Cocktail Hacker

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Halloween Hack #3: Color

Posted by Reese on 2008-10-31 @ 10:31pm

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
[Ingredients]
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
[Directions]
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.