Measure & Stir

I make drinks


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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.


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Mixology Monday: It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green

This month’s Mixology Monday is being hosted by Ed from Wordsmithing Pantagruel, and the theme is “It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green”, which means that the drink has to contain at least one green ingredient, and the more, the better. Green Chartreuse, Midori, spinach, cactus… it just has to be green. Personally, I’m really hoping someone makes a drink with Waldmeister syrup, though that someone is not me. Pandan would also be nice. If I were a real gangsta, todays drink would be made with Pandan, but I have not yet reached the max level.

It just so happens that, in addition to Mixology Monday, this week is Thai week here at Measure & Stir, on account of the fact that I was asked to create some mixed drinks with Thai ingredients for a restaurant that can only pour wine, beer, and soju. I found the constraint on ingredients to be very engaging, and I went out the very next day and filled my cart with Soju, Kaffir lime leaves, Thai basil, lemongrass, galangal, coconut milk, thai chiles, and mango, and started a series of infusions. Soju is like slightly sweet, low-proof vodka, which means if we want to make it taste interesting, it has to be infused.

We’ve had a couple of non-standard juleps in the past weeks: one with cilantro and tequila, and one with banana-infused bourbon, and I have to say, the julep format is quickly becoming one of my favorites. There is something so fresh and refreshing about a glass full of crisp, green herbs and crushed ice. For me, Thai basil is one of the most distinctive flavors in Thai cuisine, so it was natural to try to build a julep around it. Moreover, I wanted to capture the capsaicin heat of Thai food, for this drink. Any good whiskey comes with a bit of a burn, which sugar and water do much to diminish, but since we’re using soju, we have to get that burn from another source.

And regarding our MxMo theme, just look how green that is:

Bird’s Eye Julep

2 oz Thai Chile and Lemongrass-infused Soju
.25 oz Demerara syrup
1 Dash Orange Bitters (Regan’s)
Muddle Thai basil and Demerara syrup in a cold glass. Fill with crushed ice and then pour in the soju. Give it a quick stir and then garnish with more fresh basil.

For the infusion, we chopped up two stalks of lemongrass and four Bird’s Eye Chili peppers, (the green kind) and allowed them to steep in 8 oz of soju for five days. The lemongrass flavor was very subtle compared to the chili, which made up the bulk of the flavor in this infusion. The Thai basil greets the nose in a really big way, so that when you imbibe this drink, the aroma of fresh basil completely fills the senses. I like to serve my juleps in a relatively wide-mouthed glass, so that you both see and smell the fresh herbs, and they make a strong impression.

This drink would be the perfect accompaniment to a big bowl of green curry, with its sensual blend of burning peppers and cooling basil. A huge thanks to Ed for hosting MxMo! See you next month.


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Drink Inc Reviews

On Youtube, there is an excellent series by the name of Drink Inc. It features two Los Angeles bartenders, Steve Livigni and Daniel Nelson, who first eat a delicious meal, and then each make a drink inspired by the food that they ate. I fully endorse this method of finding inspiration, in fact, it’s a method that I sometimes use myself, and which has increased its space in my consciousness after watching their show. I don’t always love the drinks they make, but they will definitely get you thinking, and for that reason I think the show is a valuable asset.

As of today, they have published six episodes, and I am going to review all of them in this post. (All photographs shamelessly liberated from their videos.)

And, sure, does Daniel look like a ridiculous peacock, wearing a three piece suit in the Los Angeles heat? Clearly. But their product is great. I know that I risk sounding overly critical of them in this post, but I want to make it clear that I have a lot of respect for what they are doing, and I think they are excellent drink-makers. It’s very easy to sling criticism on the internet and much harder to get up and make a successful career out of mixing drinks.

Some of their drinks are too complicated, much like that day cravat, but they have a lot of great ideas, it’s just that they try to cram too many of them into a single drink, and the result is sometimes a drink with too many subtleties, not all of which are perceptible. Much like another genre of internet video, you will probably want to skip the first half of each episode, as it takes a while before the action gets going.

The format of the show is, first they go visit a restaurant, make some awkward conversation with the proprietors, and then they make drinks based on what they ate.

Dynamite Thai Cocktails

The first episode I watched was “Dynamite Thai Cocktails”, in which they visit a thai restaurant, and then Steve makes a drink based on Tom Kha Kai soup, and Daniel makes a spicy drink that does not seem to be based on any particular dish. I am a huge fan of Tom Kha Kai soup, which is made by simmering galangal, (Thai ginger) lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves in coconut milk.

The soup itself is quite savory, but they made a version of the soup more amenable to a mixed drink, and mixed it with gin and lime juice. I have not tried this one, but it looks delicious. My only complaint is, I hate the way he garnishes it with grated lime zest. Every time I have done this, I have ended up with little pieces of lime grit in my drink. One big peel is a vastly superior garnishing method.

Daniel’s drink, the Sesame Song, is pictured above, and contains Chile-infused vodka, lime juice, orange juice, and cayenne pepper. It sounds like a reasonable drink, but I was not very impressed with the concept, perhaps because of the reliance on vodka. Also, when I have used powdered spices in drinks in the past, they never dissolve to my satisfaction. Moreover, the sesame seeds and thai chile strands in the garnish, though beautiful, will disperse as the drink is drunk, and spoil the texture.

Smoky Mexican Cocktails

In episode 2, “Smoky Mexican Cocktails”, they visit an Oaxacan restaurant, and drink mezcal, and eat fried grasshoppers. Delicious. Steve makes a drink called the Oaxacan Flower, using a similar formula to his Thai drink from the previous episode. We love mezcal here at Measure & Stir, and so we were inspired to make this drink in our most recent jam session.

Daniel makes a chocolate tequila sour inspired by the concept of Molé, and garnished with a grasshopper. Again, I don’t think his drink is remarkable, though tequila and chocolate is a solid pairing, but his name has what is quite possibly the best name for a mixed drink I have ever heard, the “Dead Man Oaxacan”.

Sweet and Savory Pork Cocktails

In episode three they visit a butcher, and then do a beer cocktail and a fat-washed cocktail. I’ve experimented with bacon-infused bourbon, myself, and I came to the conclusion that a fat-washed cocktail is pretty much a fat-washed cocktail, no matter what you do to it. Steve makes the “Fat Manhattan”, an aromatic drink with amaro, sweet vermouth, bacon-infused bourbon, and nocello. I adore nocello, and I think this is a better recipe than Jamie Boudreau’s Chocolate Cochon, but it’s still not topping my list.

Daniel makes a beer cocktail with apricot puree, lemon juice, orange marmalade, and heifeweissen, and incorporates pork by garnishing it with salami. I’m a fan of the idea, but honestly I would rather you bring me this drink, and then serve it with a plate of charcuterie. Still, it’s cute.

Cop Cocktails

In episode four (note: my episode orders are not really significant), they visit a police station, and the officer who is their contact takes them to some local hole in the wall places where he likes to eat when he is on duty. It’s mostly just filler before they get to the good stuff, which is two smoked cocktails, both of which look excellent.

Daniel makes the “Tazerac”, a Sazerac which he smokes with hickory chips and garam masala. These kinds of smoke guns are kind of impractical for the home mixologist, though that has never stopped me in the past. For now, it’s not high on my list. What’s notable about this one is the way he traps the smoke in the glass and then covers it, so that when the drinker removes the cover, the smoke wafts out of the drink. 10/10 for style.

Steve’s drink, “Halal and Order”, is named after an episode in which the police officer busted a shawarma joint for health code violations. He mixes the super-trendy Pierre Ferrand 1840 with sweet vermouth and smoky Scotch, and then he pours it into a glass filled with smoke from burned rosemary. The really clever thing here is that his smoking method consists of lighting a rosemary sprig with a torch, and then turning the glass over it. This is a method that is in reach for any home enthusiast, and requires no special equipment. This is very similar to what they did at Angel’s Share with cinnamon, in their drink, “Daahound”.

Refreshing Pirate Potions

In episode five, they visit a fish market and eat a feast of fried fish. It looks positively scrummy. The only thing they really take away from it is a spice blend that the local fishmongers sell, and then they both make drinks around the spice blend. I thought this episode was totally underwhelming, the least interesting of the bunch. Steve makes a punch out of watermelon juice, sea salt, tequila, and Michelada spices (pictured). Salted watermelon is awesome, and it’s a fine punch, but it doesn’t really fit the theme very well.

Daniel makes the “Bloody Mariner”, a rum-based Bloody Mary with heirloom tomato juice, fennel juice and absinthe. As bloody Maries go, it looks pretty good. Fennel juice and absinthe does sound intriguing, if you love licorice. Personally, I have never been a huge fan of this flavor in mixed drinks, though I do like licorice candy.

Comfort Cocktails

Finally, they go and eat Southern style comfort food in the garden of what might be a famous LA restaurant? I’ve never heard of it, but I’m really not that hip.

Steve makes the Southern Sour, which I think is very clever in the way it incorporates so many breakfast elements. He uses lemon juice, orange juice, white corn whiskey, egg white, honey syrup, soda, and maple bitters. I do not care for unaged whiskey; at best it’s a grain eau de vie, but wait, that’s another name for vodka. How about using an ingredient that pairs well with all of the other ingredients in the drink, is still made from corn, and is the bedrock of southern drinking, bourbon whiskey? I know white whiskey is hip, but so are skrillex haircuts, and both of them suck.

Daniel makes Govind’s Garden, and it’s a cheat. Gin, pineapple, lime, and Lillet, floated with Amaretto and strawberry juice (puree?). It almost doesn’t matter what you put in the drink when you float this on top of it. Look at it, so thick and syrupy. The drink underneath sounded lovely, but just to make sure you like it, we’re going to top it with candy. Strawberry juice mixed with amaretto is clever. but there’s just so much going on in this drink. It makes sense if you think of it as a new wave tiki drink, but that does not make it less overwrought.

I certainly found a lot of inspiration in watching this show, and I am sure that you will, too.


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Pumpkin Juice, Bourbon, Nutmeg

Pumpkin is one of those quintessential icons of autumn in America. Across the continent the orange globes are ubiquitous from late September until early November, especially in October, before halloween. Lately, the pumpkin proliferation has captivated our inner mixologist, and so here we are, mixing them into drinks. Furthermore, what sort of  cocktail blog we this be without a pumpkin drink in October?

There are many ways to integrate pumpkin flavor into your drinks. If you want the easy way out, there are some pumpkin liqueurs that are seasonally available, such as a pumpkin spice liqueur from Hiram Walker. Also, although I don’t personally recommend them, there are pumpkin-flavored vodkas which show up occasionally. But, if you’re looking to use raw pumpkin, as we did, your options include pumpkin syrup, pumpkin butter, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin puree, or  fresh pumpkin juice. We chose to use fresh pumpkin juice. Why? Because fresh pumpkin juice is tasty, and it’s rich in alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, fiber, vitamins C , В1, B2, В6, and E, potassium, magnesium, iron, and fatty acids. It has a semi-sweet, light, vegetal taste, and pairs well with cinnamon, vanilla,  nutmeg, and, most importantly, whiskey.

As always, it’s vitally important to use fresh juice. If you aren’t using fresh juice, we highly recommend investing in a juicer. Any kind of juicer is better than no juicer, as store-bought juices are usually pasteurized, which tragically destroys many of the health benefits and, more importantly, the flavor benefits, of using fresh juice. Besides, half the fun and charm of mixing drinks is using seasonal fruits and flavors, and what better or more fun way than to make some fresh juice at home?

Bourbon Pumpkin Patch
1.5 oz Bourbon
1 oz Fresh pumpkin juice, strained
.75 oz Cardamaro
.5 oz Cinnamon/Vanilla syrup
Dash of Angostura bitters

Shake, strain into a cocktail goblet, garnish with freshly ground nutmeg and a pumpkin sail.

This drink goes something like this: pumpkin juice and nutmeg on the sip, followed by the spices from the other elements in the drink, and finally the oaky barrel-aged tastes from the bourbon linger after the swallow. Cardamaro is the perfect fall aperitivo; it has just the right blend of spice and herb notes. It’s a tad bitter, but not as much as punt e mes or carpano antica. The pumpkin flavor came through, but not as strongly as we had hoped. If you choose to make one of these at home, here’s how to improve this recipe: the pumpkin juice needs to be reduced with sugar and spices, and the bourbon needs to be rye. We’d leave the Cardamaro right where it is, though, it’s perfect. Fresh nutmeg on top went a long way towards getting it there. Don’t skimp on that fresh nutmeg!

I want to say that this drink was awesome, but in all honesty, using the pumpkin’s juice probably isn’t the best way to incorporate it’s flavor into a cocktail. We made this drink to celebrate the fall, and to that end, I think we could have done better by making some kind of toddy, or perhaps another round of Memories of Fall.  Next time we mix with pumpkin, we’ll either try using the pumpkin’s seeds, which I’ve heard lend a delightful earthy quality to a drink, or we’ll make some pumpkin syrup.


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Angel’s Share in New York

In my latest travels I visited Angel’s Share in New York City, which is a brilliant and elegant Japanese craft cocktail bar. The phrase “angel’s share”, as I am sure we are all aware, refers to the portion of scotch whiskey which evaporates over the course of barrel aging, and which fills the air in the storage facility with alcohol and with aromas of peat. Indeed, the workers in such facilities must take care to limit their exposure, lest they become drunk by absorbing the alcohol through their skin, or so I have heard. I am not going to look it up just no, so even if it isn’t true, it’s still a great story, and I encourage you to spread it.

Angel’s Share is a cozy, intimate venue, and the mixologists who work there are truly artists. In stark contrast to the tasteful classicism of the Pegu Club, every single drink at Angel’s Share is unique, original, and modern. Long-time readers will no doubt be familiar with hunger for novelty in this arena, and it is a true joy to visit a bar which presses to the forefront of the craft, rather than basking in the comfort of the venerable. Their menu is superb, not only for the quality of the recipes, but because the bartenders are kind enough to write a small blurb describing their thought process for each drink.

Daahound
The best drink I had was a mixture of Rye, sherry, bitters, and benedictine served in a snifter which had been previously filled with smoldering (and thus smoking) cinnamon bark, and garnished with a Lagavulin-soaked lemon peel. The presentation was marvelous. The waiter brought an overturned snifter to the table, covering a plate which contained the smoldering cinnamon, and then returned with the drinks of the other members of my party. Thereafter he decanted my drink into the snifter, and with a pair of tongs, rubbed the scotch-soaked peel around the inside of the snifter before dropping it in.

The smokiness of the scotch accent, and the cinnamon notes of the benedictine were divine in concert with the burned cinnamon flavor of the smoke.

Moon at Noon
My friend anthony ordered this ingenious blend of Bacardi 8, soy milk, rice-koji jam, and shoyu. The saltiness of the drink was very subtle, and the soy milk was heavily frothed, no doubt from a dry shake. The real triumph of this drink was the synergy between soy milk and soy sauce. That should not come as a surprise, but it did.

Passion Dance
For my final drink of the night, I ordered this drink with passion fruit, mezcal, and jalapeno-infused tequila. I had recently been playing with the combination of passion fruit and mezcal, and so I was very excited to try this take on it. The drink came in a huge, heavy crystal goblet, with a single large ice cube and a sprig of cilantro for garnish. As we have recently explored the assonance between tequila and cilantro, I was glad to see that I am not the only one who appreciates this combination. This drink was phenomenal.

Speak Low
This was a reasonable drink, though not really up to the standards of some of the others. The combination of yuzu and matcha sounds very appealing, but in practice I found the flavor to be muddy, and I did not think that the matcha plus sherry combination was a home run. Perhaps I would need to drink it again to be sure. I have been wanting to experiment with matcha as a cocktail ingredient for a while, so this gave me a very nice baseline.

The glassware, the service, and the decor were all world class, and the menu was the best I have ever seen in a craft bar. Angel’s Share, I applaud you for taking risks, and I congratulate you on your successes.


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The Pegu Club in New York

In my latest travels I visited the Pegu Club in New York City, which is intended to replicate the spirit of the original Pegu Club in Rangoon. Its newest incarnation is a respectable place to seek a tipple, though it is far from mind-blowing. I was not expecting to have my mind blown; given the club’s history, I was expecting a very conservative menu, and that was exactly what I found.

Pisco Punch — I adore this pineapple leaf garnish.

The copy on the inside of the menu does a better job of describing the place than I am likely to, so I shall reproduce it here:

“Back when Britain still had an empire and the sun never set on it, the Pegu Club was a British Colonial Officers’ club in Rangoon. Not much of anything to do there, mind you, but as Kipling wrote in “Sea to Sea”, this funny little club “was always filled with lots of people either on their way up or on their way down.” If the club was famous for anything, it was its house cocktail: as master mixologist Harry Craddock wrote in the classic 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book, the Pegu Club Cocktail “has traveled, and is asked for, around the world.” Small wonder–it’s a perfect indicator of the drinking culture of those randy times. But this bracing combination of gin, bitters, lime juice, and orange curaçao is no dusty antique. To this day, it remains as crisp, snappy, and briskly potent as when our grandparents were drinking it. As old souls, we cherish that.”

The menu continues in that vein, but you get the idea. I have mixed a Pegu Club or two in the past, but it had been quite a while since I had had one, and it was a delight to order the drink at the actual (sort of) Pegu Club. I am not as fascinated by this drink as some people, but as the Pegu Blog was my first encounter with the world of craft mixology, it will always have a special place in my heart.

Their technique was flawless, and it was a true pleasure to observe. Their menu features slight twists on many of the best and most famous classics. As I already noted, there is nothing mind-blowing here, but you have to respect a menu that features a negroni, a sidecar, a manhattan, a pisco sour, a daquiri, a whiskey smash, a dark and stormy, and a martini, and yet twists each of them in a way that maintains the drinker’s interest.

All of those drinks are the bedrock of classic mixology. The gin-gin mule seems to be very popular lately, and has received a lot of acclaim. I think this owes to the fact that moscow mules suck (vodka, yuck!), and the gin-gin mule is a way of reclaiming this classic.

The Pegu Club
1.5 oz. Dry Gin
.5 oz. Triple Sec (I suggest Patron Citronge)
.5 oz. Lime Juice
2 Dashes Angostura Bitters
Shake over ice and garnish with a lime wedge, decoratively zested.

If you were a heathen, you might even call it a gin margarita with bitters, and no salt. And what’s this?! From the picture, and from my careful observations, I noticed that the Pegu Club did not double-strain their shaken drinks! It is for shame, Pegu Club, for shame!

Tantris Sidecar – with a very slight coating of sugar on the rim, difficult to discern.

A good showing from the Pegu Club, but if your tastes range to the more avant-garde and exotic, you might be better served elsewhere. Aside from the lack of double straining, mentioned above, I did have one other complaint. It is a subjective matter, but my review would not be complete if I did not mention it. I watched them make a number of sours and I observed that they used a ratio of 2:1 sweet:sour. This makes for an unobjectionable drink with mass appeal, but it is not to my taste.

I favor a dryer, more challenging sour, or in the words of Nietzsche, a drink which “kisses as it bites you”. The 2:1 ratio of sugar to acid is far too gentle. Even so, it would be an act of good taste for you to visit this bar.