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John’s Fancy Booze, No. 7

Remember John?  That super hip global mixology loving pal of ours?  He may have left us for South Africa but he’s still sharing his amazing concoctions with us from the other side of the world.  This time, he’s corralled his pal Dawn Greensides for photo duties and some of his new buddies in Pretoria for tasting duties (we’re more than a little jealous). Thanks John! We miss you!

John's-Fancy-Booze-HeaderCocktails have a way of bringing – and keeping – people together.  Sure, there are the obvious ways; as Dorothy Parker famously said, “I like to have a martini, two at the very most. After three I’m under the table, and after four I’m under my host.” But beyond serving as a social lubricant, they can provide a common ground, a point of interest over which to bond and connect. Case in point, here I am again, all the way from Pretoria, re-connecting with wonderful friends from the Penh. All thanks to cocktails. It’s a beautiful thing. Plus, they’re tasty and make you feel good.

Following the themes of connections and delectability, I submit to C+T’s readers the Dawa. A popular Kenyan beverage – “dawa” is Swahili for “medicine” or “magic potion” – its lineage can be traced back to the Caipirinha and Caipiroska, with a slight nod to the estimable Mint Julep. I was introduced to the Dawa by a long lost family friend, Jeremy, who happened to be in Pretoria a little while back and requested the drink at a braii. And now he’s showing up on this blog. See, connections!Dawn-Greensides---Jeremy-in-Red-Shirt-with-Drink

Dawn-Greensides---Bring-people-togetherTraditionally the Dawa is comprised of vodka, lime wedges, brown sugar, honey, and crushed ice, with a dawa stick thrown into the mix (think combination honey dipper and swizzle stick). Instructions seem to vary, but it appears that the traditional way to make the drink is to build the limes, sugar, vodka and ice in an old fashioned glass, dip the dawa stick in honey and then stir it into the drink, further muddling the limes while you’re at it. The drink can be a little sweet, but a touch of soda water helps mellow it out while adding a little effervescence, and you can always add more lime or vodka to taste.

John's-Drinks-27-April-2016-10Not one to be beholden to tradition, I couldn’t help but tinker, and the end result is what I like to call the Dark Dawa. In place of honey and brown sugar I substituted honey syrup and a simple syrup made with unrefined muscovado sugar. This serves to cut down on the sweetness a skosh, adds a deep molasses flavor to the mix, and helps ensure the drink blends properly. While the dawa stick and associated ritual adds a wonderful aesthetic, I have two issues with it. First, I don’t have a dawa stick, and my muddler is way to big to serve as a garnish. Second, honey is difficult to mix well in cocktails, especially in a drink that is built in the glass rather than shaken. Muddling the limes directly with the honey syrup and muscovado simple syrup prior to adding the ice goes a long way towards resolving both issues.

Dark dawa and John! We miss you!

Dark dawa and John! We miss you!

The biggest change in the Dark Dawa, though, is the move away from vodka in favor of a dark rum. Vodka has its uses, but in cocktails I find it disappears too easily behind whatever other ingredients are incorporated. If you like to taste your booze, try the Dawa with some dark rum and you’ll be pleasantly surprised how well the rum, limes, honey and muscovado sugar blend together.  And in a way it brings the drink back a little closer to its origins in the Caipirinha. See, more connections!



2 oz vodka
2-4 lime wedges
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1-2 teaspoons honey
crushed ice

In an old fashioned glass, add the lime wedges (enough to fill the bottom of the glass) and brown sugar and muddle lightly. Fill the glass with crushed ice, add vodka and stir. Dip your dawa stick in honey and stir into the glass, muddling limes further. If you don’t have a dawa stick or a suitable stand-in, add the honey at the same time as the sugar. Fill glass with more ice or with soda water, if desired.

Dark Dawa and Friends

Dark Dawa and Friends

Dark Dawa

2 oz dark rum
2-4 lime wedges
.5 oz honey syrup*
.25 oz muscovado simple syrup**
crushed ice

In an old fashioned glass, add the lime wedges (see above), honey syrup, and muscovado simple syrup, and muddle.  Add the rum, stir, fill with crushed ice and stir again.  Top off with ice to fill the glass, or add soda water.

*Honey Syrup

.75 cup honey
.25 cup hot water

In a tea kettle bring water to a near boil, then measure out required amount and pour into a mixing bowl. Add honey, then stir with a whisk until fully mixed then store in a sealed container. Makes about 1 cup, and should last indefinitely.

**Muscovado Simple Syrup

1 cup water
1 cup muscovado sugar

In a sealed container add the water and sugar and shake vigorously until mixed. If you’re feeling a little lazy, you can use hot water to help speed up the process.

Thanks for yet another delicious post, John!  We can’t wait to see what you cook up next.  In the meantime, you can check out the rest of John’s tasty things he’s made for us here, or at his blog, Alchemy & a Twist!

All photos by Dawn Greensides. Please request permission for use.  We are not liable for the extreme thirst that results from this blogpost.


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C + T + John’s Fancy Booze, No. 4


I can’t believe Cait had to miss out on this month’s boozy post.  She would usually have a better preamble for John’s concoctions, but all I can say is that on a Sunday afternoon in Phnom Penh, we assembled a tiny group of rum makers and enthusiasts (including the lovely Lin), had both a chemistry and history lesson, and got a little tipsy.  Big ol’ thanks to Daniel and Antonio for letting us invade their space (in the daytime!) and we look forward to some future collabs and photoshoots!

Bottle’s in your court now, John!

The fine folks over at Samai Distillery were kind enough to host us at their amazing distillery and bar for this version of our Fancy Drinks get together. I really can’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

10---Samai-and-Backs-of-John,-Lin-and-DanielSamai is the first and only rum distillery operating in Cambodia. They also open up their distillery on Thursday nights to serve thirsty Phnom Penhers.  While they are still in the process of developing their flagship premium aged rum (along with a number of other varieties), they are definitely on to something great. Samai follows the classic Spanish method for making rum, distilling the alcohol from locally produced molasses (a byproduct of the sugar refining process) in their traditional, handmade 1800s copper stills before aging in sherry casks. Comparable rums – in terms of process – are those made in Venezuela, Cuba, or Nicaragua, such as Bacardi or Flor de Caña.

Rum-in-Bottle-and-BarrellThe pairing with Samai could not have come at a more perfect time. I’ve long remembered a challenge from a C+T reader to incorporate palm sugar into a drink; I would feel a pang of guilt every time I saw a box of Cambodian palm sugar on the counter whenever I would make a drink, left unused day after day. Recently I was perusing a copy of Beachbum Berry’s Potions of the Caribbean and came across a recipe for a drink called Ti Punch, and the seedling for this post was planted; Tiff made the connection with Samai, and here we are.

Samai-SpaceThe original recipe for the Ti Punch calls for sirop de canne. Making sirop de canne, which involves a reduction of fresh sugar juice, is a messy and time consuming process. We’ve done a few labor intensive posts in the past and I wanted to keep things simple this time, so we cheated a tiny bit. Following Beachbum Berry’s advice, I made palm sugar simple syrup instead (see below for details). If you’ve ever made simple syrup with white, processed sugar, you’ll see and taste the difference immediately. The palm syrup has a dark, rich, coffee color with a touch of froth when shaken and a deep, earthy flavor. This is not something you add simply to sweeten a drink – you’re looking to add some heavy flavors, too.

John-at-Work-and-NotesThe original recipe also calls for rum, agricole, rather than the Spanish style rum that Samai makes. Agricole is distilled from fresh sugar cane juice (rather than molasses), so it too has a much earthier flavor profile compared to most rums you may be familiar with. Since the palm juice is not processed before fermentation, you get a lot more of the natural, grassy flavors of the palm as well as the flavors from the soil it was grown in. It is a difference that is readily apparent when tasting side by side with a molasses-based rum, not unlike comparing Scotch whisky and Kentucky bourbon; they are readily distinguishable, though one is not necessarily better than the other and both have their uses.

Lin-and-Ti-PunchWe did a side by side testing of the Ti Punch made with an agricole from Haiti and Samai’s aged rum. Both were smooth and excellent, with the rums contrasting, and complemented by, the lime juice and palm syrup in different ways. The Samai Ti Punch was certainly the sweeter of the two, with notes of honey and fruit readily apparent. If I were to use Samai again, I would experiment with a touch less of the simple syrup.

Regardless of the rum you use it is an excellent drink, the perfect companion for a July evening whiled away on a balcony in Phnom Penh as the summer rains fall on the city.



  • 2 oz rum
  • 5 oz palm sugar simple syrup*
  • One lime
  • 2-3 medium-large ice cubes

Cut the lime in half and squeeze both halves directly into an Old Fashioned glass (pulp, juice and all). Leave one spent half in the glass. Use the other half to rub the rim of the glass with the rind, and then discard. Add the syrup, rum, and ice to the glass and stir to chill.

*Palm Sugar Simple Syrup

  • Three parts Cambodian Palm Sugar
  • Two parts hot water

Heat the water close to a boil then mix with the palm sugar in a clean container, stirring frequently until the sugar is dissolved. Seal and store in the refrigerator, and it should keep for 2-3 weeks.

Thanks for the most excellent post John!  He’ll be back again in August when he brings us not just one but four different cocktails!  In the meantime, check out the rest of John’s fancy pants concoctions here, and his fabulous mixology blog, Alchemy & a Twist.

All photos by Tiffany Tsang. Please request permission for use.  C+T are no liable for any inebriation that follows following the instructions of this post.