WEEKS later, and we finally have a 52 Weeks of Cocktails update (get the full rundown of 52 Weeks of Cocktails here). While this should read something like update num. 5, the fact is that I had to take a break. A record-breaking winter living in Tahoe, moving across states and traveling for a month all resulted in a little bit of a hiatus. But I’m back! And it only means I’ll finish later. But that means it’ll be ever better, right? As Honest Abe said, “”I walk slowly, but I never walk backward.”

If you’re new here, the gist is this: Over the course of the next year (and change), I’m meeting with 52 different people to buy them a drink, ask them what their story is, and then afterward, create a personalized cocktail recipe based on their story. It gives new meaning to the phrase that every drink tells a story. I’m documenting it on Instagram, as well as recapping it here on my blog. So today I’m sharing some of the latest cocktail recipes, and the people behind them.

52 Weeks of Cocktails

Some of the most recent meet-ups have really summed up perfectly why I’m doing this. My friend Beth, the person behind the below Pecan Pie Manhattan, is one of the people who this whole cocktail idea originated with. I met her for the first time a few years ago, in Dublin, Ireland of all places, naturally, at Jameson Distillery, where she was on a round-the-world trip. She now lives in Atlanta and has her own pastry business. Others have included a daughter of refugees, one of my favorite bartender friends (who has been bartending at the same bar for 12 years!) who I met at a cocktail conference a couple years ago and a friend of a friend, who works with Crater Lake Spirits.

These meet-ups involved everything from a train ride to a bar in an old bank building to a secret bar in the back of a barber shop to a speakeasy in which I had to hand over my camera and phone in order to enter. Such intrigue and mystery!

Yet what continues to stand out isn’t the different cocktail recipes I’m getting out of it, or the unique places we’re meeting, but rather about the stories and how I’m learning and being inspired. Every single time, I’ve been moved in some new way that I hadn’t been before. And it’s really the entire reason I took on this project this year. Living in a world and time that is so overstimulated and often such an echo chamber, I wanted to push past the noise and be so much more intentional about listening and learning.

Chapel tavern cocktail bar in Reno

Think your story isn’t that interesting or unique? Well it is. It is because you’re unique, and those stories you have, are yours, unique to you, written for your particular story, shared in that way by no one else. And these are the stories I’m interested in hearing and learning from. Every drink tells a story, but more importantly, every person has a story.

Interested in participating? Shoot me an email (spencer.spellman@gmail.com) with a little bit about yourself and your social channels. Meanwhile, find a few of the latest cocktail recipes below.

Pecan Pie Manhattan

  • 2 oz. pecan-infused bourbon
  • 1 oz. tawny port
  • .25 oz. maple syrup
  • Dash of bitters
  • Cherry for garnish

That’s right, pecan-infused bourbon, inspired by renowned cocktail bar Death and Company, for my pastry chef friend Beth, who last year, made me a pecan pie for the holidays. To infuse the bourbon, you’ll first start with a cup of pecans that you soak in water for 30 minutes. Drain them, and then spread on a baking sheet, seasoning with a little salt, pepper and cayenne pepper. Bake for 20 minutes at 300 degrees, but make sure not to burn them. After the pecans have cooled, add them to a large mason jar and fill with a half-bottle of bourbon, seal and let stand for a week. After a week, strain through cheesecloth.

Pecan Pie Manhattan Cocktail

And now to the cocktail itself. This new take on the traditional Manhattan recipe replaces the rye with pecan-infused bourbon and vermouth with tawny port. To make it, add the bourbon, port, maple syrup and bitters to a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake it and strain into a coupe glass. I’m a firm believer in a traditional Manhattan cocktail being stirred, but for this, I actually liked shaking it for that frothy float on top, making for a great post-dinner libation.

Rhubarb Pimm’s Cup

  • 2 oz. Pimm’s
  • .5 oz. gin
  • .75 oz. lemon juice
  • .5 oz Rhubarb simple syrup
  • Ginger beer
  • Strawberries, mint and cucumber for garnish

When I met Jeremy, from Crater Lake Spirits, after learning that we had both put in time to the south, the conversation quickly turned to the aromas and tastes of the south, and more specifically, the flavor of rhubarb and aroma of rhubarb pie. Naturally, we had a rhubarb cocktail at my L.A. haunt, the Blind Barber, featuring Crater Lake’s rye whiskey. However, after Jeremy told me about Crater Lake’s award-winning gin, I knew I had to do a rhubarb-infused gin cocktail recipe.

Rhubarb Pimm's Cup Cocktail

This cocktail recipe is a variation of a Pimm’s Cup I created a couple years ago, and it’s become a go-to summer cocktail, and a crowd pleaser for summer parties and barbecues. To make it, you’ll add the Pimm’s, gin, lemon juice and rhubarb simple syrup (this rhubarb simply syrup recipe on The Kitchn is a good starting place) to a glass with ice and stir. Top with one to two ounces of ginger beer (I prefer Bundaberg for this cocktail) and add a few of your favorite summer fruits and herbs, which in this case, I like strawberries, mint and cucumber.

Burnt Sugar Smoked Old Fashioned

  • 2 oz. bourbon
  • .25 oz burnt sugar syrup (recipe here)
  • Dash of bitters
  • Cherrywood (or other herbs or wood chips to smoke)
  • Flamed orange peel

Anyone who knows me knows that an Old Fashioned is my favorite cocktail of all-time. So imagine just how stoked I was when my friend Vy started listing off her favorite cocktails she’s had, all of them being a variation of an Old Fashioned, and the best being a smoked Old Fashioned. But beyond the cocktail, my meet-up with Vy really reinforced why I’m doing this in the first place. I’ve been friends with Vy for a couple years, but had no idea that she had such a special, heartfelt story, as the daughter of refugees who risked their lives to leave a repressive regime by boat that could have resulted in imprisonment, or worse, death, if they had stayed. These are the types of stories you don’t always hear when grabbing coffee or going to happy hour with friends, but the very stories I wanted to set out to discover this year.

This is hands down the most fun cocktail from this year. Why, you ask? Well because we’re lighting things on fire! Alright, perhaps it’s more like smoking things, but still. Smoking a cocktail like this can be done a couple of different ways. Often, bartenders will light a wood plank, or wood chips (like cherrywood, applewood, or hickory), and then trap the smoke under the glass for a couple minutes so that the smoke clings to the glass before pouring the cocktail in. In my case, however, I use a smoking gun (because smoking guns!), and smoke the entire cocktail in a glass dome (which in this case, is actually a punch bowl).

Smoked cocktail recipe

For the cocktail itself, I follow the traditional method of making an Old Fashioned, except I use a burnt sugar syrup, which adds another level of smoke (and bitterness). To make this smoked Old Fashioned cocktail, add burnt sugar syrup to a mixing glass with a dash of bitters, an ounce of the bourbon and a couple pieces of ice, stirring for approximately 10-15 seconds. Then add more ice and the rest of the bourbon and continue to stir. Strain it into an Old Fashioned glass over a big ice cube or sphere and add a flamed orange peel for garnish (Click here for instructions on flaming an orange peel). Lastly, put the cocktail under a glass dome filled with smoke for a couple minutes (or smoke the glass with your wood of choice while preparing the cocktail).

Smoked Old Fashioned Cocktail