In the Spirit
Three ways to create a simple base for your cocktails
By Tony Cross
Over the years, I’ve experimented with many ingredients, recipes and gadgets — all aimed at making my job easier. I mean, c’mon, my business is built on the premise of pulling a handle to get the finished product. You can’t get much lazier than that. Some of these experiments have been disastrous, but from time to time I’ll find a winner. In this case, the winner is oleo saccharum and a few ways to make it.
“A few ways to make what?” Oleo saccharum. It has the same number of syllables as REO Speedwagon, but is waaay better. Trust me. Latin for “oil-sugar,” this combination is the base for most punches and certain cordials/cocktails. (My very first article in PineStraw, circa 2015, touched on the subject briefly.) It’s a very simple process of mixing certain citrus peels — grapefruit, lemon or lime — with sugar. After some time, the sugar draws out oils from whichever citrus you used. Science! And this is coming from someone who failed high school chemistry. Let’s go over several ways to achieve this.
If you’re a beginner:
Combine the peels of one grapefruit and 250 grams of baker’s sugar (or plain granulated sugar) in a bowl. Use a muddler (or, if you don’t have one, a wooden spoon) and press the peels into the sugar for about 30 seconds. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it stand about four hours, or even overnight. When you return to the bowl, you’ll see that what was sugar is now a syrup mixed with peels: oleo saccharum.
Now, you can do a couple of things. Add the oil-sugar to a pot with 1 cup of fresh squeezed (and filtered) grapefruit juice — it might help to add the juice to the bowl after trying to get all of the oleo saccharum into the pot. Once it’s all together, stir on medium heat for a couple of minutes. Strain out grapefruit peels and refrigerate after it cools. Or, you can skip the juice and simply strain out the grapefruit peels and refrigerate (if there’s undissolved sugar, muddle your heart out). You can mix this basic syrup, in sparkling water for a fresh non-alcoholic cooler, or you can whip up a quick little riff on the classic Champagne cocktail:
4 ounces chilled Champagne (or other dry sparkling wine)
1/4 ounce grapefruit oleo
2 dashes grapefruit bitters (or Angostura, if you don’t have any)
Add oleo and bitters in a flute glass, top with Champagne.
If you’re a seasoned vet with a vacuum sealer:
Combine the same specs from above, but this time place in a food processor. Blend until all of the grapefruit peels are completely obliterated. Place the mix in a vacuum seal bag and use the vac-seal machine to suck out all of the air from the bag. Place it in the kitchen and come back in two hours, or put it in the freezer if you’d like to use it at another time.
If you’re a chemistry cowboy:
Bring out the sous-vide machine. Meaning “under vacuum,” this style of cooking has been very popular for years now, but I like to use it when making certain syrups, including oleo saccharums. I use the Anova Culinary model, but I’m sure there are a few others on the market that will do the trick. Ditch the food processor and combine the peels and sugar into the vacuum seal bag, and seal. Oh, and by the way, if you’re not a fan of grapefruit (who are you?), you can most certainly substitute lemons or limes. I recommend around 35 grams of lemon peels or 50 grams of lime. Grab your sealed bag and place it in a large bath of water. Hook up your sous-vide machine and set temperature to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, and the timer to 45 minutes. When the timer goes off, unplug the machine, and take the bag out of the water. Nothing but net! I mean, oil. Pretty cool.
Tying it all together:
OK, you’ve made your oil-sugar. What now? You can use it as a base for punch, or a simple syrup. I’ll leave you with a riff on a Tom Collins cocktail.
1 ounce Durham Distillery Conniption Navy Strength Gin
1/2 ounce TOPO Vodka
1/4 ounce St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
1 ounce grapefruit oleo saccharum cordial (syrup with the grapefruit juice, like in Step 1 from above)
1/2 ounce lemon juice
Pinch of salt
Combine all ingredients (sans the sparkling water) in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake hard for 10 seconds. Strain into a long (Collins) glass over ice. Top with sparkling water. Use a barspoon to stir together ingredients briefly. Garnish with a swath of a grapefruit peel. PS
Tony Cross is a bartender (well, ex-bartender) who runs cocktail catering company Reverie Cocktails in Southern Pines.