Whiskey & Fur: My Favorite Party of the Year

Right smack in the madness and merriment that is the holiday season lies my favorite party of the year, Whiskey & Fur.  Yes, that’s Whiskey, nectar of the Gods, and fur, and yes, th

The party has only two rules:

  1. You come in theme.
  2. We only serve whiskey (and water).

Now in year four, it feels a bit like the cocktail party that could.  Each year, we manage to attract a bigger crowd of wonderful friends and loved ones who mosey on over to toast to the holidays and sample all the goodies from my home bar—all the while decked out in their best furry garb.  We have a wide variety of themed imbibers–from ladies in their best roaring 20s getups, to flannel-clad hunting outfits, to attire that have been lifted straight from Foxy Brown’s wardrobe in the late 90s.  It’s a sight to be seen.

Once again, the wonderful Todd Richman, Brand Ambassador for Sidney Frank, graced us with his presence, tending bar with a selection of homemade libations.  Here I’ll share one of his delightful whiskey punches—a favorite among our guests, as well as some of my favorite holiday inspired treats: Salted Bourbon Caramels & Bourbon Pralines.

Happy holiday sipping!

Holiday Punch (Created by Todd Richman)


  • 2 cups Cognac (I recommend using a VS)
  • 1 cup rye whiskey
  • ½ pint of dry curacao
  • 4 cups of apple cider
  • Club soda
  • Pear and/or apple slices, for garnish
  • Grated cinnamon, nutmeg and star anise, for garnish

In a punch bowl, add Cognac, rye, dry curacao and cider.  Top with club soda.  Add pear and/or apple slices for garnish, plus grated cinnamon, nutmeg and star anise.  Allow to chill for 30 minutes prior to serving.

Bourbon-Spiked Pralines

Bourbon-Spiked Pralines (adapted from Southern Living)

Bourbon-Spiked Pralines

(adapted from Southern Living, December 2011)

Makes 2 dozen


  • 2 cups pecan halves and pieces
  • 3 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • ¼ cup bourbon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  • Preheat oven to 350°. Bake pecans in a single layer in a shallow pan 8 to 10 minutes or until toasted and fragrant, stirring halfway through. Cool completely (about 15 minutes).
  • Meanwhile, bring brown sugar, and next 4 ingredients to a boil in a heavy Dutch oven over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil, stirring occasionally, 6 to 8 minutes or until a candy thermometer registers 236° (soft ball stage). Remove sugar mixture from heat.
  • Let sugar mixture stand until candy thermometer reaches 150° (20 to 25 minutes). Stir in vanilla and pecans using a wooden spoon; stir constantly 1 to 2 minutes or just until mixture begins to lose its gloss. Quickly drop by heaping tablespoonfuls onto wax paper; let stand until firm (10 to 15 minutes).

Bourbon Sea Salt Caramels

Bourbon Sea Salt Caramels

Bourbon Sea Salt Caramels

(from Bon Appetit, December 2013)


  • 2 cups sugar
  • ½ cup light corn syrup
  • 1 14- oz. can sweetened condensed milk
  • ½ cup butter (unsalted)
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus sea salt for sprinkling on top


Lightly coat an 8×8” baking pan with nonstick spray and line with parchment paper, leaving a 2” overhang on 2 sides; spray parchment.

Bring sugar, corn syrup, and ¼ cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Cook, swirling pan occasionally, until mixture turns a deep amber color, 8–10 minutes.

Remove pan from heat and whisk in sweetened condensed milk and butter (mixture will bubble vigorously) until smooth. Fit pan with thermometer and return to medium-low heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until thermometer registers 240°. Remove from heat and whisk in bourbon and kosher salt. Pour into prepared pan; let cool. Sprinkle caramel with sea salt, cut into ¾” pieces, and wrap individually in parchment paper.


  • If you don’t already have a candy thermometer, go out and get one.  They’re all of about $10 and will keep the guesswork out of so many recipes moving forward.
  • Since candy can be a bit temperamental, I generally avoid doubling recipes.  For some reason, I can’t ever seem to get the same result when making party-sized batches.

Women’s Whiskey League: Punch Party Edition


Our Party Punch Spread

Our Party Punch Spread

The League, of late, has been on a roll.  I’ve finally been on my game, and we’ve been meeting monthly.  The formula remains the same: pick a category, or a theme, and a signature cocktail.  A little education, a whole lot of fun.

This month was no exception.  In the spirit of summer shindigs, we played with punches.

Our meeting came complete with reading material as well, and a little overview on the history of punches (more on that below).

Punches are a fantastic approach for a party.  They keep you, the hostess, out of the kitchen or out from behind the bar, allowing you to do all the prep work ahead of time. And they certainly don’t need to be limited to whiskey cocktails (though as we all know, that’s my passion poison).


Punch has a long, fascinating history–so much so, that the venerable Dave Wondrich himself devoted an entire book to it in 2010.  Though there is actually some debate over the origins of the term, the most widely accepted theory is that punch comes from the Hindi word panch, meaning five.  That’s because the basic recipe contains five key ingredients: something spirited, something sweet, something sour, something bitter, and water or tea.

I was lucky enough to sit through one of Dave’s lectures on the topic down at Tales of the Cocktail last month (for you amateurs, it’s a massive cocktail festival down in New Orleans–four days of beignets, pralines, parties, seminars, open containers, and most memorably, sweat).  According to him, while punch may have  its Indian origins, it gained popularity as a sailor’s drink in Europe.  What’s interesting about that is that with its seafaring origins, it was a historically communal drink, where everyone onboard (from deckhand to captain) would delight in it together.  That tradition is still regarded today, and that’s why it makes such a great party drink.

In honor of our five theme today, here are some of my favorite tricks and tips:


1) Serve it up in style. Invest in a few punch bowls from your local party store.  They’re not all that expensive, and will come in handy.  I use them as ice buckets during parties when I’m not serving the masses.

2) Get your ice right.  Ice is perhaps the most critical ingredient when making punch.  As with any drink, dilution is key.  Too little and you’ll act like a sailor.  Too much and you’ll be drinking a spritzer.  With blocks, and larger cuts of ice, the slower the melt.  For punches, the bigger the better.  A wise man (the lovely and talented Todd Richman, corporate mixologist for Sidney Frank, and one of the dearest guys in the business who you can stalk and attest your love to here) once gave me the best ever ice-making tip.   If you can’t get yourself custom ice (which I will not, this is, after all, a cocktail party and not a for-profit establishment), make your own.  Fill large tupperware containers or bowls with warm water, and freeze the ice blocks yourself.

3) Pick you poison.  Though I opted for a whiskey-based punch, great punches can be made from nearly every category of spirit.  Historically, most punches were brandy and rum based, but pick what you have on-hand, or what you and your guests like.

4) Steal from the Greats.  There are so many great resources out there to inspire your punches, including some really neat historic recipes.  Take, for example, Martha Washington’s Rum Punch or Charles Dickens’ punch ritual.  Nothing screams theme party more than a Martha Washington cue, am I right?

5) Add Gusto with Your Garnish.  Lemon wheels, frozen berries, peaches, and cinnamon sticks all add pizzazz to you punch.

Our Summer Whiskey Punch

Our Summer Whiskey Punch

And Now, The Recipe I Used:

Summer Whiskey Punch
Serves 15


  • 1 750 mL bottle Rye  (I used (ri)1, one of Beam’s ryes) (about 3 cups)
  • 2 cups Ginger Liqueur (I used Stirrings)
  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cups pineapple juice
  • 2 cups orange juice
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1/8 cup cherry liqueur
  • A few dashes of bitters
  • Lemon wheels, for garnish


  • Add all ingredients to a large punch bowl and mix to incorporate.  Stir long enough for the sugar to dissolve. 
  • 15 minutes before serving, add a large block of ice to chill ingredients.  Add lemon wheels for garnish and serve.


Summer Salad Sunflowers Reading Materials

Scenes from the American Whiskey Trail: George Dickel Distilllery (Tullahoma, TN)

This is the second post in my series on the American Whiskey Trail, which first brings us to the beautiful, quaint town of Tullahoma, Tenn. to the George Dickel Distillery.

George Dickel is one of my favorite stops on the Trail for a few reasons.  One, it’s a gorgeous, tiny little picturesque distillery that is, quite frankly, in the middle of nowhere.  And therein lies the irony, for George Dickel is owned by Diageo, the largest spirits company in the world.  And though Diageo is known for many of its global spirits brands (Tanqueray, Crown Royal, Smirnoff, Don Julio, Ketel One, etc.), it is first and foremost a whiskey company.  That’s because Diageo owns more Scotch whiskys than any other company in the world, with brands like Johnnie Walker, Talisker, Oban, Lagavulin, Dalwhinnie, Cardu, Cragganmore, etc.  Who would expect the world’s largest whiskey company to own the teensiest, quietest little distillery in Tenn?  Certainly not me.

Now, I also love Dickel for this reason:  John Lunn, their Master Distiller. John is a whiskey good ‘ol boy, a pleasure to be around, and overall, a darn good Master Distiller.

On a sidenote, that’s another important thing to note about American Whiskey.  Unlike the winemakers of France and Master Tequileros of Mexico, the Master Distillers of Bourbon Country aren’t eloquent, photogenic, romantic talking heads, they’re good old boys of whiskey.  That’s not to say they’re not all of those things, but one thing they are absolutely not is pretentious.  They’re good boys who like good whiskey.  And chemistry.

Now, on to George Dickel.

George Dickel is a Tennessee Whiskey, which means it contains one key difference from classic bourbons.  That step is called the Lincoln County Process, which is a charcoal filtration step prior to aging that “mellows” the whiskey.  What’s does it do, you may ask, and is it a good thing?  In Tennessee, you’ll get a resounding YES to that question, where they believe it makes the whiskey smoother and more palatable.  On a sidenote, ask a distiller in Kentucky and you’ll get a completely different opinion.


Some fun facts on Dickel:

  • Unlike other bourbons and Tennessee Whiskeys, the brand spells the term whiskey without the “e” (as they do in Scotland), because founder George Dickel believed his product was just as good as Scotch.
  • The charcoal used in filtration is created right there at the distillery, using sugar maple wood.
  • Dickel chills the whisky during its charcoal mellowing process–a critical difference between other Tennessee Whiskey.  The process was created by a fateful accident: the distillers discovered that winter whisky tasted better than whisky produced in summer.  And the year-round chilling process was born.

Dickel is available in a few different bottlings, including:

George Dickel No. 8: Their classic offering

George Dickel No. 12: Aged longer, a little bolder, and bottled at 90 proof.

George Dickel Barrel Select: Aged between 10 and 12 years, and bottled at 86 poof.  Each year, Lunn chooses 10 barrels of his liking to create Barrel select.

George Dickel Rye: A relatively new offering (and probably my favorite), bottled at 90 proof.

For more info, visit http://www.dickel.com/.




Scenes from the American Whiskey Trail

As anyone who knows me well knows, I have the privilege of traveling quite a bit for work, and I am lucky enough to visit a handful of the most iconic American Whiskey distilleries each year.  This past May, I visited two of the most iconic Tennessee Distilleries, Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel, and four of the most beautiful distilleries in Kentucky, Maker’s Mark, the Jim Beam American Stillhouse, Wild Turkey and Woodford Reserve.

The American Whiskey Trail is a tourism initiative created by the Distilled Spirits Council (my fantastic company) in partnership with a handful of our large spirits companies.   We’ve helped to string together the major distilleries throughout Kentucky and Tennessee that are open to public.  Though I’m lucky enough to visit for work, I encourage everyone to get down there at some point.

Trail traffic and distillery tourism continues to grow each year, fueled by the ever-growing interest in American Whiskeys.  If you have any interest in traveling the trail, I encourage you to do so–it’s a wonderful way to learn about the category.  But if you’re interested in living vicariously, you can do that too—right  here, though a series I’ll be doing on my visits.

Happy Trails!

(sorry, that was terrible, but I had to)

St. Patrick’s Day Edition: An Irish Hello

Our Irish Whiskey Portfolio

Our Irish Whiskey Portfolio

It’s no secret that Irish Whiskey is a media darling these days.  According to the Distilled Spirits Council (and their PR director, yours truly), Irish Whiskey is the fastest growing spirits category, up nearly 400% in volume since 2002.  Last year, 2.2 million cases were sold here in the States.  It’s important to note that in terms of volume, the category remains small (2.2 million cases sold here versus the 17 million cases of bourbon sold last year), but the growth potential is massive.

As I explained to the Leaguers, the global spirits companies recognize the potential for the category and have made some major investments in Irish Whiskey over the past few years.  Beam bought the iconic Cooley distillery.  Pernod Ricard is in the throws of a massive distillery expansion.  They’re experimenting with new offerings, and are bringing several spirits to the U.S. that have previously only been available in and around Ireland.

So why the growth?  Quite simply, it’s because Irish Whiskey is a lovely little category that’s an easy spirit to consume.  Irish Whiskey is typically distilled three times, unlike its Scotch counterparts, which are distilled twice.   The Irish claim the third distillation creates a smoother, more balanced spirit that’s easier to consume.

Ok, now on to our sampling spirits.

Jameson Irish Whiskey

  • A Irish tasting wouldn’t be complete without Jameson, whose own success story deserves its own post.  Jameson leads Irish category growth, with by far the largest category brand share.  It’s owned by the good folks at Pernod Ricard, and the brand continues to grow rapidly, not just in the States but around the world.
  • Jameson is produced at the Midleton Distillery, located near Cork in Ireland.

Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey

  • A well-balanced Irish blended whiskey.  You may have heard of it by now, Beam (their parent company) just launched its first marketing push around the brand in time for St. Patrick’s Day.  Watch their “Tight Knit” TV spot here.

Connemara Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey

  • Owned by the good folks at Beam, this peated whiskey is my personal favorite (probably because it reminds me of a perfect blend of a smoky Islay Scotch and a nice smooth Irish whiskey).

Michael Collins Irish Whiskey

  • Owned by my friends at Sidney Frank, Michael Collins was my spirit of choice for our group’s Irish Toddy.  It’s well-balanced and served as an excellent base for our cocktail goodness.

If you’re ever lucky enough to visit, make sure you see as many of Ireland’s distilleries as you can (though in truth, there are only three major distilleries in Ireland, and Bushmills in Northern Ireland).  And until then, see below for a few of my favorite images from my trip there last September.

A very happy St. Patrick’s Day!