|Me looking proprietorial at the Jameson Apartment—just before the real barman
came and threw a bar towel at me
If you fancy a drink in London’s Soho area any time between now and 27th October, why not slide by No. 39 Greek Street. Jameson have conjured a pop-up “cinematic speakeasy”* out of the largest of the private dining rooms on the first floor of ancient restaurant Kettner’s, with its own door into the street. As well as an agreeably quirky room, with lush oak panelling and a moulded plaster ceiling, you get to enjoy a menu of cocktails made with Jameson.
Not only that, but I will be there in a sort of “host” capacity every night except tonight, Sunday 16th. (We’re also having Candlelight Club parties on the Saturdays, but those are ticketed events and I’m afraid they have sold out.) So do swing by and say hello.
I must say that Celtic style whisk(e)y—as opposed to American style—is not something that obviously springs to my mind as a cocktail ingredient, and specifically Irish whiskey less so. But now that I am spending my evenings as a professional barfly I have had the chance to find out how well the stuff works in cocktails.
There aren’t so many classic cocktails featuring Scotch, apart from things like the Rob Roy (essentially a Manhattan made with Scotch)—and, if I’m honest, the Rob Roy is a pretty good example of why.** There is something pungent about Scotch which seems to quarrel with so many other ingredients. Ed McAvoy, now a Jameson ambassador, who designed the drinks at the Apartment, says it is the smokiness in Scotch that causes this problem. I have certainly found that trying to use a really smoky, iodine-flavoured Islay malt to make a Godfather cocktail failed dismally because the whisky worked so badly with the Amaretto.
But Jameson don’t smoke any of their grain. And they also triple distil their whiskey, whereas most blended Scotch is apparently only twice distilled. Given that, with each distillation, the “heads and tails”—the very first and very last vapours to emerge, which contain undesirable parts of the alcohol spectrum—are discarded, the more times you repeat the process, in theory, the more “pure” a spirit you’ll end with. This purity may or may not be what you are after (and at the Boutique Bar Show recently I tasted the single-distilled Polish Vestal Vodka which is hair-raisingly full of characterful congeners), but apparently the smooth approachability of Jameson can be attributed to the triple distillation.
Ed’s cocktails contain some bold flavours, but the other ingredients aren’t there to mask the flavour of the Jameson. Rather, he has spotlighted some unexpected combinations that work really well with the woody, caramel flavours of the whiskey. Combinations such as whiskey and kiwi fruit in his Jameson Emerald Presse or Jameson and raspberry in the Jameson Macree. Elsewhere he plays up the caramel character, such as in the Irish Martini that uses butterscotch schnapps and textural pear juice (which manages to be silky and slightly grainy at the same time)—and despite the name contains none of the ingredients of a Martini—and the Jameson Caramel Manhattan, one of my favourites:
Jameson Caramel Manhattan
15ml caramel liqueur
12.5ml red vermouth
25ml pineapple juice
2 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters
Shake all ingredients with ice and fine strain into a chilled glass. Squeeze a lemon twist over the top (and discard) and garnish with a pineapple wedge on the rim.
What hits you first is the caramel, backed up by the whiskey. The pineapple juice, by comparison, creeps up on you. In fact if you didn’t know what was in it you might struggle to work out what was giving that balancing character, the rather spiky flavour of the juice evening out the sweet burnt sugar of the caramel. The only problem with this cocktail is that it is so moreish you are tempted to finish it too quickly!
Another of my favourites is this one:
Jameson Apricot Sour
12.5ml apricot brandy
20ml apricot purée
20ml pressed cloudy apple juice
10ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
Shake and strain. Again the caramel warmth of the whiskey marries delightfully with the apricot, and the lemon juice and rind oil give it a wake-up zest. I tried this using apricot jam and it works well, though I personally think that the cocktail tastes better with 50ml of whiskey. Even Mrs H. agreed and she admits she doesn’t really like whiskey—but really likes this cocktail. Job done, Ed.
* The cinematic connection is that Jameson sponsor the BFI London Film Festival, which runs for precisely the period that the Apartment is there, and other film festivals around the world too. I gather the film link is all about storytelling, and an idea of a specific Irish love of storytelling as part of any convivial—and therefore whiskey-fuelled—evening.
** Though if you want to try probably the nicest Rob Roy you are likely to come across, try the ready-mixed, bottled version from Master of Malt.