Monday, 28 September 2020

A cocktail in a can—without the cocktail

A Champagne Cocktail made with items from the kit

Despairing of face-to-face get-togethers for the time being, a friend held a virtual birthday party last night. While Zoom may be efficient for business meetings, it’s hard to use it for general socialising, and she enhanced the organisational side of things by laying on live entertainment. She also sent everyone packages of strange costume items plus some sparkling wine, accompanied by a “cocktail kit”.

Given that the kit itself didn’t actually include any booze, it was enterprising of the manufacturers (The Cocktail Box Company) to find anything to put in it at all, but their efforts were endearing. It was for a Champagne Cocktail, and the pleasantly Olde World tin contained three cocktail picks for “your desired garnish” (not included), some sort of coke spoon, some instructions, a smaller tin neatly holding six cane sugar cubes, and the star of the show—three bottles of bitters. There is even a burlap coaster.* The instructions tell you so soak the sugar cube with bitters in the glass and top up with Champagne: they don’t actually mention the Cognac that traditionally goes in before the Champagne, yet they earnest have you use the tiny spoon to stir five times clockwise then five times anticlockwise. Given that the sugar is left intact to dissolve gradually, I’m not sure what we’re actually stirring together here, but if you decide to add brandy as well then I guess the spoon will prove useful. The packaging advertises that it serves six, though of course there are only three picks, so I guess it’s designed for tag-team drinking (and you’ll all have to squabble over the coke spoon).

I’ve not tried Scrappy’s Bitters before, and in this cocktail the the Aromatic Bitters struck me as classic, Angostura-style, but warmer and more complex—vividly fruity and smoky, with notes of orange peel, cardamom and cinnamon to the fore, though the tiny 5ml bottle is too small to list any ingredients and Scrappy’s website doesn’t give anything away. This was complemented by two smaller 2ml bottles, one of lavender bitters and one of “black lemon” bitters. The lavender made rather an intriguing variation on the cocktail, with a strong lavender note that tricked me into thinking that there was honey in there too—and I guess you could make the cocktail with honey rather than sugar. The lemon bitters made less of an impression, though perhaps you need to be more generous with that one. The bottle smells of lemon, perhaps preserved lemon, if you’ve ever tried making that, though the website explains that a “black lemon” is actually a kind of dehydrated lime used in Middle Eastern cooking, which they describe as earthy and smoky. Confusingly, the bitters does not actually have any black lemon in it, just attempts to evoke those aromas and flavours.

The Cocktail Box Company range also includes an Old Fashioned—the delightful packaging of which looks just like a Penguin Classic paperback (see picture): the others in the range keep the styling but vary the main colour—containing sugar and three types of bitters; a Moscow Mule, with grapefruit and lemon bitters, plus sachets of ginger syrup and lime juice; a Margarita, with orange bitters plus sachets of “margarita syrup” (orange flavoured?) and lime juice; a Mai Tai, again with lime juice and orange bitters, along with “Mai Tai syrup”, which I assume is coconut-flavoured. Finally there is a Gin and Tonic kit. Some will argue that a G&T isn’t really a cocktail as such, but the big question is what such a kit could contain, given that it has neither gin nor tonic in it. The answer is orange and lavender bitters (not lemon, surprisingly) plus lime juice and tonic syrup.

So the idea is that you are using your kit somewhere where there is booze, plus access to soda water, but not to any other mixers—such as tonic water for the G&T or ginger beer for the Moscow Mule. I’d be curious to know if this came about from experience, and the feeling that this was a real need to be answered, or whether the idea of the kit came first, followed by some head-scratching about what could possibly be included. Tonic syrup is not a new thing, and a combination of soda and, say, the Battersea Quinine Cordial, produces a result not really like commercial tonic water. You can also use the syrup neat, without soda, plus gin and lime juice to create a short “GT Turbo” cocktail—I wonder if that is what the Cocktail Box people had in mind with this kit, as you wouldn’t normally put lime juice in a G&T (although you might well garnish it with a slice of lime). I haven’t had a chance to try any of the other kits, so I don’t know what these syrups are like, nor how the lime juice is preserved (and how that might affect its flavour).

The three bitters in the Champagne Cocktail set, plus the three cocktail picks

You get the idea that these kits are intended to appeal to business travellers who always want to have the wherewithal to make the perfect cocktail as they sit in their lonely hotel room with only a bottle of spirits for company—you can even buy replacement lime juice and syrup sachets. But I wonder whether the main market isn’t people looking to give cute gifts to other people who like cocktails.

Would I recommend the cocktail box? If you’re looking for a cute gift for a cocktail-lover then I think the attention to detail will please. At £18 the kit is not cheap, but you’d pay £20 to £25 for a full 150ml bottle of the bitters, so it’s a handy way to try out three from the range.

* The coaster sadly has a logo sewn on, made from some shiny, plasticky material that actually causes it to stick to the bottom of your glass when you lift it up, but once this label has been removed it is absorbent enough to work well.

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Test Valley Gin

In the Hampshire market town of Romsey to visit my elderly mother-in-law a few weeks ago, we were hunting for lunch among the tentatively opening shops (it’s a place with an ageing population, so I guess they have to be careful in COVID times). In a deli that I’d not set foot in before I noticed a display of local gins (inevitably these days, I suppose). One that caught my eye was Test Valley Gin, from Wessex Spirits.

They don’t give much away on the label other than that the botanicals include fresh herbs—I wondered if these were infused post-distillation, as the gin has a pale yellow hue. The gin’s website doesn’t elaborate much more, other than to mention fresh basil and thyme specifically (and they do indeed use the word “infused”).

Uncork the bottle and you are not overwhelmed by aroma—maybe a hint of orange. In the glass the bouquet is herbaceous with a sweet and aromatic angle. Knowing that there is thyme involved I can believe that this is the source, and perhaps the basil contributes to the sweet fragrance. I happen to have a sprig of fresh thyme to hand from the garden, and the fragrance is not the same, but related. There is a savoury woodiness too, and something vaguely salty like olives—in this respect the gin reminds me somewhat of Gin Mare. And as it opens up in the glass I’m sure I’m getting off wafts of something low and honky like bananas.

So a pretty complex nose. On the tongue it is immediately soft and sweet, with a delicate sappy herbal note, lingering pungently like watercress, and a sugary weight. Despite being diluted to a bottling strength of just 37.5% ABV (the minimum permissible for a gin, so I guess done to keep the duty as low as possible) it has a respectably long finish.

I try Test Valley in a Martini with Belsazar Dry vermouth: straightaway there seems to be a natural harmony between the herbaceous character of the gin and the botanicals in the vermouth, with the two ingredients forming a continuum, a wide vegetal vista on the tongue, plus a sweet, buttery mouthfeel. I initially mixed and tasted it without chilling, and I would say that any application of ice—whether shaken or stirred—has the disadvantage of of diluting what is already a fairly dilute gin, washing away some of the flavour. (Some stronger gins actually benefit from a bit of dilution and only really come into their own with a bit of ice, but not this one.) A solution might be what DTS calls the Diamond Method, keeping the gin in the freezer, but at 37.5% ABV I think that Test Valley Gin would start to freeze, unless you are able to have a dedicated booze freezer set to an ideal temperature.*

I also try a Negroni, though the results are less exciting. The gin certainly harmonises with the vermouth and Campari, but at equal parts it gets a bit lost, and even at 1½ parts gin it’s still hard to pick out.

A Test Valley G&T with prescribed thyme garnish

Although Test Valley do suggest a Martini as a suitable serve, their first choice is a G&T, garnished with a spring of thyme. It certain works, with that herbal character sitting comfortably with the tonic (Fevertree Light is my go-to). But I do find you have to add quite a bit of gin before the distinct flavour comes through—again this is probably a reflection of the niggardly ABV. So in my opinion a Martini is probably the best platform for this gin, making an intriguing and savoury beverage.

* Of course this is something you can turn to your advantage. I first discovered this issue with Bombay Dry/Bombay Original, which I prefer to Bombay Sapphire. In the past it was hard to come by in the UK, but when you found it it was a respectable ABV; now it has been relaunched here as the brand’s entry product they have reduced the strength to 37.5% to keep the price down. In order to avoid further dilution from ice, I tried keeping it in the freezer and found that it does indeed start to form ice crystal inside the bottle. However, I realised that if I quickly emptied the liquid contents into a jug, warmed the bottle to melt the ice left inside, poured the meltwater away, then decanted the gin back into the bottle, I had simply removed some of the water, leaving a higher ABV gin behind. Sure enough, after doing this a couple of times the problem goes away, as the residual liquid is presumably now alcoholic enough to resist freezing—and you end up with a more concentrated flavour.

However, I don’t know if some flavour component might be lost with the ice. So it occurs to me now that, instead of melting the ice then just pouring it away, you could actually use that meltwater to make ice cubes that you could then use to make your Martinis! Crikey, sometimes my genius astounds me.

Sunday, 20 September 2020

Drinking off the land

The final version

Of course foraging is a bit of a Thing these days (doubtless part of the whole trend for “artisan” everything, slow living, etc). But I still find it rather uplifting to be able to cook with and eat something I have just found growing wild. It doesn’t come up much here in London, but often on holiday in more rural bits of Britain I’ll be able to gather wild garlic or marsh samphire (and, on one occasion, rock samphire—though I wouldn’t recommend that). This time round, while stomping around Cornwall’s Penwith peninsula (the most westerly part of mainland Britain) we were surrounded by blackberry bushes—every country path was bordered by them and they are equally happy popping up at the edge of a car park or road. These wild ones were not generally as sweet as the huge commercial ones you can buy in supermarkets, but it did seem a waste not to do something with them.

The Mk I with berries but no mint

So I made myself a sort of Bramble cocktail. This Dick Bradsell creation is normally made with gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup and crème de mure, but I used fresh blackberry juice instead of the liqueur. It worked pretty well, though I think you have to get the balance between gin and fruit right, to keep the juniper in its place. (I was using Tanqueray.)

But we also found fresh water mint growing by a stream near to where we were staying: it was rather tasty, with a zippy, almost mentholic mint flavour. So my next experiment was a sort of Southside Fizz—gin, lime juice and sugar syrup as before, but this time with about a heaped teaspoon of mint, chopped then muddled with the lime and syrup, before adding the gin, ice and—in the absence of soda water—a little tonic. (Without the mixer it is just a Southside.) This was actually more successful, with the mint flavour clear and refreshing.

But the best was yet to come. For my final experiment I combined both of these ideas into one cocktail—to great effect, I felt, as the blackberries and the mint have a natural harmony. (I also felt the that the blackberries sat more comfortably with the gin, which may just mean I got the proportions right: sadly I had no measuring equipment with me, so the proportions here are an estimate.)

The Mk II, Southside Fizz

Forager Cocktail

45ml gin
Juice of half a lime
About 1–1½ tsp sugar syrup
1 heaped tsp chopped water mint (although I’m sure it would work with other kinds of mint)
About 30 wild blackberries (fewer if using larger commercial berries)

Add the mint to a glass with the syrup and lime juice and muddle to extract the flavour. Add the berries and muddle until reduced to a pulp. Strain (rubbing through the strainer if necessary, to release all the juice) into another glass, filled with ice, or into a shaker and shake with ice then pour into a cocktail glass. Garnish with mint, a lime wedge, or a blackberry. I was constructing this in the kitchen of a rented cottage, so I had no shaker or special equipment, but I imagine you could use a food processor to purée the berries, but they will still need straining, as they contain a lot of seeds.

Saturday, 27 June 2020

A cocktail fit for a Queen

Recycling again. I liked this Charles Merser & Co. Rum bottle so much I hung on to it after I drank its contents, and I’ve now had the perfect opportunity to find a use for it: for my sister’s 50th birthday I knocked up a batch of this regal-looking cocktail.

(The name I’ve given the cocktail is a reference to Queenie in the TV sitcom Blackadder II—she’s a capricious Queen Elizabeth I with the soul of a toddler, whose response whenever someone suggests she can’t or shouldn’t do something is, “Who’s Queen?” This phrase became associated with my sister so long ago I can’t remember why…)

Although eminently suited to a golden jubilee, the concoction itself is actually based on a cocktail invented in 1935 for George V’s silver jubilee, called a Jubileesha. The original contains ⅔ gin and ⅓ “Lillet”, plus three dashes of orange bitters. At the time “Lillet” would have been Kina Lillet, an aromatised wine with quinine in it, so notably bitter. Kina Lillet was a popular cocktail ingredient back in the day but in the 1980s Lillet discontinued it and replaced it with the current Lillet range—it’s generally agreed that Lillet Blanc (sweet and orangey) isn’t the same thing. Even if you’ve never tasted Kina Lillet—which I haven’t, but many scholars have—you can tell from making vintage cocktails that Lillet Blanc doesn’t work in those recipes. There are various theories about what currently-available product is closest to Kina Lillet, and I feel that Cocchi Americano does seem to fill the gap—in the sense that, used in the same proportions in these vintage recipes, it creates balanced cocktails.

I actually wrote about this cocktail before, back in 2012 when we had a Candlelight Club event themed around the Queen’s jubilee that year. But I didn’t simply replace the Kina Lillet with Cocchi Americano—I actually used a half and half mix of Cocchi and Lillet Blanc. I can’t remember why I decided that a Lillet Blanc/Cocchi Americano blend worked better than just the Cocchi on its own—it’s quite exposed in this recipe, so maybe I decided that this blend dialled down the bitterness and added some needed sweet and fruity elements. I certainly feel that it works, though. As for the gin, this time round I actually tried four different gins that I had to hand, and concluded that Broker’s gin worked best. It’s a gin I intend to explore in greater depth.

So the recipe this time is:

Who’s Queen?
50 ml gin
12.5 ml Cocchi Americano
12.5 ml Lillet Blanc
3 dashes orange bitters
1 dash grapefruit bitters

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with strips of lemon and orange peel.

As you can see, for this bottled version we upped the ante by adding edible gold leaf, which creates a regal snow-globe effect when you shake the bottle. To serve this version you would shake the bottle to distribute the leaf, then pour out the desired quantity into a shaker, shake with ice and pour out—this time without fine-straining. Interestingly the gold leaf doesn’t seem to get stuck in the shaker as long as you pour it out vigorously.

Saturday, 30 May 2020

Hernö Pink BTL gin

Just as the lockdown was taking effect I had an email from Jon Hillgren of Hernö. I’m a big fan of their gin, which is classic in its profile but somehow manages to be more vivid and 3D than most. Jon announced he had “a bottle” he wanted to send me. When it arrived it turned out to be the new Pink BTL gin.

Pink BTL comes across as a gin with issues. You’ll notice that it is emphatically the bottle (or more specifically the label) that is pink, not the gin. Jon would have no truck with giving gin a silly colour. In fact the accompanying letter begins with the sentence “This is a no-bullshit gin” in large type, a phrase that is repeated on the label. I’m not sure if having the word “bullshit” on you label might offend some potential stockists or customers, but you have to admire Jon’s conviction. The label also states: “This is not a cocktail. Pink Gin is a cocktail. This is a pink bottle of gin.”

The letter goes on to bemoan that many producers are jumping on the gin bandwagon but offering products that aren’t really gin. So Pink BTL is an attempt to be creative with gin, offering the fruity, floral profile “that so many are asking for”, while emphatically staying true to the juniper-driven essence of what makes gin gin. In fact we are told that Pink BTL actually uses more juniper than the regular Hernö gin.

The letter explains that neutral grain spirit is infused with juniper, coriander and strawberries, heated to 60 degrees C and left for 18 hours. Then rose petals, cassia, black pepper, lemon peel and vanilla are added and the liquid resdistilled, one-shot, then diluted to bottling strength (42%) using water from Hernö’s own well.

On the nose resinous pine and lemon peel are up front, but lurking behind is a sweet strawberry fruit. It really is quite subtle—as if Jon was terrified of its becoming cloying. You almost feel as if Jon has approached this whole project against his will. But it’s a point worth making that if you buy this gin because you want a sweet, fruity drink—and perhaps you don’t really like gin—then you will be disappointed. In fact, to you, it will simply taste of gin.

On the palate it has a smooth, polished mouthfeel. The juniper is strong but not fierce, and behind there is gentle strawberry and black pepper on the finish.

I try a fairly Dry Martini, made with Belsazar Dry, in what looked like 10:1 proportions, though it could have been wetter. Juniper is still up front, but the vermouth adds an exotic saline finish, joining that black pepper again. The nose has a definitely creamy note—we’re looking at strawberries and cream! It’s a clever balancing act between the stern juniper rod of classic gin and a soft, flighty summer fruit angle from the strawberry and rose.

An Aviation made with Hernö Pink BTL
I wondered how the light florality would work in an Aviation (50ml gin, 12.5ml lemon juice, 12.5ml maraschino and about a teaspoon of crème de violette). As it turned out there was no risk of it becoming cloying in combination with the cherry and violet elements. In fact it makes a very grown-up cocktail, with a complex interplay of savoury and soft flavours. The dry steeliness of the juniper still underpins, with the black pepper helping to keep the drink’s feet on the ground, but the faint strawberry fruit floats behind that, interweaving with the rose and violet. This cocktail is a good one for assessing gins, not least because the sweet and sour elements (maraschino and lemon juice) are present in quite small quantities.

I’m interested to see what elements come out when served just with tonic water. It certainly makes a nice enough drink, though in fact the dilution is not especially transformative. It’s still reassuringly juniper-dominated, though you do sense the rose now.

I also try Pink BTL in a Corpse Reviver No.2 (gin, curaçao, lemon juice, Cocchi Americano and a dash of absinthe). It’s a tough gig for a gin, as it’s up against some powerful sweet, sour, bitter and pungent flavours. This one turns out to be a nice example of its kind, and the strong juniper backbone of the gin can be relied upon to keep any classic gin cocktail on the straight and narrow, but I wouldn’t say that Pink BTL shone in this combination.

Ultimately, although Pink BTL has a strong presence, the things that make it different are those fairly subtle notes of strawberry, rose and black pepper. As a final experiment I make a White Lady, skipping the egg white and reducing the quantities of curaçao and lemon juice by half—normally you’re looking at about 50ml gin and 25ml each of the other two, but I cut these to 12.5ml, along the same lines as the Aviation. Sure enough, this works. It’s not a classic White Lady but you can appreciate the character of the gin.

And it’s a character worth appreciating. In the right sort of cocktail, in the right proportions, it creates harmonies with thought-provoking subtleties. Out of the ones I tried, a straight Martini probably works best, but in the Aviation—or other cocktails constructed with similar proportions—it has a lot to give, and makes for an adult drink with summery echoes.

Thursday, 16 April 2020

Coke Signature Mixers: even better than the Real Thing

Trolling through the aisles in Sainsbury’s my eye was caught by these, and I remembered reading about the project. Coca-Cola have produced a range of four “Signature Mixers”, designed specifically to be mixed with dark spirits, created in association with mixologists. No.1 Smoky was created with Max Venning of Three Sheets in London. No.2 Spicy was created with Adriana Chia from La Antigua Compania de las India in Barcelona and Pippa Guy, head bartender of the American Bar in the Savoy. No.3 Herbal was created with Antonio Naranjo of Dr Stravinsky in Barcelona. No.4 Woody was created with Alex Lawrence of Dandelyan Bar in London. (Not sure why they are all from either London or Barcelona, but there you go.)

So I thought I’d give them a try. Having trooped out to buy all the recommended garnishes, I then got distracted for a few days before realising that these fresh ingredients weren’t going to last forever. Since the basil was looking a bit wilty, rather than going in numerical order, I started with…


With these drinks I was expecting subtle variations on the conventional Coke flavour, so I was surprised when this hit me on the nose with a pungent peppermint or spearmint thrust, with elements of fennel and dill. On the tongue there is more of the Coke taste, but still with a strong character of spearmint chews from the 1970s. (Mrs H. reminds me they were called Pacers. Gosh, that takes me back.) In fact there is no mint in it: it apparently has hops, dill seed, tagetes (a marigold native to Mexico) and lemongrass.

The prescription says to mix it with Cognac or Scotch and use a basil garnish. With Cognac it doesn’t quarrel but I don’t entirely get it. I can taste the two different things but they don’t seem to be on speaking terms. The basil leaf seems lost in all the spearmint woosh. Almost as an afterthought I try it with Scotch (Queen Margot 8-year-old, the multiple-award-winning juice from budget supermarket Lidl), and it goes surprisingly well. The malty rasp of the Scotch and the pungent herbs of the Coke make natural drinking buddies. Mrs H. isn’t so impressed, but in fact I actually find this combination rather exciting, as it’s not often I think that Scotch really works in mixed drinks.


This one smells more obviously like Coke, perhaps with a hint of chilli. It does have jalapeño, plus lime, ginger, rosemary and jasmine. If you focus you can pick up a floral hint from the jasmine. On the palate I’m struck by the sweetness. It tastes of classic Coke plus chilli and something like root beer. You can certainly find lime and ginger, though the latter does not seem prominent to me (but then the recommended garnish is root ginger, so you can dial it up that way). The recommended combinations are with golden tequila and Scotch. With the latter, I don’t really get it—it’s hard to strike a balance. I’m using Queen Margot 8-year-old again and apart from the smoke the rest of it gets a bit lost.

With tequila it’s a different kettle of fish. I would not normally think of mixing Coke and tequila, so I don’t immediately have anything to compare this to, but here the earthy agave notes mesh very neatly with the mixer. (I’m using Casamigos Anejo, as it’s the only aged tequila to hand.) Oddly at this point the chilli suddenly comes out, along with a note of orange, for some reason. This is a genuinely interesting combination, with new flavours continually emerging.


Again the nose is primarily Coke, but this time with a hint of sandalwood. The label says it has balsam and patchouli and on the palate I can agree those are there, but I don’t immediately get basil or yuzu, which are also listed. And as for what vetiver tastes like, I really don’t know what I’m looking for. However, after a while, once it’s opened up in the glass a bit, I do get basil—aromatic notes that seem to reinforce the resinousness of the wood, which is not how I would have thought of basil before.

The recommended pairings are with rum or bourbon. Rum and Coke is a fairly classic combo, but with Havana Club 7-year-old it’s a bit ho-hum. No exciting synergy, just dark sugar elements against the intrinsically sugary Coke backdrop. With bourbon, however, it is a different story. Bourbon and Coke, or at least Jack Daniels and Coke (and JD is actually a Tennessee Whiskey) is again a recognised Thing, but it’s not something I drink so again it is hard to say whether this Woody incarnation goes better than regular Coke. But when I mix it with Buffalo Trace there is an immediate harmony between the woodiness of the bourbon and that of the mixer.


This one has ylang-ylang, ambrette seed, Peru balsam, oak extract and guaiacwood, whatever that is. And this time as soon as you lever off the cap and put your nose to the bottle neck you can tell it is not normal Coke. It is smoky, in a BBQ sauce kind of way, but there is also something heavy and floral—perhaps the ylang ylang. This is dominant on the palate too, sweetly floral but with a spicy mid-range to it, plus a balsamic weight on the tongue. I have to say that it reminds me of some sort of fragranced fabric softener or cleaning fluid. In fact it smells like the inside of a chest of drawers at an elderly aunt’s house, perhaps because the dense floral smell is combined with the woodiness.

With dark rum it goes OK, the dark sugar sitting quite happily with the sweet fragrance, though I would say the two elements tolerate each other rather than being greater than the sum of their parts. The other recommended mix is with bourbon. This is pretty successful, with the wood and caramel notes of the whiskey happily at ease with the wood and sweet aromas of the Coke. Oddly this combo brings out a note of orange which for me now comes to the fore. Interestingly the prescribed garnish is indeed orange peel, though when I try adding this I feel it is now too much.

I think both of these mixes work well enough, though I can’t really get excited by either of them. Perhaps I’m just put off by the cloying nature of the Coke itself. Even Mrs H. couldn’t finish the centimetre that I left in the bottle for her to try.

There is one question, however, that I still have to answer. As I say, I almost never drink Coke, either as a soft drink or a mixer, so I need to establish if these fancy Cokes actually go any better with spirits than the regular version. Sure bourbon and regular Coke is not a million miles away from the bespoke Woody version, but Mrs H. and I both agree that the latter is preferable, if only because there is more going on, more nuances and harmonies. Mrs H. feels the regular Coke has a bitter finish by comparison and it does seem to be a bit of a dead hand on the drink compared to the Signature version.

Tequila and Coke is definitely not something I would think to drink normally, but for the sake of scientific enquiry I compare normal Coke with the No.2 Spicy version. I’ve run out of the Casamigos Anejo so I have to make do with a blanco. Again the version with regular Coke is not vile, but the blend with the Signature is more interesting, and bearing in mind that all these mixer Cokes are specifically designed to go with aged spirits we can safely assume that with aged tequila the match would be even neater.

With Scotch and No.3 the difference was most pronounced, not least because the spearmint flavour of the Coke is so distinctive. In this case the regular Coke comes across with a flavour of burned sugar with a bitter aftertaste. Odd as this mixer is, I would definitely say it blends better with Scotch whisky.

The project has clearly been a success for the Coco-Cola Corporation, because I gather that the mixologists who worked on these four products are now helping the company find the next generation of bartenders to collaborate on a second series of mixers.

While we’re on the subject of Coke, I was also given a sample of Fever Tree’s Madagascan Cola. This too is specifically intended as a mixer for dark spirits, rather than to be drunk on its own. They describe it as having a “delicate sweetness”, and it does come across as sweet, an impression enhanced by the prevalence of vanilla in its profile. With bourbon, up against bourbon with regular Coke, the latter seems to have more of an edge, a more noticeable lime note, again with a slight bitterness to the finish; the Fever Tree’s vanilla blended more easily with the wood flavours of the whiskey, and Mrs H. preferred it, though I’m not sure whether I wouldn’t find it a bit cloying after a while. With Wood’s Old Navy Rum I felt that with regular Coke you were more immediately aware of the rum, perhaps because with Fever Tree the two drinks blended together more easily, but you can definitely taste the rum there too. I think that rum and Coke is a more effective combo than bourbon and Coke anyway, so I felt that here it was more a question of taste, the high vanilla presence in the Fever Tree pushing it more in the direction of spiced rum.

Saturday, 21 March 2020

A cocktail for St Patrick's Day

I produced this on Tuesday, for St Patrick’s day, obviously, and should have posted it then, but what the hell. I was reminded of the garnish effect I accidentally produced with the Maid in Jalisco cocktail a few years ago—at the time it reminded me of a four-leaf clover and I made a mental note to do something shamrocky with it for St Paddy’s Day.

I’d received a promotional email from Difford’s Guide with some Irish whiskey drinks in it, and one included cucumber, which is what reminded me. Now while cucumber is to be found in and around gin all the time these days (see my recent posts on Caspyn and Hendrick’s), cucumber and whiskey are not obvious bedfellows. This recipe is called an Irish Maid and consists of:

Irish Maid
60ml Irish whiskey
15ml elderflower liqueur (St Germain is what I used, though I imagine cordial would work too)
20ml lemon juice
10ml sugar syrup
2 slices of cucumber

Muddle the cucumber in a shaker, add the other ingredients and shake vigorously with ice. The garnish is obviously optional, but you can tell I have time on my hands now with the corona virus stalking the land. (These are Difford’s proportions; others allow slightly more sugar, though I personally think it is quite sweet enough.)

The cucumber certainly makes its presence felt. The spiky elderflower is more subtle, though it’s a flavour that seems to merge seamlessly with the cucumber, in a savoury, herbal way. The lemon and sugar are just the classic cocktail sweet ’n’ sour building block, and the whiskey rises up behind with caramel warmth. It’s unexpected but it really works, and it all to easy to drink.

The cocktail is apparently derived from the Kentucky Maid, essentially a Mint Julep with added lime juice and cucumber. Two days ago when I went to the supermarket I found the shelves mostly empty (thanks to panic buying by hoarders—really this epidemic has brought out the worst in people). In the fresh veg section the only thing left was a large quantity of cucumber, so I see the promotion of cucumber-based cocktails as Doing My Bit. (In two different shops the only fruit they had left was grapefruit, so watch this space…)