Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Adventures in Vodkaland

Martha Stewart gets a surprising number of shout-outs on this blog, probably because she is my imaginary ideal of perfect partythrowing. So, imagine my delight when my sister Susan gave me a page torn from Martha Stewart Living with instructions for making all kinds of infused vodka. It was a little bit like this.

So of course I had to make some, and of course, not to be outdone by Martha, I had to come up with some of my own. Here's what I tried. All these infusions were made with Dripping Springs Vodka, because Texas is the greatest place on earth. Drink local, my friends. (Helpful note: a fifth (that's 750 ml) of vodka contains about 3 cups. So if you're feeling adventurous and you want to try some of these, a bottle will make 2 infusions. Or you can just buy a big ol' handle, like I did.) For all the infusions: combine the ingredients in an airtight jar, store in a cool, dark place, and shake occasionally while infusing. When you're done, strain everything else out and store the vodka in the freezer for up to 2 months.

Fennel + Lemon
1.5 cups vodka
2 sprigs fennel fronds
2 thin lemon slices

Infuse for 3 days.

I let this one infuse for a day longer than the instructions called for to let the flavor intensify. Still: underwhelming. Tried it on the rocks, with tonic water and a squeeze of lemon, as per Martha's recommendation. Meh. Maybe I didn't add enough fennel? Don't think I'll be making this one again. In the words of a certain former boss of mine: I'm not convinced.

Vanilla Bean + Cardamom
1.5 cups vodka
1/2 vanilla bean, sliced lengthwise
3 cardamom pods

Infuse for 2 days.

This is one of my own creations. One of the first things I thought after tasting it was: man, this would make a really awesome candle. Which is...not really something you want to be thinking when you're drinking. I think the transition between the sweetness of the vanilla and the woody spiciness of the cardamom is too harsh - I'm going to get some other spices up in there (like cinnamon!) and give this another try.

Celery + Bay Leaf
1.5 cups vodka
1/2 celery stalk
2 celery leaves
1 dried bay leaf

Infuse for 2 days.

Aaand...we have a winner. I know, it sounds weird - who would want to drink booze that tastes like celery? The answer is: you would. The celery is savory, but not overwhelming, and the bay leaf adds a nice little bit of spiciness to the finish. I'm eager to try this with dry sherry, like the magazine says, but I don't have any around right now. It's also practically begging to be made into a Bloody Mary, but Bloody Marys intimidate me a little. That's another post. So, since I have neither sherry nor tomatoes, but I do have (dry) vermouth, I made myself a nice little martini. I did a 4:1 ratio vodka to vermouth, but you can try whatever you like. I'm sipping it right now and it is deelicious. (Edited to add: I finshed the martini, and it's after midnight and I shouldn't make another, but I'm sniffing the glass and it smells sooo good and I'm pretty sad. It's that kind of drink.)

Next post: even more vodka infusions! I know you're on the edge of your seat.

Updated to add: be sure to check out part 2 and part 3 of my vodka-infusing experiments.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Most Romantic Cocktail EVER.

The Bachelor is a reality show where 30 women go on a series of "romantic" dates and exotic vacations while competing for the love of one man. It is one of the worst shows on TV today.

I totally love it.

The Bachelor is ripe for parody, and there is nothing I love more than parody. Except maybe a nice stiff drink. Or warm laundry straight from the dryer. Or Alan Rickman. Mmm, Alan Rickman.

What with all the free time I have lately, I decided to start a Bachelor Blog. In it, I recap the episodes and deliver my snarky take on...well, pretty much everything. My recap of the latest episode includes rules for a Bachelor drinking game, and what better for a Bachelor drinking game than...a Bachelor cocktail?

The Bachelor Cocktail
1 oz passionfruit nectar (or juice)
3 drops rose water (and I really mean drops. a little goes a long way.)
3 drops vanilla extract
brut champagne

Add passionfruit, rose water, and vanilla to a champagne flute. Top with champange (about 6 oz).

Take a sip. Ahh. And now you're ready for all the drama.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The His & Hers Gin & Tonics

I've discovered that I love making drinks on the fly. People tell me what they like, and I try to make a drink that will suit their tastes. Here are a couple of cocktails, cooked up by yours truly at a few different holiday parties, that were especially well received. You can think of these two GnT (that's Gin & Tonic, for the uninitiated) variations as "his" and "hers" Gin & Tonics. I bet you'll be able to guess which is which. But don't let yourself be limited - I like them both.

The Hemingway Gin & Tonic
It's the GnT meets the Hemingway Reviver: refreshing, savory, challenging.

2 oz gin
juice and peels of 1/4 lime
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
tonic water (or soda water)*

Add 2 dashes of bitters and the juice and peels of 1/4 of a lime to an old-fashioned glass. Fill the glass with ice, add the gin, and top with tonic water. Stir once and serve.

and then there's...
The Very Special Gin n' Tonic
A little twist on the St. Germain Gin & Tonic. The lime balances out the St. Germain nicely for a drink that is sweet but complex.

2 oz gin
1.25 oz St. Germain
juice of 1/4 lime
tonic (or soda) water*

Fill an old-fashioned glass with ice. Add the gin, lime, St. Germain, and fill with tonic water. Stir once and serve.

*In the interest of full disclosure, I feel obliged to point out that these drinks were originally made with soda water, not tonic water, since I think tonic water is nasty and bitter and don't usually keep it around. So technically, to start out with, they were gin & soda variations, not gin & tonic variations. For the purposes of this experiment, I purchased some tonic water, and it was every bit as terrible as I remembered, but somehow it made the drinks taste better. Confused? I sure was. Anyway, feel free to substitute as you please.


Edited to add: There has been much discussion on my facebook page about what is the best brand of tonic water. I don't really feel qualified to weigh in on this, since I got the store brand, but take note that if you make these drinks properly, in an old-fashioned glass full of ice and with 2 oz of gin, you won't need much tonic water. More like a splash. I know a lot of people make their GnTs half and half, but this is more like a gin and gin and tonic. Yum.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Baby, It's Cold Outside.

And cold weather calls for a hot drink. I give you...

The Bourbon Hot Toddy
(adapted from a book called The Art of the Bar, one of my faves.)

1 cinnamon stick
1 whole anise star
5 whole cloves
1 tsp texas wildflower honey (look, local ingredients!)
1/2 cup boiling water
1.5 oz bourbon
slice of lemon

Add the cinnamon, anise, cloves, and honey to a heat-proof snifter. (Or a coffee mug, which will not be as pretty as a snifter, but will work equally well.) (I find "snifter" to be a very, very funny word. Also: how can you tell if your snifter is heat-proof? You could do what I did, which is: pour boiling water into it and see what happens.) Top with the boiling water and stir to melt the honey. Add the bourbon; squeeze the lemon slice and drop into the glass.

Hot, spiced bourbon. Delicious. Warming. Genius.

And, for those not booze-inclined:

The Hot Tea Toddy
This is the very first virgin drink to grace the pages of the Backyard Bartender, and some credit goes to Jen, who inspired me to make this. Black tea is one of those things - like champagne, and ginger - that mysteriously pairs wells with everything. Here, the honey adds a little sweetness, and the spices give the tea some extra warmth on a cold winter night.

1 cinnamon stick
1 whole anise star
5 whole cloves
1 tsp honey
1 cup boiling water
1 bag Earl Grey tea (any black tea should work, but I tried this with earl grey because...that's what I had.)
slice of lemon

Add the spices and tea bag to a mug and cover with boiling water. Infuse for 3-4 minutes and then remove the tea bag. Add the honey and a squeeze of lemon, if desired.

Friday, January 7, 2011

In Which I Create a Drink that Brings Me Mixology Fame* and Fortune**

There isn't really a story behind this cocktail. Okay, there's a story. There's always a story. Here's the story, presented in helpful bullet points:

1. I used to be an architect.
2. The people who paid me to be an architect stopped paying me, so I stopped being an architect.
3. Being unemployed means having lots of time to a. mix delicious drinks, and b. cruise the internet aimlessly.
4. While doing b., I stumbled across a blog called The Tipsy Texan. On said blog was a notice about a cocktail contest. All I had to do was create a cocktail with a spirit distilled in Texas. I could do this.
5. While perusing the list of acceptable spirits, I noticed something called Balcones Rumble. Um...wtf is Balcones Rumble? I was curious. I asked the internet.

The internet had many, many answers. According to the Balcones Distillery's website, Balcones Rumble is distilled from a dessert sauce made with turbinado sugar, honey, and figs. But what does it taste like? Some people said: this is stuff is so sweet! It's like a liqueur! I drink it straight (even though it is 94 proof)! Others said: tastes like rum! Still others said: tastes like tequila!

None of this really answered my question. Balcones Rumble, apparently, is a spirit that defies classification. It is the Pirate Coast of distilled spirits. (Only Rachel got that joke. And maybe Scott and Hannah.) I was fascinated. I knew somehow that the destiny of this chimera of a spirit was linked to mine.

I went to my trusty downtown Spec's, where I discovered the renegade Balcones Rumble hanging out on the bourbon aisle. (Which only added to the confusion.)

6. I tried the Balcones Rumble. It smelled myteriously sweet and intoxicating, like all the things you love about booze all rolled into one liquid. It tasted...like burning.

No, there was a little burn on the beginning, reminiscent of Whiskey (hey, this stuff is almost 50 percent alcohol, after all), and a wonderful sweet finish. If any bars at all carried this stuff, I would never shoot anything else, ever again. But could I make a cocktail with it?

7. There was this unopened bottle of Allspice Dram on my countertop, begging for a purpose. Hrmm. Allspice Dram is good with bourbon, and Balcones Rumble tastes like whiskey, which is like bourbon...it was kind of a stretch. But I am nothing if not adventurous.
8. Tried Balcones + allspice + pear. Because pear goes good with spices. I know this because I have a recipe for a pear and spice-infused rum that I will soon post that will blow your mind. But despite all this...I was unconvinced.
9. I also had a bottle of Berentzen's Apfelkorn on my counter. Dale Degroff promised me it would make an awesome apple old-fashioned, but Dale Degroff lied, so I had this damn bottle of Berentzen's just hanging around, taunting me with its uselessness. Apples play well with spices, too, so into the drink it went. And it was good.
10. After I tried about 42 different variations to get the proportions just right. Soon my liver will be as strong as Ernest Hemmingway's.

The Rumble on the Bayou*** (because, you know, Houston, bayous...)
2 oz Balcones Rumble
1 oz Berentzen's Apfelkorn (or other apple schnapps)
.5 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
.5 oz Allspice Dram
.75 oz turbinado simple syrup****

Combine all ingredients in a shaker full of ice. Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a slice of apple studded with a few whole cloves.

***I wanted to call this drink "The Midnight Rumble, because I feel like people always remember drinks with racy names. But something called "midnight" should be black, and this wasn't even close.
****The contest version of this drink was actually made with 1/2 oz honey syrup (made from Texas wildflower honey, in keeping with that whole local ingredients thing we have going on here), but at the event in Austin, one of the Tipsy Texans, Joe, suggested that simple syrup might help mellow out the burn of the Rumble a little better. I tried it again at home with turbinado simple syrup, because I figured it would compliment the Rumble well. And oh, it did. Thanks, Joe.

12. I submitted my cocktail recipe to the contest.
13. I waited.
14. I got an email. I won!!!!! Okay, I didn't win, exactly. I was selected as one of five finalists. But still...I was pretty stoked. (I never win anything. Not even like, coloring contests in kindergarten. So this was pretty, pretty exciting.)
15. Because I was selected as a finalist, I got to go to Austin for the Big Event - Edible Austin's Drink Local Night. I had to make six cocktails, in seven minutes, for a panel of five judges, in front of a huge crowd of people. While talking (extemporaneously, because I didn't know there would be talking involved) about how great my drink was. Needless to say, this made me a little nervous, but I think I pulled it off okay.

At this point I was going to include a cute photo of me bartending (or making a valiant effort at bartending), but I kept checking the photographer's blog and he kept not putting up the photos. I was starting to get really annoyed when I realized that this was because he and his wife just had a baby. Then I felt like a huge asshole.

So...sorry. No photo. Instead, here is a photo of Sarah sampling my cocktail. She liked it a lot.

Edited to add: Jenna helpfully linked me to some photos from the event on Edible Austin's Facebook page. So, here I am! Check me out:

photo by Dustin Meyer.

16. I didn't win. But I did meet a lot of great people, and a lot of fellow mixology fiends, including a guy who was part of Team USA in the World Cup of Cocktails. (There's a World Cup of Cocktails??) These people are really, really hardcore, y'all. One of my competitors couldn't find the perfect butter for his hot buttered rum drink, so he got some cream from a local dairy and made his own. That's okay because next year I'm just gonna buy my own cow. Watch out.

I also had a shot called the Pickelback, which is - a shot of bacon-infused bourbon (bacon-infused bourbon!! who knew that stuff would crop up again?), followed by a shot of pickle juice (yeah, for reals), followed by a chaser of beer. What did it taste like? It was an interesting, savory experience, almost like eating food. Liquid food, that gets you drunk really quickly. Also, I think my taste buds just about had a seizure. Too...much...sensory...input...

17. So it was a pretty fun night. Fun, and educational. Apparently I'm just dipping my toes into the cocktail pool. (Mmm, cocktail pool.) There's a lot out there.

I hope you enjoyed reading this story almost as much as I enjoyed living it. If not...come by, and let me make it up to you with a drink.

**And by "fortune" I mean a gift bag with some chocolates and two airplane-sized bottles of liquor.
*Okay, not fame either. Working on that.