Measure & Stir

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


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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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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.