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.

Advertisements

Old-fashioned: Diplomatico Reserva

Old Fashioned, made with Diplomatico rum & Velvet Falernum
Old Fashioned, made with Diplomatico rum & Velvet Falernum

We had dinner last night in the Rum & Crab Shack in St Ives, a great restaurant located right on the harbour, which has a range of caribbean & creole cooking, including dishes such as jambalaya, gumbo & po’ boys (which covers the ‘crab’ side of the name). The other half of their menu (the ‘rum’ part) is a 35-strong range of the sugar cane distillation, organised by style, strength, flavour & so on. You could spend a happy evening just sampling their neat spirits, but I opted for their recommended after-dinner cocktail, the Old-fashioned.

I am very fond of this cocktail, because of its simplicity & elegance, and it was great to try a version that not only was based on rum, but also included an ingredient that I had read about, but never actually tried: Velvet Falernum. This is a Barbadian liqueuer, made by John D. Taylor, with rum infused by various herbs & spices – a little like the home-made rum concoctions you are served on beach bars in the Bahamas, each one a secret recipe of the barman, and all guaranteed to cure anything from impotence to hair loss. This spiced rum was then mixed with a very old rum from the Diplomatico range, their Reserva Exclusiva. I had just bought a bottle of this to sip by itself, and so the chance to try it in a cocktail seemed too good an opportunity to pass by.

The resulting drink, served in a cool old-fashioned tumbler with a very large cube of ice, was initially way too sweet for my taste, but after some stirring to dilute the drink with a little water from the ice revealed a much more attractive drink, though if I made it home, I think I would add barely any sugar. The drink had an almost smoky flavour, with heavy notes of vanilla, toffee & treacle, all cut through by the refreshing citrus kick from the lime & orange zests. It was a very good drink to round off a spicy creole meal.

Proportions (I am guessing here from the drink’s impression on me; the menu only gave the ingredients):

2 ozs of dark rum (Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva)

1 oz of Velvet Falernum

Dashes of Angostura bitters

Lime wedge

Sugar cube

Glass: Small tumbler or old-fashioned glass.

Shake bitters onto a sugar cube and lime rind & muddle in the glass until the sugar is crushed. Add a few drops of water if liked to dissolve the sugar. Add single large ice cube, then pour rum & Velvet Falernum over the ice, and stir. Garnish with a large slice of orange zest.

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

Tribune

Tribune
Tribune

On a recent visit, my friend Andy Grant brought over three of his new bitters recipes, including a bottle of Scelerisque et Absinthium – or chocolate & absinth. The mixture is remarkable – with a really warming, spicy flavour; the chocolate is really subtle, lending an almost creamy texture to the aniseed-like notes of the absinth.

I thought this combination needed a cocktail of its own to show off in, and so began to think of flavours that match the base flavours: the absinth notes made me think of the Sazerac cocktail, and the chocolate reminded me of rum.

So, I elected to make a variant of the Sazerac cocktail, using rum as a base. The end result is really very good, even if I say it myself: there is a creamy flavour from the rum and chocolate, and a mysterious note from the layers of absinth. It’s a pretty strong drink, but one to be sipped and enjoyed. The whole is dedicated to Andy & his excellent bitters.

Proportions:

2ozs of dark rum (Havana Anejo 7-year old)

1 small sugar cube or a pony of simple syrup

3 drops of Extreme d’Absente Absinthe bitters or a small quantity of Absinthe

4 drops of Scelerisque et Absinthium bitters

Glass: Old Fashioned glass

Chill the glass. Muddle the sugar cube with the Extreme d’Absente bitters (if you are using regular Absinthe, then rinse the chilled glass with a few drops of the Absinthe and drain) in your mixing glass.  Stir the rum together with the chocolate & absinth bitters and ice in the sugar mix and strain into the chilled Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with a large slice of orange peel.

Bitters (6) – grapefruit & friends

My trio of bitters
My trio of bitters

I have now bottled the latest batch of grapefruit bitters (named ‘Bg’). The use of the Italian strong alcohol has given the bitters a real kick, but the citrus of the grapefruit really shines through. The bitters are excellent in the Death in Florence cocktail, a variation I made on the original Death in Venice , invented by Tony Conigliaro. I changed the recipe to use Aperol, as I prefer the lighter, more orange flavour of this drink to the robust Campari of the original.

This flavour now completes the trio of bitters I have made: a ‘house’ bitter, made with sour cherries; a clove bitter with plenty of spices & the grapefruit bitters, with a strong citrus, sage & lavender flavours.

Bitters (5) – grapefruit

Grapefruit bitters, now steeping in 95% alcohol
Grapefruit bitters, now steeping in 95% alcohol

I was looking to make another batch of bitters, this time using my 95% alcohol, which I found in an Italian supermarket during the summer. Inspiration came when I discovered a fantastic recipe from Tony Conigliaro for the Death in Venice cocktail – a combination of Campari, prosecco, and a hit of grapefruit bitters; this is a cocktail that features at both 69 Colebrook Row & the Grain Store, so it comes highly recommended.

As this seemed like the perfect Christmas drink, and indeed was featured in an article about Christmas drinks, I went off to find a suitable recipe for this variety of bitters.

I soon found one on the Serious Eats website, written by Marcia Simmons: the mix of grapefruit, juniper, lavender, coriander & a battering agent, seemed to have the right sort of flavour profile to make this cocktail really sing, so I have been making a version at home. Marcia used 100˚ proof vodka, rather than over-proof alcohol, as she described trying to get a mellower flavour with her bitters. I have opted for the Italian 95% alcohol, as I would like my bitters to have little more attack. I will describe the results in two or three weeks.

 

El Chanceler

El Chanceler, made with Blandy's 5-year old Madeira
El Chanceler, made with Blandy’s 5-year old Madeira

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.

Proportions:

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.