First experiment in a long time! Happy almost-autumn, my favorite time of year.
I’ve been very busy getting curious and excited about cocktail making recently. This post will be the first of many, I hope, to showcase some of the things I’ve learned.
I’m participating in a group that comes together to test their skills in mixology by focusing on a certain theme. This challenge’s theme is apples. That means incorporating apples in any part of your drink.
In my excitement to dive into cocktail testing, I may have gone overboard. The following showcases my notes of exploration and eventually a drink I came up with that uses apples!
So a community of cocktail enthusiasts, from the complete novice to seasoned bartenders, decides on a theme and spends a few weeks researching, testing and tasting ingredients to make a great cocktail based on that theme. I think it’s a great way to focus my creativity and experiment. I know this theme certainly challenged me and made me try things I’ve never tried before. There were a lot of gross concoctions I came up with, but that’s the beauty of learning. I might as well share a quote I saw on a friend’s desk that can come in handy when trying new ingredient combinations.
“Success is maintaining enthusiasm failure after failure.”
Isn’t that nice?
Anyway, onto the apple cocktails.
I used what I had in my bar (except for rum, an alcohol I am not well versed in at the moment) as well as making a few apple concoctions (pictured above). They are:
Apple, ginger, cinnamon and clove syrup (simple syrup is basically a 1:1 ratio of water and sugar, simmered until the sugar dissolves and then you can store that in the fridge for a few weeks. I added a bunch of cut up apples, peeled and cut ginger, a cinnamon stick, and about 6-8 whole cloves. No powdered stuff).
Apple Shrub (Shrubs in cocktail making are essentially fruits macerated in sugar and then incorporated with a vinegar, letting the flavors blend over time. I took a cheese grater and grated 4 different types of apples, added sugar, and then added apple cider vinegar to a jar. Shake about once a day and leave in the fridge for several days. When you are happy with the flavor, remove the shredded apples and squeeze remaining juices out into liquid).
Rum infused with apples/ginger/cinnamon.
And since I have some of my favorite liquor, I said “Might as well infuse mezcal and apples.” I used only a bit of my Del Maguey Vida.
My notes on experimenting with apples in cocktails
Thoughts on the infused rum:
Not that great by itself. There is that long rum sting that doesn’t really remind me of high quality, but the other spice flavors are there. More apple tang than sweetness. Ginger is dulled, or the ginger spice is lost. After getting used to the alcohol burn there is more sweetness there. Tartness. (NOTE: this was a new rum I bought that was suggested by the store owner. After a few days of doing my experiments with it and giving it a chance in general, I have concluded I just don’t like that rum at all, so my thoughts on the apple cocktail experiments utilizing rum are a bit off. I would have been better off with Bacardi, truth be told.)
NOTE: All of the drinks I experimented with below are not FULL drinks. I had tiny glasses that I used, and all of these recipes were scaled down.
1. So I started with a Dark and Stormy minus the lime (so simply rum and ginger beer), then added the apple syrup.
I liked it. It didn’t blow me away, but the flavors all worked (even with this rum I wasn’t a fan of). THEN I added some good ol’ Angostura bitters. Adding Angostura bitters really gives it a nice depth and a different kind of spice. A spice that one would get with fresh cloves/allspice. Balanced the sweetness a great deal.
I THEN added Barrel aged cherry bitters, but I didn’t like it. Didn’t really add anything good. Actually very bitter. Bad bitter, which, ironically, bitters aren’t really supposed to do to a drink.
Onto a new mix:
2. Apple Old Fashioned
Apple and spices are more subtle, they are more of after tastes. The initial sweetness is there but after the lovely rye you get more flavors.
I then added lemon and a little more of that amazing apple syrup:
Much better. More balance of flavors. Lemon brings out the apple sweetness more. Not over powering.
Adding ginger beer to this is nice but takes away from the rye taste/feel. Avoid ginger beer in the rye drink. Keep it simple, I say.
3. Maguey Harvest is the name of a drink I saw…somewhere, I forget, but it’s an apple drink I saw. It includes:
Mezcal – I used the apple infused mezcal which, by itself, was not that great. Tasting ruined mezcal made me sad 😦
It’s actually kind of good. You get the smoyky Vida smell and little apple, and the apple mixes well. Mostly apple taste though. Cider cuts through. I actually added more straight Vida, which made it better (NOTE: Adding mezcal to anything makes it better automatically. Fair warning: I may be biased about this.) The Maguey Harvest is better with more lemon. Leaves you with ok smoky taste, apple is OK. This drink is OK, but not worth using up mezcal for.
4. The next drink I tried is based off of this recipe that has no name that I can recall:
I didn’t have any tequila left (I had a DROP left in a bottle I still had…it’s a pretty bottle and may be good for infusions later). I used the infused mezcal, which I think was a mistake and ruined what could have been a good drink. I actually added that drop of tequila which helped! Overall, the drink was fine, but I can see how the cooling tequila helps cut the vinegary (yet interesting) apple shrub. I appreciated the depth the shrub brought. Ginger beer balances the whole thing. Mimics cider taste a bit.
5. Krakow Salt Mine
This drink is very good. More so because I don’t usually like vodka. But it comes off as clean, even without the over powering cider taste. I’d say go easy on the ginger beer and I think I needed to add more salt. Apparently you’re supposed to use a Polish Bison Grass Vodka, which is herbal and has some notes of vanilla and almond. I can see how that would be amazing. I will make this again, probably with a good rye.
6. Apple Mojito
Apple infused rum
slices of apple
splash of apple cider
Next, I made an apple mojito, which used a normal mojito recipe except I used the apple rum, and I also muddled apple with the mint, and added some of that sweet, sweet apple syrup. This drink was fantastic. The lime and mint really brought out a cooling sweetness that complimented the apple, and didn’t let the apple shine at first, but when I added more apple rum and apple syrup, it was great. So far this was my favorite.
7. Autumn Ash
2 pony shots blended scotch whiskey (I used rye)
1 pony shot apple brandy (I used apple syrup)
¼ pony shot elderberry liqueur
2 dashes orange bitters
1 lemon twist, as garnish.
Combine scotch, brandy, liquer and bitters in mixing glass half filled with ice. Stir until chilled, 20 seconds. Strain into chilled coupe glass. Express lemon oil on surface, rub it on glass rim, drop lemon peel in.
So I clearly didn’t follow this recipe well, since I have no brandy nor any BLENDED scotch whiskey (single malts for me). But what I did make was pretty good. This was the first time I used orange and it worked really well.
8. This combination:
“I’m onto something.” According to my notes.
Then I thought that maybe lime would go well with this. NOPE. No lime with shrub! I think the lesson is if you will use a vinegary shrub, you won’t need a citrus element to your cocktail.
9. Apple Gin Drink
Very herbal/floral gin
Nah, this drink had too much going on. Maybe if I had a cleaner, more neutral gin this would have been fine. It was gross after a while
10. St. George Terroir Gin
I have this gin, which is a VERY unique gin (very piney, fir tree). I’ve experimented with it before, and I know this will produce a unique and very intense flavorful cocktail, but I haven’t found the right combination yet. I feel like I’m close. Anyway, I tried this gin with apples…
Terroir+Apple Syrup: OK… I guess. I added more syrup and lemon and ice. It helped, but not by much. I added ginger beer and it kind of ruined the whole thing.
Terroir + Apple shrub – Soooooo gross I tossed it down the drain after a few sips.
11. Many drinks later, I re-visited the Dark and Stormy but this time I did it correctly and added lime juice. It worked really well, better than expected.
12. Pimm’s and Apple
I forgot I had some Pimm’s, which is a liquor that uses fruit but is not a sweet liquer. It almost taste like a vermouth. I was really surprised by this concoction, actually. Something about the non-sweet, slightly bitter Pimm’s leveled out the sweetness from the ginger beer and syrup. I added orange bitters and then it really came together. I added Apple cider yet that was going in the wrong direction. I will definitely have to revisit this.
13. Back to the rye
cherry bourbon vanilla bitters
The cherry bourbon vanilla bitters are different (and way more tasty) than the barrel-aged cherry bitters I used before. I think the cherry and the orange don’t work that well together, even though they were both tasty. I love rosemary and I thought some sort of savory herb could be a welcome mix into the apple theme. This concoction was fine, and I think if I worked out the ratios, this would be a splendid drink.
My apple cocktail
After trying about 13 different cocktail concoctions (of very small portions) I felt overwhelmed by the different directions one could go with apples. From the beginning until the end, that amazing apple/ginger/clove syrup was my go-to ingredient with apples. I did not use the apple cider or apple shrub as much during my experiments, and I think if I revisit apple cocktails (or when I become more accustomed to using shrubs) then I can use them more appropriately.
A day after trying all of these drinks, I did more research and found a good base recipe I wanted to try. The cocktail had elements in some of the combinations I tried the day earlier. I added my own twists to it and I realllllly loved it. It had the apple flavor but with a unique “autumn” feel by adding more spices and yet was still very cooling, like a late-September chill. I also wanted to name it after my home state of Connecticut, since apple orchards are plentiful there, the autumns are beautiful, and since it’s called the Nutmeg State, I used nutmeg which really enhanced the drink. Here is my first original apple cocktail:
“The Nutmeg State”
1 oz apple/ginger/clove syrup
.5 oz lemon juice
few dashes of lavender bitters
few dashes of Angostura bitters
two sprigs of rosemary, one for mixing and one for garnish
2 good dashes of nutmeg, plus some for garnish
a small apple slice, for garnish
Add the gin, syrup, lemon, bitters, rosemary and nutmeg to a mixing glass. Add ice and shake until thoroughly chilled. Double strain into a glass with a big ice cube. Put the rosemary sprig between the ice and glass so it stands up. Place the apple slice on the ice cube and sprinkle a little bit of nutmeg over the apple.
UPDATE: New cocktail
I wanted to revisit Pimm’s No. 1. After some tweaking, I think I came up with a good cocktail. This recipe is the only iteration, so hopefully I come back to this at a later date. This drink is a good complex dessert drink or concoction to sip while cold.
The vodka is optional, but there is a lot going on, so I think this neutral spirit is a nice addition. It will be interesting to try Pimm’s and another liquor.
1 oz apple syrup
1 oz lemon
2 oz Pimm’s
1/2 oz vodka
Hellfire bitters (optional)
sprig of mint (for garnish)
About 2-4 oz of ginger beer, to taste.
Add syrup, lemon, Pimm’s, vodka, bitters and ice. Shake. Double strain into taller glass. No ice. Add ginger beer.
Add sprig of mint, preferably standing up on a stem so it looks like a palm tree.