Make us your home page

Homemade mixers and infused spirits add pizzazz to cocktails

Todd Thrasher says using homemade juice mixers and infused spirits is worth the extra effort. “People take pride in cooking dinner for others, but very few take pride in making drinks.”

Washington Post

Todd Thrasher says using homemade juice mixers and infused spirits is worth the extra effort. “People take pride in cooking dinner for others, but very few take pride in making drinks.”

There is no food-writing standby so familiar to readers as (Insert Famous Chef Name Here) Cooks at Home. We all want to see whether the maestro's magic can be duplicated outside a professional kitchen.

Now that we live in an age of celebrity bartenders and "executive bar chefs," I wondered what happens when you take the bartender out from behind the bar.

I recently visited Todd Thrasher, cocktail innovator at Restaurant Eve, PX and the Majestic, in Alexandria, Va., at his home in nearby Falls Church.

It was refreshing to see just how straightforward it is to make memorable, even cutting-edge, cocktails. "People take pride in cooking dinner for others, but very few take pride in making drinks," Thrasher said.

Surprisingly, in many cases, it's actually not much more work, and the tradeoff is in the taste.

His most important rule when it comes to mixing up your own spirits? "I want to make sure people measure. You should always measure when you're making cocktails so the results are consistent," he said.

Thrasher, 40, also insists that home bartenders should always use fresh juices.

Grenadine, for example, is a quick and uncomplicated recipe involving pomegranate juice, lemon juice, sugar and orange peels. We've all been buying bright red, high-fructose-corn-syrupy "grenadine" for so long that most of us have probably forgotten — or never knew — that grenadine is supposed to be a pomegranate syrup. Real grenadine ends up being purple.

Cranberry juice is even simpler: Combine fresh cranberries, sugar and water, then blend and strain. As Thrasher poured me a glass, he said: "How much time did that take? Three minutes?" The result is a brighter, tangier cranberry juice that is a much more vibrant shade of red.

Infused spirits are even easier: Add spices, herbs and fruit to booze and set in a sunny window for a few days. His hibiscus-and-vanilla-infused vodka transforms a bland spirit into a lovely liqueur.

As for making tonic water, the only truly challenging part might be sourcing quinine powder (I found it online). As with grenadine, homemade tonic comes out a surprising color — brown — and the taste is nothing like the other too-sweet brands we're used to.

Perhaps the real magic of Thrasher's concoctions is his ability to make people reconsider the flavors they think they know. He still occasionally runs into bar patrons who blanch at first when served his homemade ingredients. "They're so used to the artificial flavors, they actually miss them."


Hibiscus-Vanilla Liqueur

1 liter vodka, preferably potato-based

2 tablespoons sugar

1 Tahitian vanilla bean, split and scraped

4 tablespoons dried hibiscus flowers (see note)

Combine the vodka, sugar, vanilla bean and its scrapings and the dried hibiscus flower in a clear-glass 5-cup bottle or container. Let sit in the window, in the sun, for 4 days.

Strain through a fine-mesh strainer, then strain the mixture again into a clean 1-liter container. Discard the solids. Store at room temperature indefinitely.

Serve by itself over ice or with sparking wine in a cocktail.

Makes 1 liter (about 4 cups).

Note: Dried hibiscus flowers are available at some Latin markets, at Whole Foods Markets and through online purveyors such as

Source: Washington Post


Candied Key Limes and Lime Syrup

1 quart warm water

1/2 quart sugar

8 ounces key limes, cut into thin wheels (seeds discarded; about 6 slices per lime)

1 stalk lemongrass (tough outer layers discarded), smashed, then coarsely chopped

Combine the water and sugar in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the lime wheels (in batches if necessary) and lemongrass; reduce the heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes (barely bubbling). Remove from heat.

Transfer the lime wheels and their syrup to a container and refrigerate overnight. The fruit will become candied.

For future storage, transfer the lime wheels to a separate container. Strain the syrup through a fine-mesh strainer, discarding the lemongrass. The syrup can be refrigerated for up to 1 month, and the candied lime wheels can be refrigerated in the syrup for up to 1 month.

Makes about 36 candied key lime slices and about 4 cups of syrup.

Source: Washington Post


Spiced Rum

1 whole star anise

1/2 of a 3-inch cinnamon stick, broken into pieces

2 whole cloves

2 allspice berries

2 cardamom pods

1/4 ounce (1/2 tablespoon) freshly grated nutmeg

1 liter light rum

1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

Strips of peel from 1 whole orange (no pith), finely chopped

Use a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder designated for spices to grind the star anise, cinnamon stick pieces, cloves, allspice berries, cardamom and nutmeg.

Pour the rum into a clean, clear-glass 4-cup container; save the original bottle. Add the spice mixture plus the vanilla bean and scrapings and the orange peel. Seal and place on an interior windowsill for 5 days, making sure to shake the mixture each day.

After 5 days, strain through a fine-mesh strainer, then strain again to make sure all traces of the spices are removed. Discard any solids. Use a funnel to return the spiced rum to its original bottle. Be sure to label accordingly.

Makes 1 liter (about 4 cups).

Source: Washington Post


Homemade Grenadine

About 3 cups (750 millileters) pomegranate juice, preferably POM

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 1/2 ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice

Strips of peel from 1 whole orange (no pith)

Bring pomegranate juice to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add sugar and lemon juice, stirring to dissolve, then add the strips of orange peel. Immediately reduce the heat to medium-low and cook uncovered for 45 minutes or until reduced by half.

Strain through a fine-mesh strainer, discarding the orange peel, and let cool to room temperature before using or storing. The grenadine can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks. For longer refrigerated storage (up to 2 months), add 1/2 ounce of 151-proof rum. Then, of course, the grenadine will be off-limits for children's drinks.

Makes about 3 cups.

Source: Washington Post

Homemade mixers and infused spirits add pizzazz to cocktails 01/05/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 5, 2010 3:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Washington Post.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours