Measure & Stir

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


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Thai Week Outtakes

Note: All of the drinks in this post were sub-par. We are posting them as a recounting of what not to do. Please do not make them, they are not that great.

We had some successes with our Low-Proof Thai Cocktail Week, but we also had plenty of drinks that didn’t make the cut. Two of them we already posted, the Miracle Mango Sour and the Lemongrass Soju MarTHAIni. They were OK, but they did not make the final cut. The lemongrass marTHAIni was too one dimensional — its only real flavor was lemongrass, which tastes kind of like a truncated lemon. Point of fact, it tasted kind of like a yellow fruit loop. Gross.

The Miracle Mango Sour was a bit more interesting, but it lacked impact. Even with fresh citrus juice, there was simply no kick, no bite, no bracing quality to it. Part of the problem is that soju is not high-proof enough to fully extract the soft flavor of a fruit like mango. As a result, the mango flavor in our infusion was week. Hence the maxim: give soju infusions double the time and they’ll taste twice as fine. But some flavors just aren’t going to come out, no matter how long you leave them. If you drank mango-soju straight, over ice, and with a twist of lime, it would be pretty tasty, but in a mixed drink it just can’t stand up.

Still, we were determined to somehow make the concept of the miracle mango sour work, so in a frenzy of mixing last friday night, we made four more iterations of it, and none of them were good enough of for the final menu. At least they look pretty.

2 oz Mango-Infused Soju
.5 oz Nigori Sake  (Kizakura)
.5 oz Simple Syrup
.5 oz Lemon Juice
Shake over ice and double-strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with mango cubes and a lime twist.

This tasted good but it was watery. Mango-infused soju and nigori sake are both low proof and lightly flavored. We wanted to create a drink that was reminiscent of mango sticky rice, which is why we selected nigori sake. Nigori sake fills a similar role to a fortified wine in this drink, except it is, unfortunately, even lower proof that soju. Nigori sake is unfiltered sake, so it has a cloudy look and texture, and a sweet flavor. The taste of mango was light in our infusion, so I used only .5 oz of Nigori sake to keep it in balance. Perhaps if I had shaken this a mere ten times, it would have come out OK, but I gave it my standard thirty (this was the drink that made me realize you have to shake low-proof cocktails half as long). Even though it had a good flavor, we wanted to make it more intense, so we switched from mango soju to mango syrup.

Adding insult to injury, the lime zest in this garnish made a very discordant smell to the flavor of the drink. It was all wrong.

2 oz Nigori Sake (Kizakura)
.5 oz Mango Syrup (Monin)
.5 oz Lemon Juice
1 tsp Bird’s Eye Chili-Infused Soju
White of one whole egg
Dry shake, and then shake over ice and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with skewered mango cubes and kaffir lime leaves.

Mango syrup has a very concentrated flavor, so our next idea was to use the Nigori sake as a base spirit, and get the mango in that way. This felt like it was going to be a slam dunk, but it was actually the worst of the bunch. The Nigori sake is so low-proof that even the bird’s eye chili could not save the drink from tasting weak. Worse, the mango syrup’s flavor was so powerful that it was the only thing we could taste over the egg white.

So for round three, we decided to concentrate the flavor of the Nigori sake, by simmering it on the stovetop and reducing its volume by two thirds. Even concentrated, the nigori sake had a very mild flavor, but it was strong enough that it did come through in the drink.

2 oz Soju
.5 oz Egg White
.5 oz Nigori Sake Reduction
.25 oz Mango Syrup (Monin)
.25 oz Lemon Juice
1 tsp Bird’s Eye Chili-Infused Soju
Dry shake, and then shake over ice and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with skewered mango cubes and kaffir lime leaves.

Of all the variations we made, this one was the best. We used uninfused soju as the base (we were out of mango), but it scarcely mattered against the mango flavor of the mango syrup. It’s possible that the mango soju would have rounded out the mango flavor, but it’s more likely that you would not have been able to notice the difference. We cut the egg white in this one back down to .5 oz, and it didn’t foam as much, but it still added body, and the flavors all came through. It was decent, but not so good that I would serve it to a guest or in a restaurant.

Even if it had been good, it would have been impractical, because the Nigori sake reduction would have been too expensive to justify producing it en masse for a restaurant. Somewhat happy with this result, we decided to try again, from a different direction, and also a more economical one:

2 oz Soju
.75 oz “Thaichata” Red Thai Rice, Kaffir Lime, Bird’s Eye Chili Concentrate
.25 oz Mango Syrup (Monin)
.5 oz Egg White
2 dash Regan’s Orange Bitters
Dry shake, and then shake over ice and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with skewered mango wedges a kaffir lime moustache.

This tasted like a slightly less good version of round #3. Instead of Nigori sake, we blended thai red rice with Bird’s eye chili and Kaffir lime leaves, simmered the mixture in water for a while, and then strained it through a cheesecloth. This procedure was similar to the one we used to make the Horchata for the Oaxacan Flower, and we loved the idea of “Thaichata”. Even though cinnamon is present in Thai food, we did not want to use it because we were afraid it would make the drink taste like more Mexican than Thai. We may try Thaichata again, but the recipe needs some work. As it was, it did a pretty good job of putting the rice flavor into the drink, and it turned it a beautiful pink color, but by this time we were fatigued of the concept, and sick of soju drinks.

Only later, we realized that mango sticky rice is made with coconut milk, but it was enough of a juggling act trying to get the flavors of rice and mango to balance against each other. Introducing coconut (i.e., more complexity) probably would not have magically fixed this mess. Gosh, I can’t wait to drink real drinks again!


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Thai Week Roundup

The past week has been Thai week here at Measure & Stir, and today we present the last post in the series, including our final Thai menu, and some tips and tricks that we learned through our experience. If you don’t already know, Thai week was a week of drinks inspired by the flavors of Thailand, made using only beer, wine, and soju.Theme weeks, it turns out, are fun, but exhausting. We held four mixing sessions over the last week in order to get all of the drinks where we wanted them. Not everything we tried worked, and some ideas just refused to pan out despite our best efforts. But we can talk about the outtakes another time. Today we want to focus on what went right.

The task was to make mixed drinks using Thai flavors, for Plumeria, a Thai restaurant in San Diego with only a partial liquor license. That’s why we were restricted to using only beer, wine, soju, or sake. Given the limited choice of spirits, our strategy was to infuse soju, which itself is rather neutral, with a slight hint of rice, with different Thai flavors or ingredients. We set out five infusions:

 
We also ended up making some Thai-inspired cocktail ingredients, like tea syrup, and mixing with Singha, a Thai lager.

The Menu

Eye of the Tiger
Spicy and complex, with a strong burn from chili soju, and a sweet roasted flavor from thai tea. Our favorite of the bunch.

Live and Let Thai
With a dash of fish sauce, this drink had a coconut richness and an engaging tangy flavor of galangal and lime.

Tom Kha Llins
A beer highball taking a different approach to the Tom Kha trio of galangal, lemongrass, and kaffir lime. Very herbal.

Pseudo Rum Cocktail
Sugar cane infused soju, thai tea, and chili, each simulating a component of the flavor of aged rum. Like all soju drinks, it was a bit light, but it benefited greatly from the slice of fresh sugar cane in the garnish.

Bird’s Eye Julep
A Julep with Thai basil and Bird’s eye chilis. The basil pushes it a bit to the savory side. Very aromatic.

Lessons

Along the way, we learned some valuable lessons in low-proof mixology. These tips are critical to ensure excellent drinks when mixing with low-proof spirits, like soju and sake.

  • Shake or stir it half as much as when working with full proof spirits.
  • Use burning ingredients such as fresh ginger, wasabi, or chili peppers as a proxy for the burning sensation of high proof spirits.
  • Egg white mellows a high proof spirit; it murders a low-proof one.
  • Fill your shaker with one giant piece of ice, instead of many smaller ones, to gain finer control over the dilution rate as you shake.
  • Give soju infusions double the time and they’ll taste twice as fine.

 
And of course, always remember to strain your drinks through a fine-mesh strainer. It’s the dividing line between a bottom tier bar and a better one. I don’t have much more to say about these drinks. We have one more post tomorrow, talking about some drinks that didn’t make the cut, and then we can get back to whiskey and rum and tequila, sweet tequila.


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Pseudo Rum Cocktail

Errata: Yesterday, we posted that we used “coconut juice” in our Tom Kha Kai-inspired drink, the “Live and Let Thai“. In fact we used coconut milk, and the post has been updated to convey this. We apologize for the miscommunication.

Gosh, we’re getting a little bored of Soju around here. Based on the traffic this week, I’m thinking maybe you were never that enamored of the idea in the first place. No matter! We’re almost through it, so thanks for sticking with us. James and I are done with Soju mixed drinks for a while. We miss the bite of harder spirits. This last one that we are going to share with you today was an attempt to simulate rum in a low proof environment. After ten days of infusing, our sugar cane soju had developed an interesting complexity, and even, dare I say it, a touch of hogo; that raw, grassy, sugar cane flavor. It was only a hint.

We still had the Thai tea syrup sticking around from our Singha Highball drinks, and it turned out to match the flavor of the sugar cane soju very nicely. Moreover, the flavor of Thai tea, slightly spiced, with the roasted flavor of a black tea, did contribute a roundness to the drink that was evocative of the caramel and oak notes of an aged rum. We stuck to our trick of adding a teaspoon of bird’s eye chili-infused soju, and then added a dash of orange bitters for good measure. Regan’s has a clove and anise quality that complements rum very nicely, and similarly Thai tea, for it is spiced with star anise, and sometimes tamarind.

Indeed, a bit of tamarind flavor would suit this drink, but it would ruin it’s clear, elegant texture.

Pseudo Rum Cocktail
2 oz Sugar-Cane Infused Soju (minimum 10 days)
.75 oz Thai Tea Syrup
1 tsp Bird’s Eye Chili-infused Soju
2 Dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters
Stir over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Carve a piece of sugar cane into a plank and rest three star anise pods on top.

As soju drinks go, I enjoyed this one. Thai tea is completely delicious, and it’s really nice to drink it with alcohol, and without condensed milk. I can’t wait to mix this with regular rum! Incidentally, there were some Thai flavors that we did not get to explore for this round, particularly peanut and tamarind. I think this drink would be a pretty good candidate for a rim of crushed up peanut and sugar. But I’m done making soju drinks, so if you want to explore that avenue, please tell me how it goes.

Tomorrow we’ll post a summary of our experiences with incorporating Thai flavors into low proof drinks, as well as our final recommendation for a cocktail menu built around some of these drinks. Talk about niche appeal. Fortunately, the world is vast and wide, and there are other cocktail geeks out there, who maybe, hopefully, found an academic sort of interest in all this. Special thanks to Kaiser Penguin for inspiring today’s photo.


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Tom Kha Soju

It’s Thai week here at Measure & Stir, a week of Thai-inspired drinks made using the limited pallet of beer, wine, and soju; lower-proof spirits that don’t require a liquor license to pour – perfect drinks for any Thai restaurant to serve!

Today I present a drink that Joe and I both agree was one of the best drinks we came up with this week. When we thought “Thai”, we thought “tom kha“, and stealing an idea from Steve Livigni, of Drink inc, we set out to make a drink inspired by the soup. We imagined lemongrass, galangal, and kaffir lime leaves infused in soju.

We made this drink last Saturday, during our first Thai drinks mixing session. I think it was probably the best drink we made that day. The idea just came together so well. The aroma of galangal, the bright zest from the lemongrass, and the citrus notes from the kaffir leaves are represented brilliantly in soju infusion. Add some coconut juice and it’s flavor Thaime.

Live and Let Thai, version 1
2 oz Lemongrass/Galangal/Kaffir Lime Leaf-Infused Soju
1 oz Coconut Milk
.75 oz Fresh Lime Juice
.5 oz Demerara Syrup

Shake over ice and double-strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a kaffir lime leaf.

This drink was awesome… But when we decided to hold another Thai mixing session on Wednesday, our creative juices began to flow and we had a lot of ideas. So we iterated…

Live and Let Thai, version 2
2 oz Lemongrass/Galangal/Kaffir Lime Leaf-Infused Soju
1 oz Coconut Milk
.5 oz Fresh Lime Juice
.5 oz Demerara Syrup
1 tsp Bird’s-eye chili-infused soju
1 dash Nam Pla (Thai fish sauce)

Shake over ice and double-strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a kaffir lime leaf and a sprig of lemongrass.

Now, you may be thinking “fish sauce?”. And as you mix this drink, you may think to yourself “this stuff smells awful, how can this possibly taste good in a drink?”. Trust us. It does. This is why we decided to make this drink again. The fish sauce amps up all of the flavors, and lends a certain umami to the drink, especially accentuating the richness of the coconut flavor. The flavors in the first version are too mild, and don’t really shine. The improvements we made for the second iteration are keepers, and vastly improved this drink. You should make this version of the drink if you choose to mix one for yourself.

Dry shaking this drink didn’t seem to affect how the coconut juice frothed in the end. Also, as we discovered the night we made the Singha Highballs, adding a teaspoon of bird’s-eye chili-infused soju doesn’t affect the flavor of a drink in a significant way, but does add just enough heat to simulate the sensation of drinking a stiffer spirit, something that’s usually missing in a cocktail with a base spirit like soju.

Usually this would be the last post this week, but since Joe and I went a little crazy with Thai week, we’ve decided to keep on posting all the way through the weekend. Stay tuned for another drink tomorrow, followed by our final Thai drink menu and summary on Sunday.


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Singha Highballs

Neither James nor I were particularly satisfied with the way that our first round of Soju drinks came out, and as such, we had an emergency mixing session last night.

The Bird’s Eye Julep was probably the best of that set, from my perspective, but all of the others, though the flavors were good, lacked a certain essential kick. High alcohol wines and mixed drinks have a flavor “pop”, and that sensation of pop is caused by the burning sensation from drinking ethanol. Soju drinks are relatively low in alcohol content; an ideal mixed drink hovers around twenty-seven to thirty-five percent alcohol* (can’t remember where I read that), but I think it is certainly true. Soju itself is only twenty-four percent, perhaps less after being infused with fruit, and that means that it starts out already below our target window.

(*Wines are lower in alcohol content than mixed drinks, obviously, but one at eighteen percent pops a lot more than one at sixteen.)

The Bird’s Eye Julep did pop, and that’s why I like it more than the others. For our second round, we made the vital discovery that a teaspoon of chile-infused Soju can restore the sensation of pop to a soju-based drink. If we substitute the burning sensation of ethanol with that of capsaicin, your brain is fooled, and the drink has the distinctive kick of a proper mixed drink.

This is what we call a breakthrough.

Moreover, we had lamented our lack of highball drinks in the first round, and James had the clever idea to use Singha, a Thai lager, for the carbonated component of the drink. Everyone loves a good beer cocktail, I know I do, and the use of a Thai beer really fed into the unity of the theme. In all honesty, Singha is not substantially different from any other yellow fizzy lager, but I take a certain pleasure in knowing that it comes from the same region as the other flavors.

Tom Kha Llins
2 oz Lemongrass/Galangal/Kaffir Lime Leaf-infused Soju
.75 oz Fresh Lime Juice
.75 oz Simple Syrup
1 tsp Bird’s Eye Chili-infused Soju
2 oz Singha Beer
Shake all but the beer over ice and double strain over fresh ice into a Collins glass. Top with 2 oz Singha and garnish with a lime twist and a pair of Kaffir lime leaves.

When I made the drink for myself, I used only .5 oz of simple syrup, and indeed, the drink was quite tart. Some folks might like it that way, but I think the additional quarter ounce of simple syrup makes the drink much more accessible, and more suited for a restaurant. That little bit of Thai chile is more important than any dash of bitters to the success of this drink. It was delicious, and neither James nor I could stop drinking it.

Another note on technique: Since the soju is already lower proof, we want to dilute it less than we would a drink made with high proof spirits. For most shaken drinks I count out thirty three shakes, but for this second round I counted only sixteen. It was a marked improvement.

For our second highball, we ventured into slightly more experimental territory. James’ girlfriend, Erin, had suggested Thai tea syrup to him, and we decided to go ahead an make it for the second round. I myself had wanted to incorporate the flavor of Thai tea into a drink during our first round, but I was also making two punches for a party later that day, and so I had a lot on my mind.

Thai Tea Syrup
1 cup of water
1 cup of sugar
5 bags of Thai black tea
Simmer for fifteen minutes until the syrup is rich and the tea is deeply extracted and concentrated. Fortify with 1 oz of Everclear.

This was one of the better syrups we have made lately. I can’t wait to use it in a couple of drinks made with high proof spirits.

Eye of the Tiger
2 oz Bird’s Eye Chili-infused Soju
1 oz Thai Tea Syrup
.75 oz Fresh Lime Juice
2 oz Singha
Shake all but beer over ice and strain over fresh ice into a Collins glass. Top with 2 oz of Singha and garnish with two Bird’s Eye Chilis on a bamboo skewer.

The Thai tea brought a richness of flavor to the Chili-infused Soju almost reminiscent of a barrel-aged spirit, and the flavor of the chili mixed exceptionally well with the beer. The beer coexisted peacefully with the Lemongrass/Galangal/Kaffir lime leaf-infused soju, but club soda would probably have worked equally well. In contrast, the flavor of the chilis harmonized wonderfully with the beer, and both played nice with the Thai Tea. I’m pretty sure this is my top drink of the week.

Since we made so many Thai drinks, we have decided that we will be doing bonus posts this Saturday and Sunday, with our final menu on Sunday. Stay tuned!


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Miracle Mango Sour

Chok Anan or “Miracle Mango” is a the most common mango cultivar in Thailand. I wish I could tell you that the mango soju sour I am going to share with you today was infused with miracle mangos, but the fact is, it was made with a cultivar from the USA, the nearly ubiquitous Tommy Atkins. At the peak of its ripeness, this is not a bad mango, but it is far from the best. If you decide to make this drink at home, I highly, highly suggest that you use a better cultivar, such as my personal favorite, the Ataulfo. I have not actually tried a Chok Anan, but I think that would be even better, given the spirit of this drink (pun most certainly intended).

When I first received news of the Thai cocktail challenge, I set out five infusions for my mixing lab. My infusions were Juniper, Bird’s Eye Chile, Mango Basil, Sugar Cane, and Kaffir Lime/Galangal/Lemongrass. Those of you who enjoy Thai food can probably anticipate tomorrow’s drink, based on that information. Sugar cane, by the way, was entirely underwhelming, and when I tried mixing it with orange juice, it was positively awful. Thus did I kiss my dreams of a Mai Thai good bye. I haven’t given up hope for the sugar cane infusion, but it pairs with orange juice about as well as garlic pairs with whipped cream. Maybe if you’re Ferran Adrià you can make that work, but I sure can’t. Juniper-infused soju may taste like gin, but sugar cane-infused Soju resembles rum only metaphorically.

Anyway, I wanted this cocktail menu to feature an egg white sour, as I consider the genre to be one of the more interesting products of the modern mixology revival, and I figured we would pick some relatively unchallenging flavors. I infused a handful of Thai basil in this Soju for two days, and the flesh of a Tommy Atkins mango for four, and the result was a hint of basil on the sip, followed by a rich mango backend.

“Miracle” Mango Sour
2 oz Mango-Basil infused Soju
.5 oz Passion Fruit Syrup
.5 oz lime juice
.5 oz egg white
Dry shake, and then shake over ice. Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with a lime twist.

In my original formulation of this drink, which is pictured, I used .75 oz each of lime juice and passion fruit syrup, and only .5 oz of egg white. As a result, the ratio of egg white to other ingredients was too low, and the drink did not acquire a pleasing foam head. Upon further consideration, I decided that the syrup and lime in my first version were too high, which is why I have presented a slightly scaled down version of the sweet/sour component of this drink. I believe that with this formulation, the .5 oz of egg white will be enough to froth correctly.

Moreover if I had it to do over again, I would probably skewer a couple of mango cubes on a bamboo skewer, and wrap a lime twist around it. So, in summary: do what I said, not what I did, use a miracle mango to make the infusion, and garnish more artistically. There’s always a tradeoff with egg white sours between double-straining to remove any fine pieces of ice vs. creating a superior foam head. Different shaking techniques can minimize ice sharding, so we’ll probably have to talk about that soon.

Cheers.


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Lemongrass Soju Marthaini

This week is Thai week here a Measure & Stir, and so we continue our vinous voyage of drinks inspired by the flavors of ประเทศไทย with another soju infusion. Of course soju isn’t Thai at all, but the motivation behind Thai week is that Joe was asked to come up with some drinks inspired by Thailand using a limited palette of wine, beer, or soju.

We decided it might by fun to put a Thai twist on a classic drink. Audrey Sander, of the Pegu Club, once made an Earl Grey MarTEAni, which inspired us to name our Thai version the mar”thai”ni. Since we couldn’t use gin, we decided to fake it by infusing some juniper berries into soju. After four days, we removed the juniper berries and the result isn’t quite as complex as gin, obviously, but it got us most of the way there. To bring it to Thailand, we thought it might be nice to use lemongrass. Add some dry vermouth and you have the lemongrass soju marTHAIni:

Lemongrass Soju MarTHAIni
2 oz Juniper/Lemongrass-infused Soju
0.75 oz Dry vermouth (Cocchi Americano)
1 dash Lemon bitters

Slice lemongrass into small chunks and muddle it into the dry vermouth. Pour everything into a mixing glass with ice and stir well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a sprig of lemongrass.

Things we learned while making this drink: We didn’t infuse lemongrass into the soju with the juniper berries and only muddled it with the dry vermouth. The problem is that the lemongrass doesn’t really come through completely unless it is also infused into the soju. Only using one of these methods to incorporate the lemongrass results in an incomplete, weak representation of lemongrass flavor. We should have remembered our last experience of mixing with lemongrass, when we used turmeric juice and lemongrass together, which also produced a less pronounced lemongrass flavor. Let our mistake be a lesson for you. Second, we used Fee’s lemon bitters. Fees bitters are awful, but we simply didn’t have anything else on-hand at the time. Instead, we’d have loved to have used  The Bitter Truth’s Lemon Bitters.

The drink itself is surprisingly refreshing, reminiscent of a real martini, only not quite as stiff. The juniper berry/lemongrass infusion did a better job at simulating gin than I had personally thought it would. Lemongrass adds a fresh, zesty, lemony flavor and the dry vermouth does a lovely job of bringing it all together into a cohesive experience.