Like half the nation I went to a street party today to celebrate the Royal Wedding. The hosts asked us to bring food, in particularly jelly. At the end of their instructions they added, "We're not joking about the jelly."
So I brought some jelly. But to add a twist I decided to make absinthe jelly. In the end I used a normal lime jelly cube pack, reduced the overall liquid content by about 20% and then replaced 20% of what was left with Butterfly absinthe. We poured it into a vintage domed jelly mould and left it overnight. Sadly in the morning it was clearly not firm enough to hold its shape, so I gave it a blast in the freezer before setting out. At the event the difficulty was getting it out so we left the mould on the table in the sun and checked it anxiously, wiggling it occasionally until it looked ready to come out. Well, it kept the shape of the mould for about 30 seconds before slowly collapsing into a puddle of green goo. We had brought along a flag to warn of curious children—this stuff if strong! In fact if I did it again I'd halve the amount of absinthe, partly in the hope that it would hold its shape but also because the flavour is pretty intense like this. That didn't stop certain guests wolfing it down by the spoonload. Here is a photo of the sorry mess, looking a bit like alien ectoplasm. Note the small fly that has landed on it and instantly expired…
Friday, 29 April 2011
Thursday, 28 April 2011
Curiosity Cabinet #7
Pisang Ambon Ice Mint
On a recent day-trip to the continent, among other goodies and joy-joys I came across Pisang Ambon Ice Mint, a cool-blue coloured liqueur.
Pisang Ambon Ice mint is the brother of the Original Pisang Ambon, a bright green banana-flavoured liqueur that features in a number of vintage cocktail books, so it's be around a while. It's currently produced by Lucas Bols.
1) Pisang Original A banana liqueur with a hint of citrus, it was invented over 60 years ago. The suggested serve is with Orange Juice or 7UP/Sprite; however, I seem to recall seeing a recommendation to mix it with milk somewhere; along with the tag line "don't drink it alone".
2) Pisang Guarana Lime - a purple mix of Lime and Guarana Berries; their own website describes it as having an "un-expected mysterious taste"
3) Pisang Ambon Ice Mint (what we are really here to talk about!)
The latest of the range and described as mint with a hint of vanilla. Suggested serves are with 7Up/Sprite (surprise surprise) or as a cooling shooter.
On its own
|Pisang Ambon Guarana Lime (l) and Original (Banana)|
It smells like vanilla mints or, for those of you in the UK, Murray Mints. There is also a strong menthol element. The initial flavour is extremely menthol, much more than your average crème de menthe, and you can feel it clearing you sinuses. There is a little creamy element at the end. The finish is of mouthwash. As a shooter, it's sweet, mentholated and with a touch of vanilla. It is fresh, in a way, and quite warming as it slips down your throat.
From the Freezer
You can't because it freezes.But you can drink the slush, which reminds me of Vick's VapoRub.
Ice Mint & Sprite
[50ml Pisang Ambon Ice Mint, 100ml Sprite]
Quite nice, quite fresh, citrus goes quite well but the mint is really, really, overpowering.
Ice Mint Collins
[10ml Vodka 20ml Pisang Ambon Ice Mint, 10ml lemon Juice, 60ml Soda Water]
Strong flavour of Murray Mints or Mint Humbugs, the lemon adds a fresh notes, an improvement on the Sprite.
Monday, 11 April 2011
|Some of the Old Tom gins we tasted, including a couple of homemade recreations|
But what did it taste like? In his cocktail book of 1930 “Jimmy” (“late of Ciro’s”) explains “the difference between Dry and Old Tom Gin is the same as between Dry and Sweet Ginger Ale, that is to say one is bitter and one is sweet. Plymouth Gin is half way between the two.” Mind you, Jimmy also says that grenadine is made from raspberries. (Who knows, perhaps it was then…)
A number of manufacturers are increasingly releasing Old Tom style gins, but there is plenty of dispute over what these should taste like. Some are simply sweetened with sugar, while Christian Jensen insists that this would have been too expensive at the time and that any perceived sweetness would have come from the botanical mix. (Others have argued that landlords may have sweetened gin on the premises, perhaps to ameliorate poor quality gin, and that it was therefore unlikely that the gin would have been sweetened by the manufacturer.) David Wondrich is of the opinion that Old Tom is a general term for something that would have evolved and diverged, fundamentally driven by the fact that before the introduction of the column still, capable of producing very pure “neutral” spirit, the base alcohol for early gins would have been crude and distinctly flavoured—indeed much of the botanical flavouring might have been there simply to try and make the spirit more palatable, as might any sweetening or deliberate ageing in wood (something which lies at the heart of whisky making). But the column still signalled a paradigm shift: masking of the base spirit flavour became unnecessary, botanicals could be used simply to add a desired flavour profile and gins became leaner. Genever, meanwhile, remained popular in the Netherlands, revelling in the malty taste of the “impurities” of the pot still alcohol itself.
|Kamil looking pale after ten Old Toms|
1. Both’s Old Tom Gin (47% ABV) Made in Germany, this spirit is intended as a reproduction of nineteenth-century Old Tom and sports a rather disturbing “flock” label featuring a cat. (One explanation for the name “Old Tom” comes from the story of Dudley Bradstreet, an exciseman who actually sold gin on the sly. On the outside wall of his house was a cat figure; the customer would put money in the cat’s mouth, at which gin was dispensed through a tube between the cat’s paws.) The nose is strongly of caraway and orange. That’s pretty much it, with the palate basically the same, with a middling sweetness. I rather like it, but then I like Akvavit. 8/10.
2. The Wondrich Method Wondrich’s own solution for recreating the taste of Old Tom is to blend modern gin with sugar and whisky. DBS made this sample using the roughest gin he could find, Richmond Gin. I can see the logic, but you’re unlikely to make a very nice concoction this way! This sample has a nose of orange and a bit of red berry; it’s a slightly dusty smell and rather synthetic like a perfumed hand-wipe. The taste is overwhelmingly sweet, again a bit berryish, and reminiscent of barley sugars. Not as noticeably malty as I would have expected, but I guess it depends on the proportions you use—DBS didn’t reveal his precise recipe. 3/10
3. Ransom Old Tom Gin (44% ABV) Made in Oregon—in consultation with Wondrich—this recreation goes down a very woody route, ageing the gin for 3–6 months in pinot noir barrels. Malted barley is used to give a whiskyish hint, combined with botanicals (juniper, orange peel, lemon peel, coriander seed, angelica root and cardamom) infused in corn spirit. The finished gin is a startling colour, looking more like whisky. The nose is strong and astringent, with heavy juniper grappling with orange and an underlying resinous hint like coal tar. Compared to the other samples this one was surprising also in that it was quite dry and austere, driven by pencil-lead juniper. 5/10
4. Secret Treasures Old Tom Style Gin, 2007 (40% ABV) Another German offering, part of Haromex’s Secret Treasures Collection, this sample was made in 2007. The nose is quite balanced between juniper, citrus, fennel and something slightly soapy, then finishing on vanilla and darker notes. There are interesting hints of cucumber skin and mushroom too. The palate is, like Ransom, surprisingly dry and, to me, disappointingly simplistic after that promising nose. Predominantly juniper/pine notes. 4/10
5. Wondrich Method (Oaked) Another batch cooked up by DBS following David Wondrich’s suggestion of adding whisky and sugar to London gin, but this time “oak aged” using whisky barrel wood chips in the bottle for 24 hours. As before this offering probably suffers from the poor quality of the base gin but the wood has smoothed it a bit. The nose is predominantly orange with a distinct butter undertow. The palate is still mostly about barley sugar; the oaking is subtle after only 24 hours but certainly not out of place, and adds a piney, resinous note. 3/10
6. Jensen’s Old Tom Gin (43% ABV) The nose has a soft, vegetal complexity, like ratatouille—sweet pepper and fennel, with darker, toasty wood notes, plus orange, lime and a sugary smell. This carries on to the palate but here there is also an odd character like the glue on envelopes, a sort of cellulose sweetness (if you’ve ever made the mistake of trying to use a kitchen paper towel as a makeshift filter for food or coffee you’ll know what I mean). There is a “thickness” to this gin, as if it were heavily sugared, even though Jensen’s principle is that it is the botanical mix that creates the sweetness rather than sugar. Having said that, it does not come across as particularly sweet. This gin is apparently based on a recipe from the 1840s. 6/10
7. Gin Xorigeur (38% ABV) An antediluvian curio, made on Menorca in the town of Mahon, where it was introduced by the British in the eighteenth century, and allegedly little changed since then. It is made from grape spirit, vapour-infused with the botanicals in a flavour box rather than macerating in the spirit, and aged in American oak barrels before bottling. Oddly, instead of producing a high ABV distillate which is then diluted for bottling, the liquid added to the still is actually a blend of spirit, wine and water, and what emerges is at bottling strength of 38%. In addition to juniper, citrus and fennel, it has a similar sawmill nose to Ransom, plus celery, something toasty, a sour spicy note and something akin to the inside of a rubber glove. The palate is dry, vinous and juniper-led, with celery and sweet pepper. It is perfumed and spiritous, rather than full-bodied (possibly because the botanicals are not macerated), finishing on juniper again. Desmond was clearly quite struck by this one and felt it probably came closest to historical Old Tom. 6/10
8. The Dorchester Old Tom, 2007 (40% ABV) Only available at the Dorchester Hotel, for whom it is made by William Grant (who also make Hendrick’s) so their barmen can make classic cocktails that call for Old Tom. The nose is big: lots of orange and (perhaps unsurprisingly, given the Hendrick’s connection) masses of rose, plus woody spice—cinnamon, or perhaps sandalwood or even camphor wood. The palate is heavy and seductive with any perceived sweetness coming from rose. Add water and an aroma of tonic water emerges, presumably from citrus notes coming out. 8.5/10
9. Hayman’s Old Tom Gin (40% ABV) Made allegedly to an ancestral recipe of James Borough, ancestor of Christopher Hayman, the current Master Distiller. The nose is strongly of orange, almost like curaçao, plus juniper and a little chocolate. The palate, to me, is rather middle-of-the road, with the usual juniper and citrus, plus a lot of added sugar. Doesn’t do much for me. 5/10
10. Artesian Bar Old Tom, The Langham Hotel This is made specially at the hotel by blending two gins, adding some nuts and then wood ageing it. It does indeed smell of hazelnuts but also something sour, suggesting the dryness of walnuts too. Plus a bit of wood and bran—like opening a packet of bran flakes. It tastes a little of tea and hazelnuts. And a bit like bran flakes. 5/10
As a group we all agreed the Dorchester Old Tom was the nicest. For me the other stand-out gin was the Both’s; it came third in our overall rankings as a group, with the Xorigeur in second place. Hayman’s came fourth and the Langham gin fifth.
|Martinez Cocktails made with (left to right) Xoriguer, Dorchester and Both's|
We then tried the top three in three classic Old Tom cocktails:
Collins (gin, lemon juice, sugar and soda water) With the Both’s elements of fennel and violets come out; with the Dorchester it’s lemon and lime. Made with Xoriguer that pine flavour comes through, reminiscent of Retsina.
Martinez (gin, red vermouth, maraschino, Angostura bitters) The sweetness level of Both’s balances well for me and brings out the complex flavours, whereas the Dorchester here seems too sweet and fruity. The Retsina quality of the Xoriguer works surprisingly harmoniously with the aromatic elements of the vermouth and the bitters.
Old Tom Cocktail (gin, sugar, orange bitters) Here again I think the Xoriguer actually works best, with the astringent, woody, aromatic character balancing with the sweetness of the recipe. Both’s is pretty good, with the drink again bringing out a floral, violet character that I didn’t really notice neat. But overall this cocktail is too sweet for me, I suspect.
While satisfyingly thorough, I admit that this experiment doesn’t really get you very far: my two favourites are both largely unobtainable! I wasn’t so taken with the Xoriguer as some, but I know David later experimented with sweetening it and ageing it with wood chips to try and approach what he feels historical Old Tom would have been like. Of course there are clearly as many approaches to creating an Old Tom as there are products, and doubtless more besides. Personally I feel a product that is simply a sweeter gin is a bit pointless when you can simply sweeten an ordinary gin. I’m more interested in recipes that offer a different and more intense botanical mix. As I mentioned before, my curiosity was piqued when I heard that Prohibition gin is based on a nineteenth-century recipe: yet its maker thinks of it more as a New Western rather than an Old Tom. New Western gins in classic London gin cocktails often taste rather peculiar to me, but this got me thinking that experimenting with New Westerns in place of Old Toms in classic cocktail recipes might prove fruitful. I shall report back…
Saturday, 9 April 2011
My brother-in-law works in Thailand taking tourists scuba diving, but thanks to the monsoon he ends up spending half the year in the UK. On his most recent return he brought me this glorious curio from Thailand’s Boss Winery. Now, it doesn’t call itself gin and the label bears no resemblance to Bombay Sapphire’s (well, perhaps apart from the script font for “Original Distillation” which is a bit like “Distilled” on the latter), but even if you ignore the highly recognisable square blue bottle, I notice that the inside of the back label has an illustrated list of the botanicals just like the ones that appear on the Bombay Sapphire bottle.
You have to admire someone who releases a product and calls it “White Elephant”, though I assume the British meaning of the phrase is not widely recognised in Thailand—where a white elephant is a symbol of justice, peace and power (it appears on certain naval and diplomatic flags, as well as the old flag of Siam). In fact the whole package is endearingly makeshift, from the dodgy English (why is the label in English anyway? Are they hoping for an export market?) down to what appears to be a blob of Tippex on the back label—do you suppose they spotted a mistake and had someone sit down and Tippex each label by hand? I particularly like the little trophy that appears on the front label: there’s no explanation of what it represents, so perhaps they just felt they deserved one.
|Note the illustrated botanical list on the inside|
of the back label and the same on the BS bottle
Sticking my nose into a glass of Bombay Sapphire I get citrus first, then coriander and the warmer, dry notes of cassia and perhaps the soft, oily, nuttiness of the almonds. Bombay Sapphire is made entirely in a Carter Head still, where the botanicals sit in a “flavour box” through which the alcohol vapour passes, rather than macerating in the spirit before distillation, and this produces a lighter flavour and mouthfeel with fewer of the heavy essential oils from pot still distillation. I haven’t tasted this gin in a long while and, neat, it’s actually quite fierce and astringent compared to, say SW4, which is smoother, with more woody, aromatic action going on in the mid-range.
|The back label. Click to enlarge|
I don’t know if I expected big, almost synthetically in-your-face, fruit flavours but the palate is much the same as the nose, dominated by the rough spirit, like crude, unaged Scotch. You can detect some sort of tropical fruit, plus something rooty and earthy. Even a hint of banana. But mostly it’s that alcohol.
The only good thing I can say about White Elephant is that it is probably not as bad as the bottle of Moutai that someone gave me. This is a Chinese spirit distilled from wheat and sorghum and it has a similar sour smell and taste, but much more intense.
Mixed 2:1 with tonic water, the botanicals in White Elephant, if there are any, fade even more and that odd, dusty, sour taste of the spirit actually gets worse. All round, it’s not a fun experience. If you find yourself in Duty Free at a Thai airport, avoid this.
Another lost and found ingredient is Crème Yvette, a liqueur that also has violets in it, among other things, and DBS has been encouraging me to try a head-to-head between the two in the Aviation cocktail. I've never actually seen an Aviation recipe that specified Crème Yvette in this way (although the Blue Moon cocktail from about 1940 is the same minus the maraschino), but I notice that the label of the recent rerelease mentions this cocktail by name. In any case, it sounded like an interesting experiment.
1¾ shots gin
½ shot maraschino
½ shot lemon juice
¼ shot crème de violette
Shake with ice and serve with a lemon twist
As you can see from the picture, the first obvious different is colour—although in practice both drinks were a bit lighter than they appear in the photo, but it gives you a general idea.
Made like this the classic recipe has just the right sweet/sour balance, with the added floral interest deftly hovering over the top: all the flavour elements are fairly clearly defined. Made with Yvette, the drink has a strikingly similar profile, but is clearly sweeter, both because the liqueur is sweeter but also the berry fruit elements in it come out, giving a sense of intrinsic sweetness, I think, as if there is a dash of Ribena in there.
David's post on Rock and Rye—which was in turn acquired by Maurice Cooper, Rob's grandad. Production ceased in 1969.
Tasted neat, Crème Yvette has a more balanced and complex taste than the crème de violette, with the violets and red berries coming out clearly—it is made with blackberries, raspberries, strawberries and blackcurrants, plus vanilla, honey and orange peel too, I gather.
Personally I think I prefer the cocktail made with the violette: the flavour elements blend harmoniously but each stands clearly defined too, giving the drink a classic simplicity. But if you prefer your drinks a little sweeter than perhaps they tended to be in the Golden Age, give the Yvette a try. It's also possible that the Blue Moon, without the maraschino, restores the sweetness balance. If I've got enough Yvette left in my sample I'll give it a try and report back.
For more Crème Yvette cocktail recipes see www.cremeyvette.com.
Tuesday, 5 April 2011
Members of the New Sheridan Club may recall the Elderflower-themed Cocktail Cabinet in March's newsletter; well today we have a special bonus feature on Chase Elderflower Liqueur (20%ABV). This comes from the same company that make a vodka that was voted "World's Best 2010", as well as Chase Gin and an excellent Smoked Vodka.
|#3 Gin & Elderflower|
|#4 Elderflower Bramble|
Nose: Sweet, slightly jammy nose of elderflower with a tiny hint of citrus.
Taste: Soft and syrupy in the mouth, sweet elderflower with a slight, tea-like muskiness. Very pleasant to sip. In terms of sweetness it sits between the sugary St. Germain and the slightly sharper Bitter Truth.
#2 Elderflower Collins
Made in the same way as a normal Gin Collins: equal parts Chase Gin, Lemon Juice and Sugar Syrup with an additional equal part of Elderflower Liqueur. Top up with soda water. Cool and refreshing, not too sweet; a nice long way to enjoy Chase Elderflower.
#3 Gin & Elderflower
A 4:1 mix of Chase Gin:Chase Elderflower, Shaken.
This is a cloudy Martini-esque drink with the sweetness of the liqueur just rounding off the edges of the gin. The elderflower brings out the fruit and floral elements of the gin.
#4 Elderflower Bramble
Rather cooling, rather lovely. The difference between this and a normal Bramble is that it is less jammy and as you're using elderflower rather than blackberry it is much fresher. I think that the flavours of lemon and elderflower are natural partners and it's interesting to note that, as you drink the drink, the taste of elderflower grows stronger as the liqueur sinks to the bottom.
|#5 Fashionable Elderflower|
#5 Fashionable Elderflower
Made in the same way as a Gin Old Fashioned but the sugar cube and water are replaced with 10ml of the Elderflower Liqueur. This is a pleasant way to enjoy both the Chase Gin and the Chase Elderflower. The Angostura Bitters and Elderflower flavours compliment each other well and this drink has the right balance of sweetness as well as a subtle fruity edge.
Chase Elderflower Gin is available from the Chase Website.
£10.50 for 20cl or £19.50 for 50cl.
Saturday, 2 April 2011
As part of the re-branding of BBC Radio 7 to "Radio 4 Extra" all of the choices from the castaways of Desert Island Disks have been released; but how many chose some form of imbibement as their luxury item?
|Forget Gordons, Freddie will make his own.|
Mark Lubbock, Musician, Conductor Composer: Gin
Frank Swinnerton, Novelist Gin & Vermouth
Raymond Leppard, Musician Composer: Gin, Dry Martini and lemons
Not Content with just drinking Gin:
Sir Torquil Norman Aviator, Inventor and Arts Patron
A miniature still with a little ice-making machine attached to it to make Dry Martinis.
Freddie Jones Actor
Liebig condenser for distilling Gin
|Desmond Tutu, partial to a scoop of Rum & Raisin|
Tyrone Guthrie, Director
Carlos Acosta, Dancer: Case of Havana rum
Jonathan Pryce, Actor: Endless supply of rum punch
Andrew Davies, Endless supply of Mojitos
Archbishop Desmond Tutu: Ice-cream maker (especially for rum and raisin flavour)
|Kingsley Amis (who went on disks twice) liked both Scotch & American whisk(e)y|
Kingsley Amis (1961) American
Kingsley Amis (1986) Scottish
Burt Ives; Actor/Writer/Singer: (Tobermory)
David Cameron, Prime minister: A Crate of Scottish Whisky
Marquess Of Bath Owner of Longleat
C Day Lewis, Poet Laureate, Bourbon Whiskey
Terry Wogan - Vodka
Howard Goodall - Ice-cold vanilla vodka and tonics
Terry looks unnerved by rumours of phylloxera in France
Ian Hendry, Actor
Edith Coates, Musician
Terry Thomas, Actor
Ken Russell, Film Director
Jean Pouget, Musician - Cask of Brandy
Sir Alex Guinness (Apricot Brandy)
Peter O'Sullevan, Broadcaster (Calvados)
Sian Phillips Actor: Solar-powered refrigerator full of champagne
Jane Asher Actor/Chef: Hot bath with extra tap for cold champagne
Britt Ekland Case of Evian water filled with champagne
Jasper Conran Fashion Designer: Vintage Krug Champagne (endless supply)
Sue Townsend Writer: Swimming Pool Full of Champagne
|Leonard wasn't just partial to Cinzano.|
Leonard Rossiter Actor: Moselle wine
John Surman Musician Saxophonist: Vat of Bordeaux wine
Gene Pitney Singer-songwriter: Case of Opus One wine
Richard Briars: HUGE Supply of Chardonnay
Arnold Ridley Actor, Playwright: Wine-making kit
Donald Sutherland Actor: Case of really good vintage wine
|John Le Mesurier thought a still would be rather lovely.|
John Le Mesurier - A Small Distillery
Armando Iannucci Comedian, Satirist, Writer, Director: Virtual sherry trifle
Fay Maschler Restaurant Critic: A huge supply of ouzo
Harry Enfield Comedian: Beer and a cigarette machine
Laurie Lee Poet Writer: Materials for making wine or beer
Ian Carmichael Actor: Writing materials and beer
Martin Bell Journalist, Politician: A barrel of Adnam’s Ale brewed in Suffolk
Paul Tortelier Musician, Cellist, Composer: Bicycle and cider
18 Castaways asked for a Still and 5 asked for a Brewery
No post on Desert Island Disks would be complete without some mention of music; so here are the choices of my favourite author and imbiber:
Airdate: Monday 5th August 1963
1."Whispering" Jack Smith: “Cecilia”
2. The Revellers: “Dinah”
3. Édith Piaf: “La Vie en Rose”
4. The Ink Spots: “If I Didn't Care”
5. Rosemary Clooney: “This Ole House”
6. Billy Vaughn: “Theme from A Summer Place”
7. Anton Karas: The Harry Lime Theme (from The Third Man)
8. Joe "Fingers" Carr: The Darktown Strutters Ball
Book: War and Peace (in German) by Leo Tolstoy
Luxury Item: Typewriter and paper