Friday, 23 September 2016

Sparkling apple sherry cocktail

1 shot pressed apple juice
1 shot Lambig apple brandy
0.75 Mandarine Napoleon
0.5 shots Pedro Ximenez sherry
top ginger ale

Shake all except ginger ale with hard ice, fine strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. Top up with ginger ale.

Full credit for the original goes to Elana at . For all variations and shortcuts I take full responsibility.

Ok so this isn't so much about how to make a cocktail as how not to make it. I confess I might have skipped this one altogether if the photo hadn't worked. I planned it because... well, because it looked tasty and interesting, but then I realised I had a limited amount of time and an absence of two of the ingredients. This is not so much improvising as making do.

So let me go through the alterations, and why they might not have been a good idea:

1) apple juice rather than a muddled apple. We have an Avogadro's number of apples at the moment, but they're all either windfalls or still on the tree. Windfalls are good for making juice if you cut the brown bits/worms out, but frankly I didn't feel like making a cocktail with the result. However, we have an enormous amount of apple juice, both from last year and the beginnings of the 2016 crop. Using juice probably made it sweeter and slightly longer than it should have been: it probably would have been better with a crisp, fresh apple or an early pressing.

2) 1 rather than 1.5 shots apple brandy. It's expensive stuff, and the cocktail was already plenty alcoholic (but see below). Fine with this, although it merits experimentation.

3) Pedro Ximenez rather than Oloroso sherry. Not a good idea. Big fan of the PX, but think this needed the nutty, vinous nature of the Oloroso rather than the sweet, Christmas-puddingy taste of PX. I do think the idea works, and the drink wasn't bad because of it - it just would have been better. I got the bottle of PX for Christmas 2015 and am still trying to use it up to be honest: it's a little hard to mix with without it dominating.

4) Ginger ale and not Prosecco. Don't do this. It was merely that I was persuaded that drinking Prosecco with the main mean was a Bad Idea (this was correct), and wasn't about to open a bottle and let it go flat. I don't have any small bottles of Prosecco, only Cava, and substituting the one with the other is nearly always a bad move. Ginger ale is... well, it's fine, but no substitute, especially in a drink which is already alcoholic.

This uses some expensive ingredients. Apple brandy and Mandarine Napoleon aren't cheap, and to be frank the Mandarine is once again better in concept than execution: it's subtle and gets lost. I suspect subbing Grand Marnier (also expensive) might hold its own better. The concept holds true, and I think it'd work beautifully as Elena originally intended. The knock-off version here isn't bad or unbalanced, but is a little syrupy and would benefit from some more bite courtesy of the Prosecco and the correct sherry. So it's a B- to me for quantity surveying, but the drink itself deserves revisiting. It's not like we don't have the apples...

Saturday, 17 September 2016

La Cucaracha

1.5 shots anjeo tequila
0.5 shots Agavero
0.75 shots lime juice
1 fresh passionfruit
2 shots pressed apple juice
2 tsp vanilla sugar

Scoop passionfruit seeds and flesh into a shaker can, add the other ingredients, and stir well to dissolve the sugar. shake with hard ice, then strain into a highball glass filled with crushed ice. garnish with a sprig of mint if you can find any in the garden at this time of year.

Douglas Ankrah in Shaken and Stirred.

First off, there are no cockroaches in this drink. I checked.

Second, you are no doubt thinking that this is very similar to the epically-good Georgiana. You are correct. In fact, this is pretty much a Georgiana built with apple juice rather than grapefruit. There's a good reason for this: the Georgiana was a cocktail we got from an old Lab menu. Very old - we're talking at least ten years ago. At that time, they were getting a new menu printed: they'd run out of menus because everyone walked off with them, so they just had photocopies which they were giving away! I still have mine.

The reason this is relevant is because La Cucaracha comes from Douglas Ankrah's sublime Shaken and Stirred. That's Douglas Ankrah of Lab and Townhouse fame. I'm guessing that the Georgiana was an earlier version of the Cucaracha, if only because this is the one that made it into the book.

This puts me in a quandary. Disagreeing with Mr Ankrah over cocktails is not generally a clever thing to do, but I'm tempted to think the Georgiana a better drink. Tequila and grapefruit go so well together that Mexico's other national drink is the Paloma, whereas apple doesn't bring a lot to the party here. It's a good sweetener and lengthener, but the stand out flavours are still tequila and passion fruit, as they should be. I think grapefruit holds it own slightly better, but this will obviously depend on your personal grapefruit tolerance.

One small hitch is that you need grapefruit juice to make a Georgiana. I didn't have any, and we still have quarts of apple juice from last autumn, so that made the decision for us. I did serve it on crushed ice because it's pretty short and intense. Also our freezer does it for us.

Final notes: fresh passion fruit is necessary: try to make sure it's ripe. I got large ones from Waitrose which were awesome, but at that price they should have been. You can make without Agavero, and I'd understand as it's expensive and not widely used, but it's not quite the same without it.

Friday, 9 September 2016


1.5 shots apple brandy
0.75 shots Benedictine
0.25 shots triple sec
0.5 shots lemon juice
(white of half an egg)

Shake and double strain (if not using egg white)

Difford sez "a 1930s classic"

If you're like me you probably think "Lambig" is a mispelling of a Belgian beer. However, as I learned on our recent trip to Brittany, it's actually a traditional Breton apple brandy which is Definitely Not Calvados. However, for mixing it's functionally identical, and my Calvados pallete would need a lot more training before I could distinguish them.

I had to get a bottle, of course. On my return, I found that it's stocked by neither the whisky exchange NOR Gerry's which must make it practically unique.

I also had to find something to do with it when I got home. Things like the Apple Cart exist of course, and are good, but I was after something a bit more inventive. This was it, and very tasty it is too, if still a sidecar variant. Which is good, because Sidecars are one of my favourite things. Pity decent brandy is so expensive.

This relies on the Benedictine for sweetness. Have I mentioned how well Benedictine mixes? It's like magic. Wouldn't drink it neat particularly, but blends wonderfully for that "more than the sum of its parts" effect that I love. Not cheap, but no substitutes. I'd watch it with the lemon juice: you could spoil the balance, but it does need to be tart. The original also has half an egg white in it. I approve, and it would smooth it nicely, but we had just got back from holiday and there were no eggs in the house.

The brandy has that lovely, slightly "pear drops" edge to it which reminds me a little of Sauternes. Filled out with the subtly herby Benedictine and sharpened with the lemon, this is one beautifully-balanced cocktail with real depth.

(You can make it with Calvados too. Don't tell anyone.)

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.