Measure & Stir

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


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Phat Beets: Beet, Rye, Cumin, Balsamic Vinegar, Orange Oil and Green Peppercorn

I know, I know, I haven’t written in a year. I’m not going to waste a lot of time on throat-clearing but I want to assure you that I’m still here, and I still like you, and as always, I want to help you elevate your cocktail game.

drink

I was fishing around for novel flavor combinations that would be timely for the winter season, and I found that green peppercorn jelly is appropriate to mix with beetroot, as is cumin, as is orange oil. I decided to put all four of them together, using beet juice as the bridge between the other ingredients.

For the beetroot, I ran several beets through a masticating juicer and then a fine-mesh strainer and then a chemex. Chemex clarification of juices works better with some juices than others. Beet is among the ones that work less well. Although my beet juice did achieve an elegant texture, its color was so dark that there was no noticeable effect of clarification. You could safely skip the chemex step, but you might consider straining through a 100 micron superbag.

I tried this drink with both bourbon and rye, and I discovered that the additional sourness that comes from a rye was a better complement to the sweet and earthy notes of the cumin and beet. Use a workhorse rye for this, as anything subtle will tend to be drowned out.

For the cumin syrup I toasted about a teaspoon of whole cumin seeds in a pan, then crushed them and simmered them in a 1:1 simple syrup until their flavor was extracted.

In the past I used to reach for lemon juice as my cocktail acid of choice, but a man can only drink so many lemon or lime sours before he starts to ask what other acids exist. Most every good cocktail has a source of acidity, except for the family of drinks that takes after the old fashioned.

For this drink I used a quarter ounce of 10 year aged balsamic vinegar. It is syrupy and sweet, but it also adds the ascetic tang on the backend that is needed to find balance and challenge.

Finally, for the green peppercorn jelly, I crushed ~2 teaspoons of green peppercorns with a mortar and pestle, and simmered them with sugar, agar agar, and filtered water. As soon as the agar dissolved, I poured the mixture through a strainer into a small mold and let it set in the fridge. In 20 minutes I had a firm, pale green jelly.

garnish

Phat Beets
1.5 oz Rye Whiskey (RI1)
.75 oz Finely Strained Beet Juice
.5 oz Toasted Cumin Syrup
.25 oz Extra-Old Balsamic Vinegar
Express Orange Oil over the drink and discard the peel.
Serve with Green Peppercorn Agar Agar Jelly.

 

Green Peppercorn Jelly
250ml Filtered Water
1 Tsp Green Peppercorns, crushed
1 Tbsp. Sugar
2g Agar Agar powder
Bring all to a boil and whisk until sugar and agar agar are fully dissolved. Strain into a small mold and chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.

This is not one of those viscerally delicious, I-can’t-wait-to-have-another-one type of drinks. I don’t think beet juice is anyone’s favorite, but my hope is that a refined palate can appreciate this as a much more cerebral cocktail experience. First, the imbiber should take a sip of the drink, and observe its sweet, earthy, and spicey notes. The flavors are more or less orthogonal and exist such that each is distinct.

Then, they should take a bite of the peppercorn jelly. The subtle piperitious burn lingers on the palette with an unctuous, floral note. Another sip reveals an unexpected synergy between peppercorn, beetroot, and cumin, pulling the brighter elements of the drink’s composition into contrast against the bassy note of the pepper.

I apologize (#sorrynotsorry) for the previous two paragraphs but I have been watching a lot of Iron Chef Japan lately.

Cheers.


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Herbed Oleo Saccharum: Dill, Rosemary, Orange Oil

In his book, Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl, David Wondrich reveals that the foundation of a good punch is a concoction called oleo saccharum, which simply means “oily sugar”. That may not sound especially appetizing, but it is among the most delicious and under-appreciated ingredients in a mixed drink.  You don’t have to use it to make a giant punch; it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to make a single drink (or three). Usually it is made from lemons, but any citrus fruit will do, and I like to mix it up, as you have probably noticed. The process is a little bit time-consuming, but the end product is amazing, and worth it.

To make it, all you have to do is peel some of your favorite citrus fruit, being careful not to get any of the pith. I find this is especially challenging with limes, which is why I will not be making lime oleo saccharum any time soon. If you do, I recommend finding the freshest limes you can, as lime skins are thinner than lemons or oranges, and you have to get them before they can even slightly dry out. I was inspired to make this by a trip I took, several months ago, to the Teardrop Lounge in Portland, where they were serving an original drink called Perennial Punch, consisting of green tea, J.Wray, cachaça, dry aperitif wine, and herbed oleo saccharum.

I loved the idea of muddling herbs with the citrus peels, so I selected rosemary and dill, and muddled them in a bowl with the peel from four oranges, and a few ounces of sugar. I did not measure the sugar, I just eyed it. Add enough sugar to coat the peels, muddle them, and repeat a couple of times. Each time you muddle, the sugar will puncture the oil glands in the citrus peel and become saturated, so you end up using a substantial amount, perhaps an ounce per orange.

After you have combined the sugar and citrus peels, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let it sit for an hour, muddling occasionally. By the end, you get a rich, sweet oil with a heavenly smell. I mean really, truly, I am going to repeat this, it’s the key takeaway from this whole post: herbed oleo saccharum may be the greatest smell I have ever smelled.

The first drink I made with the oil was an attempt to partially reproduce the perennial punch. I did not bother to blend J. Wray and cachaça, as they have a similar flavor, and I find such blends to be gimmicky. Perhaps that is my ignorance. In any case, I did not quite get the dilution right on this one, and the flavor was good, but a bit on the watery side. As such, it’s hard to judge the success of the recipe. Everyone screws it up occasionally, and I was using unfamiliar ice, but that’s no real excuse.

Kind of Perennial Punch
1.5 oz Cachaça (Pitú)
.5 oz Dry Vermouth (Dolin)
.5 oz Herbed Oleo Saccharum
1 oz Soda Water
Stir all except soda over ice and strain over fresh ice. Top with soda and garnish with a rosemary sprig and an orange peel, because why not.

Other than the bad dilution, this was pretty tasty. The original used Pineau de Charentes, which I do not have, but the vegetal funk from the cachaça was a great match to the herbs in the oleo saccharum. Even over-diluted, the flavors of orange oil and herbs were salient. I made two of these at once, so I ended up wasting most of my precious oil on an error. I had enough to make one more drink, but it was all stuck to the herbs and peels that I had used in the preparation. I decided to take no chances, so I poured all of the still oil-saturated herbs and peels into my shaker with some gin and some lime juice, and I made a drink that is almost impossible to screw up.

Unintentional Herbed Semi-Gimlet
1.5 oz Gin (Aviation)
.5 oz Lime Juice
.5 oz Herbed Oleo Saccharum, plus oil-saturated sprigs of herb and orange peel

Shake over ice and double-strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary.

This drink was stunningly good. I call it a semi-gimlet because a proper gimlet is made of gin and lime cordial, but the process of making a good lime cordial is essentially making a lime oleo saccharum and then mixing it with strained lime juice. So this is a semi-gimlet in that the oleo saccharum was made with oranges, but if I had made it with limes, it would really just be an herbed gimlet. My process also placed extra emphasis on the citrus oil, so it would be a very unusual gimlet, at that.