Measure & Stir

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Sleepy Bear: Bärenjager, Blackberries and Rum

I’ve had a bottle of Bärenjager burning a hole in my bar for a while now, and I have found it to be tremendously un-useful. It’s a delicious dessert, stirred over ice and with a dash of bitters, but as far as mixing into drinks, it’s a loser. The honey flavor, so engaging on its own, is easily lost among other spirits. I had originally wanted to use it to make the Bee’s Knees, a classic gin sour using honey instead of sugar, but what I found was that the proportion of the liqueur had to be increased substantially before the flavor of honey was discernible, and by then the resulting drink was far too sweet.

Stick to honey syrup for a more pronounced honey flavor. The temptation exists to try pure honey, but it does not integrate well with more aqueous elements, and will sink to the bottom of your shaker or blender, spitefully refusing your entreaties.

Honey Syrup

1 part honey
1 part sugar
1 part water

Combine in a sauce pot on medium heat until fully integrated. Fortify with a bit of vodka or a bit less of a neutral grain spirit.

I used Bärenjager for this drink, and it worked pretty well, but you can get the same flavor in a six dollars worth of syrup as in thirty plus dollars worth of liqueur, and then you can spend the money on better rum.

Sleepy Bear

2 oz Dark Rum (Matusalem Clasico 10)
.75 oz Bärenjager (or honey syrup)
.75 oz lime juice
6 Blackberries

Muddle the blackberries in the honey liqueur or syrup until you have a fresh honeyed jam. Shake all ingredients over ice and then double strain into an old fashioned glass over fresh ice. Garnish with a lime wheel and a blackberry.

I used a toothpick, cleverly positioned, to make the blackberry stick to the lime wheel. Blackberries and honey both seem like ingredients which would be very enticing to bears, and I don’t know if that also goes for rum, but if I were a bear, I’m pretty sure I’d be all over it, and then I’d take a nap, hence the name. Simple creations are often the best ones, and this is a seasonal drink that I would be proud to serve to any guest.

There are no bitters in this drink because the blackberries on their own have a bitter component to them, and they complete the back-end of this drink unassisted.


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Malibooya! Rum Daisy in Coconut

Note: If you came here looking for Kanye’s “recipe” in his song, this is my take on it, and it bears only a vague resemblance to what he says in the song. If you want to make the recipe from song, I suggest the following proportion:
1.5 oz Grey Goose Vodka
.5 oz Malibu Coconut “Rum”
Combine all in a mixing glass with ice and stir 40 times. Stirring with ice dilutes the drink, in addition to making it colder, so that it will taste smoother. Strain the mixture into a chilled cocktail glass. This recipe tastes like shite, so I humbly suggest that you use also add one ounce of coconut water, from a brand such as Zico or Vita Coconut Water. If you really want to class it up, of course, read on:

In the words of the philosopher Kanye West:

Chick came up to me and said,
This the number to dial
If you wanna make your #1 your #2 now
Mix the Goose and Malibu, I call it Mali-BOOYA

As you probably know, we don’t believe in Vodka here at Measure and Stir, except for fortifying syrups and disinfecting minor cuts and scrapes. We also don’t believe in Malibu, which is probably the least appetizing thing in the world ever to be labelled rum. Indeed, on account of Mr. West, I now refer to any drink as Malibooya when its chief components are drawn from the following: (Flavored or not) Vodka, Malibu, Midori, Jager, Sour Apple Pucker, Peach Schnapps, low-proof fruit-flavored “liqueurs”, red bull, sprite, and pasteurized orange juice.

Even so, I sometimes hear the siren song of coconut rum, whose call I answer by pouring J. Wray and Nephew into a coconut. And yes, I did, in fact, put lime in the coconut, and then I proceeded to “drink it all up”. Though to be honest, even though I adore fresh coconut water, I’m not sold on it as an ingredient for a mixed drink; coconut milk and cream provide a much more rounded and robust coconut flavor, because they incorporate the qualities of the coconut meat, and the richness of its fat, into the drink. Coconut water is so thin that it almost makes this a grog.

(not my greatest photo, I know)

Malibooya #2

3 oz Fresh Young Coconut Water
2 oz Traditional Rum (Wray and Nephew)
.75 oz Curacao (Clement Creole Shrub)
.5 oz Lime Juice

Drain a fresh young coconut, and measure out just enough coconut water for your drink. Shake all ingredients over ice, then double strain and funnel back into the coconut. Drink it through a straw.

The more astute of you will have noticed that this is a rum daisy that has been diluted with fresh coconut water. I put my coconut in the freezer for half an hour before I drained them, so that the interior of the shell would be cold. A true bad-ass of tiki would, of course, lop off the top of the coconut with a machete, instead of just punching a hole in it with his ice pick, but my training is not yet complete, and I have yet to purchase a machete. (Incidentally, can anyone recommend a good one?)

If I had done that, I would have been able to fill the coconut with ice, and it would have been a much better drinking experience for this relatively low-proof drink. Drinking out of a coconut is a lot of fun, but I regretted my choice of Clement Creole Shrub in this drink. CCS (as we say in the biz) has a very robust orange flavor, and it stomped on the relatively light coconut flavor. You would be better off with Cointreau (or similar) for this one.


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Libretto

Another one from Cocktail Virgin Slut, as soon as I saw this drink, I knew I had to make it. I love the combination of elderflower and Cynar, and I have been very happy in the past with Tequila and elderflower as well, so I really wanted to see how they all played together. Surprisingly, the whole drink had a coffee flavor, even though it contained no coffee.

Libretto

1.5 oz Anejo Tequila (El Jimador)
.75 oz Sweet Vermouth (Cocchi Vermouth di Torino)
.5 oz Elderflower Liqueur (Pur Likor)
.5 oz Cynar
Chocolate bitters (Fee’s)

Stir over ice and strain into a chilled old-fashioned glass.

This cocktail is certainly intriguing, but not so great that I will rush to make it again. If you are hunting for novelty, as I often am, it’s worth a stop, but it’s a little too complicated to put it on my A-list. The flavors are all there if you look for them, and the dark translucency of the drink is visually appealing. The Libretto is unimpeachable from a technical perspective, just not my favorite.

To be sure, the flavor illusion of coffee is noteworthy, and I will keep a record of the drink in case there is some perfect occasion for it in the future. The art of drinking well surely includes a sense of timeliness, and you never know what occasion might warrant this exact drink.


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Montana

Montana is a dive bar in Capitol Hill. I would not order a craft cocktail here, but fortunately, you don’t have to, because they have something nearly as good. What they have is Fernet Branca on tap. Is there any reason for it to be on tap? No. It’s not carbonated. It’s not even particularly cold. But who cares? Look at all that Fernet:

They also have a Negroni on draft, and it is carbonated, or mixed with seltzer water, it’s hard to tell. It was watery and disappointing. I’d rather have a glass of gummy bears. The reason you patronize this bar is the divey atmosphere, and the (relatively) cheap shots of Fernet. Ask for a slice of lime and squeeze it into the glass, to add a little complexity.

When I most recently visited this bar with my friends (yes, I have friends), a question came up as to the exact pronunciation of the word “Fernet”. In the back of my head I knew it was an Italian product, but it really looks like it wants to be said “Fer-nay”, as if it were French, and that is how I have always pronounced it. The bartendress who poured it for me referred to it as “Fer-NET”, and this forced me to reconsider my prior conviction. I looked it up on Wikipedia and sure enough, the ‘t’ is not silent.

As I look at the photo above, I notice they also have some Bulleit. Usually when I’m in a bar that has no chance of producing a proper drink, I like to order rye and tonic with a dash of bitters. If they give you an equal proportions pour, it’s a rewarding libation. You might even find yourself making it at home, once in a while. I guess  this place is trying to appeal to the cocktail hipster crowd, but in order to be a proper dive bar, the drinks can’t be too good.


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Correcting Coffee

Boozy Saturday was winding down, and for our final round we decided to correct some coffee. James had some Stumptown Gajah Aceh beans that were pushing the end of their useful lifetime, and we really wanted to try correcting some coffee with Fernet Branca. I don’t have any advice about brewing coffee, but James’ steampunk grinder looks really cool, so here is a picture of it.

We tried a few different concepts, but none of them were surprisingly excellent. Fernet and coffee on its own is just missing something. The bitterness from fernet is very different from the bitterness in coffee, but the interplay is not intriguing; both flavors are merely present. Rye and fernet is delicious, and rye and coffee is very reasonable also, but rye and fernet and coffee somehow blended to create the flavor of a rotting vegetable.

I apologize for the unappealing description, but it was truly awful, and I want to make sure that you don’t try to make a drink like this. A quarter ounce of simple syrup took away the worst of it, but it was still not a drink I would serve to anyone whose friendship I valued.

Still chasing the tropical flavor from earlier in the day, I added rum and maraschino, and came away with something much more drinkable, but I still wouldn’t endorse it highly.

Sloppy Hemingway Coffee

4 oz of Chemex-brewed coffee (Stumptown Gajah Aceh beans)
1 oz Dark Rum (Pusser’s)
.5 oz Maraschino (Luxardo)

Add spirits to hot coffee and stir.

It’s probable that there is some perfect marriage of coffee and rum out there, but it probably has Benedictine or allspice dram, not maraschino. Maybe it doesn’t contain a liqueur at all, but a bit of simple syrup. A tragic truth: the world is full of coffees and and rums, and you’ll never be able to try all of them with all of them.

And of course, our old pal, orgeat, was still hanging around, so we tried once more, and this was the best of the three, but still not quite where I wanted.

Mai Tai Coffee

4 oz of Chemex-brewed coffee (Stumptown Gajah Aceh beans)
.5 oz Dark Rum (Pusser’s)
.5 oz Orgeat Syrup

Add spirits to hot coffee and stir.

The almond latte is a very common drink, so adding rum to coffee was a very natural extension. I think the concept with this variation is sound, but the specific rum and coffee that we used were ill-suited to each other. A grate of lime zest might be a welcome addition, also. Fortunately, we can brew more coffee.


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Appetizer

I was looking for a drink to make with heavy cream when I happened upon this little beauty from CVS. The appetizer is perhaps oddly named, because with heavy cream and two very potent bitters, I think it walks the line between dessert and digestif. A proper aperitif should be dry and stimulating to the appetite, whereas this drink feels more like something to sip after a long meal.

The original drink called for Dubonnet, which I did not have, but on CVS he substituted Bonal, which I also did not have. I chose to use Cardamaro, because I find it to be similar to Bonal, though probably Dubbonet is more like sweet vermouth than Cardamaro. I wouldn’t stress about it, as long as you use a decently sweet and bitter and high-quality fortified wine, because Fernet and Angostura are the real heroes of this drink.

Appetizer

.5 oz Fernet Branca
.5 oz Angostura Bitters
.5 oz Heavy Cream
.5 oz Dubbonet (Cardamaro… I know)

Shake over ice and double-strain into a fluted glass.

The original recipe called for a cocktail glass, but I chose to use a fluted one, because the purpose of a cocktail glass’ wide mouth is to diffuse the fumes from the alcohol. The greater surface area of the cocktail glass also allows more heat to bleed into the drink, so it will warm quicker. I wanted to capture the aromas from the bitters when sipping this drink, rather than release them into the air with a cocktail glass. I also wanted to split the drink between three people, and these were convenient. But the logic is sound.

The sweetness of the dairy perfectly modulated the bitterness of the Fernet and Angostura. This was the most unusual drink I have tried all year, and I greatly enjoyed it. Somehow, the combination of spices and the cream made me feel like I was sipping on some kind of Tikka Masala. There was nothing savory in the drink, but still, the overall impression was one of curry.

I made this drink at the end of the night, and to be honest I was looking for something with a bit more of a dessert quality to it, so I mixed up a second round, swapping Fernet Branca with Branca Menta, which is Fernet Branca’s much sweeter cousin. The extra sugar greatly diminished the sensation of eating curry, and made this drink feel like a grown-up Grasshopper.

In the future, I will tend to make the Branca Menta variation, but I encourage you to try it both ways.


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Shiberry Inu

The Bloodhound is a classic drink from the 1930s, with a storied history. It is also one of my favorite classic drinks, though it suffers from the unfortunate pathology that it can only be made using fresh berries, and hence, must be enjoyed in the summer time. The original version of the drink is made with strawberries, but I prefer a canonical variation known as the Halsdon, which is made with raspberries.

And yet, the Bloodhound is not the drink we will be discussing today. Last Saturday, amidst all the hullabaloo of Fernet Branca and Pineapple, I had intended to make a Bloodhound, because I had some raspberries on hand. But as I was preparing to make the drink, I discovered that James’ dry vermouth has gone off, even though he stores it properly. Faced with soured dry vermouth, I decided to improvise, and substituted (in the loosest sense of the word) orgeat syrup for dry vermouth, and muddled the raspberries in the orgeat.

The result did not have much in common with the original, but that did not stop it from being highly delicious.

Shiberry Inu

1.5 oz Gin (Hayman’s Old Tom)
.75 oz Sweet Vermouth (Carpano Antica)
.5 oz Orgeat Syrup (Homemade)
5-6 raspberries

Muddle the raspberries in the orgeat, and then add the gin and vermouth and shake over ice. Double-strain into a coupe glass and garnish with a fresh raspberry.

Admittedly, this drink tended a little more to the candy side of mixology, but sometimes, that is what a man needs. The name “Shiberry Inu” is intended as a play on the name “Bloodhound”. Runners up for this drink’s name were “Raspberry Shar Pei” and “Red Rover”, all trying to capitalize on the dogness/redness ideas.


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How to Make Better Drinks and the Naughty Housewife

Food blogs of this world, we need to talk. I like you and I want to help you make better drinks. Your heart is in the right place, but some of you have no idea what you’re doing. I understand, some people just want to get tore up, and some people just want to drink blueberry Stoli. I’ll only judge you a little bit, but if you take my advice, I promise, you, too, can mix high quality drinks.

As I’ve been engaging the drink-making blogosphere, I have noticed a lot of drinks that look like the following. I call them, collectively, the Naughty Housewife-Tini, because I like to think that’s who is making these drinks, and because I’m hoping that the phrase “naughty housewife” will drive traffic to my blog.

Naughty Housewife-Tini

2 oz fruit-flavored liqueur (Such as Cointreau or, if we are unlucky, Malibu)
1 oz Minute Maid orange juice, from a carton
1 oz vodka
Mint leaves
Sprite

Muddle the mint in the liqueur until it is practically paste and then put everything into a shaker and strain into a cocktail glass, being sure to leave bits of ice floating on top of the drink. Top with sprite.

I would like to think that the myriad flaws in this drink are evident to all, but apparently that is not the case, so let us examine them, one by one.

1. The ratio of liqueur to base spirit is backwards and ridiculous. A proper drink should not be overly sweet, unless it is intended as a dessert. A high proportion of sugary ingredients can sometimes make sense — sometimes a strong counterpoint is needed against the bitter or sour component in a drink — but on the whole, it is appropriate to use an unsweetened spirit, such as whiskey or gin, as the foundation of a mixed drink.

2. The name is stupid. There is exactly one drink in the whole world called a martini, and it contains roughly the following: Gin, Dry Vermouth, Olive (or lemon peel). Even adding a dash of bitters probably warrants a different name, as one of the intriguing things about the martini is the complex harmony of its relatively minimalistic recipe. “Martini” is not a catch-all word for any drink that you happen to mix and serve up. Appending the suffix “-tini” to the end of your drink name is not descriptive. You can do better.

3. Vodka is bland and boring. It makes your drink alcoholic without contributing anything to the aroma or flavor, and if you use it, your drink will be missing a critical layer of complexity. Like a house without a foundation, it simply won’t stand up properly. Vodka drinks are (usually) no more than candy; they contain sweet, simple flavors that stupefy the palate and as such, they are best left to children.

For almost every drink in the world that is made with vodka, it would have been better with either gin, white rum, or pisco. Which substitution is best depends upon the drink, of course, but one always exists. Cosmopolitan? Try it with J. Wray. Moscow Mule? Vastly improved by the use of gin, or rum, or whiskey, or Fernet Branca. (By the way, such a drink is called a buck–a moscow mule is simply a vodka buck, just as a “moscow mule” made with gin would be a gin buck.)

Vesper? It’s not my favorite, but you should probably leave it alone.

4. There are particles of ice and fruit floating in it. An excellent drink should not be chunky in any way. True mixological perfection requires homogeneity of texture. Pieces of pulp or ice floating in the drink are like bits of un-integrated flour in your bechamel; they are jarring to the imbiber and indicative of carelessness on the part of the bartender. Fix it with a fine-mesh strainer, and you’ll enjoy years of particulate-free drinking.

5. The level of dilution is an accident. High-proof spirits are unpleasant to drink on their own. Insufficiently diluted alcohol burns burns the throat and worse! it deadens the taste buds. If a drink is over-diluted, its flavors become watery and thin, but a drink which is under-diluted suffers nearly as much. The sip will deaden the drinker’s perception of taste, and the flavors will seem muted.

Always pay attention to the amount of water that you are introducing into your drink. If your ice cubes are big, then they have a higher ratio of volume to surface area, and you will have to shake or stir longer in order to achieve the same amount of dilution that you would with smaller ice. Getting it right comes down largely to intuition, but you’ll never develop that intuition if you are not aware that you need it.

If you don’t know if your dilution is right, shake less than you need to, taste your drink to check the dilution, and then shake it some more. Repeat this process until you are confident in your timing. If you find yourself in a place with differently-sized ice from your experience, take some time to re-calibrate.

6. And while we’re on the subject of ice, the ice probably sucks. Clear ice is highly preferable to cloudy ice, both because it is aesthetically superior and because it melts more slowly, allowing you to keep your drinks colder, longer, with less impact upon their dilution. Ice is cloudy because of mineral impurities and air trapped in the frozen water, so the key to clear ice is to eliminate those problems. Boiling the water before freezing it will deaerate it, and using distilled water will ensure negligible mineral content. Below is an example of an ice cube made from boiled water (on the left) and un-boiled water (on the right). I did not use distilled water, and as you can see, there is still some cloudiness, but the boiling creates a marked improvement.

7. The juice is not fresh. The quality of fresh juice above pasteurized juice is almost incommunicable. Boiling juice (to pasteurize it) removes many of its more delicate flavor compounds, and changes the texture, invariably for the worse. Moreover, once juice has been freed from its prison inside of a fruit, it begins to break down and change flavor on its own. Pasteurized orange juice from a carton is only vaguely orangey sugar water compared to the bright, floral qualities of a freshly juiced orange, for example. If you forget everything else I have told you, remember this: your drink is only as good as the worst thing you put in it.

8. The glass is not cold. If you strain your ice-cold drink into a room temperature glass, you are cheating yourself. The drink will immediately absorb a substantial amount of heat from the glass, ruining its temperature. Always chill your glasses before pouring your drink into them.

9. You’re topping a drink in a cocktail glass with soda. Stop it. Most sodas contain revolting amounts of sugar and sad, highly artificial flavor syrups. Just say no. Worse, you probably are not measuring the soda. “Top with sprite” has to be the worst mixing instruction ever, because if your drink, pre-top-off, has a volume of five ounces, then depending on the glass, you might end up adding anywhere from one to five ounces of soda, producing inconsistency from drink to drink.

10. There are no bitters. Not every drink needs bitters, as we saw in our consideration of the martini, but the majority of mixed drinks do need them. Bitters are a bit like salt; they round out and enhance the other flavors of the drink, and add complexity and depth on the backend. The one place where bitters are usually unwelcome is in a drink which relies on the sharp acid taste of fresh lemon or lime. Bitters will dull the bracing quality of acid.

11. The herbs are over-muddled. We’re not making pesto, and a muddler is not a mortar and pestle. All of the menthol in mint lives in little hair-like structures on the surface of the leaf. If you bruise the leaf of the mint, you are going to release bitter chlorophyll flavors into your drink, and it will taste grassy. I suppose that could be deliberate, but a discerning palate will perceive it as an error. The better way to handle mint is to place it on the palm of your hand and give it a few good, hard, smacks. In general, when muddling herbs or citrus peels, apply firm pressure but do not tear the flesh of the plant. Fruit, on the other hand, ought to be pulverized.

So let’s see if we can take all of these ideas, and re-jigger the Naughty Housewife-tini, above, into something a little more delicious.

NaughtyHousewife

2 oz Fresh Peach Juice
1.5 oz Gin (Plymouth)
.25 oz Liquore Strega
.25 oz Simple Syrup
Dash of Peach Bitters (Fee’s)

Shake over ice and double-strain, first through a hawthorne or julep strainer and then through a fine-mesh strainer, into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a blackberry on a skewer.

Notice that we have dropped the ridiculous “-tini” suffix from the name. The pasteurized slop has been omitted in favor of a fresh seasonal juice. Vodka has been replaced with gin, and the sugar components have been dialed down to a very small amount, to add a bit of sweetness to the drink without overpowering it.

The sprite, which added sweetness and carbonation, has been replaced with a bit of simple syrup, to fill the same role without adding undesirable flavors and carbonation. For a liqueur, I used Liquore Strega, which is sweet, herbal, and slightly spicy, adding a note of intrigue to the otherwise mundane combination of peach and gin.

The deep purple of the blackberry garnish creates a pleasing contrast with the pale orange of the drink itself.


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Mai Ta-IPA

Happy Thursday! I hope you had a great fourth of July. After all that time in the heat, it’s time to cool down with one of my favorite drinks, the Mai Tai.

When I encountered this variant from Jacob Grier, I knew that I had to try it. I diverged slightly from his formulation, in that I used the traditional Mai Tai garnishes of mint leaves and a smashed half lime, whereas he used a cherry. I also used a shorter glass, because I wanted to highlight the experience of inhaling the aroma of the garnish.

For the IPA, We (that is, I and my usual confederates) decided to use Dogfish Head’s 90 Minute IPA, and I took the opportunity to use the last of the Orgeat from last week.

Mai Ta-IPA

1 oz El Dorado white rum (Cruzan)
1 oz El Dorado 8 year aged rum (Matusalem Clasico 10)
1 1/2 oz IPA (Dogfish Head 90 Minute)
1 oz lime juice
3/4 oz Orgeat (Homemade)
1/2 oz Orange Liqueur (Clement Creole Shrub)

Shake all but IPA over ice and double-strain over fresh ice. Top with IPA and garnish with mint leaves and a smashed half-lime shell.

I was drawn to this recipe because I thought the IPA would be an unusual way to add bitterness to a drink that relies on citrus to be sour and bright. I have lost untold hours of sleep looking for a way to combine bitterness and sourness in interesting ways, and the sad truth is that these types of flavors don’t play all that well together. IPA accomplishes this marriage effortlessly, by combining the sourness of fermentation with the bitterness of hops.

To be honest, I didn’t care for the beery sourness of this drink on top of the other flavors in the Mai Tai — but then, when it comes to Mai Tais, I am a bit of a purist. This was actually the first drink I have mixed with beer, and while it won’t be the last, it will probably be the last for a while. I enjoy fine beers, but beer and spirits together rarely suit my personal taste. Even so, it was a fun experiment.