Londoner with a Bulleit

Londoner with a Bulleit

My sample of Asterley Bros’ London fernet, Britannica, is proving very versatile, so I have been looking at other ways of using it. Adding a fernet or amaro to a Boulevardier recipe to give it a more cutting edge is a great variation – such as the Palpable Apathy, created by David Little at the Barnacle bar in Seattle – so I decided to try something like that with my sample of Britannica. In a piece of perfect timing, a recipe from my favourite bar, Disrepute in Soho, popped up in my Instagram feed – a Bulleit Boulevardier, developed for them by Jean-Vital at Cocktail Circus. So with a salut! to the original recipe, I have replaced the Fernet Branca with Britannica, and changed the cherry wine to a cherry brandy, just to reduce the sweetness a touch. The end result is a Boulevardier with a kick – more of a Brixton swagger than Champs-Élysées stroll – so I have renamed this one the Londoner with a Bulleit, as its full-fronted bitterness seems to evoke some 60s gangster movie set in the East End. Perhaps you need to drink this one while wearing a trilby, as an additional garnish.


40ml Bulliet bourbon

10ml Britannica fernet

15ml Cinzano Rosso

25ml Campari

10ml cherry brandy

Stir in a mixing glass with plenty of ice. Strain into a chilled coupe and garnish with a slim strip of orange zest – mandarin, if you have it.

Nightjar, visited 5th March

photo-2With a proper speakeasy attitude, Nightjar can be as almost as hard to find as it is to book a table: a properly battered & nondescript door, with the smallest of nameplates that is the only clue that you are at the right place, on a busy road near London’s Old Street underground station. This leads onto a tiny hallway where you stand and wait as the doorman checks with the receptionist downstairs. Once cleared, though, you’re ready to descend into as perfect a nightspot you’ll find this side of 1920s Chicago. The tables are low, almost as low as the lights, and if you want theatre, try to get one of the banquette side tables on the right, where you’ll have a great view of the bar and the work of the staff as they make some of the most elaborate drinks I have been served, barring the blue whisky sour with sparkler I once had in Hamburg. The cocktail menu comes with glasses of water & a small bowl of popcorn, and you are given plenty of time to decide whether to start with something simple & classic, or jump right into the sharing drinks that come served in pots stills, shells or probably even a watering can. Further into the bar are some intimate tables, and a stage for the live bands. The space is dimly lit, but it’s an enfolding, attractive kind of darkness – not gloom – a place that invites leaning into your companion to talk and get closer together.

photoOur first (and only – see later) two drinks, a Boulevardier & a Brooklyn, were excellently made, beautifully chilled, though I was baffled by mine being cooled by a submerged chocolate teddy bear in the glass, and Liz by the appearance of her cherry garnish, not in the drink, but glued to the stem of her glass with chocolate spread. On the table next to us, a jolly French party tried to come to grips with a conch shell that foamed with dry ice & a ceramic drinking flask that was garnished with sugar eggs & what seemed to be an ear of corn. The drinks, despite the eccentric trappings, are fabulous – balanced, strong & very drinkable. It’s when we decide to move onto a shared cocktail, the bonkers ‘Alchemist’s Brew’, served in a miniature copper still, complete with dry ice vapour coming from the chimney, that the wheels come off the wagon somewhat. We’re on a tight schedule, having been initially told the table was only ours for 90 minutes and so are heading onto another bar.

Nightjar cards

Five minutes before we’re due to leave, there is still no sign of our second drink; the bar is backed up with orders & they haven’t been able to assemble our smoking construction. We’ll have to leave that one for another time; but the staff are lovely & make amends, and we leave with our pockets bulging with Nightjar playing cards, a bill lightened by several deductions & an earnest wish to come again.

Nightjar, 129 City Road, London


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.