Cranberry Dip and Aperol Spritz: How to Get the Party Started on Thanksgiving

Let’s get the party started this Thanksgiving with an appetizer and cocktail pairing!

Alright my friends, let’s be honest…when it comes to preparing for Thanksgiving Day, appetizers and pre-dinner drinks are pretty low on the priority list. I’m usually in the kitchen as early as 9:00 am and am not thinking about entertaining soon-to-be-arriving guests. My mind is on much more important things like stuffing and sweet potatoes.

But having a game plan for an appetizer is life-saving, and I’ve got you covered this year with a yummy dip AND a cocktail to pair with it!

I recently discovered this simple cranberry-orange relish which is the easiest, least-filling-but-still-appetizing dip perfect for turkey day, and it will satisfy all the dinner guests looking to munch on something while waiting for the main meal (at my house that would definitely be my husband). You can mix it up a day ahead (and seriously, why wouldn’t you?) and finish it up in minutes before serving.

Cranberry-Orange Relish

  •  1 (16 oz) bag of fresh cranberries, rinsed

  • 1 jalapeno, minced

  • 3 green onions, white and green parts finely chopped

  • 1 handful cilantro

  • 2 tsp orange zest

  • 1 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice

  • 1/2 tsp salt

  • `1/2 Cup sugar

  • 1 (8 oz) package light cream cheese (optional)

  • pita chips or crackers


  1. Place the cranberries, green onions, cilantro, orange zest, and orange juice into a food processor. Process and pulse until finely integrated.

  2. Transfer to a bowl and mix in salt and sugar. Refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight (make this the day ahead of time to ease up your turkey-day schedule!)

  3. When ready to serve, spread cream cheese along a bowl or plate. Top with the relish and serve with crackers/chips.

The Pairing

Anytime company comes over, it’s a party in my book. And its not a party unless drinks are being offered! This year I’m keeping it simple and pairing the Cranberry-Orange relish with Aperol Spritz cocktails. If you’re unfamiliar, Aperol is a aperitivo, meaning it is generally drank prior to a meal to wake up your taste buds. We need that on Thanksgiving!

Aperol has a slightly bitter, tart cherry and orange flavor profile but is sweetened up in this cocktail thanks to the addition of Prosecco and club soda. Its very easy to make so you can keep your attention in the kitchen (or hey…just show your guests how to make them and they can do it themselves!).

Aperol Spritz

  • 1 parts Aperol

  • 1 part Prosecco

  • splash of club soda

  • Orange wheel for garnish


  1. Place orange wheel at the bottom of a wine glass. fill with equal parts Aperol and Prosecco (about 2 ounces each if you must measure). Add just a splash of club soda

  2. Top with ice cube and enjoy!

Note: Any sparkling wine will work with this cocktail, although Prosecco is traditional. I like to use Cava as a budget alternative.

Note: This drink is totally customizable to each drinker’s liking. Too bitter? Add more Prosecco. Too bland? Add more Aperol. if anyone isn’t a fan of aperol, skip it altogether and pour them a glass of Prosecco. Boom. Done.

How to Make Hot Buttered Rum

Confession: This blog post is not new. Well, the pictures are, but the original post was written in 2014 when I was a new blogger...and incredibly frustrated with my photography skills. I wanted to share this recipe with y'all again since it is my Christmas cocktail staple, but the original blog post was just too cute to revise. So if you've been along this blogging journey with me for a few years now, hopefully you can appreciate the nostalgia of what you're about to read as much as I do. Just a couple things are different now...Andrew and I are of course married, we live in our new (old) house with a REAL fireplace, and we no longer have to dream about snow...this time of year we get plenty of it in our new hometown of Reno. Enjoy the post, and enjoy your hot buttered rum.

Get this easy, warming, festive hot buttered rum into your belly right now! Recipe for hot buttered rum on

Hot Butt Rum, Hot Butt Rum, na-na-na-na na-na-na-na Hot Butt Rum.

That is the tune that Andrew sings every time he makes me Hot Buttered Rum, replacing the lyrics of "Hot Cross Buns". He actually does this quite frequently, replacing lyrics to songs, especially around Christmas time. His favorite one (and secretly mine too) is replacing "kids jingle-belling and Dani Grams yelling" during the "most wonderful time of the year" song.  I gotta love our relationship. :)

Here in Las Vegas, we have to force ourselves into the holidays spirit. For those of us used to crappy, cold weather and dreary days around Christmas time, its difficult even after 10 years to adjust to the endless sunny days, palm trees, cacti, and warm daytime temperatures of the desert.

Get this easy, warming, festive hot buttered rum into your belly right now! Recipe for hot buttered rum on

Despite having gotten our Christmas tree in t-shirts this year, our holiday season has been merry and bright thanks to one seasonally special drink: hot buttered rum. An irresistible cocktail with a funny name, this has been Andrew’s and my favorite holiday drink for the last few years. This is the go-to holiday concoction if you’re looking for something sweet and warming but don’t want the heaviness you’d get from creamy drinks like eggnog or baileys.

Get this easy, warming, festive hot buttered rum into your belly right now! Recipe for hot buttered rum on

No matter how hot it may still be outside, a glass of hot buttered rum makes me want to snuggle in front of the (dvd) fireplace with the illusion that its snowy and cold out. And it’s a great one for your holiday guests—who doesn’t like butter, and who doesn’t like rum? You may get the occasional friend or family member who will look at you when you offer one with the look on their face like “butter in a cocktail??” You may even be thinking that right now. But trust me, this cocktail will be the hit while you’re decorating, while you’re eating cookies, while you’re opening presents…the opportunities are endless!

 Merry Christmas! I hope this cocktail enhances all the cheer in your home for the holidays!

Hot Buttered Rum Recipe

Author: Dani (

Total time: 5 mins

Serves: 1


  • 1/2 Cup unsalted butter, softened (1 stick)
  • 2 Cups light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1 pinch salt
  • dark rum (we often use spiced!)
  • hot water


  1. With an electric mixer, blend butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and salt together in a medium bowl. Place in a sealable container and put in the refrigerator until ready to use.
  2. For each cocktail you make, spoon 1 Tablespoon of the butter mixture into a small mug. Top with 2-3 oz of dark rum, then fill the rest of the mug with hot water. Mix the contents of the mug together with a spoon or small whisk.
  3. Keep the butter mixture in the fridge and use whenever you are in the mood for another hot buttered rum! (Makes about 12 drinks total)
Get this easy, warming, festive hot buttered rum into your belly right now! Recipe for hot buttered rum on

The Cemetery Sour Cocktail

The Cemetery Sage Cocktail using Virginia City Nevada Cemetery Gin, sage, and lemon. Great Halloween cocktail and refreshing enough to drink year round! via
The Cemetery Sage Cocktail using Virginia City Nevada Cemetery Gin, sage, and lemon. Great Halloween cocktail and refreshing enough to drink year round! via

Today I'm bringing you a very special cocktail made with Cemetery Gin, a local gin made in Northern Nevada that highlights local ingredients like pine nut and lavender. Our "Cemetery Sour" cocktail incorporates these flavors along with lemon and sage to create an enticingly aromatic, sweet and sour libation.

I think it's safe to say that my lovely husband has graduated from being a home bartender to a home mixologist. While I'm making dinner, he's the one making cocktails. Usually he sticks to the classics, but when he plays around with new flavors, he transforms those classics into beautiful, new concoctions.

He had so much fun last weekend playing around with flavors to create a great cocktail from the (now almost gone) bottle of Cemetery Gin that we recently purchased. You may be thinking "Cemetery Gin? Never heard of it"...and right you are! This is a special gin that is produced and only sold locally in Northern Nevada. It comes from Virginia City--one of the most historic ghost towns in the west that is located a half hour away from Reno--and proceeds from sales of the gin go to the upkeep and restoration of the town's very old (and famous) cemetery. (Learn more about Virginia City here)

The Cemetery Sour Cocktail using Virginia City Nevada Cemetery Gin, sage, and lemon. Great Halloween cocktail and refreshing enough to drink year round! via

I not only enjoy supporting this gin because its proceeds go to a good cause, but because this gin is distinctly Nevadan. And for those of you that know me personally, you may be familiar with my obsession of this beautiful state that I live in. The creators of Cemetery Gin wanted to showcase aromatics that you might smell after a rainstorm up here in northern Nevada, like desert sage and lavender. They also added pine nuts to the mix which grow abundantly out here. The result is a highly vibrant, aromatic gin that is just begging to go into a cocktail.

The Cemetery Sage Cocktail using Virginia City Nevada Cemetery Gin, sage, and lemon. Great Halloween cocktail and refreshing enough to drink year round! via

Andrew played around a bit with different different ingredients that would enhance the flavor of this gin (because the last thing we wanted to do was hide those flavors). He wanted to do a variation of a classic "sour" cocktail, which uses a base spirit (like gin) plus lemon or lime and a sweetener. After many variations...and many spare cocktails for me to drink up...we finally came across the winning combination: lavender syrup, fresh sage, and a firey lemon squeeze. Because what's a cocktail without fire?

The Cemetery Sour Cocktail using Virginia City Nevada Cemetery Gin, sage, and lemon. Great Halloween cocktail and refreshing enough to drink year round! via

Don't be scared by the fire thinking you'll never be able to pull it off...because it is amazing. Surely this is a cocktail to make in front of a crowd to show off your bartending skills. You'll need a few ingredients that may be difficult to get...for one, unless you live in Northern Nevada, you won't find this gin in stores. Currently I don't see anywhere online to buy Cemetery Gin, so I hope that changes. I guess you'll just need to come visit the biggest little city in the world and get a bottle yourself!

The Cocktail

To make the Cemetery Sour, you'll need the Cemetery Gin (you can of course use other gins, but they won't have the same flavors that incorporate the same way), fresh sage, fresh lemon, and lavender simple syrup. Here's how you make that:

Homemade Lavender Simple Syrup

Boil 1 cup of water, 1 cup of white sugar, and 1 tablespoon of fresh lavender blossoms (you can also substitute dried lavender). Stir constantly until all of the sugar dissolves, then remove from heat. Let steep for 30 minutes, then strain into a mason jar. Keep refrigerated when not using.

The Cemetery Sour Cocktail using Virginia City Nevada Cemetery Gin, sage, and lemon. Great Halloween cocktail and refreshing enough to drink year round! via

Once you have your lavender syrup, you can make the cocktail! Have fun with this one and don't be afraid of the use of fire. It really makes the cocktail!

The Cemetery Sour Cocktail

Author: Dani

Serves: 1


  • 2 oz Cemetery Gin
  • 1 oz Lavender Simple Syrup (directions, above)
  • 2 fresh sage leaves
  • 1 lemon peel


  1. Prepare the cocktail by rubbing a fresh sage leaf around the rim of a martini glass
  2. In an ice-filled mixing glass or shaker, stir the gin, lavender syrup, and lemon juice together
  3. Strain contents of the shaker into the prepared martini glass
  4. Light a match and hold it close to the drink. Briskly squeeze the lemon rind over the flame. The oils will ignite as they move towards the cocktail. Don't worry, you wont get burned. Extinguish your match safely.
  5. Bruise the remaining sage leaf by placing it flat on your palm and slapping it briskly with your other hand. This will release the oils and aromas from the sage leaf. Place the bruised sage leaf across the cocktail for garnish

The Sherry Sangaree Cocktail

Sherry may be out of fashion right now, but this cocktail will surely have you bringing it back. The Sangaree Cocktail livens up dry sherry with Cointreau, simple syrup, and a lemon twist--perfect if you're a dry sherry newbie or are in the mood for something a little different...and delicious.

Oh sherry, why must you be out of fashion?

I love sherry and its story. You want to learn about a wine that is taken pretty seriously? Research Sherry. There are entire books written about sherry, and rightfully so--sherry is awesome. It happens to be one of the most complex fortified wines out there and therefore can be pretty confusing. If you're not familiar, Sherry is from the Jerez region of Spain. Its HOT down there, and the climate of the region creates an environment perfect for the grapes going into Sherry that no other region in the world can replicate. So, really, Sherry is pretty freaking special and one of the coolest fortified wines out there (in my opinion).

But sherry indeed fell out of fashion in the 20th century thanks to changing tastes and bad economies. Here in America, its hard to find something decent beyond "cooking" sherry. Such a shame. But don't worry friends, good sherry is out there, and you should find yourself a bottle. There are various types of sherry: Fino sherry (aka dry Sherry) which is the most delicate and famous sherry out there; Oloroso sherry, which is darker in color and fairly dry as well (although in this country they are predominantly sweet); and cream sherry, which is perhaps the most popular because of its sweet, dessert-style flavor.

Confused? Don't worry, you don't need to be a sherry expert. But you do need to make sure you have the right sherry for the cocktail you're making. One of my favorite cocktails in the entire world, the Andalucia, calls for cream sherry. The one I'm sharing with you today calls for dry sherry. Dry sherry indeed tastes...dry. Its also nutty and can have a "salty" taste to it which freaks people out. I love sampling people on dry sherry for the first time and seeing the reaction on their faces--the "dryness" is just something we're not used to drinking, so it tastes weird at first. But its delicious as an aperitif (as a cocktail before your meal) and ESPECIALLY delicious with nutty cheeses (mmmm....Manchego). If you buy a bottle though and its not your cup of tea, that's okay. Make yourself this Sangaree cocktail and it will surely change your mind!

The Recipe

I stumbled upon this recipe one evening in my favorite cocktail recipe book, The Ultimate Bar Book (highly recommended). Friends, I gotta say, this cocktail is freaking delicious. Especially if you are not a sherry fan. I don't really know how to explain it, but the harmony between the Cointreau and sherry is beautiful while the simple syrup livens everything up. But you have to be careful--it has 4 ounces of 17% abv wine in it PLUS Cointreau and simple this cocktail is dangerous. It definitely had me feeling happy after just one. You can sub Triple Sec for the Cointreau if you don't have any, but make sure you add that one to your bar inventory--it is richer than Triple Sec and is called for in many cocktails. As for the Fino Sherry (or dry sherry), you don't have to buy anything super expensive if you don't want to, but don't go so low as using sherry designated for cooking. I found the Harltley and Gibson's Fino Sherry for about $20 at a local wine shop.

The Sherry Sangaree


  • 4 oz Dry Sherry
  • 3/4 oz Cointreau
  • 1 oz Simple Syrup
  • Lemon twist for garnish


  1. Stir the Sherry, Cointreau, and simple syrup together in an ice-filled mixing glass.
  2. Strain into an ice-filled wine glass (I like using one giant ice cube, as shown in the photos).
  3. Run the lemon peel along the rim of the wine glass, twist it over the glass, then drop it in.

Thirsty for More? Check out these Cocktail Recipes:

The Andalucia

The Chapala

The Gimlet

The Chapala Cocktail

If you're like me and get sick of Margaritas really fast, here's a new option for you. The Chapala is a tequila-based cocktail using fresh oranges and lemons perfectly intertwined with tequila and Cointreau.

We all know about margaritas, we all know about tequila sunrises, but what if you want to try a different tequila-based cocktail? That's how I was feeling yesterday when I found this little recipe for the Chapala Cocktail. To say I'm a fanatic about orange flavors in my drinks is an understatement--I'm flat out obsessed. Blame it on my love for the Old Fashioned Cocktail or my association with oranges and warm weather (which, I know, oranges are in season in the winter). Oranges must be in stock at my house at all times for all these cocktails I'm making.

Needless to say, when I was in the mood for a new tequila drink and found the Chapala recipe that called for fresh oranges and Cointreau (an orange-based aperitif), within minutes I was ready for this new concoction. Don't mind the girly pink color, that's from the grenadine! The Chapala is refreshing and integrates the flavors of tequila well instead of hiding them like so many other tequila drinks do. Enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think of it below in the comments!

Here's a little lesson of tequila, if you care to learn more.

The Chapala Cocktail

  • 1 1/2 oz silver tequila
  • 1/2 tsp Cointreau (or triple sec)
  • 1 oz fresh orange juice
  • 1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 oz grenadine
  • orange slice, for garnish


  1. Fill a double old-fashioned glass with ice
  2. In an ice-filled cocktail shaker, shake the first 5 ingredients vigorously. Strain into the double old-fashioned glass
  3. Garnish with the orange slice


Thirsty for more? Check out the Oaxaca Old Fashioned or Gimlet Cocktail.

The Gimlet Cocktail

It's cocktail time! The Gimlet is a gin-based classic that is one of the easiest cocktails out there to make. All it takes is a little gin, a little lime juice, and some ice.

If you haven't discovered a Gimlet yet, prepare to have your mind blown. How I had gone so long before trying this concoction baffles me...I think it was the whole..."gin and lime juice" thing. Does that sound as gross to you as it does to me?

Well thanks for sticking around even if gin and lime juice doesn't sound too appealing. Because I assure you, it is appealing. The gimlet has been around for a long time--it was originally created to help prevent scurvy for sailors. The key ingredient in this cocktail is Rose's lime juice: a sweetened lime cordial that was also introduced to prevent skurvy back in the day. Gone are the days of those worries, but I'll still enjoy a gimlet, thanks.

Cocktails truly don't get much easier than this. A gimlet is simply gin and Rose's lime juice stirred together with ice, then strained into a martini glass. Make sure to invest in a jigger and strainer if you haven't already: they are valuable tools for your bar. Plymouth gin is the recommended choice of gin in this cocktail and I couldn't agree more. If you aren't familiar, Plymouth gin is very unique and fits into its own category when it comes to gin styles. Compared to the more-popular London Dry Gin, Plymouth backs off on the crazy juniper flavors and instead features more earthy components and mild botanicals. It pairs perfectly with the sweetened lime juice. I almost taste a coconut element when the two are mixed together.

The Gimlet Cocktail

The key ingredient in a gimlet is Rose's Lime Juice, a lime-based cordial that sweetens up the gin in this cocktail nicely.


  • 1 1/4 oz gin (preferably Plymouth)
  • 1 1/4 oz Rose's lime juice
  • lime wedge for garnish


  1. In a mixing glass filled with ice, stir the gin and lime juice together. Strain into a chilled martini glass. Squeeze the lime wedge over and (optional) drop it into the drink.

The Foghorn Cocktail

The Foghorn Cocktail; It's like a moscow mule with gin!

Simply made with fresh lime, gin, and ginger beer, the Foghorn Cocktail is one of the classics. Think of this as the gin version of the currently popular moscow mule--sans fancy copper mug.

This cocktail goes out to all you vodka drinkers that loooooove your moscow mules. How in the world has that drink become so popular? Could it be the fancy copper mug? Nope. Its because its a legitimate cocktail that got everyone off of vodka-redbulls and rum and cokes. Its a fancier option that will have even the pickiest drinker able to enjoy a libation other than a cake-shot...or whatever we used to order at bars. Okay, off the vodka tangent--this drink is about gin.

The Foghorn Cocktail: Gin, Lime Juice, and Ginger Beer |

So I hate to have to call The Foghorn Cocktail the "gin" version of a moscow mule. But since most of us are familiar with the moscow mule, its an easy connection.

If you are a vodka drinker and want to branch out into the beautiful world of gin, this is your new drink! Let's face it, ginger beer dominates any cocktail it's a part of. If you don't think you like gin yet, this is the cocktail to try it in. The gin flavors will be subtle as the ginger beer will take center stage. The squeeze of the fresh lime over the top will have you focusing on how refreshing the drink is. You may not even notice that there's a difference than your regular vodka-made moscow mule. But let me assure you, the Foghorn will have more flavor.

The Foghorn Cocktail: Gin, Lime Juice, Ginger Beer |

The Foghorn Cocktail originally called for Old Tom gin which is a sweeter style of the very popular London Dry style. You won't find too many Old Toms these days, however I have a bottle of Tanqueray Old Tom which is on a limited release (so buy one if you see one). Any London Dry Gin will do as well, so pick your favorite. This is a great little libation if you're feeling extra-lazy as it doesn't require any muddling, shaking, or straining. Just measure out your gin, pour your ginger beer, and squeeze a fresh lime over the top! Boom. You have yourself a cocktail.

The Foghorn Cocktail |

The Foghorn Cocktail


  • 2 oz gin
  • 1/2 oz fresh lime juice (squeeze from a lime)
  • ginger beer
  • lime wedge, for garnish


  1. Pour the gin and lime juice into an ice-filled old fashioned glass (or low ball, or whatever you have)
  2. Top with ginger beer and give it a quick, gentle stir
  3. Squeeze the lime wedge over the drink and drop it in. Enjoy your new cocktail.

The Old Fashioned Cocktail

The Old Fashioned Cocktail made with Bourbon, Orange, and Simple Syrup |

We live in a great time for cocktails, don’t we? Its the 21st century with bartenders who actually know how to make a drink. We have countless options when it comes to choosing what kind of spirit we want in our cocktail, and there decades-worth of the best recipes to choose from. It’s a great time to be over 21, my friends.

I love going to my favorite mixology bar and ordering whatever smoked, herb-infused, ingredient-I’ve-never-heard-of cocktail my bartender has concocted that evening. Lately, however, I’ve been going back to the classics. Some cocktails have stood the test of time for a reason--they are straightforward, uncomplicated, and showcase a spirit the way it is intended to be showcased.

Enter the Old Fashioned, one of the most classic of the classics. The Old Fashioned has always been my go-to cocktail and always will be (at least I hope). Everyone needs a go-to cocktail. It's the drink you can order at a bar when you have no idea what else to order. It's got to be your comfort zone.

It Runs in the Family

My mom was so happy to hear that the Old Fashioned is my favorite cocktail. I vividly remember her shrieking with excitement saying “that was your Grandfather’s drink!”. Apparently, as a kid my mom would make her dad an old fashioned every day after work. She says “he’d walk through the door and I’d have an old fashioned waiting for him”. First of all, way to be awesome, Grandpa. Second, kudos to my mom for knowing how to make a cocktail as a kid. Those were the days…

The Old Fashioned Cocktail: Bourbon, Orange, Maraschino, and Simple Syrup |

Ordering an Old Fashioned is perfect if you want to get into bourbon…but don’t particularly enjoy it. The orange and simple syrup (yes, I use simple syrup instead of sugar and water) sweeten up the flavor and hide the heat a bit. Plus, if you’re at a bar with no menu and you don’t want to be boring and order that vodka-soda or whatever, most bartenders know how to make an old fashioned, even at the holiest of hole-in-the-wall bars. Better yet, this is a great cocktail for your home bar, as it requires hardly any ingredients. Just make sure you keep a steady inventory of oranges and maraschino cherries on your grocery list so you too can enjoy an old fashioned while waiting for dinner to cook.

The Old Fashioned Cocktail Made with Bourbon, Orange, and Simple Syrup |
The Old Fashioned Cocktail Made with Bourbon, Orange, and Simple Syrup |

The Old Fashioned

The Old Fashioned and Manhattan are the two most famous cocktails associated with bourbon (I also enjoy a fresh mint julep in the summer). The Old Fashioned was first concocted in the Louisville Pendennis Club in the 1880s where a member didn’t like bourbon, but didn’t want to offend his friends who were distillers. The bartender came up with the Old Fashioned to fix the situation, and the patrons loved it. The Old Fashioned became such a success throughout the years that it eventually even got its own specific glass—the double low-ball glass we make so many drinks from is also referred to as an “old fashioned glass”.

Note: Definitely use your favorite bourbon in this cocktail, but if you're just starting out, Evan Williams makes a pretty sweet old fashioned (literally). And its my favorite value-bourbon when I'm not feeling fancy.


  • 2 oz bourbon
  • 2 oz water
  • 1 Tbsp simple syrup
  • 6 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 2 orange wedge
  • 1 red Maraschino cherry


  1. Measure out the simple syrup and bitters into an old-fashioned glass (or whatever glass you have, of course). Add the orange wedge and cherry and muddle, releasing the aromas and juices but not pulverizing the fruit.
  2. Add a few ice cubes, 2 oz bourbon and 2 oz water. Stir to combine. Garnish with an orange wedge or additional cherry.


The Old Fashioned Cocktail |

The Andalucia Cocktail: Paired with Chorizo and Goat Cheese Stuffed Dates

In collaboration with my favorite Paleo Blog, South of Vanilla, we bring you this impeccable appetizer and cocktail pairing, perfect to kick off any holiday party!

Friends, I cannot believe it has taken me this long to share this cocktail with you. Of all the (new age) cocktails of the world, this one is my favorite. And I know, that's saying a lot! When I first tried the Andalucia in the Downtown Cocktail Room in Las Vegas, my world was changed. Andrew and I raved about it to friends. We kept going back for more. It was such a unique concoction. Then, a few months later, they shared the recipe in a local newspaper. I immediately wrote it down on whatever piece of scrap paper I could find--and I still have it.

This had to have been about 4 years ago now. Since Downtown Cocktail Room changes their menu seasonally, the Andalucia cocktail is long gone. But it still reigns as the seasonal winter cocktail in our house!

The Andalucia Cocktail

What makes this drink so special? Let's just start with the garnish, shall we? This cocktail comes with a slice of manchego cheese and golden raisins. What cocktail have you ever had that is garnished with CHEESE? Besides that, the drink itself is concocted from cream sherry, Nocello (walnut liqueur), and sherry vinegar. Think of a slightly sweet, slightly warming, nutty cocktail that is perfect for the chilliest of nights.

Now, these are all ingredients that I don't necessarily expect you to have just lying around the house. But its soooo worth it to buy them just to make this drink. Trust me on this one.

The Pairing

When Kristina gave me the recipe for her chorizo and goat cheese stuffed dates with honey balsamic drizzle, I was stumped on what to pair it with. These lovely little appetizers are sweet, spicy, fatty and acidic all at the same time. Wine was out of the question and beer was skeptical. But then I realized these would be perfect for cocktail hour, and so is the Andalucia. Winner!

By the way, the chorizo and goat cheese stuffed dates were a cinch to make. They also made me feel super fancy while sipping my Andalucia. This combination will be really great to welcome your guests at your next holiday party this season. Its also a great end to the night, especially if you're a fan of having cocktails for dessert.

To get Kristina's recipe for chorizo and goat cheese stuffed dates with honey balsamic drizzle, click here.

The Andalucia Cocktail


  • 2 oz Cream Sherry
  • 1 oz Nocello (walnut liqueur)
  • 1/4 tsp Sherry Vinegar
  • 4 golden raisins, for garnish
  • 1 small wedge of manchego cheese, for garnish


  1. Fill a martini glass with ice and water and allow it to chill while you prepare the cocktail
  2. Place a few ice cubes into a cocktail shaker and add the cream sherry, nocello, and sherry vinegar. Stir with the ice until chilled.
  3. Dump out the ice and water in the martini glass. Strain the contents of the cocktail shaker (leave out the ice) into the chilled martini glass.
  4. Place 2 golden raisins, then the wedge of manchego, then the last 2 raisins onto a cocktail pick. Serve over the martini glass and enjoy!

Happy Pairing!

Oaxaca Old Fashioned

This version of the Old Fashioned uses both tequila and mezcal to create a refreshing cocktail perfect for Cinco de Mayo!

Andrew and I FINALLY bought our first bottle of mezcal just last week...and its already almost gone. The motive for buying it, of course, was to create this awesome recipe in collaboration with South of Vanilla's Grain-free tequila lime bars for cinco de mayo, and let me tell you, orange and lime? A weird combination. Not sure about that pairing haha. Regardless, this is a great cocktail, and I had to share it with you. If you're looking for some tasty dessert for cinco (after you make these awesome southwestern sweet potatoes), have yourself some salted tequila lime bars...and my Oaxaca Old Fashioned.

Mezcal is already making waves as the next big thing in the spirits world. Relatively rare in this country, the majority of Mezcals being imported are well-crafted, boutique-y expressions.  Mixologists are having a field day crafting new cocktails from this smoky, unique-tasting version of our commonly-known tequila. And drinkers that want to be drinking something "trendy" that no one knows about yet have hit a gold mine!

What is Mezcal again?

Why is mezcal fairly rare in this country? Well for one, it has always been looked down upon compared to the ever-popular tequila in both Mexico and America. Although historically cheaper, many mezcals today stand up in quality to the finest tequilas, thanks to the recent movement in small-batch mezcals and craft distilleries. My last post highlighted the differences between mezcal and tequila and why the latter is vastly superior in popularity. In a nutshell, tequila has very strict regulations as far as what it is made from and how it is made. Mezcal, on the other hand, can be made from any agave plant. It is the original form of tequila, back in the day when distillers had to heat the agaves over direct fire (giving it that smoky taste). Mezcals often have a worm in the bottle, which yes you're supposed to eat but...I don't think I could...

Most mezcals are made in Oaxaca, and many brands have emerged as boutique expressions of the local culture. Just as tequila has become very exclusive and specialized, most mezcals we see in America are just as unique and of high-quality, which is why the majority you'll see have high price tags attached to them.

The Oaxaca Old Fashioned

Anyway, this cocktail is no joke. Its not hard to make, but you do need some different ingredients I bet you don't have in your bar right now (and if you do, congrats to you!). First weird ingredient--agave nectar. This can be found at any grocery store. Second ingredient--chocolate bitters (or mole bitters). These bitters are awesome and can make a ton of fun different drinks. Find them at your local specialty liquor store, if you are near one. Luckily, they can also be bought online (thank you internet!). Third weird ingredient--mezcal. I'm not going to lie, these aren't widely available either. Up here in Reno, Total Wine had 3 options. My biggest advice is if you have a nice selection, go and buy the $30-$50 mezcal. You won't regret it, and there is a huge difference between those and the selections of "value". Same goes for tequila.

One last thing--mezcal in Mexico is usually drank straight, not in cocktails. If you are a scotch lover, you will love the similar smokiness you get from mezcal. For those of us that don't care for straight spirits or are just adventuring into the world of cocktails, this is a great starting point.

Oaxaca Old Fashioned


  • 1 orange slice
  • ice
  • 1 1/2 oz tequila reposado
  • 1 oz mezcal
  • 3 dashes of aztec chocolate bitters or mole bitters
  • 1 tsp agave nectar


  1. Place orange in old fashioned (low ball) glass. Muddle it with a muddler to release aromas/flavors.
  2. Fill glass with ice.
  3. In a separate ice-filled mixing glass, combine remaining ingredidients and stir vigorously until the agave nectar is dissolved. Strain into old fashioned glass.
  4. Garnish with an orange twist and enjoy.

Kumbocha Gin Rickey Cocktail

Happy New Year everyone! I can't think of any better way to start this blog's new year than to post....a celebratory cocktail!

My great friend Kristi, author of the Paleo Blog South of Vanilla, asked me to do a collaboration post with her on a Kombucha cocktail. So what in the world is Kombucha? When I visited her in DC last winter, it seemed to be all the rage. In short, it is fermented tea. Its very common to make your own using proprietary yeast (much like you would to make your own beer), but you can also buy various flavors of Kombucha at specialty grocery stores (I found the one I used for this cocktail at target--GT's Organic Raw Synergy "Trilogy" Kombucha. For more information on Kombucha, head over to South of Vanilla to see Kristi's part of this post!

The Cocktail

The Gin Rickey is a classic cocktail originally created with bourbon, but became very popular when it was perfected by gin. It is simply made with gin, lime, and seltzer water. For the purposes of this cocktail, I subbed the Kombucha (which is carbonated, by the way) for the seltzer water and added simple syrup for a little sweetness. This in turn made a beautiful colored drink with great fruity flavor from the Kombucha.

A few notes:

  • I used the "trilogy" flavor of the GT's Kombucha, but I think you could really use any flavored Kombucha you find. Just ask yourself if the Kombucha you've picked would go good with a squeeze of lime. If the answer is yes, use it in this cocktail!
  • If you're new to making cocktails, this is a very easy one to start out with. Simply shake all ingredients besides the Kombucha in a cocktail strainer (go buy one if you don't have one) and strain into an ice-filled tall glass like the one in the picture below. The Kombucha is used as a "float", which means you pour it on last on top of the other ingredients. This is what makes the cocktail two-toned and so pretty. Feel free to stir the drink to incorporate the flavors after you've admired the pretty colors.

Kumbocha Gin Rickey


  • 2 oz gin (we used Tanqueray)
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1 oz simple syrup
  • 2 oz Kombucha (use as needed)
  • basil sprig (for garnish)


  1. Combine gin, lime juice, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake and strain over ice-filled high-ball or collins glass.
  2. Top with Kombucha. Garnish with a sprig of basil.


I Don't Hate Vodka

"Why do you have to hate on Vodka? What did vodka ever do to you?" This is the statement Tony Abou-Gani, author of Vodka Distilled, opened up with in the Spirits Academy vodka seminar a few weeks ago. Ask me what I would have told you had you asked me if I liked vodka two minutes prior to that statement. I would have told you I hate vodka, I can't stand it, and I don't understand why its still the number one selling distilled spirit in the world.

Why did I hate vodka? Because since I have been old enough to drink, the only drinks I ever hear ordered at bars are vodka-redbulls, vodka-cranberries, and vodka-sodas. Vodka this, vodka that. Shots of vodka ( days). No wonder I hated vodka, I didn't know how to drink it! Why add vodka to orange juice? I'll just have the orange juice, thanks. I just didn't get it, and when I started discovering cocktails, I wanted anything but vodka in them to prove I was better than that.

It's not just me, its a growing trend in the mixology world to hate on vodka right now since we don't want to be associated with the vodka-redbull fad. I think all of us enthusiasts think we're too cool for it. Tony told us a story of one time recently that he went to a great cocktail bar in town. He asked the bartender what vodkas they had available as he didn't see any on the back bar. The bartender told him (in a wonderful snobby voice) that they had two, "and in his opinion, that was two too many". Okay, maybe this hatred has gotten out of hand. Too good to have vodka at your bar? You've crossed the line.

Needless to say, after a wonderful presentation, an awesome 11-vodka tasting flight, and another 6 flavored vodkas tasting, my mind has been changed about vodka. (And yes, we were spitting all of those vodkas. C'mon.) I was so excited when I went home that night to tell Andrew all about my new appreciation for vodka. He immediately went to our vodka stash and presented a tasting of all the vodkas we had in the cabinet. Unfortunately, our selection was pretty pitiful:

Seriously, all we had was vodka in a gun-shaped bottle, a plastic bottle of "Potters" (I highly do not recommend), a vodka in a skull bottle he had signed by Dan Akroyd, and another one shaped like a fire extinguisher. Most of these were left over from college or gifts; shows you what kind of vodka drinkers we are! (Shortly after, I purchased a bottle of Belvedere, one of my favorites from the tasting.)

The Cocktail

So I have come to realize that our hatred of vodka stems from Americans not knowing how to drink vodka. There's a lot of great cocktails out there with vodka in them, and no I'm not talking about the strawberry martini made with strawberry-flavored vodka. These are real cocktails that use vodka to enhance the flavor of the overall drink, not hide it. I will admit...I'm still not a vodka drinker. That tasting I did of straight vodkas was pretty hard for me, so I know I wouldn't enjoy straight vodka poured over ice (as most skilled vodka drinkers do), but I have learned how to appreciate it in our cocktail culture.

Tony's book has lots of classic cocktail recipes in it, so Andrew made me this "Gypsy Queen"cocktail I'm sharing with you on this post. I absolutely loved it! It is very easy to make, but be careful, it is boozy! (It is actually straight booze, no mixers added.) Since it has benedictine in it, think of it as an herbal-floral concoction that has flavor and fruitiness but is not necessarily sweet. If you are a new cocktail drinker, this might be a little strong, so order another classic vodka-based cocktail, like a moscow mule or harvey wallbanger next time you're out at a bar.


2 oz vodka of choice

1 oz Benedictine

2 dashes Angostura bitters

thin slice of lemon peel (for garnish)


In an ice-filled mixing glass add vodka, benedictine, and angostura bitters. Stir until very cold. Strain into a chilled low-ball glass. Garnish with a thin slice of lemon peel.

How to Rediscover Vodka

Okay, so I hope my spiel above has changed your mind about vodka. If you know its still not your cup of tea, no worries. As I said, the tasting I did in my class was tough as I don't particularly enjoy drinking vodka straight. However, it was so cool to taste the differences between the different brands; if you have the opportunity to taste through 3 or more in a sitting, do it (but make sure you're spitting those out, no need to get plastered from it!). My favorites from the tasting were Russian Standard, Belvedere, and Zyr--they were all different, but all appealing. Others, that I'll leave unnamed, were awful to me. But that's just my preferences, yours could be completely different.

Also--next time you're at a mixology bar, don't be afraid to order a vodka-based cocktail. Try to keep it classic though, like a gypsy queen, moscow mule, harvey wallbanger, cosmopolitan, or lemon drop. Hopefully these drinks will change your mind about vodka, as my mind has certainly been changed.

A Little Info on Vodka

  • Vodka can be made from anything that contains fermentable sugars, but most are made from wheat, potato, or rye
  • Its highly debated whether vodka originated in Poland or Russia (no one knows the factual answer)
  • Historically Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Iceland, and Greenland all have a rich heritage and tradition with vodka production, so we call these countries the "Vodka Belt"
  • Vodka struggled in America for the first part of the 20th century. The first vodka distillery built in America was Smirnoff, which was built in 1934. It was unsucessful at first and had to be marketed as "white whiskey".
  • Ian Fleming invented the vesper cocktail through his James Bond series, and we can thank him for the vodka martini, as the classic martini was gin-based prior to his phenomenon