Cocktail Hacker

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Archive for September, 2008

Negroni Addio!

Posted by Reese On September - 13 - 2008

I began this week’s explorations with a bit of trepidation.  I had bought my bottle of Campari a couple months ago and hadn’t done much with it.  In my early reading on the aperitif I had found that people often ordered a Campari and Soda, so I decided that was as good a place as any to start.  I was not particularly impressed.  The drink was tremendously bitter, but despite this I could taste the spirit’s potential.  So on the shelf it went in anticipation of a delicious cocktail in which to use it.

The Negroni turned out to be just such a cocktail.  Using the 1:1:1 classic recipe you end up with a cocktail that has great flavor, a nice level of bitterness and perfect balance.  Were I simply looking for a good recipe for this cocktail I would happily stop here.  I, however, was on a mission for a great recipe.  So I continued my hunt.  I next tried a recipe I had found in a thread on eGullet, the Cinnabar Negroni as served at Cinnabar in Glendale, CA.

Cinnabar Negroni
2 oz Campari
1 oz Gin
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
2 dashes Orange Bitters

This too is a good recipe, and strangely isn’t too bitter from the additional Campari.  The addition of orange bitters, Regan’s in my case, didnt’ seem to add much in this recipe.  It did,however, give me the idea to try them with the classic recipe.  What I found out from this subsequent experiment is that orange bitters truly make this cocktail.  You can really taste them with the decreased Campari and they add a wonderful citrusy complexity to the drink.  Another recipe I tried was described as a Smoother Negroni in the eGullet thread.

Smoother Negroni
2 oz Gin
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
1/2 oz Campari

This is, doubtless, a very good cocktail, but I don’t think I can really call it a Negroni.  When you’ve increased the Gin so much and decrease the Campari comparably the resulting cocktail is fundamentally different.  Seems that Gary Regan had similar feelings with his modified Negroni that he thus renamed the Valentino.

Gary Regan's Valentino
2 oz Gin
1/2 oz Sweet Vermouth
1/2 oz Campari

Each recipe that I tried was very good, but I kept coming back to the classic recipe as my hands down favorite.  I do make the aforementioned change of adding orange bitters which I think really heightens this cocktail.  As for shaking versus stirring I found that the flavor is the same either way.  You may get a touch more dillution with shaking from the ice particles, but the main difference you’ll notice is the appearance.  The shaken cocktail is quite cloudy and remains so for a while after serving.  Because of this, a stirred Negroni is my choice.  Finally, you can serve this cocktail up or on the rocks.  I think the up version is a more elegant cocktail, but if the bitterness is too bold for you initially try it over ice and let it dilute a bit.  I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.  With those notes I present our version of this cocktail.

The Cocktail Hacker Negroni
1 oz Gin
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
1 oz Campari
2-3 dashes Regan's Orange Bitters
1) Combine ingredients in shaker bottom or pint glass
2) Stir until well chilled
3) Strain into a cocktail glass

My other focus for the week was garnishing.  I tried a technique I read about in “The Joy of Mixology” by Gary Regan.  The technique called for zesting a lemon (orange in my case) and lining a cocktail glass with the resulting zest.  It looked like a good plan in the preliminary stages, but when I added the cocktail the zest floated and messed up the look.  Not sure how to correct this, but I’ll have to try again with another cocktail.  The other garnish I tried, and loved, was to use a v-slicer to cut very thin slices of orange and float one on the top of the cocktail.  I really like the look of this garnish and if you get an orange with a not too bitter pith you can eat the whole thing, which is fantastic.  The one garnish that was recommended that I didn’t get a chance to try was flamed orange zest.  It’ll have to be next time.

So, despite my initial thoughts that this may be the first cocktail on the site that I didn’t like, I found another gem.  This cocktail is colorful, has great flavors and is wonderfully complex.  I can easily say that it is well worth a trip to the liquor store for a bottle of Campari.  I took a ton of pictures this week and they’re all posted in the Flickr pool.

Review – Bombay Sapphire

Posted by Reese On September - 9 - 2008

For our gin tasting Bombay Sapphire served as our yard stick, so to speak.  More so, I think this holds true for a large portion of the population.  Sapphire is the most common top-shelf gin that you’ll find when ordering drinks at most restaurants and bars.  And so it follows that this gin be the one people are most familiar with.  It was certainly the case for me up until a couple years ago when I really started to enjoy gin over vodka and started expanding my horizons.  I started buying various gins to get an idea of what flavors they bring to the party.  My typical sampling drink was always the Gin and Tonic, which I assure you we will cover later on.  Sapphire works fairly well with a G&T although not currently my favorite.  Because of this fact it was hard to top Sapphire and it reigned king for me for quite some time.  It wasn’t until I branched out to other gin cocktails that it came clearer to me that Sapphire need not be king for life.

Without question Sapphire is a very good gin, but I think Sean summed it up nicely during out tasting.  The spirit is “too complex [and has a] muddled [flavor]”.  Sapphire uses ten botanicals in creating its spirit which seems to lead to a somewhat muddled flavor.  I think the key reason behind this is because no flavor is prime.  The result of this is a gin that can easily compete with vodka, which I think is no mistake on the part of Bacardi, Sapphire’s producer.  Vodka became the dominant spirit in the market in the mid-70’s.  In order to compete I think some gins have toned down their flavors.

But back to our comments from the tasting.  We felt that Sapphire had a nice creamy beggining but ended with quite a bit of burn.  Someone, who will remain nameless (ok, I forgot to include a name in my notes) felt there was a smell of bark.  The only realy complaint was that there was no forward flavor.  That said, Sapphire remains my gin of choice when ordering drinks out, at least at less well stocked bars.  If you haven’t tried many gin drinks, Sapphire is certainly a good place to start.  Its mellow flavor will ease you in to enjoying gin.

The Negroni

Posted by Reese On September - 7 - 2008

This week we’re going to highlight a cocktail and ingredient you may have never heard of.  Namely the Negroni and its bitter component Campari.  The Negroni was created in Florence, Italy in 1919 when Count Camillo Negroni asked to have Gin added to his Americano.  And, well, that’s about all the history I could find on the cocktail so, let’s get started with the drinking.

There are lots of recipe variants for this cocktail but we’re going to start our study with the classic.

1 oz Gin
1 oz Campari
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
1) Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice
2) Shake to chill
3) Strain into a cocktail glass

A Tearful Goodbye to the Whiskey Sour

Posted by Reese On September - 6 - 2008

I’ve spent this week experiencing the nuances of the Whiskey Sour and it is with more than a bit of reticence that we must move on.  This cocktail in its many forms is truly wonderful.  I’ve tried all manner of combinations this week and can really say I’ve enjoyed them all.

With and without egg white being the first.  Does the egg white add something? Most definitely.  It adds a silkiness to the mouth feel of this drink that is not attainable any other way.  Beyond that it adds uniqueness.  I assure you that if you serve a cocktail to a friend with this rich foam floating on top and explain its creation they will be awed.  Is the egg white required?  Absolutely not.  Although it adds a lot to the texture of the drink it doesn’t really do anything for the flavor.  So, give it a go both ways and decide what you like.  Although, as I mentioned earlier in the week older egg whites may give your cocktail some fridge funk flavor, so buy some fresh eggs for this.

My next big change was to switch up the base spirit.  I tried bourbon, rye, a bourbon/rye mixture, and even single malt scotch.  Which was the best?  Well…that’s not so easy.  They all have their strong points.  The bourbon gives the drink a sweet smoothness, the rye a spiciness and the scotch smokiness.  Not surprisingly what each lends to the cocktail is the strong points of the flavor profiles of each spirit.  So again I have to be vague in my suggestion.  Use the whiskey that you like best and you’ll be supremely happy with the results.

Finally the bitters, sugar and lemon.  Some of the recipes, most in fact, didn’t call for bitters at all.  I feel this is an error.  Bitters really bring out the flavor of whiskey, but you have to be careful, too much and they can smother those flavors just as easily.  My favorite recipe, which is below, uses Fee Brother’s Bitters and Regan’s Orange Bitters together.  I really like the spices that the Fee Brother’s Bitters offer more than Angostura in this application and I feel the Regan’s Orange Bitters play extremely well with the lemon juice.  The recipe we started the week with called for 1/2 ounce of rich syrup, or the equivalent of 1 ounce of simple syrup.  The resulting cocktail was too sweet for my tastes.  My final recipe reduces the sugar to 1/2 ounce of simple syrup.  Finally the lemon.  I didn’t change a thing.  This ratio to the base spirit I think is perfect.  The only thing I’ll emphasize here is to use the freshest lemon juice you can.  If you can’t or don’t want to fresh squeeze juice for every cocktail squeeze a bunch a the beginning of the week and keep it refrigerated.  It won’t be as good as supremely fresh squeezed juice but it will be a damn sight better than the stuff from concentrate.

So now I present to you my final Whiskey Sour recipe.  Do with it as you please and by all means, Hack It!

Cocktail Hacker Whiskey Sour:
2 oz Whiskey (Your Choice)
1 oz Lemon Juice
1/2 oz Simple Syrup
1/2 Fresh Egg White
1 Dash Fee Brother's Old Fashioned Bitters
2 Dashes Regan's Orange Bitters
1) Combine ingredients in a shaker without ice
2) Shake for 10-20 seconds to foam egg white
3) Add ice to shaker
4) Shake until thoroughly chilled
5) Strain in to an Old Fashioned Glass

Gin Tasting #1

Posted by Reese On September - 4 - 2008

Shortly after the launch of Cocktail Hacker Aaron and I hosted a Gin tasting and I’ve been much too lazy in getting the details posted.  So, here’s the start of the correction to that problem.

Both Aaron and I are huge Gin fans and my collection of the same has grown quite large, 19 bottles at current count.  That in mind we wanted to get our thoughts on each documented so we invited some friends over and chose six bottles to taste.  In attendance were Sean, Eric, Jeff, Aaron and I.  Now let me start this tale by saying that we all enjoy Gin, but none of us had ever done any sort of formal tasting.

The Gins we chose from left to right are: Jackelope, Plymouth, CapRock, Old Raj, Bafferts and Juniper Green.  My plan behind choosing these six was to select Gins that I guessed most of the tasters had never tasted before.  However, being a spirit tasting neophyte I had no idea in what order we should taste.  Sean had had some experience tasting wine and so I gave him the job of putting the Gins in tasting order.

After having sniffed each thoroughly Sean chose a “roller coaster” style of tasting in that the flavors (based on the scents alone) should go up and down throughout the course of the tasting.  This was the wrong plan we found out, but more on that later.  Once the order was decided Eric decided he first needed to sample some Bombay Sapphire.  The thinking being Sapphire is a Gin we’re all familiar with so it would serve as a good baseline for the rest of the tasting.  So there it began.  We ended up sampling all six (well seven, technically) Gins then retired for some sushi on Pearl Street.

I’ll be writing up our thoughts on each of the Gins over the next few weeks and I’m sure that the Cocktail Hacker tasting parties will continue so we’ll be sure to document those as well.  Hopefully in a more timely manner.

[NOTE] There are a lot more pictures from the tasting in the Cocktail Hacker Flickr Pool.  Which, now that I think about it, I’ve not mentioned here before.  Check it out, there are some nice images in there. [/NOTE]