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!