Monday 18 January 2016

Introducing the Bognor Gothic cocktail

Bognor Gothic the font
A friend recently asked me to come up with a cocktail to go with a new font he had created.

You read that right. I don’t suppose many fonts come with a recommended cocktail, but you know what these creative types* are like. I suppose that, while many classic typefaces were developed to solve practical typesetting problems, others were intended to evoke emotions or associations in the viewer, so perhaps a prescribed drink might help achieve this effect.

To give you an idea of the mood, here is a room in my friend's
house done up in a Victorian Gothic/Arts & Crafts style
My friend lives in Bognor Regis, a town on the south coast of England. It became a fashionable resort in Victorian times and was later favoured by King George V for its healthy sea air, hence the “Regis” suffix. The font is called Bognor Gothic and seems to be a modern nod to the Victorian reinvention of the Gothic. This is what he has to say on the subject:

As Montmartre is to Paris and Soho is to London, so North Bersted is to Bognor Regis. Therefore it is no wonder that Bognor Gothic springs from this quaint “artists quarter” of the sprawling metropolis. It is deeply rooted in the Arts and Crafts movement, being a fine hand-crafted font brought about through a combination of both the belief in the integrity of the artisan and the eschewing of modern technology—albeit through the mechanism of not being arsed to Google other Gothic fonts. Bognor Gothic is a product of its environment, the desolate and blasted landscape of the Victorian seaside town, like the bleak moors but with more arcades and chip shops. Less “Wuthering Heights” and more “Withering Lows.”**

So something self-consciously rustic, artisanal and Victorian. “Our money is on something involving dark rum and absinthe,” he adds.

The Victorian angle put me in mind of some sort of punch or purl, a kind of ale infused with wormwood—particularly the variety that grows in coastal salt marshes—which used to be popular in Victorian times. The wormwood seems to have played the same role as a bittering agent as hops do today. Later the term purl was used for a mulled blend of ale, gin, sugar and spices. Simon Difford lists purl in his cocktail guide as simply gin and ale.

Monin's gingerbread syrup:
doesn't work here
Cocktails with beer are pretty trendy these days,*** presumably going hand in hand with the explosion of “craft” ales. So I start off with gin and beer, using Fuller’s London Pride simply because I have some in the house. Then I add some absinthe (La Fée Parisienne, the new formulation) in accordance with my friend’s suggestion, and as a nod to the original wormwood flavour in purl.

As for the spices, the simplest way to get them in is a spiced syrup. I happen to have some of Monin’s gingerbread syrup, so I experiment with that, but I have to abandon it in the end as it has too dominating a flavour. I don’t know how they make it, but it doesn’t just taste of gingerbread spices—ginger and cinnamon—but somehow of gingerbread. So instead I make an experimental quantity of simple syrup (100ml sugar and 50ml water heated in a pan till it dissolves) with about a teaspoon of Schwartz mixed spice (ground cinnamon, coriander seed, caraway seed, nutmeg, ginger and cloves) plus a few extra whole cloves.

I found that if you start with a double measure (50ml) of gin then you probably don’t want much more than 300ml beer before you start to lose the flavour of the gin. Absinthe always makes its presence felt, and I found that half a teaspoon was ample. A couple of teaspoons of the syrup got those mulling spices involved, and I chose to add a teaspoon of lemon juice for a tartness to balance the sweetness of the sugar. I tried it at room temperature though you could mull it—preferably by plunging a red-hot poker into it in the traditional way.

The Bognor Gothic No.1
The Bognor Gothic No.1
6 shots ale
2 shots gin
2 tsp mixed spice syrup
1 tsp lemon juice
½ tsp absinthe
Combine ingredients in a glass and stir gently.

It’s an interesting drink, with all the flavours discernible at the same time. Whether or not you’ll actually like it depends in the first instance on whether you like absinthe, which is a pretty divisive taste. Or beer, for that matter: between the beer and the absinthe there is a noticeable bitterness to this cocktail, as well as the sweet and sour “cocktaily” elements too.

London Pride has quite a caramel character to it, which made me wonder if the same cocktail might indeed work with dark rum instead of gin. I tried it with some Bacardi Carta Negra, but for some reason I didn’t think it worked so well. It may be that beer and rum aren’t comfortable bedfellows after all, so I decided to backtrack and start again with rum and absinthe as my friend had originally suggested. I didn’t find anything intrinsically quarrelsome here, so I then tried to bring in some spice again, this time using The King’s Ginger liqueur, then lime juice to balance its sweetness (and for a nautical nod).

The Bognor Gothic No.2
The Bognor Gothic No.2
2½ shots dark rum
¾ shot The King’s Ginger
½ shot lime juice
½ tsp absinthe
Shake with ice and serve in some sort of chalice, pewter tankard or hand-turned wooden bowl. Or a cocktail glass.

You may have to play around with the proportions depending on what rum you use. There is actually an existing cocktail called a Green Swizzle (mentioned in the P.G. Woodhouse story The Rummy Affair of Old Biffy) which is probably similar—I say “probably” as there doesn’t seem to be much agreement and Woodhouse doesn't name the ingredients—but with almond-flavoured falernum instead of the ginger liqueur (some modern versions use crème de menthe to get the colour and no absinthe) and presumably with white rum to allow it to be green. And you are also not far from the classic Dark ‘n’ Stormy, mixing dark rum, lime juice and ginger beer.

Once again the absinthe will divide people: Mrs H. hates the stuff, so I tried making one without it but for some reason it didn’t really add up to much, even after I added a couple of dashes of Angostura bitters (which went nicely with the ginger). I suspected it exposed the relatively mild flavour of Bacardi Carta Negra as a “dark” rum, and that one with more of a raspy pot-still character might work better. So I try the experiment again using Myer’s dark Jamaican rum and, although it is different, I again think that the absinthe-free version doesn’t quite come together but the full-on version does.

I couldn’t really say whether this cocktail will help you appreciate the font better, but it leaves me wondering what drinks should accompany other fonts. Times? Something establishment like a whisky and soda, I think. Courier, the classic monospaced typewriter font? Whatever a war correspondent drinks—a cup of cold coffee or anything from a hipflask with a dent from a bullet in it. Slab serif fonts remind me of politically correct textbooks from the late Seventies or early Eighties, so perhaps a Harvey Wallbanger (though the people who wrote those books probably drank chlorophyll smoothies or Fairtrade real ale with twigs floating in it). Gill Sans is one of my favourite fonts and it always reminds me of wartime information posters. What did they drink in the Blitz..?

Any other suggestions gratefully received!

Slab serif font American Typewriter. Check out Rockwell too
Gill Sans

* Pardon the pun…

** On the subject of Victorian novels, Bognor—or rather the purpose-built resort of Hothampton developed there by speculator Sir Richard Hotham—is believed to be portrayed in Jane Austen’s unfinished novel Sanditon.

*** At a bar in St John's Square called The Bear (now closed down) I had an unlikely-sounding but very successful cocktail of gin, IPA beer and sauvignon blanc wine.

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