Measure & Stir

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


1 Comment

Poison Yu: A Cocktail with Pear, Parsnip, Tonka Bean, Ginger, and Prosecco

I’m about to hit you with some winter-time Tiki action, a drink that manages to feel like summer and winter at the same time. Long-time readers may remember a similar experiment all those years ago in which James and I paired parsnips and pears, but today we have pared this concept down to pearfection and we hope it will be apparent to you.

mug

This tiki mug is one of my favorite pieces in my bar because it is so shamelessly gaudy. Tiki mugs are intentionally opaque, because most of the best tiki drinks are ugly, cloudy, swamp-brown colors. This is the price you pay for emphasizing flavor over appearance. For this drink, I didn’t want to be burdened by the aesthetics of the liquid itself.

I have never been a huge fan of pears, but there is a particular variety of pear called the Comice, or Christmas pear, which has a soft, custardy flavor and a pale green skin which, in ideal conditions, will exhibit a bit of blush. You can see it on the slices in the photograph. This type of pear is a hidden gem in all of the winter harvest. Its texture is like a ripe peach. I skinned such a pear, removed the seeds, and turned it into a smooth puree with a hand blender.

To be honest, the parsnip did not come through as much as we were hoping. An attempt to juice parsnips revealed that parsnip juice is a shockingly expensive ingredient per ounce, not even remotely practical as a cocktail ingredient. Instead, we tried caramelizing parsnips and then simmering them into a syrup with honey. It “worked” in the sense that there was a caramelly winter spice flavor, but there was nothing discernible as parsnip, per se.

To this I added light rum, fresh ginger juice, and prosecco, all over crushed ice. The prosecco did not keep any of its effervescence, of course, with so much crushed ice and pulpy pear puree, but its acidity and its flavor brought the balance to the otherwise sweet flavor profile of this drink.

drink

Poison Yu
~4 oz Comice Pear Purée
2 oz Light Rum (Bacardi)
1 oz Caramelized Parsnip and Honey Syrup
1/2 oz Ginger Juice
Top with 2oz Prosecco
Shake and pour over crushed ice into a tiki mug.
Garnish with Grated Tonka bean.

As delicious as that combination is, what really makes this drink stand out is an unusual ingredient called Tonka bean. Tonka beans are illegal to serve in the US, because they contain a high concentration of a chemical called coumarin, which has been shown to be toxic to the liver when it is fed to rats in quantities equal to their body weight. (Side note: Some types of cinnamon, specifically canela has a similar concentration of coumarin. No one has died from it yet, as far as I know).

Many thanks to the FDA for saving us from this dangerous, and delicious spice. Its aroma is like dried cherries, vanilla, gingerbread, and cloves, and yet there is nothing quite like it. I was able to buy some on ebay for a few dollars, and it came with a label warning me not to eat it, and a note about their use in “voodoo magick”. If that’s not Tiki, I don’t know what is.

This drink is named after a Chinese gangster who was active during the romance of the three kingdoms. When I read the story of this man, I knew instantly that I had to make a tiki drink that bore his name, and the “poisonous” Tonka bean was the perfect addition to drive home the theme of “Poison Yu”.

Cheers.

 

 


8 Comments

Mixology Bar Gen Yamamoto – Tokyo Craft Cocktail Series #1

Our first stop in what I’ve just now decided to call Measure and Stir’s Magical Mixological Journey in the Land of the Rising Sun(tm) was Gen Yamamoto in Azabu-Juban. For those of you who followed the link to the serious eats article, it was the only one they visited that is worth your time. Gen opens his bar at three pm, and we were the first to be seated. Immediately as I walked in, I was struck by the simple elegance and minimalism of the place. The walls are bare, and the only decoration is the beautiful wooden bar counter, which is made of only two pieces of wood cut vertically from a single tree. There are exactly eight seats, all at the bar.

Side note: Huge thanks to ulteriorepicure for letting me use some of his beautiful pictures for this post. You can see the full set of his pics on Flickr, it’s definitely worth a look. It is easy to tell which pictures are his because they are the ones that are well-lit and composed.

The menu at Gen lists only six drinks, which can be ordered a la carte, or as a four or six drink tasting menu. We opted to taste all six, of course. Gen’s drink-making philosophy really exemplifies my understanding of the Japanese approach to cuisine, which is to create flavors that are light, subtle, and thoughtful.

In Gen’s own words:

The tasting course reflects “shiki”, Japanese seasonality, using fresh ingredients while building on a progression of flavors and harmony.

Each drink contained a beautiful expression of a single spirit with a seasonal piece of produce. It is clear from Gen’s drinks and his service that he is very passionate about his work. He exemplifies the Measure and Stir Maxim: “Your drink is only as good as the worst thing you put in it.”

The order of the courses was also smartly chosen, which each drink flowing nicely into the next.

We started with a highball of gin, club soda, spices, and a house-made syrup of Kochi golden ginger. This was the most complicated drink in terms of flavor, because the spice syrup contained ginger, coriander, lemon grass, and clove, among other flavors.

I apologize, but I cannot remember the exact nature of the second drink. I think it used sake, yuzu from Chiba, and a green herb.

kumquats and shochu

The third drink was made with shochu, and a mix of cooked and raw kumquats from Kagawa. It was garnished with tiny pieces of daikon, cut into cubes. They had very little flavor, but provided an intriguing crunch

The fourth was made with vodka and muddled kiwi from Shizuoka Koryoku. In the past I have never cared for vodka, but it’s light and clean flavor is well-suited to Gen’s style, and this trip really helped me to discover its uses.

bloody mary

The fifth was a bloody Mary using an heirloom tomato grown by the Shizuoka Ishiyama family. Apparently it grows in winter. It was unusually sweet and fruity. The flavor of the fresh tomato was beautifully paired with a “rye vodka” (or an unaged rye??) and shiso leaf. This drink was truly spectacular.

We ended with a drink made of white kabocha (japanese pumpkin) from Chiba and a touch of cream. I shamelessly appropriated the above photo of it from DrTomostyle‘s twitter.

After touring through so many bars in Tokyo, I can say with confidence that this is one of the best. If you are anywhere near Azabu-Juban, it is not to be missed. Be warned, though, that it is a patient, contemplative experience. If you’re just looking for a quick drink, it’s probably not the place to go. If you are looking for an elevated experience of Japanese mixology, however, you can’t afford to miss it.