Achievement unlocked: One decade of blogging

I realized late this afternoon that my blog turns ten today. That’s like retirement age in blog years. Blogging isn’t quite as much fun as it was when I first started, back when bloggers would gather for happy hours based solely on sharing a publication format, subject matter inconsequential. Because we were bloggers! And that was reason enough. Much of what I used to post is now better suited to Twitter and Facebook, and the professionalization of the web makes it more sensible to submit longer content to existing publications than post it here. Nonetheless I’m grateful for those of you who do read this blog and continue to find value in posting, even if SEO has become a bigger consideration than trying to build a daily readership.

I could go on, but in adherence this site’s rules for good blogging…

Rule #1: Be meaningful.

Rule #2: If meaning is elusive, be amusing.

Rule #3: If meaning and amusement are both out of reach, be brief.

… I should probably shut up and post a cocktail recipe.

The Plantain Pisco Sour is exactly what it sounds like, a Pisco Sour sweetened with the spiced plantain syrup I like so much. This is an updated version of a drink I made for competition a few years, minus the foam. Use a good pisco like Campo de Encanto, the kind of pisco that actually tastes like it was distilled from grapes, for best results.

2 oz pisco
3/4 oz spiced plantain syrup
3/4 oz lime juice
1/2 oz Dimmi
1 egg white
bitters, for garnish

Shake everything without ice to aerate the egg white, then shake hard again with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with drops of aromatic bitters. Etch them into tiny hearts for that extra special mixologist touch. (I use Novo Fogo Cherribiscus Bitters that my friend Evan Martin made, but any colorful and aromatic bitter will do.)

And if you’re looking for more drinks to try, remember there’s a whole section of the site devoted to cocktails now.

[Photo by Will Ray.]

Share

Sally Port Punk

sallyport 006

Last week I promised one more cocktail made with Dimmi, the Milanese liqueur flavored with grappa and fruit blossoms. Coincidentally this month’s Mixology Monday hosted by The Barman Cometh is about cocktails made with floral ingredients:

The challenge is to feature a cocktail that highlights a floral flavor profile or includes a floral derived ingredient, whether home-made or off the shelf. With the ever expanding catalogue of spirits (and the kitchen labs of home enthusiasts), there’s a whole host of directions for you to choose from – elderflower liqueur, creme de violette, chamomile infused gin, hibiscus grenadine, rosewater, lavender syrup – or to create. With some luck, one of the garnish gurus will figure out a way to turn an orchid into a swizzle stick.

The Sally Port Punk, a slightly bitter aperitif-style cocktail, is the newest addition to the menu at Metrovino:

1 oz blanco tequila
1 oz white port
1/2 oz Dimmi
1/2 oz Campari

Stir, serve up, garnish with an orange twist.

This drink is a straightforward variation on one of my favorite contemporary cocktails, Stephen Shellenberger’s Alto Cucina. Like the Negroni or Last Word, his is a drink that lends itself to infinite variation by substituting one or more of its components for similar spirits:

1 oz Scotch
1 oz dry vermouth
1/2 oz St. Germain
1/2 oz Cynar

Stir, serve up, garnish with an orange twist.

We have one other cocktail on the current menu based on this template, which I’ll post sometime soon.

Share

Yirgacheffe Cooler

im31_cover_310x400

In the latest issue of my favorite drinks magazine, Imbibe, the editors asked me to provide an iced coffee cocktail for their “Distilled” Q&A column (not pictured). Despite the surge in popularity of both craft coffee and cocktails in recent years, the two drinks don’t show up in the same glass all that often, probably because most coffee shops don’t have liquor licenses and the coffee at most bars is terrible.

Iced coffee drinks are a good way to bridge the gap. It’s just as easy to make as hot coffee, but it’s more temperature stable so that a bar doesn’t have to worry about making it a la minute or letting it go stale during service. My favorite way to make it is the “Japanese method” popularized by Peter Giuliano of Counter Culture Coffee, in which very concentrated hot brew coffee is poured directly ice. The ice melts, cooling the coffee and bringing it to the proper level of dilution (just like stirring a cocktail). This preparation captures flavors and acidity that would be lost in a cold brew. It’s fantastic with East African or Central American coffees with bright fruit notes, making a refreshing drink reminiscent of iced tea. For details on this method, see Imbibe or the Counter Culture brewing guide.

For the cocktail, I picked ingredients to play off the citrus, fruit, and floral notes of African coffees:

1 1/2 oz pisco
3/4 oz Dimmi
1/4 oz lemon juice
4-5 oz iced Yirgacheffe coffee

Build in a rocks glass with ice. (The print recipe instructs to shake and strain, but that’s not necessary.)

Campo de Encanto is still my go-to choice for pisco. Dimmi is a Milanese liqueur flavored with grappa, herbs, and flowers, which I’ve paired with pisco once before. And for the coffee Yirgacheffe from a quality roaster is great, but any other coffee with a fruity flavor profile will do fine.

If you make a big batch of iced coffee, this can make a refreshing patio drink. Or if you want to serve an iced coffee cocktail at a bar, the coffee can be made before service and be good for the night.

For more iced coffee cocktails to explore, here are a couple from Elizabeth McElligott at Food Shed.

Share

Pisco con Platanos

pisco

My drink for this year’s Great American Distiller’s Festival cocktail competition this year was a Pisco Sour with spiced plantain foam. Though the drink was tasty, it didn’t win. Lesson for next year: Serve a cocktail with multiple foams. The judges will never see that coming.

Seriously though, this was a fun cocktail to work on. The Encanto Pisco is a wonderful spirit. It’s good neat and I imagine one could make some very good spirit-driven cocktails pairing it with vermouth, liqueurs, and bitters. I went in an entirely different direction with this twist on a Pisco Sour:

1.75 oz Encanto Pisco
.75 lime juice
.5 oz Dimmi
.5 oz spiced plantain syrup
2 dashes Amargo Chuncho bitters
spiced plantain foam

Shake the liquid ingredients with ice, strain into a cocktail glass, top with the spiced plantain foam, and serve.

One of the nice thing about the Encanto Pisco is that it actually tastes like a spirit distilled from fruit, which is more than I can say for some lower-quality piscos on the market. I wanted to play up that aspect, pairing it with the partially grappa-based Dimmi liqueur and one of my favorite foods, ripe plantains. The syrup is easy to make:

8 oz simple syrup (1:1 sugar and water)
1 ripe plantain, peeled and sliced
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise

Simmer to extract flavor, about 10 minutes. Let cool and strain.

I used this syrup in both the drink and the foam. The foam is made with juice from sweet limes, which are much less tart than the usual lime and has a mild flavor that complements the Pisco Sour. If these are unavailable two ounces of lime juice diluted with six ounces of water is an acceptable substitute, but the sweet limes are the way to go if one can find them.

8 oz sweet lime juice
6 oz spiced plantain syrup
4 egg whites
4 dashes Amargo Chuncho bitters

Combine in a whipped cream canister, charge with an NO2 charger, and shake. (Method loosely based on Morgenthaler’s proportions.) This should make enough for a solid 10 drinks and will keep for a few days if one can resist eating it with a spoon.

Foams have become a bit cliché and I was a reluctant to use one, but in this case it works. A Pisco Sour is supposed to have foam. Rather than shaking an egg white into it, this version has the egg white foam layered on separately. This gives it an incredibly smooth texture and allows one to incorporate more flavors into it. It’s a lot of work to prep but it tastes great and the plantain syrup has potential in lots of other cocktails, one of which I’ll post tomorrow.

Previously: My GADF cocktail from last year

Share

A clarified coffee cocktail

ccoffee1

As I discussed at Cocktail Camp a few weeks ago, one of my interests lately has been finding ways to use coffee in cocktails without having to brew on demand. Making coffee bitters is one solution. Clarifying coffee is another. This isn’t a perfected process yet but the results are interesting and I’m hoping this post will encourage others to try it out.

My goal with this was to create a cold coffee with a shelf life of at least a few days that could be kept in the refrigerator and used when needed. The easiest method would be to use a Toddy brewer to make a cold-brewed coffee concentrate. This certainly works but cold-brewing and hot-brewing have different flavor profiles. Cold-brewing pulls out dark, chocolaty, nutty flavors. Hot-brewing captures more of the acidity and fruit notes found in many great coffees. For making iced coffee I much prefer the Japanese hot-brewing method popularized by Counter Culture’s Peter Giuliano to Toddy and other cold methods. Hot-brewing produces more the flavor I was looking for.

That’s where gel clarification comes in. The basic idea is to create a web of gelatin to capture the oils and solids in a liquid so that only water soluble flavors remain in the final concentrate. It’s like making a consommé except that you’re adding gelatin to liquid instead of utilizing the gelatin that occurs naturally in meat. Harold McGee explained how the process can be used for all kinds of liquids in The New York Times a few years ago. Soon after World Barista Champion James Hoffmann applied it to coffee.

I’ve run two different coffees through the process so far: Stumptown’s Ecuador Quilanga and Counter Culture’s Sidama Michicha, a natural coffee from Ethiopia. I was really happy with the results. While I wouldn’t expect any cold coffee to match the aromatic complexity of a fresh hot cup, the two were distinctly different in flavor, with the fruit notes of the Michicha standing out surprisingly well. Cocktail ideas immediately started presenting themselves. How about a flight of drinks mixing neutral vodka and three different clarified coffees? Could be fascinating.

I tried several methods of clarification and none so far none have worked better than the one James originally posted. I’ll explain that briefly below but please visit his site for a full explanation. The good news is it’s easy to do. The bad news is it will take some time, about three days total (though I’ll discuss a faster alternative below), and space in a freezer and refrigerator. This will rule out its use on many professional cocktail menus, but it could still be something fun to keep behind the bar or for home experimentation.

Here’s the method I followed:

Step 1: Brew coffee and filter through paper. I brew at home in an Eva Solo which I then had to filter through an Aeropress. Ideally one would just use a pour-over or Chemex instead of this roundabout method.

Step 2: Bloom 8 grams leaf gelatin in water, then dissolve and whisk into 500 grams of the coffee (slightly more than a liter by volume).

Step 3: Allow to set for a few hours in a refrigerator.

Step 4: Transfer to a freezer and freeze into a solid block.

Step 5: Lay block in muslin, place in a colander, and suspend the colander in a bowl. Put everything back in the refrigerator until the ice thaws. I sped the melting by breaking the block into a few pieces, increasing its surface area as in the photo below.

ccoffee2

Over two days the ice slowly melted through the muslin and colander, taking water soluble flavors with it. A thin layer of coffee gel was all that was left behind.

ccoffee3

In the bowl was the clarified coffee. Obviously some coffee is lost in the clarification. I went from 500 grams down to 381 grams. As James notes you can increase the clarity even more by repeating the process, but you’ll lose more liquid too. I stopped at one run through since I’m going for clarity not complete lack of color. For comparison’s sake, here’s the clarified coffee next to a Toddy brew and coffee run through a paper filter.

ccoffee4

After all that waiting I was ready for a drink. Here’s one I’ve been experimenting with and calling the Dimmitude cocktail, inspired by the traditional caffé corretto (espresso and grappa). I may play with this a bit more when I’ve made my next batch of clarified coffee but it was working well with the Michicha:

1.5 oz grappa
1 oz clarified natural coffee
1 oz Dimmi

Stir over ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

Dimmi is a light, floral, herbal liqueur blended with a touch of grappa. Natural coffees like the Michicha are dried with the cherry still on the bean, sometimes resulting in dramatic fruit or berry notes. Combining these with quality grappa makes a unique, lightly fruity cocktail with a gentle coffee bitterness. (If you saw my presentation at Cocktail Camp I made this drink with vodka there. Grappa is a better choice; I’m currently using Uva Viva di Poli.)

Is clarifying coffee for cocktails worth the effort? Probably not for regular use, given how much time and space it consumes. Using good iced coffee is more practical. However it is fun to work with and the clarified coffee looks great in a stirred drink, plus it seems to last for at least a few days if refrigerated.

Agar method: There is a faster way to clarify liquids using agar in place of gelatin. Agar sets at a higher temperature than gelatin, so one can follow a similar process to that above but melt the ice at room temperature instead of in a refrigerator. Indeed one can omit the freezing step altogether, gently squeezing agar curds through muslin. Obviously either of these methods will require less time than gelatin filtration.

The downside to using agar is that it also hydrates at a higher temperature. So while gelatin will work just fine in freshly brewed hot coffee, agar works best in boiling liquid. Unfortunately boiling brewed coffee will cause overextraction, resulting in a bitter cup.

To get around this one could theoretically boil agar in, say, 100 grams of water, then mix that into 400 grams of coffee brewed to a correspondingly higher strength and proceed with the freeze-thaw approach. Of the agar clarifications I tried that method came closest to the results with gelatin, however it was not quite as clear and the taste was a little off. It was close though and worth another try. (Using the fastest method of just squeezing the agar gel through muslin may leave some residual agar in the liquid. This is another time when an Aeropress comes in very handy for filtering it out.)

Coffee clarification is something I’m still experimenting with and I would love to hear from anyone else who tries it or incorporates it into cocktails. Perfecting an agar method would be ideal and I’m also curious to see what other drinks people create, either with coffee or with other clarified liquids.

[As with so many of these kinds of posts, thanks to David Barzelay for advice on using these different methods.]

Share