According to the Speakeasy book from the NY bar, Employees Only, sooner or later, every barman flirts with the Negroni. It is an absolute classic cocktail – a perfect balance of sweet and sour, strong and fresh, dry and citrus. However, I have no great love of Campari (too bitter & sweet for me) , so I have made my drink with the fruitier, more laid-back Florentine bitter, Aperol. The result, in my mind, is a less aggressive drink, which can be served straight up. And it gives the lie to the idea that gin doesn’t play well with other flavours due to the attack of the juniper; the combination here of citrus, juniper and herbs creates a beautifully balanced mixture. Over ice, in a rocks glass, this would make a perfect summer drink. The Speakeasy recipe doesn’t mention bitters, but following the generally good advice that every cocktail recipe needs a splash of something, I added a few drops of my grapefruit bitters. And if you don’t like gin? Substitute bourbon or rye for the gin, and you have another classic: the Boulevardier. Or replace the gin with prosecco or asti spumante, and you have the messed-up drink, Negroni sbagliato. Proportions: 1 1/4oz. of Aperol 1 1/4oz. of dry gin (I used Gordon’s) 1 1/4oz. of sweet vermouth (I used Carpana Antico) Dashes of grapefruit bitters Glass: Large Martini glass Stir the ingredients over ice in a mixing glass. Serve in Martini glass, garnished with an orange wheel
This is a deliberate twist on Tony Conigliaro’s original Death in Venice cocktail, as I am not as keen on the Campari used in that version. I much prefer the lighter, orange notes of Aperol, the drink that you will find consumed much more readily for an aperitivo around Florence & Tuscany. The recipe also uses the grapefruit bitters I made back in early December.
The final drink has a good bitter bite, but some really refreshing citrus flavours, too. It’s important (I think) to get a really good, dry prosecco for this – if the wine is too sweet, the grapefruit bitters will jar, and the final drink won’t be nearly as refreshing.
1 measure of Aperol
Dashes of grapefruit bitters
Glass: Champagne bowl
Pour measure of Aperol into chilled glass & add dashes of bitters; top up with prosecco. Garnish with a twist of orange peel.
Whilst researching the variations on the Manhattan cocktail (see my post, the Manhattan variations, earlier), I noted the scotch-based variant, the Chancellor, which includes a measure of port, preferably tawny. I have an open bottle of Madeira at the moment, which is slightly sweeter, so decided to experiment using the Chancellor as the base of my drink.
My version uses a very mild, single malt scotch, sold by the Co-operative stores here in the UK instead of a blend. And in place of the usual Martini Extra Dry vermouth, I have used Cocchi Americano.
The drink is fantastic, and has a very ‘Christmassy’ taste; I am not sure why, it must be the rich flavour of the Madeira. Either way, it’s a really intriguing variation on the Manhattan & worth adding to the recipe books. In honour of the Portuguese home of the Madeira, I have re-named the drink El Chanceler.
2oz of scotch whisky (I used the Co-op’s single malt scotch)
1oz of Madeira (Blandy’s 5-year old)
1/2oz of dry vermouth (Cocchi Americano)
Dashes of orange bitters (I used Fee’s)
Glass: 3oz Martini glass, chilled
Shake well in a shaker over ice, then strain into the Martini glass. Garnish with a twist of orange peel
Variations: Diffords guide makes the Chancellor with blended whisky, extra dry vermouth & tawny port.
A recent addition to my drinks collection was a bottle of 7 year old Havana Club; this is a wonderfully dark, rich rum, good for sipping as well as mixing, so I wanted to find a complex cocktail recipe that could match the level of flavour in this drink. I had tried a Palmetto recently, which has been described as a ‘rum Manhattan’, but I thought this rum deserved more. Taking a cue from the Sidecar I made a few weeks ago, I settled on the Embassy, a drink that originated in the eponymous Embassy Club in Hollywood in the 1920s. Sadly, history doesn’t record the barman who invented the drink, but the story of Eddie Brandstatter, the restaurateur who opened this, and many others, before sadly taking his own life in the 1940s is as fascinating as this drink: with three different spirits and a decent amount of lime juice, it is like a very grown up Margharita. It is a potent cocktail, and when I sipped it, I could imagine the bright young things of the twenties enjoying it in California nearly a century ago.
Approach with caution, mix with élan & drink like you are partying with Clara Bow.
1oz of fresh lime juice
3/4oz of Cointreau or Triple Sec (I used Gabriel Boudier Curaçao Triple Sec)
3/4oz of Brandy or Cognac (I used Chateau de Millet Bas Armagnac)
3/4oz of Rum (Havana Club, 7 year old)
Dashes of bitters (I used my own house Bt bitters)
Glass: 3oz Martini glass, chilled
Shake well in a shaker over ice, then strain into the Martini glass. Garnish with a wedge of lime.
Variations: Diffords guide makes this drink with white rum. This would make the drink lighter, but much drier I imagine.
Without trying to sound too bumptious, surely one of the key pleasures of a holiday is learning to adjust to a different rhythm or routine. Here in Tuscany for a couple of weeks, it is clear that Italians regard alcohol as an accompaniment to food, not as something consumed by itself; the end of the day is not marked by the cocktail hour, but by an aperitivo, to be drunk as a pre-cursor to dinner, to sharpen the appetite, and invariably accompanied by a few small things to eat (salatini in Italian), provided by the bar, much like tapas in Spain. Italians do not seem to drink cocktails in the way we do, so in the light of doing as Romans, when in Rome, this mixed drink recipe reflects their culture.
One of the classic aperitivo drinks is an Aperol spritz: Aperol is similar to Campari, but flavour is much lighter (as is the alcohol content) and more pronounced citrus tone. I prefer it to Campari for these reasons, and here in Tuscany you will find bars offer it (or an equivalent) as the default drink between 5 and 7 pm.
A classic Spritz is composed of two measures of Aperol, three of Prosecco, and a final measure of soda water. According to the company’s own recipe, you should pour the Prosecco first to prevent the Aperol settling at the bottom of the glass, although I haven’t noticed this to be a problem so far; I usually pour the Aperol over ice, add the Prosecco and give the mixture a gentle stir, then top up with the soda. Use lots of ice and garnish with a large slice of orange. It must be enjoyed with plenty of conversation and a little something to nibble on.
We sat in the corner bar at Victor’s and drank gimlets. “They don’t know how to make them here,” he said. “What they call a gimlet is just some lime or lemon juice and gin with a dash of sugar and bitters. A real gimlet is half gin and half Rose’s Lime Juice and nothing else. It beats martinis hollow.”
Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye
The gin gimlet has a long history, probably being drunk as soon as Lauchlan Rose invented his antiscorbutic lime juice drink for sailors in 1862. His aim was to replace the limes preserved in rum, that had previously been enjoyed by the sailors to ward off scurvy, with a non-alcoholic version. He succeeded, but the officers soon discovered that adding it to a tot of gin added considerably to the pleasure.
Cocktail writers in the US take issue with Chandler’s proportions – describing the half-and-half mix as ‘unbearably sweet’. The problem lies not in the proportions, but I think in the American version of Rose’s lime juice (made with high-fructose corn syrup). I mixed my drink with the UK version of the cordial (which, like the Canadian version, lists ‘sugar’ as the sweetening agent), and I found it sweet, but certainly not unbearable – lively, refreshing & very drinkable instead. Really, the drink tasted exactly how you would want a drink to be in a very hot country, and I can imagine British naval officers in the Bahamas mixing exactly this combination. I think the only stipulation for this drink is that it has to be Rose’s lime juice; the alternative brand, made by Britvic, has a less than natural taste. I used the recipe from Schumann’s American Bar for my drink.
2 ozs gin (Gordon’s dry gin here)
1 3/4 ozs Rose’s lime juice cordial
Stir over ice in a mixing glass, then strain into a glass (I can’t imagine Marlowe drinking from a cocktail glass) & garnish with a slice of lime.
Update: Reading the Speakeasy cocktail book, I found they also dismissed the usual lime cordials as being unbearably nasty, and have replaced it with a cordial of their own making. Again, I believe the problem is not the use of cordial, but their choice of brands; I am certain that if they could get their hands on a bottle of UK Rose’s lime cordial, their attitude would be different. I certainly think their cordial is over-complicating one of the simplest drinks around,
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).
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.
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.