Measure & Stir

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


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Banana Split: Chocolate, Banana, Lemon

I’m James, Joe’s friend and apprentice of alcohol. Loyal readers may remember me from the review I wrote of Bourbon and Branch, a bar in San Francisco. Joe has invited me to contribute to Measure & Stir as an official author. I am honored to be here, and pledge to do my best to help record our experimental drinking sessions for posterity, and to give you a glimpse into our libation laboratory, aka Joe’s place. For my first post, I decided to write about a drink that used an infusion I made.

Word of the banana-infused bourbon Joe and I have been mixing with recently had spread around amongst our clique, and Joe and I found ourselves drinking one evening with one such friend, Julian. Naturally it was a perfect opportunity for us to pour out a little more of that beautiful banana booze. As Joe and I pondered what to mix with it, I realized the obvious: chocolate and bananas. I spotted Joe’s crazy-good Theo chocolate liqueur out of the corner of my eye, begging to be synergized with that banana whiskey.

Banana Split Sour
1.25 oz Banana-infused whiskey
.25 oz Chocolate liqueur
.25 oz Lemon juice
Shake, double strain, and garnish with a lemon peel.

We chose to split the drink into three small glasses, so that each of us could enjoy a taste, which was a shame because it was so delicious that I wish we could have all enjoyed our own full-sized drinks. The banana and chocolate combination is as delicious as your intuition tells you. The taste is enhanced by the sweet floral qualities provided by the lemon juice, and the oaky spice from the bourbon completes the drink on the swallow.

Joe later gave me this pro tip: Adding fresh lemon juice to a drink can impart a confectionary quality to it. For this reason, Joe chose to mix this drink as a sour. It was a great idea, and this handy hint is worth remembering. Alone, the banana-infused whiskey and chocolate liqueur taste great together, but with a little lemon juice the flavor pops, and the drink becomes candy.

Seriously, don’t forget that lemon peel garnish! The aroma from the peel helps this drink pop.


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Fernet Alexander

It’s been a while since we had a Fernet drink around here, and for that I apologize. I’ve had this one sitting in the queue for a while, but it’s been very warm lately, and I wasn’t in the mood for a drink with heavy cream. No matter — the time has finally come. We’ve all heard of the Brandy Alexander, one of the few classic cocktails that endured even through the dark days of flavored vodkas and canned sour mixes. It was unchallenging enough that people still ordered it, even when their tastes were at rock bottom, drinking drinks like Sex on the Beach and the Key Lime Pie Martini.

Fortunately for all of us, craft cocktails have come back into the spotlight. The Brandy Alexander is quite a good drink in its own right, but clearly, the Fernet Alexander, a simple variation on a theme, has much to offer us. The bitter, herbal qualities of Fernet, the lingering flavor of mint, married to chocolate and softened by cream. I used my own chocolate liqueur, of course. It is a pleasant variation, but I found myself craving something sweeter, for once. I think the idea of the Brandy Alexander had set my expectations to dessert, and after mixing one of these, I immediately tried it again with Branca Menta. The end result was much closer to a Grasshopper, but with additional complexity from Branca Menta over Creme de Menthe. At least this one isn’t bright green.

Brancahopper

1 oz Branca Menta
1 oz Chocolate Liqueur
1 oz Heavy Cream

Shake over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with grated nutmeg.

The original idea for a Fernet Alexander came from CVS. It is appropriate to shake drinks with dairy ingredients in them very hard, in order to froth the milk or cream. In this case, I probably should have shaken more, or perhaps even given it a dry shake; I love it when dairy-based drinks are a bit foamy. The logical progression from this is the Ramos Fernet Fizz, I think. Coming soon.


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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.