Make It: Holiday Spice Syrups

Make It: Holiday Spice Syrups // stirandstrain.comThe 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.