Welcome To Wonkette Happy Hour, With This Week’s Cocktail, The Shark Bait Cooler!

Greetings, Wonketeers! I’m Hooper, your bartender. Matt Hooper, in case you didn’t know. It’s a shame that I’ll be missing movie night this week, but I’ve got the perfect cocktail for your 4th of July beachside festivities. Let’s make a Shark Bait Cooler. Here’s the recipe.

Shark Bait Cooler

2 oz Skyy Vodka

1/2 oz Bohls blue curacao

1 oz Stirrings orange curacao

1 oz simple syrup

1 oz lemon juice

1/2 oz lime juice

2-3 drops orange blossom water

½ oz sour cherry syrup

Shake all ingredients except for the sour cherry syrup. Pour into an iced glass. Drizzle sour cherry syrup over the ice and serve at once. Garnish with Swedish fish.

This is my take on a Shark Bite, a cocktail that doesn’t have a ton of history. The earliest version I can find comes from Joe’s Crab Shack, sometime around 2014. It’s intended to look like a poolside drink. Presentation is more important than taste. The recipes I found online generally used white rum, blue curacao, and not much else. I wanted to go in a different direction. This is a tart, herbaceous lemonade that has a “bite” all on its own. The sour cherry syrup complements the rest of the drink, bringing extra tartness and flavor to the cocktail that plain Rose’s Grenadine can’t provide.

Flashy, boozy, lazy cocktails like this are the descendants of classic tiki drinks, easy to make and easy to enjoy. Hardcore tiki fans look down on these cocktails, but their popularity is undeniable. A 13-ingredient Zombie is a wonderful drink, but there’s something to be said for a simpler, more relaxed approach to your poolside sipper.

Craft bartenders have been re-evaluating “boat drinks” like this as they grapple with the cultural baggage tiki brings with it. Tiki doesn’t treat authentic Polynesian culture with much respect. Rather than struggle with the ethics of decorating your bar with plastic topless hula girls, bar owners are choosing to highlight tasty, beautiful drinks that aren’t as pretentious or troublesome.

Let’s talk ingredients:

Ingredient shot. It was very hot and boy howdy did this cocktail vanish quickly after the photo was taken. Matt Hooper

Skyy Vodka: I wanted a simple base for the cocktail. Skyy is a favorite ingredient of mine for their LGBTQ record. Bacardi Silver rum would fit right into place here. I feel that Bacardi has such a neutral taste that replacing it with vodka makes no difference. Some versions of the Shark Bite use spiced rum. Greg from “How To Drink” rather thoroughly sums up my opinion of Captain Morgan and his cousins.

Bohls Blue Curacao: Bohls is the original blue curacao, and is still made with bitter oranges and herbs. I found myself leaning into the herbaceousness of the Bohls as I built this drink. If you use cheaper versions of blue curacao, you might not get the same taste.

Stirrings Orange Curacao: I like Stirrings as an all-natural curacao. The more orange and citrus flavor I can bring into this drink, the better. If you have Cointreau to spare, by all means use it here. Cheaper curacao is probably made with artificial orange flavor. Use it if you must, but I’d prefer the good stuff.

Simple Syrup: We need just a touch more sweetness in this cocktail to balance the citrus. 1 part sugar, 1 part water, heat until dissolved.

Lemon and Lime Juice: I work in measurements, but this equates to the juice of 1 small lime and half a lemon.

Orange Blossom Water: If you’re lucky enough to have an atomizer to spritz orange blossom water over this drink, please do that. It makes the whole glass smell like Coppertone suntan lotion, in a good way. If you don’t have an atomizer, simply add 2-3 drops of orange blossom water to the shaker tin. Too much makes the cocktail taste like perfume.

Sour Cherry Syrup: This Mediterranean ingredient is a great addition to the cocktail. It’s a little more red in color than my normal house-made grenadine. The sour cherry is also a terrific complement to the lemon-lime flavors of the drink. Dilute sour cherry syrup into some regular lemonade, and you’ll have an amazing pink lemonade that tastes much better than store-bought.

Garnish and presentation:

Fill your glass completely with ice. You need the cubes to catch some of the cherry syrup.

Be liberal with the sour cherry syrup. You need to splash a fair amount over the ice to get the “blood in the water” effect.

I would definitely drink this cocktail with a straw. It lets you taste the sour cherry syrup at the bottom of the glass.

If you are lucky enough to have some gummy sharks in your neck of the woods, by all means use them. Otherwise, an impaled Swedish fish on a cocktail skewer will be fine. This isn’t a subtle drink, feel free to go nuts with the garnishes.

In summary and conclusion, drink well, drink often, and tip your bartender — donate to Wonkette at the link below! I need a bigger boat! And if you'd like to buy some bar gear or books from Amazon, please click here!


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Welcome to Wonkette Happy Hour, With This Week’s Cocktail, Sangria!

Greetings, Wonketteers! I’m Hooper, your bartender. Summer’s still blazing. And dear Lord, do we need a drink. Let’s make a big pitcher of sangria. I’ve got a plan to crank out as much sangria as you need in no time flat and get back to the party. Here’s the recipe.

Hooper’s Sangria

3 oz Paul Masson VSOP brandy

3 oz simple syrup

2 oz lemon juice

2 oz lime juice

2 oz orange juice

Additional soft fruit as desired, no more than 1 cup (watermelon, apricot, peaches, etc.)

1 bottle Barefoot Red Moscato wine

Cut the soft fruit into chunks. Remove any rind. Add the fruit to a large cocktail shaker tin. Add brandy and simple syrup. Muddle the fruit until broken up, but not paste. Add lemon and lime juice. Shake gently until cold. Strain into a pitcher. Add 1 full bottle of wine. Stir gently. Chill until ready to serve. Garnish each service glass with fruit slices. Serves 4-5.

Sangria, in theory, is a cocktail that dates back to the Roman era. People have been heaving fresh juice and sugar into bad wine forever. In practice, America fell in love with sangria as we know it when it was served at the 1964 World’s Fair. It’s been a summer classic ever since.

Sangria is Spanish in the same way that chop suey is Chinese. It’s not very authentic. Spaniards like cheap low-proof cocktails, like tinto de verano (basically Sprite and red wine). But when customers ask for “real” Spanish sangria, Spanish restaurants are happy to serve what makes the customer happy.

With that in mind, I decided to write a sangria recipe that would make sense in a high-volume commercial bar or restaurant. If sangria was on my menu, I’d probably knock out a bottle of sangria at a time using this technique. Many sangria recipes ask you to macerate the fruit in wine for a day. This technique uses fresh juice and gets immediate results. It also prevents any soggy fruit or loose lemon seeds from lurking in your cocktail. The finished sangria will hold for a day or two in the fridge (assuming you don’t drink it all before then).

The finished sangria clocks in at 9.5% ABV, nearly 20 proof. With the added sugar and drinkability from the wine, it’s easy to overindulge here. Serve this over ice, and make sure you’re settled in for the weekend before downing a few of these. They’re extremely tasty; you’ll drink two before you know it.

Let’s run down the ingredients:

Really, really pretty ingredient shot. The glass of sangria vanished after this photo was taken. The pitcher went back in the fridge, because I'm working tonight.Matthew Hooper

Paul Masson VSOP Brandy: This is extremely cheap brandy, but it works fine in this cocktail. The fruit juice and sugar overwhelm any harshness from the base spirit. A better quality of brandy would make a smoother, richer sangria. I’d also use some nice rum like Mount Gay or my favorite, Plantation Special Dark. You could probably use plain vodka in the cocktail and get away with it, but I like the slightly darker color an aged spirit brings to the drink.

Simple Syrup: 1 part sugar, 1 part water, heat until the sugar melts. A cocktail staple.

Lemon, Lime, and Orange Juice: I always work in measurements, but functionally the amount of juice I’m asking for equals one whole orange, one lemon, and two small limes. Fresh is mandatory. The acid in these juices will break down over time, leaving you with a muddier tasting sangria. Don’t make your bottle more than a day in advance.

Soft fruit: Use your imagination and pick what’s in season. Watermelon, apricots, peaches, and nectarines are all great choices. You don’t have to be exceptionally neat when chunking the fruit. Do remove any bitter pith or rind, however.

Barefoot Red Moscato: This cheap, tart blush wine makes a terrific sangria base. It’s not too sweet, has some nice strawberry jam notes, and provides the right color to make the sangria look appealing. Use your own favorite sweet red wine if you’d like. A dry red will be much too tannic to make an appealing sangria. White sangria is an option too. If you’d prefer a white version, use a dry white wine like Pino Grigio, and substitute vodka for the brandy.

Technique: This is a lot of fluid to shake in a standard 2-part cocktail shaker. I start by building the cocktail in the larger tin, instead of the smaller, to give me room to work.

Muddle the fruit gently. You don’t want to make fruit puree, just mash the fruit a bit to release the juices.

When you shake the cocktail, spin it gently in a circle instead of shaking up and down. Visualize a Ferris wheel spinning away from you and you’ll get the idea. You don’t need to get the cocktail frothy, just make sure everything’s incorporated and aerated.

I keep a bunch of food-safe funnels and swing-top glass bottles for projects like this. Here, they’re worth their weight in gold. Use the funnel to pour the cocktail into an empty glass bottle. Add as much wine as the bottle can hold. Give everything a quick shake and put the bottle in the fridge for later. Easy peasy.

Serve this with ice in smaller wine glasses — it’s fairly potent and goes down very well. Some fresh lemon and lime slices on top are a great idea. The scent of fresh fruit as you drink the sangria is heavenly.

In summary and conclusion, drink well, drink often, and tip your bartender — donate to Wonkette at the link below! Come see me at The Spotted Owl at Tremont! And if you'd like to buy some bar gear or books from Amazon, please click here!


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Welcome to Wonkette Happy Hour, With This Week’s Cocktail, Lynchburg Lemonade!

Greetings, Wonketteers! I’m Hooper, your bartender. It is ridiculously hot in Ohio. Time to pull out the big guns and provide something seriously refreshing. Groceries are getting expensive, too. Let’s squeeze every bit of value from what we buy. Let’s make some Lynchburg Lemonade. Here’s the recipe.

Lynchburg Lemonade

1 oz Jack Daniels

1 oz Stirrings Triple Sec

2 oz lemon sherbet (recipe follows), or lemon juice

1 oz simple syrup

2-3 oz soda water

Shake all ingredients but the soda water. Strain into a pint glass with ice. Add soda water. Transfer back into your large shaker and pour back into the glass, to fully incorporate the soda into the cocktail. Serve with a lemon wheel garnish.

Lemon Sherbet

5-6 lemons

⅓ cup sugar

Wash the lemons with warm water. Gently scrub them with a rough dish cloth. Peel all the lemons, retaining as little pith as possible. Toss the lemon peels with the sugar in a small bowl. Cover and set aside for at least 24 hours. Juice the peeled lemons into the bowl with their lemon peels. Stir gently and strain into a bottle. Keeps refrigerated for a week.

Lynchburg Lemonade is not an old cocktail. It was created by an Alabama bar owner named Tony Mason back in the '80s. When Jack Daniels stole Tony’s recipe for their website without crediting him, Tony sued and, ultimately, lost. Cocktail recipes don’t have a lot of legal protection in the US. A few distributors trademark drinks, but generally once a recipe gets out into the world, it’s fair game.

Sadly, Tony’s original recipe isn’t all that great. He used lemon and sugar to make a quick bar lemonade, then added Jack Daniels and triple sec to finish the drink. I’ve made bar lemonade like this before. It’s never strong enough. This version is much, much tastier.

Let’s talk ingredients:

Photo by Hooper

Jack Daniels: “Tennessee Whisky” is not, technically, bourbon. It’s made like bourbon. It uses the same ingredients. But as an additional step, it’s filtered through activated charcoal. The filtering gives Jack a unique flavor profile that reminds me of apricots or peaches. Jack Daniels needs some citrus and acid to stand out. A lemonade like this is an ideal platform.

You can swap in your favorite liquor here and get great results. I’d love to try this recipe with a good blanco tequila. Vodka or white rum would work well too.

Stirrings Triple Sec: Most cheap triple sec is corn syrup, neutral grain spirits, and artificial orange flavor. Stirrings is an all-natural product. I hate using anything artificial in my drinks. If you can only find the artificial stuff, skip the triple sec entirely.

Lemon Sherbet: This stuff is so good, and so useful, that I wanted to slow down and walk through the recipe in depth. This process gets every last scrap of lemon flavor out of the fruit you buy from the store. As grocery prices ratchet up, it’s imperative to extract every last bit of flavor from the produce you buy. Besides, lemon sherbet is super tasty. It makes any beverage with citrus better. Margaritas, daiquiris, you name it. This stuff rocks. It’s the key to making the best lemonade you’ll ever have.

Start by roughly washing each lemon with hot water and a clean, coarse kitchen towel. Your objective is to scrape off any wax on the outside of the fruit. Peel each lemon with a sharp veggie peeler. Don’t use too much force. You only want the outer skin of the fruit. The thick white pith is bitter and useless. I use this OXO veggie peeler. It works like a dream. Put the peeled lemons into a Zip-Loc baggie and save them in the fridge. We’ll need them later.

Toss all the lemon peels with ⅓ cup of sugar in a small bowl. You’re looking to coat each strip of lemon peel in sugar on both sides. Here’s a picture of what it looks like before a day’s rest.

Matthew Hooper

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for a day or so. After that rest, the lemon peel will have changed radically:

Matthew Hooper

The sugar sucked all the lemon oil out of the peels, leaving us with translucent scraps and roughly a quarter cup of lemon heaven. Juice the lemons that you peeled right into the bowl. Give everything a good stir and strain it into a container. Just for good measure, rinse all the lemon peels with a few tablespoons of water and strain that into the container as well. Try not to waste a single drop of that lemon oil. The sherbet will keep for a week in the fridge. If you don’t drink it all before then, I’ll be shocked.

Simple Syrup: The drink needs a touch more sweetness. When it’s hot like this, you don’t even need to turn on the stove to make simple syrup. Put equal parts sugar and water into a bottle, give it a good shake, and wait an hour or two. The sugar will dissolve on its own.

Soda Water: Tony Mason used lemon-lime soda, but I don’t think that it matters. Seltzer, or good filtered water, would work fine. Do toss the cocktail between the shaking tin and your glass once, to incorporate the soda into the drink.

Leave off the Jack Daniels and triple sec, and this becomes killer lemonade. Feel free to add as much lemon sherbet or sugar as you need to make your drink perfect. I’d toss in a sprinkle of sea salt to boost the flavor. Whiskey or no, this will be your new favorite lemonade.

In summary and conclusion, drink well, drink often, and tip your bartender — donate to Wonkette at the link below! Come see me at The Spotted Owl at Tremont! And if you'd like to buy some bar gear or books from Amazon, please click here!


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Welcome to Wonkette Happy Hour, With This Week’s Cocktail, The Jukebox Rebellion!

Greetings, Wonketeers! I’m Hooper, your bartender. It’s Pride Month. I found a recipe to celebrate LGBTQ+ history with you. (No, it’s not rainbow colored. That would taste awful.) Let’s taste some history and make up a Jukebox Rebellion. Here’s the recipe.

Jukebox Rebellion

5 oz pineapple juice

2 oz Skyy vodka

2 oz soda water or 7-Up

1 oz house ginger syrup

1 oz fresh lemon juice

Shake pineapple juice, lemon juice, and ginger syrup. Strain over ice into a pint glass. Top with soda water. Pour the vodka into the shot glass.

Presentation: Pour the shot into the soda. Stir gently. Clutch the shot glass in your hand. Yell “I got my civil rights!” at the nearest law enforcement officer. If needed, throw said glass at said officer. Never, ever back down again.

This is a cocktail that approximates something that might be served at the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969. The mafia-run speakeasy was technically a “bottle shop.” If you wanted real booze, you’d have to sneak it in. But it was safe, and home. Then the police raided the joint. The jukebox stopped. And, according to legend, Mother Marsha P. Johnson had had enough. She threw a shot glass at a mirror, screaming “I got my civil rights!” at the top of her lungs. For the queers and drag queens of the '70s, it was the shot heard round the world. The Stonewall Riots had begun. Conservatives are still trying to turn back the clock, but nothing would be the same after five nights of rage.

The original version of this recipe was composed by Chris Cabera, the LGBQT+ brand ambassador for Bacardi. Their version is a deliberately sloppy tiki drink, with a few West Coast ingredients. I kept his original ginger pineapple soda idea, made it my own, and decided to use vodka instead of rum. Cheap vodka was probably the liquor of choice at the Stonewall Inn. And this soda is so tasty that it doesn’t need extra flavors.

This recipe is still too fancy for the Stonewall. The Stonewall Inn was the worst dive bar ever. If you were lucky, you didn’t remember what you drank at The Stonewall last night. But this drink is meant to help us remember, and look forward.

Ingredient shot. The cocktail refused to disappear after this photo was taken. I drank it anyway. Matthew Hooper

Let’s talk ingredients:

Pineapple juice: Canned is fine. Fresh pineapple juice is nice, but it’s not always an ideal cocktail ingredient. It tends to be unstable, and not as strongly flavored as the canned stuff.

Skyy vodka: I’m not a fan of vodka cocktails. But this drink is meant to have some historic roots, and cheap vodka was certainly on the menu at Stonewall. Skyy Vodka has supported LGBTQ rights for nearly a decade. Their commitment has gone deeper than slapping a rainbow on their bottles for a month. Feel free to use your favorite vodka, but I feel their work earns them a place in this recipe.

Soda water: I might try some 7-Up here instead of seltzer. “The Un-Cola” had its heyday in the '70s, and the Stonewall Inn certainly didn’t have a seltzer gun — or running water behind the bar, for that matter. I tried it, and it didn’t make much difference. Ultimately, seltzer makes a crisper cocktail, but either is fine.

Ginger syrup: This fiery, barely sweet syrup livens up the cocktail tremendously. It’s also easy to make. Add equal parts roughly chopped ginger, water, and sugar to a blender. (Don’t bother peeling the ginger.) Puree until smooth. Strain through a fine sieve or cheesecloth. It’ll keep in the fridge for a week. Here’s a more in-depth rundown on the recipe if you need it.

Lemon juice: I doubt there was a drop of lemon juice in The Stonewall Inn, let alone a fresh lemon. But there are some standards I won’t compromise. The lemon juice is a natural partner to the ginger. Having them both in the glass is what makes the drink.

Presentation: If you’re making this for guests, I might try putting a splash of lemon and 7-Up into each shot glass along with the vodka. Serving a lemon drop shot with homemade pineapple soda is fun. You can treat it like a boilermaker — sip each separately, combine them, or chug the shot and sip the pineapple. There’s no wrong way to drink this. Conversely, if you don’t have a shot glass in the house, feel free to shake the drink with the vodka in the tin. The shot glass is for theater. It’s cool, but it doesn’t make the drink taste better.

The non-alcoholic version of this drink should be self-evident. Skip the shot, enjoy the soda. No matter how you enjoy this, please remember where we came from, and have a terrific weekend.

In summary and conclusion, drink well, drink often, and tip your bartender — donate to Wonkette at the link below! Come see me at The Spotted Owl at Tremont! And if you'd like to buy some bar gear or books from Amazon, please click here!


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Welcome to Wonkette Happy Hour, With This Week’s Cocktail, Hooper’s Transfusion!

Greetings, Wonketeers! I’m Hooper, your bartender. Last year around this time, I was pouring vodka sodas and dirty martinis for the country club set. Let’s update a golfer’s cocktail and tell some fun war stories from my first bartending gig. Time to make some Transfusions. Here’s the recipe.

Hooper’s Transfusion

2 oz Bombay Sapphire East gin

2 oz Welch's 100% Concord grape juice

1 oz fresh lemon juice

½ oz house grenadine

½ oz demerara syrup

3 oz. Fever Tree ginger beer

Shake all the ingredients but the ginger beer until ice cold. Strain into a pint glass filled with ice. Top with ginger beer. Garnish with a lemon wheel and a cherry.

A classic Transfusion isn’t a cocktail. It’s a vodka transmission device. As written, the Transfusion is grape juice, ginger ale, and an absurd amount of vodka - as much as four ounces. No one has admitted to inventing the drink, but Eisenhower was known to enjoy them when he hit the links.

I poured a lot of these when I worked as a country club bartender. Some of my customers loved a well crafted martini or tiki drink. But the ones who paid my bills were the drinkers with a golfing problem. I’d find myself behind the bar at 1 AM pouring endless rounds of vodka sodas for six hardcore drunks. Eventually, they’d stagger to their golf carts and careen off to their McMansions, leaving me to close up the joint.

These were the guys who lived for the “member guest tournament” — a lost weekend of golf and booze. Especially booze. The cocktails were constant: a Bloody Mary bar in the morning, two bars on the golf course, another round at lunch, back to the links, back to the bars on the course, an evening supper with yet more drinks. Every day, for three whole days. You had to be a decent golfer to play in the tournament, but you also needed a liver made out of solid titanium. (It’s worth noting that the six-vodka-soda-a-night guys never won this tournament.)

Before I moved on, I finally saw the drunks get their just rewards. I was working on a muggy, rainy Sunday afternoon. The bar was dead, the kitchen was closed, and I was ready to go home. Half an hour before closing, the lads rolled up in their golf carts. They’d been waiting out the rain at another course, watching football and chugging vodka. Now they were ready to keep the party rolling. “You got any food?” one of them slurred at me. I brought them a big bowl of Goldfish crackers. They promptly threw fistfuls at each other like grade schoolers.

“Don’t tell my wife I’m here,” the ringleader begged me. Well, I won’t admit to calling his wife. But twenty minutes later, the ringleader’s wife — and his mother — stormed into the bar. They ordered Chardonnay and stared at the offending soul until he slinked home with them. “I gotta go. My Mommy came to get me,” he moaned. After that, the party broke up pretty quickly. It’s amazing how fast a good old boys' club dissolves when someone’s mother drags him home.

Back to the cocktail. Let’s talk ingredients:

Ingredient shot. The cocktail mysteriously sliced into the rough shortly after this photo was taken. Matthew Hooper

Bombay Sapphire East Gin: I swapped the vodka for gin to give this cocktail flavor. Bombay Sapphire East's black pepper and lemongrass notes help cut though the sweet, unctuous grape juice.

Concord Grape Juice: Welch’s 100% grape juice is fine. I’d avoid a grape juice cocktail with added sugars or other ingredients.

Fresh Lemon Juice: We need a strong acidic component to balance out the sweet grape juice. Lime juice doesn’t cut it. Always fresh, never from a plastic lemon.

House Grenadine: Back at the club, I’d use some cheap cherry-flavored vodka to give this drink another dimension. Our house grenadine does the same job without artificial cherry flavor. It’s easy to make grenadine at home: one bottle of POM pomegranate juice, 2 cups sugar, heat until the sugar dissolves. Keep it in the fridge and it’ll last for weeks.

Demerara Syrup: The cocktail needs just a little more sweetness to work. I used demerara syrup, but simple syrup is fine. To make demerara syrup at home, heat 1 part water and 1 part sugar until the sugar dissolves. It’ll keep in the fridge for weeks too.

Fever Tree Ginger Beer: The drier and spicier the ginger beer, the better. I trust Fevertree to go light on the sugar in everything they do. Goslings or Reed’s would work fine here.

One more piece of history: One year ago this week, while I was working at the country club, Yr Editrix asked me to write a weekly cocktail for Wonkette. It has been my pleasure and honor to be your bartender ever since. I’m looking forward to keeping the regulars happy for years to come.

In summary and conclusion, drink well, drink often, and tip your bartender — donate to Wonkette at the link below! Come see me at The Spotted Owl at Tremont! And if you'd like to buy some bar gear or books from Amazon, please click here!


Welcome To Wonkette Happy Hour, With This Week’s Cocktail, The Key West Mai Tai!

Greetings, Wonketeers! I’m Hooper, your bartender. It’s been rough, but the Memorial Day weekend is finally here. Summer means tiki season for me. I’m too tired and frazzled to play by the rules, though. Let’s recreate a tasty drink that I found in Florida before America went crazy. Here’s a Key West Mai Tai. Recipe’s below.

2 oz Plantation Special Dark Rum

1 oz fresh lime juice

2 oz pineapple juice

½ oz spiced syrup

½ oz Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao

2 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake all until ice cold. Pour into a highball glass over ice. Garnish with a lime wedge, or a lime umbrella boat if you’re feeling fancy.

I wrote up a proper, historically accurate Mai Tai for Wonkette back in October. It’s a lovely drink, but it’s not this drink. A lot of drinks have been called “Mai Tais” over the years. Trader Vic’s 1944 recipe is often forgotten. If you order a “mai tai” at a cheap restaurant, you’ll probably get a glass with some Bacardi and a random assortment of fruit juices. (I have no idea what’s in a $1 Applebee’s Mai Tai. I’m scared to find out.)

This is not a “real” mai tai. It’s pretty similar to a not-mai tai I had in Key West with my family before the pandemic. It was a warm, sunny, gorgeous day. My wife and kid had visited the cats at the Hemingway House. I’d been sampling the booze and cigars along Duval Street. We’d landed at a pretty nice taqueria for supper. They poured me this. It was a good night.

Sometimes, you want a drink that reminds you of happy times. For me, this is that drink. Well, a version of it. It’s tweaked to my palate. This is spicier and drier than the Key West original, but it’s my favorite.

And you should make your favorite mai tai. If you put rum and juice in a glass, and call it a mai tai, that’s fine. At your home bar, cocktail recipes should always be considered guidelines. If you know what things go together in a glass well, put those things in a glass and drink it. Tinker, adjust, find the right balance, and make your own favorite.

Let’s talk about ingredients. This time, I’m making a point of focusing on why a liquid is in the glass, and what you can swap out for it. Consider this a “master recipe.” The variations are endless.

Ingredient shot. The Mai Tai vanished very quickly after this photo was taken. Matthew Hooper

Plantation Special Dark: This is, simply, my favorite rum. I’ve talked in depth about all the variations of rum out there, and how one bottle is different from another. Suffice to say, this rum is awesome. You should try it.

If you’re not a rum fanatic, and you’ve only got Bacardi in the cabinet, that’s fine. Silver Bacardi is pretty mild. Puerto Rican rum has a unique funk all its own. Taste the rum. Think about what would taste good with it. (Then, taste it again. It’s Memorial Day Weekend. You’re allowed.)

Pineapple Juice: Pineapple always goes well with rum. You shouldn’t put it in every rum cocktail, but you could and it would probably turn out good. Pineapple juice is just acidic enough to make the drink lively without being overwhelming. It’s a go-to for the summer.

No pineapple juice in the fridge? Well, what juices do you have? Cranberry is very tart, and won’t cooperate with a funky or earthy rum. It’ll play fine with white rum. Orange juice has a strong flavor that can be hard to balance. Add some other juices along with the orange juice and build a fruit punch. We’re far afield from a “real” mai tai, but if you like what’s in the glass that’s fine.

Lime juice: Lime juice is fairly non-negotiable. Most shaken cocktails rely on acid, sugar, and booze to be great, and this one’s no exception. You could use lemon juice in a pinch. It’s more acidic than lime, so up your sugar level accordingly. Balancing sweet and acid in a glass is the big challenge in bartending. Play with the ratio of syrup to citrus. Find what you like best. I like 3:4 sugar to acid. What tastes best to you is correct.

Spiced Syrup: Your favorite baking spices in a pan with equal parts sugar and water. Heat until the sugar’s melted. Rum loves juice, but it also loves warm Christmas spices. Cinnamon, allspice, and cloves all go well with rum. Think “fruitcake.” You’ll get the idea. I added a bunch of black pepper to my syrup, because I love black pepper. Use whole spices, or you’ll get grit in the cocktail.

If I’m using Bacardi, I’d toss some vanilla in here. Think “Duncan Hines yellow cake” instead of “fruitcake.” Most of all, use the spice you like. It’s your drink.

Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao: Or your favorite orange liquor. Grand Marnier, Cointreau, cheap triple sec from the bottom shelf of the liquor store. They’re all fine. These liquors are “orange spice” flavored, not orange flavored. They bring orange oil, bergamot, and other mild spices to the mix. Swapping orange juice for triple sec won’t work.

Bitters: Angostura adds yet more baking spice, and tamps down excess sweetness. Orange bitters are fine, but don’t bring much to the party. I’d shake some in if you had to skip the triple sec. I’ve used chocolate bitters for a wintertime version of this drink. The earthiness is nice, and chocolate plays well with the baking spice.

Technique: Taste as you go. Feel free to add a dash of this and a shake of that to correct the taste. Write down what you end up with, so you can make it again — or change it. I floated more rum on top of this cocktail because I love rum. Don’t bother with a mild rum like Bacardi.

Enjoy your Memorial Day. Drink the drink you love. Tinker with it until it’s better. It’s a nice day in a hard year. Enjoy it, one hour at a time.

In summary and conclusion, drink well, drink often, and tip your bartender — donate to Wonkette at the link below! Come see me at The Spotted Owl at Tremont! And if you'd like to buy some bar gear or books from Amazon, please click here!


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Welcome To Wonkette Happy Hour, With This Week’s Cocktail, The Mint Julep!

Greetings, Wonketeers! I’m Hooper, your bartender. I’m trying to catch up on our summer cocktails. Derby season has come and gone, but we can still enjoy some mint juleps. Here’s the recipe.

Mint Julep

1 ½ oz Old Grand Dad Bottled In Bond Bourbon

½ oz simple syrup

6-8 mint leaves

Crushed ice

Place mint leaves in the bottom of your small shaker tin. Add syrup. Gently muddle the mint leaves. Add bourbon and a small scoop of ice. Whip shake until the ice is melted. Double strain into a julep glass filled to the rim with crushed ice. Mound additional ice on top of the cup. Garnish with several large sprigs of mint.

The julep is an old cocktail. We can find examples of julep-like drinks in the Arab world involving rose petals and water. The first mention of booze comes from Virginia, when a traveler mentions a “dram of spirituous liquor that has mint in it, taken by Virginians in the morning." That’s well before bourbon proper was invented. It’s very probable that the first American julep was made with brandy or rum. The mint julep became the official drink of the Kentucky Derby in 1939, and it’s been off to the races ever since.

Juleps aren’t really about bourbon. Even the mint is negotiable. The most important ingredient in a julep, by far, is the ice. A big mound of crushed ice in a silver cup, condensation dripping off the glass, on a blazing hot summer day — that’s what makes a julep a julep. To make a really good julep, you need as much crushed ice as you can get your hands on. That’s not easy to get at home. I’ve got some ideas on how to address that. But if you don’t have a Sno-Cone machine laying around, you might try something more along the lines of a mojito. Follow the julep recipe, but use ice cubes from the fridge and top with seltzer water. It’s not a “real” julep anymore, but it’s still a great summer cooler.

Let’s talk ingredients:

Old Grand Dad Bottled in Bond: Old Forester is the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby. Their 100 proof is terrific and affordable. I’d recommend it in a heartbeat. I’m using Old Grand Dad because I wanted something a little less sweet. The important thing here is to use 100 proof whiskey. The ice is going to dilute the drink considerably. You’ll need something that won’t vanish as you sip.

Simple syrup: I’ve seen some julep recipes that use powdered sugar. It’ll dissolve quickly, but the cornstarch in powdered sugar won’t do us any favors. Make some proper simple syrup: One cup white sugar, one cup water, heat until the sugar’s dissolved. I’ve got plans to use some of this stuff next week, so keep the leftovers in the fridge.

Mint: Use fresh. Use a lot. That nice little clamshell of mint you buy at the store is going to make you one drink at most. You only need five or six leaves of mint in the cocktail proper. But a big, fragrant bush of mint as a garnish is a must. If you’re growing mint in your backyard, this is a great way to use it up.

Ice: Lots of shaved or pebbled ice is crucial. A julep can be accurately described as a Slurpee for grownups. Raiding the local Sonic or Dairy Queen for ice is a solid option. The better the ice, the better your cocktail.

Technique: Be gentle when you muddle the mint leaves. You want to press down on them to break the leaves. You don’t want to make chopped salad here.

Whip-shake the cocktail instead of rocking the tumblers back and forth. Only use a small amount of ice and spin the tumblers in a small tight circle in your hands. Imagine a stubborn pair of wet blue jeans thumping in the washing machine on spin cycle. That’s how the ice should behave in your shaking tins. You’ll get more dilution for the bourbon and syrup.

When you’re preparing the mint garnish for the drink, arrange it into a pretty little shrub. Then smack the leaves of this garnish against the bar, once, hard. The mint leaves will release oil and become more fragrant.

The NA version of this cocktail isn’t too hard. You can simply omit the bourbon and you’ll have a tasty mint Slurpee. Some fresh lemonade would be great too. As long as it’s ice cold and refreshing, it’s the perfect julep for you.

In summary and conclusion, drink well, drink often, and tip your bartender — donate to Wonkette at the link below! Come see me at The Spotted Owl at Tremont! And if you'd like to buy some bar gear or books from Amazon, please click here!


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Welcome to Wonkette Happy Hour, With This Week’s Cocktail, The Gin Daisy!

Greetings, Wonketteers! I’m Hooper, your bartender. Summer’s finally on its way in Ohio. Time to play a little catch-up and share the light, summery cocktail I had planned for Mother’s Day. This one’s worth the wait. Let’s make a Gin Daisy. Here’s the recipe.

Gin Daisy

1 oz Boodles Gin

1 oz Grand Marnier

1 oz house grenadine

½ oz fresh lemon juice

Soda water

Whip-shake (instructions below!) all ingredients but the soda. Pour into a highball glass and top with soda water. Garnish with a lemon wedge.

The interesting thing about this cocktail is that there’s a documented “old school” and “new school” version. An old school Daisy is a sour with some seltzer on top — in other words, a spirit, an acid, some booze, and soda water to fill the glass. The margarita was descended from the daisy — after all, “margarita” means “little daisy” in Spanish. The cocktail first gets mentioned in an 1866 novel entitled Gay Life in New York, or Fast Men and Grass Widows by Henry Llewellyn Williams, and hoo boy do I have something on my reading list now. “Daisy” was slang for something extraordinary around the turn of the century. “Daisy” and “Doozy” are the same thing.

New school” Gin Daisies dial back the gin, drop the orange liquor, add a little more sugar, and top with seltzer. It’s a light, sweet, refreshing drink, less boozy than the old school version. I decided to split the difference for this recipe. The orange liquor comes back, the sugar goes out, and the drink gets rebalanced for a gentle summer day.

Generally I follow a “more is more” philosophy when building a drink that asks for seltzer. The bubbles mute flavors in addition to diluting the drink. But this cocktail wants to be light and genteel — not enough seltzer, and the cocktail feels crowded and boozy. Add the ingredients with a light hand, and the end result will be tastier.

Let’s talk ingredients:

Boodles Gin: Inflation’s starting to hit the liquor stores. I’m trying to be mindful of cost in my recipes. Boodles is still your best value for the money when it comes to gin. This is a perfect recipe for Hendricks gin, if it’s in your budget. The cucumber and rose play wonderfully with the grenadine. A citrus forward gin, like Tanqueray rangpur lime, would also be fantastic.

Replacing the gin with tequila could be a lot of fun. I’d want to use a mild reposado to keep the agave notes under control. I’m not convinced that tequila and grenadine would play well together, but give it a go if you don’t have gin in the liquor cabinet.

Fresh lemon juice: I tried some of the lemon sherbet in this recipe, but we need a strong acid to cut through the sweet elements of the drink and the soda. Fresh juice, always.

Grand Marnier: I was recently gifted a vintage bottle of this stuff from a friend. I’ve been sneaking it into my cocktails ever since. Cointreau or bottom-shelf triple sec will do in a pinch.

House grenadine:
Never, ever use Rose’s Grenadine. It’s red food coloring and sadness in a bottle. Make your own instead: one part POM pomegranate juice, one part sugar, heat until the sugar melts. Add a ¼ teaspoon of orange blossom water. It’ll keep in the fridge for weeks.

I’ve been playing with a different style of shaking my cocktails. Standard cocktail shaking means filling your small tin with ice and shaking the tumblers back and forth until the small tin is painfully cold to the touch. I’m whip-shaking this cocktail instead. A “whip shake” only needs one ice cube. Instead of shaking back and forth, you spin the shakers in a tight circle. Imagine a washing machine on spin cycle. The ice cube is a pair of stinky blue jeans. Keep spinning your tins until the ice cube melts. Then strain into the highball with ice.

The whip shake creates more dilution and less aeration in a drink. More importantly, it uses less ice. Being environmentally friendly while you make your cocktails is a good thing. Not having to fill your ice cube trays all the time is even better.

You could make an NA version of this cocktail by omitting the gin. But if you’re committed to a zero proof lifestyle, I’d go ahead and invest in some Seedlip spirits alternative. This drink needs some herbal notes to be complete, and Seedlip will definitely fit the bill. You can find it readily on Amazon, or order directly from their website.

In summary and conclusion, drink well, drink often, and tip your bartender — donate to Wonkette at the link below! Come see me at The Spotted Owl at Tremont! And if you'd like to buy some bar gear or books from Amazon, please click here!


Do your Amazon shopping through this link, because reasons.

Welcome To Wonkette Happy Hour, With This Week’s Cocktails Off The Secret Menu!

Greetings, Wonketeers. I’m Hooper, your bartender. And I’m here just in time. This has been a hella week. I was going to give you a light, delicate, pretty cocktail for Mother’s Day. Then, the news happened. So let’s pull the curtain back. Today, l’ll pour you what we drink in the industry. These drinks ain’t for fun, they’re emergency fortification. They aren’t the shots we want, but they’re the shots we deserve. And bless my heart, I love them all. Here’s the first recipe.

First Shot: Lemon Drop Shot

½ oz Boodles Gin

½ oz Lemon Sherbet

Add lemon sherbet and gin to your glass. Knock it back. Serve with a bottle of Blue Moon on the side as a boilermaker.

This is our celebratory shot at the bar, the one you toss back with a dozen friends when the bartender’s celebrating her birthday a day late and nearly everyone in the industry comes over to say hello. If you’ve never done shots before, well, first time for everything. Don’t sip this, and don’t think about what you’re tasting. Chug it down. This one’s light and sweet. It’s a killer way to say “Happy Mother’s Day” and still be cool. Mom could totally do this shot with you.

But maybe you’re drinking alone at home. A boilermaker’s another option. One shot, one beer — a classic blue collar combo. They’re peanut butter and jelly for barflies. Cheap beers are a must for your one-two combo. Lord help you if you're trying to savor a complex, bitter IPA and down a shot at the same time. There’s no “right” way to drink a boilermaker. Take a little sip of each? Chug the shot, gulp down the beer? Pour the beer into a pint glass and drop the shot in? You do you. It’s all good.

Second Shot: Industry Boilermaker

1 oz Fernet Branca

Knock back the shot and keep moving. Serve with a bottle of Peroni beer on the side for a boilermaker.

If you want to tell someone at a top notch bar that you’re industry, order a shot of Branca. This bitter, intense, menthol spirit is what keeps us going when a party of 10 stumbles in at midnight. There’s just enough alcohol to take the edge off your sore feet. The menthol wakes you up just enough to keep moving. And the taste … well, you shoot this stuff for a reason. You question your life choices when you drink the first one. You chalk up the second one to peer pressure. You grab the third one because it’s grown on you. After that, you find yourself willingly ordering one at the neighborhood bar.

Branca is good, honestly. You find in it teaspoons and quarter-ounces in lots of top-notch modern cocktails. Amaros like Branca are meant to be mixed with seltzer, or maybe a little lemonade, as an after dinner digestif or to settle your stomach after a heavy lunch. But a full ounce, all at once? That’s the sign. That tells everyone else at the bar that you know how it is to mop floors at 1 a.m., to talk the drunks down from a bad fight or worse romance, to wipe wet garbage out of three part sinks. You’ve made best friends out of customers after three drinks. You’ve tried to split a check three ways for four customers when you’re so tired you can barely count to 10. You’re living the life. You’re part of the tribe. You’re industry.

If you’re drinking this as a boilermaker, you’re sitting in the back corner of the bar with a newspaper at 3 in the afternoon. Or you miss work. You do this job long enough, you look forward to working. Peroni, the Bud Light of Italian beer, is the way to go here. Sip each one gingerly in turn — beer, shot, beer. It’ll give the Branca space to open up and share its good qualities.

Last Shot: Cynar and Bourbon

½ oz Cynar Amaro

½ oz Four Roses Bourbon

Take a deep breath, sip, then chug, then exhale. Serve with Murphy's Irish Stout as a boilermaker.

This is my “shiftie” of choice, the cocktail I ask for when it’s 1:30, the floors are clean, and the lead bartender’s counting out the tips. We played the best bar song on earth an hour ago. All the guests are gone. Time to lower your heart rate and get the energy to drive home safely.

Red Peters - The Closing Song Best. Bar. Song. Ever. youtu.be

Cynar is an artichoke based amaro, but it doesn’t taste like artichokes. It’s grounded, and earthly, and a little bit herbal. It’s also intensely bittersweet. Cynar is the new darling for craft bartenders. It makes mediocre bourbon great. The bitterness and herbaceousness bounce off mellow, sweet corn flavor like no one’s business. I keep a bottle of Cynar at home, and I’ve been splashing a little into my highballs and Manhattans all week. A 50/50 shot of this stuff is wonderful. Just enough to get me home, so I can do it all over again tomorrow.

So. One shot to celebrate the good times. One to keep us moving through the tough times. One to give us the strength to stand up and start fresh tomorrow. A lot of bitterness to choke down. But with bitterness comes power to thrive in the darkest hours.

That’s a pretty decent way to finish up a rough week.

In summary and conclusion, drink well, drink often, and tip your bartender — donate to Wonkette at the link below! Come see me at The Spotted Owl at Tremont! And if you'd like to buy some bar gear or books from Amazon, please click here!


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Welcome To Wonkette Happy Hour, With This Week’s Cocktail, The Scofflaw!

Greetings, Wonketeers! I’m Hooper, your bartender. Today’s cocktail was inspired by an emergency text from Yr Editrix. It’s also got a funny story about Prohibition attached to it, and uses leftovers from your fridge.That’s a lot to cram into one glass, so let’s get started. Let’s make a Scofflaw. Here’s the recipe.


1 oz Four Roses Bourbon

1 oz house grenadine

½ oz Cinzano dry vermouth

½ oz dry white wine

½ oz fresh lemon juice

1 dash orange bitters

Shake and strain into a chilled Nick and Nora or coupe glass. No garnish.

A few months ago, Rebecca texted me with a cocktail question: “Can you use dry vermouth in a Manhattan?" The answer is an emphatic “no.” I tried to warn her, but it was too late. She tried it. It was terrible. Yr Editrix is hardly the first person to try to make this work. I’ve seen recipes for “improved” or “perfected” Manhattans that use dry vermouth. It never works. These monstrosities are never improvements. They certainly aren’t perfect. They’re always terrible.

I did file away the cocktail disaster in the back of my head to explore later. Maybe there was a cocktail out there that used dry vermouth and bourbon that worked? Sometimes flavor combinations that don’t make sense just need a little help. Peanuts and peppers sound terrible together, but pad thai is great. As it turns out, there is a nice dry vermouth and bourbon Prohibition era cocktail out there. And it’s got some fun history behind it.

The word “scofflaw” is entirely made up. A prohibitionist by the name of Delcevare King held a contest in a local newspaper. He wanted to find an epithet to shame lawless drinkers, “to stab awake the conscience.” Harry’s Bar in Paris got wind of the contest. They immediately crafted a cocktail to celebrate all the unstabbed consciences among their customers. (It seems that when the Supreme Court tries to legislate morality from the bench by banning something, it doesn’t work. I’m certain this observation has no relevance whatsoever to our current Supreme Court session.)

The original Scofflaw cocktail was okay, but this modern take is much, much better. Interestingly, the vermouth is extremely prominent in the glass. The other ingredients balance out. The white wine gives the vermouth a little space to breathe. You can pick out the vermouth in the cocktail without being overwhelmed. This drink would be a great way to test vermouths for summer martinis.

Let’s talk ingredients:

Ingredient shot. The bulge to the left of the cocktail is my cat, Nightshade, who is being super helpy. Matthew Hooper

Four Roses Bourbon: I wanted a mild, middle of the road bourbon for this cocktail. A nice rye, like Rittenhouse, would also be a solid choice. Bulleit or Larceny would be fine. Bourbon is a strong team player in this glass, but it’s not the star of the show, so don’t pour a $40 bottle in here.

Grenadine: Use the home-made version I put together for a Hurricane a few weeks ago. Rose’s grenadine is garbage. A quick reminder: Grenadine is equal parts pomegranate juice and sugar, with a few dashes of orange blossom water, heated until clear.

Cinzano dry vermouth: This cocktail does a great job of supporting dry vermouth without letting it dominate the glass. I’d love to try making Scofflaws with Martini and Rossi, Gallo, and some other cheap vermouths just to see what the differences are.

Cheap Dry White Wine: The brand is irrelevant. Use the bottom end stuff. We’re talking Charles Shaw, Crane Lake, Barefoot — basically, Kool-Aid for grownups. Pino Grigio or Riesling are both fine. The vermouth needs some room to expand and breathe. If for some reason you’ve got some Lillet Blanc in the fridge, by all means use that. Death & Co’s Scofflaw uses dry and blanc vermouths. But buying two vermouths for one cocktail is a big ask. Everyone’s got a half a bottle of white wine hiding in the back of their fridge. Use that instead.

Fresh Lemon Juice: Always fresh, never from a plastic lemon.

Orange Bitters: The sweetness from the grenadine needs to be tamped down just a touch, and the flavors in the cocktail need to blend. One shake of orange bitters does the trick.

It’s not easy to make a direct NA version of this cocktail. You could put grenadine and lemon juice into a glass with seltzer and ice. But that’s a Shirley Temple, not a Scofflaw. I talked about Shirley Temples last year. On the other hand, Shirley Temples with house grenadine are really, really good, so make one up and drink along if you’d like. Proportions are up to you, but I’d go heavy on the house grenadine. Adding a few drops of orange blossom water or rosewater might be interesting too. Don’t be afraid of bold, complex flavors in your glass. No one will stab your conscience if you indulge.

In summary and conclusion, drink well, drink often, and tip your bartender — donate to Wonkette at the link below! And if you'd like to buy some bar gear or books from Amazon, please click here!


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