NeGrogni.

Pimp my Grog.

The NeGrogni.

This hybrid of the Negroni and the Navy Grog might sound like an abomination but please reserve you judgement until you’ve tried it. Besides, you trust me, don’t you?

I was about to make myself a pre-prandial cocktail the other evening and was torn between two of my favourites, the Navy Grog and the Negroni. Whilst paralysed with indecision a strange thought wafted into my consciousness: What if you made a Grog using the three ingredients in a Negroni instead of three kinds of rum. What madness – that would just be disgusting! So I did it anyway. And to my astonishment this ludicrous frankencocktail was simply superb – although those with a sweeter tooth might well disagree. The basic premise of equal parts of grapefruit juice, lime juice, honey syrup, gin, Campari and sweet vermouth all blended with ice worked well enough to get my attention but upon further investigation it became clear that a few tweaks were in order. First and foremost was the boosting of the gin component to give it a bit more backbone; I mean you can hardly replace three ounces of rum with one of gin and still allude to things naval. I’d also make a case for using the strongest gin in your arsenal and if that should happen to be a navy strength gin (57%) so much the better*. It also transpires that using a ginger syrup is more harmonious than the usual honey syrup.  The process is almost identical to that for a Navy Grog – blend until almost smooth with a small handful of crushed ice (not too much, you’re not trying to make a slushie here) and pour into a double Old Fashioned glass containing an ice cone. Sure, you can skip the cone and just serve with a straw but then you won’t be a proper pirate.


NeGrogni.

1oz/30ml fresh lime juice.

1oz/30ml white grapefruit juice (bottled is fine if you can’t find fresh white grapefruit).

1oz/30ml ginger syrup.

1.5oz/45ml gin (see text).

1oz/30ml Italian/sweet vermouth (very preferably Punt e Mes).

1oz/30ml Campari.

Blend with ice as described above.

Serve as described above and garnish with an orange or grapefruit twist.

Toast the Tiki Gods who whisper strange and exotic ideas in your ear at moments of indecision.


*Being deficient in the navy strength gin department I used Tanqueray No Ten (47% and some change). Plymouth gin would be another good option with the navy strength version being a veritable double whammy.

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The Martinez + jenever.

“MarteeeNEZ!”

The Martinez.

The poor old Martinez is another old timer that doesn’t get enough love these days. Hailing from somewhere in mid 19th century America – our guess being Martinez, California – it was a fairly straight-shootin’ gin and Italian vermouth cocktail with a small portion of sweetening liqueur (mostly maraschino, sometimes curacao, occasionally both) and a dash or two of bitters. Some theorise that the Martinez predated and then gradually morphed into the Martini but whether there’s anything to that is beside the point as they are certainly now two entirely different drinks and have been for at least a century. If you’re ordering a Martinez in a cocktail bar I strongly suggest that you heavily over-pronounce the “nez” (MarteeeNEZ!) or you’re likely to get served the far more common Martini. Early iterations of the Martinez varied a bit but most had more vermouth than gin which we can probably put that down to the vermouth craze that was going on at the time. Around 1900 the gin/vermouth proportions got flipped around and it’s been that way ever since. But the problem then becomes that the Martinez starts to resemble other drinks such as the Gin and It and the Manhattan a bit too much. A second problem for the poor old Martinez was the disappearance of its main component Old Tom gin*, a slightly sweetened gin that was popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. We’re gonna solve both those problems and kill two birds with one stone using history (da-da-daaaaaaaa!). First it would be remiss of me not to point out that Old Tom has recently made a reappearance (Hayman’s Old Tom is a popular choice) and you could certainly use that once again. But wait: In 19th century America they weren’t drinking Old Tom, which was much more of an English affectation, but Dutch gin. Time out!

Jenever.

Jenever (correctly pronounced Yeh-Nay-Fir) AKA genever, Hollands gin or Geneva (totally incorrect but that didn’t stop anyone) is the grand-daddy of all gin and has been produced almost entirely in the Netherlands and Belgium ever since the 16th century. It was originally made in a similar way to whisky: from a fermented malted grain mash, pot distilled and then with juniper (jenever in Dutch) berries and other herbs added to mask the roughness of relatively unsophisticated distillation. British soldiers took a shine to it while passing through the region and carried the concept back home where it was copied, modified and lazily abbreviated to “gin”. Back in the low countries the original continued to be made the traditional way until a new type of jenver began to be produced around 1900 which used the relatively new-fangled column still to distill a lighter version of the spirit which has more in common with vodka. Thus there are two styles of jenever, old (oude) and young (jonge) and despite the misconception that this refers to whether they are aged or not the truth is that they represent the “older” (pot still) type and the “younger” (column still) type. As it happens the young style is never aged but old jenever can be aged but doesn’t have to be. A third style called korenwijn/corenwijn is like old jenever on steroids but rarely seen outside of the region. All types are usually 35-38% ABV and are less heavily botanicalified and therefore less dry than modern “London style” gin. The young has a crisp neutral taste and the old a very agreeable malty character with the aged versions bringing a little wood to the party. Old jenevers can have variations based on the cereal used such as spelt or rye. That’s right – you can get a pot stilled, barrel aged, rye jenever that is much more like a rye whisky than a gin. Who knew?

Meanwhile back in 19th century America the locals, considering things English somewhat unpatriotic due to some recent disagreements, came to replace tea with coffee and London gin with jenever. Furthermore the jenever they imported was old jenever. We know this with some degree of certainty because young jenever hadn’t been invented yet. Also this “Hollands gin” had to cross the Atlantic in a fairly slow boat and in a wooden barrel. So, allowing for some additional warehousing time at each end of the voyage, it was wood aged – albeit accidentally – old jenever. How about we try to replicate that in our Martinez? I picked a one year old (sounds about right) oude jenever from Zuidam who are a small distiller in the south of The Netherlands. Or are they? You see Zuidam Distillery is located bang in the middle of in the most geographically bonkers town in the world. Baarle-Nassau (Baarle-Hertog to some) is a small town that can’t decide what country it’s in so ended up being in both Belgium and The Netherlands at the same time. Sort of. Hang on, I can’t explain this without a map:

X marks the distillery. In NL but almost surrounded by B.

See? Bananas. The chaotic border runs through individual houses and businesses with hilarious consequences such as houses with two addresses (in different countries) and more. But I’m getting sidetracked and none of this is in any way relevant to the Martinez.

Using our Ur-gin with its slightly woody and warm malty notes in place of the dry gin or old tom gives us a completely different Martinez. Combined with a good bittered vermouth (Punt e Mes** as always), a dash of earthy-sweet maraschino and a couple of heavy-handed dashes of our favourite bitters the Martinez becomes something really, really good and I can’t help but wonder if this was the way it used to taste more than 150 years ago.


The Martinez.

1.5oz/45ml old jenever (or old tom gin, see text).

1.5oz/45ml Italian (sweet) vermouth (ideally Punt e Mes).

0.25oz/7.5ml maraschino liqueur (eg. Luxardo).

1 healthy dash of aromatic bitters (De Ooievaar Angostura if you can).

1 healthy dash of orange bitters (Regans or another brand)

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled champagne coupe or Nick & Nora glass.

Garnish with an orange twist.

Feel free to play with the gin/jenever to vermouth proportions. Two parts gin to one of vermouth would be more modern and the opposite more original.

Toast the people of Baarle-Nassau/Hertog. You nutters!

 


*That should have been the end for the Martinez but it somehow hung on by the skin of its teeth for another 100 years or so using, but not entirely suiting, modern dry gin.

**I know I always use PeM but it’s just so damn good. And you can’t really have five different vermouths open like you can with other spirits.

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Black Sakura.

お酒を楽しむ時間

Black Sakura.

It’s the time of the year when the Japanese go nuts for cherry blossom (aka sakura). And as it happens I’ve been going nuts trying to add one or two sake based cocktails to my repertoire. The problem: I know next to nothing about sake. Sure, I’ll enjoy some with a Japanese meal but as to which kind is the best and why: clueless. Still, I did a little experimentation and not a few pretty unpalatable cocktails went swiftly down the drain before I finally came up with something potable. Considering that I was pretty much flying by the seat of my pants I’m quite pleased with this little concoction which I’ve named after a detail from one of my most favouritest novels; Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer (read it to find out why).

Sake, a unique ingredient which is neither wine, beer or spirit but with properties of them all, is tricky to mix with and I found little little success in simply subbing it for other ingredients which is why the formula below looks quite unlike any other cocktail: the usual guidelines just don’t apply to this stubborn “spirit”. Sake has some acidity to it (like wine) which is the reason for the relatively small amount of lemon juice. Of course a cocktail containing lemon juice would normally be shaken but with so little – compared to the other ingredients – and a desire to maintain some clarity we can get away with stirring our Black Sakura. One flavour that I was keen to include was, for reasons most obvious, cherry and luckily the sake and some cherry Heering seemed to get along just fine. Our sweet/sour balance being just about right I turned to the wonderfully woody Fee’s black walnut bitters to round things off. If you don’t have that particular bitters or something similarly woody I would just leave it unbittered rather than overpower the subtlety of the sake with the likes of Angostura. And that’s it – there’s really nothing else to say except “Kanpai!”


Black Sakura.

2.5oz/75ml sake* (nothing too fancy).

1oz/30ml Heering (a cherry liqueur).

0.5oz/15ml fresh lemon juice.

2-3 dashes Fee’s black walnut bitters.

Stir* with ice and double strain into a chilled champagne coupé or Nick & Nora glass.

Garnish with a cherry or lemon peel. Or both! Or neither!

Toast Ada Palmer for her excellent Terra Ignota novels.


*Given my lack of knowledge of sake I took my normal approach of choosing one in the mid-priced range – in this case the widely available Gekkeikan – and it paid off pretty well.

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Monky Business + Buckfast.

Monky (sic) magic in the Buckfast Triangle.

Monky Business.

Monks seem to have a bit of a thing for making booze (Dom Perignon, Benedictine, Chartreuse, Averna, Trappist beer etc.) and it seemed to me that we should recognise their noble dedication with a cocktail in their honour. At the same time I felt it was time for a new Scotch based drink. But which Scotch? Given the brief it was quite clear – there can be only one

I was quietly pleased with my early experiments until I realised I had simply reinvented the venerable Bobby Burns (2oz Scotch, 1oz Italian vermouth, two dashes of Benedictine) but with Buckfast tonic wine instead of vermouth. Nuts. However it was a blessing in disguise as I quickly found another monky liqueur that made for an even tastier accent component. It doesn’t get much monkier that green Chartreuse; made by Carthusian monks in France since 1737 and based on an even older (1605) recipe. It’s not cheap but you never need very much of it so it lasts for ages*  but more to the point you’re gonna need some for making Last Words anyway. Yet, amazingly, the Chartreuse isn’t even the most bonkers ingredient in the Monky Business – that prize goes to the:

Buckfast tonic wine.

Those unfamiliar with this peculiar ingredient are going  to need a bit of a primer here and as unlikely as much of the following may sound let me assure you I am not making this shizzle up. Buckfast is a fortified wine based on an ancient French recipe made by Benedictine monks (and under their licence) in southern England since 1890. At 15% and with additions including caffeine and vanillin it is somewhat comparable to an Italian vermouth. So far, so normal…

Buckfast at Buckfast Abbey [CC 2.0 Licence – by Skin ubx (cropped)]

The thing is Buckfast has a bit of a bad rep due to its ubiquity with a certain underclass in central Scotland** where it goes by such alternative names as “Wreck the Hoose Juice”, “Coatbridge Table Wine”, “Cumbernauld Rocket Fuel”, “Holy Water”, “Commotion Lotion”, “The Devil’s Calpol” or more often just plain old “Bucky”. If you didn’t get the hint from those nicknames let’s just say Buckfast has a strong association with petty crime and anti-social behaviour, particularly in the housing estates in an area between Glasgow and Edinburgh which is known as the Buckfast Triangle. Don’t just take my word for it: according to Wikipedia, “A survey at a Scottish young offenders’ institution showed of the 117 people who drank alcohol before committing their crimes, 43 per cent said they had drunk Buckfast. In another study of litter around a typical council estate in Scotland, 35 per cent of the items identified as rubbish were Buckfast bottles.” Despite many a campaign to reign in the Holy Water the monks – safely out of the splash zone down in southern England – have remained unrepentant with a sort of “we only designed the bomb, we didn’t drop it!” attitude.

But don’t worry, we’re not a bunch of neds who are going to be necking four bottles of Bucky and breaking into a petrol station, we’re just after an ounce for its vermouthy properties, monkish credentials and maybe just a tiny whiff of its notoriety. If you’re wondering exactly where to find a bottle (or can) of “Loopy Juice” the unofficial Buckfast fan website has a handy app for that. Failing that just use some regular sweet vermouth but be assured we will be making use of the “Lurgan Champagne” again before too long…


Monky Business.

20z / 60ml Monkey Shoulder Scotch whisky (or similar).

1oz / 30ml Buckfast tonic wine.***

0.25oz / 7.5ml Green Chartreuse.

2 dashes of Angostura bitters.

Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail coupé. No garnish.

Toast monks: makin’ ra swally since forever man.


*Which is handy because it’s one of the few liqueurs that continues to improve with age in the bottle.

**and to a lesser extent in parts of Ireland. The Irish (brown bottle) version of Buckfast is 14.8% ABV and lacks the vanilla flavour but has even more caffeine.

***If unavailable use an Italian vermouth, Carpano Antica probably being the closest match.

 

 

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The Short Straw

Straw poll. (l-r: bamboo, steel, silicone).

The Short Straw – Alternatives to the plastic straw.

There is, quite rightly, a bit of a war on single use plastics going on these days. I’m fully on board with the idea that no turtle should have to swim around with a plastic straw stuck up her nose* and so are the EU who have put in place legislation to end the sale of single use plastics which, naturally, includes straws and drink stirrers by 2021. Us cocktailistas should join in and make it our mission to save the planet – one cocktail at a time. So what are the responsible alternatives? One option is simply not to use straws at all but a) if a guest wants a straw they should get a straw b) it’s simply barbaric to drink a crushed ice cocktail such as a Caipirinha or Mai Tai without one. This brings us to the central problem: While there are plenty eco options for long drinks the traditional short “sipping” or “stirring” straw is a specialised instrument for use with drinks served in a double old fashioned glass which has far fewer plausible replacements. Requirements are for a short straw of about 12cm/5” with a narrow bore to allow the imbiber to enjoy the cocktail at a leisurely pace, to prevent the up-suction of small chunks of ice and with sufficient rigidity to stir the drink as the ice melts. Let’s look at some options.

Paper.

Hey, can’t we just snip a regular paper straw in half!? No. Paper straws suck. They get soggy. And they’re still single use. Game over paper. Go directly to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect 200 whadevas.

Stainless Steel.

On paper these look like a good option. They get top marks for hygiene as you can put them through a dishwasher without damaging them. Of course they are very durable and rigid but with that comes their big problem: sooner or later you or a guest are going to get poked in the gum or lip (or eye if you’re particularly careless/drunk) with a hard and unforgiving shaft (you’re damned right!) o’ ice cold steel. Hmmm. Another problem is that it’s quite difficult to find any that are as narrow as I’d like. Not a bad option but you need to be careful.

Bamboo.

Fast-growing bamboo is overflowing with ecological credentials such as sustainability and bio-degradability. Bamboo straws look great in Tiki drinks which are often crushed ice based and thus the very category where a straw is pretty essential. I’m a big fan of bamboo straws but they do have a couple of downsides: They can be hard to find in shorter lengths and with consistently narrow bores (being a natural product they vary quite widely in aperture). As they are a semi-porous natural substance I remain to be convinced of their long term hygieneosity and durability. Visually attractive and very probably the greenest option but certainly no panacea.

Silicone.

Huh? I know. Some enterprising cocktail fans have put some thought into this very problem and come up with these silicone straws. They fit the brief perfectly in terms of the length and bore with the bonus of an angled end which helps keep the precious liquid flowing at the right pace without blocking. Hygiene isn’t an issue with non-porous silicone and they can go in the dishwasher if needed. Silicone is clearly not going to injure you like steel might but it does bring up my main quibble. While they are marketed as being firm enough to stir with I still found them to be a bit on the floppy side – you can stir with them but it just feels a bit weird. They are available in six straw packs of the three neutral colours shown (I’m pleased they resisted the temptation to get all garish) or in a mixed colour pack. I’m definitely a fan but just wish they were a bit more rigid.

Conclusion.

Ultimately all of the above – apart from dismal paper – are viable alternatives with different advantages and disadvantages. Per-straw prices are in the same ballpark so ultimately you pay your money and you take your choice but for goodness sake choose at least one option and leave those poor turtles** alone!


*Some of my best friends are turtles.

**Turtles rock! Other sea creatures also need help.

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Zapoteca

Oaxacan on sunshine – and don’t it taste good.

Zapoteca.

One of my favourite versions of the Negroni is the unimaginatively named Mezcal Negroni which simply replaces gin with a good quality mezcal. But what if we double down on the substitutions in a quest for something that is more tangential to the beloved Negroni? For such an endevour I turn to a favourite of mine, Amer Picon, which is a distant cousin to Campari with some flavours that mesh very well with mezcal. Indeed it transpires these equal quantities of mezcal, picon and sweet vermouth get on pretty well together but need a little help to fully bond. This is where a dash or two of bitters can help cement a relationship and normally I would expect orange or Angostura bitters to do the trick. In this case we have a drink that already has orange notes and plenty of bitterness so we turn to one of the sweeter bitters that we keep around for Pisco Sours (and a few other things). Yep, Peruvian Amargo Chuncho is the slightly unlikely glue that holds this motley crew together.

Now at this point we have only the sweet vermouth remaining from the original Negroni formula so we’ll definitely be needing a new name. Most mezcal is produced in the Mexcian state of Oaxaca (wah-hack-ah) and the original people of that region were the Zapotec, one of whom would be a Zapoteca. Boom.


Zapoteca.

1.25oz/37ml mezcal (a decent joven*).

1.25oz/37ml Amer Picon (black label is best).

1.25oz/37ml Italian vermouth (Punt e Mes being my go-to).

3 dashes of Amargo Chuncho bitters.

Stir with ice and strain into a DOF glass containing a block or sphere of clear ice. Garnish with a peel of dried slice of blood orange. Mrs Proof told me to stick a couple of pineapple leaves in too and she is never wrong.

Toast the Zapotecs (c.700BC – 1521AD) – the first(ish) great Mesoamerican civilization.


Notes:

If – and it’s a pretty likely “if” unless you live in France or its immediate neighbours – Amer Picon is unavailable to you then substitute an equal amount of Ramazzotti and add an extra three dashes of orange bitters. This is in addition to the Amargo Chuncho. If you don’t have any Amargo Chuncho go and buy a bottle it’s not that expensive and you’ll need it for a proper Pisco Sour anyway.

*I used Atenco but other suggestions are Del Maguey VIDA, Los Siete Misterios Doba-Yej, Nuestra Soledad or other entry level quality joven mezcals. Nothing that contains any colour or dead animal.

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Mezcal review – Los Siete Misterios Doba-Yej.

Three (dead) amigos.

Mezcal Review – Los Siete Misterios Doba-Yej.

One of the main problems with mezcal is finding a good mixable one that doesn’t break the bank. The usual choice is the widely available Del Maguey VIDA but my long time favourite has been Los Siete Misterios Doba-Yej. It’s a bit of a mouthful but we can break it down a bit. The first part is the brand name (the seven mysteries) and they market a range of quality mezcals that are mostly in the €100+ range. Which we won’t be mixing with, will we? Good. However their entry level offering is a really good assertive mezcal that, at least in my neck of the woods, is affordable enough to mix with coming in at around the same price – or often a little less – than the ubiquitous VIDA. Doba-Yej is a local name for the most common form of agave – espadin – so it’s not quite as exotic as it sounds. If you’re new to the wonders of mezcal, the species of agave is to mezcal what grape varieties are to wine and espadin is the sauvignon blanc of the agave world. We really wouldn’t expect anything fancier at this price. I particularly like the eye-catching and slightly gnarly label designs and appreciate the simple bottles with a good wood-on-cork closure. But then things get complicated.

The Mezcal Lottery.

Now the really weird thing about this mezcal is that it changes from batch to batch with bottlings from different mezcaleros in different villages. Nuts heh? But really it shouldn’t be that surprising as this kind of mezcal is an extremely small scale (dare I say artisanal?) operation, usually involving no more than a handful of guys and a donkey. Los Siete Misterios are giving us access to that world at a fair price while making it a bit easier to track by changing the label with each bottling and printing plenty of information on the producers, methods batches and bottlings. Unfortunately this doesn’t help too much given that it’s often necessary to buy mezcal online as it’s not deeply stocked (if at all) by most European bottle shops. Some online sites are not yet very knowledgeable about mezcal (it’s still a pretty recent phenomenon outside of Mexico) and therefore are not that diligent at keeping the picture and data up to date. This makes Doba-Yej something of an interesting lottery but the good news is that even though there’s a lot of variation the contents of the bottle are mostly solid mezcals and good value.

I first discovered Doba-Yej in 2015 and it was love at first sniff but I noticed a big difference when the 2016 batch showed up. It had a powerful and slightly synthetic smell of pear drops and briny flavours that were up front and in your face and I was kind of disappointed by the lack of subtlety. All the stranger at the relatively low (for mezcal) strength of 42%. It was still a decent mixer but I was worried that the high tide mark for affordable mezcal had come and gone. While I’ve never sipped of the 2017 batch* I’m happy to report that the 2018 is much more to my liking. The nose is of dusty dry wood and the flavours are much more together and a lot less shouty even though it’s back up to 44% ABV. The smoke is there and there is a nice pepperiness too but all in a nicely rounded way. Sadly I didn’t keep any of the 2015 batch (although luckily I still had the empty bottle) as at that time I was unaware of the changing nature of this brand but my memory is that it was a very well integrated mezcal with decent smoke, fruit and brine flavours. I also note that production seems to be increasing with much larger batches (1200 bottles in ’15, 2003 in ’16 and 4500 in ’18) and the bottles no longer being individually hand signed and numbered. Mezcal is being changed by it’s own success but it’s reassuring to see that this isn’t always for the worse.

Now this has been a lot of waffle but I’m getting to the point now and that point is that Los Siete Misterios Doba-Yej is an interesting and affordable mixing mezcal if you’re the type that can embrace a bit of randomness. For now I’m happy to recommend the 2018 batch from lot DBY01/18 with the skeletal lady waving an agave bible in the air but if you come across any remaining bottles of the 2015 batch (skeletal pirate dude, 44.3%) snap them up immediately! I’d suggest passing on the 2016/17? batches (banner-carrying priesty-looking stiff) if you intend on sipping it but for mixing it’s still pretty acceptable. On the other hand you might be the type that values consistency over excitement in which case Del Maguey VIDA will never let you down.

For obvious reasons I can’t grade all batches** of Doba-Yej at once but the 2018 lady-Yej gets a well deserved:

B+


*If there even was one; I’ve certainly seen no sign of any.

**I should also point out that it is at least possible that there are different batches within each year and labeling but in my (limited) experience there has been consistency within each year.

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Blood and Sand.

Thicker than water.

Blood and Sand.

There is perhaps no other member of the classic cocktail canon that gets as much hate as the Blood and Sand. And not entirely because of its unappealing name and muddy colour. People say it just doesn’t taste good enough to sit amongst classics like the Negroni, Daiquiri, Manhattan or Martini. I beg to differ. If properly made the B&S is deserving of such neighbours but the problem is, of course, that it’s rarely properly made these days. To be fair it is a difficult drink to balance but balance it we will, but first: The history. The Blood and Sand first reared its controversial head in Harry Craddock’s 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book and was named after a Rudoph Valentino silent movie from 1922 about bullfighting based on the novel by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez. And that’s all we know, other than that it’s been messing with bartenders’ heads for almost 90 years.

On paper it looks simple: equal parts of Scotch, orange juice, Cherry Heering and Italian (sweet) vermouth all shaken with ice and served “up”. What could possibly go wrong? Well, typical accusations are that it’s too sweet or that the vermouth and cherry brandy overpower the small portion of Scotch but mostly that orange juice just doesn’t belong in a drink like this. Indeed, it is a peculiar formula that fails to conform to any of the established drink families. As a result there have been many and varied attempts to “fix” the B&S but I’m convinced that it doesn’t really need fixing it just needs to be made very carefully and with special attention to the ingredients. My breakthrough came when I stopped worrying that the Scotch was being overpowered and just let the drink be what it wanted to be. Point one: Let the Scotch be a simple one, not too smoky or otherwise assertive. My mixing mainstay, Monkey Shoulder, works well as do some of the milder blends. Point two: Let the vermouth be Punt e Mes which is a bittered Italian vermouth which will keep the sweetness in check. Point three: Let the orange juice be squeezed seconds before mixing from a nice fresh orange. Strain it too as no further thickening is needed. Point four: Let the cherry brandy be Heering and no other brand. Because I said so. Point five: Shake this cocktail hard and long. Shake it until the shaker ices up. Shake it until your shoulder hurts. Shake it until your fingers go numb. Then shake it some more. Strain* it into a nice chilled champagne coupe and garnish with a nice plump maraschino cherry. Sip. Then, and only then, ask yourself, “Is this a drink that needs fixing?”


Blood and Sand.

0.75oz / 22ml Scotch (see text).

0.75oz / 22ml Italian vermouth (see text).

0.75oz / 22ml Orange juice (see text).

0.75oz / 22ml Cherry brandy (see text).

Shake hard (see text) and strain* into a chilled champagne coupe. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

Toast Vicente Blasco Ibáñez  (1867 – 1928).


*Double strain it if you like but I’m a sucker for some micro-icebergs mingled with the slight foam (from the extra hard shake) on the surface.

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Black Manhattan + cocktail cherries.

Not exactly black but we’ll let it off just this once.

Black Manhattan.

A relative newcomer in Cocktailville, the Black Manhattan was created in 2008 by Todd Smith at Bourbon and Branch, San Francisco. A cocktail of quietly elegant simplicity it should be a breeze for any reasonably well stocked home cocktailista to prepare. Simply a modern twist on the classic Manhattan Todd’s black version subs Averna for the Italian (sweet) vermouth and adds a dash of orange bitters to the usual Angostura to tie it together. Averna is an Italian amaro from the island of Sicily that has an earthy bittersweet flavour and while not a million miles from an Italian vermouth has somewhat more depth and complexity. While the range of amari (because saying “amaro’s” would just be wrong) is quite wide there are a group of “typical” ones in the centre that have at least some degree of interchangeability. Of those that I’m on speaking terms with Averna, Ramazzotti and Lucano all make excellent Black Manhattans and while Averna is the original and probably most widely available I particularly enjoy Ramazzotti especially when paired with Rittenhouse rye. Since we’re making this as good as we possible can we need to talk about the classic garnish of every Manhattan, black or otherwise:

Cocktail cherries – the lowdown.

The bad, the good and the ultimate.

When I was young and foolish I used to think those bright neon red “maraschino” cocktail cherries were rather nice. Until I found out how they were made: Take some perfectly good cherries of any variety other than the actual Marasca variety and then bleach them in sulfur dioxide and calcium chloride. Once thoroughly bleached, soak them in disodium 6-hydroxy-5-[(2-methoxy-5-methyl-4-sulfonatophenyl) diazenyl] naphthalene-2-sulfonate and some other shit. No, really. I could go on but there’s surely no point other than to explain that there are better alternatives to the FAKE* maraschino cherry. While I have messed around with preserving cherries with some limited success I’m now convinced that the best policy is just to lay out some cash for the real deal. Luxardo, the Italian liqueur manufacturer, supply genuine Maraschino cherries and they are dark, plump, firm little globes of deliciosity. They’re pretty pricey though, especially the further from home they get. While the Luxardo cherries are definitely worth the money, those on a budget could do worse than the Amarena cherries jarred by Fabbri or Toschi** which are almost as good but are usually a bit cheaper – or at least you get more for the money as well as a much classier jar. The only downside is that, as you can see, they tend to be less regular in shape and a little smaller. Anyway, you’re tired of reading now so I’ll let you go away and make yourself a delicious:


Black Manhattan.

2oz / 60ml Bourbon or (preferably) rye whiskey.

1oz / 30ml Averna or a similar amaro (see text).

1 dash Angostura bitters.

1 dash orange bitters.

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled stem glass.

Garnish with a cocktail cherry. If a few drops of syrup from the jar fall into the glass that might not necessarily be a bad thing…

Toast Todd Smith – the Manhattanator.

[This is quite a strong cocktail, especially if using a higher proof whiskey. I have no problem with scaling it back to 1.5oz (45ml) and 0.75oz (22ml).]


*The USA dropped the first word of the original “imitation maraschino cherry” designation in 1940.

**Italian delicatessens can be a good source for these.

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Robert Capa + gastrique

Slightly out of focus?

Robert Capa.

Other than cocktails my interests include photography and history and all of those happen to converge in the person of Robert Capa, the godfather of modern photojournalism. Capa’s partial autobiography Slightly Out of Focus is a surprisingly amusing account of his experience of the Second World War in which alcoholic beverages serve as punctuation, starting with a Martini in the opening pages. Famous for always being with the first wave of advancing troops Capa wryly suggested that this was simply to get the first pick of any looted booze. Despite living a life that was beset with horror and tragedy he lived it to the full and with a wicked sense of humour. I can think of no-one more deserving of a cocktail named in their honour.

Capa was a Hungarian Jew who fled Fascism to Paris and then America and as such the cognac and Unicum components of this cocktail represent his journey – although if I’m totally honest I tried various versions and the cognac one was simply the tastiest. Hold up! Uniwha? Ah, sorry, my bad. Unicum is a wonderful Hungarian bitter that sits somewhere between Jägermeister and classic Italian amari such as as Averna or Ramazzotti. It has an almost perfect balance of bitterness and sweetness with hints of coffee and Fernet. It’s made by Zwack, comes it this superbly medicinal bottle flask, has roots back to 1790 and is one of the few bitter liqueurs to get much attention in older cocktail books. I loves it. I also loves that it’s only 14 notes for a 500ml bottle. The careful addition of it to what is otherwise a fairly simple sour creates a sort of genre-busting aromatic/sour hybrid that works very nicely if you are very careful with the sweet/sour/bitter balance. The sweet component can be simply a good home-made pomegranate grenadine but there is a way to take it to the next level if you don’t mind a bit of cookery. Still here? Great. We’re going to make a gastrique:

Gastrique (red wine/pomegranate).

Put in a saucepan 250ml (about one cup) of fine white sugar and add just enough water to make it damp. Heat it on a high heat while stirring until it melts and then starts to caramelise. I find a light golden colour to be optimal in this case but you could let it get darker if you like. Now add 250ml of decent red wine vinegar all at once. Be careful as it will spit and splutter a bit and caramel is very hot. At this point it may look pretty gnarly but don’t worry and just keep heating and stirring until and any chunks are re-incorporated and it looks smooth again. Now is the time to add your chosen flavouring, in this case 60ml/2oz of pomegranate molasses (sourced from any middle-eastern store). Stir in until smooth, let cool and put in a sterile bottle. It should have a thick syrupy consistency and will keep for many weeks in the fridge. Gastriques can also be made with other vinegars and flavourings. 

Trust me that it’s worth the extra effort to make some gastrique for your Robert Capa as you get a much greater depth of flavour than using grenadine alone. The man himself never spared any effort to get close enough to take some of the most dramatic photographs of the 20th century. His luck ultimately ran out when he stepped on a landmine in Indochina in 1954.   

There were actually a number of successful mid-century photographers with Hungarian roots and we may well be naming some variations of the Robert Capa after them in due course. As Capa himself once replied when asked what it takes to be a great photographer, “It’s not enough to have talent, you also have to be Hungarian.”


Robert Capa.

2oz / 60ml cognac (VS or VSOP, whatever you can liberate).

0.75oz / 22ml fresh lemon juice.

0.5oz / 15ml pomegranate gastrique* (see text)

2 teaspoons / 10ml Zwack Unicum.

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled champagne coupé. Garnish with a large orange twist – an essential flavour component in this drink.

Toast Robert Capa (aka André Freidmann) 1913 – 1954.


*You could get away with using a similar amount of home-made grenadine but you’ll be missing out on a whole extra layer of flavour complexity.

 

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