Blackthorn and Patxaran.
The Blackthorn is one of those awkward cocktails to write about as while it is arguably a “classic” it has also had several versions over the years. Over time this has settled into two versions but they remain wildly different. The “Irish” version consists of Irish whiskey, Italian vermouth, bitters and absinthe whereas the “English” spec is sloe gin, French vermouth, bitters and absinthe. Having said that, as far as I’m aware Irish whiskey doesn’t grow on a Blackthorn bush whereas sloe berries most certainly do, so I’m more inclined to side with the English variants. Furthermore the oldest Blackthorn recipe I can find in my cocktail library is one part sloe gin, two parts Tom gin and two dashes of orange bitters and no vermouth whatsoever (this from about 1900) which sounds like a logical starting point to me. In any case lacking any certainty as to the definitive identity of the Blackthorn I’ll leave you to your own devices and simply tell you where this tangled mess took me. Always looking to plug gaps in my cocktail knowledge I determined to mix myself up a Blackthorn, which, as I’d understood it, was a sloe gin cocktail (‘parently not always). Having neglected to make or buy any sloe gin I was in a pickle. At least until I remembered I did have something on my shelf with some sloe berry content.
Patxaran* is a sloe berry liqueur from the Basque Country of north-east Spain which I have oft sipped upon on my many visits to this wonderful region which takes its food and drink very seriously. Enjoyed as a digestif following one of those four hour Basque “lunches” it is made from macerating sloe berries and a few other ingredients – but always including some anise and sugar – in neutral spirit for many months. It’s very nice chilled on its own with the bitterness and astringency of the sloe berries countering the sweetness but, eyeing up that bottle of Zoco I liberated from Donostia/San Sebastian, I was thinking that maybe with a bit of tweaking this could make yet another version of the Blackthorn (I mean why-the-fuck-not at this point, right?). Patxaran is pretty assertive on it ownsome so I decided to split the base with some gin. Using a bittered Italian vermouth would also help and, of course, Punt e Mes will be happy to be of assistance here. We can skip the absinthe as those notes are already present from the Patxaran so it is just a question of applying the right amount of aromatic bitters to tie this unlikely alliance together. After that it’s just a pretty standard preparation with the only issue being to think of a suitably derivative name…
1oz / 30ml Patxaran.
1oz / 30ml Dry gin**.
1oz / 30ml Punt e Mes Italian vermouth.
2 dashes of aromatic bitters (I used Bogarts’s but Angostura is fine).
Stir with ice and strain into a chilled stemmed glass and garnish with a swathe of lemon peel.
Toast the Basque people and their wonderful food and drink.
Note: Zoco Pacharan seems to be fairly available in Europe and perhaps in Spanish specialty shops further afield.
*This is the Basque spelling you may also see spelled the Spanish way as Pacharan.
**I used some local gin. Larios is an inexpensive Spanish gin that comes a few varieties. In this case I used their Provenzal whose herbal notes fit right in. Larios 12 in the bright blue bottle is my favourite though.