Measure & Stir

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


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Thaiquila

Brown, bitter, and stirred is a genre to which we probably don’t pay enough attention. To be perfectly honest, by the time you add two fortified wines, two liqueurs/amari, and/or two base spirits, things start to taste a little muddy. I went through a period where I mixed every BB&S that I came across, and they all ran together in my mind.

Fernet, St. Germain, Bourbon, Lillet? Reposado, Nonino, Punt e Mes, Tiki bitters? Why not? Appleton Reserve, Dry Sherry, Pimento Dram, Campari? Don’t mind if I do. Personally, I like to keep it simple most of the time, because I really want to notice each flavor distinctly. The theme at our last session was tea, and astute readers might have noticed various manifestations of Camellia sinensis in several of our recent posts.

For this drink, we wanted to infuse the tea in a spirit, and we chose an old favorite, Thai tea, which is black tea that has been flavored with star anise, crushed tamarind, and possibly orange flower water, and we infused it into Reposado tequila for about an hour and a half. It’s important when infusing tea into spirits to taste them frequently, to avoid creating a tanniny mess with a drying and unpleasant mouthfeel.

thaiquila

Thaiquila (Sorry about the name)
1.5 oz Thai Tea-Infused Reposado Tequila (El Jimador)
.75 oz Sweet Vermouth (Dolin)
.25 oz Amaro Zucca
1 dash Orange Bitters (Scrappy’s Seville)
Stir over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange peel.

I love Amaro Zucca, and I found that the earthy flavor of the rhubarb was well-balanced against the flavors of the tea and the vermouth. 6-3-1 may not be the most exciting formula in the world, but it’s solid, and with careful choices, it can pay off in a big way. I always taste and smell a few different options for each slot when I am using a formula like this, to make sure that the flavors fit. Two flavors that are too similar will blur together, making the drink “muddy”. Ideally, the flavors should be far enough apart from each other that they all come through on their own.

BB&S drinks almost always benefit from a fresh orange or lemon peel, depending on the ingredients. Though spirits are very good at capturing aromas, they can never quite retain the bright flavor of fresh citrus oil.

A personal rule, though far from a universal one, is to avoid having two ingredients in drink with the same flavors. If you have orange liqueur, you do not need orange juice. It’s redundant. The only time I break this rule is with bitters.

On a completely different subject, and as a little bit of administratriva, we tend to have about one mixing session about every two weeks, and then blog about it over the next two. Most sessions have a theme, or an ingredient set from a particular market. We’ve had three sessions so far this year, and I’m going to start calling them out in the posts in question. Makes it fun.

I’ll be sipping on one of my favorite bourbons this weekend. I hope your plans are as exciting as mine!


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Libation Laboratory: Running the Gimlet, Part III

For the past two weeks, Joe and I have been exploring the world of citrus cordials by mixing various gimlets. In Running the Gimlet Part I we made a lemon cordial, and in part II we made a lime cordial. For part III of this series, we played with a grapefruit cordial.

Here’s our grapefruit cordial recipe:

Grapefruit Cordial
1 cup Grapefruit juice
1 cup Sugar
Peels of 3 grapefruits

Add peels, juice, and sugar to a pot over medium heat. Heat and stir until the sugar integrates with the juice and strain.

It’s OK to be a little bit lazy with the piths when making grapefruit cordials, since grapefruit is rather bitter anyway.

grapefruit gimlets

From left to right, bottom to top, we have: scotch (snifter), bourbon (rocks glass), mezcal (coupe glass), tequila reposado (martini glass), and rum (cocktail goblet).

Scotch Grapefruit Gimlet

Eye: A warm, rust-colored brown.
Nose: Mostly scotch.
Sip: Smokey scotch, a bite of grapefruit.
Finish: Scotch and grapefruit balanced each other well.

This combination was the clear winner of the night. Tart citrus and scotch is a great combination, as we knew from the blood and oak. The scotch we used was Longrow 10, which isn’t very smokey or savory, because we wanted to avoid adding those sorts of flavors to grapefruit. I didn’t expect this gimlet to steal the show, but it did.

Bourbon Grapefruit Gimlet

Eye: Brown.
Nose: Spice and citrus fruit.
Sip: Oaky spice from the bourbon, sour, sweet grapefruit.
Finish: Smooth and fruity.

I’ve always enjoyed making whiskey sours with grapefruit juice, so I knew this combination was going to be tasty. Just go ahead and make this one. You’ll thank us. I think this was probably my second favorite grapefruit gimlet.

Mezcal Grapefruit Gimlet

Eye: Pink
Nose: Cactus, smoke, sweet citrus.
Sip: Mezcal with grapefruit.
Finish: Mostly mezcal.

I love mezcal, so I had high expectations for this drink, but I was let down. In our past gimlet experiments, mezcal had paired well with lemon and lime, so why not grapefruit? Well, it turns out that this was the weakest pairing we came up with for grapefruit. In this drink, mezcal and grapefruit did not do each other any favors, and the two flavors fought each other in the glass. I was throughly disappointed.

Tequila Reposado Grapefruit Gimlet

Eye: Pinkish yellow, like a sunset.
Nose: Strong grapefruit scent.
Sip: Tequila and grapefruit.
Finish: Mostly grapefruit.

Once again, I had high hopes for tequila and grapefruit, as we’ve mixed the two together before, in the strawberry paloma. Although this gimlet was better than its mezcal cousin, it just didn’t blow me away. Somehow the two flavors didn’t harmonize the way we had expected them to. I don’t think I’d make this gimlet again.

Rum Grapefruit Gimlet

Eye: Rust.
Nose: Fruity.
Sip: Caramel, fruits, grapefruit.
Finish: Sweet notes from the rum, bitter notes from the grapefruit.

This gimlet was excellent. We’ve paired grapefruit and rum before, so we kind of knew this was going to be awesome. We used Doorly’s rum, and the grapefruit cordial complemented its fruity, citrus flavors very well. It was hard to stop drinking this one, but it still didn’t gel as well as the scotch or bourbon gimlets.

I wonder if you are as tired of gimlets as we are!


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Libation Laboratory: Running the Gimlet, Part II

Joe and I made a variety of citrus cordials, and mixed up some gimlets, trying out various base spirits with each sort of cordial. In this series, we present our tasting notes. Part II brings us to the lime cordial, which was so tasty that we went a little nuts and made six different gimlets!

Lime Cordial
1 cup lime juice
1 cup sugar
Peels of 8 limes, piths removed.

A word of advice when making a lime cordial: You need to remove as much of that lime pith as you can. Lime pith is very bitter, and can ruin your cordial. Lime cordials are a huge pain to make, but the payoff is worth it, I promise.

Round 1

lime gimlets 2

In the image above, from left to right, we have:

Mezcal Gimlet

Eye: A slightly yellow clear, with a ghastly green glow.
Nose: Cactus and lime.
Sip: Smokey cactus, sweet lime.
Finish: Sweet.

The mezcal gimlet was excellent, probably one of my favorites out of the six that we made. Lime and mezcal really go well together, and the cordial mixes very well with mezcal, indeed. I love the depth that the mezcal’s smoke adds to such a simple drink.

Suze Gimlet

Eye: A deep yellow, almost amber.
Nose: Herbal.
Sip: Bitter, herbal, dry, crisp.
Finish: Dry, suze is pronounced in the finish.

Suze is a gentian-based liqueur, and as such it tastes very bitter. Honestly, this would make a decent apéritif, as it is slightly sweet, but mostly bitter and dry. Perhaps Suze has an acquired taste, but it is one that is well worth acquiring. This was in the top three, for sure.

Gin Gimlet

Eye: Clear, with a hint of green glow.
Nose: Botanicals and citrus.
Sip: Gin is present in the sip.
Finish: The lime cordial balances out the finish.

Of course we had to make a gin gimlet. A word of advice: the gimlet is a simple cocktail, and as such, it emphasizes the base spirit, so don’t skimp out and use the cheap stuff, go for your favorite gin, as the gimlet is a brilliant way to showcase it. I’m not sure I need to say much about this gimlet, since we’ve all probably had it a million times. If not, definitely make sure you try one soon.

Round 2

gimlets2

In the image above, from left to right, we have:

Fernet Branca Gimlet

Eye: Brown
Nose: Fernet Branca
Sip: Fernet Branca
Finish: Fernet Branca, lime detectable in the finish.

Drinking lime juice and Fernet Branca is a delicious experience, and so Joe and I had high hopes for mixing Fernet with our lime cordial. It worked out about as well as Fernet and lime, which is to say it was great, however I will probably stick to squeezing fresh limes into my Fernet in the future. Making a lime cordial is a pain, whereas juicing a lime isn’t, and the extra effort involved in making the cordial isn’t justified by this gimlet.

Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum Gimlet

Eye: White, hard to discern that lime cordial is present.
Nose: Sweet fruits, and citrus.
Sip: Strong grassy hogo, mellowed by the lime cordial.
Finish: Rum and lime are both present, well-balanced.

The Wray & Nephew gimlet was outstanding, and definitely in my top three. I love rum agricole, with its funky, grassy flavors. Wray & Nephew lacks some of the frutier notes that I’ve had in other white rums, but that is OK here, since it gets out of the way and gives the lime cordial some breathing room. Together, the two components balance each other well. Make this gimlet, you won’t be sad.

Tequila Reposado Gimlet

Eye: Yellow.
Nose: Smoke, citrus.
Sip: Tequila and lime.
Finish: Smoke, lime.

The tequila gimlet was quite similar to the mezcal gimlet, as you might expect. After the success of the mezcal gimlet, I wanted to see how tequila reposado would work out, and the results were similar. Of course lime and tequila match well, but I think I enjoyed the smokier flavors present in the mezcal gimlet.

Next week: Grapefruit Cordials.


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Avocado, chili-infused tequila, mezcal

Nestled amongst the limes, lemons, and oranges of Joe’s fruit bowl was an avocado. I think I heard him say something like “I’m tired of ‘vacation cocktails’, but I really want to make a blended drink”. Then I saw him reach for the avocado, and watched as he scooped out about 1/4 of it into the blender, and so we started constructing this little number.

That night I had brought over an infusion made with tequila and cayenne peppers. I really enjoyed the bird’s eye soju infusion we had made for Thai week, but I knew that tequila would have been a better match. Joe recommended using a reposado tequila, which was a great idea. Since I had decided to work with tequila, I thought I’d choose a different pepper, and so I selected several mild-looking cayenne peppers and submerged them in tequila for a few days. I also threw in a tablespoon of agave nectar, as I’ve found that adding a small amount of sweetener can really help an infusion pop, and agave and tequila harmonize perfectly together.

Cayenne Peppers and Tequila Reposado
1 cup tequila reposado
3 cayenne peppers, cut in half
1 tablespoon agave nectar

Let infusion for 2 – 3 days, tasting regularly. Remove peppers as soon as you taste the burn. Avoid over-infusion.

I was careful to taste the concoction regularly as I was afraid it would become too spicy. After two and half days or so, I grew impatient, surprised by how mild the infusion was, and decided to add another pepper. It must have been a particularly spicy one, however, as the next time I tasted it I knew the infusion had to stop immediately. Maybe it had even gone on for too long, so let this be a lesson for you: chilis are unpredictable. Some are hot. Some aren’t. I don’t know how to tell them apart, and if you have tips, please share them with us by dropping a comment.

We had been telling ourselves all night that’d we get around to using it, but so far we had been struggling to find a drink for my spicy tequila. Naturally, avocado and tequila go well together, and so finally its time had come. We decided to use it as a modifier, to add some spicy kick to a drink, since my infusion had come out so hot. I can’t quite remember where the idea to use both tequila and mezcal came from, but I want to say it was because we wanted to make some sort of Mexican tiki drink. Most tiki drinks use two rums, so why not two “tequilas”? The rest of the drink kind of built itself, as I said before, agave nectar and tequila are partners in lime.

As we tasted the nearly finished drink, we realized it needed a pinch of salt. Joe was going to use regular kosher salt, but I jokingly urged him to use some fancy artisan salt. “We’ve got a blended avocado, some cayenne pepper-infused tequila, mezcal, fresh lime juice, agave nectar… Keep it craft, Joe. Keep it craft.” And so we did.

Keep it Craft
1.5 oz Mezcal
.5 oz Cayenne-infused Tequila
.5 oz Lime Juice
.75 oz Agave Nectar
1/4 of a small avocado
pinch of fancy salt

Blend thoroughly over ice and pour into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.

The avocado gave the drink a nice, rich texture, similar to a blended piña collada, only slightly creamier. The spice from the chili-infused tequila and the smoke from the mezcal pierce through the mellow avocado, reinforced by the agave nectar. The pinch of salt helps to tone down the avocado a little bit, so be sure to include it, if you make your own. Indeed, it was a great blended drink without being a rum/tiki/vacation drink, and I can’t wait to make another.


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Strawberry Acapulco: Tequila, Rum, Grapefruit, Pineapple

I am sure at this point that anyone who is following me can tell that I have been raiding Kaiser Penguin’s archives. I was looking for ideas for cocktail garnishes and I found ten or twelve drinks that I really needed to make. Unfortunately, I made four of them in one night, and the next morning did not go all that well. All the drinks were really spectacular, though. To cap off the week I decided to share a small twist that I made on the Acapulco, a relatively classic drink from Difford’s Guide #5.

Tequila in Tiki? Yes, apparently, it can happen. On this particular evening, I had some strawberry syrup on hand, and as I am a great lover of the strawberry + tequila pairing, I substituted half of the simple syrup in this recipe with strawberry syrup. The result was a pleasant, subtle jamminess that pervaded the whole drink. In the picture there is a bit of a gradient, but I think that is due to the fact that the glass is thicker at the top than the bottom.

And let me tell you, there is a reason that blended strawberry margaritas are so popular in resorts and spring break type scenarios. Sure, those drinks suck, with their artificial flavorings and colorings, but there is still something about this flavor combination. I like it so much that I made some strawberry-infused tequila, but for this drink I wanted the smokiness of the reposado to really come through against the other flavors, and alas, my infusion is made with blanco tequila.

Strawberry Acapulco

1 oz Reposado Tequila (Espolón)
1 oz Barbados Rum (Doorly’s)
1 oz Grapefruit Juice
2 1/2oz Pineapple Juice
.5 oz Simple Syrup
.5 oz Strawberry Syrup
Shake over ice and strain over fresh ice. Garnish with pineapple, strawberries, and an orange wheel, since it’s for the blog.

My rum collection is growing lately (a good problem!) and I was very pleased that for once I actually had a rum from the origin specified in the drink recipe. It is frequently not so.  This drink went down a little too smoothly, but wow, what an excellent flavor! Why not drink it while listening to Martin Denny?


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Dusty Bottoms

Continuing with our week of highball drinks, this is a drink that some of my friends had at a bar in San Diego called Prohibition. It’s a popular name for a craft cocktail bar, it seems. In any case, they visited the bar, and then came to visit me and told me of this drink. I then tried to recreate it, based upon their description of the ingredients and the flavor. But before we go any further, this is the perfect time to mention some errata from my earlier post, How To Make Better Drinks I wouldn’t ordinarily bother, but the post in question is in my side bar, so I feel it’s important to keep the information in good repair. In the list of problems with the drink, I somehow neglected to mention:

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.

The drink that my friends described to me contained reposado tequila, yellow Chartreuse, lime juice, muddled sage, and ginger beer. I do not know the exact proportions of the drink as it was served at Prohibition, but by knowing a little bit about the construction of a highball, we can come pretty close. In most cases, we want to have a total of two ounces of hard liquor in the drink, and the very natural way to do this, in this case, is with one and a half ounces of the base spirit, tequila, and one half ounce of the modifier, yellow chartreuse.

I want the flavor of the yellow chartreuse to be balanced against the acidity and flavor of the lime juice, so in this case I also used a half ounce of lime juice. Depending who you listen to, you might end up with three quarters of an ounce of liqueur, for a sweeter drink, but I like them dryer, and I plan to add more sugar in the form of ginger beer. When topping a drink with soda, many people make the mistake of filling the glass. This makes it look pretty, but you will end up putting a highly variable amount of soda into the drink, depending on the glass you use. If you want to preserve the flavor of the other elements, it is best to measure. You can always add a little more, so I limited myself to one ounce of soda water.

We made this drink after my friend Julian had just finished moving into a new apartment, so the name was appropriate. Moreover, it was a hot summer day, so whereas I usually would have used ice cubes, I wanted this drink to be a bit lighter and more refreshing, so I used crushed ice instead of ice cubes. In either case, as we discussed yesterday, it is important to fill the glass completely full with ice, to slow the melting process as much as possible. The ice does not look especially crushed in this picture, but I assure you, it was. Julian’s cat, Mimosa, wanted in on the action.

Dusty Bottoms (via Prohibition, in San Diego, CA)
1.5 oz Reposado Tequila (Espolón)
.5 oz Lime Juice
.5 oz Yellow Chartreuse (Strega)
4-5 Sage Leaves (Basil)
1 oz Ginger Beer (Bundaberg)

Lightly muddle the sage leaves in the yellow Chartreuse, and then combine all except the ginger beer in a shaker. Shake over ice, and then strain over fresh ice. Add the ginger beer and Garnish with a sage leaf.

I did not have any sage at this particular juncture, but I did have basil, fresh off the plant, and it was close enough on this occasion. I also substituted Strega for yellow Chartreuse, and you can see the bottle poking it’s head up in the background. I like to bring my own ice when I’m mixing at a remote location, because the quality of the ice is critical to the quality of the drink.


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Rojo Bianco: Reposado, Vermouth, Maraschino, Campari

When I first tasted Campari, I hated it. I was furious that I had just spent 30$ on this syrupy, neon-red swill. I poured my first Negroni down the sink, and gave the bottle of Campari to my friend Gualtiero. “Get this out of my sight!” I must have said. My, how my perspective has changed. If you truly want to experience Campari in all of it’s glowing, bitter glory, you should make a Negroni, or its cousin, the Boulevardier, but if you have already strolled down those avenues of flavor, then may I suggest one of my all-time favorites, the Rojo Bianco. 

Rojo Bianco
2 oz Reposado Tequila (Espolón)
.75 oz Bianco Vermouth (Dolin)
.25 oz Maraschino Liqueur (Luxardo)
.25 oz Campari
Dash of Aromatic Bitters (Angostura)

Stir over ice, and strain into a cocktail glass.

As with about half the drinks I make, I first learned this one on CVS. It tastes just like you think: the Reposado is smokey and vegetal, the liqueurs are bitter, sweet, and pungent, and the vermouth fills in the middle of the flavor spectrum. I really enjoy this one, but perhaps the construction is more interesting even than the flavor. This drink comes close to the 6:3:1 template that I’ve talked about before, but it uses a bit less vermouth, and a bit more liqueur. Moreover, it splits the liqueur down the middle, and you can imagine that if this drink had only Maraschino or Campari, it would be unremarkable.

I have found that when you are following this kind of template for an aromatic drink, you can usually get away with splitting any one of the ingredients. Two base spirits, two fortified wines, or two liqueurs all provide the opportunity for creative exploration, but don’t split more than one element in the template. Two base spirits and two liqueurs? Madness lies down that road, my friend.