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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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.

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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.

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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.

or

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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