Mixology Monday: A Simple Twist of Great

mxmologoOkay, kiddos, it’s that time of the month again! Mixology Monday! This month’s theme is a pip, Superior Twists. Our host this month is Tristan Stephenson of the Wild Drink Blog. The remit is simple:

This month’s Mixology Monday is all about twists on classic cocktails, that for one reason or another do an even better job than the drinks upon which they are based.

This could be as simple as a classic Margarita with a dash with a special touch that completes it, or maybe as complicated as a deconstructed Hemingway Daiquiri with a homemade rum foam/caviar/jus/trifle. It might be taking a classic like a Manhattan and using Tequila instead of Bourbon?

In that spirit (ho ho!), I’m offering up the Ruirita, a rhubarby twist on the Margarita. First, lemme give you fools the recipe, and then I’ll tell you how I came up with it and which unsuspecting dolts I thieved my ideas from. So!


  • 2 oz. tequila, blanco (make sure it’s 100% agave; I used Inocente–why? because I had a free sample and the bottle’s sexy, but also because it’s a good tequila)
  • ½ oz. Cynar
  • ½ oz. lime juice
  • ¼ oz. simple syrup
  • 3 dashes Fee’s Rhubarb bitters
  • 2 drops orange flower water, to rinse glass

Shake over ice. Rinse chilled glass with orange flower water. Pour the flower water into the sink, and fill glass with love.


Now, I had been thinking about this drink over the weekend, trying to decide what I wanted to do. I remembered the rhubarb bitters Jen bought me a few months ago, and how I hadn’t really used them much. I then started thinking how I’d like to try them with tequila. Off to Google!

I didn’t find many rhubarb/tequila pairings, but the first thing I found was from Jacob Grier, who put up a drink with tequila, port, rhubarb bitters, and Benedictine. That sounded fabulous, JG, but wasn’t the way I was headed. (Jake revisited the tequila/rhubarb bitters idea in his post for this very MxMo, so be sure to check it out on Jacob’s site. Again, we’re headed in different directions, but he’s done a man’s job with his drink.)

However, Jacob did point me in another direction that I wanted to explore–Cynar artichoke bitter liqueur. Yes, artichoke and rhubarb. Jacob’s post mentions a drink that Robert Simonson discussed last year. Robert’s quaff inspired me to try Cynar and rhubarb, but it was my own warped psyche that led to the tequila, rhubarb, and artichoke delight. Jen and I love Cynar, and I don’t think I make enough opportunities to play with it.

The final element that I cribbed from another blogger was the orange flower water. A post on Kaiser Penguin has a drink with a glass rinse of the rhubarb bitters and the flower water. I wanted the orange to hint of the orange liqueur you normally find in a margarita, but orange flower water can quickly overpower a drink, so I chose the rinse. Rinses tend to engage the nose more so than the taste buds, so that seemed the way to go. However, I wanted the rhubarb bitters incorporated into the flavor of the drink, so I didn’t use them in the rinse.

So, I built the Ruirita in a mixing glass, stirring and tasting. I added the tequila, Cynar, lime, and bitters first, not wanting to deviate far from a traditional margarita. But Cynar’s more bitter than a Cointreau or another triple sec, so I needed a bit of sweetness. I didn’t want to add another liqueur–frankly, with tequila, Cynar, rhubarb, lime, and orange, there’s already enough going on with the drink’s flavor. So I added a touch of simple syrup, to provide neutral sweetening.

What resulted was a pretty damn good drink, I thought. Well balanced and complex, but not confused. The flavors melded very well. Jen was surprised, in fact, and wondered what demon had infested my soul to suggest this particular combo of ingredients. (That’s exactly the way she put it, by the way: “Man! What demon haunteth thou so that you blendeth these ingredients in yon tail of the cock! I shalt call upon the church for an exorci— Hey, this is pretty good. Wow.”)

So, try it please, and let me know what the hell you think.

(Photograph by Jennifer Hess.)

The Dave Initiative

For a couple of years now, I’ve had a subscription to Esquire magazine. I don’t have much use for a lot of the stuff in there. The celebrity profiles are often silly (April’s is by a writer who “prepared” for his Ben Affleck interview by going on a four-day bender in Vegas, trying, I suppose, to out-man’s-man the man’s man he was interviewing). I don’t share Barry Sonnenfeld’s gadget fetish. And who can afford a $9,700 watch, anyway? Probably no one I want to know.

But the one can’t-miss feature every month is Dave Wondrich’s booze column. I usually read that as soon as my issue arrives each month. And the April column’s a beaut. Dave shares with us a formula for creating new cocktails. (It doesn’t seem to be on the Esquire site yet; when I see it, I’ll edit this post and link out to it.) I’ve now mixed up three different drinks with it, and I have to say, it’s a keeper. Here’s the idea: you start with your base spirit: gin, whiskey, rum, tequila, whatever you want. Add fortified wine (port, sherry, vermouth, you name it) and a splash of liqueur. Top with two dashes of the bitters of your choice. Here’s the basic recipe.

The Basic Cocktail

  • 2 oz. spirit
  • 1 oz. fortified wine
  • 1 tsp. liqueur
  • 2 dashes bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

DSC08492As I said, I’ve done three drinks with this already. The first drink I’m not sharing here, not yet anyway. It’s a gin drink, and I want to enter it into competition at the Mixoloseum‘s Beefeater edition of Thursday Drink Night, on March 26. I’ll post the recipe after that evening. The second attempt featured Kilo Kai rum as the base, and I used Wondrich’s exact proportions.

Bitter Regret

Stir and strain. Photo, at right, by Jennifer Hess.

This was a delicious drink. Enough body from the port to match the spice in the rum, and the cherry flavor was really subtle. Tasty, tasty stuff. The next drink, however. Enh.

Not Quite Right

  • 2 oz. Inocente tequila
  • 1 oz. Martini & Rossi bianco vermouth
  • 1 tsp. St.-Germain elderflower liqueur
  • 2 dashes Angostura orange bitters

This drink was too sweet as formulated. I think the bianco’s just too much for the tequila in these proportions. Worse, though, is that the St.-Germain just disappeared in it. I added a touch more tequila, and it balanced out well with the vermouth, but I think I need a drier vermouth for this and perhaps a little more St.-Germain. Still, though, this has potential. I’ll have to work on it further.

Overall, this was a fun experiment with a versatile basic recipe. I’m eager to try more combinations out and report back to you. I already have some ideas in mind for bourbon or rye, and I’d love to play with a smoky scotch in this.

Rojo Bianco

A while back, I got a sample of Don Julio Reposado Tequila. I poke around in several directions to find a recipe to mix it into, and found this drink, from the 2008 Food and Wine Cocktails.

This drink is a Philip Ward joint, from Death & Co. in New York City.

Rojo Bianco

  • Ice
  • 2 oz. reposado tequila
  • 1/4 oz. bianco vermouth
  • 1/4 oz. Campari
  • 1/4 oz. maraschino liqueur
  • dash of Angostura bitters

Technique: Stir all ingredients over ice, and strain into a chilled coupe. No garnish.

Man, this is an odd drink. Tequila and Campari. Bianco vermouth and maraschino. I have a perhaps surprising analogy to describe this drink, so bear with me.

Nearly forty years ago, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash recorded a bunch of duets together, but none of them really worked out. (What a wasted opportunity, guys. How could you have screwed this up? Oh yeah, drugs.) The one song that even partly succeeded, “Girl From the North Country,” appeared on Dylan’s album Nashville Skyline.

The Rojo Bianco reminds me of that song. The lead ingredients, tequila and Campari, never really harmonize. They don’t clash, but they don’t come together either. You listen to the song and think about their voices, twirling around each other, but never melding. At the same time you think about the mains, you forget about the backing band. You know it’s there, but you pay attention to Dylan and Cash and forget anything else. The bianco and maraschino definitely sweeten the drink and balance the Campari’s bitterness, but aside from softening the Campari, they fade behind the dueling vocals. I don’t know whether it matters to use bianco vermouth instead of regular French vermouth.

And yet, I love “Girl From the North Country.” I hear the other tracks these guys recorded in those sessions, and I hate them for squandering the moment. But “Girl…” is a good song, despite how broken it is. And the Rojo Bianco is a good cocktail, even though the ingredients never harmonize.

Edited to add: Joaquin Simo, Phil’s colleague at Death & Co., left a comment below that F&W misprinted Phil’s recipe. I haven’t tested the proper version yet, but here it is:

Rojo Bianco–Phil Ward

  • 2 oz. El Tesoro Reposado tequila
  • 3/4 oz. M & R bianco vermouth
  • 1/4 oz. Campari
  • 1/4 oz. Luxardo maraschino liqueur
  • dash of Angostura bitters

Technique: Stir all ingredients over ice, and strain into a chilled coupe. No garnish.

MxMo 15: Tequila

mxmo15-tequilaHere we are, at the 15th Mixology Monday! This month’s host, Matt from My Bar Your Bar, chose as his theme tequila.

Now, I’m really just getting used to tequila. Jen and I don’t drink it often, so I’m still learning how it plays with other flavors. With that in mind, I wanted a simple drink, one that would allow me to test and tinker without having four or more ingredients to futz with.

So I went with the classic margarita, but I swapped out the triple sec for some pear liqueur. I wanted to just switch fruits–pear for orange–and see how it worked. And, in the end, we liked it. Jen made up a batch of guacamole and we sat out back on a sunny Sunday with icy drinks, chips, and guac.

That’s livin’.

Poire-a-rita, chips, guac

Photo by Jennifer Hess.

  • 2 oz. tequila
  • 1 oz. fresh lime juice
  • ¾ oz. pear liqueur (I used Mathilde)

Technique: Shake over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass, or use twice the ingredients, as I did, and strain into an ice-filled Old Fashioned glass.

Choke Artist

I’ve been in the weeds lately, starting a new job and finishing several freelance projects. Although we’ve certainly enjoyed our nightly aperitifs, I’ve had little time for anything more than old stand-bys, like Martinis and Old Fashioneds.

But things are calming down finally, so it’s time again for research and experimentation. To that end, I delved back into a book that I bought a few months ago but haven’t taken time to review: The Art of the Bar. In flipping through it, I found a flavor combination that really surprised me–Cynar, tequila, and sherry–in a drink aptly named Choke Artist.

Choke Artist

photograph by Jennifer Hess

Here’s why I’m no professional: I’d have never thought to match up these ingredients. But this drink just works. It’s the very definition of a well-balanced drink–everything’s present and notable, but nothing dominates. You can learn a lot about mixing from this drink.

It reminds me a lot of those friendships we’ve all been a part of, where two strong personalities need a third, more laid-back, person to mediate the differences and smooth things out for everyone. That’s the role of the sherry here.

Finally, the bitters. Even with five dashes’ worth, they’re subtle.

But you should not be subtle. Instead, be fearless. Try it.

Choke Artist

from The Art of the Bar, by Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz

  • 1 ounce Cynar
  • 1 ounce Gran Centenario Anejo tequila (I used Tequila Espolon Reposado, which I had on hand)
  • ½ ounce fino sherry
  • 5 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6
  • Extra-wide orange twist for garnish

Technique: Combine the Cynar, tequila, and sherry in an ice-filled mixing glass and stir. Add the bitters to a chilled snifter and roll around to coat the glass. Pour the Cynar and tequila mixture into the snifter. Garnish with the orange twist.


I was going to write this up for Mixology Monday this month, but I’m not sure it qualifies. This month’s theme is shooters, and to be honest, that just doesn’t really appeal to me. I’ve done shots too many times in my life, but I’ve never really enjoyed them. If I’m going to shoot back booze in one gulp, I’d rather knock back some whiskey than a shooter.

So I didn’t know what to write up. My wife recommended sangrita, but that tends to be sipped alongside tequila. Rick’s criteria (in the comments here) indicate that a shooter is anything you gulp back in one shot. We didn’t do that with the sangrita or the tequila, so I don’t think we qualify. But because I love you, my sangrita recipe follows the photo and the jump.

Tequila and sangrita

photo by Jennifer Hess

Sangrita is a traditional Mexican chaser for tequila, and there appears to be some dispute over the ingredients. Some say it’s citrus sweetened with grenadine and punched up with either salsa or dried chilies. Other people go crazy and puree up onions and peppers and garlic and whatnot. Still others insist that no sangrita should include tomato juice, whereas others are more lenient as long as you don’t use so much that it tastes like a Bloody Mary.

I wasn’t really sure where to turn, so I winged it. I figured equal parts tomato and citrus would definitely keep it from the Bloody Mary camp. What resulted was a blend so balanced and tasty that I want to keep a jug of it in the refrigerator for breakfasts and hangovers.

Note: I departed from the usual bitter orange because my wife is allergic to oranges.


makes approx. four 1½ servings

  • 2 oz. good-quality tomato juice (I used this)
  • 2 oz. fresh Meyer lemon juice
  • 1½ oz. homemade grenadine
  • 2 tsp. chipotle powder
  • 1 pinch salt

Technique: Stir until chipotle powder dissolves. Chill in fridge for four hours. Serve in chilled shot glasses alongside tequila. (I served Espolon Reposado.)