Measure & Stir

I make drinks


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Fresh Juice Drink Template

As I experiment with different drink formats and classes of ingredients, I find my experiments will cluster around some very specific structures, and today I would like to share a template that I have developed for making drinks with fresh fruit juices. To get a good drink out of this template, you have to put some thought into the flavors you are combining, but I have found it to be pretty reliable.

Fresh Juice Template
1.5 oz base spirit
1 oz fresh fruit juice
.75 oz fortified wine
.25 oz syrup or liqueur
(optional) dash of bitters

This template is intended for juices that are not highly acidic, such as lemon or lime. It is not a template for a sour, but rather a template for succulent juices. Andy would even go so far as to call this genre of drink “succulent”, but I consider to be overkill. Each ingredient in the template has a purpose, and should be selected in order to best fill that role within the drink.

The fresh juice is the starting point. We start with produce, such as carrots or strawberries, and then we build our flavor profile around the juice of that ingredient. After selecting the juice, we select the base spirit. A good approach, though not the only approach, is to consider cuisine which contains your produce, and to choose a base spirit from that same region or theme. For example, peppers of all varieties make a fine accompaniment to tequila, while rums pair well with tropical fruits.

After selecting a juice and a liqueur, you should select your sweetener. A little bit of sugar will help to draw out the flavor of the fresh juice, which tends to be more aqueous than is entirely optimal in a mixed drink. The sweetener needs to complement both the juice and the spirit; curaçao for orange juice is an entirely reasonable choice, and maraschino is a brilliant accompaniment to pineapple or to fresh berries.

In some cases, you really want to let the flavor of the fruit stand on its own, and then simple syrup, or honey syrup, or demerara syrup will tend to be the best choices.

Finally, select a fortified wine. In most cases, this should be dry vermouth, as it will add complexity and dryness to the drink without interfering, but Cardamaro is an excellent accompaniment to fall flavors, and Stone’s Ginger pairs quite well with many fruits.

Alexandra’s Wish
1.5 oz Cognac (Salignac)
1 oz Fresh Strawberry Juice
.75 oz Dry Vermouth (Dolin)
.25 oz Demerara Syrup
1 Dash Orange Bitters (Regan’s)
Shake over ice and garnish with a lemon peel.

Don’t forget to strain the fresh juice through a fine-mesh strainer BEFORE you add it to the drink, as it will otherwise impede the straining of the drink at serving time, and to create the most smooth and elegant texture. Moreover, the expressed lemon oil is critical to the excellence of this drink. Don’t leave home without it!


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Oaxacan Flower: Horchata, Mezcal

Steve Livigni and Daniel K. Nelson, of ‘Drink, Inc.’, have come up with a brilliant drink built around my favorite agua fresca, horchata. You can check out the story behind the drink by watching their youtube video (spoilers: they invent it for some restaurant).

We wanted to do it properly and make our own homemade horchata… Unfortunately neither of us had ever made it before, and every recipe we could find was different. Apparently there are a million ways to make horchata, and everyone seems to have their own recipe. We decided to wing it and make up our own.

Horchata
1 cup milk
1 cup rice
1 cup water
2 cinnamon sticks
1 vanilla bean

Combine rice, milk, and water in a medium-sized pot and heat it up over a medium heat. Crumble up the cinnamon sticks into the pot. Split the vanilla bean down its center and add it to the pot too. Don’t let it boil, just keep it warm, and let it cook for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Stop before the rice is fully cooked. Dump the lot into a blender, add additional water, and purée. Keep going, adding water until the desired consistency is achieved. Strain through a cheesecloth.

In the end, we sweetened things up with some vanilla/cinnamon syrup, to taste. If I were to make horchata again, I might add some raw, chopped almonds while the rice is cooking, and perhaps omit the milk altogether (subbing in an additional cup of water instead). There is certainly room for improvement and experimentation here, so if you have any horchata advice, please share your tips!

Oaxacan Flower
1.5 oz Spice-infused Mezcal
2 oz Horchata
Dry shake (to froth the horchata) and serve over crushed ice. Garnish with a lime wedge, star anise, cloves, and grate fresh cinnamon over the top.

The original recipe calls for spice-infused mezcal, but they never mention what sort of spice to use. We just used regular mezcal. No regrets. Mezcal and horchata work astonishingly well together. The spices in the garnish highlight the cinnamon pep provided by the horchata, and the mezcal’s flavors are truly transformed, shifted toward the sweeter side of the spectrum, but still complex, bold, and smoky. This drink would pair perfectly with some delicious adobada tacos, and has become one of my all-time favorite mezcal drinks.

¡Disfruten sus bebidas, mis compañeros de borracheras! Salud.


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Macadamia Nut Liqueur, Pineapple and Coconut

I’ve never been to Hawaii myself, but several of my friends have been on holiday there during the last year. They’ve all brought back delicious snacks, and there’s always some kind of macadamia-based treat included amongst the bounty. I don’t know what it is about this state, but it must be overflowing with macadamia nuts. The last friend of mine to visit the 50th state brought back what has been my favorite macadamia treat so far: macadamia nut liqueur.

Being a gift from Hawaii, this ingredient was destined to be mixed into a macadamia-themed tiki drink, like Joe’s Tkach Tiki Delux, only we wanted to make sure that the macadamia flavor was the main attraction, so Joe and I blended up this tropical treat. Behold!

This drink is nuts, so we call it Macadamia, or Macadamia Piña Colada
3 oz Macadamia nut liqueur
2 oz Smith & Cross rum
2 oz Matusalem rum
1 oz Coconut cream (critically important: use unsweetened coconut cream, not coco lopez)
.5 oz Fresh lime juice
.5 oz Fresh lemon juice
2 or 3 generous handfuls of freshly sliced pineapple chunks

Add all ingredients to a blender with plenty of ice. Blend until the ice is crushed. Pour into four glasses and smack some mint leaves for a garnish.

Something about blended tiki drinks is just really pleasing. What begins with a minty scent is followed by bright tropical notes from the fresh pineapple and citrus juices. The macadamia’s sweet nutty taste rounds out a rummy swallow. Personally, I like to keep the ice in my mouth and munch on it afterwards, but I’m weird like that.

We regret that the garnish was not grandiloquent, however, mint was definitely the right choice for this drink. I always enjoy tiki drinks that come with a fruity garnish, but in our haste to mix other drinks we neglected to cut a pineapple wedge. I guess nothing we could have done here would top the pineapple-as-a-vessel piña colada we made a while ago. If you choose to create a more impressive garnish, you really should keep the mint spring in the mix, as it provides a critical fragrance to this drink.

Aloha!


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Blood and Oak

You know what you don’t see often enough? Scotch cocktails. I think they are unpopular because they are generally made with blended scotch whiskey, and blended Scotch whiskey is not compelling. Personally I am not a huge fan of blended Scotches. Even the finer ones taste muddy and indistinct compared to the clarion symphony that is the experience of a quality single malt. I have tasted some small batch vatted malts that were very good, and I am aware that there is an art to blending them, but certainly the common ones are boring and awful.

On the other hand, single malt Scotches are expensive, and mixing them with other ingredients (besides other single malts?) is a kind of sacrilege. The distiller spent ever so much time and care to imbue that scotch with all of its most sublime and subtle qualities. Many recipes do call for small measures of Islay Scotches, I think because they are outside of the mainstream palate, and because their flavors are very bold. Indeed, it is a bold Scotch that can convey its character when it shares space in a glass with other ingredients.

As the season turns colder, I’ve been feeling a longing for the warming embrace of a mixed drink with single malt, and lucky for me, blood oranges are coming into season. Therefore, it is time to make one of the most famous scotch-based drinks, the Blood and Sand. I wanted to modify this drink to highlight the virtues of  one of my favorite single malts, the Balvenie Doublewood, so I re-jiggered it to be more Scotch-centric.

Blood and Oak
2 oz Balvenie Doublewood
1 oz Blood orange juice
.5 oz Drambuie
.25 Sweet Vermouth (Punt e Mes)
dash of orange bitters

In contrast. the proportions for the blood and sand almost seem like they were designed to hide the scotch:

Blood and Sand
1 oz Blended Scotch Whiskey
1 oz Blood Orange Juice
.75 oz Sweet Vermouth
.75 oz Cherry Heering
Shake over ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

I wanted to set it free, so I doubled the proportion of the Scotch, and dropped the liqueur and vermouth substantially. Cherry Heering is an elephant, and it will crush the other flavors in a drink with reckless oblivion. I replaced it with Drambuie, which is made with Scotch whiskey already, which means that it interferes less with the base spirit. I had originally considered cutting the vermouth entirely, but after tasting it pre-vermouth, I knew it needed that hint of bitterness and depth, so I kept it, but I dialed the vermouth down to a quarter ounce, and added orange bitters.

The end result is oaky, with a backend of bitter citrus. I have made this drink in the past using regular orange juice, and it sucks. Blood orange is the only true orange juice for this drink.


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Banana Split: Chocolate, Banana, Lemon

I’m James, Joe’s friend and apprentice of alcohol. Loyal readers may remember me from the review I wrote of Bourbon and Branch, a bar in San Francisco. Joe has invited me to contribute to Measure & Stir as an official author. I am honored to be here, and pledge to do my best to help record our experimental drinking sessions for posterity, and to give you a glimpse into our libation laboratory, aka Joe’s place. For my first post, I decided to write about a drink that used an infusion I made.

Word of the banana-infused bourbon Joe and I have been mixing with recently had spread around amongst our clique, and Joe and I found ourselves drinking one evening with one such friend, Julian. Naturally it was a perfect opportunity for us to pour out a little more of that beautiful banana booze. As Joe and I pondered what to mix with it, I realized the obvious: chocolate and bananas. I spotted Joe’s crazy-good Theo chocolate liqueur out of the corner of my eye, begging to be synergized with that banana whiskey.

Banana Split Sour
1.25 oz Banana-infused whiskey
.25 oz Chocolate liqueur
.25 oz Lemon juice
Shake, double strain, and garnish with a lemon peel.

We chose to split the drink into three small glasses, so that each of us could enjoy a taste, which was a shame because it was so delicious that I wish we could have all enjoyed our own full-sized drinks. The banana and chocolate combination is as delicious as your intuition tells you. The taste is enhanced by the sweet floral qualities provided by the lemon juice, and the oaky spice from the bourbon completes the drink on the swallow.

Joe later gave me this pro tip: Adding fresh lemon juice to a drink can impart a confectionary quality to it. For this reason, Joe chose to mix this drink as a sour. It was a great idea, and this handy hint is worth remembering. Alone, the banana-infused whiskey and chocolate liqueur taste great together, but with a little lemon juice the flavor pops, and the drink becomes candy.

Seriously, don’t forget that lemon peel garnish! The aroma from the peel helps this drink pop.


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Cilantro Juleps

Another week, another Saturday full of drinking experiments. Ever since our recent mint julep experiment, we’ve been wanting to try a few new variations.  Cilantro is a delicious and easily-available green herb, and also one of my favorites, so it was probably inevitable that it would find its way into a drink eventually. My original intuition said gin, as I have never met a green herb that did not go well with gin. In the planning stages it was to stop there; Gin, simple sugar, cilantro, cracked ice. The standard method for making a mint julep.

At game time, however, I realized that gin and cilantro was going to taste a little flat, and I realized that something in cilantro was calling out for tequila. We ended up making two variations on the theme, one with Gin, sweetened with green charteuse, and one with tequila, sweetened with agave syrup. Unlike with mint, which needs to be treated delicately, cilantro takes a little more convincing before it gives up its flavors. You’ll want to build this one in the glass; start with your sweetener and a few sprigs of cilantro. Using your muddler, rough up that cilantro and show it who’s boss.

Once it’s nice and smashed, add crushed ice, and then slowly pour the base spirit over the crushed ice, and give it a quick stir. Garnish by placing more fresh cilantro on top of the crushed ice. This was the first time that I’ve seen gin fail to play nice with a green herb. Gin was there, cilantro was there, but there was no harmony, no reason to continue. The green Chartreuse fit nicely in the drink, but I really can’t advise that you make a gin cilantro julep.

Tequila, on the other hand, has a wonderful vegetal flavor that matches beautifully with the similar notes in fresh cilantro.

Cilantro Julep
1.5 oz Añejo Tequila (Herradura)
.125 oz (1 tsp) Agave Nectar
Fresh Cilantro
Place cilantro and agave nectar in a glass and muddle vigorously. Add crushed ice and slowly pour the tequila over it. Garnish with more fresh cilantro.

This is exactly what you want with your next Mexican meal. Tacos, nachos, fresh salsa — as long as it’s spicy, it will go with this drink. Happy Monday!