Friday, 12 August 2016

Jamaican breeze

1.5 shots spiced rum
0.5 shots vanilla liqueur
1 shot lime juice
3 shots pressed apple juice

build in a tall glass with lots of ice. Garnish with a lime wheel or similar

Douglas Ankrah's superb Shaken and Stirred

So on Sunday we get back from Chessington World of Adventure, and any thought of making something short and sophisticated went out of the window. It was hot, we were hot, we were tired and I needed something long and refreshing. And preferably easy to make.

Only problem: no fizzy mixers bar ginger ale, and no fruit juice of the non-citrus variety apart from apple juice. Which is our own, and thanks to the miracles of Mr Pasteur still being drunk from last autumn's bumper crop, but as it happened the kids had drunk most of it (did I mention it was hot?) and I was rapidly running out of ideas.

However, I did recall that Shaken & Stirred had a section on breezes and Collins (Collins's? Let's not go there), so I turned to the evergreen Mr Ankrah and he came up trumps.

Did I say there was only one problem? The other problem was that it involved spiced rum, and I don't have any. This is more a policy decision than a shortcoming. There's limited space in my bar - well, that's a lie, I'm fortunate enough to have a relatively cavernous bar, but the generous quantity of space it affords is full of nice things[1], and new bottles have to earn their place. Regular spiced rum always strikes me as sweetened sub-Bacardi cooking rum with a dash of vanilla. We can do better than that. Well, we could make proper spiced rum, but as I didn't have a time machine, I present: 

fake spiced rum
1.5 shots Appleton special golden rum
1 spoon Goldschlager cinnamon liqueur
dash homemade allspice dram

(My allspice dram is more accurately described as pimento bitters, due to it being a first attempt and steeped for Far. Too. Long. It does taste of allspice, but you shouldn't use more than a tsp in anything)

This is not subtle, and you could do far better with a vanilla pod, some cracked allspice berries, and a few other doodads, but we are mixing this with apple juice and vanilla liqueur, and it tasted just fine. Sure I wish I had some beautiful transparent cubes of ice to make a beautiful image, but if a genie materialised I'd probably still go for world peace an/or a reset button for 2016 and I'm afraid this was a very quick shot taken with whatever lens was on the camera[2]. This is not the whizziest cocktail, but it certainly hit the spot.

1. There is some debate as to whether my bottles of absinthe and green Chartreuse can be described as nice. I maintain the dose makes the poison, but I also have some crème de menthe, so perhaps I shouldn't push that one too far.2. Sony E 18-105 f/4 PZ G OSS, because you really wanted to know that. Getting back while there was still any sunlight would have helped far more, but there we go.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Gold rush

1 bourbon
1.5 ginger liqueur
0.5 lemon juice

shake 'n' strain. Nothing fancy (although if you don't double strain you'll be detained by the Ice Shard Police, and serve you right).

Via a very high-production-values bottle tag on the Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur. Difford also has it, but used lime and lemon in half quantities in what is otherwise the same recipe. It turned out, on closer inspection, that I couldn't be arsed on this occasion.

I have a distrust of cocktails which demand very high quality ingredients. I mean, it's not like things don't taste better if you use nice stuff, but there's a sneaking suspicion that a recipe that demands really good ingredients to work is a bit fragile: it's not succeeding on its own merits. Enjoy a gin martini made with excellent gin and your enjoyment will be pretty much a function of the quality of the spirit. I feel the best mixed drinks are more than just the sum of their parts, that allow good ingredients to shine without being overly reliant on them for the effect.

So anyway, here's a very simple drink made with the excellent and pricey Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur. I've not tried the cheaper King's Ginger liqueur which is also available in Waitrose as opposed to specialist suppliers, but both the reviews and the bar staff at the wonderful Treehouse recommended it over KG, and tasting I am tempted to say they have a point. It's got a great ginger kick, but very refined and smooth, not overly sweet: just altogether a class act. For the price, it ought to be. A single 25ml shot of this costs £1.13 at retail, which is something to bear in mind if you're ever tempted to complain about the cost of cocktails at a bar.

[Economics note: ok, so this cocktail costs around £2.50 per serve, or £2.76 if you're using Woodford Reserve rather than JD. That's for 2 units of alcohol. If you consider drinking a cocktail a replacement for a large glass (250ml) of wine, this is price equivalent to a c£8 bottle of wine - but the glass of wine has between 3 and 3.7 units (12-15% abv). Conclusion: drinking cocktails is just as cheap and better for you than drinking wine :) ]

To state the obvious, this is highly dependent on your ginger liqueur. I thought the quantities were taking the mickey: as noted in the review, a lot of manufacturers recipes on their oh-so-ultra-premium bottle tags are very heavy on their own ingredient, because DUH. However, Difford concurred, and to be honest the quantities work, and it might unbalance the drink to make it with 1.5 bourbon/1 ginger. You're relying on the liqueur to sweeten the drink, after all.

This is pretty much everything I look for in a cocktail. It's short, sharp, subtle, complex, warming, simple but beautifully balanced. Every ingredient earns its place and brings something to the party. It ultimately exists to showcase the ginger liqueur, but for once I'm ok with that.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Pimms and rhubarb

2 shots Pimms No 1 cup
0.5 shots rhubarb, vanilla and honey gin
0.5 shots lemon juice
top ginger ale

shake all except tonic with hard ice, then strain into an ice-filled glass. Garnish with mint, lemon slices, cucumber and strawberry.

Standard Pimms with a Lizard Lounge twist.

I have an uneasy relationship with Pimms. It's all very traditional and that, but I end up disappointed most times I try it. That unfortunately includes my own previous attempt, which looked nice but wasn't what I was aiming for.

A lot of the time seems to be that it's either too sweet, too watery or just generally lacking in body. Ginger ale is significantly less sharp than lemonade (and subjectively sweeter), so you really need some lemon juice to sharpen it up. It should go without saying that if you use too little ice it will end up melting, leaving you with a watery lukewarm cocktail.

The rhubarb gin was an attempt to sharpen it up and give it a bit more bite without adding more strength. Pimms seems to wear spirits pretty badly in my experience: the alcohol overwhelms the gentle flavour, and you end up having to add more lemon to compensate until you end up with a gin fizz that tastes vaguely of Vimto. Not that bad, but not Pimms any more. Here I'm using the rhubarb gin - which in this incarnation is quite tart - as a flavouring rather than a base, and I was quite pleased with the result. If you put in more ginger ale it dilutes it and weakens the flavour, so just use more ice instead, then make yourself another: it's only around 1.75 units (possibly less).

This isn't really Pimms either, of course. But it is refreshing and has an intriguing depth of flavour, where the rhubarb adds something but it quite difficult to identify. You can also build it over ice if you're feeling lazy, of course. I shook it so I could pretend it was a Serious Cocktail and not a mixed drink.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Another eden

1.5 shots Żubrówka bison grass vodka
0.5 shots elderflower cordial
1 shot pressed apple juice
top Fentiman's tonic water

shake first three with ice, then strain into an ice-filled glass. Add half the tonic, stir slowly to combine, then top up with the rest

Sylvian Solignac at Citrus, London, via Diffords guide. Modified by Lizard Lounge.

We have this thing where we mix elderflower and apple with a squeeze of lime juice and sparkling water, garnished with mint. It's a really refreshing summer soft drink, and tends to be the default for adults who are on the hard stuff chez Lizard.

The only trouble is, it kind of spoils me for apple and elderflower cocktails, which start tasting like somebody dumped vodka in the above. The original eden looks like a pleasant and unassuming cocktail. I don't want to judge it for the description saying "orange zest predominates" when its the garnish - oh, all right, I totally want to judge it. It may be subtle, but the dividing line between subtle and "just tastes of the garnish" is a fine one, and I was suspicious it crossed it.

So, what to do? I freely confess my memory is hazy - not because I had too many, but because my memory is usually hazy, and I wasn't taking notes like I usually do as I was trying to mix two cocktails and put the kids to bed at the same time and I did this last time didn't I? Never mind. Anyway, this is a reconstruction done on a best efforts basis, as the FX sales community say when explaining why you got not so much filled as stuffed.

The first thing is to sub in Żubrówka, taking care to preserve all its precious diacritics. You know it goes well with pressed apple juice. The next is not to overwhelm the delicate bison-grassiness with elderflower, so half a shot or cordial is fine (St Germain is lovely and works fine, I'm sure. But George makes our elderflower cordial, ensuring I have lots of it, and so buying elderflower liqueur for lots of money seems pointless even if the bottle is lovely).

The last thing is to consider the tonic water. I hate giving brand recommendations as a rule, as I'm not here to advertise. However, Fentimans tonic doesn't taste like regular tonic - it's lighter and more floral, with a lemongrass thing going on. It suits this beautifully, and doesn't overwhelm the delicate flavours with quinine.

The result was a subtle, delicate and refreshing long drink which tasted of more than the sum of its parts, which is something I admire in a cocktail. Last week's cherry bruiser was really good, but I can't shake the feeling that this is better at being a cocktail. Try it and see what you think. You can even use an orange zest garnish if you must.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Cherry bourbon sour

1 shot bourbon
1 shot cherry liqueur
1 shot lemon juice
0.5 shots sugar syrup (2:1)
dash Angostura bitters

Shake all with hard ice, then strain into an ice-filled glass

Difford's guide, in this incarnation (although I omitted the egg white this time)

And so passes another week. Rather than rush to get a recipe out on Sunday, I though I'd have plenty of time in the week to write something considered, informative, intellectually stimulating, wryly witty and with just a dash of sober introspection contrasted with the...

...ah, who am I kidding? It's Thursday evening, and I'm both chronically and acutely sleep-deprived. A lot of this is due to discovering Fallout Shelter which is as time-demanding and periodically infuriating as a bored toddler, but also beautifully done and full of resource-manage-y goodness.

Yes. I know all the cool kids are playing Pokemon. I'm officially behind the curve as well as behind on sleep. So it goes.

This week's cocktail was planned to be completely different. In fact, I went so far as to make two different cocktails (only a single of each - I have some grudging respect for my liver). The other one was complex, subtle and intriguing, and I might tell you about it one day. This one is not particularly subtle, but the trouble is it was just so damn nice that it won the taste test, and disappeared shortly afterwards.

There's no mystery here: you already know what it tastes like from reading the ingredients. Cherry bourbon is such a well-established combination that you can buy it in bottles. The only subtlety here is the precise make-up, and the ingredients. Usually, I'd say to pay more attention to the spirits, but here that's not the case - you want to use a reasonable cherry brandy, as it ends up dominating the drink, and the bourbon is less vital (fwiw I'm using Jack at the moment, because doing this sort of thing with Woodford Reserve gets expensive fast, and I'm not convinced whisky sours merit it).  my cherry brandy is Lejay, which is serviceable but lends a bit of a "cherry lips" flavour. Having said that, Difford seems to like it.

I should have mixed this with egg white. It's totally a good thing to do with sours, taking the edge of the sharpness while adding a wonderful creamy mouth feel and foamy top. Unless you're allergic or nervous about salmonella, it's highly recommended (one egg makes two cocktails, so ideal for me & George!). I'm afraid to say this was sacrificed on the altar of trying to get two children ready for bed and mix cocktails at the same time. Convenience for the Convenience god. If you do do that then be sure to use the approved technique - shake with ice first, then dry shake for foamy perfection.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Rhubarb sour

2 shots rhubarb, vanilla and honey gin[1]
0.5 shots Lillet blanc
0.5 shots lemon juice
2 spoons honey[2]

add all ingredients, and stir well to dissolve the honey before adding ice. Shake well with hard ice, then double strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a flamed orange zest.

Lizard lounge

Firstly, a massive shout out to all the finance tweeps I met today. Great to know I'm not just talking to myself here (well, not *just* talking to myself). This one's for you.

I realise I may need to justify yet another rhubarb cocktail. Over the last year or so I may have features one or two (or three) recipes featuring either rhubarb liqueur or rhubarb infused gin[1]. This is because rhubarb is nice and I like it, and also I think it mixes pretty well. I can only apologise that commercially-available rhubarb drinks are hard to come by (Aperol doesn't count, although it uses rhubarb in addition to orange food colouring). Making your own rhubarb gin, however, is easy, fast and worthwhile, and I encourage everyone to try it.

On holiday we did a cocktail course[3], which was fun and interesting (plus resulted in us drinking four cocktails in rapid succession which was an experience in itself). One of the things they went over was flaming orange zests for a Cosmopolitan. I'm sorry but their cosmo recipe wasn't the best. However, their flamed orange game was on point. The technique they taught - which works - is

1. Cut a generous chunk of orange rind, longer than it is wide. Use a knife not a vegetable peeler: pith is helpful, as it needs to be rigid.
2. use a lighter, not matches. Longer flame, and it doesn't make your cocktail taste of sulphur[6].
3. hold rind between finger and thumb, vertically
4. warm the rind with the lighter until... well, you think it's ready. Or until you burn your fingers.
5. With the lighter in front, squeeze the rind INWARDS so it's concave in the horizontal cross-section rather than convex. Get more oil that way.

Many thanks to George for demonstrating the correct technique in the photo!

If you do all the above, it is remarkably easy to get a great spray of flaming orange oil over the cocktail. Then rub the rind over the rim of the glass and drop it in the drink. If you're not in a hurry and are worried about bitterness, pare the pith off it first - a bit of ceremony that your customers will appreciate, if they're paying attention.

Oh yeah, the drink. This was going to be just a simple sour with the rhubarb gin - but it was already sweetened with honey, and rhubarb and honey go so well it seemed a pity not to use it to balance the lemon juice. Honey is a pain because you need to get it to dissolve, and you'll need to taste and adjust, but totally worth it here. Orange zest is a no-brainer for rhubarb, and I was itching to use the New Zest Flaming Technique(tm) above so that's that. the Lillet Blanc just goes very well with the gin and adds body and volume - it would be short without it, and I don't want to use more than two shots of gin.

It has the real intensity and body from the Lillet and the honey, the tartness from the lemon and the flamed zest gives a real aromatic kick to the opener. The only drawback is that it disappears fast.

1. See the recipe in the rhubarb-infused gin & tonic from last year. The rhubarb gin was so good we made more with this year's rhubarb crop, and scaled the recipe up. This worked well, and we had nice red rhubarb which gave a great rose colour to the spirit. However, it was quite tart, the result of leaving the rhubarb in there for a fortnight. Which was entirely on purpose and not at all because I forgot to decant it.
2. The honey will need adjusting depending on how sharp your rhubarb gin turns out, and how much you put in the original recipe.
3. I was curious. I might have been doing this for longer than the bartender, but there's a huge difference between being a professional bartender and doing it for fun. It was a learning experience, even if their corporately-mandated Cosmopolitan[4] was Bad and Wrong.
4. You make cosmos with citron vodka. I'll fight[5] anyone who says differently, one at a time or all at once.
5. lie
6. I'm torn. Trad British usage is -ph, but IUPAC standard is -f. Are cocktails chemistry? cc  @grodaeu

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Voyager variant

1 shot aged rum[1]
1 shot light rum
0.5 shots Benedictine
0.25 shots Liquor 43
0.5 shots lime juice
0.5 shots falernum
dash Angostura bitters

Shake all with crushed ice, decant into rocks glass

Original Voyager by Robert Hess, detailed in Beachbum Berry Remixed P216

This version of the Voyager is adapted - the original called for only light rum, and was served on the rocks. It makes in my experience for a rather sour, bitter and herby concoction. Not that there's anything wrong with that - for the right audience. I wanted to soften and sweeten it slightly, and Liquor 43 is a great way of smoothing out a cocktails rough edges[2]. I also wanted to use the nice bottle of rum that I picked up, so I did. But not too much, as I don't know when I'm going to be back in Madrid next.

It was tasty, deeper and slightly better rounded than the original, although I'm not convinced by the vanilla notes from the Liquor 43. Perhaps either triple sec or orgeat would have done better, but I didn't want to end up with another Mai Tai variant.

I would write more, but I'm feeling more like drinking than writing at the moment.

1. Pampero Anniversario, courtesy of Madrid airport.
2. Adding grapefruit juice is also pretty effective. If you have any.