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.


*Full disclosure: The Seigfried 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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Spellbinder.

Ah put a spell on you.

Spellbinder.

Since we’ve gone and bought that delicious Zwack Unicum for making Robert Capas we’d better find something else to do with it. Luckily a mere teaspoon or two of this mixer’s elixir has a transformative effect in jazzing up the simple Gin & It to something more akin to the legendary Slap & Tickle Hanky Panky. This simple stirred drink makes a fine apéritif to serve before a fancy meal although Unicum itself is actually an excellent digestif. There’s not a ton more to say about this one just stir it well and make sure you use a nice fresh strip of lemon zest that you either cut directly over the drink (or at least twist over) to express enough lemon oil to cut into those darker flavours from the Unicum and Vermouth. Speaking of which, this is one occasion where I would avoid my usual Punt e Mes in favour of a less bitter Italian Vermouth as we already have enough bitterness from the dry gin and Unicum. If mixed with sufficient care it’s a drink that can provide a lot of complexity and yet is extremely simple in its proportions and ingredients. Always a bonus! But what shall we call this bewitching potion? If we’re talking of Hungarian black magic and jazzing things up then I find myself strangely drawn to the work of jazz guitar wizard Gabor Szabo. Let’s see; Gypsy Queen? Witchcraft? Ah, got it:


Spellbinder.

2oz/60ml gin of choice.

1oz/30ml Italian/sweet vermouth.

2 teaspoons/10ml Zwack Unicum

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with a long twist of lemon cut (or twisted) over the glass.

Toast Gabor Szabo (1936 – 1982).


 

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Molokai Mule.

Mule it up.

Molokai Mule.

While not one of the most well known tiki drinks the Molokai Mule is a firm house favourite. Created in the 1960s for Steve Crane’s chain of luxury Kon-Tiki restaurants the Molokai Mule is neither from the Hawaiian island of Moloka’i nor, given its total lack of ginger beer, strictly speaking a mule at all*. But, hey, let’s go easy of the MM because it tastes great, kicks like a mule, is super simple to mix up and uses up those naked oranges that we’ve stripped of their peel for garnishing our Negronis.

While we tend to make them just one or two at a time the Molokai Mule is extremely suitable for scaling up by the pitcher or serving as a punch. Which brings us to an important point. When you shake a cocktail you dilute it by about 25-30% due to the melting ice and it’s all too easy to forget this when making it by the jug or bowl. I know this because I just about killed a bunch of my guests at a home Tiki party when I forgot to dilute a Meihana that I’d punchified. It’s fine to make a punch ahead of time and chill it in the fridge but remember to add that quarter to third extra of still (or sparkling) water beforehand. Yes, you will serve it with ice but it takes much longer for that ice to melt than in a shaken drink, especially as the mixture is pre-chilled. Warned.

Now to be clear while the non-Molokai not-Mule can certainly be made with good quality carton orange juice it shines most brightly when concocted with freshly squeezed juice. Furthermore do try to use a demerara rum if you can but failing that either a dark Jamaican rum or British Navy style rum (which usually has a significant demerara component) will do the job. The mixed base of the Molokai Mule makes it interesting while the near equal proportions make it a breeze to mix up – a killer combo that makes it an ideal party drink.


Molokai Mule.

2oz/60ml fresh orange juice.

1oz/30ml fresh lime juice.

1oz/30ml cognac (VS is fine).

1oz/30ml white rum (eg Havana Club 3 anjos)

1oz/30ml demerara rum** (or see text).

1oz/30ml orgeat (such as Monin or your own).

Shake with ice and pour, unstrained, into a Tiki mug.

If making a large punch switch from ounces to cups and add two of cups of water. Serve in a large bowl containing large ice blocks and cut fruit with a ladle and mugs for distribution.

Toast mules. Be nice to them or else.


*Although we can mule it up a bit by serving it in a handled mug.

**OVD (Old Vatted Demerara) is great in this if you can get your hands on some.

 

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Making your own gin!

Golden years (wah, wah, wah).

Golden Gin – make your own gin!

Some say there was once a dude who turned water into wine. Neat trick but I think we can do better. Let’s get miraculous and turn some boring old vodka into gin! In cocktailworld vodka doesn’t feature in many (any?) decent drinks – being all flavourless and such – but gin is almost infinitely useful. But why would we make gin when we could just buy some gin? Three good reasons: 1) Some well-meaning friend gifts you a bottle of vodka. 2) You spot some heavily discounted vodka at your local booze outlet. 3) The gin you make will be your gin. Well actually it’ll be my gin first but later on it can be your gin. You up for this? Great! Read on:

The method we’re going to use is the quick-and-dirty method of just soaking the botanicals in some neutral spirit (ie. vodka) whereas “proper” gin is redistilled with the botanicals, – often suspended in a basket in the still. While our method lacks sophistication I promise you that you can still wring some pretty impressive results out of it. The only downside is that the gin tends to end up less than clear but I just make a feature of that by calling it “golden gin”. Since vodka is an unflavoured spirit it matters naught which brand you use but do make sure it is at least 40% abv (80 US proof) as any less will be detrimental to the extraction of the flavours.

You can use any “botanicals” you like but this super-simple recipe makes a very “standard” gin to get us up and running. I suggest starting with the recipe below and then fine-tuning it to your taste in future batches, perhaps adding some other botanicals. Gin isn’t gin without some juniper so that’s a no-brainer for a start and our other ingredients, which we use here in smaller amounts, are also typically used in many commercial gins. I’ve also stuck with dried ingredients for our “base” gin because they are better suited to the infusion method and also make it easier to control the strength of our final product. All should be available from any decent spice merchant or online*. Other suggestions for further experimentation include, but are not limited to; cinnamon, elderflower, angelica, anise, lemongrass, orange peel, saffron, ginger, black pepper, kaffir lime leaves and just about anything else that takes your fancy. Just make sure that the predominant flavour is juniper and you won’t go too far wrong.

All you need is love botanicals. And vodka.


Golden Gin (500ml).

Add to a clean bottle or jar:

1 teaspoon of dried juniper berries

0.5 teaspoon of dried lemon peel

0.5 teaspoon of coriander seeds

2 green cardamom pods

Pour in 500ml of 40%+ abv vodka**.

Leave for about 48 hours shaking now and then.

Strain out the solids using an unbleached coffee filter.

Bottle and enjoy!


Spin the bottle.


*I use these guys (Netherlands, Belgium and possibly further afield).

** Feel free to boost the alcohol content as it helps with flavour extraction. I like to use a 60:40 mix of 40% and 50% vodkas giving me a final ABV of 44%.

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Debbie, Don’t.

There’s a ghost in my house bar…

Debbie, Don’t.

Created by Zachary Gelnaw-Rubin, former protege of the late cocktail legend Sasha Petraske the Debbie, Don’t had always put me off with its kinda dumb name. Supposedly it has some connection to a ghost which haunts the toilets at Dutch Kills cocktail bar but it all sounds a bit Harry Potter to me. I’m not a fan of cocktail names that are too opaque – even if I might fall prey to that vice now and then myself. Eventually I got over my grumpy self by just actually trying it. Just as well because in addition to being a rather tasty delight the Debbie, Don’t (sigh) is also a wonderfully simple drink to put together – as long as you are possession of a decent amaro*. The original recipe calls for Averna in equal quantity to some reposado tequila and a little lemon juice and maple syrup which puts it in that rather interesting “hybrid” category which falls between the sour and the aromatic cocktail families (my own Bobby Cee would be another example). While there are not too many drinks in this twilight zone it’s a style that I find refreshingly different and I sense that we’ll be exploring it more deeply in the near future.

Being the habitual tinkerer that I am I’ve messed with Zack’s supernaturally inspired creation by switching the amaro (I find Averna a bit too “earthy”) and bringing the tequila flavour a little more to the fore and thus I present two recipes beneath; firstly the original and then my slight twist for which we’ll just re-jig the name ever so slightly 😉


Debbie, Don’t.

1oz/30ml Averna (Italian amaro).

1oz/30ml reposado tequila (100% agave).

0.75oz/22ml fresh lemon juice.

0.5oz/15ml maple syrup (the real stuff!)

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

No garnish.

Toast the ghost.


Dee Dee.

0.75oz/22ml Ramazzotti or Lucano** (Italian amari).

1.25oz/37ml reposado tequila (100% agave).

0.75oz/22ml fresh lemon juice.

0.5oz/15ml maple syrup (the right stuff!)

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

No garnish.

Toast Dee Dee Ramone (1951 – 2002).


*If not then you’re in serious danger of being struck off the Noble Register of Cocktailistas.

**Either of these two work very nicely by each are subtly different. Try other amari if you like and feel free to share your insights in the comments.

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Rum Review: Coruba NPU & Coruba 7 year old.

The funk brothers?

Rum Review: Coruba NPU and Coruba 7 year old.

There’s a particular flavour present in some (but by no means all) Jamaican rum that is completely almost unique in the rum world. Often described as “funk” or sometimes “hogo” or “dunder” it’s a love-it-or-leave-it taste that is often said to be akin to over-ripe banana. I’m not going to go into detail on how these high ester rums are made because a) I’m not sufficiently informed on the subject and b) from what I do understand the process is gnarly enough to put you off trying them and that would be a real pity. It’s a flavour that really grows on you even if you find your first experience of it a bit perplexing. I know I did. There’s been a mini explosion in demand for funky Jamaican rums recently which shows a wider appreciation of what was until recently though to be something only the locals had a palate for. Funky rums can be white or gold, regular strength (40%), navy proof (57%) or overproof (usually 63% in Jamaica) but the best known examples are perhaps Smith & Cross (gold 57%) and Wray & Nephew Overproof (white 63%) and those two are firmly funky albeit in slightly different ways. Being a fan of all things funky I also stock a less well known gold Jamaican rum called Coruba NPU which is less strong, just as funky and extremely affordable. The last time I ordered some I noticed there is now a new aged version so I snagged a bottle of that too. Review time!

But before we get (finally) to the review part we need to get one thing straight; there’s Coruba rum and there’s Coruba rum. Huh? In 1889 a Swiss company called Compagnie Rhumière de le was founded to bring Jamaican rums to Europe. At some point (details are sketchy) some distribution rights were sold off the end result of which is that some Coruba is owned by Campari. This Coruba is distributed in the US market (and some others) and includes a dark rum along the lines of Myers’s that is a popular choice with American Tiki-heads that is said to have a strong molasses flavour (I’ve not yet had a chance to try any). However in Europe we get a completely different Coruba, still owned, blended and bottled by the original company which has a completely different flavour. Both Coruba variants are Jamaican rums made and aged by (as I understand) J. Wray & Nephew and both are really quite inexpensive if a bit tricky to find. I’m going to be talking about the European Corubas here so be aware that these rums may not be available in your region.

Coruba NPU.

First up, Coruba NPU* (left). The very normal screw cap bottle has a super cheesy label with I would have thought were some iffy racially stereotypical design details – all the more surprising as this is a very recently redesigned label. It comes wrapped in a loose dried grass web which is a nice touch that is normally only found on higher end rums. Which brings us to the price. At just €14/700ml this is one of the cheapest bottles to grace my rum shelf. At 40% ABV it is a long way from the strength of Smith & Cross yet has a very similar flavour profile. If anything it has even more of the fruity elements although it’s not quite as elegant or punchy – but then it’s almost half the price and it still delivers that classic funk flavour to a cocktail so I can forgive it for being a little rough around the edges, especially at this price! I’ve a feeling there might have been a slight change in the flavour along with the newer labeling but I can’t confirm that as I neglected to hang on to some of the previous style (rookie error!). If true it’s not major just a slightly less aggressive funkiness but without a side by side comparison I admit I could be mistaken. Coruba NPU is my “secret weapon” which I deploy as one of the mix of rums in my Navy Grog, Jet Pilot, Zombie or, indeed, any time a gold rum is called for and I feel like funkin’ it up a bit. It also represents an excellent introduction to this style of Jamaican rum for the uninitiated funkster. Largely due to the excellent value for money Coruba NPU scores a straight:

A.

 

Coruba 7 year old solera.

The new version that caught my eye has a similar presentation to the NPU but with a sort of “night time” look. The NPU tag is dropped in favour of a “Solera 7 Years Aged” statement. It’s not clear if all the rum is 7 years old – that whole solera thing can be a bit sneaky but its darker colour suggests that there is at least that possibility. Being bottled at the more respectable 43% is another promising sign and I’m really looking forward to cracking this one open. But when I pour some in my glass I immediately notice something wrong; Funk – where is thy whiff? Barely there at all alas. A sip does little to uncover it. I believe I actually exclaimed out loud, “They’ve aged the funk out of it!” Once I’d calmed down a bit I realised that it’s still a decent rum that’s more rounded, a little spicier and a bit woodier than the younger version but with the dunder really held in check as a background note rather than the main event. The problem is that at €22 you are getting fairly close to the price of the much loved funky rum benchmark that is Smith & Cross (€25). For the exact same number of rum tokens as the 7 year you can even come by the overproof version of NPU at 74% (Hwa!). It would seem that rum funk simply mellows away with age and indeed all the best loved funky Jamaican rums are minimally aged. While I applaud the makers for trying something new it just doesn’t fit our mixing requirements very well (although it is perfectly sippable) and in combination with its mediocre value for money just gets a:

C+


*NPU stands for “non plus ultra” which I think is French for “the dog’s bollocks”.

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Zombie.

With their tanks, and their bombs, and their bombs, and their rums…

Zombie.

I’ve been putting this one off for too long. Not because there’s anything wrong with the Zombie – in fact it is one of my favourite cocktails – but because it’s a complex drink with a complex story. The Zombie is no beginners drink but you’ve been making some remarkable progress recently and I think you’re ready for the challenge. And I was on the Z’s anyway.

Along with the Navy Grog, the Zombie is easily Don the Beachcomber‘s most famous creation. Indeed you could consider it a Navy Grog on steroids with the same core formula of rum, lime juice, grapefruit juice and some syrup, blended and served with ice. But the devil is in the details. A good Zombie (hmm) is a carefully considered balance of rums, citrus, sugar and spices that create a depth of flavour and complexity that few other cocktails can approach. While the ingredient list can look intimidating it isn’t that difficult to make a superb Zombie, especially with the subtly tweaked recipe I present below. They don’t call me the Zombie Whisperer for nothing*.

Allegedly created to help a hung-over businessman through an important meeting, Donn’s original 1934 Zombie created a sensation at the time and was widely (and usually badly) copied giving rise to a multitude of mediocre mixtures. Before long anything containing an obscene amount of rum and a bit of fruit juice or (gawd ‘elp us) sour mix was getting the Zombie moniker slapped on it and there were even a bunch of shucksters claiming they’d invented it (that’s right I’m talking about you Monte Proser!) In any case, any hint of the original Zombie had pretty much vanished by the late 60s – not least because by then folks had discovered newer ways to get off their tits in under 5 minutes.

To be sure there is a lot of rum in a Zombie and I find the original version just a touch over the top with its (equivalent of) 5oz(!) of rum but, hey, prohibition had just ended and people presumably felt that they had some catching up to do. One of those and you certainly shouldn’t be driving or operating heavy machinery, heck, you’ll be lucky if you can operate your legs. Donn Beach himself limited Zombies to a maximum of two per customer which probably only added to the notoriety. In the interests of full disclosure I should probably add that I’m drinking the 1934 version as I’m writing this because that’s the kind of sacrifice I make for you guys.

Yet simply pouring a ton-o-rum does not a Zombie make and The Beachcomber tinkered with the recipe throughout his career as well as defending it from his imitators by keeping those recipes secret. And secret they remained until Tiki expert in chief Jeff “Beachbum” Berry painstakingly uncovered the original recipe – along with a few others – in the early years of the cocktail renaissance (1998- ∞).

If you still don’t have his book Beachbum Berry Remixed order it now or I refuse to continue. Good, about time. This most indispensable Tiki tome has a recipe from the Las Vegas Aku Aku (in the Stardust casino) from 1964 that he reckons is Donn’s final version** and it certainly bears all his hallmarks. I tinkered with this recipe just a touch to bring it back up towards the strength of his original 1934 version. To me this Zombie ticks all boxes; it’s essentially a Donn recipe, it has the character of the original but with out being too strong*** and the proportions are much easier to measure and remember compared to the 1934 version. Let’s do it!


Zombie (Proof version of the Berry version of the Aku Aku version of the original 1934 version).

1oz/30ml fresh lime juice.

1oz/30ml white grapefruit juice.

1oz/30ml cinnamon syrup.

1oz/30ml Dark Jamaican rum (see notes below).

1oz/30ml Gold rum (ditto).

1oz/30ml Overproof Demerara rum (ditto).

1 teaspoon of Zombie mix (WTF?****)

1 or 2 dashes Angostura bitters.

Pulse blend 6 or 7 times with a small scoop of crushed ice*****. Pour unstrained into an ice filled Collins glass or Tiki mug.

Garnish with a sprig of mint.

Toast Dolores O’Riordan (1971-2018)


Notes on rum.

Dark Jamaican: Myers’s, Coruba dark (US), Blackwell or Captain Morgan’s Black/Jamaican (EU).

Gold rum: Lot’s of choices here for example dry Spanish style (Havana Club Anejo Especial, Abuelo, Brugal, Don Q etc.), Barbados (Mount Gay, Cockspur etc.) or even gold Jamaican (I particularly like Coruba NPU in my Zombie).

Overproof Demerara: A bit trickier; Ideally Lemon Hart 151 or Hamilton 151 but more realistically Plantation OTFD which is a good substitute and widely available. For those in the UK, Wood’s 100 will do the trick but use 1.25oz/37ml.


* Oh, all right, you got me – I made that up. I’m just channeling The Beachcomber who was always making up BS stories about himself.

**He wrote their menu a few years prior.

***It’s still a very strong drink (just under 4oz equiv), so do be careful!

**** Equal parts of absinthe, grenadine, falernum, curaçao (or other orange liqueur). I like to keep some in a small 50ml bottle for impromptu Zombiage.

***** Made you look!

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