Measure & Stir

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


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Rumba, Seattle

A while ago I asked Joe a question I’m sure all booze lovers ask themselves at least once: if you were stranded on a desert island and could only drink one spirit for the rest of your life, which would it be? After a while of careful consideration, Joe responded “rum”. I think we may have found that desert island’s bar.

Rumba, a rum bar, in Seattle is an excellent bar, focused on serving choice rum-oriented cocktails. Located on Capital Hill, in downtown Seattle, Rumba offers great tiki drinks, punches, daiquiris, and authentic island-style drinks, as well as an impressive selection of rums. Not only do they mix a mean drink, but they also offer some tasty, cuban-inspired food.

The first thing you notice at Rumba is their vast rum selection, which fills most of their backbar. In fact, Joe and I weren’t even sure if they had other spirits in the bar, but, of course, they did. Rum is certainly at the heart of Rumba, but they are a cocktail bar, after all. But back to the rum. It’s why you go there. Their menu of rum is even organized geographically, so you can try rums from different parts of the globe, if you so desire. I ordered a taste of Angostura 1824, which was great; spicier than their 1919 rum, with some fruity notes.

Their array of daiquiris was delightful, and I think Joe ordered the No. 3 variation for his first round. As for myself, I ordered the Queen’s Park Swizzile: Lemonhart 151, bitters, lime, mint, and sugar. For my second round I went tiki, and ordered a Port Antonio: rum, coffee liqueur, falernum, and lime. The drinks were all top-notch, skillfully prepared by the bartender, who was a great conversationist and very attentive. I’ve been back a few times since Joe and I first went, and they’ve consistently impressed me with their drinks, food, and service. It has quickly become one of my favorite bars.

As the evening came to an end, we needed some snacks to help absorb some of that alcohol, so Joe and I split an order of empanadas. I’ve also had their cuban-style rice and beans, and chicken wings, which are marinated in hibiscus and served with a side of fried yucca chips. The food at Rubma is as legit as their drinks, so make sure to order a bite to eat while you’re there.

If you’re a fan of rum and you’re in Seattle, you’d be silly if you didn’t make your way to Rumba. Their enormous rum selection, exciting and exotic drinks menu, and delicious food make this place one of the best bars on Capital Hill, and definitely one of my favorite bars in Seattle.


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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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Vessel In Seattle

Back before I got into this whole craft cocktail scene, there was a bar in Seattle called Vessel, and they were famous for pioneering a lot of molecular mixology techniques, and for the general quality of their drinks and their atmosphere. Sadly, they closed in 2010, and I never got to visit them. They’re back, sort of, and at a new, bigger downtown location. When I heard that they were re-opening, I visited them that same week, but I didn’t get around to posting about it until today. That’s probably my loss, because I missed the buzz, but I think it’s still soon enough to care.

Their big gimmick this time is a rotating bar staff. It seems like the deal is, each bartender who appears there brings his or her own menu to the establishment. On my visit, the bartenders were Michael Bertrand of Mistral Kitchen and Kevin Langmack of Knee High Stocking Co. Their menus were thus:

To be honest, I was expecting a bit more. No offense to these seasoned veterans, but these drinks are all so safe. I want recipes that push the envelope! I want drinks on the cutting edge of mixology, with flavor combinations and techniques that I’ve never seen before. Instead you hit me with a vesper, a gin and tonic, and a sidecar with expensive brandy. This is the kind of menu I expect in an old money hotel, not a bar that was renowned in its heyday for molecular mixology. There’s nothing wrong with any of these recipes, but neither is there anything exciting.

Of course, if you go, the menu will probably be totally different. As such, I give them two out of ten for creativity, but nine out of ten for execution. All of the drinks we ordered were beautifully presented, and executed with technical excellence. John ordered a Preakness, which is not on their menu, but it is a common Manhattan variation containing Benedictine:

Very nice glassware. I ordered a Violette Fizz:

Truly a beautiful fizz, but alas, in a very impractical glass. As I drank it, a portion of the head persisted and ultimately clogged the flow of the drink through the glass when it reached the narrowest part of the glass, forcing me to tilt it to a precarious angle. This is a minor quibble however, as the glass was very elegant. Still, if the radius were constant across the length of the glass, I would have been better served.

James ordered the Batcat, a mix of rye, sweet vermouth, fernet branca, and elderflower liqueur:

I apologize for the terrible photo, but as you can sort of see, the drink came with a sphere of beautifully clear ice, cut to fit exactly within the glass, and the sphere was circumscribed by a spiral of orange peel for which a whole orange gave its life. James and I both tasted the drink and found the flavor to be very light. It was over-diluted, but it was probably not the bartender’s fault, it was probably the fault of the waitstaff.

The service was agonizingly slow, but I was willing to give them some leeway in their opening week. It takes a while to get all the bugs out of your service pipeline, I am sure. Did we sit at the table for fifteen minutes before anyone even took our order? Yes. Did it take them another twenty five to bring us our drinks? Also yes. But like I said, leeway.

Since I’m already slinging hate, I might as well take this opportunity to mention the acoustics, which are a crime against the fine art of architecting interior spaces. Maybe it’s the high ceilings, but every word of every patron echoes in this bar, and makes it very loud even when it is not particularly crowded. I wouldn’t take anyone here if I wanted to have a conversation with them. On the plus side, the hand soap in the bathroom contains rum.

The food was mediocre. We ordered foie gras popcorn, and it was a staunch reminder as to why no one sautes liver and then tosses it with popcorn. The high fat content of the liver killed all the crispness of the popcorn, while imparting only the scarcest flavor of foie gras. The hummus platter, though beautifully plated, was nothing I couldn’t get from Trader Joe’s. The carpaccio was adequate, however. Delicious and reasonably portioned for the price.

Over all, if you’re downtown, stick to the Mistral Kitchen or the Zig Zag Cafe. If you’re not tied to a particular locale within Seattle, may I recommend the Canon. It is clearly at the top of the craft bartending game in Seattle right now.


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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.


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Sun Liquor: Libby’s Mai Tai

I visited the Sun Liquor Lounge for my friend John’s birthday. The Seattle weather gods must have been in a very unusual mood that day, because as I recall it was sunny and warm, and the Mai Tai sounded most appealing to everyone there. I am fond of the Sun Liquor Lounge’s aesthetic of faux orientalism, and I think that their menu is reasonably put together, with an appropriately-sized selection of modern drinks and updates to classics.

I think the menu mostly speaks for itself. Another Bond Girl is a playful and modern take on a Vesper, the Kentucky Cardinal tastefully employs a shrub as its souring agent, and the addition of rhubarb to the Bee’s Knees is a great way to incorporate an unusual and seasonal ingredient. This is all capital stuff.

Everyone in our party, however, opted to drink the Libby’s Mai Tai. I was a bit skeptical, because the drink as described is a pretty significant departure from the classic Mai Tai, which calls for no grenadine and no pineapple juice, and for orange liqueur instead of orange juice. I quite bravely ordered one, anyway. As you can see, it came in a tremendously large tiki glass:

The bartender built the drink in glass, neither stirring nor shaking. Such constructions are a delicate procedure, in which the order of the pours matters, because each ingredient has a different weight, and a proper integration requires that each ingredient be heavier than the last so that they will all fall in together. One upside to a skillful in-glass construction is that it produces beautiful color gradients across the drink, as can be seen here. This is, obviously, the function of the grenadine in the drink, though candidly, I could have done without it.

Although the drink definitely caters to a sweet-craving palate, it was not cloying and it is highly appropriate to the tiki genre. Still, one of my favorite parts of drinking a mai tai is the aroma of fresh mint from the garnish, which was sadly absent. Even so, I like the Sun Liquor lounge and I think their style and the quality of their drinks is respectable without being pretentious.

If you want to make their Mai Tai, you’re going to need some fresh grenadine, which you can make by combining equal parts of fresh pomegranate juice and sugar, and shaking them together until they are fully integrated. Caster’s sugar will dissolve better than regular white sugar, but either works. The critical thing with grenadine is to never heat it up. The best flavor comes from a cold process; heating it will cause many of the darker, earthier tones in the juice to break down, leaving only a candy sweetness. I’m going to give you Jefferey Morgenthaler‘s recipe, even though I haven’t tried it with the pomegranate molasses.

Grenadine
2 cups Fresh Pomegranate Juice (approximately two large pomegranates) or POM Wonderful 100% pomegranate juice
2 cups Unbleached Sugar
2 oz Pomegranate Molasses
1 tsp Orange Flower Water

This is probably more than you need for your home bar, so I would probably halve it. If you add an ounce of vodka or neutral grain spirit, it will preserve the syrup for about a month. I like my Mai Tais a little dryer than the one at Sun Liquor, so if I were to recreate it, I would start here:

Libby’s Mai Tai?

1 oz Dark Rum
1 oz Light Rum
1 oz Fresh Pineapple Juice
.5 oz Fresh Orange Juice
1.5 oz Fresh Lime Juice
.5 oz Orgeat syrup
.5 oz Grenadine

Shake over ice and double-strain over fresh ice. Garnish with a mint sprig, damnit.

Keep in mind that I have not tasted this recipe, and it’s probably not exactly right. I guarantee my version uses more lime juice than theirs did, but then, I was trying to dry it out. If you want a more accurate recreation, I would drop the lime down to one ounce. With so much sweet fruit juice, you’re going to end up with something a little heavier than you want in the summer, maybe.


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Montana

Montana is a dive bar in Capitol Hill. I would not order a craft cocktail here, but fortunately, you don’t have to, because they have something nearly as good. What they have is Fernet Branca on tap. Is there any reason for it to be on tap? No. It’s not carbonated. It’s not even particularly cold. But who cares? Look at all that Fernet:

They also have a Negroni on draft, and it is carbonated, or mixed with seltzer water, it’s hard to tell. It was watery and disappointing. I’d rather have a glass of gummy bears. The reason you patronize this bar is the divey atmosphere, and the (relatively) cheap shots of Fernet. Ask for a slice of lime and squeeze it into the glass, to add a little complexity.

When I most recently visited this bar with my friends (yes, I have friends), a question came up as to the exact pronunciation of the word “Fernet”. In the back of my head I knew it was an Italian product, but it really looks like it wants to be said “Fer-nay”, as if it were French, and that is how I have always pronounced it. The bartendress who poured it for me referred to it as “Fer-NET”, and this forced me to reconsider my prior conviction. I looked it up on Wikipedia and sure enough, the ‘t’ is not silent.

As I look at the photo above, I notice they also have some Bulleit. Usually when I’m in a bar that has no chance of producing a proper drink, I like to order rye and tonic with a dash of bitters. If they give you an equal proportions pour, it’s a rewarding libation. You might even find yourself making it at home, once in a while. I guess  this place is trying to appeal to the cocktail hipster crowd, but in order to be a proper dive bar, the drinks can’t be too good.