Ingredients Mixology

A brief word about ice

"A man who has drank his drinks cold at the same expense for one week can never be presented with them warm again." -Frederic Tudor, the 19th-century "Ice King"

One of the greatest advances of the past century is something we all take for granted: the availability of ice on demand. Image what life would be like if you couldn't just open the freezer and grab a few cubes whenever you wanted. It would be like living in the Stone Age, for crying out loud! We might as well start cooking our food by rubbing two sticks together to make fire.

Ice makes almost every beverage better. That's why we drink it in water, soda, punch, lemonade, even iced tea and coffee. I've seen a few brave souls pop open a room-temperature can of Diet Coke and guzzle it down — and it makes me shudder. I can't even drink it cold out of the fridge. I need my ice.

Ice is also a crucial ingredient in most cocktails, and it's not one that should be taken too lightly. Ice plays a vital component in two ways: cooling and diluting.

Ice brings down the temperature of the drink significantly, making it taste better and more refreshing, in addition to dulling some of the sharper edges. (Our taste buds can't register the extremes of flavor in colder drinks as they can in warmer ones.)

Ice also serves to dilute the drink, softening the "fire" of the alcohol and helping the various flavors come together, while also increasing the volume of the drink.

So what kind of ice should you use? The colder and fresher, the better. Ice made in your freezer should be avoided if possible — it tends to pick up noxious odors and flavors from the leftovers you stuck in the back and forgot about three years ago. So unless you have a standalone icemaker, you probably need to buy it from the store. Once you do, keep it as cold as possible. Crank up that thermostat on your freezer until Frosty the Snowman could call it home.

Once you've got your cold, fresh ice, don't be afraid to use it. If you're building a highball, fill the glass to the top with ice. If you're mixing a cocktail, load the shaker up with cubes and shake it like you're straddling the San Andreas Fault. If you're stirring it (as with a Martini or Manhattan, which should usually be stirred), stir the drink for a good thirty seconds.

Making a quality cocktail requires using quality ingredients. Don't spoil that expensive liquor you paid so much money for by using crummy ice. Your palate will thank you.


The best cocktailian websites

I'll state up front that this list is not complete. These are not all of the great cocktail and spirits websites that are out there. No doubt there are many fine ones I haven't yet visited, or sites that simply focus on interests that differ from my own. These are the sites, however, that I enjoy the most and visit often. (Listed in alphabetical order.)


General Cocktails and Spirits

Newspaper Columns


Spirits Reviews


Video Sites


If you know of any great sites I'm missing, please email me and I'll check them out.

Drink Recipes Rum Tiki

Recipe: The Mai Tai

Declaring a particular cocktail my favorite is a little like declaring one of the kids my favorite — I could do it, but I wouldn't want them to hear. Cocktails can be such sensitive creatures.

It used to be that I drank mostly vodka. I'd mix it with a little lemonade or fruit juice and call it done. So the only "real" drink I favored was the gin and tonic. And the G&T is still one of the best around, a perfect balance of crisp, refreshing flavors. Plus, it helps ward off malaria. (You can never be too careful)

But ever since I've started my exploration of the constellation of rums, I've discovered a whole new world of drinks. And at the epicenter of that world is the king of all rum drinks: the Mai Tai.

The origins of the Mai Tai are as shrouded in mist as the lead singer of an 80s New Wave band in a music video. According to popular lore, the Mai Tai was invented in 1944 by Victor "Trader Vic" Bergeron at his faux-Polynesian restaurant in Oakland, California. Allegedly, Vic set out to create the best drink possible, and when he served it to a pair of friends visiting from Tahiti, they pronounced it "mai tai" ("the best").

Although there are credible stories that date the true provenance of the Mai Tai to 1933, attributing its creation to Trader Vic's longtime rival Don the Beachcomber (aka Donn Beach, aka Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt), at a certain point it becomes more academic than anything else. All we barflies really want to know is: how does it taste?

In a word: delicious.

(If you do want to investigate further the origins of the Mai Tai, and all other tropical drinks of significance, I strongly recommend you peruse the works of Jeff "Beachbum" Berry, the world's foremost authority on Tiki drinks. His book Beachbum Berry Remixed is particularly invaluable.)

The Mai Tai is not the syrupy, sticky sweet, red, blue, or purple, pinneapple-infused, grenadine-tinged monstrosity that is usually served by the hapless bartenders of too many bars across the world.

The Mai Tai is actually a fairly simple drink, composed of only five ingedients. When Trader Vic first mixed it, he was really trying to showcase the rum, a rather old and impressive bottle from Jamaica. And a well-made Mai Tai should still focus on rum, with the other flavors serving as compliments.


Trader Vic's Original Mai Tai Recipe

2 ounces 17-year-old J. Wray & Nephew Jamaican rum
1/2 ounce French Garnier Orgeat
1/2 ounce Holland DeKuyper Orange Curacao
1/4 ounce Rock Candy Syrup (a rich simple syrup with a hint of vanilla)
juice from one fresh lime


Although that particular rum is no longer available (allegedly there are only four bottles extant in the world today and the last time one sold, it was for $50k), Trader Vic eventually modified his Mai Tai to take advantage of a blend of two different aged rums that gave his signature drink the robust flavor he was looking for. With a few slight variations, that's the same recipe I use.


Mai Tai

Shake with lots of crushed ice:

1 ounce aged gold rum1
1 ounce gold/dark Jamaican rum2
1/2 ounce Orange Curacao3
1/2 ounce orgeat syrup
1/2 ounce simple syrup (1:1 sugar dissolved in water)
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice

Pour unstrained into a double old fashioned glass and top with more crushed ice, if necessary. Garnish with one of the squeezed lime halves and a sprig of fresh mint. (The garnish is supposed to look like an island floating in the sea with a palm tree.)

1Trader Vic preferred to use a rhum agricole from Martinique, but I usually substitute a demerara rum, such as El Dorado. You can use any gold rum, but try to get a decent aged rum. Rhum Barbancourt is another favorite of mine.

2The go-to rum here is Appleton. I recommend either the V/X or Extra (12 Year). You can also use the cheaper Appleton Special Gold. In a pinch, Coruba or Myer's will work. (Do not use spiced/flavored rum!)

3I use Senior Curacao of Curacao or Marie Brizard. Bols works, too. You can substitute Triple Sec, but it's going to change the flavor of the drink. If you do, cut back on the sugar.


Most recipes call for a little less simple syrup than I use — although it should be noted that Trader Vic's Rock Candy Syrup was made with 2:1 sugar/water, so it was approximately half again as sweet as the 1:1 stuff I use. I find that I like that little extra sweetness. I don't care for drinks that are overly tart, so I decided to up the sugar a little rather than decrease the lime. (I'm still trying to stick as closely as possible to Vic's original recipe.)

Orgeat, a sweet, almond syrup with just a hint of orange flower water, is a key ingredient of this recipe, as it was in so much of the repertoire of Trader Vic and Don the Beachcomber. It adds an undercurrent of flavor to the drink that makes it taste both richer and more exotic. (If you can't find orgeat, you can substitute regular almond syrup — the kind that is used by coffeehouses, for example — but it will taste a little different.)

If you find that the Mai Tai is to your liking, I recommend that you play around with the combination of rums to find a pairing that best suits your palate. (Or, do like I do and pick a different pair of rums to suit your mood, or even at random.) As long as you don't use a flavored or spiced rum, anything should work in this drink. 

The selection of rums will, of course, be limited to what you have on hand. And if you're like most people, that won't be much. (But please invest in something other than that bottle of Bacardi you've been nipping at for the past five years.) The rum(s) you choose will change how good the final product tastes. But no matter what, it's likely to turn out "mai tai."

Book Reviews

Book Review: “The Cocktailian Chronicles: Life with the Professor” by Gary Regan

Gary Regan (aka Gaz) is one of the world's most acclaimed cocktail craftsmen. (I'd call him an artist, but he might be offended — he's a working bartender, after all, not given much to pretensions.) Through his books like The Joy of Mixology and The Bartenders Bible, Regan has educated scores of bartenders and cocktailians, both amateur and professional alike. 

The Cocktailian Chronicles: Life with the Professor is, despite its title, not a book about Gaz and I cohabitating. It is instead a collection of his columns that originally ran in the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper, supplemented with notes and afterthoughts. They are told from the point-of-view of "The Professor" (not me), a bartender at a cozy (fictional) tavern in San Francisco who bares a slight resemblance to Regan himself.

Each of the columns is organized around a specific cocktail (e.g., the Floridita Daiquiri, the Aviation) and tells a story or anecdote about the drink, featuring a cast of quirky characters drawn from Gaz's own life. The columns all end with a recipe for the drink, along with the author's "A Final Word at The End of the Bar," a behind-the-scenes note about the reality behind the column, and sometimes an updated recipe or two.

The Cocktailian Chronicles is a fun, witty read that also gives some useful advice about cocktails and spirits, along with some excellent recipes that you can try out yourself. (Or request on your next trip to the local saloon.) It's one of the most entertaining books I've read in quite a while.

There are few people in the world of cocktails as knowledgeable as Regan, and fewer still that can write with his panache. Here's hoping that The Professor returns for another go-around soon.

Note: The link above is to the Kindle version of the book. There is also a paperback edition available, although it's rather expensive. Even if you don't have a Kindle, you can download a free app that will allow you to read Kindle books on your computer, iPad, iPhone, Android, Blackberry, etc.


About the Professor


David J. Montgomery is an emeritus columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and The Daily Beast, and has also written for many of the country’s largest newspapers, including USA Today, the Washington Post, Boston Globe, and several others.

His fiction has appeared in Thriller 2: Stories You Just Can’t Put Down, edited by Clive Cussler (Mira Books, 2009), and various online magazines. His essay on author Ross Thomas appeared in the Edgar Award-nominated collection Thrillers: 100 Must Reads, edited by David Morrell and Hank Wagner (Oceanview Publishing, 2010).

After receiving his Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Master’s degree in History, Mr. Montgomery taught U.S. History and African American History for six years at Bakersfield College.

For the past ten years, he has worked as an Event Copywriter for Goldstar, a company that helps people get out more and attend live entertainment.

In addition to this website, Mr. Montgomery writes Crime Fiction Dossier, a sporadic blog covering the world of mystery/thriller fiction and publishing, and Mystery Ink, a currently dormant book review website dedicated to the same.

Mr. Montgomery lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and two daughters. His favorite drinks are the gin and tonic and the Mai Tai (as made according to Trader Vic’s recipe).

Some of the publications Mr. Montgomery has written for include:

USA Today

Washington Post

The Daily Beast

Boston Globe

Philadelphia Inquirer

Chicago Sun-Times

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Milwaukwee Journal-Sentinel

Kansas City Star

Washington Examiner


For information on contacting him, please visit Contact.

For information on his samples/promotional policy, please visit Samples.


Sample Policy

It is the policy of this website to solicit and accept samples, freebies, swag, and other assorted promotional materials from liquor companies, marketeers, promoters, publicity flacks, bars, and anyone else who wants to give it.

To be on the safe side, you can assume that anything I write about was given to me for free (even though it quite possibly wasn’t). However, as has been my strict policy for over a decade, the receipt of complimentary items or services in no way affects the judgement, opinions, or reviews that appear on this website. I am committed to complete indepedence.

If you are interested in sending samples, products, or other materials for possible review and/or mention on this website, please email me: Professor Cocktail.



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Allow me to introduce myself

If you read the short bio I wrote for my TypePad Profile page, you will find:

David J. Montgomery is a professional book critic and amateur cocktailian. An emeritus columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and The Daily Beast, his work has also appeared in USA Today, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe. A former professor of history, he currently lives in Northern Virginia with his family.

That gives you a good idea of the basics. I've been a book critic for the past decade or so, writing about books (mostly mysteries and thrillers) and authors for most of the country's major newspapers. I still review books, although not as often as I once did. (The newspaper book review business has gone from a slow flow to a mere trickle.)

Before that I taught American History at the college level, which is why I dubbed myself Professor Cocktail. I realize it's a little pretentious, but all the other good website domain names were taken.

More recently, I have become increasingly interested in the art and craft of the cocktail. There has been a renaissance over the past decade in appreciation for fine spirits and the ways in which they can be combined. I was peripherally aware of this movement, but I have since plunged headlong into the study of it, and one of the results is this website.

I will be writing about all manner of topics related to alcohol, cocktails, and spirits; anything, really, that catches my eye (or, more likely, palate) from the world of liquor and mixology. I'll be discussing cocktail recipes, spirit reviews, bartending books, and the like. I also have tentative plans to attempt to earn my title of Professor Cocktail with some more historically-oriented discussions of the role spirits have played in the development of American History.

I hope you will join me for the journey. It should be a fun one!