It’s Always Cocktail Time

One look at my Instagram account will tell you that I love to make cocktails. I think I have more cocktail photos most weeks than food photos! I adore the complex flavors that are born out of mixing a spirit with a simple syrup, some bitters, and perhaps a splash of soda or fresh juice. My favorite restaurants are those that serve artisanal cocktails from in-house recipes. I am inspired by their concoctions, which is why I am always taking photos of cocktails.

Like my food, I prefer my spirits and bitters to be local. Thankfully, I live in central North Carolina. With great local spirits like TOPO Distillery, The Brothers Vilgalys Spirits Company, Raleigh Rum Company, and small-batch artisanal bitters like Crude Bitters and Sodas, creating a locally sourced cocktail is a mission that is easy to accomplish. I am motivated to use other local ingredients such as produce and honey from farmers markets, too.

Photo by Stacey Sprenz

Photo by Stacey Sprenz

The best way to incorporate these items is through simple syrups. This one little ingredient can impart sweetness, balance acidity, and add enormous flavor to a cocktail. The recipe is quite simple, but the possibilities are endless. For the syrup: mix equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan. Stir the mixture until the sugar dissolves. Just as it comes to a simmer, take it off the heat and add your favorite flavor. The more you add the stronger it will be. Let the mixture cool to room temperature and strain it into a container. The syrup will keep for about 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

I look to herbs, spices, and intensely flavored produce as a basis for my simple syrups. Some of my favorites include: fennel, jalapeño, rosemary, sage, basil, thyme, mint, hibiscus, and ginger. When you start pairing these syrups with spirits, think about the tastes that you enjoy in both sweets desserts and savory dishes. For instance: fennel and orange with bourbon, thyme and lemon with gin, or jalapeño with cucumber and vodka.

It is fun to play around with flavor combinations, and when you add bitters to the mix, the aromas make a complex drink that will both satisfy and impress. Bitters are a vital but often overlooked cocktail ingredient. There are so many great choices out there. My favorite brand is Crude Bitters made right here in Raleigh by my friend Craig and his wife Lindsay. Not only are they just great people, they also know how to work the flavor combinations and make bitters that create an outstanding cocktail. Bitters also have a place in the ingredient list for marinades, lemonades, desserts, and more. They add an essence and aroma without adding a lot of liquid.

Here are two of my favorite cocktail creations, but remember…you can adjust, change, and rewrite these to suit your own taste. The recipes below are merely templates to get you started. Now, let’s get shaking!

Grilling your citrus gives a wonderful flavor to cocktails.  Simply place cut side down on medium heat for about 5 minutes or until softened.

Grilling your citrus gives a wonderful flavor to cocktails. Simply place cut side down on medium heat for about 5 minutes or until softened.  Photo by Stacey Sprenz

Grapefruit Sage Fizz

  • 1.5 oz. TOPO Piedmont Gin
  • 1.5 oz. grilled grapefruit juice
  • .5 oz. sage simple syrup
  • ½ dropper of Crude Bitters “Rizzo”
  • San Pellegrino sparkling water
  • Ice
  • Sage leaf for garnish
  1. To a cocktail shaker add: ice, gin, grapefruit juice, simple syrup, and bitters.
  2. Shake vigorously and pour in to a cocktail glass.
  3. Top with a splash of sparkling water and stir gently.
  4. Take one large sage leaf, lay it in the palm of your hand, and smack your other hand down on it to release the oils. Use this to garnish the drink.

Photo by Stacey Sprenz

Photo by Stacey Sprenz

Photo by Stacey Sprenz

Old South

  • 1.5 oz. bourbon
  • .5 oz. fennel simple syrup
  • ½ dropper Crude Bitters “Pooter”
  • Ice
  1. To a cocktail shaker add: ice, bourbon, simple syrup, and bitters.
  2. Shake vigorously and strain over a large ice cube in a cocktail glass.
  3. You can garnish this one with some sprinkles of smoked salt.

Photo by Stacey Sprenz


Photo by Stacey Sprenz

Thanksgiving in a Cocktail

Happy Blogsgiving!  What is that, you say? It’s a pre-Thanksgiving blogging event that takes place this week.  I am honored to participate.  I am certain you will enjoy meeting the other bloggers and love the great recipes they are sharing, so be sure to read down to the end of the page.   Now…on to the cocktail!

This cocktail is so simple it is almost criminal…seriously, S-I-M-P-L-E. This is mainly because the liqueur of choice is The Brothers Vilgalys’ wonderful elixir, Krupnikas Spiced Honey Liqueur. It has become the Thanksgiving cocktail of choice in our family since we discovered it two years ago. It has all of the flavors of fall and packs enough punch to make you forget any drama that may happen around the Thanksgiving table when the whole family comes together. Trust me, this…I know.

If you don’t have access to Krupnikas (I am so sorry), you could use vodka and spiced honey simple syrup. The key to using these ingredients is steeping the spices in the honey simple syrup for a long time. You want the spices to be bold in this cocktail. After all, it’s Thanksgiving—the holiday celebrated with cinnamon, clove, ginger, and nutmeg.   Cheers!

Krupnikas Ginger

3 oz. Fentimans Ginger Beer (or any other strong, full-bodied brew)

1 1/2 oz. Krupnikas Spiced Honey Liqueur

1 lime wedge

Place the Krupnikas Honey Liqueur and lime wedge into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously for 10-15 seconds. Strain into a glass filled with ice and add the ginger beer. Stir gently and garnish with a slice of lime.

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Thanksgiving is all about family, friends and delicious food. Luckily, the food blogging community is all about these things as well. To celebrate the holiday, Meghan from Cake ‘n’ Knife and Susannah from Feast + West are hosting Blogsgiving Dinner. There are 20 awesome blogs sharing 52 recipes

The idea is based on the old-fashioned progressive dinner party, in which you’d eat each course at a different guest’s home. Each blogger is bringing one or more dishes to the party on Monday, Wednesday and Friday of this week, so be sure to stop by each one and get some ideas for your own Thanksgiving meal.  Today’s courses include cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and soup.

We’ll be posting to social media with the hashtag #blogsgivingdinner. Hope you can join us!

Blogsgiving Progressive Dinner Menu

Monday, Nov. 10


Carolina Apple Sidecar from Think Fruitful

Bourbon Cranberry Lemonade Fizz from bethcakes

Krupnikas Ginger from I Cook. I Eat. It’s Life.


Cured Meat Platter from Wit Wisdom and Food

Baked Camembert with Cranberry Walnut Crust from Cake ‘n’ Knife

Ginger Cran Apple Chutney from Love & Flour

Brandied Grapes with Cheese from Glamour Girl Gourmet

Shrimp Sweet Potato Mousseline from Home at Six

Cranberry Goat Cheese and Butternut Squash Crostini from The Wetherills Say I Do

Maple Pecan Baked Brie from My Cooking Spot

Sassy Salmon Dip from Betty Becca

Baked Brie with Cranberry Chutney from The Speckled Palate

Butternut Squash Crostini from Chez CateyLou

Gluten Free Holiday Cheese Board from Twin Stripe


Butternut Squash Soup with Cornbread Croutons from Club Narwhal

Creamy Wild Rice Soup from Hello Little Home

Pumpkin Soup with Bacon Roasted Chickpeas from Feast + West