Potion-Making at Mather House

Earlier this month, I did a “potion-making” demonstration at Mather Dining Hall. Making and designing drinks can be incredibly fun; flavors in drink combine differently from in food, stimulating your palette in a distinct but satisfying way.

Some questions I wanted to explore in this exercise: is it possible to make cocktail-like concoctions without the use of alcohol? Furthermore, how significant are the taste differences in making drinks entirely “from scratch” as opposed to buying prefabricated mixes at the supermarket? Using this book at a point of reference, I experimented with two recipes which produced great results. I list them below.

DRAGON TONIC
The rather ridiculous name of this drink derives from the use of its main ingredient, fresh tarragon. Tarragon has an incredibly complex flavor that is difficult to put down in words; it is superficially bitter, but it possesses a wonderful herbal flavor. I was surprised to see its use in a drink recipe, as the herb is more commonly found in fish and meat dishes.

Recipe:
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
4 sprigs of fresh tarragon
3 cups white grapefruit juice

Combine water and sugar in a saucepan. Over medium-high heat, stir the mixture until it forms a syrup. Add the tarragon for 3 minutes, before removing it from the syrup. Combine the tarragon syrup with grapefruit juice. Serve with tarragon sprigs.

My rating: 8.5/10
Result: A good drink must have a complexity that is delicious; this one fulfils that requirement just about perfectly. As you take a sip, a transformation takes place in your palette: you’re first hit by the sugary overtones of the syrup, then the sour-bitter of the grapefruit, before the tarragon kicks with an herbal deliciousness that leaves you thirsting for more.

Further thoughts:
If you like your drink sweeter, feel free to increase the ratio of syrup to juice (e.g. 1:5 instead of 1:6). Furthermore, to make this drink absolutely perfect, use freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice. Due to the want of time, I had to suffice with Ocean Spray.

KEY LIME MOJITO
Mojitos were traditionally found in Cuba but have now become a standard in cocktail bars everywhere. In the classic rendition of the drink, rum is used as the sugary base and is accentuated by mint flavors. This recipe uses a different spin, using the vanilla sugar and lemon-lime to contribute the sweetness while the mint is still retained. The key ingredient, however, is the key lime, which cuts through the other ingredients in an amazing way.

Recipe:

2 Tbs key lime juice
1 Tbs vanilla sugar
1/4 cup packed mint leaves*
Splash of water
Splash of lemon-lime soda
Crushed ice

Put the lime juice, sugar, mint leaves and water into a cocktail sugar and muddle until a syrup forms. Add ice and shake to chill the liquid. Strain, and top with lemon-lime soda.

*You don’t have to be too exact with this. As a rule of thumb, more is better than less.

My rating: 8/10

Result: The combination of key lime, mint and *anything* would probably guarantee a winning libation. Here the use of lemon-lime soda as a mixer worked really well, though I think an even better substitute would be something like a red or black tea.

Further thoughts:
The substitution of vanilla sugar for normal sugar was an unnecessary step, I felt; the value-add wasn’t too noticeable considering you pay a significant premium for it. Also, go crazy with the mint. You can never have enough of that stuff.

Alastair Su

Mather House

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