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Cocktails: California dreaming by the sip

There are drinks that fall squarely into the “winter sips” category and others that register as breezy poolside sips. In southern California, where seasons are suggestions rather than clearly defined periods of time, creative bartenders spinning their stuff at favourite bars not far from the beach (including local favourites such as Calamigos Guest Ranch, V’s Restaurant and Bar, Lucky’s Malibu, the Blue Lounge at Moonshadows, the Rabbit Hole, CorkDork, the Surly Goat, Topanga Social, and the Surfrider Hotel Malibu conjure up libations that rise to any occasion or craving.

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As you may intuit through the following recipes, bartenders in and around Los Angeles’ beach communities certainly know how to stir up a party, conversation, and new spins on old favourites. We turned to a few of them for inspiration on how to get your mixology on when entertaining at home, not just for the cooler months, but anytime of year when you and those you are entertaining thirst for something that’s a touch more complex, sophisticated, and spirits-forward (or in the case of zero- and low-proof cocktails, taste as if they do.

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Shaking things up: pro tips and tricks
Some of the recipes come from the fertile imagination and talent of Los Angeles food and travel writer Paul Feinstein and veteran bartender and consultant Kyle Branche, known in professional bar hospitality circles for Bar Professional (a website with professional bar training courses developed with bar colleague, Kellie Nicholson) and Bitters Hub. Branche is also an accomplished writer with several cocktail books and his new Music Puzzler series (including Rock ’n’ Roll Puzzlers, Jazz Puzzlers, Country Puzzlers, ’80s Music Puzzlers, R&B, Soul and Funk Music Puzzlers, and the recently released Brit Pop Puzzlers, available worldwide through Amazon).

When Branche has worked with private clients, his first step is providing guidelines to help them gather the knowledge in order to look good and get compliments from their guests on the bar service when entertaining at home. Some questions he suggests asking include the following.

  • What is the guest count going to be? What size of a party are we doing?
  • Is this event mainly indoor or outdoor or a combination of the both?
  • Where is the location of the party or event?
  • What time is the party or event starting, and expected to end?
  • Is the party or event for adults only, or will there be kids around as well?
  • Are there any special drinks you would like to have at the bar?

    ‘The guest count determines how much ice and glassware will be needed at the bar. Ice and cups are the lifeblood of any bar anywhere,’ Branche says. ‘What I also do is email my clients a full wet and dry beverage stock list for whatever size party they’re having, so they don’t have to do a lot of guesswork when it comes to what to have behind the bar. The client then uses it as a check-off list at the store so they don’t forget anything. If the client is hiring bar staff, being prepared also helps me to know what I’m going to have behind the bar when I get there. No matter the size of the event, the client is responsible for picking up all the liquor needed for the cocktails of choice.’

    ‘One big trend we’ve seen overall is the growing popularity of tequila in cocktails as higher-quality brands have entered the market,’ observes Chip Marks, chief marketing officer for Los Angeles-based, Mexican-crafted Nosotros Tequila and Mezcal.

    ‘People visiting over the holidays from other places may not be as familiar with all the great options available here in southern California. Another fun trend is replacing vodka in an espresso martini with tequila reposado. As it has great caramel, cinnamon, and honey flavour notes from the barrel ageing process; it creates a more flavourful espresso martini than a flavourless vodka does.’
    Chip Marks’ tips and tricks

  • Use higher-quality alcohol in your cocktails.
  • Since the type of ice you use in your cocktail also makes a huge difference, buy bagged ice or large rocks of ice at your favourite high-end grocery or liquor store. It really steps up your cocktails! It’s important to know the difference between clean, purified ice versus refrigerator freezer ice cubes that are filled with refrigerator air and various unfiltered impurities that result in the cubes being white in color. And then those cubes slowly melt in your drink—that also kills the carbonation in tonic, club soda and other soda beverages much quicker.
  • Glassware can also elevate the drink, as having rocks glasses or coupe glasses designed for cocktails really makes the presentation feel excellent.
  • Garnishing an espresso martini with coffee beans or an old-fashioned with an orange peel makes the experience feel like someone is at a high-end cocktail bar.
    The following cocktails were recreated by Paul Feinstein
    Dirty Little Alice
    The Rabbit Hole, West Hills
    2½ oz Tanqueray gin
    ½ oz dry vermouth
    ½ oz olive juice (brine)
    Olives for garnish
    Lemon peel for twist

    1. Fill a mixing glass with ice cubes to chill.

    2. Pour the Tanqueray gin, dry vermouth, and olive juice over the ice.

    3. Stir the mixture gently for about 30 s to combine and chill the ingredients without diluting the drink too much.

    4. Strain the mixture into a chilled martini glass.

    5. Thread a few olives onto a cocktail stick for garnish and place it into the glass.

    6. Take a strip of lemon peel and twist it over the drink to release the oils, then run it around the rim of the glass before dropping it in as a garnish.
    V’s Manhattan
    V’s Restaurant and Bar
    2 oz rye whiskey
    1 oz Punt e Mes (a type of vermouth)
    ½ oz Amaro Nonino
    2 dashes aromatic bitters
    Brandied cherry for garnish

    1. Gather a mixing glass and fill it with ice to chill the ingredients without diluting the cocktail too much.

    2. Pour the rye whiskey, Punt e Mes, Amaro Nonino, and aromatic bitters over the ice.

    3. Stir the mixture gently but thoroughly for about 30 s. The goal is to chill the drink and achieve a slight dilution.

    4. Strain the cocktail into a chilled martini glass, or a rocks glass over a large ice cube, if you prefer it on the rocks.

    5. Garnish with a brandied cherry, dropping it into the glass or spearing it on a cocktail pick.

    6. Serve and savour the complex, herbaceous, and slightly sweet symphony of flavours in your Manhattan.
    Tequila Reposado Old Fashioned
    Made for Calamigos Ranch and Lucky’s Malibu
    2 oz Nosotros Reposado tequila
    3 dashes Angostura bitters
    ¼ oz agave syrup

    1. In a mixing glass, combine all the ingredients and several cubes of ice.

    2. Stir for 30 s with a bar spoon (about 30 turns of the spoon).

    3. Strain drink over a large rock of ice. Garnish with an orange peel.
    Espresso Martini
    The Blue Lounge at Moonshadows
    1½ oz Absolut Vanilla Vodka
    ½ oz Kahlua (coffee liqueur)
    ½ oz Irish cream (such as Baileys)
    1 oz freshly brewed espresso (cooled to room temperature)
    Coffee beans for garnish

    1. Begin by brewing your espresso. Allow it to cool slightly so it doesn’t melt the ice too quickly and dilute your drink.

    2. Fill a shaker with ice, enough to chill the cocktail but not so much that it will over-dilute it.

    3. Pour the Absolut Vanilla vodka, Kahlua, Irish cream, and the cooled espresso over the ice in the shaker.

    4. Seal the shaker tightly and shake vigorously for about 15–20 s. The goal is to create a nice froth from the espresso and to ensure the cocktail is well chilled.

    5. Strain the mixture into a chilled martini glass.

    6. Garnish with three coffee beans placed in the centre of the drink.

    7. Serve immediately and enjoy the rich, creamy, and aromatic flavours of your vanilla espresso martini.
    The following cocktails are from Calamigos Ranch, Malibu
    Orchard Bliss Martini
    1½ oz vodka
    2 oz unfiltered apple cider
    ½ oz Cointreau
    ½ oz lemon juice
    ½ oz brown sugar–cinnamon simple syrup
    Green apple slices, dipped in brown sugar and torched

    1. Combine liquid ingredients in a shaker and shake well.

    2. Pour into a chilled martini glass and garnish sugared apple slices.
    The Nutty Negroni
    1 oz peanut butter whiskey
    1 oz Campari
    1 oz sweet vermouth
    2–3 dashes chocolate bitters
    3 raspberries
    Orange twist

    1. Combine liquid ingredients in a shaker and shake well.

    2. Pour into a glass filled with ice and add the bitters

    3. Garnish with the orange twist, and top with three raspberries on a toothpick.
    Pomtini Royale
    1½ oz vodka
    ½ oz Cointreau
    1 oz pomegranate juice
    ½ oz lemon juice
    ½ oz simple syrup
    Ginger–sugar rim, flower

    1. Rim a martini glass with blended ginger–sugar.

    2. Combine all ingredients in a shaker and shake well.

    3. Pour into a chilled martini glass and garnish with the flower.
    The Tempestuous Fig
    2 oz dark rum
    ¾ oz lemon juice
    ½ oz fig puree
    Ginger beer to top off
    Lime wedge

    1. Combine rum, lemon juice and fig puree in a shaker and shake well.

    2. Pour into a glass filled with ice, and top with ginger beer.

    3. Garnish with the lime wedge.
    Scarlet Pearadise
    1 oz vodka
    1 oz dry red wine
    ½ oz St George spiced pear liqueur
    ¼ oz maple simple syrup
    ¼ oz lemon juice
    2–3 dashes Angostura bitters
    Soda water to top

    1. Combine liquid ingredients in a shaker and shake.

    2. Pour into a chilled wine glass.

    3. Add bitters.

    4. Top the drink with soda water and finish with blackberries.
    The following classic cocktail updates were created by Kyle Branche
    Marked Man
    2 oz Maker’s Mark nourbon
    ¼ oz Cynar artichoke liqueur
    ¼ oz Carpano Antica Formula vermouth
    1 Filthy brand cherry
    2 sprays of Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban Port Cask Single Malt
    2 sprays of Napa Valley Toasted Oak Bitters

    1. In a shaker, combine bourbon, vermouth and liqueur.

    2. In a chilled Martini glass, add the cherry and atomize or spray two sprays each of the Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban Port Cask Single Malt and Napa Valley Toasted Oak Bitters.

    3. Swirl chill for 10–15 s and strain contents into glass.
    Walk in the Woods
    2 oz of Bowen’s Smoky and Smooth California Whiskey
    2 sprays Crude’s Spruce and Birch Bitters
    1 spray Token’s Cloverdale Cedar Bitters
    Orange slices
    1 Filthy brand cherry
    Garnish: fresh zest of orange peel

    1. Gently muddle orange slice and the Filthy brand cherry in bottom of a large tumbler glass.

    2. Add Bowen’s Smoky and Smooth California Whiskey.

    3. Fill tumbler with ice, and spin glass a little to meld.

    4. Finish with two sprays of each bitter, and top with the orange peel.
    Peach-Cran Mezcal Fuzzy
    2 oz Mezcal of choice
    Dash of Ocean Spray cranberry juice
    Drizzle of Simply brand peach juice
    2 sprays of Apothecary Tialocan bitters
    2 sprays of Crude’s hibiscus, lavender and oak bitters (‘Bitterless Marriage’)
    Sliced and fresh squeezed peach

    1. Fill a stemless wine tumbler half-way with ice.

    2. Add Mezcal, cranberry juice, peach juice, and fresh peach, muddled.

    3. Atomize Apothecary Tialocan bitters and Crude’s hibiscus, lavender and oak bitters.

    4. Garnish with a peach slice.
    Apple Man(Hattan)
    2 oz bourbon or whiskey or rye of choice
    ½-¾ oz Carpano Antica Formula vermouth
    2-3 sprays of Napa Valley Havana Nights bitters

    1. Combine bourbon, whiskey or rye with vermouth in a shaker.

    2. Atomize 2–3 sprays of Napa Valley Havana Nights bitters.

    3. Swirl chill in the shaker for 10–15 s and strain contents into chilled martini glass.

    4. Finish with three green apple slices, and a cinnamon stick on the side.
    Penicillin Cocktail
    1½ oz blended Scotch or single malt of choice
    1 half-hull of squeezed fresh lemon
    1½ oz Simply lemonade
    ½-¾ oz of Barsmith honey ginger syrup
    2 sprays Sage Moon Apothecary lilac–lemon bitters
    2 sprays Black Cloud charred cedar bitters
    Meyer lemon peel

    1. In a shaker, combine blended Scotch or single malt, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, lemonade and honey ginger syrup.

    2. In the bottom of a large tumbler, add thin lemon slice.

    3. Fill glass with ice.

    4. Shake and strain contents in shaker into glass.

    5. Finish with the bitters, and top with a lemon or Meyer lemon peel.
    Classic Sidecar
    2 oz brandy or cognac of choice
    ¼-½ oz of triple sec
    Half-hull squeezed of a fresh lemon
    1½ oz Simply lemonade
    2 dashes Angostura orange bitters
    Optional: rim the glass or half the rim (split rim) with sugar in the raw
    2 sprays Apothecary Elder Growth bitters into a chilled martini glass.

    1. In a shaker, combine brandy or cognac, triple sec, fresh lemon juice, lemonade, Angostura orange bitters.

    2. Shake and strain the contents into the martini glass sprayed with bitters.

    3. Garnish with orange peel zest.
    Plum–Orange Old Fashioned
    2 oz bourbon or whiskey of choice
    4 tinctures (droppers full) of Redcliff liqueur (in place of sugar cube or simple syrup)
    2–3 dashes of Berkshire Mountain Falernum bitters
    3 sprays each of atomized Glenlivet Caribbean Cask Single Malt and Whistle Pig Rye
    Red or black plum and orange slices
    1 spray each Sage Moon Apothecary Coffee Bitters and Woodford Reserve Bourbon Barrel-Aged Spiced Cherry Bitters

    1. In a tumbler glass, muddle plum and orange slices.

    2. Add Redcliff liqueur (in place of sugar cube or simple syrup), Berkshire Mountain Falernum bitters, Glenlivet Caribbean Cask Single Malt and Whistle Pig Rye.

    3. Add in bourbon or whiskey.

    4. Fill glass with ice and spin glass just a little to meld.

    5. Spray 1 spray each of both types of bitters.

    6. Finish with a garnish of two slices of plum over the ice.
    Zero-proof, infinite possibilities
    Pro tip: be sure to have a few liquor-free cocktail creations on hand, not only for your under-21 guests but also for those looking to get a jump on their healthy New Year’s resolutions. These cocktails were created for Martelli’s sparkling cider by US mixologist Lindsay Eshelman.
    Sparkling Winter Sangria
    For a single serving:
    ¾ oz apple brandy (or calvados)     
    ½ oz fresh lemon juice 
    ¾ oz spiced simple syrup 
    2 oz red wine
    4 oz Martinelli’s sparkling apple–cranberry
    1 oz seltzer 

    1. Add all liquid ingredients in a wine goblet, add generous amount of ice, and stir.

    2. Garnish with rosemary sprig and fresh winter fruit such as pomegranate seeds, persimmons, cranberries, apples.
    Batching recipe (50 servings):
    4¾ cups apple brandy (or calvados)     
    3¼ cups fresh lemon juice 
    4¾ cups spiced simple syrup 
    12½ cups red wine (approx four 750 ml bottles)
    25 cups Martinelli’s sparkling apple–cranberry (approx eight 750 ml bottles) 
    6¼ cups seltzer (approx 4¼ 12 oz cans)
    Garnish: rosemary sprigs, fresh winter fruit, such as pomegranate seeds, persimmons, cranberries, blood orange slices, apple slices 

    1. Add all liquid ingredients (except Martinelli’s and seltzer) into a large punch bowl.

    2. Right before serving, add Martinelli’s, seltzer and ice.

    3. Stir to make sure all ingredients are incorporated.

    4. Garnish the bowl by adding lots of fresh winter fruit and herbs directly inside. Add more ice to each glass when serving.

    5. Serve using a large ladle and be sure to scoop up fresh fruit and herbs in each serving. 
    Pro tip: try freezing your cranberries ahead of time to help keep your punch cold without over diluting, however, this is not a substitute for ice. It’s in addition to. You must have some dilution to make a balanced cocktail.
    24 ‘Carrot’ Gold
    3 oz fresh carrot juice 
    ½ oz fresh lemon juice 
    ½ oz fresh orange juice 
    ¼ oz fresh ginger juice 
    ¼ oz 100% maple syrup  
    4 oz Martinelli’s sparkling cider
    Garnish: huge handful of fresh dill, slice of Cara Cara orange slice, edible gold dust 

    1. Use a juicer to juice carrots and ginger.

    2. Add liquid ingredients to a large Collins glass, add ice on top, and stir.

    3. Garnish & sprinkle generously with gold dust.
    Red Carpet Sparkler
    4 oz Martinelli’s Sparkling Blush
    ½ oz lemon 
    ⅛ oz rose water 
    1 oz seltzer 
    Garnish: rose cube, raspberries on a skewer, dried mini-rose buds, fresh rose petals and pink edible pink glitter 

    1. Pour liquids into a chilled extra-large coupe glass and stir.

    2. Add rose ice cube and garnish.


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