Flavors and Tastes

A lot of things can be said for liquor, but one that will seldom be uttered is that liquor is tasteless and boring.  Sure if you drink only the best premium vodka then you’re likely to have that problem, but there is a world of flavors both excellent and sublime that tickle the imagination and tantalize the senses.

For those not already familiar the western type of culinary practice now recognizes 5 types of basic flavors Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter, and Umami.  Umami is the most recent addition and conforms to a richness of flavor found in many meats, fermented foods and things like soy sauce.  For a long while it was thought that these flavors resided in specific areas on the tongue.  This was disproved in 1974 but the myth still lingers today.  Your tongue is capable of tasting a lot of different things depending on how the receptors on your tongue are stimulated.

One of the more interesting aspects of taste is the Pungent-Spicy/Coolness divide.  Spicy foods like peppers that contain capsaicin create their unique sensation by activating the same nerves that give the body pain.  Especially those that respond to heat or abrasion.  Because the brain is getting signals from a heat/pain receptor it classifies the sensation as “hot”.  Similar effects can be had from things like menthol or camphor as they target the nerves which detect cold.  You are not actually hot or cold but the pain receptors in your mouth are being stimulated in that same fashion.

Alcohols like creme de menthe, aftershock, Fireball whiskey, Hot Monkey, and SinFire all take advantage of this type of sensation to add experience to their liquor.

Numbness as a sensation is a bit harder to achieve.  To my knowledge there are not many drinks that attempt this but it isn’t out of the realm of the possible.  Some varieties of asian chili peppers have this quality and chili pepper vodka has become very popular in the last few years.
Astringency, Metallic, and Calcium tastes are not necessarily good things in an alcohol but they are sensations of taste all the same.  Astringency can be a dry feeling in the mouth.  This is not comparable to dry wines which are simply unsweet, but more to the puckering sensation in the mouth similar to skin stretching as it dies out.  One of the most common flavors to have this sensation are Sloe Berries used to make Sloe Gin.

Fattiness – Fat is the seat of flavor.  In meat all of the most important flavor components come from the fat portions and a good amount of fat marbled into the meat is considered the mark of the best kinds and cuts.  The feel of fat is another thing altogether.  In the mouth it can feel thick and coating or it can feel oily and slick depending on the source and the temperature.  It can also indicate a richness of certain types of flavor like bacon or tuna.  This is similar to umami but instead of flavor here it is discussing feel.

Temperature:  Alcohol is the perfect example of what the temperature of a drink can do to it.  For example brandy is an aromatic drink that is best served warm when it is very good.  The glasses traditionally used to serve brandy are large enough to sit comfortably in the hand and allow the drinker’s body temperature to heat the alcohol to the point where the aromatic compounds start to boil out of the glass.  This is also the reason you may see people in snooty cigar bars or old movies hold their lighter under the ball of the glass.  A small amount of heat can cause the brandy to blossom and release all of the wine grape’s hidden scents into both the air and the drink.

Whiskey or scotch, too can have this impact.  One of the reasons true whiskey drinkers will take their drinks neat, (without ice) is that whiskey gathers many aromatic compounds both from the distilling and from the barrels used to age the drink.  A cold whiskey will hold onto those compounds resulting in a much reduced experience.

In some cases chilling can have a beneficial effect.  Because Alcohol has a much lower boiling point than water if the liquor is chilled then it will take much longer for the alcohol to boil out of the drink once it comes in contact with body heat.  So for booze which has a much stronger alcohol taste the chill can keep it to a minimum while drinking.  It can’t eliminate it entirely since alcohol also has a very low freezing point but it will do something to mitigate the taste of rotgut.

Almost all cocktails are served cold with the components being either shaken or stirred over ice.  This brings the drink down to around -5C which is honestly the ideal temperature.

Mudder’s Milk Part 3

To Recap:  Mudders Milk 1  In which we set our sails to distraction

Mudders Milk 2 In which we fail and learn that having to eat your mistakes can still be damn tasty.

 

Chapter 3: A dish best served cold…

A suggestion was made by my mother, who is a dietitian (and married to a very nice executive chef), that I should first cold soak the oats before attempting any shenanigans with the recipe.

So the basic cup and a half of rolled oats goes into a tupperware and to which is added a quantity of milk not to exceed 1.5 cups.  Addition of cinnamon and nutmeg in an attempt to get the flavor to impart over a longer time and then the whole boat goes into the fridge overnight.

IMG_20130423_095250
Post-Fridge Results

 

At First blush the results are not appealing, it looks watery and has no apparent change in texture.  As you can see it looks about the same overall.

IMG_20130423_095312
Oats removed from liquid for reference.

The next part is to heat the oats up, add apples and liquor.  This part went about as expected, they didn’t reduce as much as previous attempts which is good as a slightly watery texture will make them easier to drink.  But as the final photos show this is still a bit lumpy compared to what we’re shooting for.

IMG_20130423_100020 IMG_20130423_100040

 

Lessons learned: As a prep method cold soak would allow someone in the field to put this entire mess into a large sealed container and then simply break out and heat to desired portion.  Apples can be prepared separately and added without issue.

Problems:  Still not thin enough, needs blending but will that release starch and turn into a mess.

Next attempt: Put rolled oats into food processor to get desired texture, then cold soak.

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.