To jigger, or not to jigger: that is not the question. When we started, jiggers were for nerds. We were fast, gunslingers, bangin’ out Cosmos on turbojet. Then, as we got comfortable making Mojitos with the dexterity of David Nepove, we wanted more. We wanted to create something that was ours - something original. We had improvised in the moment when a customer had a special request. But, we had not measured. Or, if the drink was good, we just loosely committed to memory, “a two count of that, a half count of this, and a dashie poo of those.” It was all counting - our minds were ounce abacuses. It then became apparent that our nerdy friend, the jigger, was necessary. The jigger quickly became a trusted friend. The jigger set us free. Winging it Iron Chef-style is the best, but in order to get there, necessary work must happen. Recipe testing is not only measuring ingredients. Recipe testing has many faces. Precision pays. Tasting everything you can inspires ideas. Reading has a pot of gold at the end of its rainbow. Recipe testing is like sparring - lots of training and hard work positions you to Rocky Balboa your way through a busy night. This week we discuss the finer points of recipe testing.
Love thy jigger. When working out a new recipe, “bracketing” is a must. By bracketing we mean imagining the drink and its proportions and making it that way. Then make it with a quarter ounce more, and a quarter ounce less of the ingredients, marking if it falls woefully out of or into significantly better balance. We know this seems obvious, but when we order a drink and others around us think it would be better with a quarter ounce less of this, and another dash of that, we wonder if when the drink in question was born, did it go through any investigation? If you are using bitters, try the drink with more than one type. If you have a sweet vermouth, try a variety of brands. If you are using a sweet liqueur, assess the brix level and try a few other flavors that have relatively the same sweetness. Lemon twist? Orange twist? Cocktologists love Amaro, play with em’ all. One always fits better than the others. We find cocktail recipes to be fairly malleable entities. By the end of your testing process, proportions should be set. On your way to that finished product, learning happens, light bulbs illuminate, and you are likely inspired to make another new drink.
On the heels of our last article’s tongue centric musings: taste it all. Smell it all. Come in to work a half hour early. Bring three tasting glasses. Pick a variety of spirits and pour out three half ounce tastes… make friends. Do this with your favorites and do this with the spirits you cannot stand. Take notes or don’t. Regardless, commit these scents and tastes to memory. This library is a guide through the recipe testing process. You will not be blindly mixing ingredients together that have no business being together. You save time the house’s money. While you are working, straw-test everything you make. We know some people think this says to the guest you are not confident with what you made. To them we ask, “Would you like a chef to not taste the soup before it is sent out, or the writer not to edit their work?” If you are not using biodegradable straws, then follow Jamie Boudreau’s advice and get yourself a cute little tasting cup and pour yourself an eighth of an ounce before you pour your creation into a glass. This little business of smelling and tasting is what hones instincts. The good news is: it works. The bad news is: it takes awhile. We have found that being able to put descriptive names to scents and tastes is a muscle you have to Jazzercise the hell out of to keep sharp. A year or two will go by, and you will have that “Aha!” moment where you realize you know more than you did. Then, you realize you have only scratched the surface.
Study. Books are our friends. Read them. Cocktail books, spice books, homemade soda books, books on herbs and their flavors and medicinal uses, bartender anecdote books, and on, and on. If you find them boring, keep reading. If you still find them boring, find a new job. Jump into this ocean of information and swim around, read drunk, read sober, just read.
Now you have a foundation to fight serious ninja Iron Chef-style. All this honing, and you are left with a Yoda imagination and instincts you can trust. The work it takes to get to a place where recipe creation becomes natural does take time and hard work. But, when you get it, you have it for life. If you are lucky, you feel a little Lionel Richie, new drinks feel “Easy Like Sunday Morning.”
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