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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Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail

So much has been said about the old fashioned that I will not embarrass myself by trying to describe its history, but I will describe my ideal of how to make one. I often make variants by employing a different base spirit or a flavored syrup. The old fashioned cocktail is a template as much as it is a particular drink, and yet, made with rye, simple syrup, and angostura bitters, it is the perfect platonic ideal of a what a cocktail ought to be. The very first cocktails were little more than bitters and sugar added to a base spirit, and all evolution of modern cocktails has flowed out of such a marriage of flavors.

Somehow in the dark ages of drinking, the 60s to the late 90s, the old fashioned was twisted and perverted into a drink with a pulverized fake maraschino cherry, and a smashed up orange and sometimes, god forbid, a drink topped with club soda or–almost unthinkable–sprite. But this marvel has returned to us, probably in large part because of the show Mad Men. You’ll never be Don Draper, but even so, holding an old fashioned will add 25% to the classiness of any outfit.

2 oz base spirit (Buffalo Trace Bourbon)

1 barspoon (1/8 oz) simple syrup

dash of bitters

orange peel

Cut a fat piece of orange peel, and then trim it with a knife into a perfect rectangle. Make sure not to leave any pith on the peel. Place it in the bottom of the glass, and pour the simple syrup on top. Using a muddler, carefully smash the orange peel, just enough to squeeze out its oils. Add the bitters and the whiskey, and then pour the drink into a tumbler filled with ice. Stir, and then pour the drink back into the old fashioned glass, over ice.

To make the drink look perfect, a single large ice cube is best. You can make your own at home with this tovolo ice cube tray.

There are those who will build the old fashioned in the glass, but neglect to stir it. This results in an inferior drink, because it will not reach the necessary temperature, nor will it reach the appropriate dilution. A counter-intuitive aspect of making excellent drinks: slightly more dilution can result in a more intense flavor, as an overly strong alcohol burn can numb and overpower the palate.

Some will make this drink with a sugar cube instead of simple syrup, and they will use the bitters to break down the cube. Such a method is more laborious, and its only advantage over syrup is slight; the granulated sugar will help to macerate the orange peel, and will produce a superior experience of orange oil. I confess I do not usually trouble myself with this, but I appreciate the ritual.

Coming soon: old fashioned cocktail variants.