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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Macadamia Nut Liqueur, Pineapple and Coconut

I’ve never been to Hawaii myself, but several of my friends have been on holiday there during the last year. They’ve all brought back delicious snacks, and there’s always some kind of macadamia-based treat included amongst the bounty. I don’t know what it is about this state, but it must be overflowing with macadamia nuts. The last friend of mine to visit the 50th state brought back what has been my favorite macadamia treat so far: macadamia nut liqueur.

Being a gift from Hawaii, this ingredient was destined to be mixed into a macadamia-themed tiki drink, like Joe’s Tkach Tiki Delux, only we wanted to make sure that the macadamia flavor was the main attraction, so Joe and I blended up this tropical treat. Behold!

This drink is nuts, so we call it Macadamia, or Macadamia Piña Colada
3 oz Macadamia nut liqueur
2 oz Smith & Cross rum
2 oz Matusalem rum
1 oz Coconut cream (critically important: use unsweetened coconut cream, not coco lopez)
.5 oz Fresh lime juice
.5 oz Fresh lemon juice
2 or 3 generous handfuls of freshly sliced pineapple chunks

Add all ingredients to a blender with plenty of ice. Blend until the ice is crushed. Pour into four glasses and smack some mint leaves for a garnish.

Something about blended tiki drinks is just really pleasing. What begins with a minty scent is followed by bright tropical notes from the fresh pineapple and citrus juices. The macadamia’s sweet nutty taste rounds out a rummy swallow. Personally, I like to keep the ice in my mouth and munch on it afterwards, but I’m weird like that.

We regret that the garnish was not grandiloquent, however, mint was definitely the right choice for this drink. I always enjoy tiki drinks that come with a fruity garnish, but in our haste to mix other drinks we neglected to cut a pineapple wedge. I guess nothing we could have done here would top the pineapple-as-a-vessel piña colada we made a while ago. If you choose to create a more impressive garnish, you really should keep the mint spring in the mix, as it provides a critical fragrance to this drink.

Aloha!


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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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Orgeat Syrup and Trinidad Sour

Unfortunately, we now return to your regularly scheduled amateur photography by me.

After an excursion to Smith’s on Capitol Hill, James was inspired to make orgeat syrup using this Serious Eats recipe. It is often the case for me, too, that I will be moved to recreate a drink after ordering it at a bar or a restaurant. The drink on the menu at Smith’s was called a Trinidad Sour, and when I heard the name I thought perhaps James had stumbled onto this Trinidad Sour that made a splash a few years ago by using Angostura as a base spirit.

And indeed, the drink at Smith’s seems is very similar to the one that I remembered, except it uses Fernet instead of Angostura for its bitter component. Mint and orgeat go very well together, as we know from the Mai Tai, so it is a reasonable and interesting substitution, though it required very different proportions.

Smith’s Trinidad Sour

1.5 oz Rye Whiskey (Old Overholt)
.5 oz Fernet Branca
.5 oz Lemon Juice
.5 oz Orgeat Syrup

Shake over ice and double-strain into a cocktail glass. Gently float a lemon wheel on top.

The home-made orgeat was very milky, and had a much nuttier flavor than the Monin Orgeat that I have been using lately. The Monin has the marzipan/almond extract flavor that you expect in an orgeat syrup, but it does not actually taste all that much like an almond. The home-made syrup, on the other hand, was more reminiscent of sweet almond milk, and the orange flower water was very discernible, and pleasant. As you can see from the photo, it gave this drink a creamy color and texture. If you’re on the fence about fernet, this is probably a great drink to aid you on your journey.

Drinking this put me in the mood for the original, and I wanted to see how the fernet version compared to the Angostura version, so I made one of those, too:

Trinidad Sour

1.5 oz Angostura Bitters
1.5 oz Orgeat Syrup (Homemade)
1 oz Lemon Juice
.5 oz Rye (Old Overholt)

Shake and double-strain into a coupe glass.

I had thought this drink would be less accessible than the Fernet version, but I was wrong. The Angostura Trinidad Sour is sweet and spicy, and it tastes like cinnamon, clove, and cherry wood. Equal parts of syrup and bitters cuts all of the challenge away from the Angostura, and gives the drink a cotton candy quality that I don’t mind, but that I don’t crave. I suspect I would prefer it with only an ounce of syrup, and I will be trying that variation soon.

I adore the color of the Angostura bitters version, however; Angostura has an oily, staining red color to it, and with the cloudiness from the orgeat, it has a distinctive and striking appearance. Even so, if you only make one of these, I suggest the Fernet version, but both are excellent.


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Vanilla Whiskey Fix

You may notice a marked difference in the quality of the photography in this post. For that, I need to thank my friends Michael Schmid, John Sim, and Matt Barraro, for having an awesome camera and technical skills, and for contributing their time to taking pictures of some of my drinks.

Today I present a twist on a classic, the whiskey fix. Fixes and Sours are the two broad categories of short punch, with the difference between them being that a fix is served over ice, whereas a sour is served up. Neither is diluted with an aqueous element such as soda water or ginger beer. One of the first drinks I learned to make, and one of the most accessible, is the whiskey sour. The basic formula for a sour or a fix is:

2 oz of base spirit
.75 oz of lemon or lime juice
.5 oz of syrup.

Shake over ice and double strain.

With the difference being that a fix should be strained over fresh ice into an old-fashioned glass, and a sour should be strained into a cocktail glass or, if you listen to Andy, a sour goblet. A sour becomes a daisy if it is modified with a liqueur instead of a syrup. Adding a bit of liqueur to a sour made with syrup makes it fancy — curaçao or maraschino are the common choices, but any high quality liqueur is acceptable.

It is sometimes desirable to thicken a sour or a fix with an egg white, in which case one must first “dry shake” the drink, which is to say, shake it without ice, to foam the egg white, before shaking it with ice. In the winter time, an egg white is very appealing, but in the summer, I usually choose to omit it.

Whiskey Fix
1.5 oz vanilla-infused bourbon (Buffalo Trace)
.75 oz lemon juice
.5 oz brown sugar syrup

Shake over ice, double-strain over fresh ice.
Garnish with fruits in season (lychees).

I love vanilla-bean infused bourbon whiskey, and I always keep a bottle on hand. It takes about one week for the vanilla flavor to fully mature in the whiskey, though many whiskey-lovers might find that this is treating the whiskey a little too harshly, and indeed, one ought not to give this treatment to a whiskey that is too fine. I wouldn’t go cheaper than Evan Williams, but I also wouldn’t go more expensive than Buffalo Trace or Bulleit. Vanilla brings out the oaky qualities in the bourbon, and adds a little more interest to the relatively commonplace whiskey sour.

My friend James made this drink in my house about a month ago, and he chose to use brown sugar syrup instead of simple. Since then, I have made it this way exclusively, and it’s a drink that I will serve to any guest in a pinch.

It is proper to garnish a fix with seasonal fruit, as they contribute interesting aromas, and add a fancy, festive quality to the presentation. I just happened to have these lychees on the day that we took the pictures, and after de-pitting them carefully with a paring knife, I skewered them with bamboo and set it on top of the glass. Most people don’t eat lychees very often, at least in the U.S., so the opportunity to eat an uncommon tropical fruit adds even more intrigue to the experience.

If you don’t have lychees, I have also garnished this with fresh pineapple, and with raspberries, and both are great.