• Weekly Cocktail #42: The Kentucky Royale

    The Kentucky Royale Cocktail.

    The Kentucky Royale Cocktail.

    One of our favorite things about cocktails is that they allow you to “follow the Muse” a bit. For inspiration we look at the bar, read some cocktail books, browse some cocktail websites, shop the farmers market or pick fruit from the orchard. Most of the time we have no idea what’s coming, but we certainly enjoy the ride (mostly, a few drinks have gone down the drain). So while we would call this week’s cocktail a “happy accident”, we have come to expect pleasant surprises at the bar.

    royaleroyale2The Kentucky Royale is a Manhattan variant that includes Bourbon (Elijah Craig 12), Cherry Heering, Sweet Vermouth (Carpano Antica), coffee liqueur (Kahlua Especial), Bittermen’s Mole bitters (chocolate bitters) and a cherry garnish. And while this may sound like a bit of a mess, it works beautifully. You get a sweet vanilla and cherry sip from the Bourbon and Cherry Heering, followed by the spice of the Carpano Antica vermouth (good vermouth really helps here) and with slight chocolate and coffee notes at the finish that slightly clean the palate. A very well-balanced sip.

    royale3royale4So what do we mean by “balance”? Well, as you may know, we are not big fans of the term. Often “balance” seems to mean “what I like”. But we would define balance in a cocktail this way; you taste hints of all the ingredients and flavors, but the overall flavor of the drink works from beginning to end, nothing extra, nothing wasted. And the Kentucky Royale, even with a wealth of ingredients, certainly fits the definition.

    royale5How did we find the recipe? We trusted the Muse. Last week we went to a single barrel Bourbon tasting at our local liquor store, and we left with a few bottles. And while the bottles sat on the bar, we opened Fred Yarm’s cocktail book “Drink and Tell”, we literally opened the book, flipped a few random pages and this was the first bourbon recipe we found. (The recipe comes from the Franklin Southie, a Boston-area bar. They developed the recipe for a bourbon-themed industry event.) We had all the ingredients (even the crazy bitters) so we made this cocktail, and enjoyed another “happy accident”.

    royale8The Kentucky Royale:


    • 1 and 1/2 oz. Bourbon (Elijah Craig 12)
    • 1/2 oz. Cherry Heering 
    • 1/2 oz. sweet vermouth (Carpano Antica)
    • 1 barspoon (1 teaspoon) Coffee Liqueur (Kahlua Especial)
    • 2 dashes chocolate bitters (Bittermen’s Xocolatl Mole bitters)
    • Brandied or Maraschino cherry for garnish


    1. Combine all the liquid ingredients in a cocktail glass or shaker. Stir until very cold and strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupé. Garnish with the cherry. Serve.
  • Bonus Cocktail: Scott’s Manhattan

    Scott’s Manhattan.

    One of the best parts of enjoying cocktails with friends is that they share their favorites and personal creations with you. And sometimes, after a few drinks and/or a visit to the fruit stand, you can build and enjoy “new” drinks. We say “new” but as this cocktail is a variant of the Manhattan, one of the most tweaked cocktails in the world, someone has probably made this before. But a quick search of Cocktail DB didn’t come up with a name, so we will call this one “Scott’s Manhattan”, after our friend Scott who made this cocktail for us during our visit to Long Island.

    A few more ingredients than a regular Manhattan.

    If you read our blog regularly, you will note that we sometimes avoid “brown drinks” like Manhattans, particularly in summer. But Scott is an avowed, and knowledgeable, fan of the Manhattan and made us a version that works in any season. His version includes two ounces of rye, one ounce of sweet vermouth, muddled cherries, a touch of lemon juice and orange bitters to create a bright and “summery” Manhattan. While anyone who likes Manhattans will recognize the whiskey and vermouth, Scott’s additions brighten the flavors and add a clean finish that works very well in warm weather. We all liked this drink and enjoyed quite a few in the last week. Usually whiskey stays near the back of our summer bar, but this drink changed our minds.

    Traditionally, a Manhattan is 2 parts bourbon or rye and one part sweet vermouth. Most recipes include bitters, usually Angostura, and often a cherry as garnish. A classic drink, but very sweet to our tastes, particularly if using bourbon. Scott’s version adds more spice by using rye and citrus notes from the orange bitters. The cherries add both sweetness and tang, and really amp up the color. The first sip of this cocktail is sweet and spicy, but then the citrus and cherries kick in for a lighter, fruitier finish than any traditional Manhattan. Purists may cringe, but we are all for seasonal experimentation and variation with our cocktails- it’s fun, and cocktails are all about fun.

    As for making the drink, it is pretty straightforward, with just a few extra steps. Place two fresh, pitted cherries, a lemon twist and a few drops of lemon juice to a cocktail shaker and muddle to extract the juice from the cherries and oil from the lemon peel. Add the rye, sweet vermouth, orange bitters (we use Regan’s for this version) and ice to the shaker. Shake until chilled and strain into a cocktail glass. For the rye, we like Bulleit and High West for cocktails, but most good rye will do. If using bourbon, the drink will usually be sweeter, so an extra drop of lemon or a touch less vermouth may help balance the drink. As for the sweet vermouth, we use Noilly Prat or Dolin, but we suggest you experiment with the sweet vermouth you prefer (and you do keep your vermouth in the fridge, right?). With the extra red color from the cherries and aroma from the lemon, we don’t think a garnish is necessary, but perhaps an orange twist will add extra dimension…. Again, feel free to experiment. Scott experimented, and we got a great drink….

    Scott’s Manhattan:


    • 2 oz. rye or bourbon
    • 1 oz. sweet vermouth
    • 2 sweet cherries, pitted
    • 1 lemon twist / peel (about the size of a quarter).
    • 2-3 drops lemon juice
    • 3 dashes orange bitters (Regan’s)


    1. Place cherries, lemon peel and juice into a cocktail shaker and muddle to extract juice and oil.
    2. Add rye, sweet vermouth , bitters and ice to the shaker. Shake thoroughly and strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupe’. Serve.