Crustafied whiskey - orange curaçao - lemon - angostura - notes on moving on from craft cocktails

Crustafied, a rye whiskey variation on the Brandy Crusta // stirandstrain.comAre you going to Tales this year? Can we meet at Tales? I’m reaching out to you about meeting up at TOTC… Sorry guys, I did not attend Tales of the Cocktail this year. I really don’t know when I’ll make that happen, if ever. However, I was able to bypass the crowds and the sweltering, miserable 105° heat with god-knows-how-high humidity and just look at everyone’s Instagram and Twitter and quite frankly that was great and totally enough, thanks.

Crustafied, a rye whiskey variation on the Brandy Crusta // stirandstrain.comLately though it’s been hard to muster up the interest to pretend everything is OK and go eventing and snap some ‘grams. Instead I’ve been compulsively scrolling through the news with an ever increasing knot in my stomach wondering what the hell is going on in the world. It makes all this social media and even this website seem, well…¯\_(ツ)_/¯

But I’ll save those thoughts and actions for offline, where I can actively do things and not just type type type on here. Anyways, to say the least, I’ve been pretty uninspired with drinks lately. I recently read on article on the End of the Craft Cocktail Movement, and while I initially wanted to get cocky and yell in an obnoxious manner no it’s not, I had to give the author a nod for touching on some truths. The truth being that, yeah, you can get a good cocktail practically anywhere and we as cocktail drinkers have come to expect that now. It’s not novel to be craft and to use fresh ingredients and make your own bitters and muddle in some cucumber. We ALL know how to do that and that’s a good thing. The scary part for people like myself is how do we move on from there.

When I was perusing the images from TOTC, one of the most intriguing things I saw was on Craft & Cocktails’ twitter. It was 4 images of weird stuff with the caption that they were “all cocktails”. You can see that post here and read my comments on it below. To sum up, I was most into the weirdest, the most wrong, the most confusing cocktail of the bunch that was a glass with what looked like dentures sitting in it.

Crustafied, a rye whiskey variation on the Brandy Crusta // stirandstrain.comSpectacle. We’re now moving onto spectacle. When we all expect what’s in the glass to taste great, you’re going to need a 3 ring circus to bring the audience in, at least when we’re talking about here in the blog/social media world. There has been a trend with the younger, newer drinking age audience to stop making drinks at home and to cease entertaining. Their eyeballs are glued onto their phones looking for the next great cat bar, not to necessarily go there, but to “like” the idea of it and quickly move on to the next strange idea.

Crustafied, a rye whiskey variation on the Brandy Crusta // stirandstrain.comThis is a weird spot to be in when you’ve been happily plugging along on your website, coming up in the (second? third?) craft cocktail movement and sharing a love of home bartending. The newer audience will not be home bartenders, and the audience you’ve been talking to is going to start getting home bartending fatigue. Even I see that in myself. I’ve stopped reading a lot of sites, even ones I’ve loved, and stopped browsing through a good chunk of the social media sites, and instead started reading more actual books again. I chuckle at the newest hashtag of #readafuckingbook and am actively giving my brain a break from the nonsense and just the relentless tragedy that coexist in the same feeds.

And so, here’s a little spectacle, wrapped around a good drink. The good folks at Copper & Kings just released an orange Curaçao that is pretty darn great and I added that into my variation here on a Brandy Crusta. First, I swapped some California rye whiskey in for the brandy and then instead of the sugar crusted rim and lemon peel, I made some lemon zest infused sugar and spun that around the glass. The sugar looked like amber when it hardened, and it made me happy to look at it. Like a little artwork on my glass.

Crustafied, a rye whiskey variation on the Brandy Crusta // stirandstrain.comI hope you all find a little something that makes you happy this week.

Crustafied!

2 ounces whiskey, Spirit Works Straight Rye Whiskey used here*
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 ounce orange curaçao, Copper & Kings intense orange curaçao used here*
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
Dash Angostura bitters
lemon-sugar garnish (recipe follows)

In a mixing glass 2/3 filled with ice, pour in the whiskey, lemon juice, orange curaçao, maraschino liqueur and Angostura. Stir to chill 20 seconds and strain into lemon-sugar crusted glass.

Lemon Infused Spun Sugar Garnish

1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar and lemon zest, stir to combine. When sugar starts to melt, stir constantly until sugar reaches a golden-brown color. Remove from heat immediately and continue to stir. As the sugar mixtures begins to cool, the liquid will thicken. Sugar is ready when a wooden spoon is dipped in and sugar pours off in a ribbon. Dip a coupe glass into the sugar and slowly pull out, twisting the sugar as you remove the glass. Hold upside down for about 30 seconds and then stand up to finish cooling. Set aside until ready to use.

Make It: Pistachio Orgeat

I need to apologize upfront to the reader who had asked about making this recipe two… three (??) years ago. At this point they’ve probably moved on, but I, however, kept this on my “to make” list and am finally, FINALLY, getting around to posting this. Sorry reader.

This will mark the third variation on orgeat I’ve done on the site (OK, one wasn’t technically mine) and I think this shows how adaptable some of these tried and true cocktail ingredients are. Sometimes plain old orgeat isn’t going to cut it and we need to sub in another kind of nut. Today we’re subbing in pistachios.

Pistachios give a savory, earthiness to the orgeat that you might be familiar with if you eat pistachio ice cream. It’s sweet, but hey, there’s a lot of savoriness in there too. Use this pistachio orgeat to pair with sweet tart flavors like passion fruit or berries.

A few notes on this recipe before you venture forward:

  • If you can find pre-shelled pistachios you will save a lot of time. You might even save yourself some broken fingernails (ugh).
  • Use WHITE sugar if you want to keep your orgeat a pretty avocado green. Yes, I constantly advocate for the use of unprocessed cane sugar, but if you use the unprocessed stuff with this pistachio orgeat, your color is going to turn a murky brown. It will taste fine, but won’t look pretty. Trust me, I know this for a fact.
  • Get yourself a nut bag for straining. Cheesecloth is fine but if you like these kinds of projects then a reusable nut bag will not only catch more of the fine bits while straining, but you get to reuse the bag over and over again. I like this bag, but any bag you prefer will probably be fine.
  • To orange flower water or not to orange flower water? That is the question with orgeats! Most recipes say optional but I say put it in. However, as always, it’s up to you.

Ok, let’s make this!

Yields approximately 2-1/2 cups

2 cups shelled roasted pistachios
2 cups water
2 cups granulated white sugar (see note above)
1 ounce vodka
1 teaspoon orange flower water, such as Nielsen-Massey (see note above)

  1. Place nuts in a bowl and fill with water to just cover them. Soak them for 30 minutes. Drain, place them in a freezer or Lewis bag, and crush them with a meat tenderizer or mallet.
  2. Place the crushed nuts in a large bowl and add the 2 cups of water to it. Let stand for four hours. Strain the nuts and water into another large bowl through a layer of cheesecloth, squeezing the cloth to extract all liquid. Add the nuts back into the strained water and let stand for another hour. This removes the oils from the nuts.
  3. Strain the liquid into a sauce pan and set aside the nuts for another use (I still recommend making chocolate bark with the nuts). Add the sugar to the pan and stir over medium high heat until sugar is dissolved (scrape the bottom occasionally with a spoon to remove any sugar that sticks). Remove from heat and let cool 15 minutes, then add the vodka and orange flower water. Stir and store in a clean glass bottle or air-tight container.

The Fig and Tonic Cocktail

Fig and Tonic Cocktail with Everclear // stirandstrain.comThis post is brought to you by Everclear. Recipes and ideas are my own.

Figs were never eaten around my house growing up. Unless you count that ubiquitous yellow box of cookies that I feel every 80’s parent was forcing on their kid because it might be seen as healthy. Fig Newtons were so weird. They had those crunchy bits and they weren’t that sweet, and yet they were called cookies. I probably couldn’t recognize a fig until I reached my twenties when I started working for a company that imported gourmet food. And then came the chocolate covered figs at holiday time. OH man–SO many people calling asking for those. The figs were not just covered in chocolate, they were enrobed. Which somehow just that word made them the most sexiest thing on the shelf. Enrobed in chocolate… I’d like to be enrobed in chocolate.

Fig and Tonic Cocktail with Everclear // stirandstrain.comSo, one word of marketing and suddenly figs were a delicacy, not an unidentifiable fruit. Now they’re a common farmer’s market item. They’ve lost a little of their sultry shine but I still find them a touch exotic. And this past week I received a whole basket of them in our CSA box and decided they were ripe for a cocktail.

Fig and Tonic Cocktail with Everclear // stirandstrain.comToday I’m mixing up this cocktail with Everclear as part of their Make It Your Own campaign. We’ve been using Everclear on the site for years to make everything from infusions to liqueurs to tinctures. And now we’re using it to make cocktails too! Let’s be clear, Everclear on its own is 190 proof, but when you mix it with non-proof ingredients like syrup and water, then the final proof will significantly reduce. Here we’re only looking at a total of 27 to 32 proof depending on how much tonic water you desire–the less tonic the higher the proof.

Fig and Tonic Cocktail with Everclear // stirandstrain.comWhy mix with Everclear? Because I wanted to taste the ingredients and not so much another liquor flavor in the cocktail this time. It also makes for a stronger cocktail that doesn’t get watered down from the tonic. And what a complex tasting cocktail this is!

Fig and Tonic Cocktail with Everclear // stirandstrain.comLetting the muddled figs steep in the Everclear for a bit makes the honeyed juice more prominent. Then to complement the figgy flavor, I created a vanilla syrup that gets some extra warming spice from black pepper, green cardamom, star anise and cloves. The vanilla really comes through but is much more complex in flavor from this spice blend. To offset some of the sweetness, a good dose of tonic water incorporates some bitterness into the cocktail while its effervescent bubbles distribute the flavors and bring out some aroma to your nose. The resulting cocktail is complex and yet clean tasting, refreshing and packs a punch. Ready to try one out?

Fig and Tonic Cocktail with Everclear // stirandstrain.comFig and Tonic Cocktail (27-32 proof)

1 ounce Everclear
2 figs, roughly chopped
3/4 ounce Spiced Vanilla Syrup (recipe below)
4-5 ounces tonic water

In the bottom of a shaker, muddle Everclear and figs. Let steep for 5 minutes. Add syrup and ice and shake for 20 seconds. Strain into a collins glass filled with fresh ice. Top with tonic water. Garnish with fig slice.

Spiced Vanilla Syrup

2 vanilla beans cut into 2″ pieces
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
3 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 star anise
4 whole cloves
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of water

Scrape seeds from the vanilla pieces and add to a small sauce pan. Then add in the vanilla pieces, peppercorns, cardamom pods, star anise, cloves, sugar and water. Stir to combine and turn heat to high. Bring to just a boil and lower heat to a simmer for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, remove from heat and let cool. Once cool, strain syrup into an airtight container. Syrup will keep up to one month in the refrigerator.

Brûléed Grapefruit and Mixed Citrus Punch with Vanilla and Piloncillo Reduction

Brûléed Grapefruit and Mixed Citrus Punch with Vanilla and Piloncillo Reduction // stirandstrain.comThis 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.

Brûléed Grapefruit and Mixed Citrus Punch with Vanilla and Piloncillo Reduction // stirandstrain.comI 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.

Brûléed Grapefruit and Mixed Citrus Punch with Vanilla and Piloncillo Reduction // stirandstrain.comEven 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.

Brûléed Grapefruit and Mixed Citrus Punch with Vanilla and Piloncillo Reduction // stirandstrain.comTo 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.

Brûléed Grapefruit and Mixed Citrus Punch with Vanilla and Piloncillo Reduction // stirandstrain.comThis 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!

Brûléed Grapefruit and Mixed Citrus Punch with Vanilla and Piloncillo Reduction // stirandstrain.comMakes 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
oleo saccharum
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.

Sparkling Pomegranate Caipirinha

Sparkling Pomegranate Caipirinha // stirandstrain.comFYI guys: you’re probably saying my name wrong. I don’t take offense; it’s been an issue going back to preschool. The spelling is what usually trips people up, especially now that I live in Los Angeles and an “a” is almost always pronounced “ahhhhh” when in fact my “a” is just a short “A”. Why am I talking about this then if it’s a non-issue?

Well, a few weeks back for Serious Eats I decided to make a festive riff on the Caipirinha. It’s a cocktail I love to drink, but only recently. Why the wait? Well, it’s embarrassing to admit, but I was shy about mispronouncing the name. I just sorta froze up about being schooled on the correct way to say the drink. Until I finally got comfortable with one bartender and had them say the name to me over and over and then it stuck.

Sparkling Pomegranate Caipirinha // stirandstrain.comI’m sure you all have had that moment in a bar. Intrigued by a drink but one look at the name and you end up passing on it. Too bad! You probably would have liked it. But you want to know what? Your bartender is NOT going to judge you (OK, let’s be real. Maybe one or two a-holes will.). They are there to tell you how to say things right so you can impress your friends next time when you order that intriguing sounding drink. They want to pass on that knowledge and inform you, their customer.

Sparkling Pomegranate Caipirinha // stirandstrain.comI had a similar experience with wine years ago when I was up in Napa at a tasting. The Sommelier, some laid back guy in jeans, and quite possibly a jean shirt too, told me that you either like a wine or you don’t. You can hate an expensive bottle and like something you picked up for $7. You don’t need to know if you’re smelling aromas of cherry or rotting wood, you should just want to drink it. I also learned that “legs” on a wine glass are bullshit and when you’re at a tasting, don’t throw back the whole glass (oops! I was young!!).

Sparkling Pomegranate Caipirinha // stirandstrain.comBut back to the drink. Now that we’re in the dull days of January, you already have this sunny Suze cocktail on hand, but here’s a zingy drink with a beautiful jewel tone, all thanks to some pomegranates. A Caipirinha is similar in structure to a Daiquiri, only swapping in cachaça for the rum, and whole lime pieces instead of just the juice, this cocktail has a bolder, huskier quality to it over the more refined and quieter Daiquiri.

That sour bite of the lime gets punched up by the sweet-tart pomegranate, with a little added crunch there from the seeds (sometimes I like a little something extra in my cocktails). Cachaca has an earthy flavor and here, the Leblon adds some floral aroma alongside a slightly peppery taste. By adding the sparkling wine, I find that it mixes the flavors together without dulling down their strong characteristics. You just need a touch of sugar here for balance, so don’t be afraid of adding that bar spoon full.

Sparkling Pomegranate Caipirinha // stirandstrain.comOn a side note here, some of you might read the recipe and see sparkling wine then pass over this because the thought of opening a whole bottle just to make one cocktail seems so wasteful. But wait! No need to pass on this, just buy a split! Yes, it’s enough for two of these but really, once you make one you’ll want another. And now, let’s say it together kye-peer-EEN-yah. And by the way, it’s e-LAY-nuh.

1 barspoon superfine sugar (1 teaspoon; 4g)
10 fresh pomegranate seeds
1/2 lime, quartered
1/2 ounce pomegranate juice (1 tablespoon; 15mL)
2 ounces cachaça, such as Leblon (4 tablespoons; 60mL)
3 ounces sparkling wine (6 tablespoons; 90mL)

In the bottom of a mixing glass, add the superfine sugar and pomegranate seeds. Crush the seeds with a muddler to break open. Add lime wedges and muddle 6 times to release their juice. Add pomegranate juice and cachaça and fill glass 2/3 full with ice. Shake until well chilled, about 20 seconds. Add sparkling wine to glass, then pour contents, without straining, into a double rocks glass. Add more fresh ice cubes if desired and serve immediately.

Five-Spice Bourbon Punch

5 Spice Bourbon Punch cocktails // stirandstrain.comCurrently I am sitting in a nicely air-conditioned room while outside is reaching temperatures of 117°F today. My birthday was this past week and I’ve decided that I’d like to spend all of my 30-year birthdays drifting around in a pool, drink in hand (or in an inflatable cup holder,what’s wrong with that?) while spending a few days in Palm Springs. For most of my 20-year birthdays, I somehow coordinated almost all of them to happen at bowling alleys and I’m a person who likes traditions so if I could somehow work it out that all of my 40’s are spent in castles in Europe I’d very much like that.

5 Spice Bourbon Punch cocktails // stirandstrain.comBut I’m not in the pool today. It’s too hot. While it might seem that the best way to counteract the scorching heat would be to live in the pool, I find that when temps creep almost to 120°F, the water ceases to be refreshing. The water, too, is hot.

5 Spice Bourbon Punch cocktails // stirandstrain.comSo the backup plan is to escape to the air-conditioned comfort of the house, draw the shades, and make myself a beverage to cool off with. Sweet, icy drinks are no good when it’s this hot out. Anything with a high sugar content right now makes me cranky and gives me a headache, and that’s the last thing you want when you have guests that are around trying to celebrate you. (Cake, by the way, does not count in this category.) So instead I batched up a savory, spicy syrup (because spicy is actually good for you when it’s hot out. Look at Indian food.) and mixed it up with some bourbon for a refreshing punch. Spicy bourbon punch is refreshing? Read about that argument here on Serious Eats when I just recently batched this drink up.

For now, I’ll park myself next to a large window, occasionally glance outside and remind myself it’s too hot to breathe and enjoy my cocktails in air-conditioned comfort. Happy weekend folks (and Happy Father’s Day to all you Dad’s out there)!5 Spice Bourbon Punch cocktails // stirandstrain.com

For the Five-Spice Syrup:

1 teaspoon whole Sichuan peppercorns
1 whole star anise pod
1 (6-inch) cinnamon stick or 2 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
5 whole cloves
1 teaspoon whole fennel seed
1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar

  • Toast Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, cloves, and fennel in a dry medium skillet over medium heat, tossing and stirring frequently until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add cinnamon stick, sugar, and water and place over medium high heat. Cook, stirring, until just starting to boil. Cover and remove from heat. Let rest for 2 hours. Strain into an airtight container. Five-spice syrup will last up to two weeks in the refrigerator.

For 4 Cocktails:

6 ounces bourbon, such as 4 Roses Yellow Label
3 ounces Five-Spice Syrup (see above)
2 ounces fresh juice from 2 to 3 limes
8 ounces club soda
Lime wedges for garnish

  • In a pitcher, combine bourbon, 3 ounces Five-spice syrup, and lime juice. Stir well. Add club soda and stir gently. To serve, fill rocks glasses with ice, pour in 4-3/4 ounces of the cocktail and top with lime wedges.

The sweet, savory, and pungent flavors of the Five Spice Syrup are an excellent pair to the rich, slightly sweet bourbon. And when you add in the lime juice and club soda, the whole cocktail gets loosened up a bit and really is quite refreshing.

Smoked Sugar Cubes and Another Take on an Old Fashioned

Homemade Smoked Sugar Cubes and Sour Cherry Cocktail // stirandstrain.comMy “to make” list is getting out of hand lately. And sometimes those late night scribbles have me scratching my head the next day as I’ve written down just single words like “cream” or “beer” and cannot recall what I was trying to reference. I think I need to keep a recorder by the bed. But then transcribing the next day might prove to be just as perplexing.Homemade Smoked Sugar Cubes and Sour Cherry Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

Alas, there is nothing more straightforward than an Old Fashioned. Liquor, bitters, sugar, it’s all wrapped up neat for you and tastes good without all the extra foo-foo. Ok, so maybe a bartender is throwing on a flamed orange peel, or adding in a brandied cherry, or doing just a little bit of foo-foo-ness. But instead of adding on more, I thought I’d take a look at the base ingredients.

The Smoky Citrus Rum Old Fashioned was just the start of delving into looking at the Old Fashioned and seeing what new flavor combinations I could make work. This all stemmed, by the way, from another scribbled note for ideas that read “cleaned up old fashioneds with interesting bitters”. I mean, you could build 100 drinks off of that comment. And I just might do that. But for now I’m just giving you two.Homemade Smoked Sugar Cubes and Sour Cherry Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

And this one has a DIY project! Yay!Homemade Smoked Sugar Cubes and Sour Cherry Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

First, I realized that you all were going to get bored real quick if the only thing I was doing was changing up the bitters. Hell, I got bored with that idea after 2 minutes and moved on to the idea of homemade sugar cubes. So easy, right?! Wrong. Well, it’s going to be easy now because I spent the better part of a month trying out techniques and perfecting this. For you guys.Homemade Smoked Sugar Cubes and Sour Cherry Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

Things to know about making your own sugar cubes:

  1. You must use superfine sugar, granulated sugar does not make for a solid cube.
  2. Don’t try and speed this up by microwaving. All these recipe how-to’s I read on making sugar cubes all reference the microwave and I think they are ALL LYING. All the microwave did was melt my sugar, even on low power.
  3. Mini ice cube trays are amazing for perfectly sized cubes. But not necessary. Your choice.

Homemade Smoked Sugar Cubes and Sour Cherry Cocktail // stirandstrain.comThese smoked sugar cubes taste amazing with sour cherry. Instead of doing that blasphemous thing where you muddle some neon cherries in a glass and call it and Old Fashioned, here I’ve combined sour cherry bitters from Miracle Mile with some tasty bourbon to compliment the heady smoked flavor of the cubes.

Smoked Sugar Cubes

1 cup superfine sugar
2 teaspoons smoke tincture
2 teaspoons water

  • Combine sugar, smoke tincture and water in a bowl. Mix until well combined, similar to the texture of wet sand. Pack sugar into a mini ice cube tray, tamping down each hole. Alternatively, you can spread mixture out in a 1/4 size sheet pan (you might want to double the recipe amount) pressing down hard. Let mixture sit out to dry overnight. When sugar has hardened, pop cubes out of the molds, or cut cubes to size. Store in an airtight container.

Smoked Sugar and Sour Cherry Old Fashioned

2-3 mini smoked sugar cubes
2 dashes Miracle Mile Sour Cherry Bitters
2 ounces bourbon, W.L. Weller used here
optional, blood orange peel for garnish

  • In a mixing glass, add sugar cubes then dash in bitters. Muddle to combine. Add ice 1/2 way up glass and pour in whiskey. Stir to combine about 20 seconds. Strain into a rocks glass with a single large ice cube or 2 smaller cubes. Express orange over the glass and add in peel.

The smoke lingers in the back but adds a strong backbone to the drink. Sour cherry bitters add just a touch of bitterness and some sweetness to the rich bourbon. I chose the blood orange for just a hint of citrus and mainly for aesthetics due to the lovely red speckling all over the orange peel.

MxMo: Pineapple Gomme Syrup and a Pisco Punch!

Pineapple Gomme Syrup & Pisco Punch // stirandstrain.com
Mixology Monday LogoFor Mixology Monday, I had thought I was starting out on a simple quest: make a pineapple gomme syrup (this month’s theme is PINEAPPLE, hosted by Thiago from Bartending Notes and gomme syrup, FYI, helps to create a smooth mouthfeel in cocktails and was widely used a long time ago; now it’s peeping it’s head back up again). However, as I started to leaf through the indexes of several of my go-to cocktail books, I came to the realization that no one had a recipe. WTH? So on to consult the internet and of course, some of the serious cocktailians out there had already covered the basic gomme (or gum) syrup. Thanks guys!

The first thing you’re going to need is gum arabica powder. Oh? Where the hell are you going to get that? Well, the internet is pretty helpful (click here for resource). But, if you’re like me and you need to make it RIGHT NOW, then gum arabica powder is also known as acacia powder and can be found at Whole Foods and at Vitamin stores. And here’s something funny: acacia powder is also a fiber supplement for, you know, helping you be regular. So…added benefit?Pineapple Gomme Syrup & Pisco Punch // stirandstrain.com

There were a couple methods out there for making the gomme, but for sake of time, I chose the most rapid method via A Mountain of Crushed Ice.

4 tablespoons gum arabica powder (or acacia powder)
2 ounces hot water

Heat water to just about boiling (I used an electric water kettle) and slowly mix into the powder in a heat-proof bowl. Then stir to combine, pushing clumps of powder into the side of the bowl to break it up. Let the mixture absorb for 20 minutes and then briskly stir again. Repeat process until all the powder is dissolved (this took about an hour for me).

Next, make a pineapple syrup. Unlike my other syrups, this will be a 2:1 ratio, or a rich syrup.

2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 cup pineapple chunks, plus 2 tablespoons juice

In a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat, combine sugar and water. Stir until dissolved and add pineapple chunks and juice. Bring to a boil and immediately remove from heat. Cover and let sit two hours (if you desire a stronger pineapple flavor, let it sit up to 4). Strain pineapple chunks (use them for garnishes or to top some pancakes). Add gomme and stir to combine. Bottle in an airtight container. Total mixture yields about 2-1/2 cups.Pineapple Gomme Syrup & Pisco Punch // stirandstrain.com

Now at this point you can pat yourself on the back and stare at your freshly made bottle of pineapple gomme syrup and then exclaim, NOW WHAT? Put it in a cocktail!

Pineapple gomme syrup seems to be most commonly used in the Pisco Punch. So start there if this is all new to you. If you’ve covered this base already, please feel free to share what you use it in.

Pisco Punch

barely adapted from Paul Clarke

2 ounces pisco, Campo de Encanto used here
1/2 ounce pineapple gomme syrup (recipe above)
3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice

pineapple chunk and sprig of mint for garnish

In a shaker 2/3 filled with ice, add all ingredients and shake well about 20 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. Garnish with a pineapple chunk (those sugared leftovers are perfect here) and a sprig of mint.

Since we’re using a rich syrup here, I cut the amount back from the original recipe by a 1/4 ounce. I found the drink a touch too sweet on the first try. By doing this, the fruitiness of the pisco comes through a bit more with hints of peach and citrus. The lemon juice gives a pleasant bite that contrasts nicely with the sweetness. Overall, super smooth (thanks gomme!) and an easy sipper.

Thanks again to Thiago for hosting this month and Fred for keeping Mixology Monday alive.

Bake It: Piña Colada Baked Doughnuts

Piña Colada Baked Doughnuts // stirandstrain.comDid you know the song Do You Like Piña Coladas is about a couple who decide  to cheat on each other just to find out that the anonymous person they were talking to was actually each other? Kinda makes the idea of drinking one of these a tad sleazy. I’m not making you a Piña Colada today; not one you can drink anyway. You’re going to get one you can EAT.

I have a love/hate relationship with all these food holidays and designated “weeks” “days” and “months”. It’s OK, I guess, to celebrate meatballs or Velveeta, but doughnuts? I’m getting on board with this one… if only because it gives me another excuse to bake for this site.Piña Colada Baked Doughnuts // stirandstrain.comPiña Colada Baked Doughnuts // stirandstrain.com

On twitter, there are a hefty amount of bakers, food bloggers, etc. that I follow. And why not? I like food. At some point this week I picked up on the hashtag #doughnutweek and realized that it culminated with this Friday being national doughnut day. Now, lately I will look for any excuse to make doughnuts. And before you go thinking I’ve got a fryolator out on my back porch, I mean baked doughnuts. The easiest, fastest, marginally-better-for-you-version of the regular doughnut. So I decided I’d add one more recipe to this pile; except my recipe would have rum in it. Naturally.Piña Colada Baked Doughnuts // stirandstrain.com

I’m not even sure why I thought a Piña Colada doughnut would have to be it. Maybe it was that dang song I had stuck in my head. But that was pretty much my first thought about what doughnut to would make an appearance on the site. So here you go folks, let’s bake.pinacoladadoughnut-6

Coconut Doughnuts

Adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction
yields 6-8 doughnuts
1 cup (125g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
scant 1/3 cup (59g) granulated sugar (I used Zulka Pune Cane Sugar here*)
1/4 cup (60ml) Coco Lopez Coconut Cream (or sub full fat coconut milk)
1/4 cup (60g) Greek yogurt
1 large egg
2 tablespoons (30g) unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon amber rum

Pineapple-Rum Glaze

6 tablespoons powdered sugar
1-1/2 teaspoon amber rum
2-1/2 tablespoons pineapple juice

Toppings

1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
2 tablespoons pineapple pieces

  • For the toppings: Heat oven to 250°F. In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, add shredded coconut. When it starts to brown, start stirring so nothing burns and all the coconut gets browned evenly. This should take about 5 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside. Place pineapple pieces on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or a silpat, spread so none are touching. Bake to dehydrate for 3 hours, turning with a spatula every hour. Turn off heat and let rest for an additional hour. Remove from oven and cool in an airtight container.
  • For the doughnuts: Heat oven to 350°F. Spray doughnut pan with nonstick spray, or, if your pan is nonstick, this is optional (I never need to add anything to my pan).
  • Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, and granulated sugar together in a medium bowl. Set aside. Whisk the Coco Lopez, yogurt, and egg together until smooth. Add the melted butter and rum, whisking until fully combined. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Do not overmix. The batter will be very thick.
  • Spoon the batter into the donut cups. (I also used the trick mentioned in the original recipe where the batter is spooned into a ziplock, one end of the bag snipped off, and the batter piped into the doughnut pan. This is a pretty good trick)
  • Bake for 9–10 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned. Allow the donuts to slightly cool before glazing.
  • For the glaze: Combine sugar, rum and pineapple juice in a small bowl. Using a small whisk or form, stir until all sugar has been dissolved. Add dehydrated pineapple to the glaze.
  • Assembly: When doughnuts have cooled slightly, dip into glaze and then dip into toasted coconut shreds.

These doughnuts are SO moist. Not too sweet and super coconut-y. If you’d like to make these kid friendly, just take the rum out. It’s not like they’re going to miss it (or at least I hope not). The pineapple pieces stay in place if you stick them in the glaze first and then dip the doughnuts in. Also, dehydrating the pineapple is totally optional. They taste great fresh too. And if you want to completely skip the toppings and just eat them straight out of your pan, you can do that too. It’s doughnut week after all. Piña Colada Baked Doughnuts // stirandstrain.com

*Zulka Pure Cane sugar is an all natural, vegan, non-gmo and minimally processed sugar. Items generously given gratis and appear here because I like them. For more info on sponsored products, affiliate links, and gifted booze, please visit the About page.

Hibiscus-Tequila Cooler

Hibiscus Lime Cooler Pitcher #Cocktail // stirandstrain.comAs much as I love throwing together some cocktails when a friend or two stops by, when a small crowd starts to gather I freeze up, spill liquor all over the place and add salt when it should have been sugar. That’s why I love pitcher cocktails for crowds at my house. Besides turning to all thumbs, I’d rather be mingling, drink already made in my hand, then trying to mix and half listen to a story being told to me. Anyone else like this?

Spring and Summer tends to pack the weekends with parties, and this bright, floral pitcher cocktail is just SO refreshing and delicious you could serve it at least a couple of times before changing it up. Now, I know this is calling for limes. Don’t let that ingredient mean you’re passing this up! You can easily switch out the lime for other citrus combinations; grapefruit and lemon, kumquats, tangerines… as long as you get a fragrant, slightly sweet and not too sour flavor.Hibiscus Lime Cooler Pitcher #Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

Another nice fact about pitcher drinks: they can mostly be assembled beforehand and topped off before the party starts. Less stress this summer; you are welcome.

Note: my pitcher is on the small side, serving about 6. If yours is much larger this can easily be doubled (or hell, tripled). And be careful with the hibiscus! This little flower goes from tangy to bitter super fast so don’t walk away and forget about it when you’re steeping.Hibiscus Lime Cooler Pitcher #Cocktail // stirandstrain.com

Hibiscus-Lime Syrup:

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/3 dried hibiscus flowers
zest from one lime
2 ounces lime juice from 2-3 limes

Over medium-high heat, bring sugar and water to just under a boil. Remove from heat and add hibiscus and lime zest. Stir, cover and let steep for 15 minutes. Strain, let cool and add lime juice.

For the drinks:

1 lime, sliced thin
1 cup hibiscus-lime syrup (recipe above)
1 cup tequila, Herradura Tequila Silver used here
2 cups tonic water, chilled

For the drink: In a pitcher, add lime slices, syrup and tequila. If not using right away, store in refrigerator. Otherwise, add tonic water and stir to combine. Serve over ice with lime wedges.

Tart and tangy, the hibiscus-lime mixture provides a lift to the vegetal nature of the tequila. The tonic gives a hint of bitter and sweetness to the final drink, along with a nice effervescence. If tonic is too overpowering for you, club soda can be substituted.

I originally posted this recipe on the Serious Drinks site.