Friday, 10 February 2017

Orchard crush

1.5 shots Calvados/Lambig
0.5 shots damson gin
1 spoon plum jam
1 shot lemon juice
0.25 shots sugar syrup (2:1)

Mix all ingredients, and stir well to encourage the jam to dissolve. Shake with ice, and strain into an ice-filled glass. garnish with a lemon twist and a frozen raspberry, because that's what you have.

Morgenthaler, apparently. Via the inevitable Mr Difford (Note to self. Diversify cocktail recipe sources).

I would be prepared to make excuses at this pint for recycling Mr Difford's fine compendium. But I'm not. For one thing, the Cocktail Book Of Doom(tm) has always been a comprehensive rather than selective - it has numerous cocktails in which are close or identical to each other, and some which I wouldn't give time of day to. Even if I only took recipes from there, it would be worthwhile as a work of curation, in my slightly grouchy opinion. I like to think that if you made recipes at random from my blog you would be better served than from diffordsguide dot com, even with the ratings.

That's fine. He's doing an indispensable job, and I salute him for it. I'm trying to do something different and far more modest, which is to surface, publicise, and drink the stuff which in my biased and '90s-influenced opinion is really special. OK: mainly drink. A sort of sip and tell affair.

This drink is one for which I will make zero apologies for its origin. It's damn fine, and I have no idea why I hadn't found it before [Ed: probably because it isn't in the last print edition you own]. The drawback is that you need to be prepared to use Calvados, which isn't cheap. But the upshot is a juicy, intense, tart and delicious drink that tempts you to plough through the bottle (and the jam) far too quickly, limited only by the time it takes to make the thing. The idea is simple but very effective: damsons and apple brandy. I did modify it by adding a touch of my own damson gin because it's frankly very nice, but apart from that this is unaltered. Try it, you'll like it.

Picture credit: a chopping board and a flash for fake window light, high-keyed Pinterest stylee. I think it works quite well for rocks serves. But that's just my opinion man etc.

Friday, 3 February 2017

Ultima Palabra

0.75 shots aged Tequila
0.75 shots green chartreuse
0.75 shots Maraschino
0.75 shots pineapple juice
0.65 shots lime juice

Shake & double strain. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary in case it wasn't herbal enough. Curse as the sprig falls into the drink, rejecting all your overtures to stay upright in a photogenic fashion, and vow to cut a longer sprig next time.

Simone de Luca at the High Road House Club in Chiswick, via Gaz Regan, via Simon Difford.

I have quite a lot of Chartreuse, for Reasons. Unfortunately it's not my wife's favourite thing, which I can quite understand: it's a bit like Marmite, if Marmite were 50% abv. Some things like Benedictine, which occupies the same corner of the cocktail cabinet, are wonderful for mixing, and disappear into the other flavours, giving richness and body but never dominating.

Chartreuse is not like that. If it's there, you're going to know about it.

Now I quite like Chartreuse because I have a fondness for unsubtlety or something. However, I don't tend to use it a lot, for the above reason. It is thus a tradition that on the rare occasion I'm mixing just for myself, I try to use it. The last time I tried a Last Word, which certainly hit the spot. Now, the observant Spanish speakers among you (anyone? Bueller?) will have noticed this is the same thing in Spanish, but that's not quite fair. The formula of spirit + Chartreuse + Maraschino = fun is in place, but here the quantities are altered, or it'd be a green margarita. There's also the addition of pineapple, which is a great idea and really ties the drink together.

I would not have thought of putting Maraschino with tequila, but it works surprisingly well, and all that herbal stuff complements the tequila really well. I should note that I'm still on the Olmeca Altos Reposado tequila, and it's a great choice for this cocktail: bags of cactus juice flavour.

I did tweak the recipe a bit: the original calls for Mezcal, and I didn't have any. I'm intrigued by what the smoky notes could bring to the party, but that's for another time. For now, the above is well worth drinking. Provided you like Chartreuse, natch.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Papa bear

1.5 shots cognac
1.5 shots Krupnik honey vodka
0.75 shots lemon juice
a spoon of honey syrup

shake and double strain, ideally into a couple. Garnish with a lemon zest - I rimmed the glass with it on general principle.

Tim Homewood in 2008 via Simon Difford

I seems that I like drinks made with honey. This will come as no surprise to anyone foolhardy enough to have been following this blog: drinks like the Aged Honey Daiquiri, Perfect Arrest or Rhubarb and honey bellini are, frankly, delicious. I love the way honey not only sweetens but adds body and aromatic elements, plus that undefinable richness it's difficult to find elsewhere.

Krupnik is also a frequent offender here, notably in the Honey Berry Sour of legend. It's a Polish spiced honey liqueur which has the inevitable roots in antiquity, although for some reason it's not made by monks. Presumably they were all busy making Chartreuse or beer. (Fun fact that I've just discovered: the origin story of Benedictine, concerning Norman monks, was invented from whole cloth by the inventor of the liqueur.)

So after a mead drink, we start 2017 with another honey drink #sorrynotsorry . This is a great idea, all the more powerful for its simplicity. Take a Sidecar, swap out the orange flavours for honey, and rebalance. Honey complements aged spirits wonderfully - see the aged honey daiquiri, which I can't quite believe I haven't covered yet, or for that matter a hot whisky toddy.

To do this, you need to make the honey syrup, I tend to do so on the fly. The classic is 1:1 hot water and honey, but I think that may not be sweet enough to balance this, and you don't want to dilute unnecessarily: I went for around 3:1, and made it with a minimum of boiling water in the bottom of a double measure, to which I added honey and stirred (well, swizzled) carefully with a bar spoon until it dissolved.

You can probably guess how this tastes from the ingredients: subtly spiced honey, lemon juice and a solid cognac backbone. It's tart, but balanced. It's biggest problem is that it tends to disappear from the glass rather quickly. It might be sweet, but there's not much change from three units here, so gently does it.

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!