Measure & Stir

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


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Sangriento Maria: Mezcal, Heirloom Tomato, Cumin, Chili Garlic Sauce

Joe, for whatever reason, is determined to make a bloody mary that he honestly enjoys, despite agreeing that nobody is excited by savory cocktails and that the bloody mary may be beyond saving. At best, in my opinion, tomato drinks taste like spiked, soupy salsa. At worst, they’re retch-inducing. Yet Joe tries to not only make these drinks palatable, but to make them great. His measure of success is whether or not we’d want to mix the drink twice in a night. This time it actually happened!

Sangriento Maria
2 oz Mezcal
2 oz Heirloom tomato juice
.5 oz Lime juice
.5 oz Cumin syrup
1/2 teaspoon of Chili Garlic Sauce (Huy Fong)

Shake over ice and strain into a cocktail goblet filled with fresh ice. Garnish with a quesadilla, si se puede.

To give this drink a more round tomato flavor, we used a medley of freshly juiced heirloom tomatos instead of sticking to one variety. If you don’t have any cumin syrup on-hand, or don’t feel like going through the trouble of making a batch, you can mix a pinch of cumin with simple syrup, to taste, and achieve a similar flavor. The bit of chili garlic was some last-minute serendipity, as I happened to have a bottle of Huy Fong in the fridge at the time.

Serving this sort of drink over ice helps to cut down on the tomato juice’s heavy viscosity, making it easier to enjoy. I’ve also found that using a smokey spirit, like mezcal, helps to distract you from the fact that you’re drinking tomato juice. That, or using teas also works well with tomato drinks. This bloody mary was so tasty that we ended up mixing another at the end of the night, but, the second time we made it, it did have that “spiced salsa” quality to it, so we’ve adjusted the amount of chili garlic sauce for our final recipe, presented above.

This is the last bloody mary drink for a long while. Lo sentimos.


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Avocado, chili-infused tequila, mezcal

Nestled amongst the limes, lemons, and oranges of Joe’s fruit bowl was an avocado. I think I heard him say something like “I’m tired of ‘vacation cocktails’, but I really want to make a blended drink”. Then I saw him reach for the avocado, and watched as he scooped out about 1/4 of it into the blender, and so we started constructing this little number.

That night I had brought over an infusion made with tequila and cayenne peppers. I really enjoyed the bird’s eye soju infusion we had made for Thai week, but I knew that tequila would have been a better match. Joe recommended using a reposado tequila, which was a great idea. Since I had decided to work with tequila, I thought I’d choose a different pepper, and so I selected several mild-looking cayenne peppers and submerged them in tequila for a few days. I also threw in a tablespoon of agave nectar, as I’ve found that adding a small amount of sweetener can really help an infusion pop, and agave and tequila harmonize perfectly together.

Cayenne Peppers and Tequila Reposado
1 cup tequila reposado
3 cayenne peppers, cut in half
1 tablespoon agave nectar

Let infusion for 2 – 3 days, tasting regularly. Remove peppers as soon as you taste the burn. Avoid over-infusion.

I was careful to taste the concoction regularly as I was afraid it would become too spicy. After two and half days or so, I grew impatient, surprised by how mild the infusion was, and decided to add another pepper. It must have been a particularly spicy one, however, as the next time I tasted it I knew the infusion had to stop immediately. Maybe it had even gone on for too long, so let this be a lesson for you: chilis are unpredictable. Some are hot. Some aren’t. I don’t know how to tell them apart, and if you have tips, please share them with us by dropping a comment.

We had been telling ourselves all night that’d we get around to using it, but so far we had been struggling to find a drink for my spicy tequila. Naturally, avocado and tequila go well together, and so finally its time had come. We decided to use it as a modifier, to add some spicy kick to a drink, since my infusion had come out so hot. I can’t quite remember where the idea to use both tequila and mezcal came from, but I want to say it was because we wanted to make some sort of Mexican tiki drink. Most tiki drinks use two rums, so why not two “tequilas”? The rest of the drink kind of built itself, as I said before, agave nectar and tequila are partners in lime.

As we tasted the nearly finished drink, we realized it needed a pinch of salt. Joe was going to use regular kosher salt, but I jokingly urged him to use some fancy artisan salt. “We’ve got a blended avocado, some cayenne pepper-infused tequila, mezcal, fresh lime juice, agave nectar… Keep it craft, Joe. Keep it craft.” And so we did.

Keep it Craft
1.5 oz Mezcal
.5 oz Cayenne-infused Tequila
.5 oz Lime Juice
.75 oz Agave Nectar
1/4 of a small avocado
pinch of fancy salt

Blend thoroughly over ice and pour into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.

The avocado gave the drink a nice, rich texture, similar to a blended piña collada, only slightly creamier. The spice from the chili-infused tequila and the smoke from the mezcal pierce through the mellow avocado, reinforced by the agave nectar. The pinch of salt helps to tone down the avocado a little bit, so be sure to include it, if you make your own. Indeed, it was a great blended drink without being a rum/tiki/vacation drink, and I can’t wait to make another.


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Punchius Pilate

For James’ birthday party, which was two weeks ago, we wanted to make a punch around his favorite spirit, Mezcal. (We also made Sangria.) So naturally, I turned to my favorite database of mixological knowledge, Cocktail Virgin Slut, wherein I found this little number, Punchius Pilate. This punch is a Frederic Yarm original, and we took only a small measure of license with his recipe.

In this punch, Fred blended Lapsang Souchong syrup with smokey tequila, grapefruit, ginger ale, and ancho chile. Here’s his recipe for Lapsang Souchong syrup, which we made, omitting the grapefruit zest. We also did not measure the spices too precisely, preferring to portion them by feel/smell. In Fred’s notes, he said he could have used more ancho chile, and indeed, I think we used more than he did in his original recipe.

Lapsang Souchong Tea Syrup
1. Boil water and measure out 6 oz. Add Lapsang Souchong tea (I added 3 tea bags to 12 oz for a double batch) and let steep for 5 minutes.
2. While the tea is steeping, muddle 1-2 cloves (I used 3 for a double batch), add 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 1/8th tsp ancho chili powder, and the half the zest of a grapefruit.
3. Measure out 6 oz (by volume) of sugar. Add an ounce or two to the zest/spice mixture and muddle to extract the zest’s oil.
4. After the tea is steeped, add in all sugar, zest, and spices. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Cover and let sit for a few hours. Strain through a tea towel and store in refrigerator. Makes around 8 oz of syrup.

So, once again, we omitted the grapefruit, and used more spices than this recipe called for, playing it by intuition. When mixing drinks, it’s important to measure precisely, but when making syrups, sauces, (indeed, in cooking in general) we find that the best results usually follow from a mixture of intuition and trust in one’s own good taste. I do not need to know how much ancho, cinnamon, clove, and tea to put in this syrup; the description of the concept is enough to let me execute the recipe. To make it, simply ensure that all of the flavors are in balance, and strongly expressed.

We omitted the grapefruit zest because, in my mind, it isn’t really punch with out oleo saccharum, so rather than put the zest in the syrup, we started by macerating the peel of five large grapefruits in caster’s sugar for three hours, and then adding the rest of the ingredients. We also scaled the recipe up by a factor of three.

Punchius Pilate
1.5 Liters Reposado Tequila (El Jimador)
750 mL Mezcal (Del Maguey Mezcal de Vida)
750 mL Tawny Port (Cockburn’s Tawny)
24 oz Grapefruit Juice (Ruby Red)
20 oz Spiced Lapsang Souchong Tea Syrup
12 oz Lime Juice
Oleo Saccharum of 5 Large Grapefruits
Serve over ice and top with a bit of ginger beer.

We tweaked the ratios a little bit, mostly out of convenience. It’s easier to pour in the whole bottle of port rather than quibble about a few extra ounces. Moreover, we used slightly less Lapsang Souchong syrup as a tradeoff against the added sugar from the oleo saccharum. The Lapsang Souchong flavor came through beautifully, so I have no regrets. I did not make an ice ring mold, I confess, because I prefer to serve the punch personally. I like to buy a big block of ice, and carve off a chunk with my ice pick for each guest as I serve it.

Moreover, I prefer to add a little bit of ginger beer to each guest’s cup individually, so that the ginger beer will not lose its carbonation in the punch. This allows us to bottle any leftovers and save them for a week or two after the event. It’s true, the fresh citrus in the punch loses some of its subtler qualities after about two days, but adding a little spike of fresh lime when you pour it mostly ameliorates this problem.

As for the punch itself, it was a big hit, and everyone involved sang its praises. I actually preferred mine without the ginger beer, as it was less sweet, and I felt that it really let the smoke flavor come through. I was in the minority, however, as James and most of our guests preferred it with bubbles.

Cheers.


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La Vida Buena: A Mezcal Negroni

A few weeks ago I was at the Rob Roy, in Seattle, celebrating a friend’s birthday. The men’s room at Rob Roy is covered in graffitti, like pretty much any men’s room at any bar, only the scribblings at Rob Roy aren’t just of random profanity. They’re cocktail recepies. Yes dear readers, it just so happens that today’s drink came to me in a public bathroom. But, hey, sometimes inspiration comes from unexpected places.

La Vida Beuna
1.5 oz Mezcal
.75 oz Sweet Vermouth
.25 oz Campari

Pour all components into a mixing glass over ice and stir. Strain drink into a cocktail glass over a nice, fresh ice chunk. Garnish with a blood orange peel.

It has become popular recently to templatize the negroni. The classic negroni is an equal parts drink made of gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari. Although this ratio tastes fine, it isn’t my favorite. I find that the texture of an equal parts negroni is overwhelmingly syrupy because of the amount of Campai used. Also, I find that in this ratio the Campari’s bitterness overpowers the gin and vermouth. These days it seems to be more popular to use a 3:2:1 template, which does a great job of addressing these two critiques. In this version we used 6:3:1 because the original recipe I saw in the bathroom at Rob Roy called for Aperol, not Campari. Some handy advice: you can substitute Campari for Aperol and get away with it as long as you use half as much Campari.

La Vida Buena is a mezcal version of the old, classic drink. Personally, I prefer the smoky taste of mezcal in a negroni over gin, as I enjoy the additional layer of complexity it brings to the glass. I also simply love mezcal, and pretty much anything that has mezcal in it. The aroma from the blood orange peel lends the sip a subtle tartness that plays well with vermouth, and foreshadows the bitters from the Campari, which linger after the swallow.

Cheers!


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Drink Inc Reviews

On Youtube, there is an excellent series by the name of Drink Inc. It features two Los Angeles bartenders, Steve Livigni and Daniel Nelson, who first eat a delicious meal, and then each make a drink inspired by the food that they ate. I fully endorse this method of finding inspiration, in fact, it’s a method that I sometimes use myself, and which has increased its space in my consciousness after watching their show. I don’t always love the drinks they make, but they will definitely get you thinking, and for that reason I think the show is a valuable asset.

As of today, they have published six episodes, and I am going to review all of them in this post. (All photographs shamelessly liberated from their videos.)

And, sure, does Daniel look like a ridiculous peacock, wearing a three piece suit in the Los Angeles heat? Clearly. But their product is great. I know that I risk sounding overly critical of them in this post, but I want to make it clear that I have a lot of respect for what they are doing, and I think they are excellent drink-makers. It’s very easy to sling criticism on the internet and much harder to get up and make a successful career out of mixing drinks.

Some of their drinks are too complicated, much like that day cravat, but they have a lot of great ideas, it’s just that they try to cram too many of them into a single drink, and the result is sometimes a drink with too many subtleties, not all of which are perceptible. Much like another genre of internet video, you will probably want to skip the first half of each episode, as it takes a while before the action gets going.

The format of the show is, first they go visit a restaurant, make some awkward conversation with the proprietors, and then they make drinks based on what they ate.

Dynamite Thai Cocktails

The first episode I watched was “Dynamite Thai Cocktails”, in which they visit a thai restaurant, and then Steve makes a drink based on Tom Kha Kai soup, and Daniel makes a spicy drink that does not seem to be based on any particular dish. I am a huge fan of Tom Kha Kai soup, which is made by simmering galangal, (Thai ginger) lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves in coconut milk.

The soup itself is quite savory, but they made a version of the soup more amenable to a mixed drink, and mixed it with gin and lime juice. I have not tried this one, but it looks delicious. My only complaint is, I hate the way he garnishes it with grated lime zest. Every time I have done this, I have ended up with little pieces of lime grit in my drink. One big peel is a vastly superior garnishing method.

Daniel’s drink, the Sesame Song, is pictured above, and contains Chile-infused vodka, lime juice, orange juice, and cayenne pepper. It sounds like a reasonable drink, but I was not very impressed with the concept, perhaps because of the reliance on vodka. Also, when I have used powdered spices in drinks in the past, they never dissolve to my satisfaction. Moreover, the sesame seeds and thai chile strands in the garnish, though beautiful, will disperse as the drink is drunk, and spoil the texture.

Smoky Mexican Cocktails

In episode 2, “Smoky Mexican Cocktails”, they visit an Oaxacan restaurant, and drink mezcal, and eat fried grasshoppers. Delicious. Steve makes a drink called the Oaxacan Flower, using a similar formula to his Thai drink from the previous episode. We love mezcal here at Measure & Stir, and so we were inspired to make this drink in our most recent jam session.

Daniel makes a chocolate tequila sour inspired by the concept of Molé, and garnished with a grasshopper. Again, I don’t think his drink is remarkable, though tequila and chocolate is a solid pairing, but his name has what is quite possibly the best name for a mixed drink I have ever heard, the “Dead Man Oaxacan”.

Sweet and Savory Pork Cocktails

In episode three they visit a butcher, and then do a beer cocktail and a fat-washed cocktail. I’ve experimented with bacon-infused bourbon, myself, and I came to the conclusion that a fat-washed cocktail is pretty much a fat-washed cocktail, no matter what you do to it. Steve makes the “Fat Manhattan”, an aromatic drink with amaro, sweet vermouth, bacon-infused bourbon, and nocello. I adore nocello, and I think this is a better recipe than Jamie Boudreau’s Chocolate Cochon, but it’s still not topping my list.

Daniel makes a beer cocktail with apricot puree, lemon juice, orange marmalade, and heifeweissen, and incorporates pork by garnishing it with salami. I’m a fan of the idea, but honestly I would rather you bring me this drink, and then serve it with a plate of charcuterie. Still, it’s cute.

Cop Cocktails

In episode four (note: my episode orders are not really significant), they visit a police station, and the officer who is their contact takes them to some local hole in the wall places where he likes to eat when he is on duty. It’s mostly just filler before they get to the good stuff, which is two smoked cocktails, both of which look excellent.

Daniel makes the “Tazerac”, a Sazerac which he smokes with hickory chips and garam masala. These kinds of smoke guns are kind of impractical for the home mixologist, though that has never stopped me in the past. For now, it’s not high on my list. What’s notable about this one is the way he traps the smoke in the glass and then covers it, so that when the drinker removes the cover, the smoke wafts out of the drink. 10/10 for style.

Steve’s drink, “Halal and Order”, is named after an episode in which the police officer busted a shawarma joint for health code violations. He mixes the super-trendy Pierre Ferrand 1840 with sweet vermouth and smoky Scotch, and then he pours it into a glass filled with smoke from burned rosemary. The really clever thing here is that his smoking method consists of lighting a rosemary sprig with a torch, and then turning the glass over it. This is a method that is in reach for any home enthusiast, and requires no special equipment. This is very similar to what they did at Angel’s Share with cinnamon, in their drink, “Daahound”.

Refreshing Pirate Potions

In episode five, they visit a fish market and eat a feast of fried fish. It looks positively scrummy. The only thing they really take away from it is a spice blend that the local fishmongers sell, and then they both make drinks around the spice blend. I thought this episode was totally underwhelming, the least interesting of the bunch. Steve makes a punch out of watermelon juice, sea salt, tequila, and Michelada spices (pictured). Salted watermelon is awesome, and it’s a fine punch, but it doesn’t really fit the theme very well.

Daniel makes the “Bloody Mariner”, a rum-based Bloody Mary with heirloom tomato juice, fennel juice and absinthe. As bloody Maries go, it looks pretty good. Fennel juice and absinthe does sound intriguing, if you love licorice. Personally, I have never been a huge fan of this flavor in mixed drinks, though I do like licorice candy.

Comfort Cocktails

Finally, they go and eat Southern style comfort food in the garden of what might be a famous LA restaurant? I’ve never heard of it, but I’m really not that hip.

Steve makes the Southern Sour, which I think is very clever in the way it incorporates so many breakfast elements. He uses lemon juice, orange juice, white corn whiskey, egg white, honey syrup, soda, and maple bitters. I do not care for unaged whiskey; at best it’s a grain eau de vie, but wait, that’s another name for vodka. How about using an ingredient that pairs well with all of the other ingredients in the drink, is still made from corn, and is the bedrock of southern drinking, bourbon whiskey? I know white whiskey is hip, but so are skrillex haircuts, and both of them suck.

Daniel makes Govind’s Garden, and it’s a cheat. Gin, pineapple, lime, and Lillet, floated with Amaretto and strawberry juice (puree?). It almost doesn’t matter what you put in the drink when you float this on top of it. Look at it, so thick and syrupy. The drink underneath sounded lovely, but just to make sure you like it, we’re going to top it with candy. Strawberry juice mixed with amaretto is clever. but there’s just so much going on in this drink. It makes sense if you think of it as a new wave tiki drink, but that does not make it less overwrought.

I certainly found a lot of inspiration in watching this show, and I am sure that you will, too.


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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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How to Make Chocolate Liqueur

In Seattle we have a local chocolatier called Theo, and their chocolate is always popping up in local ice creams, coffee shops, and on the dessert menus of various Seattle restaurants. I wanted to get in on this Theo Chocolate band wagon, so I infused roughly five ounces of nibs in 750 ml of a 150 proof neutral grain spirit. When the goal is to create a pure extraction of a flavoring agent, you always want to use the highest proof spirit that you can. I would have used 190 proof, but it is illegal to sell in Washington, and I didn’t feel like driving to Idaho or Oregon. (Can you buy 190 proof spirit in Oregon?) Here is a picture of the nibs, getting good and sauced in a mason jar, day one:

I allowed this mixture to infuse for two weeks, agitating daily. After two weeks, it had taken on a rich chocolate brown color, and a strong, but incomplete flavor of the cacao. The secret to making an excellent liqueur in this style is to realize that only some of the flavor compounds in the chocolate are alcohol-soluble, whereas others are water-soluble. To create the fullest, roundest, most accurate chocolate flavor, you have to have both a water and an alcohol extraction. Moreover, a liqueur is supposed to be sweet, so it is necessary to add sugar.

I took another four ounces of Theo chocolate nibs and simmered them in a pot with water and sugar in a ratio of 1:1 for half an hour, until I had a dark, sweet chocolate syrup. The syrup did thicken from the sugar, but it retained the viscosity of simple syrup, because there was no melted chocolate. I knew I wanted a final spirit with a proof of 100 (50% abv), so I added 375 ml of the syrup to 750 ml of the infused spirit. This is a fun little algebra problem, which is trivial to solve using the numbers in this case, but if I had wanted a different target proof, the problem becomes slightly more fun. I leave it as an exercise for the reader, because math is almost as fun as drinking, and I would not want to deprive you.

Prior to this I had never mixed anything with chocolate liqueur, so to test the waters I made this chocolate aperitif, with the help of my friend James:

Chocolate Aperitif

.5 oz Sweet Vermouth (Cocchi Vermouth di Torino)
.5 oz Chocolate Liqueur (Homemade, Theo chocolate)

Stir over ice and strain. Express the oils of a lemon peel over the top and then drop it in. Drink in front of some leather-bound books.

Under-appreciated drinking fact: leather-bound books add 50% to the classiness of any drink. The slight bitterness from the sweet vermouth softens the sugar and the alcohol in the chocolate, while lemon oil adds a complexity and a bright tone that would otherwise be lacking. Even so, this drink is on the sweet side, which is why I kept it small.

Moving on, one of my all time favorite cocktails is called the Rodriguez, which I was fortunate enough to order at the Teardrop Lounge when I visited Portland last March. The Rodriguez uses blanco tequila cut with mezcal and Benedictine to great effect, and it tastes like a walk in the desert, when the sun is just barely starting to rise, and the air is still cool. Truly, it is perfect, and yet, humans cannot resist the urge to meddle with perfection, so I created a variation by swapping out the Benedictine for my chocolate liqueur, and using strawberry-infused blanco tequila. The result was probably more appropriate for Valentine’s day, which is long-past, but the mezcal helped it retain its Mexican flavor. The result was strikingly similar to the original, while still capturing the flavors of chocolate and strawberry.

Rafaela

1.5 oz Strawberry-Infused Blanco Tequila (Camarena)
.25 oz Mezcal (Del Maguey Mezcal de Vida)
.75 oz Chocolate Liqueur (Homemade, Theo Chocolate)
.5 oz Dry Vermouth (Dolin)
Dash of Chocolate Bitters (Fee’s)
Stir over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a strawberry.

The character of this drink was feminized by the addition of fruit and chocolate, so we decided to call it Rafaela, after a beautiful girl that James used to know when he lived in Mexico.