A great mixed drink is the sum of its parts. Citrus juice, herbs, dairy, egg, bitters, fortified wine or liqueurs help us layer the flavor, texture and depth of the base spirit. We can enhance the aromatics of gin, the smokiness of mezcal or scotch, or the vanilla notes in wood-barrel aged spirits such as bourbon or rum. We become alchemists, liquid chefs, mad scientists, all in the name of a great cocktail.
While working recipes for Edible Cocktails, I drew from both the garden and spice rack to create herb syrups, fruit jams and purees, and various infusions. Now, I often bring homemade syrups and purees into the bar where I bartend. My co-bartenders also bring in treasures such as their own homemade bitters or barrel-aged tequila infused with local squash blossoms.
One benefit to all these multi-dimensional ingredients is not only bounds of flavor but also the ability to create a drink on-the-spot without losing speed when the bar is busy. Think about it… cocktail menus featuring drinks with 5, 6. 7 ingredients can be cumbersome to execute, particularly during peak hours when the place is full of guests wanting their special “mixology” experience without a 10-minute wait. Keeping a couple of specialty infused modifiers on hand as ready-to-grab options, maintains a whole lot of combinations are at your fingertips, without having to do a ton of muddling, squeezing, measuring or setting fire to each cocktail.
I am partial to classic cocktails, so creating twists on established and well-loved drinks is something I enjoy, and is relatively simple to serve to guests, both from behind the bar, and at home. For example, substituting a walnut-infused port for vermouth in Manhattan, or using a rosemary-infused orange liqueur is a simple-yet–herbally-fabulous addition to a Margarita. And, both of those modifiers can be re-used with other cocktail creations exploding with flavor and comprised of as few as 3 ingredients in a glass. The benefit works both ways: the guest has a unique imbibing experience with homemade infusions, and if the bar is busy, the bartender is able to deliver something special without falling behind on drink tickets piling up from the waitstaff and other guests glaring impatiently for their cocktail.
Liqueurs are one of the most obvious choices for a modifier as they bring not only flavor but varying levels of sweetness. Some of my favorite flavor combinations include Xante (pear) infused with clove, Cynar (bitter artichoke) with dried bitter orange peel and Crème Yvette (sweet violet) with lavender buds.
One of my newest infusions is PAMA (pomegranate) with cardamom seeds. Pomegranate has become a mainstream flavor in the United States, even though the fruit has historical roots stretching back thousands of years in the Middle East. Cardamom is native to exotic places such as India, and is a relative of ginger, so bringing spice to the already sweet-yet-tart flavors in PAMA seemed a natural fit.I poured about 2 cups of PAMA into a glass jar, then added about ten cardamom seeds and the mixture to sit for about 5 hours in the refrigerator before straining and bottling.
The cocktail recipe that came to my mind was inspired by the Pisco Sour. I wanted something fresh, and I wanted my twist to speak to the exotic spice I was infusing in the modifier. The drink came out well. It is lusciously pink and frothy, a delicate appearance balanced with powerful flavor. And, I could deliver a unique experience without taking any further steps than I would banging out any other drink already on our menu.
Traveling Princess (created by Natalie Bovis, The Liquid Muse Mixology)
1 barspoon simple syrup
¾ ounce lemon juice
¾ ounce Cardamom-infused PAMA
2 ounces Pisco
1 egg white
dash Bitter End Curry Bitters
Dry shake all ingredients with egg white, then add ice and vigorously shake again. Strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with a few additional drops of bitters on frothy surface of cocktail.
I also tried my infusion with gin, and it was quite spectacular. Today, I am going to see what happens when I float it on a Silver Coin Margarita. If you decide to make this, or any other infused modifiers, I’d love to hear which other spirits you mixed with it, and the resulting cocktails.
Cheers and happy Friday!