So this happened: I just hosted my first cocktail tasting program at Total Wine! I pitched my (very part-time) idea to the store manager about a month ago, advocating for a weekly cocktail tasting program that would highlight a spirit and a couple different cocktails that could be made with it. My driving idea is empowerment of the individual. For a lot of people, it’s hard to envision exactly what to do with a tequila, bourbon, or cognac. But if you taste a cocktail you like, and you can get the recipe, the ingredients, and an explanation of the technique, then suddenly you feel empowered and motivated to make that cocktail at home! I describe myself as a “pandemic mixologist,” since I just spent the last couple of years with our friends in the Wednesday Night Cocktail Club doing this exact weekly tasting. I’m excited to bring my mixology philosophy of taste, technique, and try to Total Wine every week!

For my first tasting, it was the start of Halloween weekend—a perfect time to highlight the cognac of the month, the VS Cognac by ABK6 (pronounced “Abby KaSEES”). What I like about this particular cognac is that it comes from a single 700-acre family-owned vineyard and distillery about 80 miles south of Bordeaux in France. This means that the entire cognac-making process, from growing, harvesting, and fermenting the grapes, to distilling and aging in oak barrels, is overseen from start to finish, resulting in high quality control. Even though this is “only” a VS cognac (aged for a minimum of three years), ABK6 VS has a light mouthfeel with notes of fruit and spice and a long, smooth finish. VS cognacs are ideal for making cocktails, as they are milder and less overpowering in their complexity than longer-aged cognacs (VSOP, XO, etc.), but this one is so smooth that it can also be served by itself. I’m not the only one singing the praises of ABK6 VS cognac—Total Wine’s Corporate Mixologist, Molly Horn, says this cognac is “full of ripe fruit with beautiful floral notes and a smooth, elegant finish. Makes amazing top-shelf quality classic brandy cocktails like Sidecars and Sazeracs!” And the ABK6 VS cognac won Best VS at the 2019 World Cognac Awards!

I paired the corporate cocktail of the month—a spooks-a-latte—with my own version of the classic sidecar. Both of these cocktails were big hits at the tasting table, with bottles of the cognac and the supporting cast of characters (Royale Orange, Cafe Granita, and Cinnamon Swirl) flying off the shelves! The sidecar is one of my favorite classic cocktails, and the spooks-a-latte is a delicious, frothy after-dinner treat. In fact, I made up another batch of the spooks-a-latte for Halloween evening to treat the intrepid adults accompanying their children from door to door! 

Here are my versions of these cocktails, along with a recipe for making a party-sized batch of the spooks-a-latte. Happy Halloween!


The Classic Sidecar


2 oz cognac

1 oz orange liqueur

¾ oz fresh lemon juice (½ oz bottled)



Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled and strain into a coupe glass with a lemon twist!

The Spooks-a-Latte


1 oz cognac

1 oz coffee liqueur (you can go rum-based, like Makaio, for an extra kick!) 

1 oz rum-based cream liqueur

Dash of Angostura bitters



Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled and strain into an old-fashioned glass over a large ice cube!


Bonus: Spooks-a-Latte Party Recipe

Makes 12 drinks



12 oz cognac

12 oz coffee liqueur

12 oz rum-based cream liqueur

6 oz water (to dilute)

8 dashes of Angostura bitters



Combine all ingredients in a pitcher with a lid. Shake well and chill in the refrigerator. Serve in old-fashioned glasses over large ice cubes!