Month: June 2014

The Briarpatch

Briarpatch

This drink, or at least its bones, has been knocking around in my head since before I launched Experiments From The Bar.  I’ve jotted down or typed out a couple of variations, but never put any of them together, because they just didn’t feel right.  This evening, in an attempt to be a good husband, I gave the living room a good dusting.  I was in the midst of wiping all the bottles from the bar down with a wet rag when I picked up the bottle of crème de cassis and thought tonight’s as good as any to try out the Briarpatch.

The core ingredients have remained the same in all the iterations of the potential recipe: bourbon and crème de cassis.  The other ancillary ingredients, which in the end define the drink, have shifted around.  Bitters, certainly a must, but which?  Something herbal, as well, that seems right.  That last bit ran the range from an absinthe wash, to a dash of crème de menthe, to Amaro.  What about a mixer?  Soda water?  No, that’ll just dilute things down without adding anything.  With no mixer, the crème de cassis might come on too strong.

That gives you some idea of how I end up thinking through a drink recipe, but I’m sure you’re more interested in the final recipe.  In the end, I tackled the herbal and bitters question with a single ingredient, Peychaud’s bitters, which brings some anise and dark fruit notes to the drink without being overpowering.  I did decide a mixer was needed, and my recent infatuation with Fever-Tree saw the addition of their ginger ale.  In the end, the final recipe turned out to be:

  • 2 parts Buffalo Trace bourbon
  • 0.75 parts crème de cassis
  • 4 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
  • 2 dashes Fee Brothers’ old fashioned bitters
  • Topped with Fever-Tree ginger ale

All ingredients were combined over a single, large piece of ice and lightly stirred.  This prevents the drink from getting to chilly, which would alter the flavor, particularly of the crème de cassis, losing some of the faint sourness that cordial carries.

Advertisements

The Isis Cocktail

The Isis Cocktail

Named for the Isis River, as the stretch of the Thames that runs through Oxford is called, this drink just sort of happened, but after taking the first sip, the name came into my mind without any pause.  I made a stop into my usual package store to pick up a nice Belgian style strong ale, and a bottle of Fever-Tree ginger ale for some friends from out of state I’ll be seeing this weekend, and decided to pick up a pack of their very excellent Bitter Lemon as well.

I hadn’t been planning on making cocktails this evening, but was suddenly hit by a wave of nostalgia for the time I spent at Oxford, and the innumerable gin and bitter lemons I drank there.  I kept thinking about the Isis, and sitting by the banks with a drink in hand watching people out punting on the river, the flowers in bloom, and this is what came from those musings.

The results are a very clean, lightly floral drink, with the slight bitterness from the bitter lemon accented by the faintest hint of ginger.  The ingredients are as follows:

  • 2 parts Hendrick’s gin
  • 0.25 parts crème de viollete
  • 0.25 parts Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur
  • 2 parts Fever-Tree bitter lemon
  • 5 dashes of rose water

The spirits are combined over ice in an old-fashioned glass, then topped with bitter lemon and stirred.  The rose water is then added without additional stirring.

For those that haven’t had bitter lemon, it is a tonic that goes back to the first half of the 19th century, and is essentially tonic water with lemon juice and pith added.  It carries the distinctive quinine taste of tonic water, but with a pronounced citrus note that is equal parts tart and bitter.  We don’t see it terribly often here in the States, which is a shame.

I opted for Hendrick’s gin, because I wanted to play up the floral qualities of the drink, and the subtle rose flavor found amidst the bevy of florals and botanicals of this flavorful gin seemed like the right choice.  I think doing this drink with a dryer gin, like the inestimable Plymouth Dry gin, would make for an altogether different, though equally likeable beverage.

While the bitter lemon is a major player in this cocktail, the crème de violette is the clear costar with equal billing on the marquee, despite the small portion used.  Crème de viollete has a very intense flavor, and it is all too easy to overpower a drink with the amazing violet blossom flavor (as I learned quickly in my first experiments with it).  It provides the floral backbone of the drink, whose natural sweetness counters and compliments the bitterness of the aptly named bitter lemon, supported by the final garnish of the rose water.

The ginger doesn’t really play on the pallet, but its inclusion highlights the quinine taste from the bitter lemon, and helps bring this drink to its balanced state.

Jack Rackham

Jack Rackham

I don’t play with rum terribly often, aside from the occasional Dark and Stormy, or when my darling wife asks for a rum drink, though I suppose I should.  This number came about from wanting to do something with black pepper and orange flavors, and when I was scanning over the bar, my eyes fell on the bottle of Pyrat XO rum, and that was that.

After a bit of fiddling, the final proportions for the drink came out as:

  • 1.5 parts Pyrat XO rum
  • 0.5 parts Grand Marnier
  • 6 dashes of Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Bitters
  • 5 grinds of fresh pepper
  • The juice of 1 small orange wedge

All ingredients were shaken hard with ice, then strained through a fine sieve (to catch the ground pepper), and served over a single large piece of ice, and garnished with a small piece of orange peel.


If you haven’t had Pyrat XO, it’s a rum offering from the good people at Patrón.  It’s a rich, deep amber color, and carries a decently palpable orange note, and some characteristics that remind of nothing so much as cognac.  It’s an aged rum, and while it is the youngest of the Pyrat family of spirits, this makes the XO a smooth, flavorful, and sweet (while not cloying) rum that is perfectly fine being sipped on straight or on the rocks.

As I said, I wanted to play with orange flavors, so the Pyrat seemed a solid choice.  To add to that, and play up the cognac-like characteristics, I went with Grand Marnier for the orange liqueur.  While I thought these flavors would work well together, I found I had a terribly sweet drink on my hands already.  Add to that even the small bit of fresh orange juice, and this drink was really at risk.  By upping the rum from 1 part to 1.5, and doubling the bitters from 3 to 6 dashes and giving a couple more grinds of pepper, I ended up with something I quite liked.  There is an undeniable taste of orange, but it focuses more on the bitter orange peel side than the sugary sweet.  The excellent Fee Brothers Old Fashioned bitters helps with this, as well as highlighting the black pepper, and make that bite a little more complex.

So, there you have it.  The Jack Rackham; a drink perhaps the old captain himself could have enjoyed sipping on while watching the rolling of the sea.

Things to come

I’ve been thinking about what the next series of planned posts will be, and wanted to run through the options get some feedback on what you’d like to see next. So, without further ado, here are some of potential post topics:

  • Building Your Home Bar: glassware basics – a run down of the few indispensable pieces of glassware needed for most major cocktails, and why glass choice matters.
  • Breakfast of Champions – a series of breakfast cocktails, from my personal recipe for the venerable and ubiquitous Bloody Mary to lesser known pre-lunch libations, including some riffs and an original recipe or two.
  • Building Your Home Bar: essential spirits – a list of the key liquors  and liqueurs to purchase to get your bar started, with specific brand suggestions for solid choices that won’t break the bank.
  • The Vault – I’ve been putting together original recipes for years now, and shared a good number in the past on my personal Facebook account, with quick recipes and snapshots taken with my phone.  There are several gems that I’d love to share here with updated, higher quality pictures, and perhaps refinements on the recipes with commentary on how it evolved and why.
  • Classic & Riff – this will be a reoccurring format, with a post of a classic cocktail followed by a riff on it, demonstrating how a simple change in an existing recipe can create a completely different drink.
  • Reader’s Choice: pick your poison – A huge fan of Drambuie?  Never had a taste for gin but want to give it a shot?  Can’t get enough of basil?  This would be a segment where I’d take a request to come up with something using a particular ingredient, and create cocktail highlighting it.
  • Character Cocktails: fan drink service – I’m a big old geek, and I bet a bunch of you are too!  I’ve designed drinks based on characters from a couple LARPs that I play for the amusement and edification of other players.  I have a dozen or so that will eventually make it onto the blog, but I’d love to put together some recipes based on some of your favorite characters from movies, TV shows, books or comics.

 

So, dear readers, what do you think?  I’ll get to all the topics eventually, but what would you like to see next?  If you have ideas you’d like to see for the last three (Classic & Riff, Reader’s Choice, or Character Cocktails), please post them here.  Is there some other idea that you’d think would make a great post or series?  Leave a comment and let me know!

Sioux City Cooler

Sioux City Cooler

If you haven’t tried Art in the Age‘s amazing liquor Root, you are missing out, and I can’t urge you strongly enough to go out and track a bottle down.  It’s such a wonderfully complex spirit, and stands apart from other similar spirits, like Blackmaker.  Firstly, it’s a legitimate spirit instead of a liqueur, weighing in at 80 proof.  Secondly, it’s not trying to taste like root beer, though it does in part.  It also tastes of birch, sassafras, and sarsaparilla, with hints of mint and anise as well.  When I first discovered Root, I kept trying to make a drink with it that tasted like root beer, and kept failing, time and time again.  It wasn’t until I stopped and thought, while sipping on one such failed experiment, that I was going about it wrong.  Why keep trying to make the spirit taste like something else, when I could just play on all of the amazing flavors it contained?

This is my latest attempt at doing just that, and I’m terribly pleased.  Its strongest resemblance to one of the members of the root tea / beer family, is sarsaparilla, though just like the base spirit, it’s got a lot more going on.  It’s refreshing, with a bit of a bite, and I think I may have found a new warm weather staple.

Without further ado, here’s the recipe:

  • 2 parts Root
  • 1 part honey simple syrup
  • 3/4 parts Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur*
  • A splash of crème de menthe blanc (roughly 1/8 of a part)
  • 6 healthy dashes of Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Bitters

All ingredients get combined in a collins glass filled completely with ice, and then topped with club soda.  Stir gently until you start to get a good sheen of condensation on the glass.  Garnish with a sprig of mint.

*Note: Canton is a very mild, sweet ginger liqueur, and is one of two ginger liqueurs that I typically keep on hand.  Often times, I used Stirring’s ginger, which is much more biting and spicy, and about a third of the price.  This drink needs the subtly of Canton, whereas Stirrings ginger, or something like the King’s Ginger (an excellent higher proof ginger liqueur that also carries a strong citrus note) would overpower and unbalance the flavors here.

Welcome to Experiments From The Bar

Welcome and thank you for stopping by and checking out Experiments From The Bar!  For years now I’ve been playing around with drinks, riffing on classic cocktails, building original drink recipes, and exploring the world of booze, one drink at a time.  This blog is a place for me to share those experiments, essential recipes to know, as well as musings on cocktail culture, history, and to offer unsolicited advice on building a respectable home bar.

Right now, I’m not going to stick to a strictly set schedule for posts, but may move to some more regularly schedule content updates as time goes on.

For now, pour yourself a drink, take a look around, and enjoy.

The Brandy Orchard: (and why aren’t there more brandy drinks these days?)

The Brandy Orchard: a brandy drink (and why aren't there more of these?)

A while back, we had our good friend Grammar Monkey over for dinner and drinks. I came up with this little ditty, and it seemed to go over well.

  • 1.5 parts brandy
  • 0.75 parts pear liqueur
  • 0.5 parts amaretto
  • 5 dashes Fee Brothers Old Fashioned bitters
  • the juice of 1 lemon wedge

All ingredients were shaken lightly, and then served up in a coupé glass and finished with a nice big lemon twist.

I really enjoyed the color and surprisingly delicate flavors of this one. I’m a huge fan of brandy cocktails, and I’m always a little sad that I almost never see it used, aside from in the noble Sidecar. Perhaps you will see a series of brandy drinks here soon, and some musings on the spirit itself…

Larcenous cocktails

Last weekend, I spent Saturday night with the good people at Waning Gibbous Games for the launch party of their recently Kickstarted game Larceny.  Larceny is a fast paced card game that asks the players to plan the perfect (or at times the most hilarious) heist.  The designer is one of my oldest friends, and my darling wife did the card and box illustration, so I feel pretty tied into this game and I have been lucky enough to see it come into being; from the raw idea being talked about around the game table, to being part of play testing, and all the way up to seeing the final product being boxed up to be shipped to all the loyal backers.

So, amidst stacks of boxes, we gathered at the Waning Gibbous Games headquarters for some much deserved celebration and merry-making (as well as box stuffing so we could get the eagerly awaited games out to the backers).  For the night, I was asked to create a signature drink, and ended up with two recipes that the owner and I decided both met the cut.

 The Fix

The FixThe Fix is, at its core, a Manhattan riff.  I wanted to create a drink that captured the feel of the game, and using the Manhattan as a jumping off point just felt right.  I went in a sweeter direction with this cocktail to open it up to a wider audience, but still keep it feeling like a serious business cocktail.  Replacing the rye whiskey of a traditional Manhattan with bourbon started taking the drink in the sweeter direction, and adding amaretto to the mix took it the rest of the way, and made it stand out.  In the end, the recipe turned out as:

  • 1.5 parts bourbon (fittingly, we used Larceny bourbon, which is a solid mixing bourbon)
  • 0.5 parts sweet vermouth
  • 0.5 parts amaretto
  • 3-4 dashes of Angostura bitters

The ingredients were shaken briefly with ice and served up, then garnished with a maraschino cherry and a small lemon peel.

Thieves’ Blood

thieves' bloodA phrase lifted from the 1940’s book, The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man, the Thieves’ Blood came from the experiments that eventually resulted in The Fix.  I was playing around with the idea of replacing the vermouth with port, but abandoned that idea in the final recipe of The Fix.  In talking about potential names with the owner of Waning Gibbous Games, he mentioned the phrase “Thieves’ Blood” as how one defines larceny in the aforementioned text.  The name struck me, and I thought back to the port experiment, and played with it until I hit on this surprisingly light, sweet, deep red drink.

  • 1.5 parts port
  • 1 part amaretto
  • 0.5 parts bourbon
  • 2-3 dashes of Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Bitters

All ingredients are combined over ice, topped up with soda water, and stirred.  Garnish with an orange peel to help bring forward some of the spicy flavors of the port and bitters.

 

The Sidecar

The Sidecar

One of my very favorite cocktails, the Sidecar is an undeniable classic. Attributed to being created at Harry’s Bar in Paris sometime around 1930. Supposedly, it was named for a regular customer who loved the drink and drove a motorcycle with sidecar, though some are dubious of this claim.  Whatever the origin story, the Sidecar is a well balanced, incredibly drinkable number, and is a great example of the rule of 3; one spirit, one sweet, one sour.  You end up with a drink that is refreshing on hot summer days, warming in the cold of winter, and always hits the spot, balanced nicely between sweet and sour.  It is, at its heart, a very simple drink, but the flavors play together so well, it’s as if this drink is what these three ingredients were made for.

The recipe is simplicity itself:

  • 1 part cognac
  • 0.5 parts Cointreau
  • 0.5 parts fresh lemon juice

Combine the ingredients with ice and shake vigorously.  Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with a lemon peel.

Traditionally, as is pictured here, the glass should be given a sugared rim.  This is actually a rather important step in balancing this drink, as the sugar rim lends extra sweetness to the drink to help balance the tartness from the significant amount of lemon juice.  To make a sugar rim, simply cover a small plate in a thin layer of sugar, wet the rim of your cocktail glass (either with water or lemon juice in this case), and then set the glass, rim down on the plate.  You can move the glass around to help collect sugar.  Let the sugar dry into a crust, and chill the glass.

I will occasionally forgo the sugar rim, either because I’m feeling particularly lazy, or because I don’t have Cointreau on hand, and must make do with triple sec.  In the former situation, I’ll typically back off the lemon content a hair, or add a couple of dashes of simple syrup.  In the latter, I’ll leave the proportions alone, as triple sec is sweeter than Cointreau (though less flavorful), and makes up for the absent sugar rim.

Brandy can be substituted for cognac, which I frequently do, because in the past I hadn’t found an affordable cognac that I cared for, and brandy will do the trick nicely in this cocktail and often at a much more reasonable price for similar quality.  Lately, I’ve discovered Decourtet cognac, and their VS is extremely affordable at around $20.00 for a 750 mL bottle, and is excellent for mixing, and is my go to for Sidecars these days.

 

Tools of the trade: the essentials

Whether you just want to make the occasional drink, or are starting down the road of building out a full home bar, there are a few items that you really just can’t live without.  So, what are the bare essentials when it comes to bar tools? (more…)