Conference Highlights – Cocktail Evolution

SWE Conference Highlights 2013

Friday afternoon featured a great way to end conference and start the weekend…a master class in mixology, led by Dean Hurst and Stephen Fox, entitled “Cocktail Evolution.”

Dean Cocktail Session

The cocktail is considered to be an American invention, with many claiming that the Sazerac, created in New Orleans, to be the first “official” cocktail.

Mixology Session Bottles

Punches are also an historic type of cocktail.  One of the oldest recipes is for a Barbadian Rum Punch: “One of Sour, Two of Sweet, Three of Strong, Four of Weak” referring to one part lime juice, two parts sugar, three parts rum, and four parts water.

Mixology Session Dean

The impressive line-up of craft cocktails, demonstrating why this session was offered at 4:45 on Friday afternoon, as opposed to 8:30 in the morning:

Mixology Session Line Up

Maraschinos and Manhattans

Scary red-glowing neon orb.

Scary red-glowing neon orb.

You can’t have a real Manhattan without a Maraschino Cherry. Or a true Rob Roy or an Old-Fashioned. It’s a given, a well-stocked bar needs to be stocked with Maraschino Cherries.

But have you ever wondered how they make them?  Just how do they turn those lovely, crimson-red barrels of healthy, fresh-fleshed fruit into those screaming neon balls of red? I hate to be the one to tell you this, but they bleach the cherries in a solution of calcium chloride and sulfur dioxide until they turn yellow, and then they marinate them in a vat of high fructose syrup and Red Dye #4 for over a month, until they turn clown-red.

It wasn’t always this way.  Back in the “good old days,” Maraschino cherries are a treat brought to us via the Dalamatian Coast of Croatia, where fresh, local marasca cherries were marinated in Maraschino Liqueur, which was distilled from the same type of cherries.  They made a tasty (and alcoholic) treat.

cherriesThe cherries were a popular treat in America right up until prohibition…when they were no longer legal.  At this point, good old American ingenuity took over and Professor Ernest H. Wiegand of Oregon State University spent six years perfecting the art of making “maraschino” cherries with Oregon’s Queen Anne cherries and without the Maraschino Liqueur. The result, many years later, is the following FDA definition of what a Maraschino cherry can be:  “Cherries which have been dyed red, impregnated with sugar and packed in a sugar syrup flavored with oil of bitter almonds or a similar flavor.” If you want your cherries brilliant blue or ghastly green, they must be called “cocktail cherries.”

If you don’t care for bits of sulfur dioxide or Red dye #4 in your craft cocktail, why not try making your own marinated cherries?  The original recipe, according to the Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur website is also the simplest:  take cherries and marinate them in an equal amount of Maraschino Liqueur.  Let them sit in the refrigerator about two weeks and indulge.

I’ve also been experimenting with a more complicated series of cherry recipes, and have come up with what just might be the ultimate Manhattan cocktail cherry.  Try it yourself, and see if you agree!

Manhattan-Marinated Cocktail Cherries

  • cherries real1 pound fresh cherries – wash, but do not pit or de-stem.  They are so much more interesting that way.
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup Bourbon
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 fresh vanilla bean


  • Bring the sugar and water to a boil on the stovetop. There’s a lot of sugar in there so be careful not to let it burn.  As soon as it begins to boil, turn the heat to low and simmer for 2 minutes.
  • Break the cinnamon stick into a few pieces.  Slicke the vanilla bean down the center and place both in the bottom of a large glass or metal bowl.  Place the cherries on top.
  • Mix the Bourbon in with the still-warm sugar syrup and pour over the cherries and all in the bowl.  Use a plastic spatula to stir them up a bit, and then let cool.
  • When cool, place in a sealed plastic container or glass jar and refrigerate. Try to contain yourself until at least the next day. Great for snacking, Rob Roys, Old Fashioneds, and of course the following recipe for a Manhattan.

manhattan cocktailThe Manhattan Cocktail

  • 1 ½ ounces Bourbon
  • ¾ ounce sweet vermouth
  • A dash of bitters
  • A maraschino cherry (see above, if you know what’s good.)


  • Fill a mixing glass one-half full of ice.
  • Add the Bourbon and vermouth.
  • Using a metal tin, seal your mixing glass and shake for 15 to 20 seconds.
  • Strain into a cocktail glass. Give it a dash of bitters and garnish with a Maraschino cherry. Enjoy!

Manhattan recipe from SWE’s Certified Specialist of Spirits Study Guide

The Luxardo Maraschino Website:

Posted by Jane A. Nickles, CWE….your SWE Blog Adminstrator

The Sazerac: World’s First Cocktail

Guest Author Jade Helm, CSW, DWS takes us on a trip to New Orleans to try the World’s first cocktail…

Sazerac Cocktails.jpg[1]

World’s first cocktail…it’s quite a claim to fame! But that’s what they say about the Sazerac…

The creation of the Sazerac dates back to 1838 and is credited to Antoine Amedie Peychaud who owned an apothecary in New Orleans.  Peychaud liked to treat his friends to a mixture of Cognac and his special blend of bitters.  He served it in a little egg cup called a “coquetier” (pronounced “ko-k-tay”), and some say this lead to the word “cocktail.” This would indeed make the Sazerac the world’s first cocktail, and the cocktail a truly American invention.

The Sazerac has evolved over time, due in part to necessity.  When the phylloxera epidemic decimated the vineyards of Europe, Cognac was in short supply, so in 1873 American Rye Whiskey became the base spirit of the Sazerac. In the same year, absinthe was added to the recipe. This addition soon revealed its own set of limitations, as we all know how Absinthe’s reputation for causing hallucinations and mental illness caused it to be banned for a time.  However, that was not about to stop the party in New Orleans, and a rinse of Herbsaint replaced the Absinthe in the Sazerac.

Sazerac Bar.jpg[1]With all this folklore at stake, I decided to make a trek to New Orleans to try the Sazerac for myself – in the interest of history, of course! The Sazerac Bar seemed like the right place to start.  The Sazerac Bar is housed inside The Roosevelt Hotel New Orleans, just off Canal Street. Richly appointed with sparkling chandeliers and decadent golden hues this is the type of hotel that makes you at least want to visit the restroom just to have an excuse to look around.  Luckily the Sazerac Bar is just as inviting.  Honey colored walnut and dim lighting remind us of a time when men were men and…well, back to the drink.

While the modern “official” recipe uses Sazerac Rye Whiskey, The Sazerac Bar offers both a whiskey and Cognac version.  I tried them both side by side and am happy to report that I loved both renditions.  The Cognac version was smoother, fruitier, and seemed sweeter. The Peychaud’s Bitters gave the drink added flavors of orange, cardamom seed, and star anise. The rinse of Herbsaint added a hint of anise that seems to linger on the finish.  The version made with Rye Whiskey had a smoky rye flavor and more “bite.” Somehow the whiskey, bitters, and Herbsaint combined to give the drink the aroma of candied citrus peel and floral, honey-like flavors.   What’s not to love?

If you would like to try to make a Sazerac at home, click here for a copy of The official Sazerac Recipe, courtesy of The Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel.  Cheers!

Jade Profile PicGuest Author Jade Helm, CSW, DWS is a wine writer, educator, and consultant, as well as the primary author of the Tasting Pour Blog.  She enjoys helping people explore wines whether they are simply tasty and affordable for everyday enjoyment, or worthy of cellaring.  For those who want to understand wine in greater depth, Jade offers information about tasting terms, regions, wine making methods, and just about anything wine! You can find Jade on Facebook, Linkedin, or the Tasting Pour Blog.