Old School

I follow several Instagram accounts where the drink photography is really good, and these often lead to drinks I haven’t tried before. A happy discovery on Friday was an image of an Old School from the Dragonfly bar in Hong Kong, which sounded very interesting indeed: no proportions were given, but looking at the combination, it appeared to be a Sazerac/Manhattan variant, so I re-built their drink on that basis.

The result is really quite something – there’s a lot going here, in some really subtle proportions, and the bar has created a modern take on the classic Sazerac. The combination an amaro and a fernet in one drink could be really quite an eye-opener, but they have used very small quantities of each, and the amaro, Montenegro, is at the sweeter end of the amaro style (and also one of my favourites – so I had a bottle to hand). For the fernet, I was lucky to still have a small amount of the Britannica fernet sample that Asterley Bros sent me last month; it’s a really excellent new version of this rich and bitter drink & well worth a bottle of your time. A little trial-and-error, and I came up with something really quite smooth and delicious. If you want to be closer to the Sazerac roots, use a rye rather than a bourbon; I used bourbon & it seemed to sit well with the amaro/fernet bitterness. It’s your choice to choose the base spirit, so see what works best for you. The Lillet is the one thing I would keep as a invariable ingredient though; it has a special flavour.

My version of the Old School:

50ml bourbon

15ml Lillet Blanc

10ml Amaro Montenegro

A bar spoon of fernet – Britannica for choice

Absinthe rinse

Chill an Old Fashioned glass. Stir the spirits together over ice until well cooled. Rinse the glass with a small quantity of absinthe, so that the bottom third is coated, then drain. Strain the spirit mixture into the glass and garnish with a large slice of lemon zest, expressing the oils onto the surface before dropping the zest into the drink. I served this straight up, and it seemed to suit the drink, but if you like yours with another large ice block, have at it.

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.

Method:

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.

London Brothers

This drink is an update to a variation on the Manhattan, using the uniquely Italian strong bitter spirit, fernet, to replace the bitters that are so important in the Manhattan. Having re-magined the drink in an Italian style, they also re-named it I Fanciulli or the Lads. The result is a more bitter & powerful version of the Manhattan.

For my version, I was able to use the new London fernet, Britannica, made by the Asterley Brothers, who make an inventive range of modern takes on three key cocktail ingredients: a vermouth, an amaro and most recently, the fernet – which has the correct myrrh & herbal base, plus some uniquely English elements like chocolate malt and a London porter. As this was a British version of the recipe, I renamed the drink to give it a more local name – this is the London Brothers. It is a bold and bitter version of the Manhattan, and needs to be made with a strong bourbon – or perhaps even more correctly a rye – but here the 45% Bulleit was a good choice. This a strong pre-dinner drink, with a full-on bitter hit, followed by the lingering sweetness of the bourbon/vermouth combination

Method:

2 oz strong bourbon

1/2 oz Britannica fernet

1/2 oz Italian vermouth

Add alcohols to a mixing glass, and then plenty of fresh ice. Stir and double strain into a chilled coupe. No bitters are required due to the fernet. Garnish also seems to be optional

Vecchio Stile

IMG_6562After the Manhattan (see dozens of posts, passim), my very next favourite drink is the Old Fashioned: this classic mix of whiskey, bitters & sugar is so simple, yet can having a seeming infinite variety through the choice of the whiskey and bitters: use a rye, and the cocktail becomes drier and spicier, use a bourbon, and it becomes sweeter and softer.

This time, I added a small quantity of my favourite amaro, Montenegro, to balance the sweetness of a bourbon-based whiskey a little further than the bitters alone; even just a quarter of an ounce of this amaro adds another edge to the drink. It’s quite a different take on an Old Fashioned, so absolutely deserves to have its own name; it becomes the Vecchio Stile.

The bitters are very important: here I have used Dr Elmegirab’s Orinoco bitters. Their solid bitter hit & spice base are pretty much a perfect foil for the Montenegro.

Method:

2 ozs of bourbon (Bulleit is highly recommended)

1/4 oz Amaro Montenegro

1/2 tsp sugar

Dashes of Orinoco bitters

Muddle the sugar and bitters together, with a dash of water, in an old-fashioned glass. Add a large ice block to the glass and let chill a while.

Stir the Montenegro and bourbon together over ice, then strain into the chilled glass, with a last stir to combine the alcohols, bitters & sugar. Garnish with orange peel.

 

 

 

Remember the Maine

img_3660I was looking for a drink suitable for our 5th of November celebrations (for non-UK readers, this is the day we remember how an attempt to destroy Parliament by a huge gunpowder bomb, assembled by Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators, was foiled at the last moment. Naturally, we remember this by detonating equally huge quantities of gunpowder-filled fireworks in our gardens up and down the country), but drew a blank when it came to gunpowder, firework, or even Guy-themed drinks.

What I did find was a drink that according to Richard Godwin’s book,  The Spirits, was drunk in Havana by Charles H. Baker to the sounds of gunfire during the 1933 revolution. If this drink was once enjoyed to the sound of explosions, then it is perfect for our 5th November.

The drink itself is a Manhattan variation, with two extras – a small quantity of cherry brandy & some dashes of absinthe. The result is a spicy version of the standard cocktail, but I cannot admit to loving the combination of aniseed (from the absinthe) and cherry overly much. I prefer to use absinthe bitters for this flavour element – after all, we only need a few drops. I’ll classify this drink as a Modern, since the 1933 date places it after Prohibition.

Method.

50ml. rye (or bourbon)

20ml. sweet vermouth

5ml. cherry brandy

dashes of absinthe or absinthe bitters

Stir over plenty of ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.

Derby

Derby cocktail
Derby cocktail

Like the Suburban recipe I have posted before, here is another drink that is named after a famous horse race. However, the Derby in question is not the English version, but the Kentucky Derby, which has been run every year since 1875.

And since the race has always been so popular across the U.S. (popularly referred to as the most exciting two minutes in sport), it seems every bartender across the continent has invented a cocktail in its honour at one point or another. The IBA ‘official’ recipe includes peach bitters, gin and mint leaves, suggesting a strong relationship to a julep, but there are at least two other well-known variants. The IBA may claim the ‘official’ recipe, but I prefer the ‘sour manhattan’ version that has come from Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide: bourbon, triple sec, lime juice & vermouth (making the cocktail one from the ‘modern’ camp).

If it all sounds like the marriage of a Margarita & a Manhattan, you would be right: it is refreshing, but with a good, clean alcohol kick and a rich warmth from the bourbon/vermouth combination. If you had a friend whose automatic first choice of cocktail was a Margarita, I’d hand them one of these. They will thank you for it, and you would have made one more convert from the Margarita/Martini/Cosmopolitan triangle of inertia.

I’d hazard a guess that this recipe does come at least from the Kentucky area; by May (the time of the eponymous horse race), the weather would be warm enough to need a good refresher drink, but evenings would still be cool enough to remind one of the wintery style of the Manhattan.

Proportions:

1 oz of bourbon (Knob Creek here)

3/4 oz of fresh lime juice

1/2 oz of triple sec

1/2 oz of sweet vermouth (Martini Rosso here, it needn’t be too rich).

Dashes of bitters (I used the Jack Rudy aromatic cocktail bitters here)

Glass: 3oz Martini

Shake well, and strain into a Martini glass, garnish with thin lime wedge.

Suburban

Suburban, made with bourbon, tawny port & dark rum
Suburban, made with bourbon, tawny port & dark rum

Wondering what to do with my opened bottle of port from Christmas, and looking for drinks to use it in, the discovery of the Suburban came as a happy surprise. It is a very, very good drink indeed & definitely worth trying.

Port may not appear too often on modern cocktail lists, but its inclusion in British mixed drinks is as old as the drink itself: punch was often made with port or another fortified wine, along with brandy, and served at Christmas. Taylors, one of the older port houses still features a recipe on their website.

The Suburban then is an unusual creature, using port but coming from an American source: the drink appears in the Waldorf-Astoria bar book, and the name comes from a horse race of the same name, the Suburban classic. This late C19th appearance puts it into the ‘classic’ category of drinks, and I would say it certainly was. The drink is a solid mix of bourbon (or rye, if you prefer), port & dark rum with plenty of bitters and he result is a cross between a Manhattan and an Old-Fashioned, but a very grown-up hybrid of the two. It’s a cocktail to be approached with care, drunk in a panelled room, lit by a roaring fire.

I am following Richard Godwin’s suggestion in his excellent drinks book, The Spirits, and using tawny port. This is lighter, more flavourful, than ruby or vintage port, and does not overpower the drink with excessive sweetness.

Proportions:

40ml of bourbon (Buffalo Trace here)

20ml of tawny port (Graham’s 10y.o. tawny here)

20ml of dark rum (Havana Club 7y.o. here)

Good dashes of Angostura bitters

Good dashes of orange bitters (Fee’s, here)

Glass: Old-Fashioned

Stir ingredients over ices, then strain into an Old-Fashioned glass with fresh ice. Garnish with large slice of orange zest.

 

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.

Steel-aged Manhattan

Blending house Manhattans for ageing in steel for six weeks...
Blending house Manhattans for ageing in steel for six weeks…

The section in Tristan Stephenson’s Curious Bartender about ageing cocktails was very interesting to read. Most cocktail ingredients – spirits, vermouths, bitters and so forth – have been through individual ageing processes before being bottled, creating their unique flavour that adds to each drink they are used in. Stephenson suggests another level of ageing, mixing a cocktail and then allowing the blended drink to rest for a further period, creates a subtly different drink to the one mixed and served immediately, giving examples of both his own drinks and those  of other bartenders he has sampled. He notes the differences between the various ageing devices, from wooden barrels to bottles & flasks, retaining his greatest enthusiasm for simple stainless steel flasks.

I thought I would put this to the test with a batch of my own ‘house’ Manhattan, adapted by the recipe for the Industrial Revolution cocktail that Stephenson gives in his book. Using a basic stainless steel drink flask that I found on Amazon for around £6, I mixed up the following:

300ml of bourbon (Wild Turkey)

100ml of sweet vermouth (Martini Rosso)

50ml of dry vermouth (Noilly Prat)

15ml of maraschino (Briottet marasquin)

10 drops of Bob’s Abbott’s bitter

All of this went into the flask, given a good shake and labelled with the starting date. I aim to be trying this out with some friends at a cocktail evening in September. I will keep taking a quick sniff from the flask from time to time to see if I can detect any changes.

Once ready, the mixture will be stirred over ice and then strained into a chilled glass. For the sake of the experiment, I will be mixing an unaged version at the same time to sample against…

Update – November 2017.

IMG_5972Last night, I returned to a batch of rye-based Manhattans I made around Christmas 2016, and which had been maturing in a flask in my drinks ‘fridge ever since. Chilled & ready mixed, I just needed to measure out 3ozs into a cold glass, and add a garnish of lemon zest.

Somehow, resting quietly at a few degrees above zero for around a year had really changed & improved the flavours of the drink; it was an incredibly smooth Manhattan, rich and spicy & with a distinctive, but not overpowering, bitter note. This might see like an overly-elaborate method of cocktail making, but it really does seem to add a dimension to the drink I hadn’t expected. I really don’t know what is going on with this approach, but something good is happening in that flask. Worth experimenting with, I believe – if you have the time, and the patience.

Old-fashioned: Bourbon

20z Old-fashioned with bourbon
20z Old-fashioned with bourbon

One of the most basic of all cocktails, the Old-fashioned is also one of the finest because of its simplicity: a mix of sugar, bitters and spirits, served over ice with a large slice of citrus zest. Here I have used my Bulleit bourbon & Peychaud’s for the bitters, as the orange flavour suits the zest garnish to my mind.

Proportions (using a jigger/pony measure):

1 jigger of bourbon

3 drops bitters.

Sugar cube

Glass: Small tumbler or old-fashioned glass.

Shake bitters onto a sugar cube & muddle in the glass until the sugar is crushed. Add a few drops of water if liked to dissolve the sugar. Add ice cubes, then pour bourbon over the ice, and stir, leaving the spoon in the glass. Garnish with a large slice of orange zest.

Historical note:
The Old-fashioned seems to be one of the oldest drinks recipes: around 1860, a simple recipe of bitters, sugar & spirits was being called ‘old-fashioned’ as it had been around thirty years by then. The bourbon version seems to have sprung from the Pendennis Club, who passed the recipe to New York, some time around the end of the C19th.