Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Make Your Own Bar Mixers

Jason Wilson, the Washington Post liquor & spirits column who I’ve criticized in the past (more on that later) has a column today that I really can get into: making your own cocktail mixers.

When I told people I planned to make maraschino cherries and cocktail onions, as well as infuse my own spirits and bitters, they looked baffled. It was if I had told them I would be performing open-heart surgery in the living room.

That was before my shipment of cinchona bark quinine powder arrived. Then I informed friends and relatives I would also be making my own tonic water. Even my editors were a little mystified. "Why?" they asked. "Is it worth the effort?"

After a week of playing chemist in the kitchen and testing the results among a friendly crowd, I can now tell everyone: Yes, yes, yes. Homemade cocktail ingredients are indeed worth it.

Making my own cocktail mixers was something I have been trying out in small doses. About a week ago I tried making a homemade version of grenadine after finding these two versions online. I tried the cold process which merely involves adding sugar to pomegranate juice and shaking. I plan on making a batch of the hot process version soon.

I was interested in the concept because I hadn’t known that grenadine was supposed to taste like pomegranates (a fruit flavor I really like) and I’m always trying to eliminate as much high-fructose corn syrup from my diet that I possible can. Now I don’t actually know that sucrose is really any better than corn syrup, but at least in terms of flavor the homemade grenadine tasted like fruit as opposed to candy. So far I’ve tried it in a Jack Rose which definitely made a difference.

Now Wilson’ column also included a recipe for maraschino cherries.

After seeing how easy it is to make Thrasher's preserved cherries, I don't know how I can go back to the artificial, neon-red, plastic-textured maraschino cherries in a jar. Letting fresh cherries sit overnight in salt water, and then soaking them in a syrup of lemon juice and almond extract, creates a richer, more complex, salty-sweet flavor that improves yet still retains the familiar essence of the maraschino cherries we've come to rely on.

To test the cherries in action, I made Manhattans. "I can't tell you exactly whether it's the cherry or not," my friend Jim said, "but I can tell you this is the best Manhattan I've ever had."

This inspired a bit of guilt. The creation of the grenadine also made me want to try some ol’ fashioned Shirley Temples, which pretty much require a cherry to complete the effect. And naturally I bought the “neon-red, plastic-textured” kind that are soaking in corn syrup. Ah-hem…well, it’s a hard substance to avoid entirely.

I’d like to try the recipe but because I don’t drink all that much (really, I don’t) I have a feeling it’d be a lot of effort to make something that would go bad in two weeks. They can be stored longer if canned but once opened the clock starts ticking.

There are recipes for homemade Orange Bitters, falernum, saffron cocktail onions, and tonic water, as well as for accompanying drinks The Loser (which looks interesting).

Gotta say I’m now rather interested in visiting this Restaurant Eve in Alexandria which apparently has all these home-made mixers on hand.

So I also thought I should take the opportunity to revisit my previous post about Wilson’s column on girly drinks. There was some friendly back and forth between him and me about it and while I still dislike the overall tone of the column, I do think I didn’t acknowledge that he wrote about marketing to women as much as the column did.

In any case I finally had the occasion to try one of the “girly liquors” he wrote about in the column and dismissed, X-Rated Fusion. I threw a Jem-watching party this weekend (Jem being the pink-haired 80s cartoon heroine, leader of Jem & The Holograms) and felt the women-only party required some pink drinks. The X-Fusion seemed like the best way compliment the evening. (Hmmm is there some unintended karma in me writing about pink drinks immediately following this post.)

We pretty much drank it straight (it’s a very low-proof liquor, only 14% alcohol) and I believe my guests mostly enjoyed it for what it was…a novelty drink of the evening. It wouldn’t be anyone’s drink of choice. I think someone might have said it reminded them of Gatorade.

I did try mixing it with vanilla vodka and a little diet Sprite and it was fine. It really is a “cutesy” drink both on the tongue and in the bottle. It’s almost more of a mixer than a real liquor. Would someone who wants a “real” drink want something made with X-Fusion? I think it’s more about what someone wants to drink at the time. If you want a diet coke then don’t ask for a pink lemonade. But if you are the mood for a pink drink it’s not horrible. Are there better "feminine" drinks? Sure but how many involve having more ingredients and making a bigger mess to make them? All I had to do was pour this into a glass.

I still have about ¼ a bottle left and I’m sure I’ll manage to polish it off eventually.

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