The Kessel Run + Szechuan tincture.

How many parsecs?

The Kessel Run + Szechuan tincture.

We’ve covered a lot of ground here over the years but it seems to me we’ve not done enough Sci-Fi Tiki drinks. Yes, it really is a (sub)genre. My contribution to the canon is The Kessel Run which uses Szechuan pepper tincture as its key ingredient. Now at this point don’t be all “wha? I have to make some fancy shizzle?!” because this unique ingredient is fun, addictively tasty but also ludicrously simple to make.

Stop! Tincture time!

A tincture might sound a bit fancy but it’s simply alcohol flavoured with a dry ingredient and filtered. You can tincture any range of herbs and spices but it’s a good idea to check your chosen ingredient with cocktailsafe or wikipedia to make sure you’re not going to kill anyone. In this case we’re gonna make a Szechuan (aka Sichuan) pepper tincture but the process is similar for other flavourings although the optimal extraction times may differ. Typically spices extract sufficiently in 48 hours but many herbs need much less time. Tea needs only about 90 minutes and coffee about 3 hours. So WTF is Szechuan pepper? While not actually a pepper at all this spice has a wonderful lemony woodiness to it as well as the most peculiar numbing effect on the tongue. In Chinese cuisine it is mostly used in conjunction with chili pepper but on its lonesome is quite unfamiliar and exotic to the western palate. You should be able to get it from Chinese grocers and spice merchants without difficulty. They look like tiny red/brown pac men:

So let’s get tincturing. Take a clean and sterilised jar* (a jam jar or small mason jar is ideal) and add 200ml of 50%ABV vodka (or other potable neutral spirit). We use a spirit of this strength as it is optimal for extracting flavour from dry ingredients but if you only have regular 40% vodka you can simply steep the ingredients for longer. Add to the spirit three teaspoons of whole Szechuan/Sichuan peppers. Put the lid on and shake. Wait two days (or three if using 40% vodka) shaking twice a day or whenever you can be arsed. Strain the solids out using coffee filter paper or any other super-fine filter. Done. Use the same method for any other spices using 48 hours as a base unless otherwise advised. I like to keep my Szechuan tincure in a sterilised bitters bottle so I can fire a few dashes into a gin and tonic, which, trust me, is delicious. So in other words we’ve made a sort of super simple bitters, although we don’t call it that as bitters should have more than one flavour component. However do consider this stage one of learning to make your own bitters. Indeed bitters can be made by simply combining various tinctures. But it’s time to make the jump back to:

The Kessel Run.

While a dash or two of Szechuan tincture can spice up any number of drinks we’re gonna use a whole quarter ounce in our Kessel Run. Why? Because we be badass! And for that exotic, out-of-this-world experience. Szechuan and gin are a killer combo and this is also a great opportunity to use some of the more interesting left-field gins with more exotic botanicals especially those with a more oriental bent. Lime? Nah, too boring; let’s go white grapefruit juice. The sweet? Well I tried cinnamon syrup but ginger syrup just tasted better. Now, if we’re going to name this after a spice smuggling route we’d better double down and float some of the wonderful anise/floral Peychaud’s bitters on top. OK – also because it looks pretty dull otherwise. I like to refrain from stirring in the Peychaud’s so I can enjoy their exaggerated influence in the final few sips but the choice is very much up to you.

May the Force be with you**.


The Kessel Run.

1.5oz / 45ml gin (something a bit spicy if possible).

0.25oz / 7.5ml Szechuan pepper tincture (see text).

1.5oz / 45ml white grapefruit juice (fresh or bottled).

0.75oz / 22ml ginger syrup.

Shake with lots of ice and pour, unstrained, into a collins glass.

top up with soda water (no more than 3oz / 90ml) and stir gently.

Float 3 or 4 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters on top***.

Garnish with a sprig of mint.

Toast Han and Chewie.


*Clean the jar well (ideally in dishwasher) and then fill with boiling water for at least ten minutes. Re-sterilise before each use.

**Always.

***It will float easily but you might want to give it the tiniest of stirs to disperse it evenly though the top layer.

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Mexican “Firing Squad” Special.

Hans ap greengo!

Mexican “Firing Squad” Special.

While the “Firing Squad” might sound like some modern student bravado shooter it’s really something much older and wiser. Charles H Baker’s 1939 The Gentleman’s Companion: Being an Exotic Drinking Book or Around the World with Jigger, Beaker and Flask is a quirky globe trotting cocktail guide* part of which includes his frustration at trying to get a decent cocktail in Mexico City in 1937. While it is interesting to note that is no mention of a Margarita in his book (supporting our theory that it is somewhat more modern) he does eventually find satisfaction the La Cucaracha bar with the above named drink. It’s a cocktail that has – just barely – survived the following decades as something of a niche tequila drink but has evolved markedly from his original recipe and for good reason. Baker’s spec of “2oz good tequila, the juice of 2 small limes, 1.5 to 2 teaspoons of grenadine and a couple of dashes of Angostura bitters” simply makes for a very lopsided sour/bitter concoction. Que pasa? Were limes smaller and sweeter in 1930s Mexico? Was grenadine crazy sweet (unlikely as there is literally a limit to how sweet you can make a syrup)? Or were palates simply more acquired to a tart cocktail? Who knows? Not me. In any case the recipe has evolved significantly with most modern versions containing equal quantities of lime juice and grenadine. Marvellous. However, unlike some modern iterations I won’t be adding soda or anything else to the recipe just re-balancing it for modern tastes. I’m none too enamoured of the name which smacks of cultural stereotyping and violence and take Baker’s use of quotation marks as a licence to just call it the Mexican Special. But whatever. When all of this is taken into consideration we are left with a rich and rewarding drink** although it does trouble me a little that the tequila flavour doesn’t really come to the fore – it’s just kind of hanging there in the background. That might be fine with some folks though. Another problem is that Baker states “use a tall collins glass and snap fingers at the consequences” but there’s really not enough to fill a Collins glass even if you fill it with shaved ice as he suggests. What to do, what to do? My take is to serve it over a big block of clear ice in a double Old Fashioned glass as that simply seems to suit it best but I can see that on a very warm day it could be pretty tasty in a long glass with a metric shit-ton of crushed ice.


Mexican Special.

2oz / 60ml Blanco tequila (100% agave as always).

0.75oz / 22ml fresh lime juice.

0.75oz / 22ml grenadine (good stuff – preferably your own).

2 dashes Angostura bitters (although I like a few more).

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled double Old Fashioned glass containing a large block (or ball) of clear ice.

An orange garnish seems to suit it well but is certainly optional.

Toast Charles H. Baker (1895 – 1987).


*Which is available as an inexpensive reprint as seen in the picture.

**Bonus points if you noticed that it has much in common with the Shrunken Skull.

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Panacea + Chartreuse Elixir Vegetal.

pana
pana

Going viral.

Panacea + Chartreuse Elixir Vegetal

A coronavirus lockdown is just the thing to get some cocktail inspiration. My self-set brief was to come up with an (imaginary!) Covid-19 “cure” solely using ingredients with alleged curative powers. First up is Jamaican overproof rum which long ago had a local reputation to cure all ills and at 63%ABV falls right into the sweet spot for use as a disinfectant. Indeed, Wray and Nephew have been diverting some of their production for exactly that use in the current crisis. Good on ’em. Next we turn to amari (Italian bitter/sweet liqueurs) which began their history as an attempt at stomach medicine. None of them has more medicinal credentials than Nonino Quintessentia with its serpent and chalice logo. That it weighs in at 35% – more than most other amari – allows us to use it as something between a base and a modifier which is especially useful to tame down the overproof rum. We’ll be using an unusual ratio of 4 parts rum to 3 parts amari as a result. Finally we’re going to use possibly the most nutso ingredient in the cocktail arsenal (although there’s a backup plan if you can’t get any). Now as everyone knows Green Chartreuse is a total flavour bomb packed full of 130 exotic botanicals and made by dedicated Carthusian monks since 1737 based on a recipe from 1605. And it’s 55% alcohol by volume. Insane. But not insane enough for us

The Holy Grail: We already got one. Is very nice.

You see there exists a kind of secret mega-Chartreuse – and what would a drink like this be without a secret ingredient? – called Elixir Vegetal de la Grande Chartreuse that is even more powerful. Coming in a tiny 100ml bottle lovingly encased in a sealed wooden reliquary with instructions to only use by the drop (and thus ensuring your €13 purchase is effectively a lifetime supply) this bizarre and frankly hard-to-find potion is truly the Holy Grail of cocktaildom. There is scant information on it but my suspicion is that, at 69% ABV it is the base for Green Chartreuse before it is sweetened and diluted down to 55% for bottling. The “instruction sheet” also states, “known as an «Elixir of a long life» the Elixir Vegetal is believed to have health giving properties and can be taken to ease digestion, cure tiredness, sickness and discomfort and restores and (sic) sense of wellbeing and vitality.” Bingo. It is hard to explain how powerfully flavoursome this shizzle is but, indeed, mere drops have the same intensity as the already pretty-damn-intense Green Chartreuse has in much larger quantity but with less of the sugar – although there is still enough sweetness that we can’t simply consider it to be a type of bitters. If we’re going to dispense this by the drop we’d better have a little talk about what a “drop” is in terms of cocktail measurement. A drop is considerably less than a dash and is literally the smallest possible quantity. The best method is to suck a little into a clean pipette or eye-dropper and very gently squeeze out the tiniest possible amount. The number of drops in a dash is something cocktail-heads love to argue about but I reckon it’s around 8-10. That we’re using about 4 drops in one drink that means a bottle of Elixir is good for around 200-300 Panaceas. Or is that Panaceae?

Panacea.

Having gathered our quite spectacular ingredients we simply stir them with ice and strain them into a sherry glass. No fanciness is required as this is simply an exercise in taking some legendary spirits with powerful flavours and combining them in a balanced way. To put it another way we’re turning the volume up to 11. The Panacea should be enjoyed in tiny sips and very slowly as even after stirring with ice it is relatively high in alcohol – although it does have a lovely buttery texture. Consumed with the appropriate respect its medicinal components imbue a feeling of well-being and, dare I say, invincibility. Now, of course, the chance that you can’t get any Elixir Vegetal is more than significant but you can get close by using a larger quantity of Green Chartreuse**. Start at just shy of 1ml but the key is that the funky taste of the Jamaican rum and the distinctive notes of the Chartreuse must be in balance – it shouldn’t taste of either but of both at once. The Nonino plays more of a supporting role in this case acting as the glue that holds the drink together. I hope you’ll forgive me for using a couple of left-field ingredients and I promise we’ll be using some more accessible ones next time.

Now just in case it wasn’t abundantly clear let me repeat that this Panacea will have no effect of defeating the coronavirus. Better simply to stay home, wash your hands and use the opportunity to have some fun with cocktails.

Stay safe cocktailistas!


Panacea.

1oz / 30ml Wray & Nephew overproof Jamaican rum (or similar*).

0.75oz / 22ml Amaro Nonino Quintessentia.

4 or 5 drops (see text) of Elixir Vegetal de la Grande Chartreuse.

Stir with ice (a little less than usual) and strain into a sherry or Glencairn glass.

Sip slowly and enjoy the silence.

Toast Elixir Vegetal de la Grande Chartreuse the Holy Grail of cocktail ingredients.


*But it must be a white Jamaican 63% rum such as Rum Bar overproof or Rum Fire.

**I feel the drink works better with the Elixir as it brings less sweetness than the Green Chartreuse but feel free to tinker further with the proportions.

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New Amsterdam.

Mooier dan Parijs.

New Amsterdam.

The tweaking of rock solid classic cocktails is a great low effort way to have some creative fun. The Manhattan is an excellent base for such experimentation with its simple formula of whisky, Italian vermouth and bitters. While the variation I present here uses some superb Dutch ingredients that may well be completely unavailable to you poor bastards the point is that you can use a similar thought process to inject your own (possibly local) favourite spirits, bitters and vermouths into the basic Manhattan formula which, as you should know off the top of your head by now, is 2 parts rye whiskey to 1 part (or just under) of Italian vermouth and a couple of dashes of aromatic bitters, all stirred and served “up” with a cherry. But you knew that didn’t you? Excellent. My New Amsterdam uses some rye jenever* (/genever, let’s call the whole thing off), the evergreen Punt e Mes and a couple o’ dashes of the best bitters in the world. I added a bit of orange to the garnish because it’s my blog and I can do whatever I want. Now if at this juncture you’re thinking this sounds pretty familiar you’d be quite right as the New Amsterdam is not a million miles from a few drinks we’ve enjoyed together in the past including the Martinez and the 1015. If you’re interested in the ingredients I’ve picked here you might want to hit up those links for a bit more detail. Variations on classics like the Manhattan really don’t need to wander too far from the originals to become their own thing but in my opinion (and, boy, do I have a lot of those) a change in base spirit is a minimum requirement if you’re going to give your version a new name. In this case I’ve used the name of the original Dutch colony on the island of Manhattan before the English muscled in and decided New York was more appropriate.


New Amsterdam.

2oz / 60ml Rye jenever (a.k.a. rogge genever).

0.75oz / 22ml Punt e Mes Italian (a.k.a. sweet) vermouth.

2 dashes of Van Wees (a.k.a De Ooievaar) angostura bitters.

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry and orange peel.

Toast Old Amsterdammer Johnny Jordaan for no particular reason.


 

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Amaretto Sour + dry shaking.

Sour me up daddyo!

Amaretto Sour + dry shaking.

A reader recently approached me and asked why I hadn’t written about any sweet cocktails. Errr, because I don’t like them? I’m not in this gig for the money, but solely to force my views on cocktails upon the drinking world. But your fans might like sweet cocktails quoth he. Hmmm. He has a point. Maybe I can square this circle by writing about the 70s sweet mess that was the Amaretto Sour (it wasn’t very sour) that was spectacularly fixed in 2012 by Jeffrey Morganthaler and is increasingly popular these days. Populist enough for ya? Excellent. First up a word about Jeffrey M. If I have a favourite startender it is perhaps he. Irreverent attitude, sense of humour, doesn’t take himself too seriously, deeeeeep understanding of how cocktails work. Yep, all my boxes ticked there. Jeff’s The Bar Book is, in my view, an essential read for all budding cocktailistas. I’ve even made the pilgrimage to his Portland (OR) bar and restaurant Clyde Common although unfortunately he wasn’t home at the time. OK, enough fawning – to the point!

Originally the Amaretto Sour was just a big measure of super-sweet amaretto* (duh), a little lemon juice and some sugar syrup (or worse still some sour mix instead of the last two). If you were lucky you might get a foamy topping or some fruit. Nasty business. While the modern cocktail movement simply throws such recipes into the dustbin of Dark Ages (c.1970 – 2000) cocktail history Morganthaler’s brain doesn’t really work that way and against all logic he saved the unsaveable. It’s a case of re-balancing the Amaretto sour to actually be a sour and giving it a bit more backbone (because amaretto is only about 28%). His trick was to add a little cask strength bourbon – the stronger the better. That’s going to depend what you can get your hands on. I used some Wild Turkey Rare Breed (58.4% ABV) and it was pretty damn fine but I think the minimum requirement here is Wild Turkey 101 (50.5%) which is affordable, excellent and widely available. If you’re in the US you’ll have more choices. If you only have weaker bourbon (40-46%) available you should up it to a full ounce. To fully resour the drink we’ll need a foamy head and we can use either egg white of aquafaba. And this is an excellent opportunity to talk about shaking technique for such endevours.

(Reverse?) Dry Shaking.

Until fairly recently the preferred method of maximising the creamy head on a sour cocktail was the “dry shake” in which the ingredients are shaken without ice to cause the egg whites to foam up and then ice is added and shaken again as normal. It works pretty well. More recently some bartenders have been raving about the “reverse dry shake”. WTF? Do we stand with our back to the guest or what? Nope. The reverse dry shake involves reversing the procedure. Shake your drink the usual way (ie. with ice) but then remove the ice (strain the liquid into a glass, chuck the ice, return booze to shaker) and shake again with all holy fury. This should result in an even more fabulous creamy head. I say “should” because the whole topic is clouded in controversy. Some bartenders swear by the reverse dry shake. Others by the original dry shake. Some forgo both and just shake hard with ice (often using larger cubes). Nobody said this was going to be easy. Me? For now I’m content with the basic dry shake as I think it has a silkier texture but I encourage you to try it both (or all three) ways and draw your own conclusions. In the interests of full disclosure the drink in the picture was reverse dry shaken.


Amaretto Sour (Morganthaler variation).

1.5oz / 45ml Amaretto (disaronno or another brand).

0.75oz / 22ml bourbon 50%+ABV (see text).

1oz / 30ml fresh lemon juice

0.5oz / 15ml egg white (or aquafaba in which case 0.75oz)

1 teaspoon simple syrup (I prefer it without so let’s call it optional).

Dry shake (or reverse dry shake) into chilled large coupé and garnish with lemon peel and a maraschino cherry**.

Toast Jeffrey Morganthaler for making sure we don’t take cocktails too seriously.


*Being an almond flavoured sweet liqueur of which Disaronno is by far the most well known although there are other brands.

**Jeffrey serves it on ice but I feel you can go either way.

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Cavalier

2017 – what a year!

Cavalier.

It’s been three years this week since I started this blog so I thought I’d celebrate with my own variation of the Champagne Cocktail which we talked about a wee while ago. Basically I realised that I liked my Champagne Cocktail with orange bitters instead of Angostura and then proceeded to just slightly change every other ingredient too. So we have maple syrup instead of sugar, an orange horse’s neck instead of lemon and brut (dry) cava instead of Champagne. Now, while we’re on the subject I have a little tip for you on picking your bubbles. Mostly sparkling wines don’t have a year on the label which allows the producer a certain flexibility as they can mix the wines from different harvests to maintain a consistent flavour. However, if they have had a particularly good year they can’t help themselves but bottle it separately with a certain pride. Hence a production year on your cava or Champagne (or perhaps other types of bubbles) should be considered a good sign. For obvious reasons I couldn’t resist a 2017 for my anniversary Cavalier and rather tasty is was too!

The Cavalier is simplicity in itself to prepare and therefore very suitable for serving to a small gathering. Chill your glasses in the fridge for a couple of hours first – I know I really don’t need to tell you guys this anymore but there might be some newbies here. In each glass place one teaspoon of maple syrup and three dashes of orange bitters (Regan’s being a good choice). When it’s time to serve insert an orange horse’s neck into each glass and top up (gently) with your chilled cava. To insure mixing gently insert a mixing spoon down to the bottom of the glass and twist for a couple of slow rotations to get the maple and bitters flowing.


Cavalier.

1 teaspoon (5ml) of maple syrup (the real stuff not some fake shizzle).

3 dashes of orange bitters (ideally Regan’s)

150-200ml of brut cava (Spanish sparkling wine).

Orange horse’s neck (long, thin strip of peel).

Mix as described above.


Toast cocktail bloggers – salt of the Earth 😉

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Hayman’s Royal Dock – gin review.

…in the Navy.

Hayman’s Royal Dock navy strength gin.

Last time around we were talking about the Pink Gin which is a drink that (once fixed) demands a punchy gin to stand up to the powerful force of all those dashes of Angostura bitters. Yes, it’s time to look at navy strength gin. Hayman’s is a smallish London distiller who have been supplying a navy strength gin to the British Royal Navy since 1863, according to themselves. Is this going to be the gin we put in our Pink Gin, Gimlet or NeGrogni? Let’s find out! But before we do perhaps I should explain exactly what “navy strength” means.

Navy Strength.

We need to wind the clock back a couple of hundred years when the Royal Navy decided to replace the daily ration of a gallon(!) of beer per seaman with rum because it kept potable for longer and saved (a lot) of space. And because they’d captured Jamaica*. Other alcoholic beverages were also issued (mostly wine and brandy) but by the middle of the 19th century things had pretty much settled on rum for the seamen and gin for the officers. Now if you get into a bit of barney with some pirates or someone else’s navy and feel the need to fire some large chunks of iron at them the last thing you want is your crew spilling their copious rum ration on the gunpowder. However science says that if your booze is at least 57% alcohol your powder will still go bang instead of fizz. Problem solved. Thus seamen got half a imperial pint (284ml) of 57% rum per day. Every day. Meanwhile in the wardroom the gin the officers preferred was the same strength. In 1866 the Royal Navy reduced the strength to 54.5% (booo!) so either of those numbers are valid as a definition of navy strength today. The last Royal Navy rum ration was issued at 6 bells on 31st July 1970 (a day now known as Black Tot Day) and replaced by a can of lager (hisss!). History does not record whether the officers got to keep their gin**.

Hayman’s Royal Dock.

Our navy gin comes in a clear square bottle with embossed lettering, a synthetic cork seal and a simple vaguely antique looking paper label. It looks and feels just right for this kind of product. I also thought the blue and gold foil with an anchor motif was a particularly nice touch. Hayman have gone for the 57% ABV interpretation of navy strength as do most distillers. So far, so good. Sniffed Royal Dock is surprisingly mild and neutral and to be honest I was expecting, and indeed hoping for, more of a slap in the chops. Sipped it’s much the same story; while there is initially a nice oily texture and a little heat (though less than expected at this proof) the flavours are not magnified as I had expected. In terms of style the Navy Dock falls between the juniper-forward and citrus-forward types of gin. I could be critical and call it unexciting or I could be generous and call it balanced. The label only mentions juniper, coriander and citrus as botanicals and indeed it seems to be something of an equal balance of these three. If it really is a 150 year old recipe that might explain the somewhat simplistic profile. I’m initially left a bit deflated as I had high hopes for my first real navy gin. So it’s not really a gin for sipping neat? Well, no surprise – what gin is? The reviews I write here are based on a spirit’s mixing qualities and when mixed with Hayman’s naval offering does something quite surprising. It seems to punch its way through the other ingredients where most other gins are subdued in the mix. Despite my early impressions this is a gin that delivers exactly what I wanted from it. It gives my Gimlet a stiff upper lip, my Pink Gin a bit of backbone and gives my NeGrogni some extra legitimacy. It also makes a great Negroni and a nice punchy Gin & Tonic which makes me want to push its uses outside of the realm of naval and faux-naval cocktails. My timbers have never been so shivered. In these parts Hayman’s Royal Dock is a pretty reasonable €25-28 which is significantly less than the few other navy strength gins so we can add value for money to the equation along with the excellent mixability, pedigree and authenticity. Loyal shipmates, I’ve no choice but to award Hayman’s Royal Dock navy gin an:

A-

 


*God knows how if they were all drinking a gallon of beer per day.

**I bet they did!


 

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Pink Gin.

Gin ahoy!

Pink Gin.

Everyone knows that sailors like rum but in the British Navy the officers preferred gin – largely to differentiate themselves from the “lower ranks”. The two gin delivery systems of choice were the Gimlet and the Pink Gin. Both are simple cocktails with a practical basis; the lime in the former to protect from scurvy and the the Angostura bitters in the Pink Gin to protect the stomach from the rigours of naval “cuisine”*. Now the Pink Gin is pretty secure in the title of “the simplest cocktail in cocktaildom” as it’s just a healthy dose of gin fortified with a healthy dose of Angostura bitters, stirred with ice and strained. So far, so good. The problem is that Angostura bitters are bitter (duh) and gin is bitter (mostly) and as a result the Pink Gin could be somewhat generously described as “bracing” and as such doesn’t get a lot of love. But I love gin. And I love Angostura. And I have a solution. Just a scant teaspoon of simple syrup is enough to restore the balance – and as we know balance is everything – and provide us with a most quaffable beverage. Ah, yes, there’s no fooling you is there? Indeed, this makes our slightly sweetened Pink Gin simply a Gin Old Fashioned, but hey, surely there can be no harm in that right? With our PG now balanced, the various flavours from the botanicals in both the gin and Angostura are freed to bounce around our palate. Huzzah! Now if we’re going to do this right I feel we should use some navy strength gin which weighs in at a hefty 57% ABV. Rum and gin in the Royal Navy were historically around this strength for a number of reasons of which we shall come to in my next article. But for now let’s just say that you should use navy strength gin if you have any but otherwise your favourite gin will do just fine. If using a sweeter gin such as Plymouth (and bonus points if you do for it hath the appropriate providence) or Old Tom gin you should cut back a little on the syrup. I’m also partial to the tiniest of splashes of chilled soda water in my Pink Gin to open up the flavours. If you want to “enjoy” the original version just skip the syrup…


Pink Gin (proofed).

3oz/90ml of gin (if navy strength use 2oz/60ml).

3 (or more) dashes of Angostura bitters.

1 scant teaspoon (about 4 ml) of simple (1:1) syrup.

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled champagne coupe.

Toast Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert (1796–1870) inventor of Angostura bitters.


*Although the officers mostly had the better of that, at least in the early part of any voyage.

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Old Cuban.

De Alto Cedro voy para Marcané…

Old Cuban.

Just recently we were looking at the Gin Gin Mule by Audrey Saunders so it seems like the right time to examine her other famous creation – the Old Cuban. It’s a kind of French 75/Mojito lovechild that’s somewhat counter-intuitively served in a stem glass without ice and yet works surprisingly well. Quite where Audrey found a supply of aged Cuban rum back in 2001 New York is something of a mystery since it was embargoed at that time*. While Bacardi 8 is often called for in this recipe be aware that’s really just because Americans have no access to the right juice. For the rest of the world it’s Havana Club 7 all the way – yes, in the strange world of cocktails 7>8. Conversely while Champagne is the correct topping I think it’s a bit of a waste mixing with the real stuff and usually work with a decent dry (brut) cava instead. Your choice.

The Old Cuban is a little tricky to balance, requiring care not to let the Angostura take over: I love my Ango but quickly discovered that this is not the place to get too enthusiastic with it. Double straining is essential in this case as mint fragments ruin the look and mouth-feel of the Old Cuban. Make sure you can taste the mint but not see it. It is usually served with a mint leaf or sprig garnish but I’m not convinced that it’s really necessary if you managed to get enough mint oils in at the muddling stage. I gave it the benefit of the doubt for the picture but I wouldn’t complain if it was served without. Speaking of the picture I’m gonna replug a book for those of you interested in the history of the cocktail revival. Audrey Saunders and Pegu Club play a significant part in A Proper Drink by Robert Simonson [ISBN 978-1-60774-754-3]. While it’s certainly a bit meta it does do an excellent job of explaining how we got from the Dark Ages (c.1970 – 2000) to cocktail Nirvana (c.2005 – ∞). It’s the perfect gift for a manic cocktail nerd – which is where my copy came from…


Old Cuban

1.5oz / 45ml aged Cuban rum (such as Havana Club 7).

0.75oz / 22ml fresh lime juice.

0.75oz simple syrup (1:1)**

6 mint leaves.

2 careful dashes of Angostura bitters.

2oz / 60ml chilled Champagne or cava (brut).

Muddle the first four ingredients in a shaker. Add ice and bitters. Shake and double strain into a largish*** chilled cocktail glass. Top up with chilled bubbles.

Toast old Cubans.


*And still more-or-less is. You won’t normally be deprived of any Cuban rum you bring into the USA but none of the real stuff is imported. The “Havana Club” you might find in the US is a fairly insipid affair made by Bacardi that exists purely for them to perpetuate their spurious copyright claims. It’s a long story that I won’t bore you with this time around.

**Originally 1oz / 30ml but I found that a little sweet. Adjust to your taste.

*** The Old Cuban is a bit big for standard sized coupés so you will need a more capacious one. I find the kind of glass (pictured) which was popular for starters and desserts in the 1970s and 80s to be ideal. Since they’re seriously out of fashion for culinary use, nice ones can be found in charity shops for next to nothing. Otherwise a wine glass would be fine.

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Gin Gin Mule

Conversion therapy.

Conversion therapy.

Gin Gin Mule

How many times have you heard a guest say,”I don’t like gin/rum/whisky”? These pre-existing dislikes are often based on bad experiences long ago with iffy examples of those spirits and should be seen as something of a challenge. These people are just dying to be converted, even if they don’t know it yet. Therefore we should have a few “conversion” drinks up our sleevies for such occasions and the Gin Gin Mule is the perfect example.

The Gin Gin Mule was created by Audrey Saunders in the early naughties in New York. But Audrey wasn’t just in the business of converting gin haters she was at the forefront of bringing cocktails out of the nascent cocktail revival and unto the masses. Until Audrey Saunders happened the new cocktail movement was very much an underground affair confined to a handful of tiny speakeasy bars and elitist lounges but in 2005 Audrey’s full scale Pegu Club bar in SoHo (not Rangoon) dragged it out into the light, held it up by the toes and shook it around for everyone to see. And the rest is history. Saunders ran a slick operation and only hired the most talented staff and as a consequence there are remarkably few modern big name American cocktail bars and bartenders that don’t have some connection back to the early days of the Pegu. Anyhows – enough ramble – there be gin-haters to convert! Once more unto the breach, dear friends…

The Gin Gin Mule is basically a mash up of the Moscow Mule (a bullshit schlocktail that won’t be seeing the light of day on these pages) and the Glory that is the Mojito. With gin. The recipe below is the original version which Audrey created using a home-made ginger beer (we might come to that in future) but if using a commercial ginger beer (which tend to be quite sweet) I’d suggest slicing the sugar syrup down to a scant 0.75oz as a starting point but, as always we should be tweaking the balance to suit the ingredients.  While the GG Mule doesn’t sound terribly sophisticated (and I have some concerns about the name*) it’s the way that the gin interacts with the other ingredients that is the real genius. When the ginger/mint/botanical balance is right you’ll have those gin haters eating out of the palm of your hand.


Gin Gin Mule

1.75oz / 52ml Tanqueray gin (or similar).

0.75oz / 22ml fresh lime juice.

1oz / 30 ml simple (1:1) syrup – but see above text!

6 mint leaves.

1oz / 30 ml ginger beer (not ginger ale).

Gently muddle the mint, lime juice and syrup in the bottom of your shaker. Try not to break up the mint leaves. Add ice, gin and the ounce of ginger beer. Shake gently so as not to break up the mint leaves**. Pour unstrained into an iced Collins glass. Top up with a little more ginger beer (optional) and garnish with a mint sprig. Apply to gin haters and observe conversion thereof.

Toast Audrey Saunders.


*Gin for gin, Gin for ginger, yet Mule already tells us about the ginger beer. Too much redundancy IMHO.

**Really, try not to break up the mint leaves too much.

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