Measure & Stir

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


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Enchanted Valentine’s: Snow White Forest Tonic with Hendrick’s Gin, Apple, Green Herbs, and Fernet Branca

The evil queen was a beautiful woman, but she was proud and arrogant, and she could not stand it if anyone might surpass her in beauty. She had a magic mirror. Every morning she stood before it, looked at her plate, and said:

Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Who makes the tastiest dessert of all?

Continuing the Valentine’s day feast, Johan and I decided to serve a dessert-loaded menu. Our second course was inspired by Snow White by the Brothers Grimm. For this fairy tale, we served “The Other Half of the Poison Apple”, and as before, Johan describes it in excruciating detail at Moedernkitchen.

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As long as long as the queen was not the most beautiful woman in the entire land, her envy would give her no rest. She made a poisoned apple, and from the outside it was beautiful; white with red cheeks, and anyone who saw it would want it. But anyone who might eat a little piece of it would die.

“Are you afraid of poison?” asked the old woman. “Look, I’ll cut the apple in two. You eat the red half, and I shall eat the white half.”

Now the apple had been so artfully made that only the red half was poisoned. Snow-White longed for the beautiful apple; she barely had a bite in her mouth when she fell to the ground dead.

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As you can see, we got experimental with this one. In addition to the drink and the frozen apple, we served an aromatic fog made with eucalyptus and spruce oil. With the fog and the drink, my intention was to create a sense of being lost in an enchanted forest.

For the fog, we filled a glass vessel with crushed dry ice, and then at service time, poured in a mixture of near-boiling water and essential oils. Be sure to use tempered glass for this, or it can break the vessel. If the water is not hot, the vapor will be disappointing.

The sensation of sitting down to a drink, and feeling the sudden rush of cold vapor flowing over the table, and the sharp scent of eucalyptus opening the sinuses

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For the drink, I used Hendrick’s gin, fresh apple juice season with matcha and malic acid, and a syrup of blanched and blended green herbs.  I was aiming at a fresh green color, but as conceived, the drink ended up a little swampy. In person it was greener, swearsies. I had no deep, esoteric inspiration in this drink, just a pragmatic, bottom-up approach.

I knew I wanted to create the feeling of a forest, so I started with a gin base and layered in other green aromas and botanicals. In my mind, rosemary, sage, and shiso all taste “green”, but one could be forgiven for thinking of poultry spices. In the drink, this was not a concern, but on its own,  I did think of a roast chicken.

Green Herb Syrup
20g rosemary
20g sage
20g shiso
150 ml water
150 ml sugar
Blanch the herbs, then combine everything in a blender and blend on high until the mixture is smooth. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer.

You could substitute mint for shiso, but cooked mint easily goes to toothpaste. Exercise caution. If possible, I would suggest juicing fresh mint à la minute, instead of macerating it into a syrup.

For the sour apple juice, I pressed three granny smith apples in a masticating juicer, seasoned it with powdered malic acid and matcha powder according to my taste, and whipped the mixture using a whisk attachment on an immersion blender. There is no precise recipe here, it is simply a matter of taste. The sour apple juice is filling in for lemon in this gin sour, and it needs to balance the sweet green syrup. If I had to put a number on it, I would say:

Sour Matcha Apple Juice
150 ml Fresh Granny Smith Apple Juice
10g Matcha Powder
3g Powdered Malic Acid
Combine all using an electric whisk.

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Lost in the Forest
1.25 oz Hendrick’s Gin
1 oz Sour Matcha Apple Juice
.5 oz Green Herb Syrup*
Shake over ice and double strain into an old-fashioned glass.
Float .25 oz of Fernet Branca.
Garnish with a rosemary sprig clipped to the side of the glass.

The float of Fernet Branca is mostly for aroma, but it gives the first few sips a bitter, bracing quality as well as a deep menthol aroma. The forest is dark and beguiling.

As you may notice, it is the year of the tiny clothespin. This cocktail garnish innovation is a real game-changer. Many aromatic ingredients are repellant if dropped into a drink,  but they can be beautiful and fragrant if held slightly aloft. Do yourself a favor.

Cheers.


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Bar High Five – Tokyo Craft Cocktail Series #3

Welcome to episode three of Measure and Stir’s Magical Mixological Journey in the Land of the Rising Sun(tm). Today, we are visiting Bar High Five in Ginza.

I did not know what quite what to expect as I came in to Bar High Five. It is located in a bustling restaurant district in Ginza, on the fourth floor of a building full of bars and restaurants. The bar seats about ten, and there are a few small tables to the side. The wall is adorned with awards proclaiming High Five to be one of the fifty best bars in the world. Certainly, their customer service was matched only by Uyeda-san’s Bar Tender. The professionalism and dedication of the staff was truly a thing to behold.

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In terms of the drinks, they were not a “mixology” bar, but more in the classic style. As an adventurous drinker, it is my preference to ask for the bartender’s choice (so long as the bar is not too crowded), and Bar High Five was happy to oblige me. Among the drinks that I and my cohorts enjoyed were:

* A stirred drink made with rye, two types of ginger liqueur, and a black tea liqueur.
* An Alaska with VEP Green Chartreuse
* A Whiskey sour sweetened with grape liqueur
* A “Black Negroni” made with fernet instead of Campari, and garnished with a lemon peel.

They also served the black negroni and the grape whiskey sour to other guests who were in the bar, so I take it those drinks are among their house specialties. Indeed, the senior bartender told us that his grape whiskey sour was a competition winner.

I realized only after the fact that their customer service may have let me down in one minor way. On their website is a menu with some intriguing drinks, but when I and my compatriots entered the bar, they never gave us a menu nor implied that there might be one. It is a small thing, and it does not tarnish the experience, but had I known, I would have ordered differently.

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It is easy to understand why High Five has the reputation that it does. They serve classic drinks with perfect execution, and offer a level of customer service that I have never seen in an American bar. If you are looking for more exotic and adventurous drinks, they might not be the first on your list, but if you are looking for a quintessential experience of a Japanese cocktail bar, this is the place.


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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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MxMo LXIX, January 21, 2013: Fortified Wines

Hello, my friends. I have been absent a while; longer than I had anticipated. To be honest, my posting schedule was a bit too aggressive, and I was feeling burned out. For the new year, (I know) we have a resolution. There will be fewer posts, but the drinks will be of higher quality. In order to keep up our break-neck pace, we found ourselves drinking more than we wanted to, and sometimes sacrificing quality in the name of filling the space.

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We are also going to keep the posts a little pithier. On that note, our first drink of 2013 is for Mixology Monday LXIX: Fortified Wines, hosted at Chemistry of the Cocktail.

Fortified wines began, in large part, as a way to deal with the difficulties of shipping wine long distances in the holds of sailing ships. Without the rigorous sterilization that is possible today, wines would often spoil en route. However, increasing the alcohol concentration to around 20% ABV was enough to keep them from going off… These wines held an important place in.. punch and have continued on in cocktails proper. [These wines include] sherry, port, and, to a lesser extent, madeira and marsala, all find their way into various mixed drinks… They can play many different roles – from taking the place of vermouths in classic drinks, to providing richness and sweetness in winter tipples, to serving as a base for lighter aperitifs. Whether forgotten classics or new creations, let’s see what you can put together.

For MxMo, we have slightly modified the Stepchild, one of our favorite drinks from 2012, and one that we made using our vermouth template. The improvement, though subtle, is important. Thematically, we liked calling the drink the Stepchild on account of the ginger wine. So in order to really drive home the lore, and to improve the nose, we replaced the candied ginger with a smacked mint leaf. The critical thing here is to hold up the mint leaf in the palm of your hand, and then dramatically backhand it over the drink.

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Stepchild
2 oz Stone’s Ginger Wine
.5 oz Fernet Branca
.5 oz Fresh Pineapple Juice
1 tsp (.125 oz) Fresh Ginger Juice
Shake over ice and double-strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a dramatically-backhanded mint leaf.

I adore Stone’s Ginger. Happy belated New Year, and big thanks to Jordan Devereaux at Chemistry of the Cocktail.


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A More Refined Whiskey and Coke

After fixing up the Cosmopolitan, I had a bit of an ego trip, and decided to follow it up with a better Whiskey and Coke. This drink is a mashup of two ideas in the space around coca-cola. First, a Cuba-Libre is about one thousand times better than a rum and coke; the lime juice balances against the sweetness of the cola, and complements the spirit. Second, Fernet and Coke is a popular drink in Argentina. Indeed, this makes sense, as the Dirt and Diesel, a drink with dark rum, lime, and fernet has a flavor which is reminiscent of a Cuba-Libre.

So our thinking here was to combine the concepts of a whiskey and coke, a fernet and coke, and a Cuba-Libre. Our first attempt with Fernet was not an overwhelming success. The Fernet dominated the drink, and the flavors did not come together the way we were hoping. There was something missing or something dissonant. Rather than try to add yet a fifth ingredient, we swapped the Fernet for the Dirt and Diesel‘s other bitter component, Cynar, and it was much more harmonious. The Cynar was not as bitter as the Fernet, of course, so we rounded it out with a dash of bitters.

Improved Whiskey Coke
1.5 oz Rye Whiskey (Rittenhouse Bonded)
.75 oz Cynar
.5 oz Lime Juice
Dash of Aromatic Bitters (Angostura)
2 oz High Quality Cola
Shake over ice and double-strain over fresh ice. Top with 2 oz high quality Cola and garnish with a lime wheel.

This was a great highball, but Cola is not my favorite thing to drink. It will taste much better if you use your favorite local artisanal cola, or failing that, Mexican coke, the kind that uses real sugar and comes in a glass bottle. We used Trader Joe’s “Vintage Cola”, and I must confess, I was disappointed with it. In Seattle, Pig Iron Cola is our favorite, and a much more solid choice.

If you want to splurge on the garnish, you could always use a vanilla bean molded into a straw, as in this Bacardi ad. If you haven’t seen them, the entire series of commercials is worth watching. They have high production values and interesting (maybe accurate?) trivia. I especially enjoy their twist on the mojito.

Cheers!


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Stepchild; Pineapple, Fernet, Stone’s Ginger

Happy Monday everyone! I have posted in the past about one of my favorite lesser-known aromatic wines, Stone’s Ginger. Ginger is one of my favorite flavors, but it has been hard to find this product in Washington until this past summer, when Total Wine finally graced the city of Bellevue with its presence. Stone’s Ginger is not even slightly spicy, which is the one thing I find disappointing about it. It has a very round, mellow, ginger flavor with sweet raisins on the finish, but when I consume ginger, I always look for that burn. Even so, it is a fine product, beautiful with either Gin or Whiskey and a dash of bitters.

A man can only keep so many fortified wines on hand, as they are highly perishable and wont to go bad before I can finish them all. As such, when I finished off a bottle of Bonal, I was very excited to have the space for a bottle of Stone’s, which I wanted to use in my recent vermouth template:

Vermouth Template
1.5 oz Wine-like beverage product
.25 of an abrasive or bitter modifier
.25 of a sweet modifier
(optional) dash of bitters
aromatic garnish (most likely citrus peel)

Here at Measure and Stir, we love the trio of pineapple, ginger, and fernet, which fits into the formula perfectly, now that I have a ginger wine. This flavor combination has never let me down. I am always excited to find new ways to use it. We omitted the dash of bitters for this one and opted instead for one teaspoon (one eighth of one ounce) of fresh ginger juice. The Stone’s Ginger is so much more complete when it is bolstered by a bit of fresh ginger, which contributes the heat that I crave in a ginger drink.

I ended up tweaking the template a little bit. I tried it in the above ratio and the Fernet dominated the pineapple. Strangely, by increasing the portion of both relative to the ginger wine, the Fernet came into balance. I cannot explain that. Usually when I use this template I use a ratio of 6:1:1, but when I mixed two of these in succession, my second was 4:1:1, and strangely it made all three flavors come into a tighter focus.

Stepchild
2 oz Stone’s Ginger Wine
.5 oz Fernet Branca
.5 oz Fresh Pineapple Juice
1 tsp (.125 oz) Fresh Ginger Juice
Shake over ice and double-strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a piece of candied ginger.

My intuition says that the expressed oil of a lemon peel might not be a bad addition, either, but it might squish the Fernet. Life is constant experimentation. One of the great things about the Fernet/Pineapple combo is the way the pineapple rushes to the fore of the experience, whereas the Fernet lingers on the backend. They fill distinct and separate regions of the flavor spectrum, while the Stone’s Ginger fills the space between them.

Spicy ginger works well with Fernet for a different reason; biting into that candied ginger will give you great appreciation for Fernet’s cooling mint. Cheers!

Cheers!


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Murray Stenson; The Bitter Word

It is a bitter word indeed, today, my friends; Murray Stenson, that bartender of bartenders, is suffering from a heart ailment and is unable to work. As a bartender, he is without health insurance, and he needs your help. Others, such as Doug and Paul have already written eloquently and at some length as to why you should help, if you enjoy craft cocktails or care about the craft cocktail scene. So Kindly mosey on over to MurrayAid.org, where you can show your appreciation to the man who brought The Last Word back from the dead.

To show our support for Murray, we mixed up an emergency round of a riff on the last word, which we call the Bitter Word:

The Bitter Word
.75 oz Fernet (Branca)
.75 oz Lime Juice
.75 oz Maraschino Liqueur (Luxardo)
.75 oz Green Chartreuse
Shake over ice and double strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a pineapple slice.

Pineapple matches well with all of the other flavors in this drink, so I guessed that it would make an excellent garnish, and indeed, it did. The brilliance of the last word recipe is that you can swap the “base” spirit for just about anything–bourbon, rum, mezcal, fernet–and still come out with something that works very well. That said, the original will always be the best. All elements in the drink are so perfectly balanced, and its flavor is bright and crisp, but not blinding. I see variations on this drink popping up all over the place, these days, and you have Murray to thank. In this version, the bitter menthol from the fernet complements the herbal spices of the green chartreuse rather nicely, and the lime and maraschino help to round out the last word’s perfectly balanced flavor profile.

I’m pretty new to this scene, but the one time I did sit across the bar from Mr. Stenson, at the Canon, he came right up and greeted me, even though a different bartender was serving my side of the bar. Real hospitality, that. You spend what, fifteen dollars for a good drink at a good bar? And if you’re like me, you order three or four rounds. Why not stay in next Friday, mix up the Last Word, and donate to a good cause?


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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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Cupcake with Fernet Branca Icing, Candied Ginger

I apologize, dear readers, for my unexplained absence. I have been sick. To make it up to you, I have, not a recipe for a drink, but a recipe for a cupcake. At the ground level of the building where I work, there is a fancy cupcake shop, and as I was gnoshing on a bourbon maple cupcake, I was suddenly struck by how much I wanted fernet-flavored icing. I am not very experienced at baking, but when I mentioned the idea to my friend James, he took it and ran with it.

We used a recipe from Magnolia Bakery in New York City, but we took some liberties with the icing, obviously.

Fernet Branca Icing
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter (room temperature)
6 – 8 cups confectioner’s sugar
1/2 cup – 1 cup + Fernet Branca (to taste)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1. Place butter in large mixing bowl
2. Add  4 cups of the sugar and Fernet and vanilla, mix on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 3 – 5 minutes
As you’re mixing it, after the first 3 – 5 minutes, after it starts to become creamy, gradually add the remaining sugar, beating well after each addition (2 minutes), until the icing is thick enough to be of spreading consistency.

As you can see if you look at the picture closely, our buttercream came out with a slightly lumpy consistency, and the internet tells me this is because our buttercream was too cold. For perfect texture, the butter needs to be wholly at room temperature. Moreover, our frosting was a bit too thin to spread. In our eagerness for the bitter flavor of Fernet, we allowed the ratio of sugar/butter/Fernet to become too far weighted in the direction of Fernet. This made the frosting delicious, but it also made it run down the sides of the cupcake.

We garnished the cupcakes with a slice of candied ginger, and it paired beautifully with the Fernet. Here is the recipe for the cupcakes themselves, for those of us who are ready:

Magnolia Bakery Cupcakes
1.5 cup self-rising flour
1.25 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a medium bowl, combine the flours, set aside.
3. In a large bowl, on medium speed of electric mixer, cream the butter until it’s smooth.
4. Add sugar, beat for 3 minutes, until fluffy.
5. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.
6. Add dry ingredients in 3 parts, alternating with the milk + vanilla.
With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated but don’t over do it.
7. Spoon batter into cupcake tin with liners.
8. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the the cupcake has finished (tester comes out clean).
9. Cool cupcakes on a rack for 15 minutes.

Do not ice them until they have completely cooled. Even without perfect texture, these cupcakes were delicious. Why not eat them with a small glass of bourbon?


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Old Fashioned Fernet Cocktail with Pineapple Foam

Last week’s foam adventure left me unsatisfied; though the foam itself was excellent, the total drink was lacking. And in the aftermath of my failure, I knew there was a reliable way to redeem myself. I brought back our old friend, that time-tested combination, pineapple and fernet. I have already spoken at some length about this combination; we all know it’s a winner. What I wanted to do with this drink was to showcase the foam with a simple drink that would support it. In my earlier experiment, I tried to unify two wholly disparate parts into a single drink, with predictable results.

Here, rather than putting two drinks in one glass and watching them fight, I envisioned a single drink, and split half of its components into a foam, and the other half into a cocktail. The marriage was perfect; I placed a simple foam on top of a simple drink, and it needed nothing.

I admit, I had my reservations about the foam recipe itself. To make a good foam, one needs to a balance the ratio of sugar to acid, not merely for flavor, but also for the structural integrity of the foam. Pineapple juice has a pH of about 3.0, whereas lemon juice hovers between 1.8 and 2.2. I used pineapple juice as the base of this foam, so I knew I needed to use significantly less citrus than in the whiskey sour foam from before, but I wasn’t sure how much less. I ended up taking a stab in the dark, and getting lucky. Pineapple juice also has a high sugar content, so one wonders if it might not be fine on its own.

Pineapple Foam
6 oz Fresh Pineapple Juice, strained.
1 oz Fresh Lime Juice, strained.
1 oz Simple Syrup
2 oz water
4 egg whites
Combine all in an iSi whipped cream dispenser and discharge two nitrogen cartridges. Allow the canister to rest in the refrigerator for ten minutes before use.


Old Fashioned Fernet Cocktail, Pineapple Foam
1.5 oz Fernet Branca
.25 oz Simple Syrup
1 Dash Angostura Bitters
Stir over ice and strain into a rocks glass with a single large ice cube. Top with a generous amount of pineapple foam.

This drink needed nothing. Perhaps instead of an old fashioned, it should be called a new fangled, in reference to the molecular mixology technique here employed. Regardless, this was one of my finest original creations to date. The water mellowed out the flavor of the foam, balancing it against the Fernet, allowing the whole drink to breathe. A big danger with foam drinks is that the foam can overwhelm the drink underneath, and dilution of the foam is the secret to keeping the flavors in balance.