Stiletta

Oh… Hi, there. It’s me! The Paternal Drunk. Remember? No? Well, shit. I can’t blame you – it’s been awhile. A long while. According to my annual WordPress recap report, I managed a whopping 3 new posts in 2015. A barren, unfruitful year across the Paternal Drunk blogscape, if I am honest. Despite my abysmal effort, this site was viewed about 7,000 times over the course of the year. Is that good? I have no idea, but, thank you. As for 2016, I’m not making any promises. My daughters (the eldest now 3½ years old and the youngest coming in at 16 months) are keeping me busy. Not only that, but I’ve taken up the terrible, disgusting habit of jogging (I believe it’s jogging, or yogging… it might be a soft “j”), which is severely cutting into my drinking regimen. Everyone makes mistakes. Having said that, the plan is to produce more than a few posts. Starting now:

My lovely wife gifted me an iSi Gourmet Whip Plus whipping siphon for Christmas. What the shit is that, you say? Essentially, it’s an Austrian-made stainless steel pressure vessel that you charge with nitrous oxide (N2O) to create whipped creams, foams, espumas, whipped soups, and… rapid infusions. If you happen to have Dave Arnold’s book, Liquid Intelligence, then you already know this. If you don’t, let me give you a quick rundown, although I must warn you: I might start talking about partial pressures and Henry’s Law.

So, a traditional infusion, hereinafter referred to as slow-as-fuck infusion (SAFI), requires at least a few hours, if not weeks, to complete. Infusions involve steeping a solid material in a liquid solvent, which in the context of cocktails, is ethyl alcohol. During the soak, chemical flavour compounds from the solid (phenols, fatty acids, esters, etc.) are extracted. Ethyl alcohol happens to be a fantastic solvent and has the ability to extract more of these compounds than, say, olive oil. Dave Arnold, the mad genius that he is, has developed a technique to expedite this flavour extraction process using iSi’s whipping siphons.

The technique involves subjecting the solid-liquid solution to high pressure. Surprisingly high pressure, actually. With two 7.5 gram N2O cartridges discharged into the canister, pressures peak at about 24 bar(g) (348 psig). Egad! Now, the solubility of a gas in a liquid is proportional to the pressure of the gas above the solution. Given the high pressure of the space above the liquid within the whipper, two things occur:

  1. The N2O dissolves into the liquid
  2. The liquid (along with the dissolved N2O) is forced into the porous solid material.

Arnold recommends shaking between N2O charges, as well as shaking intermittently during the infusion time. This makes sure the N2O mixes well and dissolves to the greatest extent possible (and reduces the pressure within the whipper to about 10 bar(g)). Once the prescribed infusion time is reached (typically a minute or two), the pressure is released and the N2O boils out of the liquid, extracting all the flavour the solid has to offer. Awesome.

I was flipping through Gary Regan’s “The Negroni” and came across a cocktail created by Phil Ward called the “Stiletta.” I recognized Mr. Ward’s name from many an excellent cocktail found in the pages of the Death & Co. cocktail book. Phil is currently the co-proprietor and beverage director/manager at Mayahuel, a much-lauded tequila and mezcal bar, located in Lower East Side of Manhattan. Prior to opening up Mayahuel in 2009, Phil worked at other venerable institutions such as the Pegu Club, Flatiron Lounge, and, of course, Death & Co.

What was Phil’s inspiration for this cocktail? Here’s an excerpt from “The Negroni”:

“I was mulling cider and putting in the star anise just as I took a sip of Campari,” he says, “I was like, ‘Wow, could those two tyrants actually coexist?’ I tried it and they did.”

As simple as that. Not sure about the name: it’s the feminine version of stiletto, which is a type of “dagger” in Italian. With any luck, the cocktail doesn’t taste like being stabbed in the throat. Fingers crossed.

You may have gathered that Mr. Ward’s recipe calls for star anise-infused Campari. He suggests steeping 20 pods in a bottle of Campari for 8 hours or overnight, i.e. the SAFI method. “Overnight”, eh? So if I happen to be doing this infusion shortly after my kids wake me at 5:30 am, the infusion could be 24 hours or more? I guess it all depends on how star anisey you want your Campari to be. Eight to 24 hours isn’t a terribly long time to wait, but I was eager to give my iSi whipper a whirl.

Dave Arnold gives a bit of guidance with respect to solid-to-liquid ratios and infusion times, but it largely comes down to trial and error. Based on his advice and reviewing some of the rapid infusion recipes he provides in his book, I decided to start with 40 grams of star anise pods in 500 mL of Campari with an infusion time of 2 minutes. Here’s the method I used:

  1. Add 40 grams of star anise pods to canister;
  2. Pour in 500 mL of Campari;
  3. Stop 16 month old from trying to eat star anise pods;
  4. Ensure head gasket is properly seated within the head;
  5. Attach stainless steel decorator tip to dispensing valve;
  6. Screw head onto canister;
  7. Load the charger holder with a N2O cartridge and screw holder onto the head;
  8. Shake vigorously (about 5-6 times);
  9. Unscrew the charge holder, load up another cartridge and repeat steps 7 and 8;
  10. Begin timer (for 2 minutes);
  11. After 2 minutes, release pressure;
  12. Calm down crying 16 month old who literally shit her pants because of the surprisingly loud sound that venting the whipper generated;
  13. Unscrew head and wait for 5 minutes or until you can’t hear any more fizzing.

And that’s it! With regards to Step 11, i.e., venting the iSi, Dave Arnold stresses that this must be done as quickly as possible. You need to fully open the dispensing valve immediately. Unless you happen to have iSi’s heinously overpriced “rapid infusion kit” (consisting of a gasketed sieve and a bent tube for 50 bucks), this step has potential for creating a sizable mess. When venting, I place the whipper in a large bowl, then hold a large measuring cup over the business end of the decorating tip. Any liquid that shoots out hits the measuring cup and is caught in the bowl below. Fine strain the contents of the canister and the bowl into a bottle. Boom. Star anised-Campari. Tastes delicious. I think I’m happy with my infusion spec (40 g/500 mL/2 N2O/2 min).

Paternal Drunk - Post 38 - Stiletta - Star Anise - S

So, now we’re ready to make a Stiletta. The recipe is as follows:

  • 1½  oz. tequila blanco
  • 1 oz. sweet vermouth
  • 1 oz. star anise-infused Campari

Looks to be an entirely palatable tipple. Mix this up and joy untrammeled is yours. But why stop there? This is a post on rapid infusion, isn’t it? Why settle for one lousy infusion, when I could do two? Fine.

Overnight. Barrel-aged. Stiletta. Yes.

Thanks to Jeffrey Morgenthaler for sharing this technique on the YouTubes. Rather than aging in an oak barrel, oak chips and the cocktail are added to the iSi whipper and placed under pressure to accelerate the extraction of wood flavours. Yeah, Science!

I followed Morgenthaler’s method with the small added step of charring the chips before adding them to the iSi canister. I preheated my oven to 450°F with my trusty 12” cast iron skillet on the middle rack, removed the skillet from the oven, and placed it over high heat on the gas range. I then added the chips and let them be (be sure to crank the range hood exhaust and take down any nearby smoke alarms…) Once you feel you have a good char, remove the chips and let cool.

Paternal Drunk - Post 38 - Stiletta - Oak Char - S

Once cooled, weigh 1.5 oz (about 43 g) of the charred chips and add to the iSi canister. To that, add the quadruple-sized Stiletta. I used the following spec:

  • 6 oz. El Espolon tequila blanco
  • 4 oz. Cocchi Vermouth di Torino
  • 4 oz. star anise-infused Campari

Now seal that bad boy up and give ‘er a taste of N2O. Just one charger will do. Yes, that’s nice. Now shake the bejeezus out of it 5 or 6 times and place in a cool place out of the reach of preschoolers/toddlers for 24 hours. In theory, this should be a reasonable approximation of a few months of barrel ageing. Amazeballs.

Once 24 hours has elapsed, vent the whipper as described above, i.e. hella quick. I found the noise wasn’t as loud this time ‘round, probably because the pressure was half of what it was during the star anise infusion.

Paternal Drunk - Post 38 - Stiletta - Venting - S

After you’ve cleaned up your mess and fine strained out the wood (use a coffee filter to get out all the smaller wood particles), you’re finally ready to mix.

Paternal Drunk - Post 38 - Stiletta - Cocktail - S

Given that you have enough Stilette to make 4 cocktails (approx. 14 oz., less the amount stuck to the wood chips), may I suggest having some friends over to help out. Or not. The stuff’ll keep in the fridge for a couple days, I’m sure. For a single serving, measure out a scant 3.5 oz. into a mixing glass and add your ice. Stir until chilled and strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with a star anise pod. If there’s a prettier garnish out there, I’d like to see it.

So, I made a standard, “unaged” Stiletta for comparison purposes. The standard Stiletta, thank heavens, does not taste like a dagger to the mouth. There is a lot going on here – sweet agave and black pepper mingle with chocolatey, herbal, citrusy, and fruity flavours that give way to orange pith, quinine bitterness and sweet liquorice/star anise. It’s quite nice.

The rapid barrel aging takes a bit of the bite out of the blanco tequila and Campari. Flavours are more rounded and some nice overtones of oak tannin, barrel char and maybe a bit of caramel glide in over top of everything else I’ve described above. Really cool. The barrel that the oak chips came from, I suspect, had reached the end of its useful life, hence it being smashed into smithereens. As such, there’s not much in the way of added whiskey flavours – mostly just woody flavours. And, of course, you don’t get some of the oxidized flavours that you might get from aging the cocktail in a barrel for an extended time. Still – a fun way to alter a standard cocktail’s flavours.

In summary, some cocktails you taste. Some you feel. You’ll feel Stiletta.

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