In search of the perfect Gin & Tonic.

A tonic for the troops.

In search of the perfect Gin & Tonic

To find the perfect gin and tonic we need to start at the beginning. With history. Gin became a part of British culture in the 17th century via the Genever of the low countries yet was initially drunk in just the same way as the Dutch – neat. And in vast amounts, but that’s another story. Bump forward a couple of hundred years and the British were busy subjugating India but there was a problem. The pasty foreigners kept coming down with malaria. Not happy with sickly soldiers the army issued the troops with a powerful Cinchona (aka Quinine) tincture that helped suppress the dreaded malaria. This medicine was so incredibly bitter that sugar and water were added to sweeten and dilute it. At some point someone decided to put their gin ration in the same glass to save time and the gin and tonic was born. Perhaps it was quite unlike the modern version but in any case the Brits never looked back.

Come the 20th century the Gin & Tonic settled into its middle phase as the drink of choice of the English middle classes and, at risk of oversimplification, what ladies sipped in the pub while the men downed their beer and whisky (you really did not want to risk British pub wine in those days!) This Gin & Tonic had a pretty standard formula consisting of a fairly stingy measure of Gordon’s or Beefeater gin in a plain Collins glass, a couple of ice cubes, a little bottle of standard issue Schweppes tonic (or worse, something insipid from the soda gun) and, if you were very lucky a slice of lemon or lime. Not terrible but nothing like what was about to explode on the booze scene in the early years of the 21st century…

As unlikely as it seems the Spanish had been secretly enjoying a sneaky gin and tonic since Franco departed to the underworld in the mid 70s, probably a vice learned from the seasonal influx of English tourists, but it was during the Spanish gastronomic revival around the turn of the millennium that the modern gin and tonic had its roots. The quest to improve food through attention to detail was also applied to the already moderately popular gin and tonic. Away with the boring Collins glass and in with the Basque sidra glass and later the more elegant balloon glass. New domestic gins with more local botanicals emerged, as did companies such as Fever Tree (2004) with more finely crafted tonics. At the same time, of course, there was a cocktail revival in a similar phase of development and those two scenes certainly encouraged and intertwined with each other. By the early 2010s the number of “craft” and “small batch” gins had gone through the roof with many countries who had never been gin producers joining the fun (Colombian gin anyone?) and a sizeable number of new tonic producers to match. To date there is little sign of the gin and tonic revival slacking off and indeed, why should it? For the noble G&T is a superb drink; refreshing, simple to make while still complex and nuanced. While the Gin & Tonic is technically not a cocktail it is the cocktailista’s default backup to be requested when a bar’s cocktail menu looks suspect or the requisite ingredients, tools or time are not available yet you are in need of cocktaily sustenance.

A relative latecomer to the joys of the G&T it was only recently that I began my quest in earnest for the perfect one. Involved in a project to open a classy restaurant and bar I sought the optimal pairings of gin to tonic for the creation of a modest G&T list. Alas the whole project became thoroughly Corona’d but our protagonist does not easily give up on such a mission. Given the large variety of tonics on the market and positively enormous selection of gins the combination of those two ingredients alone is vast. When an active garnish is added we reach a near infinite number of possible Gin & Tonics. Which, don’t get me wrong, is a wonderful thing as the exploration of all those combinations is an informative and rewarding experience. Of course much comes down to personal taste but there are some basic rules to the creation of your perfect G&T that are close to universal. Let’s deal with those first before moving on to my own personal (current) “perfect” G&T.

The glass should be the relatively recent invention that is known as the G&T balloon glass*. Like a large puffed-out wine glass it focuses the aromas in a way that the older Collins glass does not. While your balloon glass need not be pre-chilled (although it’ll do no harm) it should be generously iced with decently big cubes to around its widest point. The more ice used the less will melt and thus your drink will remain fizzy and undiluted. Let the iced glass sit a minute to get thoroughly chilled before adding your gin. 45-60ml is the range of gin to use somewhat depending on how much tonic you intend to use. The tonic should be chilled in the fridge and in individual bottles unless you intend to make several at once in which case a larger bottle can be used. Life being too short for flat tonic, one should never return an opened bottle to the fridge. Individual tonic bottles come in sizes that range from 150-250ml and this brings us to the controversial topic of our gin to tonic ratio. Opinions range from equal portions to drowning the gin completely and, to some extent, those are all valid personal preferences but I would say that three parts tonic to one part gin is a reasonable starting point. Don’t feel compelled to use all the tonic in the bottle – if the perfect balance means tipping 50 ml of your 200ml bottle down the sink, so be it. Pour the appropriate quantity of gin very gently into the glass so as to preserve the fizz and stir ever so gently for the same reasons. As important as a good Gin & Tonic pairing is the choice of garnish and this is where things have gotten a bit wild recently (singed rosemary, pink peppercorns et al). Our default should be a swathe of citrus peel (a slice or wedge coming over as a touch uncouth these days) which will release some wonderful oils into the mix. Orange, lime, lemon, grapefruit or yuzu (if you can afford one) all add significantly to the flavour combination you are creating but the exact choice will be down to intuition or experiment. I prefer to add my swathe at the beginning, twisted over the ice in order to get the maximum citrus oil in my drink but if you like it to be more discreet then, by all means, add it last. Our final question is whether to add a straw or not. While it’s not wrong to serve with a straw I think the enjoyment of your perfect gin and tonic benefits from sipping directly from the glass and enjoying those wonderful aromas.

That’s the template for our modern Spanish style G&T to be gently varied to your own personal liking. I suspect (and perhaps even hope) that my personal search for the perfect gin and tonic may never end but for what it’s worth here is where I’ve landed after many months of trying a wide selection of gins, tonics and garnishes.


Andy’s “perfect” Gin & Tonic

60ml Normindia gin

150-200ml Fever Tree Mediterranean Tonic (depending on mood)

Long thin swathe of lemon peel

Assembled as described above.


Notes on ingredients:

Normindia gin is a wonderful mid-price gin made in Normandy, France by a calvados estate in small copper calvados stills. Despite using a fairly standard range of botanicals I find it absolutely delightful – superbly balanced yet with a distinctly orange-forward profile. It comes in an elegant and nicely corked dark bottle at an encouraging 41.4%. While it might not be the most widely available gin consider it a well kept secret that is worth seeking out. Shout out to Pulak Goswami and Barbara Marx for gifting me this gin that I might otherwise never have discovered.

Fever Tree Mediterranean tonic. I tried a lot of tonics on my quest but I kept getting drawn back to this one and finally realised I was going to struggle to find anything that equalled its flavour and balance. Fever Tree are part of the DNA of the G&T revival and while their range is excellent the Mediterranean version is simply sublime with an ability to pair effortlessly with a wide range of gins – which can’t be said of every tonic. Happily it’s also widely available.

Citrus. While I specify lemon here as it balances out the orangeward leanings of Normindia I’m not beyond changing this now and then. Orange if I feel like an all-out orange blast or white grapefruit if I happen to have any. In any case it should be a long thin swathe cut along the length of a nice fresh fruit.


*If you don’t have one a tulip beer glass would make an (almost) acceptable substitute.

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The Sun Stone + Chipotle infused tequila.

Spice, spice baby…

The Sun Stone + chipotle infused tequila.

There are relatively few tequila cocktails compared to those based on other spirits and I was thinking about why this is. Maybe because it’s hard to improve on something like a good Tommy’s Margarita? Maybe because the distinctive flavour of tequila is a little tricky to work with, pairing easily with little other than lime and grapefruit? In any case I’ve been looking to add another tequila arrow to my quiver and I’m quite pleased with my latest creation. The formula is close to the Tommy’s Margarita but with two significant twists the first one being:

Chipotle tequila

Infusions are a great way to add extra dimensions into some of your favourite spirits. Recently I’ve been playing with chipotle flakes as a way of injecting some smoky spiciness into bourbon and tequila and the process couldn’t be easier. Leaving the bourbon version aside for another day, grab a bottle of a good value 100% agave, unaged tequila. I used Topanito blanco but there are plenty of others such as Espolon, Calle 23, Olmeca Altos or 30-30. Next you’re going to need some chipotle flakes from your spice supplier. Just in case you’re unfamiliar with them chipotle is a smoke dried jalapeno pepper that has been around since Aztec times and imparts a wonderful spicy smokiness to many a Mexican dish. You’ll want it in the form of small dark flakes (but not a powder – see picture above) rather than whole dried peppers as it will infuse more quickly in the tequila and, trust me, you’ll not want to wait to long to taste the results! From here on it’s simplicity itself: just add a level teaspoon of flakes to a 700ml bottle of tequila and leave it there for 24 hours giving it a shake now and then. The next day strain out the flakes. In this case a fine strainer is good enough but if your flakes were on the powdery side then running it through a coffee filter might be better. Your resultant chipotle tequila should have a lovely deep red hue. Have a taste. Yup, told you. If you’re a total spice nut you could boost it to a heaped teaspoon and, indeed, the results may depend on the quality of the chipotle you used so feel free to adjust to taste. When I tested the chipotle tequila on some friends the reactions were overwhelmingly positive so I’m confident that you’ll enjoy it too, either neat or optimally deployed in a:

Sun Stone.

I was slightly disappointed that, while still delicious, the chipotle didn’t quite get enough of it’s smokiness into the tequila until I quickly hit on the solution of bolstering it with a portion of smoky mezcal. Being related spirits tequila and mezcal always bond well but in this case you’ll want to go for one that is on the smoky and/or briny side of the range. I found Peloton de la Muerte and La Herancia de Sanchez to be ideal but good ole Del Maguey VIDA would do the job too. The Sun Stone does work with just chipotle tequila but the mezcalated version is a significant upgrade. Named for a stunning sculpture by the culture that invented the chipotle (and which also graces the label of the Topanito blanco tequila that I used).


The Sun Stone

1.25oz / 37ml chipotle infused tequila (see text).

0.75oz / 22ml good quality smoky mezcal.

1oz / 30ml fresh lime juice.

0.5oz / 15ml agave syrup

Shake with ice and strain into a champagne coupé.

Garnish with a small pinch of chipotle flakes (optional).

Toast those clever Aztecs and their amazing Sun Stone.


Note: I designed a variation on the Sun Stone for my buddies at Jack’s BBQ shack which they call the Fiery Margarita. If you live in central Amsterdam you can order one here.

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Hotel Nacional Special + pineapple juice

So f***ing special.

Hotel Nacional Special.

Back in the Halcyon days before communism, when Cuba was America’s playground run by brutal puppet dictators and the mafia, the rich and famous liked to stay in Havana’s prestigious and historic* Hotel Nacional. And the Hotel Nacional had a house cocktail that became something of a classic. Modern interpretations of the recipe for the Hotel Nacional Special are somewhat varied but all contain pineapple juice. Before we get to my version of the recipe I’d first like to take sometime to talk about this wonderful ingredient and how to get the best out of it.

Pineapple juice

There is nothing quite as tasty as fresh pineapple juice and yet I’m always surprised how few people seem to have even tried really good pineapple juice. But maybe I shouldn’t be, as very often pineapple juice is made in a way that prioritises yield over flavour. The typical process is to blend the pulp of the pineapple with water and then strain it. It’s fine, it’s quite nice, you get a lot of juice out of a pineapple. Indeed, if you look online almost all guides on how to juice a pineapple use this method. But in my option there’s a better way. If you’d like to try it then proceed as follows. Buy a nice fresh pineapple. Ideally it should be still fairly firm and a yellow colour with still a bit of green here and there. One that’s gone too far is softer and a darker yellow going to brown in places. The condition of the leaves is also a useful guide. To get at the flesh either slice the top of and use a pineapple corer to extract pineapple rings** or trim off the skin (and eyes) with a knife and cube the rest, discarding the firmer core. Once you have your rings or cubes put them in a metal colander/strainer over a large bowl and then, using a potato masher or similar device gently mash until you’ve extracted most of the juice. If you treat your pineapple with this kind of respect you should get about 300ml (10oz) of the tastiest juice that ever passed your lips. It has a thinner consistency than “regular” pineapple juice because you haven’t crushed all that pulp and pectin into it – just the very sweetest, juiciest bits this wonderful fruit has to offer. If you’re after juice for making cocktails 300ml is plenty and works out cheaper than lemon or lime juice but do be aware that this type of pineapple juice deteriorates rapidly and should be used pretty quickly. If I haven’t used it withing 24 hours I usually just drink it or turn it into a pineapple syrup for making sodas. OK let’s be honest; I usually make a couple of Singapore Slings or use it as the “weak” in a Planter’s Punch. If you feel you need more proof to be swayed to my slightly unorthodox pineapple juicing methods just read about how commercial pineapple juice is made

Special

With some fresh pineapple and lime juice in hand continue to make this iconic Cuban drink. As I was saying, recipes do vary but the one below is my favourite. Aged Cuban rum is called for and that can only mean Havana Club 7 year old which is a damn fine and yet affordable rum. I’ve eschewed the simple syrup many versions use and rely solely on the sweetness of the pineapple juice and a healthy measure of apricot liqueur and find this results in a beautifully balanced, complex cocktail. By no means the sweet tropical pineapple bomb you might expect, the Hotel Nacional Special is one of those drinks that fully rewards those who take a little extra care with their ingredients.

¡Salud!


Hotel Nacional Special.

1.5oz / 45ml Aged Cuban rum (eg. Havana Club 7 Anos.)

1oz / 30ml fresh pineapple juice (see text.)

0.75oz / 22ml fresh lime juice.

0.5oz / 30ml apricot liqueur.

1 dash of Angostura bitters.

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled champagne coupé.

No garnish.

Toast Hotel Nacional de Cuba.


*It has had its very own battle and is the site of that famous scene in The Godfather II.

**This being my preferred option as it’s less work and you also get to use the remains of the pineapple as a drinking vessel.

 

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Tiki Lovers Dark Rum – Review

Born to rum.

Tiki Lovers Dark Rum.

This is a rum that I’ve been hearing good – if vague – things about from the Tiki community for quite some time but never quite got around to trying because I wasn’t really sure what kind of rum slot it would occupy on my already crowded rum shelf. But when I spotted a bottle that was favourably discounted I thought it time to bite the bullet. So here we go.

Tiki Lovers Dark Rum comes in a somewhat ordinary screw cap bottle and adorned with a grinning Tiki-god decoration that is a touch on the cheesy side. Alarm bells are going off all over the place here and I feel the makers need to raise their game a little on the presentation. However on closer inspection we see (oh, alright I already knew) that this is a blend put together by The Bitter Truth company from Germany, them wot make a pretty decent range of bitters and liqueurs. This in turn means it was very likely the work of master rum blenders E & A Scheer right here in Amsterdam. How so? Well pretty much any small company who wants to “make” their own rum blend ends up at a little office at Herengracht 316 due to their unparalleled expertise and connection in the world of rum*. The label provides some additional information on the contents. First up we note that it’s a Navy Proof rum bottled at 57% so we immediately know that this is a serious rum. The details on the blend as printed on the bottle are intriguing but a touch vague so I consult their website which, indeed, has more information. And it’s all good news! Tiki Lovers Dark is largely made from a combination of pot-still Jamaican rum from Hampden Estate and aged Barbados rum from Foursquare distillery and frankly those are two of the most respected rum distillers on the planet. Not content with that The Bitter Truth go on to round things of with a little Guyanan (ergo Demerara) and Trinidadian rum which shows a remarkable attention to detail for a rum of this price (€28 is typical here). The label states clearly “contains colouring” (probably thanks to German transparency laws) which is honest and welcome. A little caramel colouring is pretty normal and harmless enough but regardless I wish other manufacturers would be so open. These days I have the equipment to test for added sugar and I’m not surprised to find that Tiki Lovers has either none or very, very little added. There are some very encouraging signs here and I can hardly wait to crack this bottle open!

I can’t even wait to pour it into the glass and my sniff from the bottle rewards me with the delightful aroma of that funky Hampden Estate pot-still component but tempered with something deeper that I’m pretty sure is the Demerara part of the mix. In the glass we see the the effect of the caramel addition but they’ve at least been fairly restrained going no further than a nice coppery hue. With none of the rum over 5 years old – and likely not too much of that – we can be pretty sure little of the colour is barrel related. Whatever. A taste reveals a most interesting mix of the classic flavour profiles we would expect from the individual components with the hogo of the Jamaican rum a little more restrained than it was on the nose. It’s a skilfully blended affair that does the individual components full justice. Now very clearly this is really not a rum that was designed for sipping from a sherry glass so let’s dispense with such pretence and without further ado a-mixing we shall go.

Naturally I first make myself a Daiquiri as any test of a rum would be pretty lame otherwise. And it makes a fine if powerful one. But the whole raison d’etre for this rum is to easily replace the mix of rums that are required for a variety of Tiki drinks. Typical classic Don The Beachcomber recipes mix a funky Jamaican rum with a rich and smoky overproof Demerara rum and a classic Barbados rum**. Tiki Lovers Dark was designed to cover this in one pour and frankly pulls it off pretty darn well. An experienced and dedicated tiki-head with an extensive rum collection (raises hand) could probably do a three rum blend that is slightly better – but this comes pretty close. It’s a perfect fit for a Zombie, Navy Grog or Jet Pilot and also makes a pretty fine Mai Tai. It’s versatility can be further expanded by nudging it in slightly different directions with the addition of a second rum. For example a bit of agricole alongside it makes a fine base for a Three Dot and a Dash or you could double down on the Jamaican for a cracking Planter’s Punch. I wrote an article recently about Ten Tiki Rums but if there are issues of cost, storage space and availability with those I have no hesitation in recommending Tiki Lovers Dark as a great starting point for your voyage on the good ship Tiki.

Conclusion

Yes, it’s a bit of a niche product but what it does beautifully is to open the door to authentic classic Tiki drinks to those who lack the space and budget*** for a wide range of mixing rums. Even though I already have a fine range I’m inclined to keep some Tiki Lovers Dark in stock for when I’m feeling a little lazy. But don’t tell Mrs Proof…

When it comes to the grade please bear in mind that my mark is for this rum in its intended use. At the risk of being just a touch over enthusiastic I can’t help but reward the dedication of bringing classic Tiki recipes to the masses in such simple yet delightful form and crown Tiki Lovers Dark Rum with a hearty:

A+

 


*I have to be clear that I can’t be 100% certain of E & A Scheer’s involvement so don’t quote me on that.

**Don The Beachcomber once said “Three rums can do what one rum can’t.” And that was certainly true at the time.

***and dare I say dedication?

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11 Dashes.

…dashing all the way.

11 Dashes

Happy 2021 readers! Let’s hope this is a better year for everyone and especially the beleaguered hospitality industry who have been particularly battered by 2020.

Maybe after the festive season – or what passed for it this year – it might be time to dial back the alcohol consumption a little? I created the 11 Dashes to be the perfect drink for when you don’t want a drink. It’s a tricky thing to make a satisfying and flavourful cocktail with a tiny alcohol count but there’s an equally tricky way to pull it off: use bitters as a base. Bitters might be strong in alcohol (usually in the 30-45% zone) but they’re even stronger in flavour so we can still dial the flavour up to 11. Those 11 dashes equate to barely 2 teaspoons which is certainly not going to impede you from driving or operating any heavy machinery. While I insist that 11 dashes is precisely the right amount* I’m gonna give you the leeway to use whatever bitters you happen to have – indeed tinkering with the bitters combo is all part of the fun. As a guide I’m pretty keen on the mixture of aromatic, orange and Peychaud’s listed below but feel free to diverge from that depending on what you have in stock. I find that the amount of syrup needs to be adjusted depending on the bitterness of the bitters you’ve chosen so I’ve just included a range in the recipe. I suggest using the lower amount the first time you make this and adding little more (if necessary) until you find the perfect equilibrium: the 11 Dashes should be neither sweet nor bitter but right on that perfect fulcrum between the two. Proost!


11 Dashes.

(11 generous dashes of bitters such as:)

4 dashes of Regan’s orange bitters.

4 dashes of Bogart’s bitters.

3 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters.

0.75oz / 22ml fresh lemon juice

0.75oz – 1oz / 22ml-30ml simple syrup (I quite like vanilla syrup in this).

Pour ingredients into an iced Collin’s glass, top up with chilled soda water, stir gently and garnish with a lemon twist or slice.

Toast Spinal Tap.


*I mean the drink is called the 11 dashes so you know

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Teeling Small Batch – whisky review

He has a whisky drink…

Teeling Small Batch Rum Cask whisky review

A long time ago Irish whisky outsold Scotch, Bourbon and Canadian whisky combined. No, really. Yet by the 1980s there remained just one company owning a tiny handful of Irish distilleries and sales were pretty dismal. How the mighty had fallen. Luckily the comeback is well under way with Irish whisky sales growing strongly year on year over the last three decades. What I find particularly interesting is that, just prior to the comeback, the Irish government allowed the struggling industry to rewrite the rules that defined their spirit. And in their desperation they decided on something along the lines of “feckin’ anything!” Now while I think that it’s all well and fine to have strict rules in making a spirit (for example American and Scotch whisky) I think there’s also a place for a kind of Wild West attitude along side of that. So let’s look at perhaps the perfect example of what happens when a distiller is unburdened by strict restrictions and decides to go freestyling. Enter Teeling Small Batch Rum Cask.

Teeling Small Batch Rum Cask is a relatively affordable whiskey coming in at around €25 in these parts – right in the mixing spirit zone in my opinion. Indeed I understand that is entirely Teeling’s target market for this whiskey. For such a moderate price it comes in an attractive bottle with a cork seal. The dark glass bottle is a nice traditional shape and the label is a combination of the modern and traditional that still works well. The label has a pretty decent amount of information which I always applaud. Let’s have a look at that. First up we see an ABV of 46% and anything above 40% is in my view always a good sign that the spirit has been treated with some respect and not simply diluted to the legal minimum. Likewise the label states that Small Batch is not chill filtered. For the uninitiated this means that the spirit hasn’t had all the taste filtered out just to stop it getting a little hazy in some fairly untypical situations. A completely pointless trade-off in my view. What I do have some beef with is the statement “Since 1782”. Teeling is a very new distillery and while there is certainly some history of whisky making in the Teeling family I’m inclined to label this statement as “misleading” and would prefer to see something more honest such as “Est. 2015” on there. However it’s a small quibble and there is no shortage of other brands up to the same shenanigans. Moving on we see, as expected, that this whisky is finished in rum casks. One of the new “rules” for Irish whisky is that it must be aged in wood. Any wood. This gives Irish distillers massive opportunities for creative ageing. In this case they’ve not gone nuts simply using bourbon casks prior to blending followed by a rum cask finish post-blending. Where they have gone a little left-field is their use of a corn/grain mash which is more of a new-world practice. While not stated on the label I can further inform you that the composition is about three parts grain whisky to one part malt whisky which I find pretty respectable at this price. Ageing duration goes unstated other than “an extra 6 months in rum barrels” so we can best assume it’s over the legal minimum of three years and less that the age of the distillery which is about five years. As it happens the Teeling brothers have some older spirit from their previous enterprises but you won’t find any of that in this whisky. Returning to the label we find a bottling date (2/2020 on mine) which is unusual on whisky but I feel the more information the better so why the heck not? Which is all very well but how does it taste and how does it mix, you ask.

Finally released into the glass from the almost opaque bottle we see that our whisky has a nice light golden colour. A swirl and sniff reveals how much influence the rum cask finishing has had with definite sweetness and an aroma that is about halfway between a rum and a whisky. This effect remains largely in the nose as once tasted though it’s abundantly clear that this is indeed a whisky thanks to a firm maltiness and a pleasing balance – it really doesn’t come over as too sweet which was definitely a concern I had. Furthermore there is a complexity and mouthfeel (a slight and pleasant oiliness) that is pretty impressive at this price-point, all of which is no-doubt helped by the relatively generous bottling strength. It’s unashamedly big and bold in its flavours (even if those are tricky to pin down) which is no mean feat for a blended product. I’m giving Small Batch some bonus points for how well integrated it is and its long warming finish – again quite impressive for a €25 bottle. Ultimately it’s not as quirky as we might have expected, tasting very much like a decent premium blended Scotch but whether that is a plus or minus might depend on what you are looking for in this whisky. If you are in search of a purely sipping whisky you could probably do better even at this price. I personally think it is actually perfectly sippable even if it lacks a little in terms of subtlety but, of course, the reason we’re all here is to see how good this stuff is at:

Mixing.

It’s when we get down to some mixing that we see what Teeling Small Batch is really made of. Obviously my first stop has to be that drink with the cleverest name: the Michael Collins. And it makes a cracking one by any measure. It’s a bit of a mystery as to why some spirits mix well and others fall flat and, while there really is no guide book, I find spirits with big flavours do best. Perhaps then it should come as no surprise that Small Batch does so well. Encouraged, I experimented further and was not let down. I particularly enjoyed it in the Manhattan formula with Punt e Mes and a couple of dashes of Bogart’s Bitters. It turns out be be an excellent mixer and makes a nice counterpoint to the Monkey Shoulder that I might normally reach for. When I tested it head to head against the best known Irish mixing whiskey Teeling Small Batch ate it for breakfast. With black pudding. Although, to be fair Teeling is a little more expensive.

To be clear this is not a whisky that will set your world on fire but given the price it has oodles of character and mixes extremely well – which, as always, is what we are looking for on these pages. As a mixing Irish whisky Teeling Small Batch Rum Cask scores a pretty respectable:

B+

 


 

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The Doctor + Swedish Punsch

Punsch up at the Doctor’s.

The Doctor + Swedish Punsch

There are a not insignificant number of older cocktail recipes that call for an ingredient called Swedish Punsch and that tend to bring the budding cocktailista to a shuddering halt. What is this exotic ingredient? Does it even still exist? It most certainly does and with a little help from regular reader Quiddity (credit where due) I shall attempt to explain. Swedish Punsch is a traditional Swedish (duh!) tipple that used to be an actual punch of Batavia Arrack, spices and sugar but has for some considerable time become available in bottled form and has thus evolved into more of a liqueur. In Sweden – according to my source Q – there are quite a number of different punsches which vary in flavour and sweetness. I have access to just one, which Q says is one of the sweeter types so I have to advise you to adjust any amounts to taste if you have a different one. The Finns also have a sweet spot for this stuff and make their own versions. The Carlshamns Flaggpunsch pictured very recently moved its production into Finland and I’m prepared to bet that raised some eyebrows on both sides of the border – especially given those blue and yellow flags on the label!

The Doctor

The problem with The Doctor cocktail is that there are a squillion-and-one different recipes that have little in common apart from the Swedish Punsch. Early versions were Punsch and lime juice but later (and I’m still talking 70-80 years ago!) Jamaica rum started to creep into many recipes. No matter. I’ve picked one that I like and that is also moderately typical of the later style. And then fucked with it. At heart this version is a Daiquiri that simply uses Punsch as a sweetening agent instead of sugar. But while sweet it’s still not as sweet as sugar syrup so it needs a little help. Now Myers’s rum can certainly lend a hand here being a touch on the sugary side itself while still being Jamaican (most are pretty dry). And if we’re using Jamaican rum there’s no way we’re leaving out the superbly funky Smith & Cross, especially as it even has another Doctor recipe on the back of the bottle. Our work here is done – other than to balance our drink. I like the proportions below but that still might be a touch tart for some, in which case cut back on the lime juice a little. Now I should warn you in advance that with a liqueur and two kinds of rum, one of them Navy strength, the Doctor packs quite a punsch (yeah, sorry) so sip with care. The name? Well as we know many early cocktails were supposed to be medicinal and it seems likely that this one hung on to that concept all this time. To your health!


The Doctor.

1oz / 30ml Myers’s dark Jamaican rum.

1oz / 30 ml Swedish Punsch (I used Carlshamns).

0.75oz / 22ml Smith & Cross Jamaican rum.

0.75oz Fresh lime juice.

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled Champagne coupé.

Garnish with a twist of lime peel.

Toast doctors, nurses and everyone else fighting the Covid-19 wars.


 

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Proof News – a change is in the wind.

Bag ’em ‘n’ tag ’em!

 

Proof News – a change is in the wind.

In a change from our normal programme Proofcocktails.nl brings you news of some changes. Some of you may have noticed that my articles haven’t been quite as frequent over the last weeks. Sorry about that but I’ve got an excuse: I’ve been busy. Allow me to explain. I was hoping to make an announcement around now about my involvement in an exciting new bar/restaurant about to open here in Amsterdam. But then life Covid-19 got in the way. Just before we opened, we got locked down – along with the rest of the industry. Jammer (as we say here in nl). Looks like you’ll have to wait a little longer to try my cocktails for real. So, because of the sucky situation, we’re going to ride out the ‘rona by pivoting to an entirely unrelated delivery model. Our head chef Guillem is something of a BBQ nut and we reckon there’s a distinct shortage of frisky brisket in this city so we’ll be opening Jack’s BBQ Shack for take-away and delivery in the next few days. But y’all’re gonna need something to wash all that smoky goodness down and so it looks like I’m back in mixin’ business after all! I’ve morphed some Proof favourites into take-away jam jar cocktails for the thirsty masses and added a couple of new recipes I’ve been working on to the mix. As you can see the presentation is far from fancy but definitely right on-brand. These drinks might be at the other end of the spectrum from bespoke cocktails but, with a bit of tweaking, certain cocktails – and we’re really talking about sours and Collins’ here – can be pretty damn tasty in this format if you take care to boost the flavours to the max and pay close attention to your chilling and dilution. And as long as the deliverator pedals fast enough.

And then, when this Corona shit-storm has finally blown itself out, we’ll be back with plan A. Ah, ah – no clues! I’ve waited this long so I think I can keep the details safely in my back pocket for just a few more months…

Ridin’ out the storm with some BBQ.

And?

So what does this all mean for Proofcocktails.nl? Well not too much as it happens. While the frequency of posting might become a bit more erratic (depending on how busy I am) I’ve no intention of stopping this blog since the noble war on sobriety is far from won. If anything you might see a bit more variety in future articles reflecting my re-insertion into the sharp end of the cocktail industry. Meanwhile you home cocktailistas should keep the faith and consider these difficult times the ideal opportunity to perfect your art.

Stay safe and happy mixin’

Andy.

PS – If you’re in central Amsterdam click below to order some awesome BBQ and cocktails!

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Flying Dutchman + orange gin.

Oranje boven.

Flying Dutchman + orange gin.

Now it’s not very often that I come across a cocktail that was invented within walking distance of Proof HQ so when I saw this one in Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails a few years back my interest was definitely piqued. The American Hotel which has been hanging out on Amsterdam’s Leidseplein since 1900 is a pretty striking edifice and is popular with touring rock ‘n’ roll musicians. Waaaay back when the hotel was not quite yet a centenarian I had a friend who used to work there and she was allowed to keep whatever they left behind. We had some splendid times drinking Keanu Reeves vodka and smoking his tabs and I’m still in possession of Patti Smith’s guitar picks as well as her magic die (don’t ask, but I still base my most important decisions on a roll of it). There might have been some other abandoned wares but my memory of those days is a little hazy…

American Hotel, Amsterdam 2020.

Anyway it was there in 1950 that a certain W. Slagter who held office at the bar of the American – which is still worth a visit – first wrote of this drink in his Internationale Cocktailgids. It took me a long time to get to making one because it contained a rather strange ingredient: orange gin. For a long time there was not such thing but now there are a few versions available from some of the bigger brands. However, being the tinkerer that I am I decided to make my own orange gin and it really is the easiest thing in the world. Take a bottle of decent but straightforward gin, my choice here being Bombay Dry*, and just add about 15 grams of dried orange peel. Leave it for 24 hours giving the odd shake and then strain it through an unbleached coffee filter. The choice of peel has quite an influence on the flavour so go for a decent one**. Orange gin in hand I proceeded to fix myself a Flying Dutchman (I mean what else was an Amsterdammer going to call his creation, right?) despite the downright weirdness of the recipe. You see the FD has a bunch of bitter and sour ingredients but little to balance them. No, fresh orange juice does not have enough sweetness and, as with pineapple juice, you really need to consider it as “neutral” when balancing a cocktail, counter-intuitive as that may seem. And indeed the FD is a rather bracing drink, which may have been fine in the 1950s but falls a little out-of-gamut to modern tastes. Thankfully this is easily fixed by the addition of a couple of teaspoons of simple syrup. While certainly no mind-blowing complex flavour bomb the Flying Dutchman is a pleasant and crisp cocktail that I particularly enjoy in the dog-days of Summer and as a bonus that orange gin also makes a rather wonderful gin and tonic.


Flying Dutchman.

2oz / 60ml orange gin.

0.75oz / 22ml fresh orange juice (just squeezed, not carton).

0.5oz / 15ml fresh lemon juice.

2 dashes of Angostura bitters.

2 teaspoons of simple syrup (I like to use demerara).

 

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled champagne coupe.

Garnish with an orange twist because apparently double orange is not quite enough…

To try the original recipe simply skip the syrup. I double dog dare you.

Toast Snoop Dogg.


*While I normally suggest spirits north of 40%ABV for infusing this seems to work just fine with gin as low as 37.5%. If using a stronger gin (42%+) you could reduce the infusion time a little.

**I use a blend of bitter, sweet and Persian peels and it rocks!

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Ten Tiki Rums.

It’s a rum do.

Ten essential rums for the Tiki voyager.

The wonderful world of Tiki cocktails can be daunting at first – not least because of the wide array of rums that are called for in many recipes. Today I’m gonna try to break it down to ten essential Tiki rums that will allow you to make the widest possible array of tropical drinks as authentically – and tastily – as possible. I’ve tried (mostly) to pick those which are affordable and fairly widely available. You will notice that there are no spiced or flavoured rums listed below and that is because they are mostly a bit shit classic Tiki recipes predate those more modern inventions and add spices and other flavours in more natural ways. Without further ado let’s get stuck in to some fabulous rums!

1. Plantation OFTD. Going in heavy we’ll start with this modern rum which was custom blended to replace classic overproof demerara rum Lemon Hart 151 which is used in small but essential amounts in many classic recipes. Lemon Hart 151 has in recent years become difficult to source for many tiki-heads as well as becoming something of a shadow of its former glory at the same time. While OFTD stands for Old Fashioned Traditional Dark according to the label, everyone and his dog knows the “insider secret” that it was the exclamation “Oh, Fuck – That’s Delicious!” that was a reaction on the first expert tasting panel that gave it the name. Myth or excellent marketing? Who can say for sure. Now, while OFTD is a mere 69% to LH151’s 75.5% (yeah, I know) it does the job more than acceptably well. If you can get Hamilton 151 you’re doing better than me otherwise consider this to be your go-to overproof demerara rum, even if technically it isn’t.

2. Havana Club 3 Años. Available and affordable everywhere (except the USA*) HC3, is the quintessential white Cuban rum for Daiquiris, Mojitos and any other situation where a white Cuban is called for. It’s got a ton more flavour than most other white rums due to those three years in oak barrels in a hot climate. There are few alternatives but I’ve recently found Botran Blanca Reserva to be a good ‘un so that might be a good way to go if you find yourself on the wrong side of an embargo/copyright dispute.

3. Myers’s rum. Controversial! Some may say this dark Jamaican rum is only good for cooking but I beg to differ. Sure, it’s a touch sweet but if a recipe calls for a dark Jamaican I have absolutely no problem reaching for the Myers’s. It lacks the funk of many other Jamaican rums but you do get a rich molasses flavour instead. Coruba dark is a viable alternative for those in the USA and a few other countries.

4. Wray & Nephew Overproof white rum. Staying in Jamaica we’ll be needing some of the funk that Myers’s lacks and where better to find it than in Jamaica’s favourite rocket fuel. At 63% W&N is packed with those funky over-ripe fruit flavours that are so hard to describe. The only game in own until recently you will get a similar experience from any other Jamaican white that is of the same strength (Rum-Bar and Rum Fire being two good examples). Essential ingredient in the Wray and Ting and my own Trenchtown Grog.

5. Mount Gay Eclipse. A Barbados rum that has become my gold standard as a base mixing rum. Dry, flavourful, available and affordable Mount Gay Eclipse is the idea foundation that many a great drink can be built from. I find it to be pretty interchangeable with a gold Cuban rum even though it has some pot-still content and is theoretically a completely different type of rum. So there.

6. Navy Rum. Ah, I’m not going to go for a single rum in this category. For this British style of dark, rich blended rum from different sources the obvious choice is Pusser’s, which, to be fair, fits the bill perfectly and is very nice. But I like to go a bit left-field here and plump for Wood’s 100 which is a 57% navy strength demerara rum that can cover a few different roles at the same time. Pity it’s pretty much only available in the UK. Sigh, OK, for most of you we’re really talking Pusser’s here and they also have a 54.5% version.

7. Clement Select Barrel. While you might get by without one, you’ll be missing out if you don’t have a rhum agricole. Made from cane juice rather than molasses agricoles can be tricky territory for the beginner with their unfamiliar grassy/earthy flavours. I find that the moderately priced Clement Select Barrel has an approachable but punchy flavour without being overly smoothed out like the more popular Clement VSOP. Essential ingredient in the ‘Ti Punch and very nice in a Mai Tai.

8. El Dorado 8 year old. To do Tiki right you’re gonna need a demerara rum and here’s where things can get spotty as I don’t think there’s one that is universally available. If you’re in the UK (or Guyana, duh) you are likely to be spoiled for choice – and indeed Woods 100 mentioned above does double duty here – but in other countries the pickings might be slim. Luckily one that’s at least fairly widespread is also one of the best and most versatile. El Dorado 8 year old is reasonably dry, mixable, sipable, rich and smoky although some of their other offerings are a bit too sweet.

9. Smith & Cross. Damn but this one’s tough for me to justify. Yes, it’s another funky Jamaican rum and not toooo far away from Wray & Nephew Overproof but this is just such a good mixing rum I couldn’t bear to leave it out. This, as far as anyone can tell, is the closest thing to what rum used to taste like and therefore what rum should taste like. Funky, strong (57%) flavourful and utterly unrepentant this is a rum that leaves it’s mark on every cocktail it touches – almost always for the better.

10. Plantation Original Dark. Not to be confused with our first option, this entry level rum is a great jack-of-all trades multi-island blended rum that also has a certain old world honesty to it. If you’re not sure what to use in a Tiki drink Original Dark will rarely let you down as a catch-all dark rum. Try it in a Queen’s Park Swizzle to see what I’m talking about.

With the above rum palate you will be ready to start getting deeper into the world of Tiki where combinations of two or three of the above are typical. To find what to do with them just type in the the above rums – or categories – into the search box on proofcocktails.nl.


*Those of you there beware of iffy imitations from Bacardi. No green seal of guarantee from the Cuban government = no Cuban rum in the bottle. Warned.

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