Ah put a spell on you.


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:


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. 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:



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:


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

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


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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Pimp my Grog.

The NeGrogni.

This hybrid of the Negroni and the Navy Grog might sound like an abomination but please reserve you judgement until you’ve tried it. Besides, you trust me, don’t you?

I was about to make myself a pre-prandial cocktail the other evening and was torn between two of my favourites, the Navy Grog and the Negroni. Whilst paralysed with indecision a strange thought wafted into my consciousness: What if you made a Grog using the three ingredients in a Negroni instead of three kinds of rum. What madness – that would just be disgusting! So I did it anyway. And to my astonishment this ludicrous frankencocktail was simply superb – although those with a sweeter tooth might well disagree. The basic premise of equal parts of grapefruit juice, lime juice, honey syrup, gin, Campari and sweet vermouth all blended with ice worked well enough to get my attention but upon further investigation it became clear that a few tweaks were in order. First and foremost was the boosting of the gin component to give it a bit more backbone; I mean you can hardly replace three ounces of rum with one of gin and still allude to things naval. I’d also make a case for using the strongest gin in your arsenal and if that should happen to be a navy strength gin (57%) so much the better*. It also transpires that using a ginger syrup is more harmonious than the usual honey syrup.  The process is almost identical to that for a Navy Grog – blend until almost smooth with a small handful of crushed ice (not too much, you’re not trying to make a slushie here) and pour into a double Old Fashioned glass containing an ice cone. Sure, you can skip the cone and just serve with a straw but then you won’t be a proper pirate.


1oz/30ml fresh lime juice.

1oz/30ml white grapefruit juice (bottled is fine if you can’t find fresh white grapefruit).

1oz/30ml ginger syrup.

1.5oz/45ml gin (see text).

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

1oz/30ml Campari.

Blend with ice as described above.

Serve as described above and garnish with an orange or grapefruit twist.

Toast the Tiki Gods who whisper strange and exotic ideas in your ear at moments of indecision.

*Being deficient in the navy strength gin department I used Tanqueray No Ten (47% and some change). Plymouth gin would be another good option with the navy strength version being a veritable double whammy.

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The Martinez + jenever.


The Martinez.

The poor old Martinez is another old timer that doesn’t get enough love these days. Hailing from somewhere in mid 19th century America – our guess being Martinez, California – it was a fairly straight-shootin’ gin and Italian vermouth cocktail with a small portion of sweetening liqueur (mostly maraschino, sometimes curacao, occasionally both) and a dash or two of bitters. Some theorise that the Martinez predated and then gradually morphed into the Martini but whether there’s anything to that is beside the point as they are certainly now two entirely different drinks and have been for at least a century. If you’re ordering a Martinez in a cocktail bar I strongly suggest that you heavily over-pronounce the “nez” (MarteeeNEZ!) or you’re likely to get served the far more common Martini. Early iterations of the Martinez varied a bit but most had more vermouth than gin which we can probably put that down to the vermouth craze that was going on at the time. Around 1900 the gin/vermouth proportions got flipped around and it’s been that way ever since. But the problem then becomes that the Martinez starts to resemble other drinks such as the Gin and It and the Manhattan a bit too much. A second problem for the poor old Martinez was the disappearance of its main component Old Tom gin*, a slightly sweetened gin that was popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. We’re gonna solve both those problems and kill two birds with one stone using history (da-da-daaaaaaaa!). First it would be remiss of me not to point out that Old Tom has recently made a reappearance (Hayman’s Old Tom is a popular choice) and you could certainly use that once again. But wait: In 19th century America they weren’t drinking Old Tom, which was much more of an English affectation, but Dutch gin. Time out!


Jenever (correctly pronounced Yeh-Nay-Fir) AKA genever, Hollands gin or Geneva (totally incorrect but that didn’t stop anyone) is the grand-daddy of all gin and has been produced almost entirely in the Netherlands and Belgium ever since the 16th century. It was originally made in a similar way to whisky: from a fermented malted grain mash, pot distilled and then with juniper (jenever in Dutch) berries and other herbs added to mask the roughness of relatively unsophisticated distillation. British soldiers took a shine to it while passing through the region and carried the concept back home where it was copied, modified and lazily abbreviated to “gin”. Back in the low countries the original continued to be made the traditional way until a new type of jenver began to be produced around 1900 which used the relatively new-fangled column still to distill a lighter version of the spirit which has more in common with vodka. Thus there are two styles of jenever, old (oude) and young (jonge) and despite the misconception that this refers to whether they are aged or not the truth is that they represent the “older” (pot still) type and the “younger” (column still) type. As it happens the young style is never aged but old jenever can be aged but doesn’t have to be. A third style called korenwijn/corenwijn is like old jenever on steroids but rarely seen outside of the region. All types are usually 35-38% ABV and are less heavily botanicalified and therefore less dry than modern “London style” gin. The young has a crisp neutral taste and the old a very agreeable malty character with the aged versions bringing a little wood to the party. Old jenevers can have variations based on the cereal used such as spelt or rye. That’s right – you can get a pot stilled, barrel aged, rye jenever that is much more like a rye whisky than a gin. Who knew?

Meanwhile back in 19th century America the locals, considering things English somewhat unpatriotic due to some recent disagreements, came to replace tea with coffee and London gin with jenever. Furthermore the jenever they imported was old jenever. We know this with some degree of certainty because young jenever hadn’t been invented yet. Also this “Hollands gin” had to cross the Atlantic in a fairly slow boat and in a wooden barrel. So, allowing for some additional warehousing time at each end of the voyage, it was wood aged – albeit accidentally – old jenever. How about we try to replicate that in our Martinez? I picked a one year old (sounds about right) oude jenever from Zuidam who are a small distiller in the south of The Netherlands. Or are they? You see Zuidam Distillery is located bang in the middle of in the most geographically bonkers town in the world. Baarle-Nassau (Baarle-Hertog to some) is a small town that can’t decide what country it’s in so ended up being in both Belgium and The Netherlands at the same time. Sort of. Hang on, I can’t explain this without a map:

X marks the distillery. In NL but almost surrounded by B.

See? Bananas. The chaotic border runs through individual houses and businesses with hilarious consequences such as houses with two addresses (in different countries) and more. But I’m getting sidetracked and none of this is in any way relevant to the Martinez.

Using our Ur-gin with its slightly woody and warm malty notes in place of the dry gin or old tom gives us a completely different Martinez. Combined with a good bittered vermouth (Punt e Mes** as always), a dash of earthy-sweet maraschino and a couple of heavy-handed dashes of our favourite bitters the Martinez becomes something really, really good and I can’t help but wonder if this was the way it used to taste more than 150 years ago.

The Martinez.

1.5oz/45ml old jenever (or old tom gin, see text).

1.5oz/45ml Italian (sweet) vermouth (ideally Punt e Mes).

0.25oz/7.5ml maraschino liqueur (eg. Luxardo).

1 healthy dash of aromatic bitters (De Ooievaar Angostura if you can).

1 healthy dash of orange bitters (Regans or another brand)

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled champagne coupe or Nick & Nora glass.

Garnish with an orange twist.

Feel free to play with the gin/jenever to vermouth proportions. Two parts gin to one of vermouth would be more modern and the opposite more original.

Toast the people of Baarle-Nassau/Hertog. You nutters!


*That should have been the end for the Martinez but it somehow hung on by the skin of its teeth for another 100 years or so using, but not entirely suiting, modern dry gin.

**I know I always use PeM but it’s just so damn good. And you can’t really have five different vermouths open like you can with other spirits.

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Black Sakura.


Black Sakura.

It’s the time of the year when the Japanese go nuts for cherry blossom (aka sakura). And as it happens I’ve been going nuts trying to add one or two sake based cocktails to my repertoire. The problem: I know next to nothing about sake. Sure, I’ll enjoy some with a Japanese meal but as to which kind is the best and why: clueless. Still, I did a little experimentation and not a few pretty unpalatable cocktails went swiftly down the drain before I finally came up with something potable. Considering that I was pretty much flying by the seat of my pants I’m quite pleased with this little concoction which I’ve named after a detail from one of my most favouritest novels; Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer (read it to find out why).

Sake, a unique ingredient which is neither wine, beer or spirit but with properties of them all, is tricky to mix with and I found little little success in simply subbing it for other ingredients which is why the formula below looks quite unlike any other cocktail: the usual guidelines just don’t apply to this stubborn “spirit”. Sake has some acidity to it (like wine) which is the reason for the relatively small amount of lemon juice. Of course a cocktail containing lemon juice would normally be shaken but with so little – compared to the other ingredients – and a desire to maintain some clarity we can get away with stirring our Black Sakura. One flavour that I was keen to include was, for reasons most obvious, cherry and luckily the sake and some cherry Heering seemed to get along just fine. Our sweet/sour balance being just about right I turned to the wonderfully woody Fee’s black walnut bitters to round things off. If you don’t have that particular bitters or something similarly woody I would just leave it unbittered rather than overpower the subtlety of the sake with the likes of Angostura. And that’s it – there’s really nothing else to say except “Kanpai!”

Black Sakura.

2.5oz/75ml sake* (nothing too fancy).

1oz/30ml Heering (a cherry liqueur).

0.5oz/15ml fresh lemon juice.

2-3 dashes Fee’s black walnut bitters.

Stir* with ice and double strain into a chilled champagne coupé or Nick & Nora glass.

Garnish with a cherry or lemon peel. Or both! Or neither!

Toast Ada Palmer for her excellent Terra Ignota novels.

*Given my lack of knowledge of sake I took my normal approach of choosing one in the mid-priced range – in this case the widely available Gekkeikan – and it paid off pretty well.

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Monky Business + Buckfast.

Monky (sic) magic in the Buckfast Triangle.

Monky Business.

Monks seem to have a bit of a thing for making booze (Dom Perignon, Benedictine, Chartreuse, Averna, Trappist beer etc.) and it seemed to me that we should recognise their noble dedication with a cocktail in their honour. At the same time I felt it was time for a new Scotch based drink. But which Scotch? Given the brief it was quite clear – there can be only one

I was quietly pleased with my early experiments until I realised I had simply reinvented the venerable Bobby Burns (2oz Scotch, 1oz Italian vermouth, two dashes of Benedictine) but with Buckfast tonic wine instead of vermouth. Nuts. However it was a blessing in disguise as I quickly found another monky liqueur that made for an even tastier accent component. It doesn’t get much monkier that green Chartreuse; made by Carthusian monks in France since 1737 and based on an even older (1605) recipe. It’s not cheap but you never need very much of it so it lasts for ages*  but more to the point you’re gonna need some for making Last Words anyway. Yet, amazingly, the Chartreuse isn’t even the most bonkers ingredient in the Monky Business – that prize goes to the:

Buckfast tonic wine.

Those unfamiliar with this peculiar ingredient are going  to need a bit of a primer here and as unlikely as much of the following may sound let me assure you I am not making this shizzle up. Buckfast is a fortified wine based on an ancient French recipe made by Benedictine monks (and under their licence) in southern England since 1890. At 15% and with additions including caffeine and vanillin it is somewhat comparable to an Italian vermouth. So far, so normal…

Buckfast at Buckfast Abbey [CC 2.0 Licence – by Skin ubx (cropped)]

The thing is Buckfast has a bit of a bad rep due to its ubiquity with a certain underclass in central Scotland** where it goes by such alternative names as “Wreck the Hoose Juice”, “Coatbridge Table Wine”, “Cumbernauld Rocket Fuel”, “Holy Water”, “Commotion Lotion”, “The Devil’s Calpol” or more often just plain old “Bucky”. If you didn’t get the hint from those nicknames let’s just say Buckfast has a strong association with petty crime and anti-social behaviour, particularly in the housing estates in an area between Glasgow and Edinburgh which is known as the Buckfast Triangle. Don’t just take my word for it: according to Wikipedia, “A survey at a Scottish young offenders’ institution showed of the 117 people who drank alcohol before committing their crimes, 43 per cent said they had drunk Buckfast. In another study of litter around a typical council estate in Scotland, 35 per cent of the items identified as rubbish were Buckfast bottles.” Despite many a campaign to reign in the Holy Water the monks – safely out of the splash zone down in southern England – have remained unrepentant with a sort of “we only designed the bomb, we didn’t drop it!” attitude.

But don’t worry, we’re not a bunch of neds who are going to be necking four bottles of Bucky and breaking into a petrol station, we’re just after an ounce for its vermouthy properties, monkish credentials and maybe just a tiny whiff of its notoriety. If you’re wondering exactly where to find a bottle (or can) of “Loopy Juice” the unofficial Buckfast fan website has a handy app for that. Failing that just use some regular sweet vermouth but be assured we will be making use of the “Lurgan Champagne” again before too long…

Monky Business.

20z / 60ml Monkey Shoulder Scotch whisky (or similar).

1oz / 30ml Buckfast tonic wine.***

0.25oz / 7.5ml Green Chartreuse.

2 dashes of Angostura bitters.

Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail coupé. No garnish.

Toast monks: makin’ ra swally since forever man.

*Which is handy because it’s one of the few liqueurs that continues to improve with age in the bottle.

**and to a lesser extent in parts of Ireland. The Irish (brown bottle) version of Buckfast is 14.8% ABV and lacks the vanilla flavour but has even more caffeine.

***If unavailable use an Italian vermouth, Carpano Antica probably being the closest match.



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