Thursday 13 September 2012

Plain Cocktails from the Raj

A Tiffin Spice cocktail, made with homemade saffron vodka
It was more a play on words that prompted us to give our mid-September Candlelight Club party the theme “Indian Summer” (last weekend looked very promising, though this coming Friday and Saturday look more ho-hum for the event itself). But it did give me an opportunity to play around with flavours that might suggest the exotic glories of the Raj.

I knew tea was going to come into it somewhere, and it also gave me a chance to try using a bottle of Briottet bergamot liqueur that I bought out of curiosity and hadn’t found a use for yet. A bergamot is a citrus fruit, the fragrant rinds of which are used to flavour Earl Grey. So I ended up with this:

Bombay Tea Party
2 shots whiskey
1 shot bergamot liqueur
1 shot cold Earl Grey tea
½ shot lemon juice
Top with ginger ale
Garnish: Lemon slice
Shake first 4 ingredients with ice and strain into an ice-filled highball. Top with a splash of ginger ale and give a gentle stir. Add lemon garnish

Using tea in cocktails has been in vogue for a while, but it really does make an interesting ingredient, with the unexpected dryness of the tannins a useful foil to any cloying tendency of sweeter ingredients. Here the aromatic citrus of the bergamot comes from both the liqueur and the tea, with warmth from both the ginger and the whisky. I don’t know why I decided to use this as a spirit base—possibly because I wanted something British, but in fact I ended up using Irish whiskey rather than Scotch, as I find its more neutral character sits more easily in mixed drinks. Overall this is restrained but flavoursome, with the sweetness from the liqueur balanced by tart lemon and dry tea, and the ginger giving it an invigorating zing, so that it’s all dangerously refreshing too.

Another tea idea I had was to use masala chai, a tea flavoured with cinnamon, ginger and other spices, very popular all over india. My brother-in-law had brought me some back some from his travels, so I decided to make it into a syrup and fashion some sort of “Chai Tea-ni”. The result is simply a dry Martini with a dose of the syrup and then an equal dose of lemon juice to balance up the sweet and sour. There is more vermouth in it than many people would put in a regular Martini, but it needed to make its presence felt against the bold flavours:

2 shots gin
1 shot dry vermouth
1 shot masala chai syrup
1 shot lemon juice
Garnish: lemon zest
Shake everything with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a strip of lemon peel.

The syrup is made simply by combining two parts (by volume) granulated sugar with one part masala chai tea. As is often the case with tea in cocktails, you need to make it pretty strong for it to hold its own among the other flavours. The resulting cocktail is surprisingly well balanced, with all the elements coming through, and those who normally find dry Martinis a bit too dry will appreciate the warm, faintly gingerbready, spice in this version.

A lot of spices are really a bit too savoury to sit easily in a cocktail, such as cumin, turmeric or (in my opinion) chilli. But I couldn’t resist trying to make some saffron vodka, if only for the colour. I simply added about half a gram of saffron to a full bottle of Green Mark; the resulting colour change was pretty much instant and it was fun to watch the swirls of deep, pure orange spreading out. This makes a fairly powerfully flavoured infusion, with the dry, woody, slightly bitter aroma of saffron very much in your face. If you were making a sipping version you would want to use less. But I needed something that would keep it’s character at the forefront once the other ingredients had gone in. (I did try a whole gram, but even mixed in the cocktail it was actually too overpowering.)

Saffron is considered to go well with orange, rose, cardamom and almond among other things. I managed to get the first three of those in to the resulting recipe. (I tried the same thing also with orgeat almond syrup instead of the rose, and it works too, but in the end I felt that the rose was preferable for having a lighter touch; if you like confectionary flavours you might prefer the almond.)

Tiffin Spice
2 shots saffron vodka
¾ shot rose syrup (I used Monin’s)
½ shot Cointreau
½ lemon juice
Few drops Master of Malt cardamom bitters
Soda water top
Shake first 4 ingredients and strain into an ice-filled highball. Top with soda water, give a gentle stir then add a few drops of cardamom bitters on top.

Saffron infusing in a bottle of Green Mark. Pretty, isn't it?
The MoM cardamon bitters are part of a wide range of such tinctures using different spices, plus chocolate and the dreaded super-hot naga chilli. One could probably make one’s own but cardamom pods are quite a faff to open. Even this commercial product is quite delicate, which is why I elected to add it to the top, to ensure that the drinker gets at least one good whiff of it before it dissipates into the mix. I tried to keep all the ingredients colourless and clear, to show off the saffron colour, and, with the exception of the lemon juice, I succeeded.

The Colonial cocktail I chose just because of the name, and to have at least one on the menu that dated from the period. However, it seems fairly unavoidable that the name actually came from Manhattan’s Colony (you also find it billed as a Colony cocktail), a high-end Prohibition-era speakeasy, rather than an actual colony. Like many classic cocktails, its proportions are skewed towards hard liquor primped with a dash of this or that, and I’ve put more grapefruit juice and maraschino than in the original—both to make it more palatable to a broad range of tastes, and to make it a bit less alcoholic. To the same end I added a little elderflower cordial, partly to soften with a non-alcoholic ingredient, partly to offset the bitterness of the grapefruit, and partly because I know that elderflower and grapefruit go together particularly well.

2 shots gin
2 shots grapefruit juice
½ shot maraschino
½ shot elderflower cordial
Garnish: maraschino cherry
Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.

Finally, I was reminded of a recipe that Will Sprunt came up with last year for our English Country Garden event—based on the tenuous premise that some of the world’s finest mangoes are grown in Kent, “The Garden of England”. I’m sure he knows what he is talking about, but I felt that mango sat much more happily in this party’s Indian context.

The precise proportions vary depending on the mango juice you use. Rubicon make one that they sell in Sainsbury’s; it has a good, clearly recognisable mango smell and taste (possibly achieved artificially) but it is only 19% mango pulp, so it doesn’t really have the texture you expect. Sainsbury also do their own, which is 40% pulp and has a good texture but smells and tastes of nothing aside from a little stale caramel. Funkin do a purée that you can taste is clearly made from mangoes, with a good thick consistency, though the flavour is a little subdued. (Funkin purées do often have a sort of “cooked” flavour to them, presumably because they pasteurise it after it is sealed in its foil pouch.) In the end I used a 50:50 blend of Funkin and Rubicon.

Calcutta Cup
2 shots gin
2 shots mango juice
Heaped tablespoon of yoghurt
½ shot syrup
½ shot lemon
Sprig of mint leaves
Dash of angostura bitters
Garnish: mint leaves
Shake all together vigorously and strain into an ice-filled highball. Garnish with a mint sprig.

Early on, while attempting to make a richer consistency than the Rubicon produced on its own, I hit upon the idea of adding yoghurt, to make it reminiscent of the Indian yoghurt drink lassi, which is also sometimes flavoured with mango. Incidentally, there is no need to muddle the mint—if you give it a good, hard shake the ice should do enough muddling. I did think of making a mint syrup, or even using crème de menthe, but I realised that anything green blended with the orange colour of the mango would result in a sludge-brown colour. Using fresh mint doesn’t blend the colours, just leaves small pieces of mint floating around, which makes for a pretty effect.

1 comment:

  1. The chaitini sounds just my affair. I have the ingredients too!