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The Sexton in Ballard

After an arduous night of bar-crawling in places where they shake Manhattans, I stumbled into The Sexton, in search of a night cap more in line with my own tastes. Or maybe I wanted to talk to a girl sitting by the window. Either way, they had what I was looking for. They have their menu on their home page, but just in case you want to see it as I saw it, here it is:

This was only the first page, of which there were two or three of mixed drinks. Such an expansive menu might be intimidating for an inexperienced cocktail drinker, but I enjoyed the variety, and I thought the menu was well put-together. The Banyan is a great way to class up the much more ubiquitous strawberry margarita, and the pig rider presses the chocolate/tequila/chili pepper buttons that we all know and love. Alas, I did not opt for a tequila drink, though as I am writing this post, it would surely hit the spot. I would also like to call your attention to the tasteful inclusion of a variation of The Bitter End, a drink which appears in many different forms, but which always includes a float of amaro or aromatic bitters, so that the last few sips of the drink pack a substantial bitter wallop.

On this particular night, I ordered the Double Bind, a mixture of bourbon, lemon-sage shrub, ginger beer, and bitters, and I was compelled to do so by a recent fascination with vinegar in cocktails. It was a highball, as you could guess from the inclusion of the ginger beer, and the served it in a mason jar, which I found to be pleasantly rustic. To make this drink at home, you will, of course, need to make a lemon-sage shrub. I suggest the following process for making shrub syrup:

Lemon-Sage Shrub
4 large lemons
1.5 oz sage
1 cup sugar
1 cup white vinegar
Slice the lemons thinly, peel and all, and place them in a sealed container. Bruise the sage, and add it to the lemons. Cover the mixture in the sugar, and allow it to sit in a sealed container in the fridge for 2-3 days. Strain off the solids, being sure to scrape any undissolved sugar from the inside of the container, and add it to the vinegar. Bottle it, and allow it to mellow in the fridge for 2-3 more days.

As the shrub sits, its flavors will harmonize and change chemically. Essentially, the vinegar pickles the syrup. If you added a few lemon peels to the bottled syrup, I wouldn’t blame you, but be careful, as they may overpower the relatively delicate sage flavor.

The Double Bind?
2 oz Bourbon
.75 oz Lemon-Sage Shrub
2 Dashes of Bitters

Shake over ice and then strain into a tumbler full of fresh ice. Top with 1.5 oz ginger beer and garnish with a lemon wedge.

Apologies to the Sexton if I got it wrong, but that’s how I would start. Before shaking, taste the mixture, and make sure that the flavors of the bourbon and the shrub are in harmony together. If the flavor of the shrub is not pronounced enough, add another quarter ounce. Many props go to the Sexton for using the appropriate amount of ice, and for crafting an interesting drink. I’m not sure how much of the sage I tasted in the instance of the drink that they served me, but the concept is very solid, and the flavor of the sage comes down to individual execution.

They garnished the drink with a lemon wedge, but my inclination would be to use a toothpick to spear a sage leaf to that self-same lemon wedge, the more to convey the flavor of the fresh herb.


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Kingston Club

Via Jeffrey Morgenthaler, the Kingston Club is one of the best drinks I have tried in a long time. Seattle finally decided to get warm, so I’ve been drinking lots of highballs in an attempt to beat the heat. I’ve also been ordering highballs around the city, and I’m disappointed to tell you that even many craft bars will manage to screw up this format. The most common mistake I see is the failure to use enough ice. When you make a rocks drink, it is essential that you fill the glass completely with ice. If you don’t, it will melt too quickly, and you will be left with a watery highball, its flavor a mere specter of your intention.

For this reason, I don’t recommend ordering a highball when you are eating at a restaurant; even if the bartender was diligent, it may take your server a while to bring you the drink, and the ice will melt. I can’t remember where I heard this line, but I like to tell my guests to “drink it before the ice gets scared”.

I’d never owned a bottle of Drambuie before last week, and this was the drink that convinced me to make the purchase. I love its peppery, scotchy flavor, and I was intrigued by Morgenthaler’s use of this spirit as the base of a Tiki drink.

Kingston Club

1.5 oz Drambuie
1.5 oz Pineapple Juice
.75 oz Lime juice
1 tsp Fernet Branca
3 dashes Angostura bitters

Fill a Collins glass with ice and one ounce of soda water. Shake over ice and strain. Garnish with an orange peel.

If you followed the link above, you saw that his was a lot prettier than mine, but that’s OK, because mine was just as delicious. You would think that equal parts of liqueur and fresh pineapple juice would be too sweet, but the level of citrus in this drink was perfect, making it much dryer than I had anticipated. When I was planning to make this drink, I remembered it as having rather more Fernet than it actually does, but when I went to make it, I discovered it had only a teaspoon, which is exactly equivalent to 1/8 of one ounce.

Those who have been reading for a while will recall my love of Fernet and Pineapple, which was one of the main reasons I wanted to make this. As such, I apologize for the low amount of Fernet in this drink, and I will try to find one for you that has substantially more in the near future.


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Angostura 1919 Rum and Clement Creole Shrub Review

I had the good fortune to pick up a bottle of Angostura 1919 rum and a bottle of Clement Creole Shrub from the new Total Wine that opened up in Bellevue. The 20% + 3.77/liter surcharge on hard liquor in WA state is probably worth it considering that we now have Total Wine and soon, Bevmo. It does raise the price on the bottle of Angostura rum from thirty-six dollars to forty-eight, and that burns, but it’s better than not being able to buy Angostura rum at all. There’s still nowhere to buy Smith and Cross, except maybe the obscenely overpriced Wine and Spirits World in Wallingford.

No one outside of Seattle really cares about that, though. On to the reviews!

Angostura 1919 Rum

According to the manufacturer, this rum is blended from rums that are aged a minimum of eight years in bourbon casks. I definitely could notice a bourbon quality in the nose, which is full of vanilla, and as I take a sip, I am greeted immediately by honey, which then gives way to tobacco. The strongest flavor in this rum, by far, is the flavor of fresh tobacco, which permeates the swallow and lingers on the finish. It’s very smooth, and distinctively flavored. It might be a bit simple for some palates, but I greatly enjoy when an aged spirit captures one or two flavors very well, as I think you would agree this rum does with the flavor of tobacco.

I do not smoke cigars, but if I did, I think this rum would be a perfect accompaniment. If you can get it for thirty-six dollars, it’s a pretty fair price, but fifty is a little much. Angostura 1919 is not the first rum I’d buy for my bar, and it’s not the second, but it very well might be the third. (After Smith and Cross or Wray and Nephew, and Zacapa 23) It’s great on ice or in an old fashioned cocktail, but as with most high-end rums, mixing it into a more complicated drink is probably a waste. If you want to go the aromatic route, I suggest mixing it with dry Amontillado sherry and a dash of Angostura bitters, of course.

Clement Creole Shrubb

 This orange liqueur received extremely good reviews, and I was very eager to try it. Clement Creole Shrubb is the only curaçao liqueur I know that uses Rhum Agricole as the base, as opposed to brandy or a neutral spirit. It’s very similar to Gran Marnier, and it’s probably not worth keeping both in your bar unless you are a very serious curaçao enthusiast, but it’s certainly worth keeping one or the other. I think this liqueur is extremely suited to tiki drinks or any rum-based concoction, because it already has a lot of rum notes from its base spirit. If you sip it neat, it greets you with a very bright orange oil flavor with a sugarcane backend and a little bit of pepper. I like it perhaps a bit more than Gran Marnier for mixing, but not quite as much for sipping neat. It makes a killer Sidecar,  Mai Tai, or Daisy, that’s for sure. High quality Curaçao is a must have for your home bar, and this is light years ahead of Gran Gala, which is only fit for removing grease stains from my driveway.

Fancy Old-Fashioned Rum Cocktail
1.5 oz Aged Rum (Angostura 1919)
.25 oz Curaçao
1 Dash Aromatic Bitters (Angostura)

Stir over gently over ice and pour over one large ice cube. Garnish with an orange peel.

I wanted to experience both of these spirits simultaneously, and of course, they were highly complementary to each other, so I made a fancy Old Fashioned. When using a liqueur such as Maraschino or Curaçao in place of simple syrup it becomes “fancy”, and it should be called as such. When making this substitution in drinks with a large volume of syrup (more than .5 oz), it is generally better to use .5 oz of the liqueur, and simple syrup for the rest, lest you overpower the other flavors in the drink.


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Des Esseintes

CVS is an endless repository of new and exciting drinks, though I probably lean on them too much. But see, I have this bottle of Del Maguey Mezcal de Vida burning a hole in my bar, and then this brilliant opportunity to mix it with an amaro comes along, and how could I resist? Amaro Nonino tends toward the sweeter side of amari, and I find that, much like Cardamaro, it occupies the same same general flavor profile as a good sweet vermouth. Make a Manhattan with Nonino or even Ramazotti instead of vermouth and you’ll see what I mean. They are substantially different from a sweet vermouth, but when you put them in your drink, they do the same thing.

In light of this similarity, I think this drink, Des Esseintes, is a lot like a Martinez with mezcal instead of gin. Of course, the devil is in the details, and I think the pairing of Nonino and Mezcal is a grand one, so much so that I tried to realize it with gummy bears, but you shouldn’t do that, probably.

Des Esseintes

1.5 oz Mezcal (Del Maguey Mezcal de Vida)
1.5 oz Amaro Nonino
1 barspoon Maraschino (Luxardo)
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
2 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters

Stir over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

The mezcal’s smokiness made for an enjoyable riff on a classic, but overall this was too sweet for my palette. I think it would have been a lot better with only one ounce of amaro, particularly because Nonino is so very sweet. If someone asked me for a mezcal drink, this is not the first one I would make for them, but it might be the third.


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Pisco Apricot Tropical

Another one from CVS, The Pisco Apricot Tropical has a bit of a tiki quality. I was mostly drawn to this recipe on account of the apricot liqueur, which  I only recently acquired for the first time, and I have been looking for different recipes to showcase it. The fresh pineapple juice was a bonus, but I always enjoy it immensely. For this reason, I try to always keep a pineapple on hand, just in case I need fresh pineapple juice. Admittedly, there are a couple of cans tucked away in my fridge, because you never know when you’ll need to make an Algonquin or a Kentucky at a moment’s notice.

Once you start using a juicer, you will never go back. Pasteurizing juice is just a hair away from murdering it — the texture goes all gummy, and all of the bright flavors depart, ne’er to return. In fact, one of the major components of the recent cocktail revival is that bartenders have stopped using pre-made sour mixes and turned instead to fresh juices, which are superior in every way. If you have ever had a drink made with sour mix, you know just how awful it is, and how far we have come.

Pisco Apricot Tropical

2 oz Pisco (Santiago Queirolo)
1/2 oz Lime Juice
1 oz Fresh Pineapple Juice
1/2 oz Apricot Liqueur (Rothman and Winter)
1 dash Angostura Bitters

Shake over ice and double-strain into a cocktail glass.

Despite the sweet-sounding recipe, this drink was very dry and stimulating to the appetite. Pisco has a clean, crisp grape flavor, and it was a surprising match to the other fruit flavors in this recipe. They all blended together, and the end result tasted like  a dry white gummy bear. The key word here is dry; there was none of the sweetness of candy. This was among the best sours I’ve had all year, but I would definitely drink it as an aperitif, and not for dessert.