Dreaming of Summer

Watermelon Crawl Martini

Watermelon Crawl Martini

Or, well, at least the foods of summer.

Especially watermelon.

It was all I could think of when I saw that this week’s Alphatini was to be w-inspired and, despite the unseasonableness of the craving it just would not be stopped!

Now, true, our summers aren’t exactly the most pleasant and, despite my cold-natured body I do prefer being able to start a fire or put on a sweater rather than sweltering (or running up the utility bill with constant a/c runnage). So I’ll happily settle for this light and fruity cocktail version of summer in a glass.

Watermelon Crawl

1 1/2 oz Watermelon Pucker
1 oz Vanilla Vodka
3/4 oz Apple Juice
garnish: salt and black sugar

Combine liqueur, vodka and juice over ice and shake it like a watermelon queen who just won her first crown. Strain into a cocktail glass that’s been rimmed with a mixture of sea salt and black-tinted sugar.

But wait, didn’t you once say

This Will Never Do...

Yes, yes I did. But as it’s not at all unusual, at least where I’m from, to put salt on slices of watermelon. So this time I’m making an exception and salting a martini rim. The black sugar (really a very dark green, as you’ll see if you get it wet) adds the look of watermelon seeds to the rim, which is a nice touch.

And if you’re not sure you’ll like the sweet and salty combo but want to keep the look of a rimmed cocktail, feel free to only rim one half of the glass.

The only other question I had as I designed and tested this cocktail, is whether the vanilla vodka would be too much. Well, watermelon pucker is pretty doggone strong and it stood up just fine to the vanilla vodka. But what was surprising is that I really liked the unflavored vodka version just as well. With regular vodka the watermelon is a bit brighter, while the vanilla blends everything together a bit more.

Either way you go, I don’t think you can go wrong with the Watermelon Crawl–unless you have too many, then it might just live up to its name!

Give Me 3 CCs–Stat!

3-C Martini

3-C Martini

Unlike a goodly portion of human adults, I don’t rely on a cup of coffee or three to start my day (part of it is that whole no-caffeine thing, of course). Sure, I indulge in the occasional Venti Decaf Soy Caramel Macchiatto when I manage to leave the house a little early but, for the most part, my coffee-flavored indulgences happen later in the day.

Much later.

A good after-dinner coffee drink–with plenty of cream, of course–can only be improved by one thing, in my mind: chocolate. So I offer up this take on the chocolate coffee martini.

3-C Martini

1 oz Vodka
1 oz Coffee
3/4 oz Irish Cream Liqueur
3/4 oz Chocolate Liqueur (Godiva, preferred)
Garnish: whipped cream, chocolate shavings

Combine liquid ingredients over ice and shake enough to knock the last vestiges of sleep from your thoughts. (Not that I’d advocate this as a morning beverage, unless we’re talking Sunday brunch and you’re not going anywhere for a while!) Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with whipped cream and freshly-shaved chocolate.

I made two versions of this drink–one with coffee and the other with coffee liqueur. While the Kahlua version was divine, the coffee flavor is much more muted than if you use fresh coffee, straight from the pot. In the latter, thanks to the other ingredients, the coffee is strong but not bitter. Feel free to substitute based on your personal preferences.

The one thing you’re not going to want to substitute is anything other than a premium vodka. I’ve often been told that the better the vodka, the cleaner the flavor. Or, in some cases, the lack of flavor–at least readily discernible flavor. Not being a vodka-neat type, I didn’t really think much about it until I received a bottle of a premium vodka to try–Cinco Vodka from San Antonio, TX–and now I am a true believer! When placed next to a common call brand vodka the finish and feeling that the Cinco gave was far beyond the burn that the call brand gave. So consider this your tip of the week–buy a better vodka and reap the rewards!

A Blast From Our Blueberry-Tinged Past


Welcome back for our second installment in the Alphatinis series. This week B is for Blueberry, but a little blueberry should never be left in the cold (vodka) on his own.


Blueberry Pomegranate Martini
A couple years back, Todd and I attended a local fundraiser and sampled an amazing Blueberry Pomegranate cocktail. It was so good that we decided to try our hand at recreating it at home–the first of many such experiences, some of which will find their way into this series (indeed, could even be considered the inspiration for it).

Trying to find a recipe online yielded the most likely answer: that the restaurant serving the drink was probably using a mix. Still, we had to give it a try and after 5 versions and some tweaking here and there, we hit upon the best possible combination of vodka and juices to match what we’d had that night. And I tucked the recipe away in that year’s little red notebook for future use.

It’s wonderful living in the future!

Blueberry Pomtini

2 oz Blueberry Juice
1 oz Pomegranate Juice
1 oz Vodka
1 oz Simple Syrup
Garnish: Fresh Blueberries

Combine all liquid ingredients over ice and shake like a brisk breeze is blowing through your arms, right into that chilly mixing glass. (Make sure to get a good seal on that Boston shaker–this mix will stain for sure!) Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a skewer of fresh blueberries.

A sweet, generous cocktail, the Blueberry Pomtini is one you can enjoy as a quick drink or sip over the course of an evening without a lot of alcohol going to your head. Earlier version were based on a simple 2:1 martini ratio (not smooth at all) and even one a la a Cosmopolitan (the triple sec–this was before I was using strictly Cointreau–overpowered everything, as it’s wont to do). And without the sugar syrup the juice and vodka alone were much too tart.

That testing, however, was before we discovered our fondness for vanilla vodka (the brand we’re loving right now? 360 Madagascar Vanilla) so tonight I trotted out that little red notebook and gave the old favorite a run with our new favorite just to see how it fared. While the vanilla version was quite tasty–the vanilla lends a certain warmth to the drink–it did overshadow the delicate blueberry flavor more than we would have wanted. Ergo, we present it as originally concocted.

Now, for this past Halloween I made a version of this as a punch, Blue Blood Punch to be specific. Combining large containers of Cran-Pomegranate and Cran-Blueberry Juices with a 2-liter of Ginger Ale in a punch bowl or (in our case) 3-gallon drink dispenser with ice makes a very good punch for the masses. And for those who wish a little more bite to their drink could go inside to the bar and add a splash of spirits.


Every Friday we’ll be wending our way through the new Alphatini series. Discouraged by 2 sweets to start? Well, if you’ll hang with us through the C-tini to come next week, I promise a different twist is coming when we get to the big D!

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!

Introducing… The Alphatinis!

Classic and Dry Martinis

Classic and Dry Martinis

Whew! It is HOT out there. Care for a cool drink?

How many times have you perused a restaurant’s bar menu–usually featuring a number of signature cocktails ending in -ini–picked something that sounded great and then, well, been kinda disappointed by that first sip?

Aside from the fact that it’s better to judge a drink after 2 sips, just to make sure you’re tasting the cocktail and not residue from other things you’ve tasted, it’s a shame when a cocktail doesn’t live up to its name or hype.

That’s what this new series is all about: creating cocktails that are as pleasing to your mouth as your mind. 26 such cocktails, to be exact, one for each and ever letter of the alphabet (yes, even X, Y and Z).

But that all starts next week. For this week let’s just get some basics out of the way.

The original martini, way back in the late 1800s, was comprised of gin, sweet vermouth and bitters. By the early 20th century dry vermouth had replaced the sweet and it became the drink that carried us through until mid-century when the James Bond phenomenon (yes, really) turned the tide to a vodka-based cocktail.

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of a dry martini–it’s all alcohol, no mixer, and I prefer to cut the alcohol with something non-alcoholic in the name of balance. The sweet vermouth version, though, that one I kinda like, though it’s not nearly as sweet as some of the ones we’ll be trying out over the course of the series.

Original Martini

1.5 oz Gin
1.5 oz Sweet Italian Vermouth
1-2 drops of Bitters

Combine with ice in a mixing glass and stir until cold. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a twist or orange or lemon.

Classic Extra Dry Martini

3 oz London Dry Gin or Vodka
1/8 oz Dry French Vermouth

In a mixing glass, pour the vermouth over the ice and then strain it off. Add the gin or vodka, stir until chilled and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a small onion. To make it dirty, splash in a bit of the brine from the olives and give it another swirl with the garnished stick.

The dry martini is still too dry for me, though a dirty martini is slightly more palatable than it used to be. If you like your drinks crisp, clean and subtle give the dry version a try. If, on the other hand, you like your cocktails rich and a little sweet–I’d almost call it a meaty flavor, but not really; think of it the way a good red goes with a really good steak–give the original a try.

And next week we starting with our A-game. What will it be? You’ll just have to come back and find out. But! If you have any requests for the rest of the Alphatini series–either from a past experience that could have been better or you just want to challenge me–most of the upcoming ‘tinis have yet to be designed, so let me know what you want to see!