets to a jar, fill with vodka and let sit for three days, stirring occasionally. Strain out the beets and you’re done! Easy and entertaining too. It’s fun to watch the vodka go from a lovely fuchsia color to a deep, rich red. You can pour the vodka into a nice bottle if you wish although it looks quite striking in the the jar—like something you might find in a mad scientist’s kitchen or a biology lab.

Now that my beet-infused vodka was ready, it was time for some experimentation. First up, a beety Manhattan for Robert. For this, I simply replaced the vermouth in my Manhattan recipe with beet vodka. This makes for a pretty serious drink: dry, spicy and earthy with none of the sweetness that vermouth normally provides. Robert likes hearty drinks so he enjoyed it. For myself, I went in a completely different direction. I placed a small rosemary sprig and a few slices of fresh ginger into a cocktail shaker along with beet vodka, lime juice and a touch of simple syrup. I shook it up, strained it into a chilled martini glass and garnished with a rosemary sprig. To intensify the aroma of the rosemary, I quickly ran a lit match along its needles before dropping it in the glass. This isn’t necessary, but it’s a nice touch. The piney fragrance of the rosemary and the heat and spice from the ginger complemented the earthy beets well. With its beautiful ruby red color and enticing pine scent, my beet-rosemary cocktail proved to be a perfect choice for this holiday season!

Robert and I just returned from another wonderful trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico. We had some outstanding fall weather while we were there—sunny and warm nearly every day. The wonderful October days were perfect for zipping around town in Robert’s mom’s beautifully restored 1972 VW Bug. We took advantage of the nice weather by taking a side trip to see the ancient cliff dwellings at Bandelier National Monument. They are awe-inspiring, and I highly recommend a visit if you are ever in the area. As usual, there was plenty of delicious food to be had in Santa Fe. One night in particular stands out with dinner at The Shed followed by cocktails at the Secreto Bar & Loggia.

Nestled among downtown Santa Fe’s historic buildings, The Shed has been open since 1953. This Santa Fe landmark is well-regarded by locals and visitors alike. Despite its reputation for excellence, The Shed is not at all fancy—just as fleece wouldn’t be out of place in most Seattle restaurants, blue jeans and boots are the requisite attire when dining at The Shed. It is an utterly charming restaurant. The vibrant, hand-painted wooden sign at the entryway and a series of small, quiet rooms connected by extremely low doorways gives the place a funky, casual vibe (just be sure to watch your head!)

The Shed’s menu consists of New Mexico standbys such as tacos, burritos and blue corn enchiladas. Of course, since this is New Mexico, you can order anything on the menu red, green or “Christmas-style” (for the uninitiated, that means with red chili, green chili or a little of each). Since I can’t go to The Shed on any old weekend, I was happy to see that they offer combo plates which allow you to sample several different items. I ordered one red enchilada (The Shed’s specialty) and one turkey sausage taco smothered in green chili. I am not lying when I say that this was the best enchilada I have ever had! Most enchiladas are made with a milder, tomato-y red sauce but The Shed’s red is all about the chili—smoky and spicy and perfect! The green was amazing too, and my taco was literally drowning in it. I would have licked my plate clean. Fortunately, The Shed provides each table with garlic bread for sopping up the chili—it may not be traditional, but you certainly don’t want any of that delicious chili to go to waste.

After dinner, we headed across the plaza to the Secreto Bar & Loggia at the St. Francis Hotel. There, we met up with Robert’s friend Natalie of The Liquid Muse. Natalie is a cocktail authority so we trusted that she had directed us to the hippest sipping spot in Santa Fe. As expected, we were in good hands with expert mixologist Chris Milligan behind the bar. Serious mixologists are popping up all over Seattle these days, but I did not anticipate finding one in Santa Fe! We grabbed a couple of seats at the bar and chatted with Chris about our favorite liquors and flavors. He worked his mixologist magic and produced a series of amazing cocktails suited exactly to my tastes.

I started off with a cocktail based on rum and house-made falernum. Falernum is a spiced rum made with any number of ingredients but most commonly with almond, vanilla, allspice, clove and lime. Quality falernum isn’t readily available in stores so many bartenders make their own. It lends a spicy, sweet flavor to drinks and the cocktail Chris made for me was no exception. It was a perfect drink for sipping by the fire on a chilly evening—a little reminder that the holidays are not far off.

As intrigued as I was by the house-made falernum, it doesn’t compare to my level of curiosity upon spying a bottle labeled “choke shrub.” Robert’s mom makes choke cherry jam every year so I knew that choke cherries were a popular fruit in New Mexico. But what on earth is a shrub? Well, it turns out that a shrub is a tart and sweet vinegar-based syrup made most often using fresh berries. Noting my interest, Chris whipped up another cocktail for me using anejo tequila, choke shrub, mole bitters and fresh sage leaves. It sounds odd, but it was really delicious. Fittingly, it tasted like the desert! This drink is actually going to be featured in an upcoming edition of New Mexico Magazine as part of their holiday drinks special. How exciting, getting a sneak peek at a new cocktail! If you ever find yourself in Santa Fe and love creative, well-prepared cocktails as much as I do, be sure to visit Chris at the Secreto. As we stumbled out into the cold autumn night, with the smell of piñon in the air all around us and a stomach full of spicy chili and amazing cocktails, I couldn’t imagine being any happier.

I realized the other day that I had somehow managed to get through my adult years having never tried one of the most classic of all drinks: The Manhattan. As a cocktail enthusiast, this was an embarrassing oversight. The truth is, I’ve never much cared for whiskey and its variants; not in mixed drinks and certainly not straight (tequila is my liquor of choice followed closely by gin and rum). I strive to be well-rounded so I recently started to sample more whiskey-based drinks. It didn’t take long for me to officially become a whiskey convert! I’ve been making whiskey drinks at home the last few weekends. My timing seems off. Summer evenings are meant for refreshing Gin & Tonics and Margaritas, not wintry Maple Leafs and Tipperarys. I decided it was high time to try a Manhattan, a perfect drink anytime of year.

The Manhattan is a simple as it gets: whiskey, sweet vermouth, bitters and a cherry garnish. As is the case with most classic drinks, variations abound. A Dry Manhattan uses dry vermouth instead of sweet vermouth whereas a Perfect Manhattan uses a combination of the two. Manhattans can be made using rye whiskey, blended whiskey, bourbon, etc. In place of the traditional Angostura bitters, bartenders may change things up by using orange bitters or Peychaud’s bitters. Oftentimes, bartenders will come up with their very own signature Manhattan. For my first time, I decided to stick with a Classic Manhattan using rye whiskey and sweet vermouth.

Prior to Prohibition, rye was the dominant whiskey in America. By the time Prohibition was repealed, people no longer had a taste for rye and it nearly disappeared completely. Although it can still be difficult to find, rye has been experiencing a small revival of late. Bartenders are rediscovering it for its fantastic mixability. Rye is spicier and drier than other whiskeys making it an ideal choice for mixed drinks. I realized that many of the cocktail recipes that I was anxious to try called for rye. So, I finally picked up a bottle of Old Overholt which is generally regarded as a reliable brand (and, incidentally, one of the few that survived Prohibition).

Sweet vermouth is another recent addition to my liquor cabinet. Robert bought me a bottle of Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth for my birthday and now I can’t imagine life without it. It reminds me a little bit of port but with a subtle herbal undertone. In fact, if you don’t have any sweet vermouth lying around, you can make yet another variation on the Manhattan: the Ruby Manhattan which uses port in place of the vermouth.

I had my rye, I had my sweet vermouth, and I dusted off my old bottle of Angostura bitters. Now, all I needed were the cherries. I don’t garnish every cocktail I make at home. I understand that the garnish sometimes makes the drink, but I usually can’t justify paying $1 for a lemon just for one or two twists. This time, I decided to go all out by garnishing not just with a cherry but with my very own homemade maraschino cherries! Let’s be honest – store bought maraschino cherries are pretty frightening with their fake fluorescent red color and sickly sweet taste. Homemade cherries were sure to be better. Some people macerate cherries in brandy with spices, but I decided to go a more traditional route by using maraschino liqueur. Maraschino liqueur, which hails from Croatia, is sweet with a rich cherry and almond flavor. I gently heated up the liqueur and then added some cherries that I had picked up that day at the farmer’s market. I sealed it all up in a jar, put in the fridge and two weeks later – voilà – homemade maraschino cherries!

I was finally ready to make my first Manhattan. The Manhattan is one of the easiest drinks to put together. I love that you don’t have to squeeze any citrus or sugar any glasses. You don’t even have to shake it! Simply put all of the ingredients in a mixing glass with ice, stir, strain into a cocktail glass and top off with a cherry. Ready in mere seconds, the Manhattan is a lovely cocktail. The rye adds a nice spiciness while the vermouth adds sweet and earthy notes. My maraschino cherries were quite rich and sweet. After sitting in a Manhattan soaking up even more booze, these cherries packed a punch and were like a little decadent dessert at the end of your drink. I think they would be delicious over ice cream. I enjoyed the classic Manhattan so much that I also tried a Perfect Manhattan using both sweet and dry vermouth. Next time, perhaps I’ll try coming up with my very own signature Manhattan.

After enjoying so many delicious dishes at Leaky Palapa in Xcalak, I was relaxed and in the mood for something mellow to sip on. Owner Linda must have been reading my mind because a moment later she delivered a sample of Agavero to our table. It was a perfect liqueur for the occasion: sweet, smooth and bursting with flavors of tequila and caramel. I wasn’t ready to jump through all the hoops required to bring a souvenir bottle home. Luckily, Agavero is more readily available than I expected, and I was able to pick some up at my local liquor store. Agavero is a blend of reposado and añejo tequilas mixed with essence of Damiana flower. Damiana is indigenous to Jalisco, the same region where tequila is made. Mexican folklore claims that Damiana was used in the original margarita. Damiana has a reputation as an aphrodisiac, and the makers of Agavero really play this up in their marketing. If you can look past the cheesy references to love and romance on the packaging, you might enjoy this sipping liqueur. Agavero has more bite than other liqueurs, and the tequila flavor is quite pronounced. It would be foolish to think of this as tequila however. It is very sweet and would never be mistaken for anything other than a liqueur. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth so I can’t picture myself drinking Agavero straight very often. It does make one fine margarita though. I simply replaced the triple sec in my standard margarita recipe with Agavero. The resulting margarita had a subtle floral aroma and a richer tequila flavor. I’m sure there are countless other cocktails that could benefit from a splash of Agavero. I went to Mexico expecting to try lots of different tequilas; I did not expect to discover a delicious tequila liqueur!

I’ve always enjoyed the Olympics. This year’s games are even more exciting because they are being held just up the road from me in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia! To celebrate opening ceremonies, I wanted to make a special cocktail appropriate for the occasion. What could I make? A quick internet search revealed a whole slew of ideas. Bars across Canada have been whipping up Olympics-themed cocktails right and left in honor of the games. Though inspiring, the majority of these drinks just weren’t practical for me to make at home. Most required tricky preparations or obscure Canadian ingredients. I’m too chicken to light a drink on fire in imitation of the Olympic torch, and I’m pretty sure I don’t have any smoked buffalo-infused vodka in my liquor cabinet.

Instead, I decided to keep it simple with a Maple Leaf Cocktail. A variant of the classic whiskey sour, the Maple Leaf blends bourbon, lemon juice and maple syrup (Canadian maple syrup, of course). Since it was a special occasion, I used Booker’s bourbon. Despite being a jaw-dropping 126.9 proof, Bookers is incredibly smooth. It’s great on its own and makes for one mighty nice Maple Leaf Cocktail. The maple syrup plays off the bourbon really well in this drink, and there is just enough lemon juice to brighten things up. The Maple Leaf Cocktail isn’t a Canadian drink per se, but sipping one while watching the mounted police carry the Canadian flag into BC Place, it seemed like the perfect choice!

Maple Leaf Cocktail

1 1/2 ounces bourbon
1/2 ounce pure maple syrup
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice

Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Makes one drink.

After my success on the first night, I was on the hunt for something to make in celebration of the first full day of competition. When I stumbled across a drink called The Canadian Cocktail, it was settled. Once again, it was so simple and seemed to fall right in line with my cocktail preferences. The Canadian Cocktail features Canadian whiskey mixed with Triple Sec, simple syrup and bitters. It was a bit sweeter than I like but was still very tasty. I used Pendleton whiskey which is fairly sweet on its own; knowing that, I could have dialed back on the simple syrup. Next time, I will try it with less simple syrup and a high quality orange liqueur such as Cointreau.

Canadian Cocktail

1 1/2 ounces Canadian whiskey
1 1/2 teaspoons Triple Sec (or other orange liqueur)
1 dash bitters
1 teaspoon simple syrup

Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Makes one drink.

I was looking for a way to ring in Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Olympics; what I found were two simple, tasty cocktails that can be enjoyed anytime. Next up, London 2012 (gin and tonic with a scotch egg, perhaps)?

I recently went out to celebrate a friend’s birthday with dinner at Via Tribunali followed by drinks at Tavern Law. Tavern Law is the latest “speakeasy style” bar to open up on Capitol Hill. When I think of a speakeasy, I imagine someplace secret or at the very least subtle. Someplace dark and quiet you could pop into for a cocktail and go unnoticed. In many ways, Tavern Law has none of that: instead of mysterious and quiet, it is bustling, loud and completely accessible. It is a very open space with high ceilings, tall bookshelves lining the walls and an over-sized mahogany bar that curves around the entirety of the main room.

But, wait. What is this strange phone doing on the wall? Pick it up and, if you’re lucky, you might be buzzed into the secret and secluded upstairs bar! Follow a dimly lit wooden stairwell lined with vintage nude photos to find an intimate bar with small tables nestled about. Personalized service and hushed voices are the atmosphere here. The upstairs bar feels like a hidden oasis and makes the downstairs bar seem downright rowdy by comparison.

The cocktail menu at Tavern Law is extensive, with drinks divvied up between fizzes, cups, punches and more. There is a helpful glossary at the back of the menu in case you want to learn the histories of these various types of cocktails. Many of the drinks are classics (for these, the menu lists the dates and locations where the drink was made famous.) Most, however, are original cocktails inspired by the classics. Fresh ingredients and traditional (at times obscure) spirits are used liberally. Tavern Law also has a short food menu, consisting mostly of small bites designed to go perfectly with that hand-crafted cocktail.

I’m easily overwhelmed by lengthy cocktail menus so I decided to order the very first drink that caught my eye: Farewell Romeo. This cocktail features Tequila, Strega, lemon and orange juice. It is shaken with ice, strained into an attractive martini glass and topped off with a spoonful of red wine (in this case, a fruity Tempranillo.) It was a beautiful drink – golden in color with a thin layer of deep red at the top. I feared that the wine might clash with the other ingredients, but it actually provided a nice aftertaste. It was like a super-strong sangria. Delicious!

My second drink was equally tasty despite having a somewhat odd list of ingredients. The Red Rum Daisy consists of rum, muddled red bell pepper, lime, ginger and a splash of grenadine. This drink is sweet, sour, spicy, and vegetal all at once. It was spicy enough that I wondered if they might have thrown some cayenne in there, but the waitress informed me it was only red bell pepper and ginger. This certainly isn’t a drink for everyone, but it was a highlight for me.

So far, Tavern Law seems like a great addition to the neighborhood. Drinks are on the expensive side; quality ingredients and craftsmanship are never cheap. I especially appreciate that Tavern Law has a little something for everyone. If you like an approachable place with lots of people, great cocktails and a fun atmosphere, swing by the main bar. If you are like me, and prefer a quieter hideout in which to enjoy your hand-crafted drink, check out the “speakeasy” upstairs.

St. Germain – a French liqueur made from elderflowers – is undoubtedly the current darling of Seattle’s cocktail scene. Coinciding with the movement toward hand-crafted cocktails and speakeasy-themed lounges, this exotic French spirit is popping up on cocktail menus all around the city. Despite its popularity, St. Germain is available in limited quantities. Elderflowers have a short blossoming season and do not keep well once picked making mass production difficult. Each year, 40 or 50 farmers head out to the French Alps to pick the elderflowers used to make St. Germain. The flowers are carefully packed into sacks and carted to market on bicycles. Whatever the farmers are able to collect over a several day period is what will be used to make that year’s supply of St. Germain. St. Germain is produced using old-world techniques dating back to the 1880’s. Although it is a relatively new spirit, it’s now wonder why fans of retro cocktails are flocking to St. Germain. The traditional harvesting and distillation process, the beautiful chiseled bottle – everything about St. Germain just seems old (take a look at their website, and you’ll know what I’m talking about.)

My liquor store seems to be perpetually out of stock. After weeks of searching, I finally got my hands on a bottle of St. Germain. I was immediately entranced by its complex aroma: part grapefruit, passionfruit, pear, lychee, and, of course, flowers. The flavor is sweet though not nearly as sweet and cloying as some liqueurs. I wouldn’t drink it straight, but I could see myself adding a small amount of St. Germain to nearly any cocktail. It mixes amazingly well with most types of alcohol. Gin, rum, bourbon, tequila – you name it. It adds a light sweetness and just the right amount of that alluring aroma to any drink you put it in. Use it in place of simple syrup for an extra deluxe cocktail!

So far, I have made two different cocktails using St. Germain. First, I decided to try the signature drink: The St. Germain Cocktail. This super-easy recipe calls for 2 shots of champagne or dry white wine (preferably Sauvignon Blanc), 1½ shots St. Germain, and 2 shots sparkling water. You simply stir the ingredients together in a tall, ice-filled glass and add a lemon twist garnish. I used a dry Chilean Sauvignon Blanc. It was still a little sweet for me but proved to be very refreshing on a hot day. Robert described it as tasting like “the world’s most delicious sprite.” I thought it tasted like a Gewurtztraminer spritzer. I’d be curious to see how it is made with Champagne instead of Sauvignon Blanc.

For my second drink, I attempted to recreate the St. James Cooler Robert had at Knee-High several weeks ago. For this drink, I placed in an ice-filled cocktail shaker: 4 to 5 mint leaves, 1 shot of bourbon, ½ shot of St. Germain, 1 teaspoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice and a dash of angostura bitters. I shook it up and poured it into a short glass filled with ice. Then, I topped it off with 1 shot sparkling water and a fresh mint sprig garnish. This recipe required a bit more effort than the St. Germain Cocktail but was much more my style of drink. Robert and I spent a lazy Sunday afternoon reading our books and sipping on St. James Coolers. If that’s an indication of things to come, I’m looking forward to sampling my way through many more St. Germain-inspired cocktails over the remaining weeks of summer!

It was my birthday last Friday, and Robert and I celebrated with cocktails at Knee High Stocking Co. This secretive, speakeasy-themed bar has only been open for a few months but has already gained some pretty serious buzz. Knee High can be tricky to find – it is in an odd location and doesn’t have much in the way of a sign (the name is written in tiny lettering above the doorbell.) In true speakeasy style, you must ring the bell in order to be let in. This was somewhat intimidating for us, but our fears quickly subsided as Jack, the owner, greeted us warmly at the door and led us through the dark, intimate space to two lovely seats at the bar.

Upon entering Knee High, I was immediately struck with the impression that they are going for something different here. Dim lighting, a curtained entryway, chandeliers and candles and an ornate absinthe fountain all contribute to the elegant and seductive atmosphere. Greg, the bartender, was dressed up in a vest and tie – you certainly don’t see that every day in Seattle. House rules (discreetly listed on the back of the menu) are meant to keep the experience special for everyone: no cell phones, no hovering at the bar and – our personal favorite – to please use a quiet tone.

Interspersed throughout the cocktail and food menu are interesting tidbits on the history of various spirits (the current menu features background information on Pimm and Absinthe; look for a piece on Galliano on a future menu.) Not surprisingly, the cocktail specials are either classics from the prohibition era or new concoctions inspired by old-fashioned ingredients. As is the current trend, you won’t find much vodka on the list. Instead, the focus is on lesser known spirits such as Lillet Blanc, Liquore Strega and St. Germain. Knee High also makes a daily punch bowl (not to be confused with the kool-aid laden punches we all experienced as kids, true punch has a long history and is actually a precursor to the modern cocktail.)

Robert started off with the St. James Cooler, a refreshing blend of bourbon, St. Germain, soda, mint and lemon. I had the Hemingway Cocktail which features Bacardi rum, grapefruit juice, maraschino liqueur and lime. After discussing our likes and dislikes with Greg, we felt comfortable letting him choose our next drink for us. For Robert, he mixed up a variation on the Corpse Reviver Cocktail using gin, St. Germain, Lillet Blanc and lemon juice. Upon tasting samples of Liquore Strega, Campari and Cynar, I decided I wanted a drink based on Cynar if only because it is made from artichokes and I find that rather fascinating. Greg proceeded to make me a twist on the classic Negroni using gin, sweet vermouth and Cynar in place of Campari. Knowing that I enjoy citrus flavors, he swirled some orange bitters in the glass before filling it – a nice touch.

Our visit to Knee High Stocking Co. was one of the best bar experiences I’ve had in a long time. I’m convinced that Greg is the friendliest bartender in Seattle. We chatted with him the entire time, and I learned a lot about cocktails and spirits I’d never heard of before. Personal service, a cozy atmosphere, shockingly reasonable prices (cocktails start at $5) and an education – what more could one ask for? The only downside is that this place makes you want to keep drinking and never stop. Knee High – you made me one happy birthday girl!

Knee High Stocking Co. is located at 1356 E Olive Way (between Bellevue & Melrose) and is open every day, except Monday, starting at 6:00 PM.

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