Get it? It’s like that Chris Rock joke about syrup. I can’t really remember the joke, but that’s the payoff. So… yeah. The important thing here is that I point out this is the syrup post. This is going to be filed under “Boozing Basics” and “Techniques.” We’re first going to talk about the pluses and minuses of a few types of syrup, and then how you can make them.
A basic simple syrup is made with white sugar… I use Domino. The shit’s clear, sweet, and cheap. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. This is a must for your bar, if not any others. And don’t go buying a bottle of it from the store either – that’s the coward’s way.
Most of your trendier bars will be using a syrup called “Demerara” which is just a fancy name for cane sugar. You can buy “Sugar In the Raw” by the box at the grocery store, or you can find pure unbleached cane sugar at most Mexican grocers for a bit cheaper – (This 4lb bag is Zilka cost 2.99, as opposed to a 2 lb. box of Sugar in the Raw for $4.79). Here’s the deal with this shit, it tastes better than a simple syrup… more caramelly, and seems to bring out the natural flavors of the liquor a bit better. The downside is that it colors the drink a bit. Not a problem if your base is a brown spirit or there are dark ingredients, but try using this shit in a Ramos gin fizz and end up with something that looks likes frothy poop. Just try it!
Blue Agave Syrup
My wife buys this stuff at Trader Joe’s. It’s a few bucks for a small bottle, but it’s really sweet for the volume. That means you don’t have to use very much to get the desired sweetness – which isn’t always a good thing. I pretty much only use this in my Margaritas and Daquiris tho, for some reason that has something to do with the agave plant being Mexican. But I don’t really have a better reason than that.
So, by now you’ve probably deduced that I like to use a particular syrup for the drink I am making. I think you should have all three of these in your bar, and a bottle is going to last you a long time.
I make my syrups at a ratio of 1:1. That means 1 part water to 1 part sugar. There seems to be some trend in the industry about making syrups that have almost no water… I personally am not into this. I made a syrup with 4 parts sugar to 1 part water, and it turned out with the consistency of molasses, way too sweet, and crystallized massively in under a week. Not so kick ass. Moving on..
In a saucepan, add 1 part water. Bring it up to a boil. Add your desired sugar, and reduce heat to a simmer. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat, and allow to cool. Bottle. Incidentally, I usually use a cup of sugar to a cup of water, which yields a little over a cup of syrup.
The Bottling & Preserving
I bottle my syrups in old booze bottles, which I wash out with hot water and a bit of bleach. It’s important to make sure the bottle is clean and dry before you put the syrup in, otherwise it will mold, which is fucked up. You’re also going to want to add an ounce or two of liquor, to act as a preservative. I usually use Cognac or rum. The higher the proof the better.
So, give it a try… it’s easy as heck, and cheap as all get out.
No sexy pics here, I just want to post about the various crap I’m working on.
Root Beer Bitters
375 ml 151* rum
1 tsp. Root Beer Extract
1/4 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1 tsp. Gentian
I started this one today, so I’m going to give it about ten days. It’s a pretty heavy amount of gentian, so I’ll be checking it frequently.
Update (11/15/09): Added 2 oz. Spice Tincture to this… not quite bitter enough, but definitely getting there. Adding 1/4 cup caramelized sugar and 100 ml water should get the flavor about perfect.
Toasted Walnut Bitters
375 ml Toasted Walnut 107* Weller Bourbon (Fat Washed)
1 tsp. Calmus
I did the fat wash on this one last week, added the calmus today. My problem in the past is getting pronounced enough walnut flavor. My previous attempts pretty much disappeared when used in anything other than an old fashioned. If it gets to the right bitterness but still doesn’t have the flavor, I’ll do another fat wash I guess. I could just add some walnuts while I’m waiting, but they really absorb a lot of the booze. Dunno.
Lemon Grass & Black Peppercorn Bitters
375 ml 151* Rum
6 oz. Lemon Grass
20 Black Peppercorns
2 oz. Citric Tincture
1/2 tsp. Gentian
This one has been macerating for a few weeks. I added the gentian and citric tincture on the 1st of November. Another week should give me the bitterness I need. At that point I’ll cook the solids, add caramelized sugar and a bit of water, add back to the rum and allow the mix to sit for a few days before I separate it out.
Update (11/15/09): Separated the liquid from the solids today. Simmered the solids for about 10 mins over medium high heat until slightly toasted and very fragrant. Added 100ml water to deglaze. Caramelized 1/4 cup sugar, added to solids, stirred until caramel dissolved. Added back to liquid, and into the fridge for a few days. It’s pretty friggin good, let me tell you.
375 ml. 151* Rum
1 tsp. Lapsang Suchong black tea
1 tsp. Calmus
Made today. My concern is the tea will macerate much quicker than the wormwood, but that may be a good thing. This may be used as a smoke tincture – an additive for other bitters. Not sure, just something I’ve been thinking about.
Update (11/15/09): This has taken on a really earthy note. Not very good. Not sure if it’s the calmus or the tea.
Strawberry-Rhubarb Potable Bitter
Lots of stuff in this one. Should be done in a few days. I’ve got most of a post written about it already.
Definite success. Once I get my new camera I’ll do a post about this. It was a pain the diznick, but worth it. Just wish I made more.
Again, this post is mainly for me to keep a record of what I’m doing and how I did it, so I don’t lose shit. Also, whilst at Merchant’s in Dearborn I scored a bottle of 2009 release Thomas Handy Sazerac. It’s 129 proof. Word the fuck up.
Okay, I’ve been fucking around with this post for two months, and I keep changing it, so I’m just gonna put this part up to begin with. The reality is, bitters are like Unicorns, obviously they exist, but they’re really difficult to stab in the chest. And, what’s more, irregardlessly, since I pretty much exist on the plane of “making bitters” as the Buddhists say, this post can never really be “done” in the done sense. And, while I’m not actually sure if Buddhists say that, I am getting pretty drunk. So fucks it.
Jamie Boudreau has an excellent post I’ve used to develop the following outline for a bottomless bottle of bitters. The general idea is to make a few different infusions and mix them together for the desired flavor.
Bitter Mixture. The bitter mixture is going to give the final product it’s bitter taste (duh). It should consist of a high proof liquor (I’ve used 100* rye and 151* rum) along with the bittering agent. I have found ½ tbsp each of gentian, calmus and wormwood is sufficient to achieve an extremely bitter mixture (There also doesn’t seem to be too much difference between the bittering agents in terms of flavor – if you’ve only got wormwood, don’t sweat it – but only use 1 tbsp. per 750 ml bottle, as wormwood is the most bitter). Also, if you use too much bittering agent or let it sit for too long, it starts to get a dirty taste that becomes tough to mask. (This happened to my first batch, and I was able to make my Bird’s Eye bitters with it, but not much else). A week of macerating should do the trick – after that strain out the bitters and keep the mixture in a sealed bottle.
Flavoring Mixture. This mixture is going to be where the main flavor of the final product comes from. I’ve found it best to get as overwhelmingly powerful of a flavor as possible in this mixture so the bitters don’t get lost in the drink. My lemongrass bitters consisted of ¼ lb. of ground lemongrass and black pepper which was macerated in 350 ml of 151* rum for about ten days, while the butter bitters achieved it’s flavor by fat washing two sticks in 350 ml of 107* bourbon for a day and a half. (It seems that just about any ingredient with fats or oils can be used in a fat wash which his nice and quick, but if you’re using something drier it’s gonna take some patience. For me the hardest part is NOT drinking the infused liquor before it’s ready.)
Secondary Flavoring Mixture (optional). This mixture will be the supporting player in the end product. (If you’re going for a two flavored bitter such as pistachio-vanilla, you’ll want this to be just as powerful as the primary flavoring mixture and mix them in equal ratios.) My secondary is a “spice mixture” which contains a vanilla bean, a few cracked cinnamon sticks, a whole nutmeg, a few whole cloves and a half a dozen whole star anise, all of which is macerated in a bottle of 100* bourbon. This mixture adds an extra bit of spice and excitement to most of the bitters I make. Since the final product only uses a bit of this (usually 10% – 20%), I just fill the original jar with bourbon as I use it and throw in a bit more spice if it’s needed. It’s pretty good on it’s own too.
Citric Flavoring Mixture (optional). This mixture will brighten up the end product quite a bit, but it’s not for every mixture. Much like the spice mixture, I keep about ¼ lb. of Seville orange peel macerating in Everclear 151* and add a bit to my bitters when they’re needed. This flavor works especially well in some of the lighter more fragrant bitters.
Make sure to shake each jar once or twice a day while you are infusing. This is important to expedite the flavor infusion into the liquor. The ratio of mixture depends on the final tastes of each mixture. I find it’s usually at least 50% primary flavoring and no more than 25% bitters, but your palette is going to be the final judge. Once the mixture is ready, I usually add a bit of simple syrup to sweeten the deal. Some recipes call for water, but I’ve never needed to add any. As I said, I like my bitters strong.
The moral of the story is if you make a 750 ml bottle of bitter mix and a 750 ml bottle of the secondary mix, you’ll essentially have an unlimited source of bitters, and all you’ll need to do is make the primary flavoring compound. Your primary flavoring can be made by the cup if you want, and you’ll still have more than enough for personal use.
Go forth and spread the bitters.
If you’ve read through a couple of these posts, you can see sometimes the drink should be shaken, and sometimes it should be stirred. And on occasion it can actually be built right in the glass. So here are a few general rules when asking yourself, “shaken or stirred:”
If the drink contains citrus juice, cream or eggs it should be shaken
If the drink contains a transparent liquor it should be stirred
If the drink will be served over ice it can usually be built in the glass
When liquor is shaken with ice it becomes cloudy. I’m not sure why this is… I think it’s got something to do with magic or perhaps tiny, tiny robots. This is a phenomenon that is often referred to by some people sitting on this couch as “bruising the booze.” So when making a nice Manhattan, which you want to remain clear, you stir. When making a Sidecar which contains lemon juice, the liquor will already be clouded, so you shake. A Mint Julep, a particularly lovely cocktail on a hot summer day, calls for whiskey, sugar and mint to be muddled in the bottom of a julep cup, with crushed ice added directly to the cup and served like that.
When shaking a cocktail, use cracked ice, which is large chunks of broken ice with smaller chips. The uneven sizes and jagged edges of the ice help to emulsify the ingredients, which is especially helpful when making a drink like a Ramos Gin Fizz which contains cream, egg, lemon and lime juices. To make cracked ice I take the largest cubes I can find, put them in a plastic bag, and smack them on the counter a few times. If you’ve got an ice maker on your refrigerator, do the same thing with the whole ice cubes.
When stirring a cocktail, use large ice cubes, which melt slower and don’t dilute the drink as much. Grab a large bar glass (pint glass), pour in your liquors, insert 3 or 4 cubes, and stir rapidly with a long bar spoon (or chop stick). Stir round and round (as opposed to up and down), spinning the ice cubes but disrupting them as little as possible to insure the cubes don’t break up and shittify your drink. It’s also said that sloshing the drink around with a spoon is considered “unbartenderly.”
I’ll get further into ice, and it’s various forms and uses in an upcoming post, which is tentatively named “the Ice Post.” (I’m open to suggestions.)