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.

 

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The Dispensary

IMG_0887I managed to sign up recently to the beta test of the Asterley Bros. new amaro, Dispense. The brothers have used a family recipe from Sicily, coupled with a C17th English book on tonics and cure-alls, to produce a distinctly English take on a classic Italian variety of the bitter drink, made famous by the likes of Campari, Aperol & Cynar. I tried the tester bottle neat, and the brothers have really jammed in the flavours to their amaro, giving it a distinctly sweet finish (I wonder if he underlying spirit is, in a nod to our sea-faring heritage, a rum, giving that distinctive sweetness). The more I tried it, the more I wanted to try mixing it with other drinks to see how it would work in a cocktail. There is an elusive quality to the flavour which is really quite mysterious, and the warmth suggested that Dispense would mix well with a richer spirit like rye or bourbon. The Italian heritage of the amaro suggested a cocktail like a Negroni would be a good place to start, and that led me to think about the Boulevardier: a bourbon-based Negroni.

The Dispensary
The Dispensary

So, my new drink (which as been given the name,the Dispensary) is mixed as follows:

1 oz. of bourbon (Buffalo Trace here)

1 oz. of Aperol

1 oz. of Asterley Brothers Dispense

Stir leisurely over ice, and add a good dash of Orinoco bitters. Serve in a chilled Martini glass with a good-sized piece of orange zest and toast the success of a new English drink producer.

Boulevardier

The Boulevardier
The Boulevardier

The Boulevardier is a very close relative to the classic Negroni, which I mixed recently. Here, the gin of the Negroni is replaced with whiskey, giving the drink a spicy note. This is a classic recipe (found first in McElhone’s 1927 book, Barflies & Cocktails) that has suddenly found fame again recently as part of the revival of older, neglected cocktail recipes; I think part of that success is that it is such a close relation to the Negroni that people have tried that drink are likely to try this one. And possibly more importantly, it is made from only three ingredients, likely found in most cocktail cabinets, making it easy to try. As the Manhattan & the Negroni, don’t be fooled by the lack of clever ingredients or unusual spirits: the Boulevardier works because it is an absolutely perfect blend of flavours. Somehow this mix of flavours is definitely more French than Italian. I cannot say for certain why, but the Boulevardier name seems totally appropriate; I can imagine a French homme du Monde enjoying one of these at his local Bar Tabac on the way home to his apartment in Paris, whereas a Negroni seems perfect for the Italian uomo di Mondo.

As with my usual tastes, I don’t believe a cocktail is complete without a few dashes of bitters, so I added some here. The original recipes don’t call for any, nor do they seem to specify any garnish, but some orange zest seems appropriate. Again, these choices are mine, yours may vary.

Proportions:

1 1/4oz. of Aperol

1 1/4oz. of whiskey (I used Buffalo Trace)

1 1/4oz. of sweet vermouth (I used Carpana Antico)

Dashes of bitters (I used Adam Elemegirab’s Orinoco bitters)

Glass: Large Champagne glass

Stir the ingredients over ice in a mixing glass.

Serve in coupe, garnished with some orange zest

Negroni – Aperol style

IMG_0544 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

Death in Florence

Death in Florence, made with Aperol
Death in Florence, made with Aperol

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.

Proportions:

1 measure of Aperol

Dashes of grapefruit bitters

Prosecco

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.

Aperol Spritz

An Aperol Spritz, mixed in Tuscany
An Aperol Spritz, mixed in Tuscany

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.