Measure & Stir

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


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Thai Week Outtakes

Note: All of the drinks in this post were sub-par. We are posting them as a recounting of what not to do. Please do not make them, they are not that great.

We had some successes with our Low-Proof Thai Cocktail Week, but we also had plenty of drinks that didn’t make the cut. Two of them we already posted, the Miracle Mango Sour and the Lemongrass Soju MarTHAIni. They were OK, but they did not make the final cut. The lemongrass marTHAIni was too one dimensional — its only real flavor was lemongrass, which tastes kind of like a truncated lemon. Point of fact, it tasted kind of like a yellow fruit loop. Gross.

The Miracle Mango Sour was a bit more interesting, but it lacked impact. Even with fresh citrus juice, there was simply no kick, no bite, no bracing quality to it. Part of the problem is that soju is not high-proof enough to fully extract the soft flavor of a fruit like mango. As a result, the mango flavor in our infusion was week. Hence the maxim: give soju infusions double the time and they’ll taste twice as fine. But some flavors just aren’t going to come out, no matter how long you leave them. If you drank mango-soju straight, over ice, and with a twist of lime, it would be pretty tasty, but in a mixed drink it just can’t stand up.

Still, we were determined to somehow make the concept of the miracle mango sour work, so in a frenzy of mixing last friday night, we made four more iterations of it, and none of them were good enough of for the final menu. At least they look pretty.

2 oz Mango-Infused Soju
.5 oz Nigori Sake  (Kizakura)
.5 oz Simple Syrup
.5 oz Lemon Juice
Shake over ice and double-strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with mango cubes and a lime twist.

This tasted good but it was watery. Mango-infused soju and nigori sake are both low proof and lightly flavored. We wanted to create a drink that was reminiscent of mango sticky rice, which is why we selected nigori sake. Nigori sake fills a similar role to a fortified wine in this drink, except it is, unfortunately, even lower proof that soju. Nigori sake is unfiltered sake, so it has a cloudy look and texture, and a sweet flavor. The taste of mango was light in our infusion, so I used only .5 oz of Nigori sake to keep it in balance. Perhaps if I had shaken this a mere ten times, it would have come out OK, but I gave it my standard thirty (this was the drink that made me realize you have to shake low-proof cocktails half as long). Even though it had a good flavor, we wanted to make it more intense, so we switched from mango soju to mango syrup.

Adding insult to injury, the lime zest in this garnish made a very discordant smell to the flavor of the drink. It was all wrong.

2 oz Nigori Sake (Kizakura)
.5 oz Mango Syrup (Monin)
.5 oz Lemon Juice
1 tsp Bird’s Eye Chili-Infused Soju
White of one whole egg
Dry shake, and then shake over ice and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with skewered mango cubes and kaffir lime leaves.

Mango syrup has a very concentrated flavor, so our next idea was to use the Nigori sake as a base spirit, and get the mango in that way. This felt like it was going to be a slam dunk, but it was actually the worst of the bunch. The Nigori sake is so low-proof that even the bird’s eye chili could not save the drink from tasting weak. Worse, the mango syrup’s flavor was so powerful that it was the only thing we could taste over the egg white.

So for round three, we decided to concentrate the flavor of the Nigori sake, by simmering it on the stovetop and reducing its volume by two thirds. Even concentrated, the nigori sake had a very mild flavor, but it was strong enough that it did come through in the drink.

2 oz Soju
.5 oz Egg White
.5 oz Nigori Sake Reduction
.25 oz Mango Syrup (Monin)
.25 oz Lemon Juice
1 tsp Bird’s Eye Chili-Infused Soju
Dry shake, and then shake over ice and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with skewered mango cubes and kaffir lime leaves.

Of all the variations we made, this one was the best. We used uninfused soju as the base (we were out of mango), but it scarcely mattered against the mango flavor of the mango syrup. It’s possible that the mango soju would have rounded out the mango flavor, but it’s more likely that you would not have been able to notice the difference. We cut the egg white in this one back down to .5 oz, and it didn’t foam as much, but it still added body, and the flavors all came through. It was decent, but not so good that I would serve it to a guest or in a restaurant.

Even if it had been good, it would have been impractical, because the Nigori sake reduction would have been too expensive to justify producing it en masse for a restaurant. Somewhat happy with this result, we decided to try again, from a different direction, and also a more economical one:

2 oz Soju
.75 oz “Thaichata” Red Thai Rice, Kaffir Lime, Bird’s Eye Chili Concentrate
.25 oz Mango Syrup (Monin)
.5 oz Egg White
2 dash Regan’s Orange Bitters
Dry shake, and then shake over ice and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with skewered mango wedges a kaffir lime moustache.

This tasted like a slightly less good version of round #3. Instead of Nigori sake, we blended thai red rice with Bird’s eye chili and Kaffir lime leaves, simmered the mixture in water for a while, and then strained it through a cheesecloth. This procedure was similar to the one we used to make the Horchata for the Oaxacan Flower, and we loved the idea of “Thaichata”. Even though cinnamon is present in Thai food, we did not want to use it because we were afraid it would make the drink taste like more Mexican than Thai. We may try Thaichata again, but the recipe needs some work. As it was, it did a pretty good job of putting the rice flavor into the drink, and it turned it a beautiful pink color, but by this time we were fatigued of the concept, and sick of soju drinks.

Only later, we realized that mango sticky rice is made with coconut milk, but it was enough of a juggling act trying to get the flavors of rice and mango to balance against each other. Introducing coconut (i.e., more complexity) probably would not have magically fixed this mess. Gosh, I can’t wait to drink real drinks again!


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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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Oaxacan Flower: Horchata, Mezcal

Steve Livigni and Daniel K. Nelson, of ‘Drink, Inc.’, have come up with a brilliant drink built around my favorite agua fresca, horchata. You can check out the story behind the drink by watching their youtube video (spoilers: they invent it for some restaurant).

We wanted to do it properly and make our own homemade horchata… Unfortunately neither of us had ever made it before, and every recipe we could find was different. Apparently there are a million ways to make horchata, and everyone seems to have their own recipe. We decided to wing it and make up our own.

Horchata
1 cup milk
1 cup rice
1 cup water
2 cinnamon sticks
1 vanilla bean

Combine rice, milk, and water in a medium-sized pot and heat it up over a medium heat. Crumble up the cinnamon sticks into the pot. Split the vanilla bean down its center and add it to the pot too. Don’t let it boil, just keep it warm, and let it cook for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Stop before the rice is fully cooked. Dump the lot into a blender, add additional water, and purée. Keep going, adding water until the desired consistency is achieved. Strain through a cheesecloth.

In the end, we sweetened things up with some vanilla/cinnamon syrup, to taste. If I were to make horchata again, I might add some raw, chopped almonds while the rice is cooking, and perhaps omit the milk altogether (subbing in an additional cup of water instead). There is certainly room for improvement and experimentation here, so if you have any horchata advice, please share your tips!

Oaxacan Flower
1.5 oz Spice-infused Mezcal
2 oz Horchata
Dry shake (to froth the horchata) and serve over crushed ice. Garnish with a lime wedge, star anise, cloves, and grate fresh cinnamon over the top.

The original recipe calls for spice-infused mezcal, but they never mention what sort of spice to use. We just used regular mezcal. No regrets. Mezcal and horchata work astonishingly well together. The spices in the garnish highlight the cinnamon pep provided by the horchata, and the mezcal’s flavors are truly transformed, shifted toward the sweeter side of the spectrum, but still complex, bold, and smoky. This drink would pair perfectly with some delicious adobada tacos, and has become one of my all-time favorite mezcal drinks.

¡Disfruten sus bebidas, mis compañeros de borracheras! Salud.