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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Bloody Mary Workshop

In Seattle, there is no such thing as summer — there is only a faint impression of summer, a flickering shadow on the wall of a cave. We are in thrall to a sad facsimile and yet! there are heirloom tomatoes. When life gives you lemons… make a whiskey sour. When life gives you tomatoes, however… you are placed in the unfortunate spot of having to make Bloody Maries.

I have never enjoyed a Bloody Mary; on the few occasions that I have ordered one, or had one ordered for me, I have found no pleasure whatsoever in drinking, essentially, campbell’s soup mixed with vodka and, if one is fortunate, fresh lemon juice. Let us be perfectly honest. This drink sucks.

In an attempt to make it better, many bartenders adopt a kitchen sink approach, in which they add every savory ingredient they can get their hands on. Pickles, bell peppers, carrots, celery, shrimp, onion, a boiled egg — all of these elements improve the drink only in the sense that they distract the imbiber from the ugly, ugly truth, which I will reiterate: you are drinking boiled tomato puree mixed with vodka.

And yet, in my heart I knew that the idea had potential, and I wanted to reclaim this drink by starting with its most fundamental component: the tomato juice itself. The texture of a Bloody Mary is wholly unappealing. Even when it is smooth, as with v8, it has a viscosity that can only come from treatment with heat.

Indeed, I do not know whether the flavor or the texture is more objectionable, but they both had to go. My friends and I started by juicing organic heirloom tomatoes, and then straining the juices through a fine-mesh strainer. We separated them by color, so at the end of the process we had three different varieties of tomato juice, in order from sweetest to tartest:

  • a deep purple, made from cherokee purple tomatoes
  • a ruby red, made from brandywine tomatoes
  • an orange-yellow, made from yellow valencia tomatoes, I think

In addition to tomato juice, we also produced (and finely-strained) juices from cucumbers, lemons, and jalapeños. The straining was very important, because one of my objectives for this workshop was to produce a drink with a velvety, elegant texture, and in so doing elevate the Bloody Mary above it’s decidedly blue collar milieu.

And speaking of elevation, the vodka simply had to go. In truth I ended up using some vodka, but I also sought the richer flavors of gin, tequila, caol ila scotch whiskey, mezcal, and amaro (not pictured). With all of our reagents prepped, we set forth to impart a touch of class to the bloody mary.

#1: Bloody Mary Queen of Scot

1 oz finely strained yellow valencia tomato juice
1 oz vodka
.5 oz Caol Ila 12 year scotch whiskey
.5 oz lemon juice
.5 oz cucumber juice
1 dash jalapeño juice
1 dash Angostura bitters
pinch of salt

Shake over ice and double strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a thai chili and a fresh grind of black pepper.

The sourness from the yellow tomatoes made this a very bright, tangy short punch with just enough spice from the jalapeño and smokey bacony notes from the Caol Ila. Tomato juice is very rich, even strained like this, and the imbiber quickly fatigues of it, so we did not have time to iterate each of these recipes to perfection. If I attempt this recipe again, I will use slightly less lemon, and change the proportion to .75 oz of vodka and .75 oz of Caol Ila. I might also consider Laphroaig.

This was nothing like a traditional Bloody Mary, and that was a good thing. All of the flavors were evident in the experience of the drink, with bright flavors evident on the sip and savory scotch and tomato on the swallow, and a pleasing capsaicin burn on the finish. I tried to garnish it with a cucumber slice, but it sank to the bottom, ignominiously.

#2: Bloody Maria

1 oz finely strained brandywine tomato juice
1 oz platinum tequila
.5 oz mezcal
.75 oz cucumber juice
dash of jalapeño juice
dash of angostura bitters
pinch of salt
Shake over ice and double strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a thai chili and a fresh grind of black pepper.

Of the four, this was by far the least delicious variation. It was missing something, and no one could really say what. We tried modifying it with a barspoon of simple syrup — to no avail, and with a barspoon of lemon juice, and the end result was even worse. Still, it was a learning experience, and there were several takeaways: Mezcal and tomato juice is a delicious combination. The pepper and the cucumber and the tomato gave this a real flavor of a garden salad, much more than with the previous drink, where the less familiar flavor of yellow valencia tomatoes was less evocative of other dishes.

I realized later that this would have been great in a highball, over ice cubes or even cracked ice. If nothing else, it had a very appealing color, and probably resembled a traditional bloody mary more than any of the other variations. I’m still learning to consider the dynamics of pouring a drink over ice vs. serving it neat. Being colder and more dilute would have made the flavor lighter and the drink more refreshing, which would have made it more appropriate for summer. I also think it would have highlighted the cucumber element.

#3: Pale Mary (like “Hail Mary”)

2 oz yellow valencia tomato water*
1.5 oz vodka
.25 oz platinum tequila
.25 oz cucumber juice
1 barspoon lemon juice
pinch of salt

Stir over cracked ice and strain. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Of all the drinks in the workshop, this one was our most anticipated. After straining the orange tomato juice through a fine mesh strainer, we poured five ounces or so through a chemex filter, and it slowly dripped down into a glass, yielding a fragrant, orange-tinted water. Despite its clarity, the tomato water had a noteworthy viscosity, though its flavor was as light as its color. Not wanting to overwhelm it with powerful flavors, I initially stuck with the basics of vodka and lemon. That was a little too plain for me, so I added the vegetal hues of tequila and cucumber to round out the flavor.

Stirring  the Pale Mary provided us with an elegant texture, but alas, drinking so much tomato, no matter how processed, proved to be very taxing. If this had been my first drink, I would have enjoyed it much more. I’m not sure if the end result was worth the time it took, but this was the most interesting drink, and it is assuredly worthy of your breakfast.

My only wish for improvement: a basil leaf garnish, smacked.

*Note: to make tomato water, first prepare a chemex filter as you would for coffee, by saturating it with boiling water. Pour the juice into the filter and allow it to fall through. I got about 1.5 oz per hour.

#4: Mary, Truffle Hunter

1.5 oz finely strained purple cherokee tomato juice
1 oz + 1 dash amaro al tartufo
pinch of salt

Shake over ice, garnish with a razor thin slice of truffle. (I did not do this part)

After three very savory drinks, I had two goals: something digestive, to calm the stomach and something sweet, to serve as dessert. The purple cherokee tomatoes produced the sweetest juice of the different cultivars we tried. I did not want to completely depart from the theme, however, and I still needed to complement the bold umami flavors of heirloom tomato.

Fortunately, my friend Gualtiero brought me a bottle of this truffle-flavored amaro the last time he was in Italy. Amaro al Tartufo is sweet and only slightly bitter. Fruity on the sip, it lingers after the swallow with an earthy truffle vapor . I was very pleased that the truffle came through in this mix, and the change of pace from the previous drinks made it the unexpected favorite.

I will probably not make a Bloody Mary again for a while, but when I do, I will explore bacon fat-infused bourbon and one or two savory bitters. Special thanks to my friends James and Julian for helping with the prep work and for putting up with these ridiculous drinks, and also to Julian for naming #3 and #4.