Category Archives: Cocktails

Cocktail Hour: the Classic Gin and Tonic

Good ol’ G’n’T

Some SW readers (especially those with whom I am friends on Facebook) may have noticed that my Aunt Suzie often comments on cocktail posts with something like, “I still love a good ol’ G’n’T!” She’s absolutely right. At the end of a summer (or spring, or fall…) workday, I rarely want to fuss with a complicated cocktail, no matter how delicious the end result might be. In this instance, a little gin, a little tonic, and a little lime are all you need to achieve a perfectly balanced drink.

I do credit Suzie (not my biological aunt, but much closer to that distinction than most of my parents’ brothers and sisters) with introducing me to the gin and tonic, though probably too early for me to truly appreciate it. At the time, I preferred the champagne (doctored with a touch of Chambord) that was offered at the table. Before this introduction, I have never tasted quinine. It’s one of the those flavors (like Campari or Strega) that induces a “face;” a physical reaction to the flavor that shows up in the mouth, eyes, nose, and even ears. Usually, it resembles a wince. Given time and the appropriate amount of familiarity, one develops an affinity for these unusual flavors. They become desirable, and even quench some kind of unique thirst.

Now, having consumed more gin and tonics than I’d ever be able to recall, I associate them with many pleasant memories. Any and all interactions with my dearest friend Tim in London and stateside. Ridiculously youthful evenings at Club Cafe in Boston. Summer nights with Suzie in her beautiful, idyllic backyard in Pittsburgh. And, of course, ballroom dancing with Christine umpteen years ago, where we drank them for the very first time. We noted the bitter quinine and the fact that gin tastes like pine trees. How very young we were.

So, here’s to my fabulous Aunt Suzie, without whom the joys of the gin and tonic would’ve been kept from me for at least a few more years (until Tim came along). To her health, her happiness, and her indomitable spirit. Cheers!


Music, Music, Music

When I have company over for a gathering, I have a short list of “must-haves” (beyond the obvious good food and drink): a clean bathroom, fresh flowers, and an appropriate playlist. The first two items are self-explanatory, but the last one can be pretty nuanced, I think. For instance, I have two very talented friends that play in a band (River Rising). They come to my place every month or so for dinner and I always make a playlist for them that includes the bluesy bands that have influenced them and other music that I think they will enjoy. For a Dia de los Muertos dinner I held a few years back, I asked everyone beforehand to send me a few songs that pleasantly remind them of friends and family that have passed. There were a few tears shed, but for the most part, that gathering was a happy celebration of our loved ones.

Lately, I’ve been compiling a pretty universal playlist in Spotify called, “Dinner Party.” For me, this means one thing: jazz (mostly vocals). Something about the voices of Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, and Peggy Lee make me feel celebratory and slightly nostalgic, and that’s exactly the kind of mood I like for dinner or cocktails. I always add a few modern surprises (a thoughtful cover, a new orchestration of an old favorite), but for the most part, I stick to standards. I encourage you to check out this public playlist if you are a Spotify user (my username is fignatius), and I welcome suggestions for additions. This meant to be a living mix that will change over time, but certain tunes will always make the cut.

So, I ask: what’s your dinner party playlist?

Infuse Your Booze

Lemongrass, ginger, coriander

You may disagree, but I’m just gonna say that the flavored spirits coming to the market are moving from the acceptable to the dubious. I mean, when I start seeing gummyfish-flavored vodka, I think it is time to say, “whoa, there.” That said, there are a number of offerings that I really enjoy and I admit to buying them regularly (Absolut’s Wild Tea is definitely one of them). These products also inspire me to make my own infused spirits. Over the last couple of years, I’ve made some very successful potables (sour cherry vodka, jalapeno tequila, fig vodka for the Fig Cocktail) and some not-so-successful versions (peach-infused bourbon – not enough sweet, too boozy).

The best part about making infused spirits is that it is easy—and it doesn’t take very long to taste the results. In fact, when I make the jalapeno tequila, I only infuse the booze for about 15 minutes, which is just enough to give it a low-level, underlying kick. Similarly, cucumber vodka only takes about a day to develop a nice, fresh cucumber flavor.

My friends and I have a monthly brunch club and this month’s theme is Southeast Asian. Since we all bright something to the brunch, and since brunch usually means cocktails, I decided to come up with a new infused spirit to celebrate our gathering. Given that it’s summer, I thought some of the fresher and brighter flavors that come from that region would be appropriate; may I present lemongrass, ginger, coriander vodka:

Infused Vodka

My hope is that, after a few days, this will be delicious enough to drink just over ice mixed with club soda, but I am also cooking up a cocktail in my head; stay tuned for another post with the results of this experiment. In the meantime, celebrate the weekend! Get yourself a nice big jar, a big bottle of booze, and head out to the market for some inspiration! Bear in mind that the longer you infuse, the stronger the flavor will be, and that any spirit containing perishable food (fruit, citrus peel, etc) should be kept in the refrigerator when not in use.

PS – here’s a little tip from me about working with lemongrass; the sound’s not great, but you get the point.