Martini: Bombay Sapphire

20140315-225015.jpgAlthough I still think the Manhattan is my favourite cocktail, the close second has to be an ice-cold Martini. There is something about the sparseness of the ingredients and the purity in presentation that makes this a very elegant drink that delivers its alcohol kick with a degree of precision few drinks can match.

I have seen opinions that state that Bombay Sapphire is too floral or delicate for a Martini, and that drier, more robust gins, such as Tanqueray or Gordon’s are necessary. I don’t agree, but perhaps my view is slightly skewed by my bottle of Sapphire being an export-strength version, found in Malaysia. The extra alcohol perhaps counteracts the floral notes of their recipe; either way, I find it makes for a very crisp and refreshing Martini. Exactly what one looks for in this drink I think.

One other small note: whatever you do, don’t omit the bitters. A few drops of something to add an extra dimension of flavour is really effective in this drink. Traditionally, a citrus-style bitters is recommended, like Fee’s Orange. This time, I used my batch of Brad Parson’s BTP bitters that I made last month. The sour cherry notes of those bitters worked really well here.

Update: another cause for debate here is the quantity of vermouth. I really don’t believe that refracting the light through a vermouth bottle into the shaker works, neither Noël Coward’s trick of nodding in the direction of Italy nor Churchill’s of looking in the direction of the vermouth bottle gives the required results. By all means, add smaller or larger quantities of vermouth, but it has to be there; otherwise you are just drinking a glass of gin with an olive in it. That is not a cocktail. And it is the flavouring of the vermouth that modifies the gin into the Martini.

I stir my Martinis; for a debate on them whys and wherefores of the stirred/shaken debate, please take a look at my earlier post here. I just think the lack of ice shards in the drink, and the clarity of the liquid that results from a careful stirring gives for a better end result.

Proportions (using a jigger/pony measure):

1 jigger of Bombay Sapphire gin

1 pony of Noilly Prat vermouth

3 drops BTP ‘House’ bitters

Glass: 3oz Martini glass

The method is similar to the Vodka Martini I made earlier:

Stir vermouth together with ice in a Boston shaker jar and tip away around half the vermouth.  Add the gin, drops of bitters & stir again. Pour into a chilled Martini glass & garnish with a green olive, stone-in.

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Shaken or stirred?

Entering into the shaken versus stirred debate with a cocktail purist without some prior preparation is much like making a Martini without preparation; the results are going to be disappointing for everyone.

The debate seems to have been around for ever, and to summarise the positions: the general theory is that shaking a drink results in a wildly different experience to stirring the same mixture, and that there are inherent superiorities in either method, depending on one’s particular views.

In popular culture, the starting point for all of this seems to be the famous request by James Bond for his Vodka Martini to be, ‘Shaken, not stirred’ (a quote wonderfully undermined in the re-boot of Casino Royale when an unhappy Bond snaps at the bartender’s query as to which way he wants his drink made with an angry, ‘Do I look like a give a damn?’). Since then, the shaken Martini has appeared cooler than the pedestrian stirred variety.

But the arguments for both sides have a few more planks than this, to wit:

• Shaking a Dry Martini produces a drink that is technically no longer a Martini; it becomes a Bradford. In reality, no-one I know uses the Bradford name any more, except perhaps scoring points for obscure knowledge.

• Shaking is a more brutal environment for the ice. Tiny fragments shatter off the cubes, resulting in lots of little pieces of ice in the drink. To some purists, this pollutes the drink; to others this creates a more refreshing, colder drink, with less water in the mix (the action of melting the ice during the mix means that up to a quarter of a Martini can be water (source: Rob Cassels, The Cocktail Keys).

• Stirring a drink is a gentler process, resulting in a drink that retains its clarity, whilst not being cooled to such an extent. A graphic example of this can be seen in Manhattan: Rye recipe versus my Manhattan: Bourbon recipe; I stirred the Rye-based drink, but shook the Bourbon – one can see the difference in appearance immediately.

• Some arguments are that the shaking bruises the gin/vodka/vermouth or whatever. I doubt this really means anything, but what shaking will do is introduce lots of little air bubbles into the mix, and much like letting a bottle of wine ‘breathe’ after opening, the act of letting air into a mixture can dramatically change the flavour of a drink.

Simple taste tests suggest that there is a point; a shaken Martini does taste different to a stirred one. Back in 2006, the LeisureGuy blog followed up on research in the New Scientist, which carried out a taste test on two Vodka Martinis, one using a potato-based vodka, the other with a grain-based spirit, and found there was a discernible taste difference between the two spirits. And going further than this,  the British Medical Journal has published a paper (BMJ 1999;319:1600) that studied the antioxidant effect of Martinis, as a result of their preparation method. Their conclusion? Shaking a Martini resulted in a lower proportion of Hydrogen Peroxide in the finished drink. Perhaps Bond was a health nut after all – he was famously sent to a health farm to recover & told Moneypenny that he was ‘On a mission to eliminate all free radicals’.

Fundamentally, the decision to reach for the shaker or the bar spoon will depend on one’s personal tastes. But a few points of my own:

• Stirring a Martini results in a clearer drink, but one that is not as cold as the shaken variety.

• A Vodka Martini tastes better to me when shaken, rather than stirred. The extra cooling action of the shaking seems to take the edge of the vodka. The notable exception to this rule is my experimentation with the Black Cow Vodka Martini recently; that tasted fine when stirred, but I had chilled the vodka in the ‘fridge before mixing.

• A Martini (i.e. made with gin) tastes discernibly better when stirred, not shaken. I do not like my gin cooled too much, and the mellower cooling of stirring seems to suit me better.

The Martini

Leisure Guy’s selfless testing of potato versus grain vodkas, and their effect on Vodka Martinis…

Later On

The Martini is among the best of cocktails, if not the best. (Cocktails, unlike highballs, are undiluted with water, juice, soda, etc.)

The Martini was so popular and well-known that Ian Fleming, to characterize James Bond as a person who flouted convention, had him favor a vodka Martini (a true Martini uses gin) and had it “shaken, not stirred.” Unfortunately, the “shaken, not stirred” line lived on in the public mind as Martini knowledge waned, so that today some believe that the Martini is supposed to be shaken and not stirred, a major mistake: if you use the Martini ingredients and shake rather than stir, you get not a Martini, but a Bradford, a drink that resembles the Martini except that it’s polluted with tiny ice chips that melt rapidly and dilute the taste.

UPDATE: The above paragraph is wrong, alas. Here’s the true reason why Bond wanted a (vodka)…

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Vodka Martini: Black Cow

Vodka Martini made with Black Cow vodka
Vodka Martini made with Black Cow vodka

I have to admit to no great fondness for flavoured vodkas, except for a good lemon flavoured version in a Cosmopolitan, but I was intrigued by the idea of Black Cow vodka. This is made from the whey produced in cheesemaking, and produces a very interesting creamy-flavoured vodka, which is perhaps not that surprising. I tried using it to make a simple vodka martini, adapting the recipe if found on the Black Cow blog from Joshua Linfitt, mixologist for the Fifteen restaurant in Cornwall. In Joshua’s recipe, he uses a vanilla-infused vermouth (which I also intend making, as I like the sound of it). Not having vanilla vermouth to hand, I made it the next best way: Noilly Prat vermouth, and a few drops of Bob’s Bitters re-boot of Abbott’s, with its powerful vanilla hit.  I garnished the drink with a large slice of orange peel in a nod to the original recipe. The results were absolutely gorgeous – the creamy vodka, vanilla bitters and citrus zest combine in perfect measures. This is an absolutely cracking drink, and one that deserves thinking about a proper name.

Proportions (using a jigger/pony measure):

1 jigger of Black Cow vodka, preferably ice-cold from the freezer

1 pony of Noilly Prat vermouth

3 drops Bob’s Abbott’s bitter

Glass: 3oz Martini glass

Stir vermouth together with ice in a Boston shaker jar and tip away around half the vermouth.  Add the vodka, drops of bitters & stir again. Pour into a chilled Martini glass & garnish with a large slice of orange zest.

Mojito – Molecular version

Molecule-R suspended mint  caviar mojito
Molecule-R suspended mint caviar mojito

I recently tried out one of the recipes in the Mojito R-Evolution kit by Molecule-R: the suspended mint caviar mojito.

The recipe isn’t terribly tricky – you can see the methodology on their website – you boil up sugar & mint in water, add a thickening agent, and then form the spheres so beloved in molecular gastronomy by dropping the mint gel into a liquid that causes a membrane to form around the gel. What is tricky is forming perfectly round spheres of mint – mine came out like irregular blobs, so clearly plenty of practice is required to make even, consistent mint caviar.

Making the mint gel, prior to sphericization
Making the mint gel, prior to sphericization

I also discovered that the mint solution has a fairly pale green colour when made, so I added a fair amount of natural green colouring to get something approximating the bright green illustrated on the packaging.

The third point to note is that the recipe given in the Molecule-R booklet lists lime as an ingredient, then forgets all about it in the method. I squeezed the lime into the final mixed drink, as it was lacking something without it, to say the least: a mojito without lime is harking back to the original 1941 version of the drink (according to mixologist David Herpin), but it is not the version we enjoy now.

Genever

Bernard Filliers samples the family product in Belgium
Bernard Filliers – click to read the whole article in The Independent

There is a very interesting piece in The Independent about the return of interest in Dutch Genever – the drink that we British adopted and modified into the London Dry Gin, enjoyed worldwide in the classic  gin & tonic now. What piqued my interest was the description of it being ideal for use in an Old-Fashioned, which is one of my favourite cocktails, and I have already detailed in a previous post.

Genever is described as being much more complex and malty than our familiar dry spirit, closer in flavour terms to a whisky than the white spirit of a London Dry

Today being Friday, I am considering walking down to the Whisky Exchange to see if they have any bottles.

Ice

Whole articles have been written about the use of ice in drinks, and with good reason (Esquire magazine ran a very good article on the subject, which is well worth reading).

If you think about the ingredients by volume, then in a mixed drink, the ice is going to be the single largest item by a long way. Which does mean that the quality of ice is going to have a significant influence on the quality of your drink. At the very least, this means choosing a source of ice rather than that single ice tray you have had at the back of the freezer, under the bag of peas, for the last year or so. Ice goes stale after prolonged storage, so fresh ice is an absolute must.

Secondly, tap water doesn’t make brilliant ice, it must be said, depending on where you live. Some people can detect a chlorine taint, or a distinct flavour, so the simplest solution here is to run your water through a Brita water filter first if you are planning to make your own – or, to get rid of the chlorine hint, let the water stand in a jug for a while before freezing.

The next thing to realise when you start mixing drinks is the sheer volume of ice you will need: a single shaken cocktail will need enough ice to fill the jar section of your Boston shaker, which is about the quantity a single freezer ice tray will produce at a time.

The simple solution to all of this is to plan ahead and buy your ice in bulk from a supermarket. Commercially-made ice is slow-frozen (so the cubes are attractively clear), and made from filtered or natural spring water – so has no discernible flavour. My local Tesco has filtered-water ice cubes in bags for around £2, and I find three bags are more than enough (usually) for a cocktail evening with friends.

The last solution is to buy a home ice-maker. I found a second-hand one on eBay for £20 which has proved to be very effective – from filling to first ice takes around 25 minutes, and I run it for a few hours, bag the ice & store it in my home freezer for use over the following few weeks. I also filter the water through a Brita jug first. The only downside is that the quick-freezing process used by the ice machine produces characteristically ‘cloudy’ cubes. I don’t find this a problem for my own drinks, but if I am friends over, I will buy the clear bagged ice, as above.