End-of-the-Year Cocktail List #2: Favorite Cocktails at Home

The Puebla cocktail

photo: Morgan Sheff

As I wrote yesterday, I’ll be posting a few end-of-the-year lists in the cocktail category. In the first list, I talked about the best drinks that I’d had out at New York City bars over the last year. This time I’ll be discussing the drinks that I most enjoyed mixing at home, again, in no particular order.

1. Whiskey Smash à la Dale DeGroff. When I had one of these at Pegu Club last spring, I marvelled at how balanced the flavors were–so much so that I was concerned that the bartender had left out the whiskey. I took my concern home and found the recipe online at Gourmet magazine:

3 lemon pieces (cut a lemon in half and then quarter one of the halves, use three of the quarters)
5 mint leaves
1 ounce simple syrup
1 1/2 ounces Makers Mark Bourbon
Lemon wedge for garnish
1 mint sprig for garnish

I always made mine with Jim Beam and decreased the simple syrup and added a mint leaf. I made these all summer at home, for guests, and at parties. The Whiskey Smash is like a Mint Julep, only more refined, flavor-wise. People who think they don’t like whiskey or whiskey cocktails often find they love these.

2. Puebla à la Justin Briggs. This is another drink that I created at home after drinking it out. It’s from my favorite Park Slope restaurant bar, Applewood. The Puebla is a fresh blend of cilantro, jalapenos and lemon juice with tequila that makes me wonder why more bartenders don’t use cilantro. I was so taken with this cocktail that I experimented with the proportions at home until I got it right:

2 ozs. tequila (I used either Cazadores or Herradura)
2 quarter-inch slices of jalapeño
1 lemon
1 tsp agave nectar
enough fresh cilantro to fill a third of a lowball glass

Muddle the cilantro, lemon juice and jalapeño; add the agave and tequila. Shake over ice. Vary the jalapeno and cilantro to taste; I prefer it heavy on both.

If you don’t like cilantro, you will likely hate this drink. If you like it, you’ll want to make it over and over again.

3. Paloma. I went to a great event over the summer at the Brandy Library in TriBeCa, in which spirits sommelier Ethan Kelly (who has since left the bar) poured some amazing armagnac cocktails and told stories. It was part of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic, and it was well worth the price of admission. During Kelly’s storytelling he mentioned the Paloma cocktail, a mix of tequila, lime juice and grapefruit soda that’s popular in Mexico. Why had I not heard about this before? Next to a simple margarita, this is the most refreshing tequila drink I have encountered.

2 oz. tequila
half oz. lime juice
6 oz. grapefruit soda, preferably Jarritos Toronja

Just stir the lime juice with the tequila in a tall glass of ice and top off with the grapefruit soda. The Jarritos brand is the best option (it’s widely available in New York City bodegas and delis), but Squirt (I didn’t realize until recently that Squirt, which was created in Arizona in 1938, was supposed to be grapefruit flavored) is perfectly adequate. Have one of these on a hot day and it may become your preferred summer cocktail.

4. Jack Rose à la David Wondrich. The first time I made a Jack Rose, I made the mistake of using lemon juice. I couldn’t figure out why the drink didn’t taste as good as it did when I ordered it at Clover Club. So I looked up David Wondrich’s recipe at Esquire, and I learned why: Lime juice makes a huge difference. And when I used my homemade grenadine (essentially just a simple syrup made out of sugar and pure pomegranate juice) instead of Rose’s Grenadine, the result was spectacular.

2 oz. Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy (Applejack)
1 oz. lime juice
Half oz. homemade grenadine

The other key to a great Jack Rose is the Applejack: if you can, find Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy, which is made of 100% apple spirits. Laird’s regular Applejack is a blend of apple brandy and grain spirits that just doesn’t taste as good. I can’t really figure out why they make it this way, other than to save apples.

5. Tuaca and Whiskey. I love simple drinks. The fewer ingredients, the better, as far as I’m concerned. There’s a place for complex drinks, but I’ll always be in search of the ultimate two- or three-ingredient cocktail. As I wrote in October, I discovered the beauty of Tuaca and whiskey at a Minneapolis bar when I asked a friend what Tuaca was. I asked him to give me two parts Maker’s Mark and one part Tuaca over ice. It was delicious.

On its own, the 70-proof Tuaca brandy-based Italian orange and vanilla spirit is a little too syrupy for me. It has an almost creepy vanilla-butterscotch flavor that I don’t enjoy undiluted.

But mixed with Maker’s Mark or Jim Beam, it’s divine. You still taste the whiskey-ness of the whiskey, but it’s enhanced by those things about Tuaca that I didn’t like on their own.

Other great two-piece cocktails: scotch and amaretto (sometimes called the Godfather), the Rusty Nail (scotch and Drambuie), the Black Russian (vodka and Kahlua), and the Stinger (brandy and crème de menthe).

Next: Biggest Cocktail Disappointments. Previously: End-of-the-Year Cocktail List #1: Favorite Bar Cocktails.

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7 Responses to End-of-the-Year Cocktail List #2: Favorite Cocktails at Home

  1. Pingback: End-of-the-Year Cocktail List #1: Favorite Bar Cocktails |

  2. Babygirl says:

    Very cool post.. I enjoyed reading this

  3. aprilxyzco says:

    I don’t know if it was the photo or the recipe, but a whiskey smash sounds DELICIOUS.

  4. Thank you, both of you! The photo is actually the Peubla cocktail–the one with cilantro in it. Honestly though, the Whiskey Smash looks a lot like that too. Seldom have I ever had a cocktail in which the flavors blend so seemlessly. It’s really, really good. Dale DeGroff, the creator of the cocktail, is one of the best in the business right now, maybe the best.

  5. Pingback: End-of-the-Year Cocktail List #3: Biggest Disappointments |

  6. Willie Cruz says:

    In our inaugural Cocktail List of the Year awards GT cocktailian Pat Nourse raises a glass and a highball and a flute to the nation s smartest collections of drinks….. We took advantage of the presence in Australia of American cocktail expert David Wondrich someone who has spent many an hour professionally and otherwise perusing lists of today and yesteryear to gain some perspective. I m saddened by the really large books that people hand you he told us because as my friend Dale says you need a beer while you re figuring out what to drink. Truly as cocktail culture in Australia ramps up and lists get ever more lavish in their production you re likely to suffer the same paralysis that can afflict wine lovers presented with an especially hefty cellar to choose from.

  7. Pingback: An Amager Rugporter at Beer Table | cocktails & cologne

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