Tiki Bitters – making your own bitters.

This bitter be good.

Tiki Bitters – making your own bitters.

It’s time to make some homemade bitters folks! And why make something that you can buy anywhere when you could be making a bitters that spices up your Tiki drinks that doesn’t really exist in the marketplace? Yep, that’s what I thought too! The basic technique I’m using here can be used to make any other kind of bitters you desire so you may also consider this a Bitters 101 course. Making your own bitters is pretty damn easy in itself but the tricky part can be assembling the ingredients. A good spice supplier – either bricks and mortar or online – is invaluable but even then bittering agents such as gentian and chinchona may have to be sought out separately (all hail the internet!) but at least once you have some they will last you for years. Once assembled it is simply a case of soaking your ingredients in some strong alcohol for a wee whiley to extract the flavours. Most spices and roots are fine to use as they come but some benefit from breaking up to increase the surface area. Therefore gently crush those I’ve marked using a mortar and pestle (feel free to improvise if you lack one) taking care not to powder them. Often strong neutral alcohol is used but if we’re making a Tiki bitters we’d very better use rum. If only there were rums strong enough (heh, heh, heh…) to do the job. In the past I’ve used Mariënburg 81% rum along with the OFTD but it’s a hard one to find for a lot of you and I tend to get some funny looks when I buy it in person even though it’s only the weak export version (no, seriously). This time I subbed in Wray & Nephew overproof Jamaican white rum and it works just as well, even adding some nice funky notes to the mix. You could use other overproof rums than I have but make sure to keep the average abv north of 60% for the best results. Mix the spices and rum in a jar and give it a shake a couple of times a day. After around five days simply strain the lot through an unbleached coffee filter (twice for good measure) and funnel into a bitters bottle. You can either buy a nice bitters bottle and dasher top or save and recycle your Angostura bottles or maybe you’ll luck out and thrift a nice old perfume bottle like I did. Use your Tiki bitters in any Tiki drink you’d like to spice up either instead of or as well as the recommended bitters. Or even when no bitters are called for (we be talkin’ Daiquiris and the like here) where these wonderful tropical spices and bitter elements really liven things up.

The bitter end.


Tiki Bitters.

1 tablespoon bitter orange peel.

1 tsp gentian.

0.5 tsp chinchona chips (not powder).

1 tsp cocoa nibs.

1 small star anise*.

1 Ceylon cinnamon stick (the crumbly type)*.

10 dried allspice (aka pimento) berries.*

2 green cardamom pods.*

2 cloves.*

 

Gently crush those marked *

 

Add everything to a jar containing 150ml of Wray & Nephew overproof rum and 100ml of Plantation OFTD overproof rum (see text).

Leave for 5 days shaking briefly at least daily.

Filter and bottle.


If you want to read more about bitters (including making your own) I strongly recommend Bitterman’s Field Guide to Bitters and Amari by Mark Bitterman (yes, that really is his name).

 

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Double rum review: Blackwell and Worthy Park 109.

A tale of two rums.

Double rum review: Blackwell and Worthy Park 109.

What’s better than a rum review? Two rum reviews! And betterer still Jamaican rum reviews! Nope, we don’t do things by halves on the good ship Proof me hearties.

At first glance these might be mistaken for similar products – both are dark Jamaican rums after all – but upon closer examination we find them to be very different beasts. How so? Read on, dear reader, read on!

Blackwell Black Gold Special Reserve.

Straight away I’m gonna drop the descriptors and just call this Blackwell’s like everyone else does as there is no other variant of it beside the cheesy 007 branded bottle (rolls eyes). Blackwell’s is supposedly the secret family recipe of famous Jamaican record producer Chris Blackwell but I’m wary of this kind of blurb that we find on the rear of the bottle as it often amounts to little more than an iffy attempt at whipping up some historical mumbo-jumbo to shift product. It may or may not be true but I’d much prefer some solid facts about how the rum is produced. Hence I was reluctant to try this rum for a time seeing it as bordering on one of those “rock” branded spirits such as AC/DC Thunderstruck tequila or Motörhead rum (rolls eyes again). I think this branding may have done more harm than good but I’m way off track now and need to reboot this review.

Blackwell comes in a straightforward 700ml brown glass bottle with a metal screw cap. The label is quite nicely done being all deliberately misaligned and with a distinct “piratey” aesthetic. The seal on the side is a nice touch but aside from that it is a pretty uninteresting bottling for the price. The marketing jibber-jabber aside there is zero useful information beyond the compulsory 40% ABV statement (the website provides nothing more concrete either). No indication of age. Pot or column? Who knows? Who’s making this for Chris? Does he even know? If he does he’s not telling! I’ve gotta be honest; the signs are not encouraging. Undeterred* I pour a measure. I was expecting something much darker (a reason I dislike coloured bottles) than the coppery liquid that hits my glass. Everything I’ve seen was signaling a black rum but this is a few shades short of such. OK, let’s have a sniff. Damn, but this smells lovely with distinct caramel and vanilla fragrances and a little spice in the background. When tasted we get pretty much what we smelled as well as a smooth and buttery texture with little burn. It’s really quite decent for something with so little providence. While you could definitely sip this I bought it with mixing in mind and as a possible replacement for Myers’s in my Zombies and the like. I don’t hate Myers’s like some folks do but I always had the feeling I could do a little better. Lo and behold subbing Blackwell’s into my Zombie made a noticeable improvement to the point I would stock it for that purpose alone. Furthermore I found Blackwell’s a pleasing rum as a component of a Mai Tai. Well, I’m still a little shocked that this rum had anything under the hood at all let alone that it would be a permanent fixture on the Proof bar. It’s a tad pricey in my parts at around €28 but largely for it’s excellent mixability I’ve got to award it an:

A-


Worthy Park 109.

It turns out Worthy Park 109 is the polar opposite of Blackwell’s with providence coming out of its ears. One of Jamaica’s most ancient and revered distilleries whose juice often finds its way into special bottlings for other brands the Worthy Park name immediately caught my attention. The other attention grabber is that 109 on the label. Yup, that’s 109 proof better known as 54.5% ABV or the revised Navy Proof of the British Navy. At €32.50 for a litre at such a high strength this looks like pretty fine value for a rum from such a prestigious distiller. Furthermore we have an ocean of useful information on the production. Right up front on the simple but tasteful label we read The Magic Words “100% copper pot distilled”. I’m in! There are more details but the most relevant is that it is a blend of their own aged and un-aged rums and that everything is done in-house. But enough, let’s get to it.

Poured from the large clear (smiles) bottle which in itself is satisfactory if dull we see the expected deep mahogany colour. Clearly it’s a caramel coloured rum then but, hey, that’s what makes a dark rum dark**. The first sniff is pretty unforgiving. Ethanol hits first in a pretty brutal way but as it subsides we get a nice treacly impression with dark roast coffee in the background. The taste is similar: treacle scones at halloween accompanied by a sip of bitter espresso. There are raisin and spice flavours in there too and no sweetness to be found. This is grown up rum and certainly not for beginners. The finish is long and warming but the alcohol doesn’t hide its presence and this is certainly not a rum I’m going to be sipping on. I can see a sailor downing one after a cold, hard shift but that’s little help to us cocktailistas. I really wanted to like this rum and I kinda do. But. The problem is that there are other better rums in this zone. For a Navy rum it can’t supplant Wood’s and for an overproof demerara stand-in it can’t touch Plantation OFTD. I tried it in a number of cocktails and it just wasn’t a rum that plays nice with others as its bitter notes seem to dominate and take over the drink. I still think a might find something interesting to do with it but for now I can’t recommend it as a flexible mixing rum – and if it’s not a sipping rum where does that leave it? It leaves it with a:

B.


Note on sugar/sweetness.

I tested both of these rums for added sugar and neither had any significant dosing. Unsurprising as Jamaican rum pretty much never does. There are differences in perceived sweetness but it is just that a perception based on the flavours present. Blackwell tastes sweeter due to the vanilla notes and WP109 somewhat bitter due to the coffee notes is my best guess. Similarly Myers’s tastes sweet due to the molasses flavours yet also tests negative for added sugar.

Conclusion.

Don’t judge a book by its cover folks. Labels with production details usually help us a lot but here we a clear case where they didn’t and it shows that there is no substitute for tasting.


*OK somewhat deterred.

**Yeah, it’s rarely got anything to do with ageing in barrels at this price or below.

 

 

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Mr Mojo.

Keep on risin’

Mr. Mojo.

I’ve always hated the Mint Julep which is probably why it’s one of the few classic cocktails I’ve not written about here. With just bourbon, mint, sugar and ice it lacks the balance that I consider so important in a good cocktail. Yes, Americans tend to love them but then they are used to a lot of sugar in their food and drink. So instead I present unto you a summer drink that has a certain amount of common ground with the Mint Julep but with the requisite balance and a simplicity of preparation – which we all value, right? The Mr. Mojo also borrows a fair amount from the Mojito (hence the name) and drops in a favourite amaro of mine to give some extra depth. I used Ramazzotti but Averna, Lucano and a few others are close enough in profile to work too. I tried both lemon and lime as the sour component but the latter seemed more pleasing to me. To keep things nice and simple we’ll put our mint directly into the shaker but do remember that mint gives up its flavoursome oils pretty readily so we just give it a light shake to prevent it over-fragmenting. Done properly this means no bits of mint small enough to get sucked up a straw should remain. A “dirty dump” of the entire contents of the shaker into a partially iced glass ensures sufficient chillagé and prevents us from over-diluting with the soda water. Simple. Delicious. Now show me the way to the next whisky bar…


Mr. Mojo.

1.5oz / 45ml bourbon of choice*.

0.5oz / 15ml Ramazzotti or similar amaro.

1oz / 30ml fresh lime juice.

0.75oz / 22 ml demerara syrup (1:1).

7-8 mint leaves.

Shake relatively gently with ice and pour entire contents of shaker into partially iced Collins glass. Top up with a little soda water (2-3oz/60-90ml maximum!). Stir gently and garnish with a mint sprig.

Toast The Lizard King (1943 – 1971).


*But choose Wild Turkey 101!

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Palomarita.

A single swallow does not a summer make.

Palomarita.

With some roasting hot weather imminent we’re gonna be in need of something cool, refreshing and familiar to tide us through the heatwave so I came up with the Palomarita which is a frankencocktail that combines – yup, you guessed it already – the Margarita and the Paloma. Those aren’t Mexico’s two favourite cocktails without reason and those hombres know something about dealing with the scorchio. To be truthful the Palomarita concept has surfaced elsewhere on the fringes of cocktaildom so let’s just call this my riff on the combo and as such it leans heavily on my version of the Margarita which I call the Repo Man. Simply put we cut in some nice fresh white grapefruit juice into the sour component of the formula but before we get down to the recipe: a word on tequila.

A Word on Tequila.

Yeah, yeah, I’ve blabbed on about tequila before and compared some good budget options but time (almost 4 years) has overtaken that particular article. How so? Well, the somewhat cyclical agave shortage and an increasing interest in tequila have caused some budget tequilas to creep up and out of the mixing price zone* leaving us in search of other affordable yet quality additive-free 100% agave tequilas. As such I’ve moved my house tequila to the cracking bargain pictured above**. Cimarron reposado is an honest and unpretentious (with that one-colour label) tequila that punches miles above its price which is really not that much above some gaudy plastic-sombrero-wearing drain-pour mixto. Unadulterated by additives or production shortcuts Cimarron has all the cooked agave and peppery notes that I value most in a mixing tequila. Word.

‘Rita Me Up!

Now I’m not saying that the Palomarita is better than its two parent cocktails but it is a nice change, especially since there are not an enormous amount of quality tequila cocktails in the canon. I’ve left it naked in the photo but I’m not averse to a strip of white grapefruit peel as a garnish if I’m feeling flash. In the interests of diversity I’m open to two options in the sweet component: honey syrup to lean closer to my Repo Man or agave syrup to lean into the already firm agave notes from the Cimarron. The choice is entirely up to your own  preference amigos.


Palomarita.

2oz / 60ml reposado tequila such as Cimarron.

0.75oz / 22ml fresh white grapefruit juice.

0.75oz / 22ml fresh lime juice.

0.5oz / 15ml agave syrup or 3:1 honey syrup.

2-3 hearty dashes of orange bitters.

Shake with ice and double strain into a chilled champagne coupé. Garnish with a strip of grapefruit peel if desired.

Toast The Champs.


*Although, to be clear, they remain tasty and diligently produced tequilas unlike some other who have cut corners to maintain lower prices.

**I saw this coming and stocked up accordingly. I realise now that I should have warned you too. Sorry, my bad.

 

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Club Tropicana.

Drinks are free.

Club Tropicana.

Since we’re just past midsummer I’m gonna keep thing simple and summery with a fun but tasty drink that I inventified a couple of summers ago and named after a horribly cheesy 80s song. There’s nothing too crafty going on here – this is just a fun Tiki cocktail to please the masses with the familiar flavours of rum, coconut and pineapple but boosted by the inclusion of falernum and ginger. But first a word about coconut rums (even though we’ve been there before). A lot of coconut “rums” contain so much sugar they are no longer worthy of the name. For a while I made my own but these days I just suck it up and use the least bad of the mainstream options – Bacardi Coconut – and balance the sweetness accordingly. Indeed, given the target audience I let this one run a little more to the sweet side that I normally would. Also in keeping with making the Club Tropicana cheap and cheerful I don’t entirely discourage the use of decent bottled pineapple juice (gasp!) but yes, if you use fresh juice it will be even tastier. When we shake pineapple juice we get a nice foamy top and the harder we shake the better that goes – so feel free to get extra jiggy with this one. You will notice the addition of a small measure of Wood’s Navy rum which we discussed recently. While I understand you may not have access to this particular rum it does add a lot to the drink so if you’re living in a Wood’s desert (fairly likely) opt for another Navy style rum, some Plantation OFTD or an overproof demerara. Not much more to say other than get some friends ’round, shake up some Club Tropicana’s and make sure there’s enough for everyone…


Club Tropicana.

1oz / 30ml Mount Gay Eclipse rum*.

1oz / 30ml Bacardi coconut.

0.25oz / 7.5ml Wood’s Navy rum (or see text).

1oz / 30ml fresh lime juice.

0.666oz / 20ml ginger syrup.

0.333oz / 10ml golden falernum.

2oz / 60ml pineapple juice (see text).

Shake hard with plenty of ice and pour, unstrained, into a Tiki mug or Collin’s glass.

Garnish however you damn well like but make it fun.

Toast Wham! (Holy shit, I can’t believe I’m writing this…)


*You could use other typical dry gold Barbados, Jamaican or Cuban rums.

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Full Nelson + Wood’s Navy Rum.

Splice the mainbrace!

Full Nelson + Wood’s Navy Rum.

I was recently able to get my hands on some older bottles of one of my favourite rums and thought it must be time for a sprawling and ill-conceived article about a product that a lot of people will have little chance of finding but with a damn fine cocktail at the end as a reward. If you don’t live in the UK and have no intention of visiting the UK you might as well tune out now as Wood’s Old Navy Rum is extremely sparsely (if at all*) distributed outside of its home nation. Glad to see you’re still with us. Wood’s 100 Old Navy Rum was a direct descendant of the rum that was issued to Royal Navy sailors for hundreds of years until the infamous “black tot day” of 31st July 1970 whence they got a can of lager instead – poor bastards. Wood’s is bottled at 57% alcohol which is the original Navy proof before it was cut back to a watery 54.5% in 1866. Until about 6 years ago it was issued to the public in one litre bottles for about £25 making it extraordinarily good value just in terms of alcohol for money alone. But all good things must come to an end and around 2016 a marketing team was brought in and the bottle was shrunk to a measly 700ml**, the “100” dropped (it refers to the outdated UK proof system where 100 = 57.14% alcohol), the label “modernised” and the price moderately increased. A little booklet was attached around that time explaining that the rum inside was exactly the same. Having already swally’d all my old skool Wood’s I had to take their word for it. Until now. But before we get to the comparison let’s talk about what Wood’s rum is. It’s a 100% demerara rum (Navy rum was usually a mixed source rum containing a fairly high proportion of demerara) made in Guyana in some of the last wooden rum pot stills in the world after which it is shipped to the UK and aged in a temperate climate for around thee years – formerly under the Thames in London and more recently in Glasgow. Yes, it is heavily coloured with caramel to give it that distinctive mahogany colour. The nose is a blast of ethanol and molasses but with some perseverance an underlying spiciness can be detected. When sipped the first reaction is, “shiver me timbers, this be a powerful brew” with an astringency from the high alcohol content with relatively little aging coming as quite a shock. But then. Spices, molasses, toffee, raisins, cinnamon and a warming richness that lasts and lasts. The heavy molasses flavour gives an impression of sweetness yet I measured zero (or at least negligible) added sugar in either bottle with the hydrometer test. While not for the feint of heart this “grown up” rum is pretty unique and even in the smaller bottle is superb value for money. This is really an ideal rum for mixing, especially in Tiki drinks and although old sea dogs will insist it should only be drunk neat you follow their advice at your own peril. Those in the UK with easy access to Wood’s but difficulty finding overproof demerara rums such as Lemon Hart 151 can consider Wood’s an acceptable substitution – but chuck a little extra in there. Rum-heads from other parts who happen to find themselves in the UK should put Wood’s at the top of their shopping lists. It can be found in most bottle shops and even some supermarkets (Morrison’s being a reliable source in my experience) but don’t bank on finding it at the airport due to its high alcohol content.

Left = “new”, right = old.

But, now the question: is there a difference in taste between now and 6 (or more) years ago. I tasted from an fresh bottle of each to see. And. Yes, there are differences although very minor. To me the older version is a little harsher and oilier. A slight bitter edge that is missing from the newer version is detectable. The newer bottle is marginally smoother, creamier and more approachable. Perhaps the best way to describe the newer bottle is as a tiny bit more “tamed”. I’d say they are both equally good but just very slightly different. Whether the change came with the new label or is just a gradual shift over the years is impossible to say at this distance and ultimately it’s not any more important than showing us that spirits do change over the years. I’ve got to say I kind of like the older presentation – it’s just more “honest”. The sailor on the old label looks like he’s having a grand old time while the one on the newer one looks bored to tears. I’m guessing he’s on the can of lager while the older fellow has just had his tot of Navy proof rum. While this isn’t exactly one of my spirit review articles as such, if it was Wood’s Old Navy Rum (current version) would score an A. Which it doesn’t because it isn’t. But anyway, did I promise you a tasty cocktail for enduring my ravings? I think I did…

Full Nelson.

My Full Nelson is my Navy proof version of the Navy Grog with a few tweaks here and there. I’d promised to myself that I’d keep this recipe secret for my very own Tiki bar but I’m just too damn grateful to you readers to hide it any longer. The key to the Nelson is to use Wood’s for its demerara richness and Smith & Cross for its glorious Jamaican funkiness. That S&C is also a 57% rum is a happy coincidence that keeps us right in the Royal Navy vibe. The tweaks that make it differ from just a Navy Grog with stronger rums are in the sweeteners. I use ginger syrup and falernum to maximise the spiciness already present in the Wood’s and fire an extra dash of Ango in there for good measure. Note with that 2 ounces of 57% rum the Full Nelson is no stronger that a Navy Grog but just less diluted. Serving it over ice in a tankard helps with the dilution over time and is not just for the aesthetic.


Full Nelson

1oz/30ml Wood’s Navy rum***.

1oz/30ml Smith and Cross rum.

1oz/30ml white grapefruit juice.

1oz/30ml fresh lime juice.

0.75oz/22ml Ginger syrup.

0.25oz/7.5ml Falernum.

2 dashes Angostura bitters/

Pulse blend 6-8 times with 4oz (120ml) of crushed ice and pour into a tankard containing a few cubes of ice.

Garnish with a sprig of mint.

Toast Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson (1758-1805).


*As far as I can tell the older version was internationally distributed but that ended with the change of bottle size. Notice that the “export strength” flag is absent from the new version. Some old stock of the 1 litre older version still exists in places which is where mine came from.

**OK, so it’s got a nice cork now but I’d much rather have my 300ml back.

***If you can’t get any use another Navy Rum but it won’t be quite the same.

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Desert Rose + dusted garnishes.

A desert rose L.A. L.A.

Desert Rose + dusted garnishes.

I like to roll out a bubbles based recipe on auspicious occasions but the five year anniversary of this blog came and went without my notice. Let’s put things right with a tasty cocktail that I devised for the opening of a restaurant that never did (gee, thanks  Corona). Well it did eventually but not in the way we originally planned. It’s a long story* but basically Jack’s BBQ Shack is now an (excellent) BBQ and sports bar specialising in beer and bourbon instead of a classy Middle Eastern themed eatery with crafty cocktails designed by yours truly. Which brings us to the Desert Rose. It’s handy to have a bubbles based cocktail for larger groups and events that is easy to make yet gives a hint of the establishment’s vision. Rose is a key flavour across the Middle East yet is seldom used in Western recipes and I doubled down on its delightful taste and fragrance in the Desert Rose. Now you can just use the rose water that can be found at literally every Middle Eastern specialty store (although some are more flavourful than others) but there is a way to elevate that rose flavour a little further if you’re the type who wants your drinks to really shine. And we are – right? Cool. So:

Rose mix.

Get your hands on some dried rose petals – often also called “rose tea”. They are pink and feather light yet packed with flavour with those coming from Iran typically being the best. You do not want the ones which are still in bud form for this. We’re going to process those pink flakes in two ways. First we make a rose tincture by soaking half a cup (120ml) of rose petals in a cup (240ml) of vodka (preferably 50% abv but if using 40% extend the steep a little) for 3 days shaking at least daily. Strain through a coffee filter or superfine sieve pressing down gently with a spoon to extract the rosy goodness. I then mix this tincture 50:50 with commercial rose water to get the best of both worlds and call the result “rose mix”. The mix can go cloudy but that’s just a harmless flocculation that is fixed with a quick shake – it’ll keep for months without refrigeration. Yes, you can just use commercial rose water on its own but addition of the tincture gives a more natural flavour (the former can taste a little “artificial” on its own) and it’s really not a lot of hassle to do the upgrade – especially as your going to need the rose petals anyway to make some amazing:

Rose dust.

Now, while we’re messin’ with those poor rose petals I’ll show you another handy trick. At first I sprinkled a few dried rose petals on top of the drink as a garnish but they tended to get stuck to your lips and teeth which is a bit annoying. In a madcap moment I threw a handful in a spice grinder** and spun it into a superfine dust. The dust is best dispensed from a container – such as a pepper shaker or cocoa duster – with very fine holes in the cap directly onto the finished drink where the aroma hits the guest like a rosy kiss and the dust is swallowed down with the cocktail adding its flavour to the drink instead of adhering to their pearly whites. The first time I rolled out my rose dust garnish the head chef exclaimed, “This stuff is like f***in’ crack!” It turns out dusted dried flowers are a super easy yet visually impressive garnish. The same trick works using hibiscus “tea” and probably a bunch of other dried flower based ingredients that I haven’t got around to trying yet. You can sprinkle as much as you like and I went in pretty heavy for the above picture but a lighter dusting is also quite classy giving a kind of gold dust sparkle that might be more appropriate for other cocktails where you don’t want to add too much rose flavour.

Desert Rose.

Not much more to say other than that the lemon, rose and pomegranate*** give the Desert Rose the flavours of a delicious yet bubbly Turkish delight. If serving more than a few guests pre-batch a mix of the first three ingredients and use a hair over an ounce per drink.


Desert Rose.

Into a chilled Champagne coupé pour:

0.5oz (15ml) fresh lemon juice.

0.5oz (15ml) grenadine syrup (made from pomegranate juice).

1 teaspoon (5ml) rose mix (see text) or rose water.

Add 4-50z (120-150ml) of a dry sparkling wine such as cava.

Dust gently with rose dust (see text).

Toast Sting and Cheb Mami.


*Which involves the first Corona lockdown coming literally the day before we opened!

**Often sold as coffee grinders but basically a little jugless blender with a superfast whirling blade. Not expensive and IMHO essential but never to be used for coffee.

*** As long as you use some proper pomegranate based grenadine – preferably a homemade one.

 

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The Star Cocktail + old cocktail books.

Bigstar.

On Classic Cocktail Books.

For those intrigued by the history of the cocktail old cocktail manuals can be an interesting resource if you approach them with the right expectations – of which more later. First things first though: exactly where does one acquire such venerable tomes? Unfortunately, while you might get lucky and stumble across some undiscovered gem, most older classics command top dollar these days. Happily for those interested in exploring the genre there are a fair number of inexpensive reprints of the more famous examples that can be ordered online (of which I suggest a few below). Now, about those expectations… If you go into this expecting to find a whole bunch of interesting and exotic recipes you are setting yourself up for disappointment. The further back in time you go, the simpler the drinks get with almost everything pre-1914 (approx.) being variations on the Old Fashioned (duh!) or Manhattan and based on a fairly narrow range of ingredients – whisky, rum, gin, brandy, vermouth (mostly Italian but some French), curacao, “gum” syrup and bitters (pretty much orange, Angostura or Bogart’s/Boker’s. Sours are practically non-existent and there is a bigger focus on cobblers and flips. For example Jerry Thomas’ seminal Bartenders Guide (1862) contains only a handful of the kind of drinks we are used to seeing on a cocktail menu these days. Typically there will be little or no explanation of the drink beyond the recipe itself. So if you are looking for inspiration go elsewhere. However, should you be in search of a deeper understanding of cocktail origins, trends and ancient drinking culture these books can be an absolute gold mine. As an example we learn that around 1900 the proportions of many cocktails were very different – often comprising of 50:50 spirit to vermouth ratios which, as the century wore on, canted further and further in the spirity direction* before starting to tilt back in the early 2000s. Very interesting.

A further challenge is the way pre-WW2 cocktail recipes are codified. Instead of specific (oz or ml) quantities we find vague and obscure measurements such as a dash, pony, wine glass or simply a “half-portion” of this or that or, fairly commonly, instructions such as “half Italian vermouth and half Tom gin”. Yikes. I’ve adopted the following conventions:

1 dash = a heavy eighth of a ounce (5ml) unless it’s for bitters in which case it simply is a dash.

1 pony = 1 ounce (30ml)

1 wine glass or “portion” = 2 ounces (60ml)

Which will get you through most recipes.

Further considerations are that “powdered sugar” merely refers to what we now call “granulated sugar” and that where we read “gum syrup” just use simple 1:1 syrup.

The book I’m drawing on today is The Cocktail Book a small but nicely bound reprint by the British Library of an anonymous but ubiquitous bar guide from 1900. It shows us the trends of the days and as such leans very heavily on vermouths which were very much de rigueur at the turn of the century and a keystone to the evolution of the modern cocktail. Because it is a guide intended to sit on the shelf of every “modern” bar we can assume that it lists the drinks most commonly requested at that time. We see included here the Manhattan as just one of a number of very similar drinks on the cusp of its emergence as the flagship for the Italian vermouth + spirit + bitters style. But today I’m picking the “Star Cocktail” as an interesting variant which while certainly not mind-blowing will give the embiber a feel for what kind of thing folks were sipping on over 120 years ago.


Star Cocktail (as written).

Use mixing glass.

Two dashes gum syrup; three dashes orange bitters; one-half apple brandy; one-half Italian vermouth. Fill glass with ice, mix, strain into a cocktail glass, and add small twist of lemon peel.

 

Star Cocktail (modern).

1.5oz (45ml) apple brandy (calvados or applejack).

1.5oz (45ml) Italian vermouth.

0.25oz [or a touch over] (8-9ml) simple syrup.

3 dashes of orange bitters.

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

Toast The British Library.


*Eventually getting to the point where a Martini was made by, “stirring gin with ice while looking at a bottle of vermouth.”

Addenda:

A few reprints which I can recommend, roughly in order of usefulness are:

Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book 1930 (consider this one essential).

David Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks 1948.

Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders Guide 1862.

The Cocktail Book (pictured) 1900.

While not exactly a reprint but a compendium of old recipes, Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails  is also a useful reference.

 

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Novara.

The last splash.

Novara.

The Novara is a favourite cocktail of mine which appears in Jamie Boudreau’s Canon. Whilst the book, as is not uncommon in modern era cocktail books, has a plethora of complex and “crafty” recipes, the Novara is refreshingly simple in preparation. Strangely Jamie himself doesn’t say much about it, only discussing the merits of using quality passion fruit syrup. But don’t worry Jamie; I’ve got this for you! The Novara has a simple construction of an ounce and a half of gin and half an ounce each of Campari, passion fruit syrup and lemon juice. The modifier/accent combination lead to a cocktail reminiscent  of pink grapefruit juice. Never a bad thing in my opinion. The Novara benefits from some care as to the balance of flavours depending on the passion fruit syrup used. I find that with my home-made PF syrup the flavour is skewed a little too far in the fruity direction. Properly made, the lemon juice, passion fruit and lemon juice should combine into a new “grapefruity” flavour and if any of the three becomes dominant you should dial that one back a little. For me that means a lighter touch with the syrup: a heavy quarter ounce to a scant half ounce. Once you’ve cracked the balance this becomes a crowd pleasing cocktail that you can bang out pretty quickly for a group of guests and doubly useful for us tiki-heads who always have some quality passion fruit syrup to hand. What’s with the name? Well Jamie did his research and used the name of the Italian town where Gaspare Campari invented his famous aperitif.

Furthermore I’d add that The Canon Cocktail Book is a beautifully presented yet compact tome that gives some interesting insights into building a successful cocktail bar as well as highlighting a range of cocktail recipes from the beautifully simple to the fairly challenging. Recommended.


Novara.

1.5oz / 45ml dry gin.

0.5oz / 15ml fresh lemon juice.

0.5oz / 15ml Campari.

0.5oz / 15ml Passion fruit syrup (see text).

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

Toast Jamie Boudreau.


 

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Water Lily + Crème de Violette

Water Lily on the left, Aviation on the right. Both made with The Bitter Truth creme de violette.

Water Lily + Crème de Violette.

While relatively new I think it’s fair to call the Water Lily a classic cocktail. Almost all  agree that the drink was created in 2007 by Richie Boccato at Little Branch – one of Sasha Petraske’s New York bar’s (always respect the creator of a cocktail with the credit they deserve). The Water Lily is beautiful both visually and in its quadrilateral equal parts simplicity. It also gives you something else to make with that Crème de Violette that you bought to make Aviations with. Briefly returning to the latter I’d like to add that I’ve always had an issue with the original version of the Aviation in that it seemed that if I added a little violette it came out an unattractive grey colour, yet if I added enough to give it the sky blue colour the name alludes to the flavour balance of this drink was dominated by the violette at the expense of the gin and maraschino and hence have continued to make the Aviation the “wrong” way – as I was before the rediscovery of the original recipe anyway. I’ve come to realise that some Crème de Violettes are more violently violet than other variants, with my Marie Brizard being very much at the paler end of the spectrum. On top of this Crème de Violette is not the easiest liqueur to find. Luckily I was able to borrow one of the more intensely coloured variants which might just be a solution for The Aviation Dilemma. The Bitter Truth – German bitters makers of repute – have a growing selection of liqueurs in their repertoire including a particularly intense Crème de Violette. Now given the limited uses for and relative scarcity of CdV opportunities for comparison are limited. Hence the opportunity to compare a couple should not be squandered. Simply put Marie Brizard is quite a pale shade of violet yet has a very punchy violet flavour while The Bitter Truth version is intense in colour with a “bluer” hue yet somewhat milder in flavour. Additionally, thanks to strict German labelling laws, we know that The Bitter Truth version has added colouring which may go some way to explaining the difference. I’d also like to add that in reality both of these drinks looked noticeably bluer than they appear in the picture but as a matter of principle I don’t mess with the colour balance in my pictures. Anyway, more than enough about Aviations and Violets let’s get:

Back to the Lily.

Despite sharing a few ingredients with the (original) Aviation the Water Lily is quite different, being sweeter and unashamedly more violet forward. Yet it’s an easy drink to make and just as easy to drink. It exudes a certain sophistication and elegant femininity especially when paired with a vintage glass and tasteful garnish. To get the best colour be sure to use a clear orange liqueur such as Cointreau or a triple sec – particularly so if you are using a paler crème de violette.


Water Lily.

0.75oz / 22ml Dry London gin.

0.75oz / 22ml Crème de Violette (see text).

0.75oz / 22ml fresh lemon juice.

0.75oz / 22ml clear orange liqueur (see text).

Shake* with ice and double strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Rub rim and garnish with a swathe of orange peel.

Toast Richie Boccato creator of the Water Lily.


*Some recipes say to stir rather than shake and I consider this a reasonable alternative given the relatively small portion of lemon juice. The choice is yours.

 

 

 

 

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