Peruvian Pisco Ponderances

I was recently in Peru for a couple weeks, and of course my primary objective down there was cocktail reconnaissance. I’ve always enjoyed pisco, and I’d been to a couple educational seminars on it, but I had still only ever tasted a few brands because we have very little of it in my state. So in between everything else I had planned down there I really wanted to get to know the spirit an the cocktails made from it.

I spent that whole time drinking pisco everywhere and every way I could find it, and I’ll give you my thoughts in my usual unorganized, drunken stream of consciousness manner.

The first thing I noticed was the customs declaration form they give you on the plane. Among the list of items prohibited from entering the country is “drinks manufactured abroad with the denomination ‘pisco'”. I knew they took the rivalry with Chile seriously but not that they would go so far as to confiscate the stuff!

Of course, the first drink I had was a pisco sour. When in Rome, amirite? I was surprised to see the bartender make it with limes! Later that day I went to the grocery store and I found out why. They don’t have lemons in Peru! My Spanish at that point was non-existent, but I asked the store clerk where I could find a lemon and he pointed me at limes. I had to get a phone out and show him a picture of a lemon and he told me they don’t ever have them!
I’ll spare you the whole long back story, but suffice it to say that “lima” is how you say lime in Spanish (and “limon” is lemon) in most places except, oddly, in the country whose capital is Lima. There they call them “limon amarillo” but you’re really hard-pressed to find one. Even employees in the produce department of a grocery store have never seen one. I saw them just once, at a really great cocktail bar, and I looked everywhere.

Their limes, though, aren’t the same. They’re small like a key lime and taste less bitter than the Persian limes we get here. They’re still seemingly about the same sourness. Here’s a good article I just found that backs up my findings and explains them much better.

I want to try making a 50/50 mix of lemon and lime in pisco sours in the future. I’ve only ever had them with lemons stateside but the Peruvian version was better.

The second drink I had was a “maracuya sour”. Maracuya is how they say passion fruit there. (Much of the Spanish world says “parcha”. )
In Peru, the passion fruit was the most sour I’ve ever tasted. I travel all over eating those things, sometimes right off the tree, and normally they’ve got an acid level similar to grapefruit. Not in Peru! Those bad boys had a kick almost like a lime or a lemon! I don’t know if it was seasonal or if it’s always that way, but it made for a killer sour.

The maracuya sour is on every menu there, right under pisco sour. Looking around I saw more Peruvians drinking that (in my very unscientific informal poll) and after trying one I saw why. It was incredible. I want to add it to my menus here, probably doping our passionfruit juice with citric and maybe malic to replace lime juice.

For NYE, I invented the Lima 75, which was basically a French 75 variant with passion fruit as the acid. It was off the hook. That ones’ going on my menus too.

I asked every Peruvian I could what their favorite pisco is. They often said “acholado” which is like if you asked someone what their favorite whiskey was and they said “bourbon”. I would then follow up by asking what brands and they really loved Porton.

Acholado is what’s typically used for sours. Cuatros Gallos seemed to be the most common brand, and a bottle of their well acholado was like $8 USD and worth every penny. They’ve got some higher end stuff that people drink straight. They seem to like Mosto Verdes and Italias for that. Personally I dig the Quebrantas, but it might only be because Quebranta is so much fun to say. It sounds like a racial epithet or something. (Really though, a good one is delicious, but that’s true of all of the varietals I think.)

People drink a lot of straight pisco too. We were doing laybacks on the dance floor at the wedding I was attending. We did them on NYE and I drunkenly poured some in my nose. Have you ever gotten liquor in your nose? It hurts about 10x more than you would think, and for much longer. The next time a woman complains about childbirth just pour some pisco up your nose and then tell her she doesn’t know what pain is.

The other drink I saw almost everywhere was a chilcano. A chilcano is basically pisco, ginger ale, and juice, usually lime but sometimes passion fruit. I just don’t like ginger ale, and it seemed to always be Canada Dry which is a particularly awful product, but I think with a mild ginger beer (or a good ginger ale if such a thing exists) it might be great. I might even just make my own ginger ale to try to perfect a chilcano.

Another thing that shocked me is they drink pisco and tonic. I don’t know why that’s shocking. I guess maybe because we never drink a brandy and tonic. But thinking about it, why not? The pisco tonics I had were very good. It’s not got all the herbaceousness of a G&T, but the funk of pisco gives it more character and depth than a V&T. They also had some good tonics down there. I saw Q, Fever Tree, and some other brand I wish I recorded. Plus well tonics like we have.

Beyond that I saw a couple pisco punches and lots of original pisco cocktails. It really seems that P&T, chilcanos, and the 2 sours are the bulk of what Peruvians drink when imbibing liquor. And of course they have all the other non-pisco cocktails too, and they drink them, but I didn’t because who goes to Peru and drinks whiskey?

Overall, I have to say my appreciation for pisco is at an all-time high. I’d like to go back to Peru one day and see Porton and a few of the other places it’s made. It’s really a delightful spirit, and they’ve got lovingly-made pisco cocktails everywhere.

Vomiting Punch Bowl

For my local USBG Chapter’s Halloween party, my friend wanted to make a vomiting fountain punch bowl. He found this Makezine article where someone built one out of a doll head, but I didn’t like that build. For one, it entails putting a non-food-safe pump into a bowl of cocktail. I try not to be that guy, but pumps that aren’t food safe have all sorts of stuff you probably shouldn’t be drinking coming into contact with alcohol, a powerful solvent. Also, alcohol dissolves many plastics as well. Then there’s the rather dubious nature of trying to clean a pump that wasn’t designed to be cleaned.

I wanted to make a system that would be food-safe so I went with the same SHURflo pump I have in my camper. That’s a beefy pump meant for delivering the water in an RV or camper, and it’s got the really beefy pressure I needed to get that sucker really gushing. In fact I wanted to be able to dial it down a bit if necessary, so I added an inline ball valve.

If you want to build your own, here’s the parts list.

SHURflo Pump (115v, though if you wanted to make it battery powered you could get the 12v and hook it up to a car battery)

SHURflo elbow adapters (2x) to screw onto the pump.

½” ball valve to help me dial the flow down a bit if desired. (Totally optional.)

½” ID braided tubing which will serve as your line. The pressure gets pretty high and I learned the hard way that silicone tubing will inflate like a water balloon and start leaking.

¾” worm drive clamps or if you have an oetiker/pex clamper you could use those too.

110v plug end: because the pump doesn’t have a plug attached to it.


After that it’s incredibly simple. You screw the adapters onto the pump (using Teflon pipe tape) and clamp the hoses onto them. If you’re using the ball valve, put that on the output side of the pump by cutting the hose where you want it to go and clamping it in there. If you put it on the input side the pump will be pulling at full force and create a vacuum after the valve. Attach the plug end and you’re good to go!

A couple notes. First you can only turn the pressure down a little bit with the ball valve. Those pumps are designed to stop running when they hit too much resistance, because they’re meant to supply a sink in an RV. But even taking a little of the pressure off helps because it’s just a little too powerful. If your punch bowl is very large though it should be fine.

Second, don’t let the punch bowl get too low. If the liquid runs too low, it will start sputtering and shooting out wildly. And while the vomiting effect gets very, very real then, your cocktail will go everywhere. You’d be surprised how far it can blast that stuff. I plugged mine into a cheapo surge protector just to make a switch that could be easily accessed to turn it off if that happened. It did when someone adjusted the mask causing the liquid to spray out wrong.

If there’s demand I can do a video for how to set this up, but it’s easy enough that you can probably figure it out from just the parts list alone. There’s really nothing to it, and the only tools required are a screwdriver and something to cut the hose with.

I think for my next iteration I want to make a punch bowl with a barb welded into the bottom so that it drains easily. Using a pumpkin wasn’t my idea. It looked cool but the drink quickly took on a pumpkin flavor, it pumpkin solids were getting regurgitated too.

What we did with this one was buy a foam head, cut a hole through it, and silicone the tubing into place. That let us put a mask on the foam head. While this works, it’s fragile (it’s foam after all) and the mask can slip out of place and touch the stream of liquid and then you’ve got a huge mess.

The Styrofoam head worked well. It was easy enough to silicone it to a piece of scrap wood to hold it in place. With a hot foam cutter you can easily make a perfectly-sized hole for the tubing.





Im baaaaaaack.

I know I’ve said this a dozen times, but I do apologize for the absence on this here blog. Little bit about what I’m up to, and a little announcement.

First off, I’ve decided, after many inquiries here, to get a bit more serious about consulting. I’m putting together a formal consulting package for bars looking to up their cocktails on draft game. I’ll probably get a domain name and a website and a formal consultancy going and all that soon. If you’re interested, for now you can reach me here.

Second, the Bar Car has been going extremely well. Every year we seem to do twice as many weddings as the year before. Street festivals have grown too and I want them to be more of a focus for next year. We did about 50 events total this year, and based on bookings the Airstream will probably do just as many next year. And in addition, I’ll have at least two more units ready to go also by then.

Third, I’m in the wire-framing stages of making my Cocktail Calc site much better. Right now it’s done very little but gets used a decent amount. I want to make it the definitive tool for batching cocktails. It’ll be a winter hobby of mine to get it in shape.

I’m also going to try to set myself a monthly goal of developing one new cocktail ready to go for sharing here.  I’ve got a couple in the tank to get myself through the slow months thankfully. I might even do some of them in video form to help people figure out how to do these types of drinks at home.

Keeping Lime Juice Fresh Indefinitely: A New Technique

Fresh citrus juice has become somewhat of a fetish in our industry, for reasons that are understandable. We are, as a community, still suffering from PTSD caused by too many cloying, artificially-flavored “martinis” served for too many decades.

Fresh citrus juice, however, is very economically unfriendly. It’s labor-intense. There’s nothing worse than staring down a line of customers and having to stop to juice 5 limes. And citrus ain’t cheap, especially at certain times of the year when the cost of fruit triples and their yield halves. There are times when the citrus in the drink costs more than the liquor.

On the other hand, anyone who has ever tried day-old lime juice (or worse, the pasteurized stuff) can tell you it’s just not the same. It doesn’t have that same brightness.

In a perfect world, citrus juice would last weeks. Then you could juice it all at once. (This has the side benefit of making cheap Chinese Zumex knockoffs like the one I got economical. More on that in a second.) If you had extra, you could use it tomorrow. Or the next day. You’d never run out of what you made pre-shift, and never pour any down the drain. You’d also be using all-natural ingredients and techniques, because you don’t want to serve anything you wouldn’t want to eat.

Well, I’ve got a solution.

To understand you have to go back to the whole citrus. The whole fruit contains a number of different things. It’s mostly water. It contains all sorts of other chemicals, trapped in its vesicles, the most flavorful of which are citric acid in lemons, and in limes citric and malic acids, with a touch of succinic. But the most flavorful component of all is the oil trapped in the peels.

When you squeeze a lime, you’re not seeing it but you’re also expressing that beautiful oil into the juice. You probably think that because it’s a tiny, tiny fraction of the juice that it doesn’t make much difference. Go ahead and buy yourself some lime essential oil and squeeze one tiny drop onto your tongue if you want to see just how wrong that is. In fact, even one drop of lemon essential oil added to an entire drink can make it taste like Pledge.

The essential oil is the most distinctive flavor ingredient in citrus juice. Want to try it out more diluted? Get a La Croix or a similar, 0 calorie flavored carbonated water. They’re basically just essential oil flavors emulsified into carbonated water. Lime La Croix has no actual lime juice in it, just lime essential oil.

Essential oils have one problem: they are very sensitive to pH and citrus juice is very acidic. They both have a pH as low as 2. That’s not a problem when they’re sitting in oil sacs in the outside layer of the citrus (called the flavedo) and separated from the juicy vesicles by the pith (the albedo). But when you squeeze citrus and combine the oils that are normally separated from the juice, breakdown begins immediately.

Modernist Cuisine offers two solutions for this problem. The first is to simply dope older citrus juice with fresh stuff shortly before serving time. This is what I do during camper season. If I have a gallon of lime juice leftover from the previous weekend (usually out of 5 gallons I started with) I’ll just add it to the next batch. Easy peasy. I just juice a little less and pour it all into the keg.

In a bar setting this might be less ideal. So another option is to emulsify some lime essential oil (you can buy the food-grade stuff pretty easily online) with gum Arabic and just add it in. I’ve been playing with the idea of diluting it down enough to put it in an atomizer and spray over the drink or onto the glass before the drink goes in, but I haven’t had a chance to test it yet.

Another undesirable reaction is occurring at the same time: oxidation. This is pretty easy to stop, you just put the juice in a keg and purge with nitrogen. Fill the keg with nitrogen, then purge, and repeat a couple times to try to get as much oxygen as you can out. Then shake the crap out of it to try to knock as much dissolved oxygen as you can out of suspension, purge, and repeat a couple times. It takes a minute or two, but you can get it to a pretty low dissolved oxygen level. (Any of my readers want to loan me a DO meter?)

By doing both of these, you get lime juice that lasts. I’ve used week-old lime juice side by side with same day stuff and in a cocktail you can’t tell the difference. My overall process is as follows now.

1. Juice limes no more than a day before serving. If you’re doing regular bar service, Friday shortly before you open would be a great time and probably get you through Saturday.

I found myself juicing at least one case of citrus every Friday, and sometimes more like 5 depending on my weekend. Being a solo entrepreneur, that kind of time commitment with the old hand press just wasn’t going to scale. So I got myself a knockoff Chinese version of a Zumex.

It works great. It has a couple downsides, in that it needs a few modifications I plan to make over the winter. The tray that holds the juice is really hard to clean if you don’t unscrew it every time, so I bought thumbscrews to make that easy. It still needs me to make it a gasket. The thing leaks juice everywhere, and because it’s sized for oranges, it’s probably getting less juice out of smaller citrus than you’d get with a Zumex kitted with the lemon/lime adapters. But, it does a whole case of limes in like 10 minutes with no arm strain, so it cuts my time down enough to recoup that cost.

Cleanup is about 10 minutes, so you don’t save much time if you’re only juicing a few dozen limes. Which is yet another reason to use my method: juicing once every few days for a small bar saves you the daily chore.

Of course you must fine-strain what comes out or else you’ll risk jamming your kegs or faucets. (I find the faucets usually jam due to particulate matter, but the kegs due to sludgy things like honey that wasn’t dissolved well-enough.)


2. Put juice in nitrogen-purged keg, of course keeping refrigerated at all times.

3. Pour lime juice into bottles with pour spouts for service. (Anything left does not go back in at the end but gets saved for cordial down the line.) For big events, I have a dedicated tap for lime juice in my camper, allowing me to keep it under nitrogen the whole time.

4. Repeat next week by adding leftovers to fresh juice. I find at least 50% fresh juice makes it taste great.

After a few weeks of this I’ll usually have a weekend where I run out and start over, but if I don’t, I’ll take the little that’s left and add it to the keg of cordial stuff. (And yes, that’s why I do a preponderance of gimlets later in the season. I’m currently sitting on about 6 gallons of cordial!)

So there’s my process. It’s extremely time-efficient, keeps lime juice from being wasted (I have damn-near zero waste) with minimal effort, and thus saves on both ingredient and labor costs. And with no reduction in quality. It’s really pretty simple, and the investment in equipment (the juice and kegging stuff probably adds up to over $1,000) pays for itself very, very quickly. I am sure it has saved me over 100 hours and a few hundred dollars in limes just this season. If I even valued my time at minimum wage (and of course, it’s way more) it would have still broken even.


Happy Camper and General Life Update

I just got back from Tales of the Cocktail and was inspired to write up a little bit about what I learned there, what I’m thinking about, and what I’m planning. Plus a general update because they’re so few and far between, particularly in season.

First up, what I’ve been up to. This summer has been crazy for me with the Happy Camper. Around the end of last year my cofounder and I realized we weren’t working well together and needed to do something about it. I was working a solid 60 plus hours a week (often very plus) and she felt she didn’t have that much time to devote to it.

When starting a business, there’s this rule of thumb that you should be able to live for three years with no income from it, and it’s really not a bad one. I probably should have talked more with her about finances and expectations going in.  She felt she needed to work a full-time job and do the Camper on the side, and I felt like it’s too big of an opportunity for that.

So I found myself doing 80% of the work and feeling like she wasn’t even doing a very good job at her 20%. She felt unappreciated for the stuff she did do. Something had to give. We came to an agreement and I purchased the rest of the company, making me the sole owner.

And then things took off. I had finally gotten over the hump of making the drink end of things work. My first year was a lot of developing recipes, finding an equipment solution to let us do thousands of cocktails on draft out of a tiny camper, getting a rental kitchen setup, etc. I knew my time commitment was so high that I had to find ways to be more efficient and boy did I. Maybe I’ll go into that more later.

Suffice it to say I managed to automate more hours away than my previous partner was even working. And between that and the off-season (I have very few events between November and April) I stepped up my networking and marketing game.

In any business you start with the product you think people want, and then you if you are really smart and/or lucky the product you start with is close enough to something people actually do. If you’re then limber enough, you can figure out what that actually is, and you end up improving. As Paul Graham points out, Microsoft started off making an Altair Basic interpreter. If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry, Microsoft is the third most valuable corporation in the world and Altair and Basic interpreters are long gone, which illustrates my point.

Probably only 25% of entrepreneurs know that going in, and what most of them don’t realize is that you do the same with your marketing channels. You probably go in with an idea of how to reach your customers that, if you are lucky, has a passing relationship to what actually works.

I spent much of the off-season and early busy season working on that and I made a lot of headway. Some of the channels I thought would be great really weren’t, some of the ones I didn’t know much about turned out to be awesome. I won’t bore you with the details, because unless you’re doing a mobile bar too you probably don’t care, but suffice it to say it isn’t easy!

I started off the year hoping to be kegging and selling my ginger beer but quickly ran into problems. It turns out that while you can make products with unpasteurized juices for sale at retail with no problem (like a restaurant, juice store, etc.) making it for resale requires using a juice HACCP plan, and taking a class for developing said plan. I figured out a reformulation that doesn’t involve juice (though logically is neither more nor less safe) but just haven’t had time during the season to get it going. It’ll probably have to wait until October.

I’ve also finally developed my own tonic from quinine sulphate. The people who know me have probably heard the stories of my three year ordeal in acquiring that stuff. It is unreasonably hard. Nonetheless I’ve found a source, and all those years of reading obscure soda manuals are finally paying off, as tonic is really just a soda with quinine in it.

I’ve aimed for an opinionated, citrusy tonic that really plays well with a gin lover’s gin. I’m hoping to get both of them on draft at finer local establishments during the off-season. I might also make a grapefruit version if I can get a cost-efficient, clarified grapefruit.

I’ve got a handful of cocktail experiments I want to try.

1. Figuring out the dilution added by using a Yarai glass rather than a shaker tin when stirring. I’ve already shown in the past how much more the thermal mass of a pint glass dilutes a drink. I’d like to show that next to a Yarai, and then also do shaken drinks with the various shaker solutions (Boston with pint glass, Boston with cheater tin, cobbler, etc.). We know that basically the less glass and the less mass, the less dilution.

2. More playing around with tinctures, extracts, food-grade essential oils (not the stuff you get off Amazon), etc. I like the idea of building cocktails from the most elemental flavors on up. Bitters are a very broad tool, as they’re 30 flavors in one dash. Tinctures, extracts, and oils allow almost surgical precision.

3. Unusual ingredients and techniques. Admittedly, this has been the weakest part of my game over the last two years. Don’t get me wrong, with the Happy Camper I get to really push the limits of what someone can do, cocktail-wise, in large format, high-volume, off-the-grid settings. I’m proud of what I do. I give people the best damn mojito they’ve ever had at a wedding or street festival, and serve 2,000 drinks in about 4 hours that way. That ain’t nothin’!

But I don’t get to play like I want to. I probably couldn’t get away with a carbonated negroni variant. The formula for street festival success is usually something like seasonal fruit + classic cocktail. Blueberry Collins. Blackberry Mojito. Etc. Those things kill because they’re approachable, and by being properly-balanced, rather than cloying (like you probably expect when you hear Strawberry Margarita) you can walk through the crowd and hear people raving about it.

4. Make my own cola. I have some great ideas there, and it’s always one of the more popular requests to get on draft.

5. Carbonated cocktail draft system. More on that later.




The Latest (With In-Progress Recipe for Carbonated Paloma Jellies)

I feel like I’m that guy who updates every 6 months and says “sorry I haven’t written in a long time because BLAH BLAH BLAH”. Let’s skip that and just forgive each other. You forgive me for not writing more. I forgive you for, well, you know what you did.

Anyway, the latest. In anticipation of a special pop-up cinco de mayo event I’m doing, I decided to try to play with some new things. It’s at a great little cocktail bar called Crafted Cocktail, that does pretty much what the name implies. I like the bar and the people who own/run it and it’s just before camper season starts to kick in, so it’s perfect timing. I’d like to do a few more popups in various places throughout the year.

I also want to introduce people on both sides of the bar to some of the batched stuff I do, and because it’s in an honest-to-goodness bar, not a tiny camper, I’ve got a bit of room to play with. And it’s Cinco de Mayo so I wanted to throw a little Latin flair in there. Yes, I realize Cinco de Mayo is specifically Mexican, not pan-Latin, but I can only cram so many margaritas down white people’s throats, so I’m expanding the parameters a little bit. On the scale of cultural appropriation it’s a minor offense, right?

One thing I’ve been looking for an excuse to play with is jello shots. I was telling my fiancee awhile back about this idea I had of doing real cocktails in jello form. She of course showed me this book she had bought years earlier called Jello Shot Test Kitchen. Apparently someone beat me to the punch by about five years.

I flipped through the book and it ain’t bad for $10. I wish it were better, honestly. It’s pretty much just classic cocktails with gelatin in them. Which isn’t a bad thing, but if I could sum the entire book up with “make a cocktail and add 1 packet of Knox per cup of liquid.” But man are the pictures pretty.

I got to thinking, if I’m going to do Cinco right, there are a few cocktails I have to have in at least one form. Michelada. Margarita. And, possibly my favorite, the Paloma.

The traditional Paloma is just tequila and grapefruit soda, and while a perfectly serviceable cocktail as it is (especially when I make the grapefruit soda) I like to do mine with a little Campari. So my usual recipe is clarified grapefruit, tequila, Campari, agave, and lime-acid, which I then force carbonate. It’s one of those drinks that’s like a symphony, where every ingredient coordinates with every other ingredient individually.

Combining the two thoughts, I had the idea to basically gel my standard Paloma recipe and then try to carbonate it. I suspected that it would carbonate the same way a piece of fruit does because really, if you think about it, a jello isn’t actually a solid. It’s liquid water held in a matrix by gelatin. I’m not sure if you can carbonate solid ice (but I now plan to find out) but I know you can carbonate liquid water in a solid item, like you do in fruit.

For phase one I was testing with good old Knox brand gelatin. The recommendation is to use one packet (roughly 7g) per cup, but I wanted my gel to come out a little firmer than normal. I want patrons to be able to pick it up rather than slurp it out of a shot glass. Also, it’ll have to stand up to the heat of a bar for long enough to serve, and with gelatin the firmer you make it, the more heat stable, to a point. It’s also got alcohol which I hace read can have an adverse affect on the gelling (though it sounds like it’s pretty slight until you hit 40%.) And finally, it’s carbonated, so I want it to trap the bubbles in. I felt like a slushier gel (think the cups of Jello you eat with a spoon) would be overall less effective. So I knocked it up to almost 10 grams.

The final recipe I went with was really, really close. It needed just a tad more sweetness. I don’t know if jelling/chilling took some away or what. But overall I was happy with the results, and will be upping the agave just a touch next time. Here’s what try #2 will be.

Carbonated Paloma Jellies 1.0

2 oz grapefruit juice
1 oz tequila
.5 oz Campari
.5 oz lime
.5 oz agave nectar
5g gelatin

Mix grapefruit juice, lime, and agave in a pan and sprinkle gelatin on top. Let bloom for a few minutes. Bring to near-boil and blend with immersion blender.

While it’s heating, spray unflavored cooking spray onto silicone molds. Then wipe away as much oil as you can with a paper towel. You’ll not see any on the final product but will get a good release that way. (Thanks to Jello Shot Test Kitchen for that tip!) I used these but you can use any shape you want, or just put it in a loaf pan and cut it later.

Stir hot jello mix into liquor ingredients. Pour into molds and place in fridge. I tried mine 4 hours later and they were already fully gelled.

If you want to carbonate, at home the easiest way is an ISI Whip. I just used one CO2 cartridge on mine, because I was afraid too much pressure might cause syneresis. I seem to remember in some of the earlier gelatin clarification experiments people were using chamber vacs and causing it at atmospheric pressure alone! (I realize the sucking of the vacuum first was probably a major contributor, not just the pressure after, but I didn’t want to risk it.)

After one night in the fridge it came out mildly carbonated. Not bad. Not where I wanted it to be, but the CO2 was clearly dissolving, so I felt like all I had to do was wait. After two and a half days, I tasted it in the morning and it had champagne-levels of CO2 in it! It carbonated much better than any liquid drink ever does. It exploded in your mouth like a Pop Rock.

This is only the first version, of course. I’m going to play around with a couple things next.

First I want to garnish with Campari Salt. That’s basically a 50/50 mix of dehydrated Campari and salt. It’s as amazing as it sounds. It’s simple to make too, you pretty much just spread Campari in silicone molds and pop it in a really low oven or dehydrator. It takes forever, but is very low effort. Them you mortar and pestle up the crystals that result.

Second, I want to try layering it. I’ll probably make a layer of lime/tequila gelatin, a layer of Campari/agave/grapefruit gelatin, and a layer of just grapefruit gelatin. I even want to try yellow grapefruit instead of red for the middle layer to see if I can get it close enough to white to resemble the Mexican Flag’s colors when fully assembled. I thought about using white food coloring, but it looks like it all has titanium dioxide in it.

I also have to figure out a way to do this for restaurant service. ISI whips probably can’t carbonate more than a handful at a time. I’ve got a top-secret device I’m working on for that. If it works, I should be able to carbonate large amounts of fruits, jello shots, etc. at once.

The Latest

So it’s finally my offseason and I’m about to get a bit of time off. I’m working on a few things.

First off, as I mentioned here before, getting my fake lemon and fake lime juice bottled for bars that want to use it. I’ve been calling them Flemon and Flime for a long time as part of a joke, but I think I might just actually call them that. I’m notoriously bad at naming things though.

My ginger beer is my most popular item, and people are always asking where they can get it. I’ve literally not done a single event where someone didn’t. I’ve had someone tell me it’s the best ginger beer “and I love ginger beer,” they always say, pretty much every time. That’s the sort of sign you can’t ignore I suppose.

Turning that into a product you can get on a shelf is surprisingly difficult! I’m still figuring it out. There are all sorts of department of agriculture regulations, particularly where fresh juice is involved, that I’m still navigating. Thankfully Flemon and Flime don’t have those problems.

I’m also working (slowly, but I’m doing it!) on a book for batched cocktails. I hope to share some techniques, recipes, and equipment recommendations. I am trying to re-think, to some extent, how such books work though, because there are quite simply some things that are just better off as video, while some are better as text and images. I’m quite limited by the fact that I’m not a skilled video producer (or really even an unskilled one) and don’t have any equipment better than a GoPro. I suspect this book will sell 1,000 copies if I’m lucky, since the batched cocktail industry is nascent, so I can’t really afford a professional.

I’ll figure it out. Maybe just do the classic book technique of words and pictures, and then toss in a link to the video version.

I’ve also been playing around a lot with gum Arabic and emulsifying in flavoring oils in beverages. And doing alcohol-based extracts of various herbs. I like the idea of being able to mix one flavor at a time. Bitters are nice, but they’re all like 40 different flavors, and sometimes you just want some grapefruit peel.

I’ve been playing around more with savory cocktails as well. It’s a woefully un-explored area I feel like. You’ve got bloody maries, martinis. That’s about the extent of it. Why aren’t people doing more drinks without sugar in them? I hope to have more thoughts on that in the not-too-distant future as well, though with everything else going on it’ll probably be low priority stuff I just fool around with for home use. Whenever I do an event I have dozens of girls ask me “what’s, like, the sweetest fruitiest thing you have?” so savory cocktails are probably not high on the list of crowd pleasers.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to.

Thanksgiving Mule

This weekend I did a cocktail that people really loved at an event. It’s a variation on our normal Moscow Mule (by far our top-selling cocktail since we make our own ginger beer) that uses what I call “crime juice”, which is cranberry juice that’s been acidified to match the level of a lime.

I thought I’d share the recipe here so you can make your own.


Thanksgiving Mule

2 oz. liquor of choice (I like dark rum best)

1 oz. crime juice

4 oz. ginger beer

For bonus points, serve that shit in a champagne glass, but you can throw it on the rocks Moscow Mule style.

For double points, make your own ginger beer, and for triple points carbonate the whole thing in a keg.

Crime Juice:

1 liter cranberry juice

20 grams citric acid

2o grams malic acid

I’m Back. Promise.

Long time, no update. Sorry folks. I’ve been overwhelmed by how many of you have written me one way or another to ask about various things I’ve done here. It’s a small but growing community.

I’m working on a few things right now. Maybe too many things. That’s kind of how I operate. For once they’re at least mostly related though, so it doesn’t feel like my normal habit of doing several disparate things.

First up, there’s the Cocktail Calc. I had some features I wanted to add and hired a guy from Upwork. Seems like a good guy actually. I then got busy with camper season and probably wasn’t able to help give him much guidance. Our first year was so much busier than I anticipated, and I found myself working on events from the time I woke up to the time I went to sleep a lot of weeks.

If he’s still up for it, I’ll work with him to improve it. If not, I’ll get ‘er done myself somehow. I used to program the internets, after all. I am sure I could do it again. I want to make it a site/app for sharing batched cocktails. And get it professionally designed, because it ain’t pretty. In fact, it’s probably taken a step back aesthetically and I need to revert it.

Then there’s a book on batching drinks. I’m going to self-publish it, because previous experience with professional publishers wasn’t great and self-pub has come a long way since then. It used to be something you did when you just couldn’t get a “real publisher” and now it’s a serious consideration even when you can. I’ve now got a season of full-time experience batching cocktails under my belt, and I’ve learned quite a bit. I’m doing a few seminars on it in the near future. I’ve got some improved equipment recommendations and a ton of new recipes to share.

I’m also working on a store for both equipment and homemade ingredients. My goal is to sell keg-sized syrups. That’s not easy. Selling packaged food products requires a ton of paperwork and licensing with the state. It’s my winter project though. My initial products will probably be my lime and lemon replacements, ginger beer, and tonic. The latter two you’ll buy in 1 liter bottles and add to a keg, fill with water, and carbonate. Boom, keg full of all natural, delicious mixer.

On the equipment side, I want to sell most of the things you need to do batched cocktails for professional service. I’ve been ordering the stuff myself but man is that no fun. I order stuff from AliExpress and wait a month or two. Or I pay ridiculous homebrew store prices. Those are the options.

So, I’ve been busy. I haven’t been ignoring you, dear readers.

Making Cordials

One thing I’ve been thinking about, now that I own my own bar, is waste. You don’t really pay much attention to it when you’re a customer or even a bartender. But when you own the bar and look at the spreadsheet full of expenses, you notice the amount of things like citrus that go down the drain every week.

In our case especially, since it’s our first year doing event bartending, it can be rather feast or famine. One event might use half a case of limes and we might have nothing for a few weeks. Buying a case of limes is cheaper than buying even half a case would be if we got small quantities, and we get higher quality limes that way. In fact I can get about 230 limes at Restaurant Depot for the same price I could get 120 for at Sam’s Club, and the Restaurant Depot ones are juicier. So if I have an event that’s going to use 100 limes, it makes more sense to buy the case but I still have 130 left at the end. They’ve got a pretty short shelf life though, so if I don’t have two weekends in a row I’m going to lose some.

One obvious solution to this is cordial, and it’s what we’ve started doing. Whenever we have a bunch of citrus laying around, we juice it up and make cordial. Cordial is shelf-stable (I pasteurize it en sous vide) so it doesn’t take up precious fridge space.

Cordial is also delicious. Rose’s Lime Cordial is a garbage product and has been giving the entire category a bad name for decades. But a fresh, homemade cordial is incredible.

Here’s my general process for making it:

Take a bunch of citrus. Zest a third of it with a Y-Peeler.

Juice it all.

Bring it to a boil and then simmer it, with the peels, for  a half hour.

Strain through a chinois or fine mesh strainer

Using a refractometer, add sugar to get it to 25%. (I add sugar to about 20% at the start, then add the rest after the boil so that I don’t go over after evaporation.)

Note: If you’re doing this professionally, or are an enthusiastic amateur with a little bit of a budget get a digital refractometer because it saves time and you’re often going to be above the 30% limit optical ones have, but if you’re just doing sorbets and cordials get a $30 one. If you don’t have a refractometer and don’t want one, you can just Google the average sugar content for the fruit you’re using and do a little math. Your cordial won’t be exact because there’s a surprising variation from one fruit to the next, but it’ll still be delicious!

I like 25% sugar for my cordials for a few reasons. First, it’s exactly half as sweet as my simple syrup, which makes it really easy to balance. Want to make a whiskey sour with it? If I’d normally do:

2 parts whiskey

1 part lemon

1 part simple

Instead I can just do:

2 parts whiskey

2 parts cordial

Since the cordial is half as sweet, but I use twice as much of it, it’s the same balance.

Or I can get experimental and do:

2 parts whiskey

1 part lemon

1 part cordial

1/2 part simple syrup

That’s slightly less sweet than the original, because it has a little higher volume but the same amount of sugar. But it’s really close.

Second, it lets me get more flavor into the drink if I so choose. Most commercial cordials are more like 65% sugar for shelf-stability reasons. So you can’t use much of them without making the drink cloying. I can do a drink that’s 50% cordial if I want and still have only ab out the sweetness I’d have with a standard sour.

I can always dial the flavor down if it’s too much just by cutting some in favor of simple. In practice this almost never happens.

Cordial is, of course, not the same as fresh citrus. It’s not better or worse, but it is different. The cordial whiskey sour I wrote above won’t by any means be the same as the one with lemon and simple. But it will be fantastic.

My recommendation is that bar owners simply have their bartenders save fruit from their shifts. Have them strip the peels off of the citrus before they juice it one or two days a week and toss them in a deli container. Then once a week take all of that and make the cordial. It’s a little bit of work but not much, and you get a great product you can use in cocktails. It also allows you to over juice on a nightly basis, ensuring you never run out of the fresh stuff but still lose nothing down the drain.

Also having a stockpile of cordial might insulate you a bit from ridiculous price swings with citrus. If we ever have another severe shortage, you can simply change your menu to items leaning toward cordial.

For long-term storage, I don’t think my sous vide pasteurization method will work. I suspect a combo of that and refrigeration will buy you quite a bit of time, but if you need to save it for 6 months plus, you might want to look into preservatives and/or freezing.