Being the first of anything is always a challenge. Blinking Owl Distillery co-owners, husband and wife, and longtime Santa Ana residents, Brian and Robin Christianson know that all too well. After setting aside their careers and devoting nearly four years to conceptualizing, researching and planning the business and build-out of the first craft distillery in Orange County, they’ve finally opened their doors – just in time for California laws surrounding the production and selling of spirits on premise to catch up.
The American craft beer movement started in Northern California in the late 70s and over four decades has grown to have more operating breweries than any other state in the country. But it took up until last year for California (later than many other states in the country) to pass a law granting craft spirits distilleries similar rights as the brewing industry. This is a game changer for the state. And Blinking Owl’s timing couldn’t be better.
Set in an industrial part of Santa Ana, after only two months of being open for business, the distillery has already been embraced by the community and other local businesses. Locally made liquor has been a welcome and much-needed part of the Southern California food and drink scene, and Brian and Robin along with their partner, co-owner and friend Kirsten Vangsness have made it a point to celebrate and pay homage to their community.
From using locally sourced grains and botanicals to produce their spirits to naming the business after a historic mid-century bar in the area that they had heard stories about, they aim to keep it local.
That doesn’t mean they don’t have been big plans and a desire to grow outside of their neck of the woods. Blinking Owl’s state of the art facilities point to their clear ambition to produce well outside their state.
At the moment, Blinking Owl is producing a vodka, an orange flavored vodka made from Valencia oranges grown locally, and an aquavit made with the traditional caraway as well as hibiscus – the flower of Santa Ana.
This month, they plan on producing their first gin. And just this past week, they barreled their first rye whiskey.
Since they plan on milling, mashing, fermenting, distilling, and barrel aging in-house, we won’t be able to see any Blinking Owl whiskeys available for a few years from now.
In the meantime, their current spirits line-up is solid. And the Christianson’s passion for what they are doing is palpable.
Brian made us one of their signature cocktails created by local Orange County resident, Kayli Gennaro, which included both their vodka and aquavit.
It was such a lovely cocktail, I wanted to share it with you all here…
The Aquavenus by Kayli Gennaro
2 oz Blinking Owl Aquavit
1/2 oz Blinking Owl vodka
1/2 oz Lillet Blanc
Add all ingredients to a mixing glass with ice. Stir until well-chilled and strain into a coupe glass (or martini glass). Express an orange peel over the drink, scent the rim of the glass, and discard the peel. Slap a sprig of thyme in the palm of your hand to express aromatic oils and drop in glass as garnish.
If you live in the area, Blinking Owl Distillery’s tasting room is open and you can book a tour now! I highly recommend it. When you visit, tell them, Bit by a Fox sent you. 😉
The craft cocktail revival these last 15 or so years has introduced us to the classics, the pre-prohibition tipples dug up from dusty archives with foreign sounding ingredients, as well as the innovative, modern style drinks inspired, no doubt, by the foodie revolution and farm to table movement. And while it can be fun to indulge in some of these complex cocktails made with labor intensive infusions and syrups and a smattering of ingredients you may or may not recognize at your favorite swanky cocktail bar, recreating these types of drinks at home is…not really an option. Enter Kara Newman’s Shake. Stir. Sip.: More than 50 Effortless Cocktails Made in Equal Parts.
With the massive popularity of the Negroni in recent years, a classic equal parts cocktail made with gin, Campari and sweet vermouth, we know by now that some of the simplest cocktails can be the best! And they also can still be incredibly nuanced and complex. From the 50-50 Martini to the Paloma, a lot of our favorites are already traditionally made or can be easily adapted to the equal parts template. Kara has included 50(!) of these easy to make cocktails in this lovely little book! Your home bartending game just got elevated (and easier!)
Divided into 2, 3, 4, and 5 Equal Parts and More, I thought I’d try my hand at one of the easiest and, frankly under recognized, cocktails, the Rob Roy.
Made with just scotch and sweet vermouth, this two ingredient cocktail, a variation on a Manhattan, isn’t always served as an “equal parts” drink.
…often the ratio is two parts Scotch to one part vermouth. That said, this equal-parts version works remarkably well, especially if you prefer a slightly sweeter and less potent pour.
Since the quality of Scotch is fairly important to a recipe where that spirit is half the cocktail, I decided to use the newly released The Macallan Double Cask 12 Years Old. This is the first time The Macallan has used American Oak Sherry-seasoned casks as the most prominent flavor style in one of its expressions.
Matured for a minimum of 12 years, the resulting product is recognizably Macallan with a hint of sherry. Meaning, it has retained its dried fruit, honey and holiday spice qualities but has a floral and nutty addition on the finish. It made for a wonderful equal parts Rob Roy!
A few dashes of aromatic bitters and a couple of brandied cherries and you are good to go!
However you choose to make yours, be sure to toast the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, where the drink was created in 1894.
Rob Roy (equal-parts) from Kara Newman’s Shake. Stir. Sip.
1 1/2 Scotch Whiskey
1 1/2 Sweet Vermouth
1 or 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
In an ice-filled mixing glass, combine the Scotch, vermouth, and bitters. Stir well, and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with the cherries before serving.
The Longines Masters is a prestigious international equestrian competition that showcases the Grand Slam of Show Jumping.
The series of competitions started its journey in Los Angeles just a few weeks back and will then head to Paris in December, and is capped off in Hong Kong in February. Guess who attended this year’s fancy pants horse jumping competition while having brunch court side with world renown bubbly, Champagne Barons de Rothschild?!
Me, you guys, meeeeee!
Alongside a few spirited ladies…and plenty of other equestrian and champers fans, of course!
Frédéric Mairesse, Managing Director of Champagne Barons de Rothschild, was even on hand to be his charming French self and pour little ol’ me a flute full of bubbles!
Originally produced exclusively for private consumption for the Rothschild family, (the family along with their high level clients and friends consume 150 bottles a day!) but after they realized their high quality, small volume champagne produced in one of the best regions was a hit, the Barons De Rothschild Champagne House was created in 2005.
As we watched some of the best Show Jumping horses and riders in the world, we sipped on their Brut champagne – a perfect complement to the custom-designed menu by 2 Michelin star Belgian Chef Yves Mattagne. Bubbles light as air with a nice level of toast and white fruit, Champagne Barons de Rothschild pairs really well with food but can be drunk very easily on its own. The blend of 3-4 year old Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs gives it a lovely pale, golden color and the low dosage and a good amount of aging in traditional cellars, guarantees a complexity but balance on the palate.
Cheers to fancy Sundays and any excuse to celebrate with a glass of high quality champers! To learn more about the Longines Masters go here. And for more info on Champagne Barons de Rothschild, check out there site.
A couple weekends back I was part of a phantasmagoric, technicolor dream deep in the Hills of Beverly…
There were synchronized swimmers bedecked in the most adorable caps and suits…
…photogenic poofs of cotton candy,
brightly colored flower crowns,
and allll of the beautiful people.
So, what was the purpose of all of this California whimsy and multicolored wizardry?! It was a boozy celebration, of course! Barefoot Wine & Bubbly just re-launched their fruit infused sparkling wines in four different flavors – Berry, Peach, Orange and Pineapple. And yours truly was asked to create some fun cocktails to highlight each one!
As many of you know, I LOVE using sparkling wine to complement a cocktail. It tends to lighten up a spirit forward cocktail, dries out a sweet one, and in warmer months makes an especially refreshing tipple. It’s hard to argue, nearly everything is better with bubbles! But since these sparklers have a fruity essence and a sweetness to them from the residual sugar left over in the winemaking process, I was able to use them in a slightly different way.
In each of the cocktails I created, I didn’t have to use any simple syrup or additional sweetener because each fruit infused wine had its own level of sweetness that worked well with various spirits and citrus. The Berry Bombshell turned out to be one of the most popular that day. Vodka, ginger, lemon and Berry Bubbly!
1 oz Vodka
1/2 oz Ginger Liqueur
1/2 oz lemon juice
2 oz Berry Barefoot Bubbly
garnish: three berries on a bamboo skewer
Shake vodka, ginger liqueur and lemon juice over ice. Strain into champagne coupe and top with Berry Barefoot Bubbly. Garnish with berry skewer.
The Pretty as a Peach Ingenue was the simplest of all the cocktails. I found the Peach Bubbly was perfect with good ol’ bourbon, and gave it just a touch of southern charm! The lemon juice added just the right amount of acid and made the peach flavor really shine.
Pretty as a Peach Ingenue
1.5 oz Bourbon
.5 oz fresh lemon juice
topped with Peach Barefoot Bubbly
Shake bourbon and lemon juice over ice. Strain into flute glass. Top with Peach Barefoot Bubbly. Garnish with peach wedge.
The Orange Spritz Starlet was inspired by a traditional Italian spritz cocktail. Light, refreshing and with a touch of bittersweet Aperol, this makes a great before dinner drink.
This was also the cocktail that I made for Barefoot Bubbly’s Facebook Live segment with YouTube personality and all around fun lady, Mary Elizabeth. You can still watch it here!
Orange Spritz Starlet
2 oz Orange Barefoot Bubbly
1 oz Aperol (Orange bitter Italian liqueur)
garnish: orange peel
Build all ingredients in an ice-filled wine glass. Garnish with orange peel.
The Pineapple Femme Fatale was my personal favorite and will be perfect heading into fall. It had the most complexity with tequila, Cynar Italian liqueur, lime juice and Pineapple Bubbly. I was surprised by HOW MUCH people loved this one, thinking it might be a little unusual for people’s taste buds. But the combined flavors just really worked!
Pineapple Femme Fatale
2 oz Tequila
1 oz Cynar (Italian bitter liqueur)
.75 oz lime juice
3 oz Pineapple Barefoot Bubbly
garnish: pineapple wedge
Shake tequila, Cynar and lime juice over ice. Strain into a cocktail glass and top with 2-3 oz Pineapple Barefoot Bubbly. Garnish with pineapple wedge.
The #FruitInaFlute event was SO much fun and a perfect cap to the summer. But in lieu of attending your own fruit-infused bubbly bacchanalia, you too can recreate the feeling in a glass! Make these hollywood inspired cocktails for you and your friends and you’ll feel as glamorous as these mermaid ladies right here. Guaranteed!
photos courtesy of Barefoot Wine & Bubbly
Last month I had the opportunity to visit House Spirits Distillery in Portland, Oregon, tour the facilities with head distiller, Andrew Tice and get to know founder & distiller, Christian Krogstad – one of the pioneers behind America’s craft distilling revival.
House Spirits Distillery, a forerunner in Portland’s craft distilling community, is now in their 12th year of operation. And after leading the development of the city’s first Distillery Row in Southeast Portland, making the move into a shiny, new $6 million production facility with tasting room last November, they’ve solidified their position as the largest distilling operation in the Pacific Northwest.
The new 14,000 square foot space includes a 3,000-gallon copper and stainless steel whiskey still, one of the largest on the west coast.
The new production facility allows for them to distill six times their previous distilling capacity and they have more than doubled their production of their flagship spirit, Aviation American Gin.
They’ve only been in their new digs for about eight months now, but according to Krogstad, demand for product has them already outgrowing the building. They may soon have to look for another space entirely for the different legs of production. But in the meantime, they’re running a tight ship, producing excellent products and having fun while doing it.
After having spent some time with Krogstad, I can’t help but think that the convivial atmosphere around the House Spirits Distillery is in large part due to his leadership.
A Seattle native, Krogstad spent some formative years post college in Hawaii where he first got into home brewing. After settling in Portland in ’91, initially drawn by the city’s craft beer boom and working in that industry for 12 years, he then looked to craft distilling as the next big thing. Observing the success of the microbrew scene informed his decision to test the industry waters. But it was the resurgence of craft cocktails and ultimately his partnership with local bartender Ryan Magarian that helped to launch Aviation American Gin as we know it, designed with cocktails in mind.
As a longtime fan of Aviation Gin (and after having celebrated their 10th birthday in July with an original cocktail), I was eager to learn about and try all the other products House Spirits is producing.
Volstead Vodka, cheekily named after the father of Prohibition, Andrew Volstead, was also created with cocktails in mind. Made with pure Cascade mountain water and filtered through charred coconut husks, this vodka went on to win the 2013 Gold Medal at the 2013 SF World Spirits Competition.
I LOVE a coffee liqueur and House Spirits Coffee Liqueur is a lovely take on the category. Using pot-distilled rum made with Barbados molasses and then blended with cold pressed coffee from Portland’s famed Stumptown Coffee, this stuff was made to be sipped on its own, but would also be fantastic in a cocktail.
Aquavit, a traditional Scandinavian spirit, usually distilled from grain and flavored with botanicals, namely caraway seed, is having a bit of a renaissance. Many bartenders specializing in craft cocktails have discovered it to be as important as a base spirit as vodka or gin. Coming from a desire to honor his family’s Scandinavian heritage, Krogstad had House Spirits produce aquavit early on in their development. They now produce two expressions, the unaged Krogstad Festlig Aquavit, made with only two botanicals, caraway seed and star anise and Krogstad Gamle Aquavit, aged in premium French oak wine barrels for 10-12 months, available once a year.
Rounding out House Spirits’ portfolio is the fantastic Westward Oregon Straight Malt Whiskey launched in 2013. Using locally sourced barley and then fermented with ale yeasts, this malt whiskey, inspired by an Irish style of whiskey making, then has to spend two and a half years in new American oak barrels.
Head distiller, Andrew Tice, had me taste the whiskey wash, also known as distiller’s beer – essentially the beer that is to be distilled into whiskey. This normally is not very tasty, tends to have off flavors, and no one would voluntarily drink this unless they were in the business of distilling. But Westward Whiskey’s distiller’s beer was incredible. Like a Saison ale – earthy, fruit forward, nutty, complex and extremely quaffable! Maybe it’s because both Krogstad and Tice have craft brew backgrounds or they’ve just hit on something magic in the process, but if they ever want to go back into the beer business they may have something here!
In any case, this quality wash also creates a beautiful whiskey. And the new facility will allow for even more of it to be produced and aged. They predict 1000 barrels of the stuff in their first year.
To go behind the scenes on my tour of House Spirits Distillery, check out the Snapchat video I made that day below. Many thanks to Christian and Andrew and everyone who helped facilitate this amazing experience. I highly recommend visiting their Tasting Room the next time you’re in Portland. The space is beautiful, the people are lovely and extremely knowledgable and the spirits (and cocktails!) are top-notch. More info here.
Who out there has tried sodabi, a traditional West African liquor distilled from fermented palm tree sap? If you’re anything like me, this exotic spirit is unfamiliar…but intriguing! Unless you are from West Africa or have spent any significant time there, the likelihood of you having tried this local specialty of Benin, the birthplace of voodoo, is pretty low.
TAMBOUR ORIGINAL, a spiced sodabi created in 2012 by an American in Benin passionate about the culture and region, is trying to change all that. After having launched in sodabi’s native region, the heart of Benin, and establishing a following there, as well as winning a silver medal in the 2015 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Jake Muhleman and his partners are working to bring this spirit stateside through an equity crowdfunding campaign.
Tambour Original is fairly unusual, even in the local segment, and is considered a modern interpretation. It is distilled twice in a stainless steel still and is then infused with a blend of 14 local plants and spices, making for a slightly aromatic spirit with just a touch of sweetness reminiscent of an earthier cachaca or spiced rum.
But since palm liquor is created by distilling palm wine, I was inspired to use it like a brandy.
The sidecar is one of my favorite cocktails and since it only has three ingredients, I thought this recipe would be perfect to let this spirit really shine.
1.5 oz Tambour Original Sodabi
1 oz Cointreau
1/2 oz lemon juice
Add the ingredients to an ice-filled shaker. Shake 8 to 10 seconds, until the outside of the shaker is well chilled. Strain into a coupe or cocktail glass.
Garnish with a lemon twist. Sugared rim optional.
VooDoo Spirits, the company behind Tambour Original Sodabi, is at the tail end of their crowdfunding campaign to bring their bottles to the US. If you are interested in participating in this project and to help them reach their goal, check their site out here!
Oh, summer, you dreamy, fleeting, hot little minx. How is it you seem to go by faster every year? I will never understand the passage of time…no matter how many Neil deGrasse Tyson YouTube videos I watch. But what I DO understand is that we best make the most of it these next couple of weeks because soon everything will change! (Except in LA, apparently. It’s sort of summer all year round here. It makes for very confusing seasonal recipe testing!)
But we all know that Labor Day weekend really marks the end of summer. And if you’re anything like me, you like to stave off the summer blues and make sure to jam your entire summer’s worth in that one long weekend with multiple BBQs, out-of-town jaunts and outdoor frolicking. I will rule you, SUMMER! And the cocktail that everyone has settled into drinking by the end of the sunny season? It’s usually a pretty simple and refreshing one, like a Moscow Mule, Pimm’s Cup or Gin & Tonic. All of which were my inspirations for this Labor Day weekend cocktail, the equally simple and refreshing, Cucumber Ginger Iced Tea. The best part? It can be batched in a pitcher ahead of time so you don’t have to play bartender all weekend!
I was excited to make this with a local Los Angeles vodka that just recently came to town, Our/Vodka.
Our/Vodka was started in Sweden as a local/franchise distillery concept under the umbrella of Pernod Ricard. They started their first micro-distillery in Berlin and went on to open similar operations in Amsterdam, London, Seattle and Detroit. The Arts District in downtown Los Angeles is their sixth and latest location to open as part of the Our/Vodka brand family.
In each city they partner with local entrepreneurs to distill, blend and hand-bottle in their very own micro-distillery according to the same global recipe. But each city is able to create their own unique flavor profile, to an extent, by using different, locally sourced ingredients. The concept is fascinating. I would love to compare them all to see what differences can be detected. As for now, I’ll take the La La version in this cocktail! Enjoy! And have an amazing weekend!
Cucumber Ginger Iced Tea
8 cups cooled ginger tea, sweetened with 4 oz agave
1 750 ml bottle vodka
1 cup lemon juice
2 liters ginger beer
I cucumber, sliced into thin rounds
1 lemon, sliced into wheels
Pour the sweetened tea, vodka, and lemon juice into a large canister. Add the sliced cucumbers (leave some for garnish) and lemons. Let sit for about 20 minutes. When ready to serve, add ginger beer. Ladle over ice-filled Collins glass, garnish with cucumber.
Last Saturday night, Cointreau, the iconic French orange liqueur, partnered with Jeremiah Brent, TV personality, interior designer and handsome hubs to Oprah bestie Nate Berkus, on a beautiful, travel-inspired evening as part of their “The Art of La Soirée” tour of events.
The fête, set inside the stunning Big Daddy’s Antiques in Los Angeles, is part of a series of events set in five different cities – Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Dallas and New York City – each one curated by a different artist with a slightly different inspired entertaining theme. Last Saturday’s soirée showcased Jeremiah’s passion for travel and global discovery – the Collection de Voyages Soirée.
The immersive experience was a Moroccan summer’s night meets Croatian holiday crossed with a Mayan Riviera getaway. And the cocktails, curated by Jeremiah, also drew inspiration from those cities that made the most impact on him through his travels – Tulum, Mexico; Marrakech, Morocco; Hanoi, Vietnam; and Split, Croatia. Los Angeles, of course, played a role in the night as well. Despite feeling transported, the beautiful guests, unusual, dual-purpose event space, and the hip DJ, electric guitarist entertainment for the night helped to remind us that we were still in La La Land!
Oh, and, look who I ran into?! The lovely powerhouse mixology couple, Kyle and Rachel Ford, profiled on this here blog last year in our Bartender Style series. This event actually marked Kyle’s last as Cocktail & Spirits Expert for Rémy Cointreau. And with the decision to focus primarily on their revamped consulting firm, Ford Marketing Lab, Kyle has officially passed the Cointreau torch. I have no doubt the Rémy Cointreau family will miss him!
It was an enchanting night! And I sort of felt like I went on a mini 3-hour vacation to some exotic locale with elegant natives, citrusy cocktails and dazzling light fixtures everywhere. Jeremiah Brent, can you curate my life, please?
If you are interested in attending one of The Art of La Soirée events, check back in to Cointreau’s site to see about a soirée near you!
All photos courtesy of Shannon Carpenter from This Aperture.
Twist Your Spirits is a collection of artisanal cocktail kits designed to create the perfect cocktail at home or on the go.
Curated by mixologists, each kit contains cocktail mixers, bitters, syrups or shrubs from smaller companies making their mark in the cocktail game. They even provide a jigger, coasters, garnishes and stirrers, so you are fully equipped to mix up their easy-to-follow recipes – and you won’t have to go searching for a shot glass or something to pretty up your drink when you’re entertaining on the fly. It’s a one stop party in a box. Just add booze!
And, in my case, with a recent box of their Smoke Y Margarita cocktail kit, a little pink grapefruit juice for my own little twist! According to co-founder Alison Dinerstein, the Smoke Y Margarita is their most popular kit, and you can see why. The box contains ELEMENT Lemon Mint Shrub (obsessed with shrubs at the moment!), GLOSSOP’S Smoke Sugar Syrup (EVERYONE loved the smokiness of the cocktail!) and (my new favorite discovery!) CALIFORNIA CRISPS Lemon Slices. As I mentioned in last week’s post involving a shrub, a fruit based vinegar syrup, this can be substituted for citrus since it provides the acidity necessary to balance out the alcohol and sweet. So, this is a slightly different take on the traditional margarita.
While the Twist Your Spirits recipes are created to be as easy to follow as possible and curated so you won’t be needing any extraneous ingredients, we all know I like to put my own spin on things! I just added a little grapefruit juice and a splash of sparkling water, and it was, as the kids say, 100!
Twist Your Spirits offers cocktail kits like the Chili Spiced Old Fashioned, Pineapple Rum Punch and Lemon Mint Gin-let, each containing enough ingredients for 8 cocktails, all for around $35. So, where can you get your very own party in box? You can purchase them directly from their site or through Amazon. And since booze in not involved, the delivery is pretty seamless.
Smoke Y Margarita (Created by Twist Your Spirits, with a Bit by a Fox twist!) – 1 serving
1/4 ounce ELEMENT Lemon Mint Shrub
1/4 ounce GLOSSOP’S Smoke Sugar Syrup
1.5 ounces Tequila
1.5 ounces Grapefruit Juice
In an ice-filled cocktail shaker, add everything but the soda. Shake until well chilled. Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Top with a splash of club soda and stir. Garnish with CALIFORNIA CRISPS Lemon Slices.
It was an accident, really. I was craving a gin and tonic because…summer. And I was home with plenty of booze and mixers and serums and bitters because…booze blogger. But I didn’t have any tonic! Which is strange. But, there it is…
Then I remembered I had a whole box of goodies, all from Portland, Oregon artisans in honor of Aviation American Gin’s 10th birthday, that I had YET to dig into. In celebration of their 10th year, Aviation has partnered with a handful of their favorite Portland brands on Project 10, offering limited-edition specialty items, like those pictured here.
Aviation American Gin set the precedent for the American Gin category – one of the first to move away from a traditional juniper heavy blend to a balanced variety of other botanicals. In their case, botanicals like lavender, cardamom and sarsaparilla from the Pacific Northwest, where this spirit was born, help to make this gin a favorite for bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts alike. Also, look how sexy this bottle is. Ooh la la!
I was dying to dip into the Pok Pok Som Drinking Vinegar, Cardamom & Tangerine – developed to pair with Aviation’s range of botanicals. Drinking vinegars, or “shrubs” as they were referred to in the Colonial era, have been making a comeback in the states mainly because of the resurgence in cocktail culture here. It is a fruit based vinegar syrup that is wonderful with sparkling water or as a mixer in cocktails. It often doubles as the acid and sweet part of a cocktail and can be an easy and really refreshing mixer.
After a little experimenting, a touch of bittersweet from Campari here, a squeeze of lime juice there, and a heavy pour of Pamplemousse LaCroix (my new FAVE!), I found my perfect summer concoction.
Take that, you boring ol’ G&T! It also created the most lovely shade of blush. With all of the fruits and botanicals involved, it reminded me of a perfect summer garden party…
The Garden Party
1/2 oz Campari
In an ice-filled highball glass add gin, drinking vinegar, Campari and lime juice and give a generous stir. Top with LaCroix sparkling soda to taste and stir once more. Enjoy your new favorite summer cocktail!