Measure & Stir

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


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Correcting Coffee

Boozy Saturday was winding down, and for our final round we decided to correct some coffee. James had some Stumptown Gajah Aceh beans that were pushing the end of their useful lifetime, and we really wanted to try correcting some coffee with Fernet Branca. I don’t have any advice about brewing coffee, but James’ steampunk grinder looks really cool, so here is a picture of it.

We tried a few different concepts, but none of them were surprisingly excellent. Fernet and coffee on its own is just missing something. The bitterness from fernet is very different from the bitterness in coffee, but the interplay is not intriguing; both flavors are merely present. Rye and fernet is delicious, and rye and coffee is very reasonable also, but rye and fernet and coffee somehow blended to create the flavor of a rotting vegetable.

I apologize for the unappealing description, but it was truly awful, and I want to make sure that you don’t try to make a drink like this. A quarter ounce of simple syrup took away the worst of it, but it was still not a drink I would serve to anyone whose friendship I valued.

Still chasing the tropical flavor from earlier in the day, I added rum and maraschino, and came away with something much more drinkable, but I still wouldn’t endorse it highly.

Sloppy Hemingway Coffee

4 oz of Chemex-brewed coffee (Stumptown Gajah Aceh beans)
1 oz Dark Rum (Pusser’s)
.5 oz Maraschino (Luxardo)

Add spirits to hot coffee and stir.

It’s probable that there is some perfect marriage of coffee and rum out there, but it probably has Benedictine or allspice dram, not maraschino. Maybe it doesn’t contain a liqueur at all, but a bit of simple syrup. A tragic truth: the world is full of coffees and and rums, and you’ll never be able to try all of them with all of them.

And of course, our old pal, orgeat, was still hanging around, so we tried once more, and this was the best of the three, but still not quite where I wanted.

Mai Tai Coffee

4 oz of Chemex-brewed coffee (Stumptown Gajah Aceh beans)
.5 oz Dark Rum (Pusser’s)
.5 oz Orgeat Syrup

Add spirits to hot coffee and stir.

The almond latte is a very common drink, so adding rum to coffee was a very natural extension. I think the concept with this variation is sound, but the specific rum and coffee that we used were ill-suited to each other. A grate of lime zest might be a welcome addition, also. Fortunately, we can brew more coffee.


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Appetizer

I was looking for a drink to make with heavy cream when I happened upon this little beauty from CVS. The appetizer is perhaps oddly named, because with heavy cream and two very potent bitters, I think it walks the line between dessert and digestif. A proper aperitif should be dry and stimulating to the appetite, whereas this drink feels more like something to sip after a long meal.

The original drink called for Dubonnet, which I did not have, but on CVS he substituted Bonal, which I also did not have. I chose to use Cardamaro, because I find it to be similar to Bonal, though probably Dubbonet is more like sweet vermouth than Cardamaro. I wouldn’t stress about it, as long as you use a decently sweet and bitter and high-quality fortified wine, because Fernet and Angostura are the real heroes of this drink.

Appetizer

.5 oz Fernet Branca
.5 oz Angostura Bitters
.5 oz Heavy Cream
.5 oz Dubbonet (Cardamaro… I know)

Shake over ice and double-strain into a fluted glass.

The original recipe called for a cocktail glass, but I chose to use a fluted one, because the purpose of a cocktail glass’ wide mouth is to diffuse the fumes from the alcohol. The greater surface area of the cocktail glass also allows more heat to bleed into the drink, so it will warm quicker. I wanted to capture the aromas from the bitters when sipping this drink, rather than release them into the air with a cocktail glass. I also wanted to split the drink between three people, and these were convenient. But the logic is sound.

The sweetness of the dairy perfectly modulated the bitterness of the Fernet and Angostura. This was the most unusual drink I have tried all year, and I greatly enjoyed it. Somehow, the combination of spices and the cream made me feel like I was sipping on some kind of Tikka Masala. There was nothing savory in the drink, but still, the overall impression was one of curry.

I made this drink at the end of the night, and to be honest I was looking for something with a bit more of a dessert quality to it, so I mixed up a second round, swapping Fernet Branca with Branca Menta, which is Fernet Branca’s much sweeter cousin. The extra sugar greatly diminished the sensation of eating curry, and made this drink feel like a grown-up Grasshopper.

In the future, I will tend to make the Branca Menta variation, but I encourage you to try it both ways.


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Pineapple and Fernet

Last Saturday was a great day. James had just purchased his first bottle of Fernet Branca, and the occasion merited a thorough exploration of the ingredient. Pineapple juice and Fernet is one of those few truly extraordinary flavor pairings, like chocolate and peanut butter, or foie gras and sauternes, and I wish it were better-known.

Moreover, fresh pineapples have a limited window of availability, and I like to get while the gettin’s good, so I juiced a whole pineapple, and separately, a few ginger roots, and took them to the party. For our first drink of the day, I mixed up a Bartender On Acid. I first learned of this drink through CVS, and I fell in love with it because it was a classed up version of a prole drink, like Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady.

Bartender On Acid

1 oz Fernet Branca
1 oz Fresh Pineapple Juice
1 oz Traditional Rum (Wray and Nephew)

Shake over ice and double strain. Serve “Up”.

The Bartender on Acid is a highly improved version of that old college classic, the Surfer On Acid, a trainwreck of a shooter containing equal measures of canned pineapple juice, Jagermeister, and Malibu. Fernet Branca has the same dark, herbal, bitter personality that Jager does, but it has much more subtlety, and much more bitterness. It also has the alluring quality that frat boys don’t really drink it.

A traditional rum such as Wray and Nephew or Smith and Cross replaces the Malibu’s artificial coconut flavor with a hefty slug of “hogo“, the sulfurous, grassy, funky quality of rum which is distilled from molasses in a pot still, as in the traditional style. It’s rare to see an equal portions drink achieve such an excellent balance. A+, would drink again.

For round two, I was feeling inspired by this post at the Tiki Speakeasy, so I decided to put that pineapple juice to good use with a couple of original creations. Ginger and pineapple is another great pairing, and so is ginger and fernet, so I had it in my mind to combine the three of them into a highball.

Piña Branca

1.5 oz Pineapple Juice
1.5 oz Pusser’s Rum
.5 oz Lime Juice
.5 oz Fernet Branca
3 barspoons Fresh Ginger Juice
1 oz Ginger Beer

Combine all except ginger beer in a shaker, shake over ice and double strain over fresh ice. Top with ginger beer and garnish with a pineapple slice and a lime wheel.

Double-down on your garnishes when you’re making a tiki drink. It has to look exotic, and we accomplish that with more cut fruit. I added a few spoonfuls of fresh ginger juice to this drink to add a ginger spice, and relied on the ginger beer to contribute the necessary sugar.

It was very refreshing, but without any simple syrup, the whole drink was very dry, perhaps too dry for some palates. Such a drink is to my taste., but we also had some orgeat hanging around from the Trinidad Sour, and James wanted to see how the orgeat would fit into this drink.

Marzipiña

1.5 oz Pineapple Juice
1.5 oz Pusser’s Rum
.5 oz Lime Juice
.5 oz Fernet Branca
3 barspoons Fresh Ginger Juice
.75 oz Orgeat Syrup
1 oz Ginger Beer

Combine all except ginger beer in a shaker, shake over ice and double strain over fresh ice. Top with ginger beer and garnish with a pineapple slice and a lime wheel. Cut the pineapple so that it’s eating the lime wedge, like Pac Man.

I tasted this drink with only .5 oz of the orgeat, and it didn’t really have the almond sweetness that I was looking for. The addition of orgeat covered up the fernet, and I didn’t want to add any more lest I upset the balance between the other flavors. The addition of sugar to the drink made it much more approachable, and I think that a mint leaf might help bring the fernet back into focus.

This variation will probably suit most peoples’ tastes more than the Piña Branca, and I’m fine with that, as long as it keeps them off of the Malibu.


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Orgeat Syrup and Trinidad Sour

Unfortunately, we now return to your regularly scheduled amateur photography by me.

After an excursion to Smith’s on Capitol Hill, James was inspired to make orgeat syrup using this Serious Eats recipe. It is often the case for me, too, that I will be moved to recreate a drink after ordering it at a bar or a restaurant. The drink on the menu at Smith’s was called a Trinidad Sour, and when I heard the name I thought perhaps James had stumbled onto this Trinidad Sour that made a splash a few years ago by using Angostura as a base spirit.

And indeed, the drink at Smith’s seems is very similar to the one that I remembered, except it uses Fernet instead of Angostura for its bitter component. Mint and orgeat go very well together, as we know from the Mai Tai, so it is a reasonable and interesting substitution, though it required very different proportions.

Smith’s Trinidad Sour

1.5 oz Rye Whiskey (Old Overholt)
.5 oz Fernet Branca
.5 oz Lemon Juice
.5 oz Orgeat Syrup

Shake over ice and double-strain into a cocktail glass. Gently float a lemon wheel on top.

The home-made orgeat was very milky, and had a much nuttier flavor than the Monin Orgeat that I have been using lately. The Monin has the marzipan/almond extract flavor that you expect in an orgeat syrup, but it does not actually taste all that much like an almond. The home-made syrup, on the other hand, was more reminiscent of sweet almond milk, and the orange flower water was very discernible, and pleasant. As you can see from the photo, it gave this drink a creamy color and texture. If you’re on the fence about fernet, this is probably a great drink to aid you on your journey.

Drinking this put me in the mood for the original, and I wanted to see how the fernet version compared to the Angostura version, so I made one of those, too:

Trinidad Sour

1.5 oz Angostura Bitters
1.5 oz Orgeat Syrup (Homemade)
1 oz Lemon Juice
.5 oz Rye (Old Overholt)

Shake and double-strain into a coupe glass.

I had thought this drink would be less accessible than the Fernet version, but I was wrong. The Angostura Trinidad Sour is sweet and spicy, and it tastes like cinnamon, clove, and cherry wood. Equal parts of syrup and bitters cuts all of the challenge away from the Angostura, and gives the drink a cotton candy quality that I don’t mind, but that I don’t crave. I suspect I would prefer it with only an ounce of syrup, and I will be trying that variation soon.

I adore the color of the Angostura bitters version, however; Angostura has an oily, staining red color to it, and with the cloudiness from the orgeat, it has a distinctive and striking appearance. Even so, if you only make one of these, I suggest the Fernet version, but both are excellent.


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Dirt and Diesel

Today I would like to present one of my all-time favorite cocktails, the Dirt and Diesel. This drink is reminiscent of the much more traditional Corn N’ Oil, a potion of blackstrap rum and falernum, a tiki ingredient that I promise I will make one of these days. The Dirt and Diesel was invented by a bartender at one of my favorite Seattle bars, Tavern Law, and it truly does have an industrial sort of flavor from Cynar and Fernet Branca.

Dirt and Diesel
(by Cale Green, Tavern Law and Needle & Thread, Seattle)

2 oz Cruzan Black Strap Rum (Kraken)
.5 oz Fernet-Branca
.5 oz Demerara sugar syrup
.25 oz Cynar
.25 oz lime juice

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

To be honest, the Cynar is not very prominent in this drink, hiding as it is behind double its volume of Fernet Branca, but it is there if you look for it. When I first tasted this drink at the bar, I went home that same night and tried to replicate it out of my own head. I came pretty close, but I mixed up the proportions of the half ounce and quarter ounce ingredients. It looked like this:

Poorly-Recreated Dirt and Diesel

1.5 oz Black Strap Rum (Kraken)
.5 oz lime juice
.5 oz Cynar
.25 oz Fernet Branca
.25 oz Demerara sugar syrup

My version was too juicy, and not as balanced, so don’t make it, except switching the Fernet and Cynar is a fun variation. As for the real version of the drink, it is one of my all-time favorite mixed drinks, and an excellent way to enjoy that queen of spirits, Fernet Branca. If you do not have Fernet Branca in your home bar, what are you doing, son?

Also, a word on Demerara sugar syrup; Demerara sugar, or turbinado sugar, or “sugar in the raw”, for those of us who are ready, is not as sweet by volume as more refined sugars, and must be made in a ratio of 2:1 sugar:water in order to be adequately sweet. If you don’t have any Demerara sugar, or you are very lazy, I won’t be offended if you make brown sugar syrup instead, and probably no one will really know, but you’ll know, and that should be enough to move your conscience.

As with the Whiskey Fix, photo credit goes to my friends Michael Schmid, John Sim, and Matt Barraro.