Measure & Stir

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


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Mixology Monday: It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green

This month’s Mixology Monday is being hosted by Ed from Wordsmithing Pantagruel, and the theme is “It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green”, which means that the drink has to contain at least one green ingredient, and the more, the better. Green Chartreuse, Midori, spinach, cactus… it just has to be green. Personally, I’m really hoping someone makes a drink with Waldmeister syrup, though that someone is not me. Pandan would also be nice. If I were a real gangsta, todays drink would be made with Pandan, but I have not yet reached the max level.

It just so happens that, in addition to Mixology Monday, this week is Thai week here at Measure & Stir, on account of the fact that I was asked to create some mixed drinks with Thai ingredients for a restaurant that can only pour wine, beer, and soju. I found the constraint on ingredients to be very engaging, and I went out the very next day and filled my cart with Soju, Kaffir lime leaves, Thai basil, lemongrass, galangal, coconut milk, thai chiles, and mango, and started a series of infusions. Soju is like slightly sweet, low-proof vodka, which means if we want to make it taste interesting, it has to be infused.

We’ve had a couple of non-standard juleps in the past weeks: one with cilantro and tequila, and one with banana-infused bourbon, and I have to say, the julep format is quickly becoming one of my favorites. There is something so fresh and refreshing about a glass full of crisp, green herbs and crushed ice. For me, Thai basil is one of the most distinctive flavors in Thai cuisine, so it was natural to try to build a julep around it. Moreover, I wanted to capture the capsaicin heat of Thai food, for this drink. Any good whiskey comes with a bit of a burn, which sugar and water do much to diminish, but since we’re using soju, we have to get that burn from another source.

And regarding our MxMo theme, just look how green that is:

Bird’s Eye Julep

2 oz Thai Chile and Lemongrass-infused Soju
.25 oz Demerara syrup
1 Dash Orange Bitters (Regan’s)
Muddle Thai basil and Demerara syrup in a cold glass. Fill with crushed ice and then pour in the soju. Give it a quick stir and then garnish with more fresh basil.

For the infusion, we chopped up two stalks of lemongrass and four Bird’s Eye Chili peppers, (the green kind) and allowed them to steep in 8 oz of soju for five days. The lemongrass flavor was very subtle compared to the chili, which made up the bulk of the flavor in this infusion. The Thai basil greets the nose in a really big way, so that when you imbibe this drink, the aroma of fresh basil completely fills the senses. I like to serve my juleps in a relatively wide-mouthed glass, so that you both see and smell the fresh herbs, and they make a strong impression.

This drink would be the perfect accompaniment to a big bowl of green curry, with its sensual blend of burning peppers and cooling basil. A huge thanks to Ed for hosting MxMo! See you next month.


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Bloody Mary Workshop

In Seattle, there is no such thing as summer — there is only a faint impression of summer, a flickering shadow on the wall of a cave. We are in thrall to a sad facsimile and yet! there are heirloom tomatoes. When life gives you lemons… make a whiskey sour. When life gives you tomatoes, however… you are placed in the unfortunate spot of having to make Bloody Maries.

I have never enjoyed a Bloody Mary; on the few occasions that I have ordered one, or had one ordered for me, I have found no pleasure whatsoever in drinking, essentially, campbell’s soup mixed with vodka and, if one is fortunate, fresh lemon juice. Let us be perfectly honest. This drink sucks.

In an attempt to make it better, many bartenders adopt a kitchen sink approach, in which they add every savory ingredient they can get their hands on. Pickles, bell peppers, carrots, celery, shrimp, onion, a boiled egg — all of these elements improve the drink only in the sense that they distract the imbiber from the ugly, ugly truth, which I will reiterate: you are drinking boiled tomato puree mixed with vodka.

And yet, in my heart I knew that the idea had potential, and I wanted to reclaim this drink by starting with its most fundamental component: the tomato juice itself. The texture of a Bloody Mary is wholly unappealing. Even when it is smooth, as with v8, it has a viscosity that can only come from treatment with heat.

Indeed, I do not know whether the flavor or the texture is more objectionable, but they both had to go. My friends and I started by juicing organic heirloom tomatoes, and then straining the juices through a fine-mesh strainer. We separated them by color, so at the end of the process we had three different varieties of tomato juice, in order from sweetest to tartest:

  • a deep purple, made from cherokee purple tomatoes
  • a ruby red, made from brandywine tomatoes
  • an orange-yellow, made from yellow valencia tomatoes, I think

In addition to tomato juice, we also produced (and finely-strained) juices from cucumbers, lemons, and jalapeños. The straining was very important, because one of my objectives for this workshop was to produce a drink with a velvety, elegant texture, and in so doing elevate the Bloody Mary above it’s decidedly blue collar milieu.

And speaking of elevation, the vodka simply had to go. In truth I ended up using some vodka, but I also sought the richer flavors of gin, tequila, caol ila scotch whiskey, mezcal, and amaro (not pictured). With all of our reagents prepped, we set forth to impart a touch of class to the bloody mary.

#1: Bloody Mary Queen of Scot

1 oz finely strained yellow valencia tomato juice
1 oz vodka
.5 oz Caol Ila 12 year scotch whiskey
.5 oz lemon juice
.5 oz cucumber juice
1 dash jalapeño juice
1 dash Angostura bitters
pinch of salt

Shake over ice and double strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a thai chili and a fresh grind of black pepper.

The sourness from the yellow tomatoes made this a very bright, tangy short punch with just enough spice from the jalapeño and smokey bacony notes from the Caol Ila. Tomato juice is very rich, even strained like this, and the imbiber quickly fatigues of it, so we did not have time to iterate each of these recipes to perfection. If I attempt this recipe again, I will use slightly less lemon, and change the proportion to .75 oz of vodka and .75 oz of Caol Ila. I might also consider Laphroaig.

This was nothing like a traditional Bloody Mary, and that was a good thing. All of the flavors were evident in the experience of the drink, with bright flavors evident on the sip and savory scotch and tomato on the swallow, and a pleasing capsaicin burn on the finish. I tried to garnish it with a cucumber slice, but it sank to the bottom, ignominiously.

#2: Bloody Maria

1 oz finely strained brandywine tomato juice
1 oz platinum tequila
.5 oz mezcal
.75 oz cucumber juice
dash of jalapeño juice
dash of angostura bitters
pinch of salt
Shake over ice and double strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a thai chili and a fresh grind of black pepper.

Of the four, this was by far the least delicious variation. It was missing something, and no one could really say what. We tried modifying it with a barspoon of simple syrup — to no avail, and with a barspoon of lemon juice, and the end result was even worse. Still, it was a learning experience, and there were several takeaways: Mezcal and tomato juice is a delicious combination. The pepper and the cucumber and the tomato gave this a real flavor of a garden salad, much more than with the previous drink, where the less familiar flavor of yellow valencia tomatoes was less evocative of other dishes.

I realized later that this would have been great in a highball, over ice cubes or even cracked ice. If nothing else, it had a very appealing color, and probably resembled a traditional bloody mary more than any of the other variations. I’m still learning to consider the dynamics of pouring a drink over ice vs. serving it neat. Being colder and more dilute would have made the flavor lighter and the drink more refreshing, which would have made it more appropriate for summer. I also think it would have highlighted the cucumber element.

#3: Pale Mary (like “Hail Mary”)

2 oz yellow valencia tomato water*
1.5 oz vodka
.25 oz platinum tequila
.25 oz cucumber juice
1 barspoon lemon juice
pinch of salt

Stir over cracked ice and strain. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Of all the drinks in the workshop, this one was our most anticipated. After straining the orange tomato juice through a fine mesh strainer, we poured five ounces or so through a chemex filter, and it slowly dripped down into a glass, yielding a fragrant, orange-tinted water. Despite its clarity, the tomato water had a noteworthy viscosity, though its flavor was as light as its color. Not wanting to overwhelm it with powerful flavors, I initially stuck with the basics of vodka and lemon. That was a little too plain for me, so I added the vegetal hues of tequila and cucumber to round out the flavor.

Stirring  the Pale Mary provided us with an elegant texture, but alas, drinking so much tomato, no matter how processed, proved to be very taxing. If this had been my first drink, I would have enjoyed it much more. I’m not sure if the end result was worth the time it took, but this was the most interesting drink, and it is assuredly worthy of your breakfast.

My only wish for improvement: a basil leaf garnish, smacked.

*Note: to make tomato water, first prepare a chemex filter as you would for coffee, by saturating it with boiling water. Pour the juice into the filter and allow it to fall through. I got about 1.5 oz per hour.

#4: Mary, Truffle Hunter

1.5 oz finely strained purple cherokee tomato juice
1 oz + 1 dash amaro al tartufo
pinch of salt

Shake over ice, garnish with a razor thin slice of truffle. (I did not do this part)

After three very savory drinks, I had two goals: something digestive, to calm the stomach and something sweet, to serve as dessert. The purple cherokee tomatoes produced the sweetest juice of the different cultivars we tried. I did not want to completely depart from the theme, however, and I still needed to complement the bold umami flavors of heirloom tomato.

Fortunately, my friend Gualtiero brought me a bottle of this truffle-flavored amaro the last time he was in Italy. Amaro al Tartufo is sweet and only slightly bitter. Fruity on the sip, it lingers after the swallow with an earthy truffle vapor . I was very pleased that the truffle came through in this mix, and the change of pace from the previous drinks made it the unexpected favorite.

I will probably not make a Bloody Mary again for a while, but when I do, I will explore bacon fat-infused bourbon and one or two savory bitters. Special thanks to my friends James and Julian for helping with the prep work and for putting up with these ridiculous drinks, and also to Julian for naming #3 and #4.