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.