Measure & Stir

A Craft Cocktail Blog for the Home Bartender that Focuses on Original Creations Drawn from Culinary Inspiration.


Leave a comment

Diamondback

Another one I found via Looka, the Diamondback is a drink to be reckoned with. I looked up this drink on the internet, and I found that most people say to stir it. That is certainly what intuition would suggest, as the drink contains only spirits, but the instructions at that particular blog said to shake it. I was intrigued by the idea, because it goes against the norm, and I was actually very glad I did. The aeration and texture of the drink were a pleasant change of pace for an aromatic cocktail, and it helped to tame the burn of rye+brandy+green chartreuse, which is a very high proof mixture.

Diamondback

1.5 oz rye (Old Overholt)

.75 oz apple brandy (Laird’s bonded)

.75 oz green Chartreuse

Shake and double-strain.

The Diamondback is probably not for the faint of heart, but I always find green Chartreuse has a cinnamon flavor hiding in all of those herbs, and with the spice from the rye and the apple, I felt like I was drinking an apple pie. The blend of flavors was exquisite, and elegant. Chuck Taggart mentioned that he had this drink at the Zig Zag Cafe, and after I made it, I realized that so had I, but I didn’t remember. It’s hard to know for certain, but I think I had it shaken there, too.

The general rule is that you should only shake a drink if it contains fresh juices or thickening agents such as cream or egg, and otherwise it should be stirred or swizzled, or occasionally built. Once in a while, it’s good to break the rules.

The lack of bitters in this drink is intriguing, as most aromatic cocktails benefit from the bassline flavors of a cocktail bitter. In fact, a drink is not properly labelled a cocktail if it contains no bitters, so the Diamondback is not a cocktail in the David Embury sense of the the word; rather it is an ensemble, which is a mixed drink made exclusively of spirits, often sweet enough to be served as dessert.


Leave a comment

flying cucumber

With all the hullaballoo about the aviation, it seemed like the right time for this post. Last year I bought a juicer, and it opened up a world of mixed drink possibilities. Everyone wants to have the coolest, sleekest gadget around, but I got mine from a second hand store for twenty dollars. Although it’s no Champion, it gets the job done, and I get to enjoy its tasteful mauve 80s aesthetic.

Last March I had the feeling the spring was upon us, and to celebrate I juiced a whole english cucumber, skin and all. As you can tell, I am a wild man. The skin made the juice come out in a rich forest green color, but it also added a discordant sensation of chlorophyll, which took away from the bracing, crisp quality that any presentation of cucumber aspires to have.

Gin and cucumber go together like peanut butter and jelly, and once I started thinking down that road, it did not take long for me to hit upon the idea of using it in an Aviation. I think everyone in the world who cares has heard of the Aviation by now, and most people have moved on, but I am a real sucker for floral flavors and I have trouble letting go.  Using my tremendous mathematical prowess, I decided that Aviation + cucumber juice = The Flying Cucumber, but it turned out that A Dash of Bitters had already claimed that name, so I had to get creative:

The Flying Cucumber #2

2 oz Gin (Plymouth)
1 oz Fresh Cucumber Juice
1/2 oz Lemon Juice
1/2 oz Maraschino Liqueur (Luxardo)
1/4 oz of Violet Syrup (Monin)

Shake over ice and double strain.

The Aviation is intended to have a subtle purple-bluish color, evocative of a clear, open sky, whereas my drink was the color of a swamp, and just a bit muddy. Obviously, I will peel my cucumber in the future, which will also provide a much smoother texture, more appropriate to the original spirit of the drink. Other than that, the cucumber juice was mild and a perfect complement to the violet, capturing the romance of spring.


1 Comment

Zig Zag Cafe

On Wednesday night I went to the Zig Zag Cafe by Pike Place Market. It no longer has the prestige of Murray Stenson, but the drinks are still great and the service is lively. Their menu is on the conservative side, which I think reflects the aesthetic of the place, and probably also the tastes of an older man. You won’t find cantelope lemongrass soda or tamarind foam, but you will find top shelf spirits handled with the care they deserve.

In all of my visits to the Zig Zag I have found that they dilute their drinks slightly more than other craft bars I have visited, and also more than I do at home. I am not criticizing their choice — I think it is more stylistic than cheap. The higher water content means that their drinks are always immaculately cold and smooth, but they sacrifice a little bit of the intensity of the flavor. The additional dilution makes their drinks very accessible; there is nothing harsh or caustic about anything that they serve, and I surmise that caters to the crowd in a major tourist location like Pike Place Market.

For my first drink I ordered the Cubano, and unlike many bars, the Zig Zag does not say where their drinks were created.  A quick google did not prove fruitful, so I’m guessing it is a Zig Zag original. The Cubano features light rum, green chartreuse, dry vermouth, lemon and lime juice. I don’t know the exact proportions, but it was fairly Chartreuse-forward, so I’ll take a guess:

Cubano?

1 oz Light Rum (Wray and Nephew, but maybe try Mount Gay)
.5 oz Dry Vermouth (Dolin)
.5 oz Green Chartreuse
1/2 Tsp Lemon Juice
1/2 Tsp Lime Juice

Stir and double strain (or just don’t get any citrus pulp in there, anyway)

I made the drink with these proportions and it was very much as I remember, but I do not think they used Wray and Nephew. The funkiness from my choice of rum combined with the the dry vermouth was a bit more assertive than in the one at the Zig Zag, and I may try it again with something milder.

For my second drink I had the Bitter Pimm’s, which was a marriage of Pimm’s No. 1 and Amaro Montenegro. This was among the best application of Amaro Montenegro that I have tasted. I’ve always felt that it has a cotton candy, bubblegum kind of flavor, and it fit right in with the fruity qualities of the Pimm’s. (Apologies for the terrible glare on the lemon.)


5 Comments

coffee sours

This week I bought a moka, and some beans from a local coffee shop, Vivace. The beans on their site look delicious! I have never had a way to brew coffee before, so this is a fun new experience for me. It makes coffee very similar to a french press, but perhaps a bit muddier. The output from the Moka is not as rich as espresso, but the ratio of effort:quality is outstanding.

One of the first things I did was use it to make Francis the Mule, which I found on Chuck Taggart’s blog, Looka.

Francis the Mule

2 oz Bourbon (Buffalo Trace)

3/4 oz cold strong coffee (depending on brewing method and beans, this could vary. always taste!)

1/2 oz lemon juice

1/2 oz orgeat syrup

2 dashes orange bitters

When I tasted this in the mixing glass, pre-shake, the coffee flavor wasn’t where I wanted it to be. There was too much of the lemon/almond, and not enough bitterness, so I upped the proportion of coffee from 1/2 to 3/4 oz. This proved to be an excellent choice, imparting the drink with a perfectly salient, but not overpowering experience of coffee.

I also made a slight variation by using Buffalo Trace bourbon that I infused with a vanilla bean for five days. I have found that vanilla-infused bourbon really brings something special to the concept of a whiskey sour, be it daisy, fix, or something more exotic. I also thought there was enough going on because of the vanilla that I decided to omit the lemon oil from the garnish. Lemon oil and vanilla occupy different flavor frequencies, but there is some overlap and it is critical that one can taste each element in a mixed drink distinctly; too many flavors overwhelm the palate, and result in a drink that tastes of nothing in particular.

While we’re on the subject of coffee, lemon, and almonds, I was entertaining a friend who was allergic to alcohol, and I was inspired to make a sour using coffee as the base “spirit”. I would have loved to try some sweet vermouth with this, but that would, of course, break the no alcohol rule. Fee’s bitters are suspended in glycerine instead of alcohol, so they are completely on the table, mercifully, and Fee’s orange was perfect here. When I made this drink, Francis the Mule was not in my thoughts, but it must have manifested subconsciously, because the recipes are extremely similar.

Bialetti Aspro

2 oz strong coffee

3/4 oz lemon juice

3/4 oz orgeat syrup.

2 dashes Fee’s orange bitters

Serve this to your DD, they’ll love it. Since there was no alcohol in this one, an egg white was right out, but fortunately the coffee frothed up like a monster, as you can sort of see. I have several other ideas for coffee as a base spirit, and I also intend to experiment with replacing coffee liqueur in drinks with fresh coffee. Due to the variation in beans, and the bitterness of the brew, it’s almost like adding a new class of amari to my bar.


Leave a comment

Attention!

Jamie Boudreau is much cooler than I am, and he wrote these excellent posts on the topic of creme de violette. In the second post he gives the recipe for a drink called the Attention Cocktail, and I thought the combination of ingredients was too interesting to pass up.

Image

Attention Cocktail

2 oz gin (Beefeater)

1/4 oz dry vermouth (Dolin)

1/4 oz absinthe (Arak and I can’t read the bottle)

1/4 oz creme de violette (Monin violet syrup)

2 dashes Regan’s orange bitters

stir with ice, strain into a cocktail glass

garnish with a lemon twist

As you can see, I substituted Monin violet syrup for creme de violette, and Lebanese arak for absinthe. Arak is similar to pastis, which is made by maceration of aniseed and licorice root in a base spirit. Arak uses a grape distillate for its base spirit, and does not contain licorice root, but just like pastis or anisette, the end result is a licorice bomb in your drink that greedily stomps on every other flavor. Every drink I have tried to make using pastis as a flavoring agent has been so licorice-forward that I can barely enjoy it, even with a quarter ounce.

If you read Jamie Boudreau’s post you’ll notice he tried Monin’s creme de violette, and thought that it was awful, but he had better things to say about the syrup. I find the syrup to be pleasant and highly aromatic, though as with most floral flavoring agents, a little goes a long way.  I had high hopes that the quarter ounce of violet syrup would be able to stand up to the quarter ounce of arak, and it did better than most, but it, too, was mostly defeated. As you can see, the violet lent this drink a mild purple hue, which looked very elegant with the the slice of lemon peel.

The gin and the dry vermouth were mostly lost in this concoction, just barely perceptible as an herbal baseline to the anise, which filled the palate until the swallow, when the violet was allowed to come through. My new policy on licorice drinks is going to be a dash and no more. Even so, the combination of these flavors was intriguing, and I intend to try it again with much less arak.


3 Comments

Infused Soju

For my new years eve party, I wanted to get as many people tore up as possible, with a minimum of at-party-time prep work. I had been frequenting the Quoin in Fremont, and their main libatory accomplishment is the fact that they serve house-infused soju. Soju, for those of us who are ready, is a Korean distillate of rice (or other starchy produce) with a neutral flavor, similar to vodka. It is usually a little sweeter than vodka, and the wikipedia article is difficult to parse, but it seems like they might just be adding some sugar on the back end.

The Jinro soju that I purchased clocked in at 48 proof, which is low enough to serve over ice and still give everyone a good time. I did a bit of googling and I found out that infusing fruit in soju is a traditional korean practice for preserving the flavors of fruit in the summer time. That makes this drink a bit out of season for the time I made it, but the end product was quite satisfying.

As you can see, I made two different varieties for the party. On the left, cranberry, orange peel, and cinnamon combined to make a spicy, wintery potion which I finished, the day of the party, with half a cup of simple syrup. It came out a bit too sweet for my personal taste, but it was surely a hit with the ladies. The cranberry flavor was perceptible, but it was milder than I was hoping.

If I did this again, I would consider pureeing the cranberries in the blender and then finely strain the infusion into a serving vessel. That might put too many bitter vegetal notes in the drink, so another option would be to concentrate the pureed cranberry’s flavor into a syrup, which I would mix into the soju a couple of days before serving.

Cranberry Orange Cinnamon Soju

4.5 liters of the highest proof soju you can find

2 lbs cranberries

one stick of cassia cinnamon

peel from 2 organic oranges

Allow the mixture to infuse for two weeks, stirring and tasting every two days. Remove the cinnamon stick after ~1 week, once the cinnamon flavor is evident but not overpowering.

On the right is soju infused with roasted butternut squash and a single vanilla bean. Like most squashes, the butternut when roasted took on a slightly sour note, but as the vanilla flavor matured it developed a quality not entirely unlike play-doh, in a good way. I was personally much more pleased with this soju than the other, but the sweetened, familiar flavor of orange cranberry proved to be a bigger crowd-pleaser.

Vanilla Butternut Squash

4.5 liters of Soju

1 Butternut squash, roasted in the oven until soft and caramelized, cut away from the peel.

1 vanilla bean, split open.

Allow the mixture to infuse for two weeks, stirring and tasting every two days. The vanilla bean can accompany the squash throughout the duration of its voyage.


5 Comments

Blue Beetle #2

I haven’t made this drink in a long time, and at the time, I was still learning a lot about mixing drinks. Indeed, it was nearly two years ago that I first tried this muddled blueberry drink named after a DC Comics character. And astute readers will notice a serious error in the production of this drink, and also that I used a cocktail glass as a mixing glass. Those were primitive times.

The Blue Beetle is a perfect drink for a Saturday afternoon, or even a Sunday morning. It is light, fruity, floral, and sweet. The botanical flavor of gin complements and the earthy sweetness of fresh blueberries make an excellent combination. I used Tanqueray 10 here, but in retrospect I think the added sweetness from an Old Tom gin would probably be excellent.

I started with .75 oz. of fresh lemon juice. Always remember, your drink is no better than the worst thing that you mix into it. If you use a cheap, pasteurized sour mix, you are the Taco Bell of bartending. As a matter of fact, nothing will work for a proper drink except for freshly squeezed lemon juice. The flavor of lemon juice immediately begins to degrade once it has been squeezed, and within a few hours it will have lost all of its delicate floral tones.

I highly suggest a citrus squeezer if you intend to juice limes or lemons in any quantity. I haven’t actually tried the Chef’n one that I linked to, but the company that made them was in the same building as my old office, and the attachable filter looks very convenient. Cleaning the standard kind, such as the one depicted above, can be a bit of a nuisance.

What gives this drink it’s distinct quality is that it starts with a blueberry cordial. Anyone can make a blueberry cordial, it takes nothing more than simple syrup and blueberries. I smashed about 18 blueberries in half an ounce of simple syrup with a muddler, but you could pulverize them in the syrup any way you like. After you have made the mixture, strain it through a fine mesh strainer. You wouldn’t want any big pieces of blueberry pulp in your drink.

I have made this drink a couple of times since, and I have found that the flavor of blueberries can vary substantially, even among ripe blueberries. Some blueberries can be quite a bit sweeter, and some can be more on the tart side. That’s why it’s important to taste your cordial before you integrate it into the drink, and after you incorporate it with the lemon juice. If you don’t find the right balance between sweet and sour, you will need to make adjustments in the amount of syrup vs. lemon. Add ingredients a dash at a time, and try not to change the overall ratio of spirits : modifiers.

This tea-strainer was not perfect, but it worked. Agitating the mixture with a barspoon will help you work it through the strainer.

Ah, the indiscretions of youth! I failed to double-strain this drink, meaning I surely left small pieces of ice floating in the drink. This is always undesirable, and the sign of a lazy (or very busy) bartender. They don’t completely ruin the drink, but they produce a distracting texture, and should be avoided. Similarly, drinks which contain fresh citrus may have some pulp in them, which is delicious in the morning, but it detracts from the elegance of a pre- or post-prandial libation.

Drop a few blueberries in for a garnish. The color of this drink was spectacular.

Blue Beetle

1.5 oz gin

.75 oz lemon juice

.5 oz simple syrup

handful of muddled blueberries.

Make the blueberry cordial by smashing the blueberries in the simple syrup, and strain. Shake all of the ingredients over ice and double strain into a cocktail glass.

Looking back I found the original recipe that I followed, and it turns out I didn’t even do it right. At The Pegu Blog he made the drink with less lemon and with two dashes of grapefruit bitters. I think grapefruit bitters sound excellent in this drink, and I will make sure to try it that way in the future. I’m not sold that it’s necessary, as bitters can often muddy the flavor of citrus, even when they are citrus bitters.


1 Comment

Caramel Apple Charged Punch

Sometimes the drink you end up making is not the one you were expecting. I was planning to make a drink with dark rum and Cynar this morning, but last week I bought a bottle of Laird’s bonded apple brandy, and I was just itching to mix with it. I’ve tried Laird’s applejack in the past, but it was a mediocre product, astringent upon the palate and disappointing in its concentration of apple flavor. The bonded version was slightly more expensive, but it is bursting with good apple flavor, and smooth enough that I was not offended when I sipped it neat.

Creating your own drinks on the fly is always a lot of fun, because it teaches you much more about mixology than just making someone else’s recipe. The end result isn’t always good, but it’s always an opportunity to learn. This drink is technically a charged punch, meaning the aqueous element is carbonated, and the primary components feature citrus juice prominently. I’m terrible at naming the drinks I make, so I just call them what they are.

Caramel Apple Charged Punch

1.5 oz Bonded Apple Brandy (Laird’s)
.75 oz Averna
.5 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
2 oz. Ginger Beer (Rachel’s)

Shake all except ginger beer, strain and pour over fresh ice. Insert a straw through an apple wheel for a garnish, and then let a few drops of lemon juice coat the apple to prevent browning.

For my personal taste, a drink without a bitter component is usually not very interesting, which is why I stock a large variety of amari. When I first tasted Averna I did not care for it, as I thought it had an off petrochemical note. Moreover, I dislike the mouthfeel of caramel coloring, and it was clear to me that the makers of Averna had added some. The flavor eventually grew on me, as most spirits do, and I now reach for it when I am looking for an element of burned caramel.

I made the shaken portion of this drink in a ratio of 6:3:2, which I have found works very well for base spirit:liqueur:sour type potions. The intensity of the citrus flavor will often overpower the liqueur if they are used in equal measure, and this is easy to account for. The most important thing to do when freestyling a drink is to constantly taste it as you add each new ingredient. Whatever it tastes like before you shake it, it’s going to taste pretty similar once it’s cold. Dilution and chill will modify the flavor a bit, but you can be confident that if it tastes great before you shake it, it will taste great after.

I purchased a bottle of Rachel’s ginger beer a couple of weeks ago, knowing that I would use it to top a cocktail at some point, and I thought it would be just the thing to turn this into a long drink. Rachel’s is a local brand of Seattle ginger beer, but I was dismayed to discover that they add lemon juice to their product before bottling. It makes their soda complex and dry, but it completely clobbered the subtler flavors of Averna and apple.

My first shot at this drink left me dissatisfied, so I bought a bottle of Blenheim ginger ale, which is by far the best commercially made ginger ale, owing to its supreme ginger heat. It lacks the rich flavor and body of a ginger beer, but it has a spicy effervescence that fills my sinuses when I sip it plain. The lighter flavor of the Blenheim proved to be a perfect match for this combination of ingredients, with the ginger taking a back seat to the caramel apple flavor, while still contributing a spice note after the sip. I didn’t have any apples for round two, so I was forced to make do with a lime wheel.

Caramel Apple Charged Punch (Round 2)

1.5 oz Bonded Apple Brandy (Laird’s)
.75 oz Averna
.5 oz Lime Juice
3 oz. Spicy ginger ale (Blenheim)

Shake all except ginger beer, strain and pour over fresh ice. Insert a straw through an apple wheel for a garnish, and then let a few drops of  lime juice coat the apple to prevent browning.

This drink is perfect for summer, and soothing to the digestion.


3 Comments

Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail

So much has been said about the old fashioned that I will not embarrass myself by trying to describe its history, but I will describe my ideal of how to make one. I often make variants by employing a different base spirit or a flavored syrup. The old fashioned cocktail is a template as much as it is a particular drink, and yet, made with rye, simple syrup, and angostura bitters, it is the perfect platonic ideal of a what a cocktail ought to be. The very first cocktails were little more than bitters and sugar added to a base spirit, and all evolution of modern cocktails has flowed out of such a marriage of flavors.

Somehow in the dark ages of drinking, the 60s to the late 90s, the old fashioned was twisted and perverted into a drink with a pulverized fake maraschino cherry, and a smashed up orange and sometimes, god forbid, a drink topped with club soda or–almost unthinkable–sprite. But this marvel has returned to us, probably in large part because of the show Mad Men. You’ll never be Don Draper, but even so, holding an old fashioned will add 25% to the classiness of any outfit.

2 oz base spirit (Buffalo Trace Bourbon)

1 barspoon (1/8 oz) simple syrup

dash of bitters

orange peel

Cut a fat piece of orange peel, and then trim it with a knife into a perfect rectangle. Make sure not to leave any pith on the peel. Place it in the bottom of the glass, and pour the simple syrup on top. Using a muddler, carefully smash the orange peel, just enough to squeeze out its oils. Add the bitters and the whiskey, and then pour the drink into a tumbler filled with ice. Stir, and then pour the drink back into the old fashioned glass, over ice.

To make the drink look perfect, a single large ice cube is best. You can make your own at home with this tovolo ice cube tray.

There are those who will build the old fashioned in the glass, but neglect to stir it. This results in an inferior drink, because it will not reach the necessary temperature, nor will it reach the appropriate dilution. A counter-intuitive aspect of making excellent drinks: slightly more dilution can result in a more intense flavor, as an overly strong alcohol burn can numb and overpower the palate.

Some will make this drink with a sugar cube instead of simple syrup, and they will use the bitters to break down the cube. Such a method is more laborious, and its only advantage over syrup is slight; the granulated sugar will help to macerate the orange peel, and will produce a superior experience of orange oil. I confess I do not usually trouble myself with this, but I appreciate the ritual.

Coming soon: old fashioned cocktail variants.