Monday 19 December 2011

A cocktail for Christmas

Only a few days left till Christmas now, but still time for me to wish a hearty “God rest you!” to all you merry gentlemen and gentlewomen and to share a few tots of Christmas spirit.

I’m pleased to say that our seasonal cocktails went down a treat at the Candlelight Club this weekend, so I thought I’d share the recipes. However, I then realised that all but one of them involved ingredients you probably won’t have to hand—the Mince Flip uses mincemeat vodka (kindly made for us by DBS himself), the Cherry Christmas uses a rosemary tincture (made by infusing rosemary in vodka for about 24 hours), the Figgy Pudding uses fig liqueur and the Chestnuts on an Open Fire uses chestnut syrup. And of the course the Gold, Frankincense and Byrrh uses Byrrh and Goldschläger, not to mention Frankincense bitters!

But the sixth cocktail only uses ingredients you can easily find in the supermarket. It’s a sort of cross between the Dark n’ Stormy mixture of rum and ginger beer and that cheesy classic the Snowball. Mrs H. has become quite addicted to them.

Ginger Snap
1½ shots rum
1 shot advocaat
1 shot ginger wine (optional)
Ginger beer to top

Either shake everything but the ginger beer with ice and pour into an ice-filled highball, or just build it in the glass with ice if you don’t have shaker to hand. Then top up with ginger beer. Advocaat is made from brandy and eggs and is a bit like alcoholic custard, lending a rich, puddingy quality to this drink, which makes it dangerously moreish! The ginger wine isn’t essential but adds a bit more gingery pep.

If you’re after inspiration for more easy-to-make Christmas cocktails, Tesco have launched a slick-looking Christmas Cocktail Finder app on their Tesco Real Food website. You can search for recipes based on the ingredients you have to hand, or by details such as sweetness, glass type or even whether it is shaken, stirred or blended (presumably handy for when you really fancy a cocktail but simply haven’t the energy to deploy a shaker).

Despite all these variables, the database currently has only 69 recipes on it, but that’s still plenty to keep you going and almost certainly includes combinations that will be new to you. And while something like Simon Difford’s similar searchable database has, by contrast, thousands of recipes, the emphasis with the Tesco version is that all recipes require only ingredients you can easily get hold of in a supermarket. Such as Tesco, for example. As a spin-off from the website’s recipe finder, it also tells you the nutritional content of each drink (though not the number of alcohol units, oddly). I’ve just found another advocaat recipe here, the Kentucky Cheesecake (203 calories), which combines advocaat with bourbon, amaretto, lemon juice and maple syrup: I’m going to have to go and try that one. (That’s the thing about advocaat, by the way—once it’s open you’re supposed to keep it in the fridge and consume within six months. But you’re not really going to be wanting to drink it in the summer, so the only solution is just to keep drinking it now…)

Now, for the record, here are those other recipes:

Mince Flip
2 shots mincemeat vodka
1 shot cream
1 shot sweetish sherry, such as Harvey’s Bristol Cream

Shake everything with ice and pour into a Martini glass, then dust with nutmeg. The vodka is made simply by steeping mincemeat in vodka, though I couldn’t tell you exactly how David does it. Trade secret, I suspect!

Cherry Christmas
1½ shots gin
¾ shot cherry brandy
½ shot sugar syrup
¼ shot rosemary tincture
Dash of cherry bitters
Cranberry juice

Shake everything but the cranberry and pour into an ice-filled highball, then top with cranberry and stir briefly. This drink is all about the unexpected combination of cherry and rosemary. The precise amount of tincture you need will depend on how strong you have made it, so go easy to start with. We used Fee Brothers cherry bitters, which made quite a difference to the cherryishness of the drinks, as will the cherry brandy you use. Cherry Marnier has bright confectionary cherry flavour, whereas Cherry Heering is actually rather dark and savoury.

Chestnuts on an Open Fire
2 shots gin
1 shot apple juice
½ shot Laphroaig single malt whisky
½ shot chestnut syrup
½ shot lemon juice

Shake everything together and strain into a martini or coupe glass. I’ve lost track of the number of people (all ladies, now I think about it) who declare that they don’t like whisky but love this drink. It’s a relative of the Smoky Martini but lengthened and sweetened. You don’t have to use Laphroaig but it probably has the most smoky flavour so you don’t need much to make the point. The combination of spicy gin, fruit from the apple juice, chestnutty sweetness and smoky iodine from the whisky is fascinating. We used Monin chestnut syrup.

Figgy Pudding
2 shots bourbon
½ shot crème de figues
½ shot ruby port
Dash of Angostura Bitters
Orange peel garnish

Shake everything with ice and strain into a Martini glass. Squeeze a strip of orange peel over the top and drop it in. A variation of the Manhattan, the bourbon here sweetened and fattened by the puddingy flavours of figs and port with some Christmassy orange zing to finish. We used Briottet crème de figues, though there may be other fig liqueurs out there.

Thursday 15 December 2011

Gold, frankincense—and stir!

Gold, Frankincense and Byrrh: Stare into the drink and you can see the flakes of
gold from the Goldschläger

At the end of last month a bunch of us gathered at the newly opened Shaker & Co (formerly the pleasantly oriental Positively 4th Street and the scene of the New Sheridan Club’s 2008 “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” party) for an experimental seminar courtesy of the London Cocktail Society and Master of Malt, to have a look at the latter’s new range of “single varietal” bitters. I’ve talked a bit about them before, along with some experiments I have conducted using individual bitters in cocktails, but the object of the exercise on this occasion was to have a competition to blend them to make a definitive LCS bitters, which Master of Malt would then undertake to market.

The full range was there and the samples had helpfully been categorised into those you could safely use a lot of and the scary ones—such as very bitter infusions of wormwood or gentian, or the volcanically hot naga chilli—that you were warned to go easy on in your mix. I formed a team with Jenny from Sip or Mix: calling ourselves the Artemisians we decided to make an absinthe-influenced bitters which had 5 parts fennel, 4 parts liquorice, 4 parts coriander, 4 parts cardamom, 5 parts curaçao and one part each of black pepper, frankincense, angelica and, or course, wormwood. The aniseedy liquorice and fennel were actually balanced by the pretty strong citrus influence of the curaçao, and the bitterness of the wormwood offset by the sweetness of the curaçao and the liquorice. But it’s odd working on a bitters neat, given that it is something that will actually be used in minuscule doses in a cocktail. Should it even taste nice on its own? Peychaud’s certainly doesn’t! Perhaps it would be best to test it by putting a few drops in a glass of water…

Needless to say we didn’t win. I haven’t tried the winning formula, as it is presumably now an industrial secret in the Master of Malt labs, but it should be available for the MoM website soon. But it certainly gets you thinking about how some of the single varietals could be, erm, “leveraged” in cocktail making. Such as the coffee, chocolate or kola bitters, for example.

I’ve been doing some more tinkering with the Frankincense Bitters, not least because it is seasonal. Frankincense is not something that most of us are used to working with (though it is a key ingredient in Sacred gin). Made from the sap of the Boswellia sacra tree it is a fragrant resin that is burned for its aroma and smells a bit like cinnamon and a bit like hot solder (which has resin in it), a mysterious, almost dangerously aromatic smell, which was why I used a bit of the bitters in our Opium Dream cocktail for the 1920s Shanghai event at the Candlelight Club. My friend Fr. Michael Silver, a high-church priest by trade, sampled one of these cocktails and immediately picked up on the frankincense note, and I guess he would know!

Opium Dream
2 shots gin
2 shots mandarin, clementine or orange & mandarin juice
½ shot poppy liqueur
¼ shot lime juice
1 splash of bleue/blanche absinthe (we used La Clandestine)
5 drops Frankincense bitters

Shake and strain into a Martini or coupe glass. The poppy liqueur I used was from the Briottet range. Obviously I mainly used it because it existed and seemed appropriate, though it has a very confectionary, floral taste, a bit like rose or violet creams. It reminded me of grenadine, so this cocktail is really a Monkey Gland with Liqueur de Coquelicot de Nemours instead of grenadine, plus the frankincense. The mandarin juice was originally just there as a joke because it fitted the Chinese theme, but being sharper than orange juice it balances the sweetness of the liqueur. They sell cartons of clementine juice in Tesco now, I see.

The Gold, Frankincense and Byrrh cocktail
I’m using these bitters again for our Christmas party in a cocktail that I couldn’t resist inventing just for the name, really:

Gold, Frankincense and Byrrh
1 shot Byrrh
½ shot Goldschläger
5 drops frankincense bitters
Champagne or sparkling wine to top

Either shake the first three ingredients with ice or simply add them to a Champagne flute or coupe and top with chilled Champagne or sparkling wine. It has a distinct gingeriness from the Goldschläger plus aromatic and bitter notes from the Byrrh and that resinous mystery from the bitters. Like a very refined and holy mulled wine. Which isn’t mulled. But is quite seasonal.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Christmas book competition: the results!

To win a copy of Victoria Moore’s new book How to Drink at Christmas, I asked you simply to tell me what your favourite Christmas drink was, in whatever manner you chose. After much deliberation, bribery and a steward’s enquiry, I can reveal the winning entries.

Mr Giles Culpepper was quick to jab in his response: “My favourite Christmas tipple is a tumbler half full of red wine topped up with Scotch, commonly known as Queen Victoria’s Tipple.” As an afterthought he adds, “Go easy on the Scotch unless you’re keen on an evening of utter oblivion.”* Well, if you can’t embrace oblivion at Christmas, when can you do it? This makeshift and appealingly desperate-sounding drink is nicer than it sounds. I tried a half-and-half mix using a bottle of Primitivo I had open and some Johnnie Walker Red Label and it was actually rather unpleasant—somehow more astringent than either of the component ingredients. But when I increased the wine to two thirds it suddenly began to make more sense. I’m not sure if it is supposed to be drunk on the rocks but I doubt it would do any harm.

A Secret Martini, made using a miniature
shaker that I picked up from Shaker & Co:
very handy for one-person cocktails
Our next winner is Mr Maximillion Conrad, who submitted a cocktail recipe with accompanying haiku:

Fucking Christmas... Shit!
The New Sheridan Club, ahh...

Brings me Chappish joy. 
Secret Martini (a good name for the New Sheridan Club spy-themed party, no?)
3 oz. Gin

1 oz. Lillet Blanc

2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Shake with cracked ice (preferably to the rhythm of "Jingle Bells") and strain into a chilled martini glass. I find it to have the perfect balance of inducing forgetfulness, and making conversation flow effortlessly.

Related to the Vesper Martini (from the James Bond novel Casino Royale: 3 parts gin, 1 part vodka, ½ part Lillet, lemon twist), this drink does away with the vodka, and doubles the presence of the Lillet Blanc. The Vesper was originally made with Kina Lillet, which contained quinine and would have had a bitter edge, like the red vermouth Punt e Mes; as here, many modern bartenders add Angostura to replace the lost bitterness, though of course this also adds colour. (As an alternative try Cocchi Americano or China Martini.) I knocked one up using No.3 gin and the resulting cocktail was relatively sweet, both from the sweet orange in the gin and the orangey sweetness of the Lillet.

Ms Sadie Doherty submitted this intriguing blend:

My favourite Christmas tipple would have to be 1 part Goldschläger (or Becherovka if you can get your hands on some—I’ve only had it once but it was lovely), 1 part ginger wine, 1 part lemon juice, shaken with plenty of ice and topped up with fiery ginger beer. It doesn’t really have a name so I will call it a Gingerbread Fan for want of better pun.

A Gingerbread Fan made using Becherovka.
That garnish is a slice of ginger, by the way,
not a potato crisp
Ginger and cinnamon flavours make this a very Christmassy drink, though the hearty dose of lemon counters the sweetness of the liqueur and actually makes it sharp and refreshing. It’s not too alcoholic, if that should prove a factor. Becherovka is indeed not that easy to get hold of here (though ubiquitous and dirt cheap in the Czech Republic).

Ms Elaine Myburgh’s offering comes with an elaborate origin story:

It was a treacherously dark and stormy night, with howling winds and shrieks galore, when two aspiring mixologists called on help from above to create a drink so potent as to bleach all their nefarious deeds from their fellow mens’ memories.
Out came the Sailor Jerry’s rum to warm their cockles, the port to put hair back on chests that had long forgotten what it felt like to puff up in pride, the orange flame to hearken back to days in sunny splendour on far of shores. 
Stirred slowly over ice, with the bartenders version of Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble softly repeated four times to hide the true potency of this devilishly delicious concoction it was then finished of with a dash of fresh OJ and a cinnamon stick to stir as garnish.

Sailor Jerry’s is not my favourite spiced rum—too sweet with cloying vanilla for me—but in the right combination it can work. Elaine has so far not given me the actual recipe, but it clearly involves Sailor Jerry’s, port, orange juice plus the cryptic reference to the “orange flame”. Sounds a bit sweet, but certainly Christmassy.

A Sloe Gin Fizz
The final prize goes to Ms Claire Wallin for reminding us that Champagne and sloe gin are an excellent combination, with the dry acidity of the wine balancing with the sweetness of the fruity spirit. “The mix of bubbly goodness with what I class as (almost) one of my five a day is a perfect
seasonal treat!” she says.

As it happens this drink is in the very book that you have been competing for, as a Sloe Gin Fizz, mixing one part sloe gin to three parts sparkling wine. I would probably use less sloe gin than this, but it depends on the intensity and sweetness of the brand (or homemade special) you have to hand.

Those are our five winners, though honourable mention must go to Mr Rob Harrison, who introduced me to the Gin Basil Smash, a drink invented at Le Lion in Hamburg and which went on to win Best New Cocktail at Tales of the Cocktail in 2008, but of which I don’t think I was aware. Not only that but he presented his recipe in limerick form:

“Hendrick's smash”, a delectable sin:
Take lemonade, ice, to begin,
A fistful of basil,
A lemon to dazzle,
Then fill to the top with some gin!

You can see that Rob is firmly in the Hendrick’s camp, though I notice that Jörg Meyer, the inventor, doesn’t specify a brand. Interestingly Rob uses lemonade, whereas most recipes combine gin and basil with sugar syrup and lemon juice: take a good handful of basil, muddle it in a shaker with half a lemon to extract the juice from both. Then add 20ml sugar syrup and 60ml gin. Shake it all vigorously with ice and double strain into a glass filled with cracked or cubed ice. The result is quite green.

However, in the final analysis, interesting as this cocktail is, I decided it wasn’t Christmassy enough to make it into the winning five! Sorry, Rob.

Thanks to all who entered, and a Merry Christmas (with the emphasis on merry) to all our readers.

* Kingsley Amis’s advice for making this drink is: “The quantity of Scotch is up to you but I recommend stopping a good deal short of the top of the tumbler.”

Friday 9 December 2011

Down on the farm... A Cocktail from McDonalds

We like, nay, we are obligated, to experiment here at the institute and inspiration can come from all sorts of places. For the festive period this fast-food chain, founded in 1955, has released a range of limited-edition foods. These include Mozzarella Bites, which are small circles of deep-fried mozzarella.

City Farm
A variation on the Red Snapper, this pairs tomato juice with the rather herbal Berkeley Square Gin, a dash of lemon juice for balance and some bitters for bite. The Mozzarella Bite is used as a garnish.

25ml Berkeley Square Gin
50ml Tomato Juice
10ml Lemon Juice
Dash of Bitters

Shake with ice, strain into a Martini glass and garnish.

The Taste
I was dubious but it works surprisingly well, rather well balanced. The herbal notes of the gin, basil, sage and a touch of lavender are good partners for the tomato juice and the lemon juice adds some bite.

Additionally you get a little snack from the garnish which you can dip in the cocktail in the same way you may use salsa.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Win a copy of 'How 
to Drink at Christmas'

To help your Yuleide quaffing go with ease, confidence and panâche, I have five copies of How to Drink at Christmas by Telegraph drinks columnist Victoria Moore to give away.

A spin-off from her successful How to Drink volume, this little tome gives a manageable overview of seasonal boozing, from what you need to keep in stock, drinks ideas for large and small parties, including party food too, warming drinks, non-alcoholic drinks and, of course, a step-by-step guide to getting people drunk on Christmas day, including food to go with Christmas fayre and how to choose Champagne.

Ms Moore also gives her opinons on favourite spirit brands and takes an interesting detour to look specifically at vodka, as well as what she considers to be the perfect Martini. There are plenty of cocktail recipes, both classic and creations of her own (with a particular obsession with clementine juice for some reason—although by coincidence I discovered that my local Tesco sells the stuff in cartons now).

To be in with a chance of winning one of these books, just email telling me what your favourite Christmas tipple is. It can be a cocktail of your own devising, an impassioned defence of an established beverage, a mercilessly logical argument, a letter to Santa, a filthy limerick… the world is your prairie oyster. Come next Monday, the five which have amused or impressed me the most will receive copies of the book.