Measure & Stir

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Pimm’s Cup

It’s all been a little high-concept around here lately, so I decided to rein it in a bit, and share one of my favorite summer drinks with all of you. The Pimm’s cup is an English classic, made with Pimm’s No. 1, cucumber, and some kind of fizzy drink. It’s more of a feeling than a specific recipe. Here’s how I like to make mine.

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Instead of buying Pimm’s No. 1, I like to make my own. It’s very simple to make, and I suggest this recipe from Serious Eats. It’s just gin, sweet vermouth, and a little bit of extra orange flavor. Since it’s a wine product, it’s perishable, which is why I prefer to make it in small batches as I intend to use it.

Lemon lime soda or ginger ale are common, but I like to use plain old soda water, and juice it up with a little bit of grated ginger and simple syrup. For me, it’s all about the ritual, so I like to take my time and create an elegant plating, by layering strawberry, orange, and cucumber inside the glass.

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Pimm’s Cup à la Measure and Stir
3 oz Pimm’s No 1. (DIY)
1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
Dash of simple syrup
Cucumber, strawberry, and navel orange to fill the glass
Soda water
Layer the produce inside a highball glass with ice. Shake the Pimms, grated ginger, and simple syrup over ice, and then strain it into the glass. Top with soda water. Optionally top it with a grind of black pepper.

A “cup” is generally a wine-based drink, and sure enough, this is that. I like to drink them in summer, and with this kind of dramatic presentation, they are great for entertaining.

Cheers.


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Valentine’s Trio

A little more housekeeping here, just a roundup of my Valentine’s day menu from earlier this year. Each drink was paired with a small bite. I had attempted a Valentine’s menu in 2015, but the concepts never quite made it onto the blog. At that time, I had created early versions of the Love Letter and No More Cremes, but neither drink was fully developed until quite recently.

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Love Letter

Raspberry coulis à la Jacques Pépin, calvados, malic acid, rose air, raspberry powder, candied berries.

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Heavy-Handed Symbolism

Homemade chocolate liqueur, blood orange juice, citric acid, egg white, chocolate macaron with orange buttercream and candied orange.

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No More Crèmes in Brûlée

Buttermilk crème anglaise, demerara rum, whole milk, angostura bitters, tonka bean, caramel disk, doenjang caramel sauce, toasted brioche.

This was a really great opportunity for me to focus on technique, as putting it together required me to make classic French sauces, fabricate a liqueur, prepare candied fruits, german buttercream, two different caramels, and a scented cocktail air.

It was also another exciting opportunity to practice the art of writing a cocktail menu.

Cheers.


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Spring Quartet: Voyagé to the Far Easter: Easter Dinner with Cocktail Pairings

This is just a bit of housekeeping, because when I do a series of posts with a common theme, I like to have a single landing page for them. Herein, I will sum up my collaboration with Johan at Moedernkitchen on a four course Easter dinner with cocktail pairings.

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Shochu Think You Can Dance? / Shiso Ready!
An amuse-bouche of shiso sorbet, paired with a fizzy aperitif of shochu, ginger, daikon, and horseradish.

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Easy Peasy Matcha Crusta and the Slaughter
Lamb “katsu”, smashed peas, rowanberry jam, paired with a drink of gin, sugarsnap peapods, green tea, and mint.

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Easter Bunny and Do You Even Carrot All?
Rabbit leg confit, parsnip puree, caramelized shallots, “melted” carrot, paired with a drink of light rum, mango, carrot, and habanero.

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The Perfect Blossom
Cherry blossom opera cake, cherry blossom tofu mousse, and cotton candy, paired with a drink of white tea, junmai daiginjo sake, and preserved cherry blossom.

If it was not immediately obvious, our goal for each course was to appear in a different color commonly associated with the easter season. If our pastels were a little too vibrant, well, who really wants to eat pastel-colored food? Gross.

Most people don’t want to drink four cocktails in a row, even if they are paired with food, so I kept the alcohol content a little lower than average, (~1 oz per drink) and my strategy was to use abrasive agents such as ginger, horseradish, mint, habanero, and tannins from tea in order to offset the rich food. Mixed drinks often deal in strong flavors, and it is easy to overpower a food accompaniment.

For the best degustation, keep your drinks light and your food bold.

Cheers.


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Shochu Think You Can Dance? / Shiso Ready!

For Easter dinner, I collaborated once again with my friend Johan, and this time we produced a four course meal, each with a cocktail pairing. A degustation, if you will, which we called “Spring Quartet: Voyagé to the Far Easter”.

The idea for this meal was to combine French and Japanese influences, and to paint each course in one of the pastel colors that are generally associated with Easter: Blue, Green, Yellow, and Pink. We had to wing it a bit on the yellow, as you will see, but for today, we are starting with blue.

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The first course was an amuse bouche of shiso sorbet and shochu soda. There is nothing in nature that is both blue and edible, except certain pigments which turn purple in the color in the presence of acid, such as that found in blueberry skins and pea flowers. Ergo, we had to cheat, by stirring in a little bit of blue gel dye.

There are many purists in this day and age who will vocally eschew the use of food coloring, only to pour up a negroni and delight in its brilliant red color, which certainly was not rendered from the crushed up corpses of cochineals. In these days of modernist cuisine, a man can be forgiven his use of industrial chemicals.

Beyond that, I wanted to incorporate the flavor of radish, which is crisp, bracing, and appropriate to the spring season. Unfortunately, radish juice is utterly flavorless, scarcely even maintaining its subtle isothiocyanatic burn. In search of radishy flavor, we tried juicing daikon, only to find that, upon oxidization, developed a rancid smell. Finally, we fell upon horseradish, and boosted it with ginger.

I am far from an expert on shochu, but I will note that, while it bears a superficial resemblance to vodka, it manages to have far more flavor, and as is typical of Japanese cuisine, it is nuanced and understated. I visited my local Japanese market, and picked up a bottle of Ginza no Suzume, distilled by Yatsushika Sake Brewery.

shochuthinkyoucandanceShochu Think You Can Dance?

1 oz High Quality Shochu
.25 oz strained fresh horseradish juice
.25 oz strained fresh ginger juice
The teensiest drop of blue gel dye
Dash of simple syrup
Stir over ice, strain, and top with 1.5 oz chilled soda water
Garnish with cubes of daikon

It turns out, the way to get daikon into the drink was to float the cubes on top. Daikon is boyant, and crunching into one or two of the cubes on the sip releases a bit of extra radish flavor. I soaked the daikon in water prior to service, to help mellow out their otherwise too-pungent flavor. I learned this technique at Gen Yamamoto in Tokyo, and indeed, the entire drink is an homage to his bar and style.

Sip this slowly, and notice how all of the flavors are manifest, yet light and airy upon the psyche.

We served this with a shiso lime sorbet, made by pulverizing ice, fresh shiso, lime juice, sugar, and corn syrup in a food processor. I was inspired by a similar sorbet that I had at a fine Japanese restaurant, in the course of a kaiseki dinner.

Cheers.


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Income Tax Cocktail

This is just a quick cut that I think is timely for the month of April. The Income Tax cocktail has a vague history that you can trivially find by searching for it on google. It’s a Bronx with bitters, which is to say, it’s a Perfect Martini with orange juice. I usually like to mix one up for myself on tax day, and that’s exactly what I did, plus or minus.

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The little hit of juice in this drink makes it much more refreshing than if it were pure spirits. You will find that the dry vermouth blends into the sweet vermouth, and then the sweet vermouth blends harmoniously into the orange, while the gin and bitters supply a solid bass note.

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Income Tax Cocktail
1 oz Gin
.5 oz Sweet Vermouth
.5 oz Dry Vermouth
.5 oz Orange Juice
Dash of Angostura Bitters
Shake over ice and double-strain into a coupe. Do your damn taxes.

Ultimately the exact ratios are up to you, but I like mine to be classically jiggered, and I like the orange juice in equal measure to the other supporting cast members.

Cheers.


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The Shameless Clickbait: Thin Mint Girlscout Cookies, Vodka, Espresso, Milk

Alright guys, it’s time to get real. It’s girlscout cookie season, and I enjoyed the opportunity to make this cocktail using a “seasonal” ingredient. It’s like Card-Table-Outside-The-Grocery-Store-To-Table. I know you’re all looking to make thin-mint infused vodka, and pin it to all your friends, so I have made a drink just for you.

Behold! I integrated 2 oz of vodka and two girlscout cookies using an immersion blender, and then pushed them through a fine-mesh strainer. The finer, the better. If you have an 80 micron strainer, that would be ideal. Push the thin mint vodka through the strainer, and then pull a shot of espresso using your fancy espresso machine (you could also use a moka pot, or even a little bit of strong black coffee), add sugar according to your taste, and shake it up like a cafe shakerato.

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The Shameless Clickbait
1.5 oz Thin Mint Vodka
1 Shot of Espresso or 1.5 oz Strong Coffee
.5 oz Whole Milk
Simple Syrup to your taste

Shake over ice and strain into a glass rimmed with chocolate shavings. Smacked mint leaf more for the photo.

To be honest this didn’t quite have the clarity of flavor I was looking for. Coffee muddied the thin mint a bit, and a dash of creme de menthe would probably have brought it back. Still, if you’re trying to drink thin mints as a cocktail, you could do a lot worse.

Cheers


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Acid Trip Roundup

Perhaps you can relate to this: I had hit a wall in my cocktail creation strategy, because I wanted to combine the flavors of liqueurs and spirits without ending up with a sugary mess. The specific drink that started my mental wheels turning is the Alaska Cocktail, which can be found in various proportions around the internet, but it’s somewhere in the vicinity of:

Alaska Cocktail
1.5 oz Gin
.5 oz Yellow Chartreuse
Dash of Orange Bitters
Stir and Garnish with a lemon peel.

The problem with this drink, which I hope is immediately obvious to everyone, is that it is very sweet, and has a syrupy mouthfeel. How do we know this, without mixing it? Simple, look at what is missing. There is no fortified wine, there is no citrus juice, and there is no soda water. It seems obvious in retrospect, but I asked myself, what do all of those things have in common?

They are all sources of acid; citric, malic, and carbonic, respectively. I had mixed an Alaska earlier that day, and although I can recognize it as a kind of fancy old-fashioned cocktail with gin as the base and yellow chartreuse as the modifier, it was not satisfying to me. I wanted more chartreuse flavor without more sugar.

I could add a vermouth bianco to try to balance it while minimally impacting flavor, but that’s still a different, albeit a better sounding drink. The question became, how can I make vermouth more sour, so that I can play it off of a larger quantity of liqueur? The answer was to bolster the natural acidity of vermouth.

As luck would have it, winemakers already use powdered tartaric and malic acids to fine-tune the acidity of theirs wines, and such acids are easy to procure. Wines, even fortified wines, are balanced to be consumed on their own, but as a mixological reagent, we often want things to cleave to extremes. We add more sugar and alcohol, but we never think to add more acid.

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I am not the first cocktail enthusiast to have this idea. Since I had this realization, I have found that most books on molecular mixology will have at least one drink that uses a powdered acid to find balance, but they never place enough emphasis on the power of this technique. Using powdered acids to precisely calibrate the “dryness/sweetness” of a drink is THE key to liberation from traditional mixology.

And don’t get me wrong: I love traditional mixology, but I think by now we have fully explored the space of pouring old liqueurs into brown spirits and fortified wines. It’s not that every possible combination has been explored, but certainly, there are no surprises. If we want truly new and creative cocktail ideas, we must be able to break away from the monopoly that the classic punch formula has on the world of craft cocktails. Between the Manhattan and the Whiskey Sour, you have the structure of virtually all prohibition era drinks*.

(*Yes, I know about possets and flips and milk punches and hot toddies and old-fashioned cocktails etc. etc. etc.)

So I bought some acid powders: citric, tartaric, and malic.

AND UNTO THIS, THE ACID TRIP SERIES WAS BORN.

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Peanut Butter Jelly Time

Wheated Bourbon, Peanut Orgeat, Kyoho (or Concord) Grape Juice, Cinnamon

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Kyoho Grape and Lavender

Brandy, Muddled Kyoho (or Concord) Grape, Lavender Bitters

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Caramel Apple and Fennel

Fresh-pressed apple juice, Demerara Rum, Caramel Sauce, Absinthe

Acidity is life.

Cheers.


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Valentine’s Cocktail Trio: No More Crèmes in Brûlée – Buttermilk Crème Anglaise, Demerara Rum, Milk, Tonka Bean

Wrapping up my Valentine’s Cocktail Trio, I have a drink inspired by the classic French dessert, crème brûlée. They don’t want you to have craft cocktails, and that’s why it’s important to make them.

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For this drink I made a crème anglaise, and once again, I used my sous vide. This time, I adapted this Chefsteps recipe by cooking the mixture for 20 minutes at 82C, and then blending it until smooth.

Originally I had used whole milk, as the recipe dictates, but the drink lacked a certain depth that can only come from proper acidity. In pursuit of acidity, I substituted whole milk for buttermilk, and this allowed me to develop a crème anglaise with a pleasant lactic tartness.

This ingredient was nearly complete on its own, and required little adornment to become a fully realized drink. At first I tried shaking it with only demerara rum, but the drink was too thick; it was so thick, in fact, that shaking did nothing to aerate it. I wanted an airier texture and a lighter mouthfeel, so I ended up adding some 1% milk to lengthen it. It worked like a charm, allowing the shaken drink to hold some air bubbles and accumulate a pleasant froth.

It’s important to use 1% here, because the drink is already quite rich with milkfat. The goal is to lighten the texture, so whole milk is not appropriate.

I chose to use demerara rum as the base spirit for this drink because I wanted its caramel notes, which are right at home in a crème brûlée.

To cement the theme and round out the caramel element, I garnished with a caramel disk. The imbiber cracks open the caramel disk with a small spoon (not pictured), much as one would a real crème brûlée. Many thanks to Johan for this idea.

As with the Poison Yu, I grated a little bit of tonka bean on this drink, though I put it underneath the caramel disk, so that its aroma would only be released upon cracking the caramel.

For the nibble, I served a round of toasted brioche drizzled with doenjang caramel sauce. Doenjang is a Korean fermented bean paste similar to miso, and it gives the caramel a savory umami note. I was inspired by my recent trip to a Shakeshack, where they were serving miso caramel milkshakes. I also topped the brioche with a bit of smoked salt.

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No More Crèmes in Brûlée
1 oz Demerara Rum (El Dorado 12)
1.25 oz 1% Milk
2 Tablespoons of Buttercream Crème Anglaise
Dash of Angostura Bitters
Shake and double strain, then top with grated tonka bean and a caramel disk. Serve with a small spoon.

Caramel Disk
Arrange granulated sugar on a silpat and then slowly caramelize it into a disk with a propane blowtorch. This takes a little while, so do it ahead of time and store them wrapped in parchment paper in the fridge.

Although this presentation was not as visually stunning as the other drinks in my series, for me, it was the most enjoyable to drink. You may have noticed that I used less alcohol in this one. When I jiggered it with a standard amount, it was slightly too boozy. I prefer to keep all of my drinks in a standard measure, but sometimes you have to break the rules.

The formula is really just an adaptaiton of an old classic, Rum Milk Punch. They drink about the same way.

I hope you had a happy Valentine’s day, or failling that, that you were able to drink away your sorrows.

Cheers.


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Valentine’s Cocktail Trio: Love Letter – Raspberry, Calvados, Malic Acid, Rose Air

For Valentine’s day, I invited some of my close friends over for an intimate cocktail party with an emphasis on technique. The first drink in my series was made with raspberry coulis ala Jacques Pepin, and topped with a rosewater sucro foam.

This project was a collaboration with my good friend Johan, whose interest in modernist cuisine was instrumental in creating these concepts. He was the one who suggested a raspberry powder, and as you can see, it is vibrant upon the plate.

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I have been chasing “soap sud” style foams for a while, and I finally found the right compound to make it. As critical as I was of José Andrés Bazaar Meats, they did clue me in to the appropriate recipe for a stable soap sud foam. To the best of my knowledge, Ferran Adria is the man who first had the idea to use sucrose esters to create this style of drink. In the past I had tried using soy lecithin, but the final product was too unstable to sit upon a plate, and would begin to approach soy milk.

For the raspberry coulis, I was inspired by this recipe for raspberry velvet from Jacques Pepin, who is a culinary hero of mine. The method is simple, and the resulting product is both sweet and tart. Upon mixing it into a drink, the flavor became dull, so I added additional malic acid and sugar to bring it back to life.

Initially I used brandy for the base spirit, but the flavor was too harsh. As I was tuning the drink, I was reminded of the common juice pairing of apple and cranberry, so I reached for my trusty bottle of calvados. Its soft and mellow flavor was the perfect base note for the tart purée.

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To garnish, pulverize freeze-dried raspberries and sift them through a fine mesh strainer. I put down a cocktail glass and tapped the strainer to create an empty circle on the serving tray.

To make the candied fruit, brush raspberries, blueberries, and rose petals with egg white, and then roll them in sanding sugar. It is important to use sanding sugar here, as granulated or powdered sugar will dissolve. Allow them to dry, uncovered, for at least six hours. They will keep for about two days.

In the picture, you can see that I used a mint leaf, but in practice this turned out to be a little tooth-pastey. A red rose petal, on the other hand, is subtle and tasteful.

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Love Letter
1.5 oz Raspberry Coulis ala Jacques Pepin
1.25 oz Calvados
1/4 tsp Malic Acid
1 Barspoon of Simple Syrup
1 Dash of Angostua Bitters
Shake and strain through a fine-mesh strainer
Top with Rosewater Air
Garnish With Candied Berries and Raspberry Powder

Rose Air
1/2 cup of water
1/2 oz simple syrup
1 teaspoon rosewater
1 teaspoon sucrose ester
Blend using a stick blender with a whisk attachment, or an egg beater.

Raspberry Powder
Pulverise freeze-dried raspberries in a mortar and pestle.
Sift them through a fine-mesh strainer

Candied Berries
Brush berries with egg whites and roll them in sanding sugar.

To be honest, I always feel like drinks with airs, foams, spheres, and other molecular trickery end up a little bit gimmicky. The gimmick takes away from the purity of the form, and unfortunately, this was no different. On the one hand, it is undeniable that the rose aroma contributed to the experience of this drink, both in appearance and flavor, but at the same time, there is a sense that it’s all a bit of a trick.

Still, I hope you enjoyed it. Cheers.


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Las Vegas Bar Crawl: Mandarin Oriental Hotel

Continuing with my Las Vegas bar crawl, I visited the Mandarin Oriental. Long-time readers may remember my visit to the Mandarin Oriental in Tokyo. I have also patronized the one in Hong Kong as part of an apocryphal and unblogged bar-crawl I performed in that city. Maybe someday, I will tell you about it.

Being a serial patron of Mandarin Orientals, I entered their Vegas incarnation expecting a safe menu and a pleasant, luxurious space. They met my expectations on both counts. There are not very many places in Vegas that strive for understated class; even the upscale bars strive for bombastic opulence. After two day days striding through gaudy casino floors, the Mandarin was a welcome exercise in tasteful restraint. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that it draws an older crowd.

It was the only time in the whole trip when I did not feel like a million demons of avarice and hedonism were bearing down upon me. For that, they get a very high score.

menu

Above is a shot of their menu. As you can see, the decadent nihilism of Las Vegas is fully manifest in the flowery language used to describe the drinks. I’m going to say some critical things about these drinks, but I want to emphasize that all of them were balanced, drinkable, and inoffensive, which is more than I can say for the other bars in my Vegas crawl. This was the best of the bunch.

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Robin’s Hood
Dried apricot-infused Glenmorangie, Cognac, Drambuie, Carpano Antica, Benedictine

This was one of the bar’s signature drinks. In the two years that have elapsed since my earlier visit to the Mandarin Oriental, my respect for them has grown. Relative to Tokyo, their overall score was average, but in other cities, they are a reliable place to order a well-made drink.

As you can see, there are a lot of ingredients in this cocktail, and the outcome is a predictable brown, bitter, and stirred. The split base and the apricot infusion (one or the other would have been fine) was exactly the sort of unecessarily baroque choice that is typical of Las Vegas.

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Tea-Tini
Bourbon, chilled jasmine pearl tea, apple juice, agave nectar

Aside from the name of this drink, I found it to be unimpeachable. The contents of the glass fulfilled all of the promises made by the menu, and the flavors were successful together. Tea drinks can be difficult, and the Mandarin’s bar contains several of them. I would drink this again.

theharmoniouspear

The Harmonious Pear
Pear-infused tequila, apple, clove, cinnamon, cognac, lemon, ginger liqueur, honey-sage syrup

Good grief! No fewer than eleven ingredients, and half the drinks on the menu are like this. This feels like two interesting drinks poured together: Pear-infused tequila, lemon, ginger liqueur, honey sage syrup. That’s one. Apple, clove, cinnamon, cognac, that could easily be another. You get a bit of a pass since half of the ingredients could be called a “winter spice melange”.

That said, this drink was light, refreshing, and fruity. It managed to have a complexity of flavor without turning completely into mud.

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The Golden Leaf
Hendrick’s, Aperol, muddled mandarins, pineapple, lime

To be honest, the picture above might have been a different drink. The presentation was all a bit samey. I remember this drink having a nice orangey flavor from the aperol, and very little pineapple. It was less tiki than it sounds.

In closing, if you are seeking a pleasant mixed drink in a tasteful bar in Las Vegas, you probably won’t do better than the Mandarin.