Question: When you eat or drink something you like, do you ever stop and wonder why you like it?
I do, because I'm a nerd.
To be clear, this isn't some end-of-Revenge of the Nerds-style pronouncement—it's more of a statement or fact: When you're a nerd as I am, it's never enough to "just like" something. You've got to really sink your teeth into it; you've got to explore it from all angles, and wherever possible, reinvent the wheel in hope of coming up with a better wheel. That's what a nerd does.
During the day, I'm a software engineer who consults for large companies. I don't know a single person who writes code that hasn't tried to write a blogging engine from scratch. Is that pragmatic or practical? No. But that's what a nerd does.
Through understanding what the things we like are made of, we nerds seek to better understand ourselves. It shouldn't be surprising, then, that we take the same approach to making drinks.
The cocktail that follows is a simple take on a Tom Collins that uses several ingredients that I made myself. I did that because I wanted to understand how their individual components could benefit a drink and where the flavors in the resulting drink were coming from.
I wanted to know these things because I'm a nerd.
That, and I wanted to trick my wife into thinking I'm cool. (I still don't know what she sees in me.)
30g lavender-lemon shrub (recipe to follow)
10g Thai chili rich Demerara syrup (recipe to follow)
Rinse a chilled Collins glass with absinthe. Fill with ice.
To a Boston shaker filled 3/4 with ice, add the gin, shrub, and syrup and shake to chill and combine. Strain into the Collins glass, top off with fizzy water, and serve.
- Shrubs are traditional drinking vinegar and a method of flavor preservation. Ripe, in-season fruit is macerated with sugar and combined with a certain measure of vinegar.
- To make lavendar-lemon shrub, first remove the zest from two lemons and extract a half cup of juice for later use. Place the lemon zest in a bowl with a handful of lavendar (stems and all) and cover with 1 cup of raw turbinado sugar. Cover the bowl and let sit in the refrigerator for a day. The next day, add a half cup of lemon juice and a half cup of rice vinegar and stir to dissolve the sugar into a syrup. Straight your mixture and discard the solids.
- Ordinarily we’d use the flesh of a fruit and its juices to make a shrub. We’re still technically doing that here, albeit in a more roundabout way—we’re really more concerned with the perfume of the zest and lavendar. These are dry ingredients, to be sure, which is why we add the juice back in at the end.
- Lavendar is savory herb with an intense bouqet thanks to high levels of linalool and linalyl acetate, intensely aromatic compounds that have also been shown to reduce stress.
- This drink benefits from a botanical, citrusy gin where juniper is not a primary ingredient. A more juniper-forward gin would overwhelm the lavender, which is really the star of this drink.
- To make Thai chili simple syrup, add six Thai chilies to a pot along with two parts raw turbinado sugar and one part water. Dissolve the sugar into the water over moderate heat and cover until completely cooled. Strain out the chilis.
- Thai chilis can be found at most Asian supermarkets. They add a building heat to the drink that crescendos with a rush of endorphins that arrives right around the same time as the effervescence of the fizzy water.