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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.




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.




Long time, no post. It’s not because I don’t love you though. Thought I’d drop a little update.

Lately the Happy Camper Bar Car is taking up a lot of my time. We are doing the cocktails for the Cleveland Flea, Sunday Market, and a couple one-off street festivals.  As near as I can tell we sold at least 1,000 Mules last weekend at the Flea, and expect to do even more at a couple other events. We’ve also got a few weddings booked, and a couple events without the camper. It’s going to be a busy summer!

I’ve also got the Cocktail Calculator on its own site. After it went down (because Google shut down the service it was running on, Divshot) it was gone for a bit. I got a surprising number of Reddit messages asking where it went, so I brought it back. I’m preparing to pay a programmer to make it a lot better too with some new features. I intend to keep it free as well.

I’m working on a book on batching cocktails. It’s great because I’m writing it as I go along. I’ve already got a bit of experience doing high-volume events, and let me tell you, the price of any normal book is 1% of what it’ll save you in equipment costs, time, and anguish. Had I had the book I was writing and paid $1,000 for it, I’d have still had a good ROI. (And of course, it’ll be normal book prices.) I’ll be including a few of my best recipes.

I’m debating shopping around for a publisher. That’d give me a budget to do stunning photography, something I can’t do myself. While the book doesn’t require it, per se, it’d be helpful in some spots. Pictures of the parts of a corny keg are worth more than their thousands of words.

Lastly but not leastly, I’m also working on a store to sell some of the stuff I make for my own batched cocktails. My lemon and lime replacements, for instance. I can sell them relatively affordably and highly concentrated. I’ll probably size them for 5 gallon keg batches, though of course with a measuring cup you could use them for other batch sizes. If I succeed, the recipe for a whiskey sour will be something like add 1 bottle of fake lemon, x pounds of sugar, y gallons of water, z bottles of whiskey, shake and carbonate.

I’ve got a few other products I use on a regular basis to make good things by the gallon. Some are for batched cocktails specifically, some are just for whatever. All of them are going to go on sale. I’ll have more details soon.



I’ve recently gotten into fermenting cider. I’ve always loved cider, and always loved fermenting things. But for some reason I’ve always looked at hard cider as sort of a gimmicky drink for girls who don’t like beer. And then I tried a few good ones that changed my mind. We’ve got a great local cider maker (cidery?) called Griffin Ciderworks that does a few exceptional ones.

So I fermented about 12 gallons of the stuff, bought from a local orchard, in my homemade fermenter (i.e. a trashcan with an airlock). It didn’t end up airtight, even after copious amounts of shrink wrap, but the cider was pasteurized in advance (no preservatives) and I’d been careful about sanitation and pitched it with a solid amount of yeast so it all went well. It started at almost 16 brix and after a week it was at about 9% alcohol. I racked it from one container to the next and then used Pectinex Ultra-SPL to clarify it. From everything I’ve read about normal pectinase enzymes it’s supposed to take days or even a week or two to clarify, but with Pectinex all the solids had settled out in a day. I was able to rack it off with ease.

The favor of unaltered cider is interesting. There’s none of the sugar left, as the yeast consumes it all, so it’s tart. It’s not your normal apple flavor though, which is probably why they so often add malic acid to them.

While it’s drinkable straight, it’s not what I’d call delicious. It needs something. It needs a little sugar and maybe a little brightness.

As a result I’m playing around with different recipes. I’m toying with various acids (malic, lactic, etc.) and sugars. I’m toying with force carbonating. I also want to make a cocktail for my family party this weekend, probably a cranberry gin justino with fresh cranberry, cider, and brown sugar.

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So far after extensive testing I’ve come to the following conclusions.

  1. Some sort of sugar is useful. All of it was fermented out and the result, while palatable, needs a little bit of a bass note. Options I’ve tried so far are cane sugar, brown sugar, honey, and concentrated apple cider (the frozen stuff you get at the store) which I think is my preference so far.
  2. Some sort of acid is also quite delicious. I am guessing given the relatively high starting sugar content of the cider I purchased it had little acidity. This might not be true using different apples. So far I like malic, but once I get the level dialed in (and 1g/200ml is too high but better than none at all) I’ll play around with different options more.

Modernist Rosemary Collins

A couple months ago I posted my recipe for a Rosemary Collins. It was basically a Tom Collins that used a rosemary simple syrup instead of the usual plain one. I mentioned in the post that it’d probably make a great modernist drink, and this weekend I decided to test it out.

First I had to clarify the lemon juice. I wasn’t in a hurry (I had a few hours) but I had a lot of things to do and didn’t have the time to devote to agar clarification so I decided to try Pectinex, Kieselsol/Chitosan, and racking/filtering. I’d done that before with lime juice. It does work, it’s just low-yield and requires you to burn through a lot of Chemex filters.

The process is pretty simple really.

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1. Juice your lemons. I juiced 8 and came up with about 600ml of juice.

2. Stir in 2 grams per liter of both Pectinex and Kieselsol. (So in this case, about 1.2 grams of each.) Wait 15 minutes.

3. Stir in 2 grams per liter of Chitosan. Wait 15 minutes. You can see some separation is already occurring.

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4. Stir in more Kieselsol, still at 2g/l. At this point I went and did some lawn work and came back maybe a half hour later. It had separated pretty well.

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This is the point at which you wish you had a centrifuge. I could see how you’d get a massive yield out of it. But I don’t so I filter through a Chemex.

5. Wet your Chemex filter. Pour about 200ml through. You’ll see a slow, steady stream at first, followed by some dripping, followed by almost complete blockage. At that point you can pick the filter up and massage it a little. It will speed back up. Eventually it will get so blocked that even this no longer helps, just pour what’s left back into the beaker and start again with a new filter.

At the end it looks like:

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(Clarified on left, obviously, some of the unclarified on right. You can’t really see the Chemex filtering still more in the background.)

My 600ml of lemon juice came out to about 400ml of clarified. I only needed about 250ml for the cocktail I was working on, so I guess I got a little extra.

Then I put the cocktail together. It was:

250ml clarified lemon

250ml rosemary simple syrup

500ml vodka (it was for a party and I didn’t know if they’d be gin people)

500ml filtered water

This gives us a final ABV of about 13%.

I put it all in a 2 liter bottle and carbonated to 40 PSI. Usually I’d have done this with gin, and served over the rocks in a Collins glass with a sprig for garnish. But this was for a party and we were drinking out of red Solo cups straight. (Sorry, no pics of the final drink as a result.)

It was quite awesome. Everyone seemed to love it. I’d done basically the same cocktail a couple years ago, when I knew how to carbonate things but not how to clarify, and it tasted good but foamed out and ended up flat. It’s much better for the extra bubbliness you get from clarifying and is a great example of why you shouldn’t try to carbonate unclarified juices.