Measure & Stir

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Drink Inc Reviews

On Youtube, there is an excellent series by the name of Drink Inc. It features two Los Angeles bartenders, Steve Livigni and Daniel Nelson, who first eat a delicious meal, and then each make a drink inspired by the food that they ate. I fully endorse this method of finding inspiration, in fact, it’s a method that I sometimes use myself, and which has increased its space in my consciousness after watching their show. I don’t always love the drinks they make, but they will definitely get you thinking, and for that reason I think the show is a valuable asset.

As of today, they have published six episodes, and I am going to review all of them in this post. (All photographs shamelessly liberated from their videos.)

And, sure, does Daniel look like a ridiculous peacock, wearing a three piece suit in the Los Angeles heat? Clearly. But their product is great. I know that I risk sounding overly critical of them in this post, but I want to make it clear that I have a lot of respect for what they are doing, and I think they are excellent drink-makers. It’s very easy to sling criticism on the internet and much harder to get up and make a successful career out of mixing drinks.

Some of their drinks are too complicated, much like that day cravat, but they have a lot of great ideas, it’s just that they try to cram too many of them into a single drink, and the result is sometimes a drink with too many subtleties, not all of which are perceptible. Much like another genre of internet video, you will probably want to skip the first half of each episode, as it takes a while before the action gets going.

The format of the show is, first they go visit a restaurant, make some awkward conversation with the proprietors, and then they make drinks based on what they ate.

Dynamite Thai Cocktails

The first episode I watched was “Dynamite Thai Cocktails”, in which they visit a thai restaurant, and then Steve makes a drink based on Tom Kha Kai soup, and Daniel makes a spicy drink that does not seem to be based on any particular dish. I am a huge fan of Tom Kha Kai soup, which is made by simmering galangal, (Thai ginger) lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves in coconut milk.

The soup itself is quite savory, but they made a version of the soup more amenable to a mixed drink, and mixed it with gin and lime juice. I have not tried this one, but it looks delicious. My only complaint is, I hate the way he garnishes it with grated lime zest. Every time I have done this, I have ended up with little pieces of lime grit in my drink. One big peel is a vastly superior garnishing method.

Daniel’s drink, the Sesame Song, is pictured above, and contains Chile-infused vodka, lime juice, orange juice, and cayenne pepper. It sounds like a reasonable drink, but I was not very impressed with the concept, perhaps because of the reliance on vodka. Also, when I have used powdered spices in drinks in the past, they never dissolve to my satisfaction. Moreover, the sesame seeds and thai chile strands in the garnish, though beautiful, will disperse as the drink is drunk, and spoil the texture.

Smoky Mexican Cocktails

In episode 2, “Smoky Mexican Cocktails”, they visit an Oaxacan restaurant, and drink mezcal, and eat fried grasshoppers. Delicious. Steve makes a drink called the Oaxacan Flower, using a similar formula to his Thai drink from the previous episode. We love mezcal here at Measure & Stir, and so we were inspired to make this drink in our most recent jam session.

Daniel makes a chocolate tequila sour inspired by the concept of Molé, and garnished with a grasshopper. Again, I don’t think his drink is remarkable, though tequila and chocolate is a solid pairing, but his name has what is quite possibly the best name for a mixed drink I have ever heard, the “Dead Man Oaxacan”.

Sweet and Savory Pork Cocktails

In episode three they visit a butcher, and then do a beer cocktail and a fat-washed cocktail. I’ve experimented with bacon-infused bourbon, myself, and I came to the conclusion that a fat-washed cocktail is pretty much a fat-washed cocktail, no matter what you do to it. Steve makes the “Fat Manhattan”, an aromatic drink with amaro, sweet vermouth, bacon-infused bourbon, and nocello. I adore nocello, and I think this is a better recipe than Jamie Boudreau’s Chocolate Cochon, but it’s still not topping my list.

Daniel makes a beer cocktail with apricot puree, lemon juice, orange marmalade, and heifeweissen, and incorporates pork by garnishing it with salami. I’m a fan of the idea, but honestly I would rather you bring me this drink, and then serve it with a plate of charcuterie. Still, it’s cute.

Cop Cocktails

In episode four (note: my episode orders are not really significant), they visit a police station, and the officer who is their contact takes them to some local hole in the wall places where he likes to eat when he is on duty. It’s mostly just filler before they get to the good stuff, which is two smoked cocktails, both of which look excellent.

Daniel makes the “Tazerac”, a Sazerac which he smokes with hickory chips and garam masala. These kinds of smoke guns are kind of impractical for the home mixologist, though that has never stopped me in the past. For now, it’s not high on my list. What’s notable about this one is the way he traps the smoke in the glass and then covers it, so that when the drinker removes the cover, the smoke wafts out of the drink. 10/10 for style.

Steve’s drink, “Halal and Order”, is named after an episode in which the police officer busted a shawarma joint for health code violations. He mixes the super-trendy Pierre Ferrand 1840 with sweet vermouth and smoky Scotch, and then he pours it into a glass filled with smoke from burned rosemary. The really clever thing here is that his smoking method consists of lighting a rosemary sprig with a torch, and then turning the glass over it. This is a method that is in reach for any home enthusiast, and requires no special equipment. This is very similar to what they did at Angel’s Share with cinnamon, in their drink, “Daahound”.

Refreshing Pirate Potions

In episode five, they visit a fish market and eat a feast of fried fish. It looks positively scrummy. The only thing they really take away from it is a spice blend that the local fishmongers sell, and then they both make drinks around the spice blend. I thought this episode was totally underwhelming, the least interesting of the bunch. Steve makes a punch out of watermelon juice, sea salt, tequila, and Michelada spices (pictured). Salted watermelon is awesome, and it’s a fine punch, but it doesn’t really fit the theme very well.

Daniel makes the “Bloody Mariner”, a rum-based Bloody Mary with heirloom tomato juice, fennel juice and absinthe. As bloody Maries go, it looks pretty good. Fennel juice and absinthe does sound intriguing, if you love licorice. Personally, I have never been a huge fan of this flavor in mixed drinks, though I do like licorice candy.

Comfort Cocktails

Finally, they go and eat Southern style comfort food in the garden of what might be a famous LA restaurant? I’ve never heard of it, but I’m really not that hip.

Steve makes the Southern Sour, which I think is very clever in the way it incorporates so many breakfast elements. He uses lemon juice, orange juice, white corn whiskey, egg white, honey syrup, soda, and maple bitters. I do not care for unaged whiskey; at best it’s a grain eau de vie, but wait, that’s another name for vodka. How about using an ingredient that pairs well with all of the other ingredients in the drink, is still made from corn, and is the bedrock of southern drinking, bourbon whiskey? I know white whiskey is hip, but so are skrillex haircuts, and both of them suck.

Daniel makes Govind’s Garden, and it’s a cheat. Gin, pineapple, lime, and Lillet, floated with Amaretto and strawberry juice (puree?). It almost doesn’t matter what you put in the drink when you float this on top of it. Look at it, so thick and syrupy. The drink underneath sounded lovely, but just to make sure you like it, we’re going to top it with candy. Strawberry juice mixed with amaretto is clever. but there’s just so much going on in this drink. It makes sense if you think of it as a new wave tiki drink, but that does not make it less overwrought.

I certainly found a lot of inspiration in watching this show, and I am sure that you will, too.


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Cilantro Juleps

Another week, another Saturday full of drinking experiments. Ever since our recent mint julep experiment, we’ve been wanting to try a few new variations.  Cilantro is a delicious and easily-available green herb, and also one of my favorites, so it was probably inevitable that it would find its way into a drink eventually. My original intuition said gin, as I have never met a green herb that did not go well with gin. In the planning stages it was to stop there; Gin, simple sugar, cilantro, cracked ice. The standard method for making a mint julep.

At game time, however, I realized that gin and cilantro was going to taste a little flat, and I realized that something in cilantro was calling out for tequila. We ended up making two variations on the theme, one with Gin, sweetened with green charteuse, and one with tequila, sweetened with agave syrup. Unlike with mint, which needs to be treated delicately, cilantro takes a little more convincing before it gives up its flavors. You’ll want to build this one in the glass; start with your sweetener and a few sprigs of cilantro. Using your muddler, rough up that cilantro and show it who’s boss.

Once it’s nice and smashed, add crushed ice, and then slowly pour the base spirit over the crushed ice, and give it a quick stir. Garnish by placing more fresh cilantro on top of the crushed ice. This was the first time that I’ve seen gin fail to play nice with a green herb. Gin was there, cilantro was there, but there was no harmony, no reason to continue. The green Chartreuse fit nicely in the drink, but I really can’t advise that you make a gin cilantro julep.

Tequila, on the other hand, has a wonderful vegetal flavor that matches beautifully with the similar notes in fresh cilantro.

Cilantro Julep
1.5 oz Añejo Tequila (Herradura)
.125 oz (1 tsp) Agave Nectar
Fresh Cilantro
Place cilantro and agave nectar in a glass and muddle vigorously. Add crushed ice and slowly pour the tequila over it. Garnish with more fresh cilantro.

This is exactly what you want with your next Mexican meal. Tacos, nachos, fresh salsa — as long as it’s spicy, it will go with this drink. Happy Monday!


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Lavender Gin, Grapefruit, Toasted Cardamom, Orange

 

 

Ever since I made that lavender-infused gin, I’ve been wanting to do something a little more interesting than just a gin fix. I stand by that drink, but the lavender drink that my heart truly craves contains cardamom, and a subtle bitterness. If you’ve been following my recently you know I’m on a bit of an oleo saccharum binge, but I’m pretty sure this will be the last one for a while, unless I host a party. I’ve made a couple of “plain” oleo sacchara, consisting of only a citrus peel and sugar, but I’ve been much more pleased when I used herbs or spices to flavor the syrup, as well.

For this drink, I toasted cardamom pods in a pan before crushing them with grapefruit peels saturated in sugar. The cardamom flavor was mild, but present, and the grapefruit oil provided a beautiful bitterness. Both flavors were ideal for the strong lavender scent of my infused gin. The orange juice was more of an afterthought; Gin and syrup might be a decent old fashioned, but I wanted something a little bit longer, and not sour, and not a new-wave martini with syrup. Orange juice was the only logical choice, but it stayed in the background in this drink, keeping out of the way of the citrus, spice, and botanicals.

Cardamom is among my favorite flavors in the whole world; it occupies a space that also includes lavender and bergamot, that is why I chose this pairing. When combining flavors, it is often ideal that they should have an element in common. If two ingredients are too similar to each other, then the flavor profile will smear, and the drink won’t “pop”. Conversely, if two flavors are completely dissimilar, they will sit side by side, but do nothing to enhance each other. The best synergies come when two flavors have something in common, but not everything. A good example is sweet vermouth and orange; there are notes of orange peel in most sweet vermouths, but the vermouth also has flavors of wine and herbs. For this reason, orange juice, bitters, or liqueur will match it very well.

I did not garnish this drink, because the gin and the syrup were so fragrant already, but as a result, the picture is kind of lackluster:

Fine Dime Brizzle
1 Grapefruit Worth of Oleo Saccharum, made with Toasted Cardamom
1 oz Lavender-Infused Gin,
1 oz Orange Juice
Shake over ice and double-strain into a tumbler.

I already made a drink based on a Kanye West lyric, so I decided to name this drink after a line in Snoop Dogg’s best song, let’s be honest, Gin and Juice. And sure enough, this roughly equal parts recipe contains both gin and juice, albeit highly modified. It made for a very classy, or possibly a very pretentious gin and juice, so I thought it seemed appropriate. When I looked up “Fine Dime Brizzle” on urban dictionary, it was anything but classy, but I still like it.

Moreover,  I apologize for not having an exact measurement on the oleo saccharum, but if you strip all the peel off of a large grapefruit and then saturate it in sugar, you’ll come out pretty close. If you feel like there is way more sugar than you want, just add the syrup a little at a time, and taste it to make sure you have the ratio right.


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Gin, Mangosteen, Umeshu, Turbinado

A quick stroll through the Japanese Market equipped me to make today’s drink, in which I made use of mangosteen, and also Choya Umeshu, which is a Japanese plum wine. Mangosteen is not as sweet as lychee, and it has a softer texture, but it’s close enough that I intuitively used a similar process to this muddled lychee and gin drink, except I omitted the lemon juice, for it was not necessary.

Mangosteen is very expensive, and its flavor is not distinctive. It is light and watery, with a hint of a tropical fruit flavor, like like tart berries with a touch of pear. For this reason, I do not recommend using it to make drinks, but I didn’t know that, and neither would you if no one told you, no? If you’re like me, you’re constantly looking for novel flavors in your food and drinks, so maybe you think, sure, I’ll splurge on some tropical fruit, even though I have no idea how to pick a ripe one or if it’s even reasonable to expect to get good quality mangosteens this time of year. Maybe if you eat them closer to their point of origin, they have a stronger flavor.

No matter! I made a drink out of them anyway, and it was quite a good drink in spite of the mildness of the muddled fruit. Umeshu is made by infusing macerated japanese plums, called ume in shochu, and sweetening it with sugar. I noticed that the neighborhood Japanese market was selling 750 ml bottles of this as a liqueur (subject to the WA state hard liquor taxes) and also as a wine, so I, of course, opted to purchase the latter. I’m not sure if Choya is the good stuff; in fact I’m pretty sure it’s the cheap stuff, but it tasted pleasantly of plums, so I used it exactly like a fortified wine.

Bonus: it came in 50ml glass bottles, perfect for making exactly two drinks. A fortified wine you can keep in the pantry? Someone needs to put the fine folks at Choya in touch with whoever makes Carpano Antica.

Mango Should Be Steen and Not Heard
1.5 oz Old Tom Gin (Hayman’s)
.75 oz Umeshu (Choya)
1 tsp Turbinado sugar syrup
Flesh from one mangosteen fruit
Muddle the mangosteen in the turbinado syrup, then shake all ingredients over ice. Double strain over fresh ice and garnish with a piece of candied ginger.

This drink was excellent, in spite of the mangosteen having a light flavor. The extra sugar from the syrup helped to bring out its fruity flavors and the umeshu bridged the gap between astringent gin and sweet fruit. Making the drink was easy, but naming it… that I am not so good at. If anyone has a better idea of what to call this, please let me know. Personally, I don’t think every delicious thing you throw in a mixing vessel needs a name. If observe good practices regarding drink construction, and you mix according to your good taste, then you have done enough.

The best drink names are clever puns.


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Basil and Gin

I was in a particular experimental mood one night, and I had just purchased a fresh basil plant, so I thought I could probably put those things together. Alas, as I was eyeing the various liqueurs upon my shelf, I spied the bottle of Domaine de Canton, and was reminded of the way that thai cooking often combines basil with ginger. Would that I had not had such a thought, for Domaine de Canton makes a very poor cocktail; it is long on sugar and meager in ginger flavor. I have never mixed a drink with it that I loved, though I must confess it comes in a very appealing bottle. Ginger liqueur sounds great, of course, but the problem is that ginger, though spicy and strong of flavor, has a very light aroma.

As such, its flavor is not well-captured by the infusing process. Perhaps the good folks who make it are distilling it, but their website is unclear. Whatever they are doing, it is not working, because their product contains only the barest hint of a ginger flavor, and as such, it does not contribute to any drink with which it is mixed unless it makes up the majority of the drink’s volume. A quick browse through the recipes at the Domaine de Canton website confirms this analysis; all of the drinks they feature are very heavy on the liqueur. Perhaps that’s merely a ploy to sell more of their product, but either way, it’s a terrible mixer.

In its defense, it is delicious on its own, and I highly enjoy it neat or on the rocks, with with a twist of lemon peel. Since this post turned into an impromptu review of Domain de Canton, I’m going to sum up the pros and cons:

Pros: Excellent bottle. The spirit itself is slightly spicy from the ginger, and has a subtle vanilla flavor, with a hint of pear. Proof: 56, which is pretty good for a liqueur.

Cons: The flavor is too light to make any impact on a mixed drink unless you make it the bulk of the drink’s volume, throwing your sugar balance out of whack. Even dry gin overpowers it.

In any case, if you want ginger flavor in your drink, the proper way to do it is with either fresh ginger juice or fresh ginger syrup, which is made by shaking equal parts of white sugar and fresh ginger juice. Notice the common theme with these two ingredients. Ginger juice actually retains most of its flavor for a couple of days if properly sealed and refrigerated. I usually just use the fresh juice on its own, because that frees me to get my sugar from another source. A ginger syrup is useful if I know I want it to be the only sugar in the drink, but I find the fresh juice to be more versatile. If you don’t have a juicer, you can grate the ginger and squeeze the gratings through a strainer.

Basil and Gin
1.5 oz Gin (Beefeater)
.5 oz Dry Vermouth (Dolin)
.5 oz Domaine de Canton
1 dash Angostura Bitters
6-7 basil leaves
Muddle the basil leaves in the Domaine de Canton and then stir all with ice. Strain into a cocktail class and garnish with a smacked basil leaf and a lime peel.

Astute readers will notice that I grated lime zest on to the top of this drink, whereas my instructions call for a lime peel. I had never tried grating lime zest over a drink before, and for some reason it occurred to me as I was making this one to give it a shot. I don’t recommend this. In all honesty, I can’t see any reason to ever use grated lime zest over cutting a peel and expressing the oils. Grating puts substantially less oil into the drink, and produces a much fainter aroma. That would be fine if you only wanted a very faint sensation of lime, but when you do it this way, you end up with little pieces of zest floating in the drink, and that just sucks.

A proper drink should never have anything disrupting its texture. You want a light lime flavor? Just discard the peel instead of leaving it in the drink. Who came up with this grating idea? It looks dramatic, sure, but it simply is not functional. Stick to twists and large, rectangular peels.

Moreover, basil does not yield its flavor to a drink when it is muddled. Perhaps if I had used super fine sugar it would have worked better, but, in exactly the opposite situation from ginger, basil has a strong aroma and a mild flavor, therefore, if you want to truly capture its flavor, you need to use a tincture or an infusion.

On top of those two mistakes, I ended up using twice as much as I wanted in an attempt to make the flavor discernible. So the basil was poorly expressed, there was lime zest floating on top, and the whole drink was too sweet. In summary: Don’t make this drink, at least not this way. I will probably not iterate on this it, but if I did, the basil would be infused into the gin, and the ginger flavor would come from fresh juice, and I would use orange bitters instead of Angostura. If you never make a mistake, it means you aren’t taking enough risks.


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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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The Italian 50

I have a long-standing aversion to champagne cocktails, mostly on the basis that I think it looks unmanly to hold one at a bar. The only glass more feminine than a champagne flute is a hurricane, but both are OK in the proper context. If you are sitting on the beach at a resort, a hurricane glass full of coconut cream and rum, or even a bit of blue curaçao is probably ok, but if you order something like that in a bar on a Saturday night, I will probably make fun of you.

Anyway, In Northern Italy, the most popular aperitif is a drink called Spritz, and when my friend Gualtiero came by with a bottle of Prosecco, I knew it was time to make a drink in that vein. The classic Spritz recipe is delicious, but it’s a little too light for my tastes, and it goes a little something like this:

Spritz
1 oz Campari, Aperol, or Cynar
1 oz Prosecco
1 oz Sparkling Mineral Water

Combine in a glass and garnish with an orange wheel.

It goes without saying that your prosecco, mineral water, and ideally, your bitter liqueur will all be chilled before-hand. I like this recipe, but I’m usually in the mood for something a little stronger, so I crossed a Spritz with a French 75, and came up with The Italian 50:

The Italian 50
1 oz Dry Gin (Beefeater)
.5 oz Campari
3 oz Prosecco

Briefly stir gin and Campari together, and strain into a champagne flute. Top with 3 oz Prosecco and garnish with an orange wedge.

This was shockingly delicious, but I think it would have been just as good, and more appropriate to its name, if it had been made with Grappa instead of Gin. Alas, I do not have any Grappa, and I did not want to use Pisco, even though it’s a close approximation than gin. So the 50 in this comes from the fact that it is a 2/3 Italian 75, which multiplies out to be the Italian 50. Next time I’ll get some Grappa, and we’ll get all the way to 75.

The French 75 is essentially a Tom Collins with Champagne instead of sparkling water, meaning it makes use of lemon juice for its bracing quality. In the Italian 50, I am using Campari for this purpose instead, changing the drink from a sour drink to an aromatic one. In any case, the biggest win here is inherited from the spritz, which highlights the orange notes in Campari with a wedge of fresh orange. The aroma of orange when drinking this drink creates a decadent synergy with the Campari.

You could use Cynar instead of Campari, and if you do that, then I suggest a wedge of lemon, which is much more suited to Cynar than orange.


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Herbed Oleo Saccharum: Dill, Rosemary, Orange Oil

In his book, Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl, David Wondrich reveals that the foundation of a good punch is a concoction called oleo saccharum, which simply means “oily sugar”. That may not sound especially appetizing, but it is among the most delicious and under-appreciated ingredients in a mixed drink.  You don’t have to use it to make a giant punch; it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to make a single drink (or three). Usually it is made from lemons, but any citrus fruit will do, and I like to mix it up, as you have probably noticed. The process is a little bit time-consuming, but the end product is amazing, and worth it.

To make it, all you have to do is peel some of your favorite citrus fruit, being careful not to get any of the pith. I find this is especially challenging with limes, which is why I will not be making lime oleo saccharum any time soon. If you do, I recommend finding the freshest limes you can, as lime skins are thinner than lemons or oranges, and you have to get them before they can even slightly dry out. I was inspired to make this by a trip I took, several months ago, to the Teardrop Lounge in Portland, where they were serving an original drink called Perennial Punch, consisting of green tea, J.Wray, cachaça, dry aperitif wine, and herbed oleo saccharum.

I loved the idea of muddling herbs with the citrus peels, so I selected rosemary and dill, and muddled them in a bowl with the peel from four oranges, and a few ounces of sugar. I did not measure the sugar, I just eyed it. Add enough sugar to coat the peels, muddle them, and repeat a couple of times. Each time you muddle, the sugar will puncture the oil glands in the citrus peel and become saturated, so you end up using a substantial amount, perhaps an ounce per orange.

After you have combined the sugar and citrus peels, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let it sit for an hour, muddling occasionally. By the end, you get a rich, sweet oil with a heavenly smell. I mean really, truly, I am going to repeat this, it’s the key takeaway from this whole post: herbed oleo saccharum may be the greatest smell I have ever smelled.

The first drink I made with the oil was an attempt to partially reproduce the perennial punch. I did not bother to blend J. Wray and cachaça, as they have a similar flavor, and I find such blends to be gimmicky. Perhaps that is my ignorance. In any case, I did not quite get the dilution right on this one, and the flavor was good, but a bit on the watery side. As such, it’s hard to judge the success of the recipe. Everyone screws it up occasionally, and I was using unfamiliar ice, but that’s no real excuse.

Kind of Perennial Punch
1.5 oz Cachaça (Pitú)
.5 oz Dry Vermouth (Dolin)
.5 oz Herbed Oleo Saccharum
1 oz Soda Water
Stir all except soda over ice and strain over fresh ice. Top with soda and garnish with a rosemary sprig and an orange peel, because why not.

Other than the bad dilution, this was pretty tasty. The original used Pineau de Charentes, which I do not have, but the vegetal funk from the cachaça was a great match to the herbs in the oleo saccharum. Even over-diluted, the flavors of orange oil and herbs were salient. I made two of these at once, so I ended up wasting most of my precious oil on an error. I had enough to make one more drink, but it was all stuck to the herbs and peels that I had used in the preparation. I decided to take no chances, so I poured all of the still oil-saturated herbs and peels into my shaker with some gin and some lime juice, and I made a drink that is almost impossible to screw up.

Unintentional Herbed Semi-Gimlet
1.5 oz Gin (Aviation)
.5 oz Lime Juice
.5 oz Herbed Oleo Saccharum, plus oil-saturated sprigs of herb and orange peel

Shake over ice and double-strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary.

This drink was stunningly good. I call it a semi-gimlet because a proper gimlet is made of gin and lime cordial, but the process of making a good lime cordial is essentially making a lime oleo saccharum and then mixing it with strained lime juice. So this is a semi-gimlet in that the oleo saccharum was made with oranges, but if I had made it with limes, it would really just be an herbed gimlet. My process also placed extra emphasis on the citrus oil, so it would be a very unusual gimlet, at that.


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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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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.