Stormy Mai Tai

angostura bittersThe Stormy Mai Tai is a superb riff on a traditional Mai Tai, with a surprising main ingredient: bitters.

If you’re one to enjoy traditional drinks, you likely have an appreciation for bitters. Usually added in dashes, bitters deepen the flavor of the cocktails they’re added to, and are the perfect sidekick. It’s rare, but there are some drinks (like the Bitter Bee) that include more than a few dashes of bitters, and when they work, they work. The Stormy Mai Tai includes 1.5 ounces of bitters, and is a revelation.

The origin of this cocktail is a bit mysterious (Angostura USA shared our Bitter Bee article on their Facebook page, then later shared The Stormy Mai Tai from the wonderful Oh Gosh! blog), which makes us believe this is a modern take. But regardless of it’s origins, it’s a surprising drink with wonderfully powerful flavor. We’ve tweaked the recipe with a touch more rum, and the result is delightful. The clove and cinnamon flavors of the bitters definitely take center stage, but the rum and lime juice calm their intensity, giving the subtle aromatics in the Angostura a chance to be experienced; the orgeat and curaçao sweeten the drink, and the end result is a tangy, subtly sweet cocktail that will surprise even the most jaded imbiber.

The Stormy Mai Tai and its ingredients

The Stormy Mai Tai and its ingredients

1.5 oz Angostura Bitters*
1/2 oz Rum
1 oz Fresh Lime Juice
3/4 oz Orgeat (or Almond) Syrup
3/4 oz Curaçao
1/4 oz float of light rum

  • shake ingredients in iced shaker, pour over crushed ice
  • garnish with large mint sprig and a straw

*NOTE: Feel free to experiment with other brands of bitters, but Angostura really is the superior choice for this cocktail
**NOTE: And be careful! Angostura isn’t normally consumed in such large amounts, so it’s not usually understood that they are 90 proof…this is a potent drink!

Tagged , , , , , , ,

The Mai Tai

Susan Dickman enjoying a traditional Mai Tai

Susan Dickman enjoying a traditional Mai Tai

You’ve likely never had a Mai Tai.  The name has been slapped on so many too-sweet rum drinks that the true Mai Tai cocktail has been forgotten at all but the most traditional bars. Which means you can dazzle your friends when you introduce them to the startlingly seductive real Mai Tai. (1)

The Mai Tai (which, according to legend, comes from a bar patron exclaiming “Maita’i roa ae!”, which is Tahitian for “very good!”) is credited to Trader Vic, an Oakland, CA tiki restaurant, in 1944. (Don the Beachcomber claims to have invented it 11 years earlier in his restaurant, but the recipes are so different that the argument is silly; plus he already has The Zombie, so let’s give this one to Vic. (2)) The cocktail has become synonymous with tiki (faux-Polynesian) cocktail culture, which is adorably appropriate, considering its name is Americanized Tahitian.

The drink itself is incredibly simple, smoothly mixing light and dark rum with subtly sweet orange and almond, brightened with fresh lime. It has a slightly thick mouth feel that is feels smooth sipped through a straw and almost frothy over crushed ice. It is deceptively smooth, so be careful not to overdo it!

A traditional Mai Tai and its ingredients

A traditional Mai Tai and its ingredients

1 oz Rum
1 oz Dark Rum
1/2 oz Fresh Lime Juice
1/2 oz Curaçao
1/2 oz Orgeat (or Almond) Syrup*

  • combine all ingredients into iced shaker (lots of ice)
  • shake vigorously and strain into a fun tiki cup over crushed ice
  • garnish with a pineapple spear and a cherry, with an umbrella

*If you can find sugar free Almond or Orgeat syrup, you’ll save yourself calories without sacrificing taste!


Personal favorite brands:

Shellback Silver Rum, Ron Zacapa 23 Dark Rum, Pierre Ferrand Orange Curaçao

(2) Coulombe, Charles A. (2005). Rum: The Epic Story Of The Drink That Conquered The World. Citadel Press. print.

Tagged , , , , ,

The Zombie Cocktail


A Zombie enjoyed by LA Pin-Up Carole Catanzaro

Say “hello” to the Zombie, king of Tiki cocktails.

Tiki (aka “Faux Polynesian”) culture was incredibly popular in WWII-to-Vietnam America, with the leading authority being “Don The Beachcomber,” owner of a restaurant chain of the same that opened in Hollywood in 1934. His restaurants (as well as Trader Vic’s, a competing chain) served Cantonese and Polynesian-inspired drinks (which actually contained pan-tropical ingredients) with a delightfully addictive kitschy flair.

The most infamous drink to come out of the Tiki movement is The Zombie. It’s mysterious (the original Beachcomber bartenders weren’t even aware of the ingredients…they poured from bottles marked in code), dangerous (they are strong, and there’s a persistent rumor that billionaire Howard Hughes struck a killed a pedestrian driving home after a night of Zombies), and flavorful (it’s everything you’d want in a tropical cocktail), The Zombie is truly a revelation. (1)(2)

A Zombie feels velvety, frothy, and light on the tongue, and the flavor is a brightly tropical, playfully sweet, and relaxingly booze-y. It is Tiki perfection: highlighted rum flavors balanced by tangy fruit and subtle spice. You’ll be hard pressed to stop at just one (though you may need to stop at two!).

The following recipe is very close to Don’s actual recipe (uncovered in Ted Haigh’s “Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails”), with a small substitution to include Orgeat syrup, which calms down the last bites of acidity, and is rumored to have been in the recipe served to patrons in the 30s. (3)(4)

The Zombie and its ingredients

The Zombie and many of its ingredients

1 oz of Fresh Lemon juice
1 tsp dark brown sugar
1 oz Fresh Lime Juice
1 oz Rum
1 oz Gold Rum
1 oz 151-proof Demerara Rum
1 oz Unsweetened Pineapple Juice
3/4 oz Passion Fruit Syrup
1/4 oz Orgeat Syrup (or Almond Syrup)
1 generous dash Angostura Bitters

  • dissolve brown sugar into the lemon juice
  • add to other ingredients in an iced shaker
  • shake vigorously until cold
  • pour into any glass (a cheesy Tiki cup makes this so fun!)
  • garnish with pineapple wedge, cherry, and or mint sprig

(1) Berry, Jeff. Beachbum Berry’s Intoxica! N.p.: SLG, 2002. Print.
(3) Haigh, Ted. “Don the Beachcomber’s Zombie” Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. Deluxe ed. Beverly, MA: Quarry, 2009. 288-89. Print.
(4) Berry, Jeff. Sippin’ Safari. N.p.: SLG, 2007. 121. Print.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Aperol Sour

Aperol & Campari are currently manufactured by the same company

Aperol & Campari are currently manufactured by the same company

Aperol is an Italian aperitif dating back to 1919 that displays a balance of subtle sweetness and bitter flavors. Made with bitter orange, gentian root, rhubarb, and cinchona bark (which contains quinine, which gives tonic water its flavor), Aperol is a welcome edition to summertime drinking. It’s most easily described as Campari’s sweeter, less alcoholic cousin.

It plays well with citrus fruit, on the rocks, as a Campari substitute for those who prefer less bitterness, and as a way to pace yourself drinking (at 11% alcohol, it’s one of the lightest liqueurs on the market). But it absolutely shines in the Aperol Sour. Not much is known about this drink, other than it’s most easily found in the Milk & Honey family of bars (like The Varnish in Los Angeles). Its taste is that of a sweet candy quickly tempered with a subtle bitter citrus, and feels both creamy and airy while sipping. A fellow imbiber once declared “this foam is divine,” and I couldn’t agree more.

NOTE: A real hit with the ladies, or with gentleman pacing their evening, but if you want a stronger drink, add a 1/2 oz of your favorite gin

Aperol Sour & Ingredients

Aperol Sour & Ingredients

2 oz Aperol
1/4 oz Egg White
3/4 oz Lemon Juice
1/4 oz Simple Syrup

  • combine all ingredients into empty shaker
  • dry shake for 5-10 seconds
  • add ice, and shake vigorously
  • strain into any footed or stemmed cocktail glass (avoid martini glasses and flutes)

Personal favorite brands:
Beefeater Gin, Hendrick‘s Gin

Tagged , , , , ,

Pimm’s Cup Cocktails

The Cocktail Explorer's Pimm's variation

The Explorer’s variation

Pimm’s Cup cocktails use Pimm’s #1, a fruit and herb infused gin invented by James Pimm, owner of a London oyster bar, in 1823. He sold his cocktail as the house’s “#1 Cup” until it proved  popular enough to mass produce; the bottled liqueur was named “Pimm’s #1” in 1851, and the finished cocktail remained a “Pimm’s #1 Cup” or simply a “Pimm’s Cup.” He also invented other cups with different liquors as a base, but today only those with vodka (the “#6 Cup”) and brandy (“Winter Cup”) remain, though Pimm’s has recently released a blackberry and elderflower infusion as well.(1)(2)

Pimm’s Cup remains incredibly popular in Britain, is a subtly sweet addition to a warm afternoon, and a wonderful iced tea alternative. The traditional recipe is incredibly simple, and is very light in alcohol content, so you can enjoy many throughout the day.

Pimm's Cup with Ginger base

Pimm’s Cup with Ginger Ale base

2 oz Pimm’s Cup #1
1/4 oz Lemon juice
4 oz Lemon-Lime soda, Ginger Ale, or Sparkling Lemonade

  • combine all ingredients into Collin’s glass (or glass of your choice) filled with ice
  • Gently stir or swizzle and provide straw
  • garnish with cucumber spear and lemon wheel, and/or mint
Pimm's Cup with Lemon Lime Soda base

Pimm’s Cup with Lemon-Lime Soda base

Once you realize you enjoy it (you will), feel free to play with the ingredients. Mix lemon lime soda and ginger ale, add additional liquors, see how it tastes with different garnishes (just please leave the cucumber in if anyone around you is British!), experience it with cola…the world is your oyster…bar. The fun of a Pimm’s cup is its versatility, so the sky is the limit. The Cocktail Explorer has an original variation that adds small amounts of barrel aged and Old Tom gins, as well as spices and a home-made lemon-lime soda (see below for soda recipe).

1 cup simple syrup
5 oz Lime Juice
4 oz Lemon juice
1 dash bitters
2 liters soda water

  • chill all ingredients but bitters in refrigerator
  • combine simple syrup, juices, and bitters in large pitcher
  • slowly stir in soda water



Tagged , , , , , , ,

The 20th Century Cocktail

The 20th Century cocktail is a flawless drink that should be served and ordered whenever possible. The flavor is that of an effervescent lemonade with an afterthought of chocolate. Yes, an “afterthought of chocolate.” Each sip of a 20th Century starts off familiar (lemonade!) but bright (thanks to the gin) and quickly fades into a velvety mini-moment of chocolate before fading away completely, leaving your pallet feeling fresh. Original, surprising, and inventive, it would be tough to find someone who didn’t instantly fall in love with the 20th Century.

First introduced in 1937′s Cafe Royal Bar Book, this drink is wonderful by itself, as a warm-weather treat, or with a heavy meal; Ted Haigh colorfully explains it’s “what Art Deco tastes like.” (1) Also of note is the modern variant, the 19th Century Cocktail.

the 20th Century Cocktail and its ingredients

the 20th Century Cocktail and its ingredients

1.5 oz Gin
3/4 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
2/3 oz White Crème de Cacao
3/4 oz Lillet Blanc (or Cocchi Americano)

  • combine all ingredients into iced shaker (lots of ice)
  • shake vigorously and strain into cocktail coupe

Personal favorite brands:
Saint George Dry Rye Gin, Saint George Botanivore Gin, Beefeater Gin


(1) Haigh, Ted. “The Twentieth Century Cocktail.” Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. Deluxe ed. Beverly, MA: Quarry, 2009. 273. Print.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Applecar Cocktail

The Applecar (or, adorably, an “Applecart” if you’re Steve McDonagh) is a tasty variation of the classic Sidecar Cocktail (which, in turn, owes its existence to the Brandy Crusta). (1)

Drinking it feels “like bobbing for apples in a warm fall sunrise,” as a friend so colorfully put it. Subtly sweet, the Applecar feels light on the tongue, and is a wonderful dessert companion (or in place of dessert). The apple, lemon, and orange flavors play very well together, and if you prefer a more sour version of the drink, take the Cointreau Triple Sec down to 3/4 oz. Otherwise make a cocktail and pretend it’s fall!

Applecar cocktail

Applecar cocktail

1.5 oz Calvados or Applejack*
1.0 oz Cointreau
0.5 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
Garnish with apple slice if desired

  • combine in an iced cocktail shaker
  • shake vigorously
  • strain into cocktail coupe or martini glass

Personal favorite brands:

Lecompte Calvados, Boulard Gran Solage Calvados, Cardinal Calvados

*NOTE: Applejack and Calvados are both apple brandies. American Applejack is more abrasively apple than it’s smooth counterpart, Calvados (from Normandy, France), but use whichever suits your taste.

(1) McDonagh, Steve. The New Old Bar: Classic Cocktails and Salty Snacks from The Hearty Boys. N.p.: n.p., 2012. 45. Print.

Tagged , , , ,

The Brandy Crusta

jerry-thomas-bartenders-guide-how-mix-drinks-1862The Brandy Crusta is a bit of a mysterious drink. Supposedly invented in 1852 New Orleans by Joseph Santina at The Jewel of the South, a bar on Gravier Street, the Brandy Crusta is impossible to fully understand since there are many “real” recipes floating around (1)(6). The first time we see printed ingredient ratios is in “Professor” Jerry Thomas’ “Bar-Tender’s Guide” in 1862, but since the brand of bitters it calls for (Boker’s) is now defunct, experimentation is a necessity. (2) Because of this, perfectly legitimate recipes vary as much as the weather, and good cocktail explorers need to find the ones that suits them best. Here’s what we know about the Brandy Crusta:

  1. “Crusta” was introduced as a category of drink that included a sugared rim and citrus peel extension of the glass as a garnish; it never caught on outside of the brandy variety (2)(6)
  2. It paved the way for the sidecar cocktail (which eclipsed it in popularity due to ease of making), and the margarita
  3. Sidecars are easier for bartenders, so crustas are tough to find, and recipes vary incredibly (4)(5)

    • All crustas should have: orange curaçao or an orange liqueur, lemon juice, brandy, bitters, and a sugar rim
      • It is odd that Dale DeGroff, one of America’s most respected barmen, excludes bitters from his recipe (6)
    • If there is no sugared rim (and, ideally, a lemon peel lip), it’s not a crusta
  4. If a bar has one*, you must try it, as they obviously know a thing or two about classic cocktails

This recipe is The Cocktail Explorer’s own; it is not a true original, but a calculated and tested favorite variation. If you enjoy sidecars, you simply must try this version (I recommend orange curaçao: the photo shows one I made for a client with specific tastes).

The Brandy Crusta and its ingredients

The Brandy Crusta: made with Cointreau Triple Sec instead of the traditional orange curacao


1.5 oz Cognac
1/2 oz Lemon Juice
1/2 oz Maraschino liqueur
2/3 oz Orange Curaçao
1 Dash Angostura Bitters
1 Dash Peychaud’s Bitters

  • rub the outside rim of a stemmed glass with lemon slice, roll in super fine sugar (being careful to only have sugar stick outside the glass)
  • Cut lemon peel to length; place inside the rim of the glass, so that the ends provide pressure on each other and the peel becomes an extension of the glass
  • place ingredients into iced shaker; shake
  • strain into glass, splashing the peel as you pour

*NOTE: Absinthe Brasserie & Bar in San Francisco has a superb crusta on their cocktail menu (as of this posting). They serve a recipe based on the crusta variation found in “Here’s How – Mixed Drinks” by W. C. Whitfield (1941), and it’s lovely. (3)

Personal Favorite Brands:

Senior Curaçao Orange Liqueur, Ferrand Dry Orange Curaçao, Bols Orange Curaçao

(2) Haigh, Ted. “The Brandy Crusta.” Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. Deluxe ed. Beverly, MA: Quarry, 2009. 78–81. Print.
(6) DeGroff, Dale. The Craft of the Cocktail. New York: Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 2002. 92. Print.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

The Barnum Was Right Cocktail

Good luck trying to nail down the origins of the Barnum Was Right cocktail, but Ted Haigh says it existed, so let’s all agree that he’s right, because this cocktail is one you don’t want to miss. (1)

Recipes for this drink vary greatly (at the Varnish in Los Angeles, they use apricot liqueur instead of apricot brandy, and the Milk & Honey family of bars seems to have agreed on using 0.5 oz less gin and peach liqueur), and so do the results (2). By FAR the best version is made (as Ted suggested) with Marie Brizard Apricot Brandy (aka “Marie Brizard Apry”), and (as I suggest) one dash of each kind of Angostura (instead of two of aromatic Angostura). The resulting cocktail is spicy but smoothly fruity with an unexplainable roundness that makes your mouth smile involuntarily. Someone I recently made the cocktail for exclaimed “I…well then if that isn’t…just…wonderful!”

Usually The Cocktail Explorer only suggests brands, but I have to make a note of the Marie Brizard Apry: if you can’t find it, don’t bother. With any other liqueur taking the Apry’s place, this drink is an exercise in mediocrity. So if you see a bottle, buy two, because you will want to make these more than you think.

The Barnum Was Right Cocktail and its ingredients, save Angostura Orange Bitters

The Barnum Was Right Cocktail and its ingredients, save Angostura Orange Bitters

2 oz Gin
1 oz Marie Brizard Apricot Brandy
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
1 Dash Angostura Bitters
1 Dash Angostura Orange Bitters

  • combine all ingredients into iced shaker
  • shake vigorously and strain into cocktail coupe
  • garnish with lemon peel (though none is preferred)

Personal Favorite Brands:

Saint George Terroir Gin, Saint George Botanivore Gin, Beefeater Gin

(1)  Haigh, Ted. “Barnum “Was Right” Cocktail.” Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. Deluxe ed. Beverly, MA: Quarry, 2009. 60. Print.
(2) Sam Ross’ (of Milk & Honey fame) “Bartender’s Guide” mobile app

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

The Aviation Cocktails

violette and luxardoThe Aviation cocktail is delightfully tasty, and feels fresh, balanced, and light (even though it’s not light on the alcohol). The original recipe*, which some now call an Aviation #1, dates back to 1916. (1)(2) This version of the drink has a subtle earthiness from the maraschino liqueur, which is delicately offset by the floral smoothness of the Crème de Violette; the lemon and gin brighten the drink to the point of making it practically perfect.

After the Aviation became popular, violet liqueur fell out of fashion (and became hard to find), so many bartenders simply left it out, tweaking the ratios to taste. (3) This, which some now call an Aviation #2, was how the drink experienced the height of its popularity,with the sans-violet recipe being printed in “The Savoy Cocktail Book” in 1930. (1)(3)(4) Some refer to the newer recipe as the only Aviation recipe (like Steve McDonagh mistakenly does in his newest book, “The New Old Bar”), but that’s just…not the case. (5)

I prefer the #1 (as do most of my cohorts), and the current trend is for classic-style bars to default to the #1, but feel free to leave out the violet liqueur if you have a preference for a heavier earthiness or an aversion to floral notes (though I must suggest at least trying the #1).

Original recipe Aviation cocktail and its ingredients

Original recipe Aviation cocktail and its ingredients

2 oz Gin
3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
1/3 oz Maraschino liqueur
1/3 oz Crème de Violette (or Crème de Yvette)

  • combine all ingredients into iced shaker
  • shake vigorously and strain into cocktail coupe
  • if you want a garnish, drop a brandied cherry into the bottom of the glass
  • (for an Aviation #2, use 3/4 oz maraschino liqueur and leave out the Crème de Violette)

*NOTE: Ratios have been adapted. The original recipe called for 1.5 oz gin, 3/4 oz lemon juice, and 2 dashes each of maraschino liqueur and violet liqueur.

Personal Favorite Brands:

Saint George Terroir Gin, Saint George Botanivore Gin, Beefeater Gin

(1) Sam Ross’ (of Milk & Honey fame) “Bartender’s Guide” mobile app
(2) Ensslin, Hugo (2009) [1917]. Recipes for Mixed Drinks. Mud Puddle Books Inc.
(3) Haigh, Ted. “The Aviation”, “The Blue Moon.” Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. Deluxe ed. Beverly, MA: Quarry, 2009. 58+. Print.
(4) Craddock, Harry. The Savoy Cocktail Book. New Edition ed. N.p.: Pavilion, 2007. Print.
(5) McDonagh, Steve. The New Old Bar: Classic Cocktails and Salty Snacks from The Hearty Boys. N.p.: n.p., 2012. 46-47. Print.

Tagged , , , , , ,