Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Forester's American Whiskey Punch

Christmas is a special time here in the Firewater Lounge. It would be safe to say that the best drinks that we have poured have their genesis in the holidays. These drinks are not just good, they have history, their creation requires attention and reflection, and they are attached to the memories of the ones we love. This year we are remembering Cindy’s cousin Mike’s grandpa. As I knew him, John Callaghan Sr. never went anywhere without a smile, ribbing anyone within earshot about anything he could think of. When he passed away, we asked to picture some of his drinkware in the Lounge.

What we choose to shoot was a monogrammed bowl and glass set, bedecked with a whimsical man with top hat askew, betraying a bit of tipsiness from the night’s frivolities. We asked Mike what his grandpa liked to drink and he said, ‘Old Fitzgerald.’

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Winter's Ghost

A lot of people will be really happy to see 2016 end. For many, they can’t stand the negativity in local and national politics. For us, though, 2016 has been hard because of all the people that left us too soon like Prince, Rickman, Bowie, Cole, Yelchin, Cohen, Ali, Wilder and many others. The bartending world lost a young talent as well- Robert J. Cooper. You may not know the name, but if you spent any time in the Firewater Lounge (and Lord knows, most of you have), chances are good that you tasted his mighty contribution to the world of spirits.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Dallas, Part III

The next day always comes too quickly when you are on vacation, drinking or not. But since we still had a day (and night) to be in Dallas, we sure as hell weren’t going to waste it. So we added M.R. to the venerable gentleman mix (he was our host, by the way) and headed to the beer garden/honky-tonk/cheesesteak stand/tree house known as the Truck Yard. From the aforementioned odd combination of destinations might suggest, the Truck Yard has a little something for everyone’s inner child and a lot of charismatic low-brow awesomeness. And the steak rocks. Let’s just say, at the Truck Yard, you are not going to be served diet food. Given the amounts of ribeye and cheese I was about to ingest in the Texas heat, water seemed like a good choice before booze. The wait staff, who had been slaving over hot flat top grills all day, kept their spirits by their rapid-fire good-natured chiding of each customer in line. Lord knows I should have never dropped the obviously ‘you-ain’t-from-here-are-ya-boy’ phrase, “I could stand some water.” The cashier is probably still shaking her head, laughing.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Dallas, Part 2

Last time we left you, the boys (Aaron and M.J.) and I were thirsty and looking for a drink. Surprise! We drove back into uptown Dallas in search of the cocktail bar Parliament and found it buried in various townhouse-like apartments and scattered classy eateries, mostly still relatively active given the growing late hour.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Dallas, Part 1

As we all get middle-aged, epic road trips among the boys get fewer and farther in between. So when the Badgers were called to begin the 2015 football season in Arlington against the Crimson Tide, Aaron, M.J., and I took to the road for the 15-odd hour trip into the heart of Texas. The overnight trip cost us a few hours of sleep, but, luckily for us, the game was at night so we had tailgating to do. Now, dear reader, if you are a true Lounge Lizard, you know that I can’t leave the Lone Star State without dropping in at a Spec’s. Fortunately, there was a Spec’s just blocks away from AT&T Stadium, so we added more thirsty gentlemen (term used loosely since Tom N. joined us) to the van and took off to find some tailgate goodies.

Once at Spec’s, we perused the whiskeys, mezcals, and tequilas that makes being close to the border with Mexico oh so great. I grabbed some Ranger Creek Rimfire Whiskey (see its separate entry in the FWL), a 1.75 ml of Cazadores, and a bottle of Boxcar Texas Whiskey from Rio Brazos Distillery in College Station. Aaron snared a local Texas whiskey as well as some of Ranger Creek’s rye. Now, Cindy couldn’t make the trip with us, but she still made a demand. “If you’re going to Spec’s,” she said, “you need to pick up some Paula’s Orange.” Aaron and I did, five bottles of Paula’s products a piece, which was all that Spec’s had.

What’s so special about Paula’s Texas Orange? Well, it’s Texas’ version of arancello and limoncello respectively, made with hand-squeezed love by Paula Angerstein, the first woman licensed distiller in Texas. Also, it’s cost-effective at around $16 a bottle. It’s Texas-sized 80 proof is roof-high for a liqueur and packs a zing in the drink it was made for- the margarita.

Let’s give you that recipe-

Texas Top Shelf Margarita

1 ½ ounces tequila
¾ ounce Paula’s Orange
½ ounce simple syrup
A squeeze of ½ a lime

Build all ingredients in a small iced Margarita glass or cocktail glass. Stir to incorporate. If your glasses are bigger, double the recipe!

Here’s one with Rio Brazos Boxcar whiskey (which combines sweet creaminess with green apple notes)-

Improved Whiskey Sour

1 ½ ounces Texas whiskey (we used Rio Brazos)
½ ounce Paula’s Orange
½ ounce Paula’s Lemon
½ ounce simple syrup
A squeeze of ½ a lemon.

Build all ingredients in an iced rocks glass. Stir to cool down.

Back at the tailgate, the Ranger Creek whiskeys came out along with lots of Miller Lite (roots, you know) to challenge the aim of those partaking in rounds of bags (not cornhole, losers). The drinking was only interrupted by football. The night would have been so much better with a big Badger win, but it was not to be, so we reloaded the van to the brim with obnoxious, partially-lubed ‘gentlemen’ for the ride back to their temporary digs in and around Dallas.

Now that was it for most of the boys, however Aaron, M.J. and I came to drink! So it was time to find an honest-to-goodness cocktail bar in Dallas. I think we’ll save that story for next time we meet.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


“Whaddya have?” The question sometimes still blindsides us. You’ve just walked into a bar that’s not busy or a server is already at your table and you haven’t had time to think of a drink yet. The pressure is on! Most of us Wisconsinites have a go-to one-to-one (a drink that is part one thing and one part another) that we order in this situation; for most of us, it’s the same drink time after time. Now, if you are a fan of the FWL, given the thousands of known and yet-to-be-discovered cocktails, you’ll know we hate, hate, hate ordering the same damn drink over and over again. So, to alleviate the stress of ordering that first rushed one-to-one (or simple two ingredient cocktail), keep this standard guide in your smartphone’s quick reference.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Derry, New Hampshire

On our way up to Manchester, New Hampshire, we took a quick detour to a meadery that we were interested in outside Derry. For those of you that have never had mead, essentially it is honey wine. Basic mead, obviously, lacks the characteristic grape tannins found in tradition red wine, which dry out the wine (make it much less sweet). Specialty meads, then, often balance the meads out using the bitter tannins in other flavors to great effect such as tea, dark chocolate, cloves, pomegranates, oak and coffee. Moonlight Meadery, the small meadery we tracked down, specializes in mind-blowing mead concoctions that have to be tasted to be believed.

Moonlight Meadery, like wineries and breweries, offers a number of tastings and tours; we elected the ‘Queen Bee’ Sample flight of seven meads. The seven we tried were the blackberry semi-sweet Mischief, the cranberry sweet Au Naturel, the cinnamon Kurt’s Apple Pie, the barrel-aged Virtue, the vanilla Madagascar, the gingery Deviant, and coffee-chocolate Seduction.
We ended up purchasing three meads: Madagascar, Deviant and Seduction, the last two, we pictured here. The Deviant is a lively combination of apple and ginger, which is a great palate cleanser and would make for a wonderful summer brunch mead. On the other hand, the Seduction is a smooth mix of chocolate, vanilla, and Sumatra coffee. On the palate, it's chocolatey-blunted acidity melts into mellow coffee notes which makes for a great dessert mead. Both meads, as you see, are absolutely beautiful in a glass.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Lexington, Kentucky

If you are planning a tasty night out with a mixologist concoction before and/or after, you could do worse than Table Three Ten in Lexington, Kentucky. Known for its big blackboard that list their specials in the center of the venue opposite of the bar, we came for one thing - Pappy Van Winkle bourbon, the holy grail of bourbons.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016


As we endure the last cold snap of spring and look toward a new season of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, it’s time we finished off some of our late winter/early spring brews. In this post, we’ll take a look at some beers with creepy, unsettling, and downright nasty labels and taste what kinds of sudsy goodness is inside. Let’s start with downright nasty. Indiana’s Three Floyds Brewing Company brewed a limited overhopped amber ale called Amber Smashed Face whose label prominently displays a dozen ghouls in different stages of decomposition based of the visuals of the metal band Cannibal Corpse. I’m not really sure who this is marketed to, but I guess Wisconsin metalheads with spending money reserved for craft beer and a Halloween vice like us will buy something like this, but we are probably a limited audience. The Amber Smashed Face (which is a wordplay off of Cannibal Corpse’s much-loved song Hammer Smashed Face for the uninitiated) is solidly carbonated and pours out a orange butter color with a loose, but lingering foamy head. Can’t say this is a beautiful beer. The nose is suddenly hoppy with a touch of pine. There’s no doubt that it is, as the bottle says, ‘aggressively hopped’ since it smells and tastes like an IPA. The lacing held down the pilsner glass as I drank in the way I really like, but if you are looking to drink an amber, this isn’t it. It’s worth a try, though, especially if you like IPAs.

Our next beer is Stillwater Artisanal’s Folklore untraditional stout with its label adorned with a satyr-like harlequin bedecked with two stark-faced sisters playing violins. Trollway Liquors touted this beer at checkout and they are not wrong. This is my favorite beer since Lake Louie’s Twins maibock last year at this time. It pours out black with a finger’s worth of tan head like a stout would. The aroma is even, roasted malt and pleasing. On the palate, Folklore is a wonderfully-balanced blend of coffee, dark chocolate, and roasted malt with a touch of smoke in the background. Stillwater did such a great job balancing this beer, I triple-dog dare you to guess the ABV. You won’t be close. This beer is so great with hard cheese.

The last of the trio of creepy labels feature a hooded and skeletonized dark angel raising a chalice to the heavens (or hells). The beer is O’so Brewing’s Liquid Soul Imperial Stout and it fits this beer style nicely. In the glass, Liquid Soul sits in pitch black stillness capped with a frothy dark beige head with little lacing. The nose is slight, with roasty malt and raisins. The taste echoes its nose, dates and other dark fruit, roasted malt, and coffee melting away with bittersweet smoked chocolate. I love O’so. It’s hard to argue that they aren’t the best craft brewery in Wisconsin right now.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Purple Heaven

It was a sad weekend here in the FWL as all the lizards draped in purple, mourning the loss of Prince, assauged our tears in a viewing of the movie Purple Rain. It was a fabulous reminder of what Prince actually stood for beyond the music; the right for everyone to eat, drink, make love, and listen to music without anyone stopping you because they don’t want you to. Censorship is the death of emotion; the authority’s way of making your life vanilla in order to ‘protect’ you from yourself. We like to drink cocktails. Prince didn’t. Prince liked to be ambiguous gender-wise. We don’t. The point is that it doesn’t matter. We loved Prince for not caring what people thought. It was the definition of freedom.

Sadly, it was Prince’s song Darling Nikki that Tipper Gore and her pseudo-Nazi troop of prohibitionists (Parents Music Resource Center) placed at #1 of their ‘Filthy 15’songs of the early ‘80s that began modern-day music censorship. Gore didn’t like that her daughter was listening to a song that included masturbation and promptly decided that it wasn’t good for anyone else’s children either. Gore targeted a Def Leppard and a Black Sabbath song in the Filthy 15 because they ‘glorified the use of alcohol.’ Gore demanded the Senate hold the ‘porn rock’ hearings and soon after the Parental Advisory Sticker was born. Stores quickly refused to sell the Purple Rain album (the album that included Darling Nikki). The result is that Gore communicated that music, alcohol, and sex are repulsive, dirty, and shameful...and at the same time intoxicatingly alluring. This is the worst of all worlds. Thankfully, Prince and his ilk fought it with every fiber of their being.

We know that Prince would never drink the cocktail that we have crafted in his memory, but we know he’d love the idea of it. It’s creative, beautiful, and a cousin of the Aviation, the drink named after the freedom of the blue skies it resembles. Our version, brings the Creme de Violette strong, filling the cocktail flush with the color that Prince loved so much, the color of rock royalty.

Purple Heavens (Holly’s Original Series)

2 ounces gin (we used Hendrick’s)
½ ounce freshly-squeezed lemon juice
½ ounce creme de violette
Dash of cranberry bitters (citrus bitters will sub)

Add all ingredients in an iced mixing glass, stir and strain into the most fabulous coupe you own (or not, be free!). Garnish with lemon peel if you wish. We would suggest that you drink the Purple Heavens to some song or movie that would piss off Tipper...and make Prince smile wherever he is.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Red Hook

Even though we never think it necessary for a reason to mix drinks, we have a gaggle of reasons to post tonight. One, we have a new sophisticated look to the Lounge that we think that the Lizards will like. We think it’s classy and easy-on-the-eyes, not to mention a more modern feel. Two, it’s New York primary night, so we were thinking that you might want a cocktail that will usher in the ‘new.’ Remember, four of the five boroughs of New York have their own time-honored cocktail based on the venerable Manhattan. In 2004, one of the Big Apple’s most popular but currently defunct cocktail bars, Milk and Honey, birthed the Red Hook cocktail which is christened after the Brooklyn neighborhood of the same name. The Red Hook instantly grabbed the title of modern classic.

A mixture of rye, punt e mes, and maraschino, the Red Hook is as distinguished as his grandfather the Manhattan, yet speaks to the 21st century palate in a challenging way that can bring a new cocktail drinker into an emerging amaro age. To belabor the point, usually if you had a drink that was 1/6th maraschino, we would ask you to check the recipe; maraschino is like peach schnapps, usually less is more. Not for the Red Hook though, if you use a good rye, the punt e mes balances the maraschino. They play so well together, the original Red Hook goes garnish-less. If, perhaps the maraschino is a bit sweet for you (I’m looking at you, Stoefflers), do NOT change the recipe. Instead, add just a swath of lemon peel and enjoy. You’ll thank us later.

Red Hook
Classic Pour

2 ounces rye (we used Michters)
½ ounce Punt e Mes
½ ounce Maraschino

Place all ingredients in an iced mixing glass. Stir for 30 revolutions. Strain into a coupe or cocktail glass.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Boston, Part 3

After spending the better part of the day wandering Boston’s Freedom Trail in the hot sun, we ventured back to Quincy Market for some late night chow.  Lucky for us, most of the market’s restaurants were open, which still granted us a wide variety of fare. Sated, we went back to the hotel to freshen up a bit and contemplate whether we should hit the town once more before going back to Wisconsin. Obviously (since I’m writing Part III), that contemplation ended in a willing but measured affirmative.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Boston, Part 2

At the end of our last post, we had just left Drink, the warehouse cellar of mixology, and was immediately assaulted by the coarse Atlantic air, now a brisk 50-something degrees and whipping. Cindy had a lead on a bar and bartender at the Ritz-Carlton; luckily, the bar is known for its blazing eye-level fireplace, unluckily, it was still a mile walk away! Comforted by the fact that we are Wisconsinites still acclimated to continental old-man-winter, we sauntered down Altantic Avenue and up Essex to the Ritz’s bar, the Avery.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Boston, Part 1

When Cindy was called away to Andover, Massachusetts for work purposes, it became a great excuse to secure the adjoining weekend for cocktail cruise through Boston. With the trip half paid for, I hitched a seat next to her on the plane with visions of Beantown liquid goodies dancing in my head. After Cindy spent two days in meetings, we finally got the ability to drive south, drop off the rental car at the airport and take the subway into downtown Boston. We quickly unpacked at our hotel and traveled two blocks to our first destination: the Black Rose.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Greenbush Bar

Anyone who knows bourbon knows that the best place to drink it in Madison is in the bowels of the Italian Workmen’s Club on Regent. Said cozy domain is the home of the Greenbush Bar, a proud, but common sort of place, illuminated all year long by Christmas lights and densely-filled with the heavenly aromas of pizza which feed the hungry Greenbush denizens in a near constant stream from open to close. 

Cindy and I had been out a bit early in the evening and knowing the Greenbush closes long before Wisconsin bartime, we quickly headed down to the bar. There we started on a bourbon flight that bordered on fantastic.

The first bourbon we picked was the Buffalo Trace 1997 Experimental Double-Barrelled. This bad boy was given the traditional Buffalo Trace treatment for four years and then re-barreled in 2001 for more oak punch. The result is a success, in our opinion- a bourbon full of caramel and cinnamon (notes of the natural spice, not Fireball fake syrup) with a whole lot of oak sweetness on the finish. At 90 proof, this is a bourbon aching to be opened up with water, especially for those who may chafe at its over-woodiness.

The second bourbon we tried was Jefferson’s Ocean, a different kind of bourbon which is aged on boats in a tropical climate thereby accelerating the aging process. The bourbon enters the wood easier during the heat of the day and the motion of the ship. At night the barrel contracts, expressing more of the now-wooded whiskey. The result is an interesting savory bourbon that isn’t exactly salty, but has a brine-like character that is hard to describe. I wanted to say it had some vegetal flavor, but Cindy disagreed; the finish was full of oak, sweet and hints of brown sugar. At $200 dollars a bottle, I doubt I’d spend that kind of money on this bourbon.

The last bourbon we had was the Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel Sour Mash. It delivered the yeast on the nose and, on first sip, brings the toasted oak and vanilla-caramel that Buffalo Trace is known for. The finish trails off pleasantly to bread sours, wood, and a hint of tobacco. I would be hard pressed to find three bourbons as distinct as these for the value that the Greenbush provides. Shhh, though! It’s hard enough to get a place at the bar now!

Sunday, January 3, 2016


As we close in on the end of the holiday season, if you are like us at the Firewater Lounge, you have lots of leftovers. That includes eggnog. Lots of eggnog. Sassy Cow, Southern Comfort brand, Nature’s Touch, whatever. Actually, we got more since it was on after-Christmas sale! A good share of the time, we drink it sans liquor because we like it so much (that includes the little Lounge Lizards). But if you do add booze to it, you should do it with style...and use more liquid leftovers.

Here’s how. If you have a half-bottle of a great red wine like a Bordeaux or Merlot (or, hell, a table red that you like) in the fridge over-oxygenating, pull it out. Make yourself a batch of 2:1 rich simple syrup (boil 1 cup of water with 2 cups of sugar) and let it cool. Add a 1/2 to 1 cup of the red wine to the syrup and stir. Voila, claret syrup! ‘Claret’ here refers to the color, not the specific wine.

Now let's start combining the leftovers into a magical Christmas drink the Lounge is known for...

1 1/2 ounces bourbon (we used Woodford, double-oaked)
2 ounces eggnog (we used Southern Comfort's)
3/4 ounce claret syrup
Dash cranberry bitters (Angostura would work as well)

Add all ingredients into a stirring vessel with ice. Stir until North Pole cold. Garnish with shaved nutmeg.