How to choose limes: A cocktailer's guide

There's nothing better than a well-crafted cocktail. (Nothing!) Done right, it's a wonderfully nuanced thing – from the conceiving and concocting, to the sipping and savoring. 

But let's be honest. If you're short on time, tinctures, or both, you can pretty much grab a bottle of anything and a gang of limes and you'll be just fine. I know this because you're my people.

As we've already established, there's nothing the lime can't do. But while thwarting scurvy is a fine attribute, it's drink-making where the lime truly shines. A lime gives any drink worth drinking an added sense of oomph.

Lime is the cowbell of cocktails.

But what makes for a great lime? Let's start with a little background...

Limes have a twisted provenance: lots of hybrid this and crossed-with that. Most types of limes, though, can be traced back to a holy mash-up of the citron, the mandarin, and the pomelo. They probably joined forces in southeast Asia or Indonesia more than a thousand years ago. Although there's at least a dozen varieties of limes, the ones you'll find in the Corona section of your typical U.S. grocery store (or the produce section for that matter) are probably Persian limes which were grown in Mexico. 

Limes haven't been formally branded the way oranges and other fruit have. So you kind of end up grabbing whatever they've got. Since I've grabbed a lot of limes over the years, below are a few things I've learned.

As a note, I'm assuming you want a good juicy lime for cocktails, ceviche, beer accessories and the like. (I don't know shit, nor shinola, about baking pies.)

How To Choose The Best Limes

1) Heavier limes are juicier limes:  When choosing limes, compare the weight. Heavier limes, for their size, hold more juice. Simple!

2) Brighter is better: Limes ripen in the opposite order you might expect – they actually start green and, as they ripen, they turn yellow. That's not to say you want yellow limes, they're too far along. But a brighter green lime is riper and will have more juice than a darker green one.

3) Nipples aren't your friend:  You know how some limes have nipples on the end, kind of like a lemon? Often accompanied by darker green, bumpy skin? And sometimes, right in the same bin at the grocer, there might be smoother, rounder limes that are nipple free? Go with the rounder brighter nipple-free ones. A more boldy nippled lime usually has a thicker rind and, from my experience anyway, they produce less juice. Of course a nippled lime is still far better than no lime at all, so don't get too militant on this one.

4) Give it a little squeeze: A good juicy lime will give a little to thumb pressure. The skin will be shiny and healthy: Too hard and you won't get much juice. On the other hand, too soft, too wrinkly, too spotty, too dry, etc. and a lime's margarita-making days over. Just a little give is what you're looking for.

5) And yeah, about key limes: Those bags are tempting! Key limes are so cute! But key limes aren't much for juicing – they're tiny lime-scented marbles which serve little purpose in a proper cocktail. Unless you're making some sort of sugary key-lime-pie flavored martini which, if you are, gtfo anyway.

So alright! You went and got yourself some beautifully heavy bright green nipple-free limes! Now what? Glad you asked, friend-o. Here's what!

How To Store and Juice Limes

1) Store 'em in the refrigerator: Limes are fine on the counter for a few days, but they'll last a week or two in the fridge. No bag is needed because limes are basically sealed in a nice oily skin. However if you've broken the skin – by peeling, slicing, or zesting – all bets are off. Put it in a zip-loc at that point and you'll get another day or two out of it, but the flavor falls off pretty quick.

2) Warm 'em up before juicing: Cold limes store well, but they don't juice as well. I'll take them out of the fridge a few hours before it's time for juicing. Or I'll forget and juice them cold, because I'm a bad boy and you never know what I'm going to do next. Some people advocate putting cold limes in the microwave for 10 or 20 seconds before juicing them. But for whatever reason that just seems heinously wrong.

3) Roll 'em: I roll my limes against the table before juicing. Just press down good and hard with your hand and roll 'em around. It makes for easier squeezing.

4) Juice 'em: If you're looking to make the most juice, the quickest, go with an electric juicer. For aesthetic reasons, though, I prefer a hand-held citrus press or one of those old-school pointy cone things you put right over a glass. If you're hand-squeezing without tools (other than a knife), cut the lime into quarters and squeeze away. Quarters make for much easier squeezing than halves or slices. 

5) Timing is important: Have you ever squeezed an entire camping trip's worth of lime juice ahead of time? Me too! Bad call! Fresh lime juice doesn't last like store-bought bottled juices. After you squeeze limes, you've got eight or so hours to use the juice before it starts losing it's aromatic ooh la la. After 10 or 12 hours, you'll notice it turning bitter. I've read that lime juice is actually at its very best four to six hours after juicing. Verification is difficult though because my lime juice usually doesn't last that long.

So there you go! Yay limes!

If you're looking some additional ruminations on the wonder of limes, check out All Hail The Lime! 

Old bars are the best bars

If you're into long underwear, lag bolts, and breakfast links, do I have the bar for you...

Gilbertson's Store is on the edge of Columbia county in central Wisconsin. If you can find the town of Keyeser, you've found Gilbertson's. Because it seems the town and the store are pretty much the same thing.

Inside, once you make your way past the sock rack, the meat case, and the lingerie, you'll find a four-stool bar. You'll also find the proprietor, Kenny. He and his relatives have owned Gilbertson's Store since 1894. He'll be happy to tell you all about it after he cracks you a $2 bottle of beer. He farmed the family land for 43 years, but just focuses on the store now. The bathrooms are in the back. As in the backyard. A fine set of his-and-her one-seaters that, according to Kenny, were the site for at least one wedding and perhaps some honeymoon activity as well.


My buddy Clem and I discovered the place last weekend during a non-sanctioned tour of historic bars (aka spring road trip). A sense of propriety keeps me from divulging our entire itinerary (not to mention the firm advice of my sizable legal team). But as itineraries go, it was ambitious. We visited a number of places, most of which originated in the 1800s. The best part, many of them happened to have the owner on hand. Eager to share the history of their place. 

It made for a helluva day.

They say nothing good happens after 2am and I generally agree. But at some point, the clock resets. Because at 10 or 11am? On a fine April morning in the Wisconsin countryside? Bellied up and hearing how things were, straight from guys like Kenny? Plenty of good happens then. 

These types of time-capsule bars are all over our fine state. You've got 'em in your fine state too I bet. I'm hoping to find a few more before they're all gone.


10 Gift Ideas for Outdoorsy Drunks

Outdoorsy drunks: you know the type. You might even be the type! 

Whether you're shopping for yourself or your like-minded friends, here are 10 Gift Ideas sure to satisfy.

1. A Vintage 1960s Travel Bar

Outdoorsy people enjoy travel. And drunks enjoy bars. So outdoorsy drunks will love their own travel bar! Executair made these cases in the 1960s and '70s. Several models were available which include various combinations of bottles, cups, and bar tools. You can find them in excellent condition on Ebay, many for under $50. I got the one above, with the original hangtags still on it, for around $60. They're lockable, so make sure the one you get either includes the keys or is unlocked.


2. Flasks and Growlers

Any outdoorsy drunk worth his salt and limes already owns a flask or two. But trust me, they can use a third! Drink holding technology marches constantly forward, leading to cool new shit like growlers. Perfect when you're looking to keep 64 ounces of your favorite microbrew fresh. Or when you're looking to armor a couple bottles worth of tequila. Respectable flasks'll put ya back $20-50. I like my basic Stanley which was $25. Growlers are $30-75. I don't have a growler of my own to recommend (HINT!!!) but here's a damn fine review.


3. A Place For Somebody To Set Their Butt

Nothing complements a fine outdoor cocktail like a fine outdoor place to set yer butt. Conventional camp chairs are fine but when weight, space, or dope-ass style are a concern, I'd suggest the Alite Monarch Rocking Chair. It kind of rocks on two feet, sits low to the ground, packs down to the size of a can of Foster's Lager, and weighs around a pound. Perfect for paddle trips and the like. 70-ish bucks. 


4. A Proper Muddler!


Friend: If you've made brandy old fashioneds without a muddler, you haven't made brandy old fashioneds. Now, muddlers aren't specifically for outdoor use. But the best ones are made of wood and "wood" is 4/5 of the word "woods." Woods are specifically outdoors. I've made a few muddlers in my day, turning cherry or maple on a lathe like the ones above. A fine gift if you've got a lathe. If not, you can buy one of these Pug muddlers, which are freaking gorgeous. OR! I was thinking it would be easy to make an especially outdoorsy (and almost free) version of a muddler. Like this:
            • Cut a fresh 10-inch length of maple, about an inch in diameter
            • Whittle or peel the bark from the working end of the muddler
            • Sand the working end of the muddler until smooth
            • Carve the rest for style
            • Wipe it down with kitchen mineral oil to preserve/class up
            • Accessorize with some maple branch swizzle sticks

5. Likker Jars and/or Likker Jar Supplies

Well, I've posted on infused liquors before. For the record, I'm a fan. They're a delicious item to bring to any party – a gift that's way better than some stupid-ass bottle of wine. You better get cracking though. Whatever you whip up needs a few weeks to acquire its beautifully boozy patina. OH! AND! Holy shit I got one more idea! You could also give someone all the necessary gear so they can make their own infused liquors. By "necessary gear" I mostly mean: Mason jars, booze, and fruit (you can get them all at your local grocery store).


6. A Hammock! And String Lights too!

A hammock and string lights make for a fine combo gift. ENO makes nice versions of both if you're looking for some one-stop shopping. I'd recommend the double hammock, even for single use ($70). There's just something wonderful about pulling the sides over you, cocoon style. The lights ($20) seem to last forever on three AAA batteries. Perfect over a hammock, a tent entrance, or backwoods bar.


7. The Gift of Fire

Outdoorsy drunks love drinking around campfires. You know what else they love doing around campfires? Looking at fire! While any Bic'll do the job (usually), I recently bought a blowtorch of a thing that's already saved me on several rainy camping trips. Wet tinder? No problem. This sucker'll dry it and light it both. I got this Turboflame Windproof Lighter on Amazon for $23. You'll also need a canister of butane to fill it which is like $5.


8. Swizzle Sticks

Swizzle sticks rule. You could make some! Or you could buy a kajillion vintage swizzlesticks on ebay for like almost nothing! I know swizzle sticks aren't an outdoor-specific thing. But damn it, let's make 'em so.


9. Metal pint glasses

Alright, so most of my metal pint glasses were collected from various outdoor-related trade shows. For a gift, you'd probably want to buy some. They're a little spendy, but pretty much indestructible. You can get a four-pack for around $30. A small price to pay for such badassedness.


10. Vintage Bottle Openers Yo!

CHEAP! COOL AF! We're lucky to live in a world that's flush with vintage bottle openers. I've always thought the flat ones are especially sweet: a little bit of beer history that you can carry around in your wallet, clip to a carabiner, or hang with some cordage from a tree. Pretty much every brewery made 'em back in the day. You can find 'em on Ebay for around $5 a piece. 

Tipsy Tips: How to make grilled pineapple + nutmeg infused rum

It seems more and more people are getting into high-falutin' infused liquors these days. Myself included. However, over the past year or so I've come to realize that I might actually prefer my infused liquors low-falutin'.

As such, I'm not removing the fruit after a week or two, quadruple-straining the liquor, and serving neat. Instead, I'm leaving everything in the jar indefinitely, including other ingredients (bitters, multiple liquors, whatever feels right), and serving sloppy. Straight from the jar around a campfire, fruit and all.

It's easy to do, gives me a compelling reason to go to farmers' markets, and increases the likelihood of getting invited to bonfires. Here's how, in handy video form:



Swizzlesticks are the most under-appreciated of cocktail accessories and that fact bums me out.

There was a time when the swizzlestick was the proud axis around which any cocktail revolved. But somewhere along the way they got replaced by the short skinny straw. Or even worse, by a few quick swishes with a nearby butter knife. 

Enough I say! We are not animals!

It's time to bring the swizzlestick back to its former glory... 

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