On September 19, 2022
In order to distill the finest craft spirits, craft distillers source fresh-grown ingredients from around the world. They handpick botanicals, partner with neighboring farmers to incorporate locally grown grains and get incredibly picky about everything from honey to orange zest.
With all that attention to detail happening in the distillery, you’d think these distillers only sip hoity-toity cocktails. But that’s actually not the case at all. Even distillers, who spend their lives hunting down the very best ingredients, sometimes want an easy-to-drink, low-brow drink. It’s what we like to call a guilty pleasure cocktail.
We spoke to 8 distillers who admitted to those guilty pleasure cocktails. From a splash of coffee to ginger beer, these cocktails range in flavors quite a bit. What they do have in common? They’re all really easy to make and taste delicious. Why else would distillers drink them?
Ashby Marshall of Spirit Works Distillery
When it comes to beverages, Ashby Marshall, distiller and co-owner of Spirit Works Distillery, has both a go-to spirit-forward cocktail as well as a non-alcoholic one. She has a secret ingredient for both of them: shrubs.
“I’ve found Shrubs to be the most versatile easy cocktail or non-alcoholic cocktail to have in my house,” Ashby explains. Shrubs, also called drinking vinegars, is an acidic beverage made from fruit, sugar and vinegar. The sweet and sour vinegar-based syrup often gets used as a cocktail ingredient in many a recipe.
According to Ashby, the best way to incorporate a shrub is by using a 1:1:5 ratio. That is one shrub, one spirit and five soda. For anyone looking for a non-alcoholic option, she says to leave out the spirit.
With that in mind, here’s her recipe: the Plum Dandy Cocktail
1 oz Spirit Works Straight Rye Whiskey or Gin
1 oz Inna plum shrub
5 or so oz Soda or Tonic
Measure the shrub and the spirit into a shaker. Add ice and shake for ten seconds. Strain into a highball glass and add more ice. Top with soda or tonic and garnish with lemon peel.
Jenna Diubaldo of Sons of Vancouver Distillery
As Jenna Diubaldo tells it, the team at Sons of Vancouver, where she distills whiskey, appreciates “guilty pleasure drinks” so much that they’ve been inspired by the concept. Each year, the distillery produces a special release for April Fool’s Day. No joke, they resurrect a tacky liqueur but craft it with high-quality ingredients.
“Last year we made a creme de cacao from nibs that we sourced from a local chocolatier, and we distilled them in a vacuum still,” Jenna notes. “It had these huge fruity and complex chocolate notes that went perfectly in a ’20th Century.’”
But for Jenna, her go-to guilty pleasure cocktail is a Long Island Iced Tea. “I think it gets a bad rap, but it’s quite a well-balanced cocktail when not made from a premix,” she says. She shared the recipe with us. It’s a long list of ingredients but, as Jenna points out, each recipe comes in just a ¾ ounce amount.
3/4 oz vodka
3/4 oz white rum
3/4 oz tequila
3/4 oz gin
3/4 oz triple sec
3/4 oz simple syrup
3/4 oz lemon juice
Cola to top
Pour all ingredients (except for cola) over ice into a collins glass. Top with cola and stir. Garnish with a lemon peel.
David Thomas of Port Chilkoot Distillery
When it comes to cocktails, Port Chilkoot distiller David Thomas likes to turn the temperature up. It’s a hot beverage for him, in fact. And he calls upon some local ingredients to flavor that warm beverage as well as some very fresh bourbon — which he obviously has access to.
“I like to grab the barrel thief and get some of our barrel-proof bourbon,” David admits. He takes the young spirit from the distillery and uses it in a hot toddy recipe that he so graciously shared with us.
It’s a cocktail that David says he likes to sip while mulling over barrel placement. It certainly sounds like an excellent option to pair with distilling and production management. His hot toddy recipe is below.
2 oz bourbon
1 tsp of local honey
Half a Meyer lemon
Hot water to top
Mix the bourbon with the honey in a mug, add the juice from the Meyer lemon and pour in hot water until full. Stir and garnish with the rest of the lemon.
Tom Burkleaux of New Deal Distillery
Coffee measures heavily into everything Tom Burkleaux does. If Tom, who founded New Deal Distillery, could incorporate it into every meal throughout his day, he’d do it. That’s why it makes sense that many of his go-to cocktails use coffee as a major ingredient.
“B52s, White Russians, coffee nudge,” Tom tells us, listing his favorite cocktail recipes. “But I don’t feel that guilty about it.” So if you ever find him sipping any of these drinks, he probably won’t feel the need to hide it.
As Karen Locke, our founder, tells it, “Tom’s lifeline is coffee.” Clearly coffee needs to be incorporated into any drink Tom sips, whether it’s a guilty pleasure or not. Let’s try just one of these: a B52.
1 oz Kahlua
1 oz Irish Cream
1 oz Grand Marnier
Pour the Kalua into a glass and add the Irish Cream gradually until it’s all in the glass. Then add the Grand Marnier gradually. Stir and drink.
Susan Johnson of Denning’s Point Distillery
When asked for her guilty pleasure drink, Denning’s Point Distillery owner Susan Johnson revisits a cocktail that was popular in the 1920s and traditionally used gin. These days, the salty dog can be made with gin or vodka but she likes to stick with the traditional spirit.
Susan calls this one a quick and easy cocktail and it definitely fits the bill. It only calls for two ingredients and it even offers a little flexibility when it comes to ingredients.
The Denning’s Point version goes by the name FireFly and incorporates the distillery’s own gin. Here’s Susan’s recipe.
2 oz Great 9 Gin
4 oz San Pellegrino Pomelo or Polar Pink Grapefruit Soda
Salted rim glass. Mix ingredients with ice and pour into a cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon peel.
Bonnie Boglioli-Randall of Hinterhaus Distilling
From her distillery in Arnold, California, Bonnie Boglioli-Randall, owner of Hinterhaus Distilling, aims to educate visitors about spirits — specifically the spirits her team develops at Hinterhaus. Curating cocktails for the distillery’s cocktail lounge is a big part of that and she’s discovered a few ingredients for her cocktails that really bring out unique flavors.
In order to infuse a unique flavor into the distillery’s take on the pina colada, Bonnie blends in a flavor from the south. “The addition of Mexican horchata adds great flavor,” she tells us.
Since Hinter Haus doesn’t craft a rum, Bonnie incorporates their grape-distilled vodka into the Toes in the Sand cocktail.
1.5 oz Hinterhaus Vodka
1.5 oz pineapple juice
1 oz Mexican horchata
1 oz creme de coconut
Add all ingredients into a shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into your favorite glass garnished with a pineapple wheel.
Chad McGehee of Side Hustle Brews & Spirits
Admittedly, Chad McGehee, founder of Side Hustle Brews & Spirits, opts for simple beverages these days. More often than not, he’ll reach for the nearest bottle of bourbon and drink it with an ice cube. But when we asked him for a guilty pleasure drink, he offered a few different options that he’ll mix up if he’s in the mood.
While Chad noted that he’ll go for a Gin and Tonic if it’s hot or possibly a Negroni, a Manhattan or a Sazerac, it was his Old Fashioned that stood out to us.
Since he doesn’t bother making his own simple syrup, Chad opts for Creole Orgeat from El Guapo. So we explored what that recipe would look like!
0.25 oz El Guapo Creole Orgeat
2 oz bourbon
3 dashes bitters
Pour bourbon, bitters and Creole Orgeat into rocks glass over ice and stir. Add orange peel for garnish.
Molly Troupe of Freeland Spirits
Freeland Spirits Master Distiller Molly Troupe lives a busy lifestyle. She rarely has time for a cocktail — especially since she just added a new job to her resume: mother. So she usually keeps her beverages pretty simple.
“With a baby in one hand, the easiest thing to do is just pour some gin in a glass and enjoy,” she admits. However, when she can get both hands free, she manages to whip up a cocktail that sounds pretty stellar to us.
The beverage combines the gin she makes at Freeland along with Aperol and a few other easy-to-find ingredients.
2 oz Freeland Gin
1 oz Aperol
Bubbly water to top
A few dashes of Portland Bitters Project Orange Bitters
Combine all ingredients over ice, stir and it’s ready to drink!