Measure & Stir

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


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Painkiller: Orange, Pineapple, Coconut, Rum

This has been an exhilarating week here at Measure & Stir; yesterday, I passed my ten thousandth pageview. It was a small personal milestone. To celebrate, let’s cap off the week with the last of a series of tiki drinks that I made two weeks ago. Observant readers will note that this was the last drink that I made that night, and although my mixology stayed viable, my skill with the camera had, by this time, degraded. The entire affair was inspired by a late night romp through Kaiser Penguin‘s archives, and they were so strong that it became a bit of an unwitting bender.

The sacrifices I make for you, my fine readers!

A Painkiller tastes like a Piña Colada with bit of orange, though with one critical distinction. The most interesting thing about this drink, in my opinion, is the blending technique, which is to blend on high for about three seconds. Such a process does not yield the homogeneous, fluffy-yet-creamy texture of a smoothie, but rather a slushy, icy texture halfway between smoothie and crushed ice. It’s an intriguing haptic sensation that distinguishes it from run of the mill blended drinks, and from its more common cousin.

I hope it goes without saying, by now, that if you aren’t going to use fresh Pineapple juice, you should not bother to make this drink. If you are at a bar and you suspect that they are not going to use fresh pineapple juice, similarly, I suggest ordering another drink.

Painkiller (Grog Log, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry)

4oz Pineapple Juice
1oz Orange Juice
1oz Coconut Cream (Unsweetened)
.25 oz Simple Syrup
4oz Pusser’s Rum (or 2 1/2oz gold – used Matusalem Clasico 10; 2oz Dark Spiced– used Kraken)
8oz crushed ice
Blend at the speed of light for no more than three seconds, and pour into an enormous and daunting glass. Grate some nutmeg and cinnamon on top. Or don’t. (Or a strawberry and an orange peel rose)

You can make an orange peel rose by cutting the longest fat orange peel that you can, and then rolling it around itself so that it resembles a rose. I just dropped it on top of the blended ice — delicious! Be sure to express some of the oil of the orange before rolling it.

Instead of Coco Lopez, I used canned coconut cream from the local Japanese market, though I think the coconut cream itself is a product of the Philipines. Coconut milk/cream is one of the very few non-fresh ingredients that is reasonable to use. Making your own coconut milk or cream is a laborious process, and would easily cost twenty dollars worth of coconuts to make the quantity that you can buy in a single can for a single dollar. Coconut cream, in particular, is mostly fat, and therefore degrades very little when preserved with heat, as in canning.

Coco Lopez is also extremely sweet, which is why I added a quarter ounce of simple syrup, to compensate for using unsweetened coconut cream. If you want to approximate the flavor of the drink with unsweetened coconut cream, you probably want half an ounce of Simple Syrup, or even three quarters. Personally I find it cloying, which is why I buy the unsweetened stuff and then add sugar according to my taste.

Have a good weekend!


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Vermouth-Based Drinks

Vermouth-based drinks, being wine-based, are technically of a genre called cups. I enjoy them, because good vermouth is delicious, and especially on a work night, I don’t always want a full strength drink. To my palate, a good vermouth-based drink should highlight the flavor of the vermouth, and use other flavors in very small quantities. In many classic drinks, you will see mere dashes or spoonfuls of liqueur against full measures of base spirits, and that’s the style of construction I aim for when making a drink based on a fortified wine.

In fact, that wine need not be vermouth. It could just as easily be quinquina wine,sherry,  cardamaro, ginger wine, or Japanese plum wine. It might even be Merlot. The important thing is to let the wine take the driver’s seat. (Say that in another context, I dare you!) A good template for a wine-based drink is:

Vermouth Template
1.5 oz Wine-like beverage product
.25 of an abrasive or bitter modifier
.25 of a sweet modifier
(optional) dash of bitters
aromatic garnish (most likely citrus peel)

This template is not quite as versatile as 6:3:1, which in turn is not as versatile as the formula for a sour, but with a little thought, it can go pretty far. You have to pick modifiers that will work well with your base.  The flavor of dry vermouth is delicate, and if you blast it with cherry heering, it’s going to die. Even St. Germain, which pairs well with white wine flavors, might be too strong in a quantity of .25. Might want to tone it down to .125 (1 tsp). For an abrasive modifier, lemon or grapefruit juice are interesting choices for dry vermouth, whereas for sweet, you will get farther with Campari or fernet.

The modifiers need to work well together. For example:

Vermouth Template Variation #1
1.5 oz Cocchi Americano
.25 oz Grapefruit Juice
.25 oz Cinnamon Syrup
Stir vigorously over ice and double-strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

When you use citrus juice in a low proportion relative to the total volume of a drink, it is not unreasonable to stir, but you must still double-strain, to avoid leaving pulp in the drink.

Vermouth Template Variation #2
1.5 oz Punt e Mes
.25 oz Campari
.25 oz Maraschino
1 dash Angostura bitters
Stir over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange peel.

Sweet vermouth generally has a pleasant flavor of orange, intermingled with other herbs and bitters. All of the best sweet-vermouth drinks play off of its orange flavor with a second ingredient that also contains a note of orange; that could mean an orange peel, or Ramazzotti, or triple sec, or even fresh orange juice. Variation #2 is one of my all-time favorite drinks, both for its simplicity and its complexity. I don’t know if it’s an original creation, but I couldn’t find it in any of my bookmarks. It’s very reminiscent of a classic cocktail, I think.

I hope you find a good variation on this template. If you do, please let me know!


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Vessel In Seattle

Back before I got into this whole craft cocktail scene, there was a bar in Seattle called Vessel, and they were famous for pioneering a lot of molecular mixology techniques, and for the general quality of their drinks and their atmosphere. Sadly, they closed in 2010, and I never got to visit them. They’re back, sort of, and at a new, bigger downtown location. When I heard that they were re-opening, I visited them that same week, but I didn’t get around to posting about it until today. That’s probably my loss, because I missed the buzz, but I think it’s still soon enough to care.

Their big gimmick this time is a rotating bar staff. It seems like the deal is, each bartender who appears there brings his or her own menu to the establishment. On my visit, the bartenders were Michael Bertrand of Mistral Kitchen and Kevin Langmack of Knee High Stocking Co. Their menus were thus:

To be honest, I was expecting a bit more. No offense to these seasoned veterans, but these drinks are all so safe. I want recipes that push the envelope! I want drinks on the cutting edge of mixology, with flavor combinations and techniques that I’ve never seen before. Instead you hit me with a vesper, a gin and tonic, and a sidecar with expensive brandy. This is the kind of menu I expect in an old money hotel, not a bar that was renowned in its heyday for molecular mixology. There’s nothing wrong with any of these recipes, but neither is there anything exciting.

Of course, if you go, the menu will probably be totally different. As such, I give them two out of ten for creativity, but nine out of ten for execution. All of the drinks we ordered were beautifully presented, and executed with technical excellence. John ordered a Preakness, which is not on their menu, but it is a common Manhattan variation containing Benedictine:

Very nice glassware. I ordered a Violette Fizz:

Truly a beautiful fizz, but alas, in a very impractical glass. As I drank it, a portion of the head persisted and ultimately clogged the flow of the drink through the glass when it reached the narrowest part of the glass, forcing me to tilt it to a precarious angle. This is a minor quibble however, as the glass was very elegant. Still, if the radius were constant across the length of the glass, I would have been better served.

James ordered the Batcat, a mix of rye, sweet vermouth, fernet branca, and elderflower liqueur:

I apologize for the terrible photo, but as you can sort of see, the drink came with a sphere of beautifully clear ice, cut to fit exactly within the glass, and the sphere was circumscribed by a spiral of orange peel for which a whole orange gave its life. James and I both tasted the drink and found the flavor to be very light. It was over-diluted, but it was probably not the bartender’s fault, it was probably the fault of the waitstaff.

The service was agonizingly slow, but I was willing to give them some leeway in their opening week. It takes a while to get all the bugs out of your service pipeline, I am sure. Did we sit at the table for fifteen minutes before anyone even took our order? Yes. Did it take them another twenty five to bring us our drinks? Also yes. But like I said, leeway.

Since I’m already slinging hate, I might as well take this opportunity to mention the acoustics, which are a crime against the fine art of architecting interior spaces. Maybe it’s the high ceilings, but every word of every patron echoes in this bar, and makes it very loud even when it is not particularly crowded. I wouldn’t take anyone here if I wanted to have a conversation with them. On the plus side, the hand soap in the bathroom contains rum.

The food was mediocre. We ordered foie gras popcorn, and it was a staunch reminder as to why no one sautes liver and then tosses it with popcorn. The high fat content of the liver killed all the crispness of the popcorn, while imparting only the scarcest flavor of foie gras. The hummus platter, though beautifully plated, was nothing I couldn’t get from Trader Joe’s. The carpaccio was adequate, however. Delicious and reasonably portioned for the price.

Over all, if you’re downtown, stick to the Mistral Kitchen or the Zig Zag Cafe. If you’re not tied to a particular locale within Seattle, may I recommend the Canon. It is clearly at the top of the craft bartending game in Seattle right now.


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Kenyan Ghost: Rum, Coffee, Orange, Orgeat

Another drink from last week’s MxMo tiki party, and courtesy of Kaiser Penguin’s archives. (Cached version in case his certificates are screwy). This is a very instructive tiki drink; it contains two lessons for us to learn. The first is a lesson about the construction of tiki drinks. The Kenyan Ghost contains a scant quarter ounce of coffee syrup or liqueur, totalling 6.6% of the drink. This flavor is quite subtle against the the canvas of rum, orange juice, orgeat, and bitters, and yet it not only stands on its own, but pervades the entire drink. If you were to forget the name, you might call it “that coffee-flavored tiki drink”.

And why is that? It’s because all of the other ingredients are tiki standards. You can mix rum and tropical fruit and citrus and spices til your arms fall off, and it will probably be awesome, and it will all sort of start to converge and taste like tiki. That’s the palette; as long as you stay in the palette, you get tiki. If you want to bend it, if you want to make something that tastes like an X-flavored tiki drink (for some value of X), you have to first make a tiki drink as a base, and then add that one flavor modifier. I haven’t developed any really bullet-proof tiki templates yet, but if you

  1. blend a couple of rums (Maybe one with hogo, maybe one that’s particularly aged)
  2. add the juice of a citrus fruit (lime, grapefruit, orange — rarely lemon)
  3. and the juice or a syrup from a tropical fruit (pineapple, passion, mango, guava, coconut, grenadine)
  4. add something either spicy or nutty (orgeat, allspice dram, angostura, cinnamon or clove syrup)

Shake it and pour it over crushed ice, you’ll get something in the right range. Proportions are left as an exercise for the reader, though you want about half of the drink to be rum, and you generally want an ounce or two of a fresh tropical juice, and about a total of 1 – 1.25 oz of sweeteners (liqueurs + syrups). Of course, when you’re creating a drink, always trust your palate and your nose. Throw some coffee or an herbal liqueur or some other oddball ingredient, and you suddenly have “that green chartreuse tiki drink” or what have you.

OK! That’s lesson one. A single out-of-palette ingredient, in this case, coffee syrup, determine the character of the entire drink. Lesson two will be revealed after the break.

Kenyan Ghost
1oz Pusser’s rum (Matusalem Clasico 10)
1oz Zaya rum (Zacapa 23. Close enough)
1oz Orange Juice
1/4oz Coffee Syrup (or 1/4oz coffee liqueur)
1/4oz Orgeat Syrup
1 dash Angostura Bitters
1/2oz Float of Blackstrap rum (Kraken)
orange slice and coffee beans, for garnish
Shake with ice and strain into a collins glass filled with ice. Float the blackstrap. Place the orange slice on top and arrange the coffee beans just so. Stick your straw through the hole in the middle of the orange and enjoy! (There’s more ice in the glass than it looks like)

Lesson two is the importance of the garnish! In the Kaiser’s preparation, he balances some coffee beans precariously upon an orange slice. When I served this drink to my friends, I actually followed his example, but with one small modification. I made small incisions in the orange wheel, and inserted the beans into the incisions. This allowed them to stay ensconced in the garnish without the risk of losing them.

You might ask yourself, how does this drink illustrate the importance of the garnish? For the version in the picture, I used a half-opened lily instead of an orange wheel with coffee, and the result was that the drink tasted flat and muddy. The smell of the coffee beans to accompany the sip drew out the flavor of the coffee in the drink, and made the drink distinctive.

Incidentally, if you want to save the lily garnish from mediocrity, all you have to do is drop a few coffee beans down into the flower.


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Banana Julep

I try to be as open as possible to different flavors and flavor pairings, but there is one flavor in this world that I simply loathe. I believe that food dislikes are arbitrary, so I am doing what I can to get past it, but try as I might, I simply cannot learn to like the flavor of bananas. If someone is sitting near me, eating a banana, I find the smell revolting. Most people seem to enjoy them–after all, what’s not to like? They are sweet, fruity, and tropical.

In an attempt to man up and get over it, I’ve been forcing myself to eat and drink various banana-flavored things, though I have not had much success in overwriting my preference. What ever will I do if I become marooned on a tropical island with nothing to eat but bananas? In an effort to help me defend against that likely scenario, James made some banana-infused bourbon, inspired by an entry on the menu at Canon called the smoking monkey.

Banana-Infused Whiskey
Slice a whole banana and submerge it in 12 oz of whiskey. After two days, remove it. As with all of your infusions, if the flavor of the reagent is too strong, you can dial it down by blending the infused spirit with more of the base spirit.

When he brought it over last week, I somehow got it into my mind to make a mint julep. One of my favorite syrups to make and keep on hand is vanilla-cinnamon syrup, but the last time I made a batch, I left it on the stove for about forty minutes, and the sugar started to caramelize. So I unwittingly made caramel-vanilla-cinnamon syrup, and it was excellent. A++, would make again.

Banana Julep
1.5 oz Banana-Infused Bourbon
.25 oz Cinnamon Caramel Vanilla Syrup
Mint Leaves
Smack some mint leaves in the palm of your hand and rub them around the inside of a tumbler, and then fill it with crushed ice. Stir the bourbon and the syrup together, and then strain them over the crushed ice. Garnish with more fresh mint leaves.

I am mostly ignorant in the ways of bananas, but I am led to understand that banana and caramel is a classic pairing. Anything flavored with banana is, for me, a sipper, but challenging flavors are how we expand our horizons. The mint flavor, which is very forward in a standard mint julep, was definitely in the background in this variation. The caramel in the syrup stomped all over it. There was still a hearty dose of mint in the nose, however, and I found that to be very pleasant.

I think you might get more out of the banana and mint combination in a sour with lime juice, but I have no regrets.


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Strawberry Acapulco: Tequila, Rum, Grapefruit, Pineapple

I am sure at this point that anyone who is following me can tell that I have been raiding Kaiser Penguin’s archives. I was looking for ideas for cocktail garnishes and I found ten or twelve drinks that I really needed to make. Unfortunately, I made four of them in one night, and the next morning did not go all that well. All the drinks were really spectacular, though. To cap off the week I decided to share a small twist that I made on the Acapulco, a relatively classic drink from Difford’s Guide #5.

Tequila in Tiki? Yes, apparently, it can happen. On this particular evening, I had some strawberry syrup on hand, and as I am a great lover of the strawberry + tequila pairing, I substituted half of the simple syrup in this recipe with strawberry syrup. The result was a pleasant, subtle jamminess that pervaded the whole drink. In the picture there is a bit of a gradient, but I think that is due to the fact that the glass is thicker at the top than the bottom.

And let me tell you, there is a reason that blended strawberry margaritas are so popular in resorts and spring break type scenarios. Sure, those drinks suck, with their artificial flavorings and colorings, but there is still something about this flavor combination. I like it so much that I made some strawberry-infused tequila, but for this drink I wanted the smokiness of the reposado to really come through against the other flavors, and alas, my infusion is made with blanco tequila.

Strawberry Acapulco

1 oz Reposado Tequila (Espolón)
1 oz Barbados Rum (Doorly’s)
1 oz Grapefruit Juice
2 1/2oz Pineapple Juice
.5 oz Simple Syrup
.5 oz Strawberry Syrup
Shake over ice and strain over fresh ice. Garnish with pineapple, strawberries, and an orange wheel, since it’s for the blog.

My rum collection is growing lately (a good problem!) and I was very pleased that for once I actually had a rum from the origin specified in the drink recipe. It is frequently not so.  This drink went down a little too smoothly, but wow, what an excellent flavor! Why not drink it while listening to Martin Denny?


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Milanese Sailor: Rum, Ramazotti, Falernum, Chocolate

Today we’re going to talk a bit about Falernum. Falernum is a common tiki ingredient, and it can be either a syrup or a liqueur, but we all know it’s much better as a liqueur. Personally I am rocking some John D. Taylor Velvet Falernum. God bless the Haus Alpenz for importing almost everything that is good in this world. Falernum is flavored with lime, ginger, almonds, and cloves, but the cloves stand out far above any other flavor. I treat it as a low-proof clove liqueur, though if you make your own, you could balance it any way you wanted. I had intended to make my own for quite a while, but before I did that, I wanted to get a taste of the real deal, as a benchmark.

The recipe I made here is from a Thursday Drink Night hosted by Kaiser Penguin, but his site seems to be having certificate troubles right now, so you might want to checkout the googled cached version instead. It’s a bit short on Falernum, but when I saw that it used one of my favorite amari, Ramazzotti, I had to give it a try. This drink also appeared in a Falernum-less version over at Two at the Most, and indeed, it was Stevi of that same blog who contributed it to Thursday Drink Night in the first place. Either way, I liked it, and I’m sure you will, too.

Milanese Sailor
1.5 oz Dark Rum (Doorly’s)
.75 oz Ramazzotti
.25 oz Falernum
.25 oz Chocolate Liqueur (Homemade)

Fill the spyglass nearest by with ice and donate the above ingredients. Shake. Do not hold up to your eye, but instead strain into a chilled wooden mug hand. (Garnish with an orange peel)

As you can see, I took some liberties with this recipe by garnishing it with an orange peel, but fear not, the orange oil complements the orange notes in in the Ramazzotti perfectly. Aromatic drinks like this one just feel a little flat to me without the bright notes from a twist of citrus. You will notice, of course, that this drink is a riff on that same 6:3:1 template, but with Ramazzotti filling in for fortified wine, and with an extra part of a different liqueur.

Some amari can fill in for fortified wine in a pinch; Ramazzotti and Cynar have similar flavor profiles to a fortified wine, bittered with wormwood, or cinchona. I once made a Manhattan with Ramazzotti instead of vermouth, and it was not a substantial departure. The cloves and chocolate worked really well to bolster the flavor of the amaro in this one, while the rum took a back seat, providing a foundation of oak and sugar cane.