Mezcalculation.

The brothers gonna work it out…

Mezcalculation.

One of my favourite cocktails is the Martinez with its oude jenever base, healthy dose of Italian vermouth and a touch of maraschino liqueur – all tempered by a few dashes of bitters. One day I was sippin’ on one and thinking “Wouldn’t this be pretty fine with mezcal?” The next time around I did exactly that and it was indeed pretty damn fine. Then I reviewed how I’d spec’d it and realised I’d made a mistake: just one ounce of Punt e Mes instead of one and a half. And what a fortuitous error ’twas for the drink was all the better for it – the mezcal singing just slightly more forcefully in the mix. Indeed the cocktail canon does contain a number of drinks that are born of such errors – I can think of the Max’s Mistake and Ray’s Mistake off the top of my head. The lesson? If you make a mistake, have a sip before you pitch it as you never know when it might have been for the better. And when you make something new remember to write down everything you do on a scrap of paper, otherwise you may never be able to repeat it. There’s not much else to say except that I’ve since made a couple of other tweaks namely that I upped the bitters a little and serve the Mezcalculation “down” over ice rather than on the stem.


Mezcalculation.

1.5oz / 45ml good quality joven mezcal* (no worm).

1oz / 30ml Italian vermouth (Pref. Punt e Mes)

0.25oz / 7.5ml maraschino liqueur.

2 dashes of Angostura bitters.

2 dashes or orange bitters (eg. Regan’s)

Stir with ice and strain over a big block of clear ice in a chilled double Old Fashioned glass.

Garnish with a swathe of orange peel.

Toast little mistakes.


*I used some Verde Momento mezcal, as seen in the picture. It’s a superb, affordable and sustainable mezcal and carries a variety of pictures by local artists on the label. I’d review it but unfortunately it’s a bit tricky to find.

UPDATE: For those of us lucky enough to live in Amsterdam Verde Momento is now carried by Cane & Grain/Bart’s Bottles.

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Rum review: El Dorado 8 vs El Dorado 8.

City of lost rum
City of lost rum

The golden ones. New label on right.

Rum review: El Dorado 8 vs El Dorado 8.

Wait. What? Oh, right – my bad – some explanation is needed before I launch into this review. Now, as I’ve hinted at before, individual spirits can change over time. It’s a mistake to think otherwise and it’s something the serious cocktailista needs to keep a wary eye on. Formulas and production techniques are prone to change due to financial pressures, market demand, the sourcing of raw materials and a host of other reasons. While it’s tempting to say these changes are often for the worse it’s certainly not always so. Often the changes for the worse happened some time ago and producers realise there is a demand to restore the product to a former glory. I’ll get into some detail on this on a case by case basis in due course but today we’re talking about rum so we’ll stick to that. Rum has recently become a more seriously regarded spirit than it was in the past. Some say, and not without merit, “Rum is the new whisky” although I stubbornly believe that “Whisky is the new whisky”. Whatever. But rum is not a universally well regulated spirit* and all sorts of additives are possible depending on where it is made. The most controversial of those is sugar. I’ve touched on sugar-in-rum before but it’s safe to say some serious rum heads (self included) have had enough. We generally don’t oppose the sweetening of some rum, which after all some people enjoy, but sickened of buying well reviewed bottles only to discover they are essentially rum liqueurs, we want to see the added sugar (called dosage in the industry) clearly marked on the bottles. A few rum nuts have taken to using a cunning trick to calculate the sugar content of various rums and publishing it for all to see. I’ve just started trying to do the same but am not yet fully confident of my methodology – of which more later. The European Union has also had enough and have recently mandated some new regulations on what can be called “rum” that is imported into the zone. Most notably nothing that contains more than 20 grams of sugar per litre may be labelled as rum. It’s a sensible level to draw the line at but I’d much rather they also mandated the labelling of the dosage on each bottle. Given the size of the EU market this must certainly be an effect on many distillers’ decisions in the future. One distiller of rum has clearly been paying attention to both of the above pressures and is thoroughly revising their range. Guyana based Demerara Distillers Limited (aka El Dorado) have some well regarded rums but until now many of those suffered from a relatively heavy hand with the sugar content. In the past I’ve discovered their highly regarded 12 year old far too sweet for my palate but have settled on the much drier 8 year old as my default Demerara rum to put a little rich smokiness in my Tiki drinks and rum blends. Changes in spirits are not usually heralded by the producers but in this case the word on the street is that versions with the reduced dosage will also come with a new label. So when I noticed the newer label when I went to restock it was going to be time for a comparison. And here we are.

Now as El Dorado 8 was already one of the driest rums in their range I’m not expecting to see a massive change here. For my first trick I will attempt to scientifically assess the sugar content of each version of El Dorado 8 using the hydrometer method. I measure the old version of El Dorado 8 at about 8g/l and the new label version at around 6g/l but with my limited tools and experience – and the already low sugar content – it’s hard to be sure. There is some evidence that ED 8 used to be around 15 g/l so it could well be that the reduction happened some time before the new label after all. So is there actually any difference between the new label and the old at all? Looks like we’ll just have to taste some…

Let’s first look at what they both have in common. Each has the same elegantly shaped if somewhat top-heavy clear bottle with a normal screw cap. Both are bottled at 40%ABV. Nothing too impressive here but it’s hard to complain at this price (I paid €19.95). The newer version has a similar label but somewhat larger and kind of “cleaned up” compared to the older one and with the background colour changed from black to maroon. I slightly prefer the newer one but there’s not much in it and neither are exactly great works of art. But who cares – let’s crack ’em open!

Both have a very similar pleasing coppery hue which looks great in the clear bottles. I much prefer to see the colour of a rum in the bottle and therefore dislike coloured bottles. While it is possible that the colour comes from 8 years in the barrel in a tropical climate it is also possible some caramel colouring (which incidentally is not sweet) has been added to maintain a consistent colour. I’d like to take this opportunity to warn those new to rum about rum age statements. El Dorado rums are all aged to at least the number of years in the bottle as you might well expect but some producers are less honest and use a couple of tricks to, in my opinion, deceive the buyer. One is used by those who use the solera system of blending rums of different ages and then label the final product with the oldest rum used (likely a tiny proportion). For example, ahem, “23 years”. So check for the word “solera” on those. The other is even more deceptive and that is to put a number on the bottle as the name of the rum. A number that is entirely arbitrary and has no relationship to the age of the contents. Dastardly. So always check that you see, as we do on these bottles, the word “years” accompanying the number. Since I’ve got that one off my chest we can move along. And it’s good news:

When I compare the newer version in the maroon label the difference is quite clear. It’s as if a veil over the flavours has dropped away. All the rummy goodness is just magnified and it’s abundantly clear that sweetness – perceived or measurable – deadens real flavour. Those baking spices, woodiness and subtle smokiness are there in spades now. It has a little more “bite” than the older version and some might describe it as less “smooth”. It is my belief that when many people say a spirit is “smooth” they are really experiencing a sweetness that masks the inevitable “bite” of  alcohol. Hence some will think the newer version less smooth but frankly that’s their problem. To me what was already a rich and rewarding rum is simply even more enjoyable from a reduction in sweetness. It’s certainly possible that more than just reducing the sugar slightly DDL have also changed the blend of rums used in their 8 year old offering but whatever has occurred, to me at least, the newer version is a significantly better rum and that the producers should be commended. A typical use of demerara rum for the Tiki enthusiast would be as one of a duo or trio of rums in a tropical drink. I enjoy El Dorado 8 in a Navy Grog (or variation thereof) on a pretty regular basis and found that drink just a shade better with the newer version. While I would consider the older version a good mixing rum the newer bottle would be equally enjoyable in a whisky glass on it’s lonesome – or maybe just a cube of ice. That’s pretty high praise for a rum I can buy a couple of blocks away for a hair under twenty standardised European booze tokens.

My conclusion is that even if there was an earlier reduction in the sugar content of El Dorado 8 well before the label change there has been a further improvement with the change. El Dorado 8 (new maroon label) is better than ever and is a stellar mixing rum of superb value which I award an:

A+

While the older black label version is likely not going to be kicking around for much longer it is still a serviceable rum worthy of an A-


*It is on some Caribbean islands including Jamaica, Cuba and Barbados but even those regulations don’t necessarily align with each other.

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Rum Barrel.

Straight to the rum show.

Rum Barrel.

The Rum Barrel is a drink that shows up on the menu of bona fide Tiki bars yet leads to some puzzlement regarding the recipe. And there is a good reason for this confusion. Like the Planter’s Punch – but even more so – the Rum Barrel isn’t a specific drink at all. Let me explain. The Rum Barrel is the blank canvas that a Tiki fanatic uses to express themselves using their advanced palate and their palette of exotic rums, syrups and juices. Therefore there is no definitive recipe for a Rum Barrel. However, anyone who takes their Tiki seriously should have their own secret recipe ready for when they open their own (fantasy?) Tiki bar. Now, while there are no hard and fast rules for such an endeavour there are certain guidelines of which I will shortly avail you of. But first we must address the obvious dilemma: how can I show you how to create a superb Rum Barrel without giving away my own secret recipe? Hmmm. OK. I’ll give you an example that is a predecessor to my current house Barrel and I believe paints a pretty good illustration of how to create your own. But first those guidelines.

Your Rum Barrel should contain a pleasing combination of at least three different rums. They should be interesting ones and yet they should be relatively affordable. Why? Because they are going to be a staple of our fantasy Tiki bar and must maintain a viable profit margin. Next up your Barrel should be a pretty large drink to make it appear to be good value for money. It should have a lot of ingredients yet the formula should be relatively simple. And finally it absolutely, positively must be served in a barrel. My Rum Barrel is pictured in my much treasured Mai Kai barrel which was acquired with much difficulty from the Mothership of Tiki in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Other ceramic barrels are fairly easy to find – just Google “Tiki ceramic barrel”.

Beyond the above guidelines the Rum Barrel is a licence for you to go freestylin’. Keep an eye on your sweet/sour balance and make sure to get some exotic flavours in there (passionfruit is often involved though I chose not to). If you’d like a nice foamy head, as seen above, pineapple juice will be more than happy to help. Take plenty of time to get all of this just right as the Rum Barrel should be both a revelatory introduction to the uninitiated as well as deeply satisfying to the experienced cocktail drinker. It should have complex layers of flavour which are well balanced and do not individually dominate the drink. The drinker – given the secrecy of recipe which, incidentally, you may never fully reveal – should be left guessing as to the components yet able to pick out individual flavours (“ooh, is that almond I’m getting now? And what juice is this I’m tasting?)

So let’s go! Here’s something that’s a bit like my Proof Rum Barrel and now you’re on your own. And good luck with your new Tiki bar!


Rum Barrel (Proofish version)

1oz / 30ml El Dorado 8 year old*.

1oz / 30ml Coruba NPU.

1oz / 30ml Plantation Original Dark.

1oz / 30ml fresh lime juice.

1oz / 30ml white grapefruit juice.

2oz / 60ml orange juice (good carton is fine).

2oz / 60ml pineapple juice (fresh is best).

0.5oz / 15ml golden falernum.

0.5oz / 15ml ginger syrup.

2 dashes of Angostura bitters.

Blend (just 6 or seven quick pulses as always with Tiki) with a cup of crushed ice and pour into a ceramic rum barrel containing enough ice to make the finished drink full to the brim.

A flower garnish is perfectly acceptable here although I didn’t bother. Sue me.

Toast yourself as this is going to be your Rum Barrel in due course.


*More on this rum very soon.

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Pimm’s Cup

Anyone for tennis?
Anyone for tennis?

Anyone for tennis?

Pimm’s Cup

Just recently we were talking about punches. And yeah, punches rock but something like a Fish House Punch takes a bit of organising and preperation. What if we want to make a nice summery drink for a small group or even just individually without all that fuss? Then we turn to the Pimm’s Cup. Before we get to the recipe we’d better get up to date on the main ingredient – Pimm’s (well, what did you expect?)

Pimm’s

Waaay back in 1823 James Pimm, owner of a London oyster bar came up with a concoction that was a kind of ready made gin punch containing a variety of (still) secret additions. This he called his Pimm’s No.1 Cup. Now where this gets a little confusing is that this product is called a Pimm’s Cup but so is a drink made using it. Get used to it – that’s just how it is. Over the years other bottled formulas came and went which used other bases; Scotch, brandy, rum, rye, vodka and tequila. Don’t worry about it as they’re all essentially extinct and we now just call Pimm’s No.1 Cup “Pimm’s” and be done with it. Pimm’s is the quintessential English summer drink to sip while watching cricket, tennis and probably fucking polo too I would imagine. Pimm’s is essentially an English amaro if a somewhat light and approachable one. It’s not strong (ABV 25%), it’s not particularly distinctive but, hey, it’s not expensive, it’s damn refreshing and it’s spectacularly simple to mix into a jug or glass. The traditional way to make a Pimm’s Cup is to pour a few glugs into an iced pitcher and top up with either British style lemonade (ie. Sprite/7 Up) or, less commonly, ginger beer (or ginger ale). Usually some combination of sliced citrus, cucumber and mint are thrown in too. And that’s it – you’re ready to hob-nob with Rupert, Jennifer and St John, discussing how wahnderful Brexit has been while wondering why the price of fresh fruit has gone through the roof. Pricks.

Cup it up!

But I think we can do better. What if we did a deconstructed/reconstructed Pimm’s Cup and ditched the cucumber* along the way? It’s not going to be significantly more difficult and it tastes a lot better. Presented here is an individual serving but just scale directly up as required. Chin chin!


Pimm’s Cup (Proof version).

2oz / 60ml Pimm’s No 1.

1oz / 30ml fresh lemon juice.

0.75oz / 22ml simple syrup (1:1) – or optionally ginger syrup.

Build over ice in a tall glass or tankard. Add some sliced citrus and a few mint leaves. Top up with soda and stir gently. You don’t really need to garnish it any further but I did anyway.

Toast Jim Pimm.


*I despise those nasty things that seem to creep into everything these days.

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Fish House Punch + oleo saccharum.

Punch it Chewie!

Fish House Punch.

Before the drinking world settled on the cocktail as its sophisticated drink of choice there was another concoction that oiled the wheels of the well-to-heel. The punch – likely of ancient Indian origin – was de rigeur amongst the wealthy, ships officers and not a few pirates. In its heyday from around 1750 – 1880 the punch was all the rage and spawned a whole range of new tableware in the form of elaborate punch bowls, cups and spoons. The arrival of the cocktail craze (c.1880 – 1970 and 2000 – ∞) largely killed off the punch as there was more cachet to having one’s drink prepared lovingly and individually.

Suitable for the watering of a larger number of guests than individually mixed drinks the punch gives the host the opportunity to enjoy the gathering without being chained to the shaker all evening. Better still the punch can largely be prepared in advance  – and indeed certain components must be prepared in advance (we’ll get to that) – making it ideal for parties. With – hopefully – the end of coronastrictions on larger gatherings in sight, now might be a good time to raise our punch game in time for the inevitable round of get-togethers with those we have missed of late.

The most famous of all punches is surely the Fish House Punch which, despite the somewhat unappetising name, is both delicious and has a long and colourful history. In the days before the United States was either there was a gentleman’s club in what is now Pennsylvania called the Colony in Schuylkill. This very exclusive club was founded in 1732 and let’s just say had delusions of grandeur as it decided it was an independent state (so you could say the first state of the USA), gave its members fancy titles and indeed changed its name to The State in Schuylkill in 1782 when declaring statehood was trending. Their signature drink was the Fish House Punch which was served at every meeting since at least 1744 and perhaps earlier. George Washington was an honorary member who, legend has it, once enjoyed the punch so much that he was unable to make an entry in his diary for the next three days.

The Fish House Punch is a fairly typical punch formula of rum, brandy, lemon juice, sugar and water (or tea). It differs from others in the addition of peach brandy – although some claim this was a later addition – which can be a little problematic. At least is was for me as the peach liqueurs available to me had little sign of any actual peach content and far too much sugar. While it may be controversial I’ve found subbing apricot brandy to be perfectly satisfactory should you find yourself in a similar situation. If you can get you hands on some proper peach brandy by all means go for it. Unsurprisingly for such and old drink there is some divergence in recipes likely because this actually changed over time but my one is fairly typical. Because it is made in quantity I’ve composed it in (gasp!) metric.

These days you can find the Fish House Punch served as an individual drink but we’re going to make it in bulk, as it was designed. What follows is a quantity for 10-15 servings so scale that up as required and divide by 10 for a single, but large, drink. But first you need to know about an optional extra:

Extra credit – oleo saccharum.

If you want to take you punch to the next level substitute the sugar syrup for oleo saccharum. Wait. What? Oh, my bad: Oleo saccharum is a very cool ingredient that is much easier to produce than it sounds. Simply reserve all the lemon husks that are left over from making the juice and cut them into smaller chunks. Put these remains in a strong plastic bag (such as a freezer bag) and throw in a similarish mass of fine white sugar and give the whole lot a bit of a massage. What then happens over the course of 2 or 3 hours is that the remaining juice and oils from the lemon are sucked into the sugar creating a tasty lemon sugar. Giving it the odd extra massage helps the process. After a time the sugar will be yellow and much more like a grainy syrup. I usually proceed by adding a splash of water to the bag and giving it a mix before dumping the lot in a big bowl and mashing gently with a potato masher or large spoon. Finally simply strain out the solids and you’ll have a zingy citrus sugar syrup that really livens up a punch and indeed was commonly the sweetener of such in days of old. I’ve got to admit that my process is a little less than scientific and my quantities are somewhat ad hoc but if I ever come up something more formulaic I promise to come back and update this. Other recipes use only citrus peel but I’m perfectly happy with my quick ‘n’ dirty version.

Step 1

Step 2.

Result!


Fish House Punch (Proof version).

600ml (20 oz) dark Jamaican rum such as Myers’s or Captain Morgan Dark*.

300ml (10 oz) VS cognac (eg Courvoisier).

400ml (13.5 oz) fresh lemon juice.

100ml (3.5 oz) peach or apricot brandy (see text).

300ml (10 oz) simple (1:1) syrup – or oleo saccharum**

700ml (23 oz) still or sparkling water – or alternatively and perhaps more authentically chilled black tea.

Mix the ingredients in advance of the party and cool in the fridge. One hour before the party add about 1kg (2lbs) of cubed ice. Serve in a large bowl or basin (don’t worry too much about the container as the original version was served out of the Christening font!). Garnish with lemon slices. Optionally also add a large block of ice containing sliced lemons – details below.

Toast those posh nutters who pretended to fish but instead mostly drank and ate at The Fish House.


Garnished ice block.

Take a clean plastic container or about 1000ml (1 quart) capacity and clean well. Put a little filtered water in the bottom and put in the freezer for a couple of hours. On the iced layer place a couple of lemon slices and let freeze. Add another water and let freeze. Add more lemon slices. Rinse (not literally!) and repeat until you have a nice block of ice with layers of lemons frozen inside it. Start this a few days before the party. When served, place the block in the punch bowl to keep the punch cold without over-diluting it.


*Or go nuts and add some Smith & Cross or Tiki Lovers Dark for extra kick and authenticity as these rums are more like those that would have been used in the 1700s.

**If you don’t have quite enough oleo saccharum just top up with a little more simple syrup. Because of the imprecisity of my OS method test the total mix for sweet/sour balance before serving.

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Man O’ War.

Wins by a neck.

Man O’ War.

While it might be quite a stretch to call the Man O’ War a classic cocktail, it’s such an interesting drink I think it’s worth a look. Details on its creation are thin on the ground and all we really know is that it emerged in the mid 20th century and is named after a race horse from a generation earlier. I’ve heard it said recently that if you are struggling to find a name for a drink you’ve created you should have a look at the names of some racehorses in the paper. Clearly that has being going on for longer than I thought. Now I don’t know much about racehorses but some say Man O’ War was the greatest one ever – I thought it was Red Rum but perhaps I’m biased. Whatevers. What is really interesting to me is that this drink is an example of that rare sour/aromatic hybrid cocktail that I had (apparently incorrectly) thought to be quite modern. The MoW takes a bourbon base, a hefty glug of orange liqueur as the sweet and balances that out with equal parts of lemon juice and sweet vermouth. As we know (right?) sweet vermouth is not sweet but simply sweeter than dry vermouth – and I especially like Punt e Mes which has some extra bittering agents included. Therefore while the Man O’ War sounds like a sweet drink it’s really quite nicely balanced. It’s also got quite a kick if you’re using one of the 40% orange liqueurs such as Cointreau or Pierre Ferrand. The result is a rather pleasing little drink that tastes neither heavily of bourbon or orange but, at least to me, of grapefruit juice. What’s not to like? Well actually I’m not keen on it’s standard lemon peel and cherry garnish – which seems a little over-used. I switched that out for a long strip of white grapefruit peel draped through the drink to reflect and enhance its grapefruity liveliness. While I’m not one to double strain every drink served on the stem I think this is one that definitely benefits from such treatment.

There’s not much more to say here given the unknown history of this drink except to suggest you whip yourself up a Man O’ War while the going’s good.


Man O’ War.

2oz / 60ml bourbon of choice.*

1oz / 30ml orange liqueur.**

0.5oz / 15ml fresh lemon juice.

0.5oz / 15ml Punt e Mes or another Italian/sweet vermouth (I’d add a dash of Angostura if I didn’t have any PeM).

Shake with ice and double strain into a (large-ish) chilled Champagne coupé.

Garnish with lemon and a cherry or a long strip of grapefruit peel.

Toast Man O’ War 1917 – 1947.


* I wouldn’t go for anything too strong as this is already a pretty strong drink.

** I suggest Pierre Ferrand dry curaçao/triple sec but Cointreau or others will suffice.

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(Stripped Down) Porn Star Martini.

Oh, no – all my clothes have fallen off…

(Stripped Down) Porn Star Martini.

The cocktail classicist can become prone to an arrogant disdain for certain modern populist concoctions and being myself guilty of exactly such a weakness I decided it time to engage in some constructive catharsis around one such drink. A dear friend, while certainly a bon viveur, is no cocktail fanatic but when she does partake is magnetically drawn to that increasingly ubiquitous potion known, not without some eye-rolling, as the Porn Star Martini (only an actual Martini should ever be called a Martini FFS). Created in the early naughties by Douglas Ankrah at The Townhouse bar in London and quite deliberately embracing a trashy aesthetic the PSM – with its characteristic side-shot of prosecco – may very grudgingly be called a modern classic. So when said friend, denied her favourite cocktail by this long dry lockdown, asks a self appointed cocktail expert if he can rustle one up how can he refuse?

Swallowing his pride our hero looks at the prevalent and fringe recipes for the PSM. And despairs. All are trying to cram in vanilla and passion fruit flavour from more than one direction. Vanilla vodka and vanilla syrup, passion fruit juice/nectar/pulp and Passoã liqueur. It all seemed a touch desperate and heavily reliant on decidedly mediocre ingredients. Surely he could strip this back to the core flavours both purifying and simplifying this peculiar drink? Being in possession of some excellent home-made passion fruit syrup and being well acquainted with flavouring spirits, a more zenny spec came gradually into creation. Shall I share it with you? OK then:

Make some passion fruit  syrup. You can follow the link if you like but the gist of it is to buy some frozen passion fruit (maracujá in Portuguese) pulp from a South American/Mexican store warm it up and mix with an equal weight of sugar. Passion fruit flavour and sweetener – check. Make some delicious vanilla vodka. Take a vanilla pod. Split it down the middle with a sharp knife and unfold it. Put it in a bottle of vodka for about five days, agitating daily. Pass through a coffee filter and rebottle. Vanilla flavour – check. No need for iffy vanilla flavoured vodkas, dodgy liqueurs and double doses of flavourings. And that shot of prosecco on the side? Let’s upgrade that to cava. The proportions of our stripped down Porn Star should be self-evident (I’m trying hard to hold back the tourette’s here…) as those of a classic Daiquiri. Garnish? In my opinion the shot of cava is the garnish but in the unlikely event that you have a passion fruit lying around – as I did – then by all means go for it.

Did my friend enjoy this version? Well, she said it was the best one she’d had. Truth or generosity? The only way to find out is to try it yourself:


Exotic Actress.

(Cocktail Formerly Known as Porn Star Martini.)

2oz / 60ml home-made vanilla vodka* (see text).

1oz / 30ml fresh lime juice.

0.75oz / 22ml home-made passion fruit syrup

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled Champagne coupé.

Serve with a shot glass containing 1.5-2oz (45-60ml) of chilled brut cava.

Toast Paula Jääskeläinen – our Covid lockdown support bubble PSM fan.


*I used Finlandia as a base to further ingratiate myself to my Finnish test subject but any neutral 40% vodka is fine.

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In search of the perfect Gin & Tonic.

A tonic for the troops.

In search of the perfect Gin & Tonic

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

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

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

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

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

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


Andy’s “perfect” Gin & Tonic

60ml Normindia gin

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

Long thin swathe of lemon peel

Assembled as described above.


Notes on ingredients:

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

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

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


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

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The Sun Stone + Chipotle infused tequila.

Spice, spice baby…

The Sun Stone + chipotle infused tequila.

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

Chipotle tequila

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

Sun Stone.

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


The Sun Stone

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

0.75oz / 22ml good quality smoky mezcal.

1oz / 30ml fresh lime juice.

0.5oz / 15ml agave syrup

Shake with ice and strain into a champagne coupé.

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

Toast those clever Aztecs and their amazing Sun Stone.


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Hotel Nacional Special + pineapple juice

    So f***ing special.

Hotel Nacional Special.

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

Pineapple juice

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

Special

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

¡Salud!


Hotel Nacional Special.

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

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

0.75oz / 22ml fresh lime juice.

0.5oz / 30ml apricot liqueur.

1 dash of Angostura bitters.

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled champagne coupé.

No garnish.

Toast Hotel Nacional de Cuba.


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

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

 

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