New infused spirits – summer style!

Well hello there again my lovers of sugar and bitters,

Three times in one week? Someone sure is taking their B-vitamins!

I’m coming to the realization that I’ve been experimenting a LOT, and that I should probably share some of the fun I’ve been having.

So today, I’m going to share with you two of my infused spirits I’ve got going on at the lounge at Hotel Casa 425

They are both featured as key ingredients in my new summer cocktail menu.  The first is a jalapeño-cucumber infused tequila, the second is an orange-rosemary infused bourbon.  They are both fantastic products, and the cocktail recipes I use with them are perfect for the summer months.

I had recently purchased the largest size of the OXO Good grips POP storage container, which holds 5.5 quarts.  So I knew I could fit in at least four liters of spirit along with whatever I wanted to infuse to create a large batch or goodness.

To start the process of the jalapeño-cucumber tequila, I begin by chopping up 4 medium sized jalapeños (roughly 173 grams if you want to be specific)  I slice them into thin 1/4 inch discs keeping all the seeds on the board.

3 jalapeños all sliced up and ready to party!

These all go into the container and await their new friend, the sliced cucumber, also cut into 1/4 inch segments.

Jalapeños in, cucumbers getting sliced.

I used about 3/4 length of an English cucumber (for specifics, I did measure out 291 grams).

Happy shiny cucumbers ready to join the jalapeños for a tequila bath!

291 grams, on the dot!

Next up, I pour in four liters of El Jimador blanco tequila, a deliciously crisp and citrusy spirit from the lowlands region in Amatitlán, Jalisco.  El Jimador, or as I like to call it “Herradura jr.” is one of my favorite mixing tequilas because it is so versatile.

El Jimador, 100% de agave, and also 100% de awesomeness

Here we have the container and label showing what’s inside.

Experiment #425-T

I let that sit in my office for a couple of days to let the tequila extract the flavors and aromas from the jalapeños and cucumbers.  The result is a spicy yet balanced liquid that works amazingly well in my “Berry spicy margarita” that utilizes fresh farmers market berries from Pudwill Berry Farms.  More info on that in a later post…

For the infused bourbon, I must give credit to Jaymee Mandeville at Drago Centro in DTLA for inspiring me with a cocktail made with rosemary infused Bushmill’s back in January!  I had been tinkering with both the infusion and cocktail recipes since then, and only in the past month have I felt like I really had something good.  Hats off to you Jaymee!

I’ve found the infusion results are best with the whiskey when both the rosemary needles and the orange peels are dried first, and then added to the bourbon.  The drying out of the ingredients seems to trap the oils and essences inside. When they hit the liquid, they release their flavors like an explosion resulting in a fantastic product.

So what I do first is cut some fresh rosemary from our hotel property.

Clipping some rosemary from the hotel grounds

I rinse the rosemary off and then just place the sprigs out on a half-sheet to dry out.

The rosemary sprigs just chllin’

Once the rosemary dries out, just rub your index finger and your thumb together down the sprig to remove all the needles.

Next, I peel about 6-8 oranges, enough to fill up two half-sheets.  When I peel the oranges, I take away 4 peels to create a bit of a cross.

I peel these 4 sections first

Next, I peel the remaining four smaller sides to be able to get as much of the citrus as possible.

All peeled!

Then I lay out all the peels to be dried with the rind facing up.  My little office gets pretty warm, so I just place the sheets in there to dry out anything I need to.  If you want to try this at home, just throw the sheet in the oven, but DO NOT turn the oven on.

The orange peels laying out trying to catch some rays.

You know the peels are done when they curl up and are hard and brittle to the touch.  Here I have some already dried out peels and needles.

These guys are ready for some bourbon!

Now comes the fun part!  Measuring and pouring!

I’ve found that with four liters of bourbon, about 13 grams of rosemary needles and 40 grams of orange peels work best for a nice balance.

13 grams of rosemary needles

40 grams of dried orange peel, street value is probably somewhere in the high tens.

For infusing bourbon, I like using Evan Williams black label.  It’s what I have in my well for whiskey/bourbon, and is a great mixing spirit.

Lined up, ready to be emptied!

Here we have the rosemary floating on top of the whiskey with the orange peels starting to release their oils into the mixture.

The rosemary and orange peels look like they’re fighting now, but soon they will come together to make a love-baby.

And here we have a double portion of this magical mixture.  I had to double up production because this product and the cocktail it is made with is selling really, really well.

Double portions of the new infused bourbon. Aren’t they lovely?

The finished product is very citrusy on the nose and you get the dryness of the rosemary at the end of the palate.  I mix this product with lemon juice, simple syrup and basil to create my “Kentucky Rose” cocktail, but just like the previously stated margarita, more on that later…

Well, that’s about it for now.  Upcoming topics include the summer cocktails, carbonated bottled cocktails, house-made lemoncello, house-cured cherries as well as a sneak peek into what kind of infusions I have going on for the fall months.

Until then, happy cocktailing!

-W

Cheers!

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