Measure & Stir

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


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How to Write a Cocktail Menu

I have never put together the menu for an actual commercial bar, but I do enjoy hosting cocktail parties, and I spend a fair amount of time seeking out new and interesting bars.

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Cocktail menus should be small, to give the guests room to explore. When I first started hosting cocktail parties, I did not know very many drinks, and I made menus with ten or twelve drinks on them. In a real bar, ten is an appropriate number, but in a home party, that number is cumbersome.

Even in a real bar, I often see menus that are too big. Some bars, like Bourbon and Branch, bring a gigantic book to your table, impossibly full of recipes. I personally prefer a minimalist approach; I think the goal should be to lead the guest to a new and engaging experience, by a path of comfortable steps.

It’s a little bit disappointing when every drink on the menu is something I have had many times before. There is a lot to be said for executing classic drinks perfectly, but a balanced menu also contains something adventurous.

The drinks you serve should be orthogonal to each other. If everything on your menu is a sour, your guests will fatigue of sours. Similarly if everything is brown, bitter, and stirred. Be aware of the categories of your different drinks, and of the flavor profiles that you are providing. They should be substantially different.

A thoughtful drink will slightly defy the expectations of the person who orders it. The other day I had a drink with prosecco, campari, cynar, and lime. You can imagine what that probably tastes like, but the proportions or the presentation could surprise you. Between viscous liqueurs, drying bubbles, and stinging citrus, there is a lot of room for variation in texture.

Last month, I held a birthday party, and I designed a menu based around some of my favorite Measure and Stir creations from 2012. I broke one of my own rules, though; I had two drinks based around ginger. They were very different drinks, but even so, there was too much overlap.

Monogram
Barrel-Aged Monogram: Oaked Campari+Maraschino, Orange Juice, and Bourbon with orange-infused scotch foam and spray of bitters. This drink was bitter, oaky, and tasted of orange.

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Stepchild: Ginger wine, fernet, pineapple, mint garnish. This drink was minty, and tasted of dry, spicy pineapple. Ginger wine as the base made it lighter in alcohol.

cant catch me
Can’t Catch Me:
This drink was dark, viscous from molasses, and heavily spiced. In retrospect, I should not have had a drink with ginger wine and a drink with gingerbread infusion, but I thought the flavor profiles were different enough. None of the drinks on the menu had a light spirit, such as gin or cachaça, and I think that was an omission.

buyaboat
I Should Buy A Boat: Grapefruit, rum, champagne, and cinnamon syrup. This was the unexpected favorite at the party. I think the champagne was what drew people in.

I also had mulled apple cider (not pictured), which definitely did not contain ginger, and was intended for those practicing temperance. As a final note, always take care of the designated drivers, pregnant women, or anyone else who chooses to abstain. Making a good mocktail is even harder than making a good cocktail, and a worthy art all on its own.

May all of your parties be successful.


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Thai Week Roundup

The past week has been Thai week here at Measure & Stir, and today we present the last post in the series, including our final Thai menu, and some tips and tricks that we learned through our experience. If you don’t already know, Thai week was a week of drinks inspired by the flavors of Thailand, made using only beer, wine, and soju.Theme weeks, it turns out, are fun, but exhausting. We held four mixing sessions over the last week in order to get all of the drinks where we wanted them. Not everything we tried worked, and some ideas just refused to pan out despite our best efforts. But we can talk about the outtakes another time. Today we want to focus on what went right.

The task was to make mixed drinks using Thai flavors, for Plumeria, a Thai restaurant in San Diego with only a partial liquor license. That’s why we were restricted to using only beer, wine, soju, or sake. Given the limited choice of spirits, our strategy was to infuse soju, which itself is rather neutral, with a slight hint of rice, with different Thai flavors or ingredients. We set out five infusions:

 
We also ended up making some Thai-inspired cocktail ingredients, like tea syrup, and mixing with Singha, a Thai lager.

The Menu

Eye of the Tiger
Spicy and complex, with a strong burn from chili soju, and a sweet roasted flavor from thai tea. Our favorite of the bunch.

Live and Let Thai
With a dash of fish sauce, this drink had a coconut richness and an engaging tangy flavor of galangal and lime.

Tom Kha Llins
A beer highball taking a different approach to the Tom Kha trio of galangal, lemongrass, and kaffir lime. Very herbal.

Pseudo Rum Cocktail
Sugar cane infused soju, thai tea, and chili, each simulating a component of the flavor of aged rum. Like all soju drinks, it was a bit light, but it benefited greatly from the slice of fresh sugar cane in the garnish.

Bird’s Eye Julep
A Julep with Thai basil and Bird’s eye chilis. The basil pushes it a bit to the savory side. Very aromatic.

Lessons

Along the way, we learned some valuable lessons in low-proof mixology. These tips are critical to ensure excellent drinks when mixing with low-proof spirits, like soju and sake.

  • Shake or stir it half as much as when working with full proof spirits.
  • Use burning ingredients such as fresh ginger, wasabi, or chili peppers as a proxy for the burning sensation of high proof spirits.
  • Egg white mellows a high proof spirit; it murders a low-proof one.
  • Fill your shaker with one giant piece of ice, instead of many smaller ones, to gain finer control over the dilution rate as you shake.
  • Give soju infusions double the time and they’ll taste twice as fine.

 
And of course, always remember to strain your drinks through a fine-mesh strainer. It’s the dividing line between a bottom tier bar and a better one. I don’t have much more to say about these drinks. We have one more post tomorrow, talking about some drinks that didn’t make the cut, and then we can get back to whiskey and rum and tequila, sweet tequila.