Measure & Stir

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


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Phat Beets: Beet, Rye, Cumin, Balsamic Vinegar, Orange Oil and Green Peppercorn

I know, I know, I haven’t written in a year. I’m not going to waste a lot of time on throat-clearing but I want to assure you that I’m still here, and I still like you, and as always, I want to help you elevate your cocktail game.

drink

I was fishing around for novel flavor combinations that would be timely for the winter season, and I found that green peppercorn jelly is appropriate to mix with beetroot, as is cumin, as is orange oil. I decided to put all four of them together, using beet juice as the bridge between the other ingredients.

For the beetroot, I ran several beets through a masticating juicer and then a fine-mesh strainer and then a chemex. Chemex clarification of juices works better with some juices than others. Beet is among the ones that work less well. Although my beet juice did achieve an elegant texture, its color was so dark that there was no noticeable effect of clarification. You could safely skip the chemex step, but you might consider straining through a 100 micron superbag.

I tried this drink with both bourbon and rye, and I discovered that the additional sourness that comes from a rye was a better complement to the sweet and earthy notes of the cumin and beet. Use a workhorse rye for this, as anything subtle will tend to be drowned out.

For the cumin syrup I toasted about a teaspoon of whole cumin seeds in a pan, then crushed them and simmered them in a 1:1 simple syrup until their flavor was extracted.

In the past I used to reach for lemon juice as my cocktail acid of choice, but a man can only drink so many lemon or lime sours before he starts to ask what other acids exist. Most every good cocktail has a source of acidity, except for the family of drinks that takes after the old fashioned.

For this drink I used a quarter ounce of 10 year aged balsamic vinegar. It is syrupy and sweet, but it also adds the ascetic tang on the backend that is needed to find balance and challenge.

Finally, for the green peppercorn jelly, I crushed ~2 teaspoons of green peppercorns with a mortar and pestle, and simmered them with sugar, agar agar, and filtered water. As soon as the agar dissolved, I poured the mixture through a strainer into a small mold and let it set in the fridge. In 20 minutes I had a firm, pale green jelly.

garnish

Phat Beets
1.5 oz Rye Whiskey (RI1)
.75 oz Finely Strained Beet Juice
.5 oz Toasted Cumin Syrup
.25 oz Extra-Old Balsamic Vinegar
Express Orange Oil over the drink and discard the peel.
Serve with Green Peppercorn Agar Agar Jelly.

 

Green Peppercorn Jelly
250ml Filtered Water
1 Tsp Green Peppercorns, crushed
1 Tbsp. Sugar
2g Agar Agar powder
Bring all to a boil and whisk until sugar and agar agar are fully dissolved. Strain into a small mold and chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.

This is not one of those viscerally delicious, I-can’t-wait-to-have-another-one type of drinks. I don’t think beet juice is anyone’s favorite, but my hope is that a refined palate can appreciate this as a much more cerebral cocktail experience. First, the imbiber should take a sip of the drink, and observe its sweet, earthy, and spicey notes. The flavors are more or less orthogonal and exist such that each is distinct.

Then, they should take a bite of the peppercorn jelly. The subtle piperitious burn lingers on the palette with an unctuous, floral note. Another sip reveals an unexpected synergy between peppercorn, beetroot, and cumin, pulling the brighter elements of the drink’s composition into contrast against the bassy note of the pepper.

I apologize (#sorrynotsorry) for the previous two paragraphs but I have been watching a lot of Iron Chef Japan lately.

Cheers.


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Acid Trip #1: Peanut Butter Jelly Time

Peanut-butter-jelly-time

Hello friends. We haven’t spoken in a while, and I want you to know that I have missed you. Lately in my cocktail journey, I have been contemplating the composition of basic drinks. With precious few exceptions, all of the standard drink formulas combine a base spirit with a source of acid and a source of sugar. In spirited drinks, the acid and the sugar often reside in a single bottle, in the form of a fortified wine. In a sour drink, acidity comes from lemon or lime, and sugar comes from syrup, liqueur, or both.

I have explored vinegar in the past, and also acid phosphate, but there still exists a lot of unexplored territory. Can the acidic component of drink mirror and meld into the other ingredients, as opposed to merely synergizing with them?

pbj2

There is a wide world of flavors to be captured in syrups and liqueurs, but in most drinks, we find that the carrying capacity for sweeteners is very low before the drink becomes cloying. It may be that we like the interplay between a sweet fruit juices and a liqueur, but that the desirable attributes of such a blend are overpowered by a balancing volume of lemon or lime juice.

This problem can be overcome by the use of acid phosphate, but although it is neutral in flavor, it is expensive and its acidity is low relative to its volume.

A better choice is to find a source of acid that can reinforce the natural flavors of fruit juice. Most juices contain multiple acids, but a very common one is malic acid, particularly in apples and grapes. It is commonly used in wine-making, but I have been experimenting with it as a souring agent in juice-driven drinks. Malic acid tastes fruity and succulent all on its own, and when it is added to a juice that already contains it, it reinforces and amplifies certain aspects of that juice.

pbj

Acid Trip #1

1.25 oz Wheated Bourbon (Weller 107 Antique)

.75 oz Peanut Syrup*

6 Kyoho Grapes, Muddled

1/8 Tsp Powdered Malic Acid

Grated Cinnamon

Pinch of Salt

Muddle grapes, grate a little fresh cinnamon, and shake all over ice. Double-strain into a coupe glass with a lightly salted rim and garnish with skewered grapes.

Kyoho grapes are fat and juicy with an intense sweet flavor. They almost taste like grape jelly all on their own. I found some at the farmer’s market and I knew they would be perfect for my malic acid experimentation.

I combined them with a peanut syrup, which one might even call peanut orgeat, but how does one decided what constitutes an orgeat? Is it merely a nut-based syrup? Is it the presence of rose or orange flower water? Does it require apricot pits, overnight steeping processes, or perhaps the blood of innocents? Some orgeat processes I have read are more like a sweetened almond milk, calling for nuts to be crushed or ground. In any case, this is how I made my peanut syrup:

Peanut ‘Orgeat’

1/2 Cup Water

1/2 Cup Peanut Butter

1/2 Cup Sugar

Pinch of Salt

Bring peanut butter and water to a boil, then simmer for ten minutes. Stir in sugar and strain through a fine-mesh strainer.

The resulting syrup was viscous, unctuous, creamy, and opaque. I made the syrup more intense by adding a bit of salt and freshly-grated cinnamon to the drink before shaking it, but you could also integrate them right into the syrup to simplify the recipe during drink service. I will definitely do so in the future. The cinnamon should not read as cinnamon; it should fade into the background and add just a little woody, spicy complexity to the peanut.

I chose to use a wheated bourbon for this because the whiskey is playing the role of bread to the peanut butter and grape. Without additional malic acid, this drink would have been too sweet, but the powdered acid allowed me to make whiskey and peanut butter sour, with grape standing in for lemon. Concept drinks don’t always work out, but this one did. I would proudly serve it to anyone.

Cheers.