Make Your Own: Irish Cream Liqueur

irishcreamI’m going to save you a lot of time.  The post on making your own Irish Cream on The Modern Proper has some beautiful photos, the recipe itself is solid, but skip the post itself.  It’s long winded and kind of pompous.  I don’t know what else you would expect from something called The Modern Proper so give it a +1 for meeting expectations.

The basic elements here are actually frighteningly similar to the crema limoncello I made for Christmas 2013.

The core of the idea is that milk can be made semi-stable if you add enough sugar to the process.  In the case of Irish cream you can save some time by buying a can of sweetened condensed milk or you can have some control over the sugar/fat content by making your own.  Additionally the fat content of the cream will help to prevent the mixture from curdling.

Condensed milk is really just simple syrup where you have substituted milk for the water. You do want to make sure that you don’t over-heat the milk or it will scorch.  Additionally once you add the sugar you’ll want to keep the heat low or you’ll start to caramelize and again ruin the flavor.

200 g sugar
200 ml 1% milk
1 tsp dutch process cocoa powder
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cold press coffee concentrate (or 1 Tbsp bottled cold press)
1 cup Irish Whisky
1 cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp cream of coconut

This is slightly more complicated than Modern Proper’s version.  For one thing I’m going slightly less off the shelf and with a bit more than just a blender.

Place milk in a small saucepan and bring it up to boil using a medium heat.  Immediately reduce heat and slowly combine sugar and cocoa powder until they are fully dissolved.

Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.  Stir in vanilla and coffee concentrate.  When fully combined move to a mixing bowl (preferably with a pour spout), using stand mixer or hand mixer whip cream and cream of coconut until mixture is frothy.

Lastly, add whisky slowly while whisking or stirring constantly.  This is important.  Whiskey is very acidic compared to milk and the change in Ph is the primary reason that milk curdles.  The fat content of the milk and cream will help to buffer this until the mixture is fully combined but you don’t want to dump the whole cup of whisky in all at the same time.  You can read more about the process here.

Place in air tight bottles and refrigerate.  It doesn’t really need it because of the alcohol content but it will last longer.

If by some miracle the mixture does curdle all is not lost.  Curdles in your product may be texturally undesirable but they do not mean that the milk has spoiled.  Milk curdles on its own because it turns more acid as it ages.  You might have to drink your own failure but it will still be potable.

The result will likely be a bit thinner than you are used to from commercial products unless you either double down on the sugar content or reduce the milk more than you would otherwise.  Using heavy cream won’t really thicken the product much but it will change the texture.

 

Make Your Own: Coconut Sugar Simple Syrup

wpid-wp-1426623842805.jpegThere are as many kinds of sugar out there as there are fruits and vegetables.  Most sugar we consume is made from either sugar cane or from sugar beets.  While there are numerous sugar substitutes the number of all natural sweeteners is also constantly expanding.  Case in point, Coconut sugar.  I had not seen this product before but there it was on an endcap at the grocery store.

Ever the experimental dabbler I picked up the only size bag they offered and endeavored to see what you could do with it.  This is the Madhava 1lb bag and it runs about $6.50.  For starters it is brown.  Not brown like brown sugar is brown, but a kind of rough woody brown with oddly uneven grains.  It is also unlike most other sugar cane based sweeteners in scent.  It lacks the bitter molasses notes that are so common to sugars and caramels.

I started with a test base of about 30g of sugar to 30g of water.  I elected to do this as a quick and dirty microwave batch rather than my normal stovetop method.  After about 10 seconds the grains had begun to dissolve and it took a full 20 more seconds to get the entire mixture combined.  It took some additional stirring to dissolve the grains and I think without that action they might not have dissolved at all.

The resulting syrup is dark, almost black opaque liquid.  The scents present before of woody, palm like aroma have increased dramatically.

On the tongue this is a very rich product.  The flavor is closer in content to an unsulphurated or blackstrap molasses than anything else I can compare it to.  There is very little in the way of a coconut flavor, this may stem from the source of the sugar.  Coconut sugar is dried palm tree sap, perhaps closer akin to maple syrup than granulated sugar.

While not sweeter than sugar the extra flavors present are not always complimentary and do make this a much harder sweetener to use in context.  I attempted a basic old fashioned and found that the woodiness of the sugar clashed horribly with the lemon in my cocktail.  Given the quantity of citrus drinks in the general catalog this could be a major hindrance.  Additionally the darker color makes anything you put this into a much darker drink that it would be otherwise.  In a bourbon or whiskey cocktail that might not be an issue but again the flavor is not fantastic with oak either.

I did use some of this syrup when making Irish Cream and the difficulty with getting the grains to dissolve again caused for problems in the finished product.  I have yet to find a cocktail that works well with this but I think more experimenting with rum and possibly an orgeat or falernum addition might turn this around.

In all, I cannot recommend this product.  The price per pound, general inflexibility in use, lack of availability and oddness of flavor make it so much less desirable than agave, honey or cane sugar.

Update: Beer Syrup

beer syrupJust an update to my previous post about Porter Beer Syrup.  A Widmer Brewing rep dropped off a couple of 6 packs of Upheaval IPA as a tip in the tasting room and we needed the fridge space.  So, I took three bottles home and attempted to use the beer syrup process.

The initial result is a lot darker that I would have thought.  Upheaval is a pretty dark IPA already but this was almost as dark as the porter before I added the sugar.  Flavor has more bitterness than the porter but this is to be expected from the more hoppy IPA.  With an IBU of 85 /100 I’m expecting this to be more than a bit bitter even after adding sugar.

After it cooled down I was able to tap a bit and try it with a number of samples.  Overall on its own there is a lot of bitter flavor behind the hoppy nature of the IPA.

I took some of the syrup and made a pretty basic old fashioned.  I took the opportunity to try out my rejigger and my silipint at the same time.  The rejigger is a three chamber cap that simplifies the cocktail process somewhat.  In this case I used bourbon in the main chamber, IPA syrup in the second largest and lemon juice in the smallest.

The resulting old fashioned was a little on the strong side given the 2oz of bourbon and I think in retrospect I would have used slightly more syrup and less lemon.  Overall the hops from the IPA added some very good flavors to the bourbon.  I can see why hopped whiskey is becoming a thing.

Much like the porter cocktails I made the beer syrup adds a lot of complexity that would be tricky to obtain through spices or other flavors.  I’m now tempted to try with brandywine, cider or a good pilsner.

Hazelnut Mother

hazelnut mother pictureOne of the more neglected areas of cocktail making (IMHO) is the area of nuts.  There are many different and enjoyable flavors to be had if one does a little digging.  Amaretto is one such flavor, a popular light liqueur with the flavor of cherries and made from either almonds or apricot pits.  Nocino brings out the flavors of green walnuts, and lastly frangelico brings us the flavor of hazelnuts.

If you live in the NW or in Oregon specifically you will know the taste of the filbert as a part of your childhood.  Hazelnuts, or filberts as they should rightly be called grow in abundance here and can be had cheaply as raw, roasted, flavored or in any number of milkshakes and confections.

Taking a page from my attempts to make a good almond syrup I began to wonder that I hadn’t tried my had at any other local nuts.

Thus began my quest for a Filbert Syrup.

To create the syrup you first have to extract the flavors from the heart of the nut.  These are best expressed in hazelnuts when roasted.  I chose a quantity of raw nuts, shelled but with skins still on.  Placing them on a silpat on a cookie sheet I roasted them at about 300 degrees for about 10-20 minutes.  Keep a close eye on them, if they start to scorch they’ll give the entire thing a burnt flavor that you really don’t want.

Leaving the skins on was a decision I made given that the entire thing will be strained through cheesecloth in the end and peeling them is a giant pain.

After the nuts have been toasted you’ll want to open them up.  This can be done in a couple of ways.  You can soak them in a bowl of cold water for about an hour until they are soft enough to crush with a rolling pin.  This leaves you with a nice paste but is time consuming and since you discard the water I think you’re losing part of that early flavor.

The process I used is to place them in small amounts into a blender or food processor and chop them to almost a flour like consistency.  Once you have them done either way you’ll need to place them in an air tight jar with a cold water for about 4-6 hours.  Ratio should be about 3 cups water for every 2 cups of nuts, this should let you extract maximum flavor without having to reduce the milk later.  You’ll want to agitate the jar about every half hour, as you can see in the picture the bits tend to separate into lighter and heavier parts.

After your infusion is ready you’ll want to get a funnel and cheese cloth, strain the water and nuts through the cheesecloth and then squeeze the cloth and nuts to extract all the last bits of flavor you can the liquid should be a murky white/brown this is your hazelnut milk.

Measure the amount of milk you extracted, preferably by weight, and then put it in a flat bottom saucepan on the stove.  You’ll want to bring it to a boil slowly and then turn the heat down to a simmer.  Add a roughly equal amount of sugar or sweetener by weight.  A little less is ok as this does not need to be a thick syrup.  If you want something heavier you can make a rich syrup at double the weight in sugar.  Keep in mind that depending on the sweetener you may wind up with something where you only taste the sugar and not the nuts.

Allow the sugar to dissolve and then bring the syrup up to a boil quickly.  Once it has started to boil turn the heat off, stir for another minute and then allow to cool.

Store the syrup in an air tight container in the fridge, it should last for a few weeks alone, or for longer with the addition of a few tablespoons of vodka.

The flavors of this syrup are meaty and rich.  Unlike Orgeat it defies the fruit flavors and goes right for the earthy taste of root, bark and tuber.  The richness compliments chocolate, coffee and other parts of the mocha family.  Mixed with vodka and lemon juice there is a flavor not unlike birthday cake.

I call this product hazelnut mother because in appearance and texture it looks like a sourdough starter but it tastes divine.

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: Cocktail Onions

gibson2I’m not a big fan of garnish.  I think far too often it’s like parsley on a breakfast platter and it’s just there for show.  In the food industry parsley is actually called “Pretty” as in, “Be sure to throw some pretty on that plate before it goes out.”  Further degrading the idea of garnish is that many of them are mass produced in a way that robs them of any value to either taste or texture.

For and example see my somewhat rant-y descriptions of maraschino cherries.

Having been experimenting with both vermouth and vinegar shrubs recently I had the idea that it might be worthwhile to create some of my own cocktail olives or onions and see what kind of results the process yields.

My final recipe is as follows:

8 oz pearl onions
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/8 cup cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon whole mustard seed
6 whole peppercorns
1 Tbsp dried rosemary
1/2 cup dry vermouth

Start by peeling back the skins on the onions.  I used a quick cut at the top and bottom then just shucked the peel.  You might also be able to blanch them in a little boiling water to get the outer skill to loosen.

Once you have peeled onions ready take a small saucepan and combine the other ingredients (except vermouth) over a low heat until the sugar and salt dissolve fully.

Add the onions and bring to a quick boil, then remove from heat and allow to cool in the pan.  Once the result is cool add vermouth and stir.  Move to an air tight container and refrigerate.  Should be ready to eat in 1-2 hours and will keep for several weeks.

When I first attempted this I used a recipe that called for Chile flakes as part of the spice packet.  The finished product was quite a bit more spicy than I had intended and was virtually inedible.  I made several other mistakes, including using vodka and everclear in place of the vermouth.  From this I can make the following recommendations.

  1. Don’t spice them with anything you wouldn’t normally eat.  In my case I use chile flake sparingly if at all and would not want it in a cocktail ever.
  2. Vinegar and alcohol are going to extract flavors from the spices much more heavily than say water which will result in a much more powerful flavor.  Fresh spices are going to be more potent than dried (generally) and toasted will be more potent still.
  3. Small batches are best.  The above recipe is my cut down 1 jar version.  Unless you’re going through a lot of gibsons you really won’t need a full pounds worth before they start to turn.

Where do you use cocktail onions?

The most basic recipe is the Gibson.  A classic cocktail that has fallen sadly out of favor.  The drink itself is exactly the same as your basic martini.

2½ oz of gin or vodka
¾ oz dry vermouth

Shake over ice, strain into coupe glass.
Garnish with cocktail onions.

You might ask how many, the best advice I’ve ever heard on the subject is as follows:

“Always add between one and three, but remember three is a meal and even numbers are unlucky.  I’ll let you figure the rest out.”

 

Make Your Own: Beer Syrups

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

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.

 

 

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: Ginger Syrup

fresh-ginger-grated-300x225One of the prime ingredients in a lot of great drinks is ginger beer.  When you’re attempting to make these drinks be they the Moscow Mule or the Derailer there are a lot of different brands from which to choose.  As I’ve pointed out previously Cock and Bull ginger beer is about the best ginger forward of the lot.  It’s not as available as some others but I have found that I can buy it in bulk at the local cash and carry which means if I can find a use for 24-48 of them I’m set.

If you’re trying to substitute ginger ale from a standard 2 liter bottle you’re going to be very disappointed.  Brands such as  Canada Dry, Seagrams, and schweppes are all pretty mild.

HopBoxer owns one of those lovely new Sodastream fountains.  They are pretty awesome for making a quick batch of club soda, and the soda mixes that they come with are great for replicating the flavor of some of the major name brands.  Energy drinks in particular are a big cost savings.

With all of my fooling around with custom syrups it occurred to me that there were enough options in just what I had done so far to almost entirely replace much of the options for the machine.  The bottles of concentrated soda are about $10 for enough syrup to make 12 liters.   Which functionally works out to about $0.83 a liter.  Still a bit more expensive than even store brand sodas in 2 liter bottles.  If you’re doing something caffeinated or difficult to replicate that’s not a bad trade-off but if you  include the cost of replacement CO2 canisters it’s still pretty similar.

Lately HopBoxer’s go to drink has been the Derailer, a mix of Jameson, Creme de Cassis, lime juice and ginger beer.  I’ll detail out the drink in another post.  As a present I decided to whip up a batch of ginger syrup and see if we couldn’t put the Sodastream to good use.

I had some ginger which had been frozen and sitting around for a bit and it was time to use it up.  The squeeze bottle I was planning to carry it in was about 2 cups so that decided the quantity.

The same base as a simple syrup applies.  With a ratio of 1:1 we need two cups of water and two cups of sugar.  In this case I wanted something a bit more complex so I used a Turbinado sugar.  That means it was a lot darker and had a tendency to froth but would give the ginger something to play against in the sweetness portion.

I had about 2 1/2 roots of ginger, after paring off the ends and putting it through the shredder I had about 1.5 cups of very wet ginger mash.  How you treat your ginger is going to play a big role in how much ginger taste you get.  Sliced ginger has a lot of surface area but not nearly as much as chopped.  Chopped releases a lot of juice but never as much as shredding.  The down side is that with each adjustment in size you add an extra amount of effort on both the front side in knifework and on the back side in straining.

Start the syrup in a medium saucepan, turbinado has a larger grain than most table sugar and is quite a bit larger than the bakers sugar I normally use so add it slowly and allow it to dissolve totally before you add more.  I started the heat low and brought it up once the sugar was fully dissolved.

Give the syrup a quick boil to get it set, then drop the heat to a simmer and add the ginger.

Your entire house will smell like ginger in a matter of minutes.

Allow the ginger to steep while you simmer off the water to the desired thickness, for me this means about 10-15 minutes.  Since the ginger is pretty loose you want to stir a bit more frequently than you might for a plain syrup.

Once you have it tight you take it off the heat and let it steep for an additional 10-20 minutes.  This is going to put a lot of ginger flavor into the final product so here is where you play with the time to control that flavor.

Once you have the flavor where you want it you’ll need to strain the finished product.  If you shredded or chopped the ginger, do not strain the syrup into the dispenser bottle.  You may need to strain more than once and it’s a pain to get the little bits out of a squeeze bottle.  A strainer is good, cheesecloth is better but not always necessary.  If you’re a fan you can save the leftover ginger and make candied ginger with it.

Chill the bottle for a bit and make sure you give it a good shake before you use it.  1-2 ounces of syrup is good for about 8-12oz of soda, simply add club soda.  If you want to try this in a Sodastream you’ll need to add about 4.5 – 5oz of syrup per liter bottle.  This may seem like a lot if you’re familiar with the Sodastream syrups but keep in mind that their syrups are a concentrate.  You could boil down your own syrups enough to be of the same density but home syrups are cheap enough that you don’t need to worry about quantity.

The result was a very good round flavored ginger syrup that creates a similarly sharp ginger soda.