Measure & Stir

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


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Gin, Mangosteen, Umeshu, Turbinado

A quick stroll through the Japanese Market equipped me to make today’s drink, in which I made use of mangosteen, and also Choya Umeshu, which is a Japanese plum wine. Mangosteen is not as sweet as lychee, and it has a softer texture, but it’s close enough that I intuitively used a similar process to this muddled lychee and gin drink, except I omitted the lemon juice, for it was not necessary.

Mangosteen is very expensive, and its flavor is not distinctive. It is light and watery, with a hint of a tropical fruit flavor, like like tart berries with a touch of pear. For this reason, I do not recommend using it to make drinks, but I didn’t know that, and neither would you if no one told you, no? If you’re like me, you’re constantly looking for novel flavors in your food and drinks, so maybe you think, sure, I’ll splurge on some tropical fruit, even though I have no idea how to pick a ripe one or if it’s even reasonable to expect to get good quality mangosteens this time of year. Maybe if you eat them closer to their point of origin, they have a stronger flavor.

No matter! I made a drink out of them anyway, and it was quite a good drink in spite of the mildness of the muddled fruit. Umeshu is made by infusing macerated japanese plums, called ume in shochu, and sweetening it with sugar. I noticed that the neighborhood Japanese market was selling 750 ml bottles of this as a liqueur (subject to the WA state hard liquor taxes) and also as a wine, so I, of course, opted to purchase the latter. I’m not sure if Choya is the good stuff; in fact I’m pretty sure it’s the cheap stuff, but it tasted pleasantly of plums, so I used it exactly like a fortified wine.

Bonus: it came in 50ml glass bottles, perfect for making exactly two drinks. A fortified wine you can keep in the pantry? Someone needs to put the fine folks at Choya in touch with whoever makes Carpano Antica.

Mango Should Be Steen and Not Heard
1.5 oz Old Tom Gin (Hayman’s)
.75 oz Umeshu (Choya)
1 tsp Turbinado sugar syrup
Flesh from one mangosteen fruit
Muddle the mangosteen in the turbinado syrup, then shake all ingredients over ice. Double strain over fresh ice and garnish with a piece of candied ginger.

This drink was excellent, in spite of the mangosteen having a light flavor. The extra sugar from the syrup helped to bring out its fruity flavors and the umeshu bridged the gap between astringent gin and sweet fruit. Making the drink was easy, but naming it… that I am not so good at. If anyone has a better idea of what to call this, please let me know. Personally, I don’t think every delicious thing you throw in a mixing vessel needs a name. If observe good practices regarding drink construction, and you mix according to your good taste, then you have done enough.

The best drink names are clever puns.


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Basil and Gin

I was in a particular experimental mood one night, and I had just purchased a fresh basil plant, so I thought I could probably put those things together. Alas, as I was eyeing the various liqueurs upon my shelf, I spied the bottle of Domaine de Canton, and was reminded of the way that thai cooking often combines basil with ginger. Would that I had not had such a thought, for Domaine de Canton makes a very poor cocktail; it is long on sugar and meager in ginger flavor. I have never mixed a drink with it that I loved, though I must confess it comes in a very appealing bottle. Ginger liqueur sounds great, of course, but the problem is that ginger, though spicy and strong of flavor, has a very light aroma.

As such, its flavor is not well-captured by the infusing process. Perhaps the good folks who make it are distilling it, but their website is unclear. Whatever they are doing, it is not working, because their product contains only the barest hint of a ginger flavor, and as such, it does not contribute to any drink with which it is mixed unless it makes up the majority of the drink’s volume. A quick browse through the recipes at the Domaine de Canton website confirms this analysis; all of the drinks they feature are very heavy on the liqueur. Perhaps that’s merely a ploy to sell more of their product, but either way, it’s a terrible mixer.

In its defense, it is delicious on its own, and I highly enjoy it neat or on the rocks, with with a twist of lemon peel. Since this post turned into an impromptu review of Domain de Canton, I’m going to sum up the pros and cons:

Pros: Excellent bottle. The spirit itself is slightly spicy from the ginger, and has a subtle vanilla flavor, with a hint of pear. Proof: 56, which is pretty good for a liqueur.

Cons: The flavor is too light to make any impact on a mixed drink unless you make it the bulk of the drink’s volume, throwing your sugar balance out of whack. Even dry gin overpowers it.

In any case, if you want ginger flavor in your drink, the proper way to do it is with either fresh ginger juice or fresh ginger syrup, which is made by shaking equal parts of white sugar and fresh ginger juice. Notice the common theme with these two ingredients. Ginger juice actually retains most of its flavor for a couple of days if properly sealed and refrigerated. I usually just use the fresh juice on its own, because that frees me to get my sugar from another source. A ginger syrup is useful if I know I want it to be the only sugar in the drink, but I find the fresh juice to be more versatile. If you don’t have a juicer, you can grate the ginger and squeeze the gratings through a strainer.

Basil and Gin
1.5 oz Gin (Beefeater)
.5 oz Dry Vermouth (Dolin)
.5 oz Domaine de Canton
1 dash Angostura Bitters
6-7 basil leaves
Muddle the basil leaves in the Domaine de Canton and then stir all with ice. Strain into a cocktail class and garnish with a smacked basil leaf and a lime peel.

Astute readers will notice that I grated lime zest on to the top of this drink, whereas my instructions call for a lime peel. I had never tried grating lime zest over a drink before, and for some reason it occurred to me as I was making this one to give it a shot. I don’t recommend this. In all honesty, I can’t see any reason to ever use grated lime zest over cutting a peel and expressing the oils. Grating puts substantially less oil into the drink, and produces a much fainter aroma. That would be fine if you only wanted a very faint sensation of lime, but when you do it this way, you end up with little pieces of zest floating in the drink, and that just sucks.

A proper drink should never have anything disrupting its texture. You want a light lime flavor? Just discard the peel instead of leaving it in the drink. Who came up with this grating idea? It looks dramatic, sure, but it simply is not functional. Stick to twists and large, rectangular peels.

Moreover, basil does not yield its flavor to a drink when it is muddled. Perhaps if I had used super fine sugar it would have worked better, but, in exactly the opposite situation from ginger, basil has a strong aroma and a mild flavor, therefore, if you want to truly capture its flavor, you need to use a tincture or an infusion.

On top of those two mistakes, I ended up using twice as much as I wanted in an attempt to make the flavor discernible. So the basil was poorly expressed, there was lime zest floating on top, and the whole drink was too sweet. In summary: Don’t make this drink, at least not this way. I will probably not iterate on this it, but if I did, the basil would be infused into the gin, and the ginger flavor would come from fresh juice, and I would use orange bitters instead of Angostura. If you never make a mistake, it means you aren’t taking enough risks.


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Indochine: Green Chartreuse and Basil

Basil season is upon us, so what better time to enjoy the Indochine? I am not referring to this atrocious glass of candy from Sandra Lee, but rather to this elegant concoction from Mayahuel in Manhattan, courtesy of CVS. I don’t have a lot to say about this one, except you should make it. It’s a little lower-volume than I am used to, but the combination of Zacapa 23, Green Chartreuse, and fresh basil is just too good to miss. Green Charteuse is spicy and herbal on its own, but it contains the extracted flavors of its herbs. When a flavor is extracted into alcohol it becomes abstracted — it retains its aroma but not the fullness of its flavor. By adding fresh herbs, we build a flavor which tastes much more complete, like a song that ends on the right note.

All of the flavors in this drink have a certain earthy quality — oak wood, leaves, sugar cane, spices. It would be perfect to sip on your patio, or even out in a forest. Zacapa 23 is a little bit expensive to be using it as the base spirit in a lot of mixed drinks, but every time I have made a drink with it I have been very impressed. When I use it in a rum drink, I almost feel like I’m cheating. It’s that great.

Indochine
.75 oz Zacapa 23 Rum
.25 oz Green Chartreuse
.375 (3/8) oz Lime Juice
.25 oz Simple Syrup
5 Thai Basil Leaves

Muddle the basil leaves in the simple syrup, then shake all ingredients over ice and strain over fresh ice. Garnish with candied ginger, or, if you don’t have any of that, a fresh basil leaf.

This drink was a little small, so if you doubled the proportions, I would certainly empathize. It looks insubstantial in my double old-fashioned glass, but I don’t have a smaller rocks glass, something I shall have to rectify soon. The original recipe called for candied ginger, which would have been a nice aroma to accompany the drink, but I really enjoyed the additional scent of basil as I took a drink. Basil has a delicate flavor, so the extra aroma from the garnish really helps it shine.

You should make this, it is excellent.


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Angry Bear: Raspberries, Tequila, Allspice

I wanted to mix another Sleepy Bear but I did not have any blackberries. Raspberries were an acceptable substitute, but when I tasted the raspberry honey blend, I found myself craving tequila instead of rum. There was something in the blackberry that wanted to blend with the smokey vegetal flavors of reposado tequila, so I followed my instinct. The oaky, sugar cane flavor of my go-to aged rum is much fuller than the flavor of my go-to reposado, and to fill in the gap, I thought a dash of allspice dram would be perfect. It was.

Angry Bear

2 oz Reposado Tequila (Espolon)
.5 oz Honey Syrup
6 – 8 raspberries
.5 oz Lime Juice
.25 oz Allspice Liqueur (homemade)

Muddle the raspberries in the honey syrup until you have a fresh raw jam. Shake all ingredients over ice and double-strain into a wine glass. Cut a large, thin orange slice and place it in the glass, and cut a raspberry so it sits on the rim.

The orange slice is really just for looks, though it add some orange oil to the aroma. All the flavors of the different ingredients were perceptible, which is the mark of a successful mix, although I admit this isn’t the manliest concoction I’ve poured lately. Even with two ounces of tequila, there is no escaping that scintillant pink color. If you want to drink raspberries, it’s the price you must pay.


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Sleepy Bear: Bärenjager, Blackberries and Rum

I’ve had a bottle of Bärenjager burning a hole in my bar for a while now, and I have found it to be tremendously un-useful. It’s a delicious dessert, stirred over ice and with a dash of bitters, but as far as mixing into drinks, it’s a loser. The honey flavor, so engaging on its own, is easily lost among other spirits. I had originally wanted to use it to make the Bee’s Knees, a classic gin sour using honey instead of sugar, but what I found was that the proportion of the liqueur had to be increased substantially before the flavor of honey was discernible, and by then the resulting drink was far too sweet.

Stick to honey syrup for a more pronounced honey flavor. The temptation exists to try pure honey, but it does not integrate well with more aqueous elements, and will sink to the bottom of your shaker or blender, spitefully refusing your entreaties.

Honey Syrup

1 part honey
1 part sugar
1 part water

Combine in a sauce pot on medium heat until fully integrated. Fortify with a bit of vodka or a bit less of a neutral grain spirit.

I used Bärenjager for this drink, and it worked pretty well, but you can get the same flavor in a six dollars worth of syrup as in thirty plus dollars worth of liqueur, and then you can spend the money on better rum.

Sleepy Bear

2 oz Dark Rum (Matusalem Clasico 10)
.75 oz Bärenjager (or honey syrup)
.75 oz lime juice
6 Blackberries

Muddle the blackberries in the honey liqueur or syrup until you have a fresh honeyed jam. Shake all ingredients over ice and then double strain into an old fashioned glass over fresh ice. Garnish with a lime wheel and a blackberry.

I used a toothpick, cleverly positioned, to make the blackberry stick to the lime wheel. Blackberries and honey both seem like ingredients which would be very enticing to bears, and I don’t know if that also goes for rum, but if I were a bear, I’m pretty sure I’d be all over it, and then I’d take a nap, hence the name. Simple creations are often the best ones, and this is a seasonal drink that I would be proud to serve to any guest.

There are no bitters in this drink because the blackberries on their own have a bitter component to them, and they complete the back-end of this drink unassisted.


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Raspberry Caipirinha

Raspberries are in season, just begging us to make use of their sunny, jammy flavors. Moreover, I just purchased a new bottle of Cachaça, because every once in a while I get that Caipirinha itch. Let’s see if we can play matchmaker with those.

Cachaça is mostly produced in Brazil, where 390 million gallons are consumed annually, compared with 4 million gallons outside the country. I don’t know about you, but I am doing my part to beat the Brazilians and put the US on the map for Cachaça consumption. USA! USA! USA! And of course, the Caipirinha is the national cocktail of Brazil, but to be honest, I find the combo of lime, sugar, and (essentially) very funky rum to be a little one-note and boring, so I like to add in one other fruit, which varies according to my mood.

Unfortunately, such a drink is technically called a Capifruta, but sometimes the technically correct is also the hopelessly ugly, and “Capifruta” sounds really grating to my American ears, whereas Caipirinha does not. Unlike economics or physics, this is an instance where judicious use of language can actually shape reality, so I will refrain from calling this drink by its “correct” name.

I never add more than one fruit besides lime, because we’re making a mixed drink, not a big bowl of mashed up fruit. Sometimes I use kumquats, and then I omit the lime altogether.

Raspberry Caipirinha

2 oz Cachaça (Pitú)
3 – 4 lime wedges (aim for .5 oz of juice)
4 – 5 raspberries
.5 oz simple syrup

Place raspberries and limes in a mixing glass and muddle thoroughly. Shake over ice and then pour the entire contents of the shaker into an old-fashioned glass. The smashed up lime wedges are the garnish.

The process I described here is the traditional way, as far as I know, and it is the one I followed for this photograph, but I did not enjoy the little pieces of ice floating on top of the drink, and I don’t think anyone else would, either, so I suggest finely straining this over fresh cracked ice and then garnishing it with a fresh lime wedge.

It won’t quite have the rustic feeling if you do it that way, but it will produce a more polished drinking experience. Rough up the garnish limes a little if you really need to.

Much like the old fashioned, you could use caster sugar instead of simple syrup, and the granules of sugar would macerate the lime peel a little more effectively than simple muddling, releasing more lime oil. As with the old fashioned, I will mention that the ROI on this procedure is very small, but you can do it if you feel exceptionally fancy. You will really want to use caster sugar, though, so as to avoid undissolved sugar granules in the final drink, which you will agree is much worse than slightly less lime oil.

Cheers.