Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Mixology and Home Bartending for Beginners: Stocking Your Home Bar

Knowing what to stock your bar with is easily the most intimidating task when it comes to the home mixologist.  The easiest way to know what to stock and what to pass on is by buying spirits and liqueurs that you know are in some of your favorite drinks.  For example if you really like dry gin martinis all you  need is a good gin and a dry vermouth.  But if you want a more expansive bar to accommodate more of a variety of drinks here is a basic list of spirits and liqueurs (and fortified wines for those that want to get technical) that will help you achieve this.

- Bourbon
- Blended Scotch
- Cognac or French Brandy
- Dark Rum
- Gin
- Reposado Tequila
- White Rum

Liqueurs & Fortified Wines
- Dry Vermouth
- Cointreau or Triple Sec
- Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
- Sweet Vermouth

Just to note on some of the liquors above, I chose a reposado tequila because a blanco (or silver which is unaged)  is a bit to "fresh" or "green" tasting for certain cocktails.  Where as the aging of the reposado tends to have a more round and sweet flavor.  Don't mistake cherry brandy for a maraschino liqueur.  The Tripe sec should be atleast 35% abv and not overly sweet.  Also remember, vermouth is a wine and therefore should be treated like so.  Keep it in the fridge and if you have a vacuum sealer use it on your vermouths to keep it as fresh as possible.  Without a vacuum it should keep in the fridge for a couple month.  Also, putting it in a smaller bottle to reduce to ratio of air to vermouth with ensure it keeps for longer.  Lastly, stay away from bright fruity liquors, if you really want to add the flavor of watermelon, raspberry, apple etc. just wait till my next blog post on syrups and mixing where I will talk about making flavored syrups.

You'll find with these 11 bottles you can make nearly an endless list of drinks.  But, for those like me who are a bit OSD when it comes to their cocktails here is a more extensive list of additional products to keep in the cupboard.

- Absinthe
- American Rye Whiskey
- Blanco Tequila
- Cachaca
- Calvados
- Canadian Whisky (I recommend Forty Creek or Alberta Premium)
- Irish Whiskey
- Overproof Rum
- Pisco
- Single Malt Scotch
- Spiced Rum (I recommend Sailor Jerry's or Cruzan #9)
- Vodka

Liqueurs & Fortified Wines
- Aperol
- Amaretto
- Benedictine (Not B&B)
- Campari
- Chartreuse (Green and/or Yellow)
- Creme de Violette
- Creme de Cacao
- Fernet Branca
- Galliano
- Lillet Blanc (Fortified wine so care for it like you would a vermouth)
- Pimm's No. 1
- Port (Fortified Wine)
- Sherry (Fortified Wine)
- Strega

So there you have it.  I'm sure I could make an even more extensive list but that would defeat the purpose of this blog post, which is to make buying liquor easy without being overwhelmed with decisions.  If you feel that I missed an obvious liquor just comment and I'll be sure to make the correction.  If you need more information on a specific spirit/liqueur or need help deciding between brands fell free to ask.  You'll find within the category of gin, bourbon etc. every brand has their own flavor profile some better then others.  The next blog post in this mini-series will talk about bitters, juice, syrups, ice and other mixes.  Also look forward to June's Classic Cocktail of The Month.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Mixology and Home Bartending for Beginners : Tools of The Trade

It's only been little over a year since I've really got in to the cocktail sense.  There was a point in time when I though mixing vodka, Hpnotiq, pineapple juice and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker was a great drink (at least I was double straining it).  Now all of my florescent colored liquors resided in the corner of my closet and rarely see a cocktail shaker.  But I can't assume that everyone that reads my blog is at the point in their love for mixology where bitters, home made syrups and fresh herbs are common ingredients in their cocktails.  So I'd like to begin a series of post for those that are just discovering a passion for cocktails.  A guide that will cover basic tools for your home bar, glassware, stocking your home bar, techniques for properly mixing drinks and other basic tips and topics for the beginner mixologist.

For this first post I'd like to talk about the tools and glassware you'll need for making great drinks.  I will break it into two sections, one for the bare minimum to have for your home bar and the other for those that are a bit more serious about their cocktails.  In which case there are a few more gadgets that will make this possible.

Essentials Tools
- Boston Shaker
- Hawthorn Strainer
- Bar Spoon
- Jigger
- Hand Juicer

Boston Shaker
28oz/15oz Boston Shaker
The boston shaker is a 2 piece shaker consisting of a large metal tin (usually 28 oz in volume) and a smaller glass piece (usually 15 oz in volume).  This is the most common shaker you'll see in most bars, where as in retail stores you will usually see the three piece shaker sets for sale.  The boston shakers has quite a few advantages to the three piece shaker.  For one, they are VERY cheap.  A boston shaker will set you back about $3 plus shipping through most online stores, where as 3 piece shakers are usually about $15 and up in store.  The boston shakers are also very easy to clean and easier to open then most three piece shakers, which can freeze together after shaking.  I once decided you bring my 3 piece shaker on vacation with me to avoid breaking any of my glasses.  Unfortunately it was nearly impossible to open most the time and when I didn't want it to open it blew apart spewing egg white, rum and juice across the kitchen. Another advantage is you can also opt for a small metal tin for a 2 piece metal shaker.   But don't think that all 3 piece shakers are bad though, but you will pay more for a good 3 piece shaker then you would with a reliable boston shaker.

Hawthorn Strainer
Two different Hawthorn Strainers (left is by Oxo)
The hawthorn strainer is the most common and versatile strainer to have for your home bar.  For the novice mixologist the hawthorn is the most essential strainer for the reason that it does the best job at straining out as much solids for a cocktail (Eg. ice chips, juice pulp etc.) with the use of only one strainer.  When straining be sure to press the spring of the strainer against the side of the glass so the spring and holes are lined up, this will allow for a minimum among of unwanted solids in your drink.  Another strainer you may be familiar with is the julep strainer.  Which is used to strain stirred drinks.  In my opinion the julep strainer is unnecessary since the hawthorn does a superior job at straining any cocktail.

Bar Spoon
Bar Spoon
A bar spoon is simply a long slender spoon with a twist in the handle to enable the smoothest stir possible.  The back of the bar spoon can also second as a muddler for muddling fruit and herbs for drinks like the Mint Julep.

Standard Two Measurement Jiggers
Multiple Measurement Jiggers
A jigger is a small receptacle for measuring liquids.  You can either use multiple jiggers for various amounts or one jigger with multiply increments of measurements.  Both having their advantages.  Jiggers that require you to fill to the top to equal the desired pour have a tendency to be more accurate where as a jigger with multiply increments demand a very steady hand so that the liquid is level with measurement on the jigger (a tilted hand will make for a inaccurate pour).  With practice this will become less of a problem.  I do now prefer using jiggers with several measurements due to the fact that I don't have to use various tools for one drink, which means the drink is made faster and less mess to clean up in the end.

Hand Juicer
The hand juicer will make your life so much easier when preparing cocktails.  Fresh juice is always best (more about juice in a later post, for now trust me on this) and having a hand juice will allow you to get the most out of your citrus fruit without much work.
Hand Citrus Juicer

Addition Tools
- Fine Strainer
- Potato Peeler
- Channel Knife
- Muddler
- Olive Oil Mister

Fine Strainer
 If I were to add one more tool to my "Essential" list it would be the fine strainer.  The fine strainer or tea strainer as you may know it as eliminates virtually all ice chips, fruit pulp, etc. from your cocktail to make for a smoother textured drink.  Simply hold the fine strainer over top of your glass while pouring your cocktail through the mesh to catch all unwanted solids for entering your drink.  

Potato Peeler
The potato peeler is used for creating a fat zest with minimal pith from your citrus fruit.  A citrus zest can be creating with a knife but the potato peeler makes it easier and safer.  

Channel Knife
The channel knife is used to create long ribbon type zests for cocktails, which is nearly impossible to create with out this tool. 

A muddler is the cocktail equivalent to a pestle (Mortar and Pestle). It is used to crush fruit that need a bit extra elbow grease that cannot be achieved with the back of your bar spoon.  Some may be wondering why the muddler is not on my essentials list, simply because other items around the kitchen can be substituted.  I for example used an ice cream scoop for making caipirinhas for months before purchasing a muddler and it worked fine.  More on the muddler when we talk mojitos in a up coming post.

Olive Oil Mister
The olive oil mister may seem like a strange one for cocktails but some drinks that call for a "rinse" of say, absinthe (I'll talk about rinsing a cocktail glass in a later blog post) the olive oil mister make it faster with less waste of the spirit you are using to rinse your glass with.

From Left to Right: Fine Strainer, Potato Peeler, Channel Knife, Muddler, Olive Oil Mister

When it comes to what glassware you should have at home, there is no need to have a vast variety of  glasses.  A cocktail / martini, old-fashioned / rocks,  collins / highball and a champagne flute is all you need to serve just about any drink.

So there you have it, the tools and glasses to getting to started with making drinks, except for you don't have any booze yet...Well that will be solved in my next blog post.  I've go over the essentials you'll need to stock your home bar with as well as liquor to stay away from.  Thanks for reading and comments are always appreciated.   

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Mixology Monday: Flores de Mayo

After missing the deadlines for the last two Mixology Monday's I finally get to participate In my first one!  This months theme is floral cocktails.  With spring in full swing everywhere in the northern hemisphere but here in Victoria British Columbia it's time to celebrate some of the wonderful floral ingredients that we are able to use in cocktails.  This months MxMo is hosted by Dave at The Barman Cometh.

"The challenge is to feature a cocktail that highlights a floral flavor profile or includes a floral derived ingredient, whether home-made or off the shelf.  With the ever expanding catalogue of spirits (and the kitchen labs of home enthusiasts), there’s a whole host of directions for you to choose from – elderflower liqueur, creme de violette, chamomile infused gin, hibiscus grenadine, rosewater, lavender syrup – or to create."
- Mixology Monday

I thought it would be too predictable to reach for a bottle of gin for this cocktail so I used what is promising to be my favorite spirit for this coming summer, Cachaca.  More importantly Sagatiba Pura Cachaca.  Sagatiba Pura is one of two cachacas (excluding private stores) available in British Columbia.  Although I have only tried Sagatiba, to put it nicely I haven't heard great things about the other numerically named cachaca.  Both Sagatiba Pura and it's aged counterpart Velha have wonderful vegetal or "green" characteristics in their taste and smell, which is perfect for the cocktail I wished to portray.

Greenhouse Fizz
- 1.5 oz Sagatiba Pura Cachaca
- 0.5 oz St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
- 0.5 oz lime juice
- 0.25 oz Orange Tea Syrup*
- 1 inch of Fresh Cucumber
- Soda Water

- Add cucumber to bottom of mixing glass and muddle
- Add remaining ingredients to mixing glass
- Add ice and shake hard for 15 seconds
- Double strain in a collins glass filled with cubed ice
- Top with soda water
- Garnish with cucumber wheel

Greenhouse Collins

* To make orange tea syrup brew one cup of a strongly flavored orange tea( with at lease two tea bags).  Add tea to a pot with equal parts sugar over low heat until all the sugar has dissolved.  Let cool and bottle in your fridge.

Their you have it, my first of hopefully many MxMo posts.  I did originally want to do something with rose or lavender but just do to time restrictions with work I never got a chance to go buy some.  This tall refreshing spring collins is actually named after the location in which I photographed the drink.  Enjoy.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Classic Cocktail of The Month: Mint Julep

May's classic cocktail of the month has inspired books, poems, a film title and bartenders.  The drink it's self pre-dates cocktails as we know them and thousands of them are made every year on the first saturday in May at The Kentucky Derby in Louisville.  This month's highlighted cocktail is of course the Mint Julep.  The history of this classic is as muddy and dark as most Mint Juleps you'll receive when ordered at a majority of bars.  When searching for historical facts about this southern favorite, you find most articles will somewhere mention a concoction of water and rose petals refereed to as a "Gulab" which translates to "Rosewater" in arabic.  This medicinal blue print for today's Julep dates back centuries before bourbon and mint even first met.

It isn't until 1787 when the Julep is first documents as an alcoholic beverage by an "Anonymous Traveller" stating: "The Virginian rises in the morning, about six o'clock.  He drinks a julap, made of rum, water and sugar, but very strong."  Still no mint but as you can see we have the spirit and the sugar.  Sixteen years later a more accurate description of the Julep we imbibe on today was first defined in 1803 by John Davis in his book "Travels of Four Years and a Half in The United States of America"  The book told of "A dram of spirituous liquor that has mint steeped in it, taken by virginians of a morning."  The liquor in question would have been most likely rum and or brandy, which was at the time most popular by historical accounts.

Still, it would take nearly another fifty years for the mixture of bourbon, sugar and mint to be undeniably defined.  In 1850 Kentucky politician, Henry Clay wrote in his personal diary a detailed description of both the preparation and ingredients that would be the Mint Julep that we are familiar with today.
"The mint leaves, fresh and tender, should be pressed against a coin-silver goblet with the back of a silver spoon.  Only bruise the leaves gently and then remove them from the goblet.  Half fill with cracked ice.  Mellow bourbon, aged in oaken barrels, is poured from the jigger and allowed to slide slowly through the cracked ice.  In another receptacle, granulated sugar is slowly mixed into chilled limestone water to make a slivery mixture as smooth as some rare Egyptian oil, then poured on top of the ice.  While beads of moisture gather on the burnished exterior of the silver goblet, garnish the brim of the goblet with the choicest springs of mint."

As you can see above, Henry Clay's account of making the Mint Julep is near identical to that of the modern bartender.  The only difference being most bartenders will leave the mint in the cup with the additional ingredients.  As well, the Julep cup should be filled to the brim and above with crushed ice.

Mint Julep
- 3 oz Bourbon (I prefer Maker's Mark for my Julep)
- 0.5 - 0.75 oz Simple Syrup (to taste, it will depend on what bourbon you're using)
- 15 - 25 Mint Leaves

- Begin by placing mint in Julep cup and gently muddle
- Add simple syrup
- Add 1.5 oz bourbon
- Fill cup half full with crushed ice and churn mixer to bring some of mint leaves to the top
- Add remaining 1.5 oz of bourbon to Julep cup and repeat previous step
- Top with crushed ice, a massive mint sprig and a straw buried amongst the mint

Mint Julep

For my variation on the Mint Julep I wanted to pay tribute to another region of the world.  Like the Mint Julep embodies the south my Julep will symbolize France.

French Julep
- 1.5 oz VSOP Cognac
- 0.75 oz Fine Calvados
- 0.75 oz Grand Marnier
- 0.25 oz Rich simple Syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part water)
- Peel of One Orange
- 6 - 8 Mint Leaves

- Begin by placing mint and orange peels in Julep cup and gently muddle
- Add simple syrup
- Add Cognac 
- Fill cup half full with crushed ice and churn mixer
- Add remaining 1.5 oz of liquor to Julep cup and repeat previous step
- Top with crushed ice, orange twist, a massive mint sprig and a straw

French Julep

And if two were not enough, here are a few of my favorite Julep variations.  One, dating back to 1839 and the other a classic here in Victoria by friend and fellow cocktail lover Shawn Soole.

Georgia Mint Julep (Circa 1839)
- 2 oz Cognac
- 1 oz Peach Brandy
- 0.25 oz Simple Syrup *
- 8 - 12 Mint leaves

- Follow same directions for Georgia Mint Julep as you would for the Mint Julep

* According to Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails By Ted Haigh the recipe calls for a teaspoon of sugar and a dash of water, so using simple syrup just takes one unnecessary step out of the equation.

Austrian Julep (Shawn Soole, Clive's Classic Lounge Circa 2010)
- 2 oz Maker's Mark Bourbon
- 0.5 oz Zirbenz Stone Pine Liqueur
- 0.33 oz Raspberry Syrup **
- 6 - 8 Mint Leaves

-Follow Same directions as all Previous Juleps
- Additionally, garnish fresh washed mint sprig with powders sugar

** 1 Cup water to 1 Cup Sugar over medium heat until all sugar has dissolved.  Let cool and add 1/2 cup of fresh raspberries.  Muddle raspberries completely then strain syrup through a fine mesh strainer.

Have a Julep you like to enjoy?  or maybe just a bourbon preference, post a comment and tell me what you'll be enjoying this coming Saturday on derby day.