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.

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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.

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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.


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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.

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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.


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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.


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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).


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The Martini.

Gin Martini, stirred, not shaken. Suck on that 007.

The Martini.

Creation myths of the Martini are many and varied and we are unlikely to ever find out which of them are true. What we do know is that by the first years of the 20th century the Martini existed as an equal mixture of gin and dry vermouth with a dash of orange bitters and spent the rest of that century getting dryer and dryer. For the uninitiated, the less vermouth the “drier” the Martini. However the definition of a “dry” Martini is somewhat contextual. In 1910 a Dry Martini might have meant two parts gin to one part vermouth but fifty years later it largely meant drinking some chilled gin whilst looking at a bottle of vermouth. A 10:1 ratio was not at this time unheard of and the orange bitters had been quietly dropped. In the 1950s and 1960s the Martini reigned supreme, untroubled by other cocktails and ensconced firmly in the famous three-Martini lunch. The end of the Martini began with James Bond’s “Vodka Martini, shaken not stirred” which was, frankly, not a Martini at all but just try telling that to, well, anyone. By the late Dark Ages almost every drink in the cocktail lexicon had become a [insert fruit flavour]tini. These drinks were evil giant vodka and artificial flavour based monstrosities and the damage to the original stirred gin Martini was pretty much complete. Of course things have improved and those Frankentinis have found their deserved place down the drain of cocktail history. Yet our cocktail revival seems to still be a touch wary of the Martini for reasons that are quite understandable, if none-the-less misplaced. It wasn’t the poor Martini’s fault that it was so horribly debased and we should really cut it a bit more slack – and indeed some enlightened drinkers now are. While to many the Martini may still seem a tad prosaic, the classic Martini appears to be on the verge of reclaiming its rightful place in the cocktail canon. We should also acknowledge many tipplers who have stuck with the Martini through thick and thin, including the Queen of England who reportedly enjoys a dry Martini. Every. Single. Day. In its new found acceptance we see the Martini returning to its early years with preferences looking decidedly “wetter” – 4:1, 3:1, 2:1 and even 1:1 Martini requests (aka the “Fitty-Fitty”) will no longer result in a look of utter disgust from the bartender. And the dash or two of orange bitters is back – largely because you can actually buy orange bitters again after a near total drought in the late 20th century. Furthermore we now have the luxury of a veritable plethora of quality and innovative gins and dry vermouths to endlessly pair up in search of Martini nirvana. For the true Martini is a thing of undeniably pristine, piercing, primordial beauty. It is at once a perfect diamond, a crystal clear mountain stream, the light of the evening star. It is as crisp and pure as the first snow of winter. It is, at once, both demanding yet accessible. Simple yet complex. Egalitarian yet decadent. Whether you’re a stranger to Mr Martini or it’s just a long time since you last spoke, it’s time to put things right. Pick up your favourite dry gin, an excellent dry vermouth and take a step into the past. Or is it the future?

The Martini.

2oz / 60ml quality dry gin of choice (I used Blackwood’s).

0.5oz / 15ml dry vermouth – or anything between 1ml and 2oz. (I used Dolin dry.)

2 dashes orange bitters (I used Regan’s No.6).

Stir well with ice and strain into a well chilled cocktail glass.

Garnish with either a lemon twist or a green olive.

Toast Queen Elizabeth II – keeping the Martini alive, one day at a time, since 1953.

Some notes:

If making your first Martini I suggest a 4:1 ratio. Thereafter adjust to your taste. Make sure your glass is well chilled – preferably having spent at least a few hours in the fridge. In this case do NOT peel the lemon over the glass; we don’t want to be making a Lemontini here. Make sure your vermouth is as fresh as possible. Not. Ever. Vodka.

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The Garnish. Part One + dehydrated citrus wheels

The Golden Age (a work in progress).

Garnish schmarnish.

“So what’s all this garnishing nonsense,” you ask. Ahhh. I’ve been expecting and slightly dreading that question. You’re right of course, it’s something we need to talk about. Now first up I should point out that a) I’m not the most accomplished garnisher and b) I’m a bit opinionated on the subject (no surprise, right?) but if you want my twist on it read on and, as always, I’ll try to reward your patience with a handy shortcut. Oh, you’re still here? Great.

First of all let’s get one thing straight. Garnish and presentation are two different things which shouldn’t be confused. When a fancy-ass cocktail bar serves your drink in a tin can wrapped in brown paper and string that’s presentation (or more likely a gimmick to justify their eye-watering prices). When a bartender serves you a Negroni without its proper garnish – a twist, swathe or slice of orange – that’s a crime against civilisation.

The garnish, while by all means attractive, must primarily be functional. By which I mean it should add something to the flavour profile of a drink. In the example above I’ve garnished my Dutch East Indies Company themed drink with a sprinkling of spices and an orange and clove “Admiral’s hat”. If it looks nice that’s just a happy bonus – each of those ingredients is primarily there to be tasted and or smelled (smell making a big contribution to perceived taste). By far the most common garnish, and the only one we’ll deal with today, is some kind of citrus fruit; in mixed drinks usually a slice or wedge and in cocktails more often a thin slice of peel. Be assured that none of this is just for show. After all, surely everyone agrees that a gin and tonic without a slice of citrus (usually lemon but these days it could just as easily be lime, grapefruit or even yuzu) just doesn’t taste right? But while a slice is nice, the peel is the real deal. The peel of fresh citrus fruit is packed with flavourful oils and the act of cutting those and twisting them releases a surprising amount of flavour that can absolutely change the taste of a drink without watering it down. For maximum effect cut the peel right above the finished drink but be aware that this can give too much oil. For example if you want to add a lemon twist in a delicate drink like a Martini cut your spiral away from the glass or it will overpower it. Those lovely fragrant oils reside on the outermost layer of the peel (the bumpier the surface the better) but the white layer beneath is bitter so try to avoid taking the pith [snare, cymbal]. In general you want as thin a slice as possible and, for those without chef level knife skills, the humble potato peeler is the easiest way to achieve this.

Use of standard issue potato peeler.

Using a knife and going a just little bit into the pith is also fine and gives a more forgiving swathe to work with. Going deep into the pith or as far as the flesh are definitely no-no’s.

Or a small sharp knife. Note increased pithiness.

Once you have your swathe of citrus there are no more rules; trim it, twist it, shape it, skewer it, flame it. Whatever. It’s up to you. Be creative and be assured you’ll quickly get better with practice. All you need it a chopping board and a small sharp knife. I like the one I found in a kitchen supplier which has a full sized grip but a very small sharp blade. It probably has some special cheffy purpose that I’m ignorant of but it’s absolutely idea for garnishing. If you’d like to make very long thin citrus ribbons you could also invest in an inexpensive tool called a channel knife which is easy to use and positively sprays out citrus oil.

Tidy it up a bit – if you can be arsed.

In my opinion (oh, yes, here we go), there is a prevailing tendency to over-garnish (and over-present) these days. My theory for this follows: It’s quite hard to make a decent margin on cocktails compared to beer or wine so good cocktails tend to have a premium price. And if you have a premium price you need to make sure the customer doesn’t have a “Damn, I could just make this myself at home!” moment. Fancy garnishing has a role to play in preventing that idea getting traction (along with esoteric liqueurs and bitters). Well, it’s either that or have another rant at the hipsters and that’s getting a bit old. If you promise not to laugh at my hypocrisy considering my lead picture (cut me some slack – I’m trying to run a blog here and a bit of visual impact does help) I’d advocate keeping things relatively simple and restrained on the garnish front. Except with Tiki. Obviously.

There are few hard and fast rules in garnishland and opinions do vary. For example, I never garnish a Daiquiri – although plenty of people do. A Daiquiri already tastes of fresh lime – at least it f***ing better – so what is the point of a lime wedge on the edge? Exactly. A whisky Old Fashioned on the other hand is quite unfinished without the thin layer of intense orange oil that coats its surface. Ignore garnishing at your peril. Yes, we’ve only covered citrus this time but we’ll get to some other ideas later.

But hang on, did I offer you a shortcut through the garnishing maze? I think I might have:

Dehydrated citrus wheels: garnishing lite.

The problem with citrus garnishes are that they really can’t be prepared in advance as citrus peel loses it zing amazingly quickly after being separated from the fruit. And that sucks if you’re having a cocktail party. While they’re not the exactly the same thing as a fresh twist, dehydrated citrus wheels are a pretty acceptable substitute that cover much of the same ground. Carefully dried citrus becomes very sweet, very strong and, better yet, very stable, yet when remoisturised (yes, in a drink) releases its essence with aplomb. And you can chew on them. You can buy a dehydrator which will do the job of sucking the moisture out of your citrus wheels over the course of several hours. But that’s not how we roll is it? Especially as we already have a perfectly good dehydrator in our kitchen. Non-cocktailiens call it an “oven”. If you have an oven with a low enough setting – and preferably a fan – you’re sorted. The process is only a few minutes work, even if it takes all day:


Before breakfast slice some citrus of your choice as thinly as you can (about 1-2mm) with a very sharp knife. Spread them out evenly on a drying rack with a tray beneath to catch any drips. Set your oven on the fan setting and about 50ºC or thereabouts and slam in the fruit. Gently. Turn each slice over around lunch time – or don’t, it probably doesn’t matter that much. By early evening you should have some nice dehydrated fruit wheels that are completely dry to the touch but not “cooked”. Taste one. Wow – right? To be honest the timing is a bit oven-dependent so take note of the required time and temperature it takes to achieve total dryness the first time you try this and use those settings in future. That way you can  run a batch overnight or while you’re at work once you have those timings down. A nice bonus is that your kitchen will smell amazing.


If properly dried and stored in a cool dry place in a zip-loc bag they are fine for about a month. Thereafter they start to brown a bit and – while very probably still safe – start to look a bit gnarly. I prefer to chuck those I haven’t used after a week or two in the freezer. That way you always have some handy and they only take seconds to defrost at room temperature.

…and only a few hours later!

As you can see I’ve used limes in these pictures but in my experience any citrus fruit dries at the same rate if sliced to the same thickness so you can even dry different fruits at the same time. Use them however you see fit – but they do float quite nicely.

Freeeeeedom! Drop a slice in your Angle Park or Negroni.







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The Sun King.

Sun King treasure.

The Sun King.

Cognac is a wonderful spirit that I don’t feel is getting used enough these days. Especially as in the early days of the cocktail cognac was the de rigueur mixing spirit. Let’s put things right with a new cognac cocktail. Now it might seem to some that cognac is too good to mix with. Those “some” being those who enjoy sipping on a pricey snifter of VSOP or XO after a good meal and frankly, I totally agree. But fortunately the oft overlooked younger VS cognac is an excellent mixer that turns all it touches to silk and, at least in these parts, costs about the same as a bottle of standard issue Jacky D – or even less if you watch out for special offers like a thrifty Scotsman.

Anyway, if we’re going to create an new cognac drink – and we most certainly are – it seems to me that we should go all out French. It should be a drink fit for a king. A French king. Like Louis XIV. Who they called the Sun King. And who once visited Château de Chambord and tried their famous black raspberry liqueur. Which is also not used nearly enough. But that would be a bit sweet so we’d need something bitter to balance it. Something French. Like Suze. See, some drinks just invent themselves. All we have to do is balance it and then fine tune it. And this drink proves responsive to some standard approaches; a couple of dashes of orange bitters and a thin slice of lemon peel. I must say that I’m rather partial to this drink. While the main ingredients combine together very well there are also times where it seems like one of them tries to elbow its way to the front for a moment only to be pulled back by another one. Maybe it’s a French thing.

The Sun King.

2oz / 60ml VS cognac (I find Courvoisier rather good in the VS department).

0.75oz / 22.5ml Suze.

0.5oz / 15ml Chambord.

2 dashes of orange bitters.

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled champagne coupé*.

Garnish with a slice of lemon peel.

Toast Louis XIV (1643 – 1715) for sheer tenacity if nothing else.

*By the way American friends, it’s pronounced “Koo-pay“, not “Koop“. That’s a place you keep chickens.

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