Measure & Stir

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


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Bacon-Infused Bourbon

Like you, I had heard of bacon-infused bourbon, and this trendy process known as “fat-washing”, wherein a spirit is infused with animal fat. I was always skeptical, because it seemed gimmicky, and who really wants to drink a whole drink that tastes like meat, anyway? I tried some Bakon Vodka, and I was surprised by how mild and not-terrible its bacon flavor is. I was expecting artificial bacon flavor, which is disgusting, as you will know if you have tried such abominations as bacon salt, bacon breath mints, or anything else of that nature. I think the problem is that you can only really extract about half of the flavor, so such products always taste oddly incomplete, and lack the fatty savoriness of real bacon.

I changed my mind when I visited RN74 Seattle, a mere two blocks from my office, and tried an original bacon cocktail there consisting of bacon-infused bourbon, Cynar, and Laphroaig. The bacony qualities of the scotch married the bacon in the bourbon beautifully! So I knew I had to try making my own. If you search the internet for instructions, you will find a handful of websites describing the process, followed by the identical recipe for an old fashioned bacon cocktail. I followed their instructions, which are, very simply:

  1. Fry some bacon
  2. Drain off the fat, and measure out a third of a cup
  3. Pour the fat into some bourbon, and allow it to infuse for about five hours
  4. Put the bottle in the freezer overnight. All of the fat will have floated to the top by now, where it will solidify
  5. Strain out the fat as you pour your now bacon-infused bourbon into a clean vessel.

 

Since you can do it in one day, this is one of the easiest infusions I have ever made. The bacon flavor in the bourbon is incomplete, much the same way as in Bakon vodka or bacon salt, but the bourbon provides a nice rich base for it, and some of the fat seems to diffuse in the spirit, giving it a slightly thicker, slightly oily viscosity, which is not unpleasant. Since so many people went out of their way to give me the recipe for an old fashioned, I made it my starting point:

Old Fashioned Bacon Cocktail

1.5 oz Bacon-Infused Bourbon (Buffalo Trace)
.25 oz Grade B Maple Syrup
2 Dashes Angostura Bitters

Stir, and strain over ice. Garnish with a crispy strip of bacon.

The internet said to garnish it with an orange peel, but I think the bacon garnish is way more dramatic, aromatic, and delicious. The presence of a piece of bacon greatly added to the sensation and enjoyment of bacon in the drink, much more than an orange would. The flavor of the maple syrup was subtle, but noticeable, and a great pairing in any context.

Even though this drink is good, it’s more valuable for its novelty than for its excellence. I was happy to try it, but I would probably never order it in a bar, nor do I have a strong inclination to mix it again for myself. I’d much rather just eat bacon. Still, I wanted to see what else was out there, and I didn’t want to mindlessly parrot the same information that’s already all over the internet. So I did a bit of research, and I found this video from Jamie Boudreau, in which he offers up a drink called the Chocolate Cochon:

Chocolate Cochon
1.5 ounces bacon-infused bourbon
.25 ounce amaro Ramazotti
.25 ounce crème de cacao (homemade)
.25 ounce kirsch
Dash of Angostura bitters

Stir over ice, strain over fresh ice, and garnish with a flamed orange peel.

This is the kind of thing you would expect from Jamie Boudreau. I didn’t have any Kirsch, but honestly, I can’t imagine that made one whit of difference. I combined all of the ingredients, pre-stir, minus the kirsch, and the only thing I could taste was the bacon bourbon, the bitters, and a touch of sweetness from the liqueurs. The flavors of chocolate and Ramazotti were barely there at all, except maybe as a hint of muddy complexity on the swallow. I cannot imagine that a quarter ounce of kirsch, which has a very light flavor, would have made all that much difference. I ended up compensating by adding a little extra chocolate, but on the whole, this drink lead me to a very deep understanding of drinks that use bacon-infused bourbon as the base.

They all taste exactly the same. The one from RN74, the old-fashioned, the slightly mangled Chocolate Cochon. It doesn’t matter what you do. Get a little sugar in there, a little bitter, and call it good. That said, I really wanted to try to make something a little different, and I had recently acquired a bottle of Lustau Oloroso Dry Amontillado Sherry, and I thought it would be just the thing to bury this bacon bourbon once and for all.

Hogwash

1.5 oz Bacon-infused Bourbon
.75 oz Dry Amontillado Sherry (Lustau Oloroso)
Dash of Simple Syrup
Dash of Angostura Bitters

Stir over ice and garnish with a flamed orange peel

This is a very recognizable take on the formula for an aromatic cocktail. It does not sound terribly original or surprising, but even so I highly recommend it to you over the others. Amontillado sherry tastes like dry white wine, with a hint of something savory on the tongue, followed by a vivid mushroom flavor on the swallow. The umami qualities of the sherry and the mushroom finish complemented the bacon while taking this drink in a very different direction from the other cocktails I have seen with it. Jamie was onto something with the flamed orange peel; that hint of a burned flavor is just the right aroma for this spirit.

Cheers.


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Memories of Fall: Apple Brandy and Cardamaro

In almost every mixed drink I have encountered, there is a perishable ingredient, something that is just slightly inconvenient to keep fresh and on hand. If it isn’t fresh citrus juice, it is fortified wine, and if it is neither of those, it is some kind of dairy ingredient. Even an old fashioned cocktail, or a Sazerac isn’t really complete without a slice of fresh citrus peel. David Embury divided mixed drinks into two broad categories:  Sour and Aromatic, the former depending upon sour citrus juice, and the latter depending upon fortified wines and bitters.

There are other mixologists with other ideas, but at the end of the day you’re pouring sugared and flavored ethanol, and it’s not as if all of these categories exist in some discoverable form in nature, the way subatomic particles do. Anyway, fortified wines will live a lot longer in your fridge than fresh lemons will in your fruit bowl, and it is both easy and refreshing to make a drink that contains only spirits.

I think many drinkers neglect the aromatic style, either because they mistakenly believe that they dislike vermouth, or because they have never seen how rewarding an aromatic cocktail can be. Technically speaking, only aromatic mixed drinks are cocktails, and only a subset of them, for that matter. Last Thursday I was in the mood for an aromatic drink using apple brandy, and I invoked my favorite 6:3:1 formula for a quick tipple.

Memories Of Fall

1.5 oz Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy
.75 oz Cardamaro
.25 oz Allspice Liqueur (homemade)
dash of angostura bitters

Stir over ice and strain into a coupe glass. Drink in the Spring time.

This was a warming drink, and it felt like something you would sip on a crisp fall afternoon. I made this drink several weeks ago, when it was still technically spring, so it was deliciously out of season, not because the ingredients were unseasonal, but because the flavors were. The Cardamaro lent a round, herbal flavor to the sip, which was complimented by spiced apple on the swallow.


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Des Esseintes

CVS is an endless repository of new and exciting drinks, though I probably lean on them too much. But see, I have this bottle of Del Maguey Mezcal de Vida burning a hole in my bar, and then this brilliant opportunity to mix it with an amaro comes along, and how could I resist? Amaro Nonino tends toward the sweeter side of amari, and I find that, much like Cardamaro, it occupies the same same general flavor profile as a good sweet vermouth. Make a Manhattan with Nonino or even Ramazotti instead of vermouth and you’ll see what I mean. They are substantially different from a sweet vermouth, but when you put them in your drink, they do the same thing.

In light of this similarity, I think this drink, Des Esseintes, is a lot like a Martinez with mezcal instead of gin. Of course, the devil is in the details, and I think the pairing of Nonino and Mezcal is a grand one, so much so that I tried to realize it with gummy bears, but you shouldn’t do that, probably.

Des Esseintes

1.5 oz Mezcal (Del Maguey Mezcal de Vida)
1.5 oz Amaro Nonino
1 barspoon Maraschino (Luxardo)
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
2 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters

Stir over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

The mezcal’s smokiness made for an enjoyable riff on a classic, but overall this was too sweet for my palette. I think it would have been a lot better with only one ounce of amaro, particularly because Nonino is so very sweet. If someone asked me for a mezcal drink, this is not the first one I would make for them, but it might be the third.


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Appetizer

I was looking for a drink to make with heavy cream when I happened upon this little beauty from CVS. The appetizer is perhaps oddly named, because with heavy cream and two very potent bitters, I think it walks the line between dessert and digestif. A proper aperitif should be dry and stimulating to the appetite, whereas this drink feels more like something to sip after a long meal.

The original drink called for Dubonnet, which I did not have, but on CVS he substituted Bonal, which I also did not have. I chose to use Cardamaro, because I find it to be similar to Bonal, though probably Dubbonet is more like sweet vermouth than Cardamaro. I wouldn’t stress about it, as long as you use a decently sweet and bitter and high-quality fortified wine, because Fernet and Angostura are the real heroes of this drink.

Appetizer

.5 oz Fernet Branca
.5 oz Angostura Bitters
.5 oz Heavy Cream
.5 oz Dubbonet (Cardamaro… I know)

Shake over ice and double-strain into a fluted glass.

The original recipe called for a cocktail glass, but I chose to use a fluted one, because the purpose of a cocktail glass’ wide mouth is to diffuse the fumes from the alcohol. The greater surface area of the cocktail glass also allows more heat to bleed into the drink, so it will warm quicker. I wanted to capture the aromas from the bitters when sipping this drink, rather than release them into the air with a cocktail glass. I also wanted to split the drink between three people, and these were convenient. But the logic is sound.

The sweetness of the dairy perfectly modulated the bitterness of the Fernet and Angostura. This was the most unusual drink I have tried all year, and I greatly enjoyed it. Somehow, the combination of spices and the cream made me feel like I was sipping on some kind of Tikka Masala. There was nothing savory in the drink, but still, the overall impression was one of curry.

I made this drink at the end of the night, and to be honest I was looking for something with a bit more of a dessert quality to it, so I mixed up a second round, swapping Fernet Branca with Branca Menta, which is Fernet Branca’s much sweeter cousin. The extra sugar greatly diminished the sensation of eating curry, and made this drink feel like a grown-up Grasshopper.

In the future, I will tend to make the Branca Menta variation, but I encourage you to try it both ways.


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Rose Syrup

I bought some rose syrup from Travelers, the local Indian market. Whenever I make or purchase a new syrup, I try it in an old fashioned. I thought that lemon would complement the rose more than orange, since lemon oil is an extremely bright flavor, and rose is a a little bit darker. Moreover, rose and rye did not work together all that well, so I opted for dark rum, instead. The rose syrup had even more red dye in it than Campari, and it managed to completely overpower the color of  Flor de Cana Centenario 18, which is a very dark rum, indeed.

Old Fashioned Rum Cocktail with Rose

1.5 oz aged dark rum (Flor De Cana 18)
1 barspoon rose syrup
1 dash orange bitters (Regan’s)
stir and strain over fresh ice. Garnish with a lemon peel

The clerk at the store told me rose would not work in an old-fashioned. That’s what happens when you think one-dimensionally and assume that rye or bourbon has to be the base. Rum was made for roses. It tastes like romance, and as long as you have a light hand with that rose syrup, it won’t be cloying.

Rose Pegu
1 3/4 oz. London dry gin (Beefeater)
3/4 oz. Combier Pamplemousse Rose (Rose Syrup)
3/4 oz. lime juice
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash orange bitters

Shake over ice and double strain. Garnish with a lime peel.

Ok, so using a syrup isn’t quite in the spirit of a Pegu, which is supposed to contain liqueur, but the dirty secret is that you can often sub a syrup for a liqueur as long as the liqueur is reasonably sweet and the drink has other substantial alcohol components. This recipe came from Jacob Grier, but I didn’t have any Combier Pamplemousse Rose.  I suspect the liqueur is not quite as sweet as this syrup, as I ended up adding an additional 1/4 oz of lime to balance the sweetness.

To be honest, I feel like making a gin sour is the easiest way in the world to incorporate one other flavor into a drink. If you have a liqueur or a syrup and you aren’t sure how to express it, gin and lemon or lime is almost guaranteed to make a nice base for it. I have to admit, this was a very tasty drink, like a citrusy Turkish delight, even if it was the easy way out. And speaking of Turkish delight, the flavor of pistachio might be a beautiful addition.

The lime oil was a delicious contrast to the sweetness of the rose, and the gin added a fine botanical complexity on the swallow. If I were serving this at a party, I would express lime oil over the surface of the drink and then garnish it with a few white rose petals instead.

Rosey Disposition (beta)

1.5 oz Cuban Rum (Matusalem Clasico)
.75 oz dry vermouth (Dolin)
.25 oz rose syrup
1 dash of Angostura bitters

Stir over cracked ice and garnish with a lemon knot.

A great template to know is 6:3:1 with a base spirit, a fortified wine, and a modifier. I used this same template last week with gin and apricot-flavored brandy. So I’m not sure if this is any less of a cop-out than the Rose Pegu, but as with the old fashioned, the caramel qualities of the rum blended almost romantically with the rose syrup.

I also tried mixing rose syrup with several amari, but I found that the flavor of rose occupies a very similar place on the spectrum as an amaro such as Ramazotti, and even though the rose came through, it was blurry. The syrup went a little bit better with Campari, though I did not use it in the above variation. There is a pleasing consonance between the two brilliant reds. A rose Negroni may be in my future.

Finally, since we’re on the subject, a note on garnishes:

If you have a channel knife, you can easily cut a long, graceful strip of lemon peel. Tying it into a very loose knot is an excellent alternative to a twist, once in a while.


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Bloody Mary Workshop

In Seattle, there is no such thing as summer — there is only a faint impression of summer, a flickering shadow on the wall of a cave. We are in thrall to a sad facsimile and yet! there are heirloom tomatoes. When life gives you lemons… make a whiskey sour. When life gives you tomatoes, however… you are placed in the unfortunate spot of having to make Bloody Maries.

I have never enjoyed a Bloody Mary; on the few occasions that I have ordered one, or had one ordered for me, I have found no pleasure whatsoever in drinking, essentially, campbell’s soup mixed with vodka and, if one is fortunate, fresh lemon juice. Let us be perfectly honest. This drink sucks.

In an attempt to make it better, many bartenders adopt a kitchen sink approach, in which they add every savory ingredient they can get their hands on. Pickles, bell peppers, carrots, celery, shrimp, onion, a boiled egg — all of these elements improve the drink only in the sense that they distract the imbiber from the ugly, ugly truth, which I will reiterate: you are drinking boiled tomato puree mixed with vodka.

And yet, in my heart I knew that the idea had potential, and I wanted to reclaim this drink by starting with its most fundamental component: the tomato juice itself. The texture of a Bloody Mary is wholly unappealing. Even when it is smooth, as with v8, it has a viscosity that can only come from treatment with heat.

Indeed, I do not know whether the flavor or the texture is more objectionable, but they both had to go. My friends and I started by juicing organic heirloom tomatoes, and then straining the juices through a fine-mesh strainer. We separated them by color, so at the end of the process we had three different varieties of tomato juice, in order from sweetest to tartest:

  • a deep purple, made from cherokee purple tomatoes
  • a ruby red, made from brandywine tomatoes
  • an orange-yellow, made from yellow valencia tomatoes, I think

In addition to tomato juice, we also produced (and finely-strained) juices from cucumbers, lemons, and jalapeños. The straining was very important, because one of my objectives for this workshop was to produce a drink with a velvety, elegant texture, and in so doing elevate the Bloody Mary above it’s decidedly blue collar milieu.

And speaking of elevation, the vodka simply had to go. In truth I ended up using some vodka, but I also sought the richer flavors of gin, tequila, caol ila scotch whiskey, mezcal, and amaro (not pictured). With all of our reagents prepped, we set forth to impart a touch of class to the bloody mary.

#1: Bloody Mary Queen of Scot

1 oz finely strained yellow valencia tomato juice
1 oz vodka
.5 oz Caol Ila 12 year scotch whiskey
.5 oz lemon juice
.5 oz cucumber juice
1 dash jalapeño juice
1 dash Angostura bitters
pinch of salt

Shake over ice and double strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a thai chili and a fresh grind of black pepper.

The sourness from the yellow tomatoes made this a very bright, tangy short punch with just enough spice from the jalapeño and smokey bacony notes from the Caol Ila. Tomato juice is very rich, even strained like this, and the imbiber quickly fatigues of it, so we did not have time to iterate each of these recipes to perfection. If I attempt this recipe again, I will use slightly less lemon, and change the proportion to .75 oz of vodka and .75 oz of Caol Ila. I might also consider Laphroaig.

This was nothing like a traditional Bloody Mary, and that was a good thing. All of the flavors were evident in the experience of the drink, with bright flavors evident on the sip and savory scotch and tomato on the swallow, and a pleasing capsaicin burn on the finish. I tried to garnish it with a cucumber slice, but it sank to the bottom, ignominiously.

#2: Bloody Maria

1 oz finely strained brandywine tomato juice
1 oz platinum tequila
.5 oz mezcal
.75 oz cucumber juice
dash of jalapeño juice
dash of angostura bitters
pinch of salt
Shake over ice and double strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a thai chili and a fresh grind of black pepper.

Of the four, this was by far the least delicious variation. It was missing something, and no one could really say what. We tried modifying it with a barspoon of simple syrup — to no avail, and with a barspoon of lemon juice, and the end result was even worse. Still, it was a learning experience, and there were several takeaways: Mezcal and tomato juice is a delicious combination. The pepper and the cucumber and the tomato gave this a real flavor of a garden salad, much more than with the previous drink, where the less familiar flavor of yellow valencia tomatoes was less evocative of other dishes.

I realized later that this would have been great in a highball, over ice cubes or even cracked ice. If nothing else, it had a very appealing color, and probably resembled a traditional bloody mary more than any of the other variations. I’m still learning to consider the dynamics of pouring a drink over ice vs. serving it neat. Being colder and more dilute would have made the flavor lighter and the drink more refreshing, which would have made it more appropriate for summer. I also think it would have highlighted the cucumber element.

#3: Pale Mary (like “Hail Mary”)

2 oz yellow valencia tomato water*
1.5 oz vodka
.25 oz platinum tequila
.25 oz cucumber juice
1 barspoon lemon juice
pinch of salt

Stir over cracked ice and strain. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Of all the drinks in the workshop, this one was our most anticipated. After straining the orange tomato juice through a fine mesh strainer, we poured five ounces or so through a chemex filter, and it slowly dripped down into a glass, yielding a fragrant, orange-tinted water. Despite its clarity, the tomato water had a noteworthy viscosity, though its flavor was as light as its color. Not wanting to overwhelm it with powerful flavors, I initially stuck with the basics of vodka and lemon. That was a little too plain for me, so I added the vegetal hues of tequila and cucumber to round out the flavor.

Stirring  the Pale Mary provided us with an elegant texture, but alas, drinking so much tomato, no matter how processed, proved to be very taxing. If this had been my first drink, I would have enjoyed it much more. I’m not sure if the end result was worth the time it took, but this was the most interesting drink, and it is assuredly worthy of your breakfast.

My only wish for improvement: a basil leaf garnish, smacked.

*Note: to make tomato water, first prepare a chemex filter as you would for coffee, by saturating it with boiling water. Pour the juice into the filter and allow it to fall through. I got about 1.5 oz per hour.

#4: Mary, Truffle Hunter

1.5 oz finely strained purple cherokee tomato juice
1 oz + 1 dash amaro al tartufo
pinch of salt

Shake over ice, garnish with a razor thin slice of truffle. (I did not do this part)

After three very savory drinks, I had two goals: something digestive, to calm the stomach and something sweet, to serve as dessert. The purple cherokee tomatoes produced the sweetest juice of the different cultivars we tried. I did not want to completely depart from the theme, however, and I still needed to complement the bold umami flavors of heirloom tomato.

Fortunately, my friend Gualtiero brought me a bottle of this truffle-flavored amaro the last time he was in Italy. Amaro al Tartufo is sweet and only slightly bitter. Fruity on the sip, it lingers after the swallow with an earthy truffle vapor . I was very pleased that the truffle came through in this mix, and the change of pace from the previous drinks made it the unexpected favorite.

I will probably not make a Bloody Mary again for a while, but when I do, I will explore bacon fat-infused bourbon and one or two savory bitters. Special thanks to my friends James and Julian for helping with the prep work and for putting up with these ridiculous drinks, and also to Julian for naming #3 and #4.