Measure & Stir

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


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Stouthearted: Strawberry, Amaretto, Coffee-infused Bourbon, Oatmeal Stout

I’m so glad the election is behind us, and now we can get back to focusing on the thing that truly makes America great: Bourbon whiskey.

Usually when I am brainstorming for drinks to make for the blog, I start with a concept based on a flavor pairing that I want to try. In this case, I was inspired by two separate drinks, both from the series Drink Inc. First, they made a drink of gin, pineapple, lime, and Lillet, floated with Amaretto and strawberry juice. I personally thought that was too complicated, but I was taken with the idea of the strawberry juice/amaretto combo. No one has to tell you how delicious that is; its deliciousness is self-evident. I wanted to take that flavor pairing and extract it into a drink where it could shine on its own.

I was also inspired by their beer-based drink, the “Heiferweizen”, consisting of apricot puree, lemon juice, orange marmalade, and hefeweizen. Since beer is already relatively viscous, it matches well with the texture of a fruit puree or jam. For my first iteration on this drink, I mixed up an ounce and a half each of strawberry juice (very thick, for a juice) and amaretto, shook it up, and then topped it with four ounces of stout. It was excellent, but it was slightly too sweet for my taste.

For round two, I had been planning to cut the sweetness with vanilla-infused bourbon, but James came over with some coffee-infused bourbon, recipe courtesy of Boozed and Infused, and I knew that the coffee would pair well with both the amaretto and the stout. The coffee bourbon tastes very similar to a cold-brewed coffee, with notes of bourbon on the back end, and a nice alcoholic kick. This is only my third beer cocktail, the first two being a pair of Singha highball drinks for Thai week. (Technically it is not a cocktail if we are being pedantic, though I don’t think there’s really a name for this genre other than “beer cocktail”).

Stouthearted
1.5 oz Coffee-Infused Bourbon (Evan Williams)
1.5 oz Fresh Strawberry Juice
1 oz Amaretto (Luxardo)
3 oz Oatmeal Stout (Rogue)
Shake all but beer over ice and double-strain into an old fashioned glass. Top with 3 oz of Oatmeal stout and then garnish by floating coffee beans on the foam.

The stout mostly dominates the sip, along with some fruitiness from the strawberry. Strawberry, Amaretto, and coffee round out the finish. There is something a little bit romantic about the combination of amaretto and strawberry–something you might serve to your girlfriend. Hence we called it, “Stouthearted”. Even so, it is not an unmanly concoction, though it’s probably best saved for dessert.

Since it’s a beer drink, I can say: Prost!


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Turkish Bath: Apricot Bourbon, Cumin, Lemon, Rosewater

There’s something almost magical about a hot toddy that can transform a rainy, miserable day into a warm, cozy one. Last Saturday was such an occasion, and this was the perfect remedy, and an excellent drink.

Turkish Bath
1.5 oz Apricot-infused bourbon
.5 oz Lemon juice
.5 oz Cumin syrup
1 oz Near-boiling water
2 Drops of rosewater

Combine apricot bourbon, cumin syrup, and lemon juice in a tea cup. Top with hot water and float the rose water on top. Garnish with a bourbon-soaked apricot.

I was skeptical when Joe told me he wanted to make a drink using cumin syrup. When he told me about his apricot bourbon infusion, this wasn’t what I had in mind. We had thought that Apricot and Cumin was a classic Turkish pairing, but it turns out it’s actually Moroccan. That is unfortunate, but we are not going to change the name, because the name “Turkish Bath” suits the idea of the toddy so well. The inspiration for this drink came from taking a page out of Drink Inc‘s book, looking to cuisine to find a flavor pairing that is not obvious, at least not to us Americans. We were very pleased with the results.

Apricot Bourbon Infusion
1 cup Bourbon (Evan Williams)
1 cup dried apricots
1 Tbsp Brown Sugar

Shake it up and let it infuse for 1 week.

The apricot bourbon was absolutely delicious on its own. Using dried apricots worked brilliantly, and – best of all – you can reuse the bourbon-soaked apricots as garnishes. As usual, a 1:1 ratio of fruit to spirit and roughly a tablespoon of sweetener results in deliciousness.

Cumin Syrup
1 Tsp powdered cumin (Freshly ground seeds would be better)
1 Cup Water
1 Cup Sugar

Simmer and stir until fully integrated.

The most surprising element of the drink was the cumin syrup, and its interaction with the apricot flavor. On its own, it’s both sweet and savory. It isn’t particularly spicy, but it does have a certian warmth. As you sip the drink, you’re greeted by the cumin’s glow, wich compliments the nature of a hot toddy splendidly. The drink is at once sweet, spicy, and soothing. Fruity, but also savory. Perfectly balanced, and very relaxing.

Also noteworthy is the affect that the rosewater has on the drink. Make sure to drop it on top, right after pouring hot water over the other ingredients. Its role is aromatic, and its presence adds a floral complexity that works well with the citrus from the lemon juice, and also with the sweet fruity taste of apricots.

If you enjoyed this drink, I also recommend checking out this apple cider hot toddy from a while back. Fresh apple cider, rye, cinnamon, and cloves together make for another delicious fall toddy. Also, a shout out to The Liquid Culture Project’s Hot Scotch Toddy, which is awesome.

Bottoms up!


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Avocado, chili-infused tequila, mezcal

Nestled amongst the limes, lemons, and oranges of Joe’s fruit bowl was an avocado. I think I heard him say something like “I’m tired of ‘vacation cocktails’, but I really want to make a blended drink”. Then I saw him reach for the avocado, and watched as he scooped out about 1/4 of it into the blender, and so we started constructing this little number.

That night I had brought over an infusion made with tequila and cayenne peppers. I really enjoyed the bird’s eye soju infusion we had made for Thai week, but I knew that tequila would have been a better match. Joe recommended using a reposado tequila, which was a great idea. Since I had decided to work with tequila, I thought I’d choose a different pepper, and so I selected several mild-looking cayenne peppers and submerged them in tequila for a few days. I also threw in a tablespoon of agave nectar, as I’ve found that adding a small amount of sweetener can really help an infusion pop, and agave and tequila harmonize perfectly together.

Cayenne Peppers and Tequila Reposado
1 cup tequila reposado
3 cayenne peppers, cut in half
1 tablespoon agave nectar

Let infusion for 2 – 3 days, tasting regularly. Remove peppers as soon as you taste the burn. Avoid over-infusion.

I was careful to taste the concoction regularly as I was afraid it would become too spicy. After two and half days or so, I grew impatient, surprised by how mild the infusion was, and decided to add another pepper. It must have been a particularly spicy one, however, as the next time I tasted it I knew the infusion had to stop immediately. Maybe it had even gone on for too long, so let this be a lesson for you: chilis are unpredictable. Some are hot. Some aren’t. I don’t know how to tell them apart, and if you have tips, please share them with us by dropping a comment.

We had been telling ourselves all night that’d we get around to using it, but so far we had been struggling to find a drink for my spicy tequila. Naturally, avocado and tequila go well together, and so finally its time had come. We decided to use it as a modifier, to add some spicy kick to a drink, since my infusion had come out so hot. I can’t quite remember where the idea to use both tequila and mezcal came from, but I want to say it was because we wanted to make some sort of Mexican tiki drink. Most tiki drinks use two rums, so why not two “tequilas”? The rest of the drink kind of built itself, as I said before, agave nectar and tequila are partners in lime.

As we tasted the nearly finished drink, we realized it needed a pinch of salt. Joe was going to use regular kosher salt, but I jokingly urged him to use some fancy artisan salt. “We’ve got a blended avocado, some cayenne pepper-infused tequila, mezcal, fresh lime juice, agave nectar… Keep it craft, Joe. Keep it craft.” And so we did.

Keep it Craft
1.5 oz Mezcal
.5 oz Cayenne-infused Tequila
.5 oz Lime Juice
.75 oz Agave Nectar
1/4 of a small avocado
pinch of fancy salt

Blend thoroughly over ice and pour into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.

The avocado gave the drink a nice, rich texture, similar to a blended piña collada, only slightly creamier. The spice from the chili-infused tequila and the smoke from the mezcal pierce through the mellow avocado, reinforced by the agave nectar. The pinch of salt helps to tone down the avocado a little bit, so be sure to include it, if you make your own. Indeed, it was a great blended drink without being a rum/tiki/vacation drink, and I can’t wait to make another.


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Thai Week Outtakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Thai Week Roundup

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

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

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

The Menu

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons

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

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

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


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Pseudo Rum Cocktail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Tom Kha Soju

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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