Measure & Stir

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


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Tokyo Mixology Bar Benfiddich – Tokyo Craft Cocktail Series #6

BONUS EDIT: It appears that the bartender at Benfiddich has a blog!

As most of you are probably aware, I’m in the middle of a series of articles reviewing some of the best bars in Tokyo, a venture which I have unfortunately named “Measure and Stir’s Magical Mixological Journey in the Land of the Rising Sun(tm)”

So alright, that’s enough hotel bars. Let’s get to the good stuff. I would never have found Bar Benfiddich, in Nishi-Shinjuku, without a recommendation from our esteemed bartender at Gen Yamamoto, and I have to say, this was my favorite bar of the trip. Everything about this bar was great. When we sat down at the bar, we were the first customers of the night, and we had the place to ourselves for a good hour. When the bartender asked us what we want, we replied, bartender’s choice, of course. He then asked if we wanted something standard or interesting, and to long-time readers of Measure and Stir, you will know that I could only say “interesting”.

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Immediately, his eyes lit up and he went to work. I have been to bars where the wall is lined with jars full of spices, but usually it strikes me as empty posturing. In the case of Benfiddich, those whole spices are the cornerstone of their drink philosophy. Our bartender produced an enormous stone mortar and pestle, and made a fresh maceration of at least ten different whole spices, which he stirred with vodka and topped with ginger beer, ice, and mint. In such a preparation, the flavors of the spices are robust and very complete, because an infusion of fresh spices can capture very volatile aromas that do not persist for very long after grinding.

He then asked “Do you like Chartreuse?” Academic. He then produced a slender bottle of house-made green chartreuse, and served it to us neat, and in a highball with house-made tonic water. It was love at first sip. I definitely have a new favorite entry in the “& tonic” category of drinks.

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Other highlights of the trip included yet a second maceration of fresh ground spices, this time in the flavor profile of Campari, which he used to make a “no campari” Spumoni. The Spumoni, along with the White Lady, the Salty Dog, and the Nikolaschka (or whatever that drink is called) are classic era cocktails that seem to have found a particular popularity in Japan. Here is a recipe:

3/4 Campari
1 part Grapefruit juice
1 part Tonic water
Shake Campari and Grapefruit juice over ice, then double strain over fresh ice. Top with tonic and garnish with an orange wedge.

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At one point he made us a Manhattan with Carpano Antica and Luxardo cherry. The cherry liqueur really elevated this beyond the level of an ordinary Manhattan.

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My favorite drink of the night was a drink made with copious amounts of muddled shiso and kumquats, but then, I am a fiend for fresh shiso.

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Benfiddich also served us a bloody Mary that was much in line with the one from Gen Yamamoto, but a bit more savory. It was grand.

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I didn’t catch what was in this drink, but it was similar to the cream and kabocha from Gen Yamamoto. It was served in a bamboo vessel that the bartender himself had made. Small touches like this really give Benfiddich a lot of character.

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This drink contained freshly shredded ginger and gin. The ginger flavor was strong, but it did not have much of the heat tha toften comes with fresh ginger.

I almost feel like Benfiddich was Gen Yamamoto’s sister bar, though I do not believe they are affiliated. Like Gen Yamamoto, the bar counter itself is made from a single piece of wood, cut vertically from a tree, and apparently provided by the same company. The decor is rustic, and I felt like I was sitting inside a feudal Japanese apothecary, complete with old wooden lanterns.

The enthusiasm and ingenuity of the bartender really impressed me, and for this reason, Benfiddich was my favorite bar of the trip.


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Conrad Hotel Lobby Bar – Tokyo Craft Cocktail Series #5

Blah blah blah Measure and Stir’s Magical Mixological Journey in the Land of the Rising Sun(tm)….

Rounding up our trio of bar suggestions from Serious Eats, my companions and I visited the lobby bar of the Conrad Hotel, located in Higashi-Shinbashi, right next to the Park Hyatt, where they filmed Lost In Translation. But Joseph, didn’t you want to visit the famous bar from the movie? Answer: No, I don’t give a dash of a bitters about that. If their biggest achievement is a Manhattan with Carpano Antica, (a fine thing!) then it’s nothing I haven’t seen before.

The Conrad, on the other hand, is boasting a “mixology” program featuring barrel-aged Negronis and Manhattans, and four “molecular” cocktails, of which we ordered two.

  • Strawberry Cheesecake Topper – Gin, white chocolate liqueur, strawberry puree, and flamed parmagiano reggiano.
  • Edible Campari – Vodka and grapefruit juice, shaken and served over ice, and topped with campari jelly.

They also had a drink with a roasted apple and calvados, and a drink with strawberry and basil. Unfortunately, the Conrad hotel really fell down for us. The service was the most negligent that I have had at any establishment in Japan, and the drinks, though cool in concept, were poorly executed.

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The Strawberry cheesecake topper was overwhelmed by the white chocolate liqueur, to the point that I could scarcely notice the other ingredients in the drink. The flamed parmagiano reggiano on top was tasty, but it was arranged in a little ball in the center of the drink, such that it clumped together and made it difficult to imbibe. It was also fatiguingly rich by the end of the drink.

The edible Campari was similarly problematic. The Campari jelly seems to have been made using xanthan gum, but whatever the hydrocolloid, it stayed completely solid and did not flavor or mix into the drink in any way. We were left simply drinking grapefruit juice and vodka, while the Campari sat in gigantic gelatinous pieces on top of the drink, with no easy way to consume it.

Combine that with the frankly poor service, and I cannot suggest this bar to anyone. The one redeeming feature, and I must grant, it is significant, is that the Conrad bar commands a breathtaking view of the Tokyo harbor. It might be worth a visit just for the view, however you’ll probably want to order wine. =[


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Kazuo Uyeda’s Bar Tender – Tokyo Craft Cocktail Series #2

Welcome to episode two of Measure and Stir’s Magical Mixological Journey in the Land of the Rising Sun(tm). Today, we are visiting Bar Tender in Ginza.

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Ah, Uyeda-san, the grandfather of Japanese bar service. Kazuo Uyeda has made his reputation as the best bartender in Japan and the Magician of Color by winning many cocktail competitions. An enterprising cocktailian would be remiss to have missed his book, which explains his drink philosophies and contains instructions on such details as how to grip a shaker, how to hold a spoon, and how to arrange the bottles on the bar in front of the customer before making his drink. Uyeda-san is also the inventor of the famous “hard shake“, a shaking technique designed to maximize aeration and flavor.

In his own words:

Every Movement Counts

You take the bottle down from the shelf. You twist off the cap. The liquid streams into the glass. Every action is natural and the result of focused concentration. The bartender never shows off and yet nothing is accidental.

Your job as a bartender is to make good cocktails, but it is also important to make them look delicious. To refine your skills, you have to closely study not only the flavor but also the movements that go in to making a cocktail. You have to practice the basics and focus on making your movements flow while presenting a clean, neat image.

The intent isn’t to look cool bur rather to refine the entire cocktail drinking experience for the guest. herein lies the biggest difference between an amateur making cocktails at home and a professional bartender standing in front of the bar doing his job while all eyes are on him.

Tender serves very classic drinks, but the menu is also peppered with Uyeda-san’s original and award-winning drinks. Uyeda’s palette of ingredients is straight out of the seventies, and he uses many ingredients such as blue curaçao, midori, and green tea liqueur to achieve a very specific appearance. His consideration of cocktail colors has earned him the name “the magician of color.” In his book, he explains how he created a drink specifically to match the color of a lake near a cocktail competition that he attended.

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The service at Bar Tender is excellent almost to the point of parody. To be honest, the drinks themselves are a little bit dated, but the honor of being served a drink by such a prestigious and important bartender as Uyeda-san more than makes up for it. He has carefully orchestrated every aspect of the customer experience; as he works his movements are so crisp and consistent that it feels like a ritual. He and his staff all wear white coats, which they somehow manage to keep immaculate even with so many brightly colored spirits flying around.

Because Uyeda-san’s English is not so great, he showed us the entries in his book that pertained to the drinks that he ordered. It greatly enhanced our appreciation to read about the history and thought process that went into each drink.

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This is the Uyeda-san’s original creation, the City Coral. In his own words:

The most noticeable feature of this cocktail is probably the coral frosting on the outside of the glass. Decorating the rim of the glass with colorful liqueurs instead of a fruit juice is a style that has been around for a long time, and this is an extension of that. The first cocktail to popularize this style was the City Coral.

Using this style was a large part of my original intent in creating this cocktail. There is a road spectrum of colors to choose from, depending on the liqueur you use, but blue curaçao and grenadine (which is red) were two colors that did not lose their intensity when combined with salt, so I limited myself to these two ingredients. I combined this style with various cocktails, and found that blue was the best match.

Also, please note that while I say they drinks are slightly dated, that is not to detract from their excellence. They are perfectly made, and there is still much that is of interest to a seeker of novelty such as myself. In fact, it is impressive that Uyeda-san can make midori palatable at all.

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I ordered his original drink “Shungyo,” which is made with sake, vodka, and green tea liqueur, garnished with a salted cherry blossom. I took my time with this drink, and by the end, the flavor of the salted blossom had infused the whole drink, which was very nice. In the words of Uyeda-san:

The Shungyo (which means spring dawn) is a typical Japanese-style cocktail designed to evoke one of Japan’s four seasons. In fact, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that it was through creating these cocktails that I succeeded in establishing my own unique style.

When creating a Japanese-style cocktail, spring is typically represented by a soft hue, summer by primary colors, fall by misty color combinations and winter by warmer colors. Japanese ingredients are used too, such as sake, shochu, umeshu (a plum liqueur) and green tea liqueurs. I decided to use sake in this cocktail.

I started by choosing a name. I wanted to evoke an image of an early spring sunrise, and to do this I planned to incorporate cherry blossoms. I used cherry blossom petals that were salted and then rinsed in warm water to dial back the saltiness. Green was the obvious choice to bring out the beauty of the flour petals. Menthe or midori were too bright for an early spring morning, so I chose a green tea liqueur. I used vodka as a foundation to push the flavor of the Japanese sake to the fore. And, while there is more vodka in the recipe, this is essentially a sake-based cocktail.

It isn’t often that one can recount a cocktail experience in the bartender’s own words! If you are looking for an avant-garde drink, you might want to skip Bar Tender, but if you are a cocktail fanboy like me, then Tender in Ginza should be on your list.


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The California Toddy – Tequila, Mezcal, Chile & Chocolate Toddy

I’d like to start this post with huge thanks to my friend Kian, for hooking me up with the sick lighting, camera work, and video editing. You, sir, are raising the bar. Also, thanks to my friend Troy for providing the music.

I think Tequila, chiles, and chocolate is a pretty classic pairing. There’s not too much to say about that. We all know that these flavors go well together — the fiery tequila compliments the fire from the chiles. I’ve tried making cold versions of this drink, but they were always lacking a certain ineffable quality. When the weather dropped below fifty degrees Fahrenheit (Water freezes at this temperature in San Diego), it occurred to me to warm up even more by serving this as a hot toddy.

California Toddy
1.5 oz Anejo Tequila (Herradura*)
.25 oz Mezcal Joven (Illegal)
.75 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
.5 oz Chocolate Liqueur (Homemade)
dash of Red Chili Pepper Flakes
Stir and strain into a warmed irish coffee mug. Top with 2.5 oz boiling water and garnish with an orange slice and grated cinnamon.

*Herradura is probably little too nice for every day drink mixing, but it was what I had on hand when we shot the video. I love it, in any case.

The Mezcal adds a touch of smoke, and helps to draw out the cactus flavor. Illegal mezcal is probably old news by now, but I finally got around to buying a bottle, and I can endorse it strongly.

These types of drinks really work well if you yourself are cold while drinking them, which is why I suggest going outside to drink it. Have a merry Christmas, and we’ll see you in 2014.


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MxMo LXXVI: Fire!

Since I’m officially doing the whole blog thing again, I am participating in Mixology Monday, hosted this month by Muse of Doom at Feu de Vie. The theme this month is “Fire”, so I decided to do a video post. I haven’t done one of these before, and to be honest, I’m a little self-conscious. Hopefully it’s cool.

Lavender-Smoked Martini
1.5 oz Lavender-infused gin (Beefeater)
.75 oz Dry Vermouth (Dolin)
Dash of lemon juice
Dash of simple syrup
Light a teaspoon of lavender on fire and then place a large glass over the smoldering flowers, so that it fills with smoke. Stir the drink and then strain it into the smoke-filled glass.

Big thanks to Muse of Doom for this hosting MxMo with this exciting theme.


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Bad Girl Concoction

Long time readers will recall that I have used gastrique as an ingredient before. And indeed, there is only so much you can do with gastrique. It is a bold, full-spectrum flavor that easily overwhelms other ingredients. It needs very little modification to taste complete. I had a shrub-based drink at Canon in Seattle, and I’m not exactly sure how it was formulated, but it inspired me to revisit vinegar drinks. I used a similar gastrique recipe as before, but this time I used strawberry puree instead of smashed blueberries. I fortified the caramel, apple cider vinegar, and strawberry sauce with a little balsamic vinegar for complexity.

I tried mixing it as a sour, using lemon juice, but I found the flavor to be a little one-dimensional. As luck would have it, I had a bottle of cocchi americano that was just slightly past its prime. Vermouth acquires a bit of a vinegar tang when it has been open for too long, but since I was already using a vinegar ingredient, I figured I didn’t have much to lose. It turns out, slightly off vermouth goes very well with gastrique.

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Bad Girl Concoction
1.5 oz Bourbon (Wild Turkey 101)
.75 oz Cocchi Americano
.5 oz Strawberry Balsamic Gastrique
Eye dropper of cardamom bitters*
Hard shake over ice and double strain into a coupe. Garnish with a smacked mint sprig.

Making bitters at home is pretty easy. If you have a bittering agent such as gentian or angelica root, you can steep 1 teaspoon of gentian root in a high-proof, neutral grain spirit for about 20 minutes to form a bitter base, which can then be infused at your leisure with other flavors.

Cardamom Bitters
4 oz Everclear 151
1 Tsp Gentian Root
1 Tbsp Crushed Cardamom
2 oz sugar
2 oz water
Peel of one large orange

  1. Wrap the reagents in a cheese cloth or other porous wrapper and steep them in the everclear for half an hour.
  2. Strain the reagents into 2 oz of water and simmer them in a small pot with the sugar, until the flavors are fully extracted and integrated.
  3. Combine the syrup with the infusion of everclear and dispense with an eyedropper.

This drink is named after a line from Busta Rhymes’ hymn to the female posterior, #Twerkit. The flavor of this drink leads with cardamom and strawberry, with a base note of bourbon and a finish from the vinegar and vermouth. I hope you find it to be refreshing.


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In His House in R’lyeh

…he related startling fragments of nocturnal imaginery whose burden was always some terrible Cyclopean vista of dark and dripping stone, with a subterrene voice or intelligence shouting monotonously in enigmatical sense-impacts uninscribable save as gibberish. The two sounds frequently repeated are those rendered by the letters “Cthulhu” and “R’lyeh.”
The Call of Cthulhu, by H. P. Lovecraft

Friends, let’s talk about squid ink. Ever since the early days of Measure and Stir, I have wanted to try to make a squid ink cocktail. It’s rare to be able to make a drink which is so jet black, blacker than blackstrap rum, blacker than coffee, blacker even than kurogoma. I don’t normally select drink ingredients based upon their color, but in this instance I was hoping to capitalize on the briny, oceany flavor of the squid ink.

I had never tasted squid ink on its own, and it turns out that while it smells very fishy, it tastes primarily of salt, and only subtly of that. The amount of squid ink needed to color a drink is much smaller than the amount needed to flavor it. A pinch of salt would work about as well.

Integrating the squid ink into the drink was a small challenge. It is very solid, and although it can be dispersed, it will not do so willingly. A vigorous thrashing with my barspoon is not enough to break it up; I had to use my immersion blender, which I also use for making egg white foams. For the base of this drink, I selected a rum sidecar, hoping for synergy between its citrus and any oceany flavors which might manifest.

Moreover, I used Kraken rum as my base, both for its thematic content and because I have greatly enjoyed rum sidecars made with kraken in the past.

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In His House In R’lyeh

1.5 oz Kraken Rum
.75 oz Lemon Juice
.5 oz Cointreau
1 tsp squid ink
Combine all ingredients mixing tin and integrate using an immersion blender. Once the squid ink is dispersed, shake over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with many tentacular strips of orange rind, and a dash of evil.

I’ll flatter myself and say that the briney flavor of the squid ink created an intriguing impression of fresh seafood that blended harmoniously with the flavors of citrus and spiced rum. To be honest, I wasn’t totally sold on the spices, but they did add something that would have been missing with an unspiced rum. I have a bit of a one-track mind when it comes to these things, but an unspiced rum and a dash of mezcal might have been an improvement.

I won’t say this was an immensely delicious drink, but I could see it as an acquired taste, and I enjoyed the novelty of the flavor, if nothing else. I tried making a second squid ink cocktail, but it looked exactly the same, sans theatrical garnish. Thereupon I grew tired of such monotonous aesthetics, and made drinks of other colors. My recommendation is that you only make one squid ink cocktail per session.


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Not For Everyone: Fernet, Mezcal, Elderflower

It’s been a while, Measure and Stir. Is anyone still reading this feed? I can’t promise I’m going to post with any regularity but I’ve been away for a while and lately I’ve been feeling the itch. I haven’t been posting, but I have been learning.

I have been spending a lot of time developing my technique. In the past, I confess there were times that I sacrificed the quality for novelty in pursuit of new and unusual drink recipes. I am humbler now, and I will try to push my limits to bring you new drinks that are more subtle, more balanced, and more refined.

Tonight I found myself craving a small digestif. I keep a backup for my backup bottle of fernet, and I knew I wanted a no-nonsense kind of a drink. I started with the idea of an old fashioned fernet cocktail, but I was out of simple syrup. Shameful.

Instead, I reached for elderflower as the sweetener, because I have seen St. Germaine mixed with Fernet before, and I found it to be a pleasing combination. Fernet is already bitter enough, so instead of bitters, I wanted to add a base spirit as the smallest component. I like elderflower and mezcal, so I felt like it was a natural choice.

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Not For Everyone

2 oz Fernet Branca
.5 oz Elderflower Liqueur (pür likör)
.5 oz Mezcal (Del Maguey Mezcal de Vida)

Stir and strain into a chilled mason jar with a large ice cube. Garnish with a lime twist.

A savory quality emerged in this drink. The pür elderflower is not quite as sweet as St. Germain. If you are using St. Germain, you should probably use .5 oz, but if you are using pür like I did, you might consider .75. The elderflower in this ratio cut the bitterness, but it did not contribute as much to the end flavor as I would have liked.

Even so, the intersection of these three ingredients had a savory, almost bacony quality, It started with Fernet’s bitterness on the sip, gave way to elderflower and agave, and concluded with smoke and menthol.

It settled my stomach.


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MxMo LXXI: From Crass to Craft

Hello everyone. It’s Mixology Monday, and this month’s theme is “From Crass to Craft”, and it’s being hosted by Scott at Shake, Strain, and Sip. It turns out, there are quite a few cocktail blogs with names made of common bartending verbs.

James and I were inspired by a shot called the Oatmeal Cookie, which is made with equal parts of buttershots, cinnamon schnapps, and Bailey’s. I wanted to create this drink without using any of those things, so we found alternative routes for bringing all of those flavors together.

For the cinnamon and butterscotch, I infused a cinnamon stick and four Werther’s Originals into eight ounces of bourbon until the candy was dissolved, about ten hours. It was surprisingly not disgusting, although there is a little bit of processed milk in the candy, which will separate from the bourbon if you let it sit for a while. It’s not a big deal, and it integrates nicely into the drink when shaken.

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For the Bailey’s, we used this recipe from Serious Eats as a reference, and used it to build the other ingredients in the drink. We did not take all of the flavors from the Bailey’s, but we got the important ones, specifically chocolate, coffee, cream, and almond extract.

We omitted the honey, vanilla extract, and condensed milk, and reasoned that the bourbon base of the infusion was a good stand-in for the whiskey base of the Bailey’s.

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Artisanal Oatmeal Cookie
1.5 oz Butterscotch/Cinnamon-Infused Bourbon
.5 oz Espresso
.5 oz Heavy Cream
.25 oz Simple Syrup (could be honey syrup)
.25 oz Creme de Cacao (homemade)
drop of almond extract

Dry shake (to froth the cream) and then shake over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. No Garnish.

This drink accomplished its purpose; specifically, it tasted like Bailey’s, Butterscotch, and Cinnamon. For that matter, it did taste vaguely like an oatmeal cookie. Even though the ingredients were craft, with the exception of the butterscotch candy, the drink could not escape its origins; it was sweet, and even though we used a “deconstructed” Irish Cream, it still tasted Irish cream, which is a flavor I try to avoid.

Thanks for hosting, Scott!