Measure & Stir

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


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little white lie: ya pear, cocchi americano, benedictine

A trip to the Chinese market yielded up all kinds of treasures, not least among them a pair of Ya Pears, a pear cultivar grown in Northern China. Its peel is almost white, and it has a light, floral flavor on top of the more usual pear notes.

We juiced one towards the end of our most recent mixing session, and I did not have a strong idea of what to do with it. I remembered that pear goes well with white wine, so I haphazardly mixed up equal parts of the ya pear juice with cocchi americano. It was a surprisingly good ratio; the light flavor of the pear had room to breathe.

little white lie

Little White Lie
1.5 oz Finely Strained Ya Pear Juice
1.5 oz Cocchi Americano
.5 oz Benedictine
Shake over ice and double-strain into an old fashioned glass.
Cut a pear to fit perfectly in the old fashioned glass, and chill it in the freezer. Drop it into the glass.

The floral aroma from the Ya pear was surprisingly potent, giving the drink a much more fragrant nose than I had anticipated. It served to highlight the distinctiveness of this particular cultivar of a pear; an unexpected slam dunk.

In the recipe above, I wrote .5 oz of Benedictine, though when I made this drink at game-time we used .25 oz. I really liked the hint of cinnamon and brandy from the Benedictine, both of which go well with the pear, but they were too subtle, so I increased the amount for the final version.

Cheers!


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Zabaione, Mostly

As we approach Christmas, it is at long last time to start drinking raw egg yolks. I have never been a huge fan of the flip style of drink, but my good friend Gualtiero convinced me to try making Zabaione, as it was one of his favorite childhood treats. Traditionally, Zabaione is a dessert made with egg yolks, sugar, and Marsala wine. I failed to acquire Marsala wine, so we ended up improvising with some of my favorite liqueurs, and that old Measure and Stir stand-by, vanilla-infused bourbon.

Vanilla infuses in bourbon the way bourbon infuses into my soul.

Zabaione2

Gualtiero belongs to the Italian Mother school of cooking, so he never uses any ratios or measurements, he merely cooks by feel and intuition. I often do this for my food, but when it comes to drinks, I try to follow a more exacting standard. In this case, we went with a more free-wheeling approach.

Zabaione Base
3 Medium Egg Yolks
Sugar to Taste
Combine egg yolks and sugar using an egg beater until thoroughly integrated.

Once you have your egg base, you can mix it with many different spirits. I had intended to try sweet vermouth, but alas, I got carried away. I did manage to play with the ratios a bit, and I found that I liked it best when the egg was in the foreground, letting the spirit round it out and add complexity.

Zabaione1
Strega with saffron garnish, Benedictine with fresh-grated cinnamon garnish, vanilla-infused bourbon with cocoa powder.

Zabaione “Template”
2 oz Zabaione Base
1 oz Brown Spirit or Spicy Liqueur
Stir until thoroughly integrated and serve at room temperature and garnish with cocoa powder.

It’s not really that much of a template, but it worked for me. The liqueurs were both very sweet on top of the sugar that was already in the egg, so you won’t want to drink very much of this. The egg mixture itself is so thick that it pours like cake batter, but the spirit thins it out enough to drink. Owing to its tremendous viscosity, you would not want to serve this drink cold, as it would scarcely move in the glass.

I really wanted the Strega to be the best, because I find it aesthetically pleasing when the various components of the drink come from the same origin. In this case, the Strega was the one that I would least like to make again, though curiously, it tasted the most like egg nog.

Benedictine already has notes of cinnamon in it, which the garnish helped to accentuate. It was an excellent flavoring agent, but I might have used a little less sugar in the eggs if I wanted to make this combination come out perfectly.

Vanilla-infused bourbon was the clear winner, and the cocoa powder was the best garnish. If you decide to make one of these three, I strongly encourage you to make the one with bourbon.

In the future we’ll try it with Marsala wine, brandy, and some kind of Manhattan, probably.
Salute!


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Vessel In Seattle

Back before I got into this whole craft cocktail scene, there was a bar in Seattle called Vessel, and they were famous for pioneering a lot of molecular mixology techniques, and for the general quality of their drinks and their atmosphere. Sadly, they closed in 2010, and I never got to visit them. They’re back, sort of, and at a new, bigger downtown location. When I heard that they were re-opening, I visited them that same week, but I didn’t get around to posting about it until today. That’s probably my loss, because I missed the buzz, but I think it’s still soon enough to care.

Their big gimmick this time is a rotating bar staff. It seems like the deal is, each bartender who appears there brings his or her own menu to the establishment. On my visit, the bartenders were Michael Bertrand of Mistral Kitchen and Kevin Langmack of Knee High Stocking Co. Their menus were thus:

To be honest, I was expecting a bit more. No offense to these seasoned veterans, but these drinks are all so safe. I want recipes that push the envelope! I want drinks on the cutting edge of mixology, with flavor combinations and techniques that I’ve never seen before. Instead you hit me with a vesper, a gin and tonic, and a sidecar with expensive brandy. This is the kind of menu I expect in an old money hotel, not a bar that was renowned in its heyday for molecular mixology. There’s nothing wrong with any of these recipes, but neither is there anything exciting.

Of course, if you go, the menu will probably be totally different. As such, I give them two out of ten for creativity, but nine out of ten for execution. All of the drinks we ordered were beautifully presented, and executed with technical excellence. John ordered a Preakness, which is not on their menu, but it is a common Manhattan variation containing Benedictine:

Very nice glassware. I ordered a Violette Fizz:

Truly a beautiful fizz, but alas, in a very impractical glass. As I drank it, a portion of the head persisted and ultimately clogged the flow of the drink through the glass when it reached the narrowest part of the glass, forcing me to tilt it to a precarious angle. This is a minor quibble however, as the glass was very elegant. Still, if the radius were constant across the length of the glass, I would have been better served.

James ordered the Batcat, a mix of rye, sweet vermouth, fernet branca, and elderflower liqueur:

I apologize for the terrible photo, but as you can sort of see, the drink came with a sphere of beautifully clear ice, cut to fit exactly within the glass, and the sphere was circumscribed by a spiral of orange peel for which a whole orange gave its life. James and I both tasted the drink and found the flavor to be very light. It was over-diluted, but it was probably not the bartender’s fault, it was probably the fault of the waitstaff.

The service was agonizingly slow, but I was willing to give them some leeway in their opening week. It takes a while to get all the bugs out of your service pipeline, I am sure. Did we sit at the table for fifteen minutes before anyone even took our order? Yes. Did it take them another twenty five to bring us our drinks? Also yes. But like I said, leeway.

Since I’m already slinging hate, I might as well take this opportunity to mention the acoustics, which are a crime against the fine art of architecting interior spaces. Maybe it’s the high ceilings, but every word of every patron echoes in this bar, and makes it very loud even when it is not particularly crowded. I wouldn’t take anyone here if I wanted to have a conversation with them. On the plus side, the hand soap in the bathroom contains rum.

The food was mediocre. We ordered foie gras popcorn, and it was a staunch reminder as to why no one sautes liver and then tosses it with popcorn. The high fat content of the liver killed all the crispness of the popcorn, while imparting only the scarcest flavor of foie gras. The hummus platter, though beautifully plated, was nothing I couldn’t get from Trader Joe’s. The carpaccio was adequate, however. Delicious and reasonably portioned for the price.

Over all, if you’re downtown, stick to the Mistral Kitchen or the Zig Zag Cafe. If you’re not tied to a particular locale within Seattle, may I recommend the Canon. It is clearly at the top of the craft bartending game in Seattle right now.


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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.


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Black Forest

Thursday already! Where does the week go? My friend Julian recently acquired an espresso machine, so I did some research to find interesting drinks that incorporate coffee. This one comes from Imbibe Magazine, and it stood out to me for several reasons. First, I liked that it treated coffee as the base “spirit”, similar to the way I did in the Bialetti Aspro.

I went over to Julian’s on Saturday morning for coffee, and he was kind enough to pull a shot for this drink. He is a serious coffee geek, and he has a serious rig, so the coffee in this drink, which was made with Stumptown Roaster’s Hairbender blend, was top notch. Your drink is only as good as the worst thing you put in it, so go the extra mile to ensure that every ingredient is the highest quality possible.

In Italian, fortifying a shot of expresso with a shot of liquor is called a Caffè Corretto, or “corrected coffee”, which is correct in the sense of being proper. I love the idea that it is proper to drink coffee that has been spiked with liquor, though I am also enamored with all of the many non-boozy incarnations of espresso, and I have been delighted to explore them.

Black Forest

2 oz. espresso
.25 oz. Bénédictine
.25 oz. Maraschino (Luxardo)

Shake over ice and strain into a fluted glass.

The espresso in this drink was so oily, rich, and viscous, and shaking it gave it a beautiful foamy top. .5 oz of liqueur gave it the appropriate amount of sweetness, but it didn’t have quite the level of booze that I would have preferred. Half an ounce of brandy would probably have taken it from a B to an A, but it might also be the case that the espresso overpowered the other elements, and if I had used french press I think it would have been perfect.

All things being equal, I think I would rather have the brandy, and stick to espresso.


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arts district

Thank you, Chuck Taggart, for giving me so many excellent ideas! I am a sucker for Cynar, and a huge fan of rye and Benedictine, so this recipe drew me like a moth to a flame. It’s not the most daring or unusual drink, but if you like them brown, bitter, and stirred, then this is a drink for you.

Arts District

2 oz rye (RI1)
1/2 oz Cynar
1/4 oz Benedictine
grapefruit peel (expressed)

To express the oil in a piece of citrus peel, simply squeeze it over the surface of the drink. A mist of citrus oil will spray out and float on top, providing a crisp, aromatic experience for both the imbiber and the bartender. I’m not sure if I’ve ever had a drink with grapefruit oil before, and I found it to be a rewarding experience. The bitterness from the grapefruit made an intriguing contrast with the bitterness from the Cynar, because one is vegetal and the other is fruity.

The Arts District was a welcome study in bitter flavors, although the the rye whiskey was overshadowed by the strong herbal qualities of the liqueurs. That might have been my fault for using RI1, which is delicate for a rye. Even with that minor complaint, the drink is well put-together, with an excellent balance between the Cynar and the Benedictine, and a pleasing sweetness that spans the flavor ‘spectrum’.