…But I’m not bitter

One of my wife’s co-workers just gave her a bottle of Fee Brothers Black Walnut Bitters to pass along to me.  I did a little bit of cursory research and couldn’t find too much information on them, or any drink recipes to use them in.

I decided to try the bitters out on their own to get a sense of what they might bring to a cocktail.  They’re very dark, like a good porter or stout, and I found they smell quite strongly of vanilla and oak, with a hint of walnut coming through in the end.  On tasting them, my first thought was “cough syrup”, which quickly turned into a strong and lasting walnut flavour followed by intense bitterness.

I’m embarking on an ongoing mission to find the perfect mix to use these in.  My first attempt is chronicled below (it’s clearly influenced by yesterday’s delicious whiskey sour):

Experimental Black Walnut Cocktail #1

  • 1 1/2 oz amber rum
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • 1/2 oz amaretto
  • 2 dashes black almond bitters

I combined all ingredients and shook with ice, then strained into an ice-filled Old Fashioned glass rimmed with vanilla sugar* and garnished with half an orange slice.

My first sip tasted quite strongly of rum, with noticeable walnut coming through in the finish.  As the drink went on, the rum and walnut flavours subsided fairly quickly and the lime really started to overpower everything else.  While this was certainly drinkable and went down quickly enough, it was definitely not the right vehicle to make use of the bitters.

How would you audition this unique ingredient?  Suggestions will be greatly appreciated, and any resulting masterpieces will get their own post (with full credit given, of course).


* Vanilla sugar is very simple to make at home, but requires time to mature.  It provides a wonderful aroma and just a hint of vanilla on the tongue.  To make it, simply toss a whole vanilla bean (or two) into about three cups of sugar, throw on the lid, shake it up, and leave it in the cupboard for a few weeks (at a minimum; I have a batch that’s four years old and only gets better with age).  Just take it out and shake it every now and then to keep it from clumping.


Classic Cocktails: The Whiskey Sour

Today we take a look at another classic:

The Whiskey Sour

A whiskey sour

Yes, the little plastic sword really does make it taste better.

As with many other drinks originating prior to Prohibition, the true origin of the whiskey sour is in dispute.  One story claims it was invented in Peru by an Englishman named Eliot Stubb, sometime during or after 1872.  This is cast into doubt; however, by a mention of the drink in a Wisconsin newspaper published in 1870.  It’s not clear if the whiskey sour mentioned in the American newspaper is the same as the one that has become famous around the world.

I don’t know which story is true…  I just know the drink is delicious (especially on a hot day).

  • 1.5 oz whiskey (I prefer bourbon)
  • 1 oz lemon juice (I prefer freshly squeezed)
  • 1/2 oz gomme syrup*

Combine whiskey, lemon juice, and syrup and shake vigorously with ice (I keep going until my metal cocktail shaker is too cold to continue holding in my hands).  Strain into a chilled Old Fashioned glass that has been rimmed with sugar and filled with ice.  Garnish with half a slice of orange and a maraschino cherry.


* Gomme syrup is made from sugar, water, and gum arabic.  As most of us don’t stock our home bars with this, simple syrup can be used instead.  Gomme syrup will emulsify the drink a great deal more, but the sour is still quite drinkable without it.

To make simple syrup, I use a ratio of 2 parts sugar to 1 part water.  Just heat them together, stirring constantly until the sugar has dissolved, then allow the syrup to cool.  Be very careful not to allow the sugar to burn or caramelize.  I make small batches as I don’t use it that often and it can quickly become a breeding ground for nasty bugs if left unchecked.

Hail, Caesar!

Today’s featured highball is a household name in Canada, but is virtually unknown to the rest of the world.  It is estimated that over 350 million of these are consumed throughout Canada every year.

The Caesar

The Caesar was invented by Walter Chell in 1969 at the Calgary Inn in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  It was developed to be a signature drink at the inn’s new Italian restaurant, and was inspired by the Neapolitan dish Spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with tomato sauce and clams).  While that sounds like a terrible combination for a drink, it is in reality a delicious and spicy concoction that serves as a perfect pre-dinner drink (especially if the imbiber will be eating red meat).  It’s also great for settling the stomach in the event that you had a few too many cocktails the day before.

Nearly every restaurant, bar, and bartender in Canada has their own take on the Caesar.  Many deviate from the ingredients listed below, or add them in different proportions.  It’s commonly served in a Collins glass, but I prefer the flavour balance attained in an Old Fashioned glass.

  • 1.5 oz vodka
  • 2 dashes hot sauce (usually Tabasco, though any will work)
  • 3 dashes salt and pepper
  • 4 dashes worcestershire sauce
  • Mott’s Clamato juice
  • celery salt
  • wedge of lime
  • celery stalk

Rim a glass with celery salt (wet the rim with water or lime juice in order to make the salt stick).  Add the vodka along with four ice cubes, then add the hot sauce, salt and pepper, and worcestershire sauce.  Top-up the glass with Clamato juice, and garnish with the lime wedge and celery.

To drink your Caesar, squeeze the lime into the glass, stir with the celery stalk, and enjoy. The celery makes a nice quick snack before dinner, and allowing it to soak for a little while in the drink will cause it to soak up some of the spicy tomato flavours.

Do you know of any other drinks that have never caught on outside their country of origin?

Drink up, eh!

Warming Up: Day 4

Tonight’s warmer-upper is a little unconventional.  This drink is one of many born from  a constant urge to get experimental in the kitchen.  The flavours are very strong and up-front, the slightly bitter coffee mixing with sweet amaretto and a hint of chocolate, and the finish is quite long and pleasant.

The Caferetto


This recipe is based designed for a single-cup moka pot.  If you’re using a larger pot, just multiply all of the ingredients by the number of cups your pot brews.  Never brew less than the pot’s capacity; they are designed to work with a specific volume.

Put 1 tsp of cocoa powder in the base of the pot and fill to just below the valve with cold water.

Fill the coffee basket with extra-finely ground coffee*.  Do not pack the grounds down.

Screw the top of the pot on tightly and pour in 1.5 oz of amaretto.

Heat the pot over medium heat until the top is around halfway full of brewed coffee.  Removing it at this point will keep it at a good temperature without boiling.  Let the pot fill, then pour your coffee into a heated cappuccino cup.


* I use a medium roast for this as the brewing method can extract a lot of bitterness.  Using a dark roast such as espresso (like I would normally do with a moka pot if I were making a cappucino or latte) will result in a very overpowering bitter coffee flavour since there is no milk added to tone it down.  If you don’t like strong coffee, it may be even better to use a light roast instead.  I haven’t tried this as I love it the way it comes out as-is.

Warming Up: Day 3

Today was so cold my dogs refused to go outside to take care of their business.  Continuing the week’s theme of hot drinks to warm a person up, I present my own heated variant of a New Orleans classic:

Hot Bourbon Milk Punch

Hot Bourbon Milk Punch

Between the drink and the glass, I swear I didn't time warp out of the 70s.

  • 2 oz bourbon
  • 1 1/2 tsp honey
  • 1 1/2 tsp dark rum
  • 3 oz hot milk (be very careful not to boil)
  • ground cinnamon
  • grated nutmeg

Combine bourbon, honey, and rum in a warmed Irish coffee glass and mix well.  Add the milk and garnish with cinnamon and nutmeg.  Milk cools off quite quickly, so it’s important to get to the drinking early (although it’s still good — in fact, many variants of this drink are shaken with ice and served cold).

This can be customized in any number of ways.  Feel free to use brandy instead of bourbon, or switch out the honey with another sweetener like maple syrup or simple syrup.  Switch out some of the milk with half and half cream.  Spiced rum can add an entirely new dimension.


It’s Tea Time

With the temperature continuing to drop today, it seemed like a good idea to have another tried-and-true hot drink to warm me up.  This seems to be turning into a theme.

Blueberry Tea

Blueberry Tea

Mrs. Alchemy got in on the action and dressed-up the picture

This is a delicious warm drink that’s as enjoyable to breathe in as it is to taste.  It gets better as it sits, with the orange and cinnamon steeping in the hot tea and releasing additional flavours and aromas.  It does end up tasting a little bit like its namesake when everything has had a chance to meld.

  • 1 oz Grand Marnier
  • 1 oz amaretto
  • orange pekoe tea* to taste (approximately 8 oz)
  • orange slice
  • cinnamon stick

In a warmed snifter, combine all ingredients.  Handle the glass with care as it will be extremely hot.  I like to hold it using a cloth napkin until it cools off just enough to cup it in my hands, where the heat will help get rid off the winter chill.

naz drave!

* In general, I drink my tea quite strong.  For this drink; however, I try to avoid letting it steep too long as it can become tannic and will overpower the more subtle flavours in the drink.  I suggest using water that is just below the boiling point and steeping the tea for only 2 1/2 minutes.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

After a fairly mild November and December, winter has reared its ugly head around my house in a big way.  It’s currently -27°C (-16°F for any non-Canadians out there), and this definitely calls for a hot beverage.

Mid-January Hot Cocoa

A mug of chocolate gold

This rich chocolaty creation is a perennial winter favorite around my house.

  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp demerara sugar
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch of sea salt
  • small pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 3/4 cup of milk
  • 1/2 cup of cream
  • 1/2 oz of dark chocolate
  • 1 1/2 oz of Frangelico

Combine all ingredients except the dark chocolate and Frangelico in your favorite pot over medium-high heat, whisking constantly.  After everything is thoroughly mixed, add the dark chocolate, continuing to whisk to ensure it does not stick to the sides or bottom of the pot and burn.  Remove the pot from the heat before it boils, and pour it into a heated mug with the Frangelico.

This tastes best when consumed while sitting in your favorite chair, under your warmest blanket, while listening to Louis Armstrong and Velma Middleton.

How do you like to warm up on a day like this?

à votre santé!