Old Cuban.

De Alto Cedro voy para Marcané…

Old Cuban.

Just recently we were looking at the Gin Gin Mule by Audrey Saunders so it seems like the right time to examine her other famous creation – the Old Cuban. It’s a kind of French 75/Mojito lovechild that’s somewhat counter-intuitively served in a stem glass without ice and yet works surprisingly well. Quite where Audrey found a supply of aged Cuban rum back in 2001 New York is something of a mystery since it was embargoed at that time*. While Bacardi 8 is often called for in this recipe be aware that’s really just because Americans have no access to the right juice. For the rest of the world it’s Havana Club 7 all the way – yes, in the strange world of cocktails 7>8. Conversely while Champagne is the correct topping I think it’s a bit of a waste mixing with the real stuff and usually work with a decent dry (brut) cava instead. Your choice.

The Old Cuban is a little tricky to balance, requiring care not to let the Angostura take over: I love my Ango but quickly discovered that this is not the place to get too enthusiastic with it. Double straining is essential in this case as mint fragments ruin the look and mouth-feel of the Old Cuban. Make sure you can taste the mint but not see it. It is usually served with a mint leaf or sprig garnish but I’m not convinced that it’s really necessary if you managed to get enough mint oils in at the muddling stage. I gave it the benefit of the doubt for the picture but I wouldn’t complain if it was served without. Speaking of the picture I’m gonna replug a book for those of you interested in the history of the cocktail revival. Audrey Saunders and Pegu Club play a significant part in A Proper Drink by Robert Simonson [ISBN 978-1-60774-754-3]. While it’s certainly a bit meta it does do an excellent job of explaining how we got from the Dark Ages (c.1970 – 2000) to cocktail Nirvana (c.2005 – ∞). It’s the perfect gift for a manic cocktail nerd – which is where my copy came from…


Old Cuban

1.5oz / 45ml aged Cuban rum (such as Havana Club 7).

0.75oz / 22ml fresh lime juice.

0.75oz simple syrup (1:1)**

6 mint leaves.

2 careful dashes of Angostura bitters.

2oz / 60ml chilled Champagne or cava (brut).

Muddle the first four ingredients in a shaker. Add ice and bitters. Shake and double strain into a largish*** chilled cocktail glass. Top up with chilled bubbles.

Toast old Cubans.


*And still more-or-less is. You won’t normally be deprived of any Cuban rum you bring into the USA but none of the real stuff is imported. The “Havana Club” you might find in the US is a fairly insipid affair made by Bacardi that exists purely for them to perpetuate their spurious copyright claims. It’s a long story that I won’t bore you with this time around.

**Originally 1oz / 30ml but I found that a little sweet. Adjust to your taste.

*** The Old Cuban is a bit big for standard sized coupés so you will need a more capacious one. I find the kind of glass (pictured) which was popular for starters and desserts in the 1970s and 80s to be ideal. Since they’re seriously out of fashion for culinary use, nice ones can be found in charity shops for next to nothing. Otherwise a wine glass would be fine.

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Gin Gin Mule

Conversion therapy.

Conversion therapy.

Gin Gin Mule

How many times have you heard a guest say,”I don’t like gin/rum/whisky”? These pre-existing dislikes are often based on bad experiences long ago with iffy examples of those spirits and should be seen as something of a challenge. These people are just dying to be converted, even if they don’t know it yet. Therefore we should have a few “conversion” drinks up our sleevies for such occasions and the Gin Gin Mule is the perfect example.

The Gin Gin Mule was created by Audrey Saunders in the early naughties in New York. But Audrey wasn’t just in the business of converting gin haters she was at the forefront of bringing cocktails out of the nascent cocktail revival and unto the masses. Until Audrey Saunders happened the new cocktail movement was very much an underground affair confined to a handful of tiny speakeasy bars and elitist lounges but in 2005 Audrey’s full scale Pegu Club bar in SoHo (not Rangoon) dragged it out into the light, held it up by the toes and shook it around for everyone to see. And the rest is history. Saunders ran a slick operation and only hired the most talented staff and as a consequence there are remarkably few modern big name American cocktail bars and bartenders that don’t have some connection back to the early days of the Pegu. Anyhows – enough ramble – there be gin-haters to convert! Once more unto the breach, dear friends…

The Gin Gin Mule is basically a mash up of the Moscow Mule (a bullshit schlocktail that won’t be seeing the light of day on these pages) and the Glory that is the Mojito. With gin. The recipe below is the original version which Audrey created using a home-made ginger beer (we might come to that in future) but if using a commercial ginger beer (which tend to be quite sweet) I’d suggest slicing the sugar syrup down to a scant 0.75oz as a starting point but, as always we should be tweaking the balance to suit the ingredients.  While the GG Mule doesn’t sound terribly sophisticated (and I have some concerns about the name*) it’s the way that the gin interacts with the other ingredients that is the real genius. When the ginger/mint/botanical balance is right you’ll have those gin haters eating out of the palm of your hand.


Gin Gin Mule

1.75oz / 52ml Tanqueray gin (or similar).

0.75oz / 22ml fresh lime juice.

1oz / 30 ml simple (1:1) syrup – but see above text!

6 mint leaves.

1oz / 30 ml ginger beer (not ginger ale).

Gently muddle the mint, lime juice and syrup in the bottom of your shaker. Try not to break up the mint leaves. Add ice, gin and the ounce of ginger beer. Shake gently so as not to break up the mint leaves**. Pour unstrained into an iced Collins glass. Top up with a little more ginger beer (optional) and garnish with a mint sprig. Apply to gin haters and observe conversion thereof.

Toast Audrey Saunders.


*Gin for gin, Gin for ginger, yet Mule already tells us about the ginger beer. Too much redundancy IMHO.

**Really, try not to break up the mint leaves too much.

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Seedlip Spice 94 – alcohol free “gin” review.

Lip up fatty.

Seedlip Spice 94

Hola cocktailistas! A few weeks back we considered a brace of alcohol free “gins” (you probably want to read that first or much of the following will make little sense) but it was clear to me that no such reviewage could carry much gravitas without perusal of the market leader in this small but growing category. Therefore, as (vaguely) promised, let’s get things up to date with one of Seedlip’s three offerings. Three? Yep, as we all know everything in cocktailville comes in threes and the peeps at Seedlip, paying much attention to such convention, have thusly concocted their alcohol free spirits (let’s stop messing around and call them gins even if they legally aren’t) in triplicate. I’ve chosen Spice 94 Aromatic for this review but there’s also a Grove 42 Citus and a Garden 108 Herbal in the range. I’ve not yet been able to ascertain what the numbers indicate but, frankly, who cares?

Seedlip Spice comes in a fairly plain yet attractive clear cylindrical bottle and is well sealed with a substantial, well fitting metal cap. The label, besides the “plantimal” – which I find vaguely creepy but I suspect is no big deal to anyone else – provides much information. I like much information. While Fluère and Siegfried Wonderleaf had miniscule calorie counts, Seedlip has absolutely zero calories. And zero everything else too, most significantly alcohol. Seedlip are open about their use of preservatives (potassium sorbate and citric acid: neither of which are very scary) but at least that gives us a decent shelf-life of 6 months after opening. Fluère and Wonderleaf are preservative-free but don’t keep nearly as long. You pays your money, you makes your choice but, personally, I’m happy enough with the extended shelf-life. One thing that puzzles me though is that Seedlip claim to be the first ever alcohol-free distilled spirit but also say that it’s based on a recipe in a book from 1651. Errr, I don’t think you can have that both ways guys. But enough faffing around – let’s have a sniff and taste.

The predictably clear and tearless Seedlip has a pleasant aroma of clove and/or  allspice with a hint of citrus and those flavours certainly come through quite firmly when sipped – although in common with other alcohol-free spirits it comes over a little “thin”. But tasting these gins neat is a bit unfair as they are just not designed to be consumed au natural. Mixed with a good tonic it is quite easy to forget you’re drinking alcohol free and I particularly enjoyed it with some elderflower tonic which seemed to mesh with it better than it does with some other gins.

2oz Seedlip Spice 94, ice, lemon twist and about 200ml of Fever Tree elderflower tonic.

But, hey, this is a cocktail hangout so we’d better shake into a Bee’s Knees just like we did with the other ones, right? With the Spice 94 the Bee’s Knees was a breeze. The spice flavours were strong enough to cut through the lemon and honey but it was more restrained than with the Wonderleaf – right in the Goldilocks zone. I expect it would do well in many other gin cocktails as well but you’d probably want to stick to those without other alcoholic content such as the Gimlet, Southside and the Business (the twin sister to the Bee’s Knees).

The comparison of Spice 94 with (my memory of) Fluère and Siegfried Wonderleaf is most interesting. The Seedlip sits between the two with a good balance of spice and citrus. The clove/allspice flavours place it closer to Wonderleaf but it’s more complex and less forceful than the latter which I felt was something of a blunt instrument. So far, so good, but we inevitably come to Seedlip’s slight downside – it’s not cheap. I paid €24.50 for my 700ml bottle (with 500ml of Fever Tree tonic bundled) in the Netherlands* but back in its native Britain, £26 is more than you’d pay for plenty of good gins and they have to fork out in the region of £8-10 per bottle in alcohol duty. Still, the other two aren’t that much cheaper and you do get that extra longevity. All of which makes Seedlip Spice 94 my alcohol-free gin of choice so far.

While I’m still lacking quite enough data to grade these products I’m going to give tentative marks as follows.

Fluere:

B-

Siegfried Wonderleaf:

B.

Seedlip Spice 94 Aromatic:

A-

 


*We’re not allowed to call ourselves Holland any more – but at least we still get cheaper booze than many countries.

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10 Bottles / 10 Cocktails.

Round up the usual suspects…

10 Bottles / 10 Cocktails.

This cocktail malarky is all well and good, but how are you supposed to get started on your journey to mixin’ Nirvana? Excellent question dear reader. With ten green bottles*. Some pundits recommend one or other “12 bottle bar” but here at Proof we’ve gone two bottles better to keep things simple for our new recruits. It’s a nice round number (although there’s always some show-off who tries to go one better) and I’ll show you a similar number of crowd pleasing classic cocktails you can make with them. The 10 bottles are designed to be an affordable starting point to grow from but they also represent 10 bottles that the cocktailista should always have in stock. You’ll find the reasoning and some alternatives with each one and, further down, 10 cocktails which we’ve already visited that you should, after some time, be able to make from memory. Yes, they lean heavily on the sour family but getting those sours cracked is the key to developing good cocktail understanding and skills. No, there’s no Scotch (comes later) or vodka (go right now to the headmaster’s office and tell him what you just said to me!) but we’ve still managed to cram a lot of diversity into these few bottles. Shall we do this? Blindin’:

10 Bottles

1. Wild Turkey 101. A bourbon whisky of 50.5% ABV that is a superb mixer and is relatively affordable and widely available. It’s one of few bourbons that can do double duty in drinks that call for rye whisky due to its dry spicy nature and some rye content. If you find the “kickin’ chicken” a bit too characterful for you I suggest Buffalo Trace or Four Roses small batch as excellent alternatives. An alternative alternative would be a good rye such as Rittenhouse.

2. Pierre Ferrand dry curacao. One of many orange liqueurs PF is, in my opinion, simply the tastiest and most versatile. Triple sec, curaçaos (non-blue!), Cointreau and Grand Marnier are all viable substitutes but have differing levels of sweetness and potency so tread with care.

3. Campari. This King of the amari (Italian bitter liqueurs) is vital for making  Negroni’s and much more. There is no substitute but luckily you can find this anywhere. While it might taste a bit bracing the first time you try it, do persist – it’s a grower.

4. Havana Club 3 Años is simply the best choice for a white rum. The essential ingredient of a proper Daiquiri or Mojito it’s indispensable, affordable and widely available. Unless you live in the USA in which case you’re shit outa luck (don’t be tricked by the fake stuff they sell stateside but go for Plantation 3 Stars or El Dorado 3 instead).

5.  Plantation Original Dark is a very versatile dark rum that punches well above its moderate price. Makes a nice rum Old Fashioned and so much more.

6. Calle 23 reposado tequila. A reasonably priced yet high quality, 100% agave, slightly aged tequila that makes a superb Margarita. Equally good alternatives are reposados from Espolon, Olmeca Altos and Don Julio.

7. Tanqueray export gin. A rock solid mixing gin that also makes a nice G&T. Not as fancy as some but better than many more expensive gins. Alternatives include Bombay Sapphire,  and Broker’s.

8. Punt e Mes is a sweet (aka Italian) vermouth but with a twist. It’s a bittered sweet vermouth that will make your Manhattans and Negronis shine and, in my opinion, is the tastiest and most adaptable mid-price example. If you eschew bitter flavours try Dolin instead.

9. Courvoisier VS cognac. A smooth and flavourful mixing cognac that won’t break the bank, Courvoisier is my go-to brandy but you could sub VS offerings from Hennessy, Remy Martin, Martell or Chateau Montifaud. If you have to drop your 10 bottles to 9 this is the one to let go but then you won’t be able to make the delicious Sidecar.

10. Angostura bitters. To round things off you will, of course, need a bottle of bitters and there’s only one place to start – the ultra-classic non-negotiable Lord-o-the-bitters Angostura.

Extras: OK so you do need a few other things but you can get them all from your nearest supermarket. Limes, lemons, mint, honey (runny, in a squeezy bottle) and sugar (fine, for making syrup.)

Show me the sours baby!

10 Cocktails

Once in possession of the above you have everything you need to make an excellent range of classic cocktails. Below are 10 crowd pleasers and some variants thereof. All have been previously discussed upon these pages so just click on the links for the recipes.

1. Negroni. The greatest cocktail ever invented. Variants include the Boulevardier (use the Wild Turkey 101 instead of rye).

2. Daiquiri. The other greatest cocktail ever invented (it was a tie) and the entry point to the almost endless sour family. Learn to make this one perfectly and from memory and you will be halfway to cocktail greatness.

3. Whiskey Sour. There are some variations to this one but start by making it like the Daiquiri and work on the foamy-topped version later. The Gold Rush is an interesting variation.

4. Gimlet. Simply a gin Daiquiri but it opens the door to the Southside, the Pegu Club, the Bee’s Knees and many, many more.

5. Margarita. Massively popular but very often badly made – nail this simple drink and become a party legend. Further improved versions are Tommy’s Margarita and my own Repo Man (although you’ll need to add some orange bitters for that).

6. Old Fashioned. More of a family of drinks, cut your teeth on a bourbon or rum O.F first.

7. Mojito. This evergreen summer cooler is very popular but takes some skill to get right. My favourite variation is the kick-ass Queen’s Park Swizzle.

8. Manhattan. Gateway into the wonderful world of stirred aromatic cocktails, the Manhattan is the essential template that you should learn to perfect.

9. Tom Collins. The Collins family are the basis for all long drinks/coolers and, while simple, will always put a smile on the guest’s face. Guaranteed!

10. Sidecar. Just when you thought, “He’s not going to use the brandy!” we come, last but certainly not least, to this classic brandy sour that is tricky to balance but ever so rewarding when you do.

With these simple drinks under your belt you’ll be well enough equipped to run a small cocktail party and spread your wings out to face the larger cocktail world. Keep these ten bottles in stock at all times and simply add others as and when needed to make other recipes that catch your eye. Bon voyage!


*OK, OK, so only a couple of them are green – have you never heard of artistic licence FFS?

 

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Roadrunner.

Meep, meep.

Roadrunner.

A wee while ago we made some coffee infused bourbon and it’s such a wonderful thing that it would be a shame not to use it in some more recipes. And in our last exciting episode we talked a bit about the horse’s neck garnish. Might be nice to find another use for that too, right? Enter the Roadrunner. Based on the most superbo Boulevardier –  itself a Negroni variation – my very own Roadrunner uses our bean boosted bourbon and a long curl of thinly sliced orange peel for a extra kick of flavour. I like to serve the ‘runner on the stem simply to be a bit contrarian (horse’s necks being more often found in a long glass and Negroni relatives in a tumbler) but you could serve it in an double Old Fashioned glass with a big cube if that seems a bit racy for you. If you were a fan of the star anise infused Campari from our Red Star a few weeks back I’ve added an option of using a little of that too but be careful to get the balance right so that the anise doesn’t overpower the spice of the coffee. Very much a drink for lovers of cocktails with a bitter spicy edge, the Roadrunner could be toned down a touch by using a less bitter vermouth such as Dolin. While I didn’t have any to hand, I’ve reason to suspect that Carpano Antica might be another option (hey, coffee and vanilla anyone!) but I wouldn’t want to confuse you with too many alternatives. That’s all folks!

1,2,3,4,5,6…


Roadrunner

1.5oz / 45ml coffee infused bourbon (see here).

0.75oz / 22ml Campari*

0.75oz / 22ml Italian vermouth**

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled champagne coupé containing an orange horse’s neck cut directly over the glass.


Toast Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers.


*You can use a little of your StarPari if you like. I’d go 0.5oz regular and 0.25oz anise infused.

**I use Punt e Mes but that might be too bitter for some. See text for alternatives.

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Horse’s Neck.

Get that down yer Gregory.

Horse’s Neck.

No classic cocktail is more intertwined with its garnish than the Horse’s Neck and its horse’s neck. What the heck? Well, confusingly the drink and the garnish share the same name. Thus a Horse’s Neck is both a very long strip of citrus peel (in this case lemon) and/or a long drink containing ginger ale and a horse’s neck. So we’re clear now? Excellent. Let’s make a horse’s neck then. You’ll need a lemon* and a channel knife, which is the shiny implement at the bottom of the above still life. Simply cut a long spiral out of the lemon as smoothly as possible, this being best achieved by holding the tool still and turning the fruit. In this case I’d suggest doing this over the iced glass in order to harvest some of the fresh zesty lemon oil that sprays out abundantly during the process and is an essential component of the drink. Other drinks might benefit form a horse’s neck but the classic use is in a Horse’s Neck so we’d better have a look at where that came from and how to make one.

The Horse’s Neck is bit of a forgotten classic these days and I’d venture that’s because it got royally screwed up over the years. Originally a long drink consisting of brandy, ginger ale and bitters – along with a horse’s neck of course – I’m pretty certain that it was American prohibition that done for our four legged pal. Brandy was particularly unavailable during those dry(er) years but bourbon could still be had due to some of it being classified as “medicinal”. In those troubled times you had to work with what you could get. And by late prohibition bitters was another thing you couldn’t get. Therefore the Horses Neck which had only a few years earlier been a balanced mix of brandy (most likely cognac), ginger ale, aromatic bitters and a fair old dose of lemon oil had become just bourbon and ginger ale. Now I’ve got absolutely nothing against bourbon but I firmly believe the original recipe using brandy to be much tastier and yet, to this day, bourbon versions prevail. It’s a pretty common occurrence for more available spirits to get subbed for those more difficult to find at a given time; which is yet another reason that we should pay attention to cocktail history as the original recipes are very often – but not always – superior.


Horse’s Neck.

Cut a long strip of lemon peel over an iced Collins glass as described above.

Insert resultant horse’s neck into glass.

add:

2oz/60ml Brandy (of choice but VS cognac is a good start**)

3 dashes of Angostura bitters.

3 or 4oz (90-120ml) of a good ginger ale.

Stir gently and serve.

Toast Equus ferus caballus.


*A horse’s neck can be cut from any citrus fruit but the default is lemon. If you have ninja level knife skills you could cut a broader version freehand.

**I used some Jaloviina Tammi Finnish brandy because why not?

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Red Star + star anise infused Campari.

Red Star rising.

Red Star.

Being aware that some of you good readers might not be in possession (yet) of exotic amari and fancy liqueurs called for in many aromatic stirred cocktails I came up with this simple yet satisfying concoction for the cocktail proletariat. If there is one amaro that everyone can get their hands on it is Campari, which is so ubiquitous that we sometimes even forget that is part of that noble family. Frankly if you don’t already have a bottle of the big C on your booze shelf you’re really not taking this cocktail business seriously enough. So there. The Red Star is basically a slightly tweaked Rum Manhattan: two parts rum to one part Italian vermouth, stirred and strained. Where it diverges is that instead of a couple of dashes of bitters we’re gonna use some home-made (yet almost zero effort) star anise infused Campari. Simply put 200ml of Campari in a clean jar. Add ten star anise*, using the most intact ones you can find. Leave for about 48 hours, stirring or shaking now and then. Note that Campari is only around 25% ABV (depending on your region) and wouldn’t normally be great for extracting spice flavours but luckily star anise gives us its essence pretty eagerly. After our soak simply sieve off the liquid but remember to keep the anise pods as we’ll be using them as a garnishBottle the StarPari and leave the drained stars out to dry before storing them in a small jar. Both should keep pretty much indefinitely and, indeed, I kinda like the way there’s no wastage in this simple recipe. The result of the addition of our Prooficated Campari is to add colour, depth and the complex spicy warmth of star anise to our Red Star. Anise can be a divisive spice so if you have a total aversion to it this might not be the cocktail for you but otherwise feel free to adjust the quantity to your taste – I’d say anything from a teaspoon to half an ounce are realistic options. The spice content of the Red Star makes it an excellent autumn/winter cocktail and, might I be as bold as to suggest, the ideal aperitif for a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. I’m just putting it out there now so that you can get some practice in.

 

Result!

Now you might be wondering if you can use your new batch of magic Campari in a Negroni or Americano but the answer is a categorical fuck, yes**.


Red Star.

2oz/60ml Aged Cuban rum (Havana Club 7 is a good starting point).

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

0.25oz/7.5ml Star anise infused Campari as described above (adjust to taste).

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled Nick & Nora glass. Garnish with a Campari-soaked star anise.

Toast the Workers.


*When buying star anise try to find some where the pods (actually dried fruits) are as intact as possible. Buying from a specialist spice supplier can help.

**Although you may wish to use a mix of regular and anisified Campari unless you are a total anisehead.

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Trenchtown Grog.

You groovin’ Kingston 12.

Trenchtown Grog.

There is no cocktail that I enjoy tinkering with more than the Navy Grog (well, maybe the Negroni) and given that there are three different rums as well as bitters and the sweet component the combinations are close to infinite. Some of my Grog variations I keep as closely guarded secrets to be the centrepieces on the menu of my fabulous Tiki bar that exists only in my mind. However, I’m also aware that not everyone wants to have 20+ different rums in stock and this recipe is a way of giving such cocktail fans a taste of both the Navy Grog and funky Jamaican rum in one fairly undemanding drink. It was while tinkering with the deconstruction of Jamaica’s favourite drink – Wray & Ting – that I came up with this simplified Grog that is both deliciously funky and refreshingly simple in that it requires only the one rum and dispenses with any fancy-ass bitters entirely. Because funktastic Wray & Nephew overproof rum is a kick-ass 63%ABV powerhouse we’ll not use too much of it and also blend it with a little ice to temper its sting in typical Navy Grog fashion. Should you lack a blender the usual trick of adding an ounce (30ml) of soda water and shaking hard with crushed ice will get you to a similar place. So it’s easy to make but is it any good? Yah Mon!


Trenchtown Grog.

1.5oz/45ml* Wray & Nephew overproof white rum** (widely available).

1oz/30ml white grapefruit juice (fresh or bottled).

0.75oz/22ml fresh lime juice

1oz/30ml ginger syrup (ideally home-made but commercial will do).

Blend with a small handful of crushed ice until smooth.

Serve with a bamboo straw or, better still, a Navy Grog ice cone.

Toast Trenchtown’s most famous son.


*You can use 2oz/60ml if you’ve had a tough day.

**Rum Fire and Rum Bar white overproof white rums are viable alternatives but are probably harder to find  for most people.

 

 

 

 

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Alcohol free “spirits” – Fluère and Wonderleaf.

Spirits in the sky?

Alcohol free “spirits”.

The next big thing in cocktails is going to be low and no alcohol cocktails. Trust me on this. The potential market is large and includes tee-totallers, responsible drivers, the health conscious, the religiously observant and the likes of me who would just like to enjoy just one or two more cocktails without turning into a gibbering idiot. I’m going to dive into this new category by tasting two relatively new offerings, Fluère and Siegfried Wonderleaf, as pictured above astride a Bee’s Knees.

Let’s first look at what these two new products have in common because I’m still trying to work out a way of reviewing something as quirky as this without any frame of reference. Neither of these products claim to be gin, 1) because they can’t, as most markets have a minimum alcohol requirement (usually 37.5% or 40%) and 2) because, hey, why limit yourself? Nonetheless I’m treating them as gins as they both contain botanicals. Each claim to be a conventionally distilled product and each claim to have a “secret” process for removing the alcohol. I’m assuming this isn’t quite as secret as they’d like as I’ve noticed a considerable improvement in the flavour of many low/no alcohol products (especially beers) in recent times. Now, as everyone probably knows, the market leader in this minuscule category is Seedlip which is highly regarded but kinda pricey. Of course I should be testing Seedlip along with these newcomers but that brings me to an issue common to all of these alcohol free spirits which is their limited shelf life. As they only keep for a few weeks I really didn’t want to have three open at the same time. Good God, I wouldn’t have time to make any drinks with actual gin in them before they went off! If you’re lucky I might review some Seedlip soon to see what all the fuss is about. Am I rambling again? Sorry, where was I? Ah yes, both of the above come in a little cheaper that Seedlip (once you factor in Wonderleaf’s smaller bottle) which is welcome but I feel they should all be cheaper still since there is no alcohol tax on them*. In both cases alcohol content is zero and calories essentially insignificant. Both come very nicely packaged. Fluère’s tall 700ml blue glass bottle with twisted fluting is as beautiful as it is practical, providing a good grip and some protection from strong sunlight. It seals well with an imitation, but convincing, “metal” cap. The label is pretty classy too with its reproduction of Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. I like. The Wondeleaf 500ml bottle is quite the opposite being of the simple apothecary style, clear, squat and stable but with a very nice wood/synthetic stopper with a classy botanical imprint on top**. The smaller bottle for a smaller price (€17 is typical) seems like a sensible idea in the face of a limited shelf-life. I approve. Next up I tasted each on their own and then make some test cocktails which were the inevitable Gin & Tonic and the Bee’s Knees, the latter being a drink that allows the base spirit make its mark. The fact that both of these drinks contain no other alcoholic components also helps in the evaluation.

Divergence

Where these two really differ is in taste and mixability. A quick sniff of Fluère confirms that it is definitely trying to be a gin and it proves quite pleasant to sip on its own possessing a gentle citrus and floral profile. But therein lies its problem; it’s too gentle and tends to disappear amongst the other flavours in a cocktail. For example in our Bee’s Knees we taste little input from the Fluère and end up with a rather dull lemon and honey drink. Sure, Fluère provides a solid base but not much more than that. It’s a similar story with our Gin & Tonic and I’m left a little disappointed. I really wanted to like this elegantly bottled ingredient but they really need to beef up the flavours if they want to make it something that can be mixed with. Wonderleaf was quite the opposite. Tasted neat it’s an all-out clove assault that at first I found a bit jarring but it became apparent that it has a mouthfeel a bit more like a real spirit whereas Fluère comes over a little “thin” – always a problem when the alcohol content is low and a big problem when it’s zero. Now Wonderleaf may be a little one-dimensional in flavour but it really can stand up in a cocktail and I’m assuming the producers knew exactly what they were doing here. In both my test drinks the Wonderleaf punched through and imprinted its clove-forward character on the finished drink. In particular the Bee’s Knees was really transformed and might even be my preferred version. In the Gin & Tonic there were moments where I completely forgot that I was drinking something that contained no alcohol whatsoever. While I happened to like the resultant cocktails I’m more than aware that the clove-averse may not be quite so delighted and should proceed with caution. Interestingly I found a 50:50 mix of Fluère and Wonderleaf to be a pleasant compromise but given the limited shelf-lives hardly a practical one for most home mixers.

At this stage in the game with a sample of just two I’m simply not prepared to mark either of these “spirits” on my usual A-F grading system but for a little more perspective I feel like Wonderleaf is something I’ll keep in stock in my home bar and I’ll just keep an eye on Fluère for any improved versions. However, I must stress that I am delighted that efforts are being made to bring the wonders of cocktaildom to those who are unable to enjoy alcohol. I don’t think we shouldn’t expect miracles from these alcohol-free spirits but I’m convinced that there is definitely some potential here and will be exploring this sector further in future.

XXX UPDATE XXX

I’ve explored this sector further in the future:


*Full disclosure: The Siegfried Wonderleaf was a free sample from their Netherlands distributor, André Kerstens BV, and I shoplifted the Fluère from Gall & Gall.

**Which will definitely be re-purposed as a container for my home-made gins!

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‘Ti Punch.

Punchin’ above its weight.

‘Ti Punch.

Let’s get the name out of the way first. This most delicious yet simple drink hails from the French Caribbean island of Martinique and is an abbreviation of “petit punch” and should thus be correctly pronounced “Tee Pawn-sh“. Many websites will tell you that there is a little saying and ceremony that goes with this cocktail that goes along the lines of “each one prepares his own death” as the imbiber is traditionally provided with the rum, sugar and lime to make his own. But I won’t bother. Furthermore there is much discussion as to whether the ‘Ti Punch should be served warm or cold or made with sugar or syrup. Here at Proof we shall sweep away such pesky traditionality and simply make the tastiest version we can. But we can’t do that without talking a little bit about the rum…

A ‘Ti Punch isn’t a ‘Ti Punch unless it uses rhum agricole which is style of rum that comes from a few small French Caribbean islands. Strictly speaking from Martinique but I won’t bust your chops if you use one from Guadalupe or Haiti. Furthermore the rum label should state “rhum agricole”*. The diff is that this style of rum is made from pressed sugar cane juice rather than the usual molasses** and – as you might imagine – is quite different as a result. Agricole rum tends to have a grassier presentation, eschews additives (especially sugar) and leans much more in a whisky/cognac direction than most other rums. Good ones can get pretty pricey but I’ve a rec for you that is both affordable and tres, tres délicieuse. Clément Select Barrel (pictured) is certainly a little less sophisticated than the much vaunted Clément VSOP but I like its up-front, in-ya-face agricole flavours especially in a Mai Tai or, ultimately, right here in the Grand-Daddy of all agricocktails.

There is a Martiniquan adage that your ‘Ti Punch should be made with unaged (blanc) agricole before sunset and aged (vieux) after and frankly I’m cool with that but beyond that I’m gonna get a bit controversial here and treat the ‘Ti Punch more as an Old Fashioned variation and stir it with ice. First up we need to deal with the lime which we prepare in a most unorthodox (yet simple) way. Take a nice slightly unripe (ie. still mostly green and bumpy***) lime and cut a slice off the side as shown in the picture. You want to acquire a circle of peel but with a significant amount of flesh under it. To be clear this just about the only time you should ever cut a lime in this way. In an iced mixing glass or tin add the rum and syrup the gently squeeze your lime disc over it. You’re not looking to get a lot of juice here as we’re not trying to make a Daiquiri. Keep the lime disc aside for now. Stir well for about 40 seconds and strain into a chilled glass. Now drop your lime disc in where the oils released during the squeeze can free themselves. The goal is to create a drink where the rhum remains the star but is enhanced ever so slightly by a little lime and sugar. The trick of the ‘Ti Punch is getting the syrup and lime in perfect balance for your own particular taste and as always, you’ll definitely know when you’ve got it right. À ta santé!


‘Ti Punch.

2oz/60ml Rhum Agricole (take your pick but I pick Clement Select Barrel).

1 teaspoon/5ml demerara syrup (or better yet, cane sugar syrup).

One disc of lime (see text).

Preparation – see text above.

Toast the people at Clément who take their rhum seriously and their ‘Ti Punches far too sweet


* Unless it’s from Haiti where rums are made in an agricoley way but without such a statement.

**A by-product of sugar production.

***The one in the picture is a little more ripe than I’d have liked but I couldn’t be arsed to go back to the supermarket.

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