Monday, August 22

Measuring the Pour

Measurement of the ingredients in a cocktail is very important. The addition of a small amount of some ingredients can have a large effect on the outcome of the cocktail. The measurements of these ingredients are paramount.

How do professional bartenders make it look so easy? It seems as though they are just pouring away without even thinking about the ounces they are adding. The fact of the matter is they are using a measuring technique known as the free pour.

The free pour once practiced and mastered is the fastest and probably the second most accurate way to measure cocktail ingredients. You may have noticed the spigots that are attached to bottles of liquor in bars. These pourers are the key to free pour measuring. The pourers ensure the liquor comes out of the bottle in a consistent, constant rate. The pour spout of choice is the Spill-Stop Model #285-50 (pictured here). This pour spout is the most reliable and widely used.

Here's how it’s done. The first thing you have to do is condition yourself to know how long it takes to pour 1 1/2 ounces (a typical shot). To do this start with filling an empty bottle with water and attaching a pouring spout. Then take a 1 1/2 ounce jigger in one hand, stand over a sink, and pour the water into the jigger while counting in this fashion... 1 and 2 and 3 and 4... you should get to 6 just as the water starts to pour over the top of the jigger. Practice this about a dozen times until you feel like you have the timing right. (3)

Now its time to test yourself. Tryout your new skills by free pouring into a regular mixing glass. After the pour take the water from the glass and measure it in your jigger. You should get a full jigger with a small amount of run-off. If you really want to get anal you can use device called an Exacto-Pour. It is a measuring device that costs $60 to $80 bucks, but I think a $2 jigger will do just as well to test your pour.

That's it! Now you can free pour a 1 1/2 ounce shot. Practice often and don't just assume that you will stay accurate you should test yourself at least once a week. Of course once you have become decent at it you can just test yourself as you are making a drink with real alcohol. No need to drag out that bottle of water.

You say that you don't always need a 1 1/2 ounce pour? No problem. For a 1 once pour, just count to 4, for half an ounce, just count to 2. Basically what you have is 1/4 ounce for each count. There are very few recipes that will call for a liquor pour of less than 1/4 ounce increments.

Stay away from the pour spouts that measure out your liquor for you. They are just a pain because they tend to get clogged and you have to tilt the bottle back and forth if you want more than what it measures.

As stated above, the free pour is the fastest way to dispense cocktail ingredients, but not the most accurate. One can understand why it may not be the most accurate if it is not practiced enough. The most accurate way to dispense cocktail ingredients is the use of a jigger every single time for every ingredient. This is slower, but if you are not in a rush and the measure is critical... use the jigger.

A jigger is measuring device that has two sides to it, one that is bigger than the other. The whole thing is referred to as a jigger but the bigger side is the actual jigger. The smaller side is called the pony. Jiggers come in many different sizes, but I would recommend finding one that measures 1 1/2 ounces from the jigger and 1 ounce from the pony.

So, to measure out 1 1/2 ounces or 1 ounce becomes simply the task of using the correct side of the jigger. However, measures less than an ounce become a little tricky and could arguably be more accurate with the free pour. Because the jigger and pony are conical shaped you have to take that into account when you are measuring. For example to measure 1/2 ounce you would fill the pony slightly over half way. For a 3/4 ounce pour you would fill the jigger slightly over half way.

On a side note, it is thought that an egg cup was once used as a jigger until someone decided to market an egg cup as a measuring device and call it a jigger. (I'll have to do more research on this topic.)

One final method of measuring the pour is something called the finger method, a.k.a. eyeballing it. This method is usually done with ingredients that don't come in a standard liquor bottle such as, juice, cream, etc... Basically as it sounds, you simply pour the ingredient in a mixing glass and stop when you think you have the right amount in the glass. It is called the finger method because you can use your fingers held closely together at the bottom of the glass to act like a measuring mark for your pour. You may have heard someone order a drink by the fingers, "Give me 2 fingers of scotch on the rocks."

The shape of the glass, ice in the glass, the size of ice in the glass, and other ingredients in the glass, are all variables that make this measuring method very inaccurate. So if you are going to use this method of measuring for your non-bottled ingredients I would recommend always using the same mixing glass, measure the ingredient before adding ice, and test your pour as often as possible in the same way we did in the free pouring. Personally, I use a jigger for my non-bottled ingredients.

Now that you know how measuring the pour works you can actually double check your friendly neighborhood bartender to make sure they are not under pouring the vermouth in your Martini or Manhattan. ;)


Friday, August 12

Drink Variation vs New Drink

How much does a recipe have to change to constitute the need for a new name?

I started thinking about this the other night when my wife asked me for something new to drink. She likes very tart drinks (a lot of lime juice) and she said she wanted it in an old-fashioned glass. So I mixed up 2 parts vodka, 2 parts lime juice, 1 part simple syrup into an old-fashioned on the rocks. I tried to think what this drink was called because it is fairly simple and I’m sure it has a name. Then I realized I basically made a tart vodka daiquiri on the rocks. But with all those modifiers it seems like it needs a new name.

This question has sparked many a debates over drinks and their names For example let's look at the Gimlet. The Gimlet is a fundamental cocktail that is made with Gin and Rose's Lime Juice.

That is the original recipe, as the story goes... Lauchlin Rose convinced the British Navy to use his new Lime Cordial to ward off scurvy back in 1867. The Navy officers would then mix this with their ration of gin and the Gimlet was born. An officer and surgeon named Sir Thomas Gimlette is credited with making the cocktail popular between 1879 and 1913. (4)

However, there are many people that do not care for Rose's Lime Juice and/or have also been taught to always use fresh juice in their drinks, a practice that I highly recommend by the way. So they make their Gimlet with Gin, Simple Syrup, and Lime Juice. For the most part Rose's is a sweetened lime cordial.

One would not think this small change would cause such a debate, but it does. Some people insist that a Gimlet is only a Gimlet if it is made with Rose's. I can see their point, but personally I am okay with calling a Gin, Simple Syrup, and Lime Juice a Gimlet. Why, because I would not send back a Gimlet prepared either way.

So, if that is not a big enough change for a name change, what is? And what are the rules to determine the need for a name change?

In trying to quantify this I came up with the following over simplified rules.

A drink needs a new name if any of the following are true:
  1. The base liquor changes
  2. There is a major ratio change in the ingredients where by the drink tastes completely different.
  3. An ingredient is changed to something that is not a close substitute (meaning substituting Cointreau for Triple Sec is okay)
The following do not require a name change:

  1. The garnish changes
  2. The ratios of ingredients change slightly
  3. The type of glassware changes
  4. The mixing instructions are different (on rocks vs up, etc…)
  5. An ingredient is replaced with a close substitute

Unfortunately, some of these rules are subjective and they are not hard-fast. The ratio difference is one subjective measure, where do you draw the line? The second is, what ingredients qualify as close substitutes? Who's to say?

These subjective measures are the reason why determining if a drink needs a new name is so difficult. If you go by my rules the question of the Gimlet comes down to if you consider Simple Syrup and Lime Juice a close substitute for Rose's Lime Cordial. I say yes, but others disagree.

Another issue with drink names is that many times new drinks are not researched properly before they are dubbed... NEW COCKTAIL!!

There are many drinks out there that are the same drink, but have different names. This happens when a bartender "invents" what he/she thinks is a new drink and names it something, when in fact the drink is already invented. There are also drinks out there named the same thing, but are actually very different. For example: a Red Snapper was first a Gin Bloody Mary, but then someone named a shot Red Snapper with Crown, Amaretto, and Cranberry Juice.

So, the answer to our question is difficult and doesn't have straight-forward answer. The ambiguous rules and the lack of naming research have caused a large amount of confusion and debate.

This confusion and debate will continue until everyone can agree on the rules, and that most likely won't happen... Oh well.

Sunday, August 7

Hey! There is water in my cocktail!

Yep, there sure is... but most likely not enough.

Water gets into a cocktail by way of melting ice. Ice, and the water that comes from it, are key ingredients in cocktails. Without said ingredients a cocktail for the most part would be unpalatable.

One issue I have noticed is the lack of shaking or stirring that goes into cocktail mixing. One must shake a cocktail for a good 10 seconds and stir a cocktail for a good 20 seconds to get the proper amount of melted ice (water) into a cocktail.

There is a current trend of very sweet, high fruit juice cocktails. I think that this trend has come about because of the lack of water that has found its way into drinks as of late. If a drink is properly shaken or stirred less mixers would be required to make the drink balanced enough to drink.

So the recipes of many modern drinks (invented in the past 25 years) may actually seem watered down if one was to shake it the right amount. If you are a person that does not like sweet drinks you might want to try some of the new modern drinks like the Cosmopolitan, but just shake the drink more.

One can't be afraid of watering down a drink when it comes to cocktails. The water is there for a reason.

Some bartenders will say, "Hey I can't stand around shaking and stirring all day long. There is a line of customers at the bar!" Yes, it is true that the 10 to 20 seconds extra it will take will slow down the process, but it is that extra mile and the great cocktails that will bring your customers back time and time again.

In high volume bars you can pretty much expect an under watered drink. But if the bartender has time... they should do'em up right.

So how much water should be in a cocktail? It really depends on how much water was intended to be in the drink in the first place. In general as far as classic cocktails is concerned I think that after the ice is melted and poured in the glass the water content is between 1/4 and 1/3 of the drink. So in a 6 oz cocktail about 1.5 oz is water.

The point is, use the water that melts in a cocktail as an ingredient not as a way to just cool off the drink. Many classic cocktails that by today's standards may seem undrinkable were initially concocted with the water in mind. So those drinks become very nice cocktails if the right amount of water is present. In my opinion the amount of stirring or shaking should be indicated in the recipe to help alleviate this problem.

When mixing your own drinks, stir and shake your cocktails as much or little as you like. Because what is most important is that you enjoy your drink.