Measure & Stir

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


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Trapped in a Cage of Their Own Making with a Beast They’ve Been Feeding For Years

In this drink, the name came first. That may be obvious. I encountered this phrase over two years ago, and it resonated with me, so I wrote it down, and saved it for later. I knew that I wanted to build the drink around dragonfruit, and to boldly announce the “beast” element of the title. In the end, I was able to invoke the theme in several ways.

trappedinacage

The drink itself is composed of duck-fat infused bourbon, dry vermouth, lime juice, maple syrup, and pineapple and dragon fruit purée. I confess, if I saw this drink from a distance, I would be tempted to call it overcomplicated, but as it is my own brainchild, I have only fond feelings for it.

Let me explain. Trapped in a Cage… starts with dragonfruit, to give it the aspect of the beast. Pineapple juice expands the flavor along the already tiki-ish premise of a hollowed out fruit as serving vessel. To reinforce the beast motif, it is appropriate to use a spirit washed with animal fat, and I have found that bourbon is the spirit most amenable to such treatments.

From (relatively) bland dragonfruit, pineapple, and bourbon, we have nearly arrived at the flavor of an Algonquin, hence dry vermouth completes the classic cocktail at the core of this adventure. Bacon bourbon is a little passé, though as I think through dynamics of this drink, it would have been a fine choice. To keep things fresh, I opted for duck fat, instead.

Beef would have been too heavy, and uncured pork fat leaves a repellant funk. No, the musky oiliness of duck fat was the best option, and between bourbon and duck, I found myself craving a hint of maple syrup. In my loose adherence to a tiki theme, I turned to lime juice for the acidity to balance the sweetness, and garnished with cilantro, mostly for the look.

Trapped in a Cage of Their Own Making with a Beast They’ve Been Feeding For Years
2 oz duck fat-washed bourbon (Buffalo Trace)
.75 oz lime juice
.5 oz dry vermouth (Ransom)
.5 oz maple syrup
60g dragonfruit
60g pineapple
a tiny pinch of salt
Blend all with a hand blender, and then shake over ice. Strain only with a Hawthorne.
Serve in a hollowed out dragonfruit and garnish with fresh cilantro.

Perhaps this is no ordinary tiki drink. Indeed, one of my friends who was present at this session called it “Jurassic” Tiki, and for a brief moment I had visions of an entirely new subgenre of cocktail. Jurassic Tiki aims to trade faux orientalism for a prehistoric sensibility. It finds exotic flavors by combining animal ingredients with primordial imagery, and imagines a cocktail culture in a world untouched by human ingenuity, ruled by ancient monsters locked in an endless Hobbesian struggle.

Then I saw that damn paper umbrella and realized that my entire manifesto would collapse in the face of a tiny anachronism.

For the plating I used pineapple fronds, scrubbed animal bones, cilantro, dragonfruit, a lime husk, black lava salt, and smoke from oak chips.

The drink itself is surprisingly subtle, with each component making a distinct contribution. Notes on method:

  • The Ransom dry vermouth has a strong flavor, and I might have used a bit more had I been using my more usual Dolin.
  • The proportions of lime and maple syrup were ad hoc, as they must ever be in a drink so heavily loaded with fresh produce. Variability is inescapable, and your good taste must be your guide.
  • Dragonfruit has very little flavor, and is best used as a textural element.
  • Fat-washing a spirit takes about 24 hours:
    • Pour 1/4 cup of softened fat into 1 cup of spirit.
    • Shake it, and allow it to infuse for about a day.
    • Place the infusion in the freezer, and leave the fat to separate and solidify.
    • Strain through a coffee filter.
  • A pinch of salt helps the pineapple shine.

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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Matcha Grandmother’s Toddy

If the name is confusing, say it out loud, like “Not ya Grandmother’s Toddy”. The joke isn’t funny if you explain it. I know. The hour is late so I’m going to make this a quick one.

matchatoddy2

James had the idea to have a small tea party, in which all of our drinks would contain tea. I was greatly enthused by the idea, and we set about brainstorming some different ideas. In the brainstorming phase I thought, “this ingredient is going to be a snap!” But it turns out that tea is very subtle, and there are many opportunities for the drink to go horribly wrong.

For our first drink we wanted to get some green tea in a glass with some hogo. The problem is that brewed tea has a very light flavor, and a tea syrup made in the usual way has a similarly light flavor. There was no way it was going to stand up to a high proof spirit! So the first thing I tried was brewing six cups of green tea, and then reducing it to roughly 2 cups. Making the reduction caused the tea to oxidize, and it lost both its green color and its grassy flavor.

In fact, it started to taste like a black tea, but not like a good one. So we dumped that. Fortunately, I had some matcha powder in my cabinet, and we were able to find a solution that was both flavorful and colorful.

If you want to get the flavor of green tea in a drink, matcha is your best friend. A brief green tea infusion in vodka, pisco, or gin is another way, but I think matcha delivers the boldest and truest flavor of green tea. It is very bitter, however, and not in a delicious fernet kind of way.

matchatoddy1

Matcha Grandmother’s Toddy
1.5 oz Cachaça (Pitú)
1.5 oz Cocchi Americano
3 oz boiling water
1/4 tsp matcha powder
1/2 tsp white sugar
In a mixing glass, combine matcha, sugar, and boiling water. Stir vigorously. Add spirits and pour into a warmed irish coffee mug. Top with a matcha whipped cream*, lime twist, grated lime zest, and skewered blueberries.

We ended up using cachaça instead of J. Wray, for it has a similar flavor, but it is not quite so pungent and overpowering. This is one of my favorite drinks to date, both in taste and appearance. I loved the sulfurous, vegetal funk of the cachaça against the grassy, floral tea, along with the bitter notes from the cocchi on the backend.

The presentation was inspired by this Orange Pisco Hot Chocolate from Serious Eats. By the way, here’s how to make matcha whipped cream:

Matcha Whipped Cream
.5 L Heavy Cream
1 tsp matcha powder
sugar to taste
Combine all in an iSi whipped cream dispenser, pressurize, and shake.

Bottoms up!


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Tequila Reposado, Imbue, Suze

Happy Repeal Day!

A few weeks ago, after work, Joe and I went to a bar on capitol hill, here in Seattle, called Liberty. I asked the bartender to mix something for me with Suze, since I saw it proudly displayed in their bar, and was thinking about that Suze gimlet. I didn’t have any particular base spirit in mind, so I let the bartender make whatever he felt like. Having enjoyed this drink so much, Joe sought out a bottle of Suze for himself, and since acquiring it, we’ve made this drink several times.

tequila-suze-imbue2

Genciana
1.5 oz Tequila Resposado
.75 oz Dry vermouth (Imbue)
.375 oz Suze

Stir, strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

At the bar, this drink was made using the 6:3:1 formula, using Cocchi Americano, which we’ve done a few times since, and which is great. However, in a home bar, it’s not practical to have more than one dry and one sweet vermouth open at a time, and Joe’s dry vermouth du jour happened to be Imbue, a bittersweet vermouth from Oregon. Imbue tastes like pears, honey, and pinot gris in the sip, with a bitter, dry, herbal finish. We thought that Imbue needed a little bit of extra help to stand up against the Suze, and so we adjusted the amount in this recipe.

tequila-suze-imbue1

This drink is a brilliant golden yellow color and smells appropriately of lemon. Somehow the fruit notes from the vermouth combine with the lemon and Suze to produce a sip with a hint of nuttiness, almost like a cashew flavor, that is hard to explain, but delicious. The finish is bitter, from the Suze as well as the vermouth, and smokey, from the tequila.

A very tempting way to enjoy Suze, indeed.


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Lemongrass Soju Marthaini

This week is Thai week here a Measure & Stir, and so we continue our vinous voyage of drinks inspired by the flavors of ประเทศไทย with another soju infusion. Of course soju isn’t Thai at all, but the motivation behind Thai week is that Joe was asked to come up with some drinks inspired by Thailand using a limited palette of wine, beer, or soju.

We decided it might by fun to put a Thai twist on a classic drink. Audrey Sander, of the Pegu Club, once made an Earl Grey MarTEAni, which inspired us to name our Thai version the mar”thai”ni. Since we couldn’t use gin, we decided to fake it by infusing some juniper berries into soju. After four days, we removed the juniper berries and the result isn’t quite as complex as gin, obviously, but it got us most of the way there. To bring it to Thailand, we thought it might be nice to use lemongrass. Add some dry vermouth and you have the lemongrass soju marTHAIni:

Lemongrass Soju MarTHAIni
2 oz Juniper/Lemongrass-infused Soju
0.75 oz Dry vermouth (Cocchi Americano)
1 dash Lemon bitters

Slice lemongrass into small chunks and muddle it into the dry vermouth. Pour everything into a mixing glass with ice and stir well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a sprig of lemongrass.

Things we learned while making this drink: We didn’t infuse lemongrass into the soju with the juniper berries and only muddled it with the dry vermouth. The problem is that the lemongrass doesn’t really come through completely unless it is also infused into the soju. Only using one of these methods to incorporate the lemongrass results in an incomplete, weak representation of lemongrass flavor. We should have remembered our last experience of mixing with lemongrass, when we used turmeric juice and lemongrass together, which also produced a less pronounced lemongrass flavor. Let our mistake be a lesson for you. Second, we used Fee’s lemon bitters. Fees bitters are awful, but we simply didn’t have anything else on-hand at the time. Instead, we’d have loved to have used  The Bitter Truth’s Lemon Bitters.

The drink itself is surprisingly refreshing, reminiscent of a real martini, only not quite as stiff. The juniper berry/lemongrass infusion did a better job at simulating gin than I had personally thought it would. Lemongrass adds a fresh, zesty, lemony flavor and the dry vermouth does a lovely job of bringing it all together into a cohesive experience.


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Fresh Juice Drink Template

As I experiment with different drink formats and classes of ingredients, I find my experiments will cluster around some very specific structures, and today I would like to share a template that I have developed for making drinks with fresh fruit juices. To get a good drink out of this template, you have to put some thought into the flavors you are combining, but I have found it to be pretty reliable.

Fresh Juice Template
1.5 oz base spirit
1 oz fresh fruit juice
.75 oz fortified wine
.25 oz syrup or liqueur
(optional) dash of bitters

This template is intended for juices that are not highly acidic, such as lemon or lime. It is not a template for a sour, but rather a template for succulent juices. Andy would even go so far as to call this genre of drink “succulent”, but I consider to be overkill. Each ingredient in the template has a purpose, and should be selected in order to best fill that role within the drink.

The fresh juice is the starting point. We start with produce, such as carrots or strawberries, and then we build our flavor profile around the juice of that ingredient. After selecting the juice, we select the base spirit. A good approach, though not the only approach, is to consider cuisine which contains your produce, and to choose a base spirit from that same region or theme. For example, peppers of all varieties make a fine accompaniment to tequila, while rums pair well with tropical fruits.

After selecting a juice and a liqueur, you should select your sweetener. A little bit of sugar will help to draw out the flavor of the fresh juice, which tends to be more aqueous than is entirely optimal in a mixed drink. The sweetener needs to complement both the juice and the spirit; curaçao for orange juice is an entirely reasonable choice, and maraschino is a brilliant accompaniment to pineapple or to fresh berries.

In some cases, you really want to let the flavor of the fruit stand on its own, and then simple syrup, or honey syrup, or demerara syrup will tend to be the best choices.

Finally, select a fortified wine. In most cases, this should be dry vermouth, as it will add complexity and dryness to the drink without interfering, but Cardamaro is an excellent accompaniment to fall flavors, and Stone’s Ginger pairs quite well with many fruits.

Alexandra’s Wish
1.5 oz Cognac (Salignac)
1 oz Fresh Strawberry Juice
.75 oz Dry Vermouth (Dolin)
.25 oz Demerara Syrup
1 Dash Orange Bitters (Regan’s)
Shake over ice and garnish with a lemon peel.

Don’t forget to strain the fresh juice through a fine-mesh strainer BEFORE you add it to the drink, as it will otherwise impede the straining of the drink at serving time, and to create the most smooth and elegant texture. Moreover, the expressed lemon oil is critical to the excellence of this drink. Don’t leave home without it!


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Rojo Bianco: Reposado, Vermouth, Maraschino, Campari

When I first tasted Campari, I hated it. I was furious that I had just spent 30$ on this syrupy, neon-red swill. I poured my first Negroni down the sink, and gave the bottle of Campari to my friend Gualtiero. “Get this out of my sight!” I must have said. My, how my perspective has changed. If you truly want to experience Campari in all of it’s glowing, bitter glory, you should make a Negroni, or its cousin, the Boulevardier, but if you have already strolled down those avenues of flavor, then may I suggest one of my all-time favorites, the Rojo Bianco. 

Rojo Bianco
2 oz Reposado Tequila (Espolón)
.75 oz Bianco Vermouth (Dolin)
.25 oz Maraschino Liqueur (Luxardo)
.25 oz Campari
Dash of Aromatic Bitters (Angostura)

Stir over ice, and strain into a cocktail glass.

As with about half the drinks I make, I first learned this one on CVS. It tastes just like you think: the Reposado is smokey and vegetal, the liqueurs are bitter, sweet, and pungent, and the vermouth fills in the middle of the flavor spectrum. I really enjoy this one, but perhaps the construction is more interesting even than the flavor. This drink comes close to the 6:3:1 template that I’ve talked about before, but it uses a bit less vermouth, and a bit more liqueur. Moreover, it splits the liqueur down the middle, and you can imagine that if this drink had only Maraschino or Campari, it would be unremarkable.

I have found that when you are following this kind of template for an aromatic drink, you can usually get away with splitting any one of the ingredients. Two base spirits, two fortified wines, or two liqueurs all provide the opportunity for creative exploration, but don’t split more than one element in the template. Two base spirits and two liqueurs? Madness lies down that road, my friend.