Rosemary Cocktails

We made some rosemary syrup for some experiment that we neglected to document. The syrup itself is simple enough to make. Add a few sprigs of fresh rosemary to the pot while making regular simple syrup (1 part sugar to 1 part water) and then strain the rosemary out before jarring. Any sort of herbal syrup, like mint syrup for juleps, would be made the same way and can add a spring to the step of an otherwise ordinary cocktail.

Anyway, it’s been in the fridge for a couple of weeks, and since we don’t know how long it will last, we decided to try and use some of it tonight on a few new experiments. For the first one, we tried a sweet spin on the classic Complement Cocktail, which normally uses akvavit, a Scandinavian liquor that is similar to gin but uses fennel for flavoring instead of juniper. Since you can’t get akvavit in Alabama, we made a a fennel tincture by letting some fennel sit in a jar of vodka for a couple of weeks. We keep the tincture in a dropper  bottle because a little goes a long way.

Rosemary ClooneyThe Rosemary Clooney

  • 2 oz London dry gin
  • 1/2 oz rosemary syrup
  • 1/2 oz St. Germain
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 6 drops of fennel tincture

For our second drink of the night, we chose to use tequila and Armagnac, two ingredients that don’t usually get a lot of love in cocktails. We added a splash of Campari to brighten things up.

The Song of the Forest People

  • 2 oz reposado tequila
  • 1/2 oz rosemary syrup
  • 1/2 oz vsop Armagnac
  • splash of Campari
  • 2 dashes orange bitters

Finally, we decided to try the rosemary syrup with a bourbon cocktail. We happened to have a jar of bourbon infused with mustard seed, which we were inspired to make after having a cocktail with mustard seed apple brandy at Food Bar one night. It seemed like it would go well with the rosemary. The dry sherry and Luxardo helped to round it out.

The Spring Chicken

  • 2 0z mustard seed-infused bourbon
  • 1/2 oz rosemary syrup
  • 1/2 oz dry sherry
  • 1/2 oz Luxardo marischino liqueur

It’s a Cold, Cold Day

Cold DayCold days remind me of my old music friends Angela and Crystal, late nights strumming guitars and drinking whiskey by the fire. We recorded an album a couple of years ago, including Angela’s song “Cold Day,” which inspired this drink. You can purchase that album here, by the way.

This cocktail is dedicated to Angela and Crystal and to the whole frozen East Coast.

  • 2 oz Bulleit Rye
  • 1/2 oz Carpano Antica Formula
  • 1/2 oz Zucca amaro
  • Laphroaig rinse
  • Lemon twist

Fill a coupe glass with ice and add about a half ounce of the Laphroaig scotch. Add the other ingredients to a mixing glass and stir. Swirl the scotch and ice around in the coupe a few times and then throw the scotch and ice down the drain. Strain the ingredients from the mixing glass into the coupe. Add the lemon twist.

Enjoy while cuddled under an electric blanket with a loved one.

A Few House Cocktails

The first original cocktail we invented, we naturally named after ourselves. It included all our favorite things at the time: rye, cognac, absinthe, bitters, and Domaine de Canton (a ginger liqueur). Originally, we built this drink on the rocks and added sugar, but our tastes have matured (we would like to think). In its current iteration, the Hornbuckle is served Manhattan style, and we let the ginger liqueur take care of the sweetness.

The Hornbuckle

Use a dropper to wash the inside of a coupe glass with Absinthe

In a mixing glass, add:

  • 2 oz rye whiskey
  • .5 oz of brandy or cognac (we recommend E&J XO or Courvoisier VSOP)
  • .5 oz of Domain de Canton
  • 3 good shakes of Angostura bitters

Shake with ice and strain into the coupe. Garnish with citrus peel.

This next one is our take on the Alabama Slammer, which is traditionally a very cloying and unsatisfying concoction of cheap sweet liqueurs and fruit juices mixed with vodka and only sold at crappy bars, usually near the beach. Why is it called an Alabama Slammer? By subbing high proof bourbon for the vodka, using higher quality liqueurs, and being reserved with the proportions, we came up with a version that wouldn’t be out of place at a proper cocktail bar.

The Birmingham Baron

  • 2 oz Wild Turkey 101
  • 1/4 oz Plymouth sloe gin (use no other brand, or make your own; unfortunately, you may have to order it online because it’s hard to find)
  • 1/4 oz DiSaronno amaretto liqueur
  • 1/4 oz Sweet Lucy (the regular, not the cream version)
  • splash of fresh squeezed orange juice or a quality curacao like Cointreau
  • splash of orange bitters

Shake with ice and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a luxardo cherry.

A Shrub, not a Shrubbery

The fist time we had a shrub in a cocktail was about two years ago at Little Savannah, here in Birmingham. Then bartender, Steva Casey made us something that included a strawberry/rosemary shrub. Not being familiar with the term, we naturally inquired about it. We’ve seen them a few times since then, but they are only beginning to become popular at nicer cocktail bars in the area. Recently at Bettola, we had a conversation with a bartender there who was starting to experiment with them himself, and as it happened, we had only made our first shrubs a couple of weeks before that.

A shrub is, essentially, fruit and sugar macerated with vinegar. In olden times, shrubs were one of the ways that fruit farmers used up the leavings of their crop at the end of the season. On it’s own, blended with tea, or mixed with club soda, shrubs are potent tonics that fix whatever ails you. They can also add very nice complications to cocktails.

After getting some basics from Amy Stewart and Alice Doyle, we started own own experiments with what we happened to have around. The basic formula is:

  • Take a bunch of fruit and cut it into bite size pieces
  • Use 1/2 cup of sugar (or other sweetener) for every cup of fruit
  • Mix the fruit and sugar. Let it sit in a covered bowl overnight.
  • Transfer to a mason jar
  • Add a bunch of whatever herbs would be good with the fruit
  • Cover with vinegar
  • Shake it up.
  • Let it sit in the fridge for a week, shaking it every day
  • Strain out the solids with cheese cloth into a clean jar

So far our combinations have included cucumber/mint and blackberry/thyme. We used raw apple cider vinegar for both. We have had some excellent shrubs that used balsamic vinegar as well.

The cucumber/mint shrub is lovely in gin cocktails, and the blackberry/thyme goes well with bourbon.

Autumn’s Kiss

In the fall, we lean a little heavier on the whiskey cocktails than other times of year. We also like to incorporate Applejack, a variety of apple brandy that is made like whiskey, except from apples. We prefer the Laird’s Bottled-in-Bond Applejack because the 100-proof tends to stand up better against the other ingredients. But you can’t get the Bottled-in-Bond (legally) yet in Alabama. You can sub the 80-proof Laird’s Blended Applejack, which is available at some ABC stores now. You might have to use a bit more of it to get the same effect.

We also have on hand some 7 1/2 year apple brandy from Laird’s and Calvados, an apple brandy made in France, both of which are good for sipping. 

This one is a Manhattan-style cocktail with the applejack standing in for some of the whiskey. We also had some scuppernong juice in the fridge that seemed like it would be interesting. I think we got that at Whole Foods, so it shouldn’t be hard to find, but you could substitute regular grape juice, or just go a little heavier on the vermouth. Ramazzotti is an Italian aperitif liqueur (amaro) that adds a nice herbal element to the cocktail. If you don’t have any of that, some Bénédictine will do. The Galliano gives it some mild notes of vanilla and anise.

We asked our friends on Facebook to name this one. It was Nancy G. who came up with the most fitting title, we thought.

Autumn’s Kiss

  • 1 ounce Bulleit rye
  • 1 ounce Laird’s bottled in bond apple brandy
  • 1/4 ounce sweet vermouth
  • 1/4 ounce scuppernong juice
  • 1/4 oou ce Ramazzotti
  • 1/4 ounce Galliano

Maple Cocktails

Once upon a time, we bought two IMG_20131112_220523_905bottles of maple-flavored whiskey. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and at least one of them was on sale for way less than the list price. We were early in our cocktail obsessions. We didn’t know better. It’s not entirely clear whether either of these uses real maple syrup. How much of it is actual whiskey is anybody’s guess. These products are super sweet and tend to take over whatever drink you put them in. For a while we made a dessert drink that we called the Tim Horton’s with equal parts maple whiskey and Bailey’s, which is good if you are in the mood for a cocktail that tastes like a maple creme-filled doughnut.

We are rarely in that mood.

So what are we to do with this stuff? The maple flavor is too strong for this to be the main ingredient in something. At the very least, it needs to be paired with something else that will mellow it a bit. Our first attempt was to mix it with some Applejack (more on that in another post). We decided on a Manhattan-style drink but with Dolin Blanc as the vermouth, hoping the vermouth would help offset the sweetness of the maple whiskey. And then we added some charred cedar bitters we made based on BTP’s recipe and some blackberry thyme shrub we put together at the end of the summer.

Almost all of those ingredients deserve their own post, and we’ll get to that one of these days. Even though the shrub and this precise style of bitters are not things most people would happen to have around, there are always workarounds for such things. The cedar bitters add a smoke, so you could substitute a splash of a particularly smokey scotch or mezcal. Instead of the shrub, try adding a splash of apple cider vinegar.

Jen didn’t care for this one, but I liked it well enough to document it anyway.

Partial to Maple

  • 1 oz maple whiskey
  • 1 oz Applejack
  • 1/2 oz Dolin Blanc Vermouth
  • 1 teaspoon blackberry thyme shrub
  • 2 dashes charred cedar bitters

This is shaken and served up in a coupe glass.

The next idea was much more successful. We decided to mix it with regular bourbon and lemon juice to offset the sweetness. Then we added Cointreau and Luxardo to add some complexity. It is a take on a classic whiskey sour drink.

Maple Sourpuss

  • 1 oz maple whiskey
  • 1 oz bourbon (I used Maker’s Mark)
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 1/2 oz Cointreau
  • 1/4 oz Luxardo maraschino liqueur

Shaken and served in a rocks glass, as a whiskey sour would be. If you want to be fancy, add a float of red wine. If you want it sweeter, add a float of Pama or grenadine.

We want to mention one other maple cocktail that we stole from another blog. We tried to do a version of it with the maple whiskey, but it just didn’t work. We came across it because we made our own butter and therefore had some buttermilk (I know! So many stories we will have to tell you another day. Stop distracting us!) So of course, we thought “how can we use buttermilk in a cocktail?”

We found the answer at the Serious Eats blog. It is awesome as described, but we also had good luck substituting bourbon for the gin.

Buttermilk Maple Gin Flip

  • 1 whole egg, separated
  • 2 ounces gin
  • 1 ounce buttermilk
  • 1/2 ounce maple syrup
  • Fresh nutmeg

Place egg yolk in cocktail shaker with a few ice cubes. Seal shaker and shake vigorously for 10 seconds. Open shaker, fill with ice, and add gin, buttermilk, egg white, and maple syrup. Shake vigorously for 20 seconds and strain into chilled coupe or sour glass. Grate nutmeg over top and serve.

For the uninitiated, many classic cocktails include eggs. Some, like whiskey sours, use just the white of the egg. It makes the cocktail frothier and gives it body. When the yolk is added, the drink is called a “flip.” A gin flip was a popular breakfast drink in the 19th century. It’s becoming popular in our household as well.

Dog’s Nose

We had read once that a Dog’s Nose is two ounces of gin mixed with beer. Sounds awful, and it is–if that’s all you do. We assumed any American lager style beer would do, and that it was served cold. Wrong! A proper Dog’s Nose should be served warm with a little sugar and a little nutmeg, and it needs a heavier beer like a porter or stout.

Somewhere in our travels across the internets, we came across a book called called Drinking with Dickens, which is quite fascinating for many reasons, one of which is that it is written by the grandson of Charles Dickens. It also goes into detail about all the various types of alcohol being consumed in all of Dickens’ novels. And finally, its recipe for the Dog’s Nose is not just drinkable; it’s delicious and a perfect addition to a chilly November evening in front of the fireplace.

For historical accuracy, I used Hayman’s Old Tom gin, and I’ve also had good results using Bols Genever. Any gin you happen to have around will probably work fine though.

Dogs Nose

16 oz Guinness
2 oz of gin
1 tablespoon of brown sugar

Warm ingredients in a saucepan (medium heat) until hot but not boiling. Pour into two large coffee mugs and sprinkle with nutmeg and/or cinnamon.


This sweet lemon liqueur is a popular digestivo in Italy. The ingredients are simplicity itself–just lemon peel, sugar, water, and neutral grain alcohol. We became interested when our friend Rober’ gave us a sample of his, and he was kind enough to share his recipe with us. A lot of people will tell you that you can leave the lemon peel in the alcohol for only 2-3 weeks, but Rober’ insists that you should let it age for at least 3 months. As he says, “That’s how the old grandmas in Italy do it.”

limoncelloOf course, we took up the challenge and did it both ways. The younger limoncello has a brighter flavor. The more aged limoncello has a more complex and richer flavor. So perhaps it’s a matter of taste, but we now let ours do its thing for at least 3 months. We tend to make it in big batches, using 3 or 4 large mason jars. By the time we get around to bottling the last jar, it has sometimes been aging for 6 months or more.

We also don’t make our limoncello quite as sweet as we used to. We started out using equal parts simple syrup and the lemon-alcohol mixture. Now we use a cup to a cup and a half for every 16 ounces of lemon-alcohol. I recommend starting off less sweet and adding more simple syrup if you feel like you need it. You can always add more, but you can’t take it out once it’s in there.

The other very important thing to remember is to use the lemon peel but not the white pith, which can make the final product too bitter. We use a potato peeler and a light touch to peel the lemons. We end up with a small amount of pith, but it is negligible. Try to use organic lemons with no wax on them. If you can’t find those, there are products you can buy to remove the wax.

Some people may start with just vodka and others start with PGA. Once you add the sugar, it will bring the proof down. So if you want a 40-60 proof liqueur, use vodka. If you want it to end up being 100 proof or more, use PGA. We use a mix of the two to end up with something closer to 80 proof.


  • Mix a 750 ml bottle of 100-proof vodka with a 750-bottle of pure grain alcohol (Everclear) in a large mason jar (we split it into two 32-ounce jars with equal amounts of both liquors).
  • Add the peels (no pith!) of 16 lemons (8 in each jar)

Let that sit in a cool dark place for at a few months until you forget about it. It’s really nice to start it out in the summer and then rediscover it just in time for Christmas. Makes a good gift!

  • Filter out the lemon peels using cheese cloth.
  • Add simple syrup (1 cup of sugar to 1 cup of water) to taste and shake to blend.
  • Bottle in a freezer-safe container and serve very cold.

The Gin Experiments

A couple of years ago, I stumbled across a recipe for making your own gin at home, safely and legally. No bathtubs are involved. You see, at heart, gin is really just a neutral grain alcohol that has been infused with juniper berries and other botanical ingredients. It’s been said that gin is the original flavored vodka, although it was once something more like flavored moonshine.

A little history:
In the 18th century, whiskey and gin started off in generally the same way, by distilling whatever grains happened to be around. In those days, distilling methods were pretty low tech — think your typical backwoods moonshine still, not terribly clean, perhaps infested with bugs. To improve the flavor of their product, whiskey makers started aging it in wine casks or oak barrels. In Holland, they used some commonly found botanicals to add flavor–most notably, the juniper berry. The Dutch word for “juniper” is “genever,” so Dutch liquor became known by that name, later shortened to just “gin.”

Genever, still made today by the Dutch company Bols, is maltier, sweeter, and earthier than the dry gins most of us are more familiar with today. English distilleries in the nineteenth century created a more filtered gin, still slightly sweet, called Old Tom.  In the twentieth century, a drier and even more heavily filtered version of gin gained popularity, London Dry, which was the only gin most Americans knew about for decades. More recently, older styles of gin have become popular again, and some companies are making a wide variety of gins. The only common factor is the trusty old juniper berry.

If you think you don’t like gin, you probably just haven’t had the right one yet.

GinMost commercial gins include the juniper and other botanicals before distilling, which is why the result is a clear liquor. However, without access to a still, you can simply infuse the botanicals directly into already distilled liquor. Because the berries and other stuff goes straight into the liquid, it will end up with some color to it, but don’t let that scare you.

There are a lot of recipes online for homemade gin. I started with something similar to the one I found here and gradually experimented with some other recipes. For all of these recipes, I leave the botanicals in the alcohol for 3 days and then filter out the solids using cheese cloth.

The first gin we made here at the Whiskey Thief is something we now simply call Gin #1. It uses a lot of spices that you might associate with Indian food–cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, etc. It tastes like Christmas morning.

Gin #1

  • 750 ml of 100 proof vodka
  • 2 tablespoons of dried juniper berries
  • 1 tablespoon of coriander seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon of allspice berries
  • peel of half an orange
  • 1 cinnamon stick

I have also used whiskey as a base for Gin #1, instead of vodka. It makes for an interesting spiced whiskey, but I don’t think it’s really gin unless you start with something more neutral.

Jen likes Gin #1, but I find the coriander overly intense. When I revised the recipe, I cut way back on the coriander and added some clove. I also switched from vodka to a white (unaged) whiskey, aka moonshine, hoping to achieve a sweeter Old Tom-like gin. Having compared the result to some Old Tom gins purchased in another state, I think ours is a contender.

Old Tom #1

  • 750 ml of white whiskey (I like to use Prichard’s)
  • 2 tablespoons of dried juniper berries
  • 1 teaspoon of clove
  • 1/2 teaspoon of coriander seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon of allspice berries
  • peel of half an orange
  • 1 cinnamon stick

After that, I decided to see what it would be like to concentrate just on juniper without any other flavor components. Juniper actually has a really complex and interesting flavor on its own, with subtle notes of cinnamon and vanilla that can easily get covered up by citrus peel and other spices.

Super Juniper

  • 750 ml of 100-proof vodka
  • 4 tablespoons of dried juniper berries

That’s it!

The most recent and possibly most ambitious experiment has been to try and make a cucumber gin. Commercially, the only thing on the market like this is Hendrick’s, and it’s rather expensive. For my first attempt, I used too much cucumber, and I neglected to peel them first. The peel of the cucumber left the gin tasting bitter. With some trial and error, I came up with a recipe that we think has a similar flavor profile to Hendrick’s, but it’s much stronger. We had to cut it with more vodka to achieve the desired result.

As a bonus, we had gin-flavored pickles at the end. They still needed to be sweetened, but putting them in a mason jar with some sugar for a couple of days did the trick.

Cuke Juke Gin

  • 750 ml of 100-proof vodka
  • 2 tablespoons of dried juniper berries
  • half a small cucumber, peeled and sliced
  • peel of one lemon

Basil Cocktails

Hi folks, and welcome to the Whiskey Thief blog. Here, Jen and I will document our cocktailing adventures.

I thought we’d start with a recent home experiment. The basil plant out back was looking particularly fluffy last week, so we decided to play around with some basil cocktails.

The first is a variation on a traditional gin smash. The picture is a bit out of focus because I’m a terrible photographer. Just don’t click to make it larger, and it won’t give you seizures.

Yes, we are such liquor nerds that we make our own cucumber gin, but you can just use Hendrick’s. We’ll post something soon about all our various homemade gin experiments.

smashCucumber Basil Smash

2 oz homemade cucumber gin (or Hendrick’s)
1/2 oz St. Germain
1/2 oz lemon juice
4 muddled basil leaves

Shaken and served up in a coupe glass with a basil garnish.

For the next one, Jen wanted something with a bit of spice. We dug up a jar of strawberry and jalapeno jam from the back of the pantry, and then we melted it down with some water to make a syrup. I don’t know about you, but when I think of jalapenos, I think about Mexico, and when I think about Mexico, I think about tequila. So here’s what we came up with.

This picture didn’t come out quite as blurry as the other one. I think after the first round, my hands got a bit steadier.

CholulaThe Basilisk

2 oz reposado tequila
3/4 oz strawberry pepper syrup
3/4 oz lime juice
4 muddled basil leaves
3-4 drops of Cholula hot sauce

 Shaken and served up in a coupe glass with a basil garnish.