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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Canon

The other day I popped into Canon for a night cap, and I asked the bartender for a drink with Fernet as the base. The drink he made was well-executed, and contained Fernet Branca, Cynar, and Campari, stirred and poured over ice, and garnished with an orange peel. It was a sipper, and a good one. For those who care, Canon is a collaboration between Jamie Boudreau and Murray Stenson, and the link on Mr. Stenson’s name there is a way more in-depth article about the Canon than I want to write, and probably also way more in depth than anyone cares to read.

The bar itself is beautiful, with one of the finest liquor collections I have ever beheld. Some may find it a bit pretentious — certainly the place is high concept. In the bathroom, an old-timey radio recording plays, consisting of far-away sounding snippets of conversation. The menu is also a bit on the snooty side, but they also made the extremely un-snooty to post it online. It contains several very intriguing flight, though I would steer clear of the rum flight. Neither Flor de Cana nor Appleton Estate is great sipper, at least in my opinion. Obviously they beg to differ?

If you could not guess, I like my bars a bit on the snooty side, so I feel right at home, sipping on bitters and watching experts make expert drinks. If you are from out of town, and visit only one bar in Seattle, I highly suggest that you make it the Canon. The biggest drawback is that on a Friday or Saturday, the place is so packed that you cannot enjoy your drink comfortably. If you are from Seattle and you have the luxury, you will have a far better experience on a Sunday or a Tuesday.

The drinks are executed to technical perfection, and are quite creative. The Smoking Monkey is a combination of banana-infused Jameson, sherry, and Ardbeg Scotch whiskey. They have an aged sparkling cocktail with rum, yvette, and lemon. I once made a rum, lavender, lemon drink and although I did not nail the preparation, I thought the flavor combination was excellent, and I am pleased to see a similar one in a world class bar. They have a punch that I have not tried, but it sounds brilliant, consisting of rums, cognac, citrus, champagne, and muscovado sugar. Muscovado sugar seems to be a bit of a food trend lately, and it’s one that I whole-heartedly endorse.

Here is a picture of my drink from that night, albeit a bad one. Bars are terrible places to take photos, though many young women seem to disagree.

Canon Bartender’s Choice with Fernet as base
1.5 oz Fernet Branca
.75 oz Cynar
1 Tsp of Campari
Stir slightly longer and then strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice. Garnish with a fat orange peel, oils fully expressed.

It’s possible that I’m over on the Cynar by a quarter of an ounce, but I made the drink a bit differently from the recipe here, and these are my thoughts as to a closer approximation. I tried to reproduce this drink in my home after carefully watching the bartender make it, but I did not prepare it as well as they did. Campari and Cynar are both on the syrupy side, and even Fernet is relatively viscous, as a spirit. When making a drink like this, it is necessary to dilute it a little bit beyond the level of a gin or whiskey drink. Otherwise, the texture will be too thick, and the drink will be unpleasant upon the palate. It’s a clever drink, though it is not for everyone, and

Yesterday it occurred to me that I have never actually explained how to express the oils in a citrus peel. After cutting it, gently squeeze it over the surface of the drink, making a fold with a slightly acute angle. Do this at several locations across the orange before twisting or folding it, and then run the peel around the inside of the glass before dropping it into the drink. But you probably already knew that, I think most people do.