Saturday, November 29, 2014

Sangria Theorems

In college, I took several statistical analysis classes, which I found I had a decent understanding of despite never being all that capable with mathematics in general. When facing concrete values mapped out in a scatter-plot or a density function, I could quickly get a surprisingly accurate feel for the data without crunching the numbers.

Oddly enough, my approach to sangria is similar. You're almost certainly familiar with the concept: wine, steeped with fruit, spiked with brandy, and lightened with soda. It's a lovely Spanish beverage, one that I keep in constant rotation around here, for a couple key reasons no matter the season:
  1. I have a habit of shopping the discount-wine aisle at local liquor stores, which is a crapshoot. Sometimes you get quality wine for a bargain, sometimes you get awful stuff that's undrinkable without adulteration. (That said, I stand by this approach, because inoffensive and inexpensive wine most definitely has its place.) Sangria helps me utilize crummy wine without waste, and better stuff if we don't drink it quickly enough.
  2. Sangria is far more flexible than its traditional formulation, and it's a great way to use up extra syrups, liqueurs, vermouths, or fruits which are past their prime.
  3. My wife needs something easy to pop-and-pour when I'm not around, and she likes sangria. She's the one that suggested writing this up in the first place.
Now, there are lots of recipes for sangria out there; it's enjoyed a nice return to form in the last few years as food and drink writers have stepped up their game. This here is not so much a recipe, more of a vague format. When my wife suggested writing this post, my first protest was that even though I make sangria constantly, I never actually remember what's in it. Random fruit, random wine, some random fortifiers, steeped for a few days? By the time it's done, I've forgotten exactly what fruits I used, and about the best I can do for the wine is identify its color. Also, remember that I'm using this as a dumping-ground recipe, where the objective is to use whatever I've got; I'm not going out and buying some specific fruit according to a recipe! 

What I do have is a general approach to sangria-making, and a set of proportions that guide my hand. With some on-the-fly adjustment, it turns out that's all you really need.

First, obviously, you'll need wine. A standard (750 mL) bottle will do, or an equal quantity of boxed stuff. Boxed wine is quite amenable to sangria treatment; it's usually straightforward and definitely cost-effective. Red wine would be traditional, but I see no reason to stick to tradition; white or rose wines are suitable for sangria, and are in fact a great improvement during the warmer months. The only real wines to avoid with this treatment are heavily tannic reds (Cabernets and the like) which don't even out well with dilution. Flaws in just about any other white, rose, or red can be corrected for through your choice of fruit or sweetener. Not that terrible wine will make really great sangria, but it'll at least be passable. The best candidates tend to be fine for drinking on their own, if a little bland; they provide the best base for other flavors.

This wine goes into a wide-mouth quart Mason jar (which I like because they're readily available and inexpensive) and that jar gets filled to the brim with chopped fruit. Just about any will do; I've used everything from citrus to berries, stone fruits, and pomes with success. Generally I'll use an equal mix of fruits from two different categories, for the sake of variety and balance.

Here are a couple of newly-minted proto-sangrias; the one at left with apple and pineapple, the one on the right with orange and apple. Seal these up and keep in the fridge for anywhere from 3 days to a week; I take mine out and give it a shake every couple days, too. At the end of this time, strain out the wine and press the fruit to extract as much liquid as possible. If you do this well, you'll wind up with almost exactly the original 750 mL, but if you come up a little short (happens sometimes depending on your fruit) it's not a deal-breaker. To that, add the following:
  • 200 mL spirit
  • 100 mL sweetener/aromatic
  • 10-15 dashes bitters
Those categories are broad enough that they take some explaining. By spirit, I mean any base you like. Again, brandy is traditional, but forget tradition; anything decent will do. Clear spirits tend to go better with whites and roses, brown spirits better with red wine, but that's not an ironclad rule. As with the wine, don't bother with the good stuff; this is the time to use the rail booze. Syrups and liqueurs are obvious fits for the sweetener; vermouths and amaros can play this part too, and they add some powerful aromatic qualities. Finally, the bitters are just there to round things off and add a little touch of spice, which is nice in sangria.

I often split these volumes, again for the sake of variety and balance. Two similar spirits can accentuate each other; two different ones can add interesting contrasts. For sweeteners, I like a syrup or liqueur paired with a vermouth or amaro, though you may need to fiddle with the proportions depending on what you use. Usually those are equal proportions, but for strongly-flavored ingredients (darker amaros, maraschino liqueur, Chartreuse, etc.) you might have to dial back and use 30 mL or so, making up the remaining balance with your other sweetener.

Take for instance this curiosity:

Here you have the following combination:
  • 750 mL wine (leftover Chardonnay, steeped with green apple and orange)
  • 100 mL spirit #1 (gin)
  • 100 mL spirit #2 (rum, a surprisingly rich contrast)
  • 50 mL sweetener (Licor 43)
  • 50 mL aromatic sweetener (Bonal Gentiane Quina)
  • 15 dashes bitters (homemade rhubarb)

How about another odd specimen, for demonstration purposes?

Constituents for this one include:
  • 750 mL wine (some cheap off-dry rose that I can't recall, steeped with green apple and orange)
  • 100 mL spirit #1 (Jameson whiskey left over from a party)
  • 100 mL spirit #2 (cognac)
  • 50 mL aromatic sweetener (sweet vermouth)
  • 25 mL sweetener #1 (Licor 43)
  • 25 mL sweetener #2 (pineapple syrup)
  • 15 dashes bitters (homemade holiday spice bitters)

If you haven't noticed, I should probably mention that this makes for an odd quantity; somewhere around 1.06 L or 36 oz. This is just because my preferred Ikea stop-top bottles hold about that much, even though they're technically labelled as 1-liter models. If your storage vessel of choice is smaller, you'll just have to pour off a tasting portion. Tragic, I know!

Also, you will probably notice that unlike some of the sangria recipes out there, this one isn't stored with the steeped fruit. Those have already offered what flavor they can; if you want your sangria to come prettily garnished, you'll want to use fresh fruit. Use whatever you've got, finely diced (except for berries, which can be dropped in whole). Oh, and pro tip: a little splash of lemon juice will help prevent browning in pomaceous fruits like apples and pears. A major advantage of straining off the fruit is that your sangria base will keep for at least a few weeks. Whether it will last that long is another question, but I can tell you from experience that you can get three weeks before any substantial loss in quality.

I generally eschew garnish with my sangria, but I always pour over ice and add a liberal splash of soda when serving. You'll get about 6 or 7 glasses from each batch, which is why I usually make multiple batches at a time. All the time. Seriously: come round my place, and odds are good that there's one of these somewhere in rotation, or recently polished off.

I hope you get as much enjoyment out of it as we have.

Monday, November 24, 2014

House of Scotch Old-Fashioned (#1)

Finally, a picture! And an original recipe to boot... uh, except that it's actually just an old-fashioned, my old standby. It's all a remix, man. I still thought the result was worthy of recording.

Now, as you can see, I used a most delicious whiskey for this particular drink. This Balvenie Caribbean Cask is tasty stuff, but in truth just about any decent, reasonably-aged Speyside should do the job, or perhaps a decent blend like Monkey Shoulder. A little dash of a smooth aged rum would be a good complement if you go that route.

2 oz Speyside scotch
1/4 oz cranberry syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 dashes Bitter Truth Xocolatl Bitters

Stir and strain over a few large chunks of ice (or maybe a single large cube) in an old-fashioned glass. Garnish with a couple of brandied cranberries, or dispense with garnish entirely.

Yes, that red bottle is a diner-style ketchup squeeze bottle. Yes, I have yellow mustard ones as well; that's how I tell them apart in the fridge. Yes, I got them from a surplus shop for about a quarter each. No, I don't care what anyone says.

I've got an entire week off from the day job (minus Thanksgiving prep time) so I think you might hear more from me for a few days! There will undoubtedly be cocktails, although I've got a pisco post that I've been meaning to finish up after it deleted itself the first time, a rundown of a punch I created for my mother-in-law's birthday, and my wife suggested cobbling together a sangria post out of the vague method that I have in constant rotation. It might be a pretty crazy week.

Another Word

The parade of remixes continues with a take on the Last Word, one of my favorite advanced sours. Thanks to... Detroit, I guess?

Quite honestly I didn't think this one would work out as well as it did. The wife has been observing an odd cocktail genius that comes over me after I've had a couple. Unfortunately for that same reason, I didn't take a picture, which is a shame because it was quite pretty too.

3/4 to 1 oz reposado tequila
3/4 oz green Chartreuse (yum)
3/4 oz Rothman & Winter Orchard Apricot (also yum)
3/4 oz lime juice

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a thin lime wheel, though it's perfectly fine without.

Update 1/27/15: I knew I'd assembled this drink before... exactly why I keep a log! Still no picture (went down too quickly) but I did make one minor tweak to amp up the tequila presence this time around. A full ounce worked better with the smooth and excellent Espolon Reposado. If you want to use a blanco instead, or a reposado with a bit less age on it, 3/4 oz would be better to keep those grassy notes in balance.


Holy crap kids, I've got multiple cocktails to share with you tonight. This on a night with minimal mixing, mostly football and beer; go figure. You could say I'm clearing out my backlog from the weekend.

First up, even though it's the most recent, is again simply a riff on a classic. I'm telling you, it's all about the remix.  This comes first because it reminds me of our most recent cocktail, but where that was a Negroni variant, this one is based on a less-common classic known as the Ampersand. I made this because I didn't have cognac, which made me sad. I'll need to grab a bottle soon - I've had a hankering for a good Stinger lately too.

1 oz reposado tequila
1 oz Tanqueray Malacca (Old Tom would be a reasonable approximation)
1 oz Bonal Gentiane Quina (I'm using its full name from now on; that's a great set of words)
1 dash rhubarb bitters (yes, homemade, and add an extra dash if using Old Tom gin)

Stir and strain into a cocktail glass over a large ice cube. Garnish with an orange twist, maybe, if you feel like it.

The name is of course a reference to my favorite bizarro punctuation symbol that hardly anyone knows about.  Who cares?  It's got a great name!

Monday, November 10, 2014

El Puerto

This started out as some idle fucking around with a bottle of white port (which I'd tried, but hadn't stumbled across in a wine shop; props to Solo Vino) and it rapidly transmuted into a Negroni riff - you know, the kind that doesn't have a single ingredient in common with its inspiration. The whole thing really came together with a touch of apricot eau-de-vie. That's the bottle I used in the background there (I know, pictures, right?) but it's tough enough to come by that you don't need to be brand-specific.

1 oz reposado tequila
1/4 oz apricot eau-de-vie
3/4 oz Cocchi Americano
3/4 oz white port (again, not brand-specific, but nothing too dry)
2 dashes Regan's No. 6 Orange Bitters
2 dashes rhubarb bitters (homemade, Fee's is too sweet for this application)

Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass; garnish with a lime peel coin, expressed gently over the top. Pretty proud of this one, and look how pretty! Pictures, man.  I'm not sure why I never post these as my phone is littered with them anyway.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Halloween House Party

I'm not sure how you all spent your Halloween, but I got to spend mine in just about the best way I can imagine - tending bar at a house party for my buddy Vern.  It was a blast!  This was a bit different from some of the tasting events that I've done in the past, in that there were no "courses", just a set menu of a couple simple drinks that I served up on request.  In other words, pretty straightforward bartending, but I got to have some fun with the menu.

I mentioned this a little bit earlier, but the party was themed after "Nostalgia" and I decided to try for a menu that reminded me of the bars I frequented when I first turned of age.  It's all relatively simple stuff, easy to batch and serve quickly.  Yet I was pleased by the response I received; one of the best comments I got was that the overall set of drinks were all excellent and nicely varied.  Exactly what I was aiming for!

Because I batched most of these drinks for quick service, I'm going to provide a couple different versions: the full measurements that I was using to batch, and scaled-down individual versions, in case you want to try them before committing to a larger quantity.

The big hit of the night.  I wound up nearly running out of base ingredients for the juice mix!  No surprise; this is really just a classic Cosmopolitan, served with the option of gin (which is now my preferred method).  Service seemed to split the vodka and gin pretty evenly.

10 oz cranberry juice
6 oz triple sec
4 oz lime juice
10 dashes Fee Brothers Cranberry Bitters
To serve: combine 2 oz of gin (the citrus-forward New Amsterdam) or citrus vodka with 2 1/2 oz of the mix above; shake vigorously, strain into a glass, and garnish with cranberries and a lemon wedge (for vodka) or a lime wedge (for gin).

1 1/4 oz cranberry juice
3/4 oz triple sec
1/2 oz lime juice
1 (large) dash Fee Brothers Cranberry Bitters
2 oz gin (or citrus vodka)
Shake and strain into a cocktail glass; add garnish as described above.

Less of my typical very remixable old-fashioned, more the Wisconsin style that I was first introduced to: the kind with a muddled cherry, orange, and splash of soda.  Simplified here for speed, but very successfully.  This is what I was sipping on all night, in between a couple other random combinations.

12 oz brandy (can't remember exactly what we had; my recommendation would be Torres)
4 oz bourbon (Cabin Still)
2 oz Cherry Heering
2 oz soda water
25 dashes Regan's No. 6 Orange Bitters
To serve: pour 2 1/2 oz over ice, add a small orange slice, and stir to combine.

1 1/2 oz brandy
1/2 oz bourbon
1/4 oz Cherry Heering
1/4 oz soda water
Stir over ice; garnish as described above.

This was my attempt to accommodate the house-party vibe, letting guests choose a spirit for combination with a mixer.  It also provided a booze-free option for those unfortunate folks who couldn't consume alcohol.  For the cola portion, I'll point you to a previous post; in this batch, I ran short on brown sugar and added in a sizeable portion of molasses, a substitution that I may have to repeat.  The end result was reportedly "amazing" and went down very well indeed.

Homemade Cola:
4 oz TC Cola syrup
12 oz soda water
1 dash lemon juice
Combine and bottle for service; this will foam up when mixed, so do this in an oversize vessel.

To serve: Combine 1 1/2 oz spirit of choice over ice, with 4-5 oz of homemade cola to taste; garnish at whim with lime (for rum), lemon (for vodka), or orange (for whiskey).

Alternatively: Pour 6 oz over ice and garnish with cranberries.  For a low-proof option, add 1/2 oz Cherry Heering and a couple dashes of Regan's Orange Bitters for a "Cherry Coke".