Measure & Stir

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


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Easy Peasy Matcha Crusta and The Slaughter

As the Spring Quartet progressed, the harmony of our naming scheme might have come apart. Johan at MOEdern Kitchen opted to call his dish “The Slaughter”, but I thought that was too light-hearted, and I went with the more serious “Easy Peasy Matcha Crusta”.

easypeasy1

Sugar snap peapods are both green and in season, so they were a perfect fit, thematically. I love their earthy bitterness. In order to bring out their best flavor, we cooked some of them sous vide at 85C for 15 minutes, and combined their juice with that of raw peapods. The raw ones have more green plant complexity, while the cooked ones trade some bitterness for sweetness.

To the peapod juice, I added fresh mint juice, sugar, and tartaric acid. The exact seasoning of your juices is a matter of taste. I cannot tell you a precise recipe because your crop of peapods will be different from mine. Trust your own good judgement, and try to find a balance of sweet, sour, and bitter. Add a pinch of salt, and the juice of fresh mint until it finishes with a bit of cooling menthol.

Regarding the choice of acid, how is one to choose? I wanted acidity, not flavor, because the drink is complex on its own, but I also needed to cut the sweetness. All sweet and no sour is like a life with all pleasure and no pain. It spoils children and cocktails alike, and lacks dimension.

I opted to use tartaric acid for this drink, in order to preserve the purity of the flavor, rather than accidentally invoke the juiciness of malic acid or the lemony quality of citric acid. It’s a curious thing that these acids, without affecting flavor, are still evocative of their common carriers.

A crust of green tea around the rim of the glass made an elegant garnish, and its flavor complemented the other green elements of the drink. Greens of most varieties pair well together, and the grassiness of matcha is no exception. In the same vein, gin, made from green botanicals, likes other greens.

easypeasy2
Easy Peasy Matcha Crusta
1.5 oz gin
1.5 oz Green juice blend (see above)
Shake, double strain, and pour into a glass rimmed with green tea.

For the matcha crusta:
Combine white sugar and matcha powder, then coat the rim of a glass with juice from a wedge of lime, and then apply it to the matcha mixture.

It matched the meal, of course, which consisted of a high tech lamb nugget, deep fried in panko and parsley, on a bed of green pea mash, topped with rowanberry jam.

Mint and gin complement lamb, peas match with peapods. It’s not rocket science, but it would have been if we served it with arugula.

Cheers!


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MxMo LXIX, January 21, 2013: Fortified Wines

Hello, my friends. I have been absent a while; longer than I had anticipated. To be honest, my posting schedule was a bit too aggressive, and I was feeling burned out. For the new year, (I know) we have a resolution. There will be fewer posts, but the drinks will be of higher quality. In order to keep up our break-neck pace, we found ourselves drinking more than we wanted to, and sometimes sacrificing quality in the name of filling the space.

stepchild2_2

We are also going to keep the posts a little pithier. On that note, our first drink of 2013 is for Mixology Monday LXIX: Fortified Wines, hosted at Chemistry of the Cocktail.

Fortified wines began, in large part, as a way to deal with the difficulties of shipping wine long distances in the holds of sailing ships. Without the rigorous sterilization that is possible today, wines would often spoil en route. However, increasing the alcohol concentration to around 20% ABV was enough to keep them from going off… These wines held an important place in.. punch and have continued on in cocktails proper. [These wines include] sherry, port, and, to a lesser extent, madeira and marsala, all find their way into various mixed drinks… They can play many different roles – from taking the place of vermouths in classic drinks, to providing richness and sweetness in winter tipples, to serving as a base for lighter aperitifs. Whether forgotten classics or new creations, let’s see what you can put together.

For MxMo, we have slightly modified the Stepchild, one of our favorite drinks from 2012, and one that we made using our vermouth template. The improvement, though subtle, is important. Thematically, we liked calling the drink the Stepchild on account of the ginger wine. So in order to really drive home the lore, and to improve the nose, we replaced the candied ginger with a smacked mint leaf. The critical thing here is to hold up the mint leaf in the palm of your hand, and then dramatically backhand it over the drink.

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Stepchild
2 oz Stone’s Ginger Wine
.5 oz Fernet Branca
.5 oz Fresh Pineapple Juice
1 tsp (.125 oz) Fresh Ginger Juice
Shake over ice and double-strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a dramatically-backhanded mint leaf.

I adore Stone’s Ginger. Happy belated New Year, and big thanks to Jordan Devereaux at Chemistry of the Cocktail.


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Banana Julep

I try to be as open as possible to different flavors and flavor pairings, but there is one flavor in this world that I simply loathe. I believe that food dislikes are arbitrary, so I am doing what I can to get past it, but try as I might, I simply cannot learn to like the flavor of bananas. If someone is sitting near me, eating a banana, I find the smell revolting. Most people seem to enjoy them–after all, what’s not to like? They are sweet, fruity, and tropical.

In an attempt to man up and get over it, I’ve been forcing myself to eat and drink various banana-flavored things, though I have not had much success in overwriting my preference. What ever will I do if I become marooned on a tropical island with nothing to eat but bananas? In an effort to help me defend against that likely scenario, James made some banana-infused bourbon, inspired by an entry on the menu at Canon called the smoking monkey.

Banana-Infused Whiskey
Slice a whole banana and submerge it in 12 oz of whiskey. After two days, remove it. As with all of your infusions, if the flavor of the reagent is too strong, you can dial it down by blending the infused spirit with more of the base spirit.

When he brought it over last week, I somehow got it into my mind to make a mint julep. One of my favorite syrups to make and keep on hand is vanilla-cinnamon syrup, but the last time I made a batch, I left it on the stove for about forty minutes, and the sugar started to caramelize. So I unwittingly made caramel-vanilla-cinnamon syrup, and it was excellent. A++, would make again.

Banana Julep
1.5 oz Banana-Infused Bourbon
.25 oz Cinnamon Caramel Vanilla Syrup
Mint Leaves
Smack some mint leaves in the palm of your hand and rub them around the inside of a tumbler, and then fill it with crushed ice. Stir the bourbon and the syrup together, and then strain them over the crushed ice. Garnish with more fresh mint leaves.

I am mostly ignorant in the ways of bananas, but I am led to understand that banana and caramel is a classic pairing. Anything flavored with banana is, for me, a sipper, but challenging flavors are how we expand our horizons. The mint flavor, which is very forward in a standard mint julep, was definitely in the background in this variation. The caramel in the syrup stomped all over it. There was still a hearty dose of mint in the nose, however, and I found that to be very pleasant.

I think you might get more out of the banana and mint combination in a sour with lime juice, but I have no regrets.


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Missionary’s Downfall: Blended Pineapple and Mint

For a cocktail party, I decided to get my Tiki on and make a ridiculously complicated drink. Usually, those two aims are at cross purposes, but I chose a blended drink, which allowed me to produce happiness in large batches. I did a little bit of research before attempting to make the Missionary’s Downfall, and I ended up using this recipe from Doug.

Most of the other recipes I found called for whole pineapple instead of pineapple juice, which probably would have made the drink more viscous, but I enjoyed the icy purity of this variation. Part of me always feels a little dirty making a sweet, tropical blended drink, because I worry that it’s a slippery slope to the slippery nipple and other such sophomoric drivel.  It’s just so accessible, isn’t it? So convenient. Where is the whole egg? Where is the challenging quantity of Cynar?

Indeed, as I was pouring this my inner bar snob started swearing quietly in the back of my brain about amari and liqueurs with secret recipes known only by a handful of monks, but you can’t listen to the haters. Fresh pineapple and mint is delicious, and I even managed to sneak in some of my favorite rum, J. Wray and Nephew.

Missionary’s Downfall

.5 oz. Fresh Lime Juice
.5 oz. Apricot Brandy (Rothman and Winter)
1 oz. Honey Syrup
1 oz. White Rum (J. Wray and Nephew)
1.5 oz Fresh Pineapple juice
10-20 Mint Leaves
6 oz. Small or Crushed Ice

Combine all ingredients in a blender and pour into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

For the honey syrup, check out the writeup I did on the Sleepy Bear. I couldn’t really taste the apricot in this, but the flavor was exotic and balanced, and the mint was not too overpowering. In fact, the drink was surprisingly dry, and the mint sprig, planted in the middle of the ice, looks like a tiny tree. It’s true, the mint sprig in my picture fell over, but it was my fault for cutting it too large; I was making these at a party, and speed won out over photography. Even so, I was pleased by the appearance of the drink, with tiny fragments of mint intermixed among the particles of ice.

One of the really excellent things about blended drinks is that you can make them five at a time, so they are well-suited for larger gatherings. When blending a drink, a higher ratio of ice to other ingredients will result in a fluffier texture, while slightly diluting the flavor. Less ice will make the drink a bit more soupy, which will cause it to melt faster, but the flavors will be more concentrated. In order to get the optimum texture while preserving the flavor, good blended drinks require more sugar, to intensify the flavor against the dilution.

That’s exactly what we see here, with an ounce of syrup, an ounce and a half of sweet juice, and half an ounce of liqueur to a relatively scarce ounce of rum and half ounce of lime. If you were to shake this drink instead, you would find it cloying.


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How to Make Better Drinks and the Naughty Housewife

Food blogs of this world, we need to talk. I like you and I want to help you make better drinks. Your heart is in the right place, but some of you have no idea what you’re doing. I understand, some people just want to get tore up, and some people just want to drink blueberry Stoli. I’ll only judge you a little bit, but if you take my advice, I promise, you, too, can mix high quality drinks.

As I’ve been engaging the drink-making blogosphere, I have noticed a lot of drinks that look like the following. I call them, collectively, the Naughty Housewife-Tini, because I like to think that’s who is making these drinks, and because I’m hoping that the phrase “naughty housewife” will drive traffic to my blog.

Naughty Housewife-Tini

2 oz fruit-flavored liqueur (Such as Cointreau or, if we are unlucky, Malibu)
1 oz Minute Maid orange juice, from a carton
1 oz vodka
Mint leaves
Sprite

Muddle the mint in the liqueur until it is practically paste and then put everything into a shaker and strain into a cocktail glass, being sure to leave bits of ice floating on top of the drink. Top with sprite.

I would like to think that the myriad flaws in this drink are evident to all, but apparently that is not the case, so let us examine them, one by one.

1. The ratio of liqueur to base spirit is backwards and ridiculous. A proper drink should not be overly sweet, unless it is intended as a dessert. A high proportion of sugary ingredients can sometimes make sense — sometimes a strong counterpoint is needed against the bitter or sour component in a drink — but on the whole, it is appropriate to use an unsweetened spirit, such as whiskey or gin, as the foundation of a mixed drink.

2. The name is stupid. There is exactly one drink in the whole world called a martini, and it contains roughly the following: Gin, Dry Vermouth, Olive (or lemon peel). Even adding a dash of bitters probably warrants a different name, as one of the intriguing things about the martini is the complex harmony of its relatively minimalistic recipe. “Martini” is not a catch-all word for any drink that you happen to mix and serve up. Appending the suffix “-tini” to the end of your drink name is not descriptive. You can do better.

3. Vodka is bland and boring. It makes your drink alcoholic without contributing anything to the aroma or flavor, and if you use it, your drink will be missing a critical layer of complexity. Like a house without a foundation, it simply won’t stand up properly. Vodka drinks are (usually) no more than candy; they contain sweet, simple flavors that stupefy the palate and as such, they are best left to children.

For almost every drink in the world that is made with vodka, it would have been better with either gin, white rum, or pisco. Which substitution is best depends upon the drink, of course, but one always exists. Cosmopolitan? Try it with J. Wray. Moscow Mule? Vastly improved by the use of gin, or rum, or whiskey, or Fernet Branca. (By the way, such a drink is called a buck–a moscow mule is simply a vodka buck, just as a “moscow mule” made with gin would be a gin buck.)

Vesper? It’s not my favorite, but you should probably leave it alone.

4. There are particles of ice and fruit floating in it. An excellent drink should not be chunky in any way. True mixological perfection requires homogeneity of texture. Pieces of pulp or ice floating in the drink are like bits of un-integrated flour in your bechamel; they are jarring to the imbiber and indicative of carelessness on the part of the bartender. Fix it with a fine-mesh strainer, and you’ll enjoy years of particulate-free drinking.

5. The level of dilution is an accident. High-proof spirits are unpleasant to drink on their own. Insufficiently diluted alcohol burns burns the throat and worse! it deadens the taste buds. If a drink is over-diluted, its flavors become watery and thin, but a drink which is under-diluted suffers nearly as much. The sip will deaden the drinker’s perception of taste, and the flavors will seem muted.

Always pay attention to the amount of water that you are introducing into your drink. If your ice cubes are big, then they have a higher ratio of volume to surface area, and you will have to shake or stir longer in order to achieve the same amount of dilution that you would with smaller ice. Getting it right comes down largely to intuition, but you’ll never develop that intuition if you are not aware that you need it.

If you don’t know if your dilution is right, shake less than you need to, taste your drink to check the dilution, and then shake it some more. Repeat this process until you are confident in your timing. If you find yourself in a place with differently-sized ice from your experience, take some time to re-calibrate.

6. And while we’re on the subject of ice, the ice probably sucks. Clear ice is highly preferable to cloudy ice, both because it is aesthetically superior and because it melts more slowly, allowing you to keep your drinks colder, longer, with less impact upon their dilution. Ice is cloudy because of mineral impurities and air trapped in the frozen water, so the key to clear ice is to eliminate those problems. Boiling the water before freezing it will deaerate it, and using distilled water will ensure negligible mineral content. Below is an example of an ice cube made from boiled water (on the left) and un-boiled water (on the right). I did not use distilled water, and as you can see, there is still some cloudiness, but the boiling creates a marked improvement.

7. The juice is not fresh. The quality of fresh juice above pasteurized juice is almost incommunicable. Boiling juice (to pasteurize it) removes many of its more delicate flavor compounds, and changes the texture, invariably for the worse. Moreover, once juice has been freed from its prison inside of a fruit, it begins to break down and change flavor on its own. Pasteurized orange juice from a carton is only vaguely orangey sugar water compared to the bright, floral qualities of a freshly juiced orange, for example. If you forget everything else I have told you, remember this: your drink is only as good as the worst thing you put in it.

8. The glass is not cold. If you strain your ice-cold drink into a room temperature glass, you are cheating yourself. The drink will immediately absorb a substantial amount of heat from the glass, ruining its temperature. Always chill your glasses before pouring your drink into them.

9. You’re topping a drink in a cocktail glass with soda. Stop it. Most sodas contain revolting amounts of sugar and sad, highly artificial flavor syrups. Just say no. Worse, you probably are not measuring the soda. “Top with sprite” has to be the worst mixing instruction ever, because if your drink, pre-top-off, has a volume of five ounces, then depending on the glass, you might end up adding anywhere from one to five ounces of soda, producing inconsistency from drink to drink.

10. There are no bitters. Not every drink needs bitters, as we saw in our consideration of the martini, but the majority of mixed drinks do need them. Bitters are a bit like salt; they round out and enhance the other flavors of the drink, and add complexity and depth on the backend. The one place where bitters are usually unwelcome is in a drink which relies on the sharp acid taste of fresh lemon or lime. Bitters will dull the bracing quality of acid.

11. The herbs are over-muddled. We’re not making pesto, and a muddler is not a mortar and pestle. All of the menthol in mint lives in little hair-like structures on the surface of the leaf. If you bruise the leaf of the mint, you are going to release bitter chlorophyll flavors into your drink, and it will taste grassy. I suppose that could be deliberate, but a discerning palate will perceive it as an error. The better way to handle mint is to place it on the palm of your hand and give it a few good, hard, smacks. In general, when muddling herbs or citrus peels, apply firm pressure but do not tear the flesh of the plant. Fruit, on the other hand, ought to be pulverized.

So let’s see if we can take all of these ideas, and re-jigger the Naughty Housewife-tini, above, into something a little more delicious.

NaughtyHousewife

2 oz Fresh Peach Juice
1.5 oz Gin (Plymouth)
.25 oz Liquore Strega
.25 oz Simple Syrup
Dash of Peach Bitters (Fee’s)

Shake over ice and double-strain, first through a hawthorne or julep strainer and then through a fine-mesh strainer, into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a blackberry on a skewer.

Notice that we have dropped the ridiculous “-tini” suffix from the name. The pasteurized slop has been omitted in favor of a fresh seasonal juice. Vodka has been replaced with gin, and the sugar components have been dialed down to a very small amount, to add a bit of sweetness to the drink without overpowering it.

The sprite, which added sweetness and carbonation, has been replaced with a bit of simple syrup, to fill the same role without adding undesirable flavors and carbonation. For a liqueur, I used Liquore Strega, which is sweet, herbal, and slightly spicy, adding a note of intrigue to the otherwise mundane combination of peach and gin.

The deep purple of the blackberry garnish creates a pleasing contrast with the pale orange of the drink itself.


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Mai Ta-IPA

Happy Thursday! I hope you had a great fourth of July. After all that time in the heat, it’s time to cool down with one of my favorite drinks, the Mai Tai.

When I encountered this variant from Jacob Grier, I knew that I had to try it. I diverged slightly from his formulation, in that I used the traditional Mai Tai garnishes of mint leaves and a smashed half lime, whereas he used a cherry. I also used a shorter glass, because I wanted to highlight the experience of inhaling the aroma of the garnish.

For the IPA, We (that is, I and my usual confederates) decided to use Dogfish Head’s 90 Minute IPA, and I took the opportunity to use the last of the Orgeat from last week.

Mai Ta-IPA

1 oz El Dorado white rum (Cruzan)
1 oz El Dorado 8 year aged rum (Matusalem Clasico 10)
1 1/2 oz IPA (Dogfish Head 90 Minute)
1 oz lime juice
3/4 oz Orgeat (Homemade)
1/2 oz Orange Liqueur (Clement Creole Shrub)

Shake all but IPA over ice and double-strain over fresh ice. Top with IPA and garnish with mint leaves and a smashed half-lime shell.

I was drawn to this recipe because I thought the IPA would be an unusual way to add bitterness to a drink that relies on citrus to be sour and bright. I have lost untold hours of sleep looking for a way to combine bitterness and sourness in interesting ways, and the sad truth is that these types of flavors don’t play all that well together. IPA accomplishes this marriage effortlessly, by combining the sourness of fermentation with the bitterness of hops.

To be honest, I didn’t care for the beery sourness of this drink on top of the other flavors in the Mai Tai — but then, when it comes to Mai Tais, I am a bit of a purist. This was actually the first drink I have mixed with beer, and while it won’t be the last, it will probably be the last for a while. I enjoy fine beers, but beer and spirits together rarely suit my personal taste. Even so, it was a fun experiment.