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Do You Know What’s In Your Cocktails?

homemade aromatic bitters

I confess. In my zeal for loving real, unprocessed food, I still indulge in Cocktails of Unknown Origin. Once or twice someone’s asked me how I can drink that White Russian when I know it can’t be real cream, or how I can drink that Margarita when I’m certain it was made with a mix containing high fructose corn syrup.

My answer has always been straightforward: I’m willfully ignorant, folks! Call me an ostrich because I bury my head in the sand. Do I really want to know what kind of chemical concoctions went into that coffee liqueur? That pumpkin liqueur? That so-called Irish cream?

Sadly, these pre-mixed drinks and liqueurs don’t have to have ingredient labels. That’s because they’re alcoholic and governed by an entirely different set of rules from food. So, even with the most reputable brands, you’ll never know what artificial ingredients, synthetic flavors, fake colors, and other nasties went into its production.

If TV’s Mad Men is any indication, we used to know how to mix our own drinks as recently as the 1960s. Somewhere between then and now, convenience usurped this knowledge. Now we buy pre-mixed, bottled cocktails or buy pre-made mixes to which we just have to add vodka or rum or gin.

We’ve even industrially-produced and commercialized common ingredients like the maraschino cherry.

The anatomy of a Maraschino Cherry.

maraschino cherryNot long ago, a maraschino cherry was just a preserved cherry. Now? They’re a chemical wasteland.

The modern maraschino cherry begins as a cherry. I guess that’s good news.

But the cherry is bleached using a brine solution of sulfur dioxide and calcium chloride. It’s then soaked in a suspension of artificial food colorings like FD&C Red 40, a sugar syrup made from genetically modified corn or beets, and infused with an artificially-flavored almond oil.

The end product hardly resembles a cherry at all.

Did you know you could make your own maraschino cherries at home, naturally?

You don’t have to settle for fake-everything cherries. You can make your own maraschino cherries at home without any fake or GMO-laden ingredients. You don’t even have to preserve them in alcohol!

In fact, just about every fancy cocktail ingredient out there — from aromatic liqueurs to orange bitters to cocktail olives to simple syrups — can be made at home with all natural ingredients.

Make Your Own Cocktails and Cocktail Ingredients At Home

Thankfully, one of my friends wrote an amazing e-book that takes all the mystery out of cocktails. It’s called Natural Cocktails: Classic & Contemporary Mixed Drinks For The Real Foodie.

She spells out how to make your own syrups, aromatic bitters, flavored liqueurs, and more so that you can easily mix your own drinks, naturally!

natural cocktails

Holiday Drinks You Don’t Want To Miss

I love the flavor of the holidays.

Hot Buttered Rum? Mmmm.

Egg Nog? Ahhh.

Hot Spiced Cider? Yum.

I even love Glogg — the classic holiday mulled wine featuring simmered raisins, almonds, and spices.

This e-book has recipes for all these classics and more — just in time for holiday parties and gatherings!

hot buttered rum

Do you need this book?

Only if you want to know how to make your own sweetened, condensed milk, your own homemade vanilla extract, your own lacto-fermented homemade root beer, your own ginger ale, and basic flavoring agents like homemade chocolate syrup, grenadine, and orgeat.

Yes. This book is that comprehensive.

If there’s an ingredient in a classic cocktail, you’ll learn how to make it at home.

Want a Bloody Mary? Not only will you get a delicious recipe for this simple drink, but you’ll also learn how to make your own homemade Tabasco sauce!

I’m not kidding, folks. This e-book has it all!

Click here to learn more about it.

I will never willingly bury my head in the sand again.

Now that I know how simple it is to make my own natural cocktails at home, I’m done playing the ostrich.

I’m done ignoring dyes and fake flavors.

I’m done ignoring non-organic ingredients and GMOs.

I’m all about fresh, homemade, and 100% natural, beautiful, delicious homemade cocktails.

And you know what? This holiday season, you should be too! Why not buy the book and wow your friends and family? You’ll be made of awesome.

It’s even on sale right now for 20% off!

Click here to buy the e-book.

(photos by and studiocentric photography)


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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.
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17 Responses to Do You Know What’s In Your Cocktails?
  1. Ian Wendt
    December 12, 2012 | 12:35 am

    So, just to be pedantic, Grogg is a particular kind of ceramic figurine… Grog is a term that covers a variety of drinks, but one of the more historically common ones was watered down rum, often used as a naval ration.
    The term you’re looking for, the mulled wine with raisins, almonds, and spices, often fortified with portwine or brandy, is Gløgg.

    • KristenM
      December 12, 2012 | 11:19 am

      Ha! Thanks for catching that typo. I’ll go fix it!

  2. Patrick Dugan
    December 12, 2012 | 9:09 am

    I never even thought about alcoholic beverages this way, it seems in the midst of reading every label, I did not suspect that which is not labeled. Perhaps people should have access to complete information about every food and drink product, what a concept!

    I love your writing style’s mix of maturity and youthful enthusiasm. Way to shine a light.

    • KristenM
      December 12, 2012 | 11:21 am

      I didn’t think about it either, at least not until a couple folks started asking me questions about it. :)

  3. Hannah Healy @ Healy Real Food Vegetarian
    December 12, 2012 | 10:25 am

    I’m definitely guilty of burying my head in the sand with alcoholic drinks too! I had the sort of twisted logic that alcohol is bad anyway, so no sense in trying to make it healthy…It’s like 2 wrongs make a right! But, it’s a great idea to make your own cocktails! Thanks for the post!

    • KristenM
      December 12, 2012 | 11:21 am

      You’re welcome!

  4. Scott
    December 12, 2012 | 10:41 am

    Wow-that is nasty (and helpful) info about how cherries are processed. Glad I never eat those. Living in Michigan, we have access to some of the best fresh cherries in the country…only during the summer months though unfortunately.

  5. Kendahl @ Our Nourishing Roots
    December 12, 2012 | 10:42 am

    I have to say that I almost did a little jig when the first drink you mentioned was a White Russian. Hands down, my favorite drink! (And it’s even better when you follow the recipe in the book and use raw cream.) :D

    • KristenM
      December 12, 2012 | 11:23 am

      I do like my White Russians, although my favorite cocktail right now is a Hazelnut Chocolate Martini my hubby makes me. :)

  6. Beccolina
    December 12, 2012 | 3:03 pm

    I want to try glogg! I’m lucky on the alcohol side of things; my brother makes his own (excellent) beer, and my sister makes her own wine. Her best friend who comes for Christmas every year makes her own cheese. I think natural mixed drinks is the logical next step.

  7. SaraBeth
    December 12, 2012 | 11:20 pm

    Why don’t you put a couple of sample recipes here on your website to tempt us? Susy Atkins also has an amazing book called “How to Make Your Own Drinks.” Even includes Creme de Cassis!

  8. DavidO
    December 15, 2012 | 8:24 am

    There is some wonderful organic liquor available from a company called Art In the Age. They are recreating the original alcoholic versions of Root Beer and Ginger Beer, among others. Really good stuff.

    Also I noticed some organic rye whisky the other day but haven’t tried it yet.

  9. Jill
    December 16, 2012 | 7:07 am

    This topic is so interesting to me – I’m a real food convert, and my husband and I also happen to be co-owners of Treaty Oak Distilling Co in Austin.
    We are a micro distillery and make our products from scratch with Texas ingredients whenever possible. While we don’t offer organic booze (yet?), I can vouch that our products are a lot more pure than mass-produced booze and don’t contain artificial flavors/colors.
    We offerTreaty Oak platinum rum, Waterloo Gin, and Starlite Vodka. The rum is made from molasses from the last sugar mill in TX, and the gin uses Texas botanicals like lavendar, grapefruit, and pecan, in addition to the traditional juniper. Fun stuff!
    Anyways, I’m definitely getting this e-book because I have not been able to get past the fake disgusting mixers they use in restaurants most times. Our cocktails at home have become mostly fresh citrus, honey simple, herbs, and Topo Chico, which is good but could always mix it up! ;)
    Cheers, I love your blog!

  10. Single Man's Kitchen via Facebook
    December 15, 2013 | 5:43 pm

    In two photos you are showing cassia bark, not real cinnamon.

  11. Mary Light via Facebook
    December 16, 2013 | 7:47 am

    But it is real cassia bark.

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.
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