When the year started, a group of friends of mine decided that in place of New Year’s Resolutions, we would embark upon twelve 30-day challenges throughout the year. The rules were simple: pick 1 goal for each month, and stay in touch via a Facebook group we created to help motivate each other. Every month is a fresh start, so there’s none of that crisis feeling when you slip up on your New Year’s Resolution halfway through January. While a lot of my goals are related to creativity, writing, and exercise, I had to sneak in a me-themed month, and thus 31 Days of Cocktails was born.
And since May has a few days that just beg for a specific cocktail, it was the perfect month to embark upon this adventure! We’ll bring our month of cocktails to you in three installments, each featuring a third of the month’s drinks.
The Aviation is one of my all-time favorite classic cocktails. The drink was invented back in the early 1900s, credited to Hugo Ensslin, head bartender at the Hotel Wallick in New York. It’s refreshing, delicious, and remarkably simple (if you own a bottle of Crème de Violette). Many fine drinking establishments in the ‘Burgh now make a pretty mean Aviation, so you can enjoy one around town quite easily.
This is the official James Bond drink. (The quote from the pages of Casino Royale: “Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon-peel. Got it?”) It’s not for the faint of heart: there’s a reason it’s shaken and not stirred, and that reason is that the melting ice makes this a little less of a doozy. The Vesper is incredibly booze-forward in flavor, but very clean-tasting.
muddle 2 mint sprigs with simple syrup in julep cup
fill julep cup with crushed ice
stir until cup is frosted on the outside
add more ice as needed
garnish with mint sprig
The Mint Julep is the official drink of the Kentucky Derby, which was run on May 3rd this year (go California Chrome!!!). It’s much boozier than you’d think, but that little hint of minty simple syrup cuts the Bourbon just right.
May 4th was the Pittsburgh Marathon this year, so we searched high and low for a running-themed cocktail with no luck. The closest we got was this tiki drink from the Holiday Isle Tiki Bar in Islamorada, Florida. It seems rather fruity and excessive (as most tiki drinks do as a recipe list), but the balance is pretty perfect. Just the right amount of sweetness, quite a bit of alcohol, and oh-so refreshing. While the name ‘rum runner’ comes from the people who would bring illegal booze from Nassau into South Florida during Prohibition, I certainly wouldn’t turn away one of these at the end of a road race!
If you’re making margaritas at home with a bottle of mix, please stop. It’s simple to make a fresh one without all that added sugar, and it tastes even better! You can use any decent tequila. I like mixing with El Jimador, for no particular reason except that it’s a solid, cost-effective tequila. As we are in the midst of Lime Crisis 2014 (it’s a real thing, sadly, you can read about it), the limes we got were extra-tart. I snuck in a little bit of Bärenjäger to balance that out without harming the flavor and composition of the margarita.
(I was traveling for work, hence the little Tupperwares of ingredients. Travel Mixology!) The Tom Collins is another one of my favorite summertime gin drinks. Very no-nonsense, very drinkable. You can use Old Tom gin, but I’ve always used Beefeater, since that’s what we have around the house, and it’s quite fine. While the origins of the original Tom Collins cocktail are a little fuzzy and disputable, there really was a Great Tom Collins Hoax of 1874.
Shake with ice, strain into martini glass
Spritz surface with lemon zest
Add peeled seedless red grape for garnish.
Originally called the ‘Sochi Swill’ (because the color of the drink resembled the water coming out of the hotel sinks in the city), Michael crafted this drink for us to enjoy during the 2014 Winter Olympics. When Bob Costas developed an unfortunate eye infection, Michael changed the drink to include a peeled grape garnish, and subsequently retitled the cocktail. There’s something wintery about this drink, and we enjoyed several of them over the course of the Olympics.
You can’t have a month of cocktails without an Old Fashioned. It’s a perfect whiskey drink. In the winter, it warms you up. In the summer, it’s cool and sweet for a hot summer night. Some recipes call for a lemon garnish, but we used an orange peel and a cherry, and it was just heaven.
Ever have an elusive cocktail from your past that you strive to recreate at every opportunity? For me, that is the Singapore Sling. As long as I search, I will never find a Singapore Sling as good as the ones I used to order in the early 2000s at Jimmy Tsang’s in Shadyside. As Jimmy Tsang’s has now closed, the best I can do is sample every Singapore Sling I can find, eternally chasing that early cocktail experience. This version is the ‘original’ 1950s recipe from Raffles Hotel. It’s good, but there’s something missing. I mean… this is a tiki drink. Does that ingredient list look complicated enough for a tiki drink? I think not.
Day #9: Singapore Sling (version 2)
2 oz gin
2 oz pineapple juice
3/4 oz lime juice
3/4 oz Cherry Heering
1/4 oz Cointreau
1/4 oz Benedictine
1/4 oz grenadine
1 dash of Angostura Bitters
1/2 oz soda water
Ahhhh that’s better. It’s still no Jimmy Tsang’s Singapore Sling, but it’s close. Sweet but not overly so, and just the tiniest bit bubbly from the club soda. This updated version is the 1970 Singapore Sling, a slightly-edited form of the 1950 cocktail. I think the changes were worth it, but both are listed as ‘official’ versions of the drink in our tiki guide.
shake the hell out of it and garnish with a cherry
We celebrated Mother’s Day at my parents’ house on May 10th, so we tried our hardest to come up with a holiday-appropriate cocktail that didn’t involve pear syrup or flavored vodka. The Pink Lady is a bit of a time commitment with all that shaking, but it’s tasty and lovely to look at, and you really can’t tell there’s an egg white in there at all.
So, stay tuned for the next two installments of our month of cocktails. There are 21 more fine drinks coming your way soon!