Measure & Stir

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


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Gourd Vibrations

Happy Halloween! I wanted to use the scariest ingredient I could think of to make this drink, so I chose Campari, because although it does not scare me, many people seem to be averse to it. I personally enjoy challenging ingredients; I see them as new territories to conquer. James and I had a meal at a Seattle restaurant called Altura, where they served us an aperitif consisting of blood orange juice, carrot juice, and Campari in a miniature hurricane glass. It was only a taste, but the flavor of carrot and Campari paired surprisingly well. Perhaps it should not have been a surprise, as Campari contains the flavor of bitter orange peels, and carrot orange juice is a classic Moroccan combination, with a bit of ginger.

For holidays, I always like to do something a little bit special (just wait til Thanksgiving, wherein I will garnish a drink with a whole roast turkey…maybe), and James and I had been tossing around the idea of using a gourd as a serving vessel for a while. A raw gourd has sour, savory, and vegetal notes, and we were worried that it might strike a dissonant chord with a mixed drink if we used it as a vessel. The realization that made this whole thing come together was that the flavor of carrot juice could work as a bridge between the gourd vessel and the other flavors in the drink, provided that they mixed well with carrot.

The Gourd vessel itself was unexpectedly resilient. We were sure it was going to leak, but through artful placement of bamboo skewers, we managed to build a chalice that was thoroughly seaworthy. After that, the hardest part of making this drink was coming up with a suitable pun. Names that did not make the cut:

  • The Gourd, the Bad, and the Ugly
  • Oh My Gourd!
  • Gourd with the Wind
  • Here Today, Gourd Tomorrow
  • Gourd out of my Mind
  • Gourds and Ghoblins
  • Casper the Friendly Gourd

 
OK, I’m done. And I’m sorry.

Gourd Vibrations
2 oz Carrot Juice
1.5 oz Bourbon (Evan Williams)
.75 oz Campari
.5 oz Cinnamon Syrup
Dash of Aromatic Bitters (Angostura)
Shake over ice and double-strain into a chalice made out of a freaking gourd. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and a sense of accomplishment.

As with many fresh juices, carrot juice has a mild flavor, easily overpowered by the more robust qualities of common cocktail ingredients. I had to add a full two ounces before it could stand up to the bourbon and cinnamon syrup. The quantity of Campari in this was also counter-intuitive, but when you are creating a cocktail, the rule is add a little bit, taste, add a little bit, taste. It’s a process that won’t always take you to the place you expect.

Bottoms Up!


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Punchius Pilate

For James’ birthday party, which was two weeks ago, we wanted to make a punch around his favorite spirit, Mezcal. (We also made Sangria.) So naturally, I turned to my favorite database of mixological knowledge, Cocktail Virgin Slut, wherein I found this little number, Punchius Pilate. This punch is a Frederic Yarm original, and we took only a small measure of license with his recipe.

In this punch, Fred blended Lapsang Souchong syrup with smokey tequila, grapefruit, ginger ale, and ancho chile. Here’s his recipe for Lapsang Souchong syrup, which we made, omitting the grapefruit zest. We also did not measure the spices too precisely, preferring to portion them by feel/smell. In Fred’s notes, he said he could have used more ancho chile, and indeed, I think we used more than he did in his original recipe.

Lapsang Souchong Tea Syrup
1. Boil water and measure out 6 oz. Add Lapsang Souchong tea (I added 3 tea bags to 12 oz for a double batch) and let steep for 5 minutes.
2. While the tea is steeping, muddle 1-2 cloves (I used 3 for a double batch), add 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 1/8th tsp ancho chili powder, and the half the zest of a grapefruit.
3. Measure out 6 oz (by volume) of sugar. Add an ounce or two to the zest/spice mixture and muddle to extract the zest’s oil.
4. After the tea is steeped, add in all sugar, zest, and spices. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Cover and let sit for a few hours. Strain through a tea towel and store in refrigerator. Makes around 8 oz of syrup.

So, once again, we omitted the grapefruit, and used more spices than this recipe called for, playing it by intuition. When mixing drinks, it’s important to measure precisely, but when making syrups, sauces, (indeed, in cooking in general) we find that the best results usually follow from a mixture of intuition and trust in one’s own good taste. I do not need to know how much ancho, cinnamon, clove, and tea to put in this syrup; the description of the concept is enough to let me execute the recipe. To make it, simply ensure that all of the flavors are in balance, and strongly expressed.

We omitted the grapefruit zest because, in my mind, it isn’t really punch with out oleo saccharum, so rather than put the zest in the syrup, we started by macerating the peel of five large grapefruits in caster’s sugar for three hours, and then adding the rest of the ingredients. We also scaled the recipe up by a factor of three.

Punchius Pilate
1.5 Liters Reposado Tequila (El Jimador)
750 mL Mezcal (Del Maguey Mezcal de Vida)
750 mL Tawny Port (Cockburn’s Tawny)
24 oz Grapefruit Juice (Ruby Red)
20 oz Spiced Lapsang Souchong Tea Syrup
12 oz Lime Juice
Oleo Saccharum of 5 Large Grapefruits
Serve over ice and top with a bit of ginger beer.

We tweaked the ratios a little bit, mostly out of convenience. It’s easier to pour in the whole bottle of port rather than quibble about a few extra ounces. Moreover, we used slightly less Lapsang Souchong syrup as a tradeoff against the added sugar from the oleo saccharum. The Lapsang Souchong flavor came through beautifully, so I have no regrets. I did not make an ice ring mold, I confess, because I prefer to serve the punch personally. I like to buy a big block of ice, and carve off a chunk with my ice pick for each guest as I serve it.

Moreover, I prefer to add a little bit of ginger beer to each guest’s cup individually, so that the ginger beer will not lose its carbonation in the punch. This allows us to bottle any leftovers and save them for a week or two after the event. It’s true, the fresh citrus in the punch loses some of its subtler qualities after about two days, but adding a little spike of fresh lime when you pour it mostly ameliorates this problem.

As for the punch itself, it was a big hit, and everyone involved sang its praises. I actually preferred mine without the ginger beer, as it was less sweet, and I felt that it really let the smoke flavor come through. I was in the minority, however, as James and most of our guests preferred it with bubbles.

Cheers.


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Stepchild; Pineapple, Fernet, Stone’s Ginger

Happy Monday everyone! I have posted in the past about one of my favorite lesser-known aromatic wines, Stone’s Ginger. Ginger is one of my favorite flavors, but it has been hard to find this product in Washington until this past summer, when Total Wine finally graced the city of Bellevue with its presence. Stone’s Ginger is not even slightly spicy, which is the one thing I find disappointing about it. It has a very round, mellow, ginger flavor with sweet raisins on the finish, but when I consume ginger, I always look for that burn. Even so, it is a fine product, beautiful with either Gin or Whiskey and a dash of bitters.

A man can only keep so many fortified wines on hand, as they are highly perishable and wont to go bad before I can finish them all. As such, when I finished off a bottle of Bonal, I was very excited to have the space for a bottle of Stone’s, which I wanted to use in my recent vermouth template:

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)

Here at Measure and Stir, we love the trio of pineapple, ginger, and fernet, which fits into the formula perfectly, now that I have a ginger wine. This flavor combination has never let me down. I am always excited to find new ways to use it. We omitted the dash of bitters for this one and opted instead for one teaspoon (one eighth of one ounce) of fresh ginger juice. The Stone’s Ginger is so much more complete when it is bolstered by a bit of fresh ginger, which contributes the heat that I crave in a ginger drink.

I ended up tweaking the template a little bit. I tried it in the above ratio and the Fernet dominated the pineapple. Strangely, by increasing the portion of both relative to the ginger wine, the Fernet came into balance. I cannot explain that. Usually when I use this template I use a ratio of 6:1:1, but when I mixed two of these in succession, my second was 4:1:1, and strangely it made all three flavors come into a tighter focus.

Stepchild
2 oz Stone’s Ginger Wine
.5 oz Fernet Branca
.5 oz Fresh Pineapple Juice
1 tsp (.125 oz) Fresh Ginger Juice
Shake over ice and double-strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a piece of candied ginger.

My intuition says that the expressed oil of a lemon peel might not be a bad addition, either, but it might squish the Fernet. Life is constant experimentation. One of the great things about the Fernet/Pineapple combo is the way the pineapple rushes to the fore of the experience, whereas the Fernet lingers on the backend. They fill distinct and separate regions of the flavor spectrum, while the Stone’s Ginger fills the space between them.

Spicy ginger works well with Fernet for a different reason; biting into that candied ginger will give you great appreciation for Fernet’s cooling mint. Cheers!

Cheers!


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Libation Laboratory: Smith and Cross, Pineapple, Acid Phosphate

Last week, we were sipping on some  Smith & Cross, discussing how we hadn’t made any great tasting cocktails with it yet, and decided to fix that. Joe had procured this particular bottle on his last trip to California, as Smith & Cross can’t be found in Washington (yet?). It has a great caramel flavor, with hints of mixed tropical fruits.

We both agreed that this rum would taste great with pineapple, but we were tired of mixing tiki drinks. We were also tired of mixing sours, yet we both wanted to add some kind of souring agent. We didn’t want to use lemon or lime juices, really, since we felt like either would interfere with the groovy combo of pineapple juice and Smith & Cross. So we turned to an old soda ingredient, acid phosphate, which tastes of nothing, but adds sourness to a drink

From there, our opinions differed, and so today we present to you two drinks; variations on the same theme.

La Cruz y Piña
1.5 oz Smith & Cross rum
.75 oz Pineapple juice
.25 oz Cointreau
.25 oz Acid phosphate
.25 oz Kraken rum (to float on top)

Shake, strain, float .25 Kraken rum on top, garnish with blood orange wedges impaled on a sugar cane spear.

James: The acid phosphate does a great job of adding a neutral sourness to the rum and pineapple, but I personally felt like it needed some sort of citrus note, so I settled on using Cointreau. Blood oranges not only look sexy, but their tart aroma and appearance help to emphasize the orange liqueur. Although I was trying not to go tiki, I couldn’t help but be inspired by the genre, especially given the ingredients, and so I floated some Kraken on top. It was totally worth it.

The Limeless Lime
1.5 oz Smith and Cross
1 oz Pineapple Juice
.5 oz Falernum (Velvet)
.5 oz Acid Phosphate
Shake over ice and garnish with a pineapple fan.

Joseph: I made a pineapple fan by selecting three fronds from a pineapple and pinning them together with a toothpick, if that’s not completely obvious. I think it probably is. To be honest, I have overdosed on tiki lately, but the falernum/pineapple/dark rum combo is assuredly a tropical one. What was interesting to me was the way that we are so accustomed to lime in tiki, that I could not help but think of lime, even though I knew there was none. When I first purchased Mr. O’Neil’s acid phosphate, I was not entirely sure what to do with it, because I am so used to sourness being conjoined with citrus. I think the real intrigue of acid phosphate is not what it adds to a drink, but what it makes possible to take away.

Using acid phosphate is interesting because you can subtract the lemon or lime from any sour drink this way, and simplify it, preserving its balance while emphasizing its aromatic qualities. The orange in James’ drink impressed me more than the falernum in mine; both drinks were satisfying, but on the night in question, my mood was more for the fresh flavor of orange rather than the warming and exotic spice of cloves.

Have a great weekend, and we’ll see you again on Monday!


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Peach Sangria

For a party last weekend, James and I made peach sangria. Most people, I have found, are skeptical when I tell them that I am going to serve them sangria. They have, perhaps, a mental image of a cloying wine kool aid, syrupy, carbonated, disgusting. But sangria can be also be beautiful, subtle, sophisticated… if only you treat her like a lady. First, in my mind, there is no room in red sangria for fruit juice or carbonation*. Rather I like to make it as an infusion of fruit in wine, fortified with spirits. In this instance I followed my go-to recipe, which I am going to share with you now, but with one modification; last time I made this sangria, I had not yet learned the secrets of oleo saccharum, that most unctuous of syrups, and I felt a strong intuition that it would improve the subtle orange qualities of the drink.

(*We did a white sangria not too long ago, which contained both fruit juice and sparkling wine, but it was a different beast all together. Really, “white sangria” is a bit of an oxymoron.)

Take a look here, feast your eyes on all those glorious citrus oils floating on its surface:

Peach Sangria
6 Bottles of Your Favorite Rioja
500 ml Triple Sec (Cointreau)
500 ml Cognac (Salignac)
Oleo Saccharum of 12 Oranges
6 lbs of Peaches, peeled and cut into chunks
Allow the mixture to infuse over night, and then top with two sliced lemons right before serving. Pour over ice as you serve.

The brandy in this recipe is critical, for it adds notes of wooden complexity that give the drink a three dimensional quality on the palate. Without it, the punch tastes a bit flat. What is perhaps most striking about this sangria is its dryness. Though it acquires a mellow peach roundness, it retains the dry tannin notes from the rioja, a wine which, as a genre, has hints of strawberry and vanilla that marry well with orange and peach. Whenever I need to serve a lot of drinks in a pinch, this is my method. It does not work in the winter months, when peaches are scarce, but in summer it is perfect for a trip to the beach or an afternoon barbecue.

Indeed, these were the last peaches of the season. I have played with the idea of infusing spices into the wine for winter, but I’m not sure if that can still properly be called sangria. Cheers!


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La Vida Buena: A Mezcal Negroni

A few weeks ago I was at the Rob Roy, in Seattle, celebrating a friend’s birthday. The men’s room at Rob Roy is covered in graffitti, like pretty much any men’s room at any bar, only the scribblings at Rob Roy aren’t just of random profanity. They’re cocktail recepies. Yes dear readers, it just so happens that today’s drink came to me in a public bathroom. But, hey, sometimes inspiration comes from unexpected places.

La Vida Beuna
1.5 oz Mezcal
.75 oz Sweet Vermouth
.25 oz Campari

Pour all components into a mixing glass over ice and stir. Strain drink into a cocktail glass over a nice, fresh ice chunk. Garnish with a blood orange peel.

It has become popular recently to templatize the negroni. The classic negroni is an equal parts drink made of gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari. Although this ratio tastes fine, it isn’t my favorite. I find that the texture of an equal parts negroni is overwhelmingly syrupy because of the amount of Campai used. Also, I find that in this ratio the Campari’s bitterness overpowers the gin and vermouth. These days it seems to be more popular to use a 3:2:1 template, which does a great job of addressing these two critiques. In this version we used 6:3:1 because the original recipe I saw in the bathroom at Rob Roy called for Aperol, not Campari. Some handy advice: you can substitute Campari for Aperol and get away with it as long as you use half as much Campari.

La Vida Buena is a mezcal version of the old, classic drink. Personally, I prefer the smoky taste of mezcal in a negroni over gin, as I enjoy the additional layer of complexity it brings to the glass. I also simply love mezcal, and pretty much anything that has mezcal in it. The aroma from the blood orange peel lends the sip a subtle tartness that plays well with vermouth, and foreshadows the bitters from the Campari, which linger after the swallow.

Cheers!


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Murray Stenson; The Bitter Word

It is a bitter word indeed, today, my friends; Murray Stenson, that bartender of bartenders, is suffering from a heart ailment and is unable to work. As a bartender, he is without health insurance, and he needs your help. Others, such as Doug and Paul have already written eloquently and at some length as to why you should help, if you enjoy craft cocktails or care about the craft cocktail scene. So Kindly mosey on over to MurrayAid.org, where you can show your appreciation to the man who brought The Last Word back from the dead.

To show our support for Murray, we mixed up an emergency round of a riff on the last word, which we call the Bitter Word:

The Bitter Word
.75 oz Fernet (Branca)
.75 oz Lime Juice
.75 oz Maraschino Liqueur (Luxardo)
.75 oz Green Chartreuse
Shake over ice and double strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a pineapple slice.

Pineapple matches well with all of the other flavors in this drink, so I guessed that it would make an excellent garnish, and indeed, it did. The brilliance of the last word recipe is that you can swap the “base” spirit for just about anything–bourbon, rum, mezcal, fernet–and still come out with something that works very well. That said, the original will always be the best. All elements in the drink are so perfectly balanced, and its flavor is bright and crisp, but not blinding. I see variations on this drink popping up all over the place, these days, and you have Murray to thank. In this version, the bitter menthol from the fernet complements the herbal spices of the green chartreuse rather nicely, and the lime and maraschino help to round out the last word’s perfectly balanced flavor profile.

I’m pretty new to this scene, but the one time I did sit across the bar from Mr. Stenson, at the Canon, he came right up and greeted me, even though a different bartender was serving my side of the bar. Real hospitality, that. You spend what, fifteen dollars for a good drink at a good bar? And if you’re like me, you order three or four rounds. Why not stay in next Friday, mix up the Last Word, and donate to a good cause?