Inspired by the Carnivorous Cocktails seminar at Tales, I started Sunday brunch with the BLTini, a sandwich in a glass.
I like my BLTs on potato bread, so I opted for vodka over gin, squeezed the bejeezus out of a gorgeous heirloom tomato, then decided that lettuce was lame and so opted for basil as an aromatic garnish.
Tip: bacon is best for this purpose when crispy, flat and most of the fat has been rendered off, so I devised this little trick. Lay raw bacon in a hot pan and then put a Pyrex baking dish on top, pressing the bacon flat while it cooks. Creates perfect cocktail bacon.
- 2 ounces vodka (plain or citrus)
- 2 ounces tomato water (see note)
- 1 dash dry vermouth
- 1 piece crispy bacon
- 1 basil leaf
Shake vodka, tomato water and vermouth with ice to chill and strain into a chilled martini glass. Stir with bacon, and literally clap once with the basil leaf on your palm to release the aromatic oils before floating it in the glass.
Note: to make tomato water I diced the tomato, wrapped it in cheese cloth and squeezed out as much liquid as I could. When my hand got tired, I put the whole pulpy package into a citrus squeezer, extracted the rest and filtered the tomato water through a fine mesh strainer. A medium-large heirloom yields about 2 ounces of juice, less than you will get with a roma of comparable size.
Tinctures, bitters and infused spirits are all created by steeping culinary components in alcohol to extract flavor. It really is just that simple and it is easy to do at home, so I will keep an eye out for how they’re being used at Tales of the Cocktail next week and update you on any trends or exciting uses I discover.
At a gin tasting workshop last night (many thanks to Right Gin and Nirvino) I asked a favorite local bartender, Josh Harris of 15 Romolo, what exactly a tincture is, having only recently encountered the term as a cocktail ingredient.
He defined it as being like aromatic bitters: herbs, spices or other ingredients with intense flavor steeped in over-proof, neutral spirits (strong grain alcohol like Everclear) to extract the flavor, which is added to cocktails in dashes or drops. He said that while bitters are a combination of flavors, tinctures are made with a single flavor. I’ve since seen tinctures online that were composed of more than one flavor, but none so complex as bitters, so a stronger distinction may be that tinctures need not be bitter in flavor.
Note: the definitions of these terms in bar-speak differ from their traditional usage. Technically, all three are tinctures, defined as an alcoholic extract of plant material with an ethanol percentage of at least 40% (assuming the spirit you are “infusing” is at least 80 proof). Infusion is the result of steeping plants in water or oil, not alcohol, so infused vodka, rum or gin is a contradiction in terms. Vinegar is also an acceptable medium, so shrubs are really tinctures too.
I would offer recipes, but frankly, all you do is soak stuff in stiff spirits. Just go try it.
I’m preparing myself for Tales of the Cocktail by ramping up my tolerance through daily “exercise” and a little light reading. My drinks of choice for reading in this unseasonably warm SF summer are a Tom Collins with cucumber infused gin or a variation on the Lynchburg Lemonade made with smoked lemons.
Now follow along in your test booklets as I read aloud: