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.

 

 

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Blood & Sand

img_1951A visit to the lovely 69 Colebrooke Row recently meant that I came home with a copy of Tony Conigliaro’s book of the same name (which is odd, as officially, the bar itself has no name, only an address). The photography in the book is gorgeous, featuring not only the drinks that have made the bar’s name (see above), but some of the staff and clientele. If reading it doesn’t make you want to visit, nothing will.

One of the drinks features is the Blood & Sand, a drink which follows in the (fairly) long line of whisky-based cocktails invented for show premieres (see the Rob Roy, earlier). In this case, the drink was invented for the premiere of Rudolph Valentino’s 1922 bullfighting story, Blood & Sand. The colour palette of the ingredients suggest why they might have been chosen, but the barman had clearly thought the mixture through, & although none of them are Spanish to suit the film’s setting, the drink is a refreshing mixture of tart and sweet. I’d heard of variations using grapefruit juice to point up the tartness, so I switched the plain orange juice in my version to blood orange, which seems very apt for the recipe.

This is a very drinkable cocktail, and one that would be good to give to someone who has previously said they don’t like whisky; it might just convert them.

Method:

40ml of whisky (I used a blend, so the flavour was mild)

20ml of blood orange juice

20ml of sweet vermouth (Martini Rosso here)

20ml of cherry brandy

Shake well over ice, then strain into a chilled coupette. Note, the 69 Colebrooke Row recipe eschews bitters or any garnish. I have followed suit here, thinking the presence of orange zest might be a little too powerful here.

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.

 

 

Vieux Rectangle by Arthur Combes

Vieux Rectangle, to the ECC's recipe
Vieux Rectangle, to the ECC’s recipe

Almost as much pleasure can be had reading about cocktails as drinking them. Almost, but not quite. But some books come very close, and one of my favourites is the Experimental Cocktail Club‘s eponymous guide to their philosophy of drinking culture. This book is beautiful, and even if some of the drinks use ingredients you may not care to attempt at home (bacon-infused bourbon?), the whole volume is a brilliant shop window for the way they set about crafting drinks and venues with the same care and attention throughout.

I’ll quote from the book here to introduce the drink, and I hope the authors won’t mind:

The Vieux Rectangle is barman Arthur Combe’s signature cocktail. This is his twist on the classic Vieux Carré, with a European interpretation. The result is a fairly sweet concoction on the floral and delicate side, with an anise finish.

What stops this drink from being too sweet is the clever addition of Absinthe. The aniseed, spiky flavours cut through the sweetness to deliver a little cleansing note with great precision. Not a cocktail to be enjoyed in quantity, perhaps, buy certainly sipped & admired.

When Absinthe is used in a drink in such small quantities as here, I use an Absinthe bitters, Extrême d’Absente for the flavour.

Method:

40ml Cognac (Hine Antique here)

15ml Sweet vermouth (Carpano ‘Antica Formula’ here)

15ml Aperol

2 dashes Angostura bitters

2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

2 dashes Absinthe (or Absinthe bitters, see above)

Stir over ice in your mixing glass with a bar spoon. Strain into a coupe, then garnish by squeezing lemon zest over the surface to release the lemon oils, then discard.

 

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.

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.

Shaken or stirred?

Entering into the shaken versus stirred debate with a cocktail purist without some prior preparation is much like making a Martini without preparation; the results are going to be disappointing for everyone.

The debate seems to have been around for ever, and to summarise the positions: the general theory is that shaking a drink results in a wildly different experience to stirring the same mixture, and that there are inherent superiorities in either method, depending on one’s particular views.

In popular culture, the starting point for all of this seems to be the famous request by James Bond for his Vodka Martini to be, ‘Shaken, not stirred’ (a quote wonderfully undermined in the re-boot of Casino Royale when an unhappy Bond snaps at the bartender’s query as to which way he wants his drink made with an angry, ‘Do I look like a give a damn?’). Since then, the shaken Martini has appeared cooler than the pedestrian stirred variety.

But the arguments for both sides have a few more planks than this, to wit:

• Shaking a Dry Martini produces a drink that is technically no longer a Martini; it becomes a Bradford. In reality, no-one I know uses the Bradford name any more, except perhaps scoring points for obscure knowledge.

• Shaking is a more brutal environment for the ice. Tiny fragments shatter off the cubes, resulting in lots of little pieces of ice in the drink. To some purists, this pollutes the drink; to others this creates a more refreshing, colder drink, with less water in the mix (the action of melting the ice during the mix means that up to a quarter of a Martini can be water (source: Rob Cassels, The Cocktail Keys).

• Stirring a drink is a gentler process, resulting in a drink that retains its clarity, whilst not being cooled to such an extent. A graphic example of this can be seen in Manhattan: Rye recipe versus my Manhattan: Bourbon recipe; I stirred the Rye-based drink, but shook the Bourbon – one can see the difference in appearance immediately.

• Some arguments are that the shaking bruises the gin/vodka/vermouth or whatever. I doubt this really means anything, but what shaking will do is introduce lots of little air bubbles into the mix, and much like letting a bottle of wine ‘breathe’ after opening, the act of letting air into a mixture can dramatically change the flavour of a drink.

Simple taste tests suggest that there is a point; a shaken Martini does taste different to a stirred one. Back in 2006, the LeisureGuy blog followed up on research in the New Scientist, which carried out a taste test on two Vodka Martinis, one using a potato-based vodka, the other with a grain-based spirit, and found there was a discernible taste difference between the two spirits. And going further than this,  the British Medical Journal has published a paper (BMJ 1999;319:1600) that studied the antioxidant effect of Martinis, as a result of their preparation method. Their conclusion? Shaking a Martini resulted in a lower proportion of Hydrogen Peroxide in the finished drink. Perhaps Bond was a health nut after all – he was famously sent to a health farm to recover & told Moneypenny that he was ‘On a mission to eliminate all free radicals’.

Fundamentally, the decision to reach for the shaker or the bar spoon will depend on one’s personal tastes. But a few points of my own:

• Stirring a Martini results in a clearer drink, but one that is not as cold as the shaken variety.

• A Vodka Martini tastes better to me when shaken, rather than stirred. The extra cooling action of the shaking seems to take the edge of the vodka. The notable exception to this rule is my experimentation with the Black Cow Vodka Martini recently; that tasted fine when stirred, but I had chilled the vodka in the ‘fridge before mixing.

• A Martini (i.e. made with gin) tastes discernibly better when stirred, not shaken. I do not like my gin cooled too much, and the mellower cooling of stirring seems to suit me better.