Sunday, June 21, 2015

Shakers

There are two main types of shakers used by bartenders across the globe. Each bears its own merits. Some are designed for aesthetics while others are designed for versatile use. 

The Boston Shaker
Supposedly the first concept of a shaker goes back to well before the common era to Central and South America where it was used to incorporate chocolate into a beverage. The Egyptians also used it to  incorporate spices. The shaker as we know it today goes back to the late 1800's where an innkeeper noticed that two of his serving vessels nested together. In 1872, a device was actually patented to shake six drinks at once.

In America and many other countries, when you shake a drink, it's going to be in a Boston shaker. Especially in a high volume bar environment. The two pieces of a Boston shaker are very multi-purpose. Mixing glasses can be used as beer glasses or even collins glasses. Take a mixing tin, and insert it with the open end down over the mixing glass and give it a light smack to make a seal. Most bartenders find it easier to create a seal with the tin cocked to the side to create a flush seal between the glass and tin. This makes it easier to separate the two once shaken. Shake vigorously, horizontally, rather than up and down, for 8-10 seconds. to break the seal that has most likely tightened due to the ice shrinking the metal strike the side or the tin, at the rim, 90 degrees from where the two parts are flush. This should break the seal and allow the removal of the glass.

Variants of the glass on tin combination are very common. Many craft bartenders have opted to use smaller, 16 oz., cheater tins to make the seal rather than a mixing glass. this allows for a seal that can be gripped and maintained with one hand while shaking. This allows for the shaking of two drinks at once which is very handy at craft cocktail bars as they have become famous date venues. No one wants to stare at their drink waiting for their partner to get theirs, so two drinks at once allows for a proper toast. The French shaker may deserve its own category, but I regard it as a simple variant to the standard Boston shaker. The smaller tin is specially designed to create a perfect seal with the mixing tin and bows in to create a firm grip for the bartender. This also has the advantage of not having any glass that could break.

The Cobbler / Three Piece Shaker
The cobbler shaker has a similar design but with an added dedicated middle piece in the design. It dates back to 1884 as a modification to the Boston shaker which included a built-in strainer. One simply builds the drink in the bottom tin, adds the middle strainer piece to the top of the tin, and then adds the cap on top to create a full seal. Some people say that this incorporates less air into the drink and that when liquid gets trapped between the top two pieces it creates a less emulsified drink. I do find myself just naturally shaking these drinks longer to make sure it's well chilled. Personally I really don't enjoy this style of shaker as they often can become stuck together and impossible to separate. With a bit of training, I'm told this won't occur but I really don't see it as a time saver in the long run. There is still a separate strainer piece you need to clean and the pieces are far less versatile. These styles of strainers can look very impressive and ornate, but they really don't serve much function, all things considered. 

"You can't buy happiness, but you can prepare a cocktail, and that's kind of the same thing."

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Next Level Jell-O Shots

Hey all, most of us love jello shots or have loved jello shots. This post assumes you've at least had a crack at making them in the past. You've probably learned that using pure vodka in place of the water creates a mushy unappetizing shot and that it should be split fifty-fifty with water. You've probably also learned that other spirits work amazingly well in a jello shot. Tequila, triple sec, and lime jello are a natural blend. You might also know that some jello mixes work great with milk for a creamier hold and a less transparent color. Most jello brands products work well together, but some more advanced recipes will use straight unflavored gelatin. These are some tricks that you may not have thought of in your typical playing around. 

Glow-in-the-Dark Jello Shots
This was probably this first real jello shot trick I learned. For the record these to not glow in the dark like those stickers on your childhood bedroom ceiling. They glow under blacklight, like the poster in your college dorm room. I had made jello shots before, in college, but the first time I decided to dig into what other people were doing I found this little trick. The trick is to simply incorporate a luminous nontoxic chemical into the mix. The best one I find used is Quinine, commonly found in tonic water. Many people opt for a normal mixture of 1 part boiling water to 1 part spirit to make the flavor of the jello more palatable. Simply replace the water with flat boiling tonic water, and you'll have a great treat for your next black light party. 

Molded Jello Shots
When you were first introduced to jello as a kid, you probably made Jello Jigglers. Pouring jello into any container will allow it to set into that shape. Many people will use cookie cutters as fun shapes for kids. Occasionally, depending on the material of the mold you may need to spray it with some cooking spray to allow it to be removed easily. For Halloween, you can buy brain-shaped molds so that kids can poke and eat a bit of jiggly brain. Switch that to include some rum and you have yourself an adult treat. I've seen other tricks done in this manner. Add a bit more powdered gelatin and you can keep it firmer once it hardens. You can use popsicle molds provided the mix is firm enough. The same trick applies to the novelty ice cube trays. you can have shot glasses made of jello and even penis shaped gelatin. This Video might be the greatest idea I've ever seen that I could apply to a boozy drink.

A spin on this that has been really erupting is the idea of jello shots in fruit. cut an orange in half and cut out all the meat without puncturing the skin and you have a handy cup. Once the jello hardens you can even slice the orange and be reminded of grade school soccer practice. You can do this with limes, as well. If you add extra gelatin powder, you can use this trick on watermelon and slice it to create great big slices of jello, great for picnics so long as it doesn't get too hot. I've even seen strawberries used. Take the stem out and hollow out as much as you can to form little cups. I recommend cutting a bit of the tip off so it doesn't wobble when you put it in the fridge to cool. 

Layered Jello Shots
This is actually the easiest trick I've ever heard. Make a batch of jello, pour it into a tall enough vessel, chill it. Make another, different batch, pour that over the old batch, and continue the cycle. This trick is even easier than making a pousse cafe, as you're just pouring liquid over a solid. Don't let the layers chill for too long otherwise they won't bond together and when you remove them they may tear apart at the seems. Some flavors, of course, blend better than others. If you are using the type of mixture that uses milk to be careful with your flavor pairings. An orange creamsicle works great. but some liqueur flavors don't play well. You can make rainbow layers, or go patriotic and recreate your favorite flag. 
One of the most advanced tricks in this is the Jello Shot Cake. In a bundt cake pan build your layers of jello upside down. One of the most popular recipes for this uses a bit of yogurt in between the clear gelatin layers to create a beautiful visual presentation. It's truly beautiful to see executed properly. It takes some work to have the layers look uniform. It also takes many hours to ensure the right consistency and that it doesn't tear or fall apart. Everyone always feels so guilty making the first cut into this masterpiece. Make sure you make clean slices and don't shred the thing. This picture shows a twelve layer cake, but you should feel free to start smaller. 

Jello Shots with Mix-Ins
There's so much more to a gelatin dessert than just gelatin. I remember in the fourth ever episode of The Simpsons, Marge makes gelatin dessert chock full of marshmallows. If you saw The Office, You'll remember the stapler in the jello. Simply put in your fruit or candies into the mold and pour the jello over it. To create a layered effect, pour a layer of jello, let it harden a bit, and then place the snacks inside. If it's still soft enough you can shove some snacks into the hardened jello. This makes creating scenes of Swedish Fish swimming in a fish bowl much easier than doing dozens of layers of the same mix. One trick I see all over the place is using a cherry, namely, using the cherry stem to act as a sort of handle. This allows for a great party favor that doesn't require utensils and doesn't get your guests' hands sticky. 

“Whoever said nothing is impossible obviously hasn't tried nailing Jell-O to a tree.”
- John Candy

Friday, June 12, 2015

Whiskey 201: American Whiskey, What's the difference?

Whiskey comes in all shapes and sizes, even within a single country countless styles and recipes can come to be. In America, all walks of life have created all kinds of whiskey for all kinds of people. White whiskey was the first, then we aged it and started playing with it. We used whatever grain we could. We made it when we weren't allowed and we had fun ducking Johnny Law. These are the mai styles of whiskey made in the United States of America. 

Moonshine / White Whiskey
Moonshine is a bit of a loose term. It refers to a time when whiskey had to be made and shipped illegally, under the moonlight. Interestingly enough, this practice of illegal whisky making dates back to before American Prohibition to the united kingdom where the British would heavily regulate and tax production. In America, moonshine is typically a corn made whiskey distilled to a very high proof. To make a legal whiskey, one needs to have a dedicated facility and regular inspections and such, homemade whiskey is illegal. It's presumed that most moonshine production is still illegal, but some brands have emerged on a few state store shelves. Most moonshine is flavored these days with flavors ranging from cherries to apple pie. Overproof unaged spirits like moonshine typically have very little flavor, so flavors are added to lower the proof and make the drink more palatable to a larger audience.

Bourbon
Bourbon is most likely the best-known variety of American whiskey. While it is named after the Bourbon region of Kentucky, it can be made anywhere in the USA. Like moonshine, bourbon is predominantly corn. By law, bourbon must use at least 51% corn in its mash, but can be supplemented by other grains like rye, wheat, and barley. Corn being the sweetest grain, bourbon yields a very sweet and flavorful profile. Like most whiskeys, bourbon is aged. To be called a straight bourbon whiskey, it must be aged at least two years in fresh charred white oak barrels. It thus picks up quite a bit of smokey flavor from the burnt wood. Bourbons that are bottled in bond are seen by many as the height of bourbon quality. To be bottled in bond, it must come from one distillery and be bottled at 100 proof. You can buy cask strength whiskey, such as Booker's at 126 proof, but many find it a bit unpalatable without water.
Tennessee
Tennessee whiskey is straight bourbon whiskey that is made in the state of Kentucky. So all Tennessee whiskey is also bourbon. There are two main brands of Tennessee whiskey: Jack Daniels and George Dickel. Supposedly Jack Daniels is the best-known whiskey brand in the world, which makes some sense due to it's very unique style and flavor. While it is a bourbon it is also a sour mash whiskey, meaning after a batch of whiskey is made, a portion of the leftover spent mash is added to the new portion to aid in the fermentation. This used grain doesn't contain as much sugar, as it's been used, but it still contains the earthy grainy flavor, thus Sour Mash. Most Tennessee whiskey also use the Lincoln County Process of filtration.

Rye
Rye whiskey is most likely the truest style of American whiskey. It was the favored alcohol of America in the 1700s. Rye was the most prevalent and hearty grain in those times and it survives in a variety of climates. In states like Pennsylvania, the foundation of our country, rye was everywhere. Most Canadian whiskys are rye as well, as the grain survives the colder climates. Rye has less sugar in it and gives a certain spicy quality to a whiskey. By spicy I don't mean jalapeno, I more mean baking spices like cinnamon and cloves. Rye's can be very smooth and have a great spice note that distinguishes it from the smokey scotch of sweet bourbon. Rye is also typically aged these days but not necessarily. Dad's Hat does create a wonderful white rye. The laws in America are effectively the same as bourbon except for the ratio of grains in the mash. 

“I’m a simple man. All I want is enough sleep for two normal men, enough whiskey for three, and enough women for four.”
- Joel Rosenberg

Friday, June 5, 2015

Advanced Syrups

Sugar is a crucial component in just about every cocktail available today. Sometimes it's the sugar in a piece of fruit. Sometimes it's honey or maple syrup. Bartenders have been taking these sugars and making them our own for sometime now. 

Flavored Syrups
One of the easiest types of complex syrup you can make is a simple infusion. Take an Earl Grey Tea Syrup for instance. We all know how to make simple syrup, simply apply heat to sugar and water. Well, this is exactly how we make tea. Simply add our tea bag or tea leaves to warm water. let this sit for about an hour and then add to a saucepan and put on heat. Add equal parts sugar and stir until well mixed. Remove from heat and strain off any solids. This same technique can be applied to mint syrups and even things like berries and peppers. Simply make a syrup the way you normally would and steep the flavors you would like to infuse. Try not to boil the syrup as that takes away the water and makes the flavor significantly harder to replicate. One of my favorite creations was a strawberry and serrano pepper flavored agave nectar.

Fruit Syrups / Grenadine
Most fruit syrups are actually very easy to make. While the typical syrup uses water to mix with the sugar component, a perfectly legitimate substitute is to use a juice. This method only works well with fruits that leave a very watery type of juice such as pomegranate. Juice like lime and the like need to be cut down with water to ensure a consistent texture. To make homemade grenadine, simply pour equal parts of pomegranate juice (I use POM Wonderful) and sugar into a saucepan and apply heat while stirring. I like to add a tiny splash of fresh lemon juice and a few drops of orange flower water to really make it unique.

Oleo Saccharum
Oleo, in short, is oil. Saccharum is sugar. Lemon oil syrup was a crucial component in old world punch recipes. The oil comes from the peel of a citrus fruit, lemon being the most common. Oleo can also be made from other citruses, like orange and grapefruit. The easiest way of making this is by peeling several lemons into a bowl and adding about two ounces of sugar to the bowl per lemon. Muddle this vigorously for about 15 minutes to ensure that the sugar really gets into the peels and they start to sweat. Let the bowl sit for a few hours or overnight to allow all the oil to precipitate. collect this in a bottle and filter out any peel, some people will add a bit of hot water to stretch the oil and make it less potent in cocktails, but in punches that doesn't matter as much.

Orgeat
Orgeat is probably the most difficult syrup to make on your own and I don't recommend trying unless you are well versed in syrups. Orgeat is used in several tiki cocktails. It is a very potent blend of flavors and can be incredibly overpowering if prepared incorrectly. To make, one would muddle a blend of sweet and bitter almonds in a mortar and pestle with a little water until it becomes a smooth paste. Add more water without heat. Then incorporate some sugar and orange flower water or rose water. These are very potent flavors that if not used cautiously can seriously overpower any cocktail. A floral sweet almond syrup is very tempting to start playing with, but I urge you to start small and leave this one to the professionals. The fact that this doesn't use any heat also tends to mean the shelf life is not as great as many other syrups so I encourage you to use filtered water or water that had been boiled beforehand. Also, keep it stored in a well sealed container.

Gum Syrup
Gum syrup is actually one of the more basic and classic syrups. It is, at its core, a simple syrup that has been thickened to change the texture of certain cocktails. Gum, also called gomme, syrup is a simple syrup made typically with gum arabic. Very few people, aside from some artists, have heard of this powder. It's a simple thickening agent used in some painting, and, in our case, cocktails. Gum syrup works best in stirred, spirit forward cocktails so that the texture it brings can be appreciated. Typically it is used in old fashioned cocktails and some sazeracs. It can be used in shaken cocktails and with drinks built with crushed ice.


"I told my wife the truth. I told her I was seeing a psychiatrist. Then she told me the truth: that she was seeing a psychiatrist, two plumbers, and a bartender."
- Rodney Dangerfield