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She blinded me with (cocktail) science!

Yes, I still live and breathe. I’ve been talking to Stella about how to get my groove back, and she’s got a handle on it.

This is a linky-goodness post, as there have been some fascinating articles of late on the subject of mixing cocktails — to wit, on sweetness, balance, dilution and temperature.

First off, Chicago bartender Todd Appel puts forward a good case for why we should stop using 1:1 simple syrup.

I never have been a fan of 1:1 simple; it’s always seemed watery and not sweet enough, and simple math makes one wonder how a teaspoon of granulated or “powdered” sugar, called for in so many classic recipes, can be justifiably substituted with a teaspoon of something that’s got so much water in it. I’m not a fan of overly sweet cocktails either, but you have to have balance — sweet with the sour or bitter or strong, and plain ol’ sugar water doesn’t cut it. Todd starts off his article with the same observations:

For years I have wondered why my taste buds seemed to be at odds with many of the classic and new cocktails being offered around the country in our modern cocktail world.

I realized something important many years ago

Syrup in cocktails should be sugar heavy, period.

The problem here is twofold. 1-1 syrup offers more water and less sugar. This leads to more dilution and/or overly acidic drinks.

This is a recognized issue, hence the discussion of what many call “rich” simple syrup, made 2:1 with double the amount of sugar as water. This helps a great deal, but is it enough?

He reminds us of David Embury as well — we may have thought some of his ratios a bit wonky, but it’s easy to gloss over the ratio of syrup to water in the simple syrup he made, which was basically liquid sugar. Embury, plus at least one book by William Terrington from 1870, call for a 3:1 syrup!

I’m at the point now where I only use 2:1 simple syrup, for the simple reason that 1:1 simple syrup is by no means a substitute for the same volume of granulated sugar. I’m going to try a small batch of the more concentrated syrup and see where that gets me … mmm, cocktail experimentation.

Moving on!

It killed me to have to miss the 2010 edition Tales of the Cocktail, especially because the quality of the seminars truly shone this year. One of the more talked-about sessions (and one of the ones I was most annoyed to have missed) was The Science of Stirring, taught by Dave Arnold (Director of Culinary Technology at the French Culinary Institute in New York), bartender/beverage director Eben Klemm and Death & Co. bartender Thomas Waugh.

Dave has written another pair of epic posts about the seminar and the cocktail-making science explored within. Part 1 deals with shaking, stirring, temperature and dilution, and Part 2 with temperature and dilution, texture, notes on batching drinks and an epilogue from Waugh about how all this science stuff affects a real live bartender. Here’s the brief introduction:

Cocktail shaking is a violent activity. If you shake for around 12-15 seconds (though shaking longer won’t hurt), and if you aren’t too lethargic, neither the type of ice you use nor your shaking style will appreciably affect the temperature or dilution of your drink. Shaking completely chills, dilutes and aerates a drink in around 15 seconds, after which the drink stops changing radically and reaches relative equilibrium. Shaking is basically insensitive to bartender-induced variables. See my post on The Science of Shaking. [Definitely read this if you haven't already. -- CT]

Stirring is different. Think of stirring as inefficient shaking. It can take over 2 minutes of constant stirring to do what shaking can accomplish in 15 seconds. No one stirs a drink for 2 minutes, so the drink never reaches an equilibrium point. All the bartender-induced variables – size of ice, speed of stirring, duration of stirring, etc. — make a difference in stirred cocktails, so bartender skill is very important in a stirred cocktail.

Because stirring doesn’t reach equilibrium, stirred drinks are warmer and less diluted than shaken cocktails. Stirred drinks, unlike shaken ones, are not aerated. Stirring does not alter the texture of a drink –it merely chills and dilutes. A properly diluted cocktail stored at -5 degrees Celsius in a freezer is indistinguishable from a properly stirred one.

There’s a lot of reading here, and it does get quite scientific (for those of you who might be scared away by such things, don’t — it’s really fascinating and worth the effort). If the science is too much you can always skip down to Waugh’s final list of things for the everyday bartender to remember, the first of which you can begin implementing right away (if you haven’t already copied it from seeing better bartenders do it when you go out):

1. Chill your mixing (stirring) glass — ice works, as does a fridge or freezer.

This is all fascinating stuff, and a must-read for everyone interested in executing a properly stirred cocktail.


Lá Fhéile Pádraig shona dhaoibh!

And in case you’re not an Irish speaker, a very happy St. Patrick’s Day to you all!

The flag of the Four Provinces of Ireland

The flag of the Four Provinces of Ireland

I don’t suppose I could have gotten away with not making a post today, although I wasn’t particularly planning one. I did get a big of a nudge while talking to an Irish cow-orker this morning (and when another cow-orker passed us, he said, “You two shouldn’t even be allowed to talk to each other today … critical mass!”), while we chatted about “Father Ted” and shouted “FECK!” and “ARSE!” and “DRINK!” to each other, as is our wont.

Those of you who’ve seen my previous years’ St. Patrick’s Day posts will remember my own rules for the day:

1. NO GREEN BEER. I really shouldn’t even have to explain that.

I remember back in gradual school my mentor and favorite teacher Ian Conner, a native Glaswegian, overheard one of my fellow students on St. Patrick’s Day say that he was planning to spend the evening going to a local bar to drink green beer. “Is that what St. Patrick’s Day means to you?” asked Ian. “That’s not what St. Patrick’s Day means to me. What St. Patrick’s Day means to be is starting at noon at the closet Irish pub to where you live, having some whiskey, then moving on to the next one, having another whiskey, and continuing thusly throughout the day!” One of many thousands of anecdotes which add up to a truly great teacher.

2. Wear the green, but keep it subtle. I find that Irish people don’t particularly wear a lot of green anyway — one fun game I’ve played in Dublin with my Irish friends is “Spot the Yank,” terribly easy when there are so many Americans festooned in bright fluorescent kelly green, especially green mesh-back baseball caps with a shamrock and the word “IRELAND” on the front, plus the Bermuda shorts of course. Today my socks are a light forest green, and that’s perfectly nice.

Of course, given the Irish flag has green, white and orange (representing the nationalist tradition, the Orange Protestant tradition and the hope for peace between them), you could wear a bit of each. Then again, Ian continued his story … “On St. Patrick’s Day, my grandfather — a fierce adherent to the Church of Scotland — used to pin orange ribbons to his clothing and go through the Catholic sections of town, shouting anti-Papist slogans.” No need to go quite that far.

A clever, amusing t-shirt will do fine too. I have a few from a shop in Spiddal, Co. Galway called An Spáilpín Fánach featuring clever or witty sayings in Irish (I like the one I have that says, “Ná cuir céist orm — níl fhois agam!” or, “Don’t ask me, I don’t know!”) and some not-so-clever (such as the ubiquitous “Póg mo thóin”). I’ve seen a few other good ones around — “I ♥ Irish boys” is an old favorite, “Craic dealer” made me laugh, and perhaps the best one ever is the one that said, in a rather recognizeable typeface and layout …

f       c       e       k
the irish connection


3. Stay out of Irish pubs/bars. Seriously. Find a great Irish bar and go any other day of the year. On St. Patrick’s Day it’s strictly amateur hour, and unless you like being packed like sardines in green beer, drunk collge students, the Dropkick feckin’ Murphys and lots of police sobriety checkpoints there and back, stay home. Well, unless you’re actually in Ireland, where avoiding an Irish pub might be a bit more difficult.

4. Drink Irish whiskey. It is good. It is very good. And the whole “Catholic whiskey / Protestant whiskey” thing is bullshit — don’t buy into it. Nobody in Ireland would. If you like Bushmills (and I do, especially their single malts and aged expressions like the 16- and 21-year), then do so! Black Bush is lovely stuff and quite affordable.

My own preference goes toward the 12-year expressions of John Powers and Jameson’s, plus Tullamore Dew, all good for sipping or mixing. I also adore Redbreast, the only pure pot still Irish whiskey we’re getting over here now, and I’ve recently fallen in love with Tyrconnell Single Malt, one of the many wonderful products of the Cooley Distillery in Co. Louth, the only truly independent Irish whiskey distillery (Midleton in Cork is owned by Pernod-Ricard, and Bushmills by Diageo). The Tyrconnell line also includes whiskies finished in sherry, madeira and port barrels — I’ve only had one of them so far, but it was wonderful, a great balance between maltiness and strawberry-fruit sweetness.

I’m also a fan of Kilbeggan, another Cooley product. Wesly and I visited the Old Kilbeggan distillery about six years ago and enjoyed seeing the place. In ’07 the folks at Cooley actually got working pot stills going at Kilbeggan again, with the plan to actually have them produce whiskey again after 54 years. Kilbeggan’s lovely, with notes of raisins and vanilla. Interesting tidbit — from 1843 until its closure in 1954 the distillery was called Locke’s, after the man who purchased it and whose family ran it for over a century. His name will be familiar to those of us who are “Lost” fans … John Locke. (As far as I know, that John Locke’s body is not currently inhabited by a smoke monster.) Locke’s 8-year single malt is still produced by Cooley — it’s a blended single malt, which does include a bit of peated whiskey, so actually Locke’s has a touch of the smoke monster after all.

5. Drink Irish whiskey cocktails. We’ll be doing numbers 4 and 5 tonight, at home.

Here are the 10 Irish whiskey-based cocktails currently in my list; doubtless you can find more. I’m favoring the Tipperary tonight, I think; Gaz Regan wrote about it again today in the San Francisco Chronicle.

A few Irish whiskey cocktails to peruse

Bushmills in the Afternoon
Irish (Channel) Coffee
Irish Whiskey Toddy
James Joyce Cocktail
St. Dominic’s Preview
The Swell Season

6. Listen to Irish music. You’re always good with The Pogues (even though most of them aren’t from Ireland), but your best bet are the modern classics of Planxty and The Bothy Band. Go on iTunes or eMusic and get some now if you haven’t already. You’ll thank me later.

And have a happy and safe, snake-free St. Patrick’s Day!


Merry Christmas, y’all

Peace, y'all

We’re gonna take a li’l Christmas break for a coupla days, and I hope you do too. Well, of course, after you look at the gifts we’ve got for y’all in this post!

For me, it wouldn’t be the holidays without Benny Grunch and the Bunch doing “The 12 Yats of Christmas” …

And while this is still a New Orleans Christmas classic, the sad truth is that you have to be of a certain age to get most of those references now, in post-Federal Flood days … ’cause most o’ dem places ain’t dere no more …

And, of course, the greatest Christmas song ever.

If you love this song as much as I do, you might want to watch an excellent one-hour documentary on its making, in six parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6.

So Happy Christmas, I love ya baby, I can see a better time when all our dreams come true …


The Pegu Club: A visit with the Libation Goddess

Audrey Saunders, that is, cocktailian extraordinaire, until late 2004 bar manager at Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle Hotel in New York, and since spring of 2005 the proprietor of her own joint, the forthcoming Pegu Club. That bar will be worth a trip to NYC alone! [UPDATE: And as of December 2009 the co-owner of the wonderful bar and supper club in Hollywood called The Tar Pit as well!]

I don’t subscribe to Food and Wine magazine, so occasionally I miss out on some good stuff, including a nice, long article about Audrey and her mixological adventures in preparing to open the Pegu Club. For one thing, at that bar there’ll be … no vodka! Hooray! (Well, they’ll have a little, but it’ll be hidden under the bar, out of sight.) There’ll be 23 different brands of gin, and cocktails on the menu that she’s dug out of Charles Baker’s The Gentleman’s Companion: Around the World with Jigger, Beaker and Glass. I may swoon.

For our cocktail of the day, let’s revisit the namesake cocktail of Audrey’s wonderful new bar, a favorite of Wes’ and mine. It’s wonderful.

The Pegu Club

2 ounces London dry gin.
1 ounce orange Curaçao.
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice.
1 dash Angostura bitters.
1 dash orange bitters.

Stir with ice and strain.

Have these at home, and if you can find a bartender near you who knows how to make one of these (and actually has orange bitters), you’re a lucky individual indeed.

The Footloose Cocktail

UPDATED in April 2012

ORIGINAL ARTICLE from 2000: Wesly and I have grown fond of many “classic” (i.e., more commonly quaffed by sophisticated cocktail drinkers 60+ years ago) cocktails, one of which is the Fancy-Free, consisting of 2 ounces of Bourbon, 1/2 ounce of Maraschino and a dash each of Angostura and orange bitters. Wes, who seemed to be itching to create something new, decided that he was going to concoct a cocktail called … the “Footloose”. In an ideal world, once this cocktail has been unleashed, one could theoretically walk into a bar and say, “My friend here will have a Footloose, and I’d be delighted with a Fancy-Free.” (Sadly, this world has yet to come into existence.)

Regarding his Top Sekrit Cocktail Project, I got mysterious updates all week as he tweaked unnamed ingredients and their relative proportions. I was finally presented with one last Friday. Initial impression … pretty! Pink not unlike a Cosmopolitan, but slightly opaque and with a lovely green twist of lime floating in it — a nice change from the usual lemon. The aroma was familiar yet unfamiliar, with a bouquet of fruit that I couldn’t quite place. I sipped it, and the familiar-yet-unfamiliar sensation intensified. It’s a yummy drink, but I just couldn’t place the ingredients. It was fruity without being cloyingly sweet, and with a nice bite to it (or, as my friend Jordan said, “Oh, like Paul Lynde.” Heh. I was tempted to ask Wesly to call it the “Uncle Arthur” after that). The contrasting color of the lime twist made for a beautiful garnish too.

He finally let me in on the ingredients. They combined together so well that I might never have guessed. I found it to be very different and quite nice. Try one sometime. We often refer to it as our “Cosmo Killer.”

The Footloose Cocktail
(Original recipe created by Wesly Moore, 2000)

2 ounces Stolichnaya Razberi raspberry-infused vodka
1 ounce Cointreau
1/2 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice (NOT Rose’s!)
2 big dashes Peychaud’s bitters

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with cracked ice. Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with a long twist of lime.

2012 update: Despite the fact that after 12 years we still can’t walk into a bar and ask for a Footloose and a Fancy-Free (or most of the time even a Fancy-Free, for that matter, unless it’s a really good bar who know their history), the Footloose has done rather well for itself. Gary Regan was kind enough to include it it The Joy of Mixology (it helped that he really liked it, so yay!), and it has been out there a bit.

Wesly is still proud of his first original cocktail, as he should be, but these days he’s wont to point out that it’s not the kind of drink that he’d make anymore. Many if not most of us had our flavored vodka period a dozen or so years ago and we’re long past that; Wesly is as well. (This is not to mention our infused vodka period, although I must say that apple-infused vodka I used to make was pretty good. But I digress.)

We weren’t ready to completely give up on the good ol’ Footloose, though. Fortunately, last year a new product came on the market which made us think the old girl was ripe for reintroduction. Nolet’s Silver Gin, produced by the same family that makes Ketel One vodka in the Netherlands, decided to make a “London-style” gin, although Nolet’s gin is decidedly not a London dry. It does contain juniper and licorice and some of the other typical gin botanicals, but Nolet’s decided to go fruity and floral with their gin. The primary flavor is raspberry, plus peach and Turkish rose. It’s a weird gin — I almost hesitate to call it a gin at all; this is most certainly not a Martini gin — but I like it; it’s a really good spirit. As soon as I tasted that raspberry-forward flavor profile, I knew what cocktail I wanted to try it in first.

Unsurprisingly, it works beautifully in a Footloose. There’s enough raspberry flavor to make that magical familiar-yet-new fruitiness with the Cointreau, lime and bitters, but the other botanicals give it a depth and sophistication you would never get from using a raspberry-flavored vodka. This cocktail is now officially rewritten as seen below, although in honor of the original (and its publication history!) we’re appending a numeral to the name. Oh, we’ve cut down on the Cointreau as well, given that our palates prefer less sweet cocktails these days. Feel free to use the original proportion if you prefer your drinks that way, or if your limes are particularly tart. (For us, the tarter the better, though!)

Footloose No. 2

2 ounces Nolet’s Silver Gin
3/4 ounce Cointreau
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
2 big dashes Peychaud’s bitters

Combine with ice in a shaker and shake for 10-12 seconds until chilled. Double-strain into a chiilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lime peel.


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