Measure & Stir

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


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Seventh Inning Stretch: Root Beer, Bourbon, Salted Peanuts, Oksusucha

It’s getting cold again, and that means its time for my favorite family of mixed drinks: the hot toddy. What is a hot toddy, exactly? For me it’s a feeling you get when it’s rainy and cold outside, and you bring a glass of steaming, aqueous whiskey to your lips. When it’s done right, it warms you to your core.

And yet, the recipe is flexible. At its most essential, it consists of lemon, sugar, whiskey, and boiling water. That is a decent hot toddy all on its own, but it can be a bit plain. When I make it that way, I grate fresh cinnamon and nutmeg over the top, and garnish with a fatty orange peel.

Today, I wanted to do something a little different.

seventh-inning-stretch

This is baseball-inspired hot toddy that I threw together on a whim. This follows my standard hot toddy formulation, which I will be expositing for you at some length over the next few posts.

We start with a base spirit, and I chose to use Bourbon, because it is the all-American choice. I wish I could say it went deeper than that.

In order to evoke the theme of baseball, I made a root beer syrup by boiling star anise, cloves, and sassafras in a syrup made with 1 cup of water, 3/4 cup of white sugar, and 1/2 cup of brown sugar. Brown sugar is not as sweet as white, but the syrup is still a little rich this way. I finished the syrup with citric acid, to balance the sweetness.

In order to evoke popcorn, I lengthened this drink with 옥수수차 (Oksusucha) — Korean roasted corn tea. It doesn’t taste quite like popcorn, but it hits the right notes and joins the bourbon’s corn flavors to the sassafras’ herbaceousness.

To finish it off, I rimmed the toasted peanuts, ground with salt and sugar to taste. I admit the rim was a little sloppy, but the oily peanut clumped in a way that was difficult to work with. Drying this powder out, either by letting it sit out uncovered, or (maybe? by mixing it with a bit of tapioca maltodextrin) would probably help it form a more consistent coating. Even so, it was delicious.

seventh-inning-stretch-2

Seventh Inning Stretch
1.5 oz Vanilla-infused Bourbon
.5 oz Root Beer Syrup*
4 oz 옥수수차 (Oksusucha)
Salt peanut rim
Build the drink in a mug, finishing with still near-boiling oksusucha.

Root Beer Syrup
1 cup water
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp sassafras bark
1 tsp star anise
5 or 6 cloves
Bring to a boil, then simmer for ten minutes, then strain. Finish with 1 tsp of powdered citric acid.

When the drink was still piping hot, it had a bland flavor and alcohol burn. Once it cooled down to a comfortable temperature, the flavor was a bit muddy on the sip, but with pleasant roasty corn notes that gave way to a medium-bodied root beer finish. As the drink cooled, it became a little too sweet.

Hot Toddy Lesson One: pay close attention to your serving temperature. There is a perfect window, and you need to find it.

Cheers.


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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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Acid Trip #1: Peanut Butter Jelly Time

Peanut-butter-jelly-time

Hello friends. We haven’t spoken in a while, and I want you to know that I have missed you. Lately in my cocktail journey, I have been contemplating the composition of basic drinks. With precious few exceptions, all of the standard drink formulas combine a base spirit with a source of acid and a source of sugar. In spirited drinks, the acid and the sugar often reside in a single bottle, in the form of a fortified wine. In a sour drink, acidity comes from lemon or lime, and sugar comes from syrup, liqueur, or both.

I have explored vinegar in the past, and also acid phosphate, but there still exists a lot of unexplored territory. Can the acidic component of drink mirror and meld into the other ingredients, as opposed to merely synergizing with them?

pbj2

There is a wide world of flavors to be captured in syrups and liqueurs, but in most drinks, we find that the carrying capacity for sweeteners is very low before the drink becomes cloying. It may be that we like the interplay between a sweet fruit juices and a liqueur, but that the desirable attributes of such a blend are overpowered by a balancing volume of lemon or lime juice.

This problem can be overcome by the use of acid phosphate, but although it is neutral in flavor, it is expensive and its acidity is low relative to its volume.

A better choice is to find a source of acid that can reinforce the natural flavors of fruit juice. Most juices contain multiple acids, but a very common one is malic acid, particularly in apples and grapes. It is commonly used in wine-making, but I have been experimenting with it as a souring agent in juice-driven drinks. Malic acid tastes fruity and succulent all on its own, and when it is added to a juice that already contains it, it reinforces and amplifies certain aspects of that juice.

pbj

Acid Trip #1

1.25 oz Wheated Bourbon (Weller 107 Antique)

.75 oz Peanut Syrup*

6 Kyoho Grapes, Muddled

1/8 Tsp Powdered Malic Acid

Grated Cinnamon

Pinch of Salt

Muddle grapes, grate a little fresh cinnamon, and shake all over ice. Double-strain into a coupe glass with a lightly salted rim and garnish with skewered grapes.

Kyoho grapes are fat and juicy with an intense sweet flavor. They almost taste like grape jelly all on their own. I found some at the farmer’s market and I knew they would be perfect for my malic acid experimentation.

I combined them with a peanut syrup, which one might even call peanut orgeat, but how does one decided what constitutes an orgeat? Is it merely a nut-based syrup? Is it the presence of rose or orange flower water? Does it require apricot pits, overnight steeping processes, or perhaps the blood of innocents? Some orgeat processes I have read are more like a sweetened almond milk, calling for nuts to be crushed or ground. In any case, this is how I made my peanut syrup:

Peanut ‘Orgeat’

1/2 Cup Water

1/2 Cup Peanut Butter

1/2 Cup Sugar

Pinch of Salt

Bring peanut butter and water to a boil, then simmer for ten minutes. Stir in sugar and strain through a fine-mesh strainer.

The resulting syrup was viscous, unctuous, creamy, and opaque. I made the syrup more intense by adding a bit of salt and freshly-grated cinnamon to the drink before shaking it, but you could also integrate them right into the syrup to simplify the recipe during drink service. I will definitely do so in the future. The cinnamon should not read as cinnamon; it should fade into the background and add just a little woody, spicy complexity to the peanut.

I chose to use a wheated bourbon for this because the whiskey is playing the role of bread to the peanut butter and grape. Without additional malic acid, this drink would have been too sweet, but the powdered acid allowed me to make whiskey and peanut butter sour, with grape standing in for lemon. Concept drinks don’t always work out, but this one did. I would proudly serve it to anyone.

Cheers.


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Carrera: Apricot, Vanilla, Bourbon, Vodka, Cinnamon

I made this a few weeks ago, and I just couldn’t let it sit any longer. I think it is one of my best drinks to date. I was influenced by my time in Japan, particularly at the bar of Gen Yamamoto, who I think is one of the most creative and inspiring bartenders in the business. The strength of his drinks is in their subtlety, and in the way that the natural flavors of his ingredients become objects of contemplation.

To duplicate this effect, I have been casting fresh fruit juices from my macerating juicer in the role of the base spirit, and using lower volumes of alcohol as accent marks. The juice from soft fruits is often saturated with soft pulp, and as such the yield from an apricot or a kumquat is halfway between a juice and a purée. The balance of the viscosity of the juice against that of the spirits provides ample space for a bartender to meditate on texture.

carerra

Carrera
1.25 oz Fresh Apricot Juice
.5 Vanilla-Infused Bourbon
.5 Vodka
.5 Fresh Orange Juice [optional]
1 Barspoon agave syrup

Shake and strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a coupe glass. Agitate the mixture through the strainer with a barspoon if necessary. Grate fresh cinnamon across the top.

In the past I was quite offended by vodka, but I have found that it is highly desirable in this style of drink. Soju, Shochu, Sake, and Vodka all have their place when the emphasis is on the delicate and ephemeral. The mere presence of alcohol can make other flavors seem louder and more distinct. Wine, whiskey, coffee — we are accustomed to looking for the entire world of culinary flavors in these things — but perhaps we can perform the same trick with an apricot?

My method is to use a minimum of a spirit to achieve its presence in the end product, and then pad the volume of 80 proof liquor in the drink up to a single ounce. In this case, I wanted to combine the vanilla and bourbon with the taste of fresh apricot, but I wanted the bourbon to play the auxiliary role.

Apricot can be quite acidic when consumed as a juice; it is tangy and floral, and a bit of sweetness from syrup draws out hints of spice; cinnamon in the garnish and vanilla in the bourbon should be like echoes of the notes struck by the fruit. Raw fruits and vegetables can possess a surprisingly complexity all on their own, if one is patient and attentive. Anything as strong as bitters or herbal liqueur would be distracting, like a crashing cymbal in the middle of a cello suite.

Finally, an optional half measure of orange juice blends very seamlessly into the apricot, elongating it, and recalls the flavor of a tangerine. Unfortunately, it sacrifices some of the apricot’s sharpness. I suggest trying both variations.

乾杯!


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The Grimace: Rye, Lemon, Sweet Purple Yam Jam

Ube Halaya, or Sweet Purple Yam Jam (it’s fun to say!) is a popular flavor in the Philipines. If you are looking for wacky cocktail ideas for your admittedly gimmicky blog, (I prefer to think of it as cocktail entertainment), you could do a lot worse than to take a stroll through an ethnic market that is not catering to SWPL people.

the grimace 2

It was in such hallowed halls that I found rainbow-dyed sweetened dried coconut strips, and also a smooth-textured jam of purple yams. The jam was very sweet, and the best way to balance it was against some lemon juice.

As much as I try not to endlessly make different-flavored sours, it is a reliable choice, because it always tastes good. If you get into a cocktail-making challenge, just mix lemon, a base spirit, and an appropriate sweetener. You will not win on originality, but you will probably win on flavor.

the grimace 1

The Grimace
2 oz Woodinville Rye
.5 oz Ube Jam (adjust to your taste)
.5 oz Lemon Juice
Shake over ice and double strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with rainbow coconut strips.

The cone of purple and the rainbow pastels had a McDonaldsy aesthetic, so I called it the Grimace. I admit it might not be the most appealing name, but it was delicious. The yam was beautiful with the spicy, woody taste of the rye.

By the way, Woodinville Rye is phenomenal. It was a tad pricey in Seattle, but the flavor of the mash is bright and distinctive. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys whiskey, or anyone who ought to, which is everyone.


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Mr. Kurogoma: Scotch, Cream, Drambuie, Black Sesame

Kurogoma is the Japanese word for “black sesame”, and indeed, this drink’s most distinct flavor comes from a paste of black sesame seeds. It is unctuous, and tastes like tahini, or peanut butter, or something in between. Its color is an inky black, darker even than molasses.

I knew I wanted to use whiskey for this drink, and I’ve been very satisfied to mix drinks with a bottle of Auchentoshan 10 year, lately. It is an affordable scotch with a light, assertive peatiness and a minimal amount of smoke. Trader Joe’s in Seattle carries it for a little under thirty dollars.

From Scotch and sesame, it occurred to me that Drambuie would fit very nicely between them, as it matches whiskey for whiskey and honey for sesame.

mr kurogoma

Mr. Kurogoma (Beta)
2 oz Auchentoshan
.5 oz Drambuie
.5 oz Half and Half
2 heaping Tbs Kurogoma Spread
1 Dash Aromatic Bitters
Break up the sesame paste in the drink with your barspoon. Dry shake, and then shake over ice. Double strain into a coupe glass and float sesame seeds of various colors on top.

The flavor was good, if a little unusual to the western palate. It reminded me of Scotchy honey-nut cheerios. I slightly regret that added the half and half, as it dulled the flavor of the Drambuie, and disrupted the dark color. When I iterate on this, I will dial up the liqueur and remove the dairy. I also think the drink would be more interesting and coherent if the base spirit were a Japanese whiskey such as the Yamazaki.

Version 2, which is untested, will look like this:

Mr. Kurogoma (v2)
1.5 oz Yamazaki
.75 oz Dry Sake
.5 oz Drambuie
2 heaping Tbs Kurogoma Spread
1 Dash Aromatic Bitters
Break up the sesame paste in the drink with your barspoon. Shake over ice and double strain into a coupe glass. Garnish TBD.

Kanpai?


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A More Refined Whiskey and Coke

After fixing up the Cosmopolitan, I had a bit of an ego trip, and decided to follow it up with a better Whiskey and Coke. This drink is a mashup of two ideas in the space around coca-cola. First, a Cuba-Libre is about one thousand times better than a rum and coke; the lime juice balances against the sweetness of the cola, and complements the spirit. Second, Fernet and Coke is a popular drink in Argentina. Indeed, this makes sense, as the Dirt and Diesel, a drink with dark rum, lime, and fernet has a flavor which is reminiscent of a Cuba-Libre.

So our thinking here was to combine the concepts of a whiskey and coke, a fernet and coke, and a Cuba-Libre. Our first attempt with Fernet was not an overwhelming success. The Fernet dominated the drink, and the flavors did not come together the way we were hoping. There was something missing or something dissonant. Rather than try to add yet a fifth ingredient, we swapped the Fernet for the Dirt and Diesel‘s other bitter component, Cynar, and it was much more harmonious. The Cynar was not as bitter as the Fernet, of course, so we rounded it out with a dash of bitters.

Improved Whiskey Coke
1.5 oz Rye Whiskey (Rittenhouse Bonded)
.75 oz Cynar
.5 oz Lime Juice
Dash of Aromatic Bitters (Angostura)
2 oz High Quality Cola
Shake over ice and double-strain over fresh ice. Top with 2 oz high quality Cola and garnish with a lime wheel.

This was a great highball, but Cola is not my favorite thing to drink. It will taste much better if you use your favorite local artisanal cola, or failing that, Mexican coke, the kind that uses real sugar and comes in a glass bottle. We used Trader Joe’s “Vintage Cola”, and I must confess, I was disappointed with it. In Seattle, Pig Iron Cola is our favorite, and a much more solid choice.

If you want to splurge on the garnish, you could always use a vanilla bean molded into a straw, as in this Bacardi ad. If you haven’t seen them, the entire series of commercials is worth watching. They have high production values and interesting (maybe accurate?) trivia. I especially enjoy their twist on the mojito.

Cheers!


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Blood and Oak

You know what you don’t see often enough? Scotch cocktails. I think they are unpopular because they are generally made with blended scotch whiskey, and blended Scotch whiskey is not compelling. Personally I am not a huge fan of blended Scotches. Even the finer ones taste muddy and indistinct compared to the clarion symphony that is the experience of a quality single malt. I have tasted some small batch vatted malts that were very good, and I am aware that there is an art to blending them, but certainly the common ones are boring and awful.

On the other hand, single malt Scotches are expensive, and mixing them with other ingredients (besides other single malts?) is a kind of sacrilege. The distiller spent ever so much time and care to imbue that scotch with all of its most sublime and subtle qualities. Many recipes do call for small measures of Islay Scotches, I think because they are outside of the mainstream palate, and because their flavors are very bold. Indeed, it is a bold Scotch that can convey its character when it shares space in a glass with other ingredients.

As the season turns colder, I’ve been feeling a longing for the warming embrace of a mixed drink with single malt, and lucky for me, blood oranges are coming into season. Therefore, it is time to make one of the most famous scotch-based drinks, the Blood and Sand. I wanted to modify this drink to highlight the virtues of  one of my favorite single malts, the Balvenie Doublewood, so I re-jiggered it to be more Scotch-centric.

Blood and Oak
2 oz Balvenie Doublewood
1 oz Blood orange juice
.5 oz Drambuie
.25 Sweet Vermouth (Punt e Mes)
dash of orange bitters

In contrast. the proportions for the blood and sand almost seem like they were designed to hide the scotch:

Blood and Sand
1 oz Blended Scotch Whiskey
1 oz Blood Orange Juice
.75 oz Sweet Vermouth
.75 oz Cherry Heering
Shake over ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

I wanted to set it free, so I doubled the proportion of the Scotch, and dropped the liqueur and vermouth substantially. Cherry Heering is an elephant, and it will crush the other flavors in a drink with reckless oblivion. I replaced it with Drambuie, which is made with Scotch whiskey already, which means that it interferes less with the base spirit. I had originally considered cutting the vermouth entirely, but after tasting it pre-vermouth, I knew it needed that hint of bitterness and depth, so I kept it, but I dialed the vermouth down to a quarter ounce, and added orange bitters.

The end result is oaky, with a backend of bitter citrus. I have made this drink in the past using regular orange juice, and it sucks. Blood orange is the only true orange juice for this drink.


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Banana Split: Chocolate, Banana, Lemon

I’m James, Joe’s friend and apprentice of alcohol. Loyal readers may remember me from the review I wrote of Bourbon and Branch, a bar in San Francisco. Joe has invited me to contribute to Measure & Stir as an official author. I am honored to be here, and pledge to do my best to help record our experimental drinking sessions for posterity, and to give you a glimpse into our libation laboratory, aka Joe’s place. For my first post, I decided to write about a drink that used an infusion I made.

Word of the banana-infused bourbon Joe and I have been mixing with recently had spread around amongst our clique, and Joe and I found ourselves drinking one evening with one such friend, Julian. Naturally it was a perfect opportunity for us to pour out a little more of that beautiful banana booze. As Joe and I pondered what to mix with it, I realized the obvious: chocolate and bananas. I spotted Joe’s crazy-good Theo chocolate liqueur out of the corner of my eye, begging to be synergized with that banana whiskey.

Banana Split Sour
1.25 oz Banana-infused whiskey
.25 oz Chocolate liqueur
.25 oz Lemon juice
Shake, double strain, and garnish with a lemon peel.

We chose to split the drink into three small glasses, so that each of us could enjoy a taste, which was a shame because it was so delicious that I wish we could have all enjoyed our own full-sized drinks. The banana and chocolate combination is as delicious as your intuition tells you. The taste is enhanced by the sweet floral qualities provided by the lemon juice, and the oaky spice from the bourbon completes the drink on the swallow.

Joe later gave me this pro tip: Adding fresh lemon juice to a drink can impart a confectionary quality to it. For this reason, Joe chose to mix this drink as a sour. It was a great idea, and this handy hint is worth remembering. Alone, the banana-infused whiskey and chocolate liqueur taste great together, but with a little lemon juice the flavor pops, and the drink becomes candy.

Seriously, don’t forget that lemon peel garnish! The aroma from the peel helps this drink pop.


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Banana Julep

I try to be as open as possible to different flavors and flavor pairings, but there is one flavor in this world that I simply loathe. I believe that food dislikes are arbitrary, so I am doing what I can to get past it, but try as I might, I simply cannot learn to like the flavor of bananas. If someone is sitting near me, eating a banana, I find the smell revolting. Most people seem to enjoy them–after all, what’s not to like? They are sweet, fruity, and tropical.

In an attempt to man up and get over it, I’ve been forcing myself to eat and drink various banana-flavored things, though I have not had much success in overwriting my preference. What ever will I do if I become marooned on a tropical island with nothing to eat but bananas? In an effort to help me defend against that likely scenario, James made some banana-infused bourbon, inspired by an entry on the menu at Canon called the smoking monkey.

Banana-Infused Whiskey
Slice a whole banana and submerge it in 12 oz of whiskey. After two days, remove it. As with all of your infusions, if the flavor of the reagent is too strong, you can dial it down by blending the infused spirit with more of the base spirit.

When he brought it over last week, I somehow got it into my mind to make a mint julep. One of my favorite syrups to make and keep on hand is vanilla-cinnamon syrup, but the last time I made a batch, I left it on the stove for about forty minutes, and the sugar started to caramelize. So I unwittingly made caramel-vanilla-cinnamon syrup, and it was excellent. A++, would make again.

Banana Julep
1.5 oz Banana-Infused Bourbon
.25 oz Cinnamon Caramel Vanilla Syrup
Mint Leaves
Smack some mint leaves in the palm of your hand and rub them around the inside of a tumbler, and then fill it with crushed ice. Stir the bourbon and the syrup together, and then strain them over the crushed ice. Garnish with more fresh mint leaves.

I am mostly ignorant in the ways of bananas, but I am led to understand that banana and caramel is a classic pairing. Anything flavored with banana is, for me, a sipper, but challenging flavors are how we expand our horizons. The mint flavor, which is very forward in a standard mint julep, was definitely in the background in this variation. The caramel in the syrup stomped all over it. There was still a hearty dose of mint in the nose, however, and I found that to be very pleasant.

I think you might get more out of the banana and mint combination in a sour with lime juice, but I have no regrets.