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Marcia Simmons

Marcia Simmons

Cocktail book writer, DIY vs. Buy columnist, owner of many mason jars that are constantly filled with new drinkable projects

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  • Location: Petaluma, CA
  • Favorite foods: Sushi, pizza, cheese, foie gras, pho, steak, salad, and basically everything that isn't tofu
  • Last bite on earth: LOBSTER

5 Common Mistakes People Make With DIY Infusions

The fun thing about infusing spirits or concocting a liqueur is that there aren't a lot of rules and complicated techniques. Most of the time it really is just mixing together things that sound like they'd taste good and seeing what happens. However, there are some really common mistakes that can ruin the fun. More

DIY vs. Buy: How to Make Your Own Orange Soda

Most orange soda has more in common with orange the color than the fruit, but that doesn't stop me from craving it. The reason I drink soda isn't because I think it's full of vitamins and minerals. I drink it because it tastes good. My idea of the perfect orange soda is the fast-food fountain Orange Crush and Sunkist that I grew up with, even though as an adult I know it's just a bunch of corn syrup and artificial flavoring. Luckily, DIY orange soda delivers the same satisfying combination of sweet and tart you get from the commercial version without the questionable ingredients. More

DIY vs. Buy: How to Make Your Own Root Beer Liqueur

I like to think of root beer as the gateway beverage into the big, bad world of booze. Even though it's a big leap from A&W to Fernet Branca, there's definitely a connection between what makes a good root beer and what makes a good alcoholic beverage. This homemade root beer liqueur has more in common with an aperitif than it does with a soda, because the sugar is dialed back and the root-and-bark goodness can shine through. More

DIY vs. Buy: How to Make Grape Soda

Most grape-flavored things don't taste like grape at all—they taste like purple. Commercial grape soda walks the line between the taste of real grapes and sugary artificial flavor. Grape soda should be the non-alcoholic, fizzy sister to wine, but instead it seems to be the least appreciated of the sodas. I've had a soft spot for this deep purple, bubbly beverage since childhood, so I was inspired to make a DIY version that has a more natural flavor. More

DIY vs. Buy: How to Make Cherry Bitters

Asking me to pick my favorite cocktail is sort of like asking parents which of their kids is the best. It's a hard question to answer, but deep in my heart, I know. Sorry, Sazerac and Martini, even though I love you so, the Manhattan is easily my favorite drink. So I was surprised that a simple change to this classic drink made me love it even more. More

DIY vs. Buy: How to Make Your Own Cherry Cola

Cherry cola is amazing. Cherry Coke, on the other hand, is a disgusting tease. For a split second there's some cherry flavor, but then it's replaced by a chemical finish that reminds you that no cherries were harmed while making that beverage. I've done some experimenting with adding cherry syrup to store-bought cola, which was good. But making my own cola and cherrying it up was even better. More

DIY vs. Buy: How to Make Advocaat, Dutch Eggnog

When I was a kid, Dutch relatives would bring my family all the treats that were hard to find here in the states. My favorite was hagelslag, which are candy sprinkles that you put on buttered bread. (Boxes of hagelslag guaranteed that I would be allowed to eat candy for breakfast.) The grownups, however, got all excited about a ochre-colored liqueur called advocaat. It looked like an avocado-and-mustard milkshake to me, so when they'd pour themselves a big glass for Christmas, I was never tempted to sneak a sip. After all, these were the same adults who'd rave about salty black licorice, which I knew for a fact was the worst thing I'd ever tasted. More

DIY vs. Buy: How to Make Cranberry Liqueur

Forget about the big jugs of watery cranberry juice on the grocery store shelves—the best way to put these gorgeous red fruits into your drinks is with a homemade cranberry liqueur. Fresh cranberries are ubiquitous this time of year, and turning them into liqueur is a snap. So not only will you have a versatile ingredient for festive Thanksgiving cocktails, but a bottle of this beautiful crimson liqueur also makes a great gift come December. More

DIY vs. Buy: How to Make Aquavit

My liquor cabinet is starting to resemble a liquid United Nations, with almost every region and culture accounted for. Until recently, however, Scandinavia was sorely missing from the General Assembly. Then a bartender in L.A. served me a spritzer that had a savory rye-bread kind of flavor to it that I couldn't quite place. I figured she had gotten creative with a syrup. But when I asked how she got that flavor, she whipped out a bottle of aquavit. I quickly got to work experimenting with making my own. More

DIY vs. Buy: How to Make Pumpkin Liqueur

There's just something cozy about pumpkin and spice, and once autumn's arrived, I want to cram pumpkin into everything I eat and drink. Getting pumpkin into a cocktail can be a little messy and goopy, so I like to whip up a batch of pumpkin liqueur to ensure that I can conveniently drink pumpkin pie cocktails for months to come. This recipe doesn't take long, so you can even finish it in time for that Halloween party you're having. More

DIY vs. Buy: How to Make Swedish Punsch

Prohibition did more than inspire an HBO gangster drama about how Steve Buscemi is rich and sleeps with showgirls while people get shot. Making booze illegal changed the way America drank, banishing a lot of popular ingredients to obscurity. One of the cocktail casualties was Swedish Punsch, a liqueur made with citrus, spices, rum, and a southeastern Asian liquor made with sugar cane and red rice called Batavia Arrack. More

DIY vs. Buy: How to Make Honey Liqueur

Making your own honey liqueur is dead simple. You don't have to do anything but heat the honey with some water and then mix it with vodka. I like to let the liqueur sit overnight to ensure the flavors are totally integrated, but if you're truly impatient you can use it right away. As much as I love Bärenjäger, when I compared it side-by-side I liked the homemade stuff just as much and it was a hell of a lot cheaper. More

DIY vs. Buy: How to Make Pastis

One sure-fire way to start an argument with me is to say that absinthe makes people hallucinate. It doesn't. But if you think it does, you have something in common with French regulators in the early 1900s. Back then, everyone was panicking that absinthe would drive people insane because it contained wormwood. Before more people could succumb to absinthe madness and chop their ear off à la Vincent van Gogh, they outlawed the spirit. (The fact that absinthe was 140 proof and people were drinking it like wine had more than a little to do with the crazy behavior, but I digress.) With absinthe out of the picture, people needed another delicious anise-flavored alcoholic beverage. That's where pastis came in. More

DIY vs Buy: Banana Liqueur

Bananas don't get much play in the cocktail world because they're mushy and fibrous, making them impossible to juice and gross to muddle. Even when the blender is out, poor old banana is frequently left out of the cocktail party. But the vibrant, tropical flavor of bananas tastes amazing in drinks, especially ones made with rum. More

DIY vs. Buy: How to Make Cherry Liqueur

The first time I tried cherry liqueur, I thought it tasted like cough syrup. For years, I avoided anything made with the stuff because I don't want my cocktails to remind me of sick children. Then one day I ordered a Singapore Sling without really knowing what was in it. When I found out that cherry liqueur played a big part in making this drink so good, I realized that maybe I had stereotyped all cherry liqueurs because of one that was particularly bad (and probably cheap). More

DIY vs. Buy: How to Make Blackberry Liqueur

Sometimes when I read about big city bars, I get a little jealous. Part of what inspired me to learn to mix a good drink is that most of the bars within walking distance of my house have deer heads mounted on the wall and bartenders who get a little confused if your cocktail isn't a Rum & Coke, Gin & Tonic, or other drink whose name is its ingredients. But then I make a batch of DIY blackberry liqueur with fresh berries, I mix myself a Bramble, and all envy dissipates. More

DIY vs. Buy: How to Make Hazelnut Liqueur

Love of Nutella is one of the things that connects us as a species. And while chocolate is fantastic, it's the humble hazelnut that elevates Nutella from delicious to life-changing. That's why I'm surprised that hazelnut liqueur (also called noisette) flies a bit under the radar compared to its nutty cousin amaretto. More

DIY Orange Bitters

The recipe proportions are correct. After all the steeping, straining and filtering, I was left with 1 1/2 cups of finished product.

DIY vs. Buy: Should I Make My Own Ginger Liqueur?

Auds22001 - Here's a honey liqueur recipe: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2012/09/homemade-honey-liqueur-barenjager-recipe.html
Beekeepers' honey liqueur will always be the best :)

DIY Ginger Liqueur

@cocktailmaven: Definitely don't use a fine cognac! I would recommend using an affordable brandy, like Korbel, rather than Everclear. Aside from liking that flavor profile better, it's actually cheaper. (Your price may vary ... I live near Korbel, so it's possible that it's higher in other areas. Christian Bros is a low-cost brandy that is fine for projects like this, too) That said, if you wanted to use vodka or Everclear, you could, but you'd just have to adjust to taste both for ingredients and steeping time.

DIY Mole Bitters

@oliveheights Yep, you can just double the ingredients to make a larger batch. Just be sure that you don't double the steeping time. :)

DIY Ginger Liqueur

My cheap vanilla bean sources, which may not apply in your area: Trader Joe's, Costco, Latin groceries (in my area Lola's is a good chain for that, but there are also a lot of independents).

DIY Gomme Syrup

@seaweed58: The recipe amounts are correct. The water should be hot and gradually added to the gum arabic while stirring. It will be quite gelatinous after sitting, but when combined in the next step with water and heat, will turn into syrup.

5 Common Mistakes People Make With DIY Infusions

5 Common Mistakes People Make With DIY Infusions

I've been looking for an excuse to play with bottled cocktails. I'm on it! RE: sichuan peppercorns and watermelon ... what about just infusing the peppercorns and then using that in a cocktail made with fresh watermelon?

DIY Orange Soda

I've always used it up within a month, but it should actually last up to 6 months if you have used the citric acid. (Without the citric acid, a month tops)

DIY Grapefruit Bitters

UV Vodka has a 100 proof version that is cheap! And it's good enough to use in mixed drinks like Bloody Marys, too. I'd skip anything high-end for this kind of project, but definitely don't want anything with bad flavor creeping in.

DIY Amaro

@smartanimal: You're right that this would be higher in alcohol than most commercial amari but still less than spirits typically have. If you wanted to start off with an 80 or 100 proof base, I'd suggest steeping for longer.

DIY Orange Soda

@LeonaLaurie: It's hard to say exactly because honey varies so much in sweetness and flavor. I'd start off with 2/3 cup of honey (instead of 1 cup sugar) and then adjust from there. With milder honeys it usually ends up being 3/4 of a cup as a sub for 1 cup of sugar, but word on the street is that White Gold Honey is more flavorful. You'll have to experiment with that amount as well as how much seltzer to dilute with. The good news is that even when it's the wrong amount, it still tastes good.

DIY vs. Buy: How to Make Your Own Orange Soda

We do have Orangina here and I love it! PULP! But I consider it a whole different drink from orange sodas like Sunkist.

DIY Orange Soda

@moedersin: Eep! Thank you for catching that. The recipe headnote has now been corrected. (The recipe itself was correct, as you guessed.)

DIY Orange Soda

While the citric acid does extend shelf life, its main function in this recipe is to add a sharpness and a tartness (similar to the powder on Sour Patch Kids). This is that familiar kick that commercial sodas have that balances the sugary aspects. So you could make this without citric acid, but then the flavor would be sweeter and less like what we associate with soda. (Adding lemon would add tartness, but then that also adds the flavor of lemon. Citric acid adds tartness without detracting from the orange flavor or adding another fruit flavor to the mix.)

DIY vs. Buy: How to Make Your Own Grapefruit Bitters

@JanelJ: Sounds like a great variation! That's the fun part about making your own ... the tasting and tweaking. I have, in the past, used the pulp in grapefruit bitters and agree you get great flavor that way.

DIY Root Beer Liqueur

I think the flavors would be great with rum. However, I think that something high proof would require more steeping time. I didn't do it myself, because I was trying to keep it simple, but perhaps steeping ingredients for a while in the rum? You could use the same method I did, but I think the heat would overtake the flavor a bit if you did it that way.

What would you like me to tackle for DIY vs Buy column?

Thanks, everyone! As a life-long Californian, I've never had Moxie. (Maybe it is for sale here and I've just not noticed.) But now I will get my hands on some and see what I can do. Keep the suggestions coming!

Here are some that I've done that it sounds like some of you are interested in:
Root beer: http://drinks.seriouseats.com/2012/08/diy-vs-buy-how-to-brew-your-own-root-beer-at-home.html
Sweet vermouth: http://drinks.seriouseats.com/2011/12/diy-vs-buy-how-to-make-sweet-vermouth-at-home.html
Tonic: http://drinks.seriouseats.com/2011/11/diy-vs-buy-how-to-make-tonic-water-quinine-cinchona.html
Hazelnut liqueur: http://drinks.seriouseats.com/2012/07/diy-vs-buy-how-to-make-hazelnut-liqueur-diy-frangelico-cocktails.html
Amaro: http://drinks.seriouseats.com/2012/05/diy-vs-buy-how-to-make-homemade-amaro-averna-fernet-ramazzoti.html

What would you like me to tackle for DIY vs Buy column?

@shoneyjoe: Last year I wrote a post about a few of the things that landed on the 'buy' side for me: http://drinks.seriouseats.com/2012/03/diy-vs-buy-cocktail-ingredients-you-should-not-make-yourself.html?ref=title

This relates to what @bkozel says, because some of the hardest to get right are amari. (I've done a few I like, but it's hard!)

@LeonaLaurie: It's not just alcoholic things. I've posted root beer and grape soda recipes, and someone else on the site has done a ginger beer (which is non-alcoholic but more gingery than ginger ale). So any others that come to mind (i'll look into sarsaparilla), let me know!

DIY Cherry Bitters

DIY Grapefruit Bitters

@ErrantBaritone: This recipe had milder flavors than the cherry bitters recipe (floral and citrus instead wood and spices)and doesn't steep for as long because of that. So I didn't need the stronger spirit to pull the flavors out. In general, this is a gentler bitters than the cherry.

DIY Grapefruit Bitters

@Phil88: The recipe should've called for gentian root as the note says. It's now fixed to have the right ingredient.

@gumbercules: Yes to this in gimlets! :)

Ask a Sommelier: Which Wines Go Best with Burgers?

No lettuce on burgers! Also: Champagne w/ burgers is the greatest.

DIY Grape Soda

There would possibly be a negligible amount of alcohol present.

DIY Tonic Water

@Rettakat: You could use stevia. However, it will have a much thinner texture since stevia, in my experience, doesn't really get as syrupy as sugar. I haven't tried it myself, but I don't see why it wouldn't work as long as you looked up the equivalent quantity to use as a sugar substitute and kept in mind that it may be a bit thinner. I'm no expert in alternative sweeteners, but maybe experiment with simple syrup first to see how that works and consider other alternatives like xylitol if you're unhappy with the result.

DIY vs. Buy: How to Make Rhubarb Bitters

Rhubarb is one of my favorite cocktail ingredients. When rhubarb season arrived, I ran to buy as much as I could from the market that's usually first to get all the seasonal produce. When I couldn't find it, I went to the manager in a panic. "We used to stock that," he said. "But nobody likes it, so we stopped." I then dramatically flung myself onto the nearest support beam and screamed, "Noooooo!" as if I just found out Darth Vader was my father. (He is not.) Luckily, the next store had a whole display of rhubarb and promised me that they would keep stocking it throughout the season. More

Champagne Jelly

You don't need to use the fancy French stuff for this recipe—any decent, drinkable sparkling wine will work. Your jelly might look a bit loose at the end of the cooking time, but don't fret. Your jars may need to sit overnight to set properly. More

DIY vs. Buy: Should I Make My Own Creme de Menthe?

Homemade creme de menthe tastes and smells like just-picked mint, completely blowing away the commercial stuff with a bright and natural flavor that you just can't get from extracts. DIY mint liqueur is like a delicious candy cane in alcohol form—and since it takes only three ingredients and one day to make, there's still time to make some for Christmas. More