Barrel aged items v2.0

Hi there, I know, it has not been long enough between posts, but hey, I found a little free time to get some pictures uploaded and typing done!

So after I had emptied the two barrels, I decided to age some whiskey based cocktails.  I let the barrels dry out after the first experimentation, so I needed to re-prep the barrels by loading them up with water

Saturating the barrels with water

I wanted to age two of my favorite whiskey cocktails, the Old Fashioned of course, and also a Manhattan.  I just started these on Thursday, so we’ll see how they turn out in a few weeks.

Here is the whole setup with both barrels and everything I’m planning to throw together.

The countertop showing all the different ingredients.

In the smaller barrel, I decided to age the Old Fashioned.

Here is what I added to the barrel including the quantities:

750ml Buffalo Trace boubron

One whole bottle of Buffalo Trace, poured into the barrel

150ml Luxardo Maraschino liqueur

Measuring out the Luxardo Maraschino liqueur

100ml Angostura bitters

The Angostura bitters, all measured out

6 dried orange peels chopped up into bits

Dried orange peels, chopped up for easy insertion (and eventual removal)

Dropping the bits of dry orange into the barrel

Label in place, let’s see how it tastes in a week!

I knew that this barrel aged version had to be different from the kind I can whip up behind the bar.  The buffalo trace would be fine in a barrel, after all it had already been in one for 9 years!  The Angostura bitters would be fine in the barrel as well, at 47.5% abv, there is little that could go wrong mixed with other ingredients in an air-tight barrel.  As for the other crucial items, I knew I could not use sugar, fresh oranges or cherries, for they would either rot or ferment, and I did not want that kind of mess on my hands.  So I opted to use the Luxardo Maraschino liqueur to replace both the sugar and cherry aspects of the original cocktail.  For the orange flavor, I decided to use some dried orange peels left over from my infused bourbon creation.

I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what comes out when I remove the contents in a week or two.  Hopefully, I will end up with a rich complex version of a classic cocktail.

In the large 5 liter barrel I decided to try my hand at an aged manhattan.  Using a 2:1 ratio of Whiskey to Vermouth, I knew I should use 3 liters of whiskey to 1.5 liters of vermouth.  This left 500ml of space for a crucial but oft forgotten ingredient to the Manhattan, Angostura bitters.

Here is what I added to the large barrel, including the quantities:

3 liters Maker’s Mark bourbon

3 liters of some fine Maker's Mark bourbon

It puts the Maker’s Mark in the basket! Errrrr, I mean, barrel!

1.5 liters of Carpano Antica

500 ml of Carpano Antica measured out, ready to be added.

Pouring a whole 1-liter bottle of Carpano Antica into the barrel

Last, but not least, 500ml of sweet, sweet Angostura bitters!

Measuring out the Angostura bitters

500ml of Angostura bitters, thats a lot of love from Trinidad & Tobago!

The big barrel all ready to be rested for two weeks!

Obviously, I’ll have to report back on how these turn out.

Until then, happy cocktailing!

-W

La Coquette, the $10K (hopefully) cocktail, part 2

Alrighty, so I laid out the details on how I made my lavodka as well as my lemon bitters, two crucial ingredients in my La Coquette cocktail.  Now I will write about the special sugar rim.

After some trial and error, I finalized the composition of the cocktail itself, but I wanted to work on the presentation.  I wanted to serve the drink up in a cocktail martini glass, but I wanted to make sure it looked sexy and sophisticated.  I also wanted to showcase the lavender somehow in the drink besides just in the flavor.  I made several attempts to have a frond of lavender shooting out of the glass, but I could never find a method to create a consistent presentation.

What I came up with was a way to add color to the rim by blending fresh blackberries with sugar.  I go to the Claremont farmers market every Sunday morning with Amy to pick up fresh local produce for the week.  One of the stands we love is Pudwill Berry Farms. They specialize in all sorts of seasonal berries: fresh blueberries, white and red raspberries, and my favorite, blackberries. I bought a 3-pack of blackberries to play with at the bar. I sliced each berry in half lengthwise and placed them slice-side up on a half baking sheet.

I didn’t want to spend extra money on a dehydrator, so I just let the half-sheet of berries sit out in my office at work for about a week until the berries shrunk to about half of their original size.  I then ground the berries up with sugar in a molcajete to mash the berries and turn the sugar into a beautiful purple mixture.

It definitely takes some time to grind all the berries up, but the consistency is key here.  I didn’t want a mixture that was part dark purple and part light.  It probably took me a good 15-20 minutes of solid grinding away to create a consistent mixture.

At this point, the sugar mix still has a bit of moisture, so I dried it out again on another half-sheet overnight.

Once the sugar mix was dry, I threw it back in the molcajete to grind it into a finer blend.  There were still some blackberry seeds left in the mix, so I fine-strained the sugar mix to remove them and have a smooth consistent blackberry sugar mix.

So now I’ve got my three homemade creations finished, it’s time to make my La Coquette!

What you’ll need:

2 ounces Domaine de Canton

1 ounce lavodka

1 ounce fresh lemon juice

1 sugar cube

1/8 ounce lemon bitters

2 slices fresh ginger

Blackberry sugar

1 regular lemon for garnish

1 Cocktail martini glass

1 pint glass with metal tin to create a boston shaker

1 hawthorne strainer (the one with the spring)

1 fine mesh strainer

Ice

Citrus peeler or knife

Muddler

Method:

Start off by muddling the sugar and bitters (YES!) along with the 2 slices of fresh ginger.  You want to beat the ginger into a pulp, so that when you mix it, the fresh ginger incorporates with everything else.

Next add the 1 ounce of fresh lemon juice, the 1 ounce of lavodka, and the 2 ounces of Domaine de Canton liqueur.  As I’ve stated before, using a jigger will help with precise measurements.

Now before you add ice and dilute the cocktail, let’s prep the glass with the sugar.

For the presentation of this cocktail, I didn’t want the sugar granules to float around in with the cocktail once it’s been poured in the glass.  I felt that keeping the sugar on the outside of the glass made for a cleaner, sexier looking cocktail.  Take a slice of lemon and wipe it onto the rim of the cocktail glass, make sure to apply ample juice to the outside of the glass. To make sure the blackberry sugar stays only on the outside of the glass, flip the glass over and sprinkle the sugar where you wiped the lemon.

Now that the glass is ready, its time to chill and dilute our cocktail mixture.  Add some ice to the mixing glass, slap on the metal tin to secure it, flip it into your hand and give it a healthy shake for about 8 seconds.  This will make sure the drink gets chilled properly while breaking up the ice and adding a little dilution to the solution.

Slap the tin to break the seal of the mixing glass and then give the drink a little sample.  Make sure you like what you taste, I always do.  Throw the hawthorne strainer over the top of the tin, and then strain the liquid through the fine strainer into the cocktail glass.

(The picture above shows one of the trials with the lavender flower stem poking through a lemon peel.  Like I said, I couldn’t get a consistent result, but it sure does look pretty!)

I like to add a last aromatic touch by peeling the rind of half a lemon, then twisting and squeezing the oils out over the glass.  I like to wipe the lemon rind along the underside of the glass and the stem, so the guest gets the citrus oils on their hands.  Almost everyone likes the smell of citrus, so when it gets on their hands, it creates a total experience by engaging them with the cocktail.

Place the cocktail on a napkin, give a wink and say “cheers!”

You just created my La Coquette.  I hope you find the name fitting, for she truly is a seductress!

I really like the balance and subtleties of this creation.  I enjoy the way the fresh ginger gives it a little bite in the beginning, but then the Domaine de Canton mellows it out for a nice finish.  (I failed to mention earlier that the Domaine de Canton is a blend of baby Vietnamese ginger and V.S.O.P. Cognac, I think the Cognac definitely gives it the smoothness you would expect from a well cared for French brandy.)  The lavodka adds great flavor and depth without being too overpowering.  The fresh lemon juice works well to add the acidity and brightness.  While the lemon bitters adds aromatics and complexity, the blackberry sugar adds the necessary color and sweetness to compliment the perfect sip.

Hopefully, the Domaine de Canton judges will like it enough to allow me to mix it live for them during a round of judging.  If I even make it to the second round, I will consider it a great honor.  I will definitely post any new developments and keep you updated.

Cheers!

-W

La Coquette, the $10K (hopefully) cocktail, part 1

Hello there my friends, it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything.  I’ve been in “laboratory mode” for about 2 months trying new things out and having fun experimenting.  Please allow me to share with you what I’ve been working on (you don’t really have a choice, I’m going to post it here anyways!)

Soooooo, in mid February, the Young’s Market rep tells me about this upcoming contest being put on by Domaine de Canton, a fantastic ginger liqueur.  The contest was simple, come up with an original cocktail using Domaine de Canton as the base ingredient in a cocktail.  The recipe needed to be uploaded to the Domaine de Canton website by the end of March, and after three rounds of judging, the overall winner would take home $10,000.  You can see now why I was quite interested in creating something new.

So I thought, what a great opportunity for me to try some new techniques and stretch my imagination a bit.  I wanted to come up with a cocktail that was simple, fun, and tasted well-balanced.  I had played with Domaine de Canton before, but this was a different challenge, because it had to be the BASE of a cocktail.  Which meant I had to work around the ginger liqueur rather than add it as a flavoring agent.

Luckily, I had already begun tinkering with some new ideas at Casa 425 after a great night out of research in DTLA.  In my travels, I experienced some infusions, herbs, spices, and home-made ingredients just to name a few.  When I got back to the “lab” at Casa, I wanted to see what I could come up with.  What follows is what I’ve experimented with, and successfully created as new additions to the bar experience at Casa 425.

The first thing I did upon my arrival to work was to start infusing spirits.  I picked vodka to work with first, since it is a neutral spirit and would take on any sort of flavoring added to it.  On the hotel property, there are bountiful amounts of fresh rosemary and lavender growing freely. I  instantly chose both as infusion elements, the latter being the favorite after some time.

Here you can see me holding some fresh lavender, freshly cut from the grounds.

The first thing I do is rinse off the plant of course, I only want the lavender to infuse with the vodka, not any bugs or excess dirt.  I then start shoving the lavender into a bottle of vodka, usually about 3 strands of foliage.  In this case, I used our well vodka, Smirnoff.  You don’t need to use the expensive stuff, as the point is to turn the flavorless vodka into something more delightful.

Once all the lavender is in the bottle, all you have to do is wait.  I give the bottle a good shake once or twice a day to make sure the vodka gets thoroughly mingled with the lavender.  I’ve found that between 2-3 days is enough to impart just the right amount of flavor and aroma.  Any less and the liquid is not distinct enough.  Any more and the lavender is just too powerful and overwhelms anything you add it to.  As I’ve experimented and poured it for guests, the demand increased, and so did my production.  I now infuse in a large 3-liter air-tight container and store excess in large pickling jars.

The only thing left to do is strain all the lavender and solid remnants from the liquid.  This can be done easily using a container and a fine mesh strainer.  Make sure you have a large enough container and space to work.

I affectionately call it “lavodka” which of course is a mix of the words, “lavender” and “vodka”.  I’ve had a lot of fun experimenting with the lavodka, especially with citrus.  The lavodka adds a nice aromatic and flavorful essence to a cocktail, but is still delicate enough to not be an herbal punch in the face.

My next fun experiment was making my own bitters.  I did a little research about ingredients and processes, and after much reading, I decided to just “wing-it” and create my own different batch.  After all, isn’t that how most things are made anyways?  Taking a process and improvising?  I didn’t want to just duplicate someone else’s work, I wanted mine to be original, no matter what the outcome.  Luckily (I think), I did a pretty good job for my first attempt and the results are quite interesting.  I also have enough left to last me a while, so I won’t be needing to repeat the process anytime soon.

First, I hopped on ol’ trusty Amazon.com and found that I could order four specific ingredients that I found to be in most bitters recipes I had come across.  Gentian root, Angelica root, Quassia wood chips and finally, wormwood herb (YES!)

Next, I visited my local markets to pick up some spices.  I snagged some allspice, caraway seeds, coriander, cloves and star anise.  I have to be honest when I say I didn’t measure each of them.  I used a pinch (or more?) of the top four and much less of the bottom five.  I made two batches, one with dried lemon peels, and the other with dried apple peels.  I covered both mixtures with an unoaked white whiskey that was 100 proof (50% abv).

This one above is the mixture with the apple peels.

And this one is the one with the lemon peels.

I let them both sit for 10 days to allow the peels and the rest of the herbs and spices to release their goodness into the liquid.  I gave each container a good swirl and shake to make sure all the elements were covered in the white whiskey.  I then filtered out any of the solids and kept the liquid in a separate container.  I placed the solids into a saucepan with some water (again, I should have measured, but I didn’t) and brought it to boil, then lowered the heat and let it simmer for about 3 minutes to let the solids break down more.  Then I strained the solids from the water and added the water to the alcohol base to cut it.  Then I just kept the finished bitters in airtight containers.

So that’s how I made my own lavender infused vodka and lemon bitters, two ingredients in my new cocktail called “La Coquette”.  I’ll cover my other housemade ingredient for the cocktail in my next post and finish the step by step instructions.

Cheers!

-W

An Old Fashioned Cocktail

I was first introduced to the Old Fashioned cocktail in my early twenties, and to be honest, it was not love at first sight. I have been enjoying bourbon whiskey almost since I have been of legal drinking age, but the Old Fashioned just did not seem appealing. I think it had to do with the fact that it sounded so…….OLD! I suppose I always thought of it as an “old-man-drink” and never really bothered to give it a decent chance.

That all changed about three years ago. I was working as a server at Red White+Bluezz and our GM/Sommelier Russ Meek exclaimed “You’ve never had an Old Fashioned?!??!!”. I had to sheepishly admit that I had never had a good experience with one. He then proceeded to whip one up for me, detailing what he was using and his methods. His recipe was the “popular” one of today; sugar and bitters (YES!), cherry, orange, bourbon, ice, soda water.

My god, was it delicious!

It was a perfect blend of flavors and beautifully balanced. That evening I enjoyed two more creations, the last one being made by myself. That one experience had catapulted my love for the Old Fashioned cocktail into one of near fanaticism. For the next few months I constantly ordered them, suggested them, made them, drank them.

It was a glorious period of time.

I knew I had entered into a era of enjoying cocktails. By that, I mean, not just using booze to “escape”, but the whole experience of drinking and what it did to all of my senses. The sight of the orange slice and the brown bourbon interlaced with the bright red cherry. The initial smell of the aromatics of the angostura bitters and the oils of the citrus. The cool touch and feel of the condensed water on the side of the glass. The sound the ice made clinking around as I swirled the spirit against the soda and orange. And of course the terrific taste of balanced beauty as I gingerly sipped from the rim.

Over the years, I had also tried many variations, rye whiskey, irish whiskey, canadian whiskey, brandy, rum, and tequila. I tried different garnishes as well, lemon instead of orange, luxardo cherries instead of maraschino, strawberries instead of cherries. The possibilities seemed to be endless. I have also enjoyed creating my own variations of this wonderful concoction. I am even putting a “New Fashioned” on my secret cocktail menu at Hotel Casa 425 in Claremont, CA.

This past week I went on a little field trip to explore some nearby cocktail culture. I’ll get into the whole trip some other time, but I wanted to bring up my last stop which was at Las Perlas in DTLA. Las Perlas is a well-known tequila and mezcal bar, so when I saw they had an old fashioned cocktail, needless to say I was quite intrigued. After I ordered, I watched (as well as other curious onlookers) as the bar man lovingly created a fantastic perfectly-balanced well-structured cocktail. It was so good I ordered two more throughout the night and suggested it to a good friend (he loved it too).  The flavor of the reposado tequila combined with the smokiness of the mezcal made for such a pleasurable gift for my palate.  The complexity of the mexican spirits mixed with the sugar, bitters and citrus was so enjoyable, I knew that I had to try my hand at replicating this libation.  The next day at work, affectionately dubbed “the lab”, I successfully(!) re-created what I saw the bar man do.

To make this cocktail, you only need a handful of ingredients that again can be found at any BevMo or quality liquor store.  You might have a little trouble finding good mezcal, and please note that it should NOT have a worm at the bottom.  That is/was a marketing ploy and does not make the spirit any better.  With many things in life, you get what you pay for. So if you want a finely crafted quality cocktail, you may have to pay a little extra for proper ingredients.

You need:

1.5 ounces reposado or añejo tequila (I used Partida reposado)

.5 ounces mezcal (I used Del Maguey, San Luis del Rio village)

1 sugar cube

4-5 dashes aromatic cocktail bitters (I used the most well-known brand, Angostura)

1 Old Fashioned glass

Ice (actual cubes are best, the bigger, the better)

1 orange

1 maraschino cherry (If you can find/afford luxardo cherries, you will never want to use the atomic red kind)

Citrus peeler or knife

Muddler

Method:

Place the sugar in the glass and add 5 dashes of angostura bitters to that sweet little sucker.
Muddle/mash for about 10 seconds to create a syrup-like consistency.
Add the tequila and the mezcal and stir gently.
Add a large ice cube/cubes and stir again to create a little dilution.
Peel a slice of orange and squeeze over the glass to release the oils and then wipe the rind along the rim.
Add the luxardo cherry and say “Cheers!”, you just created a delicious smoky tequila Old Fashioned.

Just as you should with any aromatic cocktail, take your time enjoying it.  Appreciate the aromas of citrus and smoke.  Let the cherry add its sweetness to the drink for a few minutes before biting into it.  Try it with a peel of lemon or grapefruit instead of the orange for a variation.

Cheers!

The cocktail

So, there’s this thing called a cocktail.  Many people have had them. Few know the history and background of them.  Almost everyone knows the results of drinking too many.  What I plan on sharing here is my knowledge of the cocktail and its many different forms and ingredients.

Where to begin?  How about I talk about what this blog is named, “Sugar and Bitters”.  Sugar and bitters are two of the most basic ingredients in classic and neo-classic cocktails.  I’ve come to learn that the basic cocktail consists of three main parts; the spirit, a sweetener, and a bitter agent.  The most delicious cocktails are made when these three elements come together in the right proportions.

Back in the early days of cocktails, barkeepers used what they had readily available to create libations.  Sugar, of course, had been around since ancient times from processed…..sugar cane, or more recently, the sugar beet.  Today, sugar in a cocktail can come from the traditional sugar cube, or a spoonful of superfine (powdered) sugar.  New creations have been made with a block of raw turbinado sugar, or even the sweetness of an agave syrup can be used.

Bitters on the other hand began being produced as a medicinal “cure-all” in the early 1800’s.  Bitters manufactured today fall into two categories; digestive bitters, and cocktail bitters.  While both of these bitters can be used in cocktails, the latter is used primarily as a base ingredient.

As I said, many classic cocktails consist of a spirit, a sweetener, and a bitters.  One of my favorite classic cocktails, the sazerac, was created with little more than these three ingredients.  It is so perfect in its simplicity, I wonder why it ever had a falling out with bar culture in the States.  To make one, you need specific ingredients which should be able to be found in any BevMo or quality liquor store.

You need:

2 ounces Rye whiskey

1 Sugar cube

4-5 Peychaud’s bitters dashes (YES, it MUST be this specific bitters for THIS cocktail)

1/2 ounce Absinthe

2 Old-fashioned glasses (aka “buckets”)

Ice

Lemon

Citrus peeler or knife

Muddler

Method:

Prep one of the glasses by pouring 1/2 ounce absinthe and filling with crushed ice.  This glass will be the final vessel for the cocktail, but you want to build the cocktail in the other glass.

Place the sugar in the bottom of the second glass and douse that sucker with the bitters.  Muddle the sugar and bitters together for about 10 seconds to create a syrup-like consistency.  Stir in the 2 ounces of rye whiskey.  (Purists might insist on using only “Sazerac brand rye whiskey”, but for the purpose of this creation, any rye will do.)

Give the other glass a twirl to coat the sides with the chilled absinthe, then throw out the ice+absinthe mix.  Stir the rye as you pour it into the chilled glass, this ensures all of the mix makes it to the chilled glass.

Use a peeler or a knife to cut a section of the lemon rind.  Squeeze the lemon over the glass to release the oils from the rind and wipe it around the edge the rim.  Place the rind into the glass and say “Cheers!”  You just created a classic cocktail.

Take your time enjoying this one, breathe in and smell the aromatics, let the cocktail develop as the lemon interacts with the mix.

Cheers!