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2016 a marketing team was brought in and the bottle was shrunk to a measly 700ml**, the “100” dropped (it refers to the outdated UK proof system where 100 = 57.14% alcohol), the label “modernised” and the price moderately increased.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.


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.”


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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The last splash.


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.


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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Gin review: Roku & Etsu Japanese gins.


Gin review: Roku & Etsu Japanese gins.

The gin world divides itself more or less into two styles which, very approximately, are: a) London Dry gin in which juniper is the main flavour and b) New World/New Western gin in which it isn’t – or is at least more restrained. The latter are often more citrus forward in flavour which is fine but it’s the name that troubles me as many gins in this style have little to do with the “New World/West”. Today’s review is a case in point as we examine two very interesting Japanese gins in the lesserly junipered style. At first glance it seems these two gins have a great deal in common but then it get interesting – so let’s get to it!


I’ve been enjoying Roku for some time now so it’s not new to me as is normally the case in my reviews. However it seemed sensible to review it alongside Etsu as they appear to have much in common. Produced by Suntory, a large Japanese producer better known for their whiskey, Roku is a widely available gin due to the owner’s expansive distribution network. I like the hexagonal bottle with the images of the botanicals and names in kanji raised from the glass – which also helps give the bottle some grip. It’s really quite elegant for such a mass produced product. The plastic screw top provides a good solid seal but I feel lets the perception down a touch. I’d rather have that than a poorly fitted wood stopper though. The label is simple but classy with the name written in a brushstroke style that fits its heritage very well. There is some information on the botanicals – of which I always approve – on the back label so we know that six Japanese ingredients are used (sakura flower, yuzu peel, sencha tea, sansho pepper, sakura leaf and gyokuru tea) in addition to any “traditional” ones. Indeed the name Roku is the Japanese word for 6 in reference to those botanicals. We also see that the gin is bottled (at least in the European market) at a sensible 43%. On the nose Roku gin is fresh and citrusy with a definite whiff of juniper. Tasted with just a little water to open it up Roku delivers a nicely balanced complex flavour. The floral and citrus elements seems spread out before you to taste individually and your attention seems to bounce about between them. At the same time it is soft and subtle with no one flavour too dominant and then has a pleasantly long lingering finish without any overly bitter notes. This is a nicely made gin with some real attention to detail. I particularly enjoy it in a gin and tonic with a relatively straightforward tonic such as Schweppes but find it a little too subtle to shine in most cocktails but then there are plenty of other gins we can use for that. As a mid-priced gin (€28-30 here but often on sale for less) I find it a valuable addition to my gin shelf and score it a respectable:



As far as I can tell Etsu – which means “pleasure” – is a relative newcomer to the fabulous world of gin. While being Japanese, having some common botanicals, 43% alcohol and having a name with four letters ending in “u”, I was expecting something fairly similar to Roku but it turns out I was in for a surprise. But first: Etsu comes in a squat cylindrical bottle which at first glance looks like one of those 500ml bottles yet due to its width is in fact a full 700ml. The closure is a beautiful cobalt blue synthetic stopper with a wooden top which has a gold “coin” sunk into it (not very visible in the photo: my bad). Likewise the label looks pretty classy in the same striking blue tone with some gold highlights. While Roku is made by the gigantic Suntory company it appears that Etsu is a much smaller affair made on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido and imported into Europe by the relatively new and small BBC Wines & Spirits in France so it is certainly trickier to find than Roku. I sniffed quite a bit more juniper than I expected for a Japanese gin but it was when I tasted it that I was really surprised. The botanicals – again fairly traditional but including bitter green orange peel, sansho, yuzu and licorice – gel into one lovely united front on your palate combining seamlessly into a wonderful pepperiness that reminds me a little of a high quality tequila. And that pepper element seemingly contains the floral and citric notes in a kind of zen-like one-ness as if the flavours are somehow bonded together. It’s not subtle and nuanced like Roku but the polar opposite: concentrated vs diffuse, punchy vs smooth. It takes quite some skill – and the practiced use of flavour fixatives like angelica and orris root – to pull this stunt off. While it makes a great, if unsubtle, gin and tonic it also plays well in cocktails with the peppery edge coming though nicely in a Gimlet or Southside. While a little deeper into the higher-middle price range (around here €32-35) it’s a gin well worth seeking out especially for those who enjoy a very good tequila. I love it:


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Mai Tai (revisited).

Remco eyes my Mai Tai.

Mai Tai (revisited).

It’s almost five years since I started this blog and one of the first drinks I ever wrote about was the Mai Tai. Recently a reader (groetjes Andries!) was commenting on how much he loved the Mai Tai and it made me realise that it might be time to revisit this fabulous drink. If you didn’t yet read my original article I suggest you do that now. Don’t worry, I’ll wait…

(elevator muzak)

…Over the last five or so years things have improved for the poor old Mai Tai. Yes, those dreadful MTINOs (Mai Tai in name only) with all sorts of non-original fruity and sweet ingredients have been largely exterminated and a “real” Mai Tai more easily found – and confidently ordered. Yet there has also been much discussion in the online cocktail community as to how one should make one’s “proper” Mai Tai and that is what I wish to address with the update. First is the discussion as to which rum to use. The original “1944” Trader Vic Mai Tai called for Wray & Nephew 17 year old rum and given that approximately one bottle of that remains in existence substitutes must be made. Much discussion has ensued about this subject largely revolving around Trader Vic’s own replacement: Martinique rum. I think it’s folly to get too deep into the subject and best to just leave that to the uber-geeks*. To me the joy of the Mai Tai is seeing how it responds to different rum combinations, and indeed, that simplifies matters for the average home bartender. That is not to say the Mai Tai can be made with just any rum as it is a drink which rewards a touch of quality in the rum selection. I’m not going to give you a definitive rum combo but suggest – as a starting point – a decent gold Barbados or Jamaican rum as the “base” and a good aged rum to lift it yet higher. Experiment until you find a favourite or if, like me, you have an extensive rum collection just enjoy the journey to Mai Tai perfection. Furthermore it has come to my attention that many otherwise good intentioned folks are reducing the lime content of their Mai Tai to three-quarters of an ounce. No, no and thrice no! The Mai Tai must be a balanced drink and reducing the sour content from Trader V’s “juice of one large lime”, vague as it is, must be interpreted as one full ounce in order to maintain the sweet/sour balance. Which brings me tidily to the next topic and this time it’s a modern twist that I am actually fully behind. In my previous article I suggested making a Mai Tai mix of all the sweet components in a 2:1:1 ratio of curaçao, orgeat and 2:1 syrup to be used an ounce per drink. Many modern Tiki-heads are now upping the orgeat to a half ounce per drink and (mostly) dropping the sugar syrup entirely. I feel this is justified in a few different ways: The profile of the drink is better with the orgeat coming more to the fore. I believe 1944 orgeat may well have been more assertive and that this balance of orgeat and curaçao is what The Trader was really after. But better still it much simplifies the making of the drink and renders the making of a Mai Tai mix unnecessary. Just half and ounce each of a good curaçao and orgeat and you’re good to go. Speaking of those, these days I have settled on Monin orgeat (there may be better orgeats including home-made but Monin is perfectly decent) and Pierre Ferrand dry curaçao (to me the most versatile and balanced of the many orange liqueurs).

So equipped we once again mix ourselves one of the greatest cocktails ever created:

Mai Tai (Proof preferred version).

1oz / 30ml dry gold rum (see text).
1oz / 30ml quality aged rum.
1oz / 30ml fresh lime juice.
0.5oz / 15ml Pierre Ferrand (or another) dry curaçao.
0.5oz / 15ml Monin (or another) orgeat.

Shake with crushed ice and pour (unstrained) into a tumbler.
Garnish with half a lime shell and a sprig of mint (intention being to look like a little tropical island).

Toast my loyal moose Remco (pictured above) who loves a Mai Tai.

*In which case I concur with Martin Cate’s view that a Martinique rhum traditionnel was the likely substitution yet still enjoy my Mai Tai with some rhum agricole in it now and then.

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The Kelpie’ll get ye!


Inspired by a comment from a reader and the imminent arrival of St Andrew’s day (now past) I set out on a mission to create the most Scottish cocktail possible. I casually informed Mrs Proof that I was working on a mix containing Scotch, green ginger wine and Buckfast and was authoritatively informed that this would be “disgusting”. And as we know Mrs Proof is never wrong. Against all wisdom I proceeded with my ill-advised experiment and arrived at the concoction presented below. Somewhat Negroniish – or perhaps more Boulevarieresque – in profile it uses the Bucky as an Italian Vermouth substitute and the Crabbie’s as a Campari substitute although skewed more toward green and gingeriness rather than red and orangy rubarbiness. After a little while playing with proportions, the addition of a dash of bitters as a binder and some positive reactions from a couple of test subjects I came to the shattering realisation that Mrs Proof is sometimes wrong. I liked this enough to name it after a mythical Scottish water spirit and present it before you good people.

Those outside of the UK may struggle to get some of these ingredients but green ginger wine can often be found in Chinese grocery shops and a good Italian Vermouth – especially Carpano Antica with its similar vanilla edge – will get you close enough to Buckfast.


1.5oz / 45ml Scotch of choice.*

0.75oz / 22ml Crabbie’s (or another brand) green ginger wine.

0.75oz / 22ml Buckfast tonic wine.

1 dash of aromatic bitters (eg. Angostura or Bogart’s).

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled DoF glass containing a large chunk of ice.

Garnish with a swathe of orange peel.

Toast the Kelpies – keeping small children away from dangerous bodies of water for hundreds of years.

*The Scotch you choose will have quite an influence in the drink. A basic blended Scotch is quite fitting but a single malt is just as acceptable. I plied the middle ground with some Monkey Shoulder.

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Sir Walter.


Sir Walter.

Last time we looked at the history of cocktail legend Harry MacElhone and his famous Harry’s New York bar in Paris. This time I’m going to introduce you to a Harry M creation that is largely overlooked and, at least in my opinion, is actually better than some of his more famous creations. Some dispute exists as to whether the Sir Walter is named for Sir Walter Raleigh or Sir Walter Scott but to me the latter is a slam dunk as Harry was, like the latter, a Scotsman and very likely wanted to honour the godfather of the English language blockbuster novel with a drink bearing his name. Furthermore the Sir Walter is an interesting drink with a split base and a slightly peculiar formula.

Codified in the Savoy Cocktail Book as 1 teaspoon of grenadine, 1 teaspoon curacao, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 1/3 brandy and 1/3 rum the Sir Walter makes little sense as it implies just half an ounce of each of the spirits and I think a typo found it’s way into this (as with the Aviation). More modern versions call for three quarters to an ounce each of the rum and brandy and single teaspoons or quarter ounces of the rest. I’ve played with the more modern formula quite a bit and made it just a touch bigger (probably because I like it so much* and I found it was gone too quickly) and present here my preferred version. One of the tricky things with the Sir Walter is the choice of rum. It simply falls flat with some rums and while Havana Club 3 is often called for – and, indeed, works rather nicely – I found good old Mount Gay Eclipse to be particularly synergous with the cognac and is more likely to be the style (Barbados) of rum originally used. The flavour of the cognac should be clearly present with the rum playing more of a supporting role so avoid your more forceful rums in this case. Pick a decent cognac too but not necessarily a pricey one – for me my go-to Courvoisier VS fits the bill perfectly – and a quality curaçao and grenadine too. These are all ingredients that you will frequently see used in older cocktails where it seems there was a narrower range of liqueurs and syrups than we enjoy today. Curaçao and grenadine were probably the two most common sweeteners the Golden Age bartender reached for when they wanted to balance out a sour. Harry took a light touch with the sweet and sour components here, letting the sprits shine through and I think it was a genius move which I’ve tried to respect with my grown-up version. Made with care the Sir Walter is a cracking little drink that should be far better know than it is.

Sir Walter.

1.25oz / 37ml cognac or brandy.

1.25oz / 37ml Barbados or Cuban rum.

0.25oz / 7.5ml fresh lemon juice.

0.25oz /7.5ml grenadine (pref. homemade).

0.25oz /7.5ml curaçao (pref. Pierre Ferrand – definitely not blue!).

Shake with ice and double strain into a chilled stem glass.

Lemon garnish.

Toast Sir Walter Scott The Wizard of the North.

*The fact that he lived just down the road from where I grew up does no harm to my liking for this drink either.



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White Lady + Harry MacElhone + Harry’s New York Bar.

She’s a lady.

White Lady + Harry MacElhone + Harry’s New York Bar.

Recently the Proof team (yeah, OK, there’s just me but it sounds cool) were in Paris and no serious cocktailista can visit Paris without a trip to Harry’s New York Bar. Over the last 110 years Harry’s has survived two world wars and the Dark Ages of the cocktail (c.1970 – 2000) largely unscathed. Just a stone’s throw from the Paris opera at 5 Rue Danue – or “sank roo doe noo” as they famously advertised – more classic cocktails were created here than in any other place although, to be fair, there are quite a lot of claims and counter-claims to the creation of classic cocktails around this time, so, like an iffy Margarita, we might take them with a pinch of salt. We’ve covered a few of those drinks already (the Sidecar, the Boulevardier and [perhaps] the French 75) without going too deeply into their creation stories. Time to fix that and add another undeniable Harry’s classic. But first the backstory to the backstory…

Rue D’awakening. Not.

Originally just the New York Bar, Scotsman Harry MacElhone (mack-alone) ran the joint (which was literally shipped there from NYC) from its 1911 opening before leaving, bouncing around London and New York for a while and then returning, buying and adding his name to the New York Bar in 1923. Between the wars was boom time at Harry’s when it functioned as the centre of the American ex-pat culture and has been a magnet for celebrities all the way from Ernest Hemmingway to Daft Punk ever since. Still run by the MacElhone family many generations later and tucked away on a quiet side street I was surprised to find Harry’s really isn’t the cynical tourist trap that I was expecting it to be. In fact Harry’s is refreshingly unpretentious with its old world white-jacketed friendly  waiters and bartenders, age old décor and classic but, yes, also more modern cocktails. It’s a true gem and – at least by Paris’ outrageous standards – quite reasonably priced. As team Proof worked their way through the menu every cocktail we tried – leaning heavily on Harry’s classics of course – was perfectly balanced and simply yet elegantly presented. Hats off to Harry and his descendants for keeping a place this special for a staggering 110 years.

A white Lady at Harry’s bar.

Make mine a Sidecar!

White Lady.

The White Lady is the most indisputable Harry’s invention although he changed it over the years and it has changed further yet since. Harry created it during his time in London prior to returning to the New York Bar using crème de menthe* as the base spirit. By 1929 he’d turned to gin and the White Lady was essentially a gin Sidecar. Later egg white was added, and feel free to add that or some aquafaba, but I’m going to go for Harry’s heyday classic here. The White Lady might not be the most exciting or nuanced cocktail ever created but its three ingredients are easy to find and it makes a wonderful exercise in balancing a drink for the budding new cocktailista. Classically the sweetening agent is Cointreau orange liqueur but my personal tweak is to sub in Grand Marnier which, with its cognac base, I find more pleasing – and, hey, it’s still French!

White Lady.

1.5oz / 45ml London dry gin.

0.75oz / 22ml fresh lemon juice

0.75oz / 22ml Cointreau (but I prefer Grand Marnier)

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

Toast Harry MacElhone (1890 – 1958) the greatest bartender/owner in history.

*Presumably the white kind and not the green stuff.

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