Sunday, November 16, 2008

MxMo XXXIII: Made From Scratch, pt. I

This month's Mixology Monday, which I've missed the deadline for by about two weeks now, was being generously hosted by Doug over at the Pegu Blog - sorry Doug! Much like all past & future MxMo's this one followed a most interesting format. His (awesome!) chosen theme, as passed down to we mere mortals from on high?
"Bring forth unto us a beverage! Thy beverage shall depend upon one
or more ingredients that thou makest yourself. Beyond that decree, you may
voyage to the edge of the Earth or beyond."
Well, as anyone who has ever even glanced sideways at this blog will attest, I've never made anything from scratch to use in a cocktail. Nope - no bitters, infusions, syrups or oddball/hard-to-find ingredients here...

That I said that with a straight face is suprising to me & should sound dubious to you 'o gentle reader, as homemade ingredients are something of an obvious passion of mine. But what to highlight, something garnered from the edge of the Earth or beyond, as Doug said? A topic which I've been experimenting with for some time (but have inexplicably yet to post on, on-time or otherwise) which, once made, can bring flavors from the ends of the world right to your glass: Tinctures.

are quite simple concoctions really, consisting of nothing more than an ingredient - generally an herb, root or spice - whose flavor has been extracted by means of a solvent - ethanol in this instance. Chances are, no matter how humble your spice cabinet may (or may not) be, you've got a tincture or three in there right now; got pure Vanilla extract?

The reason for an ethanol base is simple: high-proof alcohol extracts the essential oils - the aromatic compounds which provide scent & through this medium, flavor - quite efficiently. Most tinctures fall into the 35-80% ABV range for this very reason, though even the weakest of them (that Vanilla extract of yours likely comes in at 35% for example) typically start in a neutral base which is around 80-95% ABV before being diluted somewhat. It is in this matter, incidentally, that I've never been more pleased about college students fulfilling their odd requirements for drinking. Simply put, due to the demand such persons have for high-proof Neutral Grain Spirits (read: Everclear), such items continue to be produced & sold in most parts of the country. But it was not always this way - once upon a time NGS's filled an important role, not by being drunk with Kool-aide, but rather in the production of colorants, bitters, infusions & tinctures.

In Jerry Thomas' How to Mix Drinks, as well as Christian Schltz's accompanying Manual For the Manufacture of Cordials, Liquors, Fancy Syrups &c., &c. a sizeable number recipes for producing colorants oils, extracts and tinctures are included as well as referenced. Take this one for example:

Tincture of Cinnamon
Place 2 pounds of ground Cinnamon into a jar with 1 gallon 95 per cent alcohol, closely covered. At the end of 8 days strain the liquor clear; wash the sediment with 1 quart proof spirits [read: 80°]; strain it; mix the two liquors together, and filter through blotting paper.

All well & good if you have use for a 1¼ Gallons of tincture! Generally speaking, tinctures last a long time, since a little goes such a long way (much like bitters) scaling recipes such as this one down tend to be a good plan, like so:

Tincture of Cinnamon
2 oz. whole Cinnamon sticks
8 oz. Neutral Grain Spirit (Everclear)
Combine ingredients in an airtight container for about three weeks, agitating every day. When ready, fine-strain to remove all solids & bottle. Give this a whirl in Jeff Morgenthaler's Autumn Leaves.

Now, as most of us don't manufacture imitation spirits & colorants as our friend Mr. Schultz did, we get to the subject of using tinctures today. Certainly, tinctures are optimal for adding tiny dashes of flavor to given recipes - particularly when adding such a flavor in the form of its originating spice would be impractical. Furthermore, while spices are far more available in modern days than they were in antiquity, the problem of their (sometimes rapid) degredation is still a valid one. Those same oils & aromatic compounds which give spices their characteristic favors, tend to be greatly reduced with time - especially once whole spices been dried & ground. In this way, tinctures act as a preservative - allowing one to capture the flavor & aroma of a fresh spice while concentrating it for use much farther down the line than a quantity of that spice would ordinarily allow. Likewise, since it will grow no stronger or weaker with age, tinctures are quite stable in their intensity - a feature which some, like Jamie Boudreau of Spirits & Cocktails, advocate using to prepare bitters with consistency.

Another fantastic use, which many 'seat of the pants' sessions of TDN have taught me, is constructing flavored syrups on-the-fly. Despite my penchant for making all sorts of flavored syrups, this peculiar affliction also graces my colleagues in the Mixoloseum, so on any given evening there will be recipes calling for syrups infused with Coffee, Cinnamon, Allspice, Nutmeg, black Pepper or any number of other items. Yet by taking a small quantity of ordinary simple syrup, one can add a given tincture to produce the flavor(s) required in mere seconds, like so:

Cinnamon Syrup
4 oz. Simple syrup (2:1)
2-3 drops Cinnamon Tincture
Combine ingredients & shake well to mix. Use as a normal Cinnamon syrup, like in Rick of Kaiser Penguin's Jet Pilot.

Now that you've got some uses lined up for these versatile extracts, how do you go about crafting your own? Tinctures are fairly forgiving in their construction, but here are a few hard & fast rules for making them on your own:
  1. Barring a few of the stronger spices, tinctures are generally prepared in a 5 or 4:1 ratio of Spirit:Spice.
  2. Tinctures take a while to make, generally-speaking about two weeks of maceration, though certain spices & herbs require more time, even in high-test spirit. Color is a good indicator - when the color of the liquid has deepened to match that of the herbs & grows no darker in hue, you're likely good to go.
  3. Scent is also a good indicator - when you can detect no alcohol fumes overpowering the aroma of whatever you've infused, the tincture is more or less ready. Taste can be used here too, but be sure to only sample the tiniest of tiny amounts to avoid blowing a fuse in your taste buds. Bitter or spicy tinctures are recommended against sampling undiluted.
  4. If you'd like your tinctures at a milder final proof, feel free to dilute them with water. However, to avoid diluting the flavor, you'll want to allow said water to infuse in the washed spices for about a week before you strain & add it to your original alcohol base.

To get started, here are handful of tinctures which are much-valued in my kitchen & bar (for a full list of the tinctures I've currently got on hand, check out the "Behind the Bar: Tinctures & Bitters" sidebar on the right):

Tincture of Iranian Saffron
4 oz. Neutral Grain Spirits
1 Teaspoon: Iranian Saffron threads
Combine ingredients in an airtight container for eighteen days, agitating gently each day. Should be a delicate, clear reddish-pink in color. When ready, fine-strain to remove all solids & bottle. Give 1 drop of this a try in a Pisco Sour, or two drops in a Silver Fizz.

Tincture of Black Cardamom
2 oz. Black Cardamom, seeds only
8 oz. Neutral Grain Spirits
Combine ingredients in an airtight container for three weeks, agitating gently each day. Should be a slightly opaque, smoke-hued color. When ready, fine-strain to remove all solids & bottle. Give 2 drops of this a try in a Sidecar or Tom Collins.

Tincture of Wormwood
2 oz. Wormwood
8 oz. Neutral Grain Spirits
Combine ingredients in an airtight container for three weeks, agitating gently each day. Should be an opaque, deep dark green in color. When ready, fine-strain to remove all solids & bottle. Give this a try in Darcy O'Neil's researched reproduction of the infamous Green Swizzle or the handful of other antique recipes what call for "Wormwood bitters".

Tincture of Scotch Bonnet
7 oz. Neutral Grain Spirits
2 whole Scotch Bonnet peppers, seeds only
1 Tablespoon: Scotch Bonnet pepper, julienned
Please be extremely cautious when working with these peppers, wearing gloves & being careful to avoid contact with your eyes or mouth. Combine ingredients in an airtight container for sixteen days, agitating gently each day. Should be clear with a very slight, almost ominous, oily orange tint. When ready, fine-strain to remove all solids & bottle. Give this a (careful) try as the spicy element in a wicked Bloody Mary - sub 2 drops in for your favorite hot sauce.

Cheers, enjoy & sorry again Doug!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Stop Me if You've Heard this One

So, a cocktail geek & some lovely ladies walk into a bar...

Which bar, you ask? Why Death & Co. in New York city of course. And what's so special about that? Well, tonight is a juniper-scented TDN over at the Mixoloseum and what better venue for tossing up new & interesting libations than there? Ok fine, one's own kitchen is cool too (& ordinarily where I'd be for a TDN) but hell, why not go live with it though some curious combination of mobile technologies. Besides it's not like they have any Gin at Death & surely not, no...

So be sure to join us tonight, with as much live cocktail crafting as my wallet (& the bartenders' patience) will afford from D&C, in the Mixoloseum Bar at 7pm EST. The only requirements for all you home participants are a bottle of Gin that you've never bought before & the extra-spiffy prize for the best original cocktail of the evening is a bottle of the new (& oh-so-tasty) Angostura Orange bitters! Tune in here later for updates & a recap of my TDN coverage...