Adventures in Making Apple Brandy

DIY apple brandy

Normally I stay away from super sweet liquors—one thought of my brief, but memorable college flirtation with UV Blue sends me into a panicked dry heave. But since it’s fall and everything’s being pumpkin-spiced and butternut-squashed out the wazoo, I’m making an exception for a decidedly autumnal drink: apple brandy. My boyfriend’s mom sent me a recipe for a cocktail called the Sir Isaac Newton, which calls for apple-cider cinnamon syrup, lemon juice, apple brandy, and bitters. It sounds like a great post-dinner treat for chilly nights, but I’ve never even bought brandy, let alone apple brandy.

I was poised to do some research on the subject when one of my go-to blogs, Design*Sponge, posted a recipe for a delicious-sounding drink called Stop! Apple Thyme. Not only does this cocktail contain apple brandy, the authors even went so far as to whip up their own batch. The recipe contains instructions for making your own, but I decided to do some Googling to compare theirs to the industry standard. And by “industry” I mean what the Interwebs tells me. Most recipes had similar ingredients but widely varying steeping times, from two hours to three weeks.

I settled for the recipe from Taste of Home, which calls for steeping the mixture for two weeks. It also calls for a ton of sugar. Like, a Sweet Tea ton of sugar, which is a lot for a Northerner to handle. Since my container’s only so big, I sacrificed extra apples and cut the sugar down by half. Fingers crossed that it turns out!

DIY apple brandy

Homemade Apple Brandy

Recipe slightly adapted from Taste of Home

  • Five large apples, sliced (I used a combo of Honeycrisp, Gala, and Granny Smith)
  • 750 mL of brandy
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 3 whole cloves

I followed Taste of Home’s instructions pretty much to a T, meaning that I made 2:1 simple syrup with the sugar and water and then combined all the ingredients in a large plastic pitcher (with a sealed lid).

make your own apple brandy at home

And now, we wait. This recipe calls for the mixture to be stirred at the halfway point (one week), but I might give it a shake every few days depending on how it’s looking. It seems strange to leave a bunch of apples sitting at room temperature for half a month, but I am obviously a novice at this so maybe that’s standard protocol. I should also note that this was the only kind of brandy Mariano’s carries. It’s $11.99—should I be worried?

Check back in a couple weeks for an update! Have any ideas for apple-brandy cocktails?



Rye Manhattan with Luxardo Maraschino Ice Cubes

rye manhattan cocktail recipe with luxardo ice cubes

The Manhattan is the drink that made me love whiskey. That’s saying a lot, since the first one I ever ordered cost about $5 from a bar that makes its money on PBR and Old Style. Still, I got hooked on the sweet, mellow flavor and soon began whipping up Manhattans at home with Four Roses Yellow Label bourbon and Dolin Rouge sweet vermouth.

I still love a classic bourbon Manhattan, but every now and then I splash a bit of Luxardo Maraschino in my glass. It’s a special treat; Luxardo is so sweet that it’s easy to overdo it, but when you get just the right amount, it can completely elevate a simple drink. The Kitchn’s 9-Bottle Bar series knows what’s up: its Red Hook cocktail combines elements from two of my favorite drinks, the Martinez and the Manhattan. I haven’t made the Red Hook yet, but it reminded me that I’ve been meaning to buy some rye to mix up my Manhattan game. And instead of a splash of Luxardo this time, I got fancy and made Luxardo-infused ice cubes. (And by fancy I mean a 5-year-old could do this. A really badass 5-year-old.)

rye manhattan cocktail recipe with luxardo ice cubes
the cherries put up a good fight, but the skewer ultimately won

Rye Manhattan with Luxardo Ice Cubes

  • 2 ounces rye whiskey
  • 1 ounce sweet vermouth
  • Dash of Angostura bitters
  • Luxardo ice cubes
  • Cherries

To make the Luxardo ice cubes, mix one part Luxardo Maraschino liqueur with four parts water. (1 ounce of Luxardo mixed with 4 ounces of water makes about six standard-size ice cubes.)

Fill a shaker or pint glass with ice and add the rye, sweet vermouth, and bitters. Stir until well chilled. Strain into a lowball glass filled with two Luxardo ice cubes and two regular ice cubes. Garnish with a skewer of cherries.

This drink is definitely a belly-warming sipper, which gives the ice time to melt a little and infuse your Manhattan with a subtle cherry flavor. Feel free to add more Luxardo cubes if you’re a cherry fiend. Enjoy!

Caipirinha Cocktail Recipe

caipirinha cocktail recipe with cachaca

You know those words that you pronounce incorrectly 100 times before you finally get them right? Otolaryngology, the name Saoirse, etc. This particular drink involves two of those words: the name of the cocktail, caipirinha (kai-pur-EEN-yuh), and its main component, cachaça (ka-SHA-suh). At least, that’s how my non-Portuguese-speaking self understands them to be pronounced.

caipirinha cocktail cachaca Brazilian recipe

The caipirinha is Brazil’s national cocktail, and cachaça—a distilled liquor made from sugarcane juice—is the country’s most popular liquor. I was hoping to whip up a pitcher when Brazil played Argentina in the final of the World Cup… (insert the tears of 190 million Brazilians). Sadly, consolation third place cocktails will have to do!

caipirinha cocktail recipe Leblon cachaca

I picked up some Leblon cachaça and used the classic caipirinha recipe found on the back of the bottle:


  • 4 lime wedges
  • 2 tsp. superfine sugar
  • 2 oz. cachaça
  • Ice

In a rocks glass, muddle the lime and sugar. Top with ice (I had cubes in my freezer but will probably used crushed in the future), add the cachaça, and stir. Add a lime wedge for garnish. It doesn’t get much simpler than that!

caipirinha cocktail recipe leblon cachaca brazil world cup drink

This drink was a little stronger than expected, but that might have to do with the fact that I used a past-its-prime lime that didn’t produce a ton of juice (bad form, I know). The Leblon also had a surprising banana-esque aftertaste. This cocktail would probably lend itself really nicely to some fresh-fruit flavors—maybe strawberry or blackberry? Thoughts?

Happy sipping, and may Brazil redeem themselves with a third place victory on Saturday!

El Grito Tequila Cocktail with Sriracha Ice Cubes

el grito tequila cocktail

After a weeklong Florida vacation full of sun, sand, and tropical cocktails—Piña Coladas, Beergaritas, Mojitos, and Caipirinhas galore!—it finally feels like summer.

I’m nothing if not a sucker for the spirits of the season. In summer’s case, this usually means opening my mind and liver to two liquors I don’t usually drink: rum and tequila. (Chances are you know at least five people who’ve had “a really bad night” with tequila and generally stay away from the stuff. My really bad night involved too many Tequila Sunrises mixed with a smidge too much freshman-in-college idiocy.) Tequila agrees with me well enough now, especially if I mix it with margarita mix and a Corona to make the all-powerful Beergarita. I could go on about Beergaritas for days, but I’ll save that for another time.

The original recipe for the El Grito calls for a smokier reposado tequila, but I enjoyed the blanco tequila from Espólon so much on vacation that I decided to swap the brown tequila for white. I should note that Marc found this recipe in Spirit—the in-flight magazine for Southwest Airlines. I’d always thought that airline reading was limited to learning about dog stairs in SkyMall and perusing those terrifying “In Case of Water Landing” safety cards. Who knew!

el grito tequila cocktail

El Grito

Adapted from Aaron Post’s recipe in Spirit magazine

  • 1 oz. Sriracha and 3 cups water (for Sriracha ice cubes)
  • 2 oz. blanco tequila
  • 1 oz. Cointreau
  • Juice from half a large lime (or about 1 oz.)
  • Kosher salt
  • Sprig of rosemary

Mix the Sriracha and water and pour into ice cubes trays. Freeze overnight. Shake the tequila, Cointreau, and lime juice in a cocktail shaker with a few ice cubes. Moisten the rim of a tall, skinny glass with a lime wedge, then twist in kosher salt to coat. (I used a Collins glass at first, but it was too big.) Pour the drink over three to four Sriracha ice cubes. Garnish with a fresh rosemary sprig.

Sriracha ice cubes

The ice cubes melt as you drink, infusing the cocktail with that spicy, smoky Sriracha flavor as you sip. And it’s definitely a sipper. Enjoy!

mint-infused cocktail recipes

Make Mint Simple Syrup, and Then Make These 3 Cocktails

It’s confession time.

I’m becoming somewhat of a cocktail fiend, and up until last week, I had never made simple syrup. What was I waiting for?! Not only is it pretty damned easy to make, you can also infuse it with nearly anything your heart desires: berries, herbs, spices, tears—you name it.

After a slight mishap with some blackberry-basil simple syrup (I used too much basil and it smelled like Fruity Pebbles pesto), I decided to go with a simpler infusion: mint. I used raw cane sugar, so the color of this simple syrup isn’t the most appealing, but I swear it’s delicious.

make your own mint simple syrup

I (mostly) followed a recipe from The Hungry Mouse, which goes something like this:

Mint Simple Syrup

  • Chop up roughly 1 cup of mint leaves and transfer them to a heat-resistant container.
  • Bring 1 cup of cold water and 1 cup of sugar to a boil, whisking occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Remove pot from heat when the sugar is completely dissolved.
  • Pour the sugar over the chopped mint, and cover with foil or plastic wrap. The steam helps to infuse the mint flavor and fragrance into the syrup.
  • When it’s cooled, pour the mixture over a strainer (I used cheesecloth), making sure to press or squeeze the mint to extract every ounce of flavor.
  • Store in an airtight container in your fridge, where it’ll last for up to three weeks.

And now for the best part: mixing up your drinks. Try these three mint-infused spring and summer favorites to get your creative cocktail juices flowing.


Mint Julep

  • 1 tablespoon mint simple syrup
  • 2 oz. Kentucky bourbon
  • Crushed ice
  • Mint for garnish

Pour the simple syrup and bourbon in a glass, then top with a hefty amount of crushed ice. Add a sprig of mint for garnish. Oh, and if you have a silver mint julep cup, obviously use that.

This one’s a little time-sensitive, what with Derby Day being this Saturday, but this potent drink is great all summer long thanks to the refreshing mint and generous amount of crushed ice. Lots of recipes call for you to muddle mint leaves with sugar, but this one is actually the official recipe of the Derby. (Minus the Early Times). It’s best consumed when wearing a giant floppy hat and screaming obscenities at the TV for 2.5 minutes straight.

mojito recipe with mint simple syrup


  • 2–3 teaspoons mint simple syrup
  • 1.5 oz. white rum
  • Juice of half a lime
  • Club soda
  • Ice

In a tall glass, combine the simple syrup, rum, and fresh lime juice. Fill the glass with ice (preferably crushed) and top with club soda. You can garnish this however you’d like; I usually use a slice of lime and some extra mint leaves for an added burst of freshness with each sip.

watermelon mint agua fresca with vodka recipe

Watermelon Agua Fresca with Vodka

(Makes about 5 servings)

  • Quarter of a large watermelon, seeded and cubed
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Mint simple syrup, to taste (I used about 3 tablespoons)
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 5 oz. vodka
  • Lime slices and mint leaves

In a blender, puree the watermelon and water. You can leave it as it is for a pulpier drink, or you can strain it through cheesecloth for a thinner, more juice-like consistency. In a glass pitcher/large container, combine the puree with the lime juice and simple syrup, tasting as you go to determine your preferred level of sweetness. Then add the vodka (this part is also to taste). Fill serving glasses with ice, dropping a lime slice and a few mint leaves into each one. Pour the agua fresca over the top and serve.

watermelon agua fresca with vodka recipe

I can’t wait until it’s warm enough to enjoy these refreshing cocktails on the roof after work. Happy sipping!

guava mojito recipe

Guava Mojito Recipe

The mojito might be the most polarizing drink on the Internet. Stirred, shaken, or just plain poured? Simple syrup or sugar? And then, what kind of sugar—coarse or confectioners’? Is it okay to add a flavor?

So. Many. Questions.

Maybe one day I’ll subscribe to the whole “there’s a right and a wrong way to make a cocktail” mantra, but for now, I’m going with what tastes good. And if there’s one tasty cocktail that I’ve been jonesing for to remind me that summer still exists, it’s the mojito. More specifically, the delicious fresh guava mojito at Paladar Cuban Restaurant and Rum Bar in Logan Square. It was really love at first sip with that cocktail, and I’ve been unable to order anything else with my cuban sandwich ever since.

guava mojito recipe

To make my own version, I had every intention of buying a whole guava and trying to puree it in my blender. Unfortunately, Mariano’s produce department forsook me and I was forced to buy bottled guava nectar. The brand I bought, Hero, turned out to be pretty delicious, plus it doesn’t have any pesky high-fructose corn syrup.

guava mojito ingredients

I used Cruzan white rum, because apparently white rum is the one absolutely necessary component to a mojito—the brown stuff just won’t do. Feel free to play around with the proportions of this recipe or swap out the guava nectar for another juice.

Guava Mojito

  • 10 fresh mint leaves
  • Juice of half a lime
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon cane sugar (to taste)
  • 3 oz. guava nectar
  • 1.5 oz. light rum
  • Crushed ice
  • Soda water

In a tall glass, gently muddle together the mint, lime juice, and sugar until very fragrant. If you’re like me and don’t have a muddler handy, the back of a wooden spoon works just fine. Add a generous amount of crushed ice, then top with the rum and guava nectar. You can adjust the amount of sugar or guava nectar depending on your desired sweetness. Fill the glass to the top with soda water, and give it a quick stir. It might not be traditional or “right,” but hopefully it’ll be tasty and refreshing!

guava mojito recipe

Have you made mojitos at home before? Any tried-and-true tips or tricks?