Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Washington Cocktail

The Washington Cocktail

A taste of American history

Presidential primary season has begun here in the US. So let’s kick it off with a Washington Cocktail, in honor of our first president.

This spritely drink combines dry vermouth with brandy (or cognac). It’s perfect before dinner. And it has a fairly low alcohol quotient, so it won’t slow you down if you need to make a quick escape from invading redcoats. 

Admittedly, no one knows for sure whether this cocktail was named after George Washington. It could have been named for the city of Washington, DC. Or some other Washington altogether.

But we mustn’t let facts get in the way. It’s political season, after all.



The Washington Cocktail

Recipe: The Washington Cocktail

This drink has been around for decades (a recipe for it appears in The Savoy Cocktail Book, published in 1930). In fact, we suspect that the Washington Cocktail may even date back to the 19th century, because it contains more vermouth than we’re used to seeing in more modern drinks.

Although vermouth is front and center in this drink, the brandy (or cognac) is no wallflower; it adds considerable flavor of its own. Actually, this cocktail reminds us somewhat of a brandy Manhattan. But a Manhattan (which usually contains rye or bourbon) features twice as much strong spirit as vermouth. The Washington Cocktail reverses that ratio, making it a lower alcohol drink.

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

 Ingredients
  • 1½ ounces dry vermouth (that is, clear or “white” vermouth)
  • ¾ ounce brandy or cognac (you can increase this to 1 ounce if you prefer; see Notes)
  • ¼ teaspoon simple syrup (preferably Homemade
  • 2 dashes bitters (Angostura or orange bitters are our choice) 
  • garnish of maraschino cherry (optional; but this is George Washington we’re talking about, so do it)
Procedure
  1. Add all ingredients (except garnish) to a mixing glass or beaker half-filled with ice. Stir briskly until well chilled (20 or 30 seconds).
  2. Strain into a cocktail glass, preferably one that has been chilled. Garnish (if desired) and serve.
The Washington Cocktail

Notes
  • Why stir rather than shake this drink? Because the ingredients are clear. Shaking introduces small bubbles, which can make a drink cloudy (though the cloudiness disappears quickly). Cloudiness isn’t a problem when some ingredients are opaque (think citrus juice). But it can be unattractive with clear ingredients. 
  • With that said, go ahead and shake if you want. We won’t tell.
  • Although this drink typically is served “up” in a cocktail glass, we also like it on the rocks, served in a short (Old-Fashioned) glass.
  • Some drinkers prefer to use a full ounce of brandy rather than ¾ ounce. Try it both ways and see which you like. We favor the original (¾ ounce) version, but your taste may differ.
  • No simple syrup? Just add sugar (¼ teaspoon). It'll take awhile to dissolve, though—simple syrup dissolves instantly, which is why it's so often used in cocktails.
  • Any good dry (French) vermouth should work in this drink. We like Noilly Prat, but Martini & Rossi is also good. Our usual disclaimer: We’re noncommercial and aren’t compensated for mentioning brands. We mention only brands we like and buy with our own money.
  • Vermouth is fortified wine, and typically contains around 18% alcohol. Be aware that after you open the bottle, it will start to oxidize (and its flavor will eventually deteriorate). So store the opened bottle in the refrigerator to retard oxidation.
  • BTW, dry vermouth makes a great substitute for white wine when cooking. But use a bit less than the recipe calls for (about one half to three quarters as much), because vermouth has a stronger flavor than white wine.
  • Either brandy or cognac will work in this drink. Cognac is just brandy that is produced in the Cognac region of France. (Brandy is a distillation of wine.) Look for a brandy or cognac that costs around $15 to $20 per bottle. If in doubt, ask the folks at your liquor store what brand they suggest for mixing cocktails. 
  • This drink often is served without garnish. But we think a maraschino cherry adds a festive look. And its flavor works well with the taste profile of this drink.
  • You may see other drinks called “Washington” that contain rum or apple juice. Those cocktails all seem to have been developed years after this one, however. As far as we can tell, this recipe reflects the original Washington Cocktail.

Presidents’ Day

“I cannot tell a lie,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “This is a good drink!”

“So, do you think this cocktail was named after the father of our country?” I said.

“I don’t know, but it’s certainly a fitting drink as presidential primary season begins,” said Mrs K R.

“Yes,” I sighed. “It’s going to be a long haul until the election in November. We may need another round of these before I can face it.”

“George Washington probably would have loathed all this campaign hubbub,” said Mrs K R. “After all, he was the only president who wasn’t a member of a political party.”

“Well, that makes him a great man indeed,” I said.

“Plus, he was elected unanimously by the electoral college,” said Mrs K R. “Twice.”

“Getting better all the time,” I said.

“And his second inaugural address was the shortest ever delivered,” said Mrs K R.

“That settles it,” I said, raising my glass. “Let’s drink to my new hero.”

Hail to the chief.

You may also enjoy reading about:
Simple Syrup
Manhattan Cocktail
Ward Eight Cocktail
Alaska Cocktail
Leap Year Cocktail
Cocktail Basics
Or check out the index for more

112 comments:

  1. Is it possible I'm here first, lol??? Good because I want this cocktail all to my little ol' self!

    I've always thought of Washington as a rum man:) I'm sure he would approve of this drink. I know I do, Vermouth is so delectably smooth something this Presidential year is likely not to be:)

    Thank you so much for sharing, John...Cheers!

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    1. Hi Louise, everyone during Washington's era drank rum. But Washington distilled rye at Mount Vernon, so we might say he was more a whiskey man. What he really wasn't was a vermouth man -- people didn't start drinking vermouth (in the US) on a regular basis until well after his time. Thanks for the comment.

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  2. A lovely little cocktail, vermouth is one of my favorite to mix with (and cook with)!

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    1. Hi Mary, doesn't vermouth have wonderful flavor? And we always use it in cook when wine is called for -- don't have to open a bottle of wine that way. Thanks for the comment.

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  3. I recently read the book 1776 by David McCullough- amazing that Washington was able to chase the Brits out of Boston and accomplish other feats- he deserves a drink named after him!

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    1. Hi Fran, that's a good book! I read that several years ago. Thanks for the comment.

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  4. I don't drink that often but every time I see one that you've posted I want to try it. This looks so crisp and clean and the color is flawless. I'm sure the taste is as well.

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    1. Hi Vicki, I think you'd really like this drink -- not too heavy in terms of alcohol, and super flavor. Thanks for the comment.

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  5. Hi John, only fitting that this drink be served with a cherry, I agree time is going to go pretty slow until November.

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    1. Hi Cheri, part of the political process this year is like a car wreck. You don't really want to look, but it's impossible not to. :-( Thanks for the comment.

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  6. John, you always do the most beautiful photos of your cocktails! Now cognac I can do occasionally, will have to try this combo. Thanks :)

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    1. Hi Pat, this a a wonderful drink! Just excellent before dinner. Thanks for the comment.

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  7. Ah, yes, and what a long and interesting political season it is probably going to be. This cocktail will help get us through :)

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    1. Hi Laura, "interesting" is an understatement. :-) Good thing we have plenty of cocktail fixings on hand! Thanks for the comment.

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  8. We have finally purchased some martini glasses, this may be a good inaugural drink! (see what I did there?)

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    1. Hi Lydia, this would indeed be a good inaugural drink. :-) Enjoy! Thanks for the comment.

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  9. I am not well versed in spirits but perhaps I need to get up to speed to help make it through the season of rhetoric. This cocktail is lovely and I love the cherry. Cheers, Rocquie

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    1. Hi Rocquie, those cherries always look so pretty, don't they? This drink doesn't really need a garnish, but why not? Thanks for the comment.

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  10. Perfect before dinner you say! I will have one tonight then

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    1. Hi Raymund, enjoy! :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  11. I don't care who they named it after, I'll take one . . . or four. Beautiful photos as usual.

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    1. Hi Karen, 4 is a good number :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  12. If it has a cherry it must be in honor of George and his cherry tree myth. I wonder what type of mixed drinks they had in Revolutionary times -- if any?

    best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

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    1. Hi Mae, actually, "cocktails" as a class of drink probably originated sometime in the very late 18th century. Originally it was a "morning" drink -- a short, quick pick-me-up sort of concoction. There were other types of mixed drinks (punches being the most popular, but also flips, cobblers, etc.) at that time. It was in the 19th century that a cocktail came to mean any sort of mixed drink. Drinks history is fun, isn't it? :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  13. I want a cocktail named after me! LOL! I will however settle for a sushi roll - ahem, more details on that to come! ;)

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    1. Hi GiGi, everyone should have a cocktail named after them. Looking forward to your recipe for your sushi roll. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  14. That's an interesting fact that shaking introduces cloudiness - great to know, I'd never think of that! The cocktail looks so good - I need one of these after a long crazy day :)

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    1. Hi Melanie, I think you owe it to yourself to have one of this today. :-)

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  15. Hi John,
    I have never heard of this one, but then again I am not a drinker, but this one I may try...I like cognac in a little glass, but never have I had this one..I love the name and with the cherry it is perfect for Washington's Birthday. So many interesting facts. That is one of the many reasons I love your posts..You always give us the best info on your food or cocktails. Have a great week ahead and thanks for sharing...
    Hugs Dottie :)

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    1. Hi Dottie, the cherry certainly makes the appearance of this drink! Although it tastes just fine without it. Thanks for the comment.

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  16. Vermouth drinks (and vermouth bars) are all the rage in Los Angeles so I admit I've been sipping it a bit more than I used to lately. Have you tried Vya brand? They have two white vermouths and one red. Of the whites one is herbal and one is citrusy. I am guessing I would choose the more citrusy one for this cocktail. GREG

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    1. Hi Greg, I know about the Vya brand, but have never tried it. I should! I'd guess the citrusy one would work better, too. Thanks for the comment.

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  17. What a great drink, but what a long haul. I'm going to need a lot of these!

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    1. Hi Abbe, this really is looking like a long process, isn't it? We all better stock up on vermouth and brandy! Not to mention gin. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  18. What a handsome and appropriate drink, John. Just in time for election year. Thank you.

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    1. Hi Ray, isn't this a beauty? And its flavor is just lovely. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  19. What a simple little cocktail! I wish Washington politics were this simple. :) I've always been a big vermouth fan and brandy, but I've never put them together. Thanks for sharing this John! Looks good!

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    1. Hi MJ, this is a bit of an unusual combo, isn't it? But really good! Thanks for the comment.

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  20. What a curiosity. I'm not familiar with it, but would love to be. I've got everything I need in the bar, so I think I'll give it a shot. The only founding Father drink I've ever had is the Ben Franklin, which I love.

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    1. Hi Jeff, I don't know the Ben Franklin! I've gotta look that one up. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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    2. It's brandy, lemon juice, and cream, with assorted other things. If you don't find it, let me know. It's wonderful.

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    3. Hi Jeff, I did find it -- a type of milk punch. Sounds really good! Thanks for the followup.

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  21. Hi John,

    I'm not an expert with drinks but I know that I can trust Mrs KR when she said this is a good drink! :D

    Zoe

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    1. Hi Zoe, you can always trust Mrs KR! :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  22. This click is just amazing and lovely drink! Can't wait to try this out!

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    1. Hi Kushi, it's such a nice drink -- terrific flavor. And who can resist a maraschino cherry. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  23. John, I admire your photography; it's very professional! Especially the details on the second picture (the cherry), I learn a lot from your website.
    Wish you a great year in cocktails, cooking and photography! (Work very hectic, could not write earlier, but I read everything:-)

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    1. Hi La Torontoise, glad to hear from you! And thanks so much for that very kind comment. :-)

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  24. How appropriate and absolutely beautiful. My daughter lives is in the Ferry Farm community which is adjacent to Ferry Farm, the boyhood home of George Washington. We are covered up with presidential history around here. Being so close to DC, I can't believe I haven't had this drink! That will change soon - this is a must try on my list!

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    1. Hi Tricia, this is a somewhat obscure drink -- I had trouble finding much info on it (probably just dig hard enough). But it's an excellent predinner drink -- whets your appetite with lovely, crisp flavor. Thanks for the comment.

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  25. I always find drinks that are a golden/amber colour so inviting! This is delicious and I loved learning more about Washington - he's the man!
    I heard an interesting tidbit about dirty martinis yesterday. The trick to making it special is to just swirl the vermouth in the glass and then dump it out! Apparently, only a hint of it is needed. I would have a hard time pouring vermouth down the drain though! Great post :)

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    1. Hi Robyn, a lot of people don't like vermouth! A gin martini really needs a decent amount of vodka IMO -- at least 1 part per 4 parts gin. Vodka doesn't combine that well with vermouth, IMO, so for a vodka drink the swirling idea might be a good idea -- need to try that! Thanks for the comment.

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  26. This looks really inviting John - even at 10AM. Maybe especially at 10AM? Beautiful shots of it too - you definitely have a way with capturing drinks!

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    1. Hi Donalyn, I was SO frustrated with my early cocktail shots that I really spend time learning how to handle the light and reflections. They're still challenging, but a lot of fun. Thanks for the comment.

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  27. Cheers to George Washington for all his accomplishments... and for being a man of principles.

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    1. Hi Denise, Washington is (justly, IMO) rated as being one of our best presidents. Cheers to him indeed! Thanks for the comment.

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  28. Ha ha love the invading redcoats mention. But interesting cocktail for sure. I love vermouth but barely drink it, got to change that. I did just got the first ever Quebec vermouth recently...I am not a fan of politics so if I make this cocktail with my Canadian vermouth will it be a Washington Draft Dodger? Great drink John!

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    1. Hi Evelyne, I think it'd be fun to call this the Washington Draft Dodger when you use Canadian vermouth. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  29. A round of these cocktails is the perfect way to survive this primary season! Glad to learn of it.

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    1. Hi Lisa, yup, this primary season is going to be . . . interesting. :-) Several rounds may be needed. Thanks for the comment.

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  30. This drink looks so classy! Like it should be served in some fancy old hotel!

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    1. Hi Chris, isn't it a great looking drink? Great tasting, too. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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    1. Hi Peachy, isn't this nice? And so tasty! :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  32. Hehe,
    I love how your cocktails come with a story.
    I could sit and sip and learn about American history :)
    Thanks for sharing
    Julie
    Gourmet Getaways

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    1. Hi Julie, best way to learn about history is while sipping. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  33. You never know when you might need to make a quick get a way from those red coats... LOL Lovely drink. On this side of the world, everyone keeps asking me what my thoughts were on the presidential candidates and I have told them we have nominated Mr. Riff as he makes one hell of a drink.

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    1. Hi Bam, yeah, we worry about red coats a lot. :D LOL about the nomination. But not thanks -- mud wrestling never appealed to me. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  34. We mustn’t let facts get in the way.. At all. LOL it's time to first drink and then ponder. Gorgeous as usual.

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    1. Hi Ansh, yeah, those pesky facts are so inconvenient, aren't they? :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  35. "But we mustn’t let facts get in the way. It’s political season, after all." LOL!!!

    The cocktail, who/what ever it's named for, looks and sounds delicious!

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    1. Hi Pam, :-) This really is a good one -- so excellent before dinner. Thanks for the comment.

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  36. Woow, I always like your drinks' pictures. Thanks for the history lessons :).

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    1. Hi Amira, pictures of cocktails are oddly appealing, aren't they? Even for folks who don't drink! :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  37. What gorgeous photos - I must say photographing drinks is very challenging to me but y'all captured this one so well!

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    1. Hi Shashi, once you figure out how to handle the light angles and the reflections, photography drinks becomes less hard. They're a challenge, though, aren't they? Thanks for the comment.

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  38. Politics - don't get me started. We go to the polls again this year (voting is compulsory - no vote and they send you a fine!) We currently have an unelected PM and our fifth PM in about three years - it's a circus. But are things in the US any better? Your presidential campaigns are endless. And the money that's spent! Anyway, when it all gets to you, you can turn to this very pretty cocktail and reflect on George Washington - the first and definitely one of the best xx

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    1. Hi Charlie, I like your system of fining people if they don't vote. I think. :-) We do have awfully long presidential campaigns in the US, although a lot of it is noise. Now, though, things are beginning to happen. At last! Thanks for the comment.

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  39. Hey, John, we made Manhattans for the first time last night (simply in celebration of FRIDAY)! This definitely will be on next Friday's cocktail hour menu!

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    1. Hi Debra, love Manhattans! One of my favorite cocktails. This one is definitely worth a try, too. Good flavor, and less boozy than a Manhattan. Thanks for the comment.

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  40. The cherry definitely makes this a "George" Washington cocktail! Perfect for Presidents Day!

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    1. Hi Liz, that cherry really is necessary, isn't it? :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  41. I think I need a cocktail every time there is a presidential debate! LOL It definitely would make listening to some of the rhetoric a little easier to take.

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    1. Hi Carolyn, some of the rhetoric has been . . . interesting, hasn't it? :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  42. Even though I don't drink much, I want to whenever I go to your blog! Amazing cocktail as usual :)

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    1. Hi Cathleen, this is a great drink for someone who doesn't often drink -- reasonably low in alcohol, and wonderful flavor. Thanks for the comment.

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  43. Perfect for the week end ! :-)

    Gabrielle

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    1. Hi PC, it is. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  44. I have cherries soaking in brandy from the summer that are begging for this! Keep the cocktails coming! This primary season is already too long.

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    1. Hi Claudia, amazing, isn't it -- primary season has just begun, and already most of us are wishing it was over! Your brandy-soaked cherries would be wonderful in this! Thanks for the comment.

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  45. This looks so refreshing ♥ Perfect for a Sunday afternoon like right now ♥

    summerdaisy.net

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    1. Hi Summer, this is a wonderful afternoon drink -- not too boozy, so you can have a couple. Also like it as a predinner drink. Thanks for the comment.

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  46. Your cocktails are the best. I honestly want to pick one off the screen and enjoy it. I definitely enjoy a cocktail once in a while and this would be something I would love.
    Great pictures.
    xx

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    1. Hi Asha, :-) Thanks so much for that very kind comment.

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  47. Ooh. Didn't know that's what you do for clear drinks. Thanks.

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    1. Hi Lux, we often shake clear drinks just because; but one isn't "supposed" to. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  48. Oh my........ I love your cocktails! I'm sure I wouldn't be able to resist any of them!

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    1. Hi Marcela, this is a particularly good one! Resistance is futile. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  49. Wow John, this cocktail is so elegantly presented...I know that still in the middle of the afternoon, but I can see myself sipping on this...great recipe!
    Have a wonderful week ahead :)

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    1. Hi Juliana, gosh, it's past 6 PM here. :-) So go ahead! Thanks for the comment.

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  50. This is a classy looking drink. I love the cherry in this drink. Beautiful pictures.

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    1. Hi Dawn, I'm always fond of drinks with cherries in them, too. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  51. I just love this post! And, I agree that cherry for a garnish adds a very festive look. Another one added to the 'cocktails to try soon' list! :)

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    1. Hi Marcelle, this is a really good cocktail -- so much flavor. And the cherry is, well, the cherry on top. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  52. I am very much impressed by you photography.... thank you for lovely share...

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    1. Hi Priya, :-) Thanks so much for that kind comment.

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  53. I live in Washington State. For a moment I thought maybe it
    was named after the state, albeit I knew better. I must be hurting to come up with fantasy scenarios. Lol. I would have to taste this one to see if I liked it. I haven't drunk enough drinks with vermouth to make an automatic answer. But with the info about Washington the man---whoa baby I would raise my glass to that too.

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    1. Hi Carol, could have been named after the state, but I kinda doubt it. :-) Good drink, though, whoever/whatever it was named after. Thanks for the comment.

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  54. This cocktail look bold with the shade of color, but at the same time cherry makes it beautiful too. I'm really surprised there are so many cocktails. I've never seen/met any friend who can make as many cocktails as you. Your knowledge and recipe collection is really amazing!

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    1. Hi Nami, there are hundreds of cocktails out there. Too many to count! It's fun learning new ones. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  55. Not much of a drinker these days, but your posts do make me want to consume all the cocktails. :) Which is easy enough to happen working at a Club where many of your concoctions have been put on the menus. This one looks very pretty, here's to a Tuesday happy hour in the office. Lol!

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    1. Hi Anna, Tuesday happy hours are the best! :-) Thanks for the comment.

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