Throughout the ages, some of man’s greatest discoveries have come about through circumstance and accident. Christopher Columbus was speculatively sailing west from Spain in search of a trade route to the East Indies when he ‘discovered’ that there was a little something in his way. When I discovered the beauty of combining cereals and alcohol, I was busy nursing a hangover on an otherwise unremarkable weekday morning during my first year at University.
As a teenager sitting in that shared kitchen with my heavy head buried in my hands, I couldn’t possibly have conceived that the events that would transpire over the coming minutes would mark the start of a compelling journey of discovery and catapult me into the unpredictable, but at times incomparably rewarding world of what I like to call, ‘Cereal Mixology’.
I had awoken that morning feeling a little worse for wear and resolved that I needed to eat. I left my room and entered the kitchen, almost oblivious to the evidence of the previous night’s transgressions that surrounded me. This being Student Accommodation, my pickings were scarce, and so I commandeered the only clean bowl and spoon I could find, grabbed a box of Cornflakes and added some surreptitiously-obtained milk from the fridge (I could never be sure if things were mine) and sat down. At that moment, one of my housemates entered the kitchen and surveyed the damage from the night before. Clearly somewhat drunk and having spotted an impossible miscellany of almost-empty beer cans and other drinking paraphernalia, he lurched over to the table at which I sat, and drank the warm, flat dregs from one of the beer cans before exclaiming, “Hair of the dog!” at a volume that exacerbated my already-throbbing headache. Without warning, he then proceeded to thrust an almost-empty bottle of Drambuie (for the unacquainted, a Whisky Liqueur with Honey and Spices) into my face, again shouting, “Hair of the dog!” like some inarticulate Neanderthal that had only recently discovered the power of speech. Naturally I recoiled, though I could not prevent the remainder of the contents of the Drambuie bottle spilling onto my recently-prepared breakfast.
I don’t know what compelled me to even contemplate eating those alcohol-soaked Cornflakes, but I was certainly glad I did. Indeed, I considered them to be a veritable taste sensation. The way that the subtle honeyed, but unmistakeably alcoholic flavour combined with the cereal and milk was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. My tongue danced over the concoction as though I were tasting food for the very first time. More importantly, the experience sparked something in me that drove an unquenchable thirst to explore the possibilities of unusual flavour combinations in the kitchen.
I have occasionally partaken in the odd dalliance with cereal and alcohol since, but with this piece I wanted to return to that first enlightening moment, and explore some culinary inventions of mine as a practice in nostalgia, but also hopefully to help inform and inspire your own creations.
All concoctions were manufactured, tasted and rated by at least myself and one other (thanks Daniel!) to form a consensus that we could translate into a score. Inspiration came primarily from my own twisted mind with some consultation with various other trusted and creative eccentrics.
This creation was in part inspired by a trip to a local farmer’s market where I spotted (and
purchased) what is essentially a bottle of maple syrup with a very small amount of bourbon, that I have previously used on pancakes or over ice cream (ignoring the suggestions on the bottle).
For the purpose of this taste test, I wanted to create a far more alcoholic variant of this tremendous combination by producing my own syrup and combining it with a fairly neutral, unsweetened cereal to allow for the natural sweetness and depth of flavour of the maple syrup and bourbon to come through. On this occasion I decided on the humble Cornflakes, but you may want to consider Weetabix, porridge or Rice Crispies as suitable candidates.
First, we decanted a generous dash of Jack Daniels into a mixing bowl, and then progressively added our maple syrup while mixing, until our mixture reached a viscosity that allowed a healthy, unbroken drizzle to form when raising our spoon from the bowl. Maple Syrup (when compared to other syrups) is fairly runny, so a proportion of at least equal parts Bourbon and syrup is advised. Once you have combined your ingredients, simply prepare your Cornflakes with milk as you would usually, before drizzling your mixture over the top.
I have to confess, this particular dish (or should that be ‘bowl’?) disappointed me. While I'm not the biggest fan of bourbon, I have enjoyed it as part of a barbeque glaze with ribs, and in the form of the aforementioned pre-mixed product. The problem is that unless you are a particular fan of neat bourbon (none of our tasters were), then in order to successfully combine maple syrup with it, you need to use such a small amount of the alcohol as to render the entire notion of it being an “Adult” cereal farcical.
Preparation Difficulty: Low
Booze Factor: Medium (but will taste like a ‘high’)
Giz Rank: 3/5
Almost everybody I know loves a bit of Baileys. Whether it’s performing wonders for Indian-Irish relations as an after-dinner digestif in your local curry house, or being used in a delectable "Creamy Cocktail" on a night out; there aren’t many people who turn their noses up at a chance to sample the stuff. The only question to me was: “How do we best utilise the attributes of Baileys, without doing the unthinkable and impeding its almost universal allure?”
I decided fairly quickly to play it safe and pair the Baileys with chocolate as per countless available cocktails. Then, having decided to use Coco Pops as my cereal, I began to consider how best to fuse the flavours. We all know that Coco Pops turn milk chocolate-y, but the idea of simply mixing Baileys with milk and pouring it over Cereal just didn’t sit very well with me. Not only would it not be pleasing to the eye, I didn’t trust that the chocolate flavouring would penetrate through the Baileys sufficiently enough to make the combination work. After consulting with a friend, it was decided that the solution would be to increase the potency of the chocolate flavour, so as to preserve the viability of a retaining a nice, healthy alcohol content in the mixture. We settled on creating a Baileys cocktail of sorts with Chocolate Milk, that we would subsequently pour onto our cereal.
We used Nesquik to create our Chocolate Milk so that we could precisely control the strength of our ‘cocktail’, but I’m sure that a pre-mixed chocolate milk would suffice. You simply need to add as much Baileys as you desire to the chocolate milk (according to taste), mixing well. Then you pour the mixture over the Coco Pops as you might with normal milk.
As you may have expected, this was a real winner. It was the favourite of my assistant and co-taster who proceeded to devour the entire contents of the bowl.
Preparation Difficulty: Medium
Booze Factor: Customisable (we used almost a whole 350ml bottle)
Giz Rank: 4.5/5
This concoction was developed based on the simple premise that Weetabix are the sponges of the cereal world. The plan was to soak the Weetabix in rum until they reached a point of saturation, and to then eat the Weetabix ‘neat’, with no further ingredients, effectively replacing the milk (also pictured because I had abandoned some last-minute designs on making some kind of strange Weetabix Daiquiri!). We decided on spiced rum almost arbitrarily as Weetabix has such a neutral, wheat-y flavour that it was felt that the rum would serve well as a dominant taste.
All you need to prepare this is to place your Weetabix in a bowl and slowly pour your rum over the top, allowing it to be soaked up until the Weetabix reach a point of saturation as per the below (you might find it helpful to turn your Weetabix to aid saturation):
This was the loser of the taste-test by quite some distance. We simply hadn’t factored in the sheer absorbency of the Weetabix. We poured and poured the Rum and the Weetabix just drank it all like a couple of thirsty camels. The resulting level of alcohol was so high that even if you happened to be a masochistic, alcoholic freak of nature; you’d need to eat it all so slowly that the texture of the Weetabix would quickly turn to mush, making this monstrosity even worse (something that after first tasting it, I would have told you was impossible). Though I like Weetabix, and I’m always happy to be drinking rum, there was something about the two combined that in no way represented the sum of its parts. My assistant has since described rum-soaked Weetabix as tasting, “like Ann Widdecombe's feet after a jog”. And while I haven’t had the pleasure of sampling that particular delicacy, I can’t help but feel it somehow serves to adequately convey the message that you should stay away from this particular abomination at all costs.
Preparation Difficulty: Very Low
Booze Factor: Off the Charts
Giz Rank: 0/5
When dealing with a sweet cereal like Crunchy Nut, which contains amongst other things…
Brown Sugar (Molasses)
…you have a choice of two directions. You can either fight the sweetness by introducing conflicting flavours, or you can embrace and pursue the sweetness to the Nth Degree. My original idea consisted of mixing a tequila, salt & limoncello paste made with sheets of gelatine with the Crunchy Nut. The twisted logic was that you would recreate the popular wince-inducing shooter, while also evoking the memory of cradling a mug of homemade, parent-prepared sore-throat cure by combining the honey in the Crunchy Nut with the lemon of the Limoncello. In the end though, this felt like over-engineering and was abandoned.
It was instead decided that we would create a boozy almond paste using amaretto and golden syrup. It was felt that the sweet almond flavour of the amaretto would work well with the peanut in the Crunchy Nut, while we theorised that the sheer sweetness should ensure that the inherent moreishness of Crunchy Nut was not compromised.
The preparation of the boozy almond paste was much like that of the bourbon maple syrup we attempted previously. We used approximately equal parts golden syrup and amaretto; the only real difference we encountered was that golden syrup was far more viscous than the maple syrup and so we had to be a little more careful and persistent when combining the two ingredients. I found that by folding the amaretto into the syrup in the mixing bowl rather than attempting to stir, the two combined much more quickly. We were looking at there being no “oil & sater” style separation of the ingredients (which took some time as golden syrup is far heavier than amaretto). When we were done with making our paste, we simply prepared the Crunchy Nut as you would normally (with milk). Then added the boozy almond paste as desired:
This particular creation was my favourite of the entire taste-test. The golden syrup served to heighten the sweetness of the cereal, giving it the taste of a crunchy dessert in a bowl; while the amaretto imparted a pleasant, almost marzipan-like quality to the milk that grew the longer the cereal was left to soak. Both tasters ate a considerable amount from the bowl, with the remainder being polished-off by two inquisitive souls who had entered the kitchen during tasting.
Preparation Difficulty: Low
Booze Factor: Medium (but will taste like a ‘Low’)
Giz Rank: 4.5/5
This creation was somewhat unique in that it all started with the alcohol. I knew I wanted to incorporate vodka into the taste test, but wasn’t too sure of my delivery method...
Then I remembered a link I’d been sent many years ago by a friend. It described the use of the principle of osmosis to get jellied sweets to take on liquids to the point that they swelled to be much larger than their original volume. The idea is that liquids will pass through a selectively-permeable membrane until the concentration of that liquid is equal on either side of the membrane.
You need to start with your gummy bears (or other jellied sweets) and a bowl. Then add some vodka and leave the sweets to soak. For this test, we were only able to soak the bears for a matter of hours, giving us only a small to moderate level of vodka diffusion, but for best results (and maximum alcohol content), you will want to leave the bears to soak overnight:
We first made our porridge as you would normally with milk, before adding the vodka gummy bears to the porridge. My thinking with using porridge was that the gummy bears would slowly melt with the heat, transmitting some of the vodka to the porridge, but that they would retain most of their structural integrity. In practice, the gummy bears were much heavier than the porridge and sank to the bottom of the bowl, melting VERY quickly, creating an aesthetically disappointing, gelatinous mess:
In sinking and melting, the Vodka Gummy Bears essentially became one multi-coloured, boozy, single mass of gelatine to the point that it was nigh-on impossible to eat with the porridge, rendering the experiment a disaster and leading us to the conclusion that it would be unfair to give it a score.
This experiment definitely put me off the idea of using vodka gummy bears with porridge in future experiments, as they simply do not stand up very well to heat. I do plan to make vodka gummy bears on their own in the future (we held some back, that were delicious), and may revisit them later to see how well they combine with cold cereals.
Preparation Difficulty: Medium/High (depending on how boozy you want your Gummy Bears)
Booze Factor: N/A
Giz Rank: N/A
Any venture into the world of "cereal mixology" carries with it the prospect of failure. But perhaps more than in any other area, failures carry important lessons with them and as such, you should never be afraid to experiment with the field’s almost endless possibilities, though you may fear the results.
Recipe suggestions and comments appreciated.