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.

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.


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.


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.