How much water should you add to a pre-batched cocktail?

Dave Arnold (image courtesy MOFAD)

Dave Arnold (image courtesy MOFAD)

This is a question I grappled with throughout the recipe-testing process for Cocktails for a Crowd.  It might seem like a trifling matter — but you’d be surprised how much it impacts a cocktail. The right amount of water makes a cocktail better — that’s one of the reasons we add ice to drinks.

Although I ultimately landed on adding about 25% to 30% water to simulate the effect of melting ice, as usual, Dave Arnold figured out a more precise way to figure out the right amount of water to add.

And he figured it out years before I did.

If you don’t already know Arnold, he’s the poster boy for better cooking (and drinking) through chemistry. He’s the mastermind behind Booker & Dax, a chemistry lab-turned-cocktail bar. He’s also one of the driving forces behind the Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD) — an enterprise I’m excited about– and hosts the longtime “Cooking Issues” podcast on Heritage Radio Network.

During a 2010 episode of Cooking Issues, Arnold tackled the topic of how much water to add to a pre-batched cocktail. Not only that, he compared how to handle drinks that are traditionally shaken vs. those that typically are stirred. “It’s hard to pre-batch a shaken cocktail,” he admits. “You really do need to shake it to get the texture right.”

Of course, his mad-scientist approach involves using liquid nitrogen to dilute the drink and still get the properly aerated texture that shaking provides. Most home bartenders, of course, aren’t about to start fiddling with liquid nitro. “If possible, choose a stirred drink to pre-batch,” Arnold concludes.  (I agree — but then again, I might be up for replicating shaken drinks for 20 people, where he would be replicating them for a “crowd” of 200 guests.) Here’s how Arnold determines how much water to add:

Make a single drink, using volume, the way you normally would, with jiggers. Weigh it on an accurate scale. Write the number down, that’s how much drink you’re starting with. Add your ice, stir it, then strain it. Now weigh how much the drink weighs now. That’s the weight of the total cocktail. Subtract the weight of the liquor you used from the total weight of the cocktail, and that’s the amount of water you should add. That’s the way to do it, instead of guessing in your head at 25%. If you just add water at room temp and taste it – When you chill it, the balance will be off.

It may seem tedious, but Arnold notes that you only need to do it once – if you get it right and write the recipe down, you don’t need to re-test it every time. And as Arnold says, “Your pre-batched drinks will thank you for it.

Secret Financial Life of Food on “Hot Grease” radio

Hot Grease show

Butter and Egg women unite!

Last week I had the opportunity to talk about my new book with the ebullient Nicole Taylor, one of my favorite radio hosts. Her show, Hot Grease, airs on the awesome Heritage Radio Network.

Listen to the episode here: Hot Grease – Episode 128 – The Secret Financial Life of Food

A comment from the show: “I think that commodity prices are not going to be based entirely on American eating habits… It’s my belief that we’re going to see commodities being traded on a more global basis.” [26:00]

Where You’ll Find Me This Weekend

There’s no need to stay thirsty this weekend!  (okay, long weekend, since I’m including Monday). Here’s what I’ll be up to – please come out and say hello!

Saturday, December 11: Holiday Spirits Bazaar (Brooklyn, NY). A one-night shopping and tasting extravaganza, benefiting the Museum of the American Cocktail. I’ll be signing & selling books, and serving up some Sparkling Ginger Daisy Punch!  Buy tickets here.

Sunday, December 12: Heritage Radio Network. Along with cheese expert Diana Pittet, I’ll be talking with cheesemonger Anne Saxelby, host of “Cutting the Curd,” about monastic heritage in cheeses and liqueurs. 

Monday, December 13: Monastic Liqueurs and Cheeses, a lecture and tasting event with cheese expert Diana Pittet and me, presented by The Culinary Historians of New York. (National Arts Club, Gramercy Park, New York — Excuse me, but have you seen what the NAC looks like all decked out for the holidays?!? Wow.) An amazing raffle basket also will be available, including a limted edition 500th anniversary bottle of Benedictine. Buy tickets here.

Announcing Drink.Think, a new reading event

It’s been rather quiet on this blog the last week or so.  But that doesn’t mean I’ve been lounging about drinking Margaritas (well – drinking, yes, but lounging, no). Rather, it indicates a furor of activity going on behind the scenes that’s prevented me from blogging.

What have I been up to? Writing – that’s a given. Creating bespoke cocktails for a new client (more on that soon!) Heading out to Brooklyn for an interview and a Sangrita with the Heritage Radio Network. And setting up a new pet project called Drink.Think.

Drink[dot]Think is a reading event focused around beverage writing. It will feature new and established writers reading from their work about drink and food — but with drink always taking center stage. (And no, not always alcoholic drinks, either). Please check out the site for more details! I hope to see you on October 5 for the inaugural reading.

Spice & Ice in the WaPo spirits column!

A quick brag, and a heads up for next week:

Spice & Ice was featured in the Washington Post’s spirits column (Doctored with pepper, by Jason Wilson)! 

This is a very big deal…not just because of the considerable space devoted to the book, but also because Wilson clearly took the time to experiment with many, many recipes from the book…and because he still says outright that he “enjoyed the book” (whew!), and that the ideas in the book “pushed me in new directions.” Wilson has a reputation as a particularly harsh critic, so I consider this high praise indeed.  I don’t think I breathed until I finished reading the column!

Check out also what he did with the Zapple recipe from the book; it’s an interesting adaptation.

And a quick heads-up:  on Monday, December 14, I’ll be on the Hot Grease show with Nicole Taylor, on the Heritage Radio Network. You can listen live or catch the archived version online. Nicole is all about the “good food movement,” so in addition to talking about Spice & Ice, expect to hear also about how the movement extends to cocktails.