Measure & Stir

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


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Murray Stenson; The Bitter Word

It is a bitter word indeed, today, my friends; Murray Stenson, that bartender of bartenders, is suffering from a heart ailment and is unable to work. As a bartender, he is without health insurance, and he needs your help. Others, such as Doug and Paul have already written eloquently and at some length as to why you should help, if you enjoy craft cocktails or care about the craft cocktail scene. So Kindly mosey on over to MurrayAid.org, where you can show your appreciation to the man who brought The Last Word back from the dead.

To show our support for Murray, we mixed up an emergency round of a riff on the last word, which we call the Bitter Word:

The Bitter Word
.75 oz Fernet (Branca)
.75 oz Lime Juice
.75 oz Maraschino Liqueur (Luxardo)
.75 oz Green Chartreuse
Shake over ice and double strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a pineapple slice.

Pineapple matches well with all of the other flavors in this drink, so I guessed that it would make an excellent garnish, and indeed, it did. The brilliance of the last word recipe is that you can swap the “base” spirit for just about anything–bourbon, rum, mezcal, fernet–and still come out with something that works very well. That said, the original will always be the best. All elements in the drink are so perfectly balanced, and its flavor is bright and crisp, but not blinding. I see variations on this drink popping up all over the place, these days, and you have Murray to thank. In this version, the bitter menthol from the fernet complements the herbal spices of the green chartreuse rather nicely, and the lime and maraschino help to round out the last word’s perfectly balanced flavor profile.

I’m pretty new to this scene, but the one time I did sit across the bar from Mr. Stenson, at the Canon, he came right up and greeted me, even though a different bartender was serving my side of the bar. Real hospitality, that. You spend what, fifteen dollars for a good drink at a good bar? And if you’re like me, you order three or four rounds. Why not stay in next Friday, mix up the Last Word, and donate to a good cause?


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Rojo Bianco: Reposado, Vermouth, Maraschino, Campari

When I first tasted Campari, I hated it. I was furious that I had just spent 30$ on this syrupy, neon-red swill. I poured my first Negroni down the sink, and gave the bottle of Campari to my friend Gualtiero. “Get this out of my sight!” I must have said. My, how my perspective has changed. If you truly want to experience Campari in all of it’s glowing, bitter glory, you should make a Negroni, or its cousin, the Boulevardier, but if you have already strolled down those avenues of flavor, then may I suggest one of my all-time favorites, the Rojo Bianco. 

Rojo Bianco
2 oz Reposado Tequila (Espolón)
.75 oz Bianco Vermouth (Dolin)
.25 oz Maraschino Liqueur (Luxardo)
.25 oz Campari
Dash of Aromatic Bitters (Angostura)

Stir over ice, and strain into a cocktail glass.

As with about half the drinks I make, I first learned this one on CVS. It tastes just like you think: the Reposado is smokey and vegetal, the liqueurs are bitter, sweet, and pungent, and the vermouth fills in the middle of the flavor spectrum. I really enjoy this one, but perhaps the construction is more interesting even than the flavor. This drink comes close to the 6:3:1 template that I’ve talked about before, but it uses a bit less vermouth, and a bit more liqueur. Moreover, it splits the liqueur down the middle, and you can imagine that if this drink had only Maraschino or Campari, it would be unremarkable.

I have found that when you are following this kind of template for an aromatic drink, you can usually get away with splitting any one of the ingredients. Two base spirits, two fortified wines, or two liqueurs all provide the opportunity for creative exploration, but don’t split more than one element in the template. Two base spirits and two liqueurs? Madness lies down that road, my friend.


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Des Esseintes

CVS is an endless repository of new and exciting drinks, though I probably lean on them too much. But see, I have this bottle of Del Maguey Mezcal de Vida burning a hole in my bar, and then this brilliant opportunity to mix it with an amaro comes along, and how could I resist? Amaro Nonino tends toward the sweeter side of amari, and I find that, much like Cardamaro, it occupies the same same general flavor profile as a good sweet vermouth. Make a Manhattan with Nonino or even Ramazotti instead of vermouth and you’ll see what I mean. They are substantially different from a sweet vermouth, but when you put them in your drink, they do the same thing.

In light of this similarity, I think this drink, Des Esseintes, is a lot like a Martinez with mezcal instead of gin. Of course, the devil is in the details, and I think the pairing of Nonino and Mezcal is a grand one, so much so that I tried to realize it with gummy bears, but you shouldn’t do that, probably.

Des Esseintes

1.5 oz Mezcal (Del Maguey Mezcal de Vida)
1.5 oz Amaro Nonino
1 barspoon Maraschino (Luxardo)
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
2 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters

Stir over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

The mezcal’s smokiness made for an enjoyable riff on a classic, but overall this was too sweet for my palette. I think it would have been a lot better with only one ounce of amaro, particularly because Nonino is so very sweet. If someone asked me for a mezcal drink, this is not the first one I would make for them, but it might be the third.


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Correcting Coffee

Boozy Saturday was winding down, and for our final round we decided to correct some coffee. James had some Stumptown Gajah Aceh beans that were pushing the end of their useful lifetime, and we really wanted to try correcting some coffee with Fernet Branca. I don’t have any advice about brewing coffee, but James’ steampunk grinder looks really cool, so here is a picture of it.

We tried a few different concepts, but none of them were surprisingly excellent. Fernet and coffee on its own is just missing something. The bitterness from fernet is very different from the bitterness in coffee, but the interplay is not intriguing; both flavors are merely present. Rye and fernet is delicious, and rye and coffee is very reasonable also, but rye and fernet and coffee somehow blended to create the flavor of a rotting vegetable.

I apologize for the unappealing description, but it was truly awful, and I want to make sure that you don’t try to make a drink like this. A quarter ounce of simple syrup took away the worst of it, but it was still not a drink I would serve to anyone whose friendship I valued.

Still chasing the tropical flavor from earlier in the day, I added rum and maraschino, and came away with something much more drinkable, but I still wouldn’t endorse it highly.

Sloppy Hemingway Coffee

4 oz of Chemex-brewed coffee (Stumptown Gajah Aceh beans)
1 oz Dark Rum (Pusser’s)
.5 oz Maraschino (Luxardo)

Add spirits to hot coffee and stir.

It’s probable that there is some perfect marriage of coffee and rum out there, but it probably has Benedictine or allspice dram, not maraschino. Maybe it doesn’t contain a liqueur at all, but a bit of simple syrup. A tragic truth: the world is full of coffees and and rums, and you’ll never be able to try all of them with all of them.

And of course, our old pal, orgeat, was still hanging around, so we tried once more, and this was the best of the three, but still not quite where I wanted.

Mai Tai Coffee

4 oz of Chemex-brewed coffee (Stumptown Gajah Aceh beans)
.5 oz Dark Rum (Pusser’s)
.5 oz Orgeat Syrup

Add spirits to hot coffee and stir.

The almond latte is a very common drink, so adding rum to coffee was a very natural extension. I think the concept with this variation is sound, but the specific rum and coffee that we used were ill-suited to each other. A grate of lime zest might be a welcome addition, also. Fortunately, we can brew more coffee.