When Life Hands You Lemons…


You shake those babies up!

The Lemon Drop martini is one of those wonderful sweet and sour bevvies that is perfect for a hot summer day. Even though we’re slipping into fall, I don’t think anyone will argue that a lemony libation is out of season.

The best Lemon Drop we’ve had in a restaurant was at Bogey’s at the Hotel DeFuniak–a quaint little B&B (they still used actual keys when we were last there) with a room that is supposedly haunted. (If I’d only known that when I made our reservation I’d have requested that one, instead!) Todd won the drink order*, that night, and I wrote down the menu description for later experimentation. Others have been ordered since then at various places but none have lived up.

Until now, though, the best Lemon Drop we’ve had at home came–I’m almost ashamed to say–from a mix. Almost ashamed but not quite, as the mix was truly exceptional: the Lavendar Lemonade Martini mix from ModMix. Fully organic and incredibly tasty, we mixed them with Vanilla Vodka and a good time was had by all.

Now, though, I want to branch out and create our own home version, not from a mix, and using the wonderful things we’ve learned since first encountering the Bogey’s Lemon Drop.

Lusty Lemon Drop

Research first, I was dismayed at recipes that merely called for Lemon Vodka and a little bit of sugar. 1 ingredient does not a cocktail make, my friends. And to those who claimed any orange liqueur would do, I submit that a Lemon Drop made with Triple Sec would be vastly inferior to one made with Cointreau. (I feel like I need a say-no-to-Triple Sec graphic every time I have to make this point.)

Actually, I was surprised at how many recipes I previews called for the dreaded Triple Sec–it’s the cheap and easy sister everyone expected so much of but who never lives up to her potential. At some point, you have to face facts that she’s just not interested in change.

Oh, wait, that’s a different kind of tart.

A Lemon Drop is very simple in essence: vodka, lemon juice, sugar. But I had a very specific set of ingredients in mind for our Lemon Drop. I knew we’d use Vanilla Vodka (again, our favorite of late is from 360 Vodka) and, in addition to fresh lemon juice, some of our homemade Limoncello for added smoothness.

But what else? The Lavender Lemon Drop had that nice little something extra, what would put this one over the top?

Then it hit me. When I was trying out the Green Angel cocktail for this week’s AGWA de Bolivia review, the basil mixed so well with the Limoncello, I wanted to try it again. And with the idea to combine lemon zest with the rimming sugar borrowed from Inspired Taste, we were all set to try it out. All that was left was to fiddle with proportions!

Lusty Lemon Drop

3-5 Basil Leaves, depending on the size
1 oz Limoncello
2 oz Vanilla Vodka
1/2 oz Lemon Juice
1/2 oz Simple Syrup
Sugar, Basil and Lemon zest for garnish

In the mixing glass of a Boston shaker, muddle the basil and Limoncello together just enough to break up the leaves a bit but not so much that they’re torn to smithereens.  Add ice, the vanilla vodka, lemon juice and simple syrup and shake like you just can’t wait. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass rimmed with lemon-sugar and enjoy.

Dipping a moistened basil leaf into the lemon sugar makes a great additional garnish.

Basil, in herbal lore, corresponds to love and passion, hence the name.

The homemade sour mix (equal parts lemon juice and simple syrup) tones down the somewhat cloying–but in the best possible sense of the word–nature of the Limoncello and Vanilla Vodka. And the basil? Oh, man, the basil adds a sweet scent and a touch of something to the flavor that, if you didn’t know it was basil you wouldn’t know what it was but you’d know you like it. I suppose this cocktail is a bit like art, in that respect. Either way you slice it, this is a passionate drink, one you’d want to drown in… except for the fact that if you were to depart this mortal coil you wouldn’t be able to make and enjoy another one!

*We have an unofficial contest every time we go out where we sample each other’s drinks and, sometimes, when one clearly surpasses the other, that person wins.

It’s Very Easy in the Keys


Key Lime Pie MartiniA couple years ago, at my now-sister-in-law’s graduation dinner and engagement, I ordered a delightful cocktail: the Key Lime Pie. It was dessert in a glass.

And ever since then I’ve wanted to recreate it.

This is a prime opportunity, don’t you think?

Key Lime Pie martinis are quite common and I easily found 7 recipes within half a page of Google results. There was a unanimous agreement that vanilla vodka is the perfect base for this cocktail (and who am I to argue in the face of vanilla vodka?) but from there the ingredients diverged quite a bit. Some added pineapple juice to the line, some used juice while others used lime liqueur. One added a splash of Frangelico while others added Cointreau. And one? One included triple sec. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time you know I wouldn’t even bother with a recipe that included triple sec, these days.

But of the recipes I found that I did try, something was missing. They just weren’t pie-y enough. Frankly, it all came down to one ingredient common in the pie but not in these recipes. Most of them used heavy cream, some used half and half. And my past experience combining dairy and alcohol were not pretty, those these held up better than expected. Still, even with the addition of sugar syrup or other liqueurs, regular cream wasn’t cutting it.

Ultimate Key Lime Pie Martini

2 oz Vanilla Vodka
2 oz Sweetened Condensed Milk
1 1/2 oz Ke Ke Beach Key Lime Cream Liqueur
1/2 oz Lime Juice
Crushed Graham Crackers for rimming

Combine the vodka, condensed milk, key lime liqueur and juice over ice and shake to the rhythm of a steel drum band on speed. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass rimmed with crushed graham crackers. Drink and chill. Or chill and drink, your choice.

I ended up trying out 3 of the found recipes and 2 of my own. That was a lot of alcohol to be tested, folks. But hey, somebody’s got to do it! And we do enjoy our work here at Sips & Shots.

The sweetened condensed milk was, as I suspected it would be, the key to a smooth, scrumptious cocktail that echoed the original dessert so much better than the thinner cream. (And when did you ever think you’d be hearing someone call heavy cream too thin?!)

The only downside to this cocktail is the color. Because of the Ke Ke Beach it has a greenish tint. And a good key lime pie will never be green. Seriously, you should run from it if it’s green. But because the Ke Ke Beach does such a good job of getting the key lime flavor across, we’ll forgive it the green tinge just this once.

What dessert would you like to see in cocktail form?

Arabian Nights


Juniper Genie Cocktail

The metamorphosis of this week’s cocktail was a bit of a long and winding road. A road, in point of fact, that begins France or thereabouts* and ends somewhere in or near Morocco. Neither place I’ve been but both I’d like to visit one of these days.

At any rate, it started back when I was, oh, 10 or 11 years old and a family friend was being cute(?) and singing the song Jennifer, Juniper and saying that my name (Jennifer) meant Juniper. Now, being the precocious child I was I had already looked up the meaning of my name in the massive Encyclopedic Dictionary we had at home and knew full well that Jennifer is a modernization of Guinevere and had absolutely nothing to do with junipers. And told them so. Snootily.

Despite the misleading connection in the song, it did make me think of Gin–one of our two base spirit options for this series–which only left me figuring out what to add. I went through several j-possibilties and eventually devolved into j-sounding ingredients and ginger was the winner.

Now, at first I was going to be cute and spell it Jin and Jinger but I needed something else. Namely, another ingredient, another flavor. And looking around my bar shelves I found rosewater and that was all it took. Suddenly my mind was filled with the scent of chai, we needed spice and we needed it now!

Juniper Genie

1 1/2 oz Gin
1/4 oz Rosewater
1/4 oz Grated Ginger
a generous pinch of Cardamom
1 oz Ginger Ale
Crystallized Ginger for garnish

Combine gin, rosewater, ginger and cardamom over ice and give it a good shake to wake up the genie inside. Double-strain (to get out all the ginger bits) into a chilled cocktail glass, top with the ginger ale and garnish with a piece of crystallized ginger.

The flavors of the drink are well-layered, each one asserting itself as you continue to sip. First comes the rosewater–the scent is very strong and dominant, followed by the warm, sweetish flavor of the cardamom. Under that, the bite of the ginger starts to assert itself and, subtly at the bottom is the herbal taste of the gin. It’s what I imagine a small spice market would taste like.

Usually I’d infuse the alcohol with the spice but this time it really wasn’t necessary. Cardamom is so expensive that a suitable quantity for infusion would have been risky and the dried spice shaken in was plenty to get the point across. If you’ve never had cardamom that you know of, it reminds me of Apple Jacks cereal.

*Further research shows that the singer, Donovan, was actually Scottish and became famous as an English folk singer but the last verse of the song in question is in French, hence my misunderstanding.

Have I Got a Dill For You!


As promised, this week in Alphatinis is a savory sipper perfect for hot summer days.


Pickled Puppy Martini

Pickled Puppy

I knew, when I (loosely) planned out this series, that D would have something to do with dill. A dill cocktail practically cries out for gin–it all but hops over and into the bottle just to be closer to the already herbalicious spirit. So a dill-infused gin it would be but then! Then I remembered this really nice cucumber-mint mojito with cucumber-infused gin I had once at Bonefish (whose cocktail menu I’ve found lacking in the past) so I decided to throw cucumber into the mix.

Infusing liquor is a fairly simple process: put your fruits or veggies or herbs* into a seal-able glass container, cover with base alcohol of choice and let sit until ready. It does, however, take time. I’m glad I started the infusion 5 days before it was time to try out the cocktail. In about 2 days the dill had made it’s mark but it took the other 3 for the cucumbers to really join the party and mellow the whole mix out. (For the curious I used half a cucumber, sliced, and one very fluffy sprig of dill to about 8 oz of dry gin.)

But what would I pair this very interesting gin with? I didn’t want to go too sweet, obviously, but I didn’t want it to be like drinking pickle juice, either!

Thinking about the gin drinks I enjoy–gin & tonic, gin & cranberry, gin & grapefruit–oh, wait, a twist on a Greyhound might be just the thing. And I happened to have a bottle of Pamplemousse rose Perrier on the shelf as well as pink grapefruit juice. Sold!

Pickled Puppy

2 oz Cucumber-Dill Gin
1 1/4 oz Pink Grapefruit-flavored Sparkling Water
splash of Pink Grapefruit Juice
garnish: cucumber, dill

Combine gin, water and juice over ice in a mixing glass and stir like a dog chasing his tail. Once thoroughly chilled, strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish.

I used a long strip of fresh cucumber threaded with dill and a bamboo skewer as a garnish but you could also use some of the cucumber rounds from the infusion. Keep in mind, though, that those cucumbers will be super-potent.

This cocktail turned out so well, my take on the more traditional Greyhound, that I’m keeping the infused gin on hand to make more this weekend–it’s a fabulous, low-impact summer cooler.


*Yes, I know you can infuse with proteins, too, but I just don’t see the point. Fat-washing doesn’t really appeal to me.

No clue, yet, what our e-themed cocktail will be. Guess we’ll all be surprised next week!

Beware the Hag With the Poisoned Apple


Welcome to the first of our new Alphatini series where we take a look at 26 varieties of the classic martini and come up with the best possible version of each, maybe even creating some new ones on the way.


A is for Apple

If we, in our gin-soaked haze, remember nothing else from those early learning years it’s that A is indeed for apple. That big, red, juicy fruit purported to keep the doctor away with one a day, win us extra points with the teacher and even find the first initial of our true love in it’s peel. Whether piled high in a pie, cooked down to sauce or juiced for convenience we’ve all had some sort of experience with apples in our life.

And while apples come in reds, greens, yellows and combinations thereof, exactly when did they become neon-hued and sour? While we may have become used to the chartreuse cocktail billed as an Appletini, it resembles an alcoholic candy more than what some believe the serpent tempted Eve with.

Let’s see if we can’t come up with something better, shall we?

Surveying the Orchard

Taking a quick stroll through bartending guides and web recipe repositories, the Appletini always seems to have a vodka base (sometimes a flavored vodka but often plain). The other main ingredient is apple schnapps–usually the sour sort like DeKuypers Apple Pucker. It’s not a bad ingredient, really, but I’d like to at least see a little apple juice in my apple martini (I know, shocking), not just booze. What I certainly don’t need is sour mix, citrus soda or cranberry juice mucking around my glass. They’re all find ingredients in their own right (well, except the sour mix–make your own!), just not what we really need here.

What could we add instead? Obvious would be apple juice or you could go even more direct with some apple puree. If you want to invoke the feel of a warm apple pie some vanilla and cinnamon would not go amiss (hello, vanilla vodka and maybe some cinnamon schnapps or syrup), even some condensed milk shaken in for that a la mode vibe. Or you could go a little classier with some Calvados (apple brandy) and a cinnamon stick for a cider-like cocktail.

In Search Of…

Caramel Apple Spice MartiniOnce, in a fairly decent chain restaurant, late one night after a holiday concert, I was intrigued enough to order a Caramel Apple Martini expecting something I wanted to just curl up in and take a nap. Instead what was brought to me was thin-tasting, bitter and gritty from the powdered cinnamon around the rim. The only thing it had in common with a real caramel apple was that it was sticky.

It’s so sad when a drink doesn’t live up to the menu’s hype.

Enter my solution: a dreamy, creamy caramel apple flavor with just a hint of spice. It’s definitely a dessert drink and even with less than 2 oz alcohol in there it’s pretty potent (the sugary ones always are). Sip it slowly and savor it.

Caramel Apple Spice Martini

1 1/4 oz Vanilla Vodka
1 1/4 oz Apple Juice
1/2 oz Caramel Sauce
1/4 oz Cinnamon Schnapps
Garnish: cinnamon-demerara sugar, apple slice, cinnamon stick

Combine the vodka, juice, caramel sauce and schnapps in a cocktail shaker over ice. Give it a good, long shake to toss the caramel sauce around and strain into a chilled cocktail glass rimmed with cinnamon-demerara sugar. Garnish with a slice of apple and a cinnamon stick.

The “secret” is to use a caramel sauce and not a syrup–the syrup will give a thinner mouth-feel and can have a very chemical edge to it. And yes, I mean sauce like you’d use for ice cream topping. When you mix the cinnamon sugar, go easy on the cinnamon–it really doesn’t take more than a sprinkle in a quarter cup of sugar (I prefer demerara for the natural color and large crystals) to get the point across without any grittiness.

For an extra treat, try sipping the drink through the cinnamon stick!