How to make your own DIY bourbon and Maraschino cherries

The real thing! DIY cherries!
Homemade bourbon and Maraschino cherries are so much better than the red things that have passed for the moniker for generations.

Don’t ever buy those nasty bright red things from the grocery store. The only thing those are good for is to put on sundaes for the kids. Even if you have discerning kids like mine, they still like those abominations usually called Maraschino cherries.

I guess you can buy actual Maraschino cherries from some place like Amazon, or you can follow my advice and just make your own. It’s a lot cheaper, and they’re just as freaking good.

DIY Bourbon/Maraschino cherries

To make ’em, use frozen cherries. I like the large dark red cherries. Just make sure they’re not in some sugar bath or anything like that. Don’t worry, though. If they’re anything like the ones I got, they’re super sweet on their own.

From Kroger.
Frozen cherries are just fine, trust me. Just try to buy some good ones. I think these cost $4 or so. And there’s about two quarts in the bag.

Fill up your jar with cherries, and then add two cinnamon sticks, four cloves, and two star anise. Then fill halfway with bourbon and the other half with Maraschino liqueur.

Let it sit a few days and you have something worthy of a Manhattan. Me, if I don’t have any homemade ones, I’m not putting anything in my Manhattan. I would rather have nothing than one of those gross neon atomic bombs. And the real Maraschino ones are just too freaking expensive. These, they may cost about four dollar for a quart. And when you run out, you just fill it up with more cherries. Use the same liquid.

It’s the power of DIY cherries!

The Jack Daniel’s House No. Siete in Houston, March 31, 2016

You may not give Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey that much thought. That’s the thing you order when you want a Lemmy, right? You know, a Jack and Coke. The drink that costs twice as much as it would have if you had just said “Whiskey and Coke.”

Some people love Jack and Coke. I know at least one person who ALWAYS orders one. I mean every single damn time he goes to a bar, he orders one. And if I’m buying, I’m paying for two whiskeys by ordering a Jack and Coke.


And here’s the big but.

Jack Daniel’s is actually pretty good. It’s $23 for a 750mL bottle, which isn’t that much more than my own personal mixing standard, which is Evan Williams at $13 a bottle. Well, I guess that’s a pretty big difference, but here’s the kicker. People respect Jack Daniel’s. It has a cache that Evan Williams just doesn’t have. Or even Jim Beam, which is $16 a bottle. People may sometimes ask for a Beam and Coke, but not nearly as much as they do for a Jack and Coke. I mean, a Lemmy (see, I want people to start calling it that. Lemmy is a fucking legend, man.).

Not only is Jack Daniel’s more well-respected, but it’s actually something I can drink straight. It’s pretty good for a mass-produced whiskey.

And the people at Jack Daniel’s know how to throw an awesome party.

Last week, they invited me to the Jack Daniel’s House No. Siete here in Houston, Tejas at the Revention Music Center.

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They transformed that space into something pretty awesome that tried to mimic what it would have been like if Jack Daniel himself were still alive.

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And he, you know, liked to play pool and Foosball.

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Yes, they had a DJ and a half-DJ/half-band, and then a full band that all played throughout the evening. It was all pretty fun.

But you can see a bunch of photos about that event here at the Houston Press site.

Me, I wanted to try the whiskey, and the downstairs in the Jack Daniel’s VIP lounge was where the fun really happened.

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They had a great jazz duo who played all night. And they were great. But check out the drink menu!

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Unfortunately, none of the drinks adequately captured the flavors of the different Jack Daniel’s liquors. I got to try them straight, though, and they were quite good.

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There’s the regular Jack Daniel’s black label, which is your standard stuff. Decent.

But then there’s Gentleman Jack and Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel. The Single Barrel is what it sounds like; from a single barrel, and it has a typical single barrel price of $43 a bottle. Me, I prefer the Gentleman Jack, and I always have. It’s one of the first whiskeys I ever bought. It’s what my dad and brother always drank when it first came out. At $29 a bottle, it’s a damn good deal. Always tasty, always trustworthy.

What I didn’t know, though, is how they make it.

All they do is filter the regular Jack Daniel’s twice. That’s right. Sounds easy, huh?

But we’re not talking about a coffee filter here. We’re talking 10 freaking feet of Jack Daniel’s-made maple charcoal. Holy shit, dude! They slow drip this stuff through tons of this charcoal. It is the best-selling whiskey in the world, after all.

Besides the Gentleman Jack, there’s the Fire and Tennessee Honey, which are good on their own. Both are tasty entries into the burgeoning flavored whiskey category. But Jack doesn’t just put some cinnamon oil in it. Nope, they steep real cinnamon. And it makes a difference.

So here are a bunch of pictures, not of the party itself, because I’m not that kind of guy, but of the space and drinks.

So next time you’re buying a bottle of sipping whiskey, don’t fear to try Gentleman Jack. You might be pleasantly surprised.

And listen to fucking Motorhead while you drink it.



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Black Restaurant Week–Power of the Palate Bartending Competition tomorrow April 9, 2016

The culmination of Black Restaurant Week is the event called Power of the Palate, which is a bartending competition at Bar 5015 on Almeda here in Houston, TX.


I’m going there straight after the 29th Annual Houston Art Car Parade, and I suggest you do, too. It’s free, it’s at a cool place, and it should be a good time with some great drinks.

Cheers! See you tomorrow!

Spirit Review: Botanist Gin and the Classic Gin Martini

With 22 botanicals, The Botanist gin is a class unto itself.

Everyone who knows me knows I like gin. It was the first spirit I really got into when I started learning about cocktails.

Now you’re just as likely seeing me with a glass of scotch or rye in my hand as you are to see me with a gin-based cocktail.

But I still love gin.

Yet I’m torn by how to talk about gin. Sure, there’s something floral about it, but there’s also something sweet as well as savory.

And The Botanist gin has all of it. In spades.

The Botanist Gin Spirit

Hendrick’s is a great gin, and it’s hard to compare with it, but The Botanist is a completely different animal. With Hendrick’s, you get the rose and cucumber on top of everything. With Botanist, you don’t get anything on top. It’s all swirling together, kind of like hearing a symphony and not being able to pick out a particular instrument. If you try really hard, you think you hear the cello, but ideally, you let it all flow together and enjoy what the conductor has created.

Yeah, Botanist is like that. A symphony in your mouth.

They use tons of stuff in it, too. Well, at least 22 botanicals, all local to Islay, where they make the stuff. Yep, this, like Hendrick’s, is made in scotch territory.

What do they use in it? You name it. There’s apple mint, sweet chamomile, creeping thistle, downy birch, elder, gorse (whin), hawthorn, heather, juniper, lady’s bedstraw, lemon balm, meadowseet, mugwort, red clover, spear mint, sweet cicely, bog myrtle (sweet gale), tansy, water mint, white clover, wild thyme, wood sage.

A botanist’s dream. Or nightmare.

If you let me try it and ask me to pick out the mint, I would be convinced I was tasting it (no, really, I think I do taste mint). Or thyme. Or juniper. Yep, I think they’re all there, but I have to isolate those flavors and convince myself that I’m tasting it. Sometimes I manage to fool even myself.

But mugwort? What the hell is that and what does it taste like? Heck, is it even edible?

Who cares? It makes a damn fine scotch. I mean, gin. See, I’m not used to talking about gin this way. Sheesh.

The Botanist in a Cocktail

How to showcase the Botanist? You could go for the Foraged Seaweed Martini if you lived near the ocean, or you could, well, just make the best damn martini you’ve ever had.

Go classic here.

Mix with ice

  • 2 1/4 oz Botanist gin
  • 1 oz Dolin dry vermouth
  • 3 dashes orange bitters

strain into a chilled glass, add a lemon rind swathed around the edge of the glass, spritzed on top, and then dropped in.

It’s like I’m back in the forest foraging for wild mushrooms to make my own ragu.

Screw it, I’m really just drinking a really freaking swank martini. And that’s all I need.

Love the Dutch Cocktail: Berenburg, Old Tom Gin, Triple Sec, lemon juice

Love the Dutch!
Berenburg and the Love the Dutch cocktail: Berenburg, Old Tom Gin, triple sec lemon juice

My Dutch friend gave me a bottle of Berenburg, and this stuff has become a bit of an obsession of mine. I’ve never seen it in the U.S., and my local Spec’s store doesn’t have it, so if anyone knows where it’s possible to get this stuff, please let me know.

What is Berenburg?

It’s genever steeped in herbs and bottled at 30%  alcohol by volume. That sums it up, too. It’s just slightly sweet, and very herbaceous, most similar to a jagermeister or an amaro or even like Chartreuse but without the Chartreuse sweetness or alcohol content. Some people classify it as a bitter.  But it’s its own animal, mind you. Imagine a really flavorful, herbaceous gin, beyond the most herbaceous one you can think of, and you will have an idea. Hell, it’s actually gin (genever, but whatever) steeped in herbs. That’s twice with the herbs, people!

The Love the Dutch Cocktail

When I say I have been obsessed with Berenburg, it’s that I have been obsessed with trying to mix with it. To make a cocktail that highlights it.

And, after many tries, I think I’ve succeeded. I call it the Love the Dutch Cocktail, in opposition to Michael Caine in Goldmember (skip to 1:50 in this clip). Also because, well, some Dutch nurses saved my life last year when I was dying in the jungles of Guatemala. But that’s another story.

To make a Love the Dutch Cocktail, combine with ice

and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

It’s the Berenburg and triple sec that work well together. That was the revelation for me. The gin is filler, and the lemon just evens everything out. That’s why I went for an Old Tom Gin. I would NOT use a full-on herb gin like Botanist or Hendricks or anything like that. A London dry gin could work, though.

It all works to cut through the Berenburg flavor and enhance its herbal qualities at the same time.

So if someone gives you a bottle of Berenburg or you find one in the store, you now know what to do with it. You can drink it on ice or with Sprite or cola like the Dutch do, or you can really love the Dutch and make a Love the Dutch cocktail.


The Cupid’s Cider with Hornitos Black Barrel: Another Valentine’s Day cocktail good anytime

Cupid's Cider
The Cupid’s Cider with Hornitos Black Barrel Tequila

I have already featured a few drinks for Valentine’s Day, but I had to go ahead and give you this one, too. Sure, I’m weeks late, but this drink is so good, timing didn’t matter.

I know I’m prone to hyperbole. Everything I taste is often the best thing I’ve ever tasted. Okay, I’m not that bad. At least I hope I’m not.

But this really is a good cocktail. Call it something different if you want. Call it Apollo’s Cider. Or Zeus’s Cider. Or Cinnamon Apple Oatmeal. Who cares? But try it.

Again, this recipe was sent to me by Hornitos, so I take no credit for it.

The Cupid’s Cider Cocktail recipe

To make the Cupid’s Cider, pour into a larger old fashioned glass:

  • 1 1/2 oz Hornitos Black Barrel Tequila
  • 3/4 oz apple cider
  • 2 oz water
  • 3/4 oz cinnamon syrup
  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • 5 dashes Angostura bitters

And put some ice in it. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and an apple wedge.

Something about this recipe is perfect. Make sure you put the two ounces of water, though, or it’s way too sweet. Trust me here. I tried it, so you don’t have to.  And adjust the bitters to taste. The original recipe called for two. I like five. Or more. Oh, I love bitters.

This might be the perfect winter cocktail. Especially for Houston winters when it’s 75 degrees in February. We have it rough, people.

How to make cinnamon syrup

Make a simple syrup with cinnamon, cloves, and anise

You will need cinnamon syrup, but that’s easy. Just make a one-to-one simple syrup (1 1/2 cups sugar, 1 1/2 cups water) and put a few cinnamon sticks, a couple cloves, and a couple anise (or eliminate the cloves and anise; what you really want is the cinnamon), and bring it to a boil. Then let it cool completely, and strain into a sealed container. It will keep for a while, at least a few weeks. But if you keep making these cocktails, it won’t last long.

Pilsner Syrup and the Lemon Shondell Cocktail: Reyka vodka, Hornitos Spiced Honey, pilsner syrup

The Lemon Shondell cocktail featuring beer syrup from Karbach’s Zee German Pils

Beer syrup sounds disgusting, I know. Why would you ever put something so disgusting in a cocktail? asks my skeptical side. That’s like adding mushroom water.

Wow, I can’t believe I just came up with that. That really does sound disgusting.

Well, leave it to Dallas to try it! Maybe not mushroom water, but they sure use a lot of shrooms!

Back to beer syrup, though. Sure, it isn’t something you see all the time in cocktails, but it’s a good way to get beer flavor into a cocktail while also adding sugar. Beer by itself can work okay, but it generally adds a lot of liquid without a whole lot of flavor.

That can be fine if you’re making a tall drink, but for a small drink, it’s hard to use.

Boiling down the beer into beer syrup solves that problem. It condenses the liquid and intensifies the flavor per ounce, so you get a more flavorful cocktail.

Making beer syrup

Here, I used Karbach Zee German Pils, an excellent pilsner style beer with plenty of flavor. Be careful of really hoppy beers like IPAs; they tend to get downright bitter when condensed this way. Porters, stouts, browns, and pilsners work fine.

I brought the can to a boil and then let it simmer gently for a while. Then I measured it, and it was 1/4 cup. That’s two ounces. Yep, 12 ounces became 2. That’s some flavor right there. So I added 1/4 cup of sugar to it and took it off the heat. I let the sugar dissolve, stirring, and voila! beer syrup!

The Lemon Shondell cocktail recipe

To make the Lemon Shondell, combine with ice:

and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Then take a bit of beer, shake it around in a glass, and take some of the foam off the top. It looks nice on top of the Lemon Shondell, and it adds a touch more beer aroma.

A nice, bright cocktail that smells and hints of beer. With just a bit of spice and honey flavors. I named it after the lemon shandy, a drink with beer and lemonade. That’s what this one reminds me of.

And also because I like Tommy James and the Shondells. I mean, come on! Is there a better song than “I Think We’re Alone Now“?

The Ides of March Cocktail: Arak, lemon, orange juice, syrup, Angostura bitters

The Ides of March Cocktail: arak, lemon, orange, syrup, Angostura bitters

The joy of arak

If you’re into arak (NOT arrack, the rum-like liquor from southeast Asia), you’re probably from some Middle Eastern country.

In fact, just about all of the Mediterranean countries have an anise-flavored liquor that they drink at celebrations. There’s sambuca from Italy and ouzo from Greece. In most of the Middle East, there’s arak. It’s an usually strong, i.e. high ABV, and strongly flavored anise liquor that louches like absinthe when you mix it with water.

Like absinthe and all of the other anise-flavored liquors, I’m not a fan of arak by itself. That anise flavor just freaks me out. I don’t even like liquorice. Never have. And I am naturally suspect of anyone who does like that anise flavor.

It’s just plain weird.

But to mix with it with arak or any of the other anise-flavored liquors? That’s joy.

The Ides of March Cocktail

I’ve written about arak before, and I have toasted the Arab Spring with it, but I wanted something a little simpler this time.

I named it the Ides of March because it’s like a transition cocktail. The death of Julius Caesar, perhaps. The move from representation to the empire. Something like that. Perhaps it could be a nod to the fact that this is Super Tuesday here in the United States, and we may have one or more demagogues running for President.

But it’s also just a cool-sounding name. The Ides of March.

To make one, build over crushed ice in a tall, skinny glass:

  • 2 ounces arak
  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • 1 oz orange juice
  • 3/4 oz brown sugar syrup
  • 5 dashes Angostura bitters

Garnish with an orange slice.

It’s basically an arak sour or arak with lemonade and a bit of orange. The bitters just help to round it out. They take away from the sourness and add a spice note.

It’s a great cooler on those warm Houston winter days. Sorry, you East Coasters, but it’s in the 80s here.

The Ides of March Cocktail

Beer Review: Karbach Zee German Pils and Three-Legged Lab and St. Arnold’s Art Car IPA

The Karbach Three Legged Lab Imperial Stout, Zee German Pils, and the St. Arnold Art Car IPA. All are above-average versions of their very different styles.

Three beers at once? I must be mad!

Heck, I drink more than one beer in a night, right? So I should be able to review more than one, too. Don’t worry, though. I did not drink these three beers in one night. That would almost be a waste, and I can’t imagine being able to review one after the other. My taste buds would be shot.

The Karbach Zee German Pils

I love the name. There, I said it. It’s borderline offensive, but it’s also hilarious. Kind of like me. Borderline offensive. Wannabe hilarious.

Karbach seems to be pushing the Zee German Pils (I giggle whenever I think about the name!) quite hard.  For good reason. I think they have the potential for a year-round crowd pleaser here.

The pilsner uses European hops, which lead to a floral nose, but it’s the finish that shines. There’s a malty, grassy flavor that’s chock-full of carbonation. That was the best thing about this beer–the bubbling on the tongue. It’s a game-changer. I may not have given this beer a second thought, but that carbonation made me want to drink more. I will probably be buying a few more six-packs, in fact.

They need to add this one to their year-round rotation. It blows away the other year-round brews such as the Mother in Lager and the Love Street. This German Pilsner is a great introduction to craft beer for those who have only drank Shiner Bock or even those who have only had the standard pilsners like Budweiser.

The Karbach Three Legged Lab Imperial Stout

The Karbach Three Legged Lab Imperial Stout is a different animal. Completely different. At 9.2% alcohol by volume, this is one specialty beer. In fact, I found it tough to drink. Kind of like eating a flourless chocolate cake. It tastes so good, and I know it’s made of real ingredients, but I have to eat it slowly. It’s just too flavorful to down by itself. Kind of like the Bourbon Barrel Hellfighter Chocolate Imperial Porter, which I just had, as well.

The Three Legged Lab is kind of like that one, too. The dark roasted malt has a strong coffee and chocolate flavor, and the carbonation is high on this one, too. Again, I like that about it.

I’m not a huge fan of stouts in general. Not that I can’t appreciate them; it’s just that I don’t drink them regularly. If I’m at a bar, I’m going for the IPAs or American Pale Ales. I rarely go for a stout.

But I love having one of these new Karbachs. But I only want one, mind you. More than that, and I’m having a malt overload. The flavors are so rich that I can’t bring myself to having more than one at a time.

The St. Arnold Art Car IPA

As Texas’s oldest craft brewery, St. Arnold has always been one of my favorite brewers. I’ve been to their brewery several times, and I love the place. Hell, I went there when they were in a little strip warehouse space. I’ve met the owner.

And the Elissa IPA was, in fact, one of the first beers that I fell in love with. There are several beers that introduced me to hops, and the Elissa was one of them. I had it and I knew there was something special about beer. There was more out there than Shiner.

But I have to admit: I like the Art Car IPA better.

In fact, I think I love this beer. It renews my faith in St. Arnold’s. It’s grassy and slightly carbonated, and the malty florals linger with you after you finish drinking it.

This is my kind of bitter American IPA. It clocks in at over 7% alcohol by volume, so it’s a bit deceiving because it’s so drinkable.

But it’s oh-so-good, too.

I hope I can continue to find it easily. For now, they have it on year-round rotation. And for now, it’s my go-to beer.

The Lovestruck by Lemon with Hornitos Black Barrel Tequila: A Valentine’s Day cocktail good anytime

Lovestruck by Lemon Cocktail
The Lovestruck by Lemon Cocktail featuring Hornitos Black Barrel Tequila

Today I bring you another cocktail for Valentine’s Day. Yes, I know it’s over, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still drink to it. If a cocktail is good, keep it in your repertoire.  You don’t have to say it was for Valentine’s Day; just call it a good cocktail. This one was developed by Hornitos, so I take no credit for it.

Like I said last time, Valentine’s Day sucks, but I hope you made yours good! By that, I mean I hope you stayed home and cuddled and made your significant other  a few choice cocktails. The Lovestruck by Lemon featuring Hornitos Black Barrel tequila is a perfect choice when you’re making drinks for a mixed crowd of classic cocktail lovers and those who like newer, sweeter cocktails. In other words, when you want a cocktail for both you and your sweetie.

The Lovestruck by Lemon Cocktail recipe

I have featured cocktails with Hornitos’ new Black Barrel tequila before. It’s just so darn easy to mix with; it tastes good in practically everything. I even like it on ice by itself. If you’re looking for an unusual spirit to give the whiskey drinker in your life, go for Hornitos Black Barrel. Just be sure they will be open to it. Some people won’t touch anything that they think has tequila in it. Me, I don’t understand those people, but I have met a few of them. But if someone’s open to it, Hornitos Black Barrel is interesting and tasty.

To make the Lovestruck by Lemon cocktail, combine in a shaker with ice:

  • 1 1/4 oz Hornitos Black Barrel
  • 1/2 oz lemon juice
  • 1/4 oz agave syrup

and strain into an Old Fashioned or similar glass over a large ice cube. Garnish with a lemon slice.

Sure, it’s just a sour, but the proportions are spot on with this one. Hell, most drinks are some version of a sour. After all, if you look at how tastes work, we want to maximize the number of tastes that each quaff brings us. In other words, if it has both sweet and sour, we like it more than if it just has sweet.

The Lovestruck by Lemon cocktail tastes almost like a lemon drop candy. The agave mixes beautifully with the Black Barrel and may even accentuate the tequila’s sweetness. It really is a damn good sour, and it should please everyone.

Cocktails, Spirits, Bars, and Beer in Houston and all over Texas