White Negroni

IMG_3215 2Suze, the gentian-first Swiss bitter, is a very useful bottle to have in the drink stock; not nearly as sweet as its Italian relatives, the flavour is dry and distinctively bitter, much more so than even Campari.

Gentian isn’t only found in Size, but here it’s so the dominant flavour, it gives the drink a very mysterious herbal-vegetal quality, quite unlike anything else; a simple shot poured over ice makes a very good aperitif, but too much can give that mouth-puckering feeling brought on by drinking large quantities of tonic water.

In the white Negroni, the combination of the Suze and a dry vermouth gives the finished drink a lighter taste, more herbal and delicate than its traditional and more robust cousin; people who don’t like Campari and might refuse a Negroni on that basis could find this one a more delicate and intriguing introduction; whether or not it’s better is a different debate altogether, but it’s certainly distinctive enough while remaining obviously related to the traditional version.

Method:

40ml gin (try a delicate, citrus-forward blend – I used the Japanese Roku brand here)

30ml white vermouth (I used the Spanish Casa Mariol vermut)

20ml Suze

Stir the alcohols together over ice, then strain into an old-fashioned glass with  fresh ice. Garnish with a large piece of lemon zest. Breaking the ‘always add bitters’ rule here, as Suze is herbal enough for you not to need them.

Note: if you like Suze, and I do, then reverse the quantities of the Suze and the vermouth for a more dominant flavour.

 

 

 

 

Jalisco Negroni

IMG_5069Naming cocktails is an odd thing: typically, the barman or establishment that invents a particular combination gets to name that drink (see the Ward 8 for one example). Many stories are known, some are the source of controversy & plenty are lost entirely. With a limited number of ingredients, especially in the classic cocktail era, it’s hardly surprising that some cocktails even come in different recipes bearing the same name: the Derby exists in a number of forms, all named after the famous American horse race.

So what does this have to do with the Negroni, and its many current expressions being offered in bars? The standard recipe, gin, vermouth & Campari is a great combination of strong, sweet and sour, making it a damn-near perfect pre-dinner drink, and its recent resurgence is not surprising. But the twist is that the Negroni itself is a variation – the standard history is that Count Negroni asked his favourite barman to strengthen the regular Americano cocktail by replacing the soda water with gin (most likely because he’d lived in London for a while and picked up a gin habit there), creating the famous mix. But, similar drinks exist, all bearing different names: the Old Pal replaces the gin with whisky, and the other bar classic, the Boulevardier has bourbon in the white spirit slot.

So why are modern Negroni variations not getting completely new names? My guess is that because of the popularity of the standard Negroni, bar staff are wanting to show the connection to the classic drink, whilst trying to do something original. Tequila for gin is a fairly straightforward change, and a basic silver or plata style tequila isn’t going to clash dramatically with the vermouth or Campari. As someone who isn’t completely sold on gin, except in a very dry Martini, the tequila change works very well. But I think the name ‘tequila Negroni’ is a little dull, so I have taken to renaming it the Jalisco Negroni, in honour of the area where tequila production is based. The drink, to my mind, has a slightly fresher taste than the gin version, and benefits from the lightness of the younger style of tequila.

Method:

35ml tequila

20ml Campari

20ml sweet vermouth

Stir the alcohols together in a mixing glass over ice, then strain into an Old Fashioned glass with a fresh single large ice cube. Garnish with an orange peel or a stick of cinnamon if you want to be thoroughly exotic.

Vecchio Stile

IMG_6562After the Manhattan (see dozens of posts, passim), my very next favourite drink is the Old Fashioned: this classic mix of whiskey, bitters & sugar is so simple, yet can having a seeming infinite variety through the choice of the whiskey and bitters: use a rye, and the cocktail becomes drier and spicier, use a bourbon, and it becomes sweeter and softer.

This time, I added a small quantity of my favourite amaro, Montenegro, to balance the sweetness of a bourbon-based whiskey a little further than the bitters alone; even just a quarter of an ounce of this amaro adds another edge to the drink. It’s quite a different take on an Old Fashioned, so absolutely deserves to have its own name; it becomes the Vecchio Stile.

The bitters are very important: here I have used Dr Elmegirab’s Orinoco bitters. Their solid bitter hit & spice base are pretty much a perfect foil for the Montenegro.

Method:

2 ozs of bourbon (Bulleit is highly recommended)

1/4 oz Amaro Montenegro

1/2 tsp sugar

Dashes of Orinoco bitters

Muddle the sugar and bitters together, with a dash of water, in an old-fashioned glass. Add a large ice block to the glass and let chill a while.

Stir the Montenegro and bourbon together over ice, then strain into the chilled glass, with a last stir to combine the alcohols, bitters & sugar. Garnish with orange peel.

 

 

 

Voodoo

img_4016My Baron Samedi hat was in use at New Year at a masked party & although sadly we didn’t have a rum-based cocktail at the time, I thought I’d properly honour the spirit of the Baron with his favourite spirit, and mix up a voodoo-themed cocktail this weekend.

The recipe comes from Difford’s Guide. and he describes it having been invented by the sculptor and bartender, Alex Kammerling in 2002.

I like the drink – the base is a rum Manhattan variant, made fresh by the addition of fresh lime and apple juices. This turns it into a longer drink, but with plenty of alcoholic heft. The Baron would approve. My only change is to add some bitters to give it a little more zip – and with a nod to the voodoo theming, I have used Peychaud’s bitters (Peychaud was born in Haiti, before settling in New Orleans). These seem to complement the apple and lime perfectly, but ginger would probably work just as well.

Method:

2 shots dark rum (I used Havana Club 7 Años, Diffords suggest Bacardi Carta Ocho)

3/4 shot Martini Rosso

2 1/2 shots of fresh apple juice

1/2 shot of lime juice

1/4 shot sugar syrup

Option – dashes of bitters to suit

Garnish by sprinkling cinnamon through a flame onto the drink.

Shake well over ice, then strain into a Collins (Diffords method) or Old Fashioned glass (my preference), filled with ice.

Harvard

fullsizerender-6The dependable Manhattan has spawned many variations; the recipe is really simple, so it is very easy to substitute any of the ingredients to create something quite different: the Harvard is a variant where the rye or bourbon is replaced with cognac. Quite how a mix of French brandy with an Italian vermouth has come to represent on of America’s most blue-blooded, ivy-clad Universities is anyone’s guess, but my stab is a few alumni propping up a college bar one evening, deciding that they really needed a cocktail named after their alma mater*. The result is worthy, but not exactly groundshaking: cognac adds a fruitier dimension to the bourbon/rye original, which works well with the vermouth, but without the tension that the spikier spirits have. It’s a soothing drink, one to be lingered over on a cold evening, but I still prefer the original.

Method:

50ml. cognac

20ml. Carpana Antico vermouth

dashes of Angosturas bitter

Stir well over ice, then strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with a cherry.

* I am sure every college should have some sort of drink named after it; if my old Uni had a drink, then the UCL would most likely be a mix of tequila, whisky & Newcastle Brown Ale, garnished with a roll-up.

Remember the Maine

img_3660I was looking for a drink suitable for our 5th of November celebrations (for non-UK readers, this is the day we remember how an attempt to destroy Parliament by a huge gunpowder bomb, assembled by Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators, was foiled at the last moment. Naturally, we remember this by detonating equally huge quantities of gunpowder-filled fireworks in our gardens up and down the country), but drew a blank when it came to gunpowder, firework, or even Guy-themed drinks.

What I did find was a drink that according to Richard Godwin’s book,  The Spirits, was drunk in Havana by Charles H. Baker to the sounds of gunfire during the 1933 revolution. If this drink was once enjoyed to the sound of explosions, then it is perfect for our 5th November.

The drink itself is a Manhattan variation, with two extras – a small quantity of cherry brandy & some dashes of absinthe. The result is a spicy version of the standard cocktail, but I cannot admit to loving the combination of aniseed (from the absinthe) and cherry overly much. I prefer to use absinthe bitters for this flavour element – after all, we only need a few drops. I’ll classify this drink as a Modern, since the 1933 date places it after Prohibition.

Method.

50ml. rye (or bourbon)

20ml. sweet vermouth

5ml. cherry brandy

dashes of absinthe or absinthe bitters

Stir over plenty of ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.

Obituary

img_1916
Obituary, from Richard Godwin’s The Spirits

More news recently of sad losses to our cultural life in the UK. A few weeks ago, Dick Bradsell passed away. He was a cocktail superstar in this country, the man who among many other drink-related innovations, created the espresso martini for a model who wanted a drink ‘to pick her up, then f*ck her up’ whilst tending bar at the Soho Brasserie. Dick obliged with the perfect mash-up of alcohol and caffeine that delivered on her request. And for anyone who visited any of his bars – like the now sadly defunct Detroit in Seven Dials – his cocktail DNA ran deep in every drink served. As with the death of Sasha Petraske last year, our drinking world is a poorer place without him.

The other departed hero of mine is the designer, Sir Ken Adam, who created some of the most remarkable sets for films in a long and very enviable career – particularly his long-running collaboration with the producers of the James Bond films – for whom he designed memorable lairs for super-villains, like the volcano base in You Only Live Twice.

I thought it was appropriate to raise a glass to both men – a cocktail seems a suitable salute to Bradsell, and I am sure that Sir Ken, who spent his time working on films that features one of our best-known cocktail drinkers, wouldn’t object to being acknowledged by a well-filled martini glass. The most suitable drink I found is the well-named Obituary, whose recipe I located in Richard Godwin’s excellent book, The Spirits. This is a properly ‘wet’ martini, where the vermouth plays an equal role to the gin, but what really perks this up is the lurking presence of peppery, aniseedy absinthe. It’s clear, clean drink, livened up by the single cherry. I don’t know the providence of the drink, or how it got its name, but the martini seems a suitable toast to two significant men. Salut!

Method:

Rinse a martini glass with a few drops of absinthe, or as I did here, absinthe bitters, and leave to cool in a freezer while you prepare the rest of the drink.

35ml of gin (Hendricks here)

35ml of French vermouth (in a nod to James Bond’s Vesper, I used Kina Lillet)

Stir the alcohols in a mixing glass, filled with ice. A few drops of orange bitters can be used at this point to tie the two together.

Strain the cooled mixture into the chilled glass, still wet with absinthe. Twist some lemon zest over the surface to mist the drink with lemon, then discard. Garnish with a single cherry. Drink while saluting absent friends.