Category Archives: Recipes

Happy Camper Launch Party

Two weeks ago I did the launch party for the Happy Camper Bar Car. My new business, the Happy Camper is basically a food truck for booze built into a 1972 Airstream.

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Backstory

Two years ago, growing dissatisfied with my day job, I was considering starting a food truck with my brother.  My real dream was to open a bar, but it seemed so mysterious and expensive at the time. I’d never worked at one. They needed all sorts of fancy equipment. My brother has been a chef for a long time so I wasn’t worried about the cost or knowledge involved in doing a food truck, but a bar? No way.

We never ended up doing it though because my brother was going to drop out of school to work on it, and I didn’t want that. I ended up taking a weeknight job at a bar, for just long enough that I felt comfortable owning one. Not that it’s rocket surgery, but just working at one for let’s say 25 to 50 shifts will save you a lot of headache. You’ll make a lot fewer mistakes than you would if you went cowboy and did it yourself, and someone will pay you for the education. It’s a no-brainer and I’m glad I did it.

I felt ready to start a bar. So I started looking at real estate. I found a spot I loved. It was owned by the county and they wanted the building do prop up the convention center next door. The door to my bar would be directly across from the door of the convention center, which meant a hundred thousand people a year would stumble out of a miserable work event looking for a drink and mine would be the only one in sight.

It was stripped down to brick and concrete. It had these beautiful cathedral ceilings because the building is built on a hill and it was at the bottom, with a gorgeous window above the high door. The perfect speakeasy. All it needed was a bar and some Edison bulbs hanging from a pipe.

The one small wrinkle was that they wanted to sell the building to make a hotel. They’ve been trying to make a deal for that for years and failing, but they didn’t want to do a lease longer than a year just in case. Which made it hard for me to justify putting much money into it, even though I think that hotel is about as likely to occur as a zombie outbreak.

But mysteriously, they were also getting a renovation budget from the county to turn it into usable space. They seemed like they might be amenable to letting me using said budget to build my bar instead of putting in generic carpet and white drop panel ceilings like the old UPS store next to it.

I was feeling optimistic. And that’s when they found asbestos. The cost for them to remove it would have been more than I paid in rent for six years, so understandably they decided to just wait for the zombie apocalypse. So the one spot I wanted was gone.

I could have looked for another. My city’s downtown has plenty of vacancy. But that’s when I saw a couple people online doing food trucks for booze.

Sure, I’d joked about that several times. But the inability to get a liquor license seemed like a deal breaker. Except, of course, if you do private events. Then you don’t even need one. What a great loophole.

It goes really well with what I love doing. I really like batching cocktails. There are so many advantages to them over made to order ones. You have more control over dilution and chilling when you can divorce the two. You can ensure a level of consistency far beyond even the best bartenders. You can make things bubbly. You can serve people the highest quality cocktails at beer speed. And most importantly, you can do it without ever washing dishes. The weight of the water it would require to be stirring and shaking on the Airstream wouldn’t fit on the axle.

So when I found the loophole that made it possible, I was talking to my good friend Heather and she wanted to jump into it with me. We went for it. We went from talking about it to owning a stripped-bare Airstream in under a month, and having a party three months later. Do that with a bar!

The Launch Party

Fast forward to four months later. The trials and tribulations involved in getting the Airstream ready would make a blog post, or maybe a book but we were past it and it was time for the launch party. The girl doing the interior woodwork was coming down to the wire. The party was on Sunday and I got a bar top installed Saturday afternoon. Ever built out a tap system in a couple hours? It ain’t easy! I knew I’d have to run to the homebrew store for something, and they were only open until 5, so I got started ASAP.

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Thankfully I’d done everything I could beforehand. I’d cut all of the beverage tubing and drilled holes in the side of the fridge to run it through. I’d made sure I could fit six kegs and two gas tanks (one CO2, one nitro) in the left-hand side of the fridge. I’d installed the shanks and valves, including four custom post-mix soda valves on beer-tower sized soda shanks made for me by CM Becker. All we had to do was screw the towers into place, run the lines, and connect the liquid disconnects.

It went off without too much trouble. I turned out to be one tap handle shy because we never had time to make our custom ones (next time) but that was all I really needed from the homebrew store. I built the system and ran each drink through its line.

On the far left was beer on draft. I’d simply gone to a growler fill and filled my 3 gallon Corny Keg and recarbonated. The next drink was one I made up featuring Rittenhouse Rye, lemon, apple cider, Aperol, and mulled simple syrup.

We had my homemade ginger beer on draft for mule variants, including my brown butter dark and stormy. We had Jack Rudy tonic force-carbonated in another keg.

The last two were cocktails. One is Chartreuse and root beer. It was an idea I’d gotten from Chris at A Bar Above (I think) and have been playing with for a long time. For this version, which is by far the best, by the way, I used:

1.5 oz. Chartreuse

1 oz. Monin Rootbeer Syrup

5 oz. Water

1 dash orange bitters

I scaled that up to a few gallons using my handy dandy cocktail calculator then force carbonated at 32 PSI at about 28F. Do yourself a favor and let this one rest a day. I made some to test and tried it day of, and it tasted like it needed more orange bitters and Chartreuse. Then I tossed the rest back in my fridge and forgot about it until Heather came over a couple days later. I tasted it again then and it was magically the greatest drink of all time.

The last tap was my carbonated serrano margarita. Maybe I’ll explain the recipe for that one some time in the future. It’s a blog post in and of itself.

Here’s the full menu:

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Lessons:

#1. Detach gas lines from kegs before driving down the road. Turns out liquid can back up into the gas lines, and from there up into your distributors and regulator from the sloshing. I spent the first half-hour trying to unjam the kegs as a result. One of them got halfway empty and never flowed again.

#2. Keep your tap lines accessible. Ours are hidden behind the bar and wrapped in insulation. It’s a bitch to get to them and if something jams, I’m screwed. (I don’t think I need glycol, the stuff never sits around enough to get cold, but if it starts foaming due to temp I might build an air-cooled system. I don’t anticipate having to do so though, insulation should be good enough.)

#3. Move the CO2 tanks outside of the refrigerator. I had not accounted for the fact that I’d have extra kegs that needed to stay cold, so room in there was at a premium. I’m going to drill holes in the right for two lines, and set up quick disconnects in the fridge so I can easily swap out distributors. That’ll make the whole thing much more organized and easy to troubleshoot if something goes wrong.

#4. Test the Airstream with a non-contact tester before every event. This didn’t happen at the party but later at my house, thankfully. My house is really old and my garage has a GFCI in it into which I plug the camper. You’d think that’d make it safe, and it probably would if whatever idiot wired it decades ago hadn’t had current coming out of the grounding wire. An Airstream isn’t grounded because it sits on big rubber tires. And the shell is highly conductive. So it zapped me. You just never know what you’re going to be plugging into, and if an electrical source is wired wrong a customer could get seriously injured!

#5. People really love home-made ginger beer. It was like half the drinks that walked out. I’ll account for that at future events. I was a little worried that my menu was a little too hardcore for casual cocktail fans. Not so. I think I sold one drink with tonic in it the whole time. I’ll probably repurpose the remaining case of Jack Rudy for a special drink, like an Elderflower G&T on draft, and use one more cocktail and one fewer mixer generally.

#6. I should have spent more time calculating the PSI needed before I ordered the parts. The lines were 12’ long, plus there’s a 2 foot rise, and that’s too much resistance for 3/16” ID line. I had to pump it out at about 35-40 PSI. Good thing I never had to use my personal remanufactured ball lock keg, it vents around there. (Note to self, fix that.) Our new ones don’t even seem to vent at 55, which is the highest I’ve taken them, but still. I couldn’t figure out why the beer wasn’t flowing well when the event started, turns out I was just way off on that.

The shaken drink on draft relies on a lot of pressure forcing it through the stout faucet. At home on my personal equipment, 30 PSI gets a great drink. That’s about 22 PSI more than I’d serve a carbonated drink at. I couldn’t even get the Fireside up near that, so it ended up with a texture I wasn’t 100% happy with. Still tasted good but wasn’t perfect. So I’m switching to 1/4” ID line. That’ll let me drop the pressure way down to about 8.

Anyway, I would say overall the party was a success. The drinks were really good. When the taps jammed I spent a half hour fixing them, but we got through it. I then spent two hours wanting to go behind a shed and cry! But I muscled through that too. And then it was over.

I’m pretty optimistic about our venture. We’ve now cleared most of the major hurdles that were worrying me. I’ve got another venture I’m working on to go right alongside it too. And I’m going to greatly improve the batching app. And I’m even working on a book about batching drinks too. So stay tuned.

Cocktail Competition

Saturday I entered my first cocktail competition. It was for the USBG Bartender’s Battle at Crop Bistro. It was part of Cleveland Cocktail Week.

I found out about it in early August when I joined the USBG. The rules required you to use a product from one of seven Ohio distilleries. It was supposed to be a brunch cocktail and couldn’t be a Bloody Mary, which would be too obvious anyway. It’s fall, and my favorite thing about Ohio this time of year is the stone fruit. Our peaches, plums and apples are second to none, and for some reason a lot of Ohioans don’t even know they grow here! I was told I’d have to make 120 samples for attendees (2 ounces each) plus four full eight ounce drinks for the judges, so 272 ounces in total.

I also knew I wanted to go bubbly. When I think brunch cocktails my first thought is a mimosa. My second thought is a Bellini. There’s just something so refreshing about bubbly drinks in the afternoon that I had to try it.

I also knew I wanted to batch the drink. I mean, I pretty much always want to batch the drink. Now that I have the technology to do shaken drinks in a keg and figured out how to replace fresh citrus (more on those later) batching is just better almost 100% of the time. And I thought my competitors might be hassled trying to shake and strain what amounted to 34 drinks in a short period of time if we got an early rush.

So I worked out a recipe using clarified plum juice, Dave Arnold’s coriander soda (modified to use Asian chilis), plum vinegar, and OYO White Rye. It was probably the best cocktail I’d ever come up with. Coriander soda (recipe in Liquid Intelligence) has a taste not too dissimilar to ginger beer. It was sort of an Asian/Midwestern fusion and it was fucking fantastic, and I’ll probably serve a version of it at my launch party.

The rules said you’d get the liquor the morning of the event. I wasn’t sure which way to go with that for a carbonated drink. Option #1 was to try to get the liquor a day or more early. I could batch out and carbonate the rest of the drink at my leisure, get the liquor, add it, and then re-carbonate.

Option #2 was to do some dry ice magic at the event venue. I could batch everything but the liquor in a keg, and take some dry ice up with me. When I showed up to the event, I could toss the liquor into a bowl, use dry ice to chill it rapidly (which would also lightly carbonate) then finish force carbonating in the keg. Of course I’d have to bring the keg, the tank and regulator, etc.

Option #3 was to just serve it the way people normally serve Moscow Mules. I’d batch up the soda, then still chill and lightly carbonate the liquor with dry ice to as cold as I could. Add the liquor to the serving glass and top with soda. 

At the last moment I saw you could submit a second recipe. So I decided to go with another fall staple, peaches. I made up a recipe off the top of my head and balanced it with my cocktail calculus spreadsheet. It was basically a Moscow Mule, but fall style. I was using Tom Foolery’s bourbon with a modified ginger beer, force carbonated. I hadn’t even tried it and just hoped they’d pick the coriander plum drink.

I submitted the cocktails on 8/31. I was supposed to hear back from them on 9/6. I really needed the two weeks between the announcement and the event because either way I was clarifying a lot of stone fruit. (Turns out a bushel gets you about 5 liters.) I had to buy an entire bushel, remove the stones, juice, treat with pectin, set with agar, then allow to thaw. Not to mention the end of peach season was rapidly approaching, so if that drink got picked I wasn’t totally sure there’d be any left at the orchard.

It came and went with nothing. I gave it a few days to account for bartender time, and when I didn’t hear anything just assumed I hadn’t been chosen. Finally on the 11th I got the notice that I’d been accepted, though the bad news was it was the peach cocktail that had only ever existed in spreadsheet form!

So I scrambled the next day to the orchard and bought what turned out to be the last bushel of peaches they had. Had I gotten the notice one day later, I might have had to use grocery store peaches (gross). But I was immediately in a scramble to get a gallon of clarified peach juice.

For the submission I had taken my standard ginger beer recipe (stolen from Jeffrey Morgenthaler) and modified it to use brown sugar simple instead of plain, clarified peach juice instead of water, and plum vinegar instead of lemon. I had to adjust all of the levels to account for the fact that clarified peach juice has some acid (about .6%, according to my titration test) and a lot of sugar. When I put it in the refractometer, the peach juice turned out to be 21.6% sugar! No wonder those things are so damn tasty.

In fact, clarified peach juice oddly is half of the final acidity and about 100% of the sugar you get from the lemon and simple in the normal recipe. So you could really just add half of the lemon and your ginger and be good to go. But I ended up adjusting the acidity a little up with the plum vinegar and a little citric acid so I could use some simple because I wanted to get that brown sugar taste in. I felt like it would go really well with the other flavors.

Anyway, thanks to my handy dandy refractometer, acid titration test kit, and a spreadsheet that uses Dave Arnold’s Cocktail Calculus section in Liquid Intelligence, plus lots of taste testing, I was able to get the drink exactly where I wanted it. It ended up being pretty much what I had submitted, with the one modification that I didn’t like using just plum vinegar. There was just too much acetic acid flavor.

So the process was as follows:

Saturday: Run to the orchard and buy the last of the peaches.

Sunday: Have my friends help me cut juice them. Pre-treat with Pectinex Ultra-SPL. (See the clarification section of Liquid Intelligence if you want the details). Set some of it with agar to test out freeze-thaw.

Monday: Thaw the batch set with agar. It works beautifully. Carbonates with very low foam. Promptly gel and freeze the rest of the juice in a giant hotel pan.

Tuesday: Thaw the rest of the peaches. Buy the ginger. Make a few liters brown sugar simple syrup. And a liter of 6% citric acid solution.

Wednesday: Enjoy one day of relaxing/housecleaning/actually getting shit done for my day job.

Thursday: Juice ginger. Why haven’t I bought a masticating juicer yet? Centrifugal gets the job done but it’s low yield and sucks to do. Prep everything. Sanitize and clean kegs and a bunch of 5 gallon buckets. Buy lots of canned peaches, cut them up, and put them in a keg to carbonate for garnish.

Friday: Put the whole thing together in a 5 gallon bucket. Find out only afterward that I bought the wrong vinegar and it’s extremely salty. It said it was ume vinegar but was actually umeboshi vinegar. Ume is a Japanese plum. Umeboshi is a salted, preserved ume. Batch is ruined. Fuuuuuuck.

I’ve used most of the clarified peach juice, and there won’t be enough left to get the flavor I want, so now I have to go buy more liquor, rapid-infuse it with lots of thawed frozen peaches (the orchard is done selling those now) in an ISI whip, 400ml at a time, and spend the next 12 hours doing that. Oh, have to go buy and juice 7 more lbs of ginger, make more brown sugar simple and citric acid solution, etc.

Also am hosting an event in the evening that I can’t skip, so I take a 3 hour detour in the middle of the mess. My house looks like a terrorist attacked a peach cannery.

Come back and try kegging the drink with the hope of serving with a pigtail. Nope, way too foamy. Thought that might happen. I’ll just pour the drinks. Switch to 2L bottles and the carbonater. I have four of them but can only find three, and I need to do 6 bottles. 

Saturday: Head up to the event. Door isn’t open for like a half hour past when it was supposed to be. The good news is, all I have to do at the venue is put the peaches on a stick and smile. I would have even prepped the garnish but I thought the peaches might fall off the toothpicks when I tried to get them out of the keg. Steal some basic supplies from the restaurant’s kitchen and get ‘er done. Throw a few peaches in the ISI with a hit of CO2 so they’re extra fizzy for the judges.

The setup turns out to be we each get a table. I pull my cooler up between mine and the neighbor’s. I grab a bunch of ice from the ice maker, start filling up sample cups, pouring, and topping. I quickly realize the brunch isn’t as crowded as I thought (no 120 people) so they’re going to sit there and get diluted and go flat. I stop pouring, chalk them up as display models, and just pour individual samples whenever someone comes by. Carbonated drinks cannot be left to sit on ice for long.

I find out that the first round is judged by the attendees. I was kind of banking on that. Had it been the four judges, I’d have had to work an amaro in or something.

They gave us some larger cups for if people want more than a sample. I start noticing people coming back to my line over and over. I look around and that doesn’t seem to be happening to anyone else. Some people request extra carbonated peaches because, well, they’re delightful. Everyone’s telling me how great my drink is, except one of the four judges who doesn’t like that I used canned peaches. That’s fucking crazy. (I even heard about it later from another judge.) Canned peaches are the most delicious thing in the universe, and fresh peaches often don’t have enough sweetness to balance out the acidic taste of carbonation. They’re not as bad as a strawberry (which just tastes rancid) but they’re not as good fizzy as canned.

The girl running the show is going around asking with a notepad and I see lots of people pointing to me. My drink, it turns out, is an overwhelming favorite. Me and a girl from one of the better bars in Cleveland go on to round 2, the Iron Chef-style competition.

For round two the judges give us $20 and 20 minutes to go shopping at West Side Market. I had brought my ISI whip in case I had gotten to round two, figuring I’d either do a rapid infusion with it, or a carbonated drink, or just a really cool foam garnish. I look at the supplies available before I head to the market. I have to use a wheat whiskey I’d never tasted, but it’s wheat whiskey and the local distillery that made it makes good products, so I feel confident. I see some very fall-ish looking items for use. Cinnamon and various other spices, some apple cider, etc. I decide to try to find some medjool dates to rapid infuse the whiskey with. One girl mentions they have a tea shop over there, and I think of some oolong.

The market is soooo crowded but 20 minutes is way more than enough time. I run to the produce section. Nobody there has dates so I pick up some figs as a fallback. That also sounds good right? I grab an apple for garnish too. Then I run to the main part of the market and find the tea store. Their tea is $30 an ounce, and they can’t go lower than 1/2 on their scale. I don’t have $15 to spare so I explain the competition and ask if they can help a brother out. They can and I get a little tea for $1.

I find a spice shop that also has dried fruit and score, they have medjool dates! I get $5 worth. Between the the dates, figs, apple, and tea I’ve got $8 left, and I’m feeling like more tea. I run back to the girl and ask her if I can get a little more for $8. She hooks me up. I get out of the market with a few minutes to spare but neither my opponent nor the judge are anywhere to be found. Was I supposed to meet back at the restaurant? Shit. I cross the road, then see them back at the market. Oh well. 

So then we get back and I’ve got 15 minutes to make the cocktail. I get a saucepan from the kitchen and use it to smash some cinnamon. I chop the dates and toss them with the cinnamon and oolong into the ISI, fill it full of whiskey, and start the rapid infusion. I prep the glasses and the apple wedge garnish, dig up the cider for acid, prep my stirring tin, grab some simple to get that at the ready. I’m good to go.

Toward the end of the time I start wondering if my drink is going to have enough sourness. There’s a little acid in the cider, thanks to the cranberry, but not much. I see a lemon but nothing with which to squeeze it and no open containers to squeeze it into. I’m seriously debating hand squeezing it into some sample cups, one ounce at a time, but I notice my opponent has no acid either and I’m already pressed for time. I’m not sure one ounce of lemon (and good luck wringing more than that out of a small lemon with your hands) is going to help much.

When the timer gets to 4 minutes, I end the rapid infusion. I only got about 8 minutes in but that’s picked up some flavor, especially from the oolong. I pour all the whiskey into the tin (we had to make some samples for the judges as well) and taste. It’s good. I add a little cider. Still not enough acid. I add a bunch more. Better. Still wish I had juiced the lemon, but hey, it’s something.

I serve it on the rocks with an apple wedge and a cinnamon stick. I think it’s good, and with some acid could have been really good. One of the judges tells me the same thing a day later. I taste the opponent’s. I like it though I have no idea what’s in it. It’s a bit too hot and needs acid, but mine does too so I don’t feel as confident as I’d like to.

The judging comes. We hold hands while they read the verdict. They do their best Iron Chef judge impressions, and say it was a coin toss. Turns out I won. A little lemon juice and I might have expected that but my cocktail was imperfect too. I can see why it might have been a hard decision.

Later that night I go to the bar where my competitor works. Coincidentally, not to rub it in, though of course I plan to ask her how Cleveland’s second best bartender is doing. She isn’t there but I still get a couple shots of Fernet on the house. I like these USBG people.

The Pink Hornet

A month or so ago, inspired by a trip to the farmer’s market, I wanted to make some strawberry rhubarb gin. I decided to do a poor man’s justino. Since my dad didn’t love me enough to be an Arab sheik and create me a billion dollar trust fund with which to buy centrifuges, I have to do it on the countertop. I’ve mentioned it here before but I’m lazy and have been drinking so the basic process is as follows:

1. Blend together your liquor, fruit, and Pectinex enzyme, just like you would any justino.

2. Because your parents didn’t love you enough to bequeath you centrifuge money, leave the result sitting on your countertop until they separate.

3. Pour through coffee filters, all the while cursing your dad. It’ll take you a few as they clog quickly. It helps if you carefully first pour through the clear top stuff. It’ll go right through. When you get to the cloudy part, strain through a cheesecloth-lined fine mesh strainer. That’ll save you a little time, but not as much as if your dad started an oil company instead of working for the post office.

In this case, I used strawberry and rhubarb with Beefeater gin. (I used 200g of each fruit to 750ml of Beefeater). I first sous vide cooked the rhubarb at 61C/142F for an hour. Then I blended them all together. I forgot about the mix for a couple weeks, but it’s high enough alcohol that it doesn’t matter.

After tasting I decided to add in some Boy Drinks World Serrano Cocktail Spice I had picked up at Tales of the Cocktail. Man I love a good bitters. Or in this case maybe a tincture? Whatever it is, it’s fucking fantastic.

Final recipe:

The Pink Hornet*

2 oz. strawberry rhubarb gin

1 oz. lemon juice

1 oz. simple syrup (1:1, by weight)

1.5 droppers (about 3 dashes) of Boy Drinks World Serrano Cocktail Spice

Shake and strain, my friend. Shake and strain. Or get your dad to do it for you. It’s the least he can do.

Strawberry Rhubarb Gin Poor Man’s Justino

200g hulled strawberries (so maybe 225g before)

200g rhubarb

750ml Beefeater Gin

3g Pectinex Ultra-SPL

Cut the rhubarb into 1/2” chunks and arrange into a single layer in Ziploc or vacuum bag. Cook in immersion circulator at 61C/142F for an hour until tender. (If you don’t have a circulator, you could probably just use a simmering pot of water over low heat.)

Blend everything together and set in a round jar to separate. You’ll see the mixture separate a little more every day for a few days, then it will remain pretty static. Once it stops coming apart you’re good to go.

Carefully pour the clear liquid off the top through a Chemex filter. For the rest (the bulk of it) strain through a fine mesh strainer, then through a cheesecloth-lined fine mesh strainer, then finally through Chemex filters.

(If you don’t want to do a justino, you could probably do either a rapid infusion with an ISI, or an old-school infusion by just soaking the fruit in the booze, but you won’t get the flavor intensity and sparkling clarity of a justino.)

*As I was making it, my friend got stung by a hornet so big it could be Godzilla’s enemy in the next movie. Hence the name.

Strawberry Caipirinha

It’s been awhile, I know, but I promise dear cocktail fans I haven’t forgotten. I’ve been hard at work on a cocktail-related venture I’ll have news of later.

In the meantime, here’s a spin on a classic cocktail for you. It’s a strawberry caipirinha. I got the idea for strawberry cachaca from the PDT Cocktail Book. Meehan uses it in the delicious Morango Fizz, basically an egg-white sour with the strawchaca (see what I did there?) and a little soda floated on top. I have what I think is an even better version, but I’ll save that for a modernist post later.

The caipirinha is one of my favorite cocktails, in fact, it’s one of the few that helped launch my obsession. In the summer it’s up there with mojitos and Tom Collinses when it comes to patio drinking. This twist arguably makes it even more yummy when the berries start popping up at your local farmer’s market. I used Dave Arnold’s justino technique, from Liquid Intelligence, to make the strawberry cachaca. If you don’t have Pectinex handy, never fear. You can just do it the old-school way.

Step 1: Make strawberry cachaca.

1a: Classic technique:

Buy a quart of strawberries at your local farmer’s market. Eat some because, well, because you can. Hull and halve them until you have 400g worth and put them in a big glass jar. Cover with a 750ml bottle of cachaca. Wait until the strawberries turn almost white and the liquor turns red and has a strong strawberry taste. Strawberries infuse quickly so start checking after a few days, but plan for about a week. Strain out the strawberries, then run the liquor through a coffee filter to get out the particles.

 

1b: Modernist technique:

Buy a quart of strawberries at your local farmer’s market. Eat some because, well, because you can. Hull strawberries until you have about 400g worth and put in a blender along with a 750ml bottle of cachaca and 2 grams Pectinex Ultra-SPL. If you have a centrifuge you’re a lucky bastard and you probably already know what to do next. If you don’t, do what I do. Let it sit for a few days to separate, then strain through a series of strainers and finally through a chemex filter.

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Step 2: Make the Strawberry Caipirinha

Ingredients

2 oz. strawberry cachaca

1/2 oz. simple syrup (bonus points for demerara)

1/2 lime

Directions

1. Take a lime and cut it in half, then cut one of the halves into 4 pieces. (So you’ll have 4 eighths of a lime.) (This is the rare drink where you will find me using a unit of measure as imprecise as “half a lime” but it’s a peasant drink that I have heard translates roughly to “country bumpkin” so you’ll just have to accept some variation on this one.)

2. Place the pieces in a rocks glass with 1/2 oz. simple syrup. Muddle them well. You want to express the oils from the peels into the simple.

3. Fill the glass with ice and add the cachaca.

4. Traditionally this drink is then stirred, though in the last couple days I’ve started shaking with a Boston shaker since someone recommended it on /r/cocktails. If you do the latter, don’t strain. Just shake with the rocks glass, pull the tin off, and serve.

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Gum (Gomme) Syrup the Easy Way

While developing a cocktail recently, I decided I wanted to try gum (or gomme, if you prefer the old-fashioned style) syrup. Even in our nation’s best cocktail bars, it’s still a rarity to find this once-common ingredient. I’ve read many praises of the mouthfeel it imparts to cocktails and wanted to give it a shot myself.

Everyone on the internet describes gum syrup as difficult to make, and blames that for its disappearance, but after a little digging it didn’t seem hard at all for someone who has used hydrocolloids a little. You’ll read a lot about people having clumping problems on the internet, which seems to be because they don’t know how to properly disperse it. I had that problem when I first started working with hydrocolloids too. Had anyone bothered to ask a modernist chef they’d probably have found it was much easier to make than they thought. Luckily I’m a modern cuisine hobbyist, and even though I’m far from a professional I was up to this task.

Gum syrup is really just rich simple syrup with gum arabic mixed in. Gum arabic is a hydrocolloid, which is basically a substance that forms a matrix when dissolved in water. You’re probably familiar with a few other hydrocolloids. Gelatin, pectin, and xanthan gum are all common ones. You’ve probably unknowingly eaten locust bean gum in commercial ice creams, and agar-agar in vegetarian desserts or Asian cuisine.

The first step in using a hydrocolloid is to hydrate it. This means getting it to do it’s magic in water. With some hydrocolloids (like gelatin) this takes heat. According to the Cooking Issues Hydrocolloids Primer, gum arabic hydrates under shear, meaning force is required. This actually makes it easier to work with, as hydrocolloids that require heat can often run into problems like premature gelling. When it comes to shear, your blender becomes your best friend.

So I started looking into recipes. My first thought was to turn to Jerry Thomas’s Bartender’s Guide, but the recipe there is really just 2:1 simple. Maybe gum syrup was largely gone by that point already. In David Wondrich’s Imbibe, (a fantastic book by the way, I just got the newly-revised edition linked here and love it) he quotes the Gentleman’s Table Guide as such:

Dissolve 1 lb. of the best white gum Arabic in 1 ½ pints water, nearly boiling; 3 lb. of white sugar or candy; melt and clarify it with half pint cold water, add the gum solution, and boil all together for two minutes.

The technique here is bad, but the ratio is what I wanted. Unfortunately this uses imperial measurements and switches from weight to volumetric and back and forth again, so I thought I’d modernize it. Luckily for us, a pint of water weighs a pound, so it’s easy. I’ll decrease the recipe, changing a pound (or a pint) to 100 grams and convert to metric and we have:

100 grams gum Arabic

150 grams water, nearly boiling

300 grams sugar

50 grams water

Essentially this is a 3:2 simple syrup with gum Arabic equal to 1/3 of the weight of the sugar. Most of the modern stuff I’ve seen uses a little more sugar (more like 2:1 than 3:2) and a little less gum.

In Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s Bar Book, he instead recommends a 2:1 simple with gum Arabic equal to 1/6th the weight of the sugar. He leaves the gum to soak in water for a couple days to hydrate, but according to the primer it’s shear that hydrates it so I’m not sure why this even works but I’ll take his word for it that it does. Maybe Brownian motion provides enough shear force over two days. He does this because with a blender alone he got the familiar clumping one will experience when adding a hydrocolloid to water, but modernist chefs long ago discovered a cheap, quick and easy way to help mitigate that.

So I came up with my own method for making gum syrup. This makes about 2 cups by volume. You probably don’t want to go below this as I’m not sure you’d get enough of a vortex in your blender to disperse the gum, but you could probably double or triple this with no problems.

Ingredients

200g water

100g gum arabic

400g sugar

I decided on a 4:1 scaling of sugar to gum arabic, figuring I’d lose some to the sides of the blender or floating off into my kitchen. It probably comes out a little gummier than Morgenthaler’s.

Directions:

1. Hydrate the gum Arabic. Pour the water into the blender and run as fast as you can without it flying out of the top. In my Vitamix that’s about level 3.

Disperse the gum Arabic through a sugar/flour shaker into it. Gum arabic hydrates via shear, so most people who have problems are probably trying to whisk by hand, or are just pouring it in. You want each individual grain of the gum to be as far apart as possible from other grains to prevent clumping, and the shaker does this well. Just hold the shaker upside-down above the running blender and tap on it repeatedly until it all comes out. You can do this pretty quickly. Run the blender on high (now that it’s gummy it won’t splash much) for a couple minutes. You’ll see a thick syrup that looks like this:

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(I believe you could skip this step entirely by using a pre-hydrated gum Arabic and just dump it into the next step. )

2. Put your sugar in a heavy-bottomed 1 qt. sauce pan. (Use a bigger one if you’re scaling up or you’re going to napalm yourself and burn your house down.) Heat over high heat, stirring and scraping the bottom, until it boils and foams rapidly and looks like this:

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(Mine is brown because I used demerara sugar here.)

3. Stir the foam down and then pour into a container to cool.

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(These will also be great “before” pictures after I remodel my kitchen.)

4. At the end a layer of scum will form over top. Skim it off, and you’re left with a beautiful gum syrup.

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You can tell pretty quickly that this isn’t just simple syrup. For comparison, I made a little 2:1 demerara simple. Here’s a gif  showing their viscosities (gum on the left):

 gumsyrup

As you can see, the gum syrup is cloudier and significantly more viscous than a 2:1 simple.

So there you have it. Fast and easy gum syrup. No waiting two days, no clumping, and no straining.

Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail: My Take

This is part of my Weekend Classics series of recipes that use entirely classic cocktail ingredients/methodology.

There’s sort of a progression that most cocktail lovers go through. First they probably start off with vodka. Your standard sweet, fruity, college kid drinks eventually give way to vodka martinis (extra dry, of course) shortly after you become of drinking age. Eventually you acquire the taste for rum and then gin, realizing that if you use good dry vermouth you don’t have to hide it as much as possible, and start drinking those instead.

Eventually you work your way around to whiskey. It probably starts with a sour then a Manhattan. And finally you work your way around to what is probably the first and arguably still the best cocktail ever made, the Old Fashioned.

What’s interesting about the Old Fashioned is it isn’t so much a cocktail as a template. The generally accepted version of an Old Fashioned today is a cocktail comprised of whiskey, bitters, sugar, and water. No more, no less. One could even argue that whiskey could be replaced by any liquor, as that was once the definition of a cocktail before the word was usurped. The original definition, from 1806:

Cock-tail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters—it is vulgarly called bittered sling, and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion, in as much as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head. It is said, also to be of great use to a democratic candidate: because a person, having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow any thing else.

Eventually the word cocktail came to mean any mixed drink, much the same way “martini” has, over the last thirty years, come to mean anything served in a martini glass. Hence after it’s reinvigoration what used to be called merely a cocktail became an Old Fashioned Cocktail.

It’s natural for a newly-minted mixologist to try to make the Old Fashioned. What drink is sexier? It’s brown and served on the rocks, easily the most manly presentation of a beverage. There can be muddling. While Roger Sterling drinks Gibsons (basically a martini with an onion) and vodka on the rocks, Don Draper made an Old-Fashioned for Conrad Hilton.

One who is studious will find dozens of differing recipes for an Old Fashioned on the internet. People are very opinionated about it. Over the years I’ve tried nearly all of them in search for the perfect Old Fashioned. So I thought for this week’s classic cocktail I’ll break it down for you the way I like it best.

My one caveat here is that my goal isn’t to make the cocktail as close to the original version as possible. My general motto is “no sacred cows”. We of course want to stick close to the template. We could venture pretty far off of liquor, bitters, sugar, and water and make some great cocktails, but we might as well not call them an Old Fashioned when we do. I do, however, believe one should at least be open to the idea that someone came up with a better way to make a cocktail while remaining true to form in the last 150 years.

1. Liquor

I have had great Old Fashioneds made with rum and tequila, but for my money you can’t beat whiskey. But the question is, what whiskey? I tend to agree with Dave Arnold’s sentiment in Liquid Intelligence, use something tasty, high-proof, and not too expensive.

Dave recommends Elijah Craig 12, a fine bourbon for the buck, but for my Old Fashioned I like a good rye. Not one quite as spicy as an Old Overholt (which I love for Manhattans) but still with some kick. My favorite so far is probably Rittenhouse Bonded, which (like all bonded liquors) comes in at 100 proof. The extra alcohol helps as we’re going to dilute it a bit when we build. Shamefully I must admit I have not yet managed to acquire every quality whiskey on the market, so if you have a recommendation please do send it my way in the comments.

2. Sugar

For my money, nothing beats demerara simple syrup (1:1) for an Old Fashioned. Here’s probably my first and largest break from tradition. I don’t like sugar cubes. I realize that muddling them is sexy, but you get a cocktail that has little sweetness at the top and too much at the bottom. I want my drink to taste great 100% of the way through rather than 33%.

Plain simple is fine too. I’ll use a sugar cube if I have to, also demerara if available. But I’d pick plain simple over a demerara cube.

One needs substantially less sugar when working with simple because you don’t end up with half of it as a sludge on the bottom as you do with a cube. So I use one teaspoon (which is what most barspoons measure) of the stuff.

3. Bitters

Yet another (smaller) break with tradition. I use two dashes Angostura, one dash orange bitters. The orange adds an extremely complimentary flavor to the drink. Lots of people muddle oranges and cherries into the drink (I’ll get to that in a second) because the flavors meld so well with whiskey and sugar. I think it’s even more true of bitters.

4. Water

One does not need to add any water to an Old Fashioned. You see this often, and I think it’s a mistake. People often do this with a sugar cube, though even then I think the bitters are enough liquid.

When using simple syrup, you’ve already got over half a teaspoon of water. Also we’re building this drink in the glass, and a glass has a large thermal mass, which means more ice melts to get the drink to the same temperature. This is why you want a higher proof liquor to start with. If any water beyond what we’re starting with is added, I feel the drink becomes watered-down. Same if we stir rather than build, then add to a warm glass.

I also want this drink to stay on the warmer side. It’s best to think of an Old Fashioned as a slightly-adulterated straight whiskey, rather than a cocktail like a martini that you want served cold. For this reason I also don’t chill the glass before building and I don’t stir much when building. (If you like your Old Fashioned colder you can build it in a chilled glass and stir more to get similar dilution. That just isn’t my preference.)

So here’s my recipe:

1 tsp. demerara simple syrup (1:1)

2 dashes Angostura bitters

1 dash orange bitters

2 oz. Rittenhouse Bonded Rye

1. Add the simple, bitters, and 1 oz. of rye to a rocks glass.

2. Add about half the total ice you’d use for a whiskey on the rocks. Stir briskly three times.

3. Add the rest of the whiskey and the other half of the ice, stir another three times. Garnish with a cherry and orange flag.

4. Kick back and watch Mad Men, lamenting the boozy ending of the greatest drama on TV.

Modification: New Fashioned

For the last couple decades, it has been popular to muddle the cherries and oranges into the drink. This is quite delightful, but I feel falls outside of the definition of an Old Fashioned. At the bar I work at we call it a New Fashioned.

The process is mostly the same, with the exception of a muddling step. Here’s how I do it.

1. Peel an orange wedge, reserving the peel. (I’d say we’re using about 1/6th of a small orange here, or 1/8th of a large one. I am sorry there aren’t more precise measurements for citrus wedges.)

2. Place bitters, sugar, two brandied cherries, and the peeled orange wedge (we don’t want to muddle the pith in) in a rocks glass and muddle.

3. Add one ounce of the whiskey, half of the ice, and then proceed as in the Old Fashioned.

4. At the end, twist the peel over the drink and wipe the rim with it. One needs no garnish with the New Fashioned.

Rosemary Collins

This is part of my Weekend Classics series of recipes that use entirely classic cocktail ingredients/methodology.

Spring is in the air. Or at least it was for like a week. Now it’s snowing again. But I’m all about mind over matter, so this week’s classic cocktail is going to be something light and airy because, let’s be honest, we all can use it after the winter we just suffered through. So put on your Bermuda shorts and crank your thermostat to 85 and get ready for this week’s classic cocktail.

One of my favorite drinks for when it’s patio season is the Tom Collins. It’s simple, elegant, and delicious. It’s just a boozy lemonade with bubbles. It simultaneously satisfies your inner child and the grownup who’s got his mind on the impending tax season.

The basic recipe is as simple as it gets when cocktailing.

Tom Collins

1.5 oz. gin (I like Plymouth, but any good gin will work)

1 oz. lemon juice

0.5 oz simple syrup (1:1)

Shake and strain into a Collins glass filled with ice and top with soda (roughly 4 oz.) and give it a very brief stir. Garnish with a lemon wheel. I like to serve it with a straw, because I don’t want to stir the bubbles away, but if you don’t you end up drinking all soda followed by all booze.

While I haven’t had the chance to do it yet, this would also be a perfect cocktail for a modernist version. I’d just clarify the lemon juice, mix it up with water instead of soda, and chill and force carbonate and serve in a bottle. That’d be easy and get you both a bubblier finish and good mixing. (One of my earliest attempts at modernist mixology was force carbonating the variation I’m showing below, but I did not yet know how to clarify lemon so it foamed out, though even still it was better than with soda.)

This week I decided to try a very simple variation: the Rosemary Collins. It’s the exact same as above, except you use rosemary simple instead of plain. And you garnish with a rosemary sprig because even though that’s so played out in New York the rest of the country still hasn’t seen it. If you live in Manhattan maybe use a pinecone instead or something.

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Here’s my recipe. The first two steps, blanching and shocking, should always be done when you’re going to heat anything green to prevent it from turning brown. This same process will work for any herb, though you may need to mess with the ratios a bit.

Rosemary Simple Syrup

100 grams sugar

100 grams water

25 grams rosemary

1. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. While it heats, fill a container with ice water.

2. With a long pair of tongs, hold the rosemary in the boiling water for 30 seconds, keeping it fully submerged. When the 30 seconds is up, plunge it in the ice bath. Let it sit there until cold.

3. Add the water, sugar, and rosemary to a small pot. Place over high heat. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat off.

4. Let the rosemary steep in the simple syrup until they cool to room temperature. Then strain the simple to get rid of any loose rosemary.