Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Opera Cocktail

The Opera Cocktail in cocktail glass with lemon twist garnish

One sip, and you’ll be singing its praises

The Opera Cocktail was a classic in pre-Prohibition days. And no wonder—its lightness and clean, crisp flavor make it the perfect palate cleanser before a summer dinner.

We’ll be drinking it to celebrate the opening of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, a summer opera festival that runs from late May through late June. Tonight marks their second performance (Mozart’s The Magic Flute), and in June they’ll be presenting the world premiere of Gordon & Vavrek’s Twenty-Seven. More about all of this later.

Even if you can’t make it to a performance at Opera Theatre, you might want to celebrate another opening: This post marks the beginning of our Summer Sippin’ and Snarfin’ Series. And the Opera Cocktail makes an excellent opening number. It’s a celebration in a glass!


The Opera Cocktail in cocktail glass with lemon twist garnish, and opera programs and tickets in background

Recipe: The Opera Cocktail

This cocktail is a mixture of gin, Dubonnet, and maraschino liqueur. So if you bought some Dubonnet to make The Dubonnet Cocktail, which we discussed a few weeks ago, now you know what to do with the rest of the bottle.

Our post offers the “standard” recipe for this drink. In the Notes, I discuss a rum-based version that’s also worth your consideration.

This recipe serves 1, and takes about 5 minutes to prepare.

Ingredients
  • 1½ ounces gin (use “London” dry gin; see Notes)
  • ½ ounce Dubonnet (the rouge—red—variety)
  • ¼ ounce maraschino liqueur
  • dash of orange bitters (optional, but improves the drink, IMO)
  • twist of orange or lemon peel, or slice of orange, as garnish (optional)
Procedure
  1. Place the gin, Dubonnet, maraschino liqueur, and bitters (if using) in a mixing glass that is half filled with ice. Stir vigorously until the ingredients are well chilled—about 20 to 30 seconds.
  2. Strain the mixture into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of orange or lemon peel, or a slice of orange, if desired. Serve.
The Opera Cocktail in cocktail glass with lemon twist garnish

Notes
  • Dubonnet is a sweet-tasting, wine-based apĂ©ritif that, like vermouth, incorporates herbal flavors. It also contains a bit of quinine, which gives it a slightly bitter tinge. In fact, Dubonnet originally was concocted to entice French legionnaires in North Africa to consume quinine, which helps combat malaria.
  • Because Dubonnet has a relatively low alcoholic content (19 percent, or 38 proof), I always store it in the refrigerator after I open a bottle (to retard oxidization). Dubonnet won’t necessarily go “bad” if you don’t refrigerate it, but after a couple of months its flavor won’t be as bright.
  • Maraschino liqueur is made from Marasca cherries, including the crushed cherry pits. It’s a clear liquid with a taste that’s the polar opposite of the sweet, brightly colored “maraschino” cherries you might put on ice cream or use as a cocktail garnish. This liqueur was developed at a Dominican monastery in Venetian Dalmatia during the 16th century. It wasn’t named “Maraschino” until about 200 years later, when industrial production began. 
  • When a cocktail recipe specifies gin, it’s usually understood these days to mean London dry gin—which is also the type most commonly found in liquor stores. Any good name-brand dry gin will work well in this drink.
  • In addition to London dry, you might see Dutch or Belgian gin (sometimes called jenever or genever), which is made from malt rather than grain. There’s also Old Tom Gin, which has a sweeter taste. Both of these varieties are less common than London dry.
  • Why stir this drink rather than shake it? Because the main ingredients in it are clear liquids. Shaking forms oxygen bubbles, which give drinks a somewhat cloudy appearance. That’s no problem when you’re using opaque ingredients like citrus juice, but slightly unattractive when you’re serving a drink like this one, which should be crystal clear.
  • Speaking of citrus, David Embury mentions a version of this drink that substitutes white rum for gin and includes lime juice instead of maraschino. To make it, add 1½ ounces white rum, 1½ ounces Dubonnet, and ½ ounce fresh lime juice to a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice. Shake until cold (you’re shaking rather than stirring this time because of the lime juice), and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist or an orange slice. I may like this drink better than the gin version—but then I like lime, a lot. 
  • Is Embury’s version really a variation on the Opera Cocktail, or is it another drink entirely? Cocktail historian extraordinaire David Wondrich says the rum/Dubonnet/lime juice mix should be called a Rum Dubonnet. He also insists that the rum should be golden, not white. All of which proves once again that cocktails (and their history) can be confusing. 
  • So what’s Opera Theatre of St. Louis (OTSL)? Well, it’s a small production company that presents multiple performances of four different operas each year. The setting (Loretto-Hilton Center at Webster University) is small and intimate, with dreamy acoustics. Every seat is excellent—indeed, most seats are closer to the stage than the first row at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. This year OTSL will be performing Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love, Gordon & Vavrek’s Twenty-Seven, and Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites.
  • OTSL performs all their operas in English—which, in the case of established works, mostly means “in translation.” This annoys some opera fanatics (such as, well, Mrs. Kitchen Riffs). But OTSL often presents newer, edgier works written in English, like this year’s Twenty-Seven. And Corigliano and Hoffman’s The Ghosts of Versailles. Not to mention John Adams’ Death of Klinghoffer, which they did a few years ago (that was a real treat—one of the best performances we’ve seen anywhere, ever).
  • The sheer variety and depth of what they perform, and their ability to attract young opera singers—many of whom go on to become featured performers in more prominent opera companies, like New York’s Met—make Opera Theatre of St. Louis a wonderful experience (in fact, it’s almost enough to make Mrs K R forgive them for singing everything in English.) Not surprisingly, Opera Theatre of St. Louis attracts visitors from around the world, and many of its productions are reviewed in prominent publications like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
  • What’s the deal with the Summer Sippin’ and Snarfin’ Series? Well, for the past couple of years on Kitchen Riffs, we’ve featured the Summer Sippin’ Series (from Memorial Day through Labor Day, we’d feature a cocktail each week). We were doing two posts a week then, so the other post would generally be food related. Now that we’re doing only one post a week, we decided to modify the series to make sure we offer plenty of food recipes. So the Summer Sippin’ and Snarfin’ Series will feature many cocktails (even a couple of weeks with back-to-back cocktails; next week’s post will be a cocktail too), but we’ll also post lots of summer-appropriate recipes. That’s our idea of win-win.
The Opera Cocktail in cocktail glass with orange slice garnish

World Classy

“Delicious,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, tasting her Opera Cocktail. “This puts me in an operatic mood.”

 “It’s a smooth sipper,” I said.

“Hey,” said Mrs K R. “I just watched Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen again on DVD. The Ring Cycle, you know. Want a recap?”

“That’s the one with four operas, right?” I said. “And it goes on for something like 15 hours?”

“Yes, indeed,” said Mrs K R. “All of them glorious!”

“Think I’d rather hear about that opera we’ll be seeing in a couple of weeks,” I said. “You know, Twenty-Seven.”

“I don’t know much about it,” said Mrs K R. “It hasn’t been performed yet. We’ll be attending the world premiere.”

“So you don’t really know the story line?” I said.

“No, because this will be the world premiere,” said Mrs K R. “I just know it’s about Gertrude Stein and the Lost Generation of expatriates in Paris. You know, Hemingway and Fitzgerald and all. The title refers to 27 Rue de Fleurus, where she lived with Alice B. Toklas and held her salon.”

“Any idea what the music is like?”

“What part of ‘world premiere’ don’t you understand?” said Mrs K R. “It’s never been performed, so there are no recordings and no reviews. Only a very few people—mostly the composers, the performers, and the musicians—know the details.”

“Well, at least we know what this Opera Cocktail is like,” I said. “And it makes me want to sing with joy!”

“Right,” said Mrs K R.

“In fact, I’m discovering vocal ability I never knew I had,” I said, clearing my throat. “Maybe I should debut my talents.”

“Um, don’t think so,” said Mrs K R. “One world premiere is enough for me.”

You may also enjoy reading about:
Dubonnet Cocktail
Aviation Cocktail
Last Word Cocktail
Gin and Tonic
Airmail Cocktail
Bellini Cocktail
Pimm's Cup
Cocktail Basics
Or check out the index for more

108 comments:

  1. Hi John , What a gorgeous drink , I will join you in a toast to the Opera Premiere , love the Opera ... so enjoy ...clink -clink . Thanks for sharing :)

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    1. Hi Nee, this is indeed a gorgeous drink! And a nice one, too. We're looking forward to seeing Twenty-Seven! Thanks for the comment.

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  2. Hi John, very impressive cocktail. Great posting and your photography skill is EXCELLENT!
    2 thumbs up for you. Thanks for sharing the notes.

    Have a great day,regards.
    Amelia

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    1. Hi Amelia, this is such a fun drink! Great way to celebrate opera. ;-) Thanks for the kind words, and for taking time to comment.

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  3. I love opera. Your photography of drinks amazes me every time John, you have to think of making some educational photography posts some day. Great post.

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    1. Hi Amira, isn't opera great? Really a great art form. Thanks for those kind words, and the comment.

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  4. I have to say, your conversations with Mrs. KR is one of my favorite parts of your posts! Beautiful cocktail. I'm not a gin fan, so I might have to try the rum version.

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    1. Hi Laura, the rum version is really good! Particularly if you like lime (as I do). And those conversations are always fun to write (and actually pretty characteristic of how we actually talk!). Thanks for the comment.

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  5. I love the Opera cocktail; though I haven't had one in a bit I must admit; this looks beautiful though John and maybe it's time to put it into my rotation!

    OK, so help a girl out. When I was growing up, and as long as I can remember, there was an outdoor theatre experience that I remember going to often. Even if bored by the performance, we always enjoyed the experience; thinking it was down near Forest Park maybe? Do you know what that was/is? Now I'm dying to remember!

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    1. Hi Barb, this cocktail is definitely worth revisiting. You're talking about the Muny Opera. Great place! Not really opera -- more musicals and Broadway shows and such, but loads of fun. You''re right that it's in Forest Park, and well worth visiting. Thanks for the comment.

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  6. what a gorgeous,clear and crisp sip....terrific recipe and outstanding clicks as always, your posts are always inspiring....loved the use of maraschino liqueur and orange bitters together,wonderful and delicious,thanks so much :-)

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    1. Hi Kumar, maraschino liqueur and orange bitters really do play well together. This is a fun drink! Thanks for your comments.

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  7. I cannot say enough how great your cocktail pictures are, John! Cheers to this masterpiece!

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    1. Hi Denise, aw, shucks, thanks so much for those kind words! And for taking time to comment.

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  8. Sounds great to me, not something I've tried (or similar) before.

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    1. Hi Caroline, this is such a fun drink -- well worth trying sometime. Thanks for the comment.

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  9. I actually smiled, when I read the title of your post. Oh boy another cocktail. I am enjoying your offerings immensely. In fact I was influenced to try a Kentucky Kiss the other night, just because reading your blogs has made adventuresome! Woo Hoo! I'll drink to that.

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    1. Hi Carol, you'll be seeing a few more cocktails than usual this summer! Glad you're enjoying the cocktails, and thanks for the comment.

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  10. Might try the rum version. This sounds delicious. Love the name!!

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    1. Hi Ashley, Mrs K R prefers the rum version. I'm happy with either one! Thanks for the comment.

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  11. John, you and Mrs. KR are quite the sophisticates! Sipping on fancy cocktails and attending the opera--I love it. (We have been busy sampling many local microbrews). Cheers, Rocquie

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    1. Hi Rocquie, we provide comic relief for the true sophisticates. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  12. Another fab cocktail John, and makes me want to say cheers....looks beautiful too! Musical.

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    1. Hi Minnie, ah, your comment is music to my ears. :-) Thanks!

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  13. What a beautiful drink with a fun and interesting history. You take the most amazing pictures of cocktails.

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    1. Hi Chris, isn't this nice? Truly tasty too, which is always a good thing. ;-) Thanks for the kind words, and comment.

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  14. What a fun company. And, what a delicious cocktail to celebrate opera! Looking forward to the sippin' and snarfin' to come this summer.

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    1. Hi Debra, we're looking forward to a summer of sippin' and snarfin' too! Thanks for the comment.

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  15. That's so pretty to look at and I'm sure it's wonderful to drink. I think you have to wear an evening gown or tuxedo while drinking it though.

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    1. Hi Maureen, actually we like to drink this at home - that way we can lounge around in our formal PJ's whilst sippin'. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  16. Oh boy! One sip and I'd be out sleeping like a baby. I don't drink much, but wow this sure is a pretty drink.

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    1. Hi Dawn, it really is a pretty drink. Worth two sips at least, don't you think? ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  17. John, you always make the most beautiful, delicious sounding drinks! I am more of the red/white wine variety but your photos and recipes sure are tempting.....:)

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    1. Hi Pat, we used to drink mainly wine, too, until we discovered how tasty cocktails could be. And they're not really hard to make. Sorry about that temptation thing. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  18. Hi John,

    I hear what you said and love to sing more...

    Cheers!

    Zoe

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    1. Hi Zoe, :-) My singing voice is really nonexistent. Though this cocktail does make one want to sing! Thanks for the comment.

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  19. So glad it's sippin' and snarfin' season! Your opera cocktail looks terrific. And I must say, you make the best lemon twists. Perfection!

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    1. Hi Liz, sippin' and snarfin' season is loads of fun! Some good stuff coming up. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  20. It is a very clean, smooth and pretty-looking cocktail. I'm going to have to learn how to twist lemon peel like that! This really does look like a drink that you would enjoy prior to going somewhere fabulous like the opera xx

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    1. Hi Charlie, this really is such a nice drink -- great flavor, but its flavor doesn't overwhelm. Thanks for the comment.

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  21. I think I already dropped my gin joke on you last time. How about an Opera joke?

    How many tenors does it take to change a light bulb?

    None - he thinks it's the accompanist's job.

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    1. Hi Greg, yup, you already told me to keep my gin up. :D And that's a great opera joke -- and all too true! Thanks for the comment.

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  22. So if I drink this, will my voice be as amazing as an Opera singer? LOL

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    1. Hi Gigi, after a couple of these your voice probably won't be as amazing as an opera singer. But you'll think it is! :D Thanks for the comment.

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    1. Hi Lizzy, this drink makes sweet music, huh? ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  24. Another awesome cocktail, John. I always come to Kitchen Riffs if I want to try a new drink. Keep 'em coming! Great post!

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    1. Hi Bill, we'll be doing quite a few cocktails this summer! Always a fun time. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  25. You know, I love going to the Opera. You've inspired me to see if we have a summer series of some kind here. And I'm a big fan of Dubonnet.. have been for years!

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    1. Hi Barbara, there are quite a few opera festivals around -- definitely worth looking into. Thanks for the comment.

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  26. What a beautiful photo! It really sets the mood for the Opera. I haven't seen much Opera but what I have seen I've really enjoyed.

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    1. Hi Mireya, opera really is fun stuff. As is this drink. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  27. Gorgeous Photos and the conversation with Mrs KR was delightful! Haven't been to an opera but I can have this one :D

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    1. Hi Ansh, Mrs KR and I both enjoy those conversations! Thanks for the comment.

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  28. Another great cocktail! I've been making a lot more cocktails at home and I visit you often when I need inspiration :)

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    1. Hi Kristy, isn't it fun to make your own cocktails? So many cocktails, so little time. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  29. What a beauty this drink is! Love how classy it is...

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    1. Hi Pamela, isn't this nice? Looks great, drinks better. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  30. A world premiere? How exciting! Promise me you'll give a recap in the weeks to come!

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    1. Hi Beth, we're excited! It'll be in a couple of weeks or so. Thanks for the comment.

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  31. Sounds like you have a great season ahead of you! And so do we! Everything you do for us John, is a win-win! And if it wasn't for you, my liquor cabinet would not be nearly as stocked! You know those things that count!

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    1. Hi Abbe, glad to see your priorities are in the right place. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  32. Hi John, what a gorgeous drink, love the presentation....very elegant!

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    1. Hi Cheri, isn't this a great drink? Pretty, and so tasty! Thanks for the comment.

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  33. I want this drink, you are in full swing right now :D
    Great mixing!

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

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    1. Hi Uru, this is a fun drink, and I'll bet you'd like it! Thanks for the comment.

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  34. Maraschino liqueur? You never cease to amaze me John! Where do you find all of these different flavored liqueurs and alcohols? I bet your liquor store loves you. :) I'm not a big opera fan but I could easier become a fan of the Opera Cocktail.

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    1. Hi MJ, opera certainly isn't everyone's cup of tea, but I think this cocktail sure is! So to speak. ;-) I'm lucky in that I'm within a 15 or 20 minute walk of two really good wine and liquor stores. Or maybe I'm unlucky that way? :D Thanks for the comment.

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  35. What a lovely drink John! I love maraschino!

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    1. Hi Monet, maraschiono is such a cool ingredient, isn't it? And this drink really is worth having. Thanks for the comment.

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  36. It is a very elegant looking drink. Enjoy your time at the opera. Cheers to a great performance to enjoy.

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    1. Hi Carolyn, doesn't it look nice? We're looking forward to seeing this opera -- from the little we know, it sounds great! Thanks for the comment.

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  37. Classic elegance in a wine glass! I'm sure you'll have a great time. Thanks for sharing!

    Julie
    Gourmet Getaways

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    1. Hi Julie, isn't this nice? Truly a memorable cocktail. Thanks for the comment.

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  38. Refined and delicious! It has such a lovely colour.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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    1. Hi Rosa, I love color, and cocktails can have such nice ones. This one is gorgeous, IMO. Great flavor, too. Thanks for the comment.

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  39. I go to the theatre all the time, but I've never seen an opera. I need to make this cocktail and buy some tickets!

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    1. Hi Laura, you do need to both try this cocktail and an opera. Both are great! Thanks for the comment.

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  40. John, your Google skills still never fail to amaze me :D singing its praises. love it!

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    1. Hi Ala, glad to hear your signing! Thanks for the comment.

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  41. sounds like a very lovely drink.

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    1. Hi Candy, it is! Thanks for the comment.

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  42. This drink brings back happy memories for me. My grandmother loved maraschino liqueur. I so enjoy your conversations with Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. :)

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    1. Hi Kristi, maraschino liqueur is really interesting stuff -- it has such a distinctive flavor. We enjoy those conversations too! Thanks for the comment.

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  43. I have never heard of Dubonnet before - must give it a try sometime. I just had a little read about Gertrude Stein - she spent several years studying medicine at Johns Hopkins, before moving to Paris. The new opera should be interesting to watch.

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    1. Hi Fran, Gertrude Stein was such an interesting, complex person. We're really looking forward to the opera! And had the rum version of this drink this evening, in anticipation. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  44. I love the opera, Italian opera, of course and I would love sipping on one of these delightful and refreshing drinks while waiting for the performance to begin. Opera, not to be confused with the painful Chinese opera where you have a lady singing with horns...Chinese opera requires as I recall at least 4 of these classy opera cocktails just to get me to think about going into the performance. Have a super weekend. Take Care, BAM

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    1. Hi Bam, ladies with horns aren't just Chinese -- the Wagner operas Mrs KR was discussing used to have those as a matter of course! They've gone out of fashion, thank goodness, but were big in Germanic operas (or so I understand -- I'm certainly no authority!). But definitely not seen in Italian operas, and those are wonderful! As is this cocktail -- perfect for any opera. Thanks for the comment.

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  45. Delighted to find out you are an opera lover John! Sounds great that they are starting their season with Die Zauberflote - such a great opera... and what about this Opera cocktail!? I had no idea it existed, but now you know I'm going to have to try it!

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    1. Hi Amanda, both Mrs KR and I enjoy opera, and she's a real fanatic. You definitely have to try this cocktail -- lovely flavor, and, well, it has opera in its name! ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  46. We learn something new about you every time John! Who'd have thought you were an opera guy ! I am envious though, I'd love to go and love all these theatres, plays and concert type things and growing up in London, I had opportunity to attend so many, Here, I can't seem to interest anyone, not my husband nor my friends. Oh well. Beautiful cocktail, as usually, I love the colour and can somewhat imagine the taste from your description.
    Sorry it's taken me so long to get here, for some reason, your emails are still going to my spam box. I can't seem to rectify it :(

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    1. Hi Nazneen, opera is great! As is this cocktail. ;-) Weird the email are going into spam, although I've been hearing about similar problems with some blogs. I guess you could try unsubscribing, then resubscribing, although I'm not sure if that would do any good. Thanks for the comment.

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  47. I struggle with gin - I've never liked the flavor. I do think this drink sounds delicious so I'd give it a try.

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    1. Hi Pam, a lot of people have problems with gin. You might prefer the rum version of this drink (see the Notes) -- it's pretty good. Thanks for the comment.

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  48. After the day that I've had...I could use a pitcher of these!

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    1. Hi Pamela, sorry you had a rough day! A couple of these would be just the thing -- loads of flavor, and very relaxing. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  49. Replies
    1. Hi Asmita, one of the things I like about so many cocktails is how pretty they are! And this one certainly is gorgeous. And with good flavor. Thanks for the comment.

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  50. Well, now I've got to try this. It seems like something I would love. I do think that Maraschino is a most underappreciated liquor. And I simply adore opera. There is nothing else on his earth like it. Cheers!

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    1. Hi Adri, isn't maraschino so nice? I always enjoy using it as an ingredient in cocktails. And opera is wonderful! Thanks for the comment.

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  51. John, I love all of your cocktail recipes -- and I've learned so much too! This one is another winner. I hope you had fun at the Opera. The Magic Flute is so much fun.;)

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    1. Hi Nancy, this cocktail is really a winner -- great flavor, wonderful color. And we have yet to see an opera we didn't thoroughly enjoy! Thanks for the comment.

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  52. This will be great with a summer barbecue

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    1. Hi Raymund, it's such a great drink! Goes with almost everything. Thanks for the comment.

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  53. Beautiful cocktail. I love that you put your conversation with Mrs. KR at the end - I look forward to it every post. Hope you and Mrs. KR will show up (maybe picture?) one day. I think that day will spike up your traffic... I know all of us enjoy imagining the scene of your conversation. :) Absolutely flawless cocktail shots!

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    1. Hi Nami, we definitely need to get Mrs K R up on the "About" page -- she contributes to every post. Thanks for the comment.

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  54. John, never mind the Opera, I'm coming over for one of these gorgeous things!

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    1. Hi Deepa, this is really a great cocktail, I must admit. Almost as good as opera! Thanks for the comment.

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