Measure & Stir

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


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Gastrique Sour

Last weekend I was feeling astringent, and that meant it was time to make gastrique.  I confess, what I truly desired was not a gastrique but a shrub, but shrubs take several days to make, whereas you can cook up a gastrique in much less than an hour. Both ingredients are made from sugar and vinegar, so if you desire the tang of acetic acid and you don’t have the luxury of waiting two days for your syrup to pickle, a gastrique might be the previously unknown secret desire of your heart.

I followed this Serious Eats recipe, which I shall recount briefly for you here, in case clicking on one more hyperlink is too much effort for your web-weary mind and fingers.

Blueberry Gastrique
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons of water
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup smashed blueberries

Combine water and sugar in a pot and cook on medium high heat. Prior to cooking, the sugar should have the texture of wet sand. Heat the sugar until it dissolves and begins to bubble and undulate. Do not stir. Watch the sugar until it has caramelized into a beautiful golden brown, and then add the apple cider vinegar, and reduce the heat to medium. When the caramel has fully dissolved in the vinegar, add the blueberries and stir. Simmer for a few minutes to allow the flavors to meld, and then strain out the blueberry pulp.

Making Caramel is, in fact, very easy, and I got this right on my first try. So will you. Gastrique is traditionally served as a sauce on fish or meat, but it’s great in a mixed drink, as you will discover if you try it. The complex flavor of caramel and cider vinegar is best-suited to brown spirits such as bourbon or aged rum; I tried it with Wray and Nephew and it wasn’t right at all. A shrub might go with a lighter spirit, but there is a certain synergy between the brownness of caramel and the brownness of bourbon or rye.

Blueberry Gastrique Sour

1.5 oz Rye Whiskey (Old Overholt)
.5 oz Lime Juice
.5 oz Blueberry Gastrique

Shake over ice and double-strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a sprig of fresh rosemary.

Even though the vinegar is sour, you need to treat this ingredient like a syrup. It retains the flavor of vinegar, but the sugar in the caramel and the berries flattens its acidity, so citrus juice is still needed. Vinegar has a great flavor, but it’s not something you want to inhale like a scotch. That’s why I garnished the drink with an aromatic herb; the scent of the rosemary saves you from the vinegar’s smell, while complementing its savory qualities.


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Flamed Pisco Sour

Writing code all day will make just about anyone feel crazy, and last Monday the monotony was starting to get to me, so I walked down to my neighborhood Sur La Table, and I bought myself a flamethrower. If you are putting together the menu for a bar, a flamed drink serves two purposes; first, it gets the attention of all your patrons, and incites them to order “the one with the fire”, which hopefully equals more sales. Second, it’s flipping awesome.

Jeffrey Morgenthaler describes a technique for flaming a drink in which he fills a pressurized olive-oil sprayer with a mixture of bitters and Stroh 160, and then uses it to flame the surface of a Pisco Sour. The Pisco sour is an ideal candidate for this treatment, because it is made with an egg white, and as such has a rich, foamy head. You could garnish any mixed drink with scorched bitters, and it impart the same aroma, but egg white drinks have the added bonus that you can caramelize the top of the foam, capturing the the flavor of the bitters as well.

The garnish in a drink should look beautiful, but it also plays a functional role most of the time: it gives the drink most of its aroma. A mixed drink does not have a strong smell, but a fresh herb, spice, or citrus peel completes the experience of the drink. In that sense, scorched bitters is the garnish, even though it leaves no tangible artifact in the glass.

Some men just want to watch the world burn. In order to take this picture, I had to spray fire all over the egg white for about three times as long as you’re supposed to, and the surface that was touched by the flame turned into a paper film with the flavor of crème brûlée, and a texture that I wouldn’t serve to anyone whom I actually liked. As a matter of fact, it took me three of these before I got it right, but the research was not unpleasant.

You probably know all about the Pisco Sour–Pisco is a type of pomace brandy, similar to grappa, and is the national spirit of Peru.  Moreover, the Pisco Sour is the Peruvian national cocktail, which they celebrate on the first Saturday of every February. It is a very simple drink, but there are a couple of interesting details, which I shall discuss momentarily.

Scorched Pisco Sour
1.5 oz Pisco
.75 oz Lime Juice
.5 oz Simple Syrup
1 Egg White

Dry shake* and then add ice and shake again. Double strain into a cocktail glass. Fill an olive-oil sprayer with a mixture of Angostura bitters and 151 rum (or Stroh 160) and burn the top of the egg white foam for a few seconds.

If your drink looks like the one in my picture, you actually overdid it with the fire. You don’t want a slimy membrane of burned meringue on top of your drink. Most Pisco sour recipes only call for half an egg white, but I like to use a whole one in this kind of application, to guarantee that you have plenty of foam to work with.

The traditional garnish for a Pisco sour is freshly-grated nutmeg, and I honestly prefer that to the more common (in the states) clover made out of angostura bitters. Scorching the bitters is a fun variation, however, and worth it just for the pyrotechnics.

*A note on dry shaking your sour: I always used to find that, when dry-shaking my drinks, little droplets from the drink would escape from my shaker and get all over my hands and clothes. This frustrated me greatly, because in order to properly dry-shake a drink, you need to shake it mightily, and in so doing whip up the egg white into a rich foam. I asked around on the internet, and they told me that the temperature of a drink with ice is what prevents it from breaking through the seal on your shaker. So for this drink, I placed a single ice cube in the shaker for my “dry” shake, and I was delighted to discover that the drink did not leak.


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Bacon-Infused Bourbon

Like you, I had heard of bacon-infused bourbon, and this trendy process known as “fat-washing”, wherein a spirit is infused with animal fat. I was always skeptical, because it seemed gimmicky, and who really wants to drink a whole drink that tastes like meat, anyway? I tried some Bakon Vodka, and I was surprised by how mild and not-terrible its bacon flavor is. I was expecting artificial bacon flavor, which is disgusting, as you will know if you have tried such abominations as bacon salt, bacon breath mints, or anything else of that nature. I think the problem is that you can only really extract about half of the flavor, so such products always taste oddly incomplete, and lack the fatty savoriness of real bacon.

I changed my mind when I visited RN74 Seattle, a mere two blocks from my office, and tried an original bacon cocktail there consisting of bacon-infused bourbon, Cynar, and Laphroaig. The bacony qualities of the scotch married the bacon in the bourbon beautifully! So I knew I had to try making my own. If you search the internet for instructions, you will find a handful of websites describing the process, followed by the identical recipe for an old fashioned bacon cocktail. I followed their instructions, which are, very simply:

  1. Fry some bacon
  2. Drain off the fat, and measure out a third of a cup
  3. Pour the fat into some bourbon, and allow it to infuse for about five hours
  4. Put the bottle in the freezer overnight. All of the fat will have floated to the top by now, where it will solidify
  5. Strain out the fat as you pour your now bacon-infused bourbon into a clean vessel.

 

Since you can do it in one day, this is one of the easiest infusions I have ever made. The bacon flavor in the bourbon is incomplete, much the same way as in Bakon vodka or bacon salt, but the bourbon provides a nice rich base for it, and some of the fat seems to diffuse in the spirit, giving it a slightly thicker, slightly oily viscosity, which is not unpleasant. Since so many people went out of their way to give me the recipe for an old fashioned, I made it my starting point:

Old Fashioned Bacon Cocktail

1.5 oz Bacon-Infused Bourbon (Buffalo Trace)
.25 oz Grade B Maple Syrup
2 Dashes Angostura Bitters

Stir, and strain over ice. Garnish with a crispy strip of bacon.

The internet said to garnish it with an orange peel, but I think the bacon garnish is way more dramatic, aromatic, and delicious. The presence of a piece of bacon greatly added to the sensation and enjoyment of bacon in the drink, much more than an orange would. The flavor of the maple syrup was subtle, but noticeable, and a great pairing in any context.

Even though this drink is good, it’s more valuable for its novelty than for its excellence. I was happy to try it, but I would probably never order it in a bar, nor do I have a strong inclination to mix it again for myself. I’d much rather just eat bacon. Still, I wanted to see what else was out there, and I didn’t want to mindlessly parrot the same information that’s already all over the internet. So I did a bit of research, and I found this video from Jamie Boudreau, in which he offers up a drink called the Chocolate Cochon:

Chocolate Cochon
1.5 ounces bacon-infused bourbon
.25 ounce amaro Ramazotti
.25 ounce crème de cacao (homemade)
.25 ounce kirsch
Dash of Angostura bitters

Stir over ice, strain over fresh ice, and garnish with a flamed orange peel.

This is the kind of thing you would expect from Jamie Boudreau. I didn’t have any Kirsch, but honestly, I can’t imagine that made one whit of difference. I combined all of the ingredients, pre-stir, minus the kirsch, and the only thing I could taste was the bacon bourbon, the bitters, and a touch of sweetness from the liqueurs. The flavors of chocolate and Ramazotti were barely there at all, except maybe as a hint of muddy complexity on the swallow. I cannot imagine that a quarter ounce of kirsch, which has a very light flavor, would have made all that much difference. I ended up compensating by adding a little extra chocolate, but on the whole, this drink lead me to a very deep understanding of drinks that use bacon-infused bourbon as the base.

They all taste exactly the same. The one from RN74, the old-fashioned, the slightly mangled Chocolate Cochon. It doesn’t matter what you do. Get a little sugar in there, a little bitter, and call it good. That said, I really wanted to try to make something a little different, and I had recently acquired a bottle of Lustau Oloroso Dry Amontillado Sherry, and I thought it would be just the thing to bury this bacon bourbon once and for all.

Hogwash

1.5 oz Bacon-infused Bourbon
.75 oz Dry Amontillado Sherry (Lustau Oloroso)
Dash of Simple Syrup
Dash of Angostura Bitters

Stir over ice and garnish with a flamed orange peel

This is a very recognizable take on the formula for an aromatic cocktail. It does not sound terribly original or surprising, but even so I highly recommend it to you over the others. Amontillado sherry tastes like dry white wine, with a hint of something savory on the tongue, followed by a vivid mushroom flavor on the swallow. The umami qualities of the sherry and the mushroom finish complemented the bacon while taking this drink in a very different direction from the other cocktails I have seen with it. Jamie was onto something with the flamed orange peel; that hint of a burned flavor is just the right aroma for this spirit.

Cheers.


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Memories of Fall: Apple Brandy and Cardamaro

In almost every mixed drink I have encountered, there is a perishable ingredient, something that is just slightly inconvenient to keep fresh and on hand. If it isn’t fresh citrus juice, it is fortified wine, and if it is neither of those, it is some kind of dairy ingredient. Even an old fashioned cocktail, or a Sazerac isn’t really complete without a slice of fresh citrus peel. David Embury divided mixed drinks into two broad categories:  Sour and Aromatic, the former depending upon sour citrus juice, and the latter depending upon fortified wines and bitters.

There are other mixologists with other ideas, but at the end of the day you’re pouring sugared and flavored ethanol, and it’s not as if all of these categories exist in some discoverable form in nature, the way subatomic particles do. Anyway, fortified wines will live a lot longer in your fridge than fresh lemons will in your fruit bowl, and it is both easy and refreshing to make a drink that contains only spirits.

I think many drinkers neglect the aromatic style, either because they mistakenly believe that they dislike vermouth, or because they have never seen how rewarding an aromatic cocktail can be. Technically speaking, only aromatic mixed drinks are cocktails, and only a subset of them, for that matter. Last Thursday I was in the mood for an aromatic drink using apple brandy, and I invoked my favorite 6:3:1 formula for a quick tipple.

Memories Of Fall

1.5 oz Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy
.75 oz Cardamaro
.25 oz Allspice Liqueur (homemade)
dash of angostura bitters

Stir over ice and strain into a coupe glass. Drink in the Spring time.

This was a warming drink, and it felt like something you would sip on a crisp fall afternoon. I made this drink several weeks ago, when it was still technically spring, so it was deliciously out of season, not because the ingredients were unseasonal, but because the flavors were. The Cardamaro lent a round, herbal flavor to the sip, which was complimented by spiced apple on the swallow.


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Des Esseintes

CVS is an endless repository of new and exciting drinks, though I probably lean on them too much. But see, I have this bottle of Del Maguey Mezcal de Vida burning a hole in my bar, and then this brilliant opportunity to mix it with an amaro comes along, and how could I resist? Amaro Nonino tends toward the sweeter side of amari, and I find that, much like Cardamaro, it occupies the same same general flavor profile as a good sweet vermouth. Make a Manhattan with Nonino or even Ramazotti instead of vermouth and you’ll see what I mean. They are substantially different from a sweet vermouth, but when you put them in your drink, they do the same thing.

In light of this similarity, I think this drink, Des Esseintes, is a lot like a Martinez with mezcal instead of gin. Of course, the devil is in the details, and I think the pairing of Nonino and Mezcal is a grand one, so much so that I tried to realize it with gummy bears, but you shouldn’t do that, probably.

Des Esseintes

1.5 oz Mezcal (Del Maguey Mezcal de Vida)
1.5 oz Amaro Nonino
1 barspoon Maraschino (Luxardo)
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
2 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters

Stir over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

The mezcal’s smokiness made for an enjoyable riff on a classic, but overall this was too sweet for my palette. I think it would have been a lot better with only one ounce of amaro, particularly because Nonino is so very sweet. If someone asked me for a mezcal drink, this is not the first one I would make for them, but it might be the third.


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Sun Liquor: Libby’s Mai Tai

I visited the Sun Liquor Lounge for my friend John’s birthday. The Seattle weather gods must have been in a very unusual mood that day, because as I recall it was sunny and warm, and the Mai Tai sounded most appealing to everyone there. I am fond of the Sun Liquor Lounge’s aesthetic of faux orientalism, and I think that their menu is reasonably put together, with an appropriately-sized selection of modern drinks and updates to classics.

I think the menu mostly speaks for itself. Another Bond Girl is a playful and modern take on a Vesper, the Kentucky Cardinal tastefully employs a shrub as its souring agent, and the addition of rhubarb to the Bee’s Knees is a great way to incorporate an unusual and seasonal ingredient. This is all capital stuff.

Everyone in our party, however, opted to drink the Libby’s Mai Tai. I was a bit skeptical, because the drink as described is a pretty significant departure from the classic Mai Tai, which calls for no grenadine and no pineapple juice, and for orange liqueur instead of orange juice. I quite bravely ordered one, anyway. As you can see, it came in a tremendously large tiki glass:

The bartender built the drink in glass, neither stirring nor shaking. Such constructions are a delicate procedure, in which the order of the pours matters, because each ingredient has a different weight, and a proper integration requires that each ingredient be heavier than the last so that they will all fall in together. One upside to a skillful in-glass construction is that it produces beautiful color gradients across the drink, as can be seen here. This is, obviously, the function of the grenadine in the drink, though candidly, I could have done without it.

Although the drink definitely caters to a sweet-craving palate, it was not cloying and it is highly appropriate to the tiki genre. Still, one of my favorite parts of drinking a mai tai is the aroma of fresh mint from the garnish, which was sadly absent. Even so, I like the Sun Liquor lounge and I think their style and the quality of their drinks is respectable without being pretentious.

If you want to make their Mai Tai, you’re going to need some fresh grenadine, which you can make by combining equal parts of fresh pomegranate juice and sugar, and shaking them together until they are fully integrated. Caster’s sugar will dissolve better than regular white sugar, but either works. The critical thing with grenadine is to never heat it up. The best flavor comes from a cold process; heating it will cause many of the darker, earthier tones in the juice to break down, leaving only a candy sweetness. I’m going to give you Jefferey Morgenthaler‘s recipe, even though I haven’t tried it with the pomegranate molasses.

Grenadine
2 cups Fresh Pomegranate Juice (approximately two large pomegranates) or POM Wonderful 100% pomegranate juice
2 cups Unbleached Sugar
2 oz Pomegranate Molasses
1 tsp Orange Flower Water

This is probably more than you need for your home bar, so I would probably halve it. If you add an ounce of vodka or neutral grain spirit, it will preserve the syrup for about a month. I like my Mai Tais a little dryer than the one at Sun Liquor, so if I were to recreate it, I would start here:

Libby’s Mai Tai?

1 oz Dark Rum
1 oz Light Rum
1 oz Fresh Pineapple Juice
.5 oz Fresh Orange Juice
1.5 oz Fresh Lime Juice
.5 oz Orgeat syrup
.5 oz Grenadine

Shake over ice and double-strain over fresh ice. Garnish with a mint sprig, damnit.

Keep in mind that I have not tasted this recipe, and it’s probably not exactly right. I guarantee my version uses more lime juice than theirs did, but then, I was trying to dry it out. If you want a more accurate recreation, I would drop the lime down to one ounce. With so much sweet fruit juice, you’re going to end up with something a little heavier than you want in the summer, maybe.


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Angry Bear: Raspberries, Tequila, Allspice

I wanted to mix another Sleepy Bear but I did not have any blackberries. Raspberries were an acceptable substitute, but when I tasted the raspberry honey blend, I found myself craving tequila instead of rum. There was something in the blackberry that wanted to blend with the smokey vegetal flavors of reposado tequila, so I followed my instinct. The oaky, sugar cane flavor of my go-to aged rum is much fuller than the flavor of my go-to reposado, and to fill in the gap, I thought a dash of allspice dram would be perfect. It was.

Angry Bear

2 oz Reposado Tequila (Espolon)
.5 oz Honey Syrup
6 – 8 raspberries
.5 oz Lime Juice
.25 oz Allspice Liqueur (homemade)

Muddle the raspberries in the honey syrup until you have a fresh raw jam. Shake all ingredients over ice and double-strain into a wine glass. Cut a large, thin orange slice and place it in the glass, and cut a raspberry so it sits on the rim.

The orange slice is really just for looks, though it add some orange oil to the aroma. All the flavors of the different ingredients were perceptible, which is the mark of a successful mix, although I admit this isn’t the manliest concoction I’ve poured lately. Even with two ounces of tequila, there is no escaping that scintillant pink color. If you want to drink raspberries, it’s the price you must pay.