Measure & Stir

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


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Muddled Lychee and Gin

Last weekend I had some lychees sitting on my kitchen counter, threatening to be fresh and delicious, really just begging me to muddle them. And what can I say? I caved in. I was in a similar situation with a bottle of Hayman’s Old Tom gin, and between the three of us, we had a little soiree. Old Tom gin, as you are probably aware, tastes like slightly sweeter London Dry gin. If you don’t have any, you can add a dash of simple syrup to two ounces of gin and come away with much the same product. Moreover, Hayman’s is a very fruit-forward gin, so it blends especially well with fruit flavors.

Now I know what you’re thinking: lychee-based drinks suck. I’m sure we’ve all seen the sad lychee “martinis” that many sushi shops lower themselves by serving. They invariably use vodka and sake and lychee liqueur, perhaps with some simple syrup. It’s true, you can use sake much like a fortified wine, as the proof and the flavor profile are both about right, but I think sake muddies the flavor of lychee — or maybe the other way around. And lychee liqueur? Skip it. A big part of the reason to make a liqueur out of a flavor is to preserve its aroma while losing any bracing qualities that come from a high acidity. Lychee is neither particularly acidic nor fragant, so we can get a much richer flavor by muddling a fresh, whole fruit.

I searched for “lychee cocktail” and “lychee martini” just now, and the summary of my extensive research suggests that the internet wants you to make a “lychee martini” consisting of vodka, possibly dry vermouth, and the syrup from canned lychees. As a bonus, you can use a couple of the canned lychees as a garnish! That could be a lot worse, but it could also be a lot better.  If you were a bit more discerning, you might happen upon this substantially better lychee drink which uses white wine as the base. I am a big fan of Darcy O’Neil and I am sure his recipe is excellent, provided you use fresh lychees. I think white wine sounds like a great match for this fruit, and I will be sure to try his drink soon.

In the meantime, I was just winging it, and I came up with this:

Unnamed Lychee  Drink
1.5 oz Old Tom Gin (Hayman’s)
.5 oz Dry Vermouth (Dolin)
.25 oz Lemon Juice
.25 oz Simple Syrup
2 lychees, skinned and seeded

Muddle the lychees in the simple syrup, and then add the other ingredients. Shake and then double-strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon.

Some lychees are a lot sweeter than others. Taste your drink as you’re making it, and decide if you like the ratio of sour lemon to fruit and syrup. You may find that you want it to be a little dryer, in which case, add just a dash more lemon. And please, don’t call it a lychee martini.


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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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Shiberry Inu

The Bloodhound is a classic drink from the 1930s, with a storied history. It is also one of my favorite classic drinks, though it suffers from the unfortunate pathology that it can only be made using fresh berries, and hence, must be enjoyed in the summer time. The original version of the drink is made with strawberries, but I prefer a canonical variation known as the Halsdon, which is made with raspberries.

And yet, the Bloodhound is not the drink we will be discussing today. Last Saturday, amidst all the hullabaloo of Fernet Branca and Pineapple, I had intended to make a Bloodhound, because I had some raspberries on hand. But as I was preparing to make the drink, I discovered that James’ dry vermouth has gone off, even though he stores it properly. Faced with soured dry vermouth, I decided to improvise, and substituted (in the loosest sense of the word) orgeat syrup for dry vermouth, and muddled the raspberries in the orgeat.

The result did not have much in common with the original, but that did not stop it from being highly delicious.

Shiberry Inu

1.5 oz Gin (Hayman’s Old Tom)
.75 oz Sweet Vermouth (Carpano Antica)
.5 oz Orgeat Syrup (Homemade)
5-6 raspberries

Muddle the raspberries in the orgeat, and then add the gin and vermouth and shake over ice. Double-strain into a coupe glass and garnish with a fresh raspberry.

Admittedly, this drink tended a little more to the candy side of mixology, but sometimes, that is what a man needs. The name “Shiberry Inu” is intended as a play on the name “Bloodhound”. Runners up for this drink’s name were “Raspberry Shar Pei” and “Red Rover”, all trying to capitalize on the dogness/redness ideas.


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Gin Daisy

I swear there is a classic cocktail with this (or very nearly this) recipe, but I can’t remember what it is for the life of me, so I’m just going to call it a gin daisy. After I had the good fortune to acquire a bottle of Clement Creole Shrub, I felt a strong impulse to make a drink that would highlight this marvelous liqueur. Gin is often the most unobtrusive spirit when you need a modifying flavor agent to take the front seat, so I decided to make a gin Daisy. A daisy is simply a sour in which the sweetening agent is a liqueur instead of a syrup, and it is generally served up.

To insure the proper balance, we built this drink iteratively, tasting every element as it was added. This process is essential when mixing with unfamiliar ingredients, but sometimes it can take you in an unexpected direction. After building the basic sour, something was missing, so we added a quarter ounce of dry vermouth, and it contributed the exact flavors and complexity that the drink was missing.

Gin Daisy

1.5 oz Gin (Hayman’s Old Tom)
.5 oz lemon juice
.5 oz Orange Liqueur (Clement Creole Shrubb)
.25 oz Dry Vermouth (Dolin)

Shake over ice and double-strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange wheel.

I confess, my orange wheel was having some structural integrity issues, but it made a good enough photo, and still served the essential purpose of contributing fresh orange notes to the aroma of the drink. Gin Daisies are highly underrated in my opinion, and a great way to beat the heat.


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Rose Syrup

I bought some rose syrup from Travelers, the local Indian market. Whenever I make or purchase a new syrup, I try it in an old fashioned. I thought that lemon would complement the rose more than orange, since lemon oil is an extremely bright flavor, and rose is a a little bit darker. Moreover, rose and rye did not work together all that well, so I opted for dark rum, instead. The rose syrup had even more red dye in it than Campari, and it managed to completely overpower the color of  Flor de Cana Centenario 18, which is a very dark rum, indeed.

Old Fashioned Rum Cocktail with Rose

1.5 oz aged dark rum (Flor De Cana 18)
1 barspoon rose syrup
1 dash orange bitters (Regan’s)
stir and strain over fresh ice. Garnish with a lemon peel

The clerk at the store told me rose would not work in an old-fashioned. That’s what happens when you think one-dimensionally and assume that rye or bourbon has to be the base. Rum was made for roses. It tastes like romance, and as long as you have a light hand with that rose syrup, it won’t be cloying.

Rose Pegu
1 3/4 oz. London dry gin (Beefeater)
3/4 oz. Combier Pamplemousse Rose (Rose Syrup)
3/4 oz. lime juice
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash orange bitters

Shake over ice and double strain. Garnish with a lime peel.

Ok, so using a syrup isn’t quite in the spirit of a Pegu, which is supposed to contain liqueur, but the dirty secret is that you can often sub a syrup for a liqueur as long as the liqueur is reasonably sweet and the drink has other substantial alcohol components. This recipe came from Jacob Grier, but I didn’t have any Combier Pamplemousse Rose.  I suspect the liqueur is not quite as sweet as this syrup, as I ended up adding an additional 1/4 oz of lime to balance the sweetness.

To be honest, I feel like making a gin sour is the easiest way in the world to incorporate one other flavor into a drink. If you have a liqueur or a syrup and you aren’t sure how to express it, gin and lemon or lime is almost guaranteed to make a nice base for it. I have to admit, this was a very tasty drink, like a citrusy Turkish delight, even if it was the easy way out. And speaking of Turkish delight, the flavor of pistachio might be a beautiful addition.

The lime oil was a delicious contrast to the sweetness of the rose, and the gin added a fine botanical complexity on the swallow. If I were serving this at a party, I would express lime oil over the surface of the drink and then garnish it with a few white rose petals instead.

Rosey Disposition (beta)

1.5 oz Cuban Rum (Matusalem Clasico)
.75 oz dry vermouth (Dolin)
.25 oz rose syrup
1 dash of Angostura bitters

Stir over cracked ice and garnish with a lemon knot.

A great template to know is 6:3:1 with a base spirit, a fortified wine, and a modifier. I used this same template last week with gin and apricot-flavored brandy. So I’m not sure if this is any less of a cop-out than the Rose Pegu, but as with the old fashioned, the caramel qualities of the rum blended almost romantically with the rose syrup.

I also tried mixing rose syrup with several amari, but I found that the flavor of rose occupies a very similar place on the spectrum as an amaro such as Ramazotti, and even though the rose came through, it was blurry. The syrup went a little bit better with Campari, though I did not use it in the above variation. There is a pleasing consonance between the two brilliant reds. A rose Negroni may be in my future.

Finally, since we’re on the subject, a note on garnishes:

If you have a channel knife, you can easily cut a long, graceful strip of lemon peel. Tying it into a very loose knot is an excellent alternative to a twist, once in a while.


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Elephants Sometimes Forget

When I first acquired a bottle of Cherry Heering, I was excited by the prospect of a liqueur reminiscent of one of my favorite beers, Unibroue’s Quelque Chose. Alas, it sits on my bar, gathering dust, mostly full. Every drink that calls for it falls squarely in the cluster of gin, lemon, cherry, with minor variations, and a man can only drink so much cherry sour. Even so, the Elephants Sometimes Forget was a pleasing instance of this.

According to Webtender: Cherry Heering is a Danish cherry liqueur invented in the late 1700s or the early 1800s by Peter Heering. It is dark red and has a flavor of black-cherries that is not overly sweet.

In my experience it can taste medicinal in the wrong hands, but this drink was surprisingly dry and had no elements of cough syrup at all. Beefeater isn’t the most complex gin going around, but the juniper is still assertive, and it worked very well with the other ingredients. Still, with 3/4 oz of liqueur, everything else takes a back-seat to spiced cherries.

Elephants Sometimes Forget

1 oz gin (Beefeater)
.75 oz Cherry Heering
.75 oz lemon juice
.25 oz dry vermouth (Dolin)
dash of orange bitters (Fee’s)

Shake over ice and double strain

Truly serious Heering aficionados use it to venture into tiki territory, and I know that’s where I need to go, but the way is long. I need to find a way to incorporate this liqueur with an amaro.


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Gin, Apricot, Dry Vermouth

I just bought a new bottle of Hendrick’s, which is a modern gin with roses and cucumbers mingling amongst all those other, more familiar gin botanicals. It is my favorite gin for a martini, or anything that is very gin-forward. For this drink I really wanted to be able to taste apricot liqueur and gin, so I went with the tried and true formula of 6:2:1 base spirit, fortified wine, liqueur. The resulting drink was very dry, and when I tasted it pre-stir, the apricot was only salient on the swallow.

Even though the apricot was mild, I could tell that much more was going to stop on the subtler notes of the gin and vermouth. Instead of liqueur, I added a bar spoon of simple syrup, and it brought out the fruit without clobbering the botanicals. I don’t have a name for this, but I do have a strong preference that you don’t try to call it an “apricot martini”.

Unnamed Apricot Gin Thing

1.5 oz Gin (Hendrick’s)
.5 oz Dry Vermouth (Dolin)
.25 oz Apricot Liqueur (Rothman and Winter)
1 Barspoon Simple Syrup

Stir over ice and garnish with a slice of cucumber.

I make my own simple syrup, but I keep it in the trader joe’s simple syrup bottle, for convenience.

I really need to get better at garniture. The orange hue of the apricot liqueur was not sufficient to give this drink even a faint color, but the flavor was there in just the right measure. It’s easy to invent a three ingredient drink, or a four ingredient drink if one of them is lemon or lime juice. Some kind of aromatic bitters would have been nice in this, but none of the ones I have on hand really struck me. Angostura is far too heavy for something like this, but fee’s orange might do the trick. Next time.

The cucumber was pleasant to munch on after it sat in the drink for a few minutes, but a candied orange wheel would really have made this drink great.