Measure & Stir

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


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Mixology Crash Course: Syrups and Infusions

This is part 9 of a series on Mixology Basics.

juicesandsyrups

Syrups

Simple syrup is a foundational ingredient of mixology, for the simple reason that it is much easier to incorporate sugar into a drink that has already been dissolved into water, than trying to stir granulated sugar into high proof liquid, in to which it does not wish to dissolve.

  • It is important to make your simple syrups with the same ratio of sugar to water every time, in order to produce consistent output.
  • Make your simple syrup in the microwave, it’s faster, cleaner, and it won’t hurt anything. Microwaves don’t magically ruin sugar water.
  • When making a flavored syrup, the goal is to extract as much flavor from the infusing reagent as possible into the water. Some flavors are more water soluble, and some flavors are more alcohol soluble. For the latter, take a look at infusions, below.
  • The easiest way to extract a flavor into a syrup is by simmering the thing you wish to extract in the syrup. Whatever that thing is, break it up into small pieces before simmering it, as a greater surface area will result in a faster and richer extraction.

By way of example:

Raspberry Syrup
80g raspberries
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
Combine all in a pot on the stovetop and lightly crush the raspberries. Bring to a boil and then remove from the heat.

Once the syrup has cooled, strain through a fine-mesh strainer and optionally add .5 oz vodka, as a preservative.

And what, you are wondering, should I do with my raspberry syrup? The possibilities are endless, provided those possibilities include making things taste like raspberry. They range from the mundane:

Raspberry Soda
1.5 oz raspberry syrup
8 oz soda water

to the classic:

Clover Club
1.5 oz gin
.75 oz lemon juice
.5 oz raspberry syrup
.5 of an egg white

By now it should not escape you that the clover club is a gin sour with raspberry syrup in lieu of simple, enriched with egg white. The Clover Club is a perennial favorite, and you will find that most any fruit-flavored syrup will complement this formulation.

The same technique that you use for raspberry syrup will work for most any berry or fruit; pineapple, blueberry, shnozberry, even peeled ginger; the sky’s the limit.

Another popular one is honey syrup, which is made by using heat to dissolve honey into light simple syrup.

Honey Syrup
1 cup water
3/4 cup honey
1/4 cup sugar
Microwave it.

And what should you do with your honey syrup? Why, you should make the Bee’s Knees, which is almost the same as the Clover Club!

Bee’s Knees
1.5 oz gin
.75 oz lemon juice
.5 oz honey

As you can see, mixology is inundated by the narcissism of small differences. But suppose you wanted to make, not a fruit syrup, but a spiced syrup? When it comes to spices, you can usually get away with the microwave, though there is nothing wrong with the stovetop. Cinnamon syrup is particularly versatile. Drop a few cinnamon sticks into your simple syrup recipe, and away you go.

Grenadine

Since we’re already cribbing from Jeffrey Morgenthaler, let’s take a moment to reflect on his grenadine recipe.

Grenadine
1 cups fresh pomegranate juice (approximately 1 large pomegranate) or POM Wonderful 100% pomegranate juice
1 cup sugar
1 oz pomegranate molasses
.5 tsp orange blossom water

Grenadine is a magical syrup made from pomegranate juice, lightly seasoned with orange flower water.  If you make grenadine this way, you will be happy, and your cocktails will sparkle.

The canonical grenadine cocktail, of course, is the Jack Rose:

Jack Rose
1.5 oz Apple Jack (I prefer Calvados, personally)
.75 oz lime juice
.5 oz grenadine

This is a light, fruit, summery kind of drink. Don’t take it too seriously, and if you like, bump up the grenadine to .75 oz. It’s great served up, and it’s great as a collins.

Oleo Saccharum

Oleo saccharum is latin for “oily sugar”, and it’s a special, decadent kind of syrup which is appropriate for festive occasions, or any time you feel like taking it to the next level. To make oleo saccharum, macerate citrus peels in sugar for half a day.

First, select one ore more appropriate citrus fruits. Oranges, lemons, and grapefruits are all good choices, though tangerines, quinces, and buddha’s hands are all possible. Lime tends to be a non-starter.

Remove as much peel from your citrus as possible, being careful not to get any pith. It’s possible to trim your peels after they are cut, and it is worth doing. Pith is bitter and will spoil your syrup.

In a large, covered bowl, combine the peels with at least a cup of sugar. This is not really exact, but I find that the peel of three oranges is suitable for one cup of sugar. Toss the peels in the sugar to coat, and don’t be afraid to give it a good muddling.

If you desire, fresh herbs or spices can also be added at this time.

Wait at least four hours, and notice how the sugar melts and pulls all of the oils out of the peels, becoming a rich, flavorful syrup.

Strain, and use it in your favorite sour. Why not try this?

Elevated Paloma
1.5 oz reposado tequila
1 oz grapefruit oleo saccharum
.75 oz lime juice
4 oz soda water
Serve in a highball glass full of ice.

herbs

Infusions

Infusing is a technique for rendering an aromatic ingredient’s flavor into a spirit. When it comes to infusions, the question you need to ask yourself is “why?”. Liquor is expensive, and for the home mixologist, it is easy to waste a lot of spirits.

There are two reasons one might use an infusion over a syrup. The first is that it is possible to pack extra flavors into a smaller space. You might want to add the flavor of a spice to a drink without the sugar that goes along with a syrup.

The caveat here, and also the second reason to favor an infusion, is that, for any particular reagent, a different subset of its flavors will be alcohol soluble vs. water soluble.

Alcohol infusions are great for capturing aromas, but they miss a certain slice of the flavor which is hard to describe. My heuristic is: for aromatic ingredients, capture them in an infusion; for ingredients with strong flavors but mild smells, capture them in a syrup or a juice.

Sometimes, to get the best of both worlds, it is advisable to make a liqueur.

cacao nibs day 1

The process for making a liqueur is simple:

  1. Make an infusion
  2. Make a syrup using the same flavors as the liqueur
  3. Combine them to your desired level of proof.
  4. Rest the liqueur for a few weeks to let it mellow and meld.

Ah, but how, exactly, does one make an infusion? If you are making a liqueur, it is advisable to use a very high proof spirit. A higher concentration of alcohol will produce a richer, fuller extraction. Cask strength bourbon, navy strength gin, or good old everclear are all suitable choices.

The biggest mistake that people make with infusions is infusing for too long. Often you will hear a friend brag of how they “infused for a month” or more. This is pure folly. Depending upon the reagent, some infusions are ready within a few hours, and most are ready within a few days, though some can take up to two weeks.

Over-infusing is a real thing. Have you ever steeped a tea bag for too long in hot water? The result is bitter, acrid, overly tannic tea. Infusions that run for too long can pick up off notes, so be mindful.

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Infusion Time Cheat Sheet

  • Chili peppers infuse the fastest. Depending on the type of pepper and the volume of spirit, one hour is easily too long. Most chili pepper infusions are far too hot, because the bars that use them over-infuse them.
  • Tea takes about six hours.
  • Fresh herbs like to go over night.
    • Avoid mint infusions, as they end up tasting like toothpaste.
    • Similarly, sage infusions get skunky.
  • Spices take about three days, though some can be faster.
  • Most fruits and vegetables take a week or two.

Rate of Extraction vs. Surface Area

Of course, as with any kind of steeping process, the rate of extraction is a function of surface area. Ground up spices will infuse just as fast as you can stir them in and strain them out, but ground spices are also hard to strain out cleanly, unless you grind them fresh, will have already dried out too much to convey good flavor.

A bunch of thin peeled ginger slices will infuse much faster than a single large chunk. Save yourself the time and prefer many small pieces over a few large ones.

I’ll make a special note about coffee, since any coffee nerd will tell you, a good extraction is all about the size of the grind. Let’s say you drop whole, unground coffee beans into vodka. It will take about three weeks to reach the place you want, though agitating the mixture might speed it up a bit.

On the other hand, a medium, pour-over style grind will be ready over night, just like a cold brew.

Fat Washing

Let’s finish off this topic with an oddball. Did you know, most of the flavor in meat comes from the fat? And further, the flavors of fats are partly alcohol soluble? Yes, it’s true, you can infuse animal fats into liquor. This is not a method for the faint of heart.

To fat wash a spirit, pour a quarter cup of warm (not hot) liquid fat into about a cup of liquor and give it a good shake. It will separate in pretty short order, but that won’t hurt anything. If you want a deeper infusion, shake it longer, although in my experience it reaches a saturation point pretty quickly.

To remove the fat, leave the infusion in the freezer over night. All of the fat will solidify at the top in a frozen disk. Remove this, and then strain out any (still-frozen) stray particles using a coffee filter. I have found that liquors treated this way develop a bit of an oily mouthfeel.

Bacon Old-Fashioned
1.5 oz bacon fat-washed bourbon
.5 oz maple syrup
2 dash angostura bitters
garnish with an orange peel and a strip of candied bacon.
embrace the void

This drink is more novel than delicious.


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Valentine’s Cocktail Trio: Heavy Handed Symbolism – Chocolate Liqueur, Blood Orange Juice, Citric Acid, Egg White

Continuing with my Valentine’s Day Trio, course two was a preparation of the classic pairing of chocolate with orange. In this case, we made it two ways, once as a cocktail and once as a macaron. The macaron, pictured below, was a collaboration with my friend Johan, who was instrumental in designing this series.

heavyhandedsymbolism1

For the base of this drink, I used a cocoa nib liqueur, which I have made before, but which I have now updated with a modern technique. The diffusion of sous vide immersion circulators to home cooks has opened up many exciting new possibilities for those who wish to keep it craft. I made this liqueur in a mere two hours, by cooking 6 oz of cocoa nibs in 375 ml of vodka at 60C for ninety minutes. I then strained out the nibs and boiled them in simple syrup for a few more minutes. This is the classic alcohol+water extraction.

I combined the syrup into the infusion according my palate, and allowed it to rest for three days. In this time, the flavors of the syrup and the alcohol will meld together, resulting in a much softer flavor. If you were to taste it immediately after combining, you would find a harsh ethanol note on the backend.

This recipe, despite the fancy ingredients, is really just a take on Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s Amaretto sour. We combine a liqueur base with egg whites and an acidic juice, then use an immersion blender to emulsify the egg white.

There is a small twist, however. Blood oranges, at the peak of their season right now, are not very acidic. They lack the acidity needed to form a stable foam out of egg whites, and as a result, they are not sour enough to balance a sweet chocolate liqueur. The answer to both of these problems is the same; powdered citric acid.

If you can master acidity, you can master cocktail creation. Acidity is the lynch pin of the drink, acidity is life. I slowly blended citric acid into my blood orange juice until it was approximately as sour as lemon juice.

heavyhandedsymbolism3

I am not going to give you a recipe for the macaron. You can figure out how to make macarons on your own, using many fine internet resources, such as Chefsteps. I will, however, provide a note on the buttercream. Johan and I made a German style buttercream by preparing a pastry cream sous vide. (82C for 35 minutes). The resulting product was too set up to use on its own, and we had to blend it in my Vitamix until it was smooth.

We then incorporated the pastry cream into creamed butter, and mixed in some fine cut orange marmalade, some orange bitters, and some Clement Creole Shrub, one of my favorite orange liqueurs. In the middle, we placed a small chunk of candied orange rind, which we boiled in simple syrup for about half an hour. The candied orange provided a nice contrast of texture in the center of the cookie.

To garnish the shell, we embedded some toasted cocoa nibs from Seattle’s own Theo chocolate company into the meringue.

heavyhandedsymbolism2

Heavy-Handed Symbolism
1.5 oz homemade cocoa nib liqueur
1.5 oz blood orange juice
.5 oz egg white
.25 oz simple syrup
Powdered citric acid to taste
Emulsify with a stick blender and then shake gently over ice. Strain only with a hawthorne strainer into a cocktail glass and garnish by dropping chocolate bitters into the foam and then turning them into hearts with a toothpick.

Serve with a chocolate orange macaron and a mandarin orange.

You are, I have no doubt, wondering why this drink is called Heavy-Handed Symbolism. I came up with this name only after I had fully realized its recipe, but I found that I had included egg white, representing fertility, blood orange juice, representing blood or passion, and chocolate, which represents that love is sometimes bitter sweet. #sorrynotsorry

Out of the drinks in the set, this one probably had the best reception, though I am quite proud of all of them.

Cheers.


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Measure and Stir X Boozed And Infused

We were gone for a while, but though we stopped blogging, we did not stop making and enjoying drinks. One of my favorite tipples of my sabbatical came from the excellent blog Boozed and Infused, wherein Alicia did make Gingerbread Liqueur. I have a weakness for all things ginger-flavored, and the idea of this liqueur spoke to me greatly. Only a few days after seeing it, I rushed out to buy some molasses and infuse up a double batch.

I followed the recipe more or less to the letter, and I was very pleased with the result. The molasses turn the liqueur an inky black, blacker than fernet, blacker even than black strap rum. As I thought of what drink I wanted most to make with this spirit, I found that I wanted most to pair it with oranges.

cant catch me

As I sat down with a glass of gingerbread liqueur, I was moved by the holiday spirit to read back through the entire Boozed and Infused archive, and I have saved my favorite posts in their history to share with you.

I was most intrigued by the idea of a Maple Mushroom Martini, for I am ever in search of novel flavors and combinations. I can imagine the velvety umami flavor of a mushroom mixed with maple, and I think it must be similar to the combination of maple bacon.

My thirst was further whetted by this beautiful-looking Chili-Agave Liqueur, a link which is worth following for the photo alone, which depicts Lemon peels, cinnamon, peppercorn, and a variety of chili peppers in tequila. If I were to use it in a drink, I would want to capture their colors in the garnish.

cant catch me 2

Can’t Catch Me
1.5 oz Gingerbread Infusion
.125 oz Allspice Dram
2 Dash Orange Bitters (Scrappy’s Seville Orange)
Stir over ice and garnish with an orange zest tied around a gingerbread cookie.

As I was building the menu for my birthday party and I had all of this gingerbread liqueur sitting around, I opted to serve it in the format of an old fashioned, with a small amount of pimento dram to deepen the spice, and my new bottle of seville orange bitters to add a little bit of brightness. The long orange peel gives it a beautiful nose. Moreover, the spicy gingerbread cookie was truly delicious once it became saturated in the drink. The recipe I used produced a very crisp, biscuit-like cookie, which was able to soak up quite a bit of the underlying drink without falling apart.

I think this liqueur would also do very well in a sour, which is an experiment I shall be trying soon, but probably not photographing. The recipe should be pretty obvious, something like:

Gingerbread Sour
1.5 oz Gingerbread Liqueur
1 Egg white
.75 oz Lemon Juice
Dash of simple syrup
Dry shake, then shake over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with spicy aromatic bitters in the foam.

Some things you know will be great without even trying them. Big thanks to Booze and Infused. Alicia and Eileen, please keep up the good work.


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Kansai-jin: Peach-Bourbon, Pecan Orgeat, Lemon Peels

Pretty much the first drink you should mix after making homemade orgeat should be a Japanese cocktail, which is exactly what I did, with a twist, of course.

Kansai-jin
2 oz Peach-infused bourbon
.5 oz Pecan orgeat
2 Lemon peels
3 Dashes of angostura bitters

Stir over ice, strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with a fresh lemon peel.

Instead of brandy, I wanted to use this peach-infused bourbon that I’ve had laying around since the end of summer, and I’ve had a strong desire to do something with peaches and pecans for a while now. Just like the Japanese cocktail, there’s nothing Japanese about it, except for its name.

Peach-infused Bourbon
1 cup Peaches, chopped
1 cup Bourbon
1 Stick of cinnamon

Combine the peaches and bourbon and let infuse for 2 days. Add the cinnamon stick at the end of the 2nd day and allow the infusion to continue for another day. Strain.

The peach bourbon was a huge success, and is one of the tastiest infusions I’ve made so far. Infusions of fruits like peaches or pears add a subtle, yet sweet fruitiness to bourbon, and I like to add some spices in on the last day to add a tiny burst of something to the bourbon’s finish. It’s been hard to keep this stuff around as it is a favorite whenever guests raid my home bar.

As for the pecan orgeat, we used the Serious Eats orgeat recipe, except that we substituted pecans for almonds. I’ve found that homemade orgeat is much nuttier than the store-bought kind.

The drink has an aroma of lemon, peaches, and roasted pecans. The nuttiness from the orgeat penetrates the bourbon’s peachy, oaky spice, and the citrus oils and orange flower water in the orgeat add some bright floral notes. Overall, bourbon made an interesting subsitution for brandy, but I can’t help but wonder if it was too much for this drink. Perhaps it would have been better with peach-brandy.

Kanpai!


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Vanilla-Bourbon, Cranberry, Pecan Orgeat, Maple Syrup

Thanksgiving. Turkey time. A day spent with friends and family, stuffing ourselves into food comas. What are we thankful for? Bourbon whiskey, amari, and mezcal, of course!

Berry Nutty Maple Whiskey Sour
2 oz Vanilla-infused bourbon
.75 oz Cranberry juice
.5 oz Maple syrup
.5 oz Pecan orgeat
Dash of angostura bitters

Shake over ice, double-strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a pecan praline.

For today’s drink, we wanted to mix something using fresh cranberry juice. Let me emphasize the “fresh” part. Remember to keep it craft and always use real, freshly-juiced cranberries. None of that ocean spray 20% cranberry nonsense. Fresh cranberry juice is a splendid cocktail ingredient because it’s an excellent source of acidity, and using it is a great way to add sourness to a drink without relying on citrus juice.

To make pecan orgeat, we used the Serious Eats orgeat recipe, except that we used pecans instead of almonds. The sweetness of the vanilla-infused bourbon and maple syrup balance the sourness from the cranberry juice. The pecan orgeat adds a smooth, sweet, mild, buttery nuttiness, and tastes great with maple syrup. Honestly, when you make a drink using ingredients like these, its deliciousness is self-evident.

And now, to enjoy while perhaps sipping on a cocktail and nibbling on the last of grandma’s jell-o mold, I leave you with some lame Thanksgiving-inspired jokes:

What did the turkey say to the computer?
“Google, google!”

What kind of music did the pilgrims listen to?
Plymouth Rock.

What do you call an unhappy cranberry?
A blueberry!

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving.


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Popcorn-Bourbon Toddy

As Joe used the iSi whip cream dispenser to flash infuse some freshly popped popcorn into some bourbon, I prepared some spiced butter using the same winter spice mix that we used to make the vin brûlée. Once everything was ready, a tasty toddy was born. Delicious, fun, rather unusual, and seasonally appropriate. Not only would drinking one of these be a fine way to warm yourself up, it’d also go really well with a movie.

Popcorn Toddy
2 oz Popcorn-infused Bourbon
1 oz Brown sugar syrup
.75 oz Lemon juice
1 tablespoon Spiced butter
Dash of bitters
2 oz Near-boiling water (to top)

Melt the butter and spices together. Add ingredients to a snifter, top with 2 oz near-boiling water. Garnish with a popcorn skewer.

We originally wanted to use a rye, Old Overholt, as it tastes particularly corny on its own, but, alas, we didn’t quite have enough of it left to make the infusion, which is why we used bourbon instead. However, this was no loss, and I think it was actually a blessing in disguise because the bourbon perhaps adds more character and complexity. Still, I’d like to revisit this concept and use the ‘holt next time because it’d be interesting to see how its corniness bridges the whisky to the popcorn flavor. Then again, having said that, we’ve sworn off Old Overholt. Ever since Joe and I noticed how corny it tastes, it’s all we can taste. Its corniness almost ruins most drinks, in fact, and for that reason, we probably won’t be restocking that bottle. Yet I feel like every spirit has its uses, and perhaps this drink would be well suited to the corny corn corn taste of the ‘holt.

I was a bit worried that the popcorn flavor in the bourbon wouldn’t be very strong, but I was pleasantly surprised by the results of our infusion. The sip tastes like warm, slightly buttery, spicy bourbon, and smells like cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and star anise. As you swallow, you taste the popcorn, and the spices linger long enough to “season” the popcorn flavor, making it taste surprisingly like spiced popcorn.


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Rainy Day: Tomato, Black Tea, Pisco, Lime

As you have probably noticed, this week is all about using science to take advantage of unintuitive flavor combinations by looking for chemical similarities in aromas. Today’s pairing is tomato and black tea. It turns out that molecular gastronomy enthusiasts have their own version of mixology monday, which they call “They Go Really Well Together“, and that’s how I discovered this particular combination.

The unfortunate truth is that it’s hard to get excited about savory drinks, and tomatoes lean very heavily toward the umami side of the flavor spectrum, so even if you sweeten it, it’s going to be savory. One trick I have found for making tomato a more appetizing cocktail ingredient is to clarify it, as we did during our Bloody Mary Workshop. The procedure is very simple; pour fresh tomato juice into a funnel lined with a coffee filter and wait a few hours. You could even set it up in the fridge and let it go over night if you needed to make a lot. The end product still tastes like tomato juice, but it has a mercifully un-chunky texture, which I think is the worst part of tomato in a cocktail.

I wanted to use a relatively neutral spirit for the base of this drink, and I’ve been flush with Pisco lately, so it was a convenient choice. In order to get some black tea in this drink, I decided to infuse earl grey into the Pisco. Tea infuses into hot water in a matter of a few minutes, and it infuses into strong spirits only slightly slower. I let the earl grey steep in the Pisco for only fifteen minutes before it became dark and cloudy with the tea. But don’t trust my steep time; as with all infusions, your own good taste must be the final arbiter regarding how long to allow it to infuse.

Rainy Day
1.5 oz Earl Grey-Infused Pisco (Tabernero)
1.5 oz Clarified Heirloom Tomato Juice
.25 oz Simple Syrup
.25 oz Lime Juice
Pinch of Salt
1 Dash Angostura Bitters
Shake over ice and double strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a tiny grilled cheese sandwich and a cherry tomato.

This drink had a tangy, pungent flavor from the combination of the tomato and lime, which also went nicely with the bergamot in the earl grey. I did enjoy the interplay between the tea’s bitter tannin and the tomato’s roundness, but as with all savory drinks, it’s hard to love it. Actually, James thought it might be the best tomato drink we have made, and I am inclined to agree. It didn’t have any of the salsa or soup qualities from which most Bloody Mary style drinks suffer. If you like tomato juice, it’s worth a try, otherwise, may I direct you to The Pearnsip.

Before I go, a quick note on the theme: I garnished this drink with a grilled cheese because I reasoned, on a rainy Washington day, what could be better than a cup of hot tea, a bowl of tomato soup, and a grilled cheese sandwich? This drink was my attempt to capture all of those elements in a single preparation. You have to eat the grilled cheese right away, unfortunately, as it is but a single bite, and it does not retain its heat, not even long enough for a photo shoot.

Salud!