Saturday, 22 October 2011

Drinking the Big Easy

Which city has best earned the title of 'the home of the cocktail'? Is it New York, the originator of the great new speakeasies and arguably the modern craft cocktail movement, where Jim Meehan and Audrey Saunders hold court and bar-stools may soon be traded as derivatives on Wall Street? Seattle, its West Coast rival, home to Jamie Boudreau and Murray Stenson - now under the same roof at the magnificent-sounding Canon? Paris, crowned by the Ritz, the world's most esteemed watering hole?  Maybe even foggy old London, with Mark's bar, The Lonsdale and The Hawksmoor bar  (along with the great hotels) offering a truly British drinking tradition?
Hey, but what about New Orleans? The producer of, if not the most cocktails, many of the greatest. The real city of sin, whose louche hedonism and humid suggestiveness leave the tawdry glitz of Vegas seeming pale and watery. Every year, it throws the biggest party in the USA, if not the world. The Big Easy, home of the lethal Sazerac, the ethereal Ramos Fizz, even the potent, sugared Hurricane, would be a pretty good bet for the home of the cocktail: short on the other cities' effortless self-assurance and general glamour, but big on good times. The organisers of Tales of the Cocktail, the annual celebration of the mixed drink and, erm, professional boozing, seem to agree. For a while, there was an industry joke (i.e. a not hugely funny one) that, despite being home to this esteemed and beloved event, it was close to impossible to get a decent drink in the town the rest of the year round. Now with Cure and Arnaud's French 75 bar, the gag no longer rings true.

Now, to my considerable sorrow, I've not yet made the long trip from this rainy Isle to Tales (next year in New Orleans!) But, in honour of the Siren of the South, I've decided to feature a couple of the more obscure great drinks to have come out of the city. Everyone knows the Sazerac (if not apparently how to make it well), but how 'bout the souped up Vieux Carre? An awesome hybrid of Manhattan and Sazerac, the Vieux Carre dances across the tongue like a worn out old chorus girl, before kicking you right in teeth. Strong and powerfully herbal, it's based on the great, classic Cognac-Rye axis, enlivened by a dual charge of bitters.

Vieux Carre

1 shot rye,  Rittenhouse Bonded Rye (you'll need a hefty whiskey to stand up to its partners)
1 shot cognac,  Remy Martin VSOP
1 shot sweet vermouth, Punt e Mes (a bold, spicy vermouth that'll stand up

1 teaspoon Benedictine
3 dash Angostura
3 dash Peychaud's

Stir over ice and serve up or on rocks with a lemon twist

Vieux Pomme
(A little variation I've been making since 2010) 

1 shot rye, Sazerac Rye
1 shot Apple Brandy, Laird's Bonded Applejack
3/4 shot sweet vermouth, Lillet Rouge
1 teaspoon Benedictine
1/2 teaspoon Green Chartreuse
1 dash Angostura
3 dash Peychaud's
2 dash Cinnamon tincture

Stir and serve on rocks with lemon twist

The Cocktail a la Louisiane is a close relation of the Vieux Carre, but with the Benedictine seriously bumped up and the Absinthe taking the role of modifier. Richer and sweeter than , the drink depends on a heavy Rye and a hefty hit of citrus oil from the twist to add some aromatic and flavour tension.

Cocktail a la Louisiane

1 shot rye, Rittenhouse Bonded Rye
1 shot sweet vermouth, Carpano Antica
1 shot Benedictine
1 teaspoon Absinthe, La Fee Absinthe

3 dash Angostura
3 dash Peychaud's

Stir, rocks, 2x lemon twist (one expressed, one placed)

Cocktail a la Mexique
(Another variation, created by the noble art of swapping a few ingredients around until things worked)

1 shot rye, Sazerac Rye
1 shot tequila, Ocho Reposado (or Anejo, if you feel like splashing out)
1 shot dry vermouth Noilly Prat
1/3 shot Cynar
2 dash Peychaud's
1 dash Xocolatl Mole
4 drops Saline solution (salt 1:1 water)

Stir and serve on a rock with an orange twist.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Cold Cure

The cold virus must be the greatest blight on the human race. You feel awful, but without even generating the sympathetic payoff derived from other ailments, because everyone gets colds. Then, as soon as you recover, your friends catch it and expect you to be all concerned and helpful, like no-one ever got a cold before. Having been resentfully consigned to bed-rest for what seems like the foreseeable future, I've devoted my few remaining energies towards cheating my way back to health through doses of paracetamol, exotic tinctures and the odd spot of voodoo.  Now as a great man once noted, alcohol is, "the cause of and solution to all of life's problems". On that unimpeachable logic, here are some handy and tasty restoratives. Who knows, they might even work.

Rum Toddy

2-3 shots overproof Jamaican rum
3/4 shot lemon or lime juice
1/2 shot honey
Dash sherry
Dash boiling water
2 dash angostura bitters
1 dash clove tincture.
Cinnamon stick to stir

Assemble in a rocks glass and grate nutmeg on top

Reversed Islay Nail

2 shots Drambuie
1 shot Islay scotch
3 dash Peychaud's bitters

Stir without ice in a rocks glass and express a lemon twist over the drink.

Old Restorative

2.5 shots Appleton Estate rum
1/2 shot sage and honey syrup
Dash ginger juice or small slice of ginger
2 dash orange bitters
1 dash angostura bitters
Dash cold water

Stir, stir, stir.

Finally here's something sleek and elegant to enjoy once you've recovered to full health, a spin on the modern classic Red Hook:

Off the Hook

2 shots Rittenhouse Bonded
3/4 shot Punt e Mes
1 barspoon shot Amaro Ramazotti
1 barspoon Luxardo Maraschino
2 dash Xocolatl bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with cherry.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

7 Unlikely Pairings

There's something to be said for competent predictability. There are far too many bars in this world (and particularly the bit of it called London) that proudly display their new scotch and haggis cocktail and cook up essence-of-new-car syrup, while never in their madcap mixology revelry to learn how to make a Manhattan properly. Meanwhile, one can count the number of bars that can deliver on that elusive good Manhattan with a single hand. However, there are a number of worthy exceptions identified by some of the most innovative (and lucky) bartenders. Here are 7 screwball flavour combinations that somehow work fantastically, and some drinks which showcase them.

1) Campari and Strawberries

One would assume that these two would be almost entirely at odds. Strawberries, one of the most effective mass appeal ingredients, and Campari, a notoriously 'difficult' bittersweet aperitif, to be diametrically opposed both in their inherent character and the intent of their use. Amazingly, as partners, they work wonderfully (note: this is the premise of the whole post, so I'll be struggling to find novel ways to express this sentiment 8 times over). The herbal sweetness of the campari deepens the fresher fruity notes in the strawberry, the bitterness is tamed and balanced, while still to cut through the sugar. This affinity will generate a complete lack of surprise in anyone who's ever seen a buddy cop movie: it's essentially the culinary equivalent of partnering a gruff, old detective and a fresh-faced rookie. But without half an hour of tedious sniping. Anyway, here's my very own Figaro


3 muddled ripe strawberries
2 shots plymouth gin
3/4 shot lemon juice
1/2 shot basil syrup (1:1 sugar)
1/4 shot campari
3 dash Wasabi tincture

Shake and fine strain into chilled coupe. Garnish with Campari dusted strawberru

This is a nice summery gin sour, with added complexity from the pairing. Basil syrup adds aromatic depth and Wasabi adds spice that a) sharpens up the strawberries and b) balances the bitter finish. In a pinch (HA), black pepper could replace the Wasabi tincture. If you fancy making it, infuse a bottle of overproof vodka with 200g grated Wasabi root for a week.

2) Talisker and Chocolate

The Talisker single malt is one of the great idiosyncratic scotches - briny, smokey and medicinal like an Islay, yet delicate and complex like a Highland, this whisky is undoubtedly the Isle of Skye's greatest asset (besides an apparently picturesque harbour). I first discovered its curious harmony with cacao before I'd ever mixed so much as a Martini. After a glorious night's drinking with an old friend, we eventually broke out a bottle of Talisker and a few cubes of high cocoa dark chocolate on a whim: the pairing was uncannily good.  Admittedly, by that point we were also impressed by the genre-busting entertainment value of Sammo Hung's Martial Law, so our judgement may have been impaired. However, upon more sober reflection, the quality of our discovery was upheld (the one about scotch, not Martial Law). Although this exquisite partnership can be experienced at the height of its power simply by enjoying both separately at the same time, this is a cocktail blog damnit. The 10 Year old is the only expression I'd feel comfortable mixing and even then one tends to feel the disapproving stare of whatever Gaelic deities enforce the proper consumption of Scotch. Fortunately,  the results are so good that it's worthy earning a little cosmic approbation. In return I'll offer the embarrassingly named Honcho in the Hebrides

2 shots Talisker 10 Year Single Malt
1/4 shot honey syrup
3 small drops saline solution (100g sea salt, 100ml water)
3 dashes Xocolatl Mole bitters

Stir over ice and strain into a chilled iceless rocks glass. Express an orange zest over the glass and discard.

Yep, it's essentially just a tweaked Old-Fashioned. The Whisky combines with the cocoa notes in the (fantastic) Mole bitters to provide the backbone, while the honey and orange oils smooth it out. As though further proof were needed of the eminence of those wonderful bitters, the background of spices accentuates the peppery qualities of the single malt.

3) Raspberries and Vinegar

"Hey", I hear you exclaim (fairly quietly, since I think I've currently got about two readers) "This was meant to be a list of bizarre and innovative combinations -what's this you're offering, a cliche from the eighties?" True enough, there are even Amish farm-folk who now consider raspberry vinaigrette passe (it's excellent mocking the Amish on the internet - after all, how will they ever know?). But, in cocktails, vinegar is still a pretty niche ingredient, and in raspberries, they find an excellent partner. As for the showcase, groan-inducing though it may be, I had to go with a tweak -  the Clover Shrub Cocktail.

Clover Shrub

3 muddled raspberries
1 3/4 shots Plymouth Gin
3/4 shot lemon juice
1/4 shot sweet vermouth
3/4 shot raspberry shrub
1 egg white

Double shake and fine strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with raspberries and mint.

For the shrub take 2 cups (roughly 700g) of raspberries, 100ml water, 150g sugar and one bottle of red wine vinegar. Simmer and crush the first 3 ingredients together over low heat, add the vinegar and boil a little more. Fine strain into a clean bottle and cool.

The shrub replaces the raspberry syrup of the original. The Clover Club has some pretty accessible flavours for a classic cocktail and the added sharpness and depth from the shrub makes this variation a little more challenging.

4) Chamomile and scotch

As I'll be looking at more extensively in another post, there is a dearth of great Scotch cocktails, so we're indoubted to Jamie Boudreau for producing such an excellent and individualistic combo. The heavy floral notes of Chamomile are matched by the distinctive strength of good Scotch. I've knocked about with the idea a little, looking at Old-Fashioned and Rob Roy variations with a little Peychaud's, but in truth the partnership is best exhibited in Boudreau's original cocktail.

Chamomile Sour

2 shots Chamomile infused Compass Box Asyla (Famous Grouse in the original)
3/4 shot lemon juice
1/2 shot gomme
1 egg white

Infuse a bottle of Scotch with half an ounce of chamomile flowers for 20 minutes. Assemble drink, double shake and fine strain into a coupe. Garnish with something pretty.

A hell of a good sour. Smoky, rich and yet light. Great drink from a great bartender.

5) Cynar and Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Hey, since we've already had vinegar, why not get a veritable salad dressing going? Olive oil is, again, on its first legs as a cocktail ingredient. Its application will, I suspect, be seen mostly in godawful 'Martinis' for the next year or so. Vodka shaken with half a shot of olive oil - mmmm. On the other hand, Cynar, the much celebrated artichoke bitters, is a great, almost obvious counterpoint to olive oil. The vegetal notes of the bitters match up

Artful Flip

Pinch salt
2 shots Cynar
3/4 shot Licor 43
1/3 shot shot Extra Virgin Olive oil
2 dash Peychaud's
1 egg white

Shake and strain into a goblet. Garnish with lemon zest

Technically not a true flip, using the white rather than the whole egg. The oil works as the yolk, emulsifying the mixture, while the herbal vanilla of Licor 43 sweetens and lightens the drink.

6) Laphroaig and Watermelon

You want left field, I'll give you left field. Or, at least, Beta (formerly Rogue) Cocktails will. This loose bartending movement are responsible for some of the weirdest, wittiest and, frankly, just tastiest new drinks of the past couple of years. Make sure to look them up. I doubt the combination in question has many applications outside of this specific cocktail - probably the strangest on my list - but it was far too daring to leave out.

The Scotch Cringe

2 shots Laphroaig 10
3/4 shot lime juice
1/3 shot gomme (3/4 1:1 simple syrup)
1 whole egg
2 chunks watermelon

Muddle, double shake and strain over cubes in a collins glass. Garnish with... erm.... a smug look.

Perhaps the weirdest aspect of this cocktail is that it doesn't actually taste too offbeat. The more medicinal, less assimilable flavours in the whisky fall away against the egg and watermelon and you're left with a rather summery drink with just a hint of smoke and oak. It's a bit like drinking a barbecue.

7) Chartreuse and Chocolate

OK, this pairing is somewhat novel - Chartreuse and hot chocolate has been a mainstay for a while - but, overall, it's still a rare flavouring to see on cocktail lists. And, screw it, I love Chartreuse. It's hard to discern just why exactly they pair up so elegantly - perhaps it's down to their mutual richness, possibly it's just a quirk of nature  - but, in any case, delicious apart, together they're magnificent. There are a number of great examples, but I've chosen a Tiki drink in which the pairing is not the focus but rather an intense and complex modifier of a fairly standard rum punch.

Pago Pago

1.5 shots rum (Barbancourt 3 Star)
3 chunks fresh pineapple/1 shot pineapple juice
1/2 shot lime juice
1/2 shot green Chartreuse
1/4 shot Creme de Cacao

A cocktail that shows just how good intelligent, well-balanced Tiki drinks can be. Lime and pineapple deliver the light tropical flavours that provide broad basis of the drink. The Rhum Agricole adds a raw vegetal flavour that perfectly complements the Chartreuse, while the rich herbal and cacao finish adds a depth that never detracts from the refreshing nature of the cocktail.

Monday, 15 August 2011

My Favourite Daiquiris

Ask your bartender for his favourite cocktail and I'd wager that at least half the responses would be "Daiquiri, straight up". The Martini may be more evocative, the Manhattan more sophisticated, but no drink is so beloved behind the bar as the Daiquiri, the peasant prince of rum cocktails. There are good reasons for this widespread celebration: rum and lime form one of the most congenial matches ever formulated, a well-made version is simultaneously refreshing and complex, and, perhaps most importantly for a tired bartender, you can make it in about 25 seconds.
There are essentially three classes of daiquiri, divided not by form but by quality: one is the frosted, syrup-infused rum slushy that has multiplied like a virus throughout the family restaurants and dive-bars of America. These we'll ignore. The second category consists of respectable rum sours, served in any way, into which I'd place juice-heavy straight-up versions or well-made fresh fruit Daiquiris. The final, and my preferred, category contains the serious, rum-focused cocktails that descend from Embury's 8-2-1 Daiquiri from 1948. The abiding principle uniting this disparate class is that the modifiers, the citrus and the sweetener, should not be equal co-partners in the drink but instead exist to temper and accentuate the qualities of good rum, much like the sugar and bitters in an Old-Fashioned. A good rule: if it's going down with easy deliciousness, then you've got a good rum and lime sour. When each stinging cold sip reveals the rich, bittersweet flavours of the rum, before imperceptibly retreating into a mouth-wetting finish of slightly sugared lime juice, then you've got yourself a true Daiquiri. And that's something to treasure.

So, how then do you tell them apart?   Here are the archetypal examples of each category.

The 'Rum Sour' Daiquiri

Daiquiri straight up

2 shots/50ml rum (Havana Club 3yr)
1 shot/25ml lime juice
1/2/12.5ml shot gomme syrup (2:1)

Shaken hard and fine strained into a chilled cocktail glass. No garnish.

Plenty of lime juice, balanced with plenty of sweetness. Chilled and Now, don't get me wrong, a drink made to this recipe will be delightful, incredibly refreshing and, on a hot beach, almost always the right choice (particularly, on the rocks). But it doesn't quite capture the essence of a Daiquiri.

Here's the classic:

Embury's Daiquiri

2 shots Cuban rum (Havana Club Anejo Blanco)
1/2 shot lime juice
1/4 shot gomme syrup

This is very much the sign of a serious rum drinker. Like many of Embury's formulae, it's dry and alcoholic by modern tastes, but once you've worked up to it (and believe me, no-one really prefers it at first), it's a highly rewarding drink.

Here are my slightly more forgiving proportions for a true Daiquiri.

My 'True' Daiquiri

2.5 shots/~62.5ml rum (Havana Club 3yr)
3/4 shot/~17.5ml lime juice
1/3 shot/ gomme syrup

Shaken and fine strained into a chilled cocktail glass.

These specifications look punctilious, but, by God, do they deliver. A balance between Embury's super-dry 8-2-1 and Simon Difford's revised 10-3-2 proportions, when made to this recipe, your daiquiri should have just enough lime to accent the rum and just sugar enough to take the edge off the lime. Where the rum sour version exists for blazing, white beaches, this is the cocktail for the languorous sunset that follows, as the heat of the day dissipates and the busy sounds of the shore subside to the rocking of the waves. Where the former throws itself forth into the bounty of the day, the latter sits in easeful meditation.

There are, of course, countless cousins and variations within these families of Daiquiris; here are some of the best of each:

Rum Sours

Honey and Basil Daiquiri

2 shots aged rum (Havana Club Anejo Especial or 7yr)
3/4 shot lime juice
1/2 shot honey water
4 basil leaves

Shake and fine strain into chilled coupe. Garnish with a basil leaf.

This one blurs the boundaries between the two styles: it's very classic in concept and flavour, but the modifiers are less subordinate to the base than in a true Daiquiri. Highly drinkable and delicious, but not overtly focused on the rum.

Nuclear Daiquiri

1.5 shots Wray Nephew Overproof
1 shot lime juice
3/4 shot green chartreuse
1/4 shot Velvet Falernum

Shake and fine strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with lime and approach with caution

This one is, to an extent, 'about the rum'. However, it's not really interested in developing the nuances of a fine spirit; rather, it starts with a rock-star of a rum, half malevolence half scruffy seduction, and then goes looking for some equally disreputable and potent friends. Fiery, full-flavoured and more dangerous than poking a bear while wearing a suit made of steaks.  A heavy metal Daiquiri to Embury's jazz.

'True' Daiquiris

Floridita Daiquiri 1

2 shots white rum (1.5 Havana 3yrs, 1/2 Rhum Barbancourt)
1/2 shot lime juice
1/2 shot grapefruit juice
1/4 shot gomme
1/4-1/8 shot maraschino (Luxardo)

Shaken and fine strained into a chilled coupette. Garnish with a lime wedge.

A great drink. Individually, grapefruit and maraschino are difficult to love at firs, yet paradoxically, together they're instantly charming. This drink, or at least something very similar, was first mixed at La Floridita in Havana by Constantino Ribalaigua, one of the great masters of the Daiquiri. The use of Cuban rum is, of course, mandatory, but a little splash of rhum agricole (one of my favourite tweaks in a rum cocktail) develops the funk of the maraschino, producing if not a more harmonious, certainly a more beguiling blend.

Floridita Daiquiri 2

2 shots white rum (Havana Club 3yr)
1/2 shot lime juice
1/2 sweet vermouth (Martini & Rosso)
1/4 shot creme de cacao (Marie Brizard)
1/8 shot grenadine

Perhaps my favourite ever Daiquiri. There is a related drink, the Mulata, using only rum, cacao and lime, but this is a serious improvement. While the Mulata tastes predominately of rum with a hint of cocoa, the vermouth and a touch of grenadine add a wonderful richness to the Floridita. Like its counterpart, the second Floridita is a delicate balancing act; both feature powerful ingredients, maraschino and cacao, that, to paraphrase Ted Haigh, have to be used"like machine guns": sparingly. It's also one of the rare cocktails where theoretically better ingredients will sometimes fall flat: Mozart Dry, a great unsweetened chocolate distillate, simply doesn't quite work, and, believe me, I've tried almost every vermouth going in this drink and good ol' dependable Martini & Rosso is the best here. Definitely an evening Daiquiri, perfectly suited to slow sipping.

Hemingway Special or Papa Doble

4 shots white rum (3 shots Havana Anejo Blanco, 1 shot Trois Rivieres Blanc)
1.25 shots lime juice
1 shots grapefruit juice
1/2 shot maraschino
1/2 shot gomme (optional)

Either shake with crushed ice or blend with cubed ice, and pour unstrained into chilled coupe. Garnish with lime wedge.

Another Ribalaigua recipe in disguise, this oversized Daiquiri was created and named for Ernest Hemingway - hardened drinker, crappy author. A diabetic, he took his cocktails with as little sugar as possible. A manly sort (read The Old Man and The Sea or Death in the Afternoon, it's like being pummeled by a giant, anthropomorphic jockstrap), he also took his cocktails as doubles. Hence, Papa Doble. It's essentially a double Floridita served frozen. Most commentaries on the Hemingway will tell you to adjust the drink to include a touch of sugar and, in all fairness, this is probably correct. A Hemingway sans sugar is certainly an experience every drinker should enjoy, but no-one expects you to do it regularly. The original drink specified even less sweetness, with only 6 drops of maraschino. If you enjoy eating limes like oranges, go ahead. With a little extra sugar, however, this is superb cocktail, certainly one of the best ever frozen drinks.

Daiquiri de Jerez

1 shot white rum (Havana Club 3 yr)
1 shot golden rum (Appleton 8)
3/4 shot lime juice
1/2 shot Amontillado sherry
1/4 shot orgeat syrup
1/8 shot grenadine

Shaken and fine strained into a coupe. Garnish with a flamed orange twist.

The imaginatively named Daiquiri of Sherry, this is my own modest contribution to rum-focused Daiquiris. On paper, it looks pretty busy, but every ingredient is there to accentuate the rum. The sherry adds a nuttiness sweetness, complementing the almond syrup and the flavours of the Appleton, while the Havana Club cuts through the richness with  its own grassy freshness. I am pretty damn biased, but it is pretty damn good.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Raw Deal: Egg Whites in the Mixed Drink

People nowadays are a cautious lot. Salmonella, secondhand smoke, Piers Morgan - the world teems with hidden dangers. I'm even a little scared of sitting opposite the elderly on trains - what if they cough in my direction? Really, it's no wonder the fashion for paranoia has caught on so well. Aside from the hysterical media coverage that floats behind any new scare, I'm sure this has some correlation with the irritating, modern propensity to live forever. In the good old days, people just died all over the shop and no-one really took notice. When everything could and did kill you - a splinter, the winter, stealing a sheep - panicking at every possible threat would start to be a little exhausting. Nowadays, from our cushy synthetic ivory towers, anything unprocessed and organic can seem to carry the terror of contagion. However, even within our neurotic utopia (neutopia?), it's time to see fresh egg whites returned to the bar. If a complete pussy like me will happily drink down three or four disguised in a cocktail, then you can too.
In my childhood, the idea of consuming a raw egg was roughly equivalent to falling in a lake or cutting off a thumb - the height of peril. These days, steeped in cocktail lore, the raw egg is an indispensable and beloved agent - it smoothes and elevates a mediocre sour, adds depth and body to complex aromatics and makes possible that most lauded example of Louisiana alchemy, the Ramos Gin Fizz. There are, of course, two major applications of the egg within cocktails, the frothy meringue provided by the whites and the rich, silky flips produced by yolks, but for today we'll focus on the former.
One of the most common concerns to arrest when first broaching the topic of eggs in cocktails is that of flavour. Most people don't salivate at the thought of combining scrambled eggs and whiskey (though, if you do, you've made it into my worldwide list of excellence) However, the egg white really plays no portion in the flavour of the drink - in fact, it's practically tasteless. If you've ever had an egg white omelette, you'll know this to be true. Instead, an egg white, when shaken, provides a smooth foam that adds wonderfully to texture and mouth-feel. The science behind this is fairly simple: an egg white is predominately protein; when shaken or blended, the protein is denatured or unravelled, thus creating a stiff foam. You've probably witnessed or made use of this property thousands of times before in baking. You might also know that an an acid, such as cream of tartar, helps to stabilise the foam; in the cocktail, lemon or lime juice, play a similar role, a happy coincidence since sours benefit so beautifully from its presence. The Pisco Sour, the Silver Fizz, the Clover Club are good drinks raised to elysian heights through the use of egg whites.
As for the possible dangers, there is apparently a 1 in 20000 chance of an egg being infected with salmonella according to the FDA.  Use only the white and the risk will be smaller. Use free range and the risk will be smaller still and, based on my experience, you'll get superior results. Obviously, store your eggs in the fridge. Finally, the fact that you're shaking it up with a dose of disinfecting alcohol (booze, it's the gift that keeps on giving) should alleviate most lingering concerns. For the truly timorous, there are pasteurised and powdered egg whites, which have absolutely zero chance of infection, but I'd rather go without than use them. I've never tried the latter, but regarding the former, they contribute nicely to mouth-feel, but tend not to provide the long-lasting, impressive foam. If you're still worried about fresh, personally I'd eschew egg whites entirely. For the more adventurous, read on for some recipes.

Ramos Gin Fizz

The king of egg white cocktails, this venerable fizz is transformed by both cream and egg white into a delicious, silky froth - almost an aromatic gin milkshake. Created by Henry C Ramos in 1888 New Orleans, the drink became so popular on carnival days that whole teams of shakers had to be hired to cycle the drink over 20 minutes and produce the requisite texture. Besides this being time-consuming and exhausting, one would have assumed this would have lead to a very diluted drink. Fortunately, the dry shake technique (a first shake sans ice) emulsifies the egg and cream beautifully without dilution. Then  a second good, hard shake with ice completes the process and chills to perfection.

2 shots gin (The sweeter Old Tom variety would have been traditional; Plymouth gin is a good substitute, as is Genever, the malty character of which works well with cream)
1/2 shot lime juice
1/2 shot lemon juice
3/4 shot gomme syrup (2:1)
1/2 shot milk
1/2 shot cream
1 egg white
3 drops orange flower water
2 drops vanilla extract or cardamom tincture (not traditional and completely optional)

Dry shake like a demon or blend the ingredients to a frothy consistency, and shake again with ice. When dry shaking, placing a shaker spring in with the ingredients and omitting the sugar until the cold shake helps to ensure a good foam. Pour an ounce and a half of soda into a chilled fizz glass without ice. Strain the contents of the shaker over the soda and add a couple of scant drops of orange flower water on top for an aromatic garnish (egg white can have a slightly less than appealing aroma, so all drinks containing it should have some sort of aromatic distraction)

Clover Club

One of the best uses of egg white in one of the most approachable and rewarding classic drinks. Traditionally made with raspberry syrup, grenadine is often substituted but I've found the tartness of fresh muddled raspberries to be the best of all. This version includes dry vermouth, adding a dash of herbal complexity that underlines its status as a classic. However, the primary notes of the drink are berries, citrus and smooth gin, topped with a thick raspberry meringue from the egg white.

1.5 shots gin (Plymouth)
5 raspberries muddled (or 3/4 shot raspberry syrup, in which case lose the gomme)
1/2 shot gomme syrup (2:1)
3/4 shot lemon juice
1/2 shot Noilly Prat dry vermouth
1 egg white

Muddle the raspberries, add the other ingredients and dry shake. Shake again with ice and fine strain into a chilled coupe. Express an orange twist over the foam and discard. Garnish with a raspberry on the rim.

The Alamagoozlum

Not just an obscure cocktail but a positively esoteric one, the Alamagoozlum seems to possess the perfect pedigree for an enthusiast's drink - rare ingredients, bold, challenging flavours and an improbable yet true back-story. The cocktail was supposedly invented by the illustrious financier and industrialist JP Morgan - yes, that one. The only time I've seen it on a menu is at the excellent Hawksmoor in London, which seems to have included it simply because it can. The drink features a rare example of the use of an egg white outside the sours category - here, the white is indispensable in smoothing out the strongly flavoured, heavily alcoholic constituents of the drink. I've slightly tweaked the drink by using Jamie Boudreau's innovative 'angostura scorch' technique, to toast the froth and add an aroma to complement the large quantity of bitters in the drink.

2 shots genever (Bols)
2 shots mineral water (or to taste)
1.5 shots yellow or green chartreuse
1.5 shots Jamaican rum (Wray Nephew Overproof)
1.5 shots gomme syrup (2:1)
1/2 shot angostura bitters
1/2 shot grand marnier
1 egg white

Dry shake, then shake again with ice and fine strain into a chilled coupe (perhaps three or four coupes to share). For the angostura flame, place a mixture half angostura, half overproof rum into an oil mister and carefully spray through a flame onto the egg white foam. Garnish with a pineapple wedge.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Smirk Drinks: 5 Less than Impressive Cocktails

Whichever side of the bar you're on, dignity and mutual respect are indispensable. A good bartender should never make a customer feel embarrassed by their drink order (and correspondingly a customer should not treat a bartender like their personal booze jockey). Cocktail quality and innovation are important, but for some people, a drink is just a fucking drink and that's okay. That said, there are certain cocktails so dismal, so irrevocably associated with high-end douchebaggery that even the most welcoming barkeep can only half-suppress a smirk as he makes them. We are, after all, only human. However, even these should be made well and with a smile, even if it's one with a hint of irony. These are the five worst offenders, alongside a recipe to make them in the best way possible and an alternative drink with similar flavours but which are less, erm, wrist-cuttingly abhorrent.

1) Apple Martini
One of the most popular and depressing orders in existence - the favourite of those attempting to adopt an air of chic sophistication. In fact,  As for the drink itself, the great flaw is the nigh impossibility to transfer fresh apple flavour to a cocktail. I once witnessed a bartender attempting to muddle a chopped apple to extremely little effect but the Appletini is predominately flavoured with liqueurs, which are generally pretty poor. A good rule is to stick away from any product with a name including the word "sour". There are a few decent liqueurs on the market, including Giffard and the ever-dependable Briottet, but even then the Appletini still has the problem of being a one note drink: effectively fortified apple liqueur. I've seen and sampled about a million appletini recipes, and they all taste like tangy apple syrup, of lesser or greater quality. A better choice would be either the Fuego Manzana, a tequila sour with chilli and apple, or more simply the Tatanka. The latter, a simple drink favoured in Poland, pairs apple juice and Zubrowka, a bison grass flavoured vodka, to great effect. Zubrowka sits uneasily in the vodka category, possessing a discernible and enjoyable taste. Ostensibly just a vodka and apple, the Tatanka succeeds on the basis of the unique flavour of Zubrowka, a mixture of woodruff, coconut and herbal almond, which works beautifully with apple.

Apple Martini

1.5 shots vodka
1/2 shot lemon juice
1/4 shot gomme syrup
1/2 shot briottet apple liqueur
3/4 shot pressed apple juice

Shake and strain, garnish with apple wedge (unsurprisingly)


2 shots zubrowka
2.5 shots pressed apple juice
1/4 shot lemon juice (optional)
1/4 shot ginger juice (optional)

Shake and strain over rocks.

2) Pornstar Martini
A cousin to the Appletini, the Pornstar is actually quite a fun concept for 5 seconds: a shot of champagne, followed by a passionfruit vodka sour and half of a fresh fruit. Then you drink one. The Pornstar Martini, based on passionfruit liqueur and vanilla vodka, encapsulates all of the tedious excess of eighties drinks repackaged in a martini glass and minus the inherent, endearing frivolity. Whereas a Sex on the Beach, sugary and bland though it is, at least conveyed a sense of "what the hell" fun, the Pornstar swaps this giddy kitsch for a kind of joyless, smutty bling, tinged with faux-sophistication. When a flash idiot with a fake tan states that they, "love cocktails", this is what they're talking about. In its place, I suggest the Hurricane, a sweet Tiki style drink from New Orleans, which also contains vanilla and passionfruit but happily won't corrode your soul.

Pornstar Martini

2 shots vanilla vodka (Stoli Vanilla)
1/2 shot vanilla syrup
1/4 shot passionfruit syrup
1/2 shot lime juice
The flesh of one passionfruit/ 1 shot passionfruit puree

Shake first 5 ingredients with ice and strain into cocktail glass. Float a half passionfruit and serve with a shot of champagne.


1 shot white rum (Havana Club)
1 shot dark rum (Gosling's)
3/4 shot lime juice
1/2 shot galliano
1/2 passionfruit syrup
1 shot orange juice
2 shots pineapple juice
2 dash angostura bitters

Shake and strain over rocks in a hurricane glass. Garnish with orange, cherry and pineapple, plus an inside out cocktail umbrella (clever, no?)

3) Dirty Vodka Martini
The only cocktail on the list, which actually has some sort of relation to the original Martini and yet (perhaps because of this) it besmirches its honourable relation more than any other. Although I'm willing to abide the existence of a regular Vodka Martini (though I wouldn't necessarily bother drinking one), this brine-laced abomination is unjustifiable. Even more so than the drinks above, this cocktail marks out a pretence to style.Especially when ordered "extra dry". Vodka and olive brine: it defies explanation. In fact, there is no way to make this drink decently, even by its own standards. No recipes here.

4) Sex on the beach
As aforementioned, the Sex on the beach is too preposterous to truly resent as much as its sleeker, smugger descendants. The internal reaction to an order nowadays is more one of incredulity than disdain. Nonetheless it's very much the original embarrassing cocktail, so it certainly earns its inclusion. In its place, I recommend the Delicious Sour, one of the first award-winning cocktails from the nineteenth century. It's fruity, it's refreshing and it's even got peach liqueur.

Sex on the beach

2 shots vodka
1 shot creme de peche de vigne
1.5 shots cranberry juice
1.5 shots fresh orange juice
1/2 shot lime juice

Shake and strain over rocks in a highball. Garnish with orange wheel and pineapple wedge... and cherry and umbrella...  and lime and...

The Delicious Sour

2 shots calvados or Laird's Bonded Applejack
1 shots creme de peche de vigne
1 egg white
1/2 shot lime juice
1/2 shot lemon juice
1/4 shot sugar syrup (2:1)

Dry shake to froth up the egg white and then shake again with ice. Strain over rocks in a highball, add a dash of soda and garnish with mint and a cherry.

5) Tequila, Salt, Lime
Ok, technically not a cocktail, but it's certainly an aberration at the bar and, considering the inevitable ceremony that goes on (one drinker gamely refuses tequila for about 4 seconds, another revving everyone up like they're about to leap out of a jet into a warzone), perhaps the most annoying. There's nothing wrong with the odd round of shots; there's nothing really too wrong with twelve rounds of shots, but the ludicrous performance of licked hands and the wincing bite into a lime wedge is truly unconscionable. It's a bizarre tradition, book-ending an implicitly devil-may-care, swaggering action with techniques designed to minimise the experience of the alcohol as utterly as possible. They don't do it in Mexico, y'know. The usual justification for the whole fiasco is that it's a necessity to get bad tequila down. Here's an idea: stop drinking bad tequila. Mixto tequila (any tequila without the 100% agave certification) can legally contain e as little as 51% agave distillate - the remainder generally being filled out by cheaper alcohols. That's largely why tequila has a reputation for inducing hangovers. A decent 100% blanco tequila can be shot without salt and lime. You could even try sipping it.

Tequila Shot

Shot glasses
100% agave tequila (El Jimador Blanco is my choice here, it's reasonably priced, tasty but not so complex as to be wasted in a shot)

Pour. Drink. And, just to prove that tequila has a life beyond shots and margaritas, follow it with this slow sipper.

Tequila Old Fashioned

2.5 shots Ocho Reposado
1/2 shot agave syrup
2 dash xocolatl mole bitters
1 dash Angostura Orange butters

Stir slowly over ice in an old-fashioned glass. Garnish with a lime twist.


Possibly the one surprising absence from my list would be the much-derided Cosmopolitan. Although it may be over-ordered and often badly made, it's certainly not a terrible cocktail. In truth, it's quite a neat drink - pleasantly citrussy and sharp, with plenty of complex orange notes from the Cointreau and flamed garnish. So here's the Cosmopolitan restored.

1.5 shots Absolut Citron
3/4 shot Cointreau
1/2 shot lime juice
3/4 shot cranberry juice

Shake and strain into a coupette. Garnish with flamed orange zest. It's really quite good.

PS Stop ordering Lychee Martinis too

Sunday, 31 July 2011

The Low-down: 10 Reasons your cocktail tastes awful

After an exceedingly benevolent and tolerant post on Martinis, it seems only fair to redress the balance with a counterpart full of scowling reprimand and unabashed cantankery. In this vein, here are the 10 favourite blunders, committed by the professional and home bartender alike, that ruin liquors that have been loving crafted over months years or even decades and reduce them to lifeless faux-alcopops. (Note that I'm not certain that there are exactly 10 reasons, but 10 is a nice round number, so if they start to get a little weak towards the end, I'm afraid it means reason had to bow to rhetoric)

1) Under-iced drinks. Good cocktails demand good ice and plenty of it. If the drink is shaken or stirred, fill up the shaker tin. Then add a few more cubes for luck. If the drink is served with ice, fill up the glass past the rim. Paradoxically (at least, for the very, very stupid), more ice means less dilution and more chill. Always shake with large, 'dry' ice cubes and serve with the same if on the rocks. Except for certain drinks (a shaken caipirinha, original recipe Mai Tai), strain the shaken drink onto fresh ice in the glass. Some have even taken to hand carving huge blocks of perfect ice into spheres, but only attempt this if in serious deficit of a life. (I did).

2) Under-shaken drinks. Perhaps the most unforgivable sin on the list. Whereas every other mistake can be down to honest ignorance, this is always down to laziness and disregard for both the drink and the customer.  Go on, scout around Youtube for a couple of minutes to find the kind of spineless, floozy-flirting, work-shirking, pretentiously-tattooed, shaven-headed fucking weasel cunt bartender who thinks that a couple of seconds lamely waggling their wrist around constitutes shaking a cocktail. And if that sounds excessive, think on this. At a bar, you purchase your drinks for many, many times their retail price point. If it's a cocktail, the price gap is even higher. So, if you see a bartender under-shaking feel perfectly free to speak your mind. Seriously, that's the one time, you are entirely in the right. An under-shaken drink is harsh, badly mixed and under-chilled. Shake very hard for about 10 seconds. A little longer for drinks with egg white or cream and a little less if shaking with crushed ice. A vigorous vertical shake, in which the contents move up and down through the shaker, will aerate the drink more, while a side shake will (in my experience) generate more intense chill.

3) Stale vermouth. If you wander into a bar with opened, dusty bottles of vermouth on the shelves, tread very carefully indeed when composing your drink order. While those venerable old bottles of pungent aperitif may lend a bar a sense of shabby character, the contents will have deteriorated significantly over the years. In fact, one of the key reasons for the slow striptease of the Martini to naked dry gin was the presence of sub-par, poorly stored vermouth. Unless the bar can be expected to go through a bottle pretty damn quickly (lots of Manhattans ordered or a vermouth-heavy house cocktail list are good signs), then eschew a shelved bottle. The actual use-by advice for vermouth varies greatly, depending upon whom you ask, although it's generally agreed that dry is more volatile than sweet. As a rule, if you can, keep both in the fridge, taste them straight now and again and use the former within two months, the latter within three to four. Past a year, it'll be drinkable but you'll wonder why you bothered.

4) Fresh ingredients. The rationale behind this is obvious and yet the lack of uptake is still startling. Sour mix, the bane of good drinks, is luckily far less prevalent in Britain than elsewhere, but if you do see almost anywhere on the list, stick to a beer. Sour mix has a chalky, one note flavour that renders a cocktail made with otherwise good ingredients into spiked lemonade. Which is less pleasant than it sounds.
However, even without the crutch of sour mix, British bartenders still have to answer for desiccated lime wedges and days old "fresh" juices. Some tests have suggested that four hour old lime juice is preferable to just squeezed; good news for most high volume, high quality cocktail bars, which squeeze mountains of citrus at the start of each evening. In a perfect world, these would be refrigerated throughout service and then discarded. Having tasted cocktails made with fresh juice and two-four hour old juice, my personal preference is for the former, but the second is still good and the only achievable option for some very busy bars. Juice beyond a few hours old will start to taste brackish and bitter, discernibly ruining the drink.

5) No blue curacao. Somewhere in this wonderful, endlessly surprising world of ours, there probably is a boutique brand of quality blue curacao, distilled with the finest orange peels and infused with Keatsian azure, but I'm fairly sure that no actual human has ever acquired a bottle.

6) Use simple syrup. Amazingly, sugar does not dissolve in iced up rum as readily as it does in, say, tea. Thus a drink made with sugar will be unevenly sweetened. This is particularly galling in unshaken drinks. A mojito with clumps of grain sugar resting in its unhappy depths to be sucked up by a straw is a truly depressing experience. So, just use simple. One to one syrup will go off faster than two to one, but will pour much more fluidly. The one advantage to using undissolved sugar is abrading citrus peel in drinks such as the Old Fashioned or the Caipirinha. Even then, my advice would be to use syrup, but if you really want to get all the oils out of your twist, at least use caster which will dissolve far more easily.

7) Poor pouring. There are a few bartenders in the world who might be able to free pour exactly 5ml every time. Nine times out of ten, the guy who's serving you is unlikely to be one of them. Neither are you, unless you're willing to practice everyday. Adding to the inherent, human inaccuracy, some liqueurs pour slower than others and pour spouts can be clogged. For the sake of fun and adaptability, I've learnt to free pour well, but I am, at heart, a jiggerer and, time allowing, strongly advise others to follow this path. Some drinks can survive or even thrive with variation more than others, but even then it's better to know exactly how you're varying the drink.

8) Bad liquor. You get out what you put in and a cocktail is no hiding place for inferior spirits. This doesn't necessarily mean pouring 18 year old scotch or rum (though in the right, spirit-focused drink, even these esteemed liquors could shine). Good gin and to a lesser extent good rum are readily available at fair prices - expensive does not always mean better, but very cheap almost inevitably means worse. It's not only quality that's of importance: the characteristics of some very good products are simply unsuitable for certain drinks. A gin that works beautifully in a Martini may be terrible in a sour or a G&T. Of course a drink like a Manhattan will more noticeably rise or fall on the quality of its base, but even a Pina Colada, with its heavy mixers of pineapple and coconut, can be perfected with the right blend of good rums. Ironically, one of the most commonly 'called'  liquor choices (specifying a superior brand) at a bar is vodka, which past the 'Smirnoff point' is unlikely to improve a mixed drink.

9) No bitters. Bitters are rather akin to the seasoning in a drink. They bring out the inherent flavours of the drink, adding depth and complexity. The original cocktail was simply spirit, sugar, water and bitters. In the nineteenth century, a great many American bars would manufacture their own house bitters - this may have been a golden age of variety and excellence, or one of inconsistency, which was ended by the success of superior industrial bitters (Bokers, Angostura) produced by specialists. In any case, a couple of decades ago Angostura, Peychaud's and Fee's were the only major bitters available. Currently, however there is a renaissance in bitters production with from spiced chocolate and dandelion and burdock to cinnamon and walnut. One could easily acquire an exotic repertoire of twenty or thirty bitters, but, in truth, even just a few dashes of good old Angostura can be all one needs to radically improve a cocktail.

10) Warm glasses. In all fairness, this one applies mostly to straight up drinks served without ice. Ideally even rocks drinks would have pre-chilled glasses, but unless the bar is willing to install 10 freezers, this is next to impossible. Coupettes, however, should always be chilled, hopefully in the freezer.