Measure & Stir

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


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Zabaione, Mostly

As we approach Christmas, it is at long last time to start drinking raw egg yolks. I have never been a huge fan of the flip style of drink, but my good friend Gualtiero convinced me to try making Zabaione, as it was one of his favorite childhood treats. Traditionally, Zabaione is a dessert made with egg yolks, sugar, and Marsala wine. I failed to acquire Marsala wine, so we ended up improvising with some of my favorite liqueurs, and that old Measure and Stir stand-by, vanilla-infused bourbon.

Vanilla infuses in bourbon the way bourbon infuses into my soul.

Zabaione2

Gualtiero belongs to the Italian Mother school of cooking, so he never uses any ratios or measurements, he merely cooks by feel and intuition. I often do this for my food, but when it comes to drinks, I try to follow a more exacting standard. In this case, we went with a more free-wheeling approach.

Zabaione Base
3 Medium Egg Yolks
Sugar to Taste
Combine egg yolks and sugar using an egg beater until thoroughly integrated.

Once you have your egg base, you can mix it with many different spirits. I had intended to try sweet vermouth, but alas, I got carried away. I did manage to play with the ratios a bit, and I found that I liked it best when the egg was in the foreground, letting the spirit round it out and add complexity.

Zabaione1
Strega with saffron garnish, Benedictine with fresh-grated cinnamon garnish, vanilla-infused bourbon with cocoa powder.

Zabaione “Template”
2 oz Zabaione Base
1 oz Brown Spirit or Spicy Liqueur
Stir until thoroughly integrated and serve at room temperature and garnish with cocoa powder.

It’s not really that much of a template, but it worked for me. The liqueurs were both very sweet on top of the sugar that was already in the egg, so you won’t want to drink very much of this. The egg mixture itself is so thick that it pours like cake batter, but the spirit thins it out enough to drink. Owing to its tremendous viscosity, you would not want to serve this drink cold, as it would scarcely move in the glass.

I really wanted the Strega to be the best, because I find it aesthetically pleasing when the various components of the drink come from the same origin. In this case, the Strega was the one that I would least like to make again, though curiously, it tasted the most like egg nog.

Benedictine already has notes of cinnamon in it, which the garnish helped to accentuate. It was an excellent flavoring agent, but I might have used a little less sugar in the eggs if I wanted to make this combination come out perfectly.

Vanilla-infused bourbon was the clear winner, and the cocoa powder was the best garnish. If you decide to make one of these three, I strongly encourage you to make the one with bourbon.

In the future we’ll try it with Marsala wine, brandy, and some kind of Manhattan, probably.
Salute!


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Dusty Bottoms

Continuing with our week of highball drinks, this is a drink that some of my friends had at a bar in San Diego called Prohibition. It’s a popular name for a craft cocktail bar, it seems. In any case, they visited the bar, and then came to visit me and told me of this drink. I then tried to recreate it, based upon their description of the ingredients and the flavor. But before we go any further, this is the perfect time to mention some errata from my earlier post, How To Make Better Drinks I wouldn’t ordinarily bother, but the post in question is in my side bar, so I feel it’s important to keep the information in good repair. In the list of problems with the drink, I somehow neglected to mention:

11. The herbs are over-muddled. We’re not making pesto, and a muddler is not a mortar and pestle. All of the menthol in mint lives in little hair-like structures on the surface of the leaf. If you bruise the leaf of the mint, you are going to release bitter chlorophyll flavors into your drink, and it will taste grassy. I suppose that could be deliberate, but a discerning palate will perceive it as an error. The better way to handle mint is to place it on the palm of your hand and give it a few good, hard, smacks. In general, when muddling herbs or citrus peels, apply firm pressure but do not tear the flesh of the plant. Fruit, on the other hand, ought to be pulverized.

The drink that my friends described to me contained reposado tequila, yellow Chartreuse, lime juice, muddled sage, and ginger beer. I do not know the exact proportions of the drink as it was served at Prohibition, but by knowing a little bit about the construction of a highball, we can come pretty close. In most cases, we want to have a total of two ounces of hard liquor in the drink, and the very natural way to do this, in this case, is with one and a half ounces of the base spirit, tequila, and one half ounce of the modifier, yellow chartreuse.

I want the flavor of the yellow chartreuse to be balanced against the acidity and flavor of the lime juice, so in this case I also used a half ounce of lime juice. Depending who you listen to, you might end up with three quarters of an ounce of liqueur, for a sweeter drink, but I like them dryer, and I plan to add more sugar in the form of ginger beer. When topping a drink with soda, many people make the mistake of filling the glass. This makes it look pretty, but you will end up putting a highly variable amount of soda into the drink, depending on the glass you use. If you want to preserve the flavor of the other elements, it is best to measure. You can always add a little more, so I limited myself to one ounce of soda water.

We made this drink after my friend Julian had just finished moving into a new apartment, so the name was appropriate. Moreover, it was a hot summer day, so whereas I usually would have used ice cubes, I wanted this drink to be a bit lighter and more refreshing, so I used crushed ice instead of ice cubes. In either case, as we discussed yesterday, it is important to fill the glass completely full with ice, to slow the melting process as much as possible. The ice does not look especially crushed in this picture, but I assure you, it was. Julian’s cat, Mimosa, wanted in on the action.

Dusty Bottoms (via Prohibition, in San Diego, CA)
1.5 oz Reposado Tequila (Espolón)
.5 oz Lime Juice
.5 oz Yellow Chartreuse (Strega)
4-5 Sage Leaves (Basil)
1 oz Ginger Beer (Bundaberg)

Lightly muddle the sage leaves in the yellow Chartreuse, and then combine all except the ginger beer in a shaker. Shake over ice, and then strain over fresh ice. Add the ginger beer and Garnish with a sage leaf.

I did not have any sage at this particular juncture, but I did have basil, fresh off the plant, and it was close enough on this occasion. I also substituted Strega for yellow Chartreuse, and you can see the bottle poking it’s head up in the background. I like to bring my own ice when I’m mixing at a remote location, because the quality of the ice is critical to the quality of the drink.


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How to Make Better Drinks and the Naughty Housewife

Food blogs of this world, we need to talk. I like you and I want to help you make better drinks. Your heart is in the right place, but some of you have no idea what you’re doing. I understand, some people just want to get tore up, and some people just want to drink blueberry Stoli. I’ll only judge you a little bit, but if you take my advice, I promise, you, too, can mix high quality drinks.

As I’ve been engaging the drink-making blogosphere, I have noticed a lot of drinks that look like the following. I call them, collectively, the Naughty Housewife-Tini, because I like to think that’s who is making these drinks, and because I’m hoping that the phrase “naughty housewife” will drive traffic to my blog.

Naughty Housewife-Tini

2 oz fruit-flavored liqueur (Such as Cointreau or, if we are unlucky, Malibu)
1 oz Minute Maid orange juice, from a carton
1 oz vodka
Mint leaves
Sprite

Muddle the mint in the liqueur until it is practically paste and then put everything into a shaker and strain into a cocktail glass, being sure to leave bits of ice floating on top of the drink. Top with sprite.

I would like to think that the myriad flaws in this drink are evident to all, but apparently that is not the case, so let us examine them, one by one.

1. The ratio of liqueur to base spirit is backwards and ridiculous. A proper drink should not be overly sweet, unless it is intended as a dessert. A high proportion of sugary ingredients can sometimes make sense — sometimes a strong counterpoint is needed against the bitter or sour component in a drink — but on the whole, it is appropriate to use an unsweetened spirit, such as whiskey or gin, as the foundation of a mixed drink.

2. The name is stupid. There is exactly one drink in the whole world called a martini, and it contains roughly the following: Gin, Dry Vermouth, Olive (or lemon peel). Even adding a dash of bitters probably warrants a different name, as one of the intriguing things about the martini is the complex harmony of its relatively minimalistic recipe. “Martini” is not a catch-all word for any drink that you happen to mix and serve up. Appending the suffix “-tini” to the end of your drink name is not descriptive. You can do better.

3. Vodka is bland and boring. It makes your drink alcoholic without contributing anything to the aroma or flavor, and if you use it, your drink will be missing a critical layer of complexity. Like a house without a foundation, it simply won’t stand up properly. Vodka drinks are (usually) no more than candy; they contain sweet, simple flavors that stupefy the palate and as such, they are best left to children.

For almost every drink in the world that is made with vodka, it would have been better with either gin, white rum, or pisco. Which substitution is best depends upon the drink, of course, but one always exists. Cosmopolitan? Try it with J. Wray. Moscow Mule? Vastly improved by the use of gin, or rum, or whiskey, or Fernet Branca. (By the way, such a drink is called a buck–a moscow mule is simply a vodka buck, just as a “moscow mule” made with gin would be a gin buck.)

Vesper? It’s not my favorite, but you should probably leave it alone.

4. There are particles of ice and fruit floating in it. An excellent drink should not be chunky in any way. True mixological perfection requires homogeneity of texture. Pieces of pulp or ice floating in the drink are like bits of un-integrated flour in your bechamel; they are jarring to the imbiber and indicative of carelessness on the part of the bartender. Fix it with a fine-mesh strainer, and you’ll enjoy years of particulate-free drinking.

5. The level of dilution is an accident. High-proof spirits are unpleasant to drink on their own. Insufficiently diluted alcohol burns burns the throat and worse! it deadens the taste buds. If a drink is over-diluted, its flavors become watery and thin, but a drink which is under-diluted suffers nearly as much. The sip will deaden the drinker’s perception of taste, and the flavors will seem muted.

Always pay attention to the amount of water that you are introducing into your drink. If your ice cubes are big, then they have a higher ratio of volume to surface area, and you will have to shake or stir longer in order to achieve the same amount of dilution that you would with smaller ice. Getting it right comes down largely to intuition, but you’ll never develop that intuition if you are not aware that you need it.

If you don’t know if your dilution is right, shake less than you need to, taste your drink to check the dilution, and then shake it some more. Repeat this process until you are confident in your timing. If you find yourself in a place with differently-sized ice from your experience, take some time to re-calibrate.

6. And while we’re on the subject of ice, the ice probably sucks. Clear ice is highly preferable to cloudy ice, both because it is aesthetically superior and because it melts more slowly, allowing you to keep your drinks colder, longer, with less impact upon their dilution. Ice is cloudy because of mineral impurities and air trapped in the frozen water, so the key to clear ice is to eliminate those problems. Boiling the water before freezing it will deaerate it, and using distilled water will ensure negligible mineral content. Below is an example of an ice cube made from boiled water (on the left) and un-boiled water (on the right). I did not use distilled water, and as you can see, there is still some cloudiness, but the boiling creates a marked improvement.

7. The juice is not fresh. The quality of fresh juice above pasteurized juice is almost incommunicable. Boiling juice (to pasteurize it) removes many of its more delicate flavor compounds, and changes the texture, invariably for the worse. Moreover, once juice has been freed from its prison inside of a fruit, it begins to break down and change flavor on its own. Pasteurized orange juice from a carton is only vaguely orangey sugar water compared to the bright, floral qualities of a freshly juiced orange, for example. If you forget everything else I have told you, remember this: your drink is only as good as the worst thing you put in it.

8. The glass is not cold. If you strain your ice-cold drink into a room temperature glass, you are cheating yourself. The drink will immediately absorb a substantial amount of heat from the glass, ruining its temperature. Always chill your glasses before pouring your drink into them.

9. You’re topping a drink in a cocktail glass with soda. Stop it. Most sodas contain revolting amounts of sugar and sad, highly artificial flavor syrups. Just say no. Worse, you probably are not measuring the soda. “Top with sprite” has to be the worst mixing instruction ever, because if your drink, pre-top-off, has a volume of five ounces, then depending on the glass, you might end up adding anywhere from one to five ounces of soda, producing inconsistency from drink to drink.

10. There are no bitters. Not every drink needs bitters, as we saw in our consideration of the martini, but the majority of mixed drinks do need them. Bitters are a bit like salt; they round out and enhance the other flavors of the drink, and add complexity and depth on the backend. The one place where bitters are usually unwelcome is in a drink which relies on the sharp acid taste of fresh lemon or lime. Bitters will dull the bracing quality of acid.

11. The herbs are over-muddled. We’re not making pesto, and a muddler is not a mortar and pestle. All of the menthol in mint lives in little hair-like structures on the surface of the leaf. If you bruise the leaf of the mint, you are going to release bitter chlorophyll flavors into your drink, and it will taste grassy. I suppose that could be deliberate, but a discerning palate will perceive it as an error. The better way to handle mint is to place it on the palm of your hand and give it a few good, hard, smacks. In general, when muddling herbs or citrus peels, apply firm pressure but do not tear the flesh of the plant. Fruit, on the other hand, ought to be pulverized.

So let’s see if we can take all of these ideas, and re-jigger the Naughty Housewife-tini, above, into something a little more delicious.

NaughtyHousewife

2 oz Fresh Peach Juice
1.5 oz Gin (Plymouth)
.25 oz Liquore Strega
.25 oz Simple Syrup
Dash of Peach Bitters (Fee’s)

Shake over ice and double-strain, first through a hawthorne or julep strainer and then through a fine-mesh strainer, into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a blackberry on a skewer.

Notice that we have dropped the ridiculous “-tini” suffix from the name. The pasteurized slop has been omitted in favor of a fresh seasonal juice. Vodka has been replaced with gin, and the sugar components have been dialed down to a very small amount, to add a bit of sweetness to the drink without overpowering it.

The sprite, which added sweetness and carbonation, has been replaced with a bit of simple syrup, to fill the same role without adding undesirable flavors and carbonation. For a liqueur, I used Liquore Strega, which is sweet, herbal, and slightly spicy, adding a note of intrigue to the otherwise mundane combination of peach and gin.

The deep purple of the blackberry garnish creates a pleasing contrast with the pale orange of the drink itself.


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Lot No. 3

Last night I visited Lot No. 3, easily the best bar on the Eastside. Their drink menu is probably too large, but the drinks are well-executed. Their original creations can be a little hit or miss, but I give them full points for effort, and I commend them highly on the name “Stregasaurus” for a mixture of Cocchi Americano, strega, fernet branca, lime, and sugar. I ordered this drink with with a little extra Fernet, and they were happy to oblige me.

The Stregasaurus was not my choice last night, however; I was drawn instead to a the Sayulita, which in retrospect was a bit over-wrought. I feel no pressing desire to replicate this drink, but this is my guess:

Sayulita?

2 oz Reposado Tequila (El Jimador)
1/2 oz Sweet Vermouth (Carpano Antica)
1/4 oz Strega
1/4 oz Aperol
Dash of Cinnamon tincture
Dash of Grapefruit bitters

Stir over ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

I wanted to like this, and it was very drinkable, but the tequila flavor was utterly lost, and all I could really taste was Strega. I was intrigued by this drink because it resembled one of my all-time favorites, the Rojo Bianco, but it was not a comparable variation. My intuition says that dry vermouth would have been a much better choice.