So instead I decided that I should somehow infuse cacao nibs into a cocktail and work with that. What I ended up making was a drink that was a riff on a box of chocolates: the smell of chocolate, toasted almonds and spices all infused within some rye whiskey. (You can read more on that over at the Serious Drinks site.)
The infusion is quick so if you start it today you can actually make this for Valentine’s Day if you wanted. This would more than likely earn you some brownie points since it means you thought ahead of time.
So let’s start cocktailing!
Cacao Nib, Toasted Almond, and Spice Infused Rye
1/3 cup cacao nibs
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
5 allspice berries
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
2 2” long cinnamon sticks
1/2 inch cube ginger, peeled and sliced
1-1/2 cups rye whiskey, such as Redemption Rye
In an airtight container, combine all ingredients and swirl to combine. Let sit for 2 days then fine strain into a clean airtight container (you may need to strain a second time). Let sit an additional day or two to mellow. Infusion is now ready to use and will last indefinitely (best flavor within one year though).
Now the cocktail:
1-3/4 ounce cacao nib infused rye
3/4 ounce Oloroso Sherry
1/2 freshly squeezed meyer lemon juice, from 1/2 lemon
bar spoon luxardo cherry syrup from jar of cherries
Fill a mixing glass 2/3 full with ice. Add infused rye, sherry, lemon juice, and syrup from the cherry jar. Stir until well chilled, about 25 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with cherry and serve.
The aroma from the infusion is intoxicating. Warm spices combined with a rich chocolate aroma followed by the nutty toasted almonds. And it gets better in the cocktail which is both bright and decadent. Let the drink sit for a minute after you’ve poured it, as that lets all the smells really open up as it looses it’s chill.
Science Magic! The idea of ingredients going into something and coming out weeks later transformed into something else is a culinary world of mystery that intrigues me. When the concept of barrel aging your own cocktails became a trend I was all on board. It was yet one more way I could control and experiment with drinks.
Here in Los Angeles barrel aged cocktails are now familiar faces on menus but that’s where they seem to stay. I guess there isn’t really a consumer market for large barrels of one cocktail.
Wait. There is at MY house.
For some time now I’ve been dying to try barrel aging at home since it seemed like a DIY project that was very hands off. Step 1, booze goes into barrel. Step 2, wait around a bit. Step 3, uncork and enjoy. Pretty easy, right?
I thought so and accepted the challenge from Uncommon Goods* to try out barrel aging on a small scale (meaning without a barrel). Instead a barrel stave is stuck in the jar with the cocktail ingredients. It’s still all an easy to handle project scale. It’s also a cheaper alternative to buying a barrel and needing to explain to Christopher that the hallway closet is now the home of said barrel and nothing else.
The big question now is…. WHAT TO MAKE IN IT??? I could go for a Manhattan or a Negroni but really, I’ve had those barrel aged versions so many times out at bars that there has got to be a better cocktail to age. I’m wavering between a Hanky Panky and a Martinez. Can someone out there help me pick? Would a Martinez get too soft in there, or a Hanky Panky get too.. herbal?
If you all would like to try your hand at some DIY cocktail and boozy projects, Uncommon goods has a bunch of fun sets on their site over here. In the meantime, I’m going to weigh the pros and cons of what to make and if someone has a better idea, I’ll think about that too.
Stay tuned to find out who made it into the barrel the week of February 24th! And if you’re in L.A. I might invite you over for a taste.
*Items generously given gratis and appear here because I like them. Uncommon Goods are supporters of independent artisans and place importance on the designer. Got a design you think they might like? Check out their design challenges. For more info on sponsored products, affiliate links, and gifted booze, please visit the About page.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s make the tincture first.
1/2 cup grain alcohol (151 proof)
1/2 cup rosemary leaves, cleaned and de-stemmed
Combine alcohol and rosemary in an airtight container. Let sit for 7 days in a cool, dark place, gently agitating once a day. Filter leaves out of the liquid through a fine strainer. Bottle into dropper bottles, or in an airtight container.
*Note: although the color of the tincture will start out bright green, it will naturally settle into a brownish color. Albeit, not as nice, but the aroma will still be present.
2-1/2 oz. gin, Fords Gin used here
1/2 oz. dry vermouth
1-2 drops rosemary tincture (recipe above)
In a chilled cocktail glass, add rosemary tincture and rise glass, pouring off excess. In a mixing glass filled with ice, stir gin and vermouth for about 20 seconds. Strain into prepared cocktail glass.
Here the subtle rosemary is a great companion for the juniper and citrus notes in the gin. It’s a pretty bright martini and that woodsy accent helps round out the drink.
Update: it has come to light that some precautions must be taken with making your own tonic at home using cinchona bark. Remember to TRIPLE filter until no solids are left. Please read this article if you are new to making tonics at home.
It feels so good to check something off my “To Make” list. And thanks to Mixology Monday, I got to do that today. Some time ago I happened upon an article about making your own tonic syrup. I forget where now, but I immediately added it to my ever fluctuating list of projects I assign myself. Making the syrup seemed the obvious choice this month as HIGHBALLS! was the assigned theme by Joel over at the Southern Ash blog. What is Mixology Monday you might be asking yourself (if you are new around this site)? Well, every month a group of cocktail (and food bloggers…we’re not picky) get together and face a challenge presented by whoever is “hosting” this online cocktail party that month. To check out what we did last year, please check out the archives over on the MxMo site, there were quite a few epic drinks. Everyone submits by the deadline and we eagerly await the roundup to see what everyone came up with, and secretly friend-hate on those that did a better job than you. It’s all about community.
One of my favorite Highball drinks is a Gin & Tonic (also Amaro Highballs but we’ve already covered that on here), and what better way to feature this drink than with an amazing homemade tonic syrup? What is your go-to Tonic Water? Do you like some of the more exotic ones like Fever-Tree or Q-Tonic? Or do you go with plain ol’ Canada Dry? No judgement here; I’ve had them all. Before I became aware that you can actually MAKE your own, I was a big fan (still am) of Fever-Tree’s Indian Tonic Water. It had more character than I had experienced in other tonic waters and added a nice, spicy flavor profile to a G&T. In making my own, I wanted to capture some of that spiciness, but also introduce more bolder flavors into the mix. The tonic ingredients moved away from what I thought of mostly as “Indian” spices (cardamom, coriander) and moved more into the broader category of “Southeast Asian” (kaffir lime leaves, ginger).
Since this was my first time venturing down the path of this DIY project I sought out someone who I trust implicitly with these homemade concoctions: Morgenthaler. (You can read his original recipe with the link below.) Ingredients were tweaked from his original to include other’s favorites and whatever I had in my spice cabinet that I thought would be interesting. Spoiler alert: it’s pretty interesting. Also, tasty.
4 cups water
2-3 dried Kaffir Lime Leaves
4 whole green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1/2 tsp. whole allspice berries
1/2 whole star anise
1/4 tsp. whole white peppercorns, lightly crushed
1/2 tsp. whole coriander seeds, lightly crushed
1″ knob of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped 1/4 cup cinchona bark powder (update: cut this back to 2 tablespoons)
1/4 cup citric acid
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
zest and juice from one lime
zest and juice from one lemon
zest and juice from one orange
7 oz. sugar
1 oz. vodka, optional
Combine all ingredients except sugar in a medium sauce pan. Stir to combine (a slight skin may form over the top, don’t worry, that will dissipate once the boil starts). Heat over high heat until a rolling boil is reached. Reduce to low and let simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Strain through a fine strainer and cheesecloth. Strain a second time through a coffee filter to remove any remaining sediment and a third time if solids are still left. You DO NOT want any remaining solids in your final product. Pour strained mixture back into a clean sauce pan over medium heat, after mixture warms, about 3-5 minutes, add sugar and stir to combine. Once sugar has fully melted, about 7-9 mintues, remove from heat. Let cool and then transfer to an airtight container. If not using right away, add one ounce vodka to syrup.
Gin and Southeast Asian Tonic
2 oz. tonic syrup (recipe above)
2-1/2 oz. carbonated water
2 oz. Gin, Hendrick’s used here
Build the cocktail by adding all three ingredients to a highball (or double rocks if you’d like one large ice cube) glass filled with ice. Stir gently to combine. Garnish with a small lime wedge.
Holy flavor bomb Batman! This syrup has a lot of spice and tartness going on, but one ingredients does not overpower the other. The citrus element here is very strong in the tonic and I found that adding lime wedges, which I usually squeeze in, were not needed. If you close your eyes and slowly taste, you can definitely point out the pepper, the coriander, etc. But it’s so refreshing and delicious you’re just going to want to gulp it down.
**If you have a hard time sourcing herbs in your neighborhood, Dandelion Botanical Company is a great online resource (and where I get the majority of mine).
Thanks to the Southern Ash blog for hosting this month and to Fred for keeping the dream alive. Check back here next week for the round up of everyone’s submissions.
You know what is great about making infused booze at home? It’s a lazy man’s project. You just need time (FYI, make a calendar reminder as soon as you start your infusion. No forgetting about it after you stash it in a cool, dark place!) This one might be a bit more involved, but you could also make some great spiced-infused bourbon if the cutting and gutting (is that the correct terminology?) of a pumpkin is not your thing. I understand; knives can be scary.
The recipe falls into two parts. Total time is about 2-3 weeks.
Part the First:
Dehydrate your pumpkin! Why? Dehydrating removes excess moisture from the squash and intensifies the “pumpkin” flavor.
1 organic sugar pumpkin, about 8″ diameter
Heat your oven to 200°F.
Cut your pumpkin in half from stem to bottom. Scoop out seeds (discard, or roast if that’s your thing. Personally I can’t stand them.) and slice into 1/2″ moons.
Spread the slices on a baking sheet and move that to the oven. Wait six hours. Watch if you want occasionally. It’s like the Shrinky Dinks of my childhood.
After 6 hours, turn the slices over. Bake another 6 hours. This will fully dry the slices out for infusion.
Give the container a good swirl to make sure all ingredients are covered with liquid. Stick the jar in a cool, dark place for two weeks.
After two weeks, strain all material out of the liquid using cheese cloth over a fine mesh strainer into a storage container (I reused the Buffalo Trace bottle).
Taste the infusion. You have two options now.
First, you can use as is. Second, bottle and wait an additional week to mellow out the flavor.
Why would you wait one more week? Right after discarding the solids the flavor of the infusion is quite sharp. Giving the infusion a week to sit let’s the flavors meld and mellow out. But this is entirely up to you. Like it sharp? Start using it now.
What to do with this infusion? Well, for one, you can drink it over ice. It’s pretty much a flavor bomb of Fall smells. The sugar pumpkin has enough sweetness in it that it creates a nice balance with the whiskey. For those of you who want something a little less Fall tasting than just drinking Pimento Dram, this is for you.
I’m going to play with this over the next week or so and see what I come up with for some cocktail suggestions. That gives you some time to start infusing. So get going!
Caramel is boiling sugar. The recipe moves quickly so get all your ingredients together before you start and please, try not to spill it on yourself, it will hurt like hell.
Adapted recipe from The Gourmandise School
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 tbsp unsalted butter, Plugra is awesome and used here
1 cup heavy cream, room temp
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 cup water
1 tsp fleur de sel, Murray River used here
1 oz. Buffalo Trace Bourbon
Seeds from one vanilla bean, or 1 tsp of vanilla bean paste
In a heavy bottomed sauce pan, combine sugar, water, vanilla seeds (or paste), and lemon juice. Stir once to combine. On medium high heat, cook until sugar dissolves, brushing the sides of the pan with a damp pastry brush if sugar crystals stick to the sides. Bring to a boil, undisturbed (do NOT STIR), until sugar reaches a dark amber color. (This can take anywhere between 10-20 minutes. Whatever you do, don’t leave the pan. It will almost always burn if you step away.)
Carefully add the cream. It will bubble and hiss like crazy, but this is normal. Bring back to a boil, then add in butter, salt and bourbon. Stir to combine and until slightly thickened, about 3-5 minutes.
Let cool and then jar up.
Here’s a few notes:
Your sauce is going to look watery at first. Don’t keep cooking it. If you pull a spoon out of the sauce and it leaves a layer, your sauce is thickened. As it cools it will thicken up much more. And once you stick it in the fridge, the next day it’s even more thick.
DO NOT STIR IT WHILE IT COOKS. Just don’t, it will create crystals and it will be grainy and gross.
The bourbon is added at the end, so you will taste it. That is the point of adding it to the sauce. Don’t like bourbon? You can add an aged rum if you like. Or just leave out the booze too if you have to.
Besides the lovely bourbon taste, mainly you are going to get a buttery, salted caramel with hints of vanilla. And you will keep telling yourself, One more spoonful, until there is nothing left.
Here’s the thing about smoking herbs: use organic, and if possible, from your own garden (that’s where mine came from). Not sure if your grocery store has organic you can trust? Go to a farmer’s market and ask the person selling the herbs if they use pesticides or chemicals on their herbs. Why go through all the trouble? Because crap in crap out. The smoke from this drink will be IN your drink and you are going to ingest it. Do you want weird unknown substances being brought to high temperatures and those fumes entering your mouth? You don’t care? You like huffing sharpies? Fine, you’ve been warned.
The blackberries here in Southern California are starting to go tart, so for this cocktail, I wanted to use them up in a syrup, as they would not give enough sweetness just muddling them into the drink. FYI, this syrup is super thick. If you’re not sure what to do with the leftover syrup, there is only one way to go: PANCAKES.
Rich Blackberry Syrup
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
heaping 1/2 cup of blackberries
Bring all the ingredients to a boil then simmer for a half hour; gently mash blackberries down while the mixture cooks. Remove from heat and let cool. Once cool, strain and bottle syrup. If not using all right away, add 1/2 ounce of vodka to mixture and keep refrigerated up to 3 months. (I refer to this as ‘rich’ due to the viscous nature of the final syrup. This is not a true ‘rich’ simple syrup, since I am still using a 1:1 sugar water ratio.)
And now the drink:
2 oz The Black Grouse Blended Scotch Whisky
3/4 oz Blackberry Syrup (recipe above)
1/2 oz freshly squeezed lime juice
3 dashes Scrappy’s Celery Bitters
2 cleaned sprigs of rosemary, approximately 5″-6″ long
tea candle and holder (I found a jam jar worked great for keeping distance between the flame and the rosemary. You want at least 3 inches of clearance between the two.)
piece of card stock larger than the diameter of your glass
IMPORTANT: get everything ready before you begin, this will move fast. Light the tea candle and place the rosemary across the top on the jam jar/candle holder. This will take a minute to warm up and start smoking. It’s best if your rosemary has not dried completely from cleaning (not wet, but not bone dry). In a shaker filled 2/3 with ice, add the first four ingredients and shake well until chilled. Set aside. Once the rosemary starts to smoke, place a snifter glass over the top so that the smoke fills the glass completely. Using the card stock, slide it over the top of the glass to “hold” the smoke inside until you pour your drink in. Remove the rosemary from the candle. When you are ready, quickly remove the card stock and strain the contents of the shaker into the glass.
Woodsy, rosemary tinged smoke fills the glass. Those notes infuse through the lightly sweetened berry flavor with tart background highlights. The Black Grouse is mellowed out and given an almost honey quality, while also heightening the smoky flavor. Even when you no longer can see the smoke, it stays with the drink from first to last sip.
On the celery bitters: these you CANNOT leave out. You will not taste celery, but what they do is provide an amazing amount of balance. Without them, the drink is both too sharply tart and too sweet. A few drops and it balances everything out. Kinda amazing how bitters do that.
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.
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).
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
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.
Jelly with an ounce of booze I’ve heard of, but making a jelly whose star ingredient was the booze? Research was in order. A friend of mine who cans on a semi-regular basis suggested I go look up Wine Jelly. So, jelly made with alcohol was a thing. I found a pretty standard recipe and cut it in half. If this didn’t work out, I wasn’t about to waste an entire bottle of Fernet Branca. I bought a second bottle though as a just in case.
Here are a couple things you need to know about this recipe before trying it.
I am not a home canner. I made a small batch and it filled about 3 of the small 8 ounce mason jars. With the taste testing I’ve gone through them already (less then a week). Since they did not go through a hot water bath to bring to temp to kill off bacteria, I cannot guarantee how long yours will last. However, if you don’t consume all of it within a few days. Keep sealed in the fridge and eat within a month. If you DO can. Congratulations. Hot water process and keep them in your pantry until you want to use them.
I was happy, really happy, after the first pass at this. However, the texture did include some sugar crystals that did not render the jelly smooth as silk. However, one of the aspects of this site is to get YOUR feedback. If you make this and you have some pointers on how to improve up on this, add them to the comments section below. I’d love to hear about your experience.
The recipe comes together quickly. So have everything ready once you begin, because you will NOT be able to leave the stove.
This is not a super sweet jelly. I wanted the flavor of the Fernet Branca to be the star. That’s the whole point of this experiment. That said, there IS sugar added to this recipe, otherwise you couldn’t make a jelly. You could always reduce the Fernet over a low heat to make a reduction/syrup. That would also be tasty, but not a jelly.
This is a quick cook, and the alcohol is not killed off. There is A LOT that remains. Did I get drunk off of eating this? No, but you can taste the alcohol, so be warned.
OK, with those points covered, let’s start the fun.
1-3/4 cup of Fernet Branca
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 oz. Pure Apple Pectin
2 cups granulated sugar
Combine first three ingredients over medium-high heat in a medium sized non-reactive sauce pan (stainless steel is good). Stir constantly until the ingredients start to boil, scraping down the sides all the time you are stirring. Add sugar carefully to the mixture, stir to combine, and keep stirring while bringing back the entire mixture to a rolling boil. Once boil is reached, boil rapidly for two minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully pour into 3 8-oz. sized mason jars, or one large jar with a tight fitting lid*. Cover and let cool. Once cool, store in refrigerator. See notes above about storage.
*If you ARE a home canner, at this point process your hot water bath.
And the result? It’s SO Fernet Branca, except slightly sweetened and spreadable. Cooking it does not reduce it’s pungent flavor, as it still has that wonderful minty and bitter flavor. How did I enjoy it? With a generous dab of Plugra butter on a biscuit. Perfect morning fuel. It was also consumed by the spoonful.
Are you game to try this? I’d love to hear about it if you do.
Recipe adapted from L.A. Times
3/4 cup sugar
12 oz. Aperol
3/4 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp chipotle powder
9 sheets of gold gelatin
Combine sugar and water in a sauce pan. Bring to just about a boil and remove from heat. Soften gelatin sheets in a bowl of water for 2 minutes, ring water out and mix them into the sugar syrup. Stir until gelatin is dissolved. Add Aperol, cayenne and chipotle powders to the syrup and stir to combine. Line a 8″x8″ pan with plastic wrap and pour mixture into the pan. You can also pour into individual silicone molds. Refrigerate overnight to set. To serve, cut into squares.
Optional sugar coating:
Pour a 1/2 cup of granulated sugar into a bowl. Add jellies a few at a time to coat. Shake off excess and coat a second time. Serve immediately.
Each little square has the sweet bitter flavor of the Aperol, but with an earthy fire from the powders. That cayenne heats hits the back of your throat for a nice spicy bite. You do not need to sugar coat them, but if you do, you could pass them off as elegant candies.