This, My Friends, is What a Cocktail Party Should Look Like (Part 1)

Your two authors here at bybe collaborate on many things besides cobbling together the occasional posts you stop by to read. One of those things is a recurring cocktail party we call Four Eleven where we can flex our mixology muscles and hone our bartending skills. The parties are of course very fun, but we take them seriously and use them as an opportunity to challenge ourselves, to experiment, and to gain new experiences and much needed practice.

For our Summer 2011 Four Eleven, we chose to push ourselves further than we had before by developing a wholly original menu. We have independently and collaboratively created drinks before, but with the goal of eight to ten quality original drinks, we were nothing if not ambitious. As has been touched on in this blog before, the drink development process is challenging; successes and failures are often equally surprising and cocktails usually need testing and revision before they really shine. We spent a few weeks brainstorming then testing drinks and I think we are both proud of the great menu we compiled. Our guests enjoyed themselves and really complimented us on many of these creations. Maybe we do have a knack for this after all!


In this first post, mccowan discusses his contributions to the menu, while in the second post, knowb talks about his. Both authors graciously thank Mandy McGee for photographing the event and allowing us to reproduce her pictures here.


I find it interesting that knowb and I differ in our cocktail creating methods. He has the stronger palate and so tends to start by suggesting flavor profiles or combinations, even if he’s not sure yet how to bring it all to the glass. This flavor mentality comes in handy, too, when a drink isn’t right; he often has the first suggestions for additions and can pull drinks in unexpected directions. I, on the other hand, feel much more comfortable working from an existing template and twisting it to my own. I might take a classic cocktail or family and swap one ingredient for another, modify the sweetner, and add something totally different to really bring it home. Knowb gets impressed that my ideas always come with the proportions roughed out, but I think it’s generally a blend of our two styles that really works best.


I brought four drinks to the menu. Three were original, but not necessarily exotic, while the fourth was my attempt to work well outside the traditional cocktail bounds.

Burban Garden

Chicago has a local spirit called hum which has a rhum base and is flavored with hibiscus and kaffir lime. It’s a great spirit that’s showing up on a lot of menus recently, but the stuff’s pretty expensive. When my girlfriend suggested that I do a hum-based drink for another occasion, my mind started to work on ways to replicate the flavor profile without splurging quite so much on liquor.

This drink is versatile (it works as a long drink in a highball or as a short drink on the rocks) and balances the flavors really well. I wanted this drink to have a strong bourbon character while still being crowd-pleasing, so I settled on Old Heaven Hill, a 100 proof straight bourbon that is sturdy whiskey that isn’t too sweet (like Maker’s Mark is) and is a fantastic value for the price. Another key was to mirror the flavors on palate and nose. Shaking the mint and ginger with the rest of the ingredients really perks up these flavor which the drinker is reminded of by the garnish.

Burban Garden

  • 1 1/2 oz bourbon (Old Heaven Hill recommended)
  • 3/4 oz hibiscus syrup
  • 3/4 oz lime juice
  • a few sprigs of mint
  • a few small chunks of fresh ginger
  • ginger beer (to top)

Shake the ingredients (except the ginger beer) and strain into rocks glass with with fresh ice. Top with ginger beer and garnish with a ginger slice and a mint sprig.

Hibiscus syrup

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • dried hibiscus leaves

Bring the water to a boil and dissolve the sugar. Add the dried hibiscus leaves (I was able to find some nice dried leaves prepared as a tea by looking in Chinese groceries and herb shops) and allow to steep for 10 minutes. Remove the leaves and strain if necessary.

New Orleans 75

The French 75 is a classic, with a heavy pour of gin, but an effervescence from sparkling wine that lightens the feel considerably. I had this in mind, but rather than just swap brandy for gin, I also wanted to blend in some flavors from another classic, the Sazerac.

This drink took several trials to work out. I was tepid at first, but I learned that the drink needs to have a heavy dose of booze for the backbone. The lemon is a splash only (a touch of sour, with any more becoming overpowering) and the sparkling wine needs to be just a quick top-off; the effect is to add a bit of fizz without much flavor.

  • 2 oz brandy (a sweeter cognac like Courvoisier VS will work well)
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup
  • 1/4 oz lemon juice
  • 3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
  • a few dashes of absinthe
  • sparkling wine (to top)

Add a few dashes of absinthe to a champagne flute and rotate to coat the inside. Discard any excess. Shake the remaining ingredients (except the sparkling wine) and strain into the absinthe-rinsed flute. Top with sparkling wine and garnish with a lemon peel spiral.

Cherry Season

People sometimes ask me what my favorite drink is, and despite the flair that I might show in creating drinks, I generally stick close to the classics: Old Fashioneds, Martinis and especially Manhattans. It was this last classic that I tried to riff on here by building around a gastrique.

A gastrique is a vinegar and sugar reduction that adds a strange, but not unpleasent acidity to drinks. In this case, the gastrique also thickened up the mouthfeel quite a bit — an unexpected, but appreciated trait. With orange zest in the gastrique, orange bitters in the mix and a flamed orange peel garnish, that fruit came out stronger than the cherry in the final drink, but c’est la vie.

  • 2 oz rye whiskey (I used Rittenhouse 100)
  • 3/4 oz sweet vermouth
  • 1/2 oz cherry gastrique
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters
  • 1 dash orange bitters

Shake the ingredients and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a flamed orange peel.

Cherry gastrique

  • 1 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 lb pitted cherries
  • 1 Tbsp orange zest

Bring the white wine vinegar to near a boil and add the sugar until it dissolves. Add the cherries and diced orange zest and stir with a wooden spoon, crushing the cherries completely. Simmer (or allow a low boil) for 15-20 minutes, stirring and tasting continuously. At first the mixture will be quite strong from the vinegar, but with time, the reduction will develop more pleasant flavors. Strain the liquid through a mesh strainer to keep out the solid components. Optionally, you may add an ounce of vodka to improve shelf life.

Sup // Sip // Chase

This “drink” evolved quite a bit over the menu-planning process and I think that unfortunately it wasn’t quite there the night of the party. We wanted — neigh needed — a tequila drink on our summer menu, but neither of us really had strong ideas for one. I thought to do a savory Bloody Mary-type drink (which I abandoned as it didn’t taste “complete”) and failed to get very inspired for a take on the Margarita. To  the pile of mismatched ideas, knowb suggested “Thai” as a possible theme via lemongrass and Sriracha and I kept coming back to sangrita, the traditional Mexican chaser made of either tomato or orange juice with chili peppers.

With no clear cocktail emerging, I began to deconstruct and compartmentalize things. If the ideas could not blend, then why not keep them separate? My mind began to form a picture of three shots served together, all tequila-themed but each unique.

We chose as our three components a serving of Margarita-infused melon, a lemongrass-infused tequila and an original take on the Sangrita chaser. Unfortunately, the final iteration we served was sloppy. Fruit was handed out large cocktail glasses, the tequila infusion was rather weak, and the components came out in courses rather than all at once.



  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4-1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup tequila
  • 1/4 cup triple sec
  • melon cut into small cubes or balls (e.g. watermelon, honeydew or cantaloupe)
  • lime wedges
  • coarse salt
Boil the ingredients (except the melon) to create a syrup and soak the cut fruit in the syrup for at least one hour. (Adapted from here.) Arrange the melon balls in a shot glass or small coupe. Rim the glass with coarse sea salt and spritz a lime wedge over the fruit.


  • 1 1/2 oz lemongrass-infused tequila

To prepare lemongrass-infused tequila, peel and coarsely chop lemongrass stalks and allow to steep in a quality blanco tequila for a week or until the taste is sufficiently concentrated.


  • 1/2 oz orange juice
  • 1/2 oz pomegranate juice
  • 1/2 oz grapefruit juice
  • 1/2 oz lime juice
  • 3 dashes Sriracha Thai Chili Sauce

Chill the ingredients ahead of time and stir to combine them. Serve in a shot glass. (This is an original adaptation based on Jeffery Morganthaler’s sangrita recipe here.)

This topic continues here with commentary from fellow bybe author/bartender, knowb.


1 Comment

Filed under Drinks, Mixology

One response to “This, My Friends, is What a Cocktail Party Should Look Like (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: This, My Friends, is What a Cocktail Party Should Look Like (Part 2) | bybe

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