Tag Archive | cocktails

A bit of rock (sugar), a lot of rye, some sliced citrus, and a bunch of spice

Throughout December I started several blog posts without finishing them. There were more distractions than usual this holiday season. I decided that even though several of the unfinished post are seasonal, I should finish and post a few. So, here’s one:

During the weeks we were shuttling car loads of stuff from the old place to the new, I poured the last bits of a couple of bottles of bourbon into jars with a sliced orange, lemon, a couple of vanilla beans, and various spices to infuse for a few weeks to make a batch of Rock n Rye. After filtering and decanting, I made this label when we set out the libations at the Christmas party.

During the weeks we were shuttling car loads of stuff from the old place to the new in 2017, I poured the last bits of a couple of bottles of bourbon into jars with a sliced orange, lemon, a couple of vanilla beans, and various spices to infuse for a few weeks to make a batch of Rock n Rye. After filtering and decanting, I made this label when we set out the libations at the Christmas party.

For a number of years I ran a Steampunk-based roleplaying game. We got together about once a month for an afternoon game. And people brought food to share, it that it was also a potluck. My husband would frequently look for period recipes that could be adapted into a good potluck dish. In the course of this research he happened upon the origin of the liqueur known as Rock and Rye. It was invented in the 1800s by a guy who was trying to figure out how to turn a large quantity of bad-tasting bourbon into a sellable product.

This requires a short digression about bourbon, particularly bourbon in the U.S. during the 19th Century. Farmers had long been in the habit of turning a certain amount of their annual grain production into alcohol. Besides being a product other people were willing to pay for, barrels of whiskey and similar spirits could be stored safely for much longer than grain could. Usually. But every now and then something would go wrong (the storage building might have gotten to hot for a period of time, or could have been flooded, et cetera) and many barrels of the alcohol that should have aged into something quite delicious would be ruined.

So, this guy had come into possession of a quantity of such bourbon, and he tried various things to make it palatable. The process he settled upon was to mix rock candy (sugar), sliced up citrus, and some spices (most notably star anise) into the bourbon, let it infuse of a month or so, then strain out the liquid. The result was a sweet-tasting booze that carried a deceptive kick (because the citrus oil, sugar, and spices masked a lot of the alcohol taste). He patented it and began selling it for its supposed medicinal purposes. Many decades later, during Prohibition, because Rock and Rye was still often sold in drugstores as a medication, it was one of the few products containing alcohol one could buy in many states.

The point was that there was a recipe for how to make batches of it at home, rather than go to a liquor store and see if they carried the manufactured stuff. Pick of the cheapest kind of rot gut whiskey you could find (it didn’t necessarily need to be bourbon or a rye whiskey), slice up an orange and/or a lemon, put it in mason jars with rock candy, star anise, and so forth. Keep it in a dry cool place. Check on it and shake it every now and then to make sure the sugar dissolves, and eventually strain it out into bottles.

Two of the labels from last year’s batches…

We tried it. And I was quite surprised at how good it was. I started experimenting some more. Any time I picked up a new bourbon or rye (assuming it wasn’t too expensive), if I decided I didn’t really like it for making cocktails, it would go on a back shelf until I was ready to make a batch of rock and rye. It’s difficult to find plain rock candy now a days—it almost always has artificial colors and flavors added—but I can usually find Lump Candy at the local asian market, which works just fine. You can also find big bags of star anise, as well as cinnamon sticks, at much cheaper prices than the regular grocery store.

What would usually prompt me to make a batch is if I noticed that I had an orange or a lemon or lime in the fruit bowl that was getting iffy. The skin was hardening and you just know in another couple of days it would start to mold. So I’d grab a couple of mason jars, whatever cheap bourbon was on the back shelf, a package of rock candy, and start assembling. For spices I tend to put three or four stars of anise in each jar, two or three sticks of cinnamon, and about five whole cloves. Sometimes if I have vanilla bean on hand I’ll slice one of those and throw in, as well.

And sometimes there would be other fruit. There was a bunch of dried apricots and dried cherries left over after my husband made solstice cake one year (and the leftovers had been sitting in the pantry for a few months at that time), so they went into a batch of Rock and Rye.

The last partial bottle that I still haven’t quite finished off.

For the last several years I’ve made two or three bottles (one batch is usually two mason jars, which once you strain out the solid bits, turns into one bottle of finished products) in time from our annual Christmas party. I give each batch a name, based on what it tasted like when I sipped it, and I make labels for the bottles. I’ve been picking up small plastic shot glasses that are in the shape of the red plastic cups you see frat boys drinking beer out of in movies—I can usually find them in both red and green at Christmas time. And I set out cocktail umbrellas along with the shot glasses, just for fun.

Because it isn’t the same base booze each time, and because the citrus isn’t always the same, the batches do wind up tasting very different from each other.

Last year I ended up making three batches, plus I had a lot of the 2017 favorite, “Farewell to Ballard” leftover. The three batches I made last year wound up being labeled “You’ll Get a KICK Out of Me,” “Feel the Lemon Flow Through You,” and “As Sure as There’s an X in Christmas!” Two of those are song lyrics, and one is a riff on a line from Star Wars.

Because we’ve been caught in this slow-moving apocalypse for eleven months, I didn’t make any new batches of Rock and Rye. If we couldn’t get together for a party, there would be no one to share them with. And for whatever reason, I still had a lot leftovers from last year, any way.

I typed whatever, but I know a big part of the reason. It isn’t a beverage that you drink a lot of at a time. One of my friends misunderstood the first view years we did it, and was shocked after he had been sipping at a shot for a while at how the alcohol was hit him. When I describe letting the booze infuse with the citrus and sugar, that gives some people the impression that it is juice with some booze in it. It is not diluted. It’s still a shot of bourbon, it just has flavor added. No significant amount of the juice of the citrus winds up in the liquid. You get the citrus oils, not the juice.

It’s the kind of thing that you drink in small quantities. And sipping shots of flavored bourbon by myself isn’t that appealing. But I’ve invented a couple of drinks using the Rock and Rye as a base. One is a toddy: put a shot or two of Rock and Rye in a mug, top off the mug with hot water, add a slice of lemon and a cinnamon stick. It’s really good on a cold winter night. The other is a Rock and Rye and Soda: but some ice in a double rocks glass, add a shot or two of Rock and Rye, top off the glass with seltzer water. The latter is a bit better for warm weather.

I realized that I still had those bottles left over the week that we hosted the virtual version of the party. I have been trying to use them up so I can clean out the bottles and think about possibly making a batch for next Christmas. Because maybe we can have a party this year?

Sunday Silliness: A couple of takes on the Quarantini

A friend shared this image last week, and then I shared it on twitter, and I have subsequently seen mention here and there in various streams of cocktails called the Quarantini. I understand the urge, because many of us are staying home and dealing with any anxiety about our own health or the health of our loved ones, so coming up with a pandemic- or quarantine-themed cocktail seems like a fairly harmless way to pass the time. Well, maybe not entirely harmless: The rise of the quarantini! People whip up coronavirus-themed cocktails at home during the pandemic, prompting Emergen-C to warn that its products should not be ‘taken with alcohol’.

But assuming you aren’t mixing things that oughtn’t to be consumed at the same time, this can be fun. My husband, who used to be a bartender, shared this post about one bartender’s version of a Quarantini: The Quarantini! which does look tasty (not surprising coming from a bartender) and at least has a nice story to go with it. I object to this one a bit because it hits two of my pet peeves regarding cocktails:

  • The first is that a good cocktail recipe should not be dependent on super-specific, branded ingredients. If you can’t make it without buying a specific brand of an uncommon alcohol, liqueur, or cordial, most people aren’t going to be able to make it.
  • A true martini is a three ingredient drink: gin, vermouth, and a garnish (olive or a twist of lemon, traditionally). It has been argued that a martini is actually a four ingredient drink, because they taste best if served very cold, so if you consider temperature an ingredient, that is that. Regardless, the above recipe has eight ingredients (and is also recommended to be served chilled, so nine counting temperature) and that just isn’t a martini!

An important caveat to my first point: while it is true that I have specific gins that I will recommend if one if making a martini, as well as a favorite dry vermouth, those are recommendations, but the actual recipe. I have a number of favorite bourbons and ryes for making Manhattans or Old Fashioneds with, as well, but the specific brand isn’t part of the recipe, right?

Anyway, I find this recipe much more fun: Margaret and Helen introduce the COVID19 Quarantini. It’s strong enough to make you think Obama is still President and will knock you on your ass from 6 feet away. #SocialDistancing. And half of that is that is it always fun to read a new Margaret and Helen blog post. If you aren’t already a fan, you should check it out.

One part vermouth and 19 parts gin sounds insane, until you remember that a lot of people make their martinis by putting a little vermouth in the glass, swirling it around, then dumping it out and pouring the chilled gin into the glass. My typical recipe is closer to a 1 part vermouth, 9 parts gin, for example.

I’ll allow the vitamin C table garnish on the assumption that you are swallowing the tablet before you begin sipping the drink. If you want to get vitamin C into the cocktail itself, maybe a twist of lemon will be fine.

Edited to Add: It’s been pointed out to me that because Margaret and Helen often write in a distinctive style that one should not always take literally, that not everyone understands that when Helen says to serve this with hand sanitizer, she means that if you’re making a drink for someone else, you should use hand sanitizer since both you and the person you are making the drink for will be touching the surface of the glass. Not that you should put hand sanitizer into the drink.

Weekend Update 2/25/2017: We have to have standards! (aka, Martinis for Science!)

This week’s Friday round up of links was one of my biggest collections, with over 100 linked stories, and I didn’t see much in the news yesterday that struck me with that sense of “Dang! I wish I’d known that to include in this week’s list,” nor many that made me go “Oh! We have to follow up on that!” Part of the reason is that I seem to be coming down with something and had barely enough energy to get through my work day yesterday, let alone spend any break time reading news. I crashed right after logging out at work, then got up and started dinner and so on.

But I noticed that once again a couple of links that I had bookmarked to include in yesterday’s list were missed, and one of them absolutely must be shared!

ANSI STANDARD K100.1-1974: SAFETY CODE AND REQUIREMENTS FOR DRY MARTINIS. The American National Standards Institute is (to quote Wikipedia): “a private non-profit organization that oversees the development of voluntary consensus standards for products, services, processes, systems, and personnel in the United States. The organization also coordinates U.S. standards with international standards so that American products can be used worldwide.” ANSI was originally founded nearly 100 years ago when five societies of engineers and three government agencies founded the American Engineering Standards Committee. The organization went through a few name changes over the years before settling on the current name in 1969. ANSI doesn’t impose standards upon industries and so forth, but provides an accreditation of the processes that industry groups, committees, and so forth use to adopt standards. It then publishes the standards once adopted by the group.

Anyway, the amusing document I have linked is a real ANSI standard, originally published through the ANSI process in 1966, and last updated in 1974. When you read it, you can tell it was meant as a joke, but we all know how engineers and scientists can take a joke too far. I don’t know which part made me laugh hardest—probably the table entitled “Maximum Permissible Olive Displacement.” I’m very happy to note that the official ANSI standard for martini forbids vodka from the drink. They won me over right there!

The martini I made according to the ANSI standard.

The martini I made according to the ANSI standard.

For purely scientific reasons earlier this week I made a martini according to the specifications and thoroughly test it. It was delicious. The standard calls for a 16-to-1 ratio of gin to dry vermouth (variants as high as 20-to-1 are also permissible), and only one olive, the size of which depends upon the size of the serving glass and is listed in the table that made me laugh. I used my favorite gin, Bombay Sapphire.

When I usually make my own martinis at home, the ratio I use is 7-to-1 or 8-to-1. And I really love olives, so I usually put about three olives on a single toothpick to go with the drink. So this was definitely different than my usual. Very good, and I will probably start making them at a higher than 8-to-1 ratio more often in the future. It’s a little difficult to hit that ratio the way I usually make martinis, because normally I make them in a smaller coup-style cocktail glass (of which I own an antique set). The coup glass holds about a 3oz or 3½oz drink, so I would need to measure ⅛ of an ounce of vermouth to 2oz of gin (plus room for the olive); while all of my measuring devices only go down to a ¼ of an ounce. I can eyeball an eighth of an ounce, but it isn’t ideal.

For my experiment I used my more modern martini glass which can hold about a 5oz or 5½oz drink, so it was ¼oz vermouth to 4oz gin, plus the olive.

The second martini was a my usual proportions and with three olives.

The second martini was a my usual proportions and with three olives.

As I was getting to the end of the drink, I figured for science sake I needed to compare it to another version. Either my usual 8-to-1 ratio with three olives, or my favorite martini, which is to make puppy eyes at my hubby (who used to be a bartender) to make me one. His method it so put ¼oz of vermouth in the shaker with ice, swish it around, then pour the vermouth down the sink, and then pour gin over the ice (which has trace amounts of vermouth) clinging to it, shake it, and pour it into a glass. I have tried to make them exactly as he shows me, and they just taste like plain gin when I do it. When Michael does it, some how, it still has the magical hint of vermouth. Anyway, I asked my husband, and he said he was willing to make me one, but since most of the time I made my own, the most responsible scientific comparison would be to compare it to my usual recipe. So that’s what I did.

I liked it as well. I can’t really say that one was significantly better than the other, though I did like the higher ratio of gin, my main critique of the ANSI standard martini was that with only one olive there was an even tinier trace of olive brine in the mix, and I missed it. I have to confess, here, that often I like what is called a Dirty Martini, where you add between ½ to an ounce of olive brine to the recipe. A lot of martini people don’t like dirty martinis (my good friend, Jared, refers to dirty martinis as “vile” in a rather emphatic tone of voice; but then, he insists that lemon peel is the superior garnish for a gin martini, so what does he know?).

Anyway, clearly more experimentation is needed. I’ll probably be trying the higher ratios of gin with my usual number of olives. And, of course, I need to try a dirty variant. In the interest of science, I will probably even try the ANSI ratios with a lemon peel garnish. It’s all for science, right?

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