Monday, March 2, 2015

Tried & True: The Old Fashioned

I hereby declare March the Month of the Old Fashioned on Sass&Gin!

We'll be playing with new combinations and clever variations on the original "cock-tail." Dating to the the early 1800's, an Old Fashioned is composed of spirit, bitters and sugar. The Old Fashioned that most people know is composed of whiskey, superfine white sugar, aromatic bitters, and a lemon twist. Occasionally you will also see a cherry or an orange muddled in to sweeten the mix. Those elements are really up to the drinker's preference. Most purists prefer it without the fruit.

We'll start the month of right by discussing the basic elements of an Old Fashioned and what options are available.


2 oz Spirit
2 ds bitters
1/2 tsp superfine sugar

Combine the ingredients in the base of an Old Fashioned glass or rocks glass. Stir or muddle to dissolve sugar. Add a large ice cube or sphere to chill. Garnish as required.

Preparing the garnish for a bourbon Old Fashioned, ca 2012.


While the original Old Fashioned was likely made with brandy or rye whiskey, the Old Fashioned is a family of cocktails, like the sour, and can be comprised of almost any spirit. Mayahuel's Oaxaca Old Fashioned uses tequila and mezcal as its base spirit. PDT's Benton's Old Fashioned uses a Benton's bacon-infused bourbon. My go-to cocktail at home last year was a Rum Old Fashioned made with Flor de Caña 12 yr Rum.


Traditionalists will call for an aromatic bitters, like Angostura, but in recent years the bitters market has exploded and there are so many more fun options to try. But, what are bitters? Basically, bitters are the spices of the cocktail world. Bitter makers take their unique combination of spices and bittering agents and infuse them in a high proof spirit, creating a very potent, very flavorful liquid that is not intended to be consumed on its own, but added in very small qualities (or dashes) to season a cocktail. Most cocktail bars carry Angostura Aromatic Bitters, Orange Bitters (Angostura or Regan's), and Peychaud's bitters. Some unique bitters currently available? Check out Bitter Queen's Bangkok Betty Thai Spiced Bitters, Bittermen's Hopped Grapefruit Bitters, or Dr Adam Elmegirab's Teapot Bitters.


For a whiskey Old Fashioned, most recipes call for superfine sugar, but you still have stir or muddle the sugar to get it to dissolve. In a need for speed, many bars have gone to using syrup, because it's sweetener in liquid form. With a more health-conscious public, there are more sugar options available at most grocery stores, so the drinking public can choose to avoid GMO's in white sugar. Sweetening options that I use in my cocktails range from pure cane sugar, turbinado sugar, agave nectar, maple syrup, sorghum, molasses, and honey.


Squeezing the oil from a lemon peel over the surface of the drink is the traditional garnish for a whiskey Old Fashioned, but what happens when you change the base spirit? I've used orange or grapefruit oil for a tequila or rum old fashioned. But, surely there are other options. Perhaps we could try misting the top of a gin old fashioned with orange flower water...


An Old Fashioned calls for a bit of dilution, but you don't need much. Some old-school bartenders are accustomed to adding a splash of club soda to help dissolve the sugar. Some modern bartenders prefer to use a liquid sweetener or syrup (as noted above). The other option is to grind the sugar into the spirit and bitters with a muddler.


Ice matters. Don't grab those cubes that have been sitting in your freezer for 6 months and have absorbed the smell of whatever else you've been storing along side them. Use fresh ice. I prefer large cubes or spheres, because they have less surface area and dissolve slower. You want your Old Fashioned chilled, not watered down.


Bartending in Wisconsin? Then you know all about the Brandy Old Fashioned and how essential muddling fruit into this particular Old Fashioned is to your guests. Some people just like it sweet, and I've learned living in the South not to stand between a guest and their sweet tooth. Some variations add a secondary spirit, such as in the Old Fashioned cocktail's sister, the Sazerac, which calls for an absinthe or Herbsaint rinse.

And those are just the basics. This month we'll be pushing the envelope of this seemingly simple ratio of ingredients. In addition to my own work, I'll be hosting Mixology Monday this month, with many brilliant and creative cocktailians taking on this challenge as well. Many happy drinks to come!



Mixology Monday XCV: Call Me Old Fashioned! - Announcement Post

I hereby declare March the month of the Old Fashioned at Sass&Gin, and since I'm hosting Mixology Monday this month, it seemed like perfect timing! The Old Fashioned is the original "cock tail," dating to the early 1800's. In this humble bartender's opinion, it is the pater familias of all other drinks, and it has taken its place as such in the recent cocktail revival. We have seen many variations of the Old Fashioned (i.e. Mayahuel's Oaxaca Old Fashioned, PDT's Benton's Old Fashioned) and the resurgence of similar cocktails (i.e. the Sazerac). The bitter's market has exploded over the last decade, with more flavor profiles than ever before, and with a more health-conscious public, your local grocery store is likely to carry a selection of sugars to play with (agave, coconut sugar, turbinado, etc).

So, here's the challenge: We will be sticking to the traditional ratios of spirit, bitters and sugar, but I'm challenging you to step outside the box with your selections. In addition, how will it be chilled or garnished? Do you want to add a secondary spirit or rinse? Go to town!

And for all of you newbies to Mixology Monday, here's how to play:
  • Find or create your a cocktail in the format of a classic Old Fashioned. Be unique. Be daring. Include a photo and your description on your blog, tumblr or webiste. If you don't have an online sounding board, you can post on eGullet's Spirits and Cocktails forum.
  • Be sure to include the Mixology Monday logo in your post, and link back to the Mixology Monday page and Sass & Gin.
  • Submissions are due by Monday, March 16th. Notify me of your submission by commenting with a link below, or send me a link on Twitter @sassandgin with the hashtag  #MxMo.
I can't wait to sip all of your lovely creations! 



Monday, February 23, 2015

Mixology Monday XCIV: That's Not a Martini!

This month's Mixology Monday challenge comes to us from Dagreb at Nihil Utopia, and I couldn't be more delighted with his challenge: the Martini. We are taking this classic drink and tweaking it to our own specifications.

First off, my own two cents about the Martini from behind the stick.
  • The Martini is made with gin. Would you like a martini made with vodka? Then please order a Vodka Martini.
  • If you belly up to my bar and order a martini I'll ask you these two questions: (1) What is your gin preference? and (2) Would you like an olive or a twist? You may assume that it will be stirred, chilled to perfection and double strained into a chilled cocktail glass. If you would like it shaken or on the rocks you need to tell me. If you would like (god forbid) those crazy little ice chips from a severely shaken martini floating on the surface of your cocktail, I need to know that too. Wet? Dry? Sweet? Perfect? I'll make it any way you like it, but please don't assume I make it the same way your favorite bartender at Outback Steakhouse makes it. I really want you to be happy with your drink, but a martini requires a little instruction. Know the terminology and any bartender worth their stuff should be able to make it for you to spec every time.
  • Vermouth.  Vermouth is a bittered, infused, fortified wine. After opening a bottle it needs to be kept refrigerated, and though it doesn't go bad as quickly as wine, vermouth will sour over time. Hate vermouth? That's likely due to the fact that you've never enjoyed a fresh, quality made vermouth. There are two varieties, dry and sweet (blanco and rosso). My favorite vermouths are produced by Vya in California. There are also some fabulous Spanish vermouths, my favorite being Perucchi.  A finely made vermouth is sippable on its own. They're worth tracking down. For more on the basics of vermouth, check this out.
  • My take on the Dirty Martini: while it's fun to joke with my guests about "how dirty they like it" (*wink*wink*), I believe olive brine exists within a martini to cover up the flavor profiles of an ill made spirit. Choose a better quality base spirit and you won't need to drown your cocktail in salt & vinegar. A reasonable, balanced ratio of olive brine to gin is 1:4, but I have made many a dirty martini where the patron requested it "porn star dirty" and wanted it made 1:1. This just seems pointless to me. And that much sodium on top of alcohol can't be good for your blood pressure.
  • Those triangular shaped glasses you use are called "Martini glasses" because historically they most often held a Martini. However, that doesn't mean that every drink contained in them are types of martinis. They are simply cocktail glasses. They may contain a Martini or many other lovely cocktails. The term "Appletini" is a misnomer. The ingredient list does not fit the bill for what a Martini or even a Vodka Martini would contain. It's an Apple Cocktail.
Rant over.

But, how do I prefer my Martini? That depends on the gin. Understanding the flavor profile of your gin of choice is key to crafting the perfect Martini with it. With each gin there are elements of a martini that will highlight or elevate the flavor profile of that particular gin. For my palette, if it's a classic, London dry gin, I prefer it bone dry, with a twist. If it's a citrusy, new-American-style-gin, I prefer it sweet, with a dash of orange bitters and a twist. If I'm sipping on a barrel-aged gin, I use the same ratios I would use for a Manhattan, and take it sweet with a dash of aromatic bitters.

What's currently in my glass? And how would I order it? I'd ask for a sweet Uncle Val's Martini with a dash of orange bitters and a twist. Depending on where I was at I might also instruct them that I want it stirred, not shaken, and served up. It's a bit like ordering a drink at Starbucks, where coffee culture demands you know all the terminology and know how to communicate it in the right order.

2 oz Uncle Val's Botanical Gin
.25 oz Vya Sweet Vermouth
2 ds Angostura Orange Bitters

Stir until outside of mixing glass begins to frost (approx. 45 seconds).
Double strain into chilled cocktail glass (I keep mine in the freezer).
Express lemon oil over surface of cocktail.
Garnish with remaining twist.

Want to know how NOT to order a martini? Several months back I received a service well ticket for a Martini: New Amsterdam Gin (our well), perfect, dirty, twist. I questioned their server as to wether or not the guest understood what "perfect" meant in Martini lingo, and was told that yes, the guest wanted equal parts sweet and dry vermouth in their cocktail, in addition to olive brine. I winced and then made their cocktail as they ordered it, wondering if this was perhaps the same guest who occasionally orders well gin with Diet Coke. I tasted it before sending it out and it was just as vile as I had feared. I watched as the drink went out to the table and the guest took their first sip. The gentleman held his composure and continued to smile and chat with his date, but at the end of his meal his glass still sat there full. He paid his tab, told his server they had a great time at our restaurant, tipped well and left. I can only assume he had seen one too many old movies and ordered using some of his Hollywood Martini Lingo to impress his date. All I can say to this is that if you don't understand Martini Lingo or Bartender Lingo, just ask, and trust your bartender's opinion. We do this for a living, you know?

The Martini is one of the simplest, yet routinely poorly executed classic cocktails. Starting with good base spirits is not enough. You have to understand the technique behind making the perfect martini. There is plenty of science involved, but it's also an art form. Please stir & sip responsibly.



Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Mixology Monday MCIII: Blue - The Siren & The Blue Blood

This month's Mixology Monday challenge comes from a kindred spirit, Andrea, at Ginhound, who believes that "gin should be (her) middle name." Her challenge this month is to create something blue, wether in color or in spirit. In her announcement post, she reminds us that

"blue has been predicted as a new cocktail trend several times in recent years... but any mixer of blue drinks is faced with a bit of a dilemma as there is nothing 'natural' about E133 - the most common of blue food colors: Do I really want to mix chemicals into my perfect mixture of fresh juices and good booze? Feel free to interpret blue as freely as you wish - you can dazzle us with a brilliant blue drink or you can share that blue feeling with a melancholic drink."

In response I attempted two entries. The first is my "Siren," a rummy, spicy, sour delight that tastes as pretty as it looks! I put this one together a few months ago when I became fascinated with how bright colors mellow into egg whites in sour drinks! I love watching the etherial way the softly tinted foam floats to top of the glass after the drink is initially poured. I believe this obsession started late this last summer when a guest ordered a Midori sour. At work we make all of our "sours" with egg white, paired syrups and fresh juices. For example, our whiskey sour is made with lemon, demerara and egg white, and our tequila sour is made with agave nectar, lime and egg white. But, I hadn't experienced how much delight an artificially colored liqueur could bring to a cocktail until I made that first Midori sour with egg white, fresh lime juice and simple syrup. It was so pretty, I just had to put something similar on our menu! So, I started playing and came up with my Siren. It's eye-catching for our guests to admire and tasty to boot!

1 oz Bacardi Superior
1 oz blue curaçao
1 oz lime juice
1 oz burnt sugar syrup (recipe below)**
.25 oz allspice dram
1 egg white

Dry shake & strain over ice into a collins glass.
Garnish with a lemon twist or with lemon zest stars.
(For the lemon zest stars we cut a wide piece of lemon zest
and then punch the stars out with a small, star-shaped fondant cutter.)

"Siren", Laura Cloer, TMSPC, 2014

"Siren", Laura Cloer, TMSPC, 2014
Lately I've been playing with homemade sodas, trying to master the art of using champagne yeast for carbonation. It is not as fool proof as the recipes you come across make it seem. I'm having issues with building a consistent product. But, I did manage to put together a blueberry and juniper soda that worked perfectly in this next concoction.

For my blueberry-juniper soda I made a syrup base and added water and champagne yeast to a small plastic bottle and sealed it for 48 hours until the pressure had risen and the bottle was hard on the outside. I made my soda "to taste", but the measurements were roughly as follows: 1 part blueberry-juniper syrup**, 1.5 parts water, 1/8 tsp champagne yeast to 2 pint-sized grolsch bottles. I'm still in the process of creating my own sodas and when I get further along I'll write more about it. Until then, if you're wishing to recreate what I've done here I recommend looking at this article or this one as a guideline. On a tasting note, the blueberry-juniper soda turned out a bit sweet for me. I'm wishing I'd added a bit of lemon zest to the batch. Although the juniper notes came out in perfect balance among the bold blueberry notes.

The Blue Blood
1.5 oz Boodles Gin
.5 oz Pimm's Blackberry & Elderflower Liqueur
2 ds Bitter Truth Lemon Bitters 
Top blueberry-juniper soda

Combine ingredients together in a collins glass
over ice and garnish with a lemon twist.

"The Blue Blood," Laura Cloer, 2015 
Many, many thanks to Andrea for hosting and to Fred for very diligently and patiently keeping this thing going month after month, year after year! Can't wait to see all the other BLUE concoctions!



**BLUEBERRY-JUNIPER SYRUP: .5 cup blueberries, .5 cup water, .25 cup cane sugar, 8 juniper berries. Bring water to a boil. Dissolve sugar and add blueberries and juniper berries at a low boil for 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Let cool. Strain out berries and pulp through a fine mesh strainer.

**BURNT SUGAR SYRUP:  Caramelize .5 cup sugar in the base of a heavy sauce pan over medium heat. Slowly add .5 cup hot water and stir frequently until caramelized sugar dissolves. Chill.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

9 Last Minute Gifts for Gin Lovers Under $50

This year, due to travel and family obligations, my Framily (friend-family) will be celebrating Friendmas after the New Year.  Here are some last minute gifts to assist all you slackers (like me) who've waited until the very last minute to get to gifting!

Cocktail Kingdom's Usagi Cobbler Shaker Baby Rattle, 9.95
I have no babies, and my friends with babies don't love cocktails as much as I do. So, I have no one to buy this for. But, I still want one.

Rules of Drinking Cocktail Glass, 10.00
I gifted this to myself for my birthday last week. It's a nice, heavy rocks glass and my gin & tonics are quite at home in it.

The Homemade Gin Kit, 50.00
For the curious and adventurous, this gin-infusion kit will yield better results than the bathtub gin of yesteryear.

Gin Before Breakfast Print, 28.72
This belongs in my kitchen.

Edinburgh Christmas Gin£35.00
(Only Available in the UK; PS, if you live in the UK, could you please send me a bottle?)
Dear UK friends... do you love me? Do you want me to be happy? I need this.  xoxo

Cocktail Kingdom's Usagi Cobbler Shaker Dog Toy, 8.95
I don't have dog either, but I might have to adopt one so I can have this shaker. Maybe I can adopt a baby too for the rattle. No. Bad plan.

Nick & Nora Glasses, Set of 6, 39.96
The Thin Man. Enough said.

Fred & Friends Gin & Titonic Ice Molds, 6.95
Drink to remember the past. Drink to celebrate the future. Titanic II coming soon. Or not. Apparently the project is floating in financially unstable waters. But, raise your glasses anyway!

Crate & Barrel's Tipsy Penguin Cocktail Pick, 4.95
For my smoked salmon stuffed olives. I do dirty right.

I will be moving over the New Year, so you may not see me again until next year!



Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Mixology Monday XCII: Apples - Belles & Whistles

This month our fearless Mixology Monday leader, Fred Yarm from cocktail virgin slut, challenged us to take on apples! As he explains,

"Apples have been an American booze staple with Johnny Appleseed as its symbolic hero. John Chapman became that legend by planting apple tree nurseries across the northern Appalachia and the Midwest. He did not choose grafting techniques to reproduce sweet edible ones, but bred them to make sour apples perfect for cider and applejack. Michael Pollan in The Botany of Desire proclaimed, 'Really, what Johnny Appleseed was doing and the reason he was welcome in every cabin in Ohio and Indiana was he was bringing the gift of alcohol to the frontier. He was our American Dionysus.' Apple products began to enter into the mixed drink literature in the 19th century with the Stone Fence appearing in Jerry Thomas' Bartender Guide and got quite refined by the end of the century such as the Widow's Kiss in George Kappeler's Modern American Drinks. Indeed, apples have found their way into modern cocktails via Calvados, applejack, sparkling and still cider, apple butter, and muddled apple."

I grew up on an old dairy farm that had a lovely orchard. By late summer we were picking apples with hooks on long poles and putting them up for winter. Any that fell to the ground we'd grab up and eat in chunks cut out with our pocket knives. I distinctly remember one Fall when my mother and older sisters put up a large batch of hand pressed apple cider. It was delicious and we sipped on it all winter long. The apple trees in our orchard were the first trees I learned to climb, before I got brave enough to scale the maple and oak trees around our farm house.

Apple juice. Apple cider. Apple butter. Apple pie. Apple crisp. Apple tart. Apples with cheese. Yes, apples run rampant through the glorious memories of my childhood. Which I suppose is where the root of the inspiration came for this next cocktail. I wanted something that would express a bit about myself. Each element in this drink reminds me of my childhood home. Each sip allows me to relive a cherished memory.

The elements? I created an Earl Gray Tea Infused Laird's Applejack and paired it with allspice dram, burnt sugar syrup, Angostura Bitters, lemon oil and hickory smoke.

For Earl Gray Tea Infused Laird's Applejack:
Combine one .750 ml bottle of Laird's Apple Jack with 5 bags of Earl Gray tea. Stir. Let sit 30 minutes. Strain.

For Burnt Sugar Syrup:
Caramelize .5 cup sugar in the base of a heavy sauce pan over medium heat. Slowly add .5 cup hot water and stir frequently until caramelized sugar dissolves. Chill.

Ingredients for a Belles & Whistles

Belles & Whistles

 Rinse an Old Fashioned glass with allspice dram.
You can purchase St Elizabeth's, but I make my own using this recipe.
Place 1 large ice sphere in glass.
Garnish glass with a lemon twist, misting lemon oil over ice sphere.

 Into a small narrow-spouted bottle (I used an old Hudson Whiskey bottle), combine:
2 ds Angostura Bitters
.5 oz burnt sugar syrup
2 oz Earl Gray Tea infused Applejack

Using a PolyScience Smoking Gun, smoke bottle containing cocktail briefly,
then cork and shake briefly.

Allow cocktail to sit with smoke for as long as the drinker desires.
The longer it sits the smokier the cocktail will become.

Pouring a Belles & Whistles
I suppose it is ultimately a beautiful, smoky twist on an applejack old-fashioned. The sweetness and smokiness match the apple brandy on point and the lemon oil and bitters add depth and balance. This drink deserves to be sipped with friends and family, sitting next to the fireplace and pondering the wonder and beauty of a simple life.

Many thanks again to our wonderful host and guide, Fred Yarm and to all the rest of the participants in Mixology Monday that keep this thing fun!



Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Spirited Education - The Spirit of Gin: A Stirring Miscellany of the New Gin Revival

"The spirit we call gin has, within it, an intricate societal role that is still unraveling today. At the moment, we are riding the wave of a new gin revival thanks to a remarkable number of new producers--as well as established distillers--who have introduced a wide range of unusual botanicals to create stunning new flavor profiles. The journey is not over and the adventure has only begun."

Matt Teacher, author of the newly released The Spirit of Gin: A Stirring Miscellany of the New Gin Revival (Cider Mill Press), went on quite the adventure while gathering the material for this lovingly crafted reference, dedicated to my favorite spirit. I was lucky enough to get my hands on a copy of it last week.Teacher's energy and excitement for gin carried him on a global adventure, as he rode the wave of the new gin revival, touring reputed gin joints and distilleries and interviewing their lauded proprietors. I'm a little a lot jealous of all the pretty gin joints he got to visit and all the pretty gins he got to taste along the way.

Teacher's gin opus contains brief narratives of his encounters at various gin hot-spots around the world, written with such curiosity and love for the spirit that you wish you'd been sitting sipping right next to him. For the gin neophyte, The Spirit of Gin serves as an excellent reference and guide, chronicling the history of gin from its origins to modernity, reviewing the distilling process, outlining the various styles of gin, and defining the common botanicals used in gin production.

Along his journey, Teacher was challenged (and through him, now, so am I), to truly delve into the complexity of the spirit. At The London Gin Club (22 Great Chapel Street, Soho, London), Teacher met with Julia Forte, who serves each gin with a specific garnish or tonic, "to either pair... or contrast with the leading botanical," in order to highlight each gin's unique flavor profile. "A distinction," Teacher notes, "not made in the United States," where we tend to just throw a lime on the side.

While meeting with Alessandro Palazzi at Dukes Bar (Dukes Hotel, St. James's Place, London), Teacher noted that there wasn't a single ice cube in site. The glasses and the spirits came straight out of the freezer. Palazzi explained how gin "thickens" and "texturally develops when stored in the freezer." While I have noted how chilling a spirit will effect its flavor profile, I never considered how it might effect the texture or viscosity of the drink. I must explore this more in the near future.

The book is illustrated throughout with vintage gin ads, historical photographs, vintage and modern gin labels, and countless cocktail recipes Teacher encountered along the way. The final section of the book (nearly the last half) consists of a Catalog of Gin Distillers, which lists over 160 gin distillers in alphabetical order, along with some notes on each distiller. Needless to say, I now have a very long "shopping list" of gins to add to my collection that I was previously unaware of.

After one of his interviews, Teacher notes that, "Gin is an art, and those who create it and mix it are using their intellect to balance flavors and stimulate taste buds." I couldn't agree more.

Cheers and Happy Reading!