Wines With Cool Labels

Doing pre-party prep, setting out the wine. Usually I rarely buy wine, because people bring it when they come to parties, and since I throw a lot of parties, I usually end up with more wine at the end of the night than I started with.

But pandemic meant that we’ve slowly knocked down our wine stores and we were basically out, so I went out and restocked — which I’m only bothering to mention because I know nothing about wine, and so I mostly buy wines that have cool labels.

These are some of the ones I have succumbed to recently — all SF/F or writerly or just a super-pretty label in the case of the wine cans. 🙂 No idea if they’re any good!

Island Aviation Mocktail

I tried Seedlip Garden 108, and I like it as a mixer! I mean, it’s definitely not alcohol, so if you go into it expecting it to taste or act like gin, it won’t. And I wouldn’t drink it straight up — that just tastes like slightly herby water.

But if you’re looking for something with interesting botanical notes that works well in a non-alcoholic cocktail — well, I’ve tried making one so far, and I’d happily serve it to guests, so I’m going to call that a win for Seedlip.


Island Aviation Mocktail

2 oz. Seedlip Garden 108
1/2 oz. maraschino syrup
1/2 oz. violet syrup
1/2 – 3/4 oz. lime juice, freshly squeezed
Garnish: maraschino cherries

1. Add the Seedlip Garden 108, maraschino syrup, violet syrup and lime juice to a shaker with ice and shake until well-chilled.

2. Strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with a brandied cherry.

Pistachio Margarita Float

(makes one giant dessert drink)

Ready to be indulgent? When my daughter and I were traveling in Sri Lanka, she decided that Sri Lanka was the land of ice cream, because we ended up eating it most places (especially when the dishes were too spicy for her). I wouldn’t serve her this drink, but for an adult libation poolside, this lush concoction will delight. (The pistachio margarita is still tasty, even if you skip the float entirely.)

3 oz. tequila, chilled
1.5 oz. pistachio orgeat (syrup)
1 oz. fresh lime juice
dash of Strongwater’s Virtue bitters (rose, alpine, and sage) (optional)
2 oz. lemon-lime soda
lime and sugar for rim
pistachio ice cream (or to kick it up a notch, use bastani: Persian pistachio-rose-saffron ice cream, see below)
chopped pistachios and/or rose petals for garnish

1. Rub fresh lime along rim of cocktail or margarita glass, and dip in sugar.

2. Combine tequila, pistachio orgeat, fresh lime juice, dash of bitters, and lemon-lime soda.

3. Top with scoops of pistachio or bastani ice cream, garnish with chopped pistachio. I recommend serving with a spoon and/or straw.


Bastani: Persian Pistachio-Rose-Saffron Ice Cream

8 egg yolks
2 c. sugar
2 c. whole milk
1 c. chopped roasted pistachio nuts (salted is fine)
1 t. vanilla extract
1/2 t. rose extract (or 2 T rose water)
1/2 t. cardamom extract (optional)
generous pinch saffron threads
pinch salt

2 1/2 c. heavy cream

1. Beat egg yolks with sugar until smooth and foamy.

2. In a medium thick-bottomed pot on medium-low, heat the milk to boiling while stirring. Add vanilla extract, rose extract, cardamom extract, saffron threads, and salt.

3. Slowly and carefully, pour the foamy egg/sugar mixture into the fragrant milk, using a whisk vigorously while pouring (to avoid scrambling the eggs).

4. Turn heat to low and continue heating, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until custard thickens. (It should thinly coat the spoon).

5. Pour custard mixture into a bowl, and refrigerate until well chilled (at least 4 hours, and overnight is not unreasonable.)

6. Churn in an ice cream maker (be sure bowl has frozen for at least 4 hours, overnight is likely better), or hand-churn (stick in freezer and stir every 30 minutes to break up the ice crystals, until it is well-mixed).

7. When ice cream is at soft-serve consistency, stir in chopped pistachios, then freeze until hard (about 2-4 hours).

High Summer: Rose, Elderflower, and Indian Gooseberry (Cocktail & Mocktail)

I wanted to see just how floral & delicate I could go with a cocktail, while still retaining some interesting complexity.

This one is for those up to a cocktail challenge. The first step is finding Indian gooseberries (Phyllanthus emblica) — an easy task in South Asia, where amla, as they’re known there, are widely available and tremendously important to Ayurvedic medicine. Amla has a massive amount of vitamin C: one 100g serving of amla berries (about a half cup) provides 300mg of vitamin C—more than twice the daily recommended value for adults.

If you do a little research in medical journals, you’ll see a host of other health benefits associated with it. I’m not a doctor and can’t speak to those, but amla’s tart / bitter flavor makes Indian gooseberry an interesting component in a cocktail or mocktail. In South Asia, amla is used widely in cooked dishes such as chutneys, pickles, etc.; people also drink the juice, often blended with a sweeter juice or with added honey. It’s a little intense straight up!

Amla shouldn’t be confused with European (Ribes uva-crispa) OR American gooseberry (Ribes hirtellum), which are different plants altogether. (There are lots of plants around the world that go by the name ‘gooseberry’.) Amla grows on trees, and is a fairly large fruit; European gooseberries, which are wildly popular in a host of desserts and other preparations, grow on bushes. There was even a ‘gooseberry craze’ in the early 1800s in Europe.

American gooseberries also grow on bushes, but they’re very hard to find, as they were federally banned in the U.S. in the early 1900s, due to their propensity for a fungal disease called white pine blister rust; white pines were valuable construction materials. The federal ban was lifted in 1966, but some states still ban them. You can occasionally find European gooseberries in America, though — usually relatively small green berries, with a sweet-tart flavor.

Now back to the Indian gooseberry — how do you find it? Well, what I really wanted to find was Ceylon gooseberry (Dovyalis hebecarpa), but so far, I’ve had no luck in Chicagoland. But I did find Indian gooseberries frozen in the local South Asian grocery store, and that’s where I’d recommend you start your search. You can also buy them dried online, and then reconstitute them; you can even purchase Indian gooseberry powder. I haven’t tried either of those, though!


High Summer Cocktail

2 oz. vodka, chilled
1/2 oz. St. Germain elderflower liqueur, chilled
1/2 oz. elderflower & rose syrup
3 Indian gooseberries (for 1/2 oz. juice)
ice cube and rose for garnish

1. Make juice: Remove flesh from gooseberries, discarding inner seed (similar to an apricot pit). Chop coarsely, then blend with 1 c. water. Strain and discard pulp, saving the juice.

2. Combine vodka, St. Germain, elderflower & rose syrup, and 1/2 oz. of gooseberry juice. Serve with an ice cube and rose petals (or a mini fairy rose, in this case) for garnish.


High Summer Mocktail
4 oz. elderflower lemonade soda
2 oz. gooseberry juice (see previous)
1 oz. elderflower & rose syrup
ice cube and rose for garnish

Make juice, then combine ingredients in a cocktail glass. Serve with an ice cube and rose petals (or a mini fairy rose, in this case) for garnish.

Island Aviation

A friend asked what made this Sri Lankan, and I have to admit, I didn’t want to mess too much with the classic Aviation, which is a delight. But I did switch out the standard lemons for limes — limes are native to Sri Lanka, and tend to be a bit less sweet and more bitter/sour, making a more interesting contrast with the floral notes of the violet liqueur. I’ve left some variation in the amount of lime, depending on whether you’d prefer a more floral or more tangy emphasis to your drink.

I used Tillen Farms Bada Bing cherries, which give a slightly fresher taste than grocery store maraschino cherries typically would — they taste more like cherries off the tree. They’re a little darker and moodier in appearance than bright red maraschino varieties; perfect to accompany a moody violet drink. They’re also great for just snacking on!

If you do want a brighter cherry, I’d recommend Luxardo Maraschinos, though those can be a little intense for munching. They’re actually marasca cherries, grown around the Luxardo distillery in Italy. They’re packed in a sugar & cherry juice syrup, rather than sugar & water, so have intense flavor.

2 oz. gin
1/2 oz. maraschino liqueur
1/2 oz. créme de violette
1/2 – 3/4 oz. lime juice, freshly squeezed
Garnish: maraschino cherries

1. Add the gin, maraschino liqueur, creme de violette and lemon juice to a shaker with ice and shake until well-chilled.

2. Strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with a brandied cherry.

NOTE: You’d typically use a martini glass for this, with a narrow stem that you’d hold, so the heat of your hands doesn’t warm the drink. I tried a double-walled glass in a different style, that also insulates the drink; it worked well.

Grilled & Spiced Piña Colada

(makes one big glass)

This takes a little planning ahead, since you’ll want to grill the pineapple and let it cool to at least room temperature before making the drinks. But the effort is well-rewarded with a rich burst of extra flavor, and added complexity from the cayenne, salt, and lime.

4 pieces of pineapple (about 4 oz.), sprinkled with cayenne, salt, and lime
4 oz. thick coconut milk
2 oz dark spiced rum
2 t. kithul treacle (or honey)
3-4 ice cubes

honey and grated coconut (unsweetened) for rimming the glass

1. Skewer pineapple, sprinkle with cayenne, salt, and lime, and grill on high for 5-7 minutes, turning periodically. (You can also roast at 400F if you prefer.) Remove from grill and let cool.

2. Blend pineapple with coconut milk, rum, kithul treacle (or honey), and ice cubes.

3. Dip rim of glass in honey, dip in shredded coconut, and carefully pour in piña colada.

If you like, serve with additional skewers of grilled spiced pineapple!

Jackfruit Taprobane

(makes 2)

This is one of my more complex cocktails, and requires a few notes:

a) It’s getting easier to find fresh jackfruit in American grocery stores; if you can’t find fresh, look for frozen. You can also buy canned ripe jackfruit, but that usually comes in a sweet syrup, so the end result will be noticeably sweeter.

b) For the ingredients here, I looked to some of what I’d typically use in a jackfruit curry — tamarind, cinnamon, and lemongrass. Lemongrass found in American groceries is often quite woody and tough; if you’re not growing your own fresh sprigs, you may want to either skip the lemongrass, or simmer and steep it in the vermouth, removing the stalks before using.

c) Tonic water (a favorite in colonial South Asian cocktails for its inclusion of quinine, which treated malaria) lends this concoction a bitter edge; if you don’t enjoy bitter, use seltzer water instead.

1 c. ripe jackfruit (fresh or frozen)
2 oz. mango puree
2 oz. coconut milk
2 oz. gin
1 oz. vermouth
1 oz. tonic water or seltzer water
1 t. tamarind puree
1 t. chopped lemongrass, optional
2-3 ice cubes
lemongrass, cinnamon stick, and jackfruit to garnish

1. Combine all ingredients except garnish in blender; blend to combine.

2. Garnish and enjoy!

Ginger & Blood Orange Vodka Press

I’ve started working on recipes for the little cocktail cookbook; I promised it as part of the Vegan Serendib Kickstarter. My goal is to do a mocktail version to pair with each cocktail; we’ll see if I can do that in an interesting way, rather than just taking out the alcohol.

For example, for this one, I can do a ginger simple syrup instead of ginger liqueur, and you can get non-alcoholic bitters (Dram Apothecary makes some, for example), so that by itself should be pretty good. But if you have suggestions for something else to add instead of the vodka, feel free to chime in!

But tonight, here’s the one with alcohol.


Ginger & Blood Orange Vodka Press

This would be a nice brunch cocktail, and if you want a less alcoholic version, just leaving out the vodka works nicely.

3 oz. orange juice
2 oz. blood orange soda
1 oz. vodka
1/2 oz. ginger liqueur
dash of orange bitters
slice of clementine
1 tsp chopped crystallized ginger

1. Combine orange juice, blood orange soda, vodka, ginger liqueur, dash of orange bitters.

2. Garnish with clementine and crystallized ginger. Enjoy!

NOTE: I enjoy locally-produced Koval ginger liqueur in this drink, along with Ketel One’s Grapefruit Rose vodka, and Strongwater’s orange bitters.