Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Alton Brown Knows Cocktails

I'm currently watching a Tivo'd episode of Alton Brown's Good Eats called Raising the Bar. I had held off watching this episode, because I feared that it would be like most other cooking shows--showcase some godawful tiki drinks, Appletinis, or tell you to keep your vodka in the freezer.

However, I should have trusted Alton. He always does his research. Good show, Alton. Good show.

Good stuff to note:
- Breaking down cocktails into "chords"--you have a base note (spirit), a modifier (mixer), and an accent (bitters, citrus, olive, etc). Some cocktails are two notes, some three, some more. The chord idea nicely encompasses the balance and harmony idea of a good cocktail.

-Making "Mr. Bond" a proper martini (gin, stirred). Because "gin is vodka, with herbs and juniper added." I never really thought about adding the olive first, either--it mixes the brine into the drink. Nice touch, even if I will never drink one (olives I can only take in extremely small doses ideally smothered with other ingredients).

- The nutritional anthropologist also likes real daiquiris. With fresh lime juice. And simple syrup. And I didn't know that making simple syrup (2 parts sugar to one water, boil, then simmera few minutes) breaks about the sucrose into fructose and glucose, which is sweeter than sucrose, plus it resists crystallization. From which I infer that if you have crystals in your simple syrup, you either used the wrong proportions or didn't simmer it long enough. You learn something new every day!

Sadly though, with the Mint Julep he made two unfortunate errors: bad southern accent, and he used the wrong end of the muddler.


Anonymous Dr. Bamboo said...

I love Alton's show!

And I made my own batch of simple syrup a few weeks ago (for use in those "Godawful tiki drinks" ;-), and was amazed at how easy it was.

Great blog, Jen...keep it up! I check in regularly and always look forward to what's up next.

6:18 AM  
Anonymous Mike said...

Ah! I wish I still had the Food network. I really enjoy Good Eats and am sad to have missed a show where Alton Brown focused on cocktails.

Two other Food Network stars who tend to focus a bit on cocktails are Bobby Flay and Sandra Lee, though I've never been too inspired by either's approach towards them.

10:00 AM  
Anonymous George Sinclair said...

If Alton was using a muddler in a mint julep then he was definitely making it incorrectly. Mint syrup is the way to go, or just garnish with mint leaves. If you muddle the mint, it is a mint smash.

3:52 PM  
Blogger Cocktail Jen said...

I didn't even think of that! It's true, most of the mint julep recipes I've seen are basically "pour 3 oz of strong booze over a lot of finely crushed ice and a little sugar, then stick a nose-tickling bouquet of mint in the top."

Personally I would have probably muddled as well because I'm a mint fanatic. I'd also eat all the mint garnish like a rabbit.

4:08 PM  
Blogger Shawn said...

Forgive me for perpetuating the debate, I think muddling has its place in a mint julep. That happens to be the way it's made at the Round Robin bar as well, which has quite the julep pedigree.

That said, when I am serving a lot of juleps, I use mint syrup to keep the drinks flowing.

9:07 PM  
Blogger Darryl said...

You can also make simple syrup by just adding boiling water to sugar in a bowl and stirring till it dissolves, no simmering necessary. Works for me.

7:49 PM  
Blogger Jocelyn said...

That's not simple syrup - that's sugar water. Simple syrup is a reduction of sugar in water, thus the necessity of simmering. Also, given that AB is a Southerner by pedigree, I would tend to follow his Julep recipe (though I wouldn't savor the mint bits in my teeth). There's more than one way to mix a cocktail though AB likes to treat his way as the definitive method in all things.

10:30 AM  
Anonymous Lynn S. said...

Bad Southern accent?! Alton's from Georgia--he had to LOSE his accent! :)

12:43 PM  
Anonymous MC said...

Hey Jen.. caught this from your facebook page... I have the Alton Brown episode on my Tivo as well... and the first thing I did was make some simple syrup for my mojitos... That was one of his best episodes... (though I did like his homemade cornbread.. that was the best cornbread I've every made.... amazing and his sticky buns.. yummm....)

8:31 AM  
Anonymous Cheryl Charming said...

Hi Jen,
I met some people that worked on that exact show. They said Alton's set bar was so flimsy that they had to keep putting it back together after takes. Alton was trying so hard to to lean to hard or push too hard on the bar top...funny, huh?

Anyway, overall that is a good episode even though he gives some incorrect info; like, gin is basically vodka but the herbs are not just added after that they are redistilled. He also used the wrong end of the muddler, used a julep strainer on the outside of a tin, and handled the bar spoon like he has never used one before.

On the plus side, said how real bartenders don't use the
3-piece shakers, did a great job on the Daiquiri by giving a little history of how rum first
originated, used fresh lime juice and explained how to make simple syrup (but
held the jigger so far away from the shaker tin of ice and held the bottle by
the base when pouring), and had fun with the Colonel Sanders get up.

9:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've got some great cocktail recipes, you can look through.

8:34 AM  
Anonymous coffeeaholic said...

Jocelyn wrote that a 2/1 mix is not a simple syrup. Beep wrong, if you advise people to simmer the mixture and they do it too long which is very possible they will wind up with candy. Things start happening to sugar when it starts getting too hot or the water content gets too low. Just boil some water turn off the heat and add double the sugar by volume than the water and disolve. No need to simmer and whola!! Simple syrup.

10:57 AM  
Blogger Lloyd said...

Hey Jen, I was half asleep when that Good Eats show aired. I wanted the recipe for his Mojito but its not listed on the Food Network site. Do you have it? thanks

2:12 PM  
Blogger Cocktail Jen said...

Did he make a mojito? I thought he just made a mint julep. Anyway, I
don't have his recipe, but here's mine for a mojito:

1. Squeeze half a lime into a tall glass and throw the squeezed lime
half into the glass.
2. Add a generous amount of washed mint leaves into the glass. 6
minimum, more if you like mint. Spearmint only, not peppermint.
3. Add 2 teaspoons sugar (adjust to taste). Simple syrup can also be
used, but if you do, add after muddling to keep the stickiness down.
4. Muddle! Squish is all up until the juices dissolve the sugar and
the mint leaves look terrible.
5. Fill glass with ice.
6. Add 2 oz light rum.
7. Fill the rest with club soda or seltzer, and stir well. Some
little mint pieces should come to the top.

2:20 PM  
Blogger Apollo Idol Prudence said...

love alton brown. love my booze. I loved that episode, and his horror of "tiki drinks" goes right in line with me! It's Kentucky Derby day and am sitting with julep in hand. Thank you Jen for putting this up. I totally glazed over the "chord" concept.

You rock!

2:56 PM  
Anonymous Max Requenes said...

Thanks for posting this. I was trying to remember Alton's cocktail/music analogy for a story I was writing on the martini. Your story described it much better than I remembered it. Am linking to this story. Hope you don't mind.

7:44 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

I usually trust Alton as well, he always does his research. That being said I think he is a wonderful resource to use as a base or a benchmark on which to build your own creativity. I do have a question; Do you remember why he preferred a wooden muddler as opposed to the newer versions available. Great blog BTW, are you a working bartender?

12:29 AM  
Blogger Cocktail Jen said...


I don't remember the reasons behind a wooden muddler. I have one with little teeth on it that are great for crunching up mint, but things get stuck in the teeth and the wood will stain if you use it for berries. If I were to buy one now I'd get one of those that have a plastic toothed end and a steel shaft. Of course, the end of a wooden spoon works in a pinch.

I'm not a bartender, never have been. Just someone who likes cocktails.

9:38 AM  
Anonymous Cocktails at 80 said...

If you like the cocktail chords concept you probably would like the drink families in David Embury's Fine Art of Mixing Drinks - I find its better than Regan's families in 'Joy of Mixology' although they are good too.

10:21 PM  
Anonymous Castelnaui said...

What did Alton use as his bar tools? I remember he had some requirements about the strainer. My husband is using the cheese slicer as a strainer, so we have a tug'o'war when he wants to mix a drink and I'm serving cheese.

5:14 PM  
Blogger Teapartylondon said...

Great blog, ...keep it up! I check in regularly and always look forward to what's up next.cocktail training

12:11 AM  
Blogger The Depressed Doormat said...

@Cheryl Charming:
Alton Brown states, and I quote:
"Gin is Vodka with herbs and junipers added".

Now, perhaps my command of the English languages is faltering, but where in that statement do you deduce that he means add herbs to vodka and you get gin. The re-distillation is only a technicality and not a factor in the inherent difference in the alcohols. If you distilled a fermented rice "wine" twice, added juniper berries and other herbs, and let it "extract" flavors, you would have a double distilled vodka turned into a compound gin. If you re-distilled that mixture, you would have a London or distilled gin (whose classification I am still not too sure about). If you did not add any herbs/flavor additives and distilled again, you would have a triple distilled vodka, very poor country vodka, distill again, decent bottom shelf vodka, another time, you get grey goose levels of vodka. Use continuous distillation instead of batch distillation and you get Absolut.

As for the mint julep, almost every recipe I have come across on the internet uses fresh leaves muddled with sugar. And to my understanding, even the ones I noticed (just 1, on the food network) that used mint "extract" used real mint to make the extract, which makes me believe that they were too finicky to be hassled by edible leaves being a part of their drink and for no culinary reason at all. I prefer the real thing, in this world of quick fixes and cut corners.

As for the muddler, I did notice that, only because I do it the same way and someone was picky enough to point it out. My question is simple, what makes your way right? Both surface areas are equal(at least on my muddler; measured with a Mitutoyo Vernier Caliper, and it appears to be the same for AB as well) which means if the same person was muddling using the same force, the pressure exerted on the object (mint leaves) would be equal, crushing them equally. Now if your muddler has those "teeth" I could see your point, but if you own one like the one Alton or I do, both ends being smooth, then it is the difference between driving on the left side of the road vs the right side of the road.

@Jen: If you get crystals in your simple syrup, you heated your solution for too long. Take the solution off heat as soon as the sugar is dissolved. Preferable a little before. Sugar crystallizing in a solution with water is due to supersaturation. That can only happen after all the sugar is dissolved, following which water starts to evaporate leaving a mixture of much higher sugar concentration than possible at room temperature.

10:03 PM  

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