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Homemade Grenadine #2: Hibiscus Grenadine

Posted by Reese On February - 20 - 2009

So, early on in CH history I tackled making homemade grenadine which was a real revelation for me.  For both of the recipes I whipped up I used Pom juice, which turned out good.  Certainly a damn sight better than the store bought stuff.  but, I felt there was still something missing.  I hadn’t used fresh pomegranantes.  Fresh fruits always seem to add a brightness that can’t be obtained with bottled juices.

Pomegranate Seeds for Hibiscus Grenadine

I can’t claim my own lack of fresh ingredients as my only source of inspiration though.  I got some inspiration from Rookie Libations via Tiare at a Mountain of Crushed Ice.  Chris has the genius idea of adding some hibiscus to grenadine to deepen the redness of the grenadine and add some floral notes.  Since my original grenadine recipe called for a tiny addition of orange flower water the additional floral notes in this recipe sounded like just what I was looking for.  So, in search of hibiscus I did go.

Living in a city centered around fitness and health it was no trouble to find hibiscus last Sunday evening.  Next up was pomegranates.  Both Chris and Tiare used fresh fruits, I on the other hand was leaning towards to the lazy side.  When I arrived at Whole Foods and they had pint tubs of pomegranates pips I knew it was made to be.

I changed up both Chris and Tiare’s recipes a tiny bit to get the flavor profile I was looking for.

Making Hibiscus Grenadine

Hibiscus Grenadine
2 c Sugar
2 c Water
2 c Pomegranate Pips (~2 Fruits)
1 oz Dried Hibiscus Flowers
1) Combine ingredients in a non-reactive sauce pan.
2) Bring mixture to a boil.
3) Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for another 20 minutes.
4) Turn off heat and allow to cool for about an hour.
5) Strain and bottle.
6) Add 2 oz Grain Alcohol to increase shelf life.

How is the flavor?  To sum it up in a word, amazing.  The resulting grenadine is less sweet that my previous preferred recipe, but slightly less sour.  I think this is likely a result of the fresh fruit in place of bottled juice.  The hibiscus flowers really do add a floral note to this end product and the color is also enriched.  However, I must admit, the color is really not that much deeper than that of the previous recipe I whipped up.

If you’re going to be making a batch of homemade grenadine on your own I’d say go for the hibiscus grenadine.  The flavor is less sweet which allows you to add a little more to cocktails without overwhelming the other ingredients and the floral notes are great.

MxMo XXXIV: Spice – Hess House Bitters

Posted by Reese On December - 14 - 2008

MxMo LogoThe topic of this month’s Mixology Monday is Spice and Craig over at Tiki Drinks and Indigo Firmaments is kind enough to host this shindig.  Let’s not beat around the bush, cocktails are amazingly tasty, but like food some times they need a bit of spice to make them truly incredible.  Cocktail bitters provide that bit of spice.  We all know and likely have on our shelves many of the commercially available varieties like Angostura, Peychaud’s, Fee Brothers, etc.   However, like lots of commercially available products, those that you can make at home can be even better than what can be purchased.  Robert Hess, AKA Drinkboy, in his search for a replacement for the long gone Abbott’s Bitters created Hess House Bitters.  Robert says that his bitters “missed that mark, but was still pretty good.”  I’d have to say that I agree completely they are very good.  So on to the making.  The recipe I used is a combination of Robert’s original post on The Webtender Forums and his later post on the Drinkboy MSN group.

House Bitters

8 cups rye (Old Overholt)
3 tsp dried gentian
1 cup ginger (julienne)
1/4 cup whole cloves
6 Tbs cardamom pods (cracked)
8 whole star anise
16 sticks cinnamon
4.5 cups Water
1.5 cups Sugar

• Place all ingredients, except for the sugar and water, into a large mason
jar and seal. Store for 2 weeks, shaking the jar once a day.
• Strain the liquids/solids mixture through cheesecloth. Squeeze hard to
extract as much juice into the reserved liquid as possible.
• Place the dry ingredients into a saucepan and add the water. Bring to a
boil, and then turn the heat down and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.
• Allow to cool completely, then pour the water and solid mixture into another
mason jar. Store for 1 week, shaking the jar once a day.
• Strain the water mixture through cheesecloth. Discard the solid ingredients,
and add the water to the previously reserved alcohol.
• Put the sugar into a small non-stick skillet and stirring constantly over a
medium-high heat, allow the sugar to melt and then turn to a rich brown color.
Quickly remove from heat and allow the melted sugar to cool for a couple of
• With the sugar still slightly warm, pour it into the water and alcohol
mixture. It will probably crystallize at this point, but with continued
stirring it will eventually dissolve.
• Allow this mixture to rest for a couple of days, then skim off anything that
rises to the surface, and gently pour (or siphon) the clear liquid from the
top into another container, trying to avoid as much of the sediment on the
bottom as possible.
• Measure the amount of liquid you now have, and add half that same amount of

Homemade Hess House Bitters

The only ingredient that was a bit hard to locate was gentian (the bittering agent).  After a bit of asking around I found a local spice/herbology shop that had it on hand.  Ingredients in hand I was on my way.

Homemade Bitters Marinating

The initial steeping time went quickly and the smell that emanated from the jar was incredible.  You could really smell the cardamom and ginger going to work on the rye.

Hess House Bitters

After nearly burning the sugar and filtering the finished bitters they were ready for bottling.  A word on the sugar, take it very slowly and remember that your pan will retain some heat so take them off the heat slightly before you think they’re done.  As soon as you pour the sugar into the cold liquid they solidify but some heavy shaking will dissolve them in no time.  As you can see from the image above I ended up with about 2.5 liters of finished bitters.  If anyone would like to try some please drop me an email I’d be happy to send you some.

Whiskey Sour with Hess House Bitters

The finished bitters have a wonderful spicy flavor full of cinnamon, cardamom and ginger.  The anise and cloves are certainly present but not as forward as the other flavors.  The nearly burnt sugar provides a nice sweetness and carmel flavor.  Finally the bitterness is just where you want it to be.  My favorite use thus far has been in a whiskey sour.  I had a great time making these bitters and have grand plans for making more, which as you can see above started with a batch of Hell Fire bitters, but I’ll save those for another post.

[Edit: 2008-12-15 – Added MxMo Logo]

Bourbon – The Slightly Tall Building View

Posted by Reese On October - 14 - 2008

Why do you need to discuss Bourbon, its just another whiskey right?  Well, yes, but there’s more to it than that.  All Bourbons are whiskies, but not all whiskies are Bourbons.  In the same way that to be called Scotch a whisky must meet certain criteria in order to call a product Straight Bourbon Whiskey a distiller must meet certain requirements.  Wikipedia summed it up nicely so rather than regurgitate, I’ll just quote them.

  • Bourbon must be made of a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn.
  • Bourbon must be distilled to no more than 160 (U.S.) proof (80% alcohol by volume).
  • Bourbon must be 100% natural (nothing other than water added to the mixture).
  • Bourbon must be aged in new, charred oak barrels.
  • Bourbon which meets the above requirements and has been aged for a minimum of two years, may (but is not required to) be called Straight Bourbon.
  • Bourbon aged for a period less than four years must be labelled with the duration of its aging.

The first step in the Bourbon production process is the selection and processing of grains.  As per the rules this grain mixture has to include at least 51% corn.  The remainder is then made up of any of the other fermentable cereal grains, e.g. rye, wheat, barley, rice I suppose, etc.  The grain mixture is one of the deciding factors in the final flavor of the Bourbon.  As an example Bulleit Bourbon uses a high percentage of rye which gives the resulting spirit it’s characteristic spiciness.  Since its this specific recipe of grains that makes each Bourbon unique it makes sense that the specifics are tightly guarded secrets.  The distiller then takes the selected grains and mills them.  Milling the grains maximizes the surface area allowing a more complete starch conversion, the next step in the process.

Once the grains have been milled water is added and heat is applied to the mash.  The application of heat causes the starches in the grains to break down in to fermentable sugars that can then be consumed by the yeasts.  Once the mash has been cooked a small portion of the previous mash is added to the new mash.  The acid from this “sour mash” slows the growth of bacteria and creates the pH balance that the yeast requires for alcohol production.  Which brings us to the fermentation itself.  Depending on the chosen yeast this process can take anywhere from days to weeks but the result is the same a low alcohol content wash.

The wash is then transferred to a still where it will undergo distillation into a clear alcohol.  When you buy a bottle of Everclear you are buying un-aged whiskey straight from the still.  The maximum alcohol percentage that can be obtain through standard distillation is 94%.  In order to go higher you have to employ a process called vaccuum distillation which is considerably more complicated, not to mention a story for another post.

At this point the un-aged Bourbon is transferred to new, charred oak barrels for aging.  There are varying degrees of barrel char that can be utilized to produce specific characteristics.  Once filled the barrels are moved to a barrel house for aging.  As the temperature varies throughout the year the Bourbon is pulled in to the wood (as temperature increases) and pushed back out (as temperature decreases).  This aging produces two distinct results.  First the char on the barrel serves to filter the Bourbon to some degree.  Second as the alcohol moves in and out of the wood it picks up color and flavor.  There are lots of compounds in wood that help to give the Bourbon it’s unique final flavors.

Bourbons are aged for a minimum of two years and the sky seems to be the limit.  Once aging is complete there are a few more options.  One, the Bourbon can be bottled without dilution at what is called cask strength.  Bourbons from the larger distilleries are typically blended to produce a consistent flavor and then diluted to the proof desired.  Some distilleries however and choosing to bottle the product un-blended from single barrels.  These single barrel Bourbons, such as Eagle Rare, one of my personal faves, will vary in flavor from barrel to barrel slightly depending on the barrel itself and where the barrel was aged.  As such, you end up with a product that although similar will never be exactly the same.  I like this as it gives cocktails a bit, although not too much, variability.

Well I hope this overview has been interesting for you.  I’ve glossed over some subjects intentionally (e.g. the specifics of distillation) and I’ll be covering those in more detail later on.  Some topics (e.g. barrel chars) I’ve skimmed over due to a lack of knowledge.  As I know more about these I’ll be sure to write update posts.  I’ll be visiting a couple distilleries this weekend in Kentucky and hope to find out a lot more interesting info and get some good pictures.

Ingredient – Tonic Syrup

Posted by Reese On September - 24 - 2008

There is a great thread on eGullet titled “You might be a cocktail snob/geek if…”  Well, tonight I can add another of my own.  You might be a cocktail geek if you make incredible homemade tonic syrup and immediately start thinking about what you can tweak to make it better.  Last night the cocktail hacker crew had a tonic tasting to coincide with our Gin and Tonic week.  I’ll be writing up our results tomorrow.  To go with this theme I made up a batch of homemade tonic syrup used the recipe posted by Jeffrey Morgenthaler.  This being the first time I had made Tonic Syrup I decided to stick with Jeffrey’s recipe nearly to the letter.

Two of the ingredients required a bit of foot work to find.  I found citric acid at a local home brewing / wine making shop.  The clerk was a bit startled when I said I was making my own tonic and later added that citric acid is usually purchased for barrel cleaning.  His next question was where I got the quinine from.  At Jeffrey’s suggestion, and most of the homemade tonic recipes for that matter, I used powdered red cinchona bark that I got from  There are other online retailers as well, but ZooScape treated me well and I’d recommend them if you’re wanting to try this recipe.

Once I had all the ingredient prepped we brought them all to a boil then lowered the burner and allowed the mixture to simmer for 20 minutes.  Following that we moved on to the straining process.  The first step to this is to use a mesh strainer to remove all the big pieces.  This step will also remove a lot of the bark powder, but you’ll still be left with quite a bit of particulate.  To solve that problem there are a couple of routes you can take.  The immediate choice is to run it all through a coffee filter.  This method, although a good one, takes an exceedingly long time.  We tried it for a bit, but I got impatient so I tried my favorite filtering method.  We broke out my tiny Bodum French Press [Referrer Link] coffee maker and got to filtering.  The resulting syrup still has a bit of bark in it, but I think that adds a unique homemade look to the cocktail.

Once the syrup was strained we added the sweetener.  This is where I deviated from Jeffrey a bit.  I didn’t have any Agave Syrup and didn’t want to get any at this point so I sweetened with a 1:1 simple syrup.  I used the same proportion as Jeffrey suggests but the resulting product was a lacking a bit of sweetness so I’ve been adding a touch of simple syrup as I put it in my squeeze bottles.  Given that, I’m not going to list my altered recipe at this time or the recipe for the Gin and Tonic.  I will say though that this is, without question, the best tonic I’ve ever had.  It is bitter and sour but has great citrus flavor and the allspice really adds a nice note.  As usual I love the fact that I can vary the sweet,  bitter and sour components at will.  This is truly what cocktail hacking is all about.

Ingredient – Fizz Water

Posted by Reese On September - 16 - 2008

This is the first time here at Cocktail Hacker that we’ve had a chance to use any sort of carbonated water in a cocktail.  Most of you are quite familiar with some of the types of soda water by now, but there are some important differences that you should keep in mind when mixing drinks.

Types of Fizz Water

[Soda Water] – Also known as carbonated water, seltzer, fizzy water, or sparkling water is what is best known to most people.  It is simply water in to which carbon dioxide has been introduced thus carbonating the water.  There ware some natural sparkling waters available which are equivalent to carbonated mineral water.

[Club Soda] – This is the other main type of carbonated water you’re likely to find at your local grocery store.  The primary difference here is that club soda has had a small amount of salt added in the form of sodium chloride (table salt), sodium citrate, sodium bicarbonate, potassium bicarbonate, potassium sulfate, or disodium phosphate.  Which salt is added depends on the bottler.  Wikipedia says that these are added to emulate the taste of home made soda water.  They also have a nice history of carbonated water that I’m not going to go in to here.  Although, the anecdote about mice is rather interesting.

Sources of Fizz Water

Like most of the ingredients we feature here on the site there are many sources for fizz water, some that allow you to precisely control the resulting product.  Naturally these types are my favorite.

[Store Bought] – There are a nearly endless number of choices when it comes to store bought fizz water.  I’d caution against using club soda as it may throw of the intended flavor of the cocktail in general.  That said, most club soda will have such a small amount of salt added that you’re likely not to notice it at all.  You can even experiment with a flavored fizz water that will complement the end flavor of the cocktail you’re producing.

[Soda Siphons] – Soda siphons are the tried and true home soda making tools.  They consist of a carafe that you fill with your choice of water (I’d suggest filtered for the most neutral flavor).  The carbonation comes in the form of small CO2 cylinders that introduce the carbonation to the water in the carafe. In the old days full bottles of pre-carbonated water were delivered to the home and your siphon attached to the top.  The siphon provided a way to use a small amount of the water while keeping the rest fizzy.

Siphons work fantastically and make for a very elegant presentation.  I’ll also say that if you want to make Fizz drinks, such as the Ramos Gin Fizz, a siphon is very nearly a requirement.  The reason behind this is that the recipes call for the soda water to be injected in to the mixed cocktail rather than poured on top.

[Soda Makers] – If you’re really in to soda water, as I am.  Then a soda maker may be more your sytle.  Soda makers allow the use of much larger bottles of CO2 which allow for the carbonation of many liters of water before they empty.  I personally have a Soda Club (now Soda Stream) soda maker and can’t speak highly enough of it.  Each CO2 cylinder will carbonate approximately 100 liters of water and I have two bottles always chilling in the fridge.  As for the water itself I go with Brita filtered water.  This way I know I’m using pure water and not introducing any flavors I don’t intend to.

Another soda maker route is to build one yourself.  Kevin Kelly has a nice overview of one DIY system.  Here’s an instructable on the same topic.  If you’ve done some home brewing, then home carbonating might be old hat for you.  If not, then try one of the other options, or simply buy good store bought products.  There are lots out there so experiment away.