Measure & Stir

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


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Enchanted Valentine’s: Beauty and the Beast Cocktail with Rose, Bourbon, Pomegranate

Who told you that you might gather my roses? Was it not enough that I allowed you to be in my palace and was kind to you? This is how you show your gratitude, by stealing my flowers? But your insolence shall not go unpunished!

The merchant, terrified by these furious words, dropped the fatal rose, and, throwing himself on his knees, cried: “Pardon me, noble sir. I am truly grateful to you for your hospitality, which was so magnificent that I could not imagine that you would be offended by my taking such a little thing as a rose.

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We finished our Enchanted Valentine’s Day with a cream puff and a cocktail centered around roses, and inspired by Beauty and the Beast by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. As before, Johan describes his half of the project in excruciating detail.

Despite the French setting of the story, the flavor of rose is most at home amongst Levantine flavors, and without any particular intention, we found ourselves pairing it with arak, pistachio, and pomegranate, as well as white chocolate and bourbon. We had a few false starts with this dish, but ultimately we landed in a place that made me feel proud.

At one point I tried smoking the drink by burning rose petals, but it made the drink smell like cigarettes and cheap perfume. Beautiful cloche or no, I cannot suggest rose petal smoke in any capacity.

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To keep things sweet, and to announce our desserty intentions, I used a vanilla-infused bourbon as the base of this drink, and paired it with a rose shrub, a rinse of arak, and a bit of pomegranate juice. The rose shrub was perfect in this drink, and to be honest I made it as much for the pun value as for the flavor. I’ve used rose syrup before, but to develop the  complexity of the rose, I chose to extract the flavor of fresh rose petals into white vinegar.

Don’t get fancy with the vinegar when you’re making something like this. Apple cider or champagne vinegar would muddy this up too much. To get a clean flavor, I used distilled white vinegar as my base.

Rose Shrub
170g of sugar
150 ml of white vinegar
All of the petals from 6 red roses
In a large bowl, toss all the petals in the sugar to coat them, and let them sit, covered, for half a day. Add the vinegar and stir. Allow the shrub to sit covered, at room temperature, for 2-3 more days.

For the garnish, I bought some wires for arranging flowers, and wired a whole fresh rose around the stem of a coup glass. My roses weren’t very fragrant, so I sprayed them with a little bit of rose-flower water before serving. It’s easy to overdo it with rose flower water, so be careful.

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Be So Kind as to Bring Me a Rose
1.5 oz Vanilla-Infused Bourbon
.5 oz Rose Shrub
.25 oz Pomegranate Juice
1/2 tsp of Arak
Stir over ice, strain, and serve in a coupe with a rose wired around it. Intimidate your guests with your gruff presence an threatening demeanor.

At this point I have used vanilla-infused bourbon in so many drinks that I’m not going to bother to talk about it. Drop a vanilla bean in a bottle of bourbon. Wait about three days. There is no need to ever remove the vanilla bean. If the vanilla gets too strong, blend the vanilla bourbon with un-infused bourbon at mixing-time.

I never thought mixology would take me to flower arranging, but here I am.


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Enchanted Valentine’s: Snow White Forest Tonic with Hendrick’s Gin, Apple, Green Herbs, and Fernet Branca

The evil queen was a beautiful woman, but she was proud and arrogant, and she could not stand it if anyone might surpass her in beauty. She had a magic mirror. Every morning she stood before it, looked at her plate, and said:

Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Who makes the tastiest dessert of all?

Continuing the Valentine’s day feast, Johan and I decided to serve a dessert-loaded menu. Our second course was inspired by Snow White by the Brothers Grimm. For this fairy tale, we served “The Other Half of the Poison Apple”, and as before, Johan describes it in excruciating detail at Moedernkitchen.

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As long as long as the queen was not the most beautiful woman in the entire land, her envy would give her no rest. She made a poisoned apple, and from the outside it was beautiful; white with red cheeks, and anyone who saw it would want it. But anyone who might eat a little piece of it would die.

“Are you afraid of poison?” asked the old woman. “Look, I’ll cut the apple in two. You eat the red half, and I shall eat the white half.”

Now the apple had been so artfully made that only the red half was poisoned. Snow-White longed for the beautiful apple; she barely had a bite in her mouth when she fell to the ground dead.

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As you can see, we got experimental with this one. In addition to the drink and the frozen apple, we served an aromatic fog made with eucalyptus and spruce oil. With the fog and the drink, my intention was to create a sense of being lost in an enchanted forest.

For the fog, we filled a glass vessel with crushed dry ice, and then at service time, poured in a mixture of near-boiling water and essential oils. Be sure to use tempered glass for this, or it can break the vessel. If the water is not hot, the vapor will be disappointing.

The sensation of sitting down to a drink, and feeling the sudden rush of cold vapor flowing over the table, and the sharp scent of eucalyptus opening the sinuses

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For the drink, I used Hendrick’s gin, fresh apple juice season with matcha and malic acid, and a syrup of blanched and blended green herbs.  I was aiming at a fresh green color, but as conceived, the drink ended up a little swampy. In person it was greener, swearsies. I had no deep, esoteric inspiration in this drink, just a pragmatic, bottom-up approach.

I knew I wanted to create the feeling of a forest, so I started with a gin base and layered in other green aromas and botanicals. In my mind, rosemary, sage, and shiso all taste “green”, but one could be forgiven for thinking of poultry spices. In the drink, this was not a concern, but on its own,  I did think of a roast chicken.

Green Herb Syrup
20g rosemary
20g sage
20g shiso
150 ml water
150 ml sugar
Blanch the herbs, then combine everything in a blender and blend on high until the mixture is smooth. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer.

You could substitute mint for shiso, but cooked mint easily goes to toothpaste. Exercise caution. If possible, I would suggest juicing fresh mint à la minute, instead of macerating it into a syrup.

For the sour apple juice, I pressed three granny smith apples in a masticating juicer, seasoned it with powdered malic acid and matcha powder according to my taste, and whipped the mixture using a whisk attachment on an immersion blender. There is no precise recipe here, it is simply a matter of taste. The sour apple juice is filling in for lemon in this gin sour, and it needs to balance the sweet green syrup. If I had to put a number on it, I would say:

Sour Matcha Apple Juice
150 ml Fresh Granny Smith Apple Juice
10g Matcha Powder
3g Powdered Malic Acid
Combine all using an electric whisk.

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Lost in the Forest
1.25 oz Hendrick’s Gin
1 oz Sour Matcha Apple Juice
.5 oz Green Herb Syrup*
Shake over ice and double strain into an old-fashioned glass.
Float .25 oz of Fernet Branca.
Garnish with a rosemary sprig clipped to the side of the glass.

The float of Fernet Branca is mostly for aroma, but it gives the first few sips a bitter, bracing quality as well as a deep menthol aroma. The forest is dark and beguiling.

As you may notice, it is the year of the tiny clothespin. This cocktail garnish innovation is a real game-changer. Many aromatic ingredients are repellant if dropped into a drink,  but they can be beautiful and fragrant if held slightly aloft. Do yourself a favor.

Cheers.


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Enchanted Valentine’s: Little Mermaid Cocktail with Wakame-infused Aquavit, Lemon, and Champagne

She saw the bright sun, and all around her floated hundreds of transparent beautiful beings; she could see through them the white sails of the ship, and the red clouds in the sky; their speech was melodious, but too ethereal to be heard by mortal ears, as they were also unseen by mortal eyes. The little mermaid perceived that she had a body like theirs, and that she continues to rise higher and higher out of the foam.

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Once again, and to celebrate Valentine’s Day, Johan and I have teamed up to create a course of three food and cocktail pairings, this time inspired by classic fairy tales. Our first dish was a surf and turf inspired by The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen. Johan describes it in excruciating detail at Moedernkitchen.

I chose to pair the dish with a drink made from champagne and wakame-infused aquavit. Pairing mixed drinks with food is much more difficult than serving the drink on its own; cocktails contain strong spirits, and they easily overpower food. The best strategy is to keep the drink lighter than the food, and to echo at least one of its flavors.

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To approach the seafood in this dish, I used a trident approach: first, citrus and champagne, which we naturally pair with crab, octopus, salmon, or oyster. Second, aquavit, to remember the bread crumbs in the “sand”, and to evoke a Norwegian feeling. Third, seaweed, for its brine and its bitterness.

I tried, many moons ago, to infuse seaweed into a tincture, but I was inexperienced, and my cocktail tasted like the inside of an aquarium. Nori was the wrong choice. This time I selected wakame, and infused 200ml of aquavit with a scant teaspoon of dried wakame for five hours. It took on a pale green color, and developed a thalassic minerality.

Many people over-steep their infusions. You don’t throw teabags into a pot of water and leave it for hours. You don’t let your coffee sit in a french press for a month and brag about how long you spent infusing it. So why do are you so proud of your over-infused spirits? The flavor of an infusion should be balanced and subtle, and when you make an infusion, you should take an active role in the process. Taste it frequently, and find the optimal rate of extraction.

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At its core, this drink is a French 75, but then again, almost every drink has a classic for its heart. That’s not because of some sacred or innate property of the classic drinks, it is merely that the classics have been selected and honed over time to form a basis in the space of possible ethanol-sugar-water recipes. For reference:

French 75
1.5 oz Gin
.75 oz Lemon Juice
.5 oz Simple Syrup
2-3 oz Champagne

The other notable addition to this drink is dashi air, which I make by bringing a pot of water with a 2×2″ square of konbu and 50g of shaved bonito flakes to a boil in 200ml of water, killing the heat, and steeping for ten minutes before straining. If this sounds like cutting corners, it is, but I assure you my washoku game is on strong. Prior to boiling, I added 50 ml of mirin. I added it early, because I wanted the alcohol to boil off.

Finally, using an immersion blender, I integrated 5 g of sucrose ester (also called Texturas Sucro), which produces an airy foam. After pouring the drink into the glass, I carefully spooned the foam on top.

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Out of the Fathomless Deep
1 oz Wakame-infused Aquavit
.75 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
.5 oz Simple Syrup
Shake over ice and double-strain into a wine glass
Top with 2 oz Champagne and Mirin-Dashi Air

Garnish with a dried orange wheel clipped to the side of the glass.

Regarding the garnish, I sliced some orange wheels and dried them in a dehydrator until they were crunchy. Be careful not to get your orange wheel wet when you’re garnishing the drink, or it will get soggy. If you’re like me, your orange wheels will lose most of their aroma when you dry them. Since garniture is about olfactics as much as optics, I sprayed my dehydrated orange wheels with orange essential oil right before serving.

Since we used the same dashi air on the plate and in the glass, the flavors tracked each other closely.

Cheers.


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Trapped in a Cage of Their Own Making with a Beast They’ve Been Feeding For Years

In this drink, the name came first. That may be obvious. I encountered this phrase over two years ago, and it resonated with me, so I wrote it down, and saved it for later. I knew that I wanted to build the drink around dragonfruit, and to boldly announce the “beast” element of the title. In the end, I was able to invoke the theme in several ways.

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The drink itself is composed of duck-fat infused bourbon, dry vermouth, lime juice, maple syrup, and pineapple and dragon fruit purée. I confess, if I saw this drink from a distance, I would be tempted to call it overcomplicated, but as it is my own brainchild, I have only fond feelings for it.

Let me explain. Trapped in a Cage… starts with dragonfruit, to give it the aspect of the beast. Pineapple juice expands the flavor along the already tiki-ish premise of a hollowed out fruit as serving vessel. To reinforce the beast motif, it is appropriate to use a spirit washed with animal fat, and I have found that bourbon is the spirit most amenable to such treatments.

From (relatively) bland dragonfruit, pineapple, and bourbon, we have nearly arrived at the flavor of an Algonquin, hence dry vermouth completes the classic cocktail at the core of this adventure. Bacon bourbon is a little passé, though as I think through dynamics of this drink, it would have been a fine choice. To keep things fresh, I opted for duck fat, instead.

Beef would have been too heavy, and uncured pork fat leaves a repellant funk. No, the musky oiliness of duck fat was the best option, and between bourbon and duck, I found myself craving a hint of maple syrup. In my loose adherence to a tiki theme, I turned to lime juice for the acidity to balance the sweetness, and garnished with cilantro, mostly for the look.

Trapped in a Cage of Their Own Making with a Beast They’ve Been Feeding For Years
2 oz duck fat-washed bourbon (Buffalo Trace)
.75 oz lime juice
.5 oz dry vermouth (Ransom)
.5 oz maple syrup
60g dragonfruit
60g pineapple
a tiny pinch of salt
Blend all with a hand blender, and then shake over ice. Strain only with a Hawthorne.
Serve in a hollowed out dragonfruit and garnish with fresh cilantro.

Perhaps this is no ordinary tiki drink. Indeed, one of my friends who was present at this session called it “Jurassic” Tiki, and for a brief moment I had visions of an entirely new subgenre of cocktail. Jurassic Tiki aims to trade faux orientalism for a prehistoric sensibility. It finds exotic flavors by combining animal ingredients with primordial imagery, and imagines a cocktail culture in a world untouched by human ingenuity, ruled by ancient monsters locked in an endless Hobbesian struggle.

Then I saw that damn paper umbrella and realized that my entire manifesto would collapse in the face of a tiny anachronism.

For the plating I used pineapple fronds, scrubbed animal bones, cilantro, dragonfruit, a lime husk, black lava salt, and smoke from oak chips.

The drink itself is surprisingly subtle, with each component making a distinct contribution. Notes on method:

  • The Ransom dry vermouth has a strong flavor, and I might have used a bit more had I been using my more usual Dolin.
  • The proportions of lime and maple syrup were ad hoc, as they must ever be in a drink so heavily loaded with fresh produce. Variability is inescapable, and your good taste must be your guide.
  • Dragonfruit has very little flavor, and is best used as a textural element.
  • Fat-washing a spirit takes about 24 hours:
    • Pour 1/4 cup of softened fat into 1 cup of spirit.
    • Shake it, and allow it to infuse for about a day.
    • Place the infusion in the freezer, and leave the fat to separate and solidify.
    • Strain through a coffee filter.
  • A pinch of salt helps the pineapple shine.

Cheers.


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Hot and Bothered: The Art of The Toddy

This winter I did a series of hot drinks, and this is my one stop landing page for all things toddy. You might have already seen my tutorial on Hot Drinks in my recent Mixology Crash Course, but whereas that post was focused on fundamentals, this series is more in keeping with my core mission here: original compositions.

Every toddy comes with a lesson!

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Seventh Inning Stretch: Root Beer, Bourbon, Salted Peanuts, Oksusucha

In which I make a syrup with root beer botanicals.

Hot Toddy Lesson One: Pay close attention to your serving temperature. There is a perfect window, and you need to find it.

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Cinnamon-Smoked Coffee Toddy, My Way

In which I update one of my old standbys.

Hot Toddy Lesson Two: Give your toddy some body by lengthening it with a flavorful liquid.

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Glogg: Norwegian Mulled Wine

In which I make the Norwegian version of this classic crowd-pleaser.

Hot Toddy Lesson Three: Use a base of brown spirits and winter spices.

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My Toddy’s So Buddha-Licious

In which I make the best pun of my career.

Hot Toddy Lesson Four: A toddy is a classic punch.

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Boozy Hot Chocolate

In which I covertly reference Army of Darkness.

Hot Toddy Lesson Five: Use a lower ABV when lengthening with milk.

Let’s pour a hot drink for 2016.

Cheers.


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Mixology Crash Course: Garnishes

This is part 10 of a series on Mixology Basics.

Garnishes exist for several reasons. Back in the old days, it was customary to place fresh citrus peels in a punch bowl as a signal of the freshness of the punch. From there, the practice evolved, and garnishes now have several functions:

  • We drink first with our eyes. The garnish decorates the glass and announces the flavors of the potion therein.
  • The garnish is aromatic: cold, diluted spirits don’t have much of a fragrance, but a fresh citrus peel or a sprig of mint provides an olfactory experience as a counterpoint to the drink’s flavor.
  • The garnish is sometimes a snack. In a perfect world, it is a little bite that changes or amplifies the flavor in the drink itself. The olive in a martini is the classic example.

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Ideally, every drink should have a garnish. You can mix and match garnishes to suit your different drinks. Have some fun with it. Try to create interesting contrasts and visuals. Here is a list of the most common garnishes, for reference and inspiration:

  • A swath or strip of citrus peel, expressed over a drink
  • A wedge or wheel of citrus fruit, with a cut made so that it can sit on the edge of the glass
  • A brandied cherry, on a skewer
  • fresh berries, either skewered or cut to sit on the edge of the glass
  • a cinnamon stick, used to stir the drink
  • a star anise
  • a sprig of fresh herbs, such as mint, rosemary, or thyme, possibly clipped to the side of the glass with a miniature clothespin
  • a chunk of pineapple, maybe skewered, maybe accompanied by a brandied cherry
  • a paper-thin slice of dehydrated citrus fruit
  • any kind of fruit cut into a festive shape, such as a slice of starfruit
  • salt or sugar on the rim of the glass, maybe mixed with a flavoring agent

A drink without a garnish just looks naked. When in doubt, garnish a sour with a wedge or a wheel of citrus, but be aware that most people will see this as an invitation to squeeze it into the drink and upset the balance you have created. For an aromatic drink, you can always fall back on a citrus peel.

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Mixology Crash Course: Closing Thoughts

This is part 12 of a series on Mixology Basics.

Thank you for reading all of this. I hope it wasn’t too long, and I hope that it helps you. It is a work in progress and I am sure I will be covertly updating it for many months to come. As mastery goes, mastery of mixology is relatively easy to acquire, and it is a fun journey to take.

Now, having laid some really actionable knowledge on you, I’m going to wax philosophical. That’s my prerogative.

1st Meditation on Connoisseurship: The Secret Ingredient is the Narrative

In any connoisseurship, be it coffee, whiskey, wine, chocolate, cheese, or cocktails, the greatest part of our enjoyment comes, not from the thing itself, but from the story that surrounds it.

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I have consumed many fine things from all of these categories, and while the low quality stuff is indisputably bad, the quality to price difference among middle and high tiers scales logarithmically; which is a fancy way of saying that large increases in cost and rarity correspond to ever smaller increases in quality.

In many cases “better and worse” come down to your mood, and the people you are with. Good coffee is good, good wine is good, but great coffee and great wine are mostly so because of the company you keep and the stories they tell.

If you want your guests or customers to truly enjoy your creations, you must tell them a story; you do this through the drama of the preparation, the setting in which you serve your drinks, and the lore that surrounds the ingredients, processes, and history of the drink.

This is the reason that cocktail history is a popular subject among booze nerds, and the reason that wineries brand themselves with history and tradition and stories about their grapes and their founders. Wine connoisseurs don’t drink wine, they drink stories. It is thus with any gourmandise.

2nd Meditation on Connoisseurship: Signaling Games

A trend I have noticed among enthusiasts of fine spirits is that the more deeply entrenched within in the hobby they become, the more strongly they cleave to most extreme offerings from within their milieu. Beer drinkers crave the bitterest IPAs, scotch drinkers the smokiest, savoriest islay malts,  cheese aficionados the most pungent of fermented curds.

I think this happens for two reasons. The first is to win a signaling game, wherein the products that are off-putting to newbies demonstrate the credentials of the connoisseur to his fellows. Of course, one of the hallmarks of a signaling game is that you are acting sincerely, and you do not realize you are playing it.

As your circle of enthusiasts increasingly gravitates to more challenging ventures, you try to keep up with them and to one-up them; my beer is more strongly hopped, the cheese I enjoy has a fouler aroma than yours, the wine I pour is rarer and dryer and yet more tannic. I am not a beginner to this hobby, I can enjoy these off-putting things.

This is why gourmet restaurants and foodies are locked in an endlessly escalating spiral wherein chefs try to serve unfamiliar ingredients and techniques and foodies compete to be the first person to say, “been there, done that”.

Third Meditation on Connoisseurship: Rising to the Challenge

And yet there is a second, more wholesome reason for these spirals, and that is: everyone likes a challenge. If people take their first tentative steps into a hobby out of a desire to fit in with friends or to signal their high status, they surely stay, at least in part, for the element of challenge.

When you first try a bitter spirit, you may have a mixed reaction. There is something pleasant mixed with something abrasive, and that abrasion is intriguing. But once you become accustomed to it, you end up chasing that sensation, and a drink that once challenged you becomes mundane. In this way do our preferences creep.

On Naming Drinks

I am making space for this note only because it endlessly annoys me when amateurs mix up a mundane variation on a Tom Collins ora Manhattan and then post on cocktail forums asking for help “naming their new drink”. To be honest I wouldn’t name any of my drinks if it weren’t for the necessity to present them to the internet.

No one cares what you call your whiskey sour with lime instead of lemon juice. No one cares what you call your old fashioned that you made with a spiced liqueur and two (scandal!) dashes of boutique bitters. If your drink is a subtle tweak of a classic, it doesn’t deserve a name.

The Joy of Mixology

As a counterpoint to the above, the joy of mixology is the joy, not merely of connoisseurship, but of creativity. Most spirit enthusiasts can only enjoy their hobby by playing the role of explorer. This is not to discount the pleasure of discovery, but to contrast it to the yet more sublime pleasure of creation.