Measure & Stir

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


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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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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.

badgirlconcoction

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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Yuppie Salad

Hello Internet, I am sorry I was so late to speak with you this week. I have not forgotten you, but my time has been short. James and I could not really decide on a theme for session #4, so we made an eclectic collection of drinks exploring various ideas.

I drink fresh juice for health, and I am always struck by the brilliant, verdant color of fresh spinach or kale juice. I wanted to make a drink that could capture that color, and I know it’s a little bit out there, but I took inspiration from the sweet salads that I have enjoyed in many yuppie restaurants

yuppie salad

Yuppie Salad
1.5 oz Gin (Hendrick’s)
1 oz Spinach Juice
.5 oz Strawberry Juice
.25 oz Orgeat
.25 oz Balsamic Vinegar
Shake over ice and double-strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a skewered roasted red pepper.

Now I know what you’re thinking; “Darnit guys, couldn’t you just stir up a base spirit with some vermouth, maybe add a dash of absinthe or something? Spinach juice, really?” Spinach juice actually has a very mild flavor, and with the little bit of orgeat + vinegar, this really did taste like I was drinking a fancy salad. It was grassy, tangy, sweet, and fruity. Slivered almonds might also have been nice.


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Gastrique Sour

Last weekend I was feeling astringent, and that meant it was time to make gastrique.  I confess, what I truly desired was not a gastrique but a shrub, but shrubs take several days to make, whereas you can cook up a gastrique in much less than an hour. Both ingredients are made from sugar and vinegar, so if you desire the tang of acetic acid and you don’t have the luxury of waiting two days for your syrup to pickle, a gastrique might be the previously unknown secret desire of your heart.

I followed this Serious Eats recipe, which I shall recount briefly for you here, in case clicking on one more hyperlink is too much effort for your web-weary mind and fingers.

Blueberry Gastrique
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons of water
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup smashed blueberries

Combine water and sugar in a pot and cook on medium high heat. Prior to cooking, the sugar should have the texture of wet sand. Heat the sugar until it dissolves and begins to bubble and undulate. Do not stir. Watch the sugar until it has caramelized into a beautiful golden brown, and then add the apple cider vinegar, and reduce the heat to medium. When the caramel has fully dissolved in the vinegar, add the blueberries and stir. Simmer for a few minutes to allow the flavors to meld, and then strain out the blueberry pulp.

Making Caramel is, in fact, very easy, and I got this right on my first try. So will you. Gastrique is traditionally served as a sauce on fish or meat, but it’s great in a mixed drink, as you will discover if you try it. The complex flavor of caramel and cider vinegar is best-suited to brown spirits such as bourbon or aged rum; I tried it with Wray and Nephew and it wasn’t right at all. A shrub might go with a lighter spirit, but there is a certain synergy between the brownness of caramel and the brownness of bourbon or rye.

Blueberry Gastrique Sour

1.5 oz Rye Whiskey (Old Overholt)
.5 oz Lime Juice
.5 oz Blueberry Gastrique

Shake over ice and double-strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a sprig of fresh rosemary.

Even though the vinegar is sour, you need to treat this ingredient like a syrup. It retains the flavor of vinegar, but the sugar in the caramel and the berries flattens its acidity, so citrus juice is still needed. Vinegar has a great flavor, but it’s not something you want to inhale like a scotch. That’s why I garnished the drink with an aromatic herb; the scent of the rosemary saves you from the vinegar’s smell, while complementing its savory qualities.