Measure & Stir

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


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Spring Quartet: Voyagé to the Far Easter: Easter Dinner with Cocktail Pairings

This is just a bit of housekeeping, because when I do a series of posts with a common theme, I like to have a single landing page for them. Herein, I will sum up my collaboration with Johan at Moedernkitchen on a four course Easter dinner with cocktail pairings.

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Shochu Think You Can Dance? / Shiso Ready!
An amuse-bouche of shiso sorbet, paired with a fizzy aperitif of shochu, ginger, daikon, and horseradish.

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Easy Peasy Matcha Crusta and the Slaughter
Lamb “katsu”, smashed peas, rowanberry jam, paired with a drink of gin, sugarsnap peapods, green tea, and mint.

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Easter Bunny and Do You Even Carrot All?
Rabbit leg confit, parsnip puree, caramelized shallots, “melted” carrot, paired with a drink of light rum, mango, carrot, and habanero.

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The Perfect Blossom
Cherry blossom opera cake, cherry blossom tofu mousse, and cotton candy, paired with a drink of white tea, junmai daiginjo sake, and preserved cherry blossom.

If it was not immediately obvious, our goal for each course was to appear in a different color commonly associated with the easter season. If our pastels were a little too vibrant, well, who really wants to eat pastel-colored food? Gross.

Most people don’t want to drink four cocktails in a row, even if they are paired with food, so I kept the alcohol content a little lower than average, (~1 oz per drink) and my strategy was to use abrasive agents such as ginger, horseradish, mint, habanero, and tannins from tea in order to offset the rich food. Mixed drinks often deal in strong flavors, and it is easy to overpower a food accompaniment.

For the best degustation, keep your drinks light and your food bold.

Cheers.


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Acid Trip Roundup

Perhaps you can relate to this: I had hit a wall in my cocktail creation strategy, because I wanted to combine the flavors of liqueurs and spirits without ending up with a sugary mess. The specific drink that started my mental wheels turning is the Alaska Cocktail, which can be found in various proportions around the internet, but it’s somewhere in the vicinity of:

Alaska Cocktail
1.5 oz Gin
.5 oz Yellow Chartreuse
Dash of Orange Bitters
Stir and Garnish with a lemon peel.

The problem with this drink, which I hope is immediately obvious to everyone, is that it is very sweet, and has a syrupy mouthfeel. How do we know this, without mixing it? Simple, look at what is missing. There is no fortified wine, there is no citrus juice, and there is no soda water. It seems obvious in retrospect, but I asked myself, what do all of those things have in common?

They are all sources of acid; citric, malic, and carbonic, respectively. I had mixed an Alaska earlier that day, and although I can recognize it as a kind of fancy old-fashioned cocktail with gin as the base and yellow chartreuse as the modifier, it was not satisfying to me. I wanted more chartreuse flavor without more sugar.

I could add a vermouth bianco to try to balance it while minimally impacting flavor, but that’s still a different, albeit a better sounding drink. The question became, how can I make vermouth more sour, so that I can play it off of a larger quantity of liqueur? The answer was to bolster the natural acidity of vermouth.

As luck would have it, winemakers already use powdered tartaric and malic acids to fine-tune the acidity of theirs wines, and such acids are easy to procure. Wines, even fortified wines, are balanced to be consumed on their own, but as a mixological reagent, we often want things to cleave to extremes. We add more sugar and alcohol, but we never think to add more acid.

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I am not the first cocktail enthusiast to have this idea. Since I had this realization, I have found that most books on molecular mixology will have at least one drink that uses a powdered acid to find balance, but they never place enough emphasis on the power of this technique. Using powdered acids to precisely calibrate the “dryness/sweetness” of a drink is THE key to liberation from traditional mixology.

And don’t get me wrong: I love traditional mixology, but I think by now we have fully explored the space of pouring old liqueurs into brown spirits and fortified wines. It’s not that every possible combination has been explored, but certainly, there are no surprises. If we want truly new and creative cocktail ideas, we must be able to break away from the monopoly that the classic punch formula has on the world of craft cocktails. Between the Manhattan and the Whiskey Sour, you have the structure of virtually all prohibition era drinks*.

(*Yes, I know about possets and flips and milk punches and hot toddies and old-fashioned cocktails etc. etc. etc.)

So I bought some acid powders: citric, tartaric, and malic.

AND UNTO THIS, THE ACID TRIP SERIES WAS BORN.

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Peanut Butter Jelly Time

Wheated Bourbon, Peanut Orgeat, Kyoho (or Concord) Grape Juice, Cinnamon

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Kyoho Grape and Lavender

Brandy, Muddled Kyoho (or Concord) Grape, Lavender Bitters

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Caramel Apple and Fennel

Fresh-pressed apple juice, Demerara Rum, Caramel Sauce, Absinthe

Acidity is life.

Cheers.


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Best Tokyo Craft Cocktail Bars – Tokyo Craft Cocktail Series #12

Hey guys, I’ve owed you this one for a while, but somehow I just never got around to it. This is a roundup post where I’m going to give a quick recap of my cocktail adventures in Tokyo. Mostly I just want a central landing page for this topic. These are all of the bars I visited, along with photographic evidence and some words on my experiences at each one.

I started the series with some thoughts on Japanese Cocktail Philosophy, a kind of recap of my impressions and learnings.

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Craft Cocktail Bars In Tokyo

  • Gen Yamamoto – Gen serves original cocktails that reflect “shiki”, Japanese seasonality, using fresh ingredients while
    building on a progression of flavors and harmony.
  • Bar High Five – Hidetsugu Ueno’s world-famous bar focuses on classic drinks and perfecting customer service.
  • Kazuo Uyeda’s Bar Tender – The one and only, Kazuo Uyeda serves flawless classics along with his award-winning originals.
  • Mandarin Oriental Hotel Bar – Luxurious ambience and some old tiki favorites.
  • Conrad Hotel Bar – Stunning views, but their ambitious mixology needs a little refinement.
  • Bar Benfiddich – The perfect bar in every way. Homey, comfortable, with a true artisan behind the bar. Ben makes his own versions of classic liqueurs such as Chartreuse and Campari.
  • The Stella – A modernist mixology lounge in Ebisu with barrel-aged cocktails, foams, liquid nitrogen, and smoke guns.
  • CodeName: Mixology Akasaka – Molecular mixology at its finest. Don’t miss the rotovap-distilled spirits in drinks such as the blue cheese cognac martini.
  • Bar Trench – A small, intimate venue more in the style of a US or European craft bar.
  • Bar Aliviar – A neighborhood bar mostly catering to locals. A great place to experience the less flashy side of Japanese bartending.
  • Soukichi Glassware Company – A supplier of high quality glassware to many of the bars listed above.

And for those of us who are ready, here is a summary of my thoughts on Japanese Mixology.

Bars that I really wanted to visit but we didn’t quite make it

If you happen to visit one of them, why not write me a guest post?

Kanpai!


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Carrera: Apricot, Vanilla, Bourbon, Vodka, Cinnamon

I made this a few weeks ago, and I just couldn’t let it sit any longer. I think it is one of my best drinks to date. I was influenced by my time in Japan, particularly at the bar of Gen Yamamoto, who I think is one of the most creative and inspiring bartenders in the business. The strength of his drinks is in their subtlety, and in the way that the natural flavors of his ingredients become objects of contemplation.

To duplicate this effect, I have been casting fresh fruit juices from my macerating juicer in the role of the base spirit, and using lower volumes of alcohol as accent marks. The juice from soft fruits is often saturated with soft pulp, and as such the yield from an apricot or a kumquat is halfway between a juice and a purée. The balance of the viscosity of the juice against that of the spirits provides ample space for a bartender to meditate on texture.

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Carrera
1.25 oz Fresh Apricot Juice
.5 Vanilla-Infused Bourbon
.5 Vodka
.5 Fresh Orange Juice [optional]
1 Barspoon agave syrup

Shake and strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a coupe glass. Agitate the mixture through the strainer with a barspoon if necessary. Grate fresh cinnamon across the top.

In the past I was quite offended by vodka, but I have found that it is highly desirable in this style of drink. Soju, Shochu, Sake, and Vodka all have their place when the emphasis is on the delicate and ephemeral. The mere presence of alcohol can make other flavors seem louder and more distinct. Wine, whiskey, coffee — we are accustomed to looking for the entire world of culinary flavors in these things — but perhaps we can perform the same trick with an apricot?

My method is to use a minimum of a spirit to achieve its presence in the end product, and then pad the volume of 80 proof liquor in the drink up to a single ounce. In this case, I wanted to combine the vanilla and bourbon with the taste of fresh apricot, but I wanted the bourbon to play the auxiliary role.

Apricot can be quite acidic when consumed as a juice; it is tangy and floral, and a bit of sweetness from syrup draws out hints of spice; cinnamon in the garnish and vanilla in the bourbon should be like echoes of the notes struck by the fruit. Raw fruits and vegetables can possess a surprisingly complexity all on their own, if one is patient and attentive. Anything as strong as bitters or herbal liqueur would be distracting, like a crashing cymbal in the middle of a cello suite.

Finally, an optional half measure of orange juice blends very seamlessly into the apricot, elongating it, and recalls the flavor of a tangerine. Unfortunately, it sacrifices some of the apricot’s sharpness. I suggest trying both variations.

乾杯!


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Tokyo Craft and Mixology Bars

Hello. Normally in this situation a blogger would write something like “I’m not dead, I swear!” but for me, I haven’t posted in three months, and I am clearly dead. Fortunately, I have been post-humously bar-crawling in Tokyo, a journey whose story I shall now recount for your imbibing pleasure. So mix yourself a zombie, ladies and gents, and let’s get reanimated.

As I was gearing up to go to Tokyo, I happened upon this Serious Eats article on the Tokyo cocktail scene. I was intrigued by several of the drinks therein, and I decided to add their recommendations to my list. In the course of my research, I quickly discovered that there is a paucity of resources for the intrepid international drinker looking to make his way through Tokyo. In this series of articles, I aim to (help to) fix that.

Japanese Cocktail Philosophy

I do not know exactly when Japanese bartending branched away from American bartending, but it is clear that when they picked up the art and the practice, it was a much earlier era. This is not to imply that there has been no cross-talk in the interim, but the average Japanese cocktail bar hearkens back to a forgotten era. The Japanese are dedicated students of the classics; their Martinis and Manhattans never lost their vermouth as they did in the states, and their old fashioned never sprouted wings and soda water and muddled pineapple.

All this is not to say that I never saw a bottle of Rose’s, but one certainly suspects that their gimlet was always made with fresh lime. I am aware that there is some debate within the cocktail community as to the truest nature of the gimlet: is a true gimlet a gin lime sour, or is it gin with lime cordial? But regardless, there was never a need for a cocktail revival in Japan, for the patient never died as he did in the USA.

But even though the drinks are classic, the Japanese have made the practice of bartending their own; their culture places a lot more weight on customer service than we do in the states. In a Japanese bar, every aspect of the experience is treated with gravity and precision. Nowhere is this better-illustrated than in Bar Tender, the bar of Kazuo Uyeda, who considers and perfects every motion that the bartender makes, so that doing his work is as much a dance as it is a drink service. There are prescribed ways to hold the jigger and the spoon, prescriptions about how to open the bottle, and where to place it upon the bar. But more on that later.

Another key difference is that the Japanese have lower alcohol tolerance, on average, than most of us Westerners. As such, the pours tend to be smaller, and the drinks tend to be lighter in both alcohol content and flavor. In my efforts to recreate some of the drinks I had on this trip, I have found that I use about one ounce of hard liquor per drink. Chasing a buzz in a Japanese bar can be a tricky proposition.

Subtle Flavors

Although the lightness of drinks is partly practical, it is also a deliberate aesthetic choice, which reflects a distinctly Japanese sensibility. On the internet I found this list of travel tips for a Japanese person visiting the US, and this line struck me:

American food is flat to the taste, indifferent in the subtle difference of taste. There is no such thing there as a little “secret ingredient.” Sugar, salt, pepper, oils, and routine spices are used for family meals.

The Japanese author of the post felt that US food is lacking in subtlety. As silly as it sounds, I carried and developed this awareness as I sat and drank in many Japanese bars. Their flavors lack the visceral punch of popular American cuisine, but they draw attention instead to what is delicate and nuanced. It almost becomes a game: to search in the soft and continuous space of the drink for the borders that delimit its character.

“Mixology” vs. “Cocktail Bar”

As I noted above, Japanese bars mostly stick to the classics, with some small variations. Most of the bars that break out into more modern and original styles, such as what you might find in the US, are called “mixology” bars. Molecular mixology techniques are common in such places. Indeed, the line between “mixology” and “molecular mixology” seemed to be quite blurry, as it is elsewhere.Regardless, “mixology” is the magic incantation that can coerce Japan to yield up its bartending treasures. “Craft Cocktail” did not get me very far.

Tune in tomorrow, where we will talk about some bars.


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Pining for a Caipirinha

I missed Mixology Monday this month, but last night I was getting into the Zirbenz and I suddenly realized I had a great application for it. So, I say in the video that this is for MxMo, but the fact is that I didn’t make it in time. Well, you can’t have everything.

Pining for a Caipirinha
1.5 oz Aged Cachaça (Novo Fogo)
.75 oz lime juice
.5 oz Zirbenz Stone Pine Liqueur
.5 oz Lime Oleo Saccharum
Shake and double-strain over cracked ice. Garnish with lime quarters.

I love Caipirinhas, but I think that as a built drink, it suffers from a flat texture. When there is fresh citrus in my drink, I want the aeration that comes from shaking. When you make a classic caipirinha, you muddle limes with granulated sugar in the glass, and the sugar helps to macerate the peels, releasing oils and juice. Freshly expressed lime oil is a big part of the Caipirinha experience, but I don’t like the fact that the ratios are unmeasured, so I took the elements of the Caipirinha and brought them into proper cocktail alignment.

Lime oleo saccharum is a pain to make, because lime peels are smaller and more brittle than lemon, orange, or grapefruit, but by using it in this drink, we are able to dramatically bolster the aromatic components of the lime, and get very close to the true essence of the flavor of Caipirinha.

An ounce of sweet ingredients does feel like a bit much, but you will find that, with the ice and the shaking, the drink comes out very cold, and the added sugar helps to punch through the dulling effect that cold has on the tastebuds. Moreover, Zirbenz is not a very sweet liqueur, so its inclusion is more about flavor than sweetening.

I always notice that lime oil has a lot in common with pine, so I put these two ingredients together to highlight that similarity. Zirbenz is a tough ingredient to use, because although it tastes strong on its own, the pine flavor is not penetrating, and is easily covered up by other botanicals such as those found in gin or vermouth. To be perfectly honest, if pine flavor is your goal, I think you would get farther using  essential oil than you will with this liqueur.

Even so, the Zirbenz has a raisiny quality along with its resiny quality, so it fits nicely between aged Cachaça and lime oil. I’ll try to post more often, I swear.


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How to Write a Cocktail Menu

I have never put together the menu for an actual commercial bar, but I do enjoy hosting cocktail parties, and I spend a fair amount of time seeking out new and interesting bars.

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Cocktail menus should be small, to give the guests room to explore. When I first started hosting cocktail parties, I did not know very many drinks, and I made menus with ten or twelve drinks on them. In a real bar, ten is an appropriate number, but in a home party, that number is cumbersome.

Even in a real bar, I often see menus that are too big. Some bars, like Bourbon and Branch, bring a gigantic book to your table, impossibly full of recipes. I personally prefer a minimalist approach; I think the goal should be to lead the guest to a new and engaging experience, by a path of comfortable steps.

It’s a little bit disappointing when every drink on the menu is something I have had many times before. There is a lot to be said for executing classic drinks perfectly, but a balanced menu also contains something adventurous.

The drinks you serve should be orthogonal to each other. If everything on your menu is a sour, your guests will fatigue of sours. Similarly if everything is brown, bitter, and stirred. Be aware of the categories of your different drinks, and of the flavor profiles that you are providing. They should be substantially different.

A thoughtful drink will slightly defy the expectations of the person who orders it. The other day I had a drink with prosecco, campari, cynar, and lime. You can imagine what that probably tastes like, but the proportions or the presentation could surprise you. Between viscous liqueurs, drying bubbles, and stinging citrus, there is a lot of room for variation in texture.

Last month, I held a birthday party, and I designed a menu based around some of my favorite Measure and Stir creations from 2012. I broke one of my own rules, though; I had two drinks based around ginger. They were very different drinks, but even so, there was too much overlap.

Monogram
Barrel-Aged Monogram: Oaked Campari+Maraschino, Orange Juice, and Bourbon with orange-infused scotch foam and spray of bitters. This drink was bitter, oaky, and tasted of orange.

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Stepchild: Ginger wine, fernet, pineapple, mint garnish. This drink was minty, and tasted of dry, spicy pineapple. Ginger wine as the base made it lighter in alcohol.

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Can’t Catch Me:
This drink was dark, viscous from molasses, and heavily spiced. In retrospect, I should not have had a drink with ginger wine and a drink with gingerbread infusion, but I thought the flavor profiles were different enough. None of the drinks on the menu had a light spirit, such as gin or cachaça, and I think that was an omission.

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I Should Buy A Boat: Grapefruit, rum, champagne, and cinnamon syrup. This was the unexpected favorite at the party. I think the champagne was what drew people in.

I also had mulled apple cider (not pictured), which definitely did not contain ginger, and was intended for those practicing temperance. As a final note, always take care of the designated drivers, pregnant women, or anyone else who chooses to abstain. Making a good mocktail is even harder than making a good cocktail, and a worthy art all on its own.

May all of your parties be successful.