Measure & Stir

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


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Clarified Tomato with Shochu, Basil, Chocolate, Peppermint

Johan got a Spinzall from Booker and Dax, and we decided to revisit that old chestnut, the Bloody Mary. I’ve made bloody Maries in the past using a variety of tomatoes and flavor profiles, but it’s been quite a while. Partly that’s because, as I discovered, no one gets excited about savory cocktails. I’m doing this out of narcissism and my need for personal validation, so I mostly respond to my incentives in the market for your attention.

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I.

What makes a bloody Mary? I use this term as a catch-all for any savory drink with a tomato juice base. Is this fair? After all, there are many ways to use the tomato as a cocktail ingredient. Is every tomato sauce marinara? Indeed, is ketchup a form of marinara? is bolognese? What about tomato jam, tomato confit, salsa roja?

Obviously, our cocktail lexicon is lacking. The nomenclature is either foolishly over-specific or else uselessly broad. I think, if we are stuck with the language we have, this is a tomato sling.

II.

Tomato juice does not taste very good, even when you use ripe, tail-end-of-autumn heirloom tomatoes. It is sweet, but not sweet enough, earthy, yes, but also too viscous. It has an umami note that makes it feel rich, but at the cost of being refreshing. You take a swig of tomato juice and “I want more of that” is precisely what you don’t think. “Ah, that quenched my thirst”, said no one, ever.

Among people who like tomato juice cocktails, they usually order them for breakfast, they mostly just want to snack on the pickles, and they probably don’t drink a lot of cocktails otherwise.

A big part of the problem with tomato juice is the texture. It’s fatiguing and satiating, dulling the appetite. A good mixed drink should excite the palate, preparing the imbiber for a meal. To fix this problem, we must alter the nature of the tomato juice itself. Pectinase is the answer.

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III.

There are many ways to clarify tomato juice. You could make a consommé. You could use agar agar and a cheesecloth. You could strain the juice through a coffee filter. You could, if you’re a little smarter, add pectinase and then strain the juice through a coffee filter.

If you have a spinzall, you could add pectinase, kieselsol, and chitosan, and run the juice through a centrifuge. In the past I have usually defaulted to the coffee filter method. It takes some planning, and it’s inappropriate for large volumes, but it works when you’re just making overengineered drinks for your frou frou blog.

My take is that anything you can do with a spinzall, you can make with other methods and a little more patience. The main advantage of the centrifuge is that it can process large volumes of liquid in relatively little time. If you’re clarifying juice for a dinner party, it might be worth it, but in the majority of cases, you will get comparable results with the coffee filter.

IV.

Now, let’s talk about the drink composition. Clarified juice becomes lighter in flavor as well as in color, but it retains its essential qualities. To complement the lighter flavor of the juice, I chose to use shochu instead of vodka for this drink. Shochu, despite its superficial similarities to vodka, has a lot of flavor. It tends to retain the qualities of the grain from which it was distilled.

Tomato juice has a pleasant acidity all on its own, so no further acid was needed. My goal for this drink was to cultivate a subtle flavor, best regarded slowly. A dash of simple syrup, a pinch of MSG, and a dash of chocolate bitters round out the flavor of the liquid, which I stirred.

Chocolate and tomato may seem like an unusual combo, but if you have ever enjoyed Chili or Molé, you are acquainted with the combination. A hint of sugar helps to bridge the savory tomato and the sweet chocolate. A pinch of MSG reinforces the savory qualities of the tomato.

V.

The spinzall came with a manual, and in that manual was a recipe for herb-infused oil. I have been quite taken, lately, with the addition of aromatic oils to stirred drinks. A small oilslick floating on top of the drink can add dimensions of flavor and aroma that remain distinct from the aqueous liquid underneath. The ability to keep two liquids separate in the same cup opens a lot of possibilities for contrast and interplay.

It’s not a big stretch, considering that we often express citrus peels on top of our drinks already, to go from that to a more generous pour of an oil which is deliberately flavored. Some readers may have a negative reaction to the idea of drinking an oil, but in small quantities it is delicious, I assure you. It is much like drizzling a flavorful oil on top of a soup.

For my aromatic oil, I put mint leaves and basil leaves into a blender with sunflower oil, and then used the spinzall to separate the oil from the plant matter. The resulting oil was flavorful, but it took on too much of the chlorophyll “plant stem” flavor, and the aroma of the mint was lost. I brought it back by adding a few drops of peppermint essential oil, but it was kind of a kludge.

I think I would have preferred to make this oil using sous vide, and without macerating the green herbs.

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Clarified Tomato with Shochu, Basil, Chocolate, Peppermint
1.5 oz shochu
1.5 oz clarified purple cherokee tomato juice
.25 oz simple syrup
1 dash Bitter Truth Theo Chocolate bitters
1 pinch of msg
stir, and garnish with peppermint and basil infused oil, and a mint leaf.

Basil and tomato, chocolate and tomato, chocolate and peppermint. These are the flavor affinities I was trying to exploit. Basil and mint are perhaps not the best compliments to each other, but they did layer nicely in this drink. I think the pepper mint was a bit tacked on, and if I could have, I would have emphasized the basil more, the peppermint less.

Somewhere in here, there is also a chocolate and peppermint oil drink, trying to escape.

Cheers.


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La Diabla: Tequila, Black Currant Cocktail

I wrote about this style of drink in my Mixology Crash Course, in which I discuss the use of whole fresh fruits. Indeed, there are bloggers who have built their entire oeuvre on this one drink formula. And why not? Drinks in this format are delicious, unchallenging, and appealing to almost everyone. The key is to use fresh, high quality seasonal produce.

Your local Safeway/Albertsons/Vons sells garbage-tier produce that’s been designed and bred for appearance and durability at the expense of flavor. If I may step on a soap box for a second, it’s garbage-in, garbage-out, and the berries, stone fruits, etc., at most supermarkets are bland and awful. Farmer’s markets and grocers that stock foods from local farms are integral to the success of fruit-based drinks.

The greatest chef in the world will struggle to make a good sauce, if constrained to mediocre industrial produce. A perfectly ripe peach, picked at the height of its season, needs no adornment to be a match for the finest meal from a 3-starred Michelin restaurant.

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La Diabla
2 oz reposado Tequila
A handful of black currants
.5 oz simple syrup
.5 oz fresh lime juice
1 dash of Absinthe
Muddle the currants, shake it all over ice, and then pour over crushed ice into a large glass. Garnish with red or black currants.

The astute observer will recognize this as a twist on the classic El Diablo, though I have rendered it according to my own taste. I have omitted the ginger beer, and replaced it with a dash of absinthe, to serve as the herbal element. Anise and fennel are a natural complement to black currant, and this substitution exploits the combination.

Ginger beer is a bully that crowds out everything else in the glass, which is why it is ideally suited to the Moscow Mule, and why its presence in the original El Diablo is suboptimal.

Instead of creme de cassis, I used fresh black currants, which yield both lovely pink color and a sweet earthy flavor that pairs beautifully with vegetal, smokey tequila. I found that I had to make several.

Cheers.


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Black Yukon Suckerpunch

With the long-awaited return of Twin Peaks imminent, I decided to hop on that sweet pop culture traffic. I never actually watched the original show, but I did some homework, and I learned that David Lynch liked to be extremely detailed in his world-building. Even though no recipe for the drink was ever given, the mise en scène suggests that the drink might contain black coffee, bourbon, blue curaçao, and sparkling mineral water, and that a blender may be involved.

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Of course, detailed world-building only goes so far. In the end, it’s a TV show, and they probably weren’t afraid to bend the rules a bit to get the look that they wanted in the drink. You hear the blender in the scene, so it seems likely that the bartender blended egg whites and blue curaçao into an blue foam, and then spooned it on top of an irish coffee consisting of jack, simple syrup, and black coffee. Possibly it was topped with Perrier.

The blogger that taught me all this thought the Perrier went in the blender, and at first brush, that does not make much sense. A blender is going to shake all the gas out of the Perrier, but it will add a slight bit of acid from the carbonation. The formula for an egg white foam is egg white, sugar, water, and acid, usually lemon juice. This probably worked for him, but how does that help me?

Another blogger also took a stab at the drink recently, but I’m more inclined to call his a Brown Yukon Sucker Punch, because of the light color. The problem is that he used a crafty third wave coffee, and these modern light roasts, as much as I like to drink them, brew to a chocolatey light brown. In 1991, the coffee was roasted practically to ashes, and that’s the only way to get the color right without dye.

Personally, I’ll stick to my Ethiopian Kochere. If you’re squeamish about food coloring, 1. Use food grade activated charcoal powder and 2. Get over it, you ingest commercial food dyes all the time, probably without realizing it, unless you are Amish.

I also don’t care for the whipped cream meringue. It’s too white and too solid. Who wants to drink that creamy gloopy monstrosity?

Anyway, if you want the classic, stick with Jamesoart. His technique is accessible and probably the truest to the show. My version uses a modernist technique à la Jamie Boudreau. This is how to make the Black Yukon Suckerpunch in the 21st century.

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21st Century Black Yukon Suckerpunch
1.5 oz Bourbon
.5 oz Coffee liqueur
1 oz brewed black coffee
As much black food color as it takes (like 3 drops)
Blue Cocktail Foam
4 egg whites
6 oz blue curaçao
3 oz lemon juice
2 oz water
Combine all foam ingredients in an iSi whipping siphon and charge with two N02 cartridges.
Stir the bourbon, liqueur, and coffee over ice, and pour into a highball. Top with the blue cocktail foam.

Getting the texture of a cocktail foam just right is always a challenge. The ratio of sugar, water, lemon juice, and egg white has to be just right to get a foam that is stable and springy. To be honest, it takes a little luck, and I have found some variability in the stability of this foam recipe. If your foam is falling apart, try replacing some or all of the water with simple syrup.

Cheers!


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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 and 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.