Chocolate Mint Syrup

IMG_1226Having exhausted some of the more basic forms of simple syrup I have elected to branch out a bit and try some things that might be a bit different.

I have on my deck a spearmint plant, Tarragon plant, and a very bushy chocolate mint plant.  Mint grows very quickly and can take over a yard if you’re not careful.  Mine are in pots so that I can move them indoors when the weather turns.

Since the chocolate mint is doing so well I wanted to harvest a bit and see what could be done with it.

Having examined some of the various recipes on the net I worked out a ratio that seems to work pretty well.

My basic test run of simple syrup remains the same:

1/3 cup bakers sugar
1/3 cup water

To that we add a small quantity of cocoa powder, in this instance about 2 tablespoons.

Once you’ve whisked the powder and sugar into solution you can apply some heat.

To the now simmering syrup I added about a 1/2 cup of shredded chocolate mint leaves.

I washed the leaves a bit to make sure I cleared anything that might be on them but I think I could have done better.

Stir the mint around a bit, boil for no more than 2 minutes and then allow to cool and steep for another 5.

Next comes the harder bit, you don’t want to leave the mint in the syrup.  It would continue to increase in strength for one, and it would also stick in your throat when you are trying for a smooth cocktail.  A simple strainer over a pyrex bowl allows you to extract the mint leaves.

Allow to cool slightly and then place in a container you can seal and chill in the fridge.

This is chocolate syrup plain and simple and works well on ice cream, in milk and also in cocktails.  The mint has a very herb front flavor which is hard to ignore.  The cool menthol sensation lingers a bit in the mouth when you taste this.

A cocktail will follow as soon as my brain can engage properly.

IMG_1225

Turbinado Syrup in Practice – Mojitos

MojitoGoing back to my basic syrups I present another of my practical examples.

July 11th is my birthday and is also consequently National Mojito Day.  To celebrate I made this.

1.5 oz Bacardi Silver
1 oz Lime Juice
3 sprigs of Spearmint
1 oz Turbinado Sugar Syrup
Soda Water

Muddle the spearmint in the shaker with the syrup.  Go easy on it, a light spank and a little twist is all you really need to get the flavor to express.  Add lime, and rum, shake over ice.  Strain into a collins glass and top with soda water.

The reason I picked turbinado sugar is that rum is made from a base of molasses and turbinado sugar has the molasses still on it.  The syrup is richer than brown sugar and carries some high and low notes that normal simple doesn’t get.

Combined with rum and a good fresh mint you have a very refreshing cocktail.  I’m looking forward to making more of these as I now have both a spearmint and a chocolate mint plant growing on my deck.  I also picked up several new and different rums over my birthday which I’ll be detailing when I have time.

Brown Sugar Syrup in Practice – What can Brown Do for you?

Another followup to my post on basic syrupsIMG_0485

Brown sugar is to regular sugar as premium is to regular gasoline.  There isn’t a lot of kick to it, but you’re getting a better quality product.

Brown sugar is really just white sugar with the molasses added back in.  This means that you’re getting a lot of the flavors that sugar cane has put back into your product.

I haven’t really played with the differences in light and dark brown sugar but light brown gives some very rich character to the syrup.

 

 

For the test drink I wanted to make something that would pull on that richness but be fairly classic.  I call it “What Can Brown Do for You?”

1.5 oz Bourbon
0.5 oz Lemon Juice
0.5 oz Brown Sugar Syrup

Shake over ice, strain into glass.

It’s not really an old fashioned but it’s pretty good all on it’s own.

 

brown

Double Simple Syrup in Practice – Fitzgerald Cocktail

fitzgeraldIn looking for a simple cocktail to showcase some of my new syrups I happened upon an old classic.

The Fitzgerald is a classic cocktail in every sense.

1.5 oz Gin
3/4 oz Lemon Juice
3/4 oz Simple Syrup
2 dashes Angostura Bitters

The combination of sugar, bitters, citrus and spirit is effortless and allows your primary spirit to really shine.  If you’re not a big crazy gin drinker, the double simple syrup that I created a couple of days back is an excellent way to ease yourself into some drinks you might not otherwise be sure of liking.

Double Simple syrup is simple syrup with a 2:1 ratio of sugar to water instead of the 1:1 normally used.  This can actually be extended to 3:1 if you dare but anything beyond that and you’re getting into candy making country which is beyond the ken of this lowly cocktail scribe.

The richness of the syrup is strong, and I think you could scale back a bit on it if you wanted to play with the ingredient mix a bit.  Upping the citrus will lose some of the more delicate flavors in your gin, but cutting back on the sweetness will change the cocktail without getting in the way of the flavors.

It is slightly thicker than normal simple syrup but this isn’t really evident once it’s in the drink.

I garnished mine with a few of the maraschino cherries I made a few weeks back.  They’re still kicking and the extra flavors at the end were a nice touch.

Make Your Own: Basic Syrups

If you’ve looked at some of my Make Your Own articles you’ll have seen my take on simple syrup.

The beauty of the simple syrup recipe is that not only is it the easiest mixer to make but it also has the flexibility to work with virtually any form of sweetener.

IMG_0494My most recent exploration took the form of a 5 syrup run.  Basic simple syrup had already been done but I wanted to check the flavors on some of the other stuff out there to see how they compare.

In the picture here you can see the five finished products.  Bottom up they are Double Simple, Brown Simple, Turbinado Simple, Agave Simple and Clover Honey Simple.

In each case I followed a similar process to my original simple syrup test, using about 1/3 of a cup of each of the sweeteners.

Some things to keep in mind.  When you’re using fancy sugar, make sure you get the actual cane sugar.  Some brown sugars are beet sugar with caramel color and molasses added which is not the same thing as real brown sugar.

Some of the more liquid ingredients like agave nectar or honey don’t need quite as much water, but when you’re dealing with such small amounts it is hard to adjust so letting it cook slightly longer will allow the water to boil out and reach the right syrup texture.

As you can see, each of these gives a different color.  What you can’t see is that the flavors of each are very very different despite at least three of them all coming from the same source.

 

Bakers sugar is normal sugar with slightly smaller crystals so that it dissolves faster into liquids.  It’s still made in the same manner as regular table sugar there is just a finer control used in the drying process to make the crystals form faster and avoid clumping.  For the batch I made here Double Simple is a 2:1 ratio of sugar to water.  The 2/3 of a cup I used here dissolved almost immediately and took only seconds to boil.  The result is a richer, much sweeter and slightly thicker syrup than basic simple.  This is useful in stronger drinks where you need to bring the sweet more quickly or small drinks where you don’t have the luxury of adding 3+ oz of syrup to the drink.

Brown Sugar is actually normal table sugar that has been fully processed out to the white form you normally see, and then portions of the molasses which is extracted from the sugar cane juice is re-added.  The amount added gives the brown sugar the notation of light or dark.  As I mentioned above, there are several cheap brands that use beet sugar and then add molasses.  They’re pretty easy to spot as most of their competitors say Cane Sugar all over the wrapper.  Brown sugar is slightly easier to use than molasses as it is considerably diluted by the combination with white sugar.

Turbinado Sugar is the form of sugar before the molasses is extracted in the first place.  Generally called Sugar in the Raw when you find it on the shelf, you can buy great bags of it from the more selective grocers.  It is more expensive as it’s not the kind of thing people generally use but you won’t use much of it at a time so a big bag can go a long way.  The crystals are larger, a bit more like kosher salt, and have a dirty appearance from the molasses still clinging to them.  They still dissolve fairly quickly but they do have a tendency to foam so stir carefully.

Agave Nectar is the sap of the agave plant.  Not actually a cactus, the agave is a wild growing cousin of the artichoke.  It can take most of a decade to flower and it only does so once per plant, so the plant stores up sap for years before making that one ultimate flower.  Wild agaves are generally clipped right as they start to send up their flower stalk which causes the base to swell, the plant can then be hacked down and tapped like a maple tree allowing the nectar to run for weeks before the plant expires.  This nectar is considerably sweeter than sugar or honey.  It is a fairly runny liquid, so after adding the water allow it to boil off for quite a while.

Honey – I feel almost silly talking about honey but there is something worth noting here.  There are varying degrees of pure honey on the market.  Some honey is adulterated with water, corn syrup or even coloring.  In some specific instances honey of different types is blended and sold as higher value honey.  There apparently aren’t a great deal of laws restricting the labeling on “pure honey” or “local honey”.  Even experts are in disagreement of how to easily test honey without screening it for pollen content.  As with anything I do, I try for real ingredients.  There are a lot of local honey producers in the area and a trip to one of the many farmers markets can find one easily.  Be a bit picky, and don’t always trust a higher price to mean a better quality.

IMG_0492For the batches I made above I needed to do some quick turn around.  If you’re making one syrup alone this isn’t really necessary but it can help a lot.

You don’t want to put hot syrup right into the fridge, and depending on how you plan to store it you might not want to put it right into the tupperware either.

In my case, I used two pyrex bowls.  One larger sized with some ice and water in it, and the second smaller one clean and dry.

After you put your sugar and water into the pan, mix thoroughly until it has all dissolved and then allow the mix to boil rapidly for about 15-30 seconds.  Longer if you’re using a liquid sweetener.  Then remove the pan from the heat and allow it to cool for another minute before transferring it to the cooling bowl.

This should move the syrup to room temp quickly and allow you to bottle it for storage.

As before, a 1/3 cup will give you a couple of ounces of usable syrup.  Generally enough to taste and experiment with to see if it’s worth making again.

Make Your Own: Cosmo Mix

 

Cosmo

Welcome back for another wondrous takedown of the commercial drink mixers industry.  As I proceed along this search, I am ever more convinced that the entire idea of bottled mixers is an attempt to sell people something they don’t need by encouraging the idea that cocktails are hard.

This is chemistry at the most basic level, as simple as adding cream to coffee or lemon to tea.

If you look back at my MYO of Margarita mix you’ll find that even the most basic drinks seem to get clouded over with a one-bottle solution and then endlessly adulterated with cheap ingredients as the race to the bottom of the price table continues.

I’m sure that in the days of Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic when complicated Tiki drinks using multiple exotic and difficult to find ingredients were popular it was perfectly normal to buy a mix for a Mai Tai or a pina Colada.  Where I begin to break down is when classic cocktails seem to need this imaginary leg up, everything from the Mojito, Old Fashioned, Cosmopolitan, and even the Whiskey Sour seems to get shoved into a bottle for the no-brainer cocktail.  If the flavors involved were real instead of being just corn syrup and additives I would buy them in a heartbeat but fresh juices don’t keep well and many of these mixers are non-alcoholic so they are replicating the flavors of triple sec without the alcohol which means your cocktail is now leaning heavily on your main spirit.

Consider the Cosmo, that most beloved of Sex and the City girls everywhere:

1.5 oz Vodka
0.5 oz Cointreau (Triple Sec)
1/8th oz Lime Juice
1.5 oz Cranberry Juice
Twist of Lime Zest

Drop the Cranberry and swap the vodka for tequila and we’re right back in margarita territory.

I can’t imagine it’s hard to find good cranberry juice.  There are literally dozens of brands both excellent and mediocre on the market.  The issue could be that we are  running up against our old enemy the cheapskate.  When people get sticker shock on a 350ml bottle of Cointreau they might opt for a cheap bottled alternative, but even some of the low end triple sec’s are fine in small amounts like we’re using here.

Unlike the margarita, I can’t recommend mixing up a bunch of this in advance.  There’s simply not enough to this that isn’t going to require some form of more precise measurement.  If you wanted to do up an entire pitcher all at once the following would get you about 16 servings.

1 – 750ml bottle of vodka
25 oz cranberry juice
8 oz Triple Sec
1 medium sized Lime

Mixing becomes something of a problem but if you add enough ice and stir vigorously for about 2 minutes you’ll get the right temp and dilution.

 

Make Your Own: Whiskey

Sorry for the dodge on this one.  I’m not actually going to show you how to make whiskey.  Owning a still without the proper licenses is more than my simple blog is worth.

But that is not to say that you can’t do it anyway.  The Mississippi River Distilling company is offering up their equipment and expertise to allow you to make your own blend.  You get full control of the grains, barrels, age, proof and even the yeast.  They do all the work and deliver to you the finished product of approximately 160 bottles of whiskey + the barrel they used to age it.

Their My Whiskey program looks amazing and really brings home the idea of what craft distilling is all about.  It’s not about having a huge piece of copper bubbling away in your garage it’s about the finished product.

Now if only I had a spare 6k lying around so I could do this.

Another interesting thing they do there is you can adopt a barrel.  By law Bourbon has to be aged in NEW white oak barrels.  Which means that for each batch they have to buy new barrels and find something to do with the old ones.  This isn’t always a problem as there are always Rum makers, scotch makers, brandy makers, cognac makers, etc who need casks and enjoy the flavors that the used bourbon casks impart.

Mississippi River Distilling apparently will let you adopt a barrel for $400, which entitles you to help bottle the whiskey from that barrel, take home 6 bottles and the barrel itself.

Sadly I’m nowhere near Iowa and don’t know what I’d do with a 30 gallon barrel once I had it but it sounds like a neat idea.

Make Your Own: Margarita Mix

In continuing with my desire to see any mix that comes in a bottle relegated to the dustbin I proceed to destroy the myth of Margarita mix.

The Margarita as a drink is a classic cocktail containing only three ingredients.  Tequila, Orange Liqueur and lime juice.  The proportions of these ingredients can vary depending on your preference and I will get into how to adjust those once I can finally get my hands on a bottle of Sparkle Donkey Reposado.

In traditional form a margarita is about:

1.5 oz Tequila
3/4 oz Cointreau
.5 oz Lime Juice

Where anyone would find the need for a mix in such a simple cocktail is beyond me but I can see a couple of holes here that might trip the unwary.  This type of drink is one served in a pitcher among friends so having to extrapolate the ratios upwards can be a bit of a pain.  Additionally there are really only two types of Triple-sec on the market, the expensive and the unknown.  Buying a bottle of cointreau just so your buddy can drown it in cheap tequila isn’t really on my to-do list so we get that out of the way.

Additionally there is some prep work here.  Juicing limes, mixing various things in proportion etc.  Some would find it easier to simply pour a bottle of tequila and a bottle of mix into the blender with ice and press the button to make it happen.

It may also have something to do with the largest selling brand of tequila on the market.  Jose Cuervo does not always make a good product but it’s cheap and plentiful which is more than enough to get the glassware out at some parties.  If you’re putting junk into the blender or shaker then you might need something in your drink to mask the flavor of the cheap rotgut that Oro Tequilas get cut with.  Bottle mixes are going to fill that gap with corn syrup and a bunch of artificial lime flavors.

If you’re going to make a batch of these (blended or not) fresh lime juice and simple syrup is really the thing to use.  If you’re feeling adventurous Agave nectar is another sweetener that already has a brother in the tequila bottle you’ll be using.  Consider the tequila first before you break out the sugar.  A good Reposado is going to have sweet notes in it already from the cask aging process.  Sparkle Donkey I can confirm tastes something like cotton candy in the reposado.  If your alcohol is of a good quality then adding more sugar is only going to play merry havoc with the balance of flavors you’re getting from agave, orange, lime and salt.

Mixing up a lot of this far in advance isn’t really desirable simply because lime juice loses its kick after a while and there isn’t anything else to add but alcohol.   If you’re making blended versions you can pre-mix your entire drink and add it to the crushed ice right before serving since the mix won’t have a chance to dilute and will be mixed by the blender.

Given the amounts I normally get from limes you’re looking at the following:

16 Servings

1 – 750ml bottle of tequila
1 – 350ml bottle of  Cointreau (Triple Sec)
4 medium sized limes

At 1.5 oz per serving you can squeeze a little over 16 servings out of a regular bottle, given that ratio a smaller sized bottle of triple sec will fit perfectly.  Limes normally give you about 2 oz per lime so we can get all 16 servings in 4 fruit.

I recommend a large carafe or jug with a good sealing lid.  Hopefully your blender can handle this kind of volume.

Update: MYO Maraschino Cherries

The first test run of the cherries was a big hit.  They’re not as strongly flavored as artificial cherries but the flavor was still good.  There was not a big syrup component to them despite the amount of sugar which makes me think that more than the 2 tsp that I originally used might be needed depending on the size of the jar you’re using.

My first jar was a 16 oz jar which drank up the sugar pretty quickly.  I’m thinking something closer to a cup of sugar per 2 cups of liquor would be a better ratio.

I’ve additionally found that some reniers have come into season.  The cherry crop is early this year due to the short warm spring so they’re on the store shelves now.  I took an 8 oz jar for this batch and functionally tripled the sugar from the first attempt.

The first jar went to a small gathering and was used for a couple of vesper cocktails and a few manhattans.  They were pronounced very passable and I think the next batch with slightly more sugar will be even better.  Next attempt after this is to try the same with sour cherries, provided I can find any at the farmers market in the next 1-2 months.

Since it’s only been about a week on the first jar I’m putting it back into soak with some extra sugar and a small amount of vanilla extract just for some fun.

store cherries

As an aside a trip to one of the better stocked liquor stores in the area netted me the following photo.  Those are Luxardo cherries, from the same people who make the liqueur that I’m using to make my own.  And yes the sticker is correct. That is an ~13 oz jar going for $22.25.  Nothing wrong with them at all, they make a fine cherry and the syrup can be used for a number of things after you’re done with the fruit.  But a 750ml bottle of the liqueur will run you about the same and that’s enough for 3-4 small jars easily.

 

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.