With only three ingredients to wrangle, anyone can make a great cocktail.

Space Dog: A New Frontier for Books and Booze

I fell in love with space as a kid.  Star Trek.  Star Wars. Cosmos. I went to college dreaming of becoming an aerospace engineer, but that lasted a little over one semester after spending one too many Saturday nights programming my HP calculator instead of partying. I still enjoy reading sci-fi and fantasy, so in honor of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America Nebula Conference this weekend in Pittsburgh, I’m paying homage to my love of space. And dogs. Which oddly enough haven’t mixed much in sci-fi literature.

Luckily, I know one writer in Pittsburgh who is mixing her sci-fi writing with dogs and humor. I’ve had the pleasure of reading Catherine Vignolini‘s novel which features a lovable German shepherd Otto. I won’t go into any of the details about dogs and space because Vignolini has got that one covered in her blog (read it — it’s fascinating!).  But I created the Space Dog drink in recognition of all the high flying dogs, real and fictional.

I started with the Space cocktail which combined gin, Frangelico and lemon juice. Space is weird, and that combination of booze struck me as weird too. So I dialed down the hazelnut and amped up the gin and then turned to the variations of the “dog” drinks — for example, the gray hound and the chihuahua (grapefruit juice and vodka or tequila, respectively).  The mashup resulted in the surprisingly palatable Space Dog, shown in my feature image with my own pup, Nelson (named after a famous naval admiral, not any space explorer):

 

Space Dog

2 ounces gin

1 ounce Frangelico liqueur (hazelnut liqueur)

1 ounce grapefruit juice

Shake with ice and strain into a class with ice. Garnish with a grapefruit peel.

Cheers! And, woof!

Mothers’ Day Cocktails Made Easy With Lemonade

My 30-somthing and 40-something mommy friends always appreciate a refreshing and easy cocktail at the end of a harried day full of work, volunteer activities, and carpooling (let’s not forget laundry on domestic goddess day, either). One of the easiest quaffs my friends often turn to is a vodka lemonade. Two ingredients, ice, tall glass. Done. I’m not one to judge. You like it; you drink it. So I thought I’d do some riffs on this mommy-approved drink for Mothers’ Day.

Spring Thyme Lemonade

3 strawberries

2 sprigs of fresh thyme

2 ounces vodka

2 ounces lemonade

2 ounces sparkling wine

Muddle 2 strawberries with one sprig of thyme in a cocktail shaker. Add in vodka and lemonade and mix. Strain into a tall glass filled with ice. Top with sparkling wine. Garnish with remaining thyme and sliced berries. Sip in your jammies reading the paper or doing the crossword.

Show Me The Sun Lemonade

2 ounces coconut rum

4 ounces lemonade

1/2 lime squeezed

Mix all ingredients and pour over crushed ice in a goblet. Garnish with a lime wheel. Sit by the baby pool.

Orange You Glad Lemonade

2 ounces bourbon

1/2 ounce Aperol

1 1/2 ounces lemonade

3-4 leaves of mint

Bruise mint by slapping it in your palm. Mix bourbon, Aperol and lemonade with the bruised mint. Strain into a glass with ice (I like the big cubes for this drink). Garnish with fresh mint and a lemon wheel. Enjoy on the patio by the firepit.

 

DIY Bourbon Tasting Party

I have my bourbon drinking friends, and the rest of my friends. So, recently, I hosted a happy hour for mostly the “rest of my friends” and served nothing but bourbon. Neat. Luckily, they were an adventurous group, but many vehemently disclaimed upon entering the soiree, “I don’t drink bourbon.”  What got everyone tasting and many converting to bourbon lovers was the structure of the event as a blind tasting competition with prizes. The over achievers bit like carp on a dough ball.

I selected 3 bourbons, each of which represented one of the common types of bourbon, and all in about the $25-30 range:  (1) rye heavy mash bill (Bulleit); (2) wheat heavy mash bill (Larceny); and (3) traditional mash bill (Knob Creek).  The mash bill is the combination of grains used to produce bourbon. To be bourbon, there must be at least 51% corn, but what makes up the remaining 49% of the grains is up to the distiller. Typically, there is a combination of rye, wheat and barley. And of course, corn can be in the remaining part, too.

For the tasting, I covered the bottles in paper bags and numbered them. Then I passed out tasting cards which allowed guests to note their impressions of the bourbons. I gave some hints as to what each type of bourbon would taste like. Wheated bourbons are typically smoother and sweeter. Rye heavy bourbons are all about the bite and the spice. And traditional are somewhere in between. That is a gross generalization that will make the experts on bourbon jump up and down and scream, but I was dealing with novices, okay? I also gave everyone a taste of a straight rye to compare.

Out of 20 tasters, 3 accurately guessed the mash bills and 3 got none of them right. And I don’t recall anyone hating the experience. In fact, several people commented that it was their first time they enjoyed bourbon. The best part of the night was that people made new friends, talked about bourbon and more, and did it in a safe non-judgey environment.

Host your own tasting party. You can try different mash bills, or maybe the same bourbon, but different ages. Or try rums from different islands. Or different types of gin. Or compare bourbon to scotch to Irish whisky. But the bottom line is have fun.

 

Kentucky Derby Daily Double Drinks for Non-Julep Drinkers

The mint julep is the official drink of the Kentucky Derby. It’s a fine looking drink if made properly, the crushed ice frosting the silver cup. But, here’s the deal, I don’t like it. I’ll drink it, of course, especially on Derby Day. And I own a sweet set of julep cups. But it’s not one of those drinks I ever make just to quench my thirst.  Like I’ve said many times before, cocktails are too important to drink something you don’t like. I don’t care how famous the drink or the bartender, if you don’t like it, do not drink it. So, here are two drinks I have made for fun and do like to drink, and they have enough connection to the Derby to give you credibility.

p.s. For anyone who wonders what happens to the photo drinks….hello! I am THIRSTY Jane! Cheers.

The Oaks Lily

This is the official drink of the Kentucky Oaks, which is the race run the day before the Derby. If you are going to the Oaks, make sure you get yourself a fascinating fascinator! The Middleton sisters might have a few tips.

1 ounce vodka

1 ounce sweet and sour mix

splash triple sec

3 ounces cranberry juice

Mix and serve over ice in a stemless wine glass. Garnish with lemon and fresh berries.

 

The Brown Derby

Although nothing to do with the Derby race, the fact that it has the name “derby” is enough for this Thirsty Jane. And, it’s really good.

2 ounces bourbon

1 ounce grapefruit juice (please, I beg you, squeeze it fresh)

1/2 ounce honey

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon peel.

 

 

Simple Sips For Your Easter Buffet

I’m all about DIY, especially on busy days like holidays when you’re slaving in the kitchen getting the massive buffet ready. Make cocktailing easy on yourself and your guests by setting up a booze and juice bar this Easter. The combinations are endless, but I recommend picking two of the clear spirits, like vodka, gin, tequila, or rum, all of which mix nicely with juices. Then, spend a little extra time squeezing fresh juices, like grapefruit and orange.  Unfortunately pomegranante is out of season and I have no idea how to squeeze cranberries, so pick up nice versions of those.  Then cut up a few garnishes and let your guests channel their inner bartender. Some common combinations are:

Screwdriver: vodka + orange juice

Greyhound: vodka (or gin) + grapefruit juice

Salty Chihuahua: tequila + grapefruit juice

Cape Codder: vodka + cranberry juice

The bottom line is, have fun and empower your guests to experiment.

So, who’s making a lamb cake? I am!

A Salute to USNA ’89 Women

July 2, 1985, I stood in the humid Annapolis afternoon and raised my hand with 1374 others, of which 135 of us were women, and took the oath as a Midshipman at the United States Naval Academy. It’s not a fact many know, or that I share often outside of those uncomfortable and awkward getting to know you bingo games featuring personal trivia. (Which I always win because no one EVER associates US Naval Academy with me.)

I’m not embarrassed of my time at the Academy. I am proud. But when I left after a year and a half, and watched so many friends tough out their college years there and then serve honorably in the Navy or Marine Corp, my eighteen month stint seemed trivial. Plus, I had moved physically beyond the corridors of Bancroft Hall, the Academy’s massive dormitory which houses all 5,000 or so Midshipmen. And with the physical move, I also needed to embrace psychologically my life choices, thus forever identifying myself a Virginia Wahoo.

But, recently I have thought often about those eighteen months, which were without a doubt the most difficult of my life. This weekend, the women of the class of 1989 are gathering to celebrate our forthcoming significant birthdays — you do the math. Although I’m not attending the reunion, I have been included in all of the communications and feel welcomed to this event.

At the Naval Academy, once a Middie, always a part of the family. That is only one life-long lesson I learned at the Academy. I correctly decided that the Navy was not the best career path for me, but I experienced friendships and teamwork there which I’ve never seen replicated in the civilian world.  The sense of mission. The unwavering commitment to pull together as a unit. The ability to multi-task to the 89th degree. How to be crazy and zany and laugh because it is the only way you’ll get through the day. How to keep going when you don’t think you can. Finding out the answer when you don’t have a clue. Allowing yourself to be pulled along by a shipmate (for me that meant on any run), and then doing the same for him or her when you were the stronger. And the pervasive, unbelievable trust.

To all the women of the USNA class of 1989, I salute you!  GO NAVY!!

In your honor, here is a recipe for an ’89er Blue and Gold, a  concoction reminiscent of Navy grog (usually rum with some lime and maybe pineapple juice), but good enough for an 89’er Woman:

2 ounces Sailor Jerry rum

1 ounce pineapple juice

2 dashes grapefruit bitter

1/4 lime

1/2 ounce blue curacao

Mix rum, pineapple juice, bitters and juice of lime in shaker. Add ice and shake. Strain into cocktail glass. Using a funnel set into bottom of glass, add blue curacao. Enjoy the blue and gold, but stir gently to get the color of the sea before enjoying.

How To Brighten Your Copper Mule Mugs

Summer is still here which means simple and refreshing drinks headline cocktail hour. One of the most versatile summer coolers is any variation of the “Buck.” Most people are familiar with the vodka version, a Moscow Mule.

And this is exactly where I was last week. Experiencing the Northwest’s unusually hot summer, I longed for a refreshing break from unpacking after an arduous move. Box cutter in hand, I slashed through cardboard to locate the booze and my Moscow Mule mugs. But they looked so dingy. And depressing. So, instead of unpacking my office, I scurried down the block to the grocery store and picked up some ginger beer, limes and lemons.

My procrastination had a purpose. I halved a lemon, then dipped it liberally in margarita salt (because I didn’t have my box of Kosher salt handy — it was hiding in some other random moving carton). The salted lemon magically transformed into a copper polisher. There’s some chemistry involved, and maybe if I cared, I’d research it, but I don’t. I prefer to think of it as magic.

With very little effort, I spiffed up my mugs and with even less effort I crafted my favorite version of the Buck, the Burro which is made with tequila, ginger beer and lime. For idea and recipes, check out my blog from last summer.

Cheers! Keep the drinks flowing and the serving vessels sparkling this summer.

  • IMG_1483Cane Garden Bay, home to Callwood Distillery
  • IMG_1487Callwood Distilery
  • IMG_1488Yes, it's really old.
  • IMG_1489The Arundel Rums
  • IMG_1490Who can resist the Panty Dropper?
  • IMG_1491Ready to drink, any time of day.
  • IMG_1492The pipes used with the still.
  • IMG_1493Oak casks used for aging.
  • IMG_1494The oldest copper pot still in the Caribbean.
  • IMG_1495The Caribbean's oldest pot still!
  • IMG_1496Rum kitty.
  • IMG_1497I didn't go in.
  • IMG_1498Cane from their property ready to be cooked. The first step to making rum.
  • IMG_1504Melanie Callwood keeps the tourists in line.
  • IMG_1508Master distiller Matthew Callwood and master drinker Thirsty Jane.

Callwood Distillery Keeps Rum Flowing

Nestled in the corner of Cane Garden Bay in Tortola, BVI, a tiny limestone building houses the Caribbean’s oldest continuously operating pot still. The Callwood Distillery has made its way into tourist guidebooks, but visiting this unique place is unlike any other distillery tour.

Our taxi driver dropped us off and showed us where to walk to the beach afterward. The haphazardly painted sign on the small stone building announcing we were at Callwood Distillery gave me pause. No guard booths. No massive signs. No tour trams. No gift shops. And no one else was there, except for a friendly tabby cat.

We ventured inside to meet Melanie Callwood, daughter of the owner, who introduced us to the Arundel rums her family has made for the last two hundred years. Before the Callwoods bought the distillery, it had already been operating for two hundred years! For a few bucks, we bellied up to the bar and Melanie poured us a shot of each of their rums, the white rum, the golden rum, the 10-year aged rum, and yes, the “Panty Dropper.”

Unlike most Caribbean rums, the Callwoods distill their rum from pure cane juice, not molasses. A quick walk around the building revealed a stack of cane next in line for cooking. They use cane grown on their property and cook it in vats they’ve been using for centuries. The juice is then naturally fermented in oak barrels from 8 to 21 days. The fermented cane juice is then distilled in the copper still outside the building. The family distills with the help of several family members during the months of March through September. Unaged rum is stored initially in the hand-blown glass demijohns and cowboys and the aged rum is put away in the oak casks. On average, they produce 25 gallons a day for around 300,000 gallons of rum each year. All of their rum is distilled at 80 proof. The rum is sold on property and at stores only in the British Virgin Islands.

During our sampling, a tall young man whom we’d spied the night before at a local bar wandered in. Melanie introduced us to her brother, Matthew, the master distiller and heir to the Callwood distillery. Matthew shyly introduced himself as a master drinker. Hmmm…. my kind of guy. After checking in with his sister, Matthew headed out to work on the rum, but agreed to a few photos.

As for the rums, cane rum is definitely different than the typical mass-produced molasses rum we are used to. There’s much more flavor and a sweeter, smoother end. The unaged versions are intended for mixing and would do justice to a Cuba Libre or rum punch. We enjoyed the 10-year aged for sipping. A light amber color, the aged rum has a smooth caramel smell with notes of spices, like cinnamon and nutmeg. Over ice, it’s a refreshing treat, especially after dinner while on a sun-kissed beach. As for the “Panty Dropper,” that is a sweetened rum which allegedly appeals to the ladies, although not this Thirty Jane. Who can resist the risque label, though?! We took a bottle home for one of our favorite booze hound who was thoroughly impressed with our find.

My trip to Callwood Distillery was one of the highlights of my week long sail through the Virgin Islands. Melanie and Matthew were delightful and their family’s commitment to producing rum is admirable. Once Tortola boasted 27 distilleries with 7 located in Cane Garden Bay. Today, only Callwood remains, and rum drinkers and adventure seekers are grateful.

Find out more about Callwood Distillery at www.vicanrum.com and at their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/CallwoodRumDistillery.

Special thanks to the Captain and crew of Marauder Sailing Charters for suggesting a visit to Callwood.

 

 

Keeping It Simple for Summer: Insanely Easy Cocktails

The kids wave buh-bye to school. The mercury rises in the thermometer. Everything about this picture says “happy hour.” But no one wants to spend an hour getting a drink ready for happy hour. You’ve got to keep it simple for summer. Many of the drinks in my Three Ingredient Cocktail book will get you exactly where you need to be, but don’t be afraid to experiment, too.  Tonight, I used up the pineapple tequila taking up valuable bar space.  I mixed in a little triple sec and some lime juice for a pineapple marg. But the best part of the equation was that I turned said cocktail into an adult sno-cone. Refreshing and therapeutic.

Here’s why:

Making your own crushed ice for adult sno-cones is super easy. If you have a Lewis bag (just got one a few weeks ago), then you use that because the canvas keeps the melting ice from leaking all over your freshly wiped kitchen counter. But, if you are like me and you like to save your pennies for a new bottle of bourbon instead of blowing it on the latest gadget, then just use any clean kitchen town. Place a scoop of ice in between layers of the towel, or in the Lewis bag, and then hammer away with whatever. I use a rubber mallet from the garage shop area, but imagine that a can of creamed corn would work just as well. Fill your glass with the crushed ice, mounding up sno-cone style, then add you drink of choice.

Here are a couple of easy summer drink recipes shared by Thirsty Jane fans:

Hop, Skip and Go Naked

3 (12 fluid ounce) cans or bottles beer

3 (6 ounce) cans frozen lemonade concentrate

1 cup and 2 tablespoons vodka (aren’t those last 2 tablespoons of vodka just a precious addition?)

Mix all together and serve cold. Makes 12 Servings

Amy’s Libation

1 1/2 ounces Absolute Mandarin

Splash of Diet cranberry with lime juice

4 ounces Fresca

Build in a tall glass with a lot of ice.

Lawn Lounger

2 ounces Captain Morgan Parrot Bay Key Lime Rum

4 ounces Crystal Light Fruit Punch

Build in a tall glass with a lot of ice. (I had this once but used Bacardi 151. Mistake. Big mistake. Very big mistake.)

So, go out and make a drink, but keep it simple and when in doubt, just add crushed ice and dip your toes in a blow up baby pool.

 

Spring Cleaning: Keeping Your Bar Clutter-Free

Throughout the ages, the coming of spring has brought a frenzy of activities inside and outside the home. People throw open windows, let the fresh air circulate, and perform their annual spring-cleaning.  The ritual’s original remains unclear, but two traditions in the Middle-East and a more recent tradition explain why spring-cleaning exists. One ritual belongs to Iran where the new year falls on the first day of spring and people “shake the house,” meaning clean it from top to bottom to prepare for the new year. Another possibility is the Jewish tradition of cleaning before Passover, which falls in the spring. Because leavened bread may not be present in a household, families clean thoroughly, getting every speck of leavened bread out of the house.

The explanation that makes the most sense to this Midwesterner who impatiently waits the first warm day of spring is that prior to the invention of the vacuum an central heating systems, home shut all winter accumulated dirt and grime from wood and coal stoves. Sweeping and airing out the home was impractical given cold climates. When spring’s fresh and warm breathe hit, families would open doors and windows to sweep and air out stuffy and musty quarters. I agree that even with today’s conveniences, letting in the first gusts of warm air each spring breathes new life into me and my home.

Over the years, spring-cleaning has come to connote more than just thoroughly washing and uncluttering one’s home. Office workers might perform a spring-cleaning on their files to purge old and unnecessary information to make way for the new. And, cocktail aficionados might perform a spring-cleaning on their spirits collection to open shelf space for the newer more interesting liqueurs and rid themselves of that bottle of Irish creme liqueur that has hardened into sludgy goop.

Thankfully, I inherited genes that allow me to discard without distress. Whether it’s my closet, kids’ papers from school, cards, or that specialty bottle of mustard languishing in the back of the fridge, I use it or lose it. You might call me an anti-hoarder, even. But my liquor collection…I can’t throw away that perfectly good, but dusty, bottle of blue raspberry vodka waiting patiently in the back corner of the bottom shelf for a girls’ night out event. Is is perfectly good, though? Do I risk poisoning a guest or just making a bad cocktail if I use that 2-year old creme de menthe? No arguments allowed on whether creme de menthe ever makes a good cocktail, either! To each his own when it comes to cocktails!

After researching shelf-life of liquors and talking to a few industry experts, I think I need to call in my professional organizer friend for an intervention. Or, there’s going to one heck of a booze-fest at my house next week. The reality is that some, but not all liquors, last for a very long time. Even indefinitely, some would say. But, many of those specialty liquors I’ve accumulated for swanky cocktails need to go.

IMG_1423How old is too old? Because most distilleries do not includes an expiration date on their bottles, the percent of alcohol and the type of flavoring provides general guidance on shelf-life. First, most spirits, like vodka, rum, tequila, gin and whiskey, are at least 40 percent alcohol by volume, or 80 proof.  Recall that a spirit’s “proof” is always twice the percent of alcohol by volume. Although some deterioration and evaporation will occur over time, these can be kept indefinitely. If you are using something older than 5 years old, you might was to take a small sample first to ensure the deterioration in flavor isn’t too great.   High proof (80 and above) liqueurs should also theoretically last indefinitely, but again, take a taste of something more than a few years old.

The tricky choices, especially for booze-hoarders, like myself, are for those liqueurs between 60 and 80 proof. Examples of these are most of the orange liqueurs and some herbal ones. These should last about two years. Lower proof liqueurs (between 30 and 60 proof) often have significant sugar in them and tend to deteriorate quicker. Probably a year is a good time to let go of these. Chocolate, coconut, and fruity flavored liqueurs comprise much of this lower proof category. Creme liqueurs, such as Irish cream, typically last around 2 years, but check the label and website and these do vary widely. Finally, vermouth needs to be replaced often, about once every month! Essentially, vermouth is wine and it will go bad very quickly.

Ways you can lengthen the longevity of your alcohol include keeping it in a stable environment with a cool temperature and not exposed to unnecessary light. Also, always keep the original caps and tightly cap bottles after using them. For sweeter liqueurs, wipe the end of the bottle before sealing to prevent build-up of crystalized sugar. If you have a small amount left of a liqueur, consider transferring it to a smaller bottle to reduce the amount of oxygen available to the contents. Buy little bottles! Unless you have a Manhattan or a wet Martini every night, get the smallest bottle of vermouth. Above all, use common sense. A good friend with an amazing bar admitted that he doesn’t hold fast to the shelf-life guidelines, although he does agree with them. Use your discretion, but do not let the booze-hoarder made the decision.

How to keep track of it all? Put a small sticker on the top a bottle noting when to throw it out, that when you don’t have to recalculate the date every time you pick it up. And next time you think you need to do some spring-cleaning, don’t forget your bar!

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