Division Bell

A Margarita variant, the Division Bell comes from the mind of Phil Ward, one of the key bartenders credited with New York’s cocktail revival in the 90s. His much-missed venue, Mayahuel, closed there in 2017 & has since re-opened amid some controversy, but some of his most popular creations from there live on. Here is the Division Bell, that pairs the smokiness of mezcal with the citrus flavours of Aperol, which leads to its connection with the Margarita. But the smoky flavours and the richness of the Aperol make this a more intriguing proposition (though I’ve nothing against a Margarita – a properly-made one with a good tequila is a wonderful thing, indeed). I have used the most available brand of mezcal in the UK, Monte Alban, which, frankly, most mezcal aficionados think is poor stuff – but it’s what you’ll mostly find here until mezcal gets the same kind of interest levels as tequila gets now. However, the results aren’t bad at all – if Monte Alban isn’t great, then the Aperol and maraschino lifts it up. This is a really clever drink – it combines elements of a Last Word with a Margarita, and makes more of both. A perfect example of just a little tweak to a recipe can make a very different drink.

Method:

30ml mezcal

22.5ml Aperol

22.5ml fresh lime juice

15ml maraschino

Shake all of the ingredients with plenty of ice, then double strain into a chilled coupe. Difford’s guide suggests grapefruit as a garnish, but I preferred orange to match the Aperol better. No bitters required, as the Aperol provides this, but if you want a more bitter-fronted drink, a few drops of Bob’s Orange & Mandarin would work nicely

Satan’s Whiskers (curled)

img_3650Very apt for Halloween, or Samhain (depending on your outlook and religion) is this recipe, taken from Imbibe‘s website. They list two versions of this drink – one with Grand Marnier for the orange component (straight whiskers), the other with triple sec (the curled version), the latter being one I have made here.

The combination of gin and orange is not a new one (this recipe is really just a variation on the Bronx cocktail), but here is quite refreshing & makes for a light and drinkable mixture. The vermouths add a richness to the flavour turning the whole thing into a Bronx with an added citrus kick. I am not sure where the satanic angle comes from, as this drink really isn’t evil in any way at all; perhaps the name comes from the hangover a few of these might engender.

Method

1/2 oz. gin (Gordon’s here)

1/2 oz. triple sec

1/2 oz. sweet vermouth (antica formula)

1/2 oz. dry vermouth (Lillet blanc)

1/2 oz. orange juice (fresh is best)

dashes of orange bitters

Stir well over ice, then strain into a chilled coupe & garnish with orange zest.

Income Tax

img_0790This seems very apt, given our PM, David Cameron’s  recent entanglements with questions of off-shore funds and inheritance. The drink itself is a variation on the Bronx cocktail – a solid mixture of gin, vermouth & fresh orange juice – with the addition of some dashes of Angostura bitters. How it got its name is open to question – some suggest the addition of bitters represents the attitude to taxation. My own take is that, like taxation, this mixture: gin, vermouth, some citrus & bitters is fairly universal. Either way, this is a very drinkable cocktail – it’s very refreshing, like the Ward 8 I tried last week, not heavy and the sort of cocktail you could imagine having more than one of.

Method:

40ml gin (I used solid, dependable Gordon’s)

20ml Italian vermouth (Carpano Antico)

20ml French vermouth (Lillet)

10ml fresh orange juice

Dashes of Angostura bitters

Shake well over plenty of ice, then strain well into a Martini glass. Twist orange zest over the surface to express the oils onto the drink and serve.

 

 

Barbados Heritage by Quinary

Barbados Heritage,  by Quinary
Barbados Heritage, by Quinary

I flew back from Hong Kong last night, and was able to take advantage of the Virgin Clubhouse before the flight. Their bar was showcasing a number of cocktails specially mixed for them by the innovative Hong Kong cocktail bar, Quinary, and their Barbados Heritage sounded like one I should try. So I did. Although a little sweet for my taste, the flavours in this drink are fantastic – rich, smooth & spicy, with a definite afterbite from the absinthe & the chocolate bitters, which give it a rounded and slightly aniseedy lingering flavour. I am a very happy rum drinker, and think this cocktail really does show off the strengths of a decent, aged rum really well. I am back out to Hong Kong on April, so plan to make a visit to Quinary one evening – if this drink is typical of their style of cocktail making, I’d like to try more from their menu.

I’d like to mention the Clubhouse barman at this point: Patrick was a star, not only making a great drink, but taking the time to come out & to find out what we thought about the Quinary recipes they were trying. He was a true enthusiast & as perfect an exemplar of a barman you can imagine.

Method:

The Clubhouse menu does not give proportions, so I am estimating here:

1 measure Mount Gay XO rum

1/2 measure Cointreau

1/2 measure Drambuie

Dashes of Pernod absinthe

Dashes of chocolate bitters

Stir over ice, then strain into a chilled glass with fresh ice. Garnish with a cinnamon stick & orange zest.

 

Affinity

img_1741I have been enjoying following a chain of whisky-based drinks, and discovered this one in Richard Godwin’s peerless book, The Spirits. He features this in his The Stirred chapter, listing it as:

A dry aperitif that leaves you plenty to ponder

That sums this drink up really well. I have used some pretty strong-willed vermouths here: Carpano for the Italian, and Lillet for the French. Neither is trampled on by the whisky. The Peychaud’s bitters add a spicy, absinthe-type note which cuts through the other flavours, leaving you plenty, as Richard Godwin says, to ponder. A really good aperitif drink, or like here, a late night cocktail just to enjoy by itself.

Method:

25ml Scotch whisky (Whyte & Mackay here)

25ml French vermouth (Lillet here)

25ml Italian vermouth (Carpano ‘Antica Formula’ here)

Dash of Peychaud’s bitters

Stir over ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with orange zest, twisted over the surface to release the oils.

 

Port in a Storm

img_0779
Port in Storm, made with blended whisky

A late night out meant I was in need a nightcap drink on my return home. This drink seemed to fit the bill, being just  a mix of spirits and fortified wine, a little like a whisky Manhattan. It also gave me an excuse to use some more of my Tawny Port and a new bottle of Whyte & Mackay blended scotch. This blend seems to polarise opinion on a few whisky sites; people either like it or really hate it. I find it a little sharp and one-note as a whisky, with a strong alcohol ‘burn’ on the tongue. The flavour is good, if a little weak, so it’s a decent enough blend to mix with.

The drink is simple enough: one measure of whisky, one of port and a few dashes of cognac. At first taste, the drink is a little disappointing: the spicy notes of the tawny port jar with the whisky, and the combined fruit flavours of the port and alcohol of the whisky just don’t sit well together. But after a few minutes on ice, something happens: suddenly everything comes together and the flavours really blend. Perhaps this in one of those drinks that would be good to age together for a few weeks before drinking.

Method:

25ml of whisky (White & Mackay blend here)

25ml of port (Taylor’s 10-year old tawny here)

Dashes of cognac

Dashes of bitters

Store the ingredients together over ice, then strain into an old-fashioned glass over fresh ice and garnish with a slice of orange peel.

 

 

Benjamin Franklin’s Orange Shrub

Ben Franklin's rum & orange shrub
Ben Franklin’s rum & orange shrub

I recently added Michael Dietsch’s book, Shrubs, to my collection of drink books, this being a history of two distinctly-different styles of drink that share the same name and most likely a common ancestor in the middle Eastern sherbet, a combination of fruit flavours and sweetening to make a refreshing drink. The first style of shrub is the older English combination of citrus and sugar, steeped in alcohol, that developed when this country opened up trade with the caribbean and citrus fruit, rum and sugar became more available. The other shrub is a vinegar-based fruit drink that came out of the early colonial period in America, presumably using the antiseptic and preservative properties of vinegar to preserve the fruit ingredients of the drink.

I wanted to make one of the older, English-style drinks based on rum & sugar, so settled on a recipe from Dietsch’s book that came from the papers of Benjamin Franklin, one of the most famous founding fathers of the U.S.A. He was a remarkably talented man who crossed the Atlantic nine times in his amazing life – no small achievement when this meant an arduous journey by sail. America, as a trading colony, is reflected in the recipe – simply sugar, combined with rum and oranges, and left to steep for several weeks. Unlike Franklin’s recipe, which runs to gallons and quarts of ingredients, I made a smaller batch: half a cup of sugar, two oranges & half a bottle of rum.

The method is simple: Firstly, juice the oranges, and combine with the sugar. Then, in a bottle, combine the peel from the juiced oranges with the rum and leave overnight.

The following day, remove the peels, and add the sugar/juice combination to the rum and shake to combine. The mixture should then be left somewhere cool and dark to mature for 3-4 weeks.

My mixture went into the bottle at the weekend, so will be ready sometime around the beginning of March.

 

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.

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.