Adding Aroma to Cocktails: Smoke Tincture

smoke tincture // stirandstrain.comA few weeks ago I attended just one of the many events at the LA Food and Wine Festival. Grant Achatz was presenting a cocktail demo with the head bartender at Chicago’s The Aviary, Charles Joly. There was lots of wowing the audience with juice stock and dry ice, but what stuck out for me the most was the idea of Aroma in cocktails. Their idea was to play on aroma and create a smell for some cocktails that when you tasted the drink, did not exist in it. Are you all following me?

So that got my nerd brain going with what aromas I’d like to accompany cocktails, but not necessarily put IN the drink.smoke tincture // stirandstrain.com

This month I’ve been playing around with ideas for Mixology Monday, the theme being SMOKE. This seemed like an interesting path to follow and see where it went. I am, in all honesty, still very much amateur status when it comes to all things behind the bar. I’ve definitely broadened my scope of these items over the past few years (like how to say Cynar correctly), but for awhile the idea of tinctures seemed mildly hazy to me. Aren’t these just infusions? Why a separate name?

Well, I read a bit for this post and pretty much what it came down to is that a tincture is the essence of the ingredient you steep in a neutral grain alcohol. It can be used in small amounts by itself, or added with more ingredients for compounds like bitters. Because it is steeped in a high proof alcohol, you don’t shoot it back in a giant gulp. It would also probably taste awful. With an infusion, you are also extracting the essence of what you are putting into the alcohol, but it is co-mingling with the base spirit for a new combined flavor. You might see sour cherry bourbon, lemon lavender gin, something along those lines.

When I think aroma, my mind naturally moves towards perfume. Now, before I lose all you men out there, check this article out from the New York Times last year. The Pegu Club, PDT, these big timers have been using aroma, perfume even, in cocktails for awhile now. Perhaps for us New Wave Cocktail Bloggers this is brand new, but treading into this territory we find the path already laid out for us. So, give perfume a try I guess.smoke tincture // stirandstrain.com

For this particular use of smoke in a cocktail, I didn’t want the drink to continue to be steeped in smoke. What I wanted here was for the initial smell to be a deep, meaty smoke aroma, and then when tasted, you were only getting the cocktail. This beautiful smoky aroma would make the drink a surprise for the person drinking it, hopefully a pleasant shock. The aroma would then dissipate as one continued to finish the drink. I chose a Boulevardier to accompany the smoke aroma.

First, the tincture:

1/2 cup grain alcohol (I have 151 proof everclear)
1/4 cup Lapsang Souchong Loose Tea

Combine the two ingredients in an airtight glass container. Let sit for two weeks in a cool, dark place. Gently shaking every few days. After two weeks, strain with a fine mesh strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth. You want to make sure you are getting all the tiny bits of tea out. If you still see residue, strain an additional time. Store in a dropper bottle.

Lapsang Souchong tea has a heavy smoke aroma. When you open the box it’s like getting hit with a face full of wood smoke. As a tincture, the essence gets meatier (as in smoked meat).smoke tincture // stirandstrain.com

Ok, so, here is the part when you can decide whether getting an atomizer is worth it or not. I tried experimenting with the tincture in 3 ways. First, I rinsed the glass and added the cocktail. Second, I swapped a tincture soaked cotton ball around in inside of the glass after pouring the drink in. Third, I sprayed the tincture with an atomizer over the finished drink. Of the three I found the atomizer to have a stronger aroma over the final drink. Rinsing added too much of the smoke to the drink and was not the effect I wanted. The cotton ball didn’t create a strong enough smell for me. When I used the atomizer, I found I had more control over how much aroma went onto the finished cocktail and I appreciated being able to add more in small increments to achieve the final essence. So, if you are not one for unitaskers, then maybe an atomizer is not something you need taking up space in your bar drawer. I found a tiny atomizer that is under 3″, meant for perfume, but works great.

Next, the Boulevardier Cocktail with Smoke Aroma:

2 oz Bourbon (Black Ridge Small Batch was used for this cocktail)
1 oz Campari
1 oz Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth
Smoke Tincture

Orange peel garnish

In a mixing glass 2/3 with ice, stir the first three ingredients about 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled rocks glass or goblet (you want some space for your nose to dip into; sounds gross but trust me). Garnish with an orange peel and over the top of the drink, spray about 3-4 sprays of the tincture.

As you move into the glass, there is the meaty smoke aroma followed by the sudden bittersweet richness of the Boulevardier. That first sip has the most smoke on it, while progressive sips become less and less potent, which lets you experience varying degrees of the aroma. If this is all a bit too much for you, have you had a Boulevardier cocktail yet? Go make one, it’s a great Fall cocktail.

Mixology Monday: The Apple Stack

 

For this month’s Mixology Monday, “Garnish Grandiloquence” hosted by Joseph Tkach of Measure and Stir, I worked on a recipe I already had jotted down in my notebook for a seasonal cocktail. It read, “something about apple pie and cheddar cheese and maybe cider”. Baking a miniature pie and hovering it over a cocktail, while admirable, was not really an avenue I felt I would go down this time. Oh, also just to back this up a bit and explain. I’m originally from New England and there’s a tradition there of eating a piece of strong, sharp cheddar cheese (I prefer Vermont) with a piece of apple pie. Whether it’s on the side, or a sliver right on top of the crust is up to individual taste. This is a sentimental reminder of home for me this time of year and I thought I could do something with these flavors for a Fall cocktail.

I don’t know my way around a garnishing kit, and even sometimes a vegetable peeler scares me (and it would you too if you took off a piece of your nail once along with a potato peel). But I own a mandoline with a pretty heavy duty safety guard, so my mind went towards using some thin slices of apple, and a hunk of cheddar cheese. Now, one of the issues with taking photos of drinks is that it’s tough to want to start when there is a lot of light out, at say, 8am. So during the late Fall and Winter months, starting a drink requiring lots of photos late in the afternoon is just stupid. As most of your photos will need extra light, a tripod and will ultimately result in blurry photos if not done properly. Clearly this is a rant I am giving to myself. There are many steps to this garnish, requiring many photos. Most of which I am chucking because of light/sharpness issues so I’ll briefly explain here.

If you ever work with apple slices as a garnish do yourself a favor if you want them to stay pretty and white. Get a bowl, fill it with water, squeeze a lemon into it and dunk your apple slices in there. The lemon juice will slow down oxidation and instead of turning brown, your slices will stay fresher looking longer. For this garnish, I peeled one long ribbon of apple peel, and then cut an apple in half and from the center of the apple, sliced it on a mandoline at 1/4″. I cut those circles in half, trimmed the center so they were pretty much equal in size, and threw them in the lemon water to sit and wait.

For the cheese part, I chose a 1/2″ chunk of Carr Applewood Smoked Cheddar. Besides having the sharp flavor down, it has has a lovely smoky scent and taste that, if we’re feeling Fall here, adds to that ambiance. But mostly, it tastes pretty damn good. The peel was used as a ribbon garnish inside the glass, and the apple slices fanned out (pat them dry first), skewered and topped with the chunk of cheddar.

Initially I wanted to have two ribbons of apple peel wound around like a strand of DNA. I sketched it out even and it seemed possible, but real apple peel is not as pliable as one hopes so that idea was tossed. Another issue that was encountered was glass size to garnish ratio. When the first attempt at the garnish was completed, I realized that the drink size was just under 5 oz total, so a giant glass to hold the final garnish dwarfed the actual amount of liquid, so the garnish was cut down a bit to accommodate the actual drink.

And the drink here? That’s also important…

1-1/2 oz. High West Campfire Whiskey
1 oz. Laird’s Straight Bonded AppleJack Brandy
1/4 oz. St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
2 oz. J.K’s Scrumpy Organic Hard Cider

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass 2/3 filled with ice. Stir and strain into a small chilled rock glass with apple ribbon. Garnish with apple and cheese fan.

This drink is wonderfully balanced, bordering on sweet and smoky. Usually the Campfire is the predominant flavor but here blends very well with the sharp kick of the Bonded AppleJack while the Allspice Dram adds that touch of ‘Fall’ with the clover and spice notes in the finish of the drink. The addition of the hard cider melds everything together and making the apple presence much more noticeable. The garnish provides one additional layer of smokiness in smell and flavor, while the apple slices provide visual appeal and lets you know what flavors you’re in for.

First go at the garnish before realizing it was too tall for the glass.

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Here’s the roundup post of this month’s MxMo!

Make It: Holiday Spice Syrups

The hard ciders and glogg are starting to roll out. It’s Fall- hell, it’s almost Thanksgiving already. For me that means starting to plan for Christmas. My personality is such that I painfully start planning things much too far in advance, forget about them, and freak out at the last minute trying to get these plans into action.

A good chunk of gift giving is pretty easy actually when it comes to my friends. They all like booze. But really, putting a bow on a bottle of Jameson a couple years in a row starts to become too easy and predictable. Yes, you can step it up and maybe shell out for a bottle of Booker’s. However that becomes expensive when you multiply that by just 4 people.

When I started making my own infused syrups at home it occurred to me the potential these had for gift giving. One can make up a batch, pair it with a small bottle of something, and write up a little card with a drink recipe on it. For me, it’s a way of sharing an interest with my friends and getting them tipsy in the process. Win! Even better when you can open it together.

This year I’m expanding my usual arsenal of syrups to include some Fall spices that I want to try out. Adapting the clove syrup recipe from the PDT Cocktail Book, I’ve scaled that down and also worked up a cinnamon syrup too. Bottle these up and give away, or keep for yourself.

For this recipe, I made a master batch of simple syrup and then divided it to steep the cloves and cinnamon separately.

Master Simple Syrup

1 cup water
1 cup sugar

Combine water and sugar in a sauce pan. Swirl to combine and place over high heat until warmed through and transparent. Do not let it come to a boil. Once sugar is dissolved, remove from heat if using immediately for below or keep over a very low flame- you will need the syrup to be warm to infuse.

Clove Syrup

1/2 cup simple syrup
1/4 oz of cloves (I used a kitchen scale to weigh this out. It’s about 3 tablespoons if I were to eyeball it.)

Combine a half cup of the warm simple syrup with the cloves in a heat-proof container. Let sit for 15 minutes. Strain into a bottle through cheesecloth or a fine sieve. Let the mixture cool and store in the refrigerator.

Cinnamon Syrup

1 cup simple syrup
5 sticks of cinnamon, 2″ to 2-1/2″ in length

Combine a half cup of the warm simple syrup with the cinnamon sticks in a heat-proof container. Let sit for 15 minutes. Strain into a bottle. Let the mixture cool and store in the refrigerator.

Syrups will keep approximately 1 month in the refrigerator (or at least they do in my house).

Smoky Manhattan

I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Regan that the Manhattan is the “best cocktail on earth” (see Joy of Mixology). And while I thoroughly enjoy creating new, or (re)discovering old classics, sometimes I just want one. See today. I finally got to check out Bar Keeper in Los Angeles and as excited as I was to finally have the Mezcal from Del Maguey in my hands, I suddenly got a bit overwhelmed with what I wanted to make. Really, what I needed was a drink to have while perusing the PDT Cocktail Book I’d also just picked up. So my eyes went to the High West Campfire whiskey (a blend of rye, bourbon and a blended malt scotch whisky) and I thought to myself, why not a Manhattan with that?

On this gigantic shopping spree I went on in that tiny store, I also acquired a bottle of Carpano Antica. A lightly sweet and bitter Italian sweet vermouth that I see on just about every cocktail menu here in L.A. serving up a Manhattan. To balance out this drink I decided to stick with the Angostura bitters. I also upped the sweet vermouth since I found that the delicate nature of Carpano Antica was going to be competing with that Campfire whiskey. I’m thinking of trying this next time with a more assertive sweet vermouth so there would be less need to add extra.

2 oz. High West Campfire Whiskey
1-1/2 oz. Carpano Antica
3 dashes of Angostura bitters

1 Tillen Farms Bada Bing Cherry (or if you got them on hand, a Luxardo)

Drop the cherry into a chilled cocktail glass. In a mixing glass 2/3 filled with ice, add all the ingredients. Stir and strain into the glass.

The taste? A wonderful mouthful of smoke from the peated scotch whisky. The Carpano Antica rounds out the drink with its sweet and bitter notes, heightened with the spicy bitter of the Angostura.

It’s pretty powerful, and as such, not for everyone. The smokiness was too much for my husband at first (he’s not a scotch fan), although he’s coming around after another.

The White Russian: Happy Halloween from the Dude

This classic sprang about due to a Halloween party this past weekend. We knew about this party, a 90’s themed Halloween party, for at least a couple of weeks, but all the ideas for costumes seemed to be slipping by. Stuck for ideas my husband asked me to just read off the highlights from each year of VH1s I Love the 90s. Then I read off The Big Lebowski.

“Stop”, my husband said, “that’s it.”

Now, it took me a couple times to really get into this movie. Around the time I hit 10 years in L.A. I watched it again and finally had my ‘ah-ha’ moment. And actually liked the film. While I can’t rattle off quotes, I do know what drink the Dude prefers: White Russians.

This was a Friday night when the costume was decided, Saturday was the party. The following day it took a trip to Target, a Halloween store, and a stop at Ralph’s to complete the costume. This was done by 10:30 am.

Part of the costume was to be an empty Ralph’s container of milk, however they only had pints of half and half around. Instead of dumping out the milk when we got back, I can’t waste food, we poured it into some containers and I decided to put it to good use making some White Russians, for help getting “into character”.  

I had to consult The Joy of Mixology since this isn’t a drink I often consume. Or actually, have ever had. But we needed to be authentic for the costume. It’s only changed slightly in that I built it in the glass and stirred it, and subbed out 1/2 and 1/2 for the cream. I know, there’s dairy in there, it should be shaken. But the Dude doesn’t go for that fancy stuff.

2 oz. Vodka
1 oz. Kahlua
1 oz. 1/2 and 1/2

Build ingredients in a rocks glass. Give it a good stir to combine. Try not to get it all up in your mustache.

What’s it taste like? Sort of like sweet, spiked coffee. It’s rich, and I can’t fathom how one could continually throw these back. But to each his own.

Happy Halloween folks, from me and the Dude.

Honey Vanilla Chai Toddy

Mainly due to losing that month in limbo in India and being sick, I’ve been finding it hard to believe that it’s Fall. Also, L.A. having 80+ temps lately isn’t helping. But a night of pumpkin carving, hot spiced apple cider and a smattering of Halloween-themed movies seems to have jolted my system back to normal. A post on a food blog I follow recently had this delicious toddy recipe that enlightened me to what some flavored teas can add to drinks. Maybe my mind is still lingering over some of the flavors of India as I decided a spiced chai toddy might do the trick for those chilly 70 degree gray L.A. days to come (I’m over apologizing to my east coast family that 68 is jacket and scarf weather. After 10 years here this is cold for me and warrants lighting the fire place).

So today I bring you a Honey Vanilla Chai Toddy. So easy you’ll want to double the batch and share. Or drink two really fast.

5 oz boiling water
1 teabag of honey vanilla chai (here I am using Celestial Seasonings, but you can also find just vanilla chai- in which case you’ll want to add a touch more Bärenjäger)
1/2 oz of Bärenjäger
1 oz of Rye Whiskey (Old Overholt Rye here)
1 cinnamon stick

Pour the boiling water over the tea bag in a smaller sized coffee mug or Irish coffee glass (I used a glass that holds around 7 oz of liquid). Steep the tea for 3 minutes and then remove the teabag. Pour in the Bärenjäger and Whiskey, stir gently to combine. Garnish with the cinnamon stick.

If you’re not familiar with it, Bärenjäger taste like the “cough syrup” my dad made for me as a child when my coughing kept him up and my mom was working second shift: honey and booze. I love how strong the honey flavor is, it’s almost like drinking it straight, just not as thick. This drink has many layers of flavors. The tea base has familiar chai flavors: cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cardamom, black pepper with the addition of vanilla and honey. The honey though here is then heightened by the addition of the Bärenjäger. Mmmmm…. and also some sweetness from the Rye. The ‘alcohol’ layer adds some bite, but struggles to keep afloat with all the spice action. But that’s ok, more reason to have another.

And when you’re done taking photos, just shove that stick in the drink.