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.

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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.

Manhattan: Bourbon

3oz Bourbon Manhattan
3oz Bourbon Manhattan

It is not the ‘classic’ version of the drink, but many people drink the version of the Manhattan that uses bourbon (here, I’ve used Bulleit, 90˚ proof) as the base spirit. To my my mind, this suits the sweet Manhattan recipe better – using only red vermouth (Martini Rosso) – as the dryness of the white version jars with the flavours of the bourbon. I don’t think it makes the drink undrinkable, though, so it would be worth experimenting to see what suits your tastes better.

Proportions (using a jigger/pony measure):

1 jigger of bourbon

1 pony of sweet vermouth

4 drops bitters.

Glass: Small, or 3oz, Martini glass.

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

Bottles

Spirits are the basics of any cocktail bar, and the question is how many do you need? The answer depends on one’s tastes, and the drinks needed to be made.

A quick inventory of my cupboard shows the following stock:

Vodka
Finlandia
Smirnoff, Blue label
Gin
Gordon’s dry
Bombay Sapphire, 90 proof
Bourbon
Bulleit, 90 proof
Vermouth
Noilly Prat
Kina Lillet
Martini Rosso
Cachaça
Sagatiba
Velho Barreira
Pitù
White Rum
Rebellion
Dark rum
Lamb’s
Whisky
The Glenrothes, select reserve
Tullibardine, 10 year old
Balvenie Double Wood, 12 year old
Tallisker, 10 year old
Rye
Canadian Club, 6 year old                                                                                     Tequila                                                                                                                                           El Jimador

Plus various liqueurs (Kahlua, Triple Sec, Cointreau) and various others (home made lemon and cranberry vodkas, spiced rum and so on).