Since today is National Margarita Day, I knew I had to post a bonus Quaff. The only problem is that I haven’t recently created or sampled a new margarita to profile (actually, not true — I tasted my friend Sly’s margarita at the Thompson hotel last week, but I neglected to take photos; so that will have to be tabled for a future post). Anyway, the point of this rambling preamble is that I have no exciting margaritas to share with you today. However, I have something incredibly close — a homemade concoction inspired by a margarita recipe.

I present to you: THE CASTELLAMMARE!

Here’s how it all started. Sunday was a beautiful day here in Los Angeles, and in an effort to take advantage of our lush surroundings, Sly and I decided to go on an urban hike. We consulted our copies of the wonderful book Walking LA and decided upon an ambitious hike which would take us through the oceanside neighborhood of Castellammare. The decision was wise. With the sun setting and the air crisp, our jaunt proved to be a perfect Sunday activity.

I can’t resist — I have to share some photos:

Castellammare road, where the adventure begins.

Our helpful guidebook.

Our route takes us down to the beach where Sly gallops like a happy giraffe.

I tempt fate by standing mere INCHES away from the frothy surf.

My own frolicking.

Gravity-defying antics.

Okay, now I’m just bragging through pictures.

Our hike takes us up into the hills where we encounter yet more scenic vistas.

And that’s the end of that.

Anyhoo, our urban hike had us wandering up and down the streets of Pacific Palisades, and after an hour and a half of that, followed by a tasty dinner at Malibu Seafood, Sly and I knew there was only one way to cap off this lovely day — tequila.

And so the two of us wound up at my place, but there was a problem: my mixers were limited. I had no limes, no soda, no nothing it seemed. All was not lost though. I did have four small lemons and three sizable oranges. We knew we could make this work.

Sly and I immediately turned to our cocktail bible: Organic Shaken and Stirred by Paul Abercrombie. There was a drink called the Detox Margarita that looked close to something we could make. It involved lemon sour mix, aloe vera juice, Cointreau, agave nectar, and a lime wedge. Of course, we had only about two of those ingredients; so we were still kind of screwed. That’s when we decided to simply forge ahead using nothing but our instincts to guide us.

We knew we had oranges and lemons to play with. What else could we throw into the mix? My herb selection was highly limited (ie. I had none). I then went rummaging through my cabinets, calling out ingredient after ingredient. When I reached the star anise, Sly and I both paused. That could work… As we thought it over for a second, we realized that a star anise simple syrup might actually complement the tequila perfectly.

But why stop with star-anise? Why not make a full-on CHINESE FIVE SPICE SYRUP? Now we were really excited. As it happens, my other cocktail book, Artisanal Cocktails, has a recipe for such a thing, and wouldn’t you know it? I had everything it called for.

The Quaff was on.

The beginnings of Chinese Five Spice simple syrup: toasting cinnamon, star anise, fennel, Sichuan peppercorns, and cloves.

The juicer and the Magic Bullet are on standby.

After a few minutes, the spices are beyond fragrant. In fact, my apartment STILL smells of them two days later.

Getting ready for the Quaff: lemons, oranges, Paul Abercrombie’s book, some pre-made simple syrup, and a honey bear, which we opted to eschew, despite its inclusion in the Chinese Five Spice Syrup recipe.

The toasted spices pre-Magic Bulleting.

Post grinding, the spice mixture goes into a saucepan of bubbling simple syrup. While grinding causes the flavor to infuse faster, it’s a bit of a pain to then strain. (rhyme!)

Mixing the syrup.

We are feeling good about this syrup.

If only this blog had Smell-o-vision (Sly wanted me to write that).

While the syrups cools, we get to juicing. Look at this beautiful orange, given to me courtesy of the ever charitable Michelle Collins.

Juicing leads to further vibrant colors.

My very coy method.

I scoop out the pulp from the juicer and set it aside for Sly to nosh on.

After having juiced two big oranges, we then move on to lemons. We juice two of them.

Time for the fun part. Presenting the shaker and the tequila (I opted to use the cheaper stuff rather than the Don Julio. I would never waste premium tequila on an experimental drink).

We’re ready to commence mixology.

Reposado. The only way to go.

Meanwhile, here’s the syrup, all cooled down. Sly and I both stick a fork in and taste it. The syrup is beyond delicious. We both agree that it could easily top pancakes (especially since it looks exactly like maple syrup when strained).

I line a sieve with paper towels and begin the straining process.


All the ground spices quickly create a sludge or a cork, as Sly put it, on the paper towels. It required some manipulation to get it all to pass through. Sly, however, intrepidly set about making this happen. Indispensable that one.

We were clearly very intrigued by this syrup.

Strained, it’s a beautiful sight.

We decide that for two drinks, we’ll go for an ounce of the syrup.

See? It’s just like Mrs. Buttersworth.

We also add three oz. of tequila and three oz. of the citrus mix. I shake it with ice.

After the first taste, we decide the drink needs more tang. We juice the remaining lemons and add a quarter of an ounce into the sample glass.

Still not there yet.

We add another quarter of an ounce of lemon juice.

Better. Not perfect, but as good as we can hope for with an improvised drink.

I pour a second glass and top it off with half an ounce of lemon juice.

On my balcony I have a mint plant that yields the world’s smallest mint leaves. I pluck some to use as garnish.

The fine art of the garnish (a.k.a. I just drop that crap in).


Sly and I then brought our yet unnamed drinks to the living room, and after a few sips, I couldn’t help but feel like something was missing. The drink didn’t taste cohesive. Instead, it was just like tequila with citrus and simple syrup (which, by the way, was lovely). I decided to add one last touch: a drop of agave nectar.


Just like that, the ENTIRE DRINK came together. It was amazing. Suddenly our creation went from “solid” to “outstanding.” And what made them even better was sprinkling on some ground spices leftover from the Magic Bullet. The tart lemon, the sweet orange, the smoky tequila, and the smokier spices led to a concoction that had Sly and I patting ourselves grandly on the back. And let’s not overlook the whiff of mint we got with ever sip.

This was paradise. But what to name our humble drink?

Then it hit me.

The Castellammare.

Behold the CASTELLAMMARE! (It goes particularly well with one of those fancy chocolate-orange Lindt candy bars, pictured).

Paul Abercrombie, you can thank us later.

Here’s the recipe:

For one serving:

1.5 oz reposado tequila
1 oz Chinese Five Spice syrup (recipe follows)
1.5 oz orange-lemon mix (juice of two oranges and two lemons)
.5 oz lemon juice
.25 oz agave nectar
1 sprig of mint
1/4 tsp freshly ground Chinese five spice, toasted

Add all the ingredients to a shaker (with ice, optionally) and shake. Pour into a tumbler over ice. Garnish with sprig of mint and a dusting of Chinese five spice powder. Umbrella optional.

Chinese Five Spice Syrup
1 tbs star anise
1 tbs fennel seeds
1 tbs Sichuan peppercorns (regular black ones are acceptable too)
3 inch piece of cinnamon
1 tsp of cloves
1 cup sugar
1 cup water

Toast all the spices in a dry pan for a few minutes until aromatic but not burned. Pour toasted spices into a spice grinder or similar device and grind into a powder.

Bring one cup of sugar and one cup of water to a boil. Add the ground spices and mix for a minute or two. Remove saucepan from heat and allow to cool down. When ready, pour mixture through a cheesecloth (or papertowel) lined sieve into a bowl.