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

negroni

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!)

Strawberry Fields

Photo courtesey of Wholesale of void, some rights reserved

My first garden party of the summer was in aid of a good friend’s thirtieth birthday party and had a ’round the world’ theme (i went as Willy Fogg by the way and came second in the fancy dress contest – thanks Mr & Mrs Cooke!).

I was asked if I could provide one or two drinks for the occasion that could be easily scaled up and served to a group of around forty people. Happy to oblige I combined a classic Barbadian rhyme* and some typically English ingredients to create a summer punch which was duly christened ‘Strawberry Fields’.

I made this in litre-jug sized batches, but the proportions below will work just as well glass by glass:

  1. Muddle a few leaves of mint and one strawberry (per serving) in the bottom of a mixing glass.
  2. Add four parts cold Earl Grey tea, three parts gin, two parts strawberry syrup and one part freshly squeezed lime juice.
  3. Add ice and stir well.
  4. Strain into a highball glass and garnish with a strawberry.
* The rhyme in case you were wondering is the old Bajan basis for a traditional rum punch “one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, four of weak”.  For the rum punch it refers to lime juice, sugar, rum and water in that order (served with a dash or two of Angostura bitters and nutmeg, which don’t make the rhyme) but can easily be transposed to a whole range of other ingredients.

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.

 

Repeal Day: The Scofflaw

Photo courtesy of ReeseCLloyd (Flickr), some rights reserved

Today is the eightieth anniversary of a magical day that many Americans thought would never come. The anniversary of the passing of the Twenty-first Amendment to the American Constitution. And what did the Twenty-first Amendment to the American constitution achieve? The revocation of the Eighteenth Amendment to the American Constitution. And what was the Eighteenth Amendment to the American Constitution? The worst amendment of all:

“the prohibition of the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all the territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes.”

The Prohibition era was a contentious period in American history. Although driven by an almost untouchable combination of patriotism, medical evidence, religious fervour and social hysteria, American’s experiment with prohibition was, by 1925 widely perceived to have failed. The temperance movement had hoped for a reduction or elimination of a range of social problems – drunkenness, crime, mental illness and poverty, but instead:

“Five years of Prohibition [have] had, at least, this one benign effect: they have completely disposed of all the favorite arguments of the Prohibitionists. None of the great boons and usufructs that were to follow the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment has come to pass. There is not less drunkenness in the Republic, but more. There is not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more. The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.” – HL Mencken

Ultimately the failure of Prohibition was due to the determination of the populace to continue to produce and drink alcohol. In particular, bootlegging and organised crime flourished and the underground drinking dens, the speakeasies, the blind pigs and the blind tigers rose to a level of popularity that would not be matched for another seventy-five years. Ultimately, irony of irony, many of those who supported the repeal movement began to argue that prohibition had exacerbated the problems it had set out to eradicate – largely due to the popularity and allure of speakeasy culture.

The repeal movement had permeated the American consciousness to such an extent that in 1932 Franklin D Roosevelt ran for election on a promise that he would repeal the federal Prohibition law, and in March 1933 he proved true to his word.  Finally, thanks to the Cullen-Harrison Act, Americans were free to purchase wine and weak beer (no Budweiser jokes here, please) after a thirteen year wait.  What a summer it must have been.  By 5 December 1933 the Amendment had been fully ratified and the federal laws enforcing Prohibition were repealed.

Between 1920 and 1933, however, Prohibition had had a noticeable effect on the drinkers of Europe.  Faced with the Prohibition of their profession back home, many American bartenders fled to London and Paris and set up local bars offering American cocktails to the bemused Europeans.  Of these, the most famous examples include Harry’s Bar, Paris and The American Bar at The Savoy.  In keeping with the name that had been coined (in 1924) to refer to those who continued to drink illegally in America, the new ex-pats were also called scofflaws.

So as a result, we Brits have plenty to thank these Americans for – and can look back wryly on the clearly wrong-headed idea of banning alcohol in the first place.  For them, today seems a fitting day to raise a toast to these pioneers, and what better drink to choose than the Scofflaw – a drink created by a scofflaw at Harry’s Bar, Paris, to celebrate his escape from the parched lands of America:

  1. Combine one and a half measures of rye whiskey, half a measure of dry vermouth, a measure of lemon juice and half a measure of grenadine to a shaker of ice.
  2. Shake well and double strain into a chilled coupe glass.
  3. Garnish with a twist of lemon.

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.