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.

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Manhattan: Rye

Simple 3oz Manhattan
Simple 3oz Manhattan

Purists will disagree, but I like my Manhattans perfect – not made to an exact recipe, or served without flaws, but made with a mix of sweet and dry vermouth. The dry vermouth – in this case, Noilly Prat – seems to complement the spicy hit of rye whiskey (Canadian Club), and the small amount of sweet vermouth (Martini Rosso) adds the roundness the cocktail is known for.  A few drops of Abbott’s bitters to add a pleasant spicy, vanilla-ish dimension, and that’s it. Just perfect, in every way. I add one maraschino cocktail cherry, and one that’s had some bitters added to the syrup in the jar to darken it a little more. Another option is a slice of orange peel, but the cherries seemed nicely retro this time.

Proportions (using a jigger/pony measure):

1 jigger of whiskey

1 pony of dry & sweet vermouth

4 drops bitters.

Glass: Small, or 3oz, Martini glass.

Shake until ice cold & strain into the glass. Garnish with a cocktail cherry.

Historical footnote: The Manhattan is named after the club where the drink was first mixed in 1874. The Manhattan Club’s bartender was asked to create a drink for a party. The party, in honour of a politician named Samuel Tilden, was hosted Jennie Jerome – who went on to become Lady Randolph Churchill, and mother of Winston Churchill.

Bitters

The story of bitters, the complex flavouring ingredients added only by drops to a cocktail, are as long as the history of cocktails themselves. Brands have come and gone over the years (check out the long-running search for Abbott bitters if you would like to see just how far drink fans will go), but I do believe that decent bitters lift an ordinary mixed drink into the proper cocktail category. I think that can be proved by mixing a couple of simple Martinis – to one, add a few drops of Fee’s Orange Bitters, then compare. The citrus hit from the Fee’s draws the combination of gin and vermouth together in a way the plain Martini lacks.

But where do you start? The obvious place is a single bottle of the classic Angostura Bitters. After that, a bottle of Fee’s Orange Bitters are a good addition to the cabinet, and then you can start adding the extra flavours and styles.

My starting recommendations:

Angostura

Fee’s Orange

Bob’s Bitters: Abbott’s style

Peychaud’s

With just these four bottles, you have the foundations for decent Martinis, Manhattans & Sazeracs.

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