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.

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Obituary

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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.

 

 

Barbados Heritage by Quinary

Barbados Heritage,  by Quinary
Barbados Heritage, by Quinary

I flew back from Hong Kong last night, and was able to take advantage of the Virgin Clubhouse before the flight. Their bar was showcasing a number of cocktails specially mixed for them by the innovative Hong Kong cocktail bar, Quinary, and their Barbados Heritage sounded like one I should try. So I did. Although a little sweet for my taste, the flavours in this drink are fantastic – rich, smooth & spicy, with a definite afterbite from the absinthe & the chocolate bitters, which give it a rounded and slightly aniseedy lingering flavour. I am a very happy rum drinker, and think this cocktail really does show off the strengths of a decent, aged rum really well. I am back out to Hong Kong on April, so plan to make a visit to Quinary one evening – if this drink is typical of their style of cocktail making, I’d like to try more from their menu.

I’d like to mention the Clubhouse barman at this point: Patrick was a star, not only making a great drink, but taking the time to come out & to find out what we thought about the Quinary recipes they were trying. He was a true enthusiast & as perfect an exemplar of a barman you can imagine.

Method:

The Clubhouse menu does not give proportions, so I am estimating here:

1 measure Mount Gay XO rum

1/2 measure Cointreau

1/2 measure Drambuie

Dashes of Pernod absinthe

Dashes of chocolate bitters

Stir over ice, then strain into a chilled glass with fresh ice. Garnish with a cinnamon stick & orange zest.

 

Affinity

img_1741I have been enjoying following a chain of whisky-based drinks, and discovered this one in Richard Godwin’s peerless book, The Spirits. He features this in his The Stirred chapter, listing it as:

A dry aperitif that leaves you plenty to ponder

That sums this drink up really well. I have used some pretty strong-willed vermouths here: Carpano for the Italian, and Lillet for the French. Neither is trampled on by the whisky. The Peychaud’s bitters add a spicy, absinthe-type note which cuts through the other flavours, leaving you plenty, as Richard Godwin says, to ponder. A really good aperitif drink, or like here, a late night cocktail just to enjoy by itself.

Method:

25ml Scotch whisky (Whyte & Mackay here)

25ml French vermouth (Lillet here)

25ml Italian vermouth (Carpano ‘Antica Formula’ here)

Dash of Peychaud’s bitters

Stir over ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with orange zest, twisted over the surface to release the oils.

 

Vieux Rectangle by Arthur Combes

Vieux Rectangle, to the ECC's recipe
Vieux Rectangle, to the ECC’s recipe

Almost as much pleasure can be had reading about cocktails as drinking them. Almost, but not quite. But some books come very close, and one of my favourites is the Experimental Cocktail Club‘s eponymous guide to their philosophy of drinking culture. This book is beautiful, and even if some of the drinks use ingredients you may not care to attempt at home (bacon-infused bourbon?), the whole volume is a brilliant shop window for the way they set about crafting drinks and venues with the same care and attention throughout.

I’ll quote from the book here to introduce the drink, and I hope the authors won’t mind:

The Vieux Rectangle is barman Arthur Combe’s signature cocktail. This is his twist on the classic Vieux Carré, with a European interpretation. The result is a fairly sweet concoction on the floral and delicate side, with an anise finish.

What stops this drink from being too sweet is the clever addition of Absinthe. The aniseed, spiky flavours cut through the sweetness to deliver a little cleansing note with great precision. Not a cocktail to be enjoyed in quantity, perhaps, buy certainly sipped & admired.

When Absinthe is used in a drink in such small quantities as here, I use an Absinthe bitters, Extrême d’Absente for the flavour.

Method:

40ml Cognac (Hine Antique here)

15ml Sweet vermouth (Carpano ‘Antica Formula’ here)

15ml Aperol

2 dashes Angostura bitters

2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

2 dashes Absinthe (or Absinthe bitters, see above)

Stir over ice in your mixing glass with a bar spoon. Strain into a coupe, then garnish by squeezing lemon zest over the surface to release the lemon oils, then discard.

 

Espresso Martini

Espresso Martini at the Porthminster Café
Espresso Martini at the Porthminster Café

I have never been keen on flavoured Martinis, but our recent dinner at the Porthminster Café in St Ives featured an Espresso Martini on the menu. Seeing as I had started the meal with their Dark & Stormy, it seemed like a very good idea to try their coffee-based Martini as a post-dinner drink. The menu gave few clues to the ingredients, but my understanding of the original Dick Bradsell creation is that it shouldn’t feature many in the first place: a decent vodka, freshly-made espresso coffee and sugar syrup, and a touch of coffee liqueur, all shaken until you have a thick crema on the top of the  cocktail, then strained into a glass. The result is an instant pick-me-up. The Porthminster’s version was beautifully made, right down to the classic three coffee beans on the foamy head. You wouldn’t want to drink more than one, but as a way to finish a meal, it was perfect.

On reading Tristan Stephenson’s book, The Curious Bartender, I noticed his recipe omits the coffee liqueur. I’d be interested to know why; perhaps he finds it too sweet, but you could always lessen the quantity of sugar syrup to compensate for this.

Update: I looked at the recipe in Richard Godwin’s The Spirits, to find he, too, omitted the coffee liqueur. So that’s two votes against. Goodwin’s argument is that if the espresso is good and you have the sugar syrup, then you don’t need the liqueur. I understand, but I’d rather omit the sugar & use a really good coffee liqueur – like Borghetti (see below).

Proportions:

50ml of good vodka (Grey Goose I believe)

20ml of fresh espresso coffee (preferably a mix of robusta & arabica beans)

15ml of sugar syrup (rich or simple, to your taste)

8ml of coffee liqueur (Kahlua I think was used here, but I prefer Borghetti)

Glass: 3oz Martini glass, chilled

Shake well in a shaker over  ice, then strain into the Martini glass. Garnish with three coffee beans in the centre of the glass.

Update: Checking the menu at the Café, I spotted a detail that I had missed: the syrup was Tonka bean syrup. That explains the rich vanilla-y flavour that the cocktail had, as Tonka beans are like vanilla with knobs on. It is one of the major flavour components of Abbott’s bitters, which I understand causes a few problems in the US, where it is considered hazardous to health.

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Update (2): On Saturday night, I mixed another version of the espresso martini, using a recent find in Italy: Borghetti coffee liqueur. This is much less sweet than the usual Tia Maria or Kahlua, and to my mind, much better suited to this drink, as you can control the sweetness with syrup.