Pistachio Sour

Photo courtesy of mjtmail, some rights reserved

The second of my ‘around the world’ themed cocktails (see Strawberry Fields for an explanation) took in the pistachio trees of the Middle East, the lemon groves of Asia, the sugarcane plantations of the tropics and the corn fields of the American South with a nutty twist on the classic Whiskey Sour. This drink wasn’t as well suited to scaling up to pitcher size (you get a much better texture/mouthfeel from the egg white if you shake these individually), but the proportions below will suit any sized vessel:

  1. Add a large (double) measure of bourbon, a measure of lemon juice, half a measure of pistachio syrup, half a measure of simple syrup, half a measure of egg white and a dash of bitters to a shaker.
  2. Fill 2/3 full with ice and shake well for twenty seconds.
  3. Strain the drink and dry shake (no ice) for a further ten seconds.
  4. Strain into a rocks glass over ice and garnish with some ground pistachios or a cherry.

( Don’t be put off by the murky browny-green colour of this one, it is delicious!)

Camomile Sour

Whiskey Sour by Paul Goyette, some rights reserved

There’s nothing better than a delicious accident.  I made camomile bourbon a while back, and, for some reason, decided to use it in a Camomile Manhattan.  Look, I was young, experimenting, and a little obsessed with Manhattans, I didn’t really know what I was doing.

Anyway, some months later, having run out of regular bourbon (shock-horror indeed). I tried the camomile-infused version in a Whiskey Sour.  What a revelation.  The lemon and the camomile sat so well together I now almost despair a little that I didn’t think of this in the first place.

So, making up for lost time, I heartily commend to you the Camomile Whiskey Sour:

  1. Add 9 tablespoons of camomile flowers to a bottle of bourbon.  Leave this to infuse for 24 hours and then strain and filter.
  2. Add a large measure of camomile bourbon, a measure of lemon juice, half a measure of sugar syrup and half a measure of egg white to a shaker.
  3. Fill the shaker 2/3 full of ice and shake well for twenty seconds.
  4. Strain into the mixing glass and then dry shake (no ice) for a further ten seconds.
  5. Strain into a rocks glass and garnish with a slice of lemon and a cherry.

Gin Fizz

Ramos Gin Fizz by ReeseCLloyd, some rights reserved

The Fizz Family is an extension of another famous cocktail family; the Sours.  For every Sour there is a Fizz, and for every Fizz there is a Sour, it’s just that for some spirits one is usually more successful than the other.  That is why we find the Gin Fizz and not the Gin Sour, and the Whiskey Sour but not the Whiskey Fizz on the list of all time classic mixed drinks.

A Fizz, in its simplest form, is just a Sour with the lengthening addition of soda water.  A creation of the late nineteenth century, when mixed drinks began to emerge from the bittered sling category and include some of the first variants that allowed them to be considered, long, cooling, refreshing drinks.

The Gin Fizz opens itself up to a number of variations, but we start with the basic:

  1. Add two measures of gin, one measure of fresh lemon juice and half a measure of (2:1) sugar syrup to a shaker.
  2. Fill the shaker 2/3 full of ice and shake well for twenty seconds.
  3. Strain into a chilled highball glass (without ice) and top with soda water.
  4. Garnish with a slice of lemon and a sprig of mint.

The Ramos Gin Fizz, however, is anything but basic, and also requires you to have some time on your hands.  For a start it includes a number of controversial ingredients (orange flower water?  Heavy cream?) and then it comes with the firm instruction to shake for no less than twelve minutes.  It is not a drink to make if you are concerned about dying of thirst.

Invented in New Orleans in 1888 by barman Henry Ramos it is a silky smooth concoction which, if made to the exact recipe is a perfectly balanced masterpiece finished in ostentatious and labour-intensive style:

  1. Add a large measure of gin, a measure of heavy (double) cream, 1/2 an egg white, 1/2 a measure of lime juice, 1/3 measure of lemon juice, 1/2 measure of (2:1) sugar syrup and a barspoon of orange flower water to a shaker.
  2. Fill the shaker 2/3 full of ice and shake well for TWELVE MINUTES (Ramos used to hire a phalanx of shaker boys who would line up behind the bar and shake these all night).
  3. Strain into a chilled highball glass (without ice) and garnish with a slice of lemon.

Or, if you want a halfway house and don’t have twelve minutes of shaking to wait, try the Elder-Gin Fizz, a British summer time classic:

  1. Add a measure of gin, a measure of elderflower liqueur, half a measure of (2:1) simple syrup, half a measure of lemon juice and half a measure of egg white to a shaker.
  2. Fill the shaker 2/3 full of ice and shake well for twenty seconds.
  3. Strain into the mixing glass and then dry shake (without ice) for a further ten seconds.
  4. Strain into a chilled highball glass (without ice) and garnish with a slice of lemon.

 

Absinthe Foam

Photo by Jared Zimmerman, some rights reserved.

And so to foam.  Having come all this way (48 posts and counting) without touching on the trend for ‘molecular mixology’ seems remiss, so let’s correct that right now.

Having been warned off the use of dry ice after recent horror stories in the UK, and not having any scientific background or interest in what is really just a gimmick, cocktail foam is about the only element of molecular mixology that can be easily and relatively safely approached by the amateur.  While the use of a rotovap or calcium bath does appeal (the former more than the latter), the costs are somewhat prohibitive at this stage, and so we stick to foam.

There are a number of ways to create cocktail foam, and recipes differ on whether you should use egg white and elbow grease (or Aerolatte), or gelatine and N2O or a combination of the lot.

Your choice will most likely be influenced by the resources and ingredients you have to hand, but my preference is for a hybrid recipe:

  1. Dissolve half a packet of gelatine in warm water and add 30g of sugar until it dissolves.
  2. Allow the mixture to cool.
  3. Add one egg white and your flavouring – in this case I used a large measure of absinthe.
  4. Pour the mixture into your soda siphon/cream whipper and charge with two capsules of N2O (leave the second one in)
  5. Refrigerate for at least an hour.

To dispense the foam, shake the siphon until no movement can be felt inside and slowly layer the foam on top.  Keep the siphon in the fridge when you’re not using it.

Bar Technique

Photo courtesy of poul.iversen, some rights reserved.

Mixing drinks should always be a relaxed, sociable affair.  It is a chance to show off your knowledge and exquisite taste (much of which can be cribbed from this very site).  But amongst all of this, it is important to exude an air of quiet confidence, and to do this you need to know what you’re doing.

Glassware

You don’t need a wide-range of glasses of all different shapes and sizes.  If you want to aim for tradition and accuracy you will need eight different types of glass, but the vast majority of drinks are best served in one of the first three:

  • Martini glass – the classic v-shaped cocktail glass used for drinks that are served ‘straight up’ i.e. without ice.
  • Rocks glass – a short, sturdy tumbler used for drinks that are served ‘on the rocks’ or over ice.
  • Collins glass – a tall, straight glass used for long drinks that are served with ice and ‘lengthened’ with soda or juice.
  • Liqueur glass – a small, stemmed glass used for sniffing and then sipping a straight liqueur.
  • Sour glass – a smaller version of the martini glass used for serving sours.
  • Absinthe glass – an elegant goblet with or without a bulb used in the traditional preparation of Absinthe.
  • Coupette glass – a bulbous version of the martini glass most famously used for Margaritas.
  • Champagne flute – the traditional long, thin, stemmed glass used for champagne cocktails.
Whichever glass you use, do your best to ensure it is clean, dry and chilled.  If you have room in your fridge or freezer store a few glasses there.  If not, fill with ice and water before making your drink.  Either way, never pour a cold drink into a warm glass.  Colder is always better.

Ingredients

Buy the best you can afford.  There is no substitute for quality, and please do not think that it doesn’t matter if you use value gin as you’re going to be mixing it with three other ingredients.  The finished drink will hang on the quality of the worst ingredient, and no amount of Lillet Blanc will save a Martini made with value range gin.

Stick as closely to the recipe as possible.  Traditional recipes call for certain ingredients because they a proven to work.  Having said that, don’t be afraid to experiment.  Juice should be freshly squeezed where possible, and be aware that lower-strength ingredients will not keep as long as spirits.

Measuring

Use a measure.  Your favourite barman might impress his guests by free-pouring all the ingredients, but he has a lot more experience than you do, he knows how it should look in the mixing glass, and he knows how the drink should taste.  Using a measure will also help you keep track of your consumption as a 25ml shot of a standard spirit is roughly one unit of alcohol. Where I refer to ‘measures’ on this site I mean approx 30ml or 1 fluid ounce (with a large measure meaning double), but you can use what ever you like as long as you keep the proportions the same.  Once you have mastered the recipe, feel free to experiment.

Ice

Ice is vitally important.  It is easy to underestimate just how important ice is, but you must use fresh, clean ice for every drink.  Add ice to the mixing glass last to prevent it melting as you add the ingredients, and always fill the mixing glass or shaker to about 2/3 full.  This ensures the ice will not melt too quickly as you shake/stir, which means that you will not dilute the drink.  If you can use an ice machine that’s great, otherwise buy pre-bagged ice and use it liberally.

Photo courtesy of RLHyde, some rights reserved.

Shaking

Knowing when to shake and when to stir is one of the tricks you can use to impress your guests (although if they’re philistines they may be disappointed that you don’t shake every drink – it’s more fun, right?).  Shaking is reserved for drinks that include fruit juice, egg white, or thick, viscous ingredients such as conserves, and never those with carbonated ingredients (unless they’re added after)!

When shaking with a Boston Shaker (the two part glass and tin) pour the ingredients into the glass (for show) and then place the tin on top.  Ensure you have a tight seal between the two parts by giving the bottom of the tin a couple of sharp taps and then flip the whole lot over so the tin is on the bottom (a barman does this so that any spill goes over him and away from his customer).

Shake vigorously – to wake the drink up – for a slow count to twenty.  If your drink contains egg white follow this with a further ten second ‘dry shake’ (without ice) to ensure proper breakdown of the protein in the egg white and an improved texture/mouthfeel.  If you shake for longer, you’ll end up watering down the drink – a properly shaken drink should be no more than 25% melted ice.

To separate the shaker, place it tin down on the counter and hold it steady.  Rotate it so the join where the tin meets the glass is towards you and then hit this point on the tin with the heel of your hand.  If this doesn’t work, rotate a quarter turn and try again.  Keep rotating and hitting until the parts separate, but whatever you do, do not resort to whacking the shaker against the counter – that is not a good look, especially if it causes the glass to shatter.

Stirring

The stir is the correct procedure for most traditional cocktails, or at least the all-booze Manhattan, Martini types that don’t use anything lumpy like fruit juice or gloopy like egg white.  If you’re stirring a drink I would recommend pouring into the glass from your Boston shaker or a dedicated mixing glass as it gives your audience something to watch and marvel at.

If you’re using a traditional bar spoon, remember that the twisted shaft is to help the stir.  With that in mind, hold the spoon between your thumb and forefinger and slide it down the inside of the glass to the bottom.  When you stir, the bowl of the spoon should rotate around the bottom of the glass, with the stem pushing the ice ahead.

Experiment with the most comfortable way to hold the spoon.  The most effective is to use a pull-push technique where the thumb and forefinger pull the spoon most of the way round the glass and the second finger pushes it the final stretch to complete a full rotation.  This will take a bit of practice, but helps ensure the drink glides slowly round the glass in a composed and elegant manner.  This is why you are stirring after all.  If you wanted to agitate the drink you would have opted to shake.

If you stir too fast you will likely lose booze and ice out of the glass, and add air bubbles to the mix.  This is the antithesis of the silky texture a stirred drink should have.

If you’re using large dense ice cubes (like a professional bar would have) then stir fifty times.  If your cubes aren’t that good (small, wet, melting) then stir thirty times to avoid too much dilution.

Photo courtesy of eltpics, some rights reserved.

Straining

Once you’ve shaken or stirred your drink to perfection you will need to artfully and yet nonchalantly transport it from the mixing glass to the serving glass.  To do this you will need to find a way to propel the drink into a clean cold glass but retain the ice as even drinks served ‘on the rocks’ should be served with fresh ice.  The hawthorne strainer is the ideal tool for this eventuality and will work with a mixing tin or glass (despite what an American bartender will mutter about julep strainers).

To use the strainer, place it springs down over the mixing glass and hold it in place with your first and second finger either side of the short handle.  Pour the drink in a slow and controlled manner, and consider a slight swirling motion for drinks served ‘up’ in a martini glass.  Finish with an exaggerated snap of the wrist as you pull the glass up and away from the serving glass and make confident eye contact with the drinker.

If your drink contains a lot of fruit you should consider double straining.  This involves using the hawthorne strainer as above, and pouring through a second fine strainer into the serving glass.  A tea strainer works great as the fine strainer and will pick up any pips, seeds or small pieces of ice.

Muddling

The muddler is a great tool which serves a number of uses from crushing ice, to rapping the knuckles of those punters who are reticent when it comes to settling their tab.

You should purchase a muddler of at least six inches, and choose one that is not stained or varnished as the paint will often chip off and end up in your mojitos.

When muddling consider what you are trying to achieve.  With citrus, the aim is to extract juice from the flesh and oil from the skin, so don’t hold back.  With mint and leaves you are looking to bruise and provoke the stems into releasing some of their flavour, so go gently.

Garnish

A proper garnish should be much more than a bedraggled afterthought used to distract your drinker from the haphazard manner in which you have made his drink.  The right garnish makes all the difference to the style, appearance, smell and taste of the drink, so plays a vital role in almost every part of the whole sensory experience (maybe not touch, unless you use a great long stem of mint and aim for the eye).

Twists are the optimal cocktail garnish as they provide an opportunity to show off and draw attention to the drink (or yourself), a great hit of intense flavour, a delicate swirl or pattern on the drink and a chance to chat at great length about all of these elements.  The idea behind a twist is to extract the oil from the skin of the fruit and leave it to linger on top of the drink to greet the nose of the drinker with a clean, crisp citrus smell that announces that the drink is fresh and delicious.  The citrus twist method is explained in an earlier post.

Olives for your Martinis should be small, cold and pitted.  Keep them in the fridge and add three to a Martini either on a stick or loose in the glass.

Cherries are commonly found in Manhattans and should really be home made as shop bought maraschino or glacé varieties do nothing for your drink.  Your homemade cherries should be stewed in a liqueur of your choice with some vanilla, spice and citrus peel.

Lemon and lime wedges aren’t used a great deal in cocktails, but should always be cut from tip to tip and into no more than six pieces.  After cutting, use the knife to flick off any pips.

Mint sprigs should be cut from the top two inches of the plant as these provide the youngest most attractive leaves.  The leaves on the three to four inches below are the ones that should be muddled in your drink.  Don’t skimp on a mint garnish, it should be bushy, and will benefit from a light slap on the back of your hand to flatten the leaves and entice out the fragrance for which it is being used.

Whiskey Sour

The Whiskey Sour is another venerable whiskey based drink with a disputed past and a wealth of variations.  Whilst its sharp initial strike of lemon juice can be off-putting to some, it really comes in to its own as an after dinner drink on your summer holidays, and with a slight leniency that reads lemon juice as water, it still fits with our four key ingredient principle.

The sours are a whole family of early cocktails that predate their oft-confused but by no mean close relations the Sourz.  Sours are categorised, perhaps unsurprisingly by their use of a sour juice (lemon or lime) instead of the water of our traditional Bittered Slings, and other famous sours include the Margarita (tequila, triple sec and lime), Sidecar (brandy, triple sec and lemon) and Daiquiri (rum, sugar and lime).

The legend of the Whiskey Sour takes us back to the then Peruvian, now Chilean port town of Iquique in 1872 where Elliot Stubb an English sailor decided to jump ship and open a bar.  Stubb experimented with a range of local ingredients and settled on a most agreeable range of aperitifs based around the limon di Pica which he added to any liquor he had to hand.  After adding a liberal splash of whiskey and a strong dose of sugar to his limon one day, Stubb hit upon a delicious sweet and tart concoction which he dubbed the Whiskey Sour.

As is usual among drinks of a late Victorian vintage, the official recipe (should such a thing exist) is subject to intense debate.  In the absence of Elliot Stubb’s limon di Pica though, the classic method is as follows:

  1. Shake a large measure of whiskey, the juice of a lemon, a tablespoon of sugar syrup, half an egg white and four dashes of bitters with ice.
  2. To get the frothiest results, shake first with ice (twenty seconds) and then dry shake (without ice) for ten seconds.
  3. Strain into a rocks glass with fresh ice and garnish with a twist of lemon peel.

One of the key variants of this recipe is to omit the egg white, which is only recommended if you find yourself in a Whiskey Sour emergency (who hasn’t?), or if you’re like me and can’t be expected to separate an egg white at a crowded cocktail party, or don’t expect to need a whole bottle of egg white in your fridge.  Ultimately however, the drink is much the poorer for the absence of egg white, so this is strictly to be approved for emergency use only.

A far better variant can be obtained by using camomile infused bourbon for a Camomile Sour.