Measure & Stir

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


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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.


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Flash-Infused Peach Ginger Bourbon, Black Tea

A secondary use of the iSi whipped cream dispenser is making flash infusions, as in this Kaiser Penguin article on five minute falernum. This technique as my original motivation for wanting one, but when I learned that it could be used for cocktail foams, it motivated me to buy one at once. For my first foray into flash infusions, I decided to use peach and ginger to infuse bourbon. I thought this flavor combination would perfectly capture what I like about drinking iced tea on a summer afternoon.

Peach Ginger Bourbon Flash Infusion
2 Ripe peaches, peeled and cut into small pieces
4 Medallions of fresh ginger
8 oz bourbon
Place all in a whipped cream dispenser canister and seal. Discharges two nitrous oxide cartridges into the canister and allow to rest for ten minutes. Discharge all pressure before opening.

Alas, on this afternoon I selected white peaches that were under-ripe, and their flavor was very light in the infusion. Fortunately, I used young ginger as an accompaniment, and the ginger flavor was light as well, yielding a balanced infusion. I would have preferred a stronger flavor, and I am certain that riper produce and mature ginger would have delivered. Even so, I soldiered on, adding lychee black tea and turbinado sugar syrup. Lychee-flavored tea was not my intention, but I was mixing on location, and it was available. The combination worked surprisingly well; the subtle lychee flavor rounded out the peach and ginger with an indistinct fruitiness that did not detract from the peach and bourbon flavor. On the whole, tea is a watery ingredient, and it made the drink very light, though in a pleasant way.

Peach Ginger Bourbon Iced Tea (beta)
1.5 oz Peach and Ginger-Infused Bourbon (Evan Williams)
.75 oz Lychee Black Tea
.25 oz Turbinado Syrup
Stir over ice and strain into a rocks glass. Garnish with a fat orange peel.

This was good, but here’s what would have been better:

Peach Ginger Bourbon Iced Tea (beta)
1.5 oz Peach and Ginger-Infused Bourbon (Evan Williams)
.5 oz Lychee Black Tea
.25 oz Turbinado Black Tea Syrup
1 Dash Peach Bitters
Stir over ice and strain into a rocks glass. Garnish with a fat orange peel.

Sugar really brings out the fruit flavors. And yet a part of me can’t help but wonder if all the pressure really did, in this case, was squeeze juice out of the fruit? Indeed the viscosity of the bourbon did thicken and resemble the nectar of a peach. My impression is that this technique would work better for herbs and spices than whole fruits.


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Curry Derby

Another drink that I mixed at my parents’ house, this one by request. My father had visited Crave in Cincinnati, and ordered this drink, and he asked me to recreate it. If you follow the link, you will notice that their menu is cheesy; too big, too full of flavored vodkas, too full of names like “Kinky Heat”. As much as I want this menu to be ironic, we all know it’s serious.

Whatever. Coconut and turmeric is a flavor that I have enjoyed in at least one Indian curry, and I have long been intrigued by the possibility of turmeric in drinks, so I was eager to try this recipe. When asked, the bartender provided the following helpful instructions:

Kentucky Derby

1.5 oz Bourbon (Maker’s Mark)
1 oz of Coconut water
.25 oz of ginger infused simple syrup
.25 oz Monin Coco syrup
.25 teaspoon of turmeric powder

Shake vigorously over ice and double strain over ice into a rocks glass. Rim the glass with cinnamon sugar.

That’s all well and good, but the drink was too sweet as formulated above, so we opted to omit the coconut syrup and the cinnamon sugar rim. In retrospect, a bit of cinnamon would have fit the curry theme nicely, but this business with the sugar on the rim… is an indulgence best left to the ladies. Campari on the rim–that’s more my style! But I did not do that. Plain cinnamon is anhydrous and unpleasant in the mouth, so it ought not to be used for a rim. No, to put cinnamon in this drink, a cinnamon stick garnish, as yesterday, would be ideal.

Curried Derby
1.5 oz Bourbon (Woodford Reserve)
1 oz of Coconut water
.25 oz of ginger syrup
.25 teaspoon of turmeric powder

Hard shake and double strain over ice. Garnish with a cinnamon stick (dehydrated fig).

Powdered turmeric sucks every bit as much as every other powdered spice. Don’t use it, unless you want your drink to have a slightly powdery texture, no matter how much you shake it. Real gangstas of cocktailia run some fresh turmeric through a juicer, and make turmeric ginger syrup. YES! Turmeric ginger syrup, and cinnamon-infused bourbon, that is the Curried Derby that my heart truly desires.

Make a syrup using a cold process, i.e., mix the pure juice with equal parts of sugar and shake it in a sealed jar until the sugar is fully integrated. I don’t know how strong the turmeric juice will be in flavor, but I would start it with equal parts of turmeric and ginger juice, and taste until balanced. As for the cinnamon bourbon, only infuse it for a couple of hours, lest the cinnamon completely over take the whiskey. I will take these thoughts, which I have had just now as I was writing this post, and report back.

Astute readers will also notice that we dropped the completely boring and nondescript name, and everyone involved is better for it.


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iSi Whipped Cream Dispenser

After eyeing it for a while, I finally caved and purchased an iSi Whipped Cream Dispenser. This is a heavy-duty piece of equipment, and I am very satisfied with the quality. If you’ve been around the internet for a while, or if you have visited a snooty restaurant with thirty tiny courses made out of science,  you are familiar with the molecular gastronomy/mixology practice of making flavored foams. I’d been dying to try it and now, at last, I have.

For my first foam, I wanted to go by the book, so I watched this video by Jamie Boudreau and followed his advice closely. His drink sounded interesting, but I still wanted to go my own way, so I decided to take two recipes that I already know and love, and put them together. The combination was kind of disappointing, but the foam itself was delicious, and overall a huge success. In the video, Jamie mentions that gomme syrup in the underlying drink is important to help its texture stand up to the rich foam. I heard this advice, but I did not have any gomme syrup, so I charged ahead blithely without it, with predictable results.

It wasn’t so much a problem of the viscosity of the drink, in my opinion, as a problem with the flavor. The foam was loosely inspired by my Vanilla Whiskey Fix, except I changed the balance to match Mr. Boudreau’s specifications. For the underlying drink, I used this apple brandy concoction. When I tasted the foam on its own, prior to mixing the drink, it felt like a good match in my imagination, but the flavor of the foam was very powerful, so that all you could taste from the underlying drink was the allspice.

Honey Whiskey Fix Foam
2 oz Honey Syrup
1 oz Vanilla-Infused Bourbon
1.5 oz Lemon Juice
1 oz Water
2 Egg Whites

Place all in a whipped cream dispenser, seal, and shake. Discharge a nitrogen cartridge into the dispenser and then place the dispenser in the fridge for an hour to allow the foam to emulsify. If you need foam RIGHT THIS SECOND, discharge two nitrogen cartridges and wait a few minutes.

The foam came out of the dispenser with a very rich, creamy texture, similar to the head on draft Guinness or Boddingtons, but thicker. It completely destroyed the aroma of the underlying drink, so that was a disappointment, but I think the real artistry here lies in finding flavors that are distinct and yet complementary, or perhaps in using a lighter foam.

The only real hitch here was the stability of the foam. It broke down before I could finish the drink, most likely because I needed more sugar relative to the acidity of the lemon juice. Still, I don’t think anyone would complain if I served this foam to them at a party.

Before I go, a quick meditation on capacity. The above recipe made just enough foam for three drinks, and I think the 1 pint canister that I purchased could accommodate roughly double that, or six drinks. If you need to make these in a larger quantity than that, you should probably get the quart. I slightly regret not doing so. Coming soon: Flash infusions.


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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.