Wednesday 18 October 2017

What do you give the woman who has everything? Her own cocktail

A friend was thinking of ways to mark another friend’s 50th birthday and, being a sterling cove, he decided she needed a cocktail created for her and named in her honour. To which end he approached me. (Yes, it’s the same friend who previously asked me to come up with a cocktail to go with the new Bognor Gothic typeface he had designed.)

To get me started I was given a list of his friend Sarah’s likes and dislikes:

Likes: Vodka, tequila, gin, Champagne/Prosecco, triple sec, fruity flavours

Dislikes: Brandy, whisky, chocolate, creamy drinks

OK, so a Brandy Alexander was out. But the combination of tequila, Champagne and fruit flavours immediately made me think of the Paloma Royale combo I came up with last year. This is a blend of tequila, Champagne and grapefruit juice (inspired by the popular Paloma drink of tequila and grapefruit soda); at the time I felt that it worked fine like that, but I also experimented with adding a sweet/sour element with lime juice and syrup. So I felt sure that you could take this base and tweak it a bit more.

My first port of call was the reference in the list of likes to the orange liqueur triple sec (e.g. Cointreau). Sure enough, adding a little of this worked very well, but it really needed just half a teaspoon (2.5ml). At this level the note of orange is clear, but doesn’t swamp the grapefruit, and the earthiness of the tequila still comes through and you’re aware of the mouthfeel of the sparkling wine too. (I used Prosecco this time.) Judging by the photos it looks as if I used pink grapefruit juice last year and I was using white grapefruit juice this time—which might explain why I previously decided that sweetening wasn’t necessary, whereas this time I had to admit that a smidgeon of added sweetness (i.e. the amount in ½ tsp of Cointreau) was just right. If you have a sweeter tooth you could try pink juice.

Sarah’s Surprise No.1
25ml tequila
40ml grapefruit juice
2.5ml (½ tsp) triple sec (e.g. Cointreau)
100ml Champagne or sparkling wine

Shake the first three ingredients with ice and strain into a flute or Champagne saucer then add the sparkling wine and give a gentle stir.

Adding ginger to the original Paloma Royale works well—but with white
grapefruit juice it does need a hint of sweetness added
As I mention in a footnote of the previous post, I’ve noticed in the past that tequila and ginger go well, and indeed my friend had suggested using ginger to give it an autumnal warmth (Sarah’s birthday is in November). An obvious strategy would be to use a ginger liqueur like The King’s Ginger. But (a) I didn’t have any, and (b) based on my previous experience I was worried about making it too sweet. So instead I decided to try muddling fresh root ginger in the cocktail shaker before adding the tequila and grapefruit juice. This does work for sure, and you can adjust the ginger flavour by how big a slice of ginger you use (about an inch across and ⅛ inch thick is a good starting point). You will probably want to fine-strain this, as mashing up the ginger does fill your shaker with bits of fibrous root.

For me this may well have been fine as it was if I had been using pink grapefruit juice, but since I was on the less sweet white juice this time I had to concede that even for me it needed a hint of sweetness. I did try combining both versions of the cocktail by adding triple sec as well, but this was actually a flavour too far and the whole thing became confused.

In the end I found that ½ tsp maraschino did the trick (and I was not unconscious of the reference to the Papa Doble Daiquiri, a version of the rum-based Daiquiri cocktail that adds maraschino and grapefruit juice, apparently preferred by Ernest Hemingway).

It also occurred to me that if you simply garnished the drink with a maraschino cherry, deployed with a barspoon or teaspoon, then enough of the syrup would be transferred to add the same sweetness as using the liqueur, and sure enough this was the case.

Sarah’s Surprise No.2
25ml tequila
40ml grapefruit juice
Slice of root ginger
2.5ml maraschino, or one maraschino cherry
100ml Champagne or sparkling wine

Muddle the ginger in the base of a cocktail shaker, then add the tequila, grapefruit juice and maraschino if using. Shake with ice and fine-strain into a flute or Champagne saucer, then top with sparkling wine. If using the cherry, add it, then give the drink a gentle stir.

Adding a maraschino cherry, using a teaspoon or bar spoon, brings across enough of the syrup to balance the sweetness

Monday 16 October 2017

Marc my words

I went to make myself a Champagne Cocktail the other day and found that I had run out of Cognac. However, I noticed that I had the tail-end of a bottle of marc, so I thought I would give that a try.

Marc is a French spirit made from the grape must left over from making wine (like Italian grappa). I first encountered it on holiday in France. In a booze shop my eye was caught by a bottle of marc from Chateau Mont-Redon—my wife’s degree dissertation had been on the artist Odilon Redon, so it seemed somehow preordained that I should sample this liquor. Marc is, or can be, extremely strongly flavoured, and I remember how powerful the aroma of the Mont Redon was, firing off elements of dried fruit, nuts and stewed vegetables. My wife said she could smell it from the other side of the hotel room.

The marc I had this time was from Briottet, who produce a handy range of high-quality, reasonably priced liqueurs ideal for cocktail making. This was their Très Vieux Marc de Bourgogne, from the Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beane regions, aged for ten years in Burgundy barrels. Tasting the last thimbleful of it now, it does smell a lot like grappa, a sharp woody aroma with nuts and cherry stones, chocolate, raisins and dates. On the tongue these flavours are joined by a marmaladey orange note and something like pine nuts. Even after ten years in the barrel it’s pretty fierce, and you could believe it was stronger than its 43% ABV.

So does it work in a Champagne Cocktail? Yes, it certainly does, but you have to go easy. I started off using the same proportions I would use with Cognac (and I use less Cognac than many people) and the marc swamped it. I actually think that 5–10ml is about right, depending on the marc and the Champagne or sparkling wine you use. Adding the wine to the marc brought out extra elements of prunes and tobacco. The resulting cocktail seems very autumnal in its earthy flavours. I used the traditional sugar cube doused with Angostura bitters, but I found myself wondering whether a little pear purée might add a similarly autumnal form of sweetness.

Champagne Cocktail, Marc 2
Sugar cube
Angostura bitters
5–10ml marc
Champagne or sparkling wine
Apply several dashes of bitters to the sugar cube then drop it into a Champagne glass. Add the marc then top up with the sparkling wine.