First things first: go ahead and get started on the ice—it’s a royal pain in the ass!
Honestly, I thought this was going to be a pretty easy cocktail. I’ve been honing my craft, sharpening my steel, building my chops—and this looked like a piece of cake. And it should have been. But this was my first attempt at this particular ice preparation, which is used multiple times throughout the book, and, well, there’s a learning curve.
Lucky for you, constant reader (I won’t be so bold as to address you as a collective, plural “you” because I doubt the audience size would warrant such wanton conceit—alright, I’m actually chuckling as I write that), I have blazed a trail before you and you can learn from my mistakes.
So let’s talk about that ice…
I started making the ice six full days before I served this cocktail. Good thing I did, for I need the entire time! The basic idea is this: St. George Raspberry Liqueur, which is pretty darn delicious, some water, some simple syrups, and some citric acid (for tartness). Mix it up, chill, then inject (using a meat injector) into 5/8” spherical ice molds. I’d previously tested these ice molds with water, and I was pretty impressed. It made perfect little ice balls with almost no effort. And that’s what I expected to happen in this case. Boy was I wrong!
The problem, of course, is that that alcohol doesn’t freeze like water. After a full 24-hour rest in my freezer, which was set to 0° Fahrenheit, the ice balls I attempted to extract from the molds were more like a slurpee than a ball! Honestly, as I pressed the balls out of the mold they just crumbled and squashed under the pressed, and then oozed out of the mold. Not good. At first, I was really pissed off because this was a waste of perfectly good booze. Then it occurred to me that I could scrape up the mess, put it back in a container, let it fully melt, and then reinject it into the molds! It’s like the water cycle. I should have involved my kids and done a science experiment!
My total usable yield from two trays of forty balls each was four acceptable ice balls. Boo hoo. I reset the trays and went back to the freezer, and this time I lowered the temp to -6° Fahrenheit, certain that would do the trick. At the same time, I made the mistake of storing my four good balls in a different freezer, which was set to 0° Fahrenheit. Guess what happened. Yeah, they basically melted, and I now had zero good balls. Bad day.
After 24 hours in the freeze at -6° Fahrenheit I attempted, once again, to pop the ice balls out of their tray, this time with slightly better results. However, about half of the ice balls got crushed/slushed in the process, meaning I’d have to melt and refreeze yet again! It was about this time that I started considering the technique I was using to extra the balls from the mold. Ever try to press a pill from blister package? You push it with your thumb through the foil. That’s how I was approaching this. I decided that on my next attempt I would take a different approach.
Take three. This time I wised up and started stretching the silicon mold around each little ice ball prior to applying pressure with my thumb. The result? Perfection! And frozen hands. This turned out to be a pretty slow process that had a high yield. I endured the frost and soldiered on, ultimately getting an acceptable quantity of frozen raspberry ice balls. It took a total of two rounds of freezing and extracting using. Frankly, this was WAY MORE WORK than I expected it to be, and it’s has soured my opinion toward this whole tiny ice ball business. It will probably be a while before I do this again. So there!
With the ice behind me, it was now time to make the lychee syrup. Another problem. The recipe calls for lychee puree, preferably one without added sugar. Good luck. I could only find one product online, which was rather pricey, and had terrible reviews, and I think it had sugar in it. And I couldn’t get it here quickly. I had neglected to make a note to myself that this recipe would require a hard-to-find ingredient, so I was under the gun to come up with a solution, lest I skip a week of cocktail-making (oh, the humanity!). Inspiration struck in the form of a can of lychees packed in syrup, which was lurking in my pantry. I recall buying this at the Asian market a while back, and, between us girls, it was expired. I cautiously opened the can (like I was afraid of rotten lychees leaping out at me!) and sniffed. Smelled fine. I took a little nibble. Tasted good. I like lychee, and I have tasted fresh lychee a number of times, and I assessed these particular syrup-laden expired nuts as acceptable enough. What else was a middle-aged-home-cocktail-preparing-dude-in-a-pinch to do?
I quite sensibly rinsed these really well in an attempt to rid them of as much syrup as possible. Then I tossed them in my bad-ass Vitamix and turned them into soup. I ran them through a fine mesh strainer and found the resulting puree to be pretty delicious, smooth and delightful. I mixed these up with some simple syrup and, voila!, a lychee syrup was born. It was really tasty. I can think of a lot of things to do with this syrup, but I digress.
Ice balls, check. Lychee syrup, check. It’s all downhill from here, folks!
The final step was to create the cocktail base, which is a blend of Pisco Porton (I have a significant crush on Pisco after an amazing trip to Peru a few years ago – trust me, you’ve got to go), lemon juice and lychee syrup. You carbonate it. Check here for detailed instructions on how to carbonate a cocktail.
Place the little raspberry ice balls in a rocks glass. Pour the carbonated cocktail base over it. Enjoy the cocktail with a spoon so you can scoop up the little ice balls that you slaved over. They’re delicious.
Initially, I though the whole mess was way too sweet. My wife, Jennifer, thought it was way too tart. That tells me it was out of balance. Of course, I want to remind you that I made the syrup out of lychees that were already packed in syrup, so it’s likely that they were too sweet. This could ultimately be addressed my measuring the drink with a brix refractometer, which determines the sweetness of a liquid by measuring the refraction of light through that liquid. I had one of those but returned it because I couldn’t see an immediate use for it. Perhaps a folly. With a brix refractometer, you could measure the sweetness of a drink you find well balanced, and then adjust this drink (by adding water) until it reaches the same point. That would actually be a worthwhile effort, in my opinion.
I think this cocktail has a lot going for it: pisco, lemon, lychee, raspberry–all delicious and refreshing. If it could be brought into balance, I think it would be better. If I were to make it again, I think I would skip the little balls, and instead make 1” cubes, which would be much sturdier and easier to work with. However, the rate of melting and dilution with 1” cubes would be significantly different. And I have yet to mention that as the little ice balls melted, and released their tartness into the drink, I felt it did become more balanced and more enjoyable.
Something to ponder and experiment with. Unfortunately, there are a BUNCH MORE cocktails to make from this book, so I probably won’t go back to this one any time soon. Let me know if you try it and come up with a different result.