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Archive for May, 2009

Vesper – Mmmm…Tasty?

Posted by Reese On May - 16 - 2009

Bond is doubtless a man who likes a strong cocktail.  In the case of the Vesper I really have to call his judgement in to question though.  The first note I have about this cocktail in my notebook is that the gin completely overwhelms the Lillet.  Interestingly in my later internet browsings I found that David Wondrich has similar feelings.  In my later mixes of this drink I upped the Lillet to 1/2 oz (1 part in my case) which helped a great deal.

Vesper

As for preparation I found that, like Doug of the Pegu Blog, I prefer this drink shaken.  Now, before you take away my cocktail snob membership card, remember that the most important point in cocktail making is creating the drink that you prefer.  Yes, the resulting cocktail is a little cloudy, no I don’t think the gin gets bruised, and yes it is delightfully cold when you’re done.  For me that’s the perfect combination.

There were two more small hurdles to get over with this drink, both of which stem from the same problem.  Whether we like it or not, in some cases ingredients change over time.  In the case of the Vesper both the gin and the Lillet have changed since the cocktail was first introduced.  Let’s talk gin first.  Gordon’s gin, which Bond calls out by name, used to be 100 proof.  It’s now 80.  This was a fairly simple problem to fix.  I took Gary Regan’s advice and subbed in Tanqueray which comes in at a heart 94.6 proof.

The Lillet was a bit tougher to match.  You may remember that I had similar issues when I was sampling the Corpse Reviver #2.  This time I decided I’d try a technique I saw mentioned on the web (sorry can’t seem to remember where).  I mixed up the standard Vesper (1 1/2 : 1/2 : 1/4) and added 1/8 tsp of cinchona powder to the mix.  The thought being that the cinchona powder would add some bitterness as it is a natural source of quinine.  The result was a lightly red cocktail with tiny bark flecks floating in it.  The additional bitterness didn’t really come through as I had hoped though.  I think this is due largely in part to the fact that the cinchona didn’t have sufficient time to steep in the drink before I started consuming.  Were I to go this route again I’d allow the gin, vodka and Lillet about 3 minutes soak with the cinchona powder before shaking.

So, after that experiment fizzled I opted for the same solution that I used with the Corpse Reviver #2 and added some bitters.  I started with 2 dashes of lemon bitters, but I found that the bitters flavor overpowered the rest and it almost became over-lemony when I added the twist.  So, I mixed up another with orange bitters (1 dash).  That did it for me.  You got a little touch of bitterness and the orange flavor worked well with the citrus notes of the Lillet.

What’s the end result of all this experimenting and subsequent rambling?  I’ve created a Vesper that, although not exactly as Mr. Bond would order it, is a cocktail that I would willingly drink.

Vesper

Vesper (Cocktail Hacker)
1 1/2 oz Gin
1/2 oz Vodka
1/2 oz Lillet
1-2 Dashes Orange Bitters
Lemon Twist for Garnish
1) Combine gin, vodka, Lillet and bitters in a shaker
2) Add ice and shake until very cold
3) Strain into a chilled cocktail glass
4) Garnish with a lemon twist

Shaken or Stirred?

Posted by Reese On May - 13 - 2009

We all know the iconic phrase uttered by Bond each time he orders his, now traditional, Vodka Martini.  Some of us even have friends who have ordered the drink using the phrase (yes, there was laughing, at said friend).  You see Bond always wants his cocktail “shaken, not stirred”.  But why?  This request goes against all things right and proper in the cocktail chilling world.  One never shakes a cocktail made completely with clear spirits.  Again, I must ask why.

Shaken and Stirred

Shaken (left) and Stirred (right)

I’ve heard a few answers.  First, shaking introduces much more ice crystals to the drink which do two things.  One, they cloud the drink (which is readily apparent in the image above) and two, they dilute the drink (which is also noticeable).  Second, shaking chills the drink far more than stirring, more about that in a bit.  Third, and I’d say most interesting, shaking introduces more ice (and thus more water) and therefore fundamentally changes the cocktail.  Cocktail recipes are usually tuned for the technique when they’re developed.  A clear drink, such as the Martini is developed with the knowledge that it will be stirred and as such the ingredients are added in sufficient quantities to balance this.

I decided to put these to the test.  My method was as follows:

  • Equal Quantities (3 oz Gin, 3 Ice Cubes)
  • Same Hardware (Shaker Tin)
  • Same Time (30 seconds)

The results really amazed me.  First the temperatures.  30 seconds of shaking produced 26F gin where 30 seconds of stirring only produced 46F.  20 degrees is a huge difference, not just in the flavor of the cocktail but also in how long it will remain pleasantly cool while sipping.  Second was the clouding.  Not much I can say here.  It’s quite clear (pun fully intended) from the picture how much additional ice and air was introduced by the shaking process.  Finally, the additional volume really floored me.  The shaken cocktail appears to have gained as much as 1 oz of water and air.  I can’t say for certain how much of each is present, but I’d guess nearly 50% is air.

Baffled by the not-so-low temp of the stirred cocktail I executed one final test, stirring for 60 seconds.  This brought the gin down to 32F which is in the same range as the shaken cocktail, but it still remained crystal clear.  However, it did melt more ice and therefore increased in volume more than the 30 second stir.  I’d say about on par with the shake.

So, some interesting findings from this one.  It seems to me that one should certainly stick with the general rule of stirring drinks composed exclusively of clear spirits.  If for no other reason than the visual appeal of the final product.  While shaking for 30 seconds produced a much colder cocktail I think going forward I’ll be making sure to stir my drinks for at least 60 seconds to get them down to temperature and to melt some additional ice.  Water, although not explicitely stated, is a key ingredient in all cocktail recipes, you know.  One final note.  Shaking a metal shaker tin will bring your hand to a new level of cold.  In my case actually slightly freezing it to the tin.  I have a much deeper level of respect for those who shake tins all night long.  I know not how you deal, but I am awed.

Vesper

Posted by Reese On May - 11 - 2009

I finally got around to watching Quantum of Solace last night and there’s a scene where Bond is sipping a cocktail (his sixth) consisting of gin, vodka, Kina Lillet and a lemon twist.  Now, I won’t get all ranty about the fact that he was sipping said cocktail in a private jet with bar that happened to have exactly what he needed or that Kina Lillet is no longer available.  Nor will I gleefully ramble about the fact that Bond is finally drinking cocktails other than Vodka Martinis.  No, I’m turning to this scene for inspiration.

The drink Bond was quaffing was a Vesper, which he created and named after his love interest, Vesper Lynd, who we were introduced to in Casino Royale.  Being a fan of Lillet this drink sounded like a perfect one to explore this week.  The recipe for the Vesper Bond explains both in the book and movie Casino Royale:

“A dry martini,” [Bond] said. “One. In a deep champagne goblet.”

“Oui, monsieur.”

“Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?”

“Certainly, monsieur.” The barman seemed pleased with the idea.

“Gosh, that’s certainly a drink,” said Leiter.

Bond laughed. “When I’m…er…concentrating,” he explained, “I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink’s my own invention. I’m going to patent it when I can think of a good name.”

- James Bond (Ian Fleming), Casino Royale – Tip o’ the hat to Wikipedia for that one

While there is a bit of discussion of the Wikipedia page about the recipe calling for measures, which the page’s author insists must mean a jigger (1 1/2 oz), I don’t think this is necessarily true.  Nor is it crucial to making this drink.  Like most drinks you can use whatever you damn well please for your measure.  I’ll be using 1/2 oz as it makes for a more manageable cocktail.

Vesper (Original Recipe)
1 1/2 oz Gin
1/2 oz Vodka
1/4 oz Lillet Blonde
Lemon Twist for Garnish
1) Shake (shudder) until very cold
2) Strain into a chilled cocktail glass

Dark and Stormy – Crisp and Cooling

Posted by Reese On May - 9 - 2009

Wow, what a difference an ingredient can make.  I came in to this cocktail, as I did with the Pimm’s Cup, thinking that ginger ale could be substituted for ginger beer with no ill effect.  Absolutely not the case.  While you can make a good Dark and Stormy with ginger ale you definitely can’t make a great one.  The flavors of the two beverages are simply much too different.

Dark and Stormy

Ginger ale on the one hand is sweet, not particularly tart and mildly gingery.  When you mix this with dark rum, such as Gosling’s Black Seal, you end up with a cocktail that is quite sweet, has little ginger flavor and no sourness.  You can perk things up a bit by squeezing two or three lime wedges into the drink for some added sour.  Now, on the other hand, ginger beer is less sweet, has a higher citrus tang and is very gingery.  This flavor profile allows the ginger beer to compliment the deep, sweet rum as opposed to get smothered by it.

You’ve probably gathered from my fanboyesque gushing that round two of the homemade ginger beer turned out fantastic.  There is very little noticable difference in flavor between the force carbonated and yeast carbonated versions, with the possible exception that the yeast version was a touch less sweet.  Although, since I had already consumed all of the first batch I wasn’t able to taste side by side to confirm.

The toughest part of the process is juicing the ginger.  I lucked out and was able to borrow my mom’s juicer and the process still took about 20 minutes.  If you don’t have access to a juicer I did find that grating the ginger on a microplane grater and then straining the pulp through a fine strainer also worked very well.  As with the other homemade ingredients my second favorite feature (the taste being the obvious first) is the ability to customize the product to suit your tastes.  More ginger, less lemon, more sugar, the sky is truly the limit.

Dark and Stormy

Ok, enough about ginger beer, what about the cocktail?  Truly sublime.  This drink is refreshing and summery without being overly sweet and heavy.  I could easily see myself sipping these on a lazy afternoon reading a book in the sun.  I found that I liked mine with a bit more ginger beer, about 4 oz.  This is a bit of a double edged sword however.  It makes the drink lighter and less intensely rum focused.  Which is nice because it allows you to enjoy the ginger beer flavor.  However, it also makes this drink even more gulpable.  You suddenly find that what was once a full cocktail glass has inexplicably become empty in a matter of moments.  Finally, the lime wedge garnish is nice for those who would like to up the sour ratio, but I didn’t find myself needing it except in the drinks where I used ginger ale.

The Dark and Stormy is one of those drinks that on first glance can seem a bit boring but once you start sipping you’ll be changed forever.  You really shouldn’t let summer pass by without giving one a go.  Keep your eyes open for ginger beer or do as I did and make your own.  You won’t be disappointed with either option.

Homemade Ginger Beer

Posted by Reese On May - 6 - 2009

So, I’m having a bit of trouble finding ginger beer around here.  Andy suggested Regatta which is available from Kegworks.com for those of us not lucky enough to not have it available in our area.  I’m certain Regatta is quite tasty but I couldn’t bring myself to spend $40 for 12, at least not right now.  Alan also had a good suggestion, namely Goya’s ginger beer.  Sadly, also not readily available around here.  I’ve checked the markets around here, including all the awesome hippy markets and nada.  So there was only one alternative left.  Make my own.

I went searching on the intertubes for a good recipe and stumbled on a couple.  One of the  “traditional” recipes called for creating the ginger beer mixture and allowing it to sit out for up to a month with the idea that the mixture will spontaneously ferment as a result of the naturally occurring yeast in our environment.  While I have some doubts about whether this is the way ginger beer is created traditionally at this time there is certainly the possibility that this was once done.  Slight problem that I ran in to with this plan, though.  I’m a huge fan of immediate gratification.  So, I kept searching.

Next I found Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s recipe, which is an interesting occurence unto itself as his recipe appears higher in the google search results than the Chow.com recipe, but that story can wait.  Jeffrey offers two options.  Option one, you can mix up his ginger beer recipe and pass it through a iSi Soda Syphon to carbonate.  Option two, you mix up the same recipe, add a very tiny bit of champagne yeast to each bottle and let it ferment for a couple days.  This fermentation creates natural carbonation.

I’ll reference you back to comment about immediate gratification so we’re on the same page for this next anecdote.  I figured the solution was very simple.  I own a Soda Stream carbonator, I’d simply mix up the ginger beer per the recipe and carbonate as I have hundreds of bottles of water in the past.  Now, the Soda Stream manual clearly states that only pure clean water should ever be carbonated with the machine.  But what do they know, right?  More than I do it’s now clear.  After a half dozen presses of the button the mixture was carbonated and it was time to remove the bottle.

Herein lay the problem.  Plain water in a seamless plastic bottle has very few nucleation points.  Therefore most of the CO2 remains in suspension when the bottle is unscrewed.  Ginger beer on the other hand has all manner of tiny floaty bits that act as perfect nucleation points.  Thus, as soon as I unscrewed the bottle it overflowed filling the unit with sticky ginger beer residue.  Good news though.  I rescued the bottle of ginger beer and it was fantastic.  I was also able to completely clean my carbonator and it’s back in perfect working condition.

Ginger Beer

However, seeing as that option isn’t exactly a repeatable experiment I opted for the yeast fermented recipe for my next batch.  They’re currently residing in my guest bathroom shower in the event that they uncerimoniously explode during the next 48 hours of carbonation.  Check in Saturday for an update on how these turned out.