Make Your Own: Beer Syrups

Posted: 21st January 2015 by Cocktail Alchemist in Make Your Own
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wpid-wp-1418933296883.jpegIf you’re not reading the Happy Hour Blog on Gizmodo you are missing out.  They have some great articles on process, history, gadgets and tastings.

Back in September they posted this article on how to make Beer Syrups and in particular Porter Syrup.  Having just finished a pretty major run of syrups articles I found the idea of using an already flavorful liquid base pretty ingenious.  Not being much of a beer drinker there weren’t a lot of beer cocktails that appealed to me so this made for an interesting way to lead into more adept beer handling.

It also helped that a good friend had left most of a six pack of of Aloha Pipeline Porter.  For those not aware this is a coffee infused porter with a lot of dark chocolate flavors.

The process on this is pretty simple but fraught with potential sinkholes.

First off the biggest issue is flavors.  Beer is going to pick up unwanted flavors like a black shirt picks up cat hair.  Using a ceramic, non-stick or glass pan is going to be your best bet here.  Avoid anything that has to be seasoned like a wok or cast iron.   The next issue is that a lot of the content of beer is very temperature sensitive, it will scorch easily and will turn from liquid to scorch mark in the blink of an eye.  You can char the syrup very easily without noticing and wind up with a bottle of liquid smoke in place of a delicate syrup.

Second is time.  This is a process where we are expecting to reduce out parent product down by almost 2/3.  If you try to rush things by cranking up the temperature you’re going to scotch the whole deal.  At the same time if you do this too slowly you’re going to be standing over your stove all night waiting for the water to finally steam out.

Thirdly, carbonation is going to make this want to boil at the drop of a hat.  It will start to foam up and try to sill over at least three times while you’re reducing.  Stir it frequently and well.

As the article says don’t add the sugar too soon or over reduce.  Both are going to cause problems.

1. In a flat bottom saucepan, over a medium-low heat place 8-22oz of your chosen beer.  It can be anything from an IPA to a stout.

2. Stirring occasionally allow the beer to reduce by 2/3rd.  If you reduce too much the syrup won’t dissolve properly and if you take it too far it will scorch.

3. Using a kitchen scale weigh the reduced beer to determine how much sugar you need.  Measure out an equal quantity of sugar (or honey, agave etc.)  Return reduction to saucepan and bring back up to heat, slowly add sugar and allow it to dissolve.

Allow to cool slightly and place in an air tight bottle.  Add 1-2 Tbsp of vodka if you want it to keep longer.


Make Your Own: Bitters

Posted: 14th January 2015 by Cocktail Alchemist in Tools
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wpid-fb_img_1410544375866.jpgOn July 24th 2014 I backed a kickstarter by Hella Bitters 

The thrust of the idea was to build a kit that gave the home kitchen all of the necessary items to make a simple cocktail bitters.

I have to say that when the kit arrived a few months later I was quite surprised with the quality of what I had purchased.

One basic kit contains a strainer, steel funnel, two infusion jars, 4 small dropper bottles and two spice blends to get you started.

The process is pretty simple.  With the kit you just dump the spice blend jar into the infuser, add your base spirit to fill it and wait about three weeks.  You put the jar in a dark temperature controlled place like the back of your pantry and take it out to shake it every other day or so.  You can age it longer or shorter depending on the spices involved and how much strength you want to impart on the finished product.


I read through the directions and, thinking that I knew better, did my first two infusions with everclear.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that once finished I would have to dilute the product at least 1:1 to bring it down to a usable strength and that the spice volumes in the kit were not prepared with this in mind.  My final product ended up a lot weaker than I expected and was ultimately a waste of good spices.  Now that I have learned from this mistake I will be using 80 proof vodka or rum for anything I do in the future.

Until you get the hang of things I would recommend small batches.  Say 4-6oz at a time is about right.  Having to eat your mistakes can be a very long and costly process.

I would recommend this kit to anyone who doesn’t want to do the work of making a kit themselves.  You can make do with mason jars and bottles from kitchen kaboodle but really the spice blends are the winner here.  The citrus blend and aromatic blend share some common traits.  Many bitters share some common base ingredients such as gentian or cassia bark, these aren’t flavoring compounds so much as base notes from which you build your flavors.

The blend I was most proud of was one I constructed myself.  It contains a fair bit of cacao nib, vanilla bean, allspice, cinnimon stick and a few other things.  I’m leaning towards a hot chocolate bitters in flavor and I think I got there.  The exception being I added a small corner of a star anise pod to the mix and it took over most of the more delicate flavors.

The kit that I purchased is currently going for $65 and is on back-order.  I hate to recommend a product that you can’t just buy but I would keep an eye on this and get an order in for when they do become available.

If you can’t wait for one you can assemble most of the hardware:

Stainless Steel Funnel  – $7
Small Strainer – $9
Dropper Bottles – $12
Infusion Jars  – $20

Total: $49 which leaves about $25 difference for buying bulk spices.



Egg Nogg Creme Anglaise

Posted: 7th January 2015 by Cocktail Alchemist in Recipe
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I made this recipe as part of my experimentation with the Eastside Distilling Holiday Liqueurs.  This one in particular comes from the Egg Nog Liqueur which is usually available through February depending on where you shop.
eggnog custard1 box white cake mix
3 eggs
1 cup Eastside Distilling’s Egg Nog liqueur
1/3 cup sugar

Prepare the cake as directed and allow to cool. Cut cake into 1″ cubes and set aside.  The white cake mix I used called for 3 egg whites which left me with three yolks left over, which is how this whole thing got started in the first place.  If your cake mix calls for whole eggs you might want to adjust accordingly.

If you can’t get Egg Nog Liqueur where you live you can substitute a standard store bought egg nog and 1.5 oz of white rum.

Take egg yolks left over from cake, in a small saucepan whisk egg yolks and sugar. Combine well. Then heat mixture over medium low heat. Slowly add egg nog, mixing and stirring constantly to avoid burning. When all elements have been combined simmer on low for 1-2 minutes. Do not allow to boil.

Allow mixture to cool slightly and thicken.

I’ve covered the whipped topping before HERE but will repeat for clarity.

Coconut Whipped Cream Topping:
1 can full fat coconut milk
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons Eastside Distilling holiday spice liqueur

Chill can of coconut milk overnight to allow water to settle. Scoop white cream out and leave water in the bottom. Should net about 9/10th of a can. In a medium bowl, whisk coconut cream, sugar and liqueur until the sugar is fully combined. Do not over whip.

The cream will not be very stiff but should hold some shape while chilled. Serve In a parfait or dessert cup place 5-6 cake cubes, cover with egg nog custard, top with coconut whipped cream, and then die of ecstasy.

2014-2015 Updates

Posted: 1st January 2015 by Cocktail Alchemist in Uncategorized

I already did my new years post but I thought I would take the time to update some posts from last year and before with new info, details and some add-ons.

In particular you might want to check out:

Tech: Liquor Search Engine

 Vesper Martini 

and Make Your Own: Limoncello

Calimocho: Best Bad Idea ever

Posted: 31st December 2014 by Cocktail Alchemist in Drink Review
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jota1Happy New Year!  If you’re reading this then you likely made it through another New Years celebration with nothing worse than a serious hangover.  Congrats.  Now the party is over, the drinks have been drunk and someone left you with two or three open bottles of wine that you can’t possibly drink before it sours in the fridge.

Worry not friends.  The Alchemist comes to your rescue with the following solution.

WineCoke anyone?

In Spain the Calimocho is the kind of drink that young Spaniards will order to start off an evening.  A large glass will arrive with several straws making for a punch bowl like concoction.

Your Basic Calimocho is equal parts Wine (generally red) and Cola with a squeeze of lemon juice.  If you want to be pinky-high fancy you can use full sugar Mexican Coke rather than the american corn syrup variety.

As this is a cocktail blog and wine is generally not in my wheelhouse I will endeavor to spice things up a bit with some variation.

In a large wine glass combine in order:

Ice Cubes
0.5 oz Orange Curacao
0.5 oz Cherry Bomb Whiskey
2 oz Red Wine
4 oz Coca-cola

Garnish with orange peel and Amarena cherry.

Peppermint Bark Pudding Shots

Posted: 24th December 2014 by Cocktail Alchemist in Recipe
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All Bark no bite!

pepperbark1 cup milk
1 cup Eastside Distilling peppermint bark liqueur
1 4 serving package chocolate pudding mix (instant)
1 8oz container of cool whip
1 candy cane (Peppermint if you dare)

In a large bowl whisk pudding mix, milk and liqueur until blended.
Fold in cool whip.
Pour into shot glasses or plastic serving cups, chill.
Place candy cane in a zip top bag, smack with hammer, yule log or bang on counter to startle reindeer.  Sprinkle pieces on top of shots.

Makes ~15 servings.

Holiday Spice Coconut Whipped Cream

Posted: 21st December 2014 by Cocktail Alchemist in Recipe
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coconut whippedWhen my girlfriend went vegan several months ago it became a challenge to make some of our everyday things.   Other more unusual things have often taken their places.  For instance I have found several recipes for strawberry shortcake that are entirely vegan right down to the whipped cream.  This is the version I have been using currently.  I thank my father for inspiration, he used to whip cherry brandy into his thanksgiving deserts and it inspired me to crack open my holiday spice liqueur and give this a try.

1 can full fat coconut milk
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons Eastside Distilling holiday spice liqueur

Chill can of coconut milk overnight to allow water to settle. Scoop white cream out and leave water in the bottom. Should net about 9/10th of a can. In a medium bowl, whisk coconut cream, sugar and liqueur until the sugar is fully combined. Do not over whip.

The cream will not be very stiff but should hold some shape while chilled.

Works well over macerated fruit, cake, ice cream, pie or as an additive to coffee and hot chocolate.

Kickstarter: The Drinking Jacket by Zane Lamprey

Posted: 19th December 2014 by Cocktail Alchemist in Uncategorized

The Drinking Jacket

One of my personal drinking heroes is Zane Lamprey.  He somehow got a major network like Spike to pay for him to travel the world drinking and exploring drinking culture with a stuffed monkey.  For those not familiar he’s the star of the show Three Sheets which aired on either Spike or the travel channel briefly a few years ago.  More recently he ran a successful kickstarter to fund a drinking series “Chug” which I have not had a chance to watch but dearly want to.

His current project is a jacket built for the drinker, starring everything from a beer koozie pocket to a bottle opener zipper pull.

The jacket is $85 normally but looks to be pretty well built with many fine features even if you don’t need it for a night of heavy drinking.

The campaign has only about 72 hours left on it so I encourage you to decide quickly before you have to pay retail for it.

Stocking Your Bar Part 2: Basics

Posted: 17th December 2014 by Cocktail Alchemist in Feature
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wpid-received_817805461613150.jpegFor my previous ramblings on how to stock your bar check HERE.

A long running argument among my friends is what actually constitutes a cocktail.  The line has been fairly drawn by me at three ingredients and by at least one of my more vocal companions at two.  Under his rule the rum & coke would qualify as a cocktail but under mine the screwdriver would not.  The bar has not been solidified but is constantly in flux.  What remains is that when you boil most cocktails down they are a mixture of a high proof spirit, some lower proof liquor or liqueur and a syrup, juice or soda.

This means that after you have found your base spirit the next portion of the process is finding your mixers.  Because the liqueur section is slightly more difficult and sometimes unnecessary (re: screwdriver, rum and coke, Jack and Ginger) the form of your basic fillers becomes a more important portion of keeping a well stocked bar.



To start with I want to tackle sodas.  The single most vile and beautiful thing that you can add to your drink is in the form of sugar and carbonated water.  Just like with a base spirit the end result all depends on quality and what you’re willing to put into making your drink.  For the most simple drinks a mini-fridge full of small cans of major label sodas is more than enough.  The smaller size means that you can make one or two drinks without having to worry that an entire 2 liter bottle is going to go to waste before you can get to the rest of it.

If you want to upgrade a step from there, the number of premium bottled sodas has exploded in recent years with everything from Reeds premium ginger beer to high quality organic tonic waters like Q Tonic.  Keeping a six pack or two on hand is easy and fun.

On a half step laterally is the soda stream fountain.  I was given one of these as a gift and can say with authority that it pays for itself in fridge space and flexibility.  The reason this is a half step is that many of the syrups available are made with basic low cost ingredients and not more flavorful premium items.   If you own a soda stream you can take the next step by having the ability to make your own sodas from syrup concentrates which obviates the problems inherent in the store bought syrups.  This also allows you to make things that are not as common in store bought syrups such as porter syrup, Ginger Syrup and Tonic Syrup.


A syrup is generally a high sugar liquid.  The sugar content can come from anything be it honey, agave nectar, or fructose from fruit juice.  These are generally non-alcoholic and are added like a concentrate in small amounts.  Some well known ones include Grenadine (pomegranate syrup), chocolate syrup, Orzha (Almond Syrup), and Simple Syrup which is just sugar water.  Syrups are painfully easy to buy.  Torrani has made a line of both full sugar and sugar free syrups for years with a flavor line that runs into the dozens.  A quick trip to Cash and Carry shows 2-3 other semi-generic brands with similar offerings.

Syrups are also hellishly simple to make, with the verity of sweeteners available in bulk you could quite easily make a dragonfruit and saffron syrup with an agave nectar base if your tastes ran that direction.  With a minor addition of an ounce or two of vodka the syrups will keep in the fridge for weeks.


Fruit juices are one of *the* most common additives to cocktails.  Starting with Lemon and lime juices and following onward to orange, pineapple, grapefruit and from there to non-citrus juices like apple or cranberry.  Much like the sodas there are ample retail options for many of these juices, but fresh juices are often best where possible and so having limes or lemons to squeeze yourself is great.  Oranges are a bit more difficult as the juices can be bitter without any outward sign, this is why it is best to get oranges in season and to test them before you run an entire pitcher of juice.

Having a selection of fresh juices on hand is key to flavorful cocktails.

Gracious Thanks to Diana C. for the bar photo at the head of this post.

Adventures in Marketing Copy

Posted: 10th December 2014 by Cocktail Alchemist in Around the Web
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questionbottleThere are times where you will be wandering the aisle at the liquor store, surfing a distillery online or even just checking out the back of a bottle to see what the deal is with this spirit.  When you see a small block of text on the shelf it’s called a Talker and generally praises the quality and purity of the spirit.

For Example: (I found this one on

“This Vodka is produced from white winter wheat sourced directly from local farmers in the Western Rockies of Canada. After distillation, the spirit was shipped to the Distillery in California where it was cut down to proof with pristine water from a well in Mendocino County. Light bodied with a silky mouth feel, the Vodka is perfect for mixing, with subtle notes of grain, mineral and spice.”

Translation: We bought a tote of 190 proof vodka from our distributor and then cut it down to bottle proof with filtered tap water.  It tastes like wheat vodka.

This kind of thing happens all the time in distilling.  Lots of producers buy their base product from elsewhere or use someone else’s still to get the job done.  It’s not a sin, it’s just how the business operates when you can’t get the approval for a bigger still from the government or your current still can’t produce enough to fill your demand.   I know of a number of companies that hardly own any equipment at all.  Imbue Vermouth for example does not own a still, a vineyard, or a bottling plant but still manages to make a very compelling product that requires both wine, brandy and a significant amount of herbal infusion.

It’s not a big deal when someone does it, it’s when they feel the need to use a lot of adspeak to cover their process that things start to get murky for me.  This could have been their marketing guy, the ad man at or anyone in between, but someone thought enough of their process to polish it a bit and put it out there like they were cutting the wheat by hand.