Make Your Own: Tonic Water

tonic sideI have been meaning to make a post about this for over a year.   If any liquor could be said to be my totem spirit it is Gin and of all cocktails the Gin and Tonic is the perfect expression of the botanical basis of both Gin and tonic water.

You can read more about the history of Tonic in my previous post on the subject but for now just a little bit of history.

Tonic water is made with carbonated water and flavored with a alkaloid chemical called quinine.  Quinine is derived from the bark of a tree which grows in the Andes mountains of South America.  The tree is called alternately the Cinchona or the Quina.  Most tonic water is made either with the bark itself or with Quinine extract.

Because the difference between a medical dose and a recreational amount is significant most tonic waters currently on the market are a pale shadow of the potency of tonics past.  Most brands are watery using a synthetic quinine at the absolute minimum amount.

The lack of good tonic waters has been largely cured in recent years with the addition of several new premium tonic brands like Fever Tree and Q tonic.  There have also been attempts to make flavorful tonic syrups available to retail customers, most recently via kickstarter.  While I will still continue to make my own Bradley’s is an excellent product that needs to be more widely carried.

While these attempts are noble they all suffer from the need to create a product that will appeal to the greatest number of consumers.  This generally means that the commercial versions lack any other flavors again making for bland if somewhat more potent tonics.

Using Jeffrey Morganthaler’s Recipe as a base I went about creating my own tonic syrup for use as Christmas presents for friends.  I reduced the quantity of cinchona drastically due to some concerns about quinine toxicity.  It shouldn’t be an issue unless you’re taking quinine medicinally or work with it daily.

The Specs

4 cups water
6-8 oz chopped lemongrass (roughly one large stalk)
2 Tbsp powdered cinchona bark
1 Tbsp fresh lavender
zest and juice of 1 orange
zest and juice of 1 lemon (meyer)
zest and juice of 1 lime
1 tsp whole allspice berries
¼ cup citric acid
¼ tsp Kosher salt

Combine ingredients in a large saucepan, bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes.

Remove from heat and strain thoroughly.  Start with a metal strainer to catch the big stuff then move to cheese cloth and coffee filters.  Powdered bark is tough to get out of suspension and you don’t want to leave much of it behind so you may want to filter 2-3 times with a coffee filter until you stop getting larger particles.

Once the infusion is clear enough you’ll want to measure what you have left and then return it to the saucepan.  Over a medium heat add about 3/4 to 1 cup of rich (2x) simple syrup for each cup of liquid.  Stir until combined and then place in a sterile bottle with an air tight cap.

Ingredient notes

A number of these things proved more than passingly difficult to track down and you’re unlikely to find all of them in one stop.

For starters I checked every herb shop and self-styled apothecary in town and was finally able to locate Stone Cottage.  They had both powdered cinchona and bark chips at fairly reasonable prices and sold them in bulk allowing me to pick up as little or as much as I needed.  It is possible to find cinchona on amazon, the best value I found was a half pound bag for about $13 Here.  But obviously that is quite a bit of powder and you have no idea in advance what it looks like.

It is also possible to buy the herbs and spices as a kit: Tonic Water Kit, Oaktown Spice Shop

Fresh lemongrass can be had at most supermarkets in little plastic packages, but not all of them.  I had to hit 2-3 before I found some in stock.

Citric acid is often sold in bulk at the grocery store, the same with lavender.  I had better results with new seasons or whole foods but Safeway had a pretty good selection too.

Lastly, the lemons.  Regular lemons are fine, but if you can find some meyer lemons they have a slightly sweeter, waxy and aromatic zest on them and are great for many things.

Quantity

Before you begin, please note that this will produce something like 8 cups of final syrup (and nearly 4 times that in actual soda).  If you need a half gallon of tonic mix this is great.  If not then you might wind up with a lot of spoiled syrup long before you can use it.  It is quite easy to halve this recipe, quartering it may take a bit more effort as you’re not getting nearly as much fruit zest and juice in the infusion.  More testing is needed.

Make Your Own: Limoncello

IMG_20131206_092742The first thing you need to know about limoncello is that it is delicious.  If you’re a fan of citrus vodka this is just the thing to move you away from the processed stuff and into a new section.  The next thing to know is that it’s even better when you make it yourself.

Classic limoncello uses a special lemon from Italy as the base, which given the season and location means I’ll have to improvise.

So I dug around a bit and came up with the following plan.

1. Buy Everclear

This was an interesting trip in itself as I had not seen it on shelves in any of the liquor stores I frequent.  A chance comment by a patron during a tasting I was doing led me to discover that they actually keep it behind the counter or in the back rather than on the shelf.  I’m not clear on how many brands they offer but when I went the option was simply Everclear, I went with the jug rather than the 750ml as I didn’t want to run out and had a lot of things to make with this.  I’m still not clear if Everclear is considered a brand or a type but the results are pretty much the same 95% alcohol.

2. Select Fruits

Having not done this before I took a trip to the Sheridan fruit Company where I knew I could obtain any number of items.  I bought about 5 regular California lemons and because they had them 10 Meyer Lemons.  I also bought a small container of dried bing cherries as I intended to make a cherrycello and the fresh ones were out of season.

Sideline- Meyer Lemons: For those not familiar, and judging from conversations I’ve had with people since I started this project in November that’s quite a few, a Meyer lemon is a verity of citrus that originated in China and was brought to this country by Frank Meyer in 1908.  It is smaller, sweeter and softer than the lemons you may be used to, and has a fragrant, thin zest.  The pith is a bit thicker but this isn’t really a problem.

3. Peel

Not a simple matter, the rind of a lemon has two parts, the zest and the pith.  Pith is the bitter white part of the rind and zest is the mostly clear yellow part.  In my case a simple potato peeler let me take off nice long strips with very little pith.  I followed this with a simple scraping on the back of the strips with a paring knife.  The meyer lemons took a bit more effort as their zest is thinner and the pith thicker but it is still soft and takes little effort.  Some people will suggest using a rasp or microplane to zest the lemon, this is not a bad idea as it gives you more surface area during the extraction process but it means you have to strain the limoncello afterwards to get out all the little shreds.  I’m ambivalent at this point but read on and decide after a couple more steps.

4. Containers

I made a fairly big error when I started this process.  I didn’t have a container in mind before I began.  Neither for the finished product nor for the extraction.  I thought that using spare empty bottles from my alcohol collection would be fine and up to a point it was.
extracts  The mason jar contains my somewhat abortive attempt to make cherrycello, the volstead vodka bottle my regular lemons and the bullett rye my meyer lemons.  Now getting the peel into the bottle was not a problem.  Getting the peel back out afterwards involved improvising a hook from a bent coathanger.  The mason jar was much more forgiving and I recommend having a selection of them where possible both for working and for the finished product storage.  You can decant into the fancy bottles when you’re done.

 

 5. Conversion

When I started this I had no idea what the final flavor would be like.  I’ve had good and bad limoncello before both store bought and homemade so there was really no one basis for comparison.  The two bottles above are still 95% alcohol and after about 4-5 days they had extracted enough of the lemon oils to turn a healthy yellow.  Now that I had the base of my limoncello I needed to make it drinkable.  You can start this process with vodka if you want.  Vodka, unlike everclear is usually bottled at 80 to 100 proof, the everclear was 190 proof.  As a liqueur limoncello is generally bottled at about 25-37% alcohol if you get the traditional stuff.  So starting with vodka you only need to add about half as much simple syrup as you have alcohol.  When you start with everclear you need to add twice as much simple syrup as you have alcohol.  I used this measure and brought my limoncello from 95% to about 32%.  Since I started with almost two full fifths that means I had about 3 times as much finished product.

6. Blending

For future reference I think I’m going to stick with only Meyer lemons.  The result of the pure meyer bottle was much more pleasing on the tongue than the regular lemons.  There was a bitterness involved that just wouldn’t go away no matter how thin I made the result.  Because I had so much of both types I resolved to blend the two and get something reasonable so that I could use up the less workable regular lemon liquor.  I was blending all of this in the kitchen at my mother’s house as I like their counter space and using my mother for tasting notes since neither of my roommates drink right now.  I wasn’t entirely sure what proof I wanted to put the final bottles so this is the point where I played with dilution and with pairing the two kinds of lemon.  Ideally you’re looking for something that has all of the lemon flavor without being cloying, bitter, sour or oily.  It’s a delicate balance and shifting the mix from 2:1 to 1.75:1 has some profound impact on the result.  Eventually I settled on a mix of 75% Regular Lemon to 25% Meyer.  This was the opposite of my original thought on how it would go but with feedback the results were undeniably better.  It also left me with almost half a bottle of meyer liquor that I could turn into crema.

Limon side

This was the finished blend.  I weighed out the proportions by taking the total amount of regular liquor that I had dividing that by 3 and adding the result in meyer liquor.  Once I had the total I had to weigh out the sugar and water and put in twice as much as the weight of the raw limoncello.  The picture doesn’t do the jar justice, when finished I had about 8 cups of liquid.  You can see the separation at the bottom where I haven’t stirred the whole thing.

The finished product was allowed to rest and blend for a few days before going into their presentation bottles.  I picked up little 8 oz bottles from Kitchen Kaboodle and printed my own labels.  They weren’t fancy but they were easy to manage and you can stick them on with a glue stick.  Add a little ribbon and a funny tag and you’ve got your own branded bottles for a little over 3 bucks each.

As a final note, when you’re bottling your product I recommend putting it into a slightly smaller container with a spout.  Pouring is an inexact science even at the best of times and going from a wide mouth mason jar to a tiny neck bottle is unnecessary when you can portion things out into a measuring cup or gravy boat first to reduce spillage.

 

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.

French 75 : Drink Review

french75

This is the French 75 as served at Oven and Shaker where I had a lovely mother’s day brunch.

I first learned about this drink from Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, where it sits as a somewhat odd duck.  I think the major reason it’s there is that most bar guides call for it to be made with cognac instead of gin.

Oven and shaker goes for the Gin version, putting 1oz of the local Aviation Gin, 1/2 oz fresh lemon juice, 1/2 oz simple syrup and 3oz champagne.

Vintage spirits calls for about double the gin and lemon and a garnish of a lemon spiral and a cherry.  The addition here of a california strawberry that you could eat like a handfruit was a nice touch.

A smooth drink that gives credence to gun that gives it the name.  My mother was the one who ordered this and she thought it was a touch heavy on the lemon, I felt that with a bite of strawberry it came out just right.  Seeing the recipe in vintage spirits with double the lemon makes me think they’re using a poorer quality gin at Dr. Cocktails house.  Aviation works wonders here and I think this will be making an appearance at my own house around new years, when I have a bottle of champagne to use up.