Saturday, 31 December 2016

Venerable mead

1.5 shots dark Lindisfarne mead
1.5 shots Lilet Blanc
1 shot Manadarine Napoleon

combine in a shaker can, stir vigorously with a bar spoon until the can is good 'n' frosty, then double strain into a cocktail glass. A coupe would be nice here, but I was saving them. squeeze a lemon zest over the drink, then pare the bitter pith and drop it in the glass. Rub the zest round the rim first for extra credit (I forgot, you shouldn't).

The Lizard Lounge Mead Challenge™

This cocktail has a rather specific use case, and I'm afraid it won't have a lot of general applicability. Our friends Tom & Julie had come across a bottle of mead, and the obvious question was, how to mix with it? So Tom posed me The Mead Challenge™ which I was naturally happy to take up.

The challenge was complicated in that no sours were allowed, because Tom had already done that. My first thought (a modified honey berry sour, which I can't say enough nice things about) was thus disqualified. In fact, I'm not sure it would have worked that well, because of Complicating Factor 2: mead doesn't taste like you think it does.

Well, if you drink mead all the time, perhaps it does. However, I was surprised that (1) it didn't taste predominantly of honey, although the notes are definitely there, (2) it tasted more like wine than I expected, and (3) it wasn't all that sweet. The last two must have been because I was having a slow brain day, as the definition of mead is pretty much "wine made with honey," and that given this it's plenty sweet for wine, just not for a liqueur.

The other Complicating Factor was that this mead was remarkably subtle. It seems, from those wot know more about mead than I do, that there is a lot of variation between meads, and thus this recipe may not work for a different style. This is why I've named the variety in the ingredients: something I try to do only if it matters.

Mixing it with another wine-based aperitif is perhaps obvious, but I've always thought Lilet Blanc tasted vaguely honeyed, and it's subtle enough not to overwhelm the mead. The other ingredient came as I was reaching for the Cointreau. I often complain the Mandarine Napoleon is too effete to stand up to most other flavours, but it's perfect here - although 1:1:1 may still be a bit much. My first thought was apricot brandy, but that completely overwhelmed the drink in more than trace quantities.

I thought this would be low alcohol, as it has no spirit base. like I said, I may have been having a slow brain day. The ingredients may be low alcohol but they're all alcoholic, whilst even a Margarita is partly lime juice. Also, Mandarine Napoleon is 38% abv, which doesn't help. Working it out properly reveals a 2.1 unit drink for 200ml of cocktail. Nice and warming, but not excessive.

With ingredients that are either hard to get or expensive, this recipe has limited use. However, if I had the ingredients, I wouldn't hesitate to make it again. The main notes are lemon zest from the garnish, blending into the mandarin, with a palate of honey (unsurprisingly) and vinous intensity, with some orange blossom and herb from the Lilet and mead. The finish is sweet and short, no bitter ingredients to spoil the party. Speaking of which: Happy new Year, y'all.

Monday, 12 December 2016

God rest ye berry gentlemen

1 shot cranberry & roseamary syrup
0.5 shots ginger liqueur
0.5 shots lemon juice
top prosecco

Make the cranberry syrup (see below). Add ingredients expect prosecco to a shaker can and stir with hard ice until cold, then strain into a flute or saucer and top up with chilled prosecco. Garnish with frozen cranberries and a sugar frosted sprig of rosemary, because Christmas.

Some of this, some of that, a bit of the other. Mixed in the Lizard Lounge.

This was going to be called the cranberry and ginger bellini, but it's still 2016 and the cool kids tell me that bad puns for cocktail names are still in for another fortnight. The important bit is the syrup, which I borrowed from Martha Stewart and added rosemary. Converted into sane units, it goes like this:

Cranberry and rosemary syrup

200g cranberries
230ml water
200g sugar
small sprig rosemary

Bring cranberries, sugar, and water to a simmer over as low a heat as you have patience for. Simmer for 10 minutes. Leave to stand for a bit if you can to allow everything to infuse, then strain and bottle. Transfer to a fridge when cool, it's only 1:1 to allow more flavour and less sugar.

This is subtle, tasty and very festive, particularly if you make the effort for the garnish. It is also low alcohol (roughly 1 unit for a standard glass), and spins the prosecco out nicely at only about half a glass per serve depending on glass size. Not only that, be served non-alc: remove the ginger liqueur, sub ginger ale. 

Happy Christmas, and a relaxing and peaceful holiday to you all. Here's hoping against hope for a better 2017.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Chocolate sidecar

0.75 shot Cognac
0.75 shot dark creme de cacao
0.75 shot tawny port
0.5 shots lime juice
0.25 shots sugar syrup (2:1)

mix all ingredients in a shaker can. use the lime husk to rim a cocktail glass, then dip it in drinking chocolate powder or powdered chocolate, and try not to make as much of a mess of it as I did. Shake with hard ice, then double-strain into said cocktail glass, after making sure there's no powder in the bottom.

Wayne Collins circa 2005, according to Mr Difford

Let me be brief. After all, you probably haven't got much time for chocolate cocktails. Either sweet & creamy milkshakes or 80's-style regrettables (remember the After Eight Martini?); the only acceptable way to drink chocolate in cocktails this decade is as a dash of chocolate bitters in your old fashioned, right?

Wrong. Let me explain why.

In fact, let's not explain. this is a little hard to get by looking at the ingredients, and were it not for my predilection for lime creams ("a very popular flavour, I'm led to understand") I might have passed it over. As it is, I have been wanting to make one for years, but never had a bottle of port open.

So anyway, we opened a bottle of port. Turns out that's key to tying the flavours together, bridging the vinous notes of the Cognac with the richness of the chocolate. You can of course ruin this by adding too much lime juice. I used a little less than advertised[1] but you might wish to play with the proportions. It needs some or it's too tart, and the lime and port play pretty well together. It should be noted that I used Mozart dark chocolate liqueur, and probably a bit less of it: it isn't very sweet but has an intense flavour of cocoa. The upshot is that this is a far more grown-up drink than it looks like, and I commend this recipe to the house.

1. Look I don't want to derail, but Difford's recipe contains four and a half shots, and no sane martini glass fits that much in - especially if they're 30ml. I can understand getting the proportions a little off, but at least learn to add up. I can't honestly remember what I ended up doing, so play around, just remember that your glasses are brimful at four measures if they're like mine.

Friday, 25 November 2016


1.5 shots Apple Brandy
1.5 shots Dubonnet red
0.5 shots triple sec
2 dashes Angostura bitters

stir with ice in a shaker can, fine strain into a cocktail glass or coupe. Garnish with an orange zest; you can express the oil onto the cocktail if you have a mind.

Drinkboy in 2006 apparently - I think he meant this recipe here - via Difford's guide

I won't go on about the photo. I finally took my own advice/got the time to do it properly, and used a tripod, a sharp prime lens, a dark room (not a darkroom), manual focus to get the glass properly in focus and a mini Maglite(tm) to light paint. Two take-aways I've found from recent efforts: 

  1. that the eye naturally goes to the near lip of the glass, ie where your mouth should be in the natural order of things. Unless there's a really good reason (usually a garnish), that's the bit that needs to be in focus. Getting the stem sharp matters very little.
  2. Ultra-shallow depth of field may be lovely in its place, but just like in macro photography its place is not necessarily here. If you want everything out of focus apart from the garnish then fine, but with the round lip of the glass going away from the camera it will have a very small zone of focus: it tends to give the eye not enough to anchor on, and the shot ends up looking blurry. Your're probably near the minimum focus distance of the lens anyway, which makes DOF a potential problem, so stopping down is usually helpful. Especially if you're light painting, when it gives you more time to eliminate shadows. This was a 5s exposure at f/6.3, ISO100 for reference.
Ok, I lied. Hopefully I pay attention in future, and/or get my dark field set-up working.

This drink, to be blunt, is not my usual sort of thing. It's sweet, strong, a little bitter and definitely old school, and I served it up with a little trepidation. One thing I did do was to even out the measures of Dubonnet and Calvados (by which I mean Lambig, of course) so it would be less a Calvados martini and more a... wet Calvados martini, I suppose. Anyway, it went down easily enough for both of us, and is definitely suitable as an aperitif, although I wouldn't want one with a meal. If you like Calvados and Dubonnet you should definitely give it a shot. Sip it slowly, you're not getting another.

I much prefer honest guesswork about the roots of a cocktail over just-so stories of dubious historical provenance stated as the truth (just wait until next week's cocktail for more on that). Whatever came first, there's a whole family of very similar cocktails, which Mr Difford - in his inestimable but rather kitchen-sink style - has included. The drink is basically a Dandy made with Calvados rather than bourbon - especially the way I've mixed it with less spirit and more Dubonnet than standard. (Of course, the Dandy is essentially a sweet Manhattan with Dubonnet in place of vermouth). There's plenty of variations on this theme: A Bushranger is made with white rum and no triple sec (I'm not convinced), a Barney Barnato is made with Cognac and Grand Marnier in place of triple sec, or even the quantities out and you get a Crux. Go a bit silly with gin and Swedish punsch and you end up with a Princess Marina. And why not, as Barry Norman would say.

If I did it again? I might go for the Barney Barnato, despite the silly name. I might need some better Cognac first though, and that's a slippery slope!

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Ankrah Champagne cocktail

1 shot bourbon
1 white sugar cube
dash orange bitters
top champagne

Place the sugar cube at the bottom of a chilled champagne flute or (preferably) saucer. Dash the bitters onto the sugar cube. carefully add the shot of bourbon, then top up with champgne, making sure it doesn't fizz over.

Douglas Ankrah in Shaken and Stirred.

Ok, lets take this piece by piece.

Firstly, that photo sucks. Sorry. The focus point is not where your eye wants it to be, and it was dark enough that I didn't notice until later. One of these days I'll learn to prioritise sharpness and take in enough light to focus. If this cocktail didn't deserve the slot I would have deep-sixed it until I had a better shot. It's not like it couldn't have worked, but I would need a tripod and manual focus. Circumstances did not permit, and I should have realised. Self flagellation over.

Second: champagne cocktails, in general, suck. I'm not including champagne tops here like the wonderful mojito royale. Champagne cocktails have a tendency to just taste like champagne with stuff in it. No integration, and an inversion of the "more than the sum of its parts" rule. I would say negative synergy, but then I'd have to go shoot myself. I mean, honestly.

The classic champagne cocktail is a rare exception to this. The Bellini is not made with champagne, but the same applies - it's a great drink. I would make an exception for this as well, which I think is pretty special.

So why is this different? Just taste it. I note the original had a garnish of a mandarin segment marinated in Liquor 43, which is a worthwhile addition. But when we had it, it didn't. Also, it's easy to overdo the Liquor 43, which makes it sweet and syrupy. The sugar cube is not just for interest - it's to make sure it's not too sweet from the offset.

If you want to get technical, the vanilla and caramel tones of the bourbon combine beautifully with champagne, and yes this does mean this favour the more biscuity and less green styles - in other words expensive. Sorry. The acidity of the fizz cuts through the strength of the spirit, and the orange bitters tops it off perfectly without dominating anything. It's perfectly-judged, subtle, rewarding, and most importantly it pays it way, even with pricey champgne, in that it's worth mixing rather than just drinking it neat. Case closed.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Sloe gin sour

2 shots sloe gin
0.5 shots cherry brandy
0.75 shots lime juice
0.5 egg white
Dash orange bitters

Using a Boston shaker, shake with ice, then strain into the shaker glass. Remove ice, then dry shake in the cold shaker. Pour straight into a chilled cocktail glass, or preferably saucer.

Not terribly sure. Adaptation of something I originally found on the internets will have to do.

Not a terribly original recipe, but given a bit of a twist with the cherry brandy, a good addition which rounds out the sour as well as adding a bit of aroma. Beyond that, a classic sour with the classic creamy egg white foam. Terrible photo, but I seem to recall being in a hurry to drink it. You'll run out of sloe gin fast if you drink a lot of these, so use them wisely.

You'll ask me if I had to use lime juice for this. Wrong question. You should have asked if I had any lemons in the house. Either works; lemon is probably the more natural choice.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Winter's edge

1.5 shots Apple brandy (Lambig)
1 shot ginger liqueur
1 spoon green Chartreuse
0.5 shots lemon juice
2 spoons honey

Shake and fine strain. I like the idea of a garnish to this one, but nothing really suggested itself that I had to hand. Would be interested to try with a physalis, but that would require planning, and this was spontaneous.

Lounge Iguana dot com

You nearly didn't get this one. Memo to self: when improvising a cocktail that works, Write. Down. The. Ingredients. I eventually cajoled the list from the swampy depths of my unconscious, but the quantities are still a little fuzzy and I recommend testing before ladling in the honey.

I would say it's very nice wouldn't I? It's very nice. I did get some second-party feedback on that (always welcome!), but to be candid with these ingredients it ought to taste good. Apple brandy is not cheap, and the delectable Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur won't be available at your local Poundland. I won't do a per-glass calculation in post-EUref pounds sterling (the apple brandy is French, natch) because that would depress me, but let's just say that it's not one to make for a large party unless they're your favourite people.

There's something about the last embers of autumn about this one. It's the leading edge of winter on an afternoon sharp with the promise of frost, but leaving behind a warming sunset glow. Apple and ginger. Can't go too far wrong. Another time I might be tempted to add a little Xante, but for now this will do nicely.

Photo - we're having building work done, and a lot of our walls look like this. I thought it was more interesting than the kitchen top, and attempts to project a wholly misleading touch of Manhattan loft chic into South Bucks. Truth is it just needs plastering. Thanks to my delightful hand model, I was able to focus properly, and the position ensured there was good light.