Christmas Champagne Cocktail

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(c) 2010 Sarah Mennie.  All rights reserved.  

If you’re like us here at House of Bourbon HQ, right now you’re spending Advent Sunday sat by the fire, basking in the glow of your Christmas tree, listening to some Christmas music and wrapping presents or Christmas shopping (depending on your level of organisation).

If so, you need just the right drink to celebrate having Christmas totally under control, and nothing says celebration quite like the Champagne Cocktail – especially given this festive twist.  That’s right, this is the first of our Advent Sunday drinks making use of the mince pie cognac we made earlier this week:

  1. Sploosh a dash of bitters on a sugar cube and drop into a chilled champagne flute.
  2. Add 10ml of mince pie cognac and then fill the glass with chilled champagne.

Serve and smile. What do you mean it’s just us?

(Fizzy) Negroni Week

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Hurrah, it’s Negroni Week, I thought it would never come.  Did you know, in Venice it is not legally considered to be summer until Negroni week (2-8 June)?  No?  That’s because I just made that up.  Despite what you might think Negroni week is not an age old celebration of all things bitter and difficult, it was in fact invented by Imbibe magazine (and Campari) in err 2013.

Anyway, I’m not a big Negroni fan (I have tried, honest) but couldn’t let this momentous occasion pass without comment, so here is my recipe for a Fizzy Negroni (makes 1 litre or 8 125ml servings):

  1. Combine 300ml gin, 30oml Campari and 300ml sweet vermouth in a mixing glass and add 100ml of water (to account for the dilution you would normally get from stirring).
  2. Stir well and add to a soda siphon.
  3. Charge the siphon with CO2 and then discharge into small bottles (Schweppes’ 125ml minis are perfect).
  4. Cap and refrigerate.
  5. Serve with a bottle opener and a straw.

Pistachio Sour

Photo courtesy of mjtmail, some rights reserved

The second of my ‘around the world’ themed cocktails (see Strawberry Fields for an explanation) took in the pistachio trees of the Middle East, the lemon groves of Asia, the sugarcane plantations of the tropics and the corn fields of the American South with a nutty twist on the classic Whiskey Sour. This drink wasn’t as well suited to scaling up to pitcher size (you get a much better texture/mouthfeel from the egg white if you shake these individually), but the proportions below will suit any sized vessel:

  1. Add a large (double) measure of bourbon, a measure of lemon juice, half a measure of pistachio syrup, half a measure of simple syrup, half a measure of egg white and a dash of bitters to a shaker.
  2. Fill 2/3 full with ice and shake well for twenty seconds.
  3. Strain the drink and dry shake (no ice) for a further ten seconds.
  4. Strain into a rocks glass over ice and garnish with some ground pistachios or a cherry.

( Don’t be put off by the murky browny-green colour of this one, it is delicious!)

Camomile Sour

Whiskey Sour by Paul Goyette, some rights reserved

There’s nothing better than a delicious accident.  I made camomile bourbon a while back, and, for some reason, decided to use it in a Camomile Manhattan.  Look, I was young, experimenting, and a little obsessed with Manhattans, I didn’t really know what I was doing.

Anyway, some months later, having run out of regular bourbon (shock-horror indeed). I tried the camomile-infused version in a Whiskey Sour.  What a revelation.  The lemon and the camomile sat so well together I now almost despair a little that I didn’t think of this in the first place.

So, making up for lost time, I heartily commend to you the Camomile Whiskey Sour:

  1. Add 9 tablespoons of camomile flowers to a bottle of bourbon.  Leave this to infuse for 24 hours and then strain and filter.
  2. Add a large measure of camomile bourbon, a measure of lemon juice, half a measure of sugar syrup and half a measure of egg white to a shaker.
  3. Fill the shaker 2/3 full of ice and shake well for twenty seconds.
  4. Strain into the mixing glass and then dry shake (no ice) for a further ten seconds.
  5. Strain into a rocks glass and garnish with a slice of lemon and a cherry.

Gin Fizz

Ramos Gin Fizz by ReeseCLloyd, some rights reserved

The Fizz Family is an extension of another famous cocktail family; the Sours.  For every Sour there is a Fizz, and for every Fizz there is a Sour, it’s just that for some spirits one is usually more successful than the other.  That is why we find the Gin Fizz and not the Gin Sour, and the Whiskey Sour but not the Whiskey Fizz on the list of all time classic mixed drinks.

A Fizz, in its simplest form, is just a Sour with the lengthening addition of soda water.  A creation of the late nineteenth century, when mixed drinks began to emerge from the bittered sling category and include some of the first variants that allowed them to be considered, long, cooling, refreshing drinks.

The Gin Fizz opens itself up to a number of variations, but we start with the basic:

  1. Add two measures of gin, one measure of fresh lemon juice and half a measure of (2:1) sugar syrup to a shaker.
  2. Fill the shaker 2/3 full of ice and shake well for twenty seconds.
  3. Strain into a chilled highball glass (without ice) and top with soda water.
  4. Garnish with a slice of lemon and a sprig of mint.

The Ramos Gin Fizz, however, is anything but basic, and also requires you to have some time on your hands.  For a start it includes a number of controversial ingredients (orange flower water?  Heavy cream?) and then it comes with the firm instruction to shake for no less than twelve minutes.  It is not a drink to make if you are concerned about dying of thirst.

Invented in New Orleans in 1888 by barman Henry Ramos it is a silky smooth concoction which, if made to the exact recipe is a perfectly balanced masterpiece finished in ostentatious and labour-intensive style:

  1. Add a large measure of gin, a measure of heavy (double) cream, 1/2 an egg white, 1/2 a measure of lime juice, 1/3 measure of lemon juice, 1/2 measure of (2:1) sugar syrup and a barspoon of orange flower water to a shaker.
  2. Fill the shaker 2/3 full of ice and shake well for TWELVE MINUTES (Ramos used to hire a phalanx of shaker boys who would line up behind the bar and shake these all night).
  3. Strain into a chilled highball glass (without ice) and garnish with a slice of lemon.

Or, if you want a halfway house and don’t have twelve minutes of shaking to wait, try the Elder-Gin Fizz, a British summer time classic:

  1. Add a measure of gin, a measure of elderflower liqueur, half a measure of (2:1) simple syrup, half a measure of lemon juice and half a measure of egg white to a shaker.
  2. Fill the shaker 2/3 full of ice and shake well for twenty seconds.
  3. Strain into the mixing glass and then dry shake (without ice) for a further ten seconds.
  4. Strain into a chilled highball glass (without ice) and garnish with a slice of lemon.

 

Autumnal Old Fashioned

Photo courtesy of santheo. Some rights reserved (Flickr, CC)

Just a short seasonal post to mark the end of British Summer Time. As the evenings draw in and we begin the inexorable march towards Christmas it’s always useful to have a mellow spiced drink on hand to warm your toes after a long day of present shopping.

We start with a simple variation of the classic Old Fashioned:

  1. Add equal parts bourbon and applejack, a barspoon of honey and three dashes of your most autumnal bitters to a mixing glass of ice.
  2. Stir well and strain into an old fashioned glass.
  3. Garnish with a twist of orange peel.

On an exceptionally cold evening, or when the spirit of adventure takes you, this drink is also very good served warm and (in larger quantities). Combine the whiskey, applejack, honey and bitters with some winter spices (perhaps star anise, allspice, cloves, cinnamon, or cardamom) and orange and lemon wheels in a saucepan and bring to a low simmer. Lower the heat and simmer gently for twenty minutes. Ladle into a mug and serve steaming hot.

Martinez

 

Photo courtesy of Sam Simpson

Where to begin with the Martinez – a drink about which so much has been written, so much conjectured and so little understood?

Of course many know the Martinez as the direct ancestor of the Martini (not least because of the name), but it is also cited as a sort of missing link – the crucial step between the brusque rye whiskey and cognac drinks of the mid/late 1800s and the fresher, lighter gin drinks of the early 20th century.

How much of a role as ancestor the drink can claim is uncertain – it appears to only be about five years older than its more famous relation.  But given that the Martinez was introduced in print (by O.H. Byron in The Modern Bartenders’ Guide (1884) as “same as a Manhattan, only you substitute gin for whiskey” it can clearly claim to have helped drinking society to cross from dark spirit based drinks to light.

In truth, not much is known about the history of the Martinez, or the initial form it takes.  In particular, Byron’s recipe was somewhat unhelpful as his book lists two recipes for the Manhattan and fails to specify which one the Martinez is based on.

As well as this, other bartenders from the 1800s have a claim to inventing the drink – Jerry Thomas may have been one (although the drink did not appear until the 1887 edition of his Bartender’s Guide), and some have traced the drink to Martinez. California and one Julio Richelieu who was said to have created it for a passing goldminer in 1874.

By now, your view of the Martinez may be a little clouded.  It will only become more so.  In fact it’s fair to say that today’s Martinez is more of a category of drink than a single recipe.  Ingredient by ingredient the mystery grows.  Should it be based on Genever instead of gin?  Possibly, although the first printed record calls for gin.  But which gin?  Old Tom (a sweeter variety than the now ubiquitous Dry London) was certainly popular in the late 1800s, but does a drink which combines sweet vermouth and a sweet liqueur need any more sugar?  Probably to the palate of a late-Victorian drinker.

Next, the vermouth.  Byron listed both a sweet and dry Manhattan in his 1884 guide and there is no clue as to whether his Martinez used sweet or dry vermouth.  Most recipes now call for sweet on the basis that during the late 19th century this was more common than dry, so where a recipe fails to specify it is safest to assume sweet vermouth is intended.

Finally, the ratios.  As with the Martini, tastes have changed over time, and it is fair to say that most modern bartenders have turned the original two parts sweet vermouth to one part gin recipe precisely on its head.  Of course as the drink evolves towards the modern Martini, the recipe was forced to get drier, so there is no shame in calling for a more modern version.  Personally, I make mine as follows:

  1. Add a large measure of gin, a measure of sweet vermouth, a barspoon of Maraschino and three dashes of bitters to a mixing glass of ice.
  2. Stir for sixty seconds and strain into a chilled martini glass/coupe.
  3. Garnish with either a twist of lemon or a cherry.

Sophisticated, a little bit dry and a little bit sweet too, and probably still true to some halfway-house recipe that paved the way for the classic Martini.  History in a glass.

My Favourite Cocktail: The Sazerac

This post originally appeared as part of Social and Cocktail’s ‘My Favourite Cocktail’ series.

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It may seem strange, coming from a Scotch whisky enthusiast who writes under the name of House of Bourbon, that my favourite cocktail is commonly made with rye whiskey, and before that even used grain-less cognac as a base. But we dipsologists can be a contrary bunch, and as it is best to approach tipular fixing with an open-mind, I feel no compunction in announcing that my favourite cocktail is the Sazerac.

Now the Sazerac isn’t the sort of brightly coloured drink you see fooling around with sparklers and fancy fruit embellishments. In fact, in its purest form it should be served without any garnish at all. And that is the first limb of its charm. Before serving your Sazerac straight up in an unmarked glass the bartender will pause to sell you the dummy of a twist of lemon peel. After expressing the oil he will whisk it away, with suitable distain, and allow the rich flavour of the rye whiskey, Peychaud’s bitters and absinthe to have untrammelled control of your senses.

The second charm of the Sazerac is the ritual by which it is prepared. You cannot simply toss everything into a shaker, rattle to a count of thirty and strain. A Sazerac is built from the bottom up and then inverted into a pre-chilled, pre-rinsed glass (or in my preference, goblet).

Thirdly, the Sazerac has appeal because it is a survivor. It has faced some tough times in the 150 years or so of its life. First came the phylloxera epidemic that devastated northern Europe’s wine crops in the 1870s (so cognac became rye). Then, in 1912, came the US ban on absinthe (so absinthe became Herbsaint). Then came Prohibition (and the drink withered, or at least all the ingredients apart from the sugar cube and the lemon peel were likely made in an old bathtub). Finally, after the blessed relief of the 21st Amendment, Sazerac aficionados noticed with despair that most of the USA’s rye distilleries had not survived the great drought and so the rye became bourbon.

After a history as complicated as this, it is no small miracle that the complex Sazerac, now back to its purest 1850 recipe has survived, nay flourished, and that can be put down to the fourth inherent and most profound joy of the drink: the combination of the butch, spiced notes of rye tempered with the sweet, cinnamon of the absinthe and bitters. A bracing, complex marriage enhanced by the markedly apparent suggestion of fresh lemon, all contained in the mysteriously rich red-brown tipular.

Fix the House of Bourbon Sazerac as follows:

  1. Fill an old fashioned glass with ice and leave it to stand.
  2. In a second old fashioned glass muddle a sugar cube and five dashes of Peychaud’s bitters.
  3. Add a large measure of rye whiskey and a handful of ice cubes to the sugar and bitters solution and stir well.
  4. Discard the ice in the first glass and rinse it with a teaspoon or so of absinthe until the inside is coated.
  5. Strain the whiskey, sugar and bitters into the absinthe-rinsed glass.
  6. Garnish with the oil from a twist of lemon and discard the peel.

London Fog

Photo by jaybergesen, some rights reserved

I’ve been travelling to London a lot for work recently, and can vouch for the continued subsistence of the famous London fog.  There are few feelings more evocative of classic British dramas than those of walking over London Bridge, trench-coat tightly belted, with the view of the Thames largely obscured by the swirling mists.  While the millions of chimneys no longer belch out the sulphur dioxide that gave the smog of the 1950s its poisonous edge, this drink’s namesake is still alive and well.

Those of you living a fair way from London this winter can recreate the effect by making the following drink, holding it up to the light and imagining you are surrounded by its vapours:

  1. Fill a rocks glass with crushed ice.
  2. Add 1 measure of London dry gin, 2 measures of chilled water and 1 measure of pastis.
  3. Stir well and top with ice.
  4. Garnish with a twist of orange peel.

London Fog is also a non-alcoholic hot drink made with Earl Grey, steamed milk and vanilla syrup and a pea and ham soup (recipe not included):

  1. Make an Earl Grey concentrate by steeping one teabag in half a cup of boiling water for 4 minutes.
  2. Warm half a cup of milk.
  3. Combine the tea concentrate and warm milk.
  4. Add a dash of vanilla syrup.

London Fog may also be familiar from a series three episode of Mad Men where Don and Sal come up with a new tagline – “Limit your exposure” for the American-based waterproof coat maker.

Mint Julep

Photo courtesy of tsand, some rights reserved.

A standard and special edition of a classic bourbon drink to mark US National Bourbon Day (14 June), although let’s not forget Bourbon Heritage Month is still to come (September)!

The Mint Julep is a drink that is now synonymous with Bourbon-country, in particular Kentucky, and an estimated 120,000 are sold over the Kentucky Derby weekend alone.

The ‘Julep’ of the name refers to a sweet syrup drink, and is a corruption of the Arabic ‘julab’ for ‘rosewater’.  In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, a julep was any sweet fruity drink, commonly based with rum, brandy or whiskey.  Now, the only julep-class drink with any global reputation is the mint julep, but there are some signs of revival in the form of rum and berry-based julep drinks as well.

The popularisation of the Mint Julep is often attributed to English Royal Navy officer and later novelist Captain Frederick Marryat, who eulogised thus in his 1839 Diary in America:

“I must descant a little upon the mint julep, as it is, with the thermometer at 100, one of the most delightful and insinuating potations that was ever invented, and may be drunk with equal satisfaction when the thermometer is as low as 70… As the ice melts, you drink. I once overheard two ladies in the room next to me, and one of them said, ‘Well, if I have a weakness for any one thing, it is for a ‘mint julep!’ – a very amiable weakness, and proving her good sense and taste. They are, in fact, like the American ladies, irresistible.”

Today, the Mint Julep is best made with fresh spearmint leaves and pre-chilled shaker and glass.  The traditional julep cup is made of pewter to help it to retain its coldness.  Very important when the thermometer is at  100, or even 70 – less so when (as at present) it is barely touching 50 in mid-June Edinburgh.

Two words of caution before the recipe: it is important to discard the stem of the mint, as this will produce a bitter residue when muddled, and ensure that you are only bruising the mint leaves and not pummelling them to a bitter slush at the bottom of your cup.

Ready? Ok:

  1. Add five mint leaves and a barspoon of simple syrup to your julep cup (if you don’t have $1,000 julep cup to hand a highball glass is a suitable alternative).
  2. Muddle well, but be sure to only bruise and not crush the leaves.
  3. Add a large measure of whiskey.  Bourbon is traditional given the drink’s association with Kentucky, and Early Times Kentucky whiskey is the choice at the Kentucky Derby.
  4. Fill the glass with crushed ice.
  5. Stir and garnish with a pristine mint sprig or three.

For an even mintier alternative, consider peppermint bourbon, or for an added booze and sugar hit, float half a measure of golden rum on top of the built drink.