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Ingredient – Maraschino Cherries

Posted by Reese On July - 23 - 2008

The garnish of choice for a Manhattan is a Maraschino cherry.  That word probably brings images of bright red, extremely sweet fruits floating up in your consciousness.  But, like many things in the cocktail world, it hasn’t always been that way.  Maraschino (pronounced Mara-skee-no) cherries were originally produced by macerating Marasca in Maraschino liqueur.  Introduced to the US in the late 1800’s these cherries were lightly sour and bright red in color.  They were a favorite among diners in fine restaurants.  Once good old prohibition rolled around though, things had to change.  Clearly you can’t have cherries macerated in liqueur when liqueur is now illegal.  Enter the Maraschino (pronounced Mara-shee-no) cherry as we know it today.

First developed by Ernest H. Wiegand, Maraschino cherries now days are cherries that have been dyed red (or any other color), flavored with almond oil and packed in a sugar syrup.  Needless to say the flavor of these cherries differs from the original quite substantially.  Alas, the classic Maraschino cherry isn’t widely available in the US.  There is however a substitute that is supposed to be very good, Amarena Fabbri Wild Cherries [Referer Link].  These are Italian Amarena cherries that are pitted and macerated in a sweet syrup.  So the good news is, they’re not nearly as processed as the Maraschino cherries you find on store shelves here, but they still aren’t really the real deal.

Another option, which is my preferred method, is to make your own macerated cherries.  In my case I took dried bing cherries and soaked them in cognac.  The resulting cherries are wonderfully chewy (a good thing) and very deeply cherry flavored.  They’re a great garnish for a Manhattan or to just nibble on.  If you’re looking for some more reading there is a nice discussion on eGullet on how to make your own Maraschino-like cherries.  There is also a nice thread on Chowhound about Brandied Cherries that is an interesting read.

Ingredient – Bitters

Posted by Reese On July - 22 - 2008

One of the best explanations I’ve heard is that bitters are like spices for cocktails.  You would never cook certain dishes without spices and the same is true of some cocktails and their bitters.  Old timers only considered drinks with bitters to be true cocktails.  The quote on our Mission page sums it up nicely.  A cocktail is “a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.”  This week’s cocktail is an excellent example of how bitters can elevate a cocktail from mediocre to wonderful.  If you don’t believe me, try a Manhattan without bitters some time.  But, what exactly are bitters?

The page on Wikipedia gives a great definition.  “A bitters is an alcoholic beverage prepared with herbs and citrus dissolved in alcohol or glycerine and having a bitter or bittersweet flavor. There are numerous brands of bitters, which were formerly marketed as patent medicines but are now drunk as digestifs.”  That page also gives a list of current and past bitters, although it’s not complete.  Another good reference with a lot of bitters history is Robert “Drinkboy” Hess’ page on the subject.  Finally a great discussion of all things bitters is the 12 page forum thread on eGullet.  There are also some great pictures of older bitters.  At this point I should mention that bitters basically last indefinitely so if you encounter an old bottle don’t immediately toss it.  Give it a taste, you might be pleasantly surprised.

As for what you should have in your cocktail bar I think three types are essential: Angostura, Peychaud’s and some form of Orange Bitters (Fee Brothers and Regan’s are both great).  Angostura bitters have a nice cinnamony sort of flavor and Peychaud’s have a stronger licorice note.  A good way to introduce yourself to the flavors is to add a few dashes of bitters to a small amount of water (sparkling or still) and sample.  This will mellow the bitterness and allow the other flavors to come through.

Bitters are becoming very widely available in liquors stores all over.  But, if you can’t find a specific brand you’d like to try turn to the internet, for it solves all problems.  Kegworks carries a huge selection of bitters and other cocktail tools.  Some bitters brands to try if you’re interested in branching out are Fee Brothers and The Bitter Truth.  A final option is to make your own bitters.  We’ll be covering this in depth in a later post as I’m very excited about making my own ingredients.

Ingredient – Grenadine

Posted by Reese On July - 8 - 2008

As I mentioned in this week’s intro post, the Grenadine you find in most grocery stores is actually just citric acid flavored sugar water.  We here at Cocktail Hacker hope to resolve that problem right now.  Grenadine can be made at home quite simply and quickly.  Plus, you get the added bonus that the homemade version tastes much better.

We started our studies and based our recipes on a great post from Paul at The Cocktail Chronicles.  Paul discusses two primary methods for the production of Grenadine.  The first being a cold method, which is very simple to make at home.

The Cocktail Chronicles Cold Method Grenadine:
1 cup Pomegranate Juice
1 cup Sugar
1) Combine sugar and juice in a closable jar
2) Shake jar until sugar is completely dissolved

The second method Paul discusses is a hot method, which is a little more involved and requires a bit more time.

The Cocktail Chronicles Hot Method Grenadine:
2 cups Pomegranate Juice
1 cup Sugar
1) Add juice to a sauce pan
2) Simmer until reduced by half
3) Remove from heat
4) Add sugar and stir until dissolved

Both methods result in good products but the flavors are quite different.  The cold method keeps more of the fresh flavors of the juice where the hot method results in a much more intensely flavored product.  As such we decided to combine both recipes in an attempt to get both the freshness and intensity.

Simmering Grenadine

Cocktail Hacker Grenadine:
2 cups Pomegranate Juice
1/2 cup Sugar
1/2 tsp Orange Flower Water [Optional]
1) Add one cup of juice to a sauce pan
2) Simmer until reduced by half
3) Remove from heat
4) Add remaining juice and sugar and stir until dissolved
5) If you like you can add 1/2 tsp of orange flower
water for a more floral taste

Aaron and I really liked the Grenadine that this recipe produced.  It’s much more intense than the cold method yet retains some of the bright freshness of the cold method.  The Orange Flower Water is completely optional.  Aaron preferred it with none and some of the commenters on The Cocktail Chronicles preferred much more.  Also our Grenadine isn’t as sweet as Rose’s and not as thick, so if that’s something you’re needing for the cocktail you’re making, consider adding a little more sugar until you get the sweetness and viscosity you like.

We tried the cold method first a couple weeks ago and found it to be very good, but was even sweeter than the Rose’s product.  So if you’re going that route you might try less sugar to start and add it a little at a time until you reach the level of sweetness you like.  Also, we couldn’t find fresh pomegranates for this post so we used POM juice.  I think the final product is very good, but since POM is made from concentrate I think fresh pomegranate juice would produce an even better end result.

A final note.  As with the simple syrups we discussed I add one oz of Everclear to these to keep them stable longer in my fridge.  Although I enjoy cocktails a great deal, I don’t drink nearly enough of them to go through this much Grenadine in a short amount of time.

Strawberry Classic Daiquiri

Posted by Reese On July - 1 - 2008

So as I was writing our kick off post for The Daiquiri and later the post on simple syrup I got to thinking.  Although The Strawberry Daiquiri is not truely classic it is quite tasty at times.  There must be some way to combine the classic feel of The Daiquiri with the wonderful flavor of fresh strawberries.  Then it hit me, a strawberry infused simple syrup!  Thus was born The Strawberry Classic Daiquiri.

Strawberry Classic Daiquiri

The infused simple syrup, which I’ll discuss more below, gives the drink a nice pink color.  Note that the recipe for this cocktail is sweeter than traditional, but I like it because it allows the strawberry syrup to come through more.  The resulting drink is wonderfully strawberry-y and still holds true to the daiquiri theme.

Strawberry Classic Daiquiri:
2 oz Light Rum
1 oz Strawberry Syrup
1 oz Lime Juice
1) Shake well with ice
2) Strain in to a cocktail glass
3) Garnish with a fanned strawberry

Now, in my earlier post I promised more info on infused syrups.  They’re really not much more complex than standard simple syrup.  They do however require a little more time.

Strawberry Simple Syrup:
2 cups Water
2 cups Sugar
1 lb Sliced Fresh Strawberries
2 oz Everclear
1) Simmer sugar, water and berries for 10 minutes
2) Strain out strawberry pieces
3) Add Everclear to increase shelf life 

Don’t discard the strawberries, they’re fantastic for strawberry shortcake or over ice cream.  This same technique can be used for making any number of infused syrups.  For example you could try mint syrup for mojitos, raspberry syrup for another twist on The Daiquiri, or ginger syrup for a spicy twist. Enjoy!

Ingredient – Simple Syrup

Posted by Reese On June - 29 - 2008

This week’s cocktail requires that you have simple syrup on hand.  Don’t rush out and buy a bottle, though.  As the name suggests it is dirt simple to make at home.  Plus, when making syrup at home you can control the base ingredients and tweak your resulting cocktails as you see fit.  I usually keep three types on hand: plain simple syrup, rich syrup and demerara syrup.  Perhaps on the obsessive side, but I am a cocktail hacker after all.  However, for the home bar the only one I see as essential is plain simple syrup.

Simple Syrup, Rich Syrup and Demerara Syrup

Simple Syrup:
1 cup Sugar
1 cup Water
1) Place sugar and water in a jar/bottle and shake until the sugar
fully dissolves

See?  Simple as can be.  The same proportions and technique can be used to make demerara syrup.  Demerara sugar is granulated, unrefined, natural sugar.  You’ve most likely seen it at coffee shops for adding to your favorite morning beverage.  The resulting syrup is a nice brown (see the picture above) and has more of a natural sugar flavor than you’ll get with white sugar.  I find it works really well with dark rum drinks.

Some recipes may call for rich simple syrup (or rich syrup).  Rich syrup is great for cocktails where you want sweetness but don’t want the additional dilution that plain simple syrup provides.  Rich syrup is just as simple as simple syrup, just has more sugar.  Note though that this one must be heated to dissolve all the sugar.

Rich Simple Syrup:
2 cups Sugar
1 cup Water
1) Place sugar and water in a sauce pan
2) Heat over medium heat until the water starts to simmer
3) Stir the mixture until the sugar dissolves

I suggest you keep your syrups in the fridge to prolong their shelf life.  You can also increase their shelf life by adding 1oz of Everclear to each bottle of syrup.  Once you master these recipes you’re ready to take on infused simple syrups.  More about that later in the week.