Measure & Stir

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


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Tom Kha Soju

It’s Thai week here at Measure & Stir, a week of Thai-inspired drinks made using the limited pallet of beer, wine, and soju; lower-proof spirits that don’t require a liquor license to pour – perfect drinks for any Thai restaurant to serve!

Today I present a drink that Joe and I both agree was one of the best drinks we came up with this week. When we thought “Thai”, we thought “tom kha“, and stealing an idea from Steve Livigni, of Drink inc, we set out to make a drink inspired by the soup. We imagined lemongrass, galangal, and kaffir lime leaves infused in soju.

We made this drink last Saturday, during our first Thai drinks mixing session. I think it was probably the best drink we made that day. The idea just came together so well. The aroma of galangal, the bright zest from the lemongrass, and the citrus notes from the kaffir leaves are represented brilliantly in soju infusion. Add some coconut juice and it’s flavor Thaime.

Live and Let Thai, version 1
2 oz Lemongrass/Galangal/Kaffir Lime Leaf-Infused Soju
1 oz Coconut Milk
.75 oz Fresh Lime Juice
.5 oz Demerara Syrup

Shake over ice and double-strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a kaffir lime leaf.

This drink was awesome… But when we decided to hold another Thai mixing session on Wednesday, our creative juices began to flow and we had a lot of ideas. So we iterated…

Live and Let Thai, version 2
2 oz Lemongrass/Galangal/Kaffir Lime Leaf-Infused Soju
1 oz Coconut Milk
.5 oz Fresh Lime Juice
.5 oz Demerara Syrup
1 tsp Bird’s-eye chili-infused soju
1 dash Nam Pla (Thai fish sauce)

Shake over ice and double-strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a kaffir lime leaf and a sprig of lemongrass.

Now, you may be thinking “fish sauce?”. And as you mix this drink, you may think to yourself “this stuff smells awful, how can this possibly taste good in a drink?”. Trust us. It does. This is why we decided to make this drink again. The fish sauce amps up all of the flavors, and lends a certain umami to the drink, especially accentuating the richness of the coconut flavor. The flavors in the first version are too mild, and don’t really shine. The improvements we made for the second iteration are keepers, and vastly improved this drink. You should make this version of the drink if you choose to mix one for yourself.

Dry shaking this drink didn’t seem to affect how the coconut juice frothed in the end. Also, as we discovered the night we made the Singha Highballs, adding a teaspoon of bird’s-eye chili-infused soju doesn’t affect the flavor of a drink in a significant way, but does add just enough heat to simulate the sensation of drinking a stiffer spirit, something that’s usually missing in a cocktail with a base spirit like soju.

Usually this would be the last post this week, but since Joe and I went a little crazy with Thai week, we’ve decided to keep on posting all the way through the weekend. Stay tuned for another drink tomorrow, followed by our final Thai drink menu and summary on Sunday.


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Singha Highballs

Neither James nor I were particularly satisfied with the way that our first round of Soju drinks came out, and as such, we had an emergency mixing session last night.

The Bird’s Eye Julep was probably the best of that set, from my perspective, but all of the others, though the flavors were good, lacked a certain essential kick. High alcohol wines and mixed drinks have a flavor “pop”, and that sensation of pop is caused by the burning sensation from drinking ethanol. Soju drinks are relatively low in alcohol content; an ideal mixed drink hovers around twenty-seven to thirty-five percent alcohol* (can’t remember where I read that), but I think it is certainly true. Soju itself is only twenty-four percent, perhaps less after being infused with fruit, and that means that it starts out already below our target window.

(*Wines are lower in alcohol content than mixed drinks, obviously, but one at eighteen percent pops a lot more than one at sixteen.)

The Bird’s Eye Julep did pop, and that’s why I like it more than the others. For our second round, we made the vital discovery that a teaspoon of chile-infused Soju can restore the sensation of pop to a soju-based drink. If we substitute the burning sensation of ethanol with that of capsaicin, your brain is fooled, and the drink has the distinctive kick of a proper mixed drink.

This is what we call a breakthrough.

Moreover, we had lamented our lack of highball drinks in the first round, and James had the clever idea to use Singha, a Thai lager, for the carbonated component of the drink. Everyone loves a good beer cocktail, I know I do, and the use of a Thai beer really fed into the unity of the theme. In all honesty, Singha is not substantially different from any other yellow fizzy lager, but I take a certain pleasure in knowing that it comes from the same region as the other flavors.

Tom Kha Llins
2 oz Lemongrass/Galangal/Kaffir Lime Leaf-infused Soju
.75 oz Fresh Lime Juice
.75 oz Simple Syrup
1 tsp Bird’s Eye Chili-infused Soju
2 oz Singha Beer
Shake all but the beer over ice and double strain over fresh ice into a Collins glass. Top with 2 oz Singha and garnish with a lime twist and a pair of Kaffir lime leaves.

When I made the drink for myself, I used only .5 oz of simple syrup, and indeed, the drink was quite tart. Some folks might like it that way, but I think the additional quarter ounce of simple syrup makes the drink much more accessible, and more suited for a restaurant. That little bit of Thai chile is more important than any dash of bitters to the success of this drink. It was delicious, and neither James nor I could stop drinking it.

Another note on technique: Since the soju is already lower proof, we want to dilute it less than we would a drink made with high proof spirits. For most shaken drinks I count out thirty three shakes, but for this second round I counted only sixteen. It was a marked improvement.

For our second highball, we ventured into slightly more experimental territory. James’ girlfriend, Erin, had suggested Thai tea syrup to him, and we decided to go ahead an make it for the second round. I myself had wanted to incorporate the flavor of Thai tea into a drink during our first round, but I was also making two punches for a party later that day, and so I had a lot on my mind.

Thai Tea Syrup
1 cup of water
1 cup of sugar
5 bags of Thai black tea
Simmer for fifteen minutes until the syrup is rich and the tea is deeply extracted and concentrated. Fortify with 1 oz of Everclear.

This was one of the better syrups we have made lately. I can’t wait to use it in a couple of drinks made with high proof spirits.

Eye of the Tiger
2 oz Bird’s Eye Chili-infused Soju
1 oz Thai Tea Syrup
.75 oz Fresh Lime Juice
2 oz Singha
Shake all but beer over ice and strain over fresh ice into a Collins glass. Top with 2 oz of Singha and garnish with two Bird’s Eye Chilis on a bamboo skewer.

The Thai tea brought a richness of flavor to the Chili-infused Soju almost reminiscent of a barrel-aged spirit, and the flavor of the chili mixed exceptionally well with the beer. The beer coexisted peacefully with the Lemongrass/Galangal/Kaffir lime leaf-infused soju, but club soda would probably have worked equally well. In contrast, the flavor of the chilis harmonized wonderfully with the beer, and both played nice with the Thai Tea. I’m pretty sure this is my top drink of the week.

Since we made so many Thai drinks, we have decided that we will be doing bonus posts this Saturday and Sunday, with our final menu on Sunday. Stay tuned!


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Lemongrass Soju Marthaini

This week is Thai week here a Measure & Stir, and so we continue our vinous voyage of drinks inspired by the flavors of ประเทศไทย with another soju infusion. Of course soju isn’t Thai at all, but the motivation behind Thai week is that Joe was asked to come up with some drinks inspired by Thailand using a limited palette of wine, beer, or soju.

We decided it might by fun to put a Thai twist on a classic drink. Audrey Sander, of the Pegu Club, once made an Earl Grey MarTEAni, which inspired us to name our Thai version the mar”thai”ni. Since we couldn’t use gin, we decided to fake it by infusing some juniper berries into soju. After four days, we removed the juniper berries and the result isn’t quite as complex as gin, obviously, but it got us most of the way there. To bring it to Thailand, we thought it might be nice to use lemongrass. Add some dry vermouth and you have the lemongrass soju marTHAIni:

Lemongrass Soju MarTHAIni
2 oz Juniper/Lemongrass-infused Soju
0.75 oz Dry vermouth (Cocchi Americano)
1 dash Lemon bitters

Slice lemongrass into small chunks and muddle it into the dry vermouth. Pour everything into a mixing glass with ice and stir well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a sprig of lemongrass.

Things we learned while making this drink: We didn’t infuse lemongrass into the soju with the juniper berries and only muddled it with the dry vermouth. The problem is that the lemongrass doesn’t really come through completely unless it is also infused into the soju. Only using one of these methods to incorporate the lemongrass results in an incomplete, weak representation of lemongrass flavor. We should have remembered our last experience of mixing with lemongrass, when we used turmeric juice and lemongrass together, which also produced a less pronounced lemongrass flavor. Let our mistake be a lesson for you. Second, we used Fee’s lemon bitters. Fees bitters are awful, but we simply didn’t have anything else on-hand at the time. Instead, we’d have loved to have used  The Bitter Truth’s Lemon Bitters.

The drink itself is surprisingly refreshing, reminiscent of a real martini, only not quite as stiff. The juniper berry/lemongrass infusion did a better job at simulating gin than I had personally thought it would. Lemongrass adds a fresh, zesty, lemony flavor and the dry vermouth does a lovely job of bringing it all together into a cohesive experience.


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Mixology Monday: It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green

This month’s Mixology Monday is being hosted by Ed from Wordsmithing Pantagruel, and the theme is “It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green”, which means that the drink has to contain at least one green ingredient, and the more, the better. Green Chartreuse, Midori, spinach, cactus… it just has to be green. Personally, I’m really hoping someone makes a drink with Waldmeister syrup, though that someone is not me. Pandan would also be nice. If I were a real gangsta, todays drink would be made with Pandan, but I have not yet reached the max level.

It just so happens that, in addition to Mixology Monday, this week is Thai week here at Measure & Stir, on account of the fact that I was asked to create some mixed drinks with Thai ingredients for a restaurant that can only pour wine, beer, and soju. I found the constraint on ingredients to be very engaging, and I went out the very next day and filled my cart with Soju, Kaffir lime leaves, Thai basil, lemongrass, galangal, coconut milk, thai chiles, and mango, and started a series of infusions. Soju is like slightly sweet, low-proof vodka, which means if we want to make it taste interesting, it has to be infused.

We’ve had a couple of non-standard juleps in the past weeks: one with cilantro and tequila, and one with banana-infused bourbon, and I have to say, the julep format is quickly becoming one of my favorites. There is something so fresh and refreshing about a glass full of crisp, green herbs and crushed ice. For me, Thai basil is one of the most distinctive flavors in Thai cuisine, so it was natural to try to build a julep around it. Moreover, I wanted to capture the capsaicin heat of Thai food, for this drink. Any good whiskey comes with a bit of a burn, which sugar and water do much to diminish, but since we’re using soju, we have to get that burn from another source.

And regarding our MxMo theme, just look how green that is:

Bird’s Eye Julep

2 oz Thai Chile and Lemongrass-infused Soju
.25 oz Demerara syrup
1 Dash Orange Bitters (Regan’s)
Muddle Thai basil and Demerara syrup in a cold glass. Fill with crushed ice and then pour in the soju. Give it a quick stir and then garnish with more fresh basil.

For the infusion, we chopped up two stalks of lemongrass and four Bird’s Eye Chili peppers, (the green kind) and allowed them to steep in 8 oz of soju for five days. The lemongrass flavor was very subtle compared to the chili, which made up the bulk of the flavor in this infusion. The Thai basil greets the nose in a really big way, so that when you imbibe this drink, the aroma of fresh basil completely fills the senses. I like to serve my juleps in a relatively wide-mouthed glass, so that you both see and smell the fresh herbs, and they make a strong impression.

This drink would be the perfect accompaniment to a big bowl of green curry, with its sensual blend of burning peppers and cooling basil. A huge thanks to Ed for hosting MxMo! See you next month.