Bars can be expensive. Not that hotel bar you eye occasionally, the one with the $15 drinks. No, I’m talking about your home bar.
If you love cocktails and cocktails books — which I do — then it is possible to have stack of “gotta make” recipes. Taken together, all those recipes can demand that your home bar be extensively stocked. And there’s the rub.
I collect the Food and Wine Cocktails books, one published each year. The 2013 edition is easily the best, flush with wonderful beverage ideas. I recommend the ideas and the book.
One idea called for both tequila and mescal. Tequila I have in abundance. Of Mescal, not a drop. I know enough to know that all tequilas are a subset of mescal so, I assumed, the larger collection of mescals had to include some bottles with modest price tags. My first nearby liquor store want $54. I passed, heading for my corner store which always has a good selection at modest prices. $120 and $80. I now began my mantra of “Curse you, Red Baron.”
Back home I examined the recipe. It wanted agave, which I believe, based on the prices in Whole Foods, is as outrageously priced as certain liquors that are based on plants related to asparagus. [Oh, you thought agave used to be considered a cactus but is really a lily. There’s been a little update and it has been reclassified again as a cousin to asparagus. That should give tequila drinkers both pause and smug satisfaction: it is, too, healthy.]
I felt confused and cheap. I rethought the whole concept for this cocktail and I revised it. A lot. It’s now my concoction.
What had caught my eye initially was the heat. This drink begins by muddling poblanos, along with jalapenos the most popular of hot peppers. I imagined a meal of stuffed poblanos consumed with a fork accompanied by muddled poblanos consumed sip by sip.
To fight the poblano heat, the muddling includes fresh pineapple chunks. Then tequila, and lemon juice and that backbone ingredient of most cocktails: a simple sugar syrup. All that resonates in my brain like a mariachi band.
Once made, the drink is pretty to look at that I waited, perhaps, a full three seconds before imbibing. Frankly, my dear, I don’t think mescal would have made a damn difference.
As a hint of things to come, I have been experimenting with hot sugar syrups, spicy hot. In place of the simple syrup, you could use a habanero sugar syrup here for a refined blast of fire. More about that as spring evolves.
Muddled Heat and Sweet
Yield: 1 cocktail
- 4 ¼ inch thick rings of poblano + 1 more for garnish
- 4 1-inch cubes of fresh pineapple
- 2 ounces of silver tequila
- 1 ounce of freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 ounce simple syrup
In a cocktail shaker, muddle 4 of the poblano chile rings with the pineapple. Add the tequila, lemon juice and simple syrup. Fill the shaker with ice, and shake vigorously. Pour into a chilled cocktail class filled with crush ice. Garnish, if you wish, with a poblano ring or a citrus round.
Source: Brian O’Rourke with inspiration from Food and Wine Cocktails 2013 [the Pablo Escabar]
Photo Information: Canon T2i, EFS 60MM Macro Lens, F/5.6, 1/100th second, ISO-1600
Just what is a cocktail? One web-searched definition says:
“An alcoholic drink consisting of a spirit or several spirits mixed with other ingredients, such as fruit juice, lemonade, or cream.”
Cocktail guru Mittie Hellmich in The Ultimate Bar Book offers this more classical and constructivist definition:
“A cocktail is made up of three principal components, the base alcohol, a body or modifier, and the perfume or flavoring agent.”
So, bourbon on the rocks is a drink, but not a cocktail. A margarita is a cocktail: the base of tequila, the body of orange liqueur, and the perfume of lime or lemon juice plus simple syrup.
Yes, the perfume can have multiple components. So too can the body. These secondary spirits can easily number more than one. Some Caribbean cocktails will sport three or four or more spirits seeking to enchant and complement a base of rum.
Which leads us to simple syrup. Naturally, there is no such thing. Look up recipes and you’ll find three major considerations:
- What should the ratio of sugar to water be: 2-to-1 or 1-to-1?
- How are the sugar and water actually combined?
- What kind of sugar to use?
We need the sugar syrup, notes Dale DeGroff in The Essential Cocktail, because we are often using freshly squeezed lemon and lime juice. A sweetener is essential for flavor balance. But you cannot just add sugar to your raw cocktail mix because it will not dissolve properly in the alcohol and fruit juice. There will be little crystals that you will sense as you drink. Not smooth. Not enjoyable.
You do need a sugar syrup. The older recipes call for a concentration of 2-to-1, sugar to water. Sometimes that kind of syrup is called dense or intense. It’s very sweet and packs sweetening power in a small volume. In the past, cocktails were smaller and you had less volume to add to achieve sweetness. Today, cocktails, and cocktail glasses, are bigger. There is more room for ingredients and you really need the larger volume of a less intense syrup to help fill the glass.
You’ll find a wide range of cooking techniques for sugar syrup:
 Combine cold water and sugar, heat to boiling, stir until dissolved
 Once dissolved in , keep on simmering for a few minutes
 Bring water to a boil, remove from the heat and stir in the sugar
 Bring water to a boil, add the sugar, and cook until dissolved
I prefer option . I have, of course, forgotten the syrup was on the stove. Cooked for an hour, they syrup becomes thick, golden and rich. I recommend simmering for about 5 minutes, until there is just the first dawn of color in the syrup.
Lastly, what sugar to use? White,superfine, brown of some kind, turbinado, … It’s up to you, although I generally stick to plain white. Dale DeGroff suggests a brown sugar syrup to go with rum drinks and that is a solid idea. [Pun there: solid, syrup?]
Syrups will last a week or a bit more in the refrigerator unadorned. You can add a shot of lemon juice or rum or vodka to serve as a preservative. Keep the syrup, without a preservative, in your refrigerator for too long and it becomes a science experiment. In which case, you need to throw away BOTH and syrup AND the container. Sterilization usually works. Not always. You do not want to actually participate in the science experiment.
Over the coming months, sugar syrups will appear in abundance. The syrups and matching beverages, some alcoholic and some [really truly] not.