Homemade is better - well, in most things that is. I'm talking about homemade cordials and liqueurs. One of the things I love about making my own is that I can control the alcohol, sugar levels as well as flavoring. Plus it's crazy easy! For example - many liqueurs call for vanilla, and I'm in love with Ronald Reginald's Melipone Mexican Vanilla, which I swear by and use for anything that calls for vanilla. Bonus: it pairs beautifully with coffee for those in love with Kahlua.
In most cases, making your own flavored liqueurs is a lot less expensive, unless your focus is on high alcohol percentages, which you totally can do. I'm guessing it depends on what you plan to use it for - sipping straight? Get the higher quality. The brand names you get in the store usually have lower percentages, not to mention they are often mixed into cocktails with alcohol that do have a higher percentage. That said, you do you boo. I'm not here to judge.
Every year, I stock my crisper drawer with GLBC's Christmas Ale, (yes, I'm one of those people - if that's your pet peeve, I do save the other crisper drawer for actual vegetables), and for years would also stock my liquor cabinet with Kahlua to make a taste beer cocktail which I call the Twisted Christmas Ale.... Then one year when the budget was tight, I did what I always do when that happens; I make it myself. Then, I learned really fast that mine had way more flavor and generally tasted better than what I was buying. Below, I've gathered a few favorites to make - they do make great little gifts - just be sure to keep some for yourself!
2-3 c Freshly Brewed Strong, Hot Coffee
2-3 c Rum
2-4 c Sugar
1-2 T Vanilla Extract, or a Vanilla Bean, cut lengthwise.
Mix sugar and coffee together; if using vanilla bean, add while the coffee is still hot - it will release more flavor. Let the mix cool and add rum and vanilla extract (if using instead of vanilla bean). Vanilla extract can lose flavor with heat. Taste-test and adjust any ingredients if needed. Store in a cool place for 3 or 4 weeks, (if you can wait that long). If using a vanilla bean, leave it in the mixture for how ever many weeks you can wait to enjoy.
2 c Water
2 c Sugar
1/2 c Brown Sugar
2 c Vodka
2 T Almond Extract
1 T Vanilla Extract
In a pan, combine water and sugars, dissolve sugars and bring to a boil, then remove from heat and allow to cool. Once cooled, add vodka and extracts. Store in a cool dark place.
Raspberry (or Blackberry) Liqueur
3 c Vodka
2 c Fresh (or Frozen) Raspberries or Blackberries
2 c Sugar
1 Vanilla Bean (cut lengthwise and divided) or, 1 T Vanilla Extract.
Add vanilla bean, (or extract divided equally), berries and sugar (divided equally) between 2 quart jars, then fill jars with vodka. Shake to combine and to help dissolve sugar. Place in the fridge, and shake a couple of times a day for at least a week.
There's nothing quite like the amazing taste of a perfectly made pizza, when the crust is just right, the sauce is balanced with the perfect amount of cheese and all the right toppings. There is also nothing quite like the taste of your favorite beer or wine... but what if your favorite beer makes your favorite pizza taste "meh"? Just like orange juice after something minty, it can really ruin one or the other, or both.
There are beers and certain kinds of wine that I would never choose to drink on their own, but when guided by flavor pairing, they end up tasting amazing. The flavor profile completely changes depending on what it's served with. So I looked into what the experts recommend for some of the more popular kinds of pizza. I usually put different toppings on my pizzas and personally, when I'm in doubt as to what to pair with a pizza that lands outside the norm, I go by what pairs with the toppings. I usually enjoy a red blend, (which the experts never mentioned once in my research, apparently, they're subpar), with my go-to pizza of sausage, grilled mushrooms, peppadew peppers and goat cheese. Steak & Blue Cheese? Exactly what I serve if I'm serving a Steak with Blue cheese - Cabernet Sauvignon. But that's just from me, someone who knows a little about a lot of wines and beers, and a lot about what I love. Most of us do - so - feel free to break the experts' rules - they don't have your palate.
Classic Cheese Pizza: Beers: American Pale Ale, Pilsner. Wines: Chianti, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc or Sparkling Cava.
Pepperoni Pizza: Beers: Brown Ale, Belgian Wheat, IPA. Wines: Merlot, Sangiovese or Cabernet Franc, Unoaked Chardonnay or Pinot Gris.
Sausage Pizza: Beer: Pale Ale, Belgian Wheat. Wine: Chianti, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Zinfandel, Chenin Blanc, Unoaked Chardonnay.
White Sauce Pizza: Beer: Pale Ale or Pilsner. Wine: Burgundy, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay.
Margarhita Pizza: Beer: New England, Hazy or Tangy IPA. Wine: Lambrusco, Pinot Noir, (red) Zinfandel, Dry Rose, Chardonnay.
Mushroom Pizza: Earthy Ales such as an English Ale or bright lagers. Wine: Pinot Noir, Syrahs, Cabernet Sauvignon, (Red) Zinfandel, Chenin Blanc, Barrel Aged Chardonnay.
Veggie: Beer: Blonde Ale, Mild Lager, Pilsner. Wine: Pinot Noir, Syrah, Lambrusco, Oaked Chardonnay.
Seafood: Pale Ale, Belgian Weiss. Wines: Sauvingnon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Buttery Chardonnay, Rose, Pinot Noir.
There's nothing quite like the flavor of bourbon, nor is anything like a perfectly cooked steak, so it's no wonder some culinary genius put them together. I have been cooking steak since I was a teen - fun fact - my very first job was at the back of a country store that was also a butcher shop, and even now, I'll step back into my apron to help out at Barb & Patty's here and there.
How does a bourbon peppercorn sauce sound? This simple pan sauce is just so easy and comes together quickly, and of course pairs beautifully with a bourbon cocktail or a bourbon barrel aged red wine or even stout.
Bourbon Peppercorn Steak Sauce
2 Peeled and Smashed Garlic Cloves
1/2 c Bourbon
1 c Cream
Freshly Ground (or cracked) Pepper (to taste)
While your steaks rest, in the same pan used for searing steaks, re-heat the pan if it has cooled, add a little butter if needed (you most likely won't need to as the fat from the steaks should be plenty). Toss in garlic cloves, (for stronger garlic flavor, feel free to mince one of the garlic cloves to keep in the sauce as opposed to removing them at the end), and cook until toasted and flavors released, then carefully pour in bourbon to deglaze the pan - do not pour from the bottle, especially if you have gas stove as it could start a fire - pour the bourbon from a measuring cup. It will splatter, so if you have a splatter guard, you'll want to use it. Continue to deglaze the pan, stirring the bits left from the steak into the bourbon. When the bourbon cooks down by 1/3 to half, slowly pour in cream and stir to combine, add pepper (cracked or ground). The amount is up to you - I like to use quite a bit of coarsely ground pepper, but that might be too much for some and not enough for others, so personalize it to your taste. Remove and discard smashed garlic. Simmer until the sauce is the desired thickness. Drizzle over steaks and get ready for a festival of flavors!
* If you are grilling steaks - you can still whip the sauce up easily, add a pat of butter (and a drizzle of olive oil to keep the butter from burning) to sear the garlic. Add an 1/8 of a up of beef or vegetable stock along with the bourbon to add the depth of flavor.
This weekend most of us will celebrate Halloween!! The height of the most wonderful time of the year is finally here!! Whether you're having over a couple of friends or a crowd this weekend, here's a few tips and tricks to get your cocktails looking dark and scary. And I'm not even asking for any candy!
Make it GROSS! (EW!)
The easiest way to make Halloween cocktails scary is to make the drink itself appear gross. There are so many options! Bloody Brain Shooters, Zombie Brain Shots and of course the Brain Hemorrhage Shooter. Add extra red to any drink for a bloody effect by using corn syrup tinted with red food coloring, (or strawberry syrup, but it will be thinner than the corn syrup), on the inside of the glass, or as a rim for the glass - you've got to let some of it run down the sides for a true blood effect. You can also use grenadine and red sugar to rim a glass, and if your recipe calls for grenadine, put it into a syringe with the drink as the cocktail stirrer. To make eyeball garnishes, use canned lychees and add a half blueberry to the center with a dab of red gel food coloring. For extra ews, hold it all together with a skewer. An eyeball garnish for a bloody mary, use a radish, add a stuffed, (or a plain), green olive to the center. Make ice cubes with candy spiders and bugs in the center and use gummy worms too. Also, you can decorate a highball or beer glass with gauze for a mummy koozie.
To blacken cocktails, you can use activated charcoal, however, it settles at the bottom of the glass and might even interfere with some medications according to The Spruce Eats. They suggest a basic food coloring formula or even using black rice to create black vodka.
Sparkle & Shine!!
Make it GLOW!
For glow in the dark cocktails, the key ingredient doesn't go in your drink - it's making sure you have black lights. You can enhance the effects and guarantee that glow by using any energy drink containing vitamin B, Mountain Dew, tonic water, or tonic water ice cubes or any of the list of ingredients that ThoughCo suggests. They also mention the type of glass/cup you use, and though they suggest using a glow stick as a cocktail server, I wouldn't - it would be really bad if it leaked.
The trick to bubbling, foggy potion cocktails is of course dry ice. Just be careful handling it, (like, don't handle it ever - always use a utensil with it). For individual drinks - you don't need much at all. Check out the video below for safety tips. Here are a few places that sell dry ice.
As you know - I don’t pregame my seasons, unless we’re talking beer. Last Thursday, Great Lakes Brewing Company held their First Pour Party for what’s become a Cleveland holiday staple, Christmas Ale. New this year is the addition of their Cookie Exchange Milk Stout, which many of us couldn’t wait to try, and lo and behold, I got my thirsty hands on a six pack.
There’s something to be said about anticipation being so high that it dwarfs the experience you’re looking forward to, and that’s what happened with my first sip of Cookie Exchange. The promised notes of Caramel Vanilla Shortbread (or Speculoos) are most definitely present in the aroma. It’s a lighter stout with only a 5.5% ABV. I can definitely confirm that it’s very smooth and malty and seemed to have a clean finish. Those are the positives. For me, it lacked depth and fell a little short of my expectations. The flavors are more subtle than other dessert beers I’ve enjoyed, and it fell just a little flat.
By no means am I saying to pass on it - it’s still a good beer, it’s just not as good as I wanted it to be. It also could be because my senses still aren’t 100% back due to recently having covid and my sense of smell and taste did vanish and has been slow to completely return, so I’m not fully trusting my first impression of the GLBC Stout, although I did look into other reviews of the brew in question. No one has actually written anything about it yet, but it has been rated on a 5 star system. I consistently saw 4 stars and even 3.5 star ratings for it. I have to agree, although, I intend to “re-try” Cookie Exchange in a couple more weeks when my senses are (hopefully) even more recovered. You can pretty much get the full family of holiday brews from Great Lakes just about anywhere in the Cleveland area right now, including the Classic Christmas Ale and my favorite, their Bourbon Barrel Aged Christmas Ale.
Our cocktail honors Friday the 13th and Halloween, we’re not going to have another one of these in October until 2028… so, I went dark - literally - with the Blackberry Death cocktail
Sugarcane actually dates back to ancient times, with the earliest discovery of sugarcane through Alexander the Great as he made his way through Asia and Africa. Fast forward to the discovery of Barbados, and its perfect climate for sugarcane, they started fermenting sugarcane's by-product molasses - but it didn’t exactly taste great… In the mid 1600’s they called it “kill devil.” It was also an answer to the colonists of New England’s desire for alcohol - they had tried to make alcohol from pretty much everything around them with little success and rum came to the rescue. The taste improved greatly by the early 1700's and we’ve been enjoying it's gloriousness since. Rum was actually the drink of choice of the founding fathers' and our new country's drink of choice.
As for Chambord, it technically launched in the 1980’s - that said, it’s based on a French recipe from the 1600’s from the Chateau Chambord - and was reportedly enjoyed by royalty, specifically, King Louis the XIV, but let’s not focus on what ended up happening to him…
2 oz Dark Rum
1 1/2 oz Chambord
1 1/2 oz Blackberry Juice (or Pomegranate)
2 Dashes of Bitters
Add Rum, Chambord, Juice and bitters to a shaker with ice; shake until well chilled and strain into a glass over ice. Top with Club Soda and enjoy - preferably away from mirrors or under ladders…
One of the essentials of fall is apple cider, and when the temperature dips, hot mulled cider really hits the spot - especially when there’s a shot of bourbon involved.
The apple is so iconic to American culture, that it’s crazy to think that the apple as we know it is not native here. The only native apple trees to the Americas were sour crab apples. Settlers from England brought apples with them, and struggled to get the first orchards started - in fact - they had to ship more bees to the colonies for proper pollination. The origins of the apple (and cider) date back to ancient Egypt, like 1300 BC. Back then, all cider was alcoholic because of the fermentation process and lack of ability to preserve foods. Like most alcoholic beverages, cider was a happy accident, then was replicated. The apple spread from Egypt to Rome and continued throughout Europe, then of course made its way to the new world. For centuries, cider was actually the preferred drink, even more so than beer as it had a lower alcohol content since throughout most of history water was not safe to consume. It was only in the 20th century that beer and stronger spirits became more popular, (prohibition was partly to blame. What were they thinking?!?)
Today, thanks to refrigeration and modern preservation, cider no longer has to be alcoholic, and the recipe for this week’s cocktail calls for plain old cider from the produce section. You can also leave the bourbon out for the kiddos, or instead of adding the bourbon all at once to the recipe, add a shot to the glass/mug before serving.
Bourbon Mulled Cider
1/2 Gallon Fresh Apple Cider
1/4 c Mulling Spices
8-12 oz Bourbon (I used Knob Creek Smoked Maple)
1/2 an Orange, in slices Apple Slices (optional)
Pour cider into a stock pot, (or crock pot), add mulling spices, orange slices and bourbon (if not adding separately to glasses later). Heat on low (turn on high if using the crockpot). Simmer for about 30-40 minutes to infuse flavors. Serve warm, garnish with cinnamon sticks and orange/apple slices and indulge in your warm cuppa happy.
Now that we’re welcoming October this weekend, many are actually ready for pumpkin and to truly enjoy all things fall - and no - there are plenty of us that really can’t get into autumn when it’s 90 degrees out, including apple cider. It’s just weird. But now, it really is fall - so our cocktail this week is the Maple Cider Old Fashioned - I opted to keep the orange slice because it brightens it up plus the syrup replaces the sugar and adds depth to the cocktail.
Maple Cider Old Fashioned
Dash of Bitters
2 oz Bourbon
2 oz Apple Cider
1/4-1/2 oz Maple Syrup (depending on tatse)
Cinnamon Sticks (for garnish)
Place the orange in the bottom of a rocks glass and add the dash of bitters and muddle; add maple syrup and muddle again. Fill the glass with ice; pour bourbon and cider over the ice. give the cocktail a good stir, garnish with a cinnamon stick and enjoy your glass full of autumnal happy.
The final segment of my trip to Southern Tier covers why I went to begin with - there’s a new member to the Pumking family, Caramel Pumking, and to get a fall preview for you, but Lydia shared so much more and let me pick her brain for beer knowledge. In Part 1, we covered late summer brews and food pairings - plus Lydia’s personal concoction of a double IPA and a Sour, called Berry Gusher, which is refreshing, delish (and dangerous at 9% ABV). In Part 2, I was also introduced to a very unique brew that’s technically a red beer, but wine drinkers will enjoy, plus, an IPA for fall that I actually liked!
So as we conclude this series, we look at those amazing fall brews that Southern Tier is best known for, the amazing fall flavors of the Pumking Family and in using my new knowledge of how to properly taste beer, it was kind of like being reintroduced to them.
Now Pumking is described as “pumpkin pie in a glass,” delish, right? Well, not for some, and for those who don’t “pumpkin” but do enjoy spice, Lydia suggests trying Warlock, an imperial stout that is a part of the Pumking family. I heartily concur with her advice, as I fell in love with Warlock before Pumking. I now love both equally and it’s a fall staple for many craft brew enthusiasts. Caramel is the newest addition, and it is glorious. I feel like it adds a little extra depth and flavor that makes it even better. It may be my new fave. At their tap house on Prospect, you’ll also be able to enjoy a rum barrel version (Rumking) as well as a Chai Pumking…. and then, THEN, are you ready for this? There’s a Pumking Whiskey. Um…. If you notice I’m missing this fall, I’ll be at Southern Tier….
An absolute MUST try, is their dessert pretzel bites, which goes amazingly with any of the Pumking beers, but especially well with Caramel Pumking. Remember, Pumkingfest is tomorrow September 9th at the tap house on Prospect!
A HUGE thank you to Lydia for letting me hijack her evening and tap her brain for all kinds of brew info!
For part 2 of my trip to Southern Tier on Prospect, we’re taking a look at the transitional summer to fall beers on offer - for days like we had this week - chilly, but not cold, yet, warm but not hot. There are a few brews Southern Tier offers for this transition, and I think their Praise the Haze IPA is a good option - very, very piney, a classic east coast IPA, (just like a Carolina Pine Forest), is one for those days that are definitely still summer like. Southern Tier recommends their Harvest IPA. Now, I don’t generally like IPA’s, yet, I love this one. It was also my favorite to pair with their brisket meatballs with IPA Marinara. All their IPA’s are great with that dish, but, there’s something I love about the Harvest with that pairing and as an IPA in general. It’s a fuller body IPA that’s surprisingly smooth. Lydia from Southern Tier refers to it as her “leaf blowing beer,” a perfect end to a day of cleaning up fallen leaves. I also highly recommend any of their IPA's with their fried pickles with Nashville Hot Aioli... especially if you like the heat to linger (if you want to cut the heat Legacy Lager is the brew for you). Speaking of the Nashville Hot Aioli, it's a game changer in the world of aioli and heat. Truly delish.
Next, the beer I personally think is perfect for transition, the Redwood Redemption - and even early winter.This is described as a beer that’s like a red wine - it’s a “wine drinkers” beer, and a good one to stock for those “I only drink wine” guests, because it’s my bet that they’ll no longer adhere to their “wine only” rule.It’s an incredibly unique beer - quite possibly the most unique beer I’ve ever tasted. It’s like someone brewed a wine. “She’s a breed all her own - she’s a unique brew” is what Lydia says concerning Redwood Redemption. So far, it’s been great with anything you’d pair with red wine. Marinara, pizza, a rich burger. It’s smooth, but not sweet, not too heavy or too light. I also think it’ll be great with a bonfire on a cold night. Lydia and I both thought it’d make a great companion to a hearty chili, and if you put beer in your chili, this one is a great choice. Considering we’re definitely not done with the hot weather, be sure to check out the Southern Tier brews still on offer for summer in That’s What She Drank Jaci’s Visit to Southern Tier Part 1. Again, big thanks to Lydia for sharing all her brewery information and taste guidance and to Nikki who took care of us.
We of course explored the flavors of the Pumking Family, (including the new Caramel Pumking), and if you're a Pumking fan, one date to put on your calendar is Saturday, September 9th because it's Pumking Fest starting at noon at Southern Tier Brewery. Another prominent date is the following day, Sunday the 10th as they are releasing their CLE Brew'd Brown Ale and celebrating the game with $5 dollar drafts of the football season's brew.
To be continued...