Ice, Ice Baby

One of the more overlooked aspects of drinking is the part that doesn’t always go into the glass.  Making cocktails is like being a chef, and you are cooking with the chill of ice over alcohol.  The cooling effect combined with shaking or stirring has an impact on solution, flavor, mixture and temperature of your output.  Using the right kind of ice for the occasion is as important as the quality of your liquor.  Ice is big business now, some of the more popular bars and lounges are doing artisanal ice or hand carving cubes and spheres out of solid blocks.

For starters let us talk about water.  Before there is ice, there is water.  Your ice has to come from somewhere, and chances are that is the tap.  Even your built in fridge ice machine is using a line of tap water.  Some of the more modern machines will filter the water before it goes into the ice but not all of them do.  If you’re like me, and living in a city where the tap water is fantastic, congratulations.  Not everyone is so lucky.  I’ve been in places where the water was so full of minerals you could run some over your car to fill in scratches.  In places like that, chances are you’re buying ice.  The downside there is that you don’t know where the ice was coming from and you’re likely getting a slightly filtered product of tap water in a plastic bag.

Fans of dirty dining, kitchen nightmares or restaurant impossible know that ice machines in many of the places out there have not been cleaned in a good long while which can lead to all kinds of stuff growing on the cooling elements.  I don’t want to give anyone a complex about it, but it’s gross.

However you get your ice the next thing you want to talk about is surface area.

The size of the cube and shape contribute to the cubes melting speed and dilution.

Round, hollow ice is possibly one of the worst type for cocktails.  This is the sort you often find in bag ice.  The cubes are weak, have a maximum amount of surface area both inside and out and are often small.  This means they’ll break in the shaker, or will already be broken and will melt quickly giving you a watery drink.

In professional restaurants you may also find flake ice or pebble ice.  This is the kind of tiny, chewable ice that they favor for soft drinks as you can get them through a straw or bite them and not have a problem.  These too are awful for most cocktails, but in some cases where a drink calls for cracked ice they can be a blessing.  You’re unlikely to get this kind of ice at home unless your ice maker has a special setting for crushed ice.  What causes these to be undesirable is that unless they’ve come straight from the freezer this kind of ice will carry a lot of water on the surface which will dilute the drink you’re making almost as soon as you start shaking or stirring.

What you want in a cocktail shaker are solid, round cubes with no corners to break off that will stand up to a bit of shaking.  Barring that, square or rectangular ice is perfect for the home drinker.  If you can get your ice from the freezer immediately it will cut down on the surface water which dilutes your drinks more than the shaking or stirring.

If you have to use ice that has been out for a while take bigger cubes and crack them with the back of a spoon.  Cracked ice has more surface area but the inside portions won’t have any surface water.  Don’t use a lot of it as once you start shaking that dilution kicks back in but it can keep things on an even keel over a long party with warm ice.

I’ve tried to use silicon trays for ice a number of times but they tray always seems to impart some kind of flavor into the ice.  It’s not always noticeable but the last thing you want when mixing a delicate cocktail is to dump some chemical smell all over it because you used fancy ice.

 

Welcome the Beer Snob

I’m not a beer drinker, I have no head for the stuff.  It doesn’t have the same kind of allure that I get from the process and taste of a good cocktail.  But I would be remiss dear readers if I did not at least attempt to explore this wondrous land for you so I have enlisted the talents of my good friends who will be taking over posting for the beer lovers out there with reviews, tastings and such like.

Here is his intro:

 

It’s warm and hot lately, with not a drop of rain in sight. I think it’s safe to call it summertime in Portland and summertime and in PDX summertime means beer and beer fests!

 Portland’s beer week kicks on June 6 – 16th – http://www.pdxbeerweek.com
Then in July it’s the International beer fest in the Pearl 19th – 21st.  – http://www.portland-beerfest.com/
And finally topped off with the mother of all PDX beer events, the Oregon Brewers Festival – http://www.oregonbrewfest.com – which is always held the last full weekend in July. Best believe I will have my glass out and ready for both events.
I’ve been tapped to start using some of my love of beer for this little experiment here and count on getting some updates in the following week.
The first thing I will try to cover are spots to get a good pint, either to sit and enjoy, or take on the go. Check back often for beer snob updates!

Amaretto Sour

Asour1

There are numerous examples of things which have been classified as “chick-drinks”.  The moniker has probably been around as long as drinking itself when it was felt that women couldn’t handle the kind of hard drinking that men preferred.  This is nonsense of course, but that didn’t stop the Victorians on down from relegating women to things like wine-spritzers instead of the really hard stuff.

I do have friends who prefer drinks where the flavors of alcohol are muted or absent.  Picking drinks where there is little to no hard alcohol, or replacing it with liqueurs is one sure way to ensure that they’re not put off by a concoction.

Perhaps the king of those type of drinks is the Amaretto Sour.  Where many casual drinkers run for the soda fountain to mask their libations, I personally started out with these.   At 24% ABV amaretto isn’t exactly topping the charts and cut in half with sour mix you’re topping a heavy wine or a hefty microbrew for punch.

Amaretto Sour:

1.5 oz Amaretto
2 oz Sour Mix
Add ice, Stir, Garnish with Maraschino Cherry.

 

Asour2

Now a couple of things to note here.  If something calls for sour mix in the future I will be making my own.  I’ll try to make that clear, as I have seen other bloggers and YouTube people who don’t mention that they make their own and it occasionally puts people off of a drink.

Next, I’m not using the maraschino cherries I made awhile back.  They’re not done yet, so they stay in the jar and I get to use up the last of the processed ones that were hanging around the fridge.

The quality of amaretto is everything there.  The stuff I’m using, as you can see above, is a local product.  That doesn’t make it good.  It’s cheap, and sweet, and that’s about all one can say in favor of it.  I often find with this brand that I have to water my drinks just to get something that isn’t cloying.  Be picky about your amaretto.  While to most people it tastes like cherry, most amaretto is made from almond extracts.

What a lot of people don’t know is that apricot pits carry some of the same flavors, as do a number of other stone fruits.  Disaronno in particular is entirely made from apricot pits.  Some of the cheaper brands may even go so far as to use Benzaldehyde the chemical in natural flavoring that gives things like Cherry Coke their flavor.

So when you are looking at amaretto don’t assume that since you’re likely going to mix it, that flavor doesn’t matter.

As a mixer it has a lot of flexibility and is a frequent substitute for Orgeat syrups in tiki drinks.

Make Your Own: Sweet and Sour Mix

Sourmix1

Part two in my lovely series of how to replace the horrible mixers that you buy at the store.  This one is a big one, sour mix is probably one of the The go to party mixes of anything out there.  It’s a component in the amaretto sour, the whiskey sour, dozens of tiki drinks and even cheaper end margarita mixes.  Holding some of the most baseline flavors in the cocktail world this is something that you should have on hand for any party and making even a big batch is pretty easy.

A lot of the difficulty in this recipe comes from the fact that there are few ingredients.  This may seem counter-intuitive but if you think about it, the fewer things you put into it, the greater weight each has in the outcome.

Much like my adventures in making limeade taste is everything.

Sour Mix:
2 oz Lime Juice
2 oz Lemon Juice
2.5 oz Simple Syrup
Mix all ingredients in a squeeze bottle, shake well, refrigerate.
Like the simple syrup itself this will keep for about 2-3 weeks unless you add vodka to it.

This is my version, and I will stress from the get go that it is not the perfect ratio to please every taste.  This happens to be a very simple outgrowth of the ingredients at their basest.

 

 

 

 

Sourmix2

 

Using fresh limes and lemons is essential.  If you let them sit too long the pith starts to make the juice bitter and all kinds of things can happen to the outcome.  Your average sized store lime/lemon will press for ~2 ounces of juice.  Larger or smaller than normal you can kinda guess but if you’re shooting on drinking for two people, the juice of one of each will suffice for this project.

The 2.5 ounces of simple syrup come from my previous MYO posting where I used 1/3 of a cup of sugar to get the syrup.  This turns out to be perfectly balanced based on the amount of juice you get from one each of the fruit.

The result is a somewhat neutrally acid, sweet mixture that works well in most cocktails.

To get the right kind of taste for your palate, I would recommend the above amounts of base ingredients. Instead of mixing them all together in a squeeze bottle as I’ve done, put varying amounts into a shot glass to taste.  Half ounce increments in either direction will let you give the mixture a bit of play until you find the spot that tickles your tongue.  I would start by scaling back on the simple syrup and see how you like it at an even 2 parts each then raise or lower the lime and lemon until it’s right.