Drink Making Unit 2.1

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While we are better known for other types of art robots (like the Eggbot and now the WaterColorBot), we have also been involved with cocktail robotics for the past few years.

After a half-dozen cocktail robotics event over the past couple of years, we’ve had a chance to refit our famous bar-bot, Drink Making Unit 2.0, with a few well-earned upgrades.  Read on for the gory details!

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How to Make Sweet Kaffir Lime Liqueur

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Here’s how to make an exotic kaffir lime based variation on Limoncello.  Limoncello is a sweet Italian liqueur made with lemon-peel infused vodka (or grain alcohol) and simple syrup.  Our variation adds a exotic twist to a fantastic summer treat.

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Kaffir lime leaves are one of the signature flavors of Thai food. They’re often available at asian grocery stores in small bunches, but the trees are also available at some nurseries. When they first leaf out, the young double-lobed leaves are purplish, tender, and very spicy. The flavor of kaffir lime is a distinct citrus flavor, as different from lime as lemon, orange, and grapefruit are from one another. The kaffir lime tree also produces fruit (wrinkly little spherical green lime), and the zest of that fruit contains the same flavor as the leaves.  However, it’s generally easier to obtain the leaves, as they are found more commonly in Thai cooking.

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As the leaves mature to green, they mellow in flavor and begin to toughen. We usually pick them when they’ve just turned bright green, but are still tender.

Making Limoncello is a straightforward (but slightly lengthy) process of adding lemon zest to vodka or other neutral strong spirits, waiting several weeks, and then adding simple syrup and waiting a bit more. Our favorite Limoncello recipe served as a starting point of this variation. We also found a forum discussing the idea of using Kaffir limes, which gave us a starting point in terms of the number of leaves to use.

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Step 1: Add 20 washed and dried leaves in a one-liter bottle of good quality vodka. (Our favorites are Polish or Austrian potato vodkas like Monopolowa and Luksosawa.)

A common and traditional variation is to use straight grain alcohol that allows you to use a shorter infusing period. However, following the GIGO principle, we’ve generally found that starting with a drinkable input results in a more drinkable output.

Set the bottle it in the back of a cupboard and forget about it for about a month. If you happen to see it on occasion, shake it a bit and open it to see how it smells. You’ll want to make Thai food.

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After a few weeks, the leaves will have leached their favor (and a hint of their color) into the vodka.

Step 2: Dissolve 1 3/4 cups sugar completely in 2 1/2 cups water. Microwaving it in a glass measuring cup for a couple of minutes will typically get it warm enough to dissolve.

Step 3: Thoroughly cool the simple syrup, to at least room temperature. (It’s okay to leave it in the fridge overnight.) If it is not fully cooled, it can result in an opaque final product.

Step 4: Pour the infused vodka and the simple syrup into a larger bottle (or multiple small ones), discarding the leaves.

Most variations on this kind of recipe suggest waiting a few days after making it “for it to mellow,” although you may not be able to resist trying it first.

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Cheers!

 

Improved Cucumber Martinis

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One of the finest cocktails that we have ever come across is the cucumber martini, a cocktail which– correctly executed–can be a bracingly refreshing blast of intense cucumber flavor, highlighting what is perhaps an under-appreciated member of the melon family.

Unfortunately, cucumber martinis often fail to live up to their potential, ending up as watery infusions that might be mistaken for scented mineral water. And that’s an injustice.

To set the record straight, here is how to make your own thoroughly-awesome cucumber martini. To go one step further, we present three distinct variations: the Sweet Vodka Cucumber Martini, the gin-based Savory Cucumber Martini, and the non-alcoholic Cucumber Fizzy. Continue reading

Drink Making Unit 2.0

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Barbot 2011, the cocktail robotics exhibition, is happening on Friday and Saturday nights this weekend– April 1 and 2 –in San Francisco. If you haven’t been to one of these events (and you happen to like both cocktails and robots), let me tell you: you are missing out.

Last year we built the aptly named Drink Making Unit for the event. The Drink Making Unit used three -ahem- food-safe pumps to craft white russians, and was quite a hit at the show– especially amongst people who recognized the pumps.

This year, we’ve designed a brand new bartending machine, Drink Making Unit 2.0, which we are pleased to unveil today, and unleash upon the world this weekend.

Aside from the once-again-apt-but-not-very-descriptive name, Drink Making Unit 2.0 has very little in common with last year’s machine. The mechanism is all new, and features elements borrowed from sources as diverse as pet stores, chemistry labs, and Japanese gardens. It dispenses any six fluids (up from three), in metered and selectable quantities, and also sports an all-new extra-snazzy control panel. Continue reading

Roasting coffee at home: a DIY coffee bean cooler

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I never really set out with the goal of roasting my own coffee beans, it just kind of happened.

It started a month ago when we got a coffee grinder. Naturally we started getting whole bean coffee, which we used at a rate of about one pound per week. While I’m not (by any standards) a coffee connoisseur, I found myself noticing that the first pot of coffee out of the new can really was just betterthan the last pot of coffee out of the old can– meaning that the coffee quality does actually decline noticeably after just a week.

Now, that’s a minor annoyance, and hardly cause for action. But, two weekends ago I happened to be browsing in a home brewing store (needed champagne yeast– that’s another story) where there were sealed bags of green coffee beans just sitting there on the shelf. Fair trade, organic, and in a number of varieites. Only 5 bucks a pound. So what the heck, right?

It turns out that there’s a common and cheap method of roasting coffee at home: using a regular air popcorn maker. You put the beans in the popper as though they were popcorn kernels, heat them for a few minutes until they’re properly roasted, and then cool them. (You can read the details of this process here, here, here, and here, amongst other places.) This is kind of neat because it doesn’t take much in the way of equipment and it roasts just enough for a big pot of coffee.

The weak point in the popper method is the cooling. The beans keep roasting as long as they are still hot, so many of the sites suggest pouring the beans back and forth between a couple of metal colanders until they cool down. We tried it, and while it did cool them faster than a cookie sheet, it was more tedious than fun. It also seemed a bit silly to use this nice semi-automatic roaster and then turn it over to a manual process for the next few minutes. So, here is our better (if somewhat obvious) solution: a dedicated coffee cooling tower, built from a second modified air popper. Continue reading