Measure & Stir

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


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Not For Everyone: Fernet, Mezcal, Elderflower

It’s been a while, Measure and Stir. Is anyone still reading this feed? I can’t promise I’m going to post with any regularity but I’ve been away for a while and lately I’ve been feeling the itch. I haven’t been posting, but I have been learning.

I have been spending a lot of time developing my technique. In the past, I confess there were times that I sacrificed the quality for novelty in pursuit of new and unusual drink recipes. I am humbler now, and I will try to push my limits to bring you new drinks that are more subtle, more balanced, and more refined.

Tonight I found myself craving a small digestif. I keep a backup for my backup bottle of fernet, and I knew I wanted a no-nonsense kind of a drink. I started with the idea of an old fashioned fernet cocktail, but I was out of simple syrup. Shameful.

Instead, I reached for elderflower as the sweetener, because I have seen St. Germaine mixed with Fernet before, and I found it to be a pleasing combination. Fernet is already bitter enough, so instead of bitters, I wanted to add a base spirit as the smallest component. I like elderflower and mezcal, so I felt like it was a natural choice.

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Not For Everyone

2 oz Fernet Branca
.5 oz Elderflower Liqueur (pür likör)
.5 oz Mezcal (Del Maguey Mezcal de Vida)

Stir and strain into a chilled mason jar with a large ice cube. Garnish with a lime twist.

A savory quality emerged in this drink. The pür elderflower is not quite as sweet as St. Germain. If you are using St. Germain, you should probably use .5 oz, but if you are using pür like I did, you might consider .75. The elderflower in this ratio cut the bitterness, but it did not contribute as much to the end flavor as I would have liked.

Even so, the intersection of these three ingredients had a savory, almost bacony quality, It started with Fernet’s bitterness on the sip, gave way to elderflower and agave, and concluded with smoke and menthol.

It settled my stomach.


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Vessel In Seattle

Back before I got into this whole craft cocktail scene, there was a bar in Seattle called Vessel, and they were famous for pioneering a lot of molecular mixology techniques, and for the general quality of their drinks and their atmosphere. Sadly, they closed in 2010, and I never got to visit them. They’re back, sort of, and at a new, bigger downtown location. When I heard that they were re-opening, I visited them that same week, but I didn’t get around to posting about it until today. That’s probably my loss, because I missed the buzz, but I think it’s still soon enough to care.

Their big gimmick this time is a rotating bar staff. It seems like the deal is, each bartender who appears there brings his or her own menu to the establishment. On my visit, the bartenders were Michael Bertrand of Mistral Kitchen and Kevin Langmack of Knee High Stocking Co. Their menus were thus:

To be honest, I was expecting a bit more. No offense to these seasoned veterans, but these drinks are all so safe. I want recipes that push the envelope! I want drinks on the cutting edge of mixology, with flavor combinations and techniques that I’ve never seen before. Instead you hit me with a vesper, a gin and tonic, and a sidecar with expensive brandy. This is the kind of menu I expect in an old money hotel, not a bar that was renowned in its heyday for molecular mixology. There’s nothing wrong with any of these recipes, but neither is there anything exciting.

Of course, if you go, the menu will probably be totally different. As such, I give them two out of ten for creativity, but nine out of ten for execution. All of the drinks we ordered were beautifully presented, and executed with technical excellence. John ordered a Preakness, which is not on their menu, but it is a common Manhattan variation containing Benedictine:

Very nice glassware. I ordered a Violette Fizz:

Truly a beautiful fizz, but alas, in a very impractical glass. As I drank it, a portion of the head persisted and ultimately clogged the flow of the drink through the glass when it reached the narrowest part of the glass, forcing me to tilt it to a precarious angle. This is a minor quibble however, as the glass was very elegant. Still, if the radius were constant across the length of the glass, I would have been better served.

James ordered the Batcat, a mix of rye, sweet vermouth, fernet branca, and elderflower liqueur:

I apologize for the terrible photo, but as you can sort of see, the drink came with a sphere of beautifully clear ice, cut to fit exactly within the glass, and the sphere was circumscribed by a spiral of orange peel for which a whole orange gave its life. James and I both tasted the drink and found the flavor to be very light. It was over-diluted, but it was probably not the bartender’s fault, it was probably the fault of the waitstaff.

The service was agonizingly slow, but I was willing to give them some leeway in their opening week. It takes a while to get all the bugs out of your service pipeline, I am sure. Did we sit at the table for fifteen minutes before anyone even took our order? Yes. Did it take them another twenty five to bring us our drinks? Also yes. But like I said, leeway.

Since I’m already slinging hate, I might as well take this opportunity to mention the acoustics, which are a crime against the fine art of architecting interior spaces. Maybe it’s the high ceilings, but every word of every patron echoes in this bar, and makes it very loud even when it is not particularly crowded. I wouldn’t take anyone here if I wanted to have a conversation with them. On the plus side, the hand soap in the bathroom contains rum.

The food was mediocre. We ordered foie gras popcorn, and it was a staunch reminder as to why no one sautes liver and then tosses it with popcorn. The high fat content of the liver killed all the crispness of the popcorn, while imparting only the scarcest flavor of foie gras. The hummus platter, though beautifully plated, was nothing I couldn’t get from Trader Joe’s. The carpaccio was adequate, however. Delicious and reasonably portioned for the price.

Over all, if you’re downtown, stick to the Mistral Kitchen or the Zig Zag Cafe. If you’re not tied to a particular locale within Seattle, may I recommend the Canon. It is clearly at the top of the craft bartending game in Seattle right now.


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Lavender-Infused Gin

I found a bundle of fresh Lavender at Trader Joe’s last week, and I was struck by inspiration! Lavender is one of my favorite flavors, and when I first was getting into mixology, I tried twice to create a lavender-centric drink by making lavender syrup from fresh lavender. Oh, how foolish I was! I have since learned the rules about how to capture various flavors for use in drinks.

  • If a reagent’s primary experience is as an aroma, the best way to extract it is in alcohol, i.e., by making an infusion.
  • If a reagent is small on aroma but big on flavor, the best way to extract it is by simmering it in sugar and water, and making a syrup.
  • If a reagent is has both a strong flavor and a strong smell, it is best to make a liqueur by performing both extractions, and blending them together.

I can’t remember where I learned this, but it was in a discussion of Buddha’s Hand, a citrus fruit with a very light flavor, but a powerful fragrance. When I saw the lavender, I realized it was my chance to redeem myself, and I took it straight home and infused it into some Beefeater gin. Most infusions take a week or more, but there are some ingredients, such as black tea, which take only a few hours, or even less.

Lavender proved to be on the quicker end of the extraction curve, becoming noticeable in the gin after only five hours, and becoming truly salient after about ten. I left it for closer to sixteen, and that was perhaps too long. Let this be a lesson to you, to always check your infusions. Fortunately, when you make the mistake of over-infusing, it’s easy to recover; just blend some of the un-infused spirit with the infused one, until the flavor is right. I added some plain Beefeater in small increments until the flavor of the lavender was in proper balance with the botanicals in the gin.

My friend James was present for the debut of this infusion, and he had the brilliant suggestion to make a Gin fix using honey syrup. The lavender flavor I had sought two years prior was perfectly expressed in this drink, and I can say this, because I have not had very many lavender drinks, that this was the best lavender mixed drink I have ever had.

Lavender Gin Fix
1.5 oz Lavender-Infused Gin (Beefeater)
.75 oz Lemon Juice
.5 oz Honey Syrup

Shake over ice, double-strain over fresh ice. Garnish with a sprig of lavender.

This is the standard formula for a fix or a sour, with lavender gin and honey syrup plugged in the appropriate slots. Honey on it’s own is quite floral, which is why it works so well with lavender.

Moving on, I was in a more experimental mood, and I wanted to see what would happen if I combined a variety of floral ingredients. I do not recommend making the next one, but I think it was instructive, and we can all learn something from it, hopefully.

Drink All The Flowers (version 0)
1.5 oz Lavender-Infused Gin (Beefeater)
.5 oz Dry Vermouth (Dolin)
.25 oz Violet Syrup
.25 oz Rose Syrup
.
25 oz Elderflower Liqueur (Pur Likor)
.25 oz Acid Phosphate
Stir over ice and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a lavender sprig.
The dye in the rose and violet syrups made this drink a deep garnet color, as you can see. Even with the acid phosphate, which is a dry, flavorless chemical sold by Art of Drink, this was much sweeter than I usually prefer. That was to be expected, on account of all the syrups, but it caused me to drink it very slowly, and I got to see what happened after it warmed up a bit.
When the drink was cold, it had a nice balance between the lavender, the rose, and the violet. As it got a bit warmer, the elderflower became more manifest, and the syrups really started to overtake the base spirit. The violet syrup was much too powerful for the other ingredients, and the elderflower did not belong. I did not feel compelled to mix a second one, but if I did, I would do it like this:
Drink All The Flowers (version 0.5)
1.5 oz Lavender-Infused Gin (Beefeater)
.5 oz Dry Vermouth (Dolin)
.25 oz Rose Syrup
.25 oz Acid Phosphate
1 dash of Violet Syrup
Stir over ice and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a lavender sprig.
Cheers.


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Libretto

Another one from Cocktail Virgin Slut, as soon as I saw this drink, I knew I had to make it. I love the combination of elderflower and Cynar, and I have been very happy in the past with Tequila and elderflower as well, so I really wanted to see how they all played together. Surprisingly, the whole drink had a coffee flavor, even though it contained no coffee.

Libretto

1.5 oz Anejo Tequila (El Jimador)
.75 oz Sweet Vermouth (Cocchi Vermouth di Torino)
.5 oz Elderflower Liqueur (Pur Likor)
.5 oz Cynar
Chocolate bitters (Fee’s)

Stir over ice and strain into a chilled old-fashioned glass.

This cocktail is certainly intriguing, but not so great that I will rush to make it again. If you are hunting for novelty, as I often am, it’s worth a stop, but it’s a little too complicated to put it on my A-list. The flavors are all there if you look for them, and the dark translucency of the drink is visually appealing. The Libretto is unimpeachable from a technical perspective, just not my favorite.

To be sure, the flavor illusion of coffee is noteworthy, and I will keep a record of the drink in case there is some perfect occasion for it in the future. The art of drinking well surely includes a sense of timeliness, and you never know what occasion might warrant this exact drink.