The Kessel Run + Szechuan tincture.
We’ve covered a lot of ground here over the years but it seems to me we’ve not done enough Sci-Fi Tiki drinks. Yes, it really is a (sub)genre. My contribution to the canon is The Kessel Run which uses Szechuan pepper tincture as its key ingredient. Now at this point don’t be all “wha? I have to make some fancy shizzle?!” because this unique ingredient is fun, addictively tasty but also ludicrously simple to make.
Stop! Tincture time!
A tincture might sound a bit fancy but it’s simply alcohol flavoured with a dry ingredient and filtered. You can tincture any range of herbs and spices but it’s a good idea to check your chosen ingredient with cocktailsafe or wikipedia to make sure you’re not going to kill anyone. In this case we’re gonna make a Szechuan (aka Sichuan) pepper tincture but the process is similar for other flavourings although the optimal extraction times may differ. Typically spices extract sufficiently in 48 hours but many herbs need much less time. Tea needs only about 90 minutes and coffee about 3 hours. So WTF is Szechuan pepper? While not actually a pepper at all this spice has a wonderful lemony woodiness to it as well as the most peculiar numbing effect on the tongue. In Chinese cuisine it is mostly used in conjunction with chili pepper but on its lonesome is quite unfamiliar and exotic to the western palate. You should be able to get it from Chinese grocers and spice merchants without difficulty. They look like tiny red/brown pac men:
So let’s get tincturing. Take a clean and sterilised jar* (a jam jar or small mason jar is ideal) and add 200ml of 50%ABV vodka (or other potable neutral spirit). We use a spirit of this strength as it is optimal for extracting flavour from dry ingredients but if you only have regular 40% vodka you can simply steep the ingredients for longer. Add to the spirit three teaspoons of whole Szechuan/Sichuan peppers. Put the lid on and shake. Wait two days (or three if using 40% vodka) shaking twice a day or whenever you can be arsed. Strain the solids out using coffee filter paper or any other super-fine filter. Done. Use the same method for any other spices using 48 hours as a base unless otherwise advised. I like to keep my Szechuan tincure in a sterilised bitters bottle so I can fire a few dashes into a gin and tonic, which, trust me, is delicious. So in other words we’ve made a sort of super simple bitters, although we don’t call it that as bitters should have more than one flavour component. However do consider this stage one of learning to make your own bitters. Indeed bitters can be made by simply combining various tinctures. But it’s time to make the jump back to:
The Kessel Run.
While a dash or two of Szechuan tincture can spice up any number of drinks we’re gonna use a whole quarter ounce in our Kessel Run. Why? Because we be badass! And for that exotic, out-of-this-world experience. Szechuan and gin are a killer combo and this is also a great opportunity to use some of the more interesting left-field gins with more exotic botanicals especially those with a more oriental bent. Lime? Nah, too boring; let’s go white grapefruit juice. The sweet? Well I tried cinnamon syrup but ginger syrup just tasted better. Now, if we’re going to name this after a spice smuggling route we’d better double down and float some of the wonderful anise/floral Peychaud’s bitters on top. OK – also because it looks pretty dull otherwise. I like to refrain from stirring in the Peychaud’s so I can enjoy their exaggerated influence in the final few sips but the choice is very much up to you.
May the Force be with you**.
The Kessel Run.
1.5oz / 45ml gin (something a bit spicy if possible).
0.25oz / 7.5ml Szechuan pepper tincture (see text).
1.5oz / 45ml white grapefruit juice (fresh or bottled).
0.75oz / 22ml ginger syrup.
Shake with lots of ice and pour, unstrained, into a collins glass.
top up with soda water (no more than 3oz / 90ml) and stir gently.
Float 3 or 4 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters on top***.
Garnish with a sprig of mint.
Toast Han and Chewie.
*Clean the jar well (ideally in dishwasher) and then fill with boiling water for at least ten minutes. Re-sterilise before each use.
***It will float easily but you might want to give it the tiniest of stirs to disperse it evenly though the top layer.