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.

Cocktail Recipe Series #1: Batched Mojitos

15-09-26-RalfR-WLC-0067.jpgThis post is going to have a slightly different format than I intend for this series to generally. This particular recipe has eluded me for so long that I honestly wouldn’t want to bore you with every variant I came up with. There were just too many, and all to replicate a simple cocktail. Oftentimes something that’s really hard to make one of is really easy to batch, like a Ramos Gin Fizz. This one, however, is the reverse.

My white whale of batched drinks is, undoubtedly, the mojito. It took me several dozen attempts over the course of two years to get one I feel confident serving. It’s still not 100% where I want it to be, but it’s close. Damn close. A-couple-tweaks-and-I’m-there close.

One of the reasons I set out to do batching in the first place is carbonation. It’s something classic cocktails often deal with, but rarely well. There’s almost nothing better than the first sip of a freshly made mojito on a hot summer day. But there’s not much worse (in cocktail terms, at least) than the limp, listless, watered down dregs left at the bottom after the carbonation is gone. Especially if the bartender used sugar instead of simple. It’s like drinking a grossly tangy simple syrup down there.

So my first goal was to make a mojito that would taste good all the way down, mainly by carbonating it enough that even at the bottom, it’d still effervesce.

Also bartenders often bitch about customers ordering mojitos because they’re time-consuming. I hate this. If you work at a craft cocktail bar, your job is to make cocktails. Not the ones that are easy to make. People can make themselves a perfectly fine gin and tonic at home. It’s your job to give them a delicious drink they couldn’t make at home. Most people don’t have a muddler or know how to use it. They don’t stock mint and soda regularly. (Yes dear reader, I know you do, and it’s why we’re besties.) When I worked at a bar, I never once complained when someone ordered a laborious drink. I did complain when someone asked for a chocolate martini, though only to the other bartenders, but that’s because it offended me as a bartender, a drinker, and a human being, not because it was a pain in the dick to make.

When designing a bar menu, you have to be careful about balance. Too many laborious drinks on the menu at once and you’re going to have long lines and unhappy patrons. And unhappy bartenders because they’re losing out on tips as customers sit, upset, with no drink in hand.

So my second order of business was to put together a mojito that took markedly less labor (no muddling or shaking) that I could serve by the keg at beer speed. Combine that with tasting good all the way through and I think you’ve got a winner.

I also wanted to make a few variants because it’s a cocktail that pairs well with basically all seasonal fruit. In my recent travels to rum-producing parts of the world, I’ve had it with various tropical fruits, and here in the great white north I’ve had it with strawberries, blackberries, etc. They’ve all been delicious.

The batched mojito turned out to be a taller order than I anticipated. The first problem came with the mint. How to get fresh mint into a batched cocktail?

Attempt number 1 was with mint simple syrup. I’ve made syrups with other herbs with great effect. Thyme, rosemary, etc. (Rosemary Tom Collins that way is delicious.) Mint, unfortunately, takes on an unpleasant cooked flavor.

The obvious solution is mint extract. There are several types though. There are peppermint extracts, and spearmint extracts. There are alcohol-based ones, oil based, and pure mint oils that I believe are steam extracted or cold-pressed. Seriously, there are probably a dozen different products that are basically mint in a bottle.

The alcohol ones work right out of the bottle, but they don’t give you the flavor of fresh mint. It’s more of a mint candy flavor. It’s hard to describe the difference, but try them side by side and you’ll see what I mean. It’s not quite right. The taste wasn’t up to par.

The oil-based ones are similar, plus they have the undesired effect of adding oil to your glass. They’re usually extracted in something like sunflower oil that doesn’t stay in suspension even briefly. I could fix that (more on that in a second) but the taste wasn’t much better than the alcohol-based extracts.

The closest thing I could find is 100% pure spearmint oil. Do yourself a favor, wait until you don’t mind tasting nothing but mint for an hour before putting a drop of that stuff on your tongue. That stuff is the real deal. Imagine compressing all of the flavor from an entire sprig of mint into one drop. Then make it oil so it sticks to your tongue like minty-fresh napalm. On the plus side, squeeze one drop of that on your tongue and simple syrup tastes just like a mojito!

My first tests with that, which is what I settled on, involved using a few drops of the oil because I’d been previously using extracts and didn’t realize the difference in potency. Three drops in a whole drink was a mint bomb. Two drops still tasted like chewing on mint leaves.

I think this is similar to how bitters get significantly more potent when allowed to sit, and I think it’s for the same reason. Bitters are also made of flavoring oils, suspended in alcohol. I believe that both when placed into a cocktail full of water come out of suspension and after a day, float to the top where they’re volatilized and you smell them much more.

Anyway if your mojito is sitting around for a day or more, one drop, it turns out, is about the right amount. It’s not quite as minty as some mojitos you order, but it’s really damn close. If you’re batching in volume, I think something like 6 drops per 5 drinks is more like the perfect amount. I still have to play with this to dial it in.

Because mint oil is, well, oil, when it’s in a mojito, which is basically aqueous, it tends to separate. Leave it in a clear bottle for a couple days and you’ll see a thin film form at the top.

Fixing that is easy. Just do what soda makers do: use gum Arabic. The nice thing about gum Arabic is that if you use too much, nothing happens. If I’m doing these one at a time, I just toss a pinch in with the liquid ingredients and shake the crap out of it. If I’m doing a batch, I use a weight equal to that of the oil and take a little more care to hydrate and disperse.

Next up, lime juice. Dave Arnold’s lime acid was where I started. This is pretty good, but not fresh lime. Clarified lime juice is a little better, but still not fresh lime juice. It’s also a pain to make and goes bad quickly. I’ve mentioned it a couple times before, but I developed my fake lime juice (name still to be determined) which is the best solution of all. It tastes closer to fresh lime than clarified lime juice, I think. But really you can use any alternative. I’ll hopefully be selling mine soon.

Then there was the ratio. Here’s where I finally dialed it in:


Matt’s Batched Mojito

2 oz. white rum (Don Q Cristal and Flor de Cana Extra Dry are my favorites)

1 oz. simple syrup

.75 oz. clarified lime juice or other substitute

1 drop (roughly 0.5 grams) 100% pure mint oil

0.5 gram gum Arabic

Mix everything but the gum Arabic together. When doing a big batch, I like to use a 7 gallon food-safe bucket (tall sides prevent splashing) and a stainless steel paint mixer that has only been used for beverages attached to a cordless drill. For small batches, just use a blender or a hand mixer.

With your mixing device running, sprinkle in the gum Arabic. I like to sprinkle it out of a fine mesh shaker. Gum Arabic hydrates under shear, so you want it to get blended in nicely. Just dump it in willy-nilly and you’ll get a big, snotty-looking clump.

Chill and carbonate to 30 psi at 32 degrees. Serve on the rocks. Smack a fresh mint sprig between your hands, basically clapping with it, and use that for garnish.

Fruit Variant

To make any fruit variant, do the following.

  1. Clarify juice using method of choice. For strawberry juice, I like agar freeze thaw.
  2. Test sugar levels with refractometer, add sugar to 50 brix.
  3. Substitute for simple syrup.

Another option: just buy good stuff that’s already there. I’m not opposed to using packaged products if they’re high quality. Torani’s Signature line is about 65 brix, so use 2/3 ounce of that in place of the simple syrup. They’re all natural, though they add a little bit of acid too so you want to drop your lime juice just a touch. Their white peach is very good in mojito form.

Also, you could instead do a justino with the rum. That’d probably be a great way for long term preservation.



New Series of Posts

In an effort to both up my cocktail game, and increase my output on this blog, I’ve decided to take on a small challenge. It’s going to be difficult for me since it’s busy season at The Happy Camper, but now that I’m a bar owner, drinking is basically market research right?

The challenge: create one new production-ready cocktail every week. This is a cocktail I could serve in a bar or my camper. (The constraints of my camper are such that some cocktails don’t really work for high volume events, though some could work for low-volume.)

Sometimes I’m lucky and get one that’s ready to go on the first attempt, or as I usually exclaim when it happens, “First time prime baby!” Some cocktails go through literally dozens of iterations before they’re where I want them to be. For the latter, I’ll try to give at least some of the iterations and my notes on them here.

Where possible I’m going to get taste testers. I don’t have a lot of people turning down offers like that! But I’m going to have to maybe get some sort of formalized schedule.

Anyway, wish me luck. It’ll be an ongoing series here, so if you like it, feel free to subscribe.

New Cocktail: Prune Justino

A bar in my area is having a cocktail contest so I just had to throw my hat into the ring. I wanted to do something a little modernist, but they want to feature the cocktail on their menu when it’s over, so I didn’t want to do anything too far out there. I’m going to assume they don’t have or want to buy any special equipment, so all the fun carbonated drinks are out, and that they don’t want to do anything laborious like agar clarification.

When I first started getting into modernist cocktails, one of the first things I experimented with was rapid infusions. I had an ISI Whip as a holdover from my modernist cooking experiments. It was fall a few years ago, and in Ohio unless there’s a late frost we get a really great stone fruit crop. That year had been cool and cloudy, which meant a horrible tomato crop that nearly bankrupted some of the farmers I spoke to, but a banner year for peaches and plums.

So my first order of business: rapid infusing stonefruits. Thus the Plumhattan was born. It’s exactly what it sounds like, you rapid infuse some whiskey with plums, strain, and then mix with vermouth and Angostura. Ango just goes so well with tree fruits and that drink was such a hit I couldn’t keep plums at home. Every time friends came over I went through a half-dozen. I even planted a plum tree in my yard in hopes I could keep up in the future.

I wanted to take it a step further this year. I love the combination of plum and whiskey. (I made some delicious desserts with the whiskey-soaked plums leftover from the infusions) but want something a little more exciting than just plum in a Manhattan.

So I broke out my trusty Flavor Bible to try to get a feel for a flavor profile. There were a few things you expect. Various spices like anise, cardamom, and cinnamon, that add up to a flavor profile very similar to Angostura. And then some I hadn’t thought off immediately but had tried before, like Cognac and Armagnac. I once made a dessert from the Bouchon Bistro cookbook that was prunes poached in red wine with anise, cinnamon, and honey. Serve that with some homemade vanilla ice cream to a girl you’re dating (or would like to be) and you’re getting lucky, I promise.

So I have a few ideas, but they all start with the prune whiskey. Rather than rapid infuse, because it requires no special equipment and results in a clear product I decided to go with a justino. Anyone with a blender could spend $15 on some Pectinex Ultra-SPL and pull this off, so it seems doable for a small-volume cocktail bar. (I do think for comparison I might buy some plums and rapid infuse, just to see which is better.)

So to start, I took a bottle of 4 Roses Yellow and blended it with some prunes. In Liquid Intelligence, Dave Arnold recommends using dried fruit so you get more fruit flavor with less water. Plums aren’t in season yet, and prune plums are tastier than the rest anyway.  

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So I mixed 500 grams 4 Roses Yellow with 125 grams plums and of course 2 grams Pectinex Ultra-SPL. I blended the ever-living shit out of it, because plums are pretty meaty. I had to stop at one point because the Vitamix was blending it so much that it was getting warm and I didn’t want the alcohol to start evaporating. It separated so fast I’m not sure you even need the Pectinex, but if it contributes even a little to clarity it’s worth it. So unlike most Justinos where those of us without a centrifuge have to cross our fingers and hope it separates, I could have been done an hour later. But I wanted maximum flavor infusions so I let it sit for a week and then strained through a coffee filter.

The straining was rough. Some of the solids had gone to the top and some to the bottom, so I wasn’t able to rack the liquid off of them very well. They clogged even just  fine mesh strainer. I strained them through fine mesh, then through multiple changes of cheesecloth, then through coffee filters. The process took a really long time, though not much active work. Next time I’ll take a spoon and try to scoop the puck of solids off the top.

And here we are, plum whiskey. I’ll talk in future posts about what I end up doing with it. My ideas right now are:

1. A variant on a New York Sour. Plums pair well with both lemon and red wine. I’m thinking maybe the plum whiskey, lemon juice, demerara simple, and a big bold California cabernet.

2. Something paired with brandy. I’m not entirely sure where this line of thought is going to take me. But I like Cognac and the good book says they pair well together. I have this notion in my head that the combo is going to taste good with Nonino, and I can’t even tell you why. I could be way off base.

3. Something with absinthe. Anise + plum = yummy. That’s like basic food math. I feel like there’s something to be found loosely based on a corpse reviver #2 or a sazerac here.

Ideas would be greatly appreciated as well. I really don’t know where exactly to go with this one yet.

Monastery Sour

Last Saturday we had a slow night at the bar. Todd, the owner, had finally given in and bought some Chartreuse after me bugging him about it for months. I was really hoping he’d snag some Fernet Branca to go with it, but as my friend John always says, never kick a gift horse in the mouth.

He’d also snagged a bottle of Benedectine, and I felt like playing around. I took a sip and realized it has a flavor profile not too dissimilar to Fernet Branca, but is considerably sweeter. I immediately thought of an industry sour.

So I started mixing. I began with equal parts Chartreuse, lime, and Benedictine, but with the simple syrup cut in half since Benedictine already has a good bit of sweetness to it. After shaking it still needed a little something, and looking around I immediately jumped to absinthe. I couldn’t tell you why exactly, it just felt right, like the night I met my ex-girlfriend. Or the night I broke up with the same ex-girlfriend. Sometimes you just know.

It still needed a little something, so I tossed in an egg-white which really rounded out the flavor. So here’s the final recipe.

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Monastery Sour

1 oz. Benedictine

1 oz. Chartreuse

1 oz. lime juice

0.5 oz. 1:1 simple syrup

.25 oz. absinthe

1 egg white

Dry shake all ingredients. Add ice, shake like crazy. Strain into a chilled coupe. No garnish.

Force Carbonated Paloma #1

I often, when developing my own recipes, go through many attempts to get one right. This is a new series on one I am working on. You’ll get to see them in progress as I try to achieve perfection.

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Let me put this out there right off the bat: I fucking love palomas. They’re among the simplest of cocktails (tequila and grapefruit soda with a lime) and the tastiest. They please serious cocktail lovers and your average 11 p.m. barfly equally. Women love them. Men love them. They’re the Tom Hanks of cocktails. I don’t know why there isn’t one on every cocktail menu.

So one of the things I’ve been meaning to do with my newfound modernist toolkit is make a bad-ass paloma. Clarification and carbonation skills are really about all you need, and both of those are quite simple in this case. Grapefruit is pretty easy to clarify for a citrus. (See my Gin and Juice post for instructions.) It’s also great for batching, especially in a carbonated drink, because it doesn’t degrade like other citrus fruits. I’ve stored a gin and grapefruit juice with it for a week and it was perfectly fine. Dave Arnold says it even freezes well.

Making the soda myself should yield a much higher quality drink than simply buying Fresca, Jarritos, or what have you. While not bad, even the best commercial brands still don’t taste quite like fresh grapefruit. You also can’t really mix the ingredients without flattening the carbonation a bit, and most store-bought beverages aren’t bubbly enough for my taste to begin with. Using modernist techniques I should be able to get a bubblier, better tasting drink than anything you can get otherwise.

The process was pretty straightforward. I had some agar-clarified grapefruit juice leftover from my holiday party gin and juice. So I took a shot at my own paloma.

I wanted to try out acid phosphate, and I’m glad I did. I love this stuff! It adds a little brightness without the bitterness inherent to acids like lime and lemon. I might try mixing in a tiny amount of malic acid next time.

Here’s the first take on the recipe.

Paloma #1

12 oz. agar-clarified grapefruit juice

2 oz. agave nectar

4 oz. Tequila (I used Olmecca Altos Reposado)

6 oz. water

1 oz. Aperol

1 dropper saline solution

12 drops acid phosphate

Mix, chill, carbonate, serve in Collins glass with lime wedge and straw. Makes about 4 glasses. (I expected two but wasn’t accounting for how much ice is in a Collins glass).


1. Might want to add a little clarified lime juice next time. This is one of the hardest things to do at home, since quick agar clarification without a centrifuge is a huge pain in the ass. I need to invest in a salad spinner anyway, since I want to do every Liquid Intelligence recipe for this blog and that’s one of them. I’m not sure it’s necessary; the acid phosphate is quite good at providing a little more tartness to the grapefruit juice. But it’d be good to try. Just having the drinker squeeze the wedge in worked fine though.

2. Might want to use a Blanco tequila next time. (Or maybe chitosan/gellan wash the Reposado? Would that give you a better flavor with a clearer color?) The initial coloration was an unappealing brown since the grapefruit juice is nearly clear. I added the Aperol for both color and flavor (I love the way it pairs with grapefruit) and I love the flavor, but the color is still not quite there. May have to swap out the agave nectar for fructose for the same reason. I’m not sure I would have felt the need to add the Aperol if I had used a Blanco, but I’m glad I did and will probably keep it.

3. I need to get a better measurement system for the acid phosphate. I think I should scale it. I love what it did for the flavor for sure. But the drops that come out of the bottle seem widely variable. My guess is this is about 1/4 oz. in this one. I’ll do better on that score next time. ChefSteps recommends 0.05%-0.1% phosphoric acid (not exactly the same as acid phosphate, but close) so I’ll try that. I also might dial it up just a notch if I don’t add clari-lime. Before the lime wedge went in, the drink wasn’t quite balanced, though maybe I should just allow for the fact that the drinker is likely to squeeze in a lime regardless.

4. It tasted good, but needed more tequila. I think next time I’ll just omit the water. Carbonated drinks always taste overly-diluted before you bubble it, but I think I had done some math wrong. I was aiming for 15% ABV and ended up at 6%.

Next time I’ll try

8 oz tequila

12 oz clarified grapefruit

1 oz Aperol

2 oz Agave nectar