Obituary

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Obituary, from Richard Godwin’s The Spirits

More news recently of sad losses to our cultural life in the UK. A few weeks ago, Dick Bradsell passed away. He was a cocktail superstar in this country, the man who among many other drink-related innovations, created the espresso martini for a model who wanted a drink ‘to pick her up, then f*ck her up’ whilst tending bar at the Soho Brasserie. Dick obliged with the perfect mash-up of alcohol and caffeine that delivered on her request. And for anyone who visited any of his bars – like the now sadly defunct Detroit in Seven Dials – his cocktail DNA ran deep in every drink served. As with the death of Sasha Petraske last year, our drinking world is a poorer place without him.

The other departed hero of mine is the designer, Sir Ken Adam, who created some of the most remarkable sets for films in a long and very enviable career – particularly his long-running collaboration with the producers of the James Bond films – for whom he designed memorable lairs for super-villains, like the volcano base in You Only Live Twice.

I thought it was appropriate to raise a glass to both men – a cocktail seems a suitable salute to Bradsell, and I am sure that Sir Ken, who spent his time working on films that features one of our best-known cocktail drinkers, wouldn’t object to being acknowledged by a well-filled martini glass. The most suitable drink I found is the well-named Obituary, whose recipe I located in Richard Godwin’s excellent book, The Spirits. This is a properly ‘wet’ martini, where the vermouth plays an equal role to the gin, but what really perks this up is the lurking presence of peppery, aniseedy absinthe. It’s clear, clean drink, livened up by the single cherry. I don’t know the providence of the drink, or how it got its name, but the martini seems a suitable toast to two significant men. Salut!

Method:

Rinse a martini glass with a few drops of absinthe, or as I did here, absinthe bitters, and leave to cool in a freezer while you prepare the rest of the drink.

35ml of gin (Hendricks here)

35ml of French vermouth (in a nod to James Bond’s Vesper, I used Kina Lillet)

Stir the alcohols in a mixing glass, filled with ice. A few drops of orange bitters can be used at this point to tie the two together.

Strain the cooled mixture into the chilled glass, still wet with absinthe. Twist some lemon zest over the surface to mist the drink with lemon, then discard. Garnish with a single cherry. Drink while saluting absent friends.

 

 

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

The Manhattan variations

Simple 3oz Manhattan
Simple 3oz Manhattan

It must be clear by now that my favourite drink is the Manhattan. Unlike a Martini, I have never been served a bad Manhattan – dull, perhaps, or not cold enough, but never bad. 

A Manhattan is basically a whisky Martini: the basic combination for the cocktail is a spirit, flavoured with a vermouth in a 2:1 ratio & then added some zip by the dashes of bitters.  If that combination works for gin & whisky, then it must work for other spirits? And of course, it does.

Here in no order of preference, is a list of the cocktails that have used the same ingredient selection, except for the base spirit:

Palmetto – aged rum, vermouth & bitters (also called a ‘Cuban Manhattan’).

Harvard – cognac, Italian vermouth, Angosturas bitters

Chancellor – blended scotch, port, dry vermouth, bitters.

El Chanceler – blended scotch, or a ‘mild’ single malt, madeira, dry vermouth, bitters*

Affinity – blended scotch, sweet & dry vermouths, dashes of bitters

Rob Roy – Scotch whisky, vermouth & bitters.

Fourth regiment – whisky & vermouth in a 1:1 ratio, then dashes of three bitters: celery, orange & Peychaud’s.

Tijuana Manhattan – tequila, vermouth & bitters.

Perfect cocktail – gin, sweet & dry vermouths, bitters

Presidente – white rum, sweet & dry vermouths, dashes of grenadine

* My own recipe: a portuguese version of the Chancellor, using Madeira.

Marlowe’s gin gimlet

We sat in the corner bar at Victor’s and drank gimlets. “They don’t know how to make them here,” he said. “What they call a gimlet is just some lime or lemon juice and gin with a dash of sugar and bitters. A real gimlet is half gin and half Rose’s Lime Juice and nothing else. It beats martinis hollow.”

Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye

Marlowe's gin gimlet
Marlowe’s gin gimlet

The gin gimlet has a long history,  probably being drunk as soon as Lauchlan Rose invented his antiscorbutic lime juice drink for sailors in 1862. His aim was to replace the limes preserved in rum, that had previously been enjoyed by the sailors to ward off scurvy, with a non-alcoholic version. He succeeded, but the officers soon discovered that adding it to a tot of gin added considerably to the pleasure.

Cocktail writers in the US take issue with Chandler’s proportions – describing the half-and-half mix as ‘unbearably sweet’. The problem lies not in the proportions, but I think in the American version of Rose’s lime juice (made with high-fructose corn syrup). I mixed my drink with the UK version of the cordial (which, like the Canadian version, lists ‘sugar’ as the sweetening agent), and I found it sweet, but certainly not unbearable – lively, refreshing & very drinkable instead. Really, the drink tasted exactly how you would want a drink to be in a very hot country, and I can imagine British naval officers in the Bahamas mixing exactly this combination. I think the only stipulation for this drink is that it has to be Rose’s lime juice; the alternative brand, made by Britvic, has a less than natural taste. I used  the recipe from Schumann’s American Bar for my drink.

Proportions:

2 ozs gin (Gordon’s dry gin here)

1 3/4 ozs Rose’s lime juice cordial

Stir over ice in a mixing glass, then strain into a glass (I can’t imagine Marlowe drinking from a cocktail glass) & garnish with a slice of lime.

Update: Reading the Speakeasy cocktail book, I found they also dismissed the usual lime cordials as being unbearably nasty, and have replaced it with a cordial of their own making. Again, I believe the problem is not the use of cordial, but their choice of brands; I am certain that if they could get their hands on a bottle of UK Rose’s lime cordial, their attitude would be different. I certainly think their cordial is over-complicating one of the simplest drinks around,

 

 

 

Martinez: Dry version

20140712-234205.jpgThe Martinez is a very old drink.  Many regard it as the forerunner to the Dry Martini. It can be found in O. H. Byron’s 1884 Modern Bartender, where  it becomes a Manhattan variant; other stories have it named after the mining town of Martinez. Cocktail historians suggest it ought to made with genever, rather than modern dry gins, as this would have been the drink available in America at the time the cocktail began to appear.

On the face of it, this is simply a Manhattan made with gin. But there’s more to this drink than that, especially in the modernized ‘dry’ version I mixed here.. The dry gin I used, Gordon’s, has plenty of citrus notes, and that marries really well with the herby  notes in the sweet vermouth (Martini Rosso). An added complexity is a bar spoon of maraschino coupled with some dashes of bitters (I used my ‘house’ Bt bitters, as their sour cherry note seemed like a match). The results are really intriguing; it really isn’t just a gin Manhattan, but something else altogether. Frankly, if you didn’t know it contained gin, you might be hard pushed to spot it. Certainly, I wouldn’t omit the bitters or the maraschino, both add important notes to the final mix, and I would use a robust, dry, bitters recipe (Fee’s Orange bitters might be too delicate for this, for example).

Proportions (using a jigger/pony measure):

1 jigger of gin (Gordon’s dry in this version)

1 pony of sweet vermouth (Martini Rosso here)

1 bar spoon of maraschino (La Briottet Marasquin)

3 drops of bitters

Glass: 3oz Martini glass, chilled

Stir all the ingredients together in a shaker, then strain into the Martini glass. Garnish with a piece of lemon zest.

 

The Aviation

20140613-223056.jpgThe Aviation is a cocktail I had wanted to try making for a while; I liked the delicate blue colour it always seems to have, and the rather unusual collection of ingredients (gin, lemon juice, maraschino & creme de violette – although the last seems to be optional in many recipes).

The recipe is a variation on a sour – the gin is given a kick with the addition of lemon juice, sweetened with the maraschino liqueur and given a little colour and flavour by the dash(es) of Creme de Violette.

Proportions – the classic recipe (using a jigger/pony measure):

1 jigger of Gordon’s gin

1/2 pony of lemon juice (see below for thoughts on this)

1/4 pony of maraschino – I used Briottet‘s version, marasquin

Dash(es) of creme de violette – Bitter Truth‘s violet liqueur

Glass: 3oz Martini glass

Method: Put all ingredients into a shaker with ice & shake vigorously until well chilled. Strain into Martini glass & garnish with a single cherry (or, alternatively, a slice of lemon peel; flamed, if liked – presumably representing a ‘downed aviator’…).

I wasn’t taken by the results of this at all, which was a surprise. The proportions here create a drink with too acidic an attack from the lemon juice, which seems to linger in the back of the throat. I think the proportions are wrong, and would switch the amounts of maraschino & lemon juice around. But the drink is undeniably a pretty one, and may well appeal to Cosmopolitan drinkers who want something in a similar style, but less sweet. Classic recipes leave out the creme de violette, but it certainly gives the drink an attractive colour and an unusual flavour. It is worth tracking down.

Recipe notes: The sour base of this cocktail means that it features in quite a few variants. For example, drop the creme de violette in favour of a few drops of orange bitters, and this cocktail becomes a Casino.

Historical notes: The cocktail was invented by Hugo Esslin in New York, whilst working at the Hotel Wallick, and first recorded in his book, Recipes for Mixed Drinks in 1916. My facsimile copy of Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Guide from the 1930s, includes the recipe, but as noted before, lacks the creme de violette.

 

Martini: Bombay Sapphire

20140315-225015.jpgAlthough I still think the Manhattan is my favourite cocktail, the close second has to be an ice-cold Martini. There is something about the sparseness of the ingredients and the purity in presentation that makes this a very elegant drink that delivers its alcohol kick with a degree of precision few drinks can match.

I have seen opinions that state that Bombay Sapphire is too floral or delicate for a Martini, and that drier, more robust gins, such as Tanqueray or Gordon’s are necessary. I don’t agree, but perhaps my view is slightly skewed by my bottle of Sapphire being an export-strength version, found in Malaysia. The extra alcohol perhaps counteracts the floral notes of their recipe; either way, I find it makes for a very crisp and refreshing Martini. Exactly what one looks for in this drink I think.

One other small note: whatever you do, don’t omit the bitters. A few drops of something to add an extra dimension of flavour is really effective in this drink. Traditionally, a citrus-style bitters is recommended, like Fee’s Orange. This time, I used my batch of Brad Parson’s BTP bitters that I made last month. The sour cherry notes of those bitters worked really well here.

Update: another cause for debate here is the quantity of vermouth. I really don’t believe that refracting the light through a vermouth bottle into the shaker works, neither Noël Coward’s trick of nodding in the direction of Italy nor Churchill’s of looking in the direction of the vermouth bottle gives the required results. By all means, add smaller or larger quantities of vermouth, but it has to be there; otherwise you are just drinking a glass of gin with an olive in it. That is not a cocktail. And it is the flavouring of the vermouth that modifies the gin into the Martini.

I stir my Martinis; for a debate on them whys and wherefores of the stirred/shaken debate, please take a look at my earlier post here. I just think the lack of ice shards in the drink, and the clarity of the liquid that results from a careful stirring gives for a better end result.

Proportions (using a jigger/pony measure):

1 jigger of Bombay Sapphire gin

1 pony of Noilly Prat vermouth

3 drops BTP ‘House’ bitters

Glass: 3oz Martini glass

The method is similar to the Vodka Martini I made earlier:

Stir vermouth together with ice in a Boston shaker jar and tip away around half the vermouth.  Add the gin, drops of bitters & stir again. Pour into a chilled Martini glass & garnish with a green olive, stone-in.