Cocktail Hacker

    Hack What You Drink

Archive for the ‘Hack’ Category

Phylogenetic Tree of Mixed Drinks

Posted by Reese On January - 10 - 2009

Jim Harriman of has created an amazing family tree of drinks using each drink’s ingredients as genes. The result is pretty cool. Read his write up for more information.

I think this kind of analysis could really be very interesting if you added some more metadata to the party.  Perhaps information such as Gary Regan’s drink categories.  I think it could show some interesting relationships between cocktails.  A project for the future indeed.

If you’re interested in some of the science here are some links you might like.

Phylogeny on Wikipedia

PHYLIP – The software package used to crunch the data

My sourceMake Magazine

Lillet – Searching for a bit of extra Kina

Posted by Reese On January - 6 - 2009

This week’s cocktail, specifically the Corpse Reviver #2, calls for the use of Lillet Blanc.  Not having any experience with this ingredient I did I bit of digging and sampling.  Lillet is an French aperitif wine produced in Bordeaux.  The flavor is that of a sweet fruity white wine.  The fruit flavors lean primarily towards citrus but there are hints of others in there as well.  There are slight herbal notes but they are much more subtle than those in vermouth.  Overall I really like Lillet Blanc and could see myself enjoying it on its own over ice with an orange garnish.


Problem is, although the Corpse Reviver #2 was intended to use Lillet, the Lillet they had back then, and as recent as 1986, isn’t the Lillet we have today.  The original Kina Lillet was considered a tonic wine due to the fact that it contained quinine.  This quinine was added through the infusion of cinchona bark (Kina Kina in Peruvian).  However, come the late 80’s the Lillet company decided to modernize it’s brand and dropped the Kina from the name and a large part of the flavor along with it.  The aperitif recipe was changed to be less sweet and considerably less bitter.  Therein lies the rub you see.  This recipe needs a bitter component to offset the sweet and sour.  That’s no longer present.

So, what’s a hacker to do?  Well in doing a bit of poking around I came across Erik Ellestad’s write ups on his site, Underhill-Lounge.  Seems I’m not the only cocktail enthusiast in search of a replacement for the original Kina Lillet.  In his search he’s found a replacement that is said to be very similar to the original Kina Lillet, namely, Cocchi Americano.  After calling around to the major liquor stores in the Boulder/Denver area and checking the web I couldn’t find a ready source however, so I decided I’d try a hack Erik mentioned in his first post.  Some folks have tried infusing Lillet with cinchona bark on their own.  Since I had some cinchona on hand from my homemade tonic I was ready to give it a go.

Infusing Lillet with Cinchona

I started with a cup of Lillet and 1 1/2 Tablespoons of cinchona powder.  I combined them and shook until it was all well blended.  I let the cichona steep for 15 minutes then strained using my custom straining rig.  My rig is a coffee filter clipped to the inside of a funnel and placed in to the bottom half of my strainer.  This filter setup worked wonderfully!

Straining the Infused Lillet

The results were a copper colored Lillet that was exceedingly bitter, much too bitter in fact.  This info in hand I tried again.  Round two I mixed a cup of Lillet with 1/2 Tablespoon of cinchona.  I shook again and let this mixture steep for 10 minutes.  Once fully steeped I filtered the Lillet.  This time the infusion was much more pallatable but still not what I was looking for.   Not wanting to waste any more of my Lillet on failed experiments I decided a better way to add the bitterness I was looking for would be to simply use orange bitters.  More on that later in the week.

Erik, on the other hand, didn’t stop there.  His latest endevour, linked above, is to create his own infused wine a la Kina Lillet.  I look forward to hearing about the results.  If you’re interested in more of Erik’s cocktail comments, check out his work on “Stomping though the Savoy” on eGullet.  He’s making one cocktail at a time from The Savoy Cocktail Book.

Halloween Hack #3: Color

Posted by Reese On October - 31 - 2008

The final hackable component of a special occasion cocktail is its color.  This hack is what I’ve spent the majority of the week experimenting with.  I started simply enough by making a black Margarita.  The food coloring I used is seriously powerful mojo, but it doesn’t dissolve well in the shaker while you’re shaking with ice.  What I found works best is to use a toothpick and spread a very thin layer inside your shaker.  Add all the ingredients and swirl or dry shake until the color is completely integrated.  Then you can add the ice and finish your cocktail.

For Halloween the obvious color choices are black, orange and blood red.  Black is very simple, just use the color straight out of the container.  To get a pumpkin kind of orange I used orange coloring with just a touch of red to deepen the color.  As for the blood red I used two toothpick loads (scientific, no?) of red and one of small load of black.  This deepens the red to a more blood color.

Once I had the basic colors down I decided to try something a bit more interesting.  Since I’d been working with Margaritas all week I decided I’d keep with that base and try making a foam of another color for the top.  I originally started with Cointreau to flavor the foam but couldn’t get the consistency I wanted so I switched to a new recipe.  My foam recipe is one egg white, 1/2 oz simple syrup and 1/2 oz lime juice.  I used a hand mixer to get a really nice consistency, soft peaks if you’re wondering.  Then I spooned the foam on to the top of the prepared cocktail.  My first attempt was definitely not a success.  I tried an orange cocktail with a black foam.  However, as the picture below contests, I ended up with a muddled dark orange cocktail with a gray foam.  Certainly not optimal.  The second attempt, a black cocktail with orange foam, worked much better.  Although the work involved to make these is a bit steep I think the results are worth it.  You could make a large batch of the foam and top a number of cocktails at once if you were wanting to do something like this for a gathering.

A brief note on the food colors themselves.  For all of my experiments I’ve been using Wilton’s Gel Food Colorings.  I find that the colors are much more intense than the liquid colors you get at the grocery store and they dissolve nicer than the powdered colors.  I bought an assortment pack of colors a couple years ago for another project and I bolstered my supplies this year with some individual bottles.  I think you could easily make about 50 cocktails from a single bottle and at about $2 per large bottle they’re really a great deal.  I picked mine up at a local cake decorating store but they’re also available online.  I have the twelve color assortment shown at the top of the linked page and I think that’s a great starting point.  You get small containers of a wide assortment of colors.

Wilton Food Colors [Referrer Link]

So, what did I learn from all of this color experimentation?  I learned that light colored cocktails take a color better than darker ones.  I tried making a blood red Manhattan but ended up with only a slightly redder cocktail than original.  Another benefit of coloring lighter hued cocktails is that they take colors much more readily.  I also learned that adding a dark colored foam to a light drink ends up with a very muddled looking cocktail.  The better choice is a light colored foam on a dark drink.  That way if the foam color bleeds in to the drink it’s not as noticeable. These are all great things but the true culmination of this week is my signature Halloween cocktail.

The Demon Blood Margarita
2 oz Milagro Reposado Tequila
1 oz Cointreau
1 oz Fresh Lime Juice
1-3 Dashes Hell Fire Bitters
2 Dashes Regan's Orange Bitters
1 Dab Wilton's Black Gel Food Coloring
2 Dabs Wilton's Red Red Gel Food Coloring
Salt and Cayenne Pepper
1) Rim glass with salt and cayenne pepper
2) Apply food coloring to the interior of the shaker in a thin layer
3) Add all ingredients and swirl until color is fully dissolved
4) Add ice and shake until well chilled
5) Strain in to rimmed glass
6) Garnish with a lime wedge

As any well educated cocktail slinger knows Demon Blood is hot, firey hot, like it just came from the depths of hell.  Enter the Hell Fire Bitters.  These are homemade bitters based on an original recipe by Charles Baker Jr.  The current batch that I have aren’t quite hot enough for my liking so I ended up using about 6 dashes.  Once I get the recipe nailed down I’ll be sharing it with all of you.  Until then, suffice to say they’re hot.  The base is neutral spirits and the flavoring is lime, hot chiles, and cinchona for bitterness.  When mixed in the right proportions this cocktail has a great balance of what you would expect from a Marg and a nice kick of heat from the chiles.  It all works together really well.  The food coloring doesn’t add any flavor so it could easily be left out if you wanted to make a non-blood colored cocktail.

I had a great time experimenting with Halloween cocktails this week.  Next year I think I’ll have to do more experimentation with the various recipes.  Until then there are plenty of un-hacked cocktails yet to be tinkered with.

Halloween Hack #2: Garnishes

Posted by Reese On October - 30 - 2008

I’m of the opinion that garnishes by no means “make” a drink.  A good drink can always stand on its own, but in that same breath garnishes can raise a good drink to greatness.  Garnishing improves a cocktail’s visual appeal and, as we all know, we eat (and drink) with our eyes first.  I think that sentiment goes doubly for themed or special occasion cocktails.  You can take a relatively run of the mill Manhattan and add a special garnish and suddenly it’s a blood colored theme cocktail perfect for Halloween.  Here are some of my favorites from around the web.

I’ll start with the Eerie Eyeballs from The Spirit World, these are great.  I think the radish and olive eye would be quite tasty.  The Lychee eyes are good too, but I like the ones from Hostess Blog a bit better.  I think the blood looks more realistic.  If you’ve not had lychee before they have a flavor a bit like a slightly bitter green grape.  I think they would work well with almost any fruit based cocktail.

I also like the Jack Daniels O’Lanterns that Cocktail Times employed in their Halloween Cocktail.  Some seriously delicate knife work required for carving tiny faces in to those olives.  I’d recommend you execute that procedure before sampling the cocktail recipes. :)

Talk of Tomatoes has some awesome shots of their Halloween concoctions including the Liquefied Ghost, Purple People Eater, Maggotini, and Black Widow.  These are awesome!  The tiny cucumber chunks in the Maggotini are just classic.  But, let’s face it, the clear winner is the skeleton crazy straw in the Liquefied Ghost.  And you know why?  Cause crazy straws are awesome, duh.

Cook and Eat throws down the gauntlet for garnishing/decorating with their Dark Chocolate Martini.  This presentation is just absolutely gorgeous and I think it’s the glass that really sets it apart.  It looks like chocolate syrup drizzled inside the glass.

There are a couple of other ideas that I’ve been tossing around.  One could hollow out a tiny pumpkin and serve the cocktail inside.  You could even freeze them before hand.  The problem with this plan is that the pumpkin may add a bit of an off flavor to your cocktail.  Maybe I’ll explore this next year.  The second idea, which isn’t really my own, is the use of everyone’s favorite chilling ingredient and bomb component, dry ice.  Dry ice is just a classic.  If you’re going to be serving any sort of punch at a Halloween party, alcoholic or otherwise, dropping in some dry ice will give it that “witches brew” look that just works with Halloween.  I’ve also seen it used with great success in large bowl drinks, like the Scorpion.

You’ll note that the main similarity between these two uses is that both keep the dry ice away from direct skin contact.  Dry ice is cold, like supremely cold (-109F).  If it comes in contact with you skin it can burn you, well quick freeze you actually.  So, it’s use in individual cocktails needs to be done so with caution.  Make sure to warn people about the dry ice and you should be good to go.  A tiny piece, marble size, will provide plenty of good looking fog for an individual drink.

Tomorrow I’ll be covering the third hack which is what I’ve been spending the work experimenting with and also be unveiling my signature Halloween cocktail.  Until then eat some candy and enjoy a delicious cocktail.

Halloween Hack #1: Themed Cocktails

Posted by Reese On October - 29 - 2008

From my research I’ve decided there are basically three families of cocktail hacks that can be applied to nearly any holiday or event.  The first, which I’ll be discussing in this post, is cocktails named or based on a theme.  The second is cocktail garnishes that highlight the holiday or event.  The third is changing a cocktail’s color to match those of the occasion.  For this first post I’m going to highlight themed cocktails.  Themed cocktails generally means cocktails that are either created with the theme in mind (eg the Candy Corn Cocktail) or cocktails with names that work with the theme (eg the Corpse Reviver).  Below are some instances of both.  I have been spending my time on another of the Halloween hacks this week so I don’t have much in the way of commentary on these.  That said, imbibe at your own risk.

The Corpse Reviver #1
1 1/2 oz brandy
3/4 oz apple brandy
3/4 oz sweet vermouth
1) Stir in mixing glass with ice
2) Strain in to a chilled cocktail glass
The Corpse Reviver #2 - Savoy Cocktail Book
1/4 Wine Glass Lemon Juice (3/4 oz Fresh Lemon Juice)
1/4 Wine Glass Kina Lillet (3/4 oz Cocchi Aperitivo Americano)
1/4 Wine Glass Cointreau (3/4 oz Cointreau)
1/4 Wine Glass Dry Gin (3/4 oz Bombay Gin)
1 Dash Absinthe (Verte de Fougerolles)
1) Shake well with ice
2) Strain in to a chilled cocktail glass
The Corpse Reviver is one of the all time classic cocktails and
will doubtless get a week all to itself so stay tuned.
The Zombie
3/4 oz Lime Juice
1/2 oz Grapefruit Juice
1 1/2 oz Pineapple Juice
1/4 oz Falernum
1 1/4 oz Gold Rum
1 oz Dark Rum
1 oz 151 Proof Demerara Rum
3/4 oz Maraschino Liquer
1/4 tsp Grenadine
1/8 tsp Pernod
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
1) Blend briefly without ice
2) Add ice, blend to chill
3) Serve in a Hurricane or Collins glass
Black Cat Cocktail
1 Shot Russian Standard Vodka
1 Shot De Kuyper Cherry Brandy
2 Shots Cranberry Juice
2 Shots Coke
1) Pour ingredients into highball glass with some cubed ice
and stir well
Cruel Ghoul
1/2 oz Malibu Rum
1/2 oz Peach Schnapps
1/2 oz Blue Curacao
1) Combine Rum, Peach Schnapps and Blue Curacao over ice
2) Add 7-Up to Fill
Pumpkin Pie Cocktail
2 Scoops Vanilla Ice Cream
1/2 Cup Crushed Ice
1 Tbsp Canned Pumpkin
1 oz Half-and-Half
1 oz Spiced Rum
1/4 tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice
2 Tbsp Whipped Topping
1 Pinch Pumpkin Pie Spice
1) Combine the first six ingredients in a blender
2) Blend until smooth
3) Pour into a serving glass
4) Top with whipped topping
5) Sprinkle with pinch of pumpkin pie spice
Candy Corn Cocktail
1/2 oz Licor 43
1/2 oz Orange Curacao
1/2 oz Cream
1) Carefully pour the Licor 43 into a shot glass
2) Layer Orange Curacao on Licor 43
3) Layer Cream on top of Curacao
Candy Corn Martini
3/4 oz Absolut® Vanilla Vodka
1/2 oz Creme de Cacao
1/2 oz Butterscotch Schnapps
2 oz Orange Juice
1 Tbsp Dark Cocoa Powder
1) Rim a cocktail glass with OJ then Cocoa Powder
2) Combine spirits and OJ in a shaker with ice
3) Shake vigorously and pour into glass
4) Garnish with an orange twist and 3-4 pcs of Candy Corn
Not sure what this cocktail has to do with candy corn
other than the garnish.  On the plus side it sounds like
the flavor might not suck.

Now I’m guessing that eight cocktails is simply not enough to fulfill the needs of a crowd reading cocktail blogs so here are some compilations done by other sites.

Halloween Cocktail Recipes from The Nibble

Ghostly Cocktails for Halloween from Suite 101

Scary Halloween Cocktails from Art of Drink

10 Happy Halloween Cocktails from Fine Living