Measure & Stir

I make drinks


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Flor de Jerez

In my early forays into mixing drinks, I purchased a bottle of Real Tesoro Amontillado sherry and made a few drinks with it. Much like Noilly Prat or Martini and Rossi, it was terrible on its own, but kind of acceptable in a cocktail. If you skimp on the quality of your fortified wine you will make sub-par drinks. Now tell me, if something does not taste good on its own, then what would possess you to pour it into a high quality bourbon, rum, or gin? The mind boggles.

Even great Amontillado sherry may be the exception to this rule, however. On its own, it is drinkable, but it has such a savory flavor, like grapes without any sugar and dried mushrooms, or perhaps mushroom stock. It’s an intriguing flavor, certainly, and it fits beautifully in a savory drink, but it’s also versatile enough to work as a base spirit from time to time. The Flor De Jerez popped up in my RSS feed just as I was in the mood to rediscover sherry, so I went down to the market and picked up a bottle of Lustau Dry Amontillado.

Emilio Lustau seems to be, to the world of Sherry, what Giulio Cocchi was to the world of vermouth, though in my very quick googling, it seems that Cocchi made a lot of things besides just vermouth, and his name has since been appropriated by another Italian family and branded on a whole line of fortified and sparkling wines. In any case, Lustau sherries are great, and I highly recommend them.

Flor de Jerez
1.5 oz Amontillado Sherry (Lustau Dry)
.5 oz Jamaican Rum (Cruzan Aged Rum, not Jamaican, I know)
.25 oz Apricot Liqueur (Rothman & Winter)
.75 oz Lemon Juice
.5 oz Cane Syrup or Rich Simple Syrup (2:1 Syrup)
1 dash Angostura Bitters

Shake over ice and double-strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a very long orange twist.

There is a lot going on in this drink, perhaps a bit too much. The sweet and sour elements are well-balanced, and the sherry is well-presented, but it was not terribly memorable. I mixed this one over two weeks ago, and I have not felt a craving to mix another. It’s great to experience novelty, and I think the savory qualities of the sherry are surely something to experience, but this is not the drink I will use to introduce people to Sherry, nor the one I will make when I want to enjoy it, myself.

A sherry cobbler is definitely in my future.


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Muddled Lychee and Gin

Last weekend I had some lychees sitting on my kitchen counter, threatening to be fresh and delicious, really just begging me to muddle them. And what can I say? I caved in. I was in a similar situation with a bottle of Hayman’s Old Tom gin, and between the three of us, we had a little soiree. Old Tom gin, as you are probably aware, tastes like slightly sweeter London Dry gin. If you don’t have any, you can add a dash of simple syrup to two ounces of gin and come away with much the same product. Moreover, Hayman’s is a very fruit-forward gin, so it blends especially well with fruit flavors.

Now I know what you’re thinking: lychee-based drinks suck. I’m sure we’ve all seen the sad lychee “martinis” that many sushi shops lower themselves by serving. They invariably use vodka and sake and lychee liqueur, perhaps with some simple syrup. It’s true, you can use sake much like a fortified wine, as the proof and the flavor profile are both about right, but I think sake muddies the flavor of lychee — or maybe the other way around. And lychee liqueur? Skip it. A big part of the reason to make a liqueur out of a flavor is to preserve its aroma while losing any bracing qualities that come from a high acidity. Lychee is neither particularly acidic nor fragant, so we can get a much richer flavor by muddling a fresh, whole fruit.

I searched for “lychee cocktail” and “lychee martini” just now, and the summary of my extensive research suggests that the internet wants you to make a “lychee martini” consisting of vodka, possibly dry vermouth, and the syrup from canned lychees. As a bonus, you can use a couple of the canned lychees as a garnish! That could be a lot worse, but it could also be a lot better.  If you were a bit more discerning, you might happen upon this substantially better lychee drink which uses white wine as the base. I am a big fan of Darcy O’Neil and I am sure his recipe is excellent, provided you use fresh lychees. I think white wine sounds like a great match for this fruit, and I will be sure to try his drink soon.

In the meantime, I was just winging it, and I came up with this:

Unnamed Lychee  Drink
1.5 oz Old Tom Gin (Hayman’s)
.5 oz Dry Vermouth (Dolin)
.25 oz Lemon Juice
.25 oz Simple Syrup
2 lychees, skinned and seeded

Muddle the lychees in the simple syrup, and then add the other ingredients. Shake and then double-strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon.

Some lychees are a lot sweeter than others. Taste your drink as you’re making it, and decide if you like the ratio of sour lemon to fruit and syrup. You may find that you want it to be a little dryer, in which case, add just a dash more lemon. And please, don’t call it a lychee martini.


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Gin, Apricot, Dry Vermouth

I just bought a new bottle of Hendrick’s, which is a modern gin with roses and cucumbers mingling amongst all those other, more familiar gin botanicals. It is my favorite gin for a martini, or anything that is very gin-forward. For this drink I really wanted to be able to taste apricot liqueur and gin, so I went with the tried and true formula of 6:2:1 base spirit, fortified wine, liqueur. The resulting drink was very dry, and when I tasted it pre-stir, the apricot was only salient on the swallow.

Even though the apricot was mild, I could tell that much more was going to stop on the subtler notes of the gin and vermouth. Instead of liqueur, I added a bar spoon of simple syrup, and it brought out the fruit without clobbering the botanicals. I don’t have a name for this, but I do have a strong preference that you don’t try to call it an “apricot martini”.

Unnamed Apricot Gin Thing

1.5 oz Gin (Hendrick’s)
.5 oz Dry Vermouth (Dolin)
.25 oz Apricot Liqueur (Rothman and Winter)
1 Barspoon Simple Syrup

Stir over ice and garnish with a slice of cucumber.

I make my own simple syrup, but I keep it in the trader joe’s simple syrup bottle, for convenience.

I really need to get better at garniture. The orange hue of the apricot liqueur was not sufficient to give this drink even a faint color, but the flavor was there in just the right measure. It’s easy to invent a three ingredient drink, or a four ingredient drink if one of them is lemon or lime juice. Some kind of aromatic bitters would have been nice in this, but none of the ones I have on hand really struck me. Angostura is far too heavy for something like this, but fee’s orange might do the trick. Next time.

The cucumber was pleasant to munch on after it sat in the drink for a few minutes, but a candied orange wheel would really have made this drink great.


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Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail

So much has been said about the old fashioned that I will not embarrass myself by trying to describe its history, but I will describe my ideal of how to make one. I often make variants by employing a different base spirit or a flavored syrup. The old fashioned cocktail is a template as much as it is a particular drink, and yet, made with rye, simple syrup, and angostura bitters, it is the perfect platonic ideal of a what a cocktail ought to be. The very first cocktails were little more than bitters and sugar added to a base spirit, and all evolution of modern cocktails has flowed out of such a marriage of flavors.

Somehow in the dark ages of drinking, the 60s to the late 90s, the old fashioned was twisted and perverted into a drink with a pulverized fake maraschino cherry, and a smashed up orange and sometimes, god forbid, a drink topped with club soda or–almost unthinkable–sprite. But this marvel has returned to us, probably in large part because of the show Mad Men. You’ll never be Don Draper, but even so, holding an old fashioned will add 25% to the classiness of any outfit.

2 oz base spirit (Buffalo Trace Bourbon)

1 barspoon (1/8 oz) simple syrup

dash of bitters

orange peel

Cut a fat piece of orange peel, and then trim it with a knife into a perfect rectangle. Make sure not to leave any pith on the peel. Place it in the bottom of the glass, and pour the simple syrup on top. Using a muddler, carefully smash the orange peel, just enough to squeeze out its oils. Add the bitters and the whiskey, and then pour the drink into a tumbler filled with ice. Stir, and then pour the drink back into the old fashioned glass, over ice.

To make the drink look perfect, a single large ice cube is best. You can make your own at home with this tovolo ice cube tray.

There are those who will build the old fashioned in the glass, but neglect to stir it. This results in an inferior drink, because it will not reach the necessary temperature, nor will it reach the appropriate dilution. A counter-intuitive aspect of making excellent drinks: slightly more dilution can result in a more intense flavor, as an overly strong alcohol burn can numb and overpower the palate.

Some will make this drink with a sugar cube instead of simple syrup, and they will use the bitters to break down the cube. Such a method is more laborious, and its only advantage over syrup is slight; the granulated sugar will help to macerate the orange peel, and will produce a superior experience of orange oil. I confess I do not usually trouble myself with this, but I appreciate the ritual.

Coming soon: old fashioned cocktail variants.