Friday 27 January 2012

Cocktails to defeat your New Year's Resolutions

The third week in January is apparently the most depressing of the year (and the Monday of the last full week is the most depressing day*), so it seemed appropriate that we theme the Candlelight Club event last weekend around New Year’s resolutions—specifically the abandoning of them! The cocktails were loosely styled around things you might have been trying to give up, and a general encouragement to slip back into your old hedonistic ways. Hey, we’re here to help.

No.1 on the resolution list must be to quit smoking. Tobacco in drinks is a hot topic at the moment, and plenty of people have doubtless tried making their own infusions. But proceed with caution! Ted Breaux of Jade Liqueurs (an environmental scientist by background) and infusion-meister Tony Conigliaro of 69 Colebrooke Row have both warned about the dangers here. I believe that soaking tobacco products in alcohol actually extracts harmful substances much more efficiently that burning them does, meaning that infusing tobacco is potentially more harmful than smoking it. And gram for gram nicotine is as toxic as hydrogen cyanide. I was in a bar last week and the bar manager handed me something to taste: it was a tobacco syrup made by infusing a cigar. “Don’t worry,” he said, “cigars have hardly any nicotine in them compared to cigarettes.” This didn’t ring true, and in fact a cursory trawl of the internet reveals that a good-sized cigar can contain as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes. Tasting the syrup nearly knocked me off my barstool: at first it is just sweet on the tip of the tongue, but then it hits the back of the tongue with a prickling, burning sensation. I swear I got a small nicotine rush, but then I’m not a smoker, so it probably doesn’t take much. (See this interesting post.)

So using a tobacco infusion in our cocktail was out. But Ted Breaux himself makes a liqueur from perique tobacco, a rare strain that only grows in Louisiana (cultivated on just two farms now). Ted is a New Orleans man and proud of it, and his motivation in making the liqueur is partly to save the plant from extinction. The drink is distilled in such a way that there is no nicotine or other harmful substances in it, and in fact it doesn’t really taste obviously of tobacco. It has a delicate flavour that always reminds me of violets, with just a subtle whiff of aromatic pipe tobacco at the end (perique still crops up in pipe blends as well as a few rare-groove cigars and cigarettes). So it immediately occurred to me to make an Aviation using this instead of crème de violette. Speaking to Jenny from Sipormix, which handles the liqueur in this country, I discovered that Ales Olasz of Montgomery Place had already tried this, so I used his recipe (although I think I prefer it with more like 20ml of Perique rather than the 15ml specified).

50ml SW4 gin
15–20ml Jade Perique Tobacco Liqueur
10ml maraschino
20ml lemon juice

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a Martini glass or coupe. Garnish with a cherry.

A NiQuitini snapped at the Candlelight Club
Dieting has to be up there on the resolution roll of honour, so we decided to include an Alexander—what could be more apt than a combination of gin, cream and chocolate? When I wrote about this cocktail before I decided that two parts gin to one part each of the other ingredients was about right, but this time I was using white crème de cacao rather than brown (specifically Briottet’s version). This is a much subtler flavour so I biased the cocktail more towards this ingredient. I also found that it needed sweetness, so some syrup was in order. The end result is pure, opaque white: originally intended as a marketing gimmick for a railway that burned cleaner coal, here it can remind you or the purity of your original intentions for 2012, now sadly fallen by the wayside…

The Alexander Diet
1½ shots gin
1½ shots crème de cacao blanc
1 shot single cream
Splash of sugar syrup

Shake all ingredients together with ice and strain into a Martini glass or coupe. Optionally dust with nutmeg, cocoa or cinnamon. I think the Alexander is a great drink, but it didn’t prove very popular on the night. Perhaps many of our guests really were on a diet!

A common resolution is to help others or spend more time with loved ones, yadda yadda. This one is for you:

Bleeding Heart
8 raspberries
2 shots bourbon
1 shot crème de framboise (we used Briottet but Chambord is probably more easily available)
½ shot lime juice
¼ shot sugar syrup
Cranberry juice

Muddle the raspberries in the shaker, then add everything else except the cranberry, shake with ice and fine strain into an ice-filled highball. Top with cranberry juice and give it a bit of a stir. Bourbon and raspberries are a great combo, and this appears to have been the most popular drink on the night. I adapted it from a cocktail called Mrs Robinson, but the original used soda water; I used cranberry mainly for the bloody colour, but it also gives more body to this long drink. I also appear to have switched from lemon juice to lime juice: not sure why but it works nicely.

Going to the gym is another popular resolution (I gather that gyms fill up at the beginning of January, but the staff also know precisely when more of these new people will stop coming). So here is a healthy sports drink that also replaces the gin and tonic lost through exercise:

6 basil leaves
2 shots gin
2 shots pineapple juice
½ shot Passoa passion fruit liqueur
½ shot lemongrass syrup
½ shot Lucozade Sport Lemon & Lime
Tonic water

Muddle the basil in the shaker, add everything else but the tonic, shake with ice, fine strain into an ice-filled highball and top with tonic water. Stir gently. This cocktail is mainly about the unexpectedly good combination of basil and pineapple; the passion fruit is less prominent but it plays a part. The recipe was adapted from a cocktail called the Byzantine which I found on Simon Difford’s impressive online database. The original used passion fruit syrup and lemon and lime cordial; I like the aromatic, herbaceous flavour of lemongrass (I made the syrup just by bringing 500ml granulated sugar and 250ml water to the boil, simmering eight split stalks of lemongrass in it for 10 minutes, leaving it to cool then straining it). The Lucozade Sport is obviously there primarily as a joke, but it does add some citrus that you would otherwise have to get from somewhere else.

The final cocktail was just something I had come up with and wanted to use. It’s an unexpectedly effective combination—I thought the grapefruit juice might put people off with its bitterness, but in fact it was so popular that we had to restock with the ingredients for the second night and even then ran out. The name comes from the discovery that a popular resolution is to dump a useless boyfriend/girlfriend and strike out anew. The zingy, quirky, unusual flavours seemed apt for a “new you” cocktail.

Me Time
1½ shots Zubrowka bisongrass vodka
1 shot St Germain elderflower liqueur
1 shot grapefruit juice
¼ shot crème d’abricot/apricot brandy

Shake everything with ice and strain into a coupe. The precise amount of apricot brandy depends on the brand (we used Briottet), and you may want to use slightly more. It should be subtle, though its sweetness helps balance the drink.

* This was established in 2005, using a hokey formula, by Cliff Arnall, a tutor at Cardiff University (which later distanced itself from him and his discovery).

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