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.

The Martini

Leisure Guy’s selfless testing of potato versus grain vodkas, and their effect on Vodka Martinis…

Later On

The Martini is among the best of cocktails, if not the best. (Cocktails, unlike highballs, are undiluted with water, juice, soda, etc.)

The Martini was so popular and well-known that Ian Fleming, to characterize James Bond as a person who flouted convention, had him favor a vodka Martini (a true Martini uses gin) and had it “shaken, not stirred.” Unfortunately, the “shaken, not stirred” line lived on in the public mind as Martini knowledge waned, so that today some believe that the Martini is supposed to be shaken and not stirred, a major mistake: if you use the Martini ingredients and shake rather than stir, you get not a Martini, but a Bradford, a drink that resembles the Martini except that it’s polluted with tiny ice chips that melt rapidly and dilute the taste.

UPDATE: The above paragraph is wrong, alas. Here’s the true reason why Bond wanted a (vodka)…

View original post 793 more words

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.

Manhattan: Rye

Simple 3oz Manhattan
Simple 3oz Manhattan

Purists will disagree, but I like my Manhattans perfect – not made to an exact recipe, or served without flaws, but made with a mix of sweet and dry vermouth. The dry vermouth – in this case, Noilly Prat – seems to complement the spicy hit of rye whiskey (Canadian Club), and the small amount of sweet vermouth (Martini Rosso) adds the roundness the cocktail is known for.  A few drops of Abbott’s bitters to add a pleasant spicy, vanilla-ish dimension, and that’s it. Just perfect, in every way. I add one maraschino cocktail cherry, and one that’s had some bitters added to the syrup in the jar to darken it a little more. Another option is a slice of orange peel, but the cherries seemed nicely retro this time.

Proportions (using a jigger/pony measure):

1 jigger of whiskey

1 pony of dry & sweet vermouth

4 drops bitters.

Glass: Small, or 3oz, Martini glass.

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

Historical footnote: The Manhattan is named after the club where the drink was first mixed in 1874. The Manhattan Club’s bartender was asked to create a drink for a party. The party, in honour of a politician named Samuel Tilden, was hosted Jennie Jerome – who went on to become Lady Randolph Churchill, and mother of Winston Churchill.

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).