Cocktail School: Shaken or Stirred?

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A lovely, local guy hired us as a Valentine’s Day present for his wife, to do an at-home cocktail-making class for the two of them and a small group of their friends. We love educating folks about craft cocktails, and we thus love doing events like this.

He and I decided upon offering a welcome cocktail and then demoing a shaken cocktail, a stirred one, and a shaken one with egg whites. Before the event, there was a bit of back and forth via email about which cocktails to do for each category, but ultimately we figured it out pretty quickly—a French 75 for the welcome cocktail; a Lavender Bees Knees for the shaken cocktail; and a Hibiscus Whiskey Sour for the shaken one with eggs (see below for recipes)—except for the stirred offering. In the back-and-forth of emails, it became evident that he and his wife weren’t clear on what what a stirred cocktails is and were afraid that they were too boozy and that the women wouldn’t like them.

Even when he and his wife kept suggesting shaken cocktails for the evening, thinking that they were stirred ones, or maybe because of this, I wouldn’t back down from including a stirred cocktail in the line-up. After all, at least one-third of all the cocktail recipes out there in the world, are stirred ones, and so if I were to skip this part of their cocktail education, I would be denying them a whole, big category of drinks. I wouldn’t be preforming my cocktail duty!

Of all the stirred cocktail that I suggested for the evening (and there were a lot of them! Vesper; Martini; Negroni; (Spicy) tequila old fashioned; Boulevardier; Martinez, Sazerac, Diamondback, Alaska, Bijou, Tuxedo) we ultimately went with the Martinez. Well, actually, I had to insist on it, and what made me go with it is that even though it’s “booze-forward,” it has a pleasing, approachable sweetness and it was an opportunity to explain dry gin vs Old Tom gin.

After all their resistance toward a stirred drink, the Martinez ended up being one of the favorite drinks of the evening, even for the women—a potable, revelation. The merry group, who were very good students, eager to learn more about the history of alcohol and cocktails, loved the term “spirit forward,” an expression, which will help them to decode on a cocktail menu, which drinks are stirred and which are shaken.

So, when are drinks shaken and when are they stirred? I must confess that when I was first getting into cocktails, almost 15 years ago, I didn’t even know, and I felt so ashamed when a bartender at Dutch Kills in Queens, NYC, which was admired for hand-carving its own ice, had to school me on the differences in preparation.

Enough of me. Back to the question: When to shake and when to stir? Basically when a drink recipes calls for juice, dairy, or eggs, the drink is shaken to forcibly mix together the different ingredients and to incorporate air which leads to a frothy, light texture. If the ingredients are just booze (this includes from spirits to vermouth to bitters) and sugar, it’s stirred so that the drink isn’t aerated and the resulting mouthfeel is seductively velvety. If you were to shake a martini, for example, it would get cold more quickly than by stirring, but its appearance would be all off. The air introduced by shaking will turn the drink cloudy, not at all what you want for your martini, the delight of which is crystal clarity. Let James Bond have that.

RECIPES

Welcome Cocktail: French 75

1 oz Gin
.5 oz Lemon juice
.5-.75 oz Simple syrup (depending on sweetness of sparkling wine)
2-3 oz Sparkling wine, chilled

Combine all ingredients, except sparkling wine, in a shaker tin, add ice, and shake for 10 seconds. Strain into a champagne flute. Top with chilled sparkling wine.
Garnish with a lemon twist.

Shaken 1: Lavender Bee's Knees
2 oz. Gin
.75 oz. Lemon juice
.75 oz. Lavender honey syrup*

Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin, add ice, and shake for 10 seconds. Strain into a rocks glass or a chilled coupe.
Garnish with a lemon twist or lemon wheel/wedge.

*Lavender Honey Syrup
6 oz. Honey
3 oz. Hot water
5 tsp Dried lavender
Stir the dried lavender into the hot water and let steep for three minutes. Mix honey into the hot lavender water until the honey is fully dissolved.  Strain and let the syrup cool to room temperature. Store in an airtight container, refrigerated, for up to 1 month. Makes 9 ounces.


Stirred 1: Martinez
2 oz. Old Tom gin
1 oz. Sweet vermouth
1 tsp Maraschino liqueur
1 dash Orange bitters
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass and add ice. Stir until chilled and strain into a chilled coupe/Nick and Nora glass.Garnish with an orange twist.


Shaken 2: Hibiscus Sour
1.5 oz. Bourbon
.5 oz. Lime juice
.25 oz. Lemon juice
.75 oz. Hibiscus syrup**
.5 oz or 1 small Egg white (optional)Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin. If using egg white, first shake without ice for 10 seconds (a "dry shake") and then add ice and shake for 10 more seconds.  Strain into a rocks glass.
Garnish with freshly grated cinnamon.


**Hibiscus Syrup:
8 oz. Organic cane sugar
8 oz. Hot water
3-4 tsp Dried hibiscus flowers/tea
Combine the hot water, dried hibiscus and cane sugar in a saucepan.  Stir over medium heat until sugar is fully dissolved, and tea is fully steeped (about 10 minutes).  Strain and let the syrup cool to room temperature. Store in an airtight container, refrigerated, for up to 1 month.  
Makes about 12 ounces.


"Simple" & Seasonal Mixology on the Homestead

 
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When Paul and I were asked by Dutch Hill Homestead to collaborate on a introductory mixology class at their suburban farm, complete with eight laying hens and a small herd of adorably active Nigerian dwarf goats, we knew that we wanted to incorporate fresh eggs into the drinks for the evening. But, acknowledging that eggs can be off-putting for some folks (What are eggs doing in my drink? Are they safe?), we also wanted to offer a simple approach to cocktail making.

And what is more simple than simple syrups?

The focus, then, of our class at DHH, on a Friday evening in early spring, was simple syrups and the ways that you can get seasonally creative with them to jazz up your favorite cocktails. That evening we demonstrated how to make a hibiscus syrup for a whiskey sour; a jalapeno agave syrup for a naturally spicy margarita, and a lavender honey syrup, with DHH’s own dried lavender, for a floral Bee’s Knee. See below for recipes, and for inspiration about making your own flavors of simple syrups—thyme, rosemary, rose, celery, or whatever’s in season and you enjoy.

In the spirit of keeping things simple: What are simple syrups and how do cocktails benefit from them. At its most basic, a simple syrup is a sugar dissolved in water. As a liquid, the sugar is more easily incorporated into a drink; there are no crystals lying sadly unused and crunchy at the bottom of the glass. By definition, all cocktails will have a measure of sugar, to help offset the alcoholic burn of spirits; add a desirable mouthfeel to the drink; and to meld the disparate ingredients.

By making your own simple syrups, instead of buying them premade, you not only save money but you also get to decide the type of sugar to use (e.g., refined, raw, honey, agave syrup, maple syrup, demerara etc—all with distinctive taste and consistency and potential health benefits) and how much. For most of our drinks we use an organic cane sugar, since it offers a more complex flavor than white sugar but not too complex, in a proportion of 1:1 (simple syrup) or 2:1 (rich syrup) but we do certainly mix it up with agave syrup, usually for tequila drinks, and honey.

Most recipes for making simple syrups call for adding water and the sugar to a pot and heating them at the stove, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. That’s a fine way to do it, but not the best or most efficient. The drawbacks of this method are that you’ve got another pot to clean and the water can evaporate while heating, thereby throwing off the proportion of water to sugar. We instead opt for putting the sugar into a mason jar or some other container and adding the required amount of hot water. Either stir or shake the contents until the sugar is dissolved, and once the syrup is room temperature, seal the container and put it in the fridge, where it will last about two weeks.

If you want to add other ingredients to flavor, make a “tea” with the ingredient by adding it to the hot water. Once the desired intensity of flavor is reached and while the water is still warm, drain the solids and add the sugar (whatever kind you want) and stir or shake until the sugar is dissolved.

Here are some recipes for simple syrups to inspire you and some cocktail recipes which use them:

Lavender Bee's Knees:
2 oz Gin
.75 oz Lemon juice
.75 oz Lavender honey syrup (see below)
Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin, add ice, shake for 10 seconds, and strain into a rocks glass.
Garnish with a lemon twist.

Lavender Honey Syrup:
6 oz. Honey
3 oz. Hot water
5 tsp Dried lavender
Stir the dried lavender into the hot water and let steep for three minutes. Mix honey into the hot lavender water until the honey is fully dissolved.  Strain and let the syrup cool to room temperature. Store in an airtight container, refrigerated, for up to 1 month.  
Makes 9 ounces.

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Spicy Margarita:
2 oz. Tequila
.75 oz Lime juice
.75 oz. Jalapeno-infused agave syrup (see below)
Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin, add ice, shake for 10 seconds, strain into a rocks glass.
Garnish with a lime wedge.

Jalapeno Agave Syrup:
6 oz. Agave syrup
3 oz. Hot water
2 Fresh jalapenos
Dice the jalapenos, retaining all the seeds, and steep in the hot water for 3 minutes. Taste the mixture to ensure that the spice level is to your taste.  Allow them to steep longer for a spicier end product. Strain out the jalapenos and stir the agave into the jalapeno-infused water until it's fully integrated.  Let the syrup cool to room temperature and store in an airtight container, refrigerated, for up to 1 month.
Makes 9 ounces.


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Hibiscus Sour:
1.5 oz. Bourbon
.5 oz. Lime juice
.25 oz Lemon juice
.75 oz. Hibiscus syrup (see below)
1 Egg white (optional)
Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin. If using egg white, first shake without ice for 10 seconds (a "dry shake") and then add ice and shake for 10 more seconds.  Strain into a rocks glass.
Garnish with freshly grated cinnamon.

Hibiscus Syrup:
8 oz. Organic cane sugar
8 oz. Hot water
3-4 tsp Dried hibiscus flowers/tea
Combine the hot water, dried hibiscus and cane sugar in a saucepan.  Stir over medium heat until sugar is fully dissolved, and tea is fully steeped (about 10 minutes).  Strain and let the syrup cool to room temperature. Store in an airtight container, refrigerated, for up to 1 month.  
Makes about 12 ounces.


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Spiced Rum Flip
(Here's what you can do with that leftover egg yolk from the Hibiscus Sour)
2 oz Dark rum
1 Egg yolk
1 oz Heavy cream
.25 oz Spiced simple syrup (see below)
Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin and shake without ice for 10 seconds (a "dry shake") and then add ice and shake for 10 more seconds.  Strain into a chilled coupe glass.
Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.

Spiced Simple Syrup
1 cup Organic cane sugar
1 cup Water
.5 tsp Ground star anise
.25 tsp each Ground allspice; Ground cloves; Grated nutmeg; Ground cinnamon
Combine the sugar and water in a medium saucepan over medium heat; do not boil. Add the spices and slowly stir to dissolve the sugar.  When the syrup has thickened, remove from the heat. Strain and let the syrup cool to room temperature. Store in an airtight container, refrigerated, for up to 1 month.  
Makes about 12 ounces.

Cheers!

Diana & Paul