Measure & Stir

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


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The Italian 50

I have a long-standing aversion to champagne cocktails, mostly on the basis that I think it looks unmanly to hold one at a bar. The only glass more feminine than a champagne flute is a hurricane, but both are OK in the proper context. If you are sitting on the beach at a resort, a hurricane glass full of coconut cream and rum, or even a bit of blue curaçao is probably ok, but if you order something like that in a bar on a Saturday night, I will probably make fun of you.

Anyway, In Northern Italy, the most popular aperitif is a drink called Spritz, and when my friend Gualtiero came by with a bottle of Prosecco, I knew it was time to make a drink in that vein. The classic Spritz recipe is delicious, but it’s a little too light for my tastes, and it goes a little something like this:

Spritz
1 oz Campari, Aperol, or Cynar
1 oz Prosecco
1 oz Sparkling Mineral Water

Combine in a glass and garnish with an orange wheel.

It goes without saying that your prosecco, mineral water, and ideally, your bitter liqueur will all be chilled before-hand. I like this recipe, but I’m usually in the mood for something a little stronger, so I crossed a Spritz with a French 75, and came up with The Italian 50:

The Italian 50
1 oz Dry Gin (Beefeater)
.5 oz Campari
3 oz Prosecco

Briefly stir gin and Campari together, and strain into a champagne flute. Top with 3 oz Prosecco and garnish with an orange wedge.

This was shockingly delicious, but I think it would have been just as good, and more appropriate to its name, if it had been made with Grappa instead of Gin. Alas, I do not have any Grappa, and I did not want to use Pisco, even though it’s a close approximation than gin. So the 50 in this comes from the fact that it is a 2/3 Italian 75, which multiplies out to be the Italian 50. Next time I’ll get some Grappa, and we’ll get all the way to 75.

The French 75 is essentially a Tom Collins with Champagne instead of sparkling water, meaning it makes use of lemon juice for its bracing quality. In the Italian 50, I am using Campari for this purpose instead, changing the drink from a sour drink to an aromatic one. In any case, the biggest win here is inherited from the spritz, which highlights the orange notes in Campari with a wedge of fresh orange. The aroma of orange when drinking this drink creates a decadent synergy with the Campari.

You could use Cynar instead of Campari, and if you do that, then I suggest a wedge of lemon, which is much more suited to Cynar than orange.


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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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How to Make Chocolate Liqueur

In Seattle we have a local chocolatier called Theo, and their chocolate is always popping up in local ice creams, coffee shops, and on the dessert menus of various Seattle restaurants. I wanted to get in on this Theo Chocolate band wagon, so I infused roughly five ounces of nibs in 750 ml of a 150 proof neutral grain spirit. When the goal is to create a pure extraction of a flavoring agent, you always want to use the highest proof spirit that you can. I would have used 190 proof, but it is illegal to sell in Washington, and I didn’t feel like driving to Idaho or Oregon. (Can you buy 190 proof spirit in Oregon?) Here is a picture of the nibs, getting good and sauced in a mason jar, day one:

I allowed this mixture to infuse for two weeks, agitating daily. After two weeks, it had taken on a rich chocolate brown color, and a strong, but incomplete flavor of the cacao. The secret to making an excellent liqueur in this style is to realize that only some of the flavor compounds in the chocolate are alcohol-soluble, whereas others are water-soluble. To create the fullest, roundest, most accurate chocolate flavor, you have to have both a water and an alcohol extraction. Moreover, a liqueur is supposed to be sweet, so it is necessary to add sugar.

I took another four ounces of Theo chocolate nibs and simmered them in a pot with water and sugar in a ratio of 1:1 for half an hour, until I had a dark, sweet chocolate syrup. The syrup did thicken from the sugar, but it retained the viscosity of simple syrup, because there was no melted chocolate. I knew I wanted a final spirit with a proof of 100 (50% abv), so I added 375 ml of the syrup to 750 ml of the infused spirit. This is a fun little algebra problem, which is trivial to solve using the numbers in this case, but if I had wanted a different target proof, the problem becomes slightly more fun. I leave it as an exercise for the reader, because math is almost as fun as drinking, and I would not want to deprive you.

Prior to this I had never mixed anything with chocolate liqueur, so to test the waters I made this chocolate aperitif, with the help of my friend James:

Chocolate Aperitif

.5 oz Sweet Vermouth (Cocchi Vermouth di Torino)
.5 oz Chocolate Liqueur (Homemade, Theo chocolate)

Stir over ice and strain. Express the oils of a lemon peel over the top and then drop it in. Drink in front of some leather-bound books.

Under-appreciated drinking fact: leather-bound books add 50% to the classiness of any drink. The slight bitterness from the sweet vermouth softens the sugar and the alcohol in the chocolate, while lemon oil adds a complexity and a bright tone that would otherwise be lacking. Even so, this drink is on the sweet side, which is why I kept it small.

Moving on, one of my all time favorite cocktails is called the Rodriguez, which I was fortunate enough to order at the Teardrop Lounge when I visited Portland last March. The Rodriguez uses blanco tequila cut with mezcal and Benedictine to great effect, and it tastes like a walk in the desert, when the sun is just barely starting to rise, and the air is still cool. Truly, it is perfect, and yet, humans cannot resist the urge to meddle with perfection, so I created a variation by swapping out the Benedictine for my chocolate liqueur, and using strawberry-infused blanco tequila. The result was probably more appropriate for Valentine’s day, which is long-past, but the mezcal helped it retain its Mexican flavor. The result was strikingly similar to the original, while still capturing the flavors of chocolate and strawberry.

Rafaela

1.5 oz Strawberry-Infused Blanco Tequila (Camarena)
.25 oz Mezcal (Del Maguey Mezcal de Vida)
.75 oz Chocolate Liqueur (Homemade, Theo Chocolate)
.5 oz Dry Vermouth (Dolin)
Dash of Chocolate Bitters (Fee’s)
Stir over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a strawberry.

The character of this drink was feminized by the addition of fruit and chocolate, so we decided to call it Rafaela, after a beautiful girl that James used to know when he lived in Mexico.