Leland Holiday

What always helps old jokes and holidays stay hilarious and fun? This is not a trick question. The answer is your company and your booze, of course. This year after Thanksgiving, my brother Charlie and I opened up my liquor cabinet and found an old favorite but not much else – talk about and “oh shit” moment. Luckily, I’m a little crafty and I keep some eccentric items in my pantry and fridge that I was able to mix up into a really great cocktail. More on that after a little background…

Fast forward to now, Christmas plans are buzzing, the tree is dressed and lit, our new balcony/fire escape is even adorned with garland and lights. The season is here and in my house we are enjoying it as a family. Of course, we are regular humans, like all of you so there are interludes of stress. That said, this has already been a wonderful holiday season and I am sure it will continue that way through the New Year.

Thanksgiving kicked it off with visits from all of my siblings, my beautiful niece, her “laugh a minute” little brother, and my parents. Plus, there’s me, Emily, and the boys. And, all of us spent Thanksgiving day at my sister’s house where she and my newest brother (in-law) prepared a feast for the books! It was a blast!

Now, the tradition in my house growing up was to watch Christmas Vacation … laughing at the same parts every time we watch and quoting the movie in real time as we encounter our favorite lines. Basically, we are in stitches over the same crap every year. And, our lovely wives love us so much, they laugh along or just watch it unfold – yes, we are both very lucky guys.

So, back to where we started. I ask Charlie if he wants a whiskey for the movie – big arm twist later, he agrees. The most promising bottle was the steadfast Jameson. We grab that and I go work. What came of the toiling is what we now call the Leland Holiday and it is a gorgeous drink with aroma, taste, and effectiveness for days.

Leland Holiday, originally mixed by AJN in 2015

Leland Holiday, originally mixed by AJN in 2015

Here’s how it goes:

In a low ball cup, add a large single ice cube and 2-3 bourbon cherries.

Hit that cube with 5 dashes each of cranberry and aromatic bitters.

Drizzle in 2 tsp. of the cherry flavored bourbon and rim the glass with the essential oils of a peel from a blood orange.

Pour 1.5 ounces of Jameson and 1 oz. of fresh squeezed blood orange juice over the ice and stir gently for 15-30 seconds.

Add the orange peel, wait a couple of minutes.


AND Happy Holidays!



Mixing Up a Classic with Small Batch Tonic and Detroit Gin

During my freshman year of college, my roommate and I drank way too many gin and tonics during a snowstorm….and since then, I have never really had any kind of a hankerin’ for anything made with gin. That was, of course, until my sister-in-law gifted me a bottle of gin, distilled in her neighborhood in Detroit.

This wonderful product of Detroit City Distillery has brought gin back onto my palette. And, I bet if you got a hold of a sample, you might feel the same way.

How do you honor a great product? In this case, I paired it simply with a tonic with a similar story – Jack Rudy Small Batch Tonic.

Elderflower G&T

The version pictured is a classic cocktail, massively upgraded by using locally crafted elixirs that were made by people obsessed with delivering the very best product. In my most recent combination of this drink, I used the elder flower tonic to bring out all of the beautiful herbaceous qualities of the gin.


In a highball glass filled with cubed ice, mix 2 oz. of gin with 0.75 oz of tonic and 5 oz. of soda water. Stir gently and enjoy immensely!

Dreaming of Meat and Chimichurri

People will worship you for this one – It will be awesome.

Yes, this is a revision of one of my very first posts but, I am making this tonight. And with the weather forecast for tomorrow, you should go to the grocery store and gather everything you need to have this for dinner tomorrow night. Oh, and buy some red wine in case you want that instead of the tequila.

I once took all of this stuff along with a tent, my family, and a couple of friends to the beach to celebrate my birthday and ever since my Mom asks for this to be on the menu during our visits.

Tacos with Chimichurri

Churrasco-style steak tacos with shredded cheese, red cabbage, and chimichurri on a flour tortilla. Accompanied by grilled sweet potatoes and Topolo Margaritas (thank you Rick Bayless)

These tacos are the epitome of party food. Smokey, salty, big beef flavor with the greatest savory sauce of all time. It is amazing, and while I combined a lot of great recipes from other folks (Cooks Illustrated Magazine for the steak and chimichurri sauce, Bobby Flay for the potatoes, and Rick Bayless’s Margarita), I do claim some talent in the combination of everything and in making the steak and sauce into an approachable taco. All that said, I did alter the recipes with a few edits of my own.

Here are the essentials:
Buy thick steaks, the one pictured is a Prime NY Strip from Paulina Meat Market (if you are in Chicago and have not shopped here, DO IT). The steaks get a rub of corn starch and coarse salt, then placed in the freezer for 30 minutes. When grilling, it’s 2-3 minutes per side, flipped three times. Rest for five minutes and slice for tacos.

Chimichurri is flat leaf parsley, cilantro, garlic, red pepper flakes, rehydrated oregano, red wine vinegar, water, and olive oil. You may want to memorize this because once you’ve served this to someone, they will ask you for the recipe. This one came from Cook’s Illustrated Magazine.

The sweet potatoes are from Bobby Flay and are pretty basic. Peel and quarter the sweet spuds, toss in olive oil and throw on the grill. Serve with lime salt (finely chopped lime zest mixed with table salt to taste) and sprinkle with chopped cilantro.

Finally, Rick Bayless’s Topolo Margarita. Look up the link on his Frontera Grill Web site. After you do that, here are my changes. I make the limeade with a mix of simple syrup and honey instead of granulated sugar. I also specifically use Grand Marnier as my orange liqueur. You can use great tequila but I have found that Hornitos is pretty tasty in this cocktail.

This is a great combination and easy to scale for large and small crowds. It is pretty inexpensive – mostly depending on the steak and tequila. You can also serve this with a Rioja or Malbec.

Have fun. Enjoy!

Craft Cocktail: Bourbonade

The spring is finally here in Chicago and everyone – and I mean EVERYONE – is outside soaking in the sun and rediscovering what other humans look like without a parka on.

This means it is also past time for one’s outdoor space to be operational. As my facebook, Instagram, twitter, and Snap Chat friends already know; my balcony is operational – and extra awesome this year because of some upgrades.

To help you welcome spring and summer to your balconies, rooftops, decks, porches, and yards (if you have them) – or even your local park or beach; today’s recipe is a smash hit that everyone will enjoy!

Bourbonade on my balcony

Bourbonade – it is what it sounds like if you slur together bourbon lemonade. And, thus you have the two main ingredients. To those I round out the drink with orange simple syrup, a lot of ice, and a thick lemon wheel. Basically, you mix all of these ingredients in ratios that make your mouth happy and then you can call it your own.

Mine goes together like this:

1) Fill a high ball glass with ice

2) Spoon in 1/2 tsp of orange simple syrup

3) Pour in 1.5 oz of bourbon (Four Roses Small Batch is preferred in this house)

4) Fill the rest of the way with lemonade and stir to combine

5) Garnish with a thick lemon wheel

If the drink is too sweet the first time out, squeeze in that lemon wheel and drink the cocktail. Then remake with a little less simple syrup or a little more bourbon. You can see where this could go. So, be a little careful and really enjoy!

Craft Cocktail: Patio Slammer

Yes, as I type this post – it is snowing in Chicago. And, yes that is more than a little irritating to most everyone here in town. But, it is April so it is also definitely time to get ready for summer.

When I think about summer, I think of my balcony and cocktails. Without a doubt finding the right cocktail takes a bit of patience, a dash of something new, a taste for adventure, an openness to other people’s knowledge, and friends with good taste.

Thanks to my pal Steve and his palette for whiskey, I have a beautiful bottle of Few White whiskey. And, with the guidance of the folks at Journeyman Distillery I have new recipe for a drink they named the Patio Slammer.

Here are the ingredients:

1.5 oz white whiskey

0.5 oz orange simple syrup

1.0 oz fresh lime juice

How to put it together:

1) Combine all three ingredients in a shaker with ice.

2) Shake until your fingers hurt from the  cold, then there more times.

3) Strain into glass and garnish with a lime wheel (if desired)


Delicious is in the Details

An Old Fashioned cocktail is not a lot of things other than “just what the doctor ordered” and just plain great. But, you can make it truly memorable using a couple of tiny details to set it apart. For me, and those who drink these cocktails with me at my home, the delicious detail is tart, locally grown, homemade bourbon cherries.

Yep, these are just the garnish. But what an exciting finish!

My cherries came from Mrs. Morgan’s cherry tree and were hand picked by me and her rocket scientist husband. Based on the success I had with them this year, I will pick and brine a bucketful to give away as stocking stuffers and/or hoard at home for my own consumption.

For the cherries, I washed them, picked out the losers, and added to a ball jar. To that jar I added a brine of brown sugar and Bourbon. Once the brined cherries were cooled to room temperature, I capped them and putt hem in the refrigerator for two weeks before serving. And, I really believe these get better with age. It has now been three months and they are a true delight.

For the Old Fashioned you will need:
1 low ball glass
1 ice sphere
A splash of soda water
1 tablespoon of ginger syrup
1 tablespoon of cherry bourbon syrup
2 oz Bourbon
1 piece of shaved orange zest

Mix soda, bourbon, syrups, and essential oils of orange peel. Pour over ice sphere and garnish with orange zest and three bourbon cherries.

Enjoy immensely!

Craft Cocktail: Ludington Snuggler

When I was a kid, we went to Apple Charlie’s to pick apples, voraciously tear through cider donuts, and drink warm cider. My brothers, sister, and I would also stare with amazement (year after year) at the cider press. We also picked apples that my Mom would bake, make into pies, and slice into our oatmeal and lunch baggies for the next couple of weeks. It just seemed like one of those routines I just could not over do.

Likewise, at college football games, I remember when I first enjoyed the warm sips of cider and Jim Beam delivered to me as a nineteen-year-old out of a boda bag that had been smuggled in under the armpit of one of my older (by at least six months to a year) and wiser fraternity brothers. It just felt and tasted so rich and great . . . and, a little dangerous.

I loved it.

Fast forward to last week to my vacation when Emily and I had toured Ludington, taking in the sights on a cold, gusty, grey day – having a ton of fun and celebrating our life together. We decided to head to a dinner place that had come highly recommended by our B&B hostess and boasted a great deal of promise from its online menu. One of the items that caught out attention was a drink they called the Warm Woodford Cider.

When we got to the restaurant, all looked good. There was a bourbon tasting that included some on my faves and a robust atmosphere filled with conversation and fun.

The only problem – something was missing form the menu. No Warm Woodford Cider, hmmm.

Emily asked the server if we had missed the cocktail – maybe it was part of a seasonal offering that occurred prior to this evening out for us? Nope, the restaurant had changed management and the drink was out with the old. This would have stopped the deal for most but, we were chilled to the bone from our adventure and just had this idea in our head that this is something we wanted. I mean, what’s the harm in asking if they have some cider around, right?

As luck would have it – they did. And though the mixologist shared that she did not know the recipe for the Warm Woodford Cider she agreed to give it her best shot.

Within minutes we had been sent a drink to taste along with a request for feedback. Awesome.

The one we had with dessert was even better.

Local cider, bourbon, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, and carmels

At home we call this the Ludington Snuggler.

Here’s our version: cider, bourbon, cloves, cinnamon stick, optional carmel. Simmer cider, cloves, and cinnamon for about five minutes. Place carmel and bourbon in mug. Pour hot cider through strainer and into the mug. Stir.


Craft Cocktail: Ginger Basil Screwdriver

So, most people grow basil in their gardens and on their balconies so they can spice up their salads, add it fresh to grilled pizzas, and save money when making copious amounts of bruschetta. And, these reasons all hold true for me as uses of my basil. But, truth be told, I began growing balcony basil so I could make this drink.

If I have the time and no repercussions, I could drink these all day and into the night. It is also important to note, that if you are feeling under the weather or don’t want to consume alcohol you can easily substitute soda water for the vodka (post shaking) and enjoy as a virgin delight. I have done that only once, so I knew I could post about it here. I like the real deal.

Here are the ingredients:

1 1/2 oz vodka
1/2 oz ginger syrup
2 basil leaves
2 oz. orange juice

In a lowball glass, muddle one basil leaf with oj and syrup. Fill lowball with cubed ice. Add vodka (I suggest Svedka because it basically disappears as a mixer and it’s cheap). empty all contents into shaker. Cover and shake until fingers hurt, then three more times. Empty all contents back into the lowball glass. Smack second basil leaf and add as garnish. Just like the Freedom River, this herb adds its wonderful essential oils to the entire taste experience, so DO NOT SKIP the garnish!


Craft Cocktail: The Artist’s Special

A few weeks ago I was out having fun with friends for my buddy’s birthday (There’s a post about it) . While we were out we stopped into a great craft cocktail bar (named and hyperlinked in the other post) where I met one of the greatest drinks I have ever put to my lips. If you know me, that is a HUGE deal. Of course, it included my favorite booze – bourbon. And, it is served chilled but without ice so you get the straight dope. To say I had a revelation would be going too far but, this baby is at least as good as the best Sazerac I’ve ever had. Again, I have had the best and if you meet Owen at the Violet Hour in Bucktown – you too can enjoy one (yes, I know that is a rye drink but for those who know that – I want you to know where to rank this cocktail).

Okay, enough on that. Let’s get down to the nitty gritty . . . how is it made?

Well, let’s find the right ingredients first. I like Buffalo Trace right now so that takes care of the bourbon. The juice is easy, half of a fresh-squeezed lemon will do it. What makes it pink? At the place I first had it, they used grosielle syrup (currant syrup) but I am using raspberry gum syrup. Don’t get me wrong, as soon as I can get my hands on fresh currants, I will be making my own groseille syrup because the heat note from the currants takes adds a beautiful complexity that is not to be missed. And, finally you will need sherry. I followed suit from my first experience and bought Lustau’s Manzanilla Papirusa.

Next, you need the proportions and methods. I have included pictures to help us along:

3/4 oz. sherry
1 oz. boubon
1/2 oz syrup
1/2 lemon squeezed (or to taste)

Top: all of the ingredients Bottom: everything mixed

Top: all of the ingredients
Bottom: everything mixed

Yep! That’s it. I like to chill the low ball glass this wonderfulness is heading for. And, as seen in the picture, you are going to rigorously stir this over ice (I cover the glass with my non-stirring hand so I can really beat up the ice) for a fifteen count. Empty the low ball glass and strain in your magic elixir. Enjoy!

Freedom River – Fourth of July Drink

You likely noticed the mini vacay I took from blogging over the past week. Well, I got out of the city for a trip to my parents’ house. While there I did do a bit of cooking and shook up a few beautiful cocktails for all to enjoy. The “Freedom River” as my sibs and spouse started calling it is an upgraded version of a cocktail that my mixologist friend, Angie Jackson, made when she mixed for a party we had years ago to “warm” our condo. When Angie did it she called it a French Riviera.

This drink is refreshing and if you have to do it, can be served deliciously without booze. Here are the components:

1 oz. Lemon juice

0.5 oz. ginger syrup

2 oz. vodka

2 oz. club soda

1 glass full of ice

1 dozen berries (blueberries and raspberries)

sprig of mint

Prep the glass by alternating layers of a couple blueberries and raspberries and ice, until full. Add the soda. Next, combine everything but the mint and shake vigorously for 15 seconds – until your fingers hurt from the cold, then three more shakes. Pour gently over the ice, berries, and club soda. Finally, fold the mint leaf or sprig to release some of its wonderful essential oils, garnish the drink, serve, and enjoy. The intention of the mint is to provide an aromatic experience that adds a beautiful complexity and compliment to the drink  – SO DON’T SKIP IT!

Couple of things to remember, squeeze the lemons yourself to get the best juice. Also, ginger simple syrup is easy to make and works for tons of drinks – I will provide more as time goes on. To make this syrup bring equal parts of granulated sugar and water to boil and reduce by half. As you whisk/stir the sugar into the water and once the combination looks clear again add matchsticks of ginger. The ginger should be removed as you pour the hot syrup into a cooling container.

Red, white, and blue. Patriotic booze, perfect for a hot day on the deck.ImageImage