Measure & Stir

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


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Mixology Crash Course: Tiki

This is part 11 of a series on Mixology Basics.

Tiki is a deep subject, though it is not, to be honest, my area of expertise. There are whole blogs dedicated to the genre, and I will not claim to do it justice. Still, as this is meant to be an overview, I cannot omit it entirely.

What is tiki? Tiki is a feeling you get, deep in your heart. It’s warm sunshine, lazy beaches, tropical fruits, exotic spices, and enough rum to drown a rhinoceros.

tiki

It sounds like Martin Denny (no really, click that link and listen to it while you read this part) and its hallmarks are plastic palm trees, paper umbrellas, and a Polynesian adventure aesthetic.

The most iconic Tiki drink is the Mai Tai, which is the only one I’m going to give you. Tiki recipes are contentious, and there are at least three major recipes that go around. Tiki was started by a couple guys back in the thirties named Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic, and the main past time of Tiki enthusiasts seems to be arguing about the historical recipes of various Tiki icons. For my thoughts on that, see below, under The Secret Ingredient is Narrative.

Anyway, I’m an engineer, and I don’t much care for cocktail history. A Mai Tai, as I see it, is a drink that satisfies the following requirements:

  • Contains some proportion of rum, lime juice, orange liqueur, orgeat, and possibly rock candy syrup. Nothing else.
  • Garnished with mint, additional garnishes are allowed.
  • Served over cracked ice.

Beyond that, I don’t have strong preferences. Some Mai Tais call for floats of rum, some for an additional garnish of a spent half lime hull, and others for such heresies as pineapple juice, grenadine, or passion fruit syrup. Those are all Tiki ingredients, but they do not a Mai Tai make.

Mai Tai
1.5 oz of a traditional process rum, such as J. Wray and Nephew
.5 oz of a dark rum, such as Appleton 12
.75 oz of lime juice
.5 oz orange liqueur
.25 oz orgeat syrup
Shake and then strain into a glass full of cracked ice. Garnish with mint sprigs.

OK, I was fibbing. I’m going to give you one more, sort of. To me, Tiki is a lot like Brown, Bitter and Stirred, in that most of the drinks in the subgenre converge on an archetypal form. As with BBS, a good tiki drink is like a good curry; many ingredients and flavors combine to form something muddy and yet distinctively itself.

It’s not uncommon to see a tiki drink with eight to ten ingredients. You can make something that tastes like a tiki drink by 1) owning a bunch of tiki ingredients and 2) combining them in a way that balances sweetness, acidity, and booze. At it’s core, a tiki drink is a sour, usually a huge one. Here is a (non-exhaustive) list of tiki ingredients:

  • Rum: dark, light, spiced, traditional, old, young, etc.
  • More rum.
  • Lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, pineapple, and guava juice
  • Coconut cream
  • Strawberry purée
  • Passionfruit syrup, vanilla syrup, orgeat (almond) syrup, cinnamon syrup
  • Allspice dram
  • Falernum
  • Orange liqueur

Beyond this, many tiki drinks will incorporate a single stand-out flavor, such as coffee liqueur, or mezcal. In the same way that you might have a mango curry, you might have a mezcal tiki drink. Here’s a rough cut:

Generic Tiki Thing
1 oz light rum
1 oz dark rum
1 oz of your favorite rum
1 oz of orange or pineapple juice
1.5 oz of lemon or lime juice
1 oz of spiced syrup (cinnamon, vanilla, clove, cardamom,  etc. or a combination)
1 oz of a strongly flavored liqueur or juice of your choosing
Shake it up and pour it over crushed ice. Garnish it with as many fragrant and outrageous things as possible.

This probably serves two people comfortably.

 


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Mixology Crash Course: Syrups and Infusions

This is part 9 of a series on Mixology Basics.

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Syrups

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

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

By way of example:

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

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

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

Raspberry Soda
1.5 oz raspberry syrup
8 oz soda water

to the classic:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grenadine

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oleo Saccharum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Infusions

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

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

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

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

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

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The process for making a liqueur is simple:

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

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

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

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

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Infusion Time Cheat Sheet

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

Rate of Extraction vs. Surface Area

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

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

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

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

Fat Washing

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

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

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

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

This drink is more novel than delicious.


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Mixology Crash Course: Fruits, Eggs, and Dairy

This is part 8 of a series on Mixology Basics.

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Fruits

The most efficient way to get seasonal fruit into your drink is to own a high quality juicer. I highly recommend them, but they are not essential. It’s true, you will never quite realize your dream of fresh pineapple juice without one, but there are other solutions.

Fresh Fruit Smash

The easiest way to incorporate fresh fruit into a drink is to make a smash. For this technique, you will need a muddler. Soft fruits such as berries are more suited to the muddler than the juicer, even if both are available; firm produce such as carrots are only suitable to the juicer, and produce of medium firmness, such as pineapple, is amenable to either.

Fresh Fruit Smash
1.5 oz base spirit
.75 oz souring agent
.5 oz simple syrup
a small handful of fresh fruit (e.g., ~8 blueberries, 3 strawberries, 2 1″ pineapple chunks)
Using a muddler, thoroughly crush the fruit in your mixing tin along with your base spirit. Add the other ingredients, strain, then shake and strain again. Garnish with unsmashed pieces of the same fruit that you smashed.

It’s also acceptable, in some cases, to leave the drink more rustic. Give your guests big chunks of pulpy fruit floating in their drink, along with little shards of ice. It works well at a BBQ or other outdoor gathering. My favorite combinations are:

  • Bourbon, grilled peaches, lemon juice, brown sugar syrup
  • Bourbon, pineapple, lemon juice, simple syrup, garnished with mint
  • Gin, blueberries, lime juice, simple syrup

If You Own a Juicer…

First, for the sake of argument, let’s say you are fortunate enough to own an electric juicer, perhaps of the masticating variety. Before making a drink with a fresh juice, it is advisable to strain it through your fine mesh before using it as an ingredient. You’re going to have to push it through that strainer one way or the other, and it’s better to do it up-front, before your guests arrive.

You might also take to seasoning your juices with sugars or powdered acids. The two most useful acids to keep on hand are malic and citric, and both are easily available in powdered form. The goal is to find a proper balance of sweetness and acidity. Fruits aren’t always ripe, and sometimes mother nature needs a little boost.

Clarified Juice

Sometimes, for a truly elegant effect, you might want a clarified juice. Of course, you’ll never be able to get it perfectly clear, but you can get it pretty close. The mad science way to do this is with a centrifuge, but for most people, myself included, a budget option is to let your juice run through several layers of cheesecloth.

Secure several layers of cheesecloth over a large vessel and slowly pour the juice on top. Allow the entire arrangement to sit in the fridge, perhaps overnight. Most of the water will drip through. You can then discard the cheesecloth and the solids.

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Egg Whites

Many sour drinks call for egg whites, such as the Pisco sour, above. Egg whites are easy to manipulate, but many novice cocktail drinkers are intimidated by an American superstition that if one particle of raw egg touches you anywhere on your body, you instantly die of ebola salmonella.

Let me assuage your fears. First, you are combining the deadly and neurotoxic and carcinogenic and probably racist egg whites with three times their volume of strong liquor, which almost instantly kills any bacteria. Second, it is quite rare for fresh eggs to actually be contaminated with ebola salmonella. Third, cocktail drinkers the world over consume drinks with raw egg whites every day, and they don’t get sick. So get over yourself.

The purpose of egg white in a drink is to add froth and body. When handled correctly, the egg white becomes emulsified in the drink, yielding a rich, velvety texture and a pleasant head of foam.

The classic way to integrate an egg white is the “dry shake”, which consists of shaking your drink once without ice for about a minute, and then again, with ice, to chill and dilute it.

This is tedious and laborious, though it is a skill you should have in case you are mixing on the road and you have to get creative. In the ideal case, you will use an immersion blender or a milk frother to perfectly whip and aerate the eggs in a matter of a few seconds.

So of course you are wondering, what can I do with this radical and dangerous knowledge? And my top suggestion is to make Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s Amaretto Sour, which I will reproduce here, for posterity:

Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s Amaretto Sour
1.5 oz. amaretto
.75 oz. cask-proof bourbon (such as Booker’s)
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
.5 oz. fresh egg white

I tweaked it slightly from the one at Imbibe, because I do not find any additional simple syrup to be necessary. It is also reasonable to use any standard bourbon in place of the suggested cask-proof bourbon, though cask-strength will give you a better drink. How far are you willing to go for mixological perfection?

I will also note that you can substitute almost any liqueur for amaretto, here, and still end up with a tasty drink.

Dairy

You should treat drinks with milk or cream much the same way you treat drinks with egg whites. Either use a dry shake, or an immersion blender to aerate and whip the milk as much as possible. Milk should be frothy.

Milk Punch
3 oz whole milk
1.5 oz brown spirits
.5 oz simple syrup
(optional) 1 dash of vanilla extract
1 dash angostura bitters
Garnish with grated nutmeg

For the brown spirits, feel free to use any combination of dark rum, bourbon, and brandy, as long as the total proportion adds up to 1.5 oz. For the whole milk, feel free to replace as little or as much as you like with heavy cream. It all comes down to mood and personal taste.

Milk is not difficult to work with, but it does have one hidden danger, which is also present in some cream liqueurs: acid will curdle it. That should be abundantly obvious, but it is easy to forget, especially when making original compositions, that fortified wines and even many syrups (such as your raspberry syrup, above) are acidic enough to curdle milk.

Before you add an ingredient to a milk drink, stop, taste the ingredient, and check for the presence of acid.


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Mixology Crash Course: Hot Drinks

This is part 7 of a series on Mixology Basics.

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Hot Drinks

You can highballify anything, but turning a cold drink into a hot one takes a little more finesse. There are, as with other styles, standard forms that are worth memorizing and mastering.

There is no universal template for hot drinks, since the classics take a variety of shapes, but we will spend some time on the general composition of the hot toddy, below.

  • Hot drinks are “built” in the glass, which means they are generally mixed without an intermediary vessel.
  • Just as you chill a glass before serving an aromatic cocktail, you should warm a glass before serving a hot drink. Fill your intended serving vessel with near-boiling water and allow the heat to sink into the glass for a minute, and then discard the spent hot water before pouring your drink.
  • Hot drinks should not merely be warm; they should also be warming. It is rare to see a hot drink without some kind of spice. Cinnamon, star anise, cloves, allspice — even black pepper or cumin — lend a pleasant, bone-warming glow to your drink.
  • On that note, clear spirits have no place in a hot drink. No one wants a mug of warm gin.
  • Whereas a cold drink will dull the burn of alcohol, a hot drink will emphasize it. Hot drinks require more dilution.

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Classic Hot Drinks

Hot Toddy
1.5 oz base spirit
.75 oz lemon juice
.5 oz sweetener
3-4 oz hot water
garnish with a cinnamon stick

The standard hot toddy is the above made with simple syrup and bourbon. A hot toddy made in this way is so wonderful on a winter night that we could almost stop here. I regard this drink as more of an ideal than a particular recipe. Almost any selection of brown spirits and liqueurs will work in the hot toddy formulation, provided you smooth out the wrinkles with spices.

Of course, I’m sure I or you could come up with a bad variant if we really tried, but the point is, you have to try. If you stick to high quality ingredients, you will mostly produce high quality output.

Theatrics

If you really want to make a splash, you can server your hot toddy with some theatrics. A fun variant on shaking or stirring is “throwing”, an it’s a technique that’s easier to show than to describe. Watch the illimitable Jamie Boudreau throwing a hot toddy “Blue Blazer” style.

In brief, he mixes an overproof drink, lights it on fire, and then tosses it between two tumblers with handles (that last point is critical) before topping it off with boiling water. You could light yourself, your guests, and your domicile on fire with this technique, and that’s what makes it cool.

He also uses a blend of brown spirits in his drink composition, a choice that has its roots in New Orleans. Blending a portion of rum, bourbon, and brandy together in place of a single base spirit is a fun substitution in any drink that calls for a single brown spirit.

Milk Punch
1.5 oz  (total) of one or more brown spirits
.5 oz sweetener
3-4 oz warm milk
garnish with a cinnamon stick or a star anise

Milk punch is traditionally served cold, a topic I discuss in Etc. below, under the subheading Dairy.

Two notes on the milk punch: one, don’t scald the milk: heat it gently to a temperature of no more than 76C (170F). Two, be ready to take a nap.

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Irish Coffee
1.5 oz Irish Whiskey
.5 oz simple syrup
4 oz hot brewed coffee

Irish coffee is Irish because it’s made with Irish whiskey. I will suggest that I like it better with dark rum, but that would probably be a Guyanese coffee, or insert demonym here. My favorite rum is El Dorado 12 year, and it comes from Guyana, so there you go.

You can you just about any coffee you fancy, here. Traditional dark roasts will stand up nicely to spirits. Light fruity third wave coffees can provide intrigue and complexity. Just be smart, and match your coffee to your spirit.

Another common variant here is to replace whisky and sugar for coffee liqueur. If that liqueur is Tia Maria, it is called Spanish coffee, if it is Kahlua, it is called Mexican. In either case, it is topped with whipped cream.

For some pyrotechnics, you can pour half a shot of overproof rum in the glass, light it on fire, and then sprinkle in some grated cinnamon. The cinnamon will spark up and the fire will warm the glass. Once you have some oos and aahs, pour it out. The burnt cinnamon easily becomes acrid, and the overproof rum is not pleasant to drink, you only did it for the look. If anyone asks, tell them you’re releasing the oils from the cinnamon.

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Mulled Wine
1 bottle of your favorite inexpensive red wine
6 oz brandy
50 g brown sugar
2 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
6 cloves
an inch of peeled ginger, cut into slices
the peel of one orange, pith removed
6 dashes of angostura bitters
Simmer for ten minutes, then ladle into mugs

Mulled wine is great for a group situation. I like mine on the dryer side, though most recipes call for significantly more sugar.

The same recipe will make fantastic apple cider, if you swap the wine for the rawest, most unfiltered apple juice you can find, and omit the orange peels. Orange peels have no place in apple cider. You can further omit the spirits completely, if you are practicing temperance, but in that case, it is wise to lower the sugar content accordingly.

In wine, brandy or calvados is preferred; in apple cider, calvados or bourbon.


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Mixology Crash Course: Highballs

This is part 6 of a series on Mixology Basics.

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Highball
Fill a tall, thin glass with ice, and then gently pour 3-4 oz of carbonated liquid down the side.
In your shaker, mix
1.5 oz of a base spirit
.75 oz of a souring agent
.75 oz of a sweetener
Shake, and double-strain over your glass full of ice and soda. Pour another small splash of soda on top.

Notice that the preparation instructions for a highball are a bit more complicated. If you want to judge the technical chops of a bar, the easiest way is to order a highball. Carbonation is not difficult to handle, but many bars get it wrong. Agitating a carbonated liquid knocks all the gas out of it, leaving a flat drink.

A bar that serves a good Tom Collins probably serves a good everything. If the barmaster paid attention to that detail and enforces good technique among his staff, that says good things about the bar.

  • Carbonation is achieved by suspending a gas, C02 or N02, in liquid under pressure.
  • The gas does not want to stay in the liquid, it wants to leave and make the drink flat.
  • To keep the gas in suspension until it reaches the lips of your guest or customer:
    • Do not allow any fine particulate in the drink. Particles of anything provide surfaces for gas bubbles to form and then disperse. Pulp destroys carbonation.
    • Similarly, use big, smooth pieces of ice. Tiny pieces of ice or ice with lots of ridges will rapidly disperse your carbonation.
    • Colder liquids retain gas better than warm ones. Store your sodas in the fridge if they aren’t coming from a soda gun.
    • Serve your carbonated drinks over ice to keep them colder, longer. Fill the glass to the brim with ice. Using less ice will dilute the drink more rapidly than using a lot of ice.
    • Motion such as shaking or stirring will quickly knock the gas out of your drink. Gently pour the carbonated element into your drink first, so that when you pour the rest of the drink over it, it will mix with a minimum of stirring.
    • Use a glass that is tall and narrow. The wider the mouth of the glass, the more surface area you are exposing to the air, the more quickly your C02 will escape. Champagne flutes and highballs are narrow and tall for a reason.
  • Carbon dioxide reacts with water when you mix it, producing some carbonic acid. This will make carbonated drinks taste dry and slightly tart, which is why they require a bit more sugar than a standard sour.
  • Don’t drown your highball with soda just so the glass looks full.
    • It is tempting to use a large glass tumbler when making a high ball drink (they are easily available), and doubly tempting to fill the glass to the brim. In most cases, especially if you have done the former, the latter will ruin your drink.

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Classic Highballs

Tom Collins
1.5 oz gin
.75 oz lemon juice
.75 oz simple syrup
3-4 oz of soda water

The Tom Collins is the true original of highball drinks. It is delicious, refreshing, and surprisingly complex given its deceptively simple composition.

Paloma
1.5 oz tequila (I prefer reposad0)
.5 oz lime juice
4 oz grapefruit soda (I prefer Jarritos)

Admittedly, highballs are the place where craft (as opposed to crass) mixed drinks almost intersect. Drinks of the form “spirit and soda” are the perennial favorite of the spring break crowd, but with a little retooling, they can easily rise above their plebeian milieu. (Did you know that snobbery is an aesthetic choice?)

The addition of fresh lime juice to these types of drinks can bring balance to the sickeningly sweet commercial sodas that are their hallmark. The sourness of fresh lime cuts through the whole sugary edifice quite nicely.

If you are looking for the cadillac of palomas, please see under section six below, Etc, subheading oleo saccharum.

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Mojito
1.5 oz light rum
.75 oz lime juice
.75 oz simple syrup
6 sprigs of mint
3-4 oz of soda water

The photo above, despite its technical merits, is a perfect example of how not to make a Mojito. Let us count the ways it went wrong: the glass is too big and has too wide of a mouth; the ice is too small and does not fill the glass, and the herbs have been crushed to a pulp. Does that drink look fizzy to you? It is for shame.

Treat the herbs in a mojito gently. Muddle them lightly, or not at all. Layer mint leaves (leaves only! Do like my man Snoop says, “no stems, no seeds, no sticks, just that real sticky icky icky) Ahem. Layer mint leaves between and around the ice in your glass.

Put a few extra sprigs in your shaker let the motion of the ice do the work. If you over-work your mint, you’ll get chlorophyll, and your Mojito will taste vegetal. We’re not making pesto, we only want menthol. Let one more fresh sprig hang out on top, so that when you raise the glass to your lips, so that the perfume can greet your olfactory.

Old Cuban
1.5 oz dark rum
.75 oz lime juice
.75 oz simple syrup
2 dash angostura bitters
6 sprigs of mint
champagne or prosecco (instead of soda)

The Old Cuban is a grown up Mojito. I have nothing else to say about it, I simply offer it as an interesting variation. You might find you like a bit more sugar in this one, as the champagne can make it very dry.

Americano
1.5 oz sweet vermouth
.75 oz campari
soda water
garnish with an orange slice

The Americano cocktail, as you will notice, has more in common with an aromatic cocktail than a sour. In fact, you can highballify just about any sour or aromatic cocktail with little modification. The extra dilution and acid will often necessitate a bit more sugar, and that is a good thing.

Vermouth, Campari, and soda may sound a bit boring, but together they make a marvelous aperitif. It tastes voluptuous, enticing — like dancing with a woman who is keeping a secret from you.

Fizzy Alaska
1 oz gin
1 oz yellow Chartreuse
3-4 oz of soda water
garnish with an orange peel

To drive home the point that you can highballify anything, we return to our Alaska cocktail. Above, we were only able to use a scant quarter ounce of yellow chartreuse. The soda water will give the yellow chartreuse room to breathe, and we can rejigger the Alaska to be much more liqueur-forward.

French 75
1 oz gin
.5 oz simple syrup
.5 oz lemon juice
3 oz champagne
serve in a champagne flute
garnish with a lemon peel

Is the French 75 really a highball? It has all the hallmarks of one. Granted, it is served in a flute, rather than a highball glass, but in its composition and style, it has more in common with a Tom Collins than anything else. If it walks like a duck…

Fernet and Coke
1.5 oz Fernet Branca
.75 oz lime juice
3-4 oz Coca Cola
garnish with a lime wedge

I would be remiss if I did not include (and heartily endorse!) this classic. Fernet and Coke is practically the national drink of Argentina, although they omit the lime. I find Coca Cola to be too sweet without the mitigating influence of sour citrus.

Of course, you have probably had some variant of Jack and Coke or Rum and Coke, and this is the same concept, clearly. The above, made with rum instead of Fernet, is called a Cuba Libré. In fact the above formula works with any base spirit: bourbon, rye, tequila, gin; fernet is my favorite, but as long as you tame the Coke with ample lime, it goes well with anything.


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Mixology Crash Course: Aromatic Drinks

This is part 5 of a series on Mixology Basics.

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Aromatic or “Spirited”
1.5 oz base spirit
(optional) .5 – .75 oz fortified wine
.25 oz optional modifier
1 dash of bitters
aromatic garnish

This style of drink includes the classic Martini, Manhattan, and Old Fashioned. It is a little more variable in its composition, but in my opinion, it is less variable in its output. Fewer drinkers enjoy aromatic drinks than sours. When in doubt about someone’s preferences, you should make them a sour (though asking them is the best way).

If someone says “I drink anything”, or “I like everything”, that more often than not signals that they don’t know anything about cocktails, and you should make them a sour. Exception: you’re talking to a bartender.

A note on service: aromatic drinks are best served very cold. For this reason, you should always chill the glass before you start mixing an aromatic drink. Do this by filling it with ice and water, and giving it a stir. When you pour out the water and ice before serving the drink, be thorough, and don’t accidentally overdilute your drink.

Fortified Wine

  • Fortified wine is wine that has been mixed with spirits, herbs, spices, and sugar. These “fortifications” extend its life and add complex flavors.
  • Common examples include vermouth, madeira, marsala, sherry, and port.
  • VERMOUTH IS PERISHABLE and needs to be stored in the refrigerator.
    • Once opened, a bottle of vermouth is good for about a month. Fortified wines can survive longer than regular wines, but you wouldn’t drink a bottle of wine weeks or months after opening it, and you certainly wouldn’t do so after leaving it sitting in the back of a room temperature cabinet.
    • Vermouth needs to be fresh. Buy small bottles, open them as needed, and use them quickly.
    • Sherry and port keep much longer.
  • Fortified wine is a source of acidity in spirited drinks, but it is also a source of sweetness. It can only stand up to a little bit of syrup or liqueur before it becomes cloying.
  • On the question of the exact ratio of wine to spirit, it depends on the spirits in question and on your own idiosyncratic taste.
  • You should probably not make a Manhattan with top shelf whiskey, unless you really know what you’re doing. Even then, many might call it sacrilege, but in general, the nicer your base spirit, the more your ratio should favor it.
  • In the dark ages of cocktails (~1960s to ~2010), spirited drinks started pushing ratios as skewed as 7:1 base:vermouth, in pursuit of something called “dryness”.
    • There are several hypotheses as to why, the most common being improper vermouth storage. If your choice is an old, disgusting bottle of oxidized vermouth, or no vermouth, you should choose “no vermouth”
  • Post-cocktail renaissance, excellent vermouths are available, and they can sometimes outshine a spirit. If you are using “well” spirits, a ratio of 2:1 is probably the best.

Garniture

  • The garnish is more important in an aromatic drink than in a sour, both because it is the main driver of the aroma, and because aromatic drinks are visually simpler.
  • The most common — and appropriate — garnish for an aromatic drink is a swath of citrus peel, which has been “expressed” over the drink.
    • To express a citrus peel, simply bend it over the drink, such that it expels its oils over the surface.
    • Said oils should float visibly on top of the drink, and contribute a bright, pungent citrus smell.

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Classic Aromatics

Old Fashioned
2 oz base spirit
1 barspoon of simple syrup
1 dash of bitters
1 orange peel, expressed

If you follow the link above, you will notice that citrus peel and ice are optional, according to the oldest traditions, and that stirring the drink over ice before pouring it into a tumbler makes it a different drink.

That’s all well and good, but unless you have ice of exceptional quality, may I suggest that you should stir your old fashioned over ice, and serve it with none. Moreover, most people who ask for an old fashioned expect the ice and the citrus peel, and I submit there is a very good reason for this, the divining of which is left as an exercise for the reader.

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Martini
1.5 oz gin
.75 oz dry vermouth
garnish with an olive

Bitters are not strictly necessary, though I myself prefer them. The salty flavor of the olive, much like the salt in the Margarita, is a light bulb moment for most cocktail drinkers. The flavor of the olive transforms the flavor the of the entire drink. It’s acceptable to ask for two or three olives, but at some point, you’re just bumming for snacks.

There are some canonical variations. Ordering a “dry” martini will result in your bartender using an amount of vermouth that ranges from scant to none.

A dash of orange bitters is an optional addition, though I find that it muddies the flavor.

A garnish of lemon peel, in place of an olive, is a little less challenging. Kennedy is rumored to have made his martini this way, if you care.

A pickled cocktail onion, place of an olive, is called a Gibson. It’s not for me, but it might be for you.

A dill pickle is so wrong, but it feels so right.

Manhattan
1.5 oz bourbon
.5 oz sweet vermouth
1 dash of Angostura bitters
garnish with a brandied cherry

Personally, I prefer my Manhattans with an orange peel.

Swapping out the bourbon and sweet vermouth for various other whiskies and sweet fortified wines seems to be favorite hobby of bartenders in respectable establishments. For example, rye and Amer Picon will yield a Brooklyn, but I’m going to advance the controversial opinion here that it’s basically the same drink.

In fact, I will go a step further. There is an entire genre of aromatic drinks known as “brown, bitter, and stirred”, which consist of one or more brown base spirits combined with a grab bag of bitter and herbal liqueurs, fortified wines, and bitter tinctures. There are good ones and bad ones, but they all taste quite similar.

The muddy flavors yielded by a multiplicity of brown and bitter spirits stirred together approaches a platonic ideal of a cocktail. Much like a good curry, all the flavors run together and yield something which is more identifiably “brown cocktail” than any of its constituent elements.

I like brown spirits and bitter liqueurs, but I’m pretty blasé on this genre, as you can probably tell.

Speaking of platonic cocktail ideals, here is another classic that really drove home, for me, the point that just about any combination of base spirit, vermouth, and liqueur in the right proportions will taste pretty good:

Martinez
1.5 oz gin
.5 oz sweet vermouth
.25 oz maraschino
1 dash of Angostura bitters
garnish with an orange peel

The Martinez is the ancestor of its more well-known sibling, the Martini, according to lore. To me, it captures the “classic cocktail” flavor more than just about any other. It’s worth knowing, and it’s a nice side piece when your bar can already make Martinis and Manhattans.
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Negroni
1 oz gin
1 oz sweet vermouth
1 oz campari
garnish with a flamed orange peel

The Negroni is a true classic; ancient, venerated, and challenging. Indeed, its principle flavor comes from Campari, a spirit that is at once intensely bitter and cloyingly sweet. I enjoy its bitterness, but recoil from its syrupy mouthfeel.

I have seen some bartenders claim that it alone among aromatic drinks must be shaken, or that it must be served on the rocks. Sometimes both. And both modifications are in service of reducing the syrupy mouthfeel, I am sure. May I suggest, instead, a small rejigger?

Better Negroni, IMO
1.5 oz gin
.75 oz sweet vermouth
.5 oz campari
garnish with a flamed orange peel

To flame an orange peel, strike a match, hold it over your drink, and express the peel of an orange into the flame such that it lands on the surface of the drink. Flamed orange oils burn and become acrid, but in the Negroni, it works. As exciting as pyrotechnics can be, use this sparingly.

A fun variation on the Negroni is to swap out the gin for bourbon; this is known as a Boulevardier.

Toronto (My Way)
1.5 oz Rye Whiskey
.25 oz Fernet Branca
(optional) .25 oz Simple syrup
1 dash of bitters
Garnish with a lemon peel

I looked this up before writing down my own recipe, just to see what the internet thought. They seem to be divided between Canadian or Rye whiskey. I’m going to tell you right now that mass market Canadian whiskey is all garbage. There may exist small batch distillers that are worthy, but when someone says “Canadian Whiskey” in a drink recipe, that’s not what they mean.

Admittedly, Canadian whiskey sounds more appropriate in a drink named Toronto, but I can’t suggest that to you in good faith. Stick to rye. And since you’re using rye, use a lemon peel, it complements the sour flavors of rye nicely. You will notice that this is just a fancy old fashioned, which I only highlighted here because I am a fiend for fernet.

I’m not kidding about it being a fancy old fashioned, either, that’s a real thing.

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Fancy Old Fashioned Cocktail
1.5 oz base spirit
.25 oz liqueur
1 dash of bitters
Garnish with a citrus peel

The canonical choices would be bourbon or rye for the base and and cointeau or maraschino for the liqueur, but you should let your imagination run wild. Mezcal and Ancho Reyes? Gin and Yellow Chartreuse? That’s called an Alaska.

Alaska
1.5 oz gin
.25 oz yellow Chartreuse
garnish with an orange peel

Googling around, you will find variations with a higher proportion of liqueur to gin, and you will find suggestions for orange bitters or dry sherry. I have found these things to be lacking. My formulation follows the shape of an old fashioned cocktail, whereas the standard recipe is too sweet. A drink with no acid can take no more than a quarter ounce of liqueur or syrup.

A dry sherry, if selected very carefully, might work. Still, you would have to know what you were doing, and have a wide variety of sherries to choose from. To serve it with sherry, jigger it like a martini:

Nome Cocktail
1.5 oz gin
.75 oz fino sherry
.25 oz yellow chartreuse
garnish with an orange peel

Let’s finish this section strong with one more variation on the Old Fashioned, that New Orleans classic, the Sazerac.

Sazerac
1.5 oz rye whiskey
.25 oz simple syrup
1 dash Peychaud’s bitters
absinthe rinse
garnish with a lemon peel

An absinthe rinse is exactly what it sounds like. Pour a quarter ounce of absinthe into a chilled glass, swirl it around, and pour it out. If you prefer, just pour a barspoon of absinthe into the drink, instead. No one will know the difference and you’ll save money on absinthe.


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Mixology Crash Course: Sours

This is part 4 of a series on Mixology Basics.

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Sour
1.5 oz of a base spirit
.75 oz of a souring agent
.5 oz of a sweetener
Shake over ice and double-strain into a stemmed glass.

The above is my personal preference for a sour, which is also sometimes called a daisey. There are several canonical variations and considerations:

  • Only use freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice. Once released from their fruity prison, juices immediately start to break down, losing their volatile flavor compounds. The first thing to go will be bright, floral complexity on the sip. Day-old lime juice tastes like lime kool-aid, having lost everything but a vague limey citrus finish, accompanied by naked citric acid. Within four hours of juicing is preferred, and à la minute is best.
  • For that matter, never use any pasteurized or unfresh juice. If you are thinking of using pineapple juice in a drink, juice your own pineapple. Shelf-stable juices are particularly awful, as they have been boiled under pressure to a temperature of 121 C. This kills any microorganisms, deactivates enzymes, and removes 80% of the flavor. If you can’t get truly fresh juice, make a different drink.
  • It is acceptable to serve a sour up or on the rocks, according to your own preference and taste.
  • Bitters generally do not enhance the flavor of a sour drink. Quite the opposite, they dull the brightest flavors, leaving your drink tasting flat.
  • Liqueurs are not as sweet as syrups. If the sweetener is a liqueur, a barspoon (defined as 1/2 tsp) of simple syrup may be desirable.
  • Less experienced cocktail drinkers, or those with an incurable sweet tooth, will generally prefer their sweetener and souring agent in equal proportions, i.e., .75 oz of each.
  • Sours generally taste best if they are a few degrees warmer than they come out immediately post-shake. For this reason, I suggest NOT chilling the glass (see below) before pouring a sour.
  • More complicated sour compositions are easily possible. The simplest is to add a full ounce of a non-sour (i.e., succulent), juice, such as mango, pineapple, orange, strawberry, etc.
    • When working with succulent juices, be aware of their sweetness. Some juices can throw off your balance of sour to sweet. To adjust for this, mix in the following order: base spirit, souring agent, succulent juice, taste the drink, add an appropriate amount of sweetener.
    • Some “juices”, such as strawberry, are more properly called purées, on account of their thick texture. They will not go through your fine mesh strainer easily, and it is advisable to strain them finely BEFORE adding them to your drink, to make your post-shake pour go more smoothly.

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Classic Sours

Within these guidelines, here are the most famous, common, and wonderful sours:

Daquiri
2 oz light rum*
.75 oz lime juice
.5 oz simple syrup

*Note that this drink is best served slightly overproof from the standard recipe. It is the foundation of all Tiki drinks, and it is eminently approachable. You will notice, of course, that it bears little resemblance to your standard frozen strawberry daiquiri served at resorts the world over.

Whiskey Sour
1.5 oz bourbon
.75 oz lemon juice
.5 oz simple syrup

This is the grand-daddy of sours. It is more than the sum of its parts, and one of the most delicious drinks ever invented. It is often served with a half ounce of egg white incorporated into it. This will cause it to develop a rich, frothy head and a velvety mouthfeel. For more about this, see Egg Whites below under Etc.

Floating a half ounce of red wine on top of the drink (performed by gently pouring the wine over the back of a spoon) makes this a New York Sour.

Margarita
1.5 oz tequila
.75 oz lime juice
.5 oz orange liqueur
1 barspoon of simple syrup
SALT ON THE RIM OF THE GLASS

The Margarita is a delicious drink, but many people prefer theirs with an unsalted rim. This is wrong. The salt wakes up the vegetal and briny flavors in the tequila, creating a unique and intriguing experience.

To salt a glass, first run a wedge of lime over the lip of the glass, and then dip the glass in a dish of kosher salt. Coarse salt is preferable to fine salt, both because of its pleasing appeance, and because it will result a smaller amount of salt on the palate per sip.

Like tequila itself, salt on the rim of a glass is an acquired taste, but like most acquired tastes, it is worth acquiring.

Sidecar
1.5 oz brandy
.75 oz lemon juice
.5 oz orange liqueur
1 barspoon of simple syrup
(optional) sugar on the rim of the glass.

Notice that this is a mad lib of a Margarita, or maybe it’s the other way around. The sugar on the rim is a more recent fashion, but I cannot deny that it is delicious. Unlike the Margarita, the sugar is optional. It does not make or break the drink: it is merely an indulgence.

Cosmopolitan
1.5 oz vodka
.75 oz lime juice
.5 oz cranberry  juice cordial
.5 oz orange liqueur

The Cosmo is an interesting beast. With its addition of .5 oz cranberry cordial, it runs a little sweet vs. the standard sour proportions. Also note that cranberry juice cordial is not the same thing as cranberry juice, and while you could make your own, it is one of the rare instances where it is acceptable to use a store-bought, shelf-stable variety.

A juice cordial is a juice that has been diluted and sweetened, and nearly all commercially available cranberry juices are, in fact, cranberry juice cordials. Pure, fresh cranberry juice is bitingly bitter and sour, and will not make a good cosmopolitan without significant processing.

Everyone expects a cosmo to taste like cranberry juice cordial, so just use it. If you are feeling frisky, make it yourself.

Pisco Sour
1.5 oz pisco
.75 oz lime juice
.5 oz gomme syrup
.5 oz egg white

Unlike the whiskey sour, in the pisco sour, the egg white is not optional. We will discuss egg whites below, under the heading Etc., below, sub-heading: “Egg Whites”.

As for gomme syrup, this is a classic cocktail ingredient made by incorporating gum arabic into simple syrup, or by purchasing gomme syrup. Gum arabic is a hydrocolloid (a thickening agent that can make water more viscous) that gives the syrup a smoother, almost creamy mouthfeel.

Real Gimlet
1.5 oz gin
.75 oz lime cordial

A true gimlet uses a lime cordial, which is made by steeping lime peels and sugar in lime juice until they form a rich, tart, limey syrup. Almost no one does it this way because it’s inconvenient and because composing it as a standard sour tastes very similar.

The Gimlet that Everyone Actually Makes
1.5 oz gin
.75 oz lime juice
.5 oz simple syrup