Jim Beam rye & Old Grand-dad bourbon (double review).

Dire straights?

Give it to me straight!

Jim Beam rye & Old Grand-dad bourbon.

Given our recent look at the Boulevardier and rye whisky it might be a good time to look at a couple of entry level whiskies with a bit of rye content. I was going to review these two separately but since they’re from the same distributor (Beam Suntory) and for a couple of other reasons that will become apparent I’ll tackle them together. Even so they’re not competing for exactly the same slot on my mixing shelf as one is a rye and the other a bourbon.

I’ve been getting quite into my American whiskies recently – much to the derision of my countrymen. Bourbon and rye certainly don’t replace my liking for Scottish whisky they’re just different spirits with different ingredients and production processes and different roles: you can’t make a Manhattan with Scotch because if you did you’d have made a Rob Roy. Apples and pears as they say. But let’s get down to these two which represent the two main styles of American whiskey. If any American whiskey has the word “straight” on the label it must be at least 4 years old unless it clearly states otherwise. Both of these are labelled in this way and, given their competitive prices it’s pretty safe to say neither are very much more than a few days past their fourth birthdays. While 4 years doesn’t sound like a lot in Scotch terms there are a couple of mitigating factors that should be taken into account. Kentucky or Tennessee are a lot warmer than Scotland which speeds up the aging process as does the use of new oak barrels. That and a common owner about as much as this pair have in common so we’ll need to split up. I’ll go with Daphne & Velma and you go with Shaggy & Scooby.

Beam me up Scotty!

Jim Beam pre-prohibition style rye.

Remember that American rye whisky is still in the process for coming back from the dead so we’re only now seeing some new mainstream ryes coming on line (Jack Daniels has a new one too). Outside of the USA ryes can be difficult and/or expensive to come by. A 700ml bottle of Rittenhouse, Bulleit rye or a litre of Old Overholt all come in at about €30 and require ordering online so this new Jim Beam pre-prohibition rye at (or sometimes under) €20 off-the-shelf has to be worth a punt. Jim Beam did make a previous “yellow label” rye but it didn’t have a great reputation and I never had a chance to try it. This one is supposedly a new version using an old pre-prohibition recipe. Do we buy that? I don’t know. Certainly the presentation is much better with an attractive old-school bottle and a fairly classy green and gold label. The plastic screw cap is acceptable at this price and provides a more reliable seal than the usual flimsy metal caps. So far so good. In the glass the Jim Beam rye has a nice light copper colour and when swirled shows some thick lazy tears suggesting a certain oiliness. A good sniff reveals a definite hint of dry straw, surely a good sign for a rye. Upon tasting, the signature spiciness of a rye is there but not really in as much force as I would like – I’d be surprised if the rye content of the mash bill was much over the 51% legal minimum although that isn’t always a reliable guide to spiciness. It’s smooth enough and there’s also a slight, but not unpleasant, bitterness that sets it apart from most bourbons, which is what we want. Overall it’s a pretty decent effort at a budget price rye whiskey. My biggest issue is that Beam Suntory have reduced the alcohol content of this rye from 45% in the US market to 40% in Europe. Let’s call that for exactly what it is; watering whiskey down. In the true pre-prohibition era that would certainly get you run out of town and possibly a tar and feathering to boot. Let’s not kid ourselves, this is not a sipping whisky but a mixing one and as such needs to have enough flavour to hold its own in a cocktail. I tried it in a Manhattan and it just wasn’t quite making its mark but at it’s original ABV of 45% I suspect it might have a better chance. While an acceptable mixing rye if it’s all you can get, I’d still rather pay a tenner more for a bottle of Rittenhouse (at 50%ABV). Maybe the domestic version would get a B but at this proof Jim Beam pre-prohibition rye just scrapes a:


Official bourbon of the Dutch football team.

Old Grand-dad bourbon.

Old Grand-dad is a budget bourbon that seems to be pretty new in the overseas market. I’ve heard good things about it but those have mostly been for its higher proof offerings (50% and 57%) which appear to be available only in the US. Like its stable-mate it comes in at about €20 here, approximately the same price as Buffalo Trace which has become many cocktail bars’ go-to mixing bourbon and with good reason. My question is; can Old Grand-dad be an alternative player in that role? OG-D sells itself as a high rye bourbon (a 27% rye mashbill as I understand) and as I tend to like higher rye bourbons such as Four Roses and Wild Turkey this appealed to me. In terms of presentation, if Beam Suntory were looking to make this bottle scream “I’m cheap!” then congratulations; mission accomplished. Orange? Seriously? Well at least we have the same reliable cap as their rye which is something. Weirdly there is a sticker on the bottle front with the alcohol content of 40% on it. I was all, “here we go again; they’ve watered it down for the overseas market!” until I scratched the label off. Underneath it said, wait for it, “40%”. World Trade Federation! What’s that all about? A little research reveals that they’ve recently reduced it from 43% domestically as well, even though that does little to explain the sticker shenanigans. Anyway, is it any good? Well it smells pretty decent with a definite hint of spice and an impression of orange, although the latter might be somewhat psychological. When swirled it produces barely any legs at all and sort of hangs on to the side of the glass for grim life. I’ve no idea what to read into that! Sipping, I taste some spice (yay!) and there is a nice firm dryness. In that sense it’s definitely a bourbon that is encroaching on rye territory. It’s a nice balance but the downside is that it’s a bit thin and has little complexity or length of finish. In mixed drinks it did well enough but never came up to the standard I expect for a mixing bourbon. Once again a higher ABV would have helped. I think you can start to see why I reviewed these two together now, right? While Old Grand-dad falls a little short of my hopes, it still deserves a:



Both of these whiskies are pretty decent for their price but it’s quite clear that, at least in this case, you can’t get gold for the price of silver. I doubt that either of them will find a permanent place on my shelf – you need at least an A- for that. Maybe Jim Beam are trying to push these watered-down whiskies on us to get even for the crazy prices Americans are forced to pay for quality European liqueurs (really, I’ve seen it and it’s shocking). It was already bad enough that we get 50ml less in a bottle than our friends across the pond – do the guys at customs drink a shot out of every bottle or something? Who knows. I should really point out that it isn’t only Beam Suntory that serve us up these reduced potency spirits as it’s a fairly common practice – indeed Buffalo Trace also arrives on these shores at 40% instead of 45% – but I have all the more loyalty and respect to those distillers, such as Wild Turkey and Four Roses, who give it to us straight. Meanwhile I’m sticking with my mixing staples rec of Buffalo Trace or Wild Turkey 101 for bourbon and Rittenhouse 100 proof bonded for rye.

Please note:

Value for money is a factor in these reviews and are based on the price I pay in The Netherlands. If the products are acquired otherwise or elsewhere that will be stated.

These reviews are entirely based on suitability for mixing cocktails, not sipping or chugging with cola.

Posted in Spirits | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Boulevardier + rye whiskey.

What are you looking at? Four ryes!

The Boulevardier.

To be honest this is all just an excuse to talk about rye whisky so let’s zoom through the Boulevardier and get down to business. Pronounced Boo-leh-var-dee-yay. Created in 1927 by Harry McElhone for the American editor of a short lived French publication of the same name. Basically a bourbon or rye Negroni with the whisky component slightly boosted. Often a 2:1:1 ratio but I like the 1.5:1:1 version quoted below. Please yourselves. Often listed with bourbon but better with rye. There we go, that fulfills my promise and then brings us nicely to rye whisky.

Rye whiskey.

Rye whisky is relatively unknown outside of the USA compared to bourbon and therefore needs something of an introduction. While old world whisky is made entirely from barley US whiskey is made from a mixture of cereals, the composition of which is known as the “mash bill”. By law the mash bill of bourbon whiskey must be at least 51% corn (aka maize) but we’ll get into a bourbon discussion some other time. Rye whiskey has a mash bill of between 51% and 100% rye. That aside, the rules and process for rye whiskey are the same as for bourbon. So what’s the diff? Well whiskey made with rye has a much spicier flavour than corn based whiskey which tends to flow in a sweeter direction. Having said that, many bourbons do include some rye in their mash but usually no more than 15%. Rye has a longer history than bourbon and is essentially America’s original whiskey. Many American cocktails that are now made with bourbon would have originally been made with rye – especially those originating in the northern states. All the more surprising then that for a very long time it was all but extinct with only a single budget bottling available – Old Overholt, pictured on the far left above. Thankfully rye is back, although outside of the US it can be difficult and expensive to get your hands on. Bulleit Rye seems to be widely available and is a rock solid mixer but my favourite mixing rye is Rittenhouse 100 proof which packs a fabulous spicy punch. Of the others pictured I prefer the High West Double Rye and George Dickel Rye for sipping (and Sazeracs). Old Overholt is a decent mixer if a bit one dimensional but outside of the US (where it’s dirt cheap) tends to be overpriced. Still we owe it some respect for keeping rye alive through the Dark Ages. It should be noted that Canadian whisky is sometimes colloquially called “rye” (as in Don McLean’s American Pie) but, while it may contain some rye is really not technically a rye whiskey. Anyway, let’s mix something up:

The Boulevardier.

1.5oz / 45ml rye whiskey* (I used Rittenhouse 100 Proof).

1oz / 30ml Campari.

1oz / 30ml sweet vermouth (I used Punt e Mes).

Stir with ice and strain into a DOF glass containing a chunk of clear ice.

Garnish with a twist of orange peel.

Toast Old Overholt for keepin’ the rye alive.

*You can use a high rye bourbon if you can’t find any rye. I suggest Wild Turkey 101 or Bulleit Frontier Bourbon.

For those who would like to know a bit more about the return of the rye here’s an interesting article by Wayne Curtis in The Atlantic.

Posted in Ingredients, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kingston Negroni.

Every little thing’s gonna be alright.

Kingston Negroni.

I’m continuing to mark the anniversary of this blog by rewinding to the second drink I ever wrote about; the majestic Negroni. Again, we’ll look at an interesting variation of the classic formula – of which there are many. There are times that I just can’t decide between a Negroni and a Tiki drink. And that’s why I came up with the Kingston Negroni, which is simply a version that uses the mad funky Wray & Nephew overproof rum instead of gin and a grapefruit twist instead of orange. Damn, if it’s not good. The deep punchy dunder of the W&N is right at home with Campari and sweet vermouth – who knew? Well, apparently everyone knew. Because this is one of those times when you invent a drink that already exists, right down to the name. OK, existing versions use slightly different Jamaican rums but there’s still no way I can ethically claim dibs on this one. Never mind, it’s not a competition after all; we all learn from each other. And what we learn here is how amazingly versatile the Negroni formula is (or if we want to nit-pick how versatile the Americano formula is). Equal parts of sweet vermouth, Campari and almost anything else seldom go far wrong. It’s a secret formula that we should explore to the max, not least because the Negroni is one of the easiest cocktails to whip up. Over the coming weeks I’m planing to look at one or two more variations on the King of cocktails. Watch this space…


Kingston Negroni.

1.25oz / 37.5ml Wray & Nephew overproof rum*.

1.25oz / 37.5ml Punt e Mes sweet vermouth (or another sweet vermouth).

1.25oz / 37.5ml Campari

Stir with ice and strain into a DOF glass containing a large ice block and a grapefruit twist.

Toast Bob Marley (1945 – 1981). He didn’t drink but his music did get me through my teenage years.

* Or another funky Jamaican rum such as Smith & Cross or Coruba NPU.

Posted in Recipes | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Royal Bermuda Yacht Club

Join the club.

Royal Bermuda Yacht Club.

Having survived my first year as a cocktail blogger (woo-hoo!) and since the first drink I wrote about was the Daiquiri I thought it might be a good time to look at an interesting twist on that most iconic of sours. Named after the posh hangout of British military officers in Bermuda the RBYC (as I’m calling it from now on to save on pixels) is a Daiquiri variation that has more than a few peculiarities to it. First of all, while the eponymous club has been around since 1844, the drink appears to be more recent with no record of it predating 1941 and even this being a bit vague: “3 parts Barbados Rum, 1 part Lime Juice, half a part of Falernum or sugar syrup and 1 dash of Cointreau or Brandy.” Hmmm. So it could be just a rather tart Daiquiri with a touch of brandy in it or it could be something much closer to my own Calico Jack. Or something in-between. Fortunately Trader Vic came along a few years later and straightened it out a bit and further modernisation has led to the formula preferred today. The other peculiarity is that Bermuda isn’t even a Caribbean island – being more mid-Atlantic with a sub-tropical climate – yet the RBYC is packed full of Barbadian goodies. And Barbados is about 2000km away at the southern end of the Caribbean. You see, Bermuda is just too far north to produce sugar cane and hence rum but both islands were once part of the same British naval empire allowing for a degree of trade and cultural exchange. As a result of all the above we now have a rather tasty drink that pretends to be very old and very Caribbean and is, in fact, neither. It is, however, an excellent illustration in the tweakability of classic drinks such as the Daiquiri. Remember that liqueurs such as falernum and Cointreau are less sweet than simple syrup so the total liqueur content – as here – should be similar to the sour component.

Royal Bermuda Yacht Club (modernised).

2oz / 60ml Barbados rum (I particularly like Plantation Barbados grande reserve).

0.75oz / 22.5ml fresh lime juice.

0.25oz / 7.5ml orange liqueur*.

0.5oz / 15ml falernum (preferably home-made).

Shake well with ice and strain into a chilled champagne coupé.

Garnish with a lime wedge, slice or twist.

Toast Crosby Gaige who either created or codified the original version in his 1941 Cocktail Guide And Ladies’ Companion.

*The original calls for Cointreau but local Caribbean orange liqueurs are more harmonious. Try a (non-blue) curacao, Clement Creole Shrub or maybe even Grand Marnier, which would throw that brandy component back into the mix.

Posted in Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wild Mountain Thyme.

Thyme please!

Wild Mountain Thyme.

Named after a traditional Scottish song this drink was an attempt to get three of my most beloved ingredients – Blackwood’s gin, Amaro Montenegro and Punt e Mes – to play nice together. I’ve been kicking this one around for a couple of years now, making various changes along the way but I think it’s finally time for it to settle down. The final piece of the puzzle was the addition of a couple of dashes of orange bitters which seem to bring the other ingredients together a bit more harmoniously. The truth is that I’m still not totally settled on this one as I’m somewhat in two minds on how to serve it; up with a sprig of fresh thyme (as above) or over a chunk of ice with a lemon twist (as below)? Help me decide!

Thyme after thyme.

Wild Mountain Thyme.

2oz / 60ml dry gin (in this case Blackwood’s).

0.75oz / 22.5ml Punt e Mes (an excellent bittered sweet vermouth).

0.75oz / 22.5ml Amaro Montenegro.

2 dashes of orange bitters.

Stir with ice and:

a) Strain into a chilled champagne coupé and garnish with a sprig of thyme.


b) Strain into a DOF glass containing a large chunk of clear ice and a lemon twist.

Toast The Silencers for their excellent rendition of Wild Mountain Thyme.

Variation: Substitute VS cognac for the gin to create the Black Mountain Thyme.

Posted in Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tijuana Tonic.

Where’s me Vera?

Tijuana Tonic.

It seems like a very long time since I wrote about a long drink. So here we go. The Tijuana Tonic is what they like to sip on just over the border from San Diego. Either that or it’s some European blogger’s fantasy of what they might drink there. I forget which. Either way, it’s a great refreshing summer drink and yet summer is still a long way off so let’s just say this one is for my sweltering antipodean readers: G’day mates! Somewhat similar to the Paloma, the Tijuana Tonic sidesteps the problem of finding grapefruit soda (and that really is a problem in northern Europe) by substituting tonic water of which there are about a zillion varieties of these days. I particularly like this drink with Fever Tree Aromatic Tonic but if you can’t find that (it’s relatively new) just use a regular tonic with a dash of Angostura bitters. The way that bitter flavours bring out the tang in a decent tequila works just as well with tonic as it does with more traditional options such as lime or grapefruit and in this case using all three comes up trumps. Assuming you use either fresh white/yellow grapefruit juice or a good quality bottled variety just half an ounce (15ml) will balance the drink nicely. If you have to use the sweeter pink or (God forbid) ruby grapefruit juice then dial back the syrup accordingly. You could very easily scale this drink up to pitcher size for a barbie or picnic. Is it summer yet? Sigh.

Tijuana Tonic.

2oz / 60ml tequila – blanco or reposado as long as it’s 100% agave.

1oz / 30ml white/yellow grapefruit juice (see text).

0.5oz / 15ml simple syrup (see text).

4-5oz / 120-150 tonic water.

1 dash of Angostura bitters (optional – see text).

Build in a Collins glass over ice.

Garnish with a slice of lime – fresh or dehydrated.

Toast Tijuanans – real and imaginary.


Posted in Recipes | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ultimatum Selected Rum.

A rum deal and no mistake.

Booze reviews!

Since this is the very first of my spirit reviews let me explain how it’s going to work. I’m not going to be taking the whole “I taste slightly damp shoe leather, stewed gooseberries and a hint of cigar ash” approach. Maybe I just don’t have the palate for that or maybe it’s just a load of old drivel. Whatever. I’m reviewing these spirits (and maybe some liqueurs) primarily for the purpose of mixing rather than sipping neat so I’ll be telling you whether I like them, roughly what they taste like and how well they work in a cocktail. Value for money will also be a significant factor. I’ll give them school style grades (A+ to F) because everyone understands those and because the 0-100 scale makes no sense as practically everything gets rated between about 78 and 93 anyway. Sound reasonable? Great. Let’s rock.

Ultimatum Selected Rum.

This is one of a range of Ultimatum branded rums “made” by The Little Distiller (who are in this case clearly just the blender), a small Dutch company who seemed to pop up out of nowhere fairly recently. From what I’ve heard they might be related to the quirky Van Wees/Ooievaar liqueur company that we’ve met before. If you’re wondering why I started my spirit reviews with such a niche product, well, when I first tried this rum it just begged me to write about it. I’ll try to review something more widely available in future.

There are some things I like about the presentation of this rum and some things I don’t. On the plus side the squat apothecary style bottle looks great; simple, stable, a bit different and really quite practical. The wide synthetic stopper is perhaps the best way to go as, well, who doesn’t like the pop of a “cork” without the worry of it coming apart and leaving a bunch of crapola floating in your booze? I also like that there is some useful information on the label (we’ll come to that) but what I like less is that all their labels look much the same. Understandable from a small company but a bit irritating when trying to differentiate between them on a shop shelf or website. Likewise it doesn’t really have a very catchy name and it’s in a fairly small and boring font. Still in my book you get extra marks for an attractive bottle that, once empty, you can soak the label off and use for your own concoctions and blends or just use as a water carafe. Ultimatum maxes out in that department – assuming the label is stuck on with a water based glue, which is usually the case with small production runs. The label tells us that the rum is a blend of “eight different rums with 50% pot still distilled” and “8 years old rum”. Whether this is 50% by volume or simply half of the rums is unclear but, hey, pot still and 8 years of aging (hopefully the minimum age) are good signs in a rum. On the side of the label are a few little boxes and those for “natural colour*” and “no sugar added” are both ticked. Given that far too much rum is heavily sweetened and coloured I very much approve of this. That the rum is bottled at 46% also tells us that the blender isn’t trying to maximise their profits by watering it down to the more common 40% (don’t even get me started on that) which in turn shows a bit of integrity. We’re also told that the rum is “Spanish style” which I find intriguing as such rums are almost always column distilled. Where did they dig up four(?) different Spanish style pot still rums? Or is it really a mix of styles? In any case, pot still produced rum usually has more flavour and character than column (aka Coffey) distilled rum so jolly good for them. The box for “non chill filtered” is also ticked meaning that they didn’t filter all the flavour out just for the sake of a little more clarity, and indeed this rum is ticking all my boxes so far. But then we haven’t so much as sniffed it yet…

Well it doesn’t just smell like rum, it smells like rum should smell like: Rummy. In a good way. Not like so many of those anemic rums (hello Bacardi and friends!): That’s those pot stills talking to us baby! On the rum scale we’re firmly in the golden aged zone here. Although we’re not told exactly where the eight rums in the blend come from I’m tasting a somewhat mid-Caribbean profile; somewhere between the British and Spanish styles. Nice and dry, just as promised, with only the rum’s natural sweetness on show but tempered with a sharp ever so slightly bitter edge – in the best possible sense – a slightly oily texture and a good hint of orange. It’s got a little bit of burn – but not too much – and certainly not at all bad for its 46% ABV. Just enough to know it means business. With a little ice for cooling and dilution we’re firmly into the sipping zone here as long as you like your rum dry and zingy. Which I do. But we’re here to evaluate its mixability and the only true test of such is to make a Daiquiri. Take it from me; a good sipping rum does not always a good Daiquiri make. But this one does. There’s a slight nuttiness that wasn’t there when tasted neat or with ice. Curious but tasty. I’d use this rum in relatively simple rum cocktails as I think its subtleties might be lost in some of those three rum Tiki mixes such as the Navy Grog. Although, having said that, it’s an ideal rum to split into a Mai Tai.


What I really like about this rum is that it looks like rum (despite the lack of colouring), smells like rum and tastes like rum and all in the best possible senses. I paid a hair over €25 which given its pedigree and strength looks like a total bargain to me. We’re getting a sipping quality of rum for a mixing price and a rum that occupies that zone is a rare thing indeed. It reminds me of a slightly less sophisticated version of one of my very favourite rums – Plantation Trinidad 2001 – but at a much lower price. Sorted.

At this price Ultimatum Selected Rum scores a rock solid:


* Although I do wonder if caramel could be sneakily classed as a “natural colour”. Such trickery doesn’t sound like their style though.

Posted in Spirits | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Double Haggis.

Scotch Drink

Double Haggis.

Scotch can be a tricky spirit to mix with. But why is that exactly? Well, it’s a bit fussy about which other ingredients it hangs out with. Unlike bourbon which is all “Like, whatever dude”, Scotch has just a few trusted friends with ginger, lemon, apple and orange being its closest chums. Its other quirk is that it gets on great with the Italians (amari and sweet vermouth) yet flat out refuses to work with anything French. It took me years to get my stubborn head around that but eventually I started to catch on and the Double Haggis was my first Scotch recipe that I was happy with. It all came together a few years ago on a Burns supper and whisky tour in the Scottish Highlands with, well, a few trusted friends. Of particular inspiration was wee Glaswegian Tammy who was working her effortless mixing magic behind Craigellachie Hotel’s Quaich bar with a choice of 900 different malts for a base spirit (I think there was a single bottle each of bourbon, rum and gin for those averse to the ocean o’ malt). When she made me a drink with single malt, lemon and apple juice a little light flicked on somewhere in my head. And that’s often how it goes with cocktails: you can read all the books and blogs you like but there’s simply no substitute for positioning yourself on the other side of the stick from a master mixer.

Double Haggis.

2oz / 60ml Scotch of choice (but not too mild or too powerful – Monkey Shoulder is a good choice).

0.75oz / 22.5ml Glayva (Drambuie would also work).

1.5oz / 45ml cloudy apple juice (aka apple cider in the US).

0.75oz / 22.5ml lemon juice.

2 dashes orange bitters.

Shake with ice and strain into a DOF glass containing a large chunk of ice*.

Toast Robert Burns – born on this very day in 1759. And Tammy.

The name? Well after a hard day’s whisky tasting we realised that a single portion of haggis is never enough…

*Also suitable for the ice ball trick.


Posted in Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New York Sour.

Start spreadin’ the news…

New York Sour.

You know how it goes; you’ve had some friends over for dinner and at the end of the evening there’s a quarter of a bottle of red wine left over (yes, yes, but let’s just pretend that’s actually true). Options: chug it before bed (looks bad), make a coq au vin (meh) or chuck in the fridge to use the next day in a really nice cocktail? I thought so. The drink in question is a modified Whisky Sour but given the name it should definitely be a bourbon or rye based affair. Because we’re going to add some wine we can boost the lemon and syrup components up to a 2:1:1 ratio and serve it in a double Old Fashioned glass. Since you’re a person of impeccable taste no doubt the leftover wine is something like a nice punchy cabernet sauvignon, merlot or malbec. Oh, good – because we really don’t want a wishy-washy red wine for this. We’re basically just going to make a Whisky Sour at the 2:1:1 ratio and then float some red wine on top. Simple but visually attractive as well as pretty damn tasty. The decision on whether to use egg white (or chickpea juice) or not is yours to make but I prefer my New York Sour without (but my Whisky Sour with). The biggest issue with the New York Sour is how to drink it. There are two options; with a straw, in which case it tastes like a Whiskey Sour followed by a glass of red wine or without a straw, whereby it’s like drinking a glass of red wine followed by a Whiskey Sour. I prefer the third way; ruin the beauty and mix it up. Not pretty but Goldilocks would surely be proud. The combination is just right with the tannic qualities of the wine – this is why we prefer a ballsy one – fusing with the freshness of the Whiskey Sour to create something with a lot more depth and complexity. And using leftovers. Score.

New York Sour.

2oz / 60ml bourbon of choice (or rye if you prefer – it’s more New Yorky).

1oz / 30ml fresh lemon juice.

1oz / 30ml sugar syrup (1:1).

Shake with ice and strain into a DOF glass containing a large block of ice.

Carefully float 0.75oz / 22.5ml of red wine on the surface – using a teaspoon bent into and L-shape makes this pretty easy.

Toast Frank Sinatra (1915-1998). Obviously.


Shake with 0.75oz / 22.5ml of egg white or chickpea juice for a creamy head.

Skip the block of ice, in which case you might need a smaller glass.


Posted in Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Molly Picon + Amer Picon.

Good golly Miss Molly!

Molly Picon.

I have to admit that I don’t know too much about this drink so let’s engage in a little detective work. I wrote this recipe down quite a while ago from something I read on one of those early internet cocktail databases but the sole mention of it I can find these days is a very spartan entry on CocktailDB. And it isn’t even the same recipe that I have. But all is not lost as we can glean some clues from the cocktail’s name. It turns out Molly Picon was a Polish/American actress so the fact that this drink is named after her should give us an idea of when the drink was created. Pity her career spanned nine decades then. Well at least we know this drink was created between 1904 and 1984 – although if I had to guess I’d say it would be somewhere between her two biggest movie roles; Yiddle with his Fiddle (1936) and Fiddler on the Roof (1971) [I promise I’m not making this up]. It doesn’t look much like a Dark Ages recipe so that narrows it down to “probably” the 1940s-50s. On examination of the recipe – equal parts of gin, sweet vermouth and Amer Picon – we can see a very close similarity to a Negroni as well as the reason for the name of the cocktail. But we’re not going any further without a discussion on the nature of Amer Picon…

Amer Picon.

Amer Picon is a French bitter liqueur in a similar stylee to those great Italian amari the most famous of which is Campari. Picon has strong notes of burnt orange and gentian making it Campari’s long lost French sibling (although they’re definitely not twins). Word has it that the French like to splash a little in their beer or wine to tart it up – and I can confirm that this is indeed a worthwhile endeavour. Wikipedia suggests there are two varieties of Amer Picon but in fact there are three or four. To save you the trouble I’ve tried most of them and promise you that the one you want is the one pictured above and bottled at 21%. Which brings us to the first of Amer Picon’s issues. You see Picon used to be a viscous 39% powerhouse and since the 70s has been somewhat debased down to the 18-21% offerings on sale today. Which brings us to Picon’s second problem. Regretably Picon is not sold very far afield of its home nation [hint to European types: if you want to ingratiate  yourself with an American cocktailian bring them a bottle of Picon]. The Picon desert that is the USA has attempted two solutions to the above problems, the lesser of which is called Tonari Amer (which I’ve not tried but according to the word on the street is a bit meh) and Amer Boudreau. The latter is a home-made version of the original Amer Picon by Seattle startender Jamie Boudreau. Of course I have my own version of Jamie’s version of the original version of Amer Picon but we’re so far down the rabbit hole at this point that I think we should just stop. Check out the Amer Boudreau story (complete with a great cocktail recipe) if you like but otherwise rest assured that the black label 21% Amer Picon remains pretty damn tasty (if a little thin) and should be your #1 shopping list item if visiting France or its closest neighbours.

Molly Picon (Slight Return).

While some drinks need the gusteau of Amer Boudreau, thankfully the Molly Picon isn’t one of them (although it certainly wouldn’t do it any harm) and can be satisfactorially formulated with off-the-shelf Amer Picon black label. It’s a very nice little drink that I’d really, really like to save from extinction so here’s my best guess version of what the Molly Picon should be.

Molly Picon.

1oz / 30ml gin of choice.

1oz / 30ml Amer Picon (or Amer Boudreau).

1oz / 30ml Punt e Mes (or another sweet vermouth).

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled champagne coupé – or, ideally, a chilled Nick & Nora glass as pictured.

Garnish with a lemon twist.

Toast Molly Picon (1898-1992).


Posted in Ingredients, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment