Measure & Stir

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


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Shochu Think You Can Dance? / Shiso Ready!

For Easter dinner, I collaborated once again with my friend Johan, and this time we produced a four course meal, each with a cocktail pairing. A degustation, if you will, which we called “Spring Quartet: Voyagé to the Far Easter”.

The idea for this meal was to combine French and Japanese influences, and to paint each course in one of the pastel colors that are generally associated with Easter: Blue, Green, Yellow, and Pink. We had to wing it a bit on the yellow, as you will see, but for today, we are starting with blue.

shisoready

The first course was an amuse bouche of shiso sorbet and shochu soda. There is nothing in nature that is both blue and edible, except certain pigments which turn purple in the color in the presence of acid, such as that found in blueberry skins and pea flowers. Ergo, we had to cheat, by stirring in a little bit of blue gel dye.

There are many purists in this day and age who will vocally eschew the use of food coloring, only to pour up a negroni and delight in its brilliant red color, which certainly was not rendered from the crushed up corpses of cochineals. In these days of modernist cuisine, a man can be forgiven his use of industrial chemicals.

Beyond that, I wanted to incorporate the flavor of radish, which is crisp, bracing, and appropriate to the spring season. Unfortunately, radish juice is utterly flavorless, scarcely even maintaining its subtle isothiocyanatic burn. In search of radishy flavor, we tried juicing daikon, only to find that, upon oxidization, developed a rancid smell. Finally, we fell upon horseradish, and boosted it with ginger.

I am far from an expert on shochu, but I will note that, while it bears a superficial resemblance to vodka, it manages to have far more flavor, and as is typical of Japanese cuisine, it is nuanced and understated. I visited my local Japanese market, and picked up a bottle of Ginza no Suzume, distilled by Yatsushika Sake Brewery.

shochuthinkyoucandanceShochu Think You Can Dance?

1 oz High Quality Shochu
.25 oz strained fresh horseradish juice
.25 oz strained fresh ginger juice
The teensiest drop of blue gel dye
Dash of simple syrup
Stir over ice, strain, and top with 1.5 oz chilled soda water
Garnish with cubes of daikon

It turns out, the way to get daikon into the drink was to float the cubes on top. Daikon is boyant, and crunching into one or two of the cubes on the sip releases a bit of extra radish flavor. I soaked the daikon in water prior to service, to help mellow out their otherwise too-pungent flavor. I learned this technique at Gen Yamamoto in Tokyo, and indeed, the entire drink is an homage to his bar and style.

Sip this slowly, and notice how all of the flavors are manifest, yet light and airy upon the psyche.

We served this with a shiso lime sorbet, made by pulverizing ice, fresh shiso, lime juice, sugar, and corn syrup in a food processor. I was inspired by a similar sorbet that I had at a fine Japanese restaurant, in the course of a kaiseki dinner.

Cheers.


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The Shameless Clickbait: Thin Mint Girlscout Cookies, Vodka, Espresso, Milk

Alright guys, it’s time to get real. It’s girlscout cookie season, and I enjoyed the opportunity to make this cocktail using a “seasonal” ingredient. It’s like Card-Table-Outside-The-Grocery-Store-To-Table. I know you’re all looking to make thin-mint infused vodka, and pin it to all your friends, so I have made a drink just for you.

Behold! I integrated 2 oz of vodka and two girlscout cookies using an immersion blender, and then pushed them through a fine-mesh strainer. The finer, the better. If you have an 80 micron strainer, that would be ideal. Push the thin mint vodka through the strainer, and then pull a shot of espresso using your fancy espresso machine (you could also use a moka pot, or even a little bit of strong black coffee), add sugar according to your taste, and shake it up like a cafe shakerato.

thinmint

The Shameless Clickbait
1.5 oz Thin Mint Vodka
1 Shot of Espresso or 1.5 oz Strong Coffee
.5 oz Whole Milk
Simple Syrup to your taste

Shake over ice and strain into a glass rimmed with chocolate shavings. Smacked mint leaf more for the photo.

To be honest this didn’t quite have the clarity of flavor I was looking for. Coffee muddied the thin mint a bit, and a dash of creme de menthe would probably have brought it back. Still, if you’re trying to drink thin mints as a cocktail, you could do a lot worse.

Cheers


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Acid Trip Roundup

Perhaps you can relate to this: I had hit a wall in my cocktail creation strategy, because I wanted to combine the flavors of liqueurs and spirits without ending up with a sugary mess. The specific drink that started my mental wheels turning is the Alaska Cocktail, which can be found in various proportions around the internet, but it’s somewhere in the vicinity of:

Alaska Cocktail
1.5 oz Gin
.5 oz Yellow Chartreuse
Dash of Orange Bitters
Stir and Garnish with a lemon peel.

The problem with this drink, which I hope is immediately obvious to everyone, is that it is very sweet, and has a syrupy mouthfeel. How do we know this, without mixing it? Simple, look at what is missing. There is no fortified wine, there is no citrus juice, and there is no soda water. It seems obvious in retrospect, but I asked myself, what do all of those things have in common?

They are all sources of acid; citric, malic, and carbonic, respectively. I had mixed an Alaska earlier that day, and although I can recognize it as a kind of fancy old-fashioned cocktail with gin as the base and yellow chartreuse as the modifier, it was not satisfying to me. I wanted more chartreuse flavor without more sugar.

I could add a vermouth bianco to try to balance it while minimally impacting flavor, but that’s still a different, albeit a better sounding drink. The question became, how can I make vermouth more sour, so that I can play it off of a larger quantity of liqueur? The answer was to bolster the natural acidity of vermouth.

As luck would have it, winemakers already use powdered tartaric and malic acids to fine-tune the acidity of theirs wines, and such acids are easy to procure. Wines, even fortified wines, are balanced to be consumed on their own, but as a mixological reagent, we often want things to cleave to extremes. We add more sugar and alcohol, but we never think to add more acid.

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I am not the first cocktail enthusiast to have this idea. Since I had this realization, I have found that most books on molecular mixology will have at least one drink that uses a powdered acid to find balance, but they never place enough emphasis on the power of this technique. Using powdered acids to precisely calibrate the “dryness/sweetness” of a drink is THE key to liberation from traditional mixology.

And don’t get me wrong: I love traditional mixology, but I think by now we have fully explored the space of pouring old liqueurs into brown spirits and fortified wines. It’s not that every possible combination has been explored, but certainly, there are no surprises. If we want truly new and creative cocktail ideas, we must be able to break away from the monopoly that the classic punch formula has on the world of craft cocktails. Between the Manhattan and the Whiskey Sour, you have the structure of virtually all prohibition era drinks*.

(*Yes, I know about possets and flips and milk punches and hot toddies and old-fashioned cocktails etc. etc. etc.)

So I bought some acid powders: citric, tartaric, and malic.

AND UNTO THIS, THE ACID TRIP SERIES WAS BORN.

pbj
Peanut Butter Jelly Time

Wheated Bourbon, Peanut Orgeat, Kyoho (or Concord) Grape Juice, Cinnamon

grapeAcidTrip
Kyoho Grape and Lavender

Brandy, Muddled Kyoho (or Concord) Grape, Lavender Bitters

appleAcidTrip
Caramel Apple and Fennel

Fresh-pressed apple juice, Demerara Rum, Caramel Sauce, Absinthe

Acidity is life.

Cheers.


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Las Vegas Bar Crawl: Mandarin Oriental Hotel

Continuing with my Las Vegas bar crawl, I visited the Mandarin Oriental. Long-time readers may remember my visit to the Mandarin Oriental in Tokyo. I have also patronized the one in Hong Kong as part of an apocryphal and unblogged bar-crawl I performed in that city. Maybe someday, I will tell you about it.

Being a serial patron of Mandarin Orientals, I entered their Vegas incarnation expecting a safe menu and a pleasant, luxurious space. They met my expectations on both counts. There are not very many places in Vegas that strive for understated class; even the upscale bars strive for bombastic opulence. After two day days striding through gaudy casino floors, the Mandarin was a welcome exercise in tasteful restraint. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that it draws an older crowd.

It was the only time in the whole trip when I did not feel like a million demons of avarice and hedonism were bearing down upon me. For that, they get a very high score.

menu

Above is a shot of their menu. As you can see, the decadent nihilism of Las Vegas is fully manifest in the flowery language used to describe the drinks. I’m going to say some critical things about these drinks, but I want to emphasize that all of them were balanced, drinkable, and inoffensive, which is more than I can say for the other bars in my Vegas crawl. This was the best of the bunch.

robinshood

Robin’s Hood
Dried apricot-infused Glenmorangie, Cognac, Drambuie, Carpano Antica, Benedictine

This was one of the bar’s signature drinks. In the two years that have elapsed since my earlier visit to the Mandarin Oriental, my respect for them has grown. Relative to Tokyo, their overall score was average, but in other cities, they are a reliable place to order a well-made drink.

As you can see, there are a lot of ingredients in this cocktail, and the outcome is a predictable brown, bitter, and stirred. The split base and the apricot infusion (one or the other would have been fine) was exactly the sort of unecessarily baroque choice that is typical of Las Vegas.

teatini

Tea-Tini
Bourbon, chilled jasmine pearl tea, apple juice, agave nectar

Aside from the name of this drink, I found it to be unimpeachable. The contents of the glass fulfilled all of the promises made by the menu, and the flavors were successful together. Tea drinks can be difficult, and the Mandarin’s bar contains several of them. I would drink this again.

theharmoniouspear

The Harmonious Pear
Pear-infused tequila, apple, clove, cinnamon, cognac, lemon, ginger liqueur, honey-sage syrup

Good grief! No fewer than eleven ingredients, and half the drinks on the menu are like this. This feels like two interesting drinks poured together: Pear-infused tequila, lemon, ginger liqueur, honey sage syrup. That’s one. Apple, clove, cinnamon, cognac, that could easily be another. You get a bit of a pass since half of the ingredients could be called a “winter spice melange”.

That said, this drink was light, refreshing, and fruity. It managed to have a complexity of flavor without turning completely into mud.

grandmasmule

The Golden Leaf
Hendrick’s, Aperol, muddled mandarins, pineapple, lime

To be honest, the picture above might have been a different drink. The presentation was all a bit samey. I remember this drink having a nice orangey flavor from the aperol, and very little pineapple. It was less tiki than it sounds.

In closing, if you are seeking a pleasant mixed drink in a tasteful bar in Las Vegas, you probably won’t do better than the Mandarin.


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Las Vegas Bar Review: José Andrés Bazaar Meats

I took a trip to Las Vegas, and I would have been remiss had I not taken the opportunity to visit some of the more notable bars. Bars abound in Vegas, but most are the sort where you order Fernet on the rocks. I did some research ahead of time, and I made it to most of the ones on my list.

The first was as José Andrés’ Bazaar Meat. Andrés is a protégé of Ferran Adria, of elBulli fame. His bar and restaurant are not competing at the tier of his mentor, and in fact, the space itself is understated. Compared to the rest of Las Vegas, it is downright plain, though it fits with the minimalism (some might say, dumpiness) of the SLS, the casino/hotel that contains it.

bar

As you can see, the space is uninspiring. The bar is designed to emphasize function over form, and the harsh red lighting is anxiety-inducing. Clearly, this is a place that has sacrificed aesthetics in order to cater to a high volume of customers. Many of the small plates we ordered followed this philosophy; the platings and concepts did not live up to my hopes for a big name chef like Andrés.

As a counterpoint to these criticisms, the barstaff was well organized, and executed our drinks with consistency and aplomb. Despite my many criticisms, I believe that their failures were strategic, as opposed to tactical, in nature.

dirtymartini

“New Way” Dirty Martini
Belvedere Unfiltered martini with olive spherification and olive brine air

I ordered both this drink and the famous Ferran Adria “salt air” margarita. They were similar, both employing a salty “air” made by blending water with sucro, a proprietary sugar ester that can form stable soap-sud-like foam when aerated. The picture of the magarita looked exactly the same. The margarita version was better.

To me, this drink didn’t taste much like a martini. Astute readers will notice that it contained no gin and no dry vermouth. Scandalous! In fact this tasted like a glass of cold olive brine with salty soap suds on top. It had nothing that I enjoy about a dirty martini and two different molecular gimmicks. I’ve had sucro airs on cocktails before, and they can be very effective, but this drink was simply bad.

There was also a reverse-spherified olive sitting at the bottom of the drink. Unlike sucro airs, reverse-spherification is always disgusting. Without a doubt, it is the worst tool in the molecular gastronomists’ arsenal.Novelty has its place, but it must sit atop a foundation of quality.

leatherette

Leatherette (Leather-Aged)
Old Overholt rye whisky, Spanish brandy, sherry, sweet vermouth, leather

This cocktail was aged, not in a barrel, but in a leather bag that they keep at the bar. I have always wanted to put the flavor of leather into a mixed drink, but this was not the leathery libation of my dreams. The fortified wines overpowered all of the other flavors, leaving me with an oxidised (in a good way), acidic mess that had some leather in the-mid sip, but ultimately did not deliver on its promise.

This drink would have been much better as an old fashioned, and with a bourbon instead of a rye; great concept, disappointing execution.

aladdinmanhattan

Aladdin Manhattan “Smoked”
Buffalo Trace bourbon, vermouth, aromatic and orange bitters

I do not have much to say about this one. It is a fully standard Manhattan, smoked in a bottle. It was made with tasteful spirits, it was well-mixed, and it was well-smoked. Although this type of presentation is now commonplace in the world of haute mixology, I enjoyed the drama.

trufflesandbees

Truffles & Bees
Grey Goose La Poire vodka, honey, truffles, lemon juice, bubbles

The juicey, sweet qualities of this drink were redeemed by the intrigue of truffle essence. Clearly, the essence in question was of the synthetic variety, but I wanted a truffle cocktail, and I got one. The flavors were balanced, and the truffle, which could have easily been overpowering, was subtle. I think I would have preferred some kind of green herb as a garnish on this one, but it was more successful than not.

If you find yourself at this bar, it was worth ordering, but it wasn’t worth the trip. Then again, visiting a restaurant by a top name chef is less about the quality of the food and more about the social signal it sends.

In addition to the drinks, my party ordered a variety of small plates, and a grilled skirt steak. They were good but not outstanding. The best bite I had was a tiny sphere of foie gras mousse surrounded by cotton candy. It was cheaky and playful. The worst bite I had were the so-called patatas bravas, which amounted to thick-cut french fries decorated with aioli.

I enjoy trying new restaurants, and the experience of discovery and adventure is worth the price even if the food and drink itself is disappointing, as it was in this case. If you find yourself in the SLS (a dubious choice), you would do much better to go to the Umami Burger adjacent to Bazaar Meat. They’ve never steered me wrong.


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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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Acid Trip #1: Peanut Butter Jelly Time

Peanut-butter-jelly-time

Hello friends. We haven’t spoken in a while, and I want you to know that I have missed you. Lately in my cocktail journey, I have been contemplating the composition of basic drinks. With precious few exceptions, all of the standard drink formulas combine a base spirit with a source of acid and a source of sugar. In spirited drinks, the acid and the sugar often reside in a single bottle, in the form of a fortified wine. In a sour drink, acidity comes from lemon or lime, and sugar comes from syrup, liqueur, or both.

I have explored vinegar in the past, and also acid phosphate, but there still exists a lot of unexplored territory. Can the acidic component of drink mirror and meld into the other ingredients, as opposed to merely synergizing with them?

pbj2

There is a wide world of flavors to be captured in syrups and liqueurs, but in most drinks, we find that the carrying capacity for sweeteners is very low before the drink becomes cloying. It may be that we like the interplay between a sweet fruit juices and a liqueur, but that the desirable attributes of such a blend are overpowered by a balancing volume of lemon or lime juice.

This problem can be overcome by the use of acid phosphate, but although it is neutral in flavor, it is expensive and its acidity is low relative to its volume.

A better choice is to find a source of acid that can reinforce the natural flavors of fruit juice. Most juices contain multiple acids, but a very common one is malic acid, particularly in apples and grapes. It is commonly used in wine-making, but I have been experimenting with it as a souring agent in juice-driven drinks. Malic acid tastes fruity and succulent all on its own, and when it is added to a juice that already contains it, it reinforces and amplifies certain aspects of that juice.

pbj

Acid Trip #1

1.25 oz Wheated Bourbon (Weller 107 Antique)

.75 oz Peanut Syrup*

6 Kyoho Grapes, Muddled

1/8 Tsp Powdered Malic Acid

Grated Cinnamon

Pinch of Salt

Muddle grapes, grate a little fresh cinnamon, and shake all over ice. Double-strain into a coupe glass with a lightly salted rim and garnish with skewered grapes.

Kyoho grapes are fat and juicy with an intense sweet flavor. They almost taste like grape jelly all on their own. I found some at the farmer’s market and I knew they would be perfect for my malic acid experimentation.

I combined them with a peanut syrup, which one might even call peanut orgeat, but how does one decided what constitutes an orgeat? Is it merely a nut-based syrup? Is it the presence of rose or orange flower water? Does it require apricot pits, overnight steeping processes, or perhaps the blood of innocents? Some orgeat processes I have read are more like a sweetened almond milk, calling for nuts to be crushed or ground. In any case, this is how I made my peanut syrup:

Peanut ‘Orgeat’

1/2 Cup Water

1/2 Cup Peanut Butter

1/2 Cup Sugar

Pinch of Salt

Bring peanut butter and water to a boil, then simmer for ten minutes. Stir in sugar and strain through a fine-mesh strainer.

The resulting syrup was viscous, unctuous, creamy, and opaque. I made the syrup more intense by adding a bit of salt and freshly-grated cinnamon to the drink before shaking it, but you could also integrate them right into the syrup to simplify the recipe during drink service. I will definitely do so in the future. The cinnamon should not read as cinnamon; it should fade into the background and add just a little woody, spicy complexity to the peanut.

I chose to use a wheated bourbon for this because the whiskey is playing the role of bread to the peanut butter and grape. Without additional malic acid, this drink would have been too sweet, but the powdered acid allowed me to make whiskey and peanut butter sour, with grape standing in for lemon. Concept drinks don’t always work out, but this one did. I would proudly serve it to anyone.

Cheers.