Thursday, February 13, 2014

Review: Arctic Chill Slow Melting Ice Spheres

Among the various trends and techniques that one can find in serious cocktail bars as of the past few years is the use of ice balls.  As opposed to having ice cubes in one's drink, a single large sphere of ice behaves much differently.  The geometric shape of the sphere offers the least amount of surface area for any given object's mass, thereby limiting an ice ball's ability to melt much more than cubed ice.



Dilution is, of course, necessary in almost all cocktails to mellow and marry constituent flavors, and limiting this dilution is not always welcome in drinks that call for ice in the glass.  Because of this, the ice ball isn't appropriate for all drinks, but most clever folks would tell you that ice balls are most useful in strong, spirituous drinks, the easiest example of which is the Old Fashioned.  They are also good for slowly diluting hard spirits while sipping them in the glass.

Having such ice spheres for use in your home bar used to be quite difficult.  I've seen various ways to fashion them manually; here is a post by Erik Ellestad showing video of how one can whittle a large cube of ice into a sphere.  As an aside, his post was a response to the public outcry (mine included) to his cocktail video in which he demonstrates his terrifying technique of slapping cubes of ice with a chef's knife in his bare hand.

Some of the first contraptions available to make round ice at home were devices that ingeniously melted large ice cubes into spheres.  But since then, simpler and cheaper designs have become available.

Arctic Chill is a new company making barware, and they've asked me to review their Slow Melting Ice Spheres molds.  Luckily, I am also the owner of a competing product from Tovolo, and so I feel I can offer a fair review.


Arctic Chill's product is simple and easy to use.  With the set, you get 4 food safe silicon molds, which break into two pieces, and they have a flat heavy bottom for stability in the freezer.  Filling the mold is as easy as securing the two pieces of the mold together and pouring water through the hole in the top until it's full.

The aforementioned minimal surface area of the spherical molds(along with how silicon is an excellent insulator) mean that the ice inside takes a long time to freeze, upwards of 6 hours.  Once it's frozen, one simply need separate the flexible mold to remove the ice.  Be sure to place the ice in the glass before your pour your drink over it, otherwise you'll be splashed by booze, as I have been several times.  What drink did I use it in, picture below? An Improved Gin Cocktail, of course.


Do I have any complaints?

Yes.  The uber-simple construction of this product's design is such that it doesn't take much force to separate the mold.  In this case, the expansion of water into ice is strong enough to separate it.  The result is that some of the water can seep out of the mold's seam as it freezes, and you're left with a raised "belt" around your ice ball.  This is not a major complaint, as it's easy to knock off the raised ice to make the ball completely round.

How does Arctic Chill compare to a competitor?

The other ice ball molds that I own are from Tovolo.  It is a similar, but more complex, design.  Namely, its mold is more secure, and it remains sound during the freezing process so that your ice ball comes out perfect every time.

Arctic Chill's pricing is just a bit cheaper than Tovolo.  It's hard for me to recommend one over the other, but if you enjoy minimalist product design or like things that take up minimal space when stored, Arctic Chill is the product for you.

Additionally, as I type this, Amazon has Arctic Chill on sale for $17 per set.  That kind of value can't be beaten.  Overall, Arctic Chill should be lauded for this product.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Mixology Monday: Highballs

Picture this: You're meeting up with a friend in an area with which you're unfamiliar.  Maybe you're visiting from out of town or simply on a different side of the tracks, but the important part of the story is that your friend takes you to a bar of their choosing, not yours.

You sit down and realize that this joint isn't exactly embracing the craft of mixing its drinks.  Its half-empty bottles of vermouth sit proudly on the back of the bar unrefrigerated with the spirits, the soda gun is overworked, and there's not a bottle of bitters or a fresh piece of citrus in sight.

You're terrified of what the bartender might give you if you order any kind of serious cocktail, but you still want something a little more bright and lively than a glass of whiskey or a pint of something on tap.


This month's Mixology Monday is hosted by Southern Ash, themed Highballs.  Highball drinks are exactly what you need in the scenario above, but let's pretend you're a bit bored with rum & Coke or gin & tonic.  I have a few go-to's for when I'm in these dire situations, and I thank Mr. DiPappa for giving me the opportunity to share them.

As always, those posted below are a bit unorthodox and are designed to give you something a bit different, should you be in the mood.  Your tastes may vary with highball ratios, but I tend to stick with 1:3 or 1:4 ratio of spirit to mixer if I'm making them at home.

Keep these in mind the next time you find yourself cynical in an unknown bar.


Citrus Vodka & Tonic

This combo smacks of gin & tonic, but offers up something a bit different.  Less complex, but more fresh and fruity, you'll find yourself surprised at how well this one works.


Tequila & Coke

Be honest: the reason you like rum & Coke is because the rum disappears in the Coke.  With a few exceptions, most well-priced rums at the bar cannot compete with cola's strong character.  Enter tequila.  Tequila still makes itself known while dipped in Coke, and I daresay is complimented by it.  The spices and citrus oils with which tequila would otherwise pair well are present all at once here.  I've made this drink for a few tequila-fan friends of mine, and the reactions have been revelatory.


Bourbon & Pepsi

Damn, did you manage to find one of the few bars or restaurants that serves Pepsi products over Coke products?  Worry not.  I occasionally find that Pepsi is better for certain things than Coke, and swimming with bourbon is one of them.  First off, the whiskey is better aided by Pepsi's added sweetness, along with a trait of Pepsi's which I might call gaminess or funk.  And in the end, the two ingredients bring out some of the baking spice flavors that they have in common, especially cinnamon.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

MxMo LXXV: Bolaños

Thanks to Frederic of the Cocktail Virgin Slut for extending the submission deadline a bit for this month's Mixology Monday.  Last minute MxMo posts are fetishized in the community; my mind recalls a defiant submission by cocktail blogger godfather Paul Clarke to my very own MxMo event with a cocktail called the "11:59", to signify the last minute on a Mixology Monday that one could possibly submit a post.


This month's theme is "Flip Flop!", which celebrates making thoughtful substitutions in drinks to change its character but to perhaps keep its spirit, if you'll pardon the pun.  Like many ingenious MxMo themes, this one provokes me to finally tackle a recipe or subject that I've been meaning to, but never did.

The project in question was simply to make a thematic swap to the Bombay cocktail. (Fun fact: As a holder of a degree in Geography, I always recall my favorite professor asserting that the city of Bombay, now called Mumbai, will be the largest city in the world before too long.)  I've always wanted to apply a latin theme to the drink for some reason, and so I submit the below for everyone's approval.  This swap in particular used Patrón Citrónge, which is a tequila-based orange liqueur.  While not exactly the most versatile ingredient out there, Citrónge is really enjoyable, especially to the purist who wants more tequila in any drink they make.

I tinkered with the original ingredients' ratios, because the recipe is simply too vermouth-heavy.  I recently found out that Doug of Cold Glass also prefers to dial down the vermouth, even when using the original Cognac.



Bolaños

1.5 oz añejo tequila
.25 oz sweet vermouth
.25 oz dry vermouth
.25 oz  Patrón Citrónge (substitute Triple Sec)
2-3 dashes absinthe

Stir with ice and strain into cocktail glass.  No garnish.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Mixology Monday LXXII: Drink Your Vegetables

This month's Mixology Monday is hosted by Rowen of the Fogged In Lounge, who is perhaps my favorite blogger who still posts regularly.  I expected a good theme, and Rowen didn't let me down, though I should probably not be surprised that it's a hard one: Drink Your Vegetables.


Instead of taking a safe route for this post, I'll instead expand upon a simple rule that I've discovered over the years: that the Martini is a bulletproof recipient of almost any flavor you throw at it.  Now look, I'm not going to wax poetic about how perfect the Martini is, and I'm also not going to suggest that putting weak bullshit like curacao or Angostura bitters in your Martini is exciting and new at this point.  Anyone who knows my blog knows that I post some unorthodox shit.  I don't intend to disappoint.

I'm here to suggest that you try to get a bit crazy when it comes to adding things to your Martini, and you might be surprised at how well it works, in the end.  If you're in a floral mood one day, I might suggest adding a few heavy dashes of rhubarb bitters to your Martini; I've also even been known to put a drop of rosewater in the mixing glass before stirring.  If you can tolerate a shaken Martini, your options widen.  For a fruity mood, try adding a few pieces of citrus peel into the shaker and let the ice pulverize it.  Try that with chunks of pineapple, pear, or ginger.  For an herbal mood, try shaking with basil leaves.  A savory mood is my favorite...  shake the Martini with a sprig of rosemary.  Or add a dash of mezcal or Islay Scotch.


Today I'm taking you to two extremes of savory and herbal Martinis, respectively.  The former is a way to drink your vegetables, and the latter is simply a bonus.  I decided to end up naming them due to cocktail ego, but I won't be giving them the Original Remix tag.  I ended up calling them the Chef's and Gardener's Martinis.





Martini au Chef de Cuisine

1.75 oz gin
.5 oz dry vermouth
1 drop (not dash) celery bitters (optional)
1 half thin slice of red onion

Shake all ingredients with ice.  Double strain into a cocktail glass.  Olive or cocktail onion garnish.

The onion doesn't taste like you think it will.  It adds a sweetness to the drink and perfumes it in a way that's not very much like onion.  This is a great choice if you want an extra savory Martini before a big meal.



Martini au Jardinier

2 oz gin
.5 oz dry vermouth
.25 oz absithe
1 sprig parsley
2 sprigs cilantro

Chop herbs with 2 or 3 cuts, and shake all ingredients with ice.  Double strain into a cocktail glass.  Half lemon wedge garnish.

If you never muddle mint in your Juleps and are afraid of bitter chlorophyll, this isn't the drink for you.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Ralfy's SunnyD and Rum

This post deliberately comes on the heels of Tiki Month 2013.  Why?  Because although this drink isn't a tiki drink, it could be construed as Tiki Compliant® in a fairly low-class kind of way.  Before you judge the recipe below, read on...

Anyone who enjoys reading blogs and other online amateur writing can tell you the bittersweet feeling of coming across a great blogger or website; the sweet is that you've found a new source of information that you enjoy consuming, but the bitter is that you often wonder how you've gone so long without discovering that source.

I've just recently experienced the above with Ralfy of Ralfy.com, a Scottish chap who primarily vlogs his reviews and thoughts about Scotch whisky, along with other sundry advice and tips.

Ralfy is also quite knowledgeable about the internet, much more than his age's stereotype might have you believe.  This knowledge includes internet culture, and especially YouTube culture.

In 2012 there surfaced a YouTube video of a nice lady(perhaps inebriated) named Chris Athey who decided to create an impromptu original song proclaiming her love of SunnyD and Rum - simply a mixture of rum and Sunny Delight.

In typical internet fashion, clever folk decided to endlessly remix this remarkably off-tune diddy into overly-processed musical masterpieces.  Ralfy celebrates these works of creativity and, in a moment of commemoration, tries out this much-lauded Sunny D and Rum drink.



Ralfy is not just an expert on whisky, but is also a learned rum drinker.  In a moment where Ralfy flexes his perhaps-atrophied mixological physique, he creates his own version of Sunny D and Rum using the sage choice of J. Wray and Nephew White Overproof rum.

I thought I'd give it a whirl.

The first problem was with SunnyD variations.  Uninitiated fans may not realize that there are over a dozen flavors of SunnyD in the US alone.  Being in the UK, Ralfy is using California Style, a version which isn't even sold anymore on this side of the pond, but sources tell me that the American SunnyD Smooth flavor is the almost identical to it, if not the same.


The problem was that I couldn't find SunnyD Smooth anywhere, and I looked in quite a few places.  I found Tangy, Orange, and even a 20oz bottle that didn't specify its flavor.  However, I tried this drink with all of them, and they're all good.  And I also must say, I've been around the block of processed food and drink (I even have another blog about it), and I remember SunnyD California Style from my childhood; it wasn't so different from the flavors above.

The last hurdle in this drink was overcoming my cocktailian ego.  Ralfy's recipe and preparation of this drink was decidedly obsolescent: under-iced, over-diluted, ungarnished.  I went to work in my lab and experimented extensively *hiccup* to modernize the recipe and bring it into fashion.  I tried things like making the booze-to-mixer ratio higher in booze, shaking the drink with ice and pouring onto more cubes, or crushed ice, or serving it up in a cocktail glass, garnished with a slice of orange, or even rinsing the glass with absinthe.  None of these things worked.  None of them tasted remotely as good as Ralfy's manifested rusticity, the thing for which he is known best.

This drink is surprisingly good.  The funk of the Jamaican rum cuts through the juice's artificiality perfectly while the absinthe perfumes the whole into an experience I wouldn't hesitate to call a tiki long drink.  The recipe below is transcribed as best I can from how Ralfy prepared it on screen.



SunnyD & Rum (Ralfy Mix)

3.75 oz cold SunnyD (California Style/Smooth preferred, substitute with Tangy or Orange)
.75 oz J. Wray & Nephew White Overproof rum
1 heavy dash absinthe

Build in an Old Fashioned glass over the largest cubes/chunks of ice you have and stir.  No garnish.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Recipe & Rating: Lazy Bear


I first heard of the Lazy Bear only recently from Frederic Yarm of the Cocktail Virgin Slut.   Fred in turn got this recipe from Jacob Grier, one of perhaps the greatest bartenders on the west coast and also, in my opinion, one of the greatest cocktail writers in the world.

The Lazy Bear was originally crafted by Grier specifically to be served at his friend's wedding.  Lovely!

This drink uses one of my favorite combinations: whiskey and lime juice.  A more bird's eye glance at the recipe will quickly indicate, whether Grier intended or not, that this is a tiki drink.  And because it is Tiki Month, the yearly tiki celebration hosted by the legendary Doug Winship, my timing is perfect.

Below are the recipe and ingredients I used.




Lazy Bear

3/4 oz Jamaican rum (George Bowman aged small batch rum)
3/4 oz rye whiskey (George Dickel Rye)
3/4 oz lime juice
3/4 oz honey syrup (1:1 clover honey)
3 dashes spiced bitters (equal parts Angostura Bitters and allspice dram[this recipe])

Shake with ice and strain into a rocks glass(tiki mug?) filled with ice. Add a straw.

I had a hard time articulating my thoughts on this drink, so instead of thick prose I'm going to give my impressions in bullet points:

-One of the few tiki drinks which is almost completely spicy and not fruity
-The two aged spirits combined with the bitters' tannins to provide a dry and woody backbone
-Lime juice here operates mostly to lend its sourness and not flavor, as its flavor is mostly dashed by all the other assertive ingredients
-Dry and sour overall, refreshing
-Earthiness provided by rye and pimento dram
-Herbal sweetness provided by dram and honey
-Sweet funkiness provided by honey and rum
-Dry spiciness provided by dram, rye, and bitters
-Bright lime juice cuts through all the funk, dryness, spice, sugar
-My theory still stands that most of the best tiki drinks use honey

This is one of the best tiki drinks I've ever had, and I don't consider myself a tiki novice.  Make this drink, and thank Jacob Grier.

Rating: 10/10

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Mixology Monday LXIX

This month's Mixology Monday is being hosted by Jordan of Chemistry of the Cocktail.  His blog is one of my favorites currently, which has really gotten into a groove during this last year of 2012.  Do yourself a favor and put his site onto your RSS feed or your weekly rounds.


Jordan's theme for this month is fortified wines.  Why does he seem to exclude vermouth from this theme?  Probably because vermouth would be too easy.  Either way, I'm up for the challenge.

This is a drink that I created years ago and return to often.  It began, as things do, when I was trying to drain some almost-dead bottles in my playroom.

In creating the drink, I realized that brandy and Madeira go very well together but that it was missing something.  As with many cocktails, it was bitters that it needed to tie the other ingredients together.  Let that be a lesson, if you've not already learned it.


Original Remix



Later That Day

1.5 oz Cognac (or brandy)
1 oz Madeira (substitute Amontillado sherry if you must)
1 dash orange bitters
1 dash simple syrup

Build over ice in an Old Fashioned glass.  No garnish.