Measure & Stir

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Libation Laboratory: Running the Gimlet, Part II

Joe and I made a variety of citrus cordials, and mixed up some gimlets, trying out various base spirits with each sort of cordial. In this series, we present our tasting notes. Part II brings us to the lime cordial, which was so tasty that we went a little nuts and made six different gimlets!

Lime Cordial
1 cup lime juice
1 cup sugar
Peels of 8 limes, piths removed.

A word of advice when making a lime cordial: You need to remove as much of that lime pith as you can. Lime pith is very bitter, and can ruin your cordial. Lime cordials are a huge pain to make, but the payoff is worth it, I promise.

Round 1

lime gimlets 2

In the image above, from left to right, we have:

Mezcal Gimlet

Eye: A slightly yellow clear, with a ghastly green glow.
Nose: Cactus and lime.
Sip: Smokey cactus, sweet lime.
Finish: Sweet.

The mezcal gimlet was excellent, probably one of my favorites out of the six that we made. Lime and mezcal really go well together, and the cordial mixes very well with mezcal, indeed. I love the depth that the mezcal’s smoke adds to such a simple drink.

Suze Gimlet

Eye: A deep yellow, almost amber.
Nose: Herbal.
Sip: Bitter, herbal, dry, crisp.
Finish: Dry, suze is pronounced in the finish.

Suze is a gentian-based liqueur, and as such it tastes very bitter. Honestly, this would make a decent apéritif, as it is slightly sweet, but mostly bitter and dry. Perhaps Suze has an acquired taste, but it is one that is well worth acquiring. This was in the top three, for sure.

Gin Gimlet

Eye: Clear, with a hint of green glow.
Nose: Botanicals and citrus.
Sip: Gin is present in the sip.
Finish: The lime cordial balances out the finish.

Of course we had to make a gin gimlet. A word of advice: the gimlet is a simple cocktail, and as such, it emphasizes the base spirit, so don’t skimp out and use the cheap stuff, go for your favorite gin, as the gimlet is a brilliant way to showcase it. I’m not sure I need to say much about this gimlet, since we’ve all probably had it a million times. If not, definitely make sure you try one soon.

Round 2

gimlets2

In the image above, from left to right, we have:

Fernet Branca Gimlet

Eye: Brown
Nose: Fernet Branca
Sip: Fernet Branca
Finish: Fernet Branca, lime detectable in the finish.

Drinking lime juice and Fernet Branca is a delicious experience, and so Joe and I had high hopes for mixing Fernet with our lime cordial. It worked out about as well as Fernet and lime, which is to say it was great, however I will probably stick to squeezing fresh limes into my Fernet in the future. Making a lime cordial is a pain, whereas juicing a lime isn’t, and the extra effort involved in making the cordial isn’t justified by this gimlet.

Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum Gimlet

Eye: White, hard to discern that lime cordial is present.
Nose: Sweet fruits, and citrus.
Sip: Strong grassy hogo, mellowed by the lime cordial.
Finish: Rum and lime are both present, well-balanced.

The Wray & Nephew gimlet was outstanding, and definitely in my top three. I love rum agricole, with its funky, grassy flavors. Wray & Nephew lacks some of the frutier notes that I’ve had in other white rums, but that is OK here, since it gets out of the way and gives the lime cordial some breathing room. Together, the two components balance each other well. Make this gimlet, you won’t be sad.

Tequila Reposado Gimlet

Eye: Yellow.
Nose: Smoke, citrus.
Sip: Tequila and lime.
Finish: Smoke, lime.

The tequila gimlet was quite similar to the mezcal gimlet, as you might expect. After the success of the mezcal gimlet, I wanted to see how tequila reposado would work out, and the results were similar. Of course lime and tequila match well, but I think I enjoyed the smokier flavors present in the mezcal gimlet.

Next week: Grapefruit Cordials.


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Sangriento Maria: Mezcal, Heirloom Tomato, Cumin, Chili Garlic Sauce

Joe, for whatever reason, is determined to make a bloody mary that he honestly enjoys, despite agreeing that nobody is excited by savory cocktails and that the bloody mary may be beyond saving. At best, in my opinion, tomato drinks taste like spiked, soupy salsa. At worst, they’re retch-inducing. Yet Joe tries to not only make these drinks palatable, but to make them great. His measure of success is whether or not we’d want to mix the drink twice in a night. This time it actually happened!

Sangriento Maria
2 oz Mezcal
2 oz Heirloom tomato juice
.5 oz Lime juice
.5 oz Cumin syrup
1/2 teaspoon of Chili Garlic Sauce (Huy Fong)

Shake over ice and strain into a cocktail goblet filled with fresh ice. Garnish with a quesadilla, si se puede.

To give this drink a more round tomato flavor, we used a medley of freshly juiced heirloom tomatos instead of sticking to one variety. If you don’t have any cumin syrup on-hand, or don’t feel like going through the trouble of making a batch, you can mix a pinch of cumin with simple syrup, to taste, and achieve a similar flavor. The bit of chili garlic was some last-minute serendipity, as I happened to have a bottle of Huy Fong in the fridge at the time.

Serving this sort of drink over ice helps to cut down on the tomato juice’s heavy viscosity, making it easier to enjoy. I’ve also found that using a smokey spirit, like mezcal, helps to distract you from the fact that you’re drinking tomato juice. That, or using teas also works well with tomato drinks. This bloody mary was so tasty that we ended up mixing another at the end of the night, but, the second time we made it, it did have that “spiced salsa” quality to it, so we’ve adjusted the amount of chili garlic sauce for our final recipe, presented above.

This is the last bloody mary drink for a long while. Lo sentimos.


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A More Refined Whiskey and Coke

After fixing up the Cosmopolitan, I had a bit of an ego trip, and decided to follow it up with a better Whiskey and Coke. This drink is a mashup of two ideas in the space around coca-cola. First, a Cuba-Libre is about one thousand times better than a rum and coke; the lime juice balances against the sweetness of the cola, and complements the spirit. Second, Fernet and Coke is a popular drink in Argentina. Indeed, this makes sense, as the Dirt and Diesel, a drink with dark rum, lime, and fernet has a flavor which is reminiscent of a Cuba-Libre.

So our thinking here was to combine the concepts of a whiskey and coke, a fernet and coke, and a Cuba-Libre. Our first attempt with Fernet was not an overwhelming success. The Fernet dominated the drink, and the flavors did not come together the way we were hoping. There was something missing or something dissonant. Rather than try to add yet a fifth ingredient, we swapped the Fernet for the Dirt and Diesel‘s other bitter component, Cynar, and it was much more harmonious. The Cynar was not as bitter as the Fernet, of course, so we rounded it out with a dash of bitters.

Improved Whiskey Coke
1.5 oz Rye Whiskey (Rittenhouse Bonded)
.75 oz Cynar
.5 oz Lime Juice
Dash of Aromatic Bitters (Angostura)
2 oz High Quality Cola
Shake over ice and double-strain over fresh ice. Top with 2 oz high quality Cola and garnish with a lime wheel.

This was a great highball, but Cola is not my favorite thing to drink. It will taste much better if you use your favorite local artisanal cola, or failing that, Mexican coke, the kind that uses real sugar and comes in a glass bottle. We used Trader Joe’s “Vintage Cola”, and I must confess, I was disappointed with it. In Seattle, Pig Iron Cola is our favorite, and a much more solid choice.

If you want to splurge on the garnish, you could always use a vanilla bean molded into a straw, as in this Bacardi ad. If you haven’t seen them, the entire series of commercials is worth watching. They have high production values and interesting (maybe accurate?) trivia. I especially enjoy their twist on the mojito.

Cheers!


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Rum Cosmopolitan

Few topics in mixology are more divisive than vodka; I never thought that was the case, but there seem to be two major camps on the issue; in the first camp, there are snobs like me, who believe that any drink that is good with vodka is better with something else. In the second camp, there are people who feel that it is wrong to judge people for their plebian tastes. I think its safe to say that, for those of us in the first camp, we don’t seriously look down on people who enjoy vodka, we simply enjoy snobbery as part of the game. If you can’t enjoy snobbery, you are taking yourself too seriously.

Anyway, I’m done preaching. Today we’re going to talk about the cocktail that may have single-handedly started the craft cocktail revolution; the Cosmopolitan. Cosmopolitans made cocktails cool again, and raised the general public’s interest in drinking cocktails, which had fallen out of fashion as their production descended to McDonald’s-esque lows in the 1990s. I wish I could take credit for that insight, but it was Doug of the Pegu Blog who taught me.

Cranberries are in season, and as with our Thanksgiving drink, the Berry Nutty Maple Whiskey Sour, we wanted to make a sour that uses cranberry juice as the primary source of acidity. To that end, we re-jiggered the classic Cosmopolitan around some of our principles here at Measure and Stir. First off, the vodka had to go. Our first attempt involved using gin, but that was a mistake. Doug warned me:

The ground is littered with the bodies of cocktailians who tried to turn the Cosmopolitan into a decent gin cocktail. The fabled Metropolitan heresy has wasted more good gin on bad results than you can imagine.

Cranberry-orange is a classic flavor pairing, but somehow it just does not mix well with gin’s botanicals. This drink became successful when we swapped the gin for J. Wray and Nephew, an overproof rum with some serious hogo.

Rum Cosmopolitan
1.5 oz Traditional Rum (J. Wray and Nephew)
1 oz Cointreau
.75 oz Fresh, Unsweetened Cranberry Juice
.25 oz Lime Juice
Shake over ice and double-strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with skewered cranberries.

We replaced the sweet and watery cranberry cordial that is commonly used in this drink for fresh, unsweetened cranberry juice, dialed down the lime, and balanced the sourness of the juices with a whole ounce of Cointreau. The result is a very dry, slightly sulfurous cranberry-orange pairing, brightened by a bit of lime. If you like your cosmos sweet, a dash of simple syrup would not be amiss.

We garnished the drink with skewered cranberries, which look very nice but impart virtually no aroma. In a later version of the drink, which is not pictured, we also added small twist of orange peel, and it added both a splash of contrasting color and a mild orange oil aroma. Delightful.

Bottoms up!


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Libation Laboratory: Running the Gimlet, Part I

MxMo update: It looks like all of the MxMo latecomers are in, so we went ahead and updated the post with four new entries from Southern Ash, Feu-de-Vie, Chemistry of the Cocktail, and Bartending Notes. Their drinks are awesome, so be sure to check them out. We can’t wait to see you all next month.

Inspired by a New York Times Magazine article describing a “raw” lime cordial, Joe and I decided to explore the spectrum of citrus cordials. We made lemon, lime, and grapefruit cordials and mixed a series of gimlets with each, using an array of base spirits selected because we thought they’d be interesting to try out. In this series, we present our tasting notes.

For the first post in this series, we made lemon gimlets using Zucca, Smith & Cross, and Cognac Salignac. I’ve always made a gimlet using a 4:1 ratio of gin to lime cordial, so we used this as our starting point. However, as we quickly learned, this ratio was designed for gin, and, as always, you should use your taste as your guide when trying something new. Also, home-made cordials are going to taste sweeter and more intense than anything store-bought. For each of our gimlets we fixed the amount of cordial to .5 oz, then poured .5 oz of base spirit at a time, tasting and adjusting until the flavors were balanced well enough.

To make a cordial, make a simple syrup, only add citrus peels and use citrus juice instead of water. Trimming the pith from the peels is a pain, but an essential step because citrus pith tastes bitter. It’s OK to be a little lazy with the piths when making a lemon or grapefruit cordial, but you really do want to remove as much pith as you can when you’re working with limes. Just for completeness, here’s the recipe we used to make our cordials:

Citrus Cordial
Citrus peels (pith removed)
1 cup fresh citrus juice
1 cup sugar

Peel your citrus fruits and remove all pith from the peels. Add all ingredients to a medium-sized pot over medium heat and stir until integrated. Strain and discard the peels.

In the image above, from left to right, we have:

Zucca Lemon Gimlet

Eye: Very dark, can’t see the lemon cordial at all.
Nose: Spicy, bright citrus.
Sip: Bittersweet, zucca and lemon blend together well.
Finish: Bittersweet, pretty much the same as it started.

It’s well known that rhubarb tastes great with citrus, especially oranges and lemons. Zucca, of course, is bittersweet, and its citrus notes are amplified by the lemon cordial. A great gimlet, probably my second favorite of the three.

Smith & Cross Lemon Gimlet

Eye: Dark brown/yellow, an intriguing amber color.
Nose: Sweet caramel with a hint of lemon.
Sip: Dark caramel and fresh, funky hogo.
Finish: Exotic fruits, bright citrus.

Joe and I both agree that this was the winner. Smith & Cross is one of our favorite rums, and the lemon cordial makes it sing to us. It’s amazing how the fruit in the rum is amplified by the lemon cordial. It was a great match.

Cognac Salignac Lemon Gimlet

Eye: Looks yellow, almost like pineapple juice.
Nose: Cognac and lemon, predictably.
Sip: Sweet, caramel, bright lemons.
Finish: Weak finish from the cognac, lemon overwhelms it.

The first few sips of this were great, and Joe and I were considering it for second place, but the problem was that the cognac finished weakly, and is overwhelmed by the lemon cordial in the swallow.

Join us again next week, when we’ll explore the lime cordial.


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Vin Brûlée: Winter Spices, Red Wine, Citrus Peels

Quick Note from Joseph: Hey guys, sorry there was a little bit of miscommunication around the MxMo deadline. We’re still accepting late-comers, and it looks like a few more entries are still rolling in. Check back with us a little later in the week, when we will update the MxMo Roundup and enumerate all of the last-minute submissions. Thanks again for your patience and participation!

This recipe comes to us from an Italian friend, whose family has a tradition of celebrating the holidays every year with vin brûlée. Our friend directed us to this youtube video, which we used as the starting point for our recipe.

Vin Brûlée
1 bottle Red wine
.25 cup Sugar
1 tablespoon Winter spice mix (cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and star anise)
Peels of a lemon and an orange

Combine the wine, citrus peels, and spices in a medium-sized pot and simmer. Once integrated, light it on fire and wait for it to burn itself out. Remove the wine from the stove top and allow it to cool off, slightly. Serve while still warm.

In the video they use an entire cup of sugar, but that is far too sweet for our taste. A quarter cup will be plenty sweet, and is enough sugar to provide a nice viscosity and the desired amount of caramelization. As always, though, let your own good taste be your guide. As for the winter spice mix, we crushed cloves and star anise using a mortar and pestle, and added to that grated cinnamon and nutmeg. What a wonderful aroma!

Vin Brûlée, like a hot toddy, is a great drink to enjoy with dessert at your next family gathering, or any time during the fall and winter holidays, really. What would be more entertaining to your dinner guests than setting a pot of wine on fire? Plus, since you end up burning off most of the alcohol, the proof is low and it goes down easy.

The wine in this drink takes on a wonderful bouquet of winter spices, and tastes similar to a mulled wine, except that, unlike your standard mulled or spiced wine, because you set it on fire, the red wine takes on a deep caramel flavor. Sipping on this warm drink is certainly something to be thankful for this thanksgiving.

Salute!


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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?


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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.