Planter’s Punch.

I love it when a plan comes together.

Planter’s Punch.

The Planter’s Punch is completely different from any of the other recipes you’ll find on these pages. While it certainly sounds like a specific drink it is, in reality, more of a whole group of drinks founded on a single formula. Or should I say founded on a folk rhyme? But lets’s back up a bit first. The Planter’s Punch comes from Jamaica with a “planter” meaning a plantation owner and “punch” being a largely British (but originally Sanskrit) word for a diluted mixed drink often comprised of lemon juice, alcohol (probably arrack), sugar and tea – in other words an ancient cocktail prototype. But we’ll get to those another time. The Planter’s Punch is a very old rum version of the punch that is impossible to put a date on but probably goes back to the 18th century.

The rhyme that tells us how to assemble the Planter’s Punch goes like this: One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong and four of weak. This is generally taken to mean ounces (or parts if upscaling) of lime juice, sugar syrup, rum and water (or perhaps juice or even ice) respectively. The problem that has troubled cocktailiens over the years is that this formula contains twice as much sweet as sour and leads to an unbalanced, overly sweet drink and as a result some liberties have been taken with the rhyme. Sometimes the first two items are transposed but that causes the rhyme to collapse – and there are many other unsatisfactory versions around as well. My theory is that the original version was bang-on but just misunderstood. I think what was meant was; one glug of lime juice, two spoons of sugar, three glugs of rum and four glugs of water. I mean seriously folks do we really think rural Jamaicans of old were dicking around with jiggers and simple syrup? We may as well believe they had waxed mustaches and artisanal leather aprons. The spoons would been roughly tablespoon size – giving us about an ounce of sugar – and if we takes the glugs as an ounce each, hey presto, a perfectly balanced drink. So, converted back to ounces, we’re at a 1:1:3:4 formula. Now, as you have no doubt noticed, that’s a lot of rum*. But Jamaicans know their rum so I’m not going to argue. With the formula down we can make a super simple literal version of “one ounce of fresh lime juice, one ounce of 1:1 sugar syrup, three ounces of Jamaican rum (such as Myers’s) and four ounces of soda water, all mixed in an iced Collins glass”. And pretty damn decent that is too. But where Planter’s Punch starts to get more interesting is when we play around within the given formula. Grenadine as some or all of the sweet is common, as is orange or pineapple juice for the weak. The classic Tiki technicians, Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic played around with this formula aplenty and as well as their various Planter’s Punch versions a considerable number of their other Tiki drinks have a striking similarity to it too. Unfortunately Dark Age (c.1970-2000) bartenders messed with the formula too and as a result there are plenty of pretty dire Planter’s Punch recipes kicking around – mostly heavy on the juice and (fake) grenadine but pretty light on the rum. We, of course, will be sticking to the original formula. For the sour we could go for lemon or grapefruit juice but lime would be the classic choice. The sweet options are endless but grenadine, falernum, ginger syrup, cinnamon syrup, passion fruit syrup, pineapple syrup or honey mix are all excellent contenders. The rum, ah, the rum. Well look, it just has to be Jamaican as we’re pretty spoiled for choice with the likes of Wray & Nephew Overproof, Myers’s, Appleton and plenty of others. The weak we should at least move from plain to sparkling water but as long as we’re careful we can use some of the more neutral (in sweet/sour terms) fruit juices such as orange or pineapple or even go for some coconut water or cold tea. That creates an almost infinite number of variations, so knock yourselves out. And remember there is no “correct” or “original” version of the Planter’s Punch so you have carte blanche to get creative here. I’ll hit you up with a powerful but tasty example to get you started.


Proof Planter’s Punch.

1oz/30ml fresh lime juice

0.5oz/15ml home-made grenadine.

0.5oz/15ml ginger syrup.

1oz /30ml Coruba NPU (or another “funky”) gold Jamaican rum.

1oz/30ml Wray & Nephew Overproof white Jamaican rum.

1oz/30ml Myers’s dark Jamaican rum.

2oz/60ml coconut water (unsweetened, unflavoured).

2oz/60ml soda water.

Stir with plenty of ice in a large Collins glass or Tiki mug.

Toast the poor souls who toiled in the sugar fields for little or no reward to give the world the sugar and rum it so desperately demanded. As for the slave owning planter’s themselves? Fuck ’em.


*Two ounces of rum would work perfectly well.

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Repo Man : The Margarita part 3.

Time for a Repo Man.

Repo Man.

Welcome to our third and final (well for now anyway) look at the Margarita and its variations. We’ve seen classic and modern versions but now it’s time for my own twist. As we discussed before there are three styles of tequila (at least once we’re down to the good 100% agave stuff) blanco which is unaged, reposado which is just slightly aged and anejo which is aged for over a year. You could say I’m a repo man* as I find that gently aged tequila to be just in the goldlocks zone; not too raw but also not so heavily influenced by the wood that it loses that characteristic tequila tanginess. While Julio Bermejo ditched the orange liqueur and replaced it with agave syrup I took a leaf out of Sasha Petraske’s book (well, not literally as it’s too good a book to be ripping up) and used honey syrup as my sweetener. But then I kind of missed the oranginess so I fired in some of my home-made orange bitters. You could also use Regan’s #6 (which are similar, if less intense) but if you leave an appropriate response in the comments I might be inclined to give away a few free samples. It might be arrogant of me to say so but I really enjoy the balance of reposado, honey, lime and a hint of bitter orange. I’ve traveled far enough from the classic Margarita recipes to have earned the right to give this its own name and it was a no-brainer for me to name it after one of my favourite films. It’s an intense drink but then a repo man is always intense.


Repo Man.

2oz /60ml 100% agave reposado tequila (Espolon in this case).

1oz / 30ml fresh lime juice.

scant 0.75oz  / about 19-20ml honey syrup (3:1).

2 or 3 good dashes of orange bitters.

Shake with ice and strained into a chilled champagne coupe. No salt and no lime garnish.

Toast Alex Cox for his brilliant 1984 cult classic.


*I actually did do a bit of repossession work when I was younger and quicker but the only piece I was packing was my lunch.

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Tommy’s Margarita : The Margarita part 2.

Rock on Tommy!

Tommy’s Margarita.

We looked recently at that Prince(ess?) of the tequila drinks; the Margarita. It’s history is as confusing as the myriad of different recipes. Thankfully there is a superb version of the noble Margarita that is simple and delicious and has a history that we can pin down with 100% accuracy. Perhaps the only confusion is that it wasn’t created by anyone called Tommy but by Julio Bermejo at Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco back in about 1990. Well it was Julio’s parents Elmy and Tommy who had opened the place in 1965 so even that is easily straightened out.

It’s a deceptively simple drink containing only tequila, lime juice and agave syrup but consider this: Julio came up with this masterpiece of simplicity in the midst of the Dark Ages of the cocktail (1970-2000) when the Margarita was a monstrous slushy of cheap mixto tequila, sour mix and crushed ice rolling around for hours in a plastic tub which may or may not have been cleaned properly in living memory. What Julio saw – years ahead of the cocktail revival – was that high quality ingredients, simply but carefully prepared would create something immeasurably better than the commoditised restaurant drinks of the time. Julio used higher quality 100% agave tequilas such as Herradura reposado and the newly available agave syrup as well as freshly squeezed limes (that might sound like a no-brainer now but in 1990 nobody was squeezing limes) to mix his legendary Margarita that bore the name of the family business. The stripped back Margarita doesn’t need the orange liqueur component but lets you taste the wonders of agave – both in distilled and rawer form. If there was ever a drink guaranteed to convert the tequila doubters it’s this one. Better still, thanks to its simple ingredients, you can whip one of these modern classics up in a couple of minutes anytime the sun decides to show its face.*


Tommy’s Margarita.

2oz / 60ml good quality (100% agave) reposado tequila.

1oz / 30ml fresh lime juice – not more than a few hours old.

0.5oz / 15ml agave syrup.

Shake with ice and strain into desired glass: As with all Margarita variations the choice of whether to serve it “up” in a champagne coupé or strained into a tumbler of fresh ice is entirely personal – as is the salting of the rim. And garnishing with lime.

Toast Julio – and Tommy – Bermejo.


*By the way that reminds me: make sure to wash your hands extra well if squeezing limes then going out into strong sunlight as the combination can cause an unsightly (but not painful) skin burn that takes months to fade away. I’ve done it, it’s not pretty and it was making Margaritas that caused it.

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Margarita – part 1.

Hecho, let’s go!

The Margarita.

Without getting into the veritable maze of creation claims for the Margarita let’s just point out that this popular classic is surprisingly modern with no recipe appearing in print before 1953. Even in the (likely) case that there were older tequila/lime/orange liqueur cocktails, none of those were published prior to 1936 yet we know Americans were crossing the border into Mexico during prohibition (1920 – 1933) and it seems impossible that some kind of tequila sour wasn’t being offered to the thirsty gringos. The name of the drink is usually attributed to one lady or another who figured in the chosen creation story of the Margarita but there is another theory; The Margarita may well be based on an older style of drink called a daisy. The Spanish word for daisy is, yep, you guessed it, margarita.

The poor Margarita has become a bit of a train wreck in recent decades with the majority of those served being some sort of sour-mix slushy or fake fruit flavoured fiasco. Thankfully the idea that we are all children who can’t handle a drink that isn’t sweet, fruity and diluted has finally been overturned and we can at last see the Margarita for what it is: An honourable member of the sour family of cocktails which showcases one of the most interesting spirits in our cocktail arsenal. But then tequila itself has some issues that need to be dealt with first.

Tequila: The Low-down.

Tequila is a type of mezcal that is made from the agave plant (not cactus as is commonly believed) and whose production is highly regulated in terms of process and location. While mezcal can be made from any variety of agave, tequila can only be made from the blue (azul) agave species. It is vital to understand that there are two grades of tequila – “mixto” and 100% agave. The former is diluted with a “fuck-knows-what” neutral spirit but the latter is pure unadulturated agave deliciousness. Having rejected all mixto tequila on a life-is-too-short-for-inferior-tequila basis the remaining 100% agave tequila is sorted into three further types; white (aka silver, plata or blanco) is unaged, reposado is slightly aged (“rested”) and anejo is barrel aged for yet longer (at least one year). Tequila aficionados often suggest that blanco is the truest expression of the agave but I must admit to being more of a repo man – more of which later. So far, so good but one problem is that tequila is a very fragmented product. That is to say that there are a large number of competing products and that the selection varies considerably in different markets. Find a good 100% blanco or reposado that is available in your region but bear in mind that price isn’t always a good guide to quality in tequila and that personal tastes do vary. To get you started might I suggest that El Jimador is affordable, widely available and solid, if a bit on the dull side. If Espolon is available in your neck of the woods, go for it – it’s an excellent mid-price mixing tequila and as an added bonus has a picture of a skeleton riding a chicken on it.

Fixing the Margarita.

The best way to proceed with a drink that has been so horribly debased by The Dark Ages (1970 – 2000) is to forget everything we know about it and return to the source recipe. But which one? Well, it’s my belief that the starting point might well have been an equal parts (and how we love those) mixture of tequila, fresh lime juice and orange liqueur, shaken with ice and strained into a cocktail glass. With a salted rim? Probably not. Try that first and see if it lights your fire. If it does, one of the core reasons that is that orange liqueurs tend to be in the 35-40% zone – much higher than other liqueurs – and are working as a base as much as they are a sweetener. Stick this recipe in your belt as an easy to remember Ur-gerita and we’ll take a trip forward in time to the more modern “real” Margarita which generally follows a 2 tequila/1 Cointreau/1 lime juice formula. The first thing that strikes you is how tart either of versions are compared to the Margarita’s you’ve had before. There’s a good reason for this; the Margarita is supposed to be tart. If you’re still unconvinced add a teaspoon or two of simple syrup (more orange liqueur would skew the flavour balance too far) until it suits your palate. Remember the balance will be somewhat dependent on the sourness of your limes and your choice of orange liqueur. Speaking of optional extras, a tiny pinch of rough sea salt over the finished drink is all the garnish that is needed.

You’ll see some recipes that call for a mix of lemon and lime juice but I’m pretty confident that the lemon component was simply a cost-saving modification that stuck – and that should be taken out the back and shot. However, serving either of these versions in a tumbler over ice wouldn’t qualify as a crime. We’re not done with the Margarita just yet so watch this space for a couple of interesting variations.


Margarita (original?)

1.25oz / 37ml tequila (100% agave, blanco)

1.25oz / 37ml fresh lime juice

1.25oz / 37ml orange liqueur (triple sec, Cointreau etc.)

1 teaspoon (5ml) of simple syrup (optional – see text).

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled champagne coupé.

Sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt (optional).


Margarita (modern).

2oz / 60ml tequila (100% agave, blanco)

1oz / 30ml fresh lime juice

1oz / 30ml orange liqueur (triple sec, Cointreau etc.)

1 teaspoon (5ml) of simple syrup (optional – see text).

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled champagne coupé.

Sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt (optional).

Toast Margarita, whoever she was.


 

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Pisco Inferno + home-made chili liqueur.

Burn, baby, burn…

Pisco Inferno.

We recently looked at a very tasty classic cocktail – the Pisco Sour. Tinkering around with such classics is a fun way to come up with new drinks, most of the hard work already having been done for you. My Pisco Inferno is the result of precisely such jiggery-pokery. It’s a bit of a playful cheeky number this one. The idea is that the drinker thinks the name is simply (and it is) a reference to the classic 70s hit Disco Inferno and that it all looks a bit fun, lightweight and discoesque but when they taste it and get that tingling on their lips; “Ah, Pisco Inferno, I get it!” And that lip-tingling effect would be due to the secret ingredient – chili liqueur – which makes up the sweet component. Now there is a commercial chili liqueur called Ancho Reyes that is highly regarded but muy costoso and I didn’t want to burn through 40 odd beer tokens for an experiment. Solution? Make my own chili liqueur. At this point about 90% of the readers have tuned out because a) This guy is a cheapskate or b) This is going to be a lot of hassle. Congratulations remainers; you’re about to find out how easy, fun and yet subtly impressive making your own liqueurs can be. The principles below are applicable to the manufacture of any number of liqueurs using relatively dry flavouring ingredients – your imagination is the only limiting factor. Simply use any appropriate base spirits and make sure the strength of those extracting spirits is above 40%, fortifying them with a little high strength vodka or other neutral spirit (eg. Everclear/alcool blanc) if necessary.

Chili Liqueur.

In a clean jam jar or mason jar pour 120ml of tequila and 60ml of 50%ABV vodka. Add 6 large dried chili peppers (more if you’re a total chili-head), a swathe of thin lemon peel (little or no pith) and a teaspoon of peppercorns (I used some smoked ones I happened to have because: smoked!). Close and leave for 1 week, shaking at least daily. Strain out the liquid and throw away the solids. In this case a fine sieve should do the trick but more often you’ll need to use some unbleached coffee filters† to hold back super-fine particles. You should be down to about 150ml as some liquid is locked into the spices by now. This spice-infused alcoholic liquid is called a tincture and we’ll be dealing with those again in due course but basically we’re harnessing alcohol’s secret super-power of sucking the flavour out of almost anything. Now all you need to do is add another 100ml of 40% spirit (I used some vanilla vodka that I had going spare because: vanilla and chili – mmmm) and 150ml of fresh 2:1 simple syrup to your tincture. You now have about 450ml of a moderately spicy chili liqueur at about 26%ABV that should keep pretty much forever. See, that really wasn’t very difficult was it? You can apply the same basic formula to create any number of home-made liqueurs. Tip: don’t just use the main flavouring but consider complimentary flavours too (as above).


Pisco Inferno.

20z / 60ml pisco.

1oz / 30ml fresh lime juice.

0.75oz / 22ml chili pepper liqueur (Ancho Reyes* or your own).

1oz / 30ml egg white or aquafaba.

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

Wait for the foamy head to settle then sprinkle with something disco appropriate from the cake decorating department (as pictured or perhaps candy stars/silver baubles etc) which will remain until the end giving a sweet rewarding last sip to counter the bite of the chili.

Toast The Trammps for their 1976 disco classic.


†An even better solution are reusable superfine filters used for cold brewed and filter coffee. They don’t have the disadvantage of soaking up some of your precious tincture. Or ripping. Or running out. Or imparting a “papery” flavour. It’s also possible to “filter” by simply letting the solids settle to the bottom and then very carefully pouring out the clear part (a bottle with a abrupt neck such as a classic wine bottle is ideal).

*Given that I have not yet tested Ancho Reyes you might have to adjust the quantity for sweet/sour balance.

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French 75.

Don’t go over the top.

French 75.

While the combination of the internet and a renewed interest in classic cocktails has been a wonderful thing, giving us all sorts of new research into drinks of old it has one downside. The simple and elegant creation legends of many cocktail have been exposed as just that; legends. A case in point is the undisputed king of champagne cocktails, the French 75. Since the late 90s I’ve been telling my guests the the back story of the 75 only to now realise that it’s almost entirely bogus. But it’s such a good story I’m going to tell it to you one last time:

In the early days of The Great War (although participants probably preferred the term “sucky war”), long before the Americans joined in, France and Britain faced Germany on the Western Front. While the working class types in the trenches fueled up on cheap wine and rum respectively, their officers had access to more sophisticated tipples; the British their gin and the French their Champagne. Furthermore the French were horrified by the thought of a victorious German army necking their sacred Champagne and decided they’d better consume the lot themselves, just in case. As a result the allied officers came up with a concoction of gin and Champagne tempered by some lemon juice and sugar and all named after a French field gun which they fortified themselves with prior to going “over the top”.

We now know that, while certainly dating to the early days of the First World War, the drink was more likely concocted in the bars of Paris and had a completely different composition. However, a few years after hostilities had (briefly) ceased something more recognisable to the modern cocktailien had emerged. Even so, recipes have fluctuated over the years and the one I first used some 20 years ago is something of an outlier but one that has been a consistent crowd pleaser ever since. Based on Paul Harrington’s recipe in his 1998 classic Cocktail we mix equal quantities of dry gin, Cointreau and lemon juice and simply add three quarters of an ounce (22ml) of the chilled mix to a glass of dry Champagne. My guests found it a bit dry (and I found it a bit expensive*) so I soon switched to demi-sec cava and it became an instant favourite. An added advantage of this version is that it’s easy to make up and chill some “75 mix” in advance and hand out a nice cold glass of Soixante Quinze to guests as they arrive at your soirée. Seldom have I hosted a party that didn’t begin with a round of 75s (well there was that time we started with Micro-Zombies but it didn’t end well). Something similar but with sugar syrup instead of Cointreau is probably the most common version in recent years and there is also a fairly valid argument for using cognac instead of the gin. There is however a more modern (and possibly more authentic) interpretation that views the French 75 as more of a Tom Collins but with Champagne instead of soda water. When Mrs Proof asked for a French 75 the other day I took a risk and made her this version. After one sip she handed it back and simply said, “Non.” That can be a problem with signature drinks; alterations are not easily tolerated. Personally I’m rather fond of the newer formula but beneath are both versions so that you can decide for yourselves.

It should be noted that there is also a version known as the French 95 which uses bourbon instead of gin but I feel that it’s a version that should only be served to guests who show up when the party is almost over…


French 75 (Paul Harrington version).

0.25oz / 7.5ml dry gin

0.25oz /7.5ml Cointreau

0.25oz / 7.5ml fresh lemon juice

Pour into a champagne flute and top up with demi-sec sparkling wine*

In practical terms prepare a mix of the first three ingredients in advance, bottle and chill. You should make about 150ml (50ml of each) of “75 mix” for each bottle of fortified bubbles you intend to serve.


French 75 (Collins style).

1.5oz dry gin

1oz fresh lemon juice

0.75oz simple (1:1) syrup

Shake with ice and strain into an ice filled Collins glass.

Top up with dry sparkling wine*

Toast Dom Perignon godfather of the bubbles.


*Unless you want to be particularly flash genuine French Champagne is better sipped au natural rather than used in mixed drinks. Other sparkling wines can be substituted as long as you adjust for any differences in sweetness. My preference is Spanish cava which is excellent value for money, has nice “big” bubbles, and comparable sweetness and labeling conventions to Champagne.

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Pisco Sour.

Are you taking the pisco?

Pisco Sour.

Pisco is a South American grape brandy from either Peru or Chile. In fact there is nothing Peruvians and Chileans like to argue about more than which of them invented pisco and it’s definitive cocktail the Pisco Sour. Actually, they like to argue about football too. Objective observers are pretty sure the Peruvians have dibs on the cocktail, at least in its best known form, with it’s invention by resident gringo Victor Vaughen Morris at his Lima bar somewhere between 1916 and 1924. His creation was likely just a version of the whiskey sour of his homeland but using the more available local hooch. It took a Peruvian bartender there, Mario Bruiget, to perfect the formula with the now ubiquitous (outside of Chile anyway) version with egg-white and bitters. When Morris piscoed himself to death a few years later his bartenders spread the Pisco Sour recipe far and wide. While the version I’m using here is, indeed, the Peruvian one I’m going to attempt to appease both camps by using Chilean pisco as the base, but feel free to use either kind. While it’s fairly acceptable to decorate your Pisco Sour with dots of Angostura bitters, Peruvian Amargo Chuncho bitters are the real deal. They have a rather unique fruity yet mild bitterness that I really like and I use them in many other drinks such as the Moral Turpitude (I just chose a more accessible bitters for publication). Dot a few on the firm surface of the drink and, if you are inclined, once they have spread out a little just gently drag a cocktail stick or toothpick through them to make some pretty patterns. I’m sure you can do a better job than my cack-handed attempt. It seems a shame to use delicious Chuncho as a simple decoration so I often fire a couple of dashes into the shaker as well.


Pisco Sour.

2oz / 60ml pisco (I used Capel).

1oz / 30ml fresh lime juice.

0.75oz / 22ml simple syrup (1:1).

0.75oz / 22ml egg-white or aquafaba.

Shake long and hard with ice and strain into a chilled champagne coupé or a small tumbler. Wait a minute for the foamy head to develop then drop a few dots of Angostura or Amargo Chuncho bitters on top (see text).

Toast Victor and Mario.


 

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Rebujito + sherry.

Let’s hit the sack.

Rebujito + sherry.

Sherry cocktails? Seriously? Isn’t that just for old ladies? Well apparently not, as sherry seems to be finding its way into many high-end cocktails these days. Is it because craft cocktailistas are always on the lookout for untried and interesting flavour combinations or is it because sherry can be had for four quid a bottle which can seriously boost your mark-up (I mean have you seen the price of moustache wax these days)? Who knows? Let’s investigate and see if we can find a not-too-pompous sherry drink along the way.

Sherry/Jerez/Xeres/Sack.

Sherry is a fortified wine from the very southern tip of Spain. It’s been struggling for a long time against the curve of drinking history as it has come to be viewed as something of a dinosaur. The Spanish themselves might not have lost faith in their beloved Jerez but to the rest of the world it was viewed as the drink of spinsters and stuffy retired British Colonels. Outside of Spain sherry’s rep has been damaged further by a degree of confusion over the many styles, a prevalence of the less good styles (aka cream sherries) and the misconception that sherry keeps forever once opened (it degrades pretty quickly). If you’ve ever tasted sherry the chances are high that it was both of inferior quality and horribly oxidised. But perhaps, while we all busy were re-discovering vermouth, resurrecting rye and dabbling with amari, Xeres was patiently waiting for its moment? To find out we need to try the good stuff – and drink it fresh. The good stuff is labelled as follows (light to intense): Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado, Oloroso. Anything else is likely to be loaded with sugar. If you do want to use a sweet sherry consider only Pedro Ximénez (PX) sherry. Regarding freshness, we should notice that the Spanish consider their Jerez to be almost as perishable as white wine and store it accordingly. Use an unopened bottle within a year of purchase and once opened use a vacuum stopper and keep in the fridge for no more that two weeks – and the Spanish would probably say that’s pushing it.

Rebujito.

A popular summer festival drink in southern Spain, the Rebujito usually just consists of cheap sherry mixed with a lemon-lime soda such as 7-Up or Sprite. However the use of higher quality ingredients takes the Rebujito to the next level. The sherry needs to be decent and above all dry. Fino or Manzanilla sherry are what you should be looking for here as other types are either too forceful or too sweet. Likewise using fresh lemon juice, syrup and soda, is, as always, a worthwhile upgrade. If that just leads us to a Sherry Collins there can surely be no harm in that? In any case the inherent nuttiness of sherry sets this quite apart from other members of the Collins family. The name seems to mean “tangled up” or “mixed up” which makes a certain sense but I like the (almost certainly incorrect) translation that Google Translate threw out: “rebuild”. This is a certainly drink that would rebuild your energy on a roasting day. As a friend said when I was telling him about this drink, “Those Spanish kids can turn any old shit into a decent drink”. He was referring to the Kalimotxo of the Basque country which is a equal parts mixture of cheap red wine and Coca-Cola. Actually it’s better than it sounds. Given sherry’s lack of longevity once opened, the Rebujito is best deployed as a spring or summer BBQ or picnic drink for a number of guests. Easily batched up to pitcher size, not too potent and refreshingly different the Rebujito will score you maximum brownie points with minimal effort. You can vary the sherry content between 2 and 3oz (60-90ml) per serving depending on the number you expect to be consumed but it is essential that you use a decent Fino or Manzanilla as the vague “Dry” label can hide all sorts of evils.


Rebujito.

2-3oz / 60-90ml Fino sherry (or Manzanilla).

1oz / 30ml fresh lemon juice.

0.75oz / 22.5ml simple syrup (1:1).

Pour over ice in a tall glass. Top up with chilled soda water.

Garnish with a lemon slice. The addition of a few mint leaves is also perfectly pleasant.

Toast those crazy Spanish kids.


 

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Pegu Club.

In Rangoon the heat of noon
Is just what the natives shun.

Pegu Club.

We recently looked at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club cocktail and this libation has a similar history. The Pegu Club was the favourite hang-out of pre-war British colonialists in what was then Burma and is now Myanmar. This prestigious edifice near the then capital of Rangoon (now called Yangon and no longer the capital) was where the likes of George Orwell went for a bracing Pegu Club house cocktail as a relief from the tropical heat and a bit of a break from oppressing the locals. George later regretted and atoned for his part as an imperialist police officer by fighting against fascism in the Spanish Civil War (there was nothing civil about it) so we’ll let him off the hook. The first written mention of the Pegu Club cocktail is in legendary Scottish bartender Harry McElhones 1922 Barflies and Cocktails and is also encoded in Harry Craddock’s 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book with a footnote stating that it was extremely popular at that time. An endorsement by two of the greatest cocktail barmen of all time has made it an enduring classic. The original recipe  – 2oz gin, 1oz curacao, a teaspoon of lime juice and a dash each of orange and Angostura bitters shaken and served up – has evolved considerably over the years and modern versions tend to use a lot more lime juice. These modern versions make for a very approachable cocktail but once in a while I’ll make one to the original formula; it really is a completely different beast. The version below is my own preferred modern style specification but other variations certainly abound and you could tinker with it until you find it to your own liking. Many spec’s call for both orange and Angostura bitters but with the orange flavour already present I prefer to double down on the Ango. I also find the aroma of a kaffir lime leaf to add a lot to the experience. You can buy a bag of these frozen delights from any Thai shop and keep them in your freezer until needed.

Where the Englishmen hung out when they weren’t out in the mid-day sun.


Pegu Club.

1.5oz / 45ml dry gin.

1oz / 30ml orange liqueur*.

0.75oz / 22.5ml fresh lime juice.

1 tsp / 5ml of 1:1 simple syrup (adjust to taste*).

2 dashes of Angostura bitters.

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled champagne coupé.

Garnish with lime, grapefruit peel or a kaffir lime leaf.

Toast George Orwell (1903 – 1950).


*I like Pierre Ferrand in this but Cointreau, curaçao (non-blue) or triple sec are all viable options. Adjust for the sweetness of the liqueur by adding or subtracting from the syrup component.

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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:

B-


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:

B


Conclusion

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.

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