Cocktail 101: How to Make a Perfect Mint Julep

Hey, did you know the Derby falls on Cinco de Mayo this year? Gird your livers! Here are my tips for making a stunning mint julep.


Nolet’s Garden to Glass

Back in June, I received a lovely package from Nolet’s gin. The company was starting a promotional program they call Garden to Cocktail. The idea is to pair their Silver Dry Gin with a different ingredient each month and use the special ingredient to create new and interesting cocktails.

The first ingredient they sent me was feijoa (along with a promotional bottle of the gin, of course), and I must admit, I was stumped. I had never heard of feijoa prior to this.

Gin 'n' ... feijoa?

So I bumped around online for a bit to see what I could find out. I asked Twitter, I inquired on Facebook. I even foodpickled.  I got great answers from people about what feijoa is and what it tastes like, but I was still stumped. (Some bloggers received a recipe card from Nolet, featuring a drink using the gin and feijoa; not only was the recipe card missing from my box, but I generally don’t like simply republishing cocktail recipes sent me in promotional materials, so I would have asked around anyway.)

And then I tried the fruit itself. Um … I think the best I can say is, it’s not for me. I didn’t care for either the flavor or the texture, and I was even less sure how to make a cocktail from it.

But the gin! Oh, the gin is a different story.

the gin!

Nolet’s Silver Dry Gin is a fairly new product on the market, so you might not be familiar with it. Made by the Dutch Nolet family, it’s the latest recipe from a family who have pursued a 300-year legacy of distilling — first in genever and then, most famously, in vodka. The Nolet family’s Ketel One is perhaps one of the most famous vodka brands in the world, and the family has been able to capitalize on that success by investing resources back into gin.

Now, Nolet’s gin is an example of what some people call a new-style gin. That means it’s less reliant on gin’s traditional juniper flavors, pushing the pine qualities of juniper into the background.

I have mixed reactions to these newer types of gin. Some brands do this style very well, and others decidedly less so. In thinking about which brands succeed in this style, I’ve decided to pay attention to what flavors they emphasize instead of juniper. Some brands, the ones I like least, do very little instead of juniper. In other words, they don’t really emphasize anything. At best, they have a watered-down gin, and at worst, they have a mislabeled vodka.

Nolet takes a different approach, luckily. The family has crafted a gin with a soft, floral, and somewhat fruity flavor profile–the botanical blend includes such unlikely ingredients as rose, peach, and raspberry.


I was intrigued by the flavor on its own, so I tried it in a couple of different types of martini. First, I mixed my version of a “dry” martini: 5 parts gin to 1 part vermouth. (It’s hard to use the word “dry” anymore without someone misunderstanding you, so I always clarify what I mean by “dry.” Some people say a dry martini contains only a scornful glance at a vermouth bottle, whereas other tipplers say it’s anything drier than a 50-50 mix of gin and vermouth.)

In my 5:1 ratio, I found the Nolet to make a delicious martini. Sure, not as juniper-forward as a Tanqueray or Beefeater version, but I’ll be honest: I don’t always want that. The Nolet is round and creamy, and at 95.2 proof, it carries its flavors handsomely into marriage with vermouth.

I then tried it mixed “wetter,” at 2 parts gin to 1 part vermouth. I didn’t care for this at all. The gin lost its own character into the vermouth and I felt like I was drinking little of substance. A week later, I tried it again at 5:1 and again loved the martini.

what’s next, or, a very lychee dietschy

So having felt that the feijoa was a dud, but loving the Nolet martini, I was eager to see what awaited me in my second shipment. When this arrived, I opened it to find several lychees. This time, I did get the recipe card that Nolet sent, but again, I didn’t want to just reproduce that cocktail; I wanted to try something different.

Also, my wife is nine month’s pregnant and, for that reason, abstaining from booze. Whenever I mix up a fruity cocktail for myself, I like to make her a dry version when I can.

So I dug around online and found a Serious Eats post from earlier this year, describing a Lychee Soda at the Modern Bar Room in New York. (Disclaimer: I write for Serious Eats.) That sounded very crisp and refreshing, and I knew it would make Jen a lovely NA drink.

So I pureed the lychee, mixed it with some Lavender-Lemon Simple Syrup, from Royal Rose Syrups in Brooklyn (disclaimer: Royal Rose sent me several syrup samples.) Jen’s got topped with seltzer water, whereas mine first got a hit of Nolet’s and then a seltzer blast.

photo © Jennifer Hess. All rights reserved.

Okay, yum. My only complaint is that I’m out of lychees.

A Very Hoppy MxMo

MxMo HopsWow, I don’t even want to think about how long it’s been since I’ve participated in a Mixology Monday. All sorts of things–lazyness, apathy, antipathy, psychopathy–have gotten in the way. But I’m back, dammit, at least for this one. I love this month’s theme–beer cocktails–so I’m happy to play along. Ta muchly to Cocktail Virgin Slut for hosting!

I’ve decided to update a cocktail I submitted to a Food52 competition, in the long-ago days of October 2009. I didn’t win or place or even show, unfortunately, but I love the drink I made, so I’m hoping this time it meets with more enthusiasm. Here’s my writeup from Food52:

The Seelbock is a variant of the classic Seelbach cocktail, from the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky–bourbon, Cointreau, and generous amounts of both Peychaud’s and Angostura bitters, topped off with a big pour of champagne. For this version, I used a 100-proof rye whiskey in place of bourbon and I tinkered with the bitters. And most importantly, I used a weisse beer, a wheat beer, in place of the champagne. Wheat beers are light, effervescent, and yeasty, just like champagne. For this, I chose the Schneider & Brooklyner Hopfen Weisse, a collaboration between Schneider Weissbier and Brooklyn Brewery. If you can’t find this brew, substitute any good quality wheat beer. If you can’t find lemon bitters, you can muddle lemon peel into the mixing glass before you add the other ingredients.

Some things I didn’t tell the Food52 crowd (I like to keep my headnotes there short):

  • I swapped rye for bourbon because I thought it would provide a stronger backbone for a beer cocktail.
  • I ditched the Peychaud’s because, frankly, I didn’t like it at all in this drink. I found it clashed with the beer. So instead I used lemon bitters (The Bitter Truth’s version), and that was a great choice because it highlights the natural citrus notes in the beer.

photo © Jennifer Hess; all rights reserved

Now, as I said, the July 2011 version of the Seelbock is an update, and here are the changes I’ve made:

First, although it makes a lot of sense to choose a Weisse beer that somewhat resembles champagne (light, effervescent, and yeasty), I’m not sure it makes a lot of sense to name a drink -bock when you’re using a Weisse. And, since I wasn’t sure I’d find the Schneider & Brooklyner Hopfen Weisse again (since it was a limited-edition brew), I thought, well, hell, Dietsch, just get a goddamn bock this time.

So I got a goddamn bock this time, but I kept it in the G. Schneider und Sohn family, choosing their Aventinus doppelbock. It’s wheaty, of course, like their Brooklyn Brewery collab, but it’s a lot darker and richer. I wanted to play with it in this cocktail, to see what a darker brew would add.

The only other change I made to the original recipe was here: “1 ounce rye whiskey”. Let me be honest: I did that for Food52, concocting a less-potent cocktail than I normally drink, in hopes that civilians would try it. I don’t need to do that here.

Between the oils from the lemon twist, the lemon bitters, and the Cointreau, this is a brightly citrusy cocktail, which makes it all the more refreshing for a hot July day. I think I’m happier with this version than I was the Food52 edition.


  • 1 1/2 oz. rye whiskey (I used Rittenhouse, as I did in the original)
  • 1/2 oz. Cointreau (I don’t know why I preferred Grand Marnier originally; perhaps it was all I had at the moment)
  • 1/4 oz. lemon bitters (measure!)
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 4-5 oz. Aventinus doppelbock
  • lemon twist, for garnish
  1. In a mixing glass filled with ice, stir rye, Cointreau, and both bitters.
  2. Strain into champagne flute and top with beer.
  3. Add garnish.
  4. Burp and be happy.

Drink of the Week: Martinez

Rhode Island recently started (finally) getting in bottles of Ransom Old Tom Gin; having heard so much about it over the last two years or so, I had to buy a bottle and try it.

The only other Old Tom I’ve had is Hayman’s, and I have to say, these are very different products. Both are excellent in quality and great in flavor, but the Ransom has a maltiness to it that makes it stand out just a bit. I suspect each Tom will shine brightly in specific cocktails, so I can see both of them having a place on my bar.

A cocktail in which the Ransom excels is the Martinez, the martini precursor that uses gin, sweet vermouth, bitters, and sometimes either curacao or maraschino. Historically, the Martinez calls for equal parts gin and vermouth. I like them prepared that way, but I prefer a little more gin in mine.

Here’s my recipe:


  • 2 oz. Ransom Old Tom Gin
  • 1 oz. Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
  • 1 dash orange bitters
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters
  • lemon twist

Stir all ingredients except for lemon twist in an ice-filled mixing glass. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Twist lemon peel over drink and discard.

Photograph © Jennifer Hess

Drink of the Week: Oude Plein

One evening, a few weeks ago, I was contemplating a new bottle of Bols Genever, trying to find a new use for it in a cocktail. I started thinking of a New Orleans favorite, the Vieux Carré, a blend of rye whiskey, cognac, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, and two types of bitters.

Now, depending on the brand of vermouth used, I sometimes find that the Vieux Carré’s request for equal parts whiskey, cognac, and vermouth is a little on the sweet side, so I often reduce the vermouth by a tad–down to 3/4 ounces instead of 1. Or if I want a boozier drink, I up the spirits.

Which is what I did here:

  • 1.5 oz Bols Genever
  • 1.5 oz Pierre Ferrand cognac
  • .5 oz Dolin sweet
  • 1 tsp. Benedictine
  • 2 dashes each of Ango. & Peych.

Mix all ingredients in a double Old Fashioned glass over ice; stir.

My mention of this drink on Twitter sparked a brief conversation, and someone (Matthew Robold, I think) suggested naming it the Oude Plein, which Google Translate offered up as a Dutch translation of “old square.” Works for me.

The Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans remains one of the most reliable places in my experience to find a Vieux Carre, and they’re served in these lovely flared OF glasses. For my variation, I used the closest thing in my cabinet.

He Lives!

How sad. I log in to my blog’s dashboard so infrequently these days that it doesn’t even remember who I am anymore. But! That doesn’t mean nothing’s going on. Oh, there’s plenty going on.

Happy Anniversary, Baby

I completely missed the fact that A Dash of Bitters turned five last month. I normally spend some time at my blogiversary looking back at the previous year and forward to the year ahead. But oh man, the last year was one of some major churn. I seem to recall that I was, albeit briefly, actually behind the stick in 2010, working my ass off, climbing a steep learning curve, and generally having a great time, and I’m still just like wha? That happened?

More exciting was the presentation I led at Tales of the Cocktail, which now seems like a million years ago, on the topic of introducing basic mixology to rookies. I was pleased to have one of the foremost experts on the subject at my side that day, Robert “Drinkboy” Hess, along with Adam Lantheaume, proprietor of the Boston Shaker, a wonderful Massachusetts shop that sells drink paraphernalia and teaches cocktail classes for newbies.

What I never expected was that the Cocktail 101 idea would become a thing that I write about every week, but thanks to my editor, Maggie Hoffman, and the other fine folks at Serious Eats and Serious Drinks, that’s just what’s happened.

But now for the looking-forward part, and if you thought I was giddy with excitement last year, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

One Dead Rabbit

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you already know the biggest thing that’s happening around here these days: my wife and I are expecting our first child this year, in September.

This has meant a few changes to our drinking rituals, as you can imagine. Jen is abstaining entirely right now. We’ve yet to decide whether rare, small portions of beer or wine are safe, later in the pregnancy (and that choice will probably remain entirely our business at any rate), but she’s off spirits and cocktails–not just through the pregnancy but while she’s nursing, as well.

For me, it’s also meant changes, and that will probably be a post in itself at some point. I tend to drink more when I have a drinking buddy, and now that my main one’s off the market, I’ve found myself slowing down. However, I’m also perfectly happy to drink an Old Fashioned (or two) every evening, which isn’t exactly interesting to write about.

So to keep things moving along, I’m planning to feature a new drink a week here, starting next week. Since I’ll be whipping up NA cocktails for Jen, expect some of my drinks of the week to be mocktails.

I also have some product reviews to work on, and I hope to feature those each week as well. I want to tackle new projects, such as milk punch. Erik Ellestad has several recipes up at Underhill Lounge. Honestly, I was skeptical about milk punch, but then Misty Kalkofen served us some at Drink one night, and I was hooked.

I want to sample new ingredients, whether that’s spirit categories that are somewhat new to me, or just bottlings I’ve never tried. And, finally, Ad of the Week will probably come back in some fashion, although I haven’t decided how yet.

Oh, and I should probably get back into this Mixology Monday thing at some point. It’s been months.

From the Archives: The Thistle

Repeal Day came and went this year, with nary a comment from me. What can I say? Bad blogger. Today, though, I want to revisit a cocktail I first explored four years ago, for Repeal Day 2006: the Thistle. The Thistle is a simple cocktail; my version came from Robert Vermeire’s Cocktails: How to Mix Them, and it calls for 2 parts Scotch, 1 part Italian vermouth, and 2 dashes of Angostura bitters.

Wait a minute. Scotch, sweet vermouth, and bitters? Yes, you’re going to say the same thing someone else said in 2006, and that Erik “The Obscurist” Ellestad noted earlier this year: that’s a Rob Roy. Okay, it’s a Rob Roy. It’s a Thistle. It’s a York. You can call it a peppermint patty for all I care, it’s a fine damn drink.

I don’t know how to admit this to you, dear readers, but I actually prefer a sweet Thistleroy to a sweet Manhattan. Even made with rye, a sweet Manhattan simply tastes too sweet to me. For it to be truly tasty, I have to make the perfect variation on it: 2 oz. rye, 1/2 oz. sweet vermouth, and 1/2 dry vermouth. Scotch, though (even a blended variety), brings enough smokey character to the cocktail to rise up and tame the sweet vermouth.

Four years ago, I used Dewars for the scotch, and Cinzano for the vermouth. This time, I went a different route, and came up with something my wife and I loved. First, I wanted to play with a single malt in this instead of a blend. I used Knockdhu Distillery’s An Cnoc 12, a well-balanced and relatively inexpensive Highlands whisky.

For the vermouth, I chose a product that wasn’t even available to me (or anyone in the United States) in 2006: the French Dolin Rouge. I’m really starting to shun the available-everywhere products like M&R or Cinzano, in favor of more bitter and herbal vermouths such as Dolin or Carpano Antica, the latter of which I have to schlep from Boston. I found that the Dolin’s bittersweet herbaceous qualities married well with the An Cnoc.

Finally, I rounded the drink out with Jerry Thomas Decanter Bitters from the Bitter Truth. I remembered, too late, that I had drained the Angostura the previous evening. But it’s okay, because I like the Christmas-spiciness of the Jerry Thomas.

In all, the Yorkeroy is a great drink that deserves a regular spot in my drinks rotation, and it’s proven itself as open to experimentation as a horny college student. I’ll have another.

(If you’re joining me from Serious Eats, welcome aboard. Look around, kick the tires, poke the cats, and pour yourself a stiff one.)