Winter is officially citrus season, which always seemed so bizarre to me. Why would this bright, summery feeling fruit be a winter crop? Maybe to cheer us all up during those dark winter days? Well, drink (or make!) a few of these citrus concoctions and you’ll be smiling soon.
Hey guys! We’ve been enjoying a summer break around these parts (read: preparing for termite tenting and urging my husband to dispose of years of saved New Yorker magazines). But now we’re back with you today with a cocktail AND some awesome news!
First up, the awesome news.
Stir and Strain is a finalist AGAIN this year for Saveur’s Best Blog awards in the Drinks Coverage category. We are now up against some beer and wine folks and not just cocktails. Third time’s a charm? Or always a bridesmaid never a bride? We’ll see in September. For now, if you want to vote for Stir and Strain to win, you can do that today (and actually, they are allowing you to do that every day until August 31st. But I won’t pressure you guys either way.).
And now here’s a cocktail.
I’ve been digging Montenegro Amaro for a few months now, but mainly just as a digestif. It’s not new–it’s been around since 1885, but it was new to my line up this year and I couldn’t be happier. Looking for a new way to enjoy this but still keeping it at a low ABV, I thought about that kooky combination of cold brew coffee and tonic water I heard about last year. I don’t keep up with coffee trends, but I do enjoy putting coffee into my cocktails.
So I decided to pair Montenegro, with its super flavorful and wonderfully bittersweet taste, with a robust coffee and slightly bitter tonic. I finished the cocktail with a touch of grapefruit oil in the garnish–don’t skip that folks, it makes the drink with a light floral aroma. It’s hard to nail down exactly all the flavors you get with Montenegro, but there’s citrus and dried cherry and gentian root and just a lot of herbal notes. It provides enough sweetness along with the tonic water so there is no need to add any further sweetener.
You could have this as your digestif, or maybe a Sunday early afternoon drink. Up to your preference. I’ve been enjoying them in the late afternoon when I need a pick-me-up, but also, you know, want a little cocktail too.
5 ounces tonic water (Fever-Tree Indian Tonic used here)
1 ounce Montenegro Amaro*
3-1/2 ounces cold brew or chilled espresso (we have a Nespresso machine at home and for this I used one Lungo capsule of their Fortissio)
grapefruit zest for garnish
- In a collins glass, fill with ice cubes and pour in tonic water. Add in the Montenegro and coffee. Express the grapefruit oil over the drink and add the peel to the cocktail. Stir gently to combine.
Well guys, it’s been two years since I’ve done one of these, so here’s your 2016 cocktail roundup for all your Moms. Drink up!
This post is brought to you by Blue Nectar Tequila. Recipes and ideas are my own.
Admittedly, I let a lot of the drink holidays pass me by. Especially when they’re not really something I feel like celebrating (vodka + red bull day I’m looking at you). But today is a very special day. Today is Margarita Day.
I drink Margaritas every day of the year. I don’t wait for Taco Tuesday and happy hour at my local cantina. I break them out over brunch or on any given Sunday. But usually just a single serving or two. Today, because we’re celebrating, we’re going big and making a Margarita PUNCH.
Since we’re still deep in citrus season, my family just got back from picking our own grapefruits, lemons and whatever else was hanging on those fruit-laden trees. The grapefruits were so juicy and tart and delicious, that I perhaps got a little overzealous with the picking. To make sure they go to a good home, they’ll be the base of the punch today. Not only will we use some of the juice, but the zest will go into the oleo saccharum, and the whole punch will get garnished with sugared brûléed wheels of the fruit. An honorable way for these grapefruits to go.
Even though I love those grapefruit, to balance out the citrus flavors and make the base more complex, I’m creating a oleo saccharum with lemon and lime zest in addition to a few grapefruit zests thrown in. Creating the base this way gives the punch a strong citrus backbone that won’t get watered down and lost once the grapefruit juice, tequila and ice are added in.
To sweeten everything up and to highlight some of the more floral characteristics of the citrus, I’ve combined Tahitian vanilla (which is the most floral of the vanilla varieties) and piloncillo. Not sure what piloncillo is? That’s ok, I’ve only just started using it over the last few years myself. Piloncillo is evaporated sugar cane juice from Mexico. It’s not as sweet as regular cane sugar, but it has a wonderfully rich taste, similar to brown sugar. Again, to make this a more concentrated flavor bomb for the punch, the vanilla and piloncillo get made into a syrup and then reduced into a rich, syrupy sweetener.
This wouldn’t be a Margarita without the tequila, right? For that I’m turning to Blue Nectar Silver Tequila for the perfect pairing to my grapefruit obsession. The clean vegetal flavor has just a touch of spiciness that balances out the sweetness of the citrus.
This is a versatile punch: serve it up with breakfast tacos or late in the afternoon all by itself; anytime really. But especially today, for the best drink holiday, Margarita Day.
For more information on Blue Nectar Tequila, please check out their website here!
Makes approximately 12 servings
For the oleo saccharum:
4.5 ounces sugar
zests from 2 limes
zests from 2 lemons
zests from 1 grapefruit
- To make the oleo saccharum, peel zests from limes, lemons and grapefruit, trying to remove as little white pith as possible. Toss the peels with the sugar, muddle to express oils, and let sit 6 hours or up to overnight in a nonreactive bowl (I use glass or a cambro container), covered. Strain peels from the mixture, set liquid aside.
For the vanilla and piloncillo reduction:
1 cup piloncillo
1 cup water
2 Tahitian vanilla bean pods cut into 1” pieces
- In a small saucepan over medium high heat, combine piloncillo, water, and vanilla pieces. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer, uncovered, until mixture is reduced by half. Strain vanilla pieces out and store in an airtight container until ready to use. Will keep refrigerated up to one month.
For the punch:
750 ml Blue Nectar Silver Tequila
12 ounces freshly squeezed grapefruit, preferably oro blanco grapefruits
4 ounces vanilla and piloncillo reduction
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 ounces orange curacao, preferably Pierre Ferrand Dry Orange Curacao
1 large ruby red grapefruit, sliced 1/4″ thick
1 tablespoon piloncillo
- To make the punch, combine Blue Nectar Silver Tequila, grapefruit juice, reserved liquid from oleo saccharum, vanilla and piloncillo reduction, lemon juice and dry orange curacao. Stir gently to combine. Chill mixture.
- To make the brûléed grapefruit wheels, place sliced of grapefruit on a wire tray over a cookie sheet. Sprinkle them with piloncillo sugar. Place them under a broiler, or use a culinary blow torch to caramelize the sugar and wheels. Let cool. Once the wheels are cooled, reserve 3 wheels for the punch bowl garnish and slice the rest for garnishing individual cups.
- To serve, pour mixture into a punch bowl and add a large block of ice. Garnish with large brûléed grapefruit wheels. Ladle into individual cups with wedges of brûléed grapefruit. Optionally sprinkle with sea salt crystals.
I had promised to make a pitcher of cocktails for some friends coming over but in my usual fashion of late, left it to the night before. And because the fruit from the farmer’s market has been so good lately, I had eaten all of it. With a sad, empty fruit bowl staring at me, wagging its imaginary banana finger, I suddenly realized now might be a good time to crack open those rambutans (which, for the record, I can’t help but sing as “bam-a-lam” from that Black Betty song).
I tasted one, a little crunchy with a sweet-tart taste similar to a grape; it could only get better with some grill time. And it did. The richer flavors that developed turned out to be a just the ingredient to pair with some tequila, grapefruit and lime juice. And smoked salt. Always with the smoked salt.
Makes 4 cocktails
12 rambutans, peeled and seed removed if fresh (canned rambutans come ready to eat and are available online here)
6 ounces blanco tequila
2 ounces fresh juice from 1 white grapefruit
2 ounces fresh juice from 2 limes
1 ounce simple syrup
Smoked sea salt and lime juice for rimming
- If using the grill: Soak 3 wooden skewers in water for at least 1 hour. Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Alternatively, set half the burners on a gas grill to the highest heat setting, cover, and preheat for 10 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Place 4 rambutans on each skewer, and grill over high heat until char lines appear and fruit has softened slightly but still holds its shape, about 1 minute per side. Let cool and remove from skewers until ready to use.
- If using the broiler: Adjust rack to 4 inches below broiler element and preheat broiler to high. Place rambutans on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet or broiler pan. Broil until softened and lightly charred in spots, turning occasionally, about 5 minutes total. Let cool and remove from skewers.
- In the bottom of a small pitcher, muddle the rambutans to release juices and break up the fruit. Add tequila, grapefruit juice, lime juice, and simple syrup. Cover and chill for at least an hour up to overnight.
- To serve, add lime juice to a saucer and smoked salt to another. Dip the side of 4 rocks glasses in lime juice and then gently roll the outside edge in smoked salt. Add ice to each glass and strain the cocktail, dividing equally among the glasses.
The slightly nutty flavors pair wonderfully with tequila, while fresh lime and grapefruit juice highlight the floral and tart elements of the rambutan. A touch of simple syrup is not enough to make the whole concoction sweet; instead, it helps round out the flavor and brighten the mix.
It’s not very often that I do a theme week around here, but I think we can all agree that brunch is definitely worth the effort. I hope you all enjoy some pineapple or a little pisco this weekend. But if you’d like some more options, here are a few below.
**Also, today is the last day to get your nominations in for the Saveur Best Blog awards. If you’d enjoyed the content on here, please consider Stir and Strain for best cocktail site!
Back in January I attended the second annual Golden State of Cocktails here in Los Angeles. Three days filled with seminars, demonstrations, booze, tacos, science, more booze, some bar crawls, educational booths, and so much more booze. While there were some fantastic seminars attended, the talk on the history of pisco stood out the most for me. It made me… really excited about pisco. I can’t say for certain what it was exactly that made this particular talk so great: the enthusiastic speakers? The bottled punch? The sample after sample of pisco? Whatever it was, I knew I was hooked on the spirit and had to start using it more. Hey, the title of the seminar was “The World’s Most Mixable Spirit”. (And if you’d like a little more history on it, I touched on a couple points in my Serious Eats post you can read.)
So obviously I needed to start mixing with it. Consider this your gateway cocktail into the world of pisco (that is if you are still on the fence about drinking a Pisco Sour due to the egg white. OH, hey. I made a vegan version of that you should try). Here I’ve paired the pisco with the very much in season grapefruits that I had accumulated over the last several weeks from the farmer’s market. Yes, sometimes my seasonal cocktails are just a reason to get rid of some fruit I’ve over-bought. Then I spiked it with a little thyme and a splash of lime.
For the Grapefruit Syrup:
Zest from one medium grapefruit
1 cup freshly squeezed grapefruit juice from 2 to 3 grapefruits (see note above)
1 cup granulated sugar
- Combine grapefruit zest, juice, and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, cover and let stand for 1 hour. Strain into an air-tight container. Refrigerate until ready to use or up to 1 week.
For the Bottled Cocktails:
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 ounces freshly squeezed lime juice from 3 limes
9 ounces pisco, such as Encanto
4 1/2 ounces Grapefruit Syrup
6 sprigs fresh thyme for garnish
- In the bottom of a mixing glass, muddle together thyme and salt. Add lime juice and stir. Fine-strain into a 24-ounce carafe or swing-top bottle and then pour in grapefruit syrup and pisco. Cap and gently shake to combine. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 1 hour.
- For each cocktail, add one large ice cube to a double rocks glass. Pour in 2-3/4 ounces of the bottled cocktail. Gently stir and garnish with a sprig of thyme.
It’s a bright, delicious cocktail that you can easily have along whatever brunch-y dishes you might be cooking up. But still palatable for a pre-dinner drink too if that’s more your thing.
And then I had an answer: I chose balsamic vinegar. Yes! That liquid you pour on your salad! Actually, this has been on my ideas list for some time now, but the opportunity never really came up to make something with it. I’m distinguishing this from shrubs, which I have used, because in those cases I made the shrub and also because I haven’t used grape musts before, which is the base for the balsamic I am using. The one caveat here is that I am using a reduced balsamic, which is more of a syrupy consistency. I was initially going to reduce a balsamic vinegar for the recipe but I’m trying to be simple, and I love the flavor of the one I have on hand. So, there you go…one less step.
Balsamic vinegar by itself is a pretty powerful ingredient. Even in this condensed, sweeter form, Crema di Balsamico still sings back to its vinegary beginnings. So I had to find another powerful star for this drink, and for that I turned to mezcal. In fact, all of the components to this drink are stand outs, but together in the cocktail they somehow work to balance each other out. They all become team players here instead of divas.
So let’s crack into the Unknown and make a drink.
1-1/2 ounces mezcal, Montelobos used here
1 ounce freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
3/4 ounce Aperol
1/2 ounce Crema di Balsamico
grapefruit peel for garnish
- In a shaker 2/3 filled with ice, combine mezcal, grapefruit juice, Aperol and balsamic. Shake hard to mix well (that balsamic might need some help getting out of the jigger too) for about 25 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a grapefruit peel.
While the mezcal does provide a hefty backbone to this drink it doesn’t overpower the whole. Grapefruit gives a bit of sweetness and also a touch of bitterness while the crema di balsamico adds the essence of “tang” instead of “vinegar”. Aperol was a later addition to the drink and ended up connecting the dots of the cocktail, roundimg out the flavors and making them work well together.
So, it’s Sunday, and as much as I’d like to go sit outside and continue to enjoy the weekend, I wanted to get this drink post out to you all since it’s both seasonally, and Sunday, appropriate. I originally wrote this recipe for the Serious Eats site a few weeks ago when they were looking for some more patio drinks to feature (and I love a reason to sit outside with a cold pitcher of something good to drink). This time around, instead of wine in a Sangria, I decided on featuring Lillet, and in particular, Lillet Rosé.
We’re still getting grapefruits here, although not the best since the season is ending, however their delicious flavor can still go a long way in a Sangria. Since I was set on using them up, I chose Lillet Rosé as a base since it’s very grapefruit forward and would only enhance that flavor. I followed that up with grapefruit’s best friend mint, and topped it off with Cava. Pretty simple, but super tasty. Now, as far as simple syrup is concerned, you’ll need to taste your grapefruit and see just how sweet it is, or if you just like your Sunday Sippers a tad on the sweet side, use the full amount suggested in the recipe. It’s up to you!
15 fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup simple syrup
1 cup fresh grapefruit juice, from about 2 Ruby Red grapefruits, plus 1/2 of one grapefruit, peel intact, cut into rough chunks
1 cup Lillet Rosé
1 bottle Cava, chilled
- In the bottom of a pitcher, gently muddle together the mint leaves and simple syrup. Add grapefruit chunks, grapefruit juice, and Lillet Rosé. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. When ready to serve, add Cava to the pitcher and stir gently. Serve over ice.
Grapefruit has a bitter, floral flavor that works really well with the sweet, cooling mint. Ruby Red is what is available right now, and these actually veer more towards tart than sweet (if you substitute white flesh grapefruits like an Oro Blanco you’ll need less sugar). The Lillet Rosé makes this a super grapefruit treat that is just a touch sweet and with the bubbly cava, totally summer in your glass.
Sangrita-like might be stretching it; it’s really just sangrita made with a bunch of delicious citrus with a dollop of harissa. Not familiar with harissa? If you like spice and smoke you’ll like this peppery paste that has its roots in North African cuisine. It’s not normally used in drinks, but I love the extra level of spice it adds. Also, a little goes a long way, so you can keep it around to experiment with food later.
Usually, sangrita is just the sidekick to a shot of tequila, but I love the rich flavors of tomato and citrus so much I thought it deserved its own spot at the bar (or backyard BBQ) as a cocktail. Since it’s a low alcohol drink, you could easily sip on these all afternoon, playing horseshoes or whatever it is people do outside.
1/2 teaspoon harissa, or more to taste
8 ounces tomato juice
6 ounces freshly squeezed juice from about 2 grapefruits
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces freshly squeezed juice from about 2 oranges
1-1/2 ounces freshly squeezed juice from 2 lemons
2 ounces freshly squeezed juice from 2 to 3 limes
For Your Cocktail
Coarse smoked sea salt
4 ounces Sangrita Base
4 ounces Sculpin IPA, or any hoppy IPA
- To make the base, in a pitcher, whisk together harissa, black pepper and tomato juice. Add grapefruit juice, orange juice, lemon and lime juice. Stir to combine. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 8 hours maximum.
- To make the cocktail, wet the rim of a highball glass with grapefruit wedge, dip moistened edge in smoked sea salt. Add ice and 4 ounces of the sangrita base. Top with 4 ounces of IPA. Garnish with grapefruit wedge and serve.
Citrus is an ideal match for a hoppy IPA. The Sculpin IPA from Ballast imparts a lot of grapefruit and lemon in the flavor, as well as in the aroma, which not only compliments the tomato-citrus base, but also adds some needed bitterness to round out the drink. With beer cocktails, the effervescent quality will significantly lift a heavier based drink which can sometimes seem like a challenge to drink. It can also provide a smoother, creamy texture, making the drink feel more like a “cocktail” and less like juice (or in this case Gazpacho). If the Sculpin is not available in your area, look for a beer with this kind of citrus profile. And at the end of the day, if you run out of the base, this beer pairs excellently with barbecue too.