Hong Kong Cognac


Cognac has become a sought-after luxury in China, but like Scotch, it’s not to the taste of many drinkers there.  Fortunately, the mixer of choice used to make it palatable–7UP– happens to make an excellent cocktail, which pairs well with many dishes in Chinese, Japanese, and Thai cuisine.

Hong Kong Cognac

  • 1½ ounces Cognac
  • 4½ ounces 7UP
  • Maraschino cherry, for garnish

— Fill a highball or Collins glass with ice.  Pour in the Cognac. Gently pour in the 7UP, and stir slowly seven times with a chopstick.  Garnish with a cherry, and let the drink sit for 5 minutes to blend and chill.

7UP is recommended for this drink, but Sprite may be substituted.  St. Rémy VSOP Brandy is inexpensive, and mixes well with Sprite and lots of ice.



Pimm’s Cup Recipe

pimm's cup

You don’t have to be watching tennis at Wimbledon to enjoy a Pimm’s Cup, it’s enjoyable any time it’s warm.  And though the original English version is made with Schweppe’s Bitter Lemon soda, but there’s several other lemon-lime or ginger sodas that make this cocktail delicious and refreshing on a summer day..

Fever-Tree Bitter Lemon Soda is available in the United States, in higher-end stores.  Fine substitutes include 7UP and ginger ale, and in the right amount aren’t too sweet. You may also like the version made with Seagram’s Ginger Ale and the one with Barritt’s Ginger Beer. 7UP tasted a little thin and San Pellegrino Lemon Soda was a little too tart.

No matter what lemon-lime or ginger soda you use, 2½ ounces seems to be just the right amount of mixer.

Pimm’s Cup

  • 1½ ounces Pimm’s No.1
  • 2½ ounces bitter lemon soda, ginger ale, 7UP, or mild ginger beer
  • Thin cucumber slice, for garnish
  • Thin slice of orange, for garnish
  • A sprig of spearmint, for garnish, optional
  • A strawberry, cut in half, for garnish, optional

Fill half of a highball or Collins glass with ice. Pour in the Pimm’s No.1. Gently pour in the soda, ginger ale, or ginger beer.  Garnish with the cucumber slice and the orange slice.  If you wish, add the two halves of the strawberry and/or the sprig of spearmint.

Pimm’s Cups are often garnished with lemon wedges and green apples along with the cucumber, but it is not recommended here. Barritt’s and Gosling make mild ginger beers that are recommended in this drink. Strong Jamaican-style ginger beer is not recommended.

In New Orleans,  Pimm’s Cups are made with 3 ounces of lemonade and a splash of 7UP.  It’s worth trying, but not preferred here.

Best Tequila for Margaritas

2 tequilas

You can make expensive margaritas or cheap ones, and the taste shouldn’t be all that different, if you use the right ingredients.

1)  Premium Margaritas require Cointreau and medium-priced 100% blue agave blanco tequila. (click here for recipe)

2) Cheap “House” Margaritas are best made with strong-tasting low-priced 100% blue agave tequila, and triple sec. (click here for recipe)

Premium Margaritas

Highly recommended Margarita mixing tequilas are Siembra Azul (Blue Harvest) and Pura Vida, which by no coincidence are produced by the same company, Feliciano Vivianco Y Asociados.  You also can’t go wrong with Milagro, Avion, Dos Lunas, and Patrón. Other solid recommendations are Cazadores and Herradura.

Izkali makes a reposado tequila that is award-winning in margaritas.  And Sauza Hornitos Reposada gives a flavorful burn.  Sauza Hornitos is the choice of many many bartenders in Mexico.

If you have premium El Tesoro or Don Julio, by all means, sip it, but don’t expect it to make a significantly better cocktail.  Tapatio, a lower-priced blanco by the producer of El Tesoro (in a wonderfully cheap-looking bottle) is a better value.

Better yet, go to Neal McDonald’s website Proof 66 and decide for yourself.

Cheap Margaritas

I have not found anything that comes close to Lunazul or Agavales.  A lot of Texas restaurants are now using one of these in their house margaritas, for good reason, and it’s ridiculously cheap.

El Jimador is a cheap favorite in Mexico,  and Espolon has a mild taste. Milagro on sale isn’t expensive, and gets universal raves. I did not like the Sauza Blue in the picture above, but I’ll highly recommend Sauza Hornitos Reposado. Pueblo Viejo is a superb value.

I realize there are some other excellent tequilas out there, but these choices are just the bottles that are widely available in liquor stores in the U.S.A.

Best Rum for a Daiquiri

The Daiquiri is a simple but perfect cocktail, a sublime mix of rum, sweet, and sour. It’s easy to make, and puts your guests in an instant tropical mood.  Best of all, it’s delicious with any rum you like.

Daiquiri (Frozen or Shaken)

  • 2 ounces rum
  • ¾ ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • ½ ounce simple syrup

— Add the rum, lime juice, and simple syrup to a mixing glass with ice. Shake well and strain into any glass that’s filled with crushed ice, cracked ice, or ice cubes. Or, add the rum, lime juice, and simple syrup to a blender with 2 cups of ice. Blend until frothy.

Key limes or Mexican limes are often used for Daiquiris and other tropical drinks. If the Daiquiri is too tart for some guests, increase the amount of simple syrup to ¾ ounce. Simple syrup is made by adding equal amounts of sugar and purified water in a jar, shake vigorously, wait five minutes, and shake again.

Recommendations for white rum: Banks 5 Island, Bacardi Superior, Flor de Caña Extra Dry, Diplomatico, Plantation 3 Star, Miami Club, 10 Cane, Old New Orleans Crystal, and Cruzan.

Recommendations for gold or aged rum: Bacardi 8, Cruzan Single Barrel, Diplomatico Anejo, Pampero Aniversario, Mount Gay, Screech, Plantation Grande Reserve, and Don Q Anejo.

Best Gin For Martini

A Martini is the quintessential drink to enjoy in a well-appointed hotel bar, but there’s this, by writer Kingsley Amis, “The best dry martini known to man is the one I make myself for myself.”

Martini Recipe

  • 2 ½ ounces London Dry Gin
  • ½ ounce Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth
  • Green olive, for garnish
  • Lemon twist, for garnish. optional

— Add the gin to a mixing glass. Add the vermouth.  Stir with 7 large ice cubes for 40 seconds to get the correct icy dilution.  Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Add the olive, for garnish.  If you wish, twist a lemon peel over the glass, then drop it in.  A lemon twist with no olive is also a good garnish.

The recommended olive is a Queen (or Gordal) olive, pitted, with the pimento removed.  Rinse off the brine, and chill before using.  A Manzanilla olive will also suffice. Goya produces good olives.

Dry Martini

  • 2 ounces Gin
  • ¼ ounce Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth
  • Olive, for garnish

Notes:  The Martini is a 5:1 ratio, and the Dry Martini is 8:1.  If you love the taste of vermouth, then mix 2 ounces of gin with ½ ounce of vermouth for a 4:1 ratio. Or you can go the other way, and decrease the amount of vermouth in a Dry Martini.

Beefeater Gin is recommended for a Martini, and Plymouth is superb for the Dry Martini. Boodles is another good selection, especially with vermouth by Martini & Rossi.  These experts can help you make other choices.

Vodka Martini

Sticklers will insist that Martinis must be made with gin.  However, many people like Vodka Martinis, and at this point, what else are we going to call them?

Use the same formula (5:1) as the gin Martini, and the vermouth will balance out the vodka taste.  If you enjoy the taste of vodka, the Dry formula (8:1) works well.  Any ratio in between doesn’t work very well.

Sobieski is a recommended vodka.  Tito’s, Hangar One, and Ketel One are also superb vodkas for this drink.

Or as Toby Maloney of Chicago’s Violet Hour noted, “Many times, when requested to be made with vodka, the bartender or server would recommend that it be made with ‘this great botanical, citrus-infused vodka we had.’  It would then be made with Plymouth.  Always a hit.”


Jameson Whiskey and Q Ginger Ale


There’s no question that whiskey and ginger ale belong together.  Jack and Ginger is a legend, and the Horse’s Neck cocktail blends bourbon and ginger ale, with a lemon peel deftly carved into the shape of an equine neck.

I mixed several combinations of whiskies and ginger ales, and the combination of Jameson Irish Whiskey with Q Ginger Ale from Brooklyn proved much more delicious than the rest.

The comparisons are below, but first, the best:

Jameson and Q Ginger Ale Recipe

  • 1½ ounces Jameson Irish Whiskey
  • 3½ ounces Q Ginger Ale
  • ¼ of a wheel of Ruby Red grapefruit, for garnish and flavor.

— Fill a highball glass with ice. Pour in the whiskey. Gently pour in the Q Ginger Ale.  Squeeze about 7 drops of juice from the grapefruit slice into the cocktail, and drop the grapefruit slice into the drink for garnish.

Notes: The Jameson Distillery sometimes serves the whiskey with a grapefruit twist to visitors, which is where the idea came from.

For an interesting variation, replace the grapefruit with a small lime wedge. Squeeze the lime into the drink, drop it in for garnish, and add 3 drops of Angostura bitters to the drink.

Kudos to Michelle Draguesku of Q Tonic, for the idea to mix it with Jameson.

The Whiskey and Ginger Test

Whiskeys:  Jameson’s Irish, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee, and Buffalo Trace Kentucky Bourbon.

Ginger Ales 

  • White Rock, a simple low-priced full-body ginger ale that’s made with sugar, not corn syrup.
  • Q Ginger Ale, which has a sharper ginger flavor, spices, and an astringent taste.
  • Fever-Tree, which has a very sharp taste of ginger and spices.

Mixed with Bourbon

  • White Rock mixes well with bourbon, as expected.
  • Q Ginger tastes astringent, and edges out the bourbon taste.
  • Fever-Tree completely overwhelms the bourbon.

Mixed with Jack Daniel’s

  • White Rock brings out the charcoal taste in Jack, but it’s a good thing, better than the bourbon mix.
  • Q Ginger creates a bizarre clash of tastes with Jack, but for some reason, I’ll drink it again.
  • Fever-Tree overwhelms the Jack, and adding more whiskey didn’t help.

Mixed with Jameson

  • White Rock and Jameson is just plain boring.
  • Q and Jameson complement each other perfectly. This is the most refreshing whiskey drink that’s crossed my palate.
  • Fever-Tree completely overwhelmed Jameson.  Fever-Tree makes the best tonic for gin, but their ginger ale is too strong for whiskey.

Q Ginger Ale is available at high-end groceries in the U.S.A.


Sidecar Drink Recipe Better Than the Original


The traditional Sidecar is equal parts Cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice.  Being traditional doesn’t always mean best, and that’s very true with this classic cocktail. This drink tastes much better with more Cognac, less Cointreau, and a lot less lemon.

  • 1½ ounces Cognac
  • ¾ ounce Cointreau
  • ½ ounce fresh lemon juice
  • lemon or orange slice, for garnish

— Pour ingredients into a mixing glass half-filled with ice, shake well, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass with a sugared rim.  Garnish with the lemon or orange slice.

Sugared Rim: Put a teaspoon of white sugar in a small shallow bowl. Hold the cocktail glass upside down, and rub the outside of the rim lightly with juice from the squeezed lemon shell. Flick off any lemon pulp, and dip the rim into the sugar.  Do not twist the rim in the sugar or it will be less attractive.  Let the sugar dry while you are mixing the cocktail.

Sidecar With a View

If you visit Chicago, take an elevator ride to the top of the John Hancock Building, order the Sidecar in the Signature Lounge, and enjoy the incredible cocktail and view.

This Instant Espresso is Good



I love a big cup of coffee, made fresh in a coffee press, to savor and sip during morning rituals (Les matins).  Though I’ll oft crave a second cup,  it induces caffeine overdrive, so I was looking for a way to make a smaller brew.

Normally I shun the chemical taste of instant coffee powder, but noticed a number of good stores carrying Medaglia d’Oro espresso powder, and the price was right, so I gave it a shot.  A lucky shot, because this makes a remarkably good cup of coffee, small, quick, and short on the caffeine.

It makes a better cup of coffee than it does a cup of espresso, so I add 5 ounces of hot water rather than the 3 ounces suggested on the label.

Instant coffee has about 60 mg. of caffeine for each rounded teaspoon used to make it.

By the way, I really don’t mind if people pronounce it expresso.