Measure & Stir

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


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Thai Week Outtakes

Note: All of the drinks in this post were sub-par. We are posting them as a recounting of what not to do. Please do not make them, they are not that great.

We had some successes with our Low-Proof Thai Cocktail Week, but we also had plenty of drinks that didn’t make the cut. Two of them we already posted, the Miracle Mango Sour and the Lemongrass Soju MarTHAIni. They were OK, but they did not make the final cut. The lemongrass marTHAIni was too one dimensional — its only real flavor was lemongrass, which tastes kind of like a truncated lemon. Point of fact, it tasted kind of like a yellow fruit loop. Gross.

The Miracle Mango Sour was a bit more interesting, but it lacked impact. Even with fresh citrus juice, there was simply no kick, no bite, no bracing quality to it. Part of the problem is that soju is not high-proof enough to fully extract the soft flavor of a fruit like mango. As a result, the mango flavor in our infusion was week. Hence the maxim: give soju infusions double the time and they’ll taste twice as fine. But some flavors just aren’t going to come out, no matter how long you leave them. If you drank mango-soju straight, over ice, and with a twist of lime, it would be pretty tasty, but in a mixed drink it just can’t stand up.

Still, we were determined to somehow make the concept of the miracle mango sour work, so in a frenzy of mixing last friday night, we made four more iterations of it, and none of them were good enough of for the final menu. At least they look pretty.

2 oz Mango-Infused Soju
.5 oz Nigori Sake  (Kizakura)
.5 oz Simple Syrup
.5 oz Lemon Juice
Shake over ice and double-strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with mango cubes and a lime twist.

This tasted good but it was watery. Mango-infused soju and nigori sake are both low proof and lightly flavored. We wanted to create a drink that was reminiscent of mango sticky rice, which is why we selected nigori sake. Nigori sake fills a similar role to a fortified wine in this drink, except it is, unfortunately, even lower proof that soju. Nigori sake is unfiltered sake, so it has a cloudy look and texture, and a sweet flavor. The taste of mango was light in our infusion, so I used only .5 oz of Nigori sake to keep it in balance. Perhaps if I had shaken this a mere ten times, it would have come out OK, but I gave it my standard thirty (this was the drink that made me realize you have to shake low-proof cocktails half as long). Even though it had a good flavor, we wanted to make it more intense, so we switched from mango soju to mango syrup.

Adding insult to injury, the lime zest in this garnish made a very discordant smell to the flavor of the drink. It was all wrong.

2 oz Nigori Sake (Kizakura)
.5 oz Mango Syrup (Monin)
.5 oz Lemon Juice
1 tsp Bird’s Eye Chili-Infused Soju
White of one whole egg
Dry shake, and then shake over ice and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with skewered mango cubes and kaffir lime leaves.

Mango syrup has a very concentrated flavor, so our next idea was to use the Nigori sake as a base spirit, and get the mango in that way. This felt like it was going to be a slam dunk, but it was actually the worst of the bunch. The Nigori sake is so low-proof that even the bird’s eye chili could not save the drink from tasting weak. Worse, the mango syrup’s flavor was so powerful that it was the only thing we could taste over the egg white.

So for round three, we decided to concentrate the flavor of the Nigori sake, by simmering it on the stovetop and reducing its volume by two thirds. Even concentrated, the nigori sake had a very mild flavor, but it was strong enough that it did come through in the drink.

2 oz Soju
.5 oz Egg White
.5 oz Nigori Sake Reduction
.25 oz Mango Syrup (Monin)
.25 oz Lemon Juice
1 tsp Bird’s Eye Chili-Infused Soju
Dry shake, and then shake over ice and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with skewered mango cubes and kaffir lime leaves.

Of all the variations we made, this one was the best. We used uninfused soju as the base (we were out of mango), but it scarcely mattered against the mango flavor of the mango syrup. It’s possible that the mango soju would have rounded out the mango flavor, but it’s more likely that you would not have been able to notice the difference. We cut the egg white in this one back down to .5 oz, and it didn’t foam as much, but it still added body, and the flavors all came through. It was decent, but not so good that I would serve it to a guest or in a restaurant.

Even if it had been good, it would have been impractical, because the Nigori sake reduction would have been too expensive to justify producing it en masse for a restaurant. Somewhat happy with this result, we decided to try again, from a different direction, and also a more economical one:

2 oz Soju
.75 oz “Thaichata” Red Thai Rice, Kaffir Lime, Bird’s Eye Chili Concentrate
.25 oz Mango Syrup (Monin)
.5 oz Egg White
2 dash Regan’s Orange Bitters
Dry shake, and then shake over ice and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with skewered mango wedges a kaffir lime moustache.

This tasted like a slightly less good version of round #3. Instead of Nigori sake, we blended thai red rice with Bird’s eye chili and Kaffir lime leaves, simmered the mixture in water for a while, and then strained it through a cheesecloth. This procedure was similar to the one we used to make the Horchata for the Oaxacan Flower, and we loved the idea of “Thaichata”. Even though cinnamon is present in Thai food, we did not want to use it because we were afraid it would make the drink taste like more Mexican than Thai. We may try Thaichata again, but the recipe needs some work. As it was, it did a pretty good job of putting the rice flavor into the drink, and it turned it a beautiful pink color, but by this time we were fatigued of the concept, and sick of soju drinks.

Only later, we realized that mango sticky rice is made with coconut milk, but it was enough of a juggling act trying to get the flavors of rice and mango to balance against each other. Introducing coconut (i.e., more complexity) probably would not have magically fixed this mess. Gosh, I can’t wait to drink real drinks again!


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Thai Week Roundup

The past week has been Thai week here at Measure & Stir, and today we present the last post in the series, including our final Thai menu, and some tips and tricks that we learned through our experience. If you don’t already know, Thai week was a week of drinks inspired by the flavors of Thailand, made using only beer, wine, and soju.Theme weeks, it turns out, are fun, but exhausting. We held four mixing sessions over the last week in order to get all of the drinks where we wanted them. Not everything we tried worked, and some ideas just refused to pan out despite our best efforts. But we can talk about the outtakes another time. Today we want to focus on what went right.

The task was to make mixed drinks using Thai flavors, for Plumeria, a Thai restaurant in San Diego with only a partial liquor license. That’s why we were restricted to using only beer, wine, soju, or sake. Given the limited choice of spirits, our strategy was to infuse soju, which itself is rather neutral, with a slight hint of rice, with different Thai flavors or ingredients. We set out five infusions:

 
We also ended up making some Thai-inspired cocktail ingredients, like tea syrup, and mixing with Singha, a Thai lager.

The Menu

Eye of the Tiger
Spicy and complex, with a strong burn from chili soju, and a sweet roasted flavor from thai tea. Our favorite of the bunch.

Live and Let Thai
With a dash of fish sauce, this drink had a coconut richness and an engaging tangy flavor of galangal and lime.

Tom Kha Llins
A beer highball taking a different approach to the Tom Kha trio of galangal, lemongrass, and kaffir lime. Very herbal.

Pseudo Rum Cocktail
Sugar cane infused soju, thai tea, and chili, each simulating a component of the flavor of aged rum. Like all soju drinks, it was a bit light, but it benefited greatly from the slice of fresh sugar cane in the garnish.

Bird’s Eye Julep
A Julep with Thai basil and Bird’s eye chilis. The basil pushes it a bit to the savory side. Very aromatic.

Lessons

Along the way, we learned some valuable lessons in low-proof mixology. These tips are critical to ensure excellent drinks when mixing with low-proof spirits, like soju and sake.

  • Shake or stir it half as much as when working with full proof spirits.
  • Use burning ingredients such as fresh ginger, wasabi, or chili peppers as a proxy for the burning sensation of high proof spirits.
  • Egg white mellows a high proof spirit; it murders a low-proof one.
  • Fill your shaker with one giant piece of ice, instead of many smaller ones, to gain finer control over the dilution rate as you shake.
  • Give soju infusions double the time and they’ll taste twice as fine.

 
And of course, always remember to strain your drinks through a fine-mesh strainer. It’s the dividing line between a bottom tier bar and a better one. I don’t have much more to say about these drinks. We have one more post tomorrow, talking about some drinks that didn’t make the cut, and then we can get back to whiskey and rum and tequila, sweet tequila.


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Pseudo Rum Cocktail

Errata: Yesterday, we posted that we used “coconut juice” in our Tom Kha Kai-inspired drink, the “Live and Let Thai“. In fact we used coconut milk, and the post has been updated to convey this. We apologize for the miscommunication.

Gosh, we’re getting a little bored of Soju around here. Based on the traffic this week, I’m thinking maybe you were never that enamored of the idea in the first place. No matter! We’re almost through it, so thanks for sticking with us. James and I are done with Soju mixed drinks for a while. We miss the bite of harder spirits. This last one that we are going to share with you today was an attempt to simulate rum in a low proof environment. After ten days of infusing, our sugar cane soju had developed an interesting complexity, and even, dare I say it, a touch of hogo; that raw, grassy, sugar cane flavor. It was only a hint.

We still had the Thai tea syrup sticking around from our Singha Highball drinks, and it turned out to match the flavor of the sugar cane soju very nicely. Moreover, the flavor of Thai tea, slightly spiced, with the roasted flavor of a black tea, did contribute a roundness to the drink that was evocative of the caramel and oak notes of an aged rum. We stuck to our trick of adding a teaspoon of bird’s eye chili-infused soju, and then added a dash of orange bitters for good measure. Regan’s has a clove and anise quality that complements rum very nicely, and similarly Thai tea, for it is spiced with star anise, and sometimes tamarind.

Indeed, a bit of tamarind flavor would suit this drink, but it would ruin it’s clear, elegant texture.

Pseudo Rum Cocktail
2 oz Sugar-Cane Infused Soju (minimum 10 days)
.75 oz Thai Tea Syrup
1 tsp Bird’s Eye Chili-infused Soju
2 Dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters
Stir over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Carve a piece of sugar cane into a plank and rest three star anise pods on top.

As soju drinks go, I enjoyed this one. Thai tea is completely delicious, and it’s really nice to drink it with alcohol, and without condensed milk. I can’t wait to mix this with regular rum! Incidentally, there were some Thai flavors that we did not get to explore for this round, particularly peanut and tamarind. I think this drink would be a pretty good candidate for a rim of crushed up peanut and sugar. But I’m done making soju drinks, so if you want to explore that avenue, please tell me how it goes.

Tomorrow we’ll post a summary of our experiences with incorporating Thai flavors into low proof drinks, as well as our final recommendation for a cocktail menu built around some of these drinks. Talk about niche appeal. Fortunately, the world is vast and wide, and there are other cocktail geeks out there, who maybe, hopefully, found an academic sort of interest in all this. Special thanks to Kaiser Penguin for inspiring today’s photo.


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Lemongrass Soju Marthaini

This week is Thai week here a Measure & Stir, and so we continue our vinous voyage of drinks inspired by the flavors of ประเทศไทย with another soju infusion. Of course soju isn’t Thai at all, but the motivation behind Thai week is that Joe was asked to come up with some drinks inspired by Thailand using a limited palette of wine, beer, or soju.

We decided it might by fun to put a Thai twist on a classic drink. Audrey Sander, of the Pegu Club, once made an Earl Grey MarTEAni, which inspired us to name our Thai version the mar”thai”ni. Since we couldn’t use gin, we decided to fake it by infusing some juniper berries into soju. After four days, we removed the juniper berries and the result isn’t quite as complex as gin, obviously, but it got us most of the way there. To bring it to Thailand, we thought it might be nice to use lemongrass. Add some dry vermouth and you have the lemongrass soju marTHAIni:

Lemongrass Soju MarTHAIni
2 oz Juniper/Lemongrass-infused Soju
0.75 oz Dry vermouth (Cocchi Americano)
1 dash Lemon bitters

Slice lemongrass into small chunks and muddle it into the dry vermouth. Pour everything into a mixing glass with ice and stir well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a sprig of lemongrass.

Things we learned while making this drink: We didn’t infuse lemongrass into the soju with the juniper berries and only muddled it with the dry vermouth. The problem is that the lemongrass doesn’t really come through completely unless it is also infused into the soju. Only using one of these methods to incorporate the lemongrass results in an incomplete, weak representation of lemongrass flavor. We should have remembered our last experience of mixing with lemongrass, when we used turmeric juice and lemongrass together, which also produced a less pronounced lemongrass flavor. Let our mistake be a lesson for you. Second, we used Fee’s lemon bitters. Fees bitters are awful, but we simply didn’t have anything else on-hand at the time. Instead, we’d have loved to have used  The Bitter Truth’s Lemon Bitters.

The drink itself is surprisingly refreshing, reminiscent of a real martini, only not quite as stiff. The juniper berry/lemongrass infusion did a better job at simulating gin than I had personally thought it would. Lemongrass adds a fresh, zesty, lemony flavor and the dry vermouth does a lovely job of bringing it all together into a cohesive experience.


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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.