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.

 

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Christmas Tincture

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For me, nothing evokes the joy of Christmas like the smell of a Christmas tree (that and the smell of the Christmas box that stores my parents’ decorations for eleven months of the year, though I haven’t worked out how to bottle that yet).

The easiest way to capture aroma in a drink is to create a tincture – an alcoholic extract of a plant, or an intense and high (80-100% proof) alcohol infusion.

So once we’d purchased our Christmas tree this year I relieved it of one good size branch and then:

  1. Combine 60ml vodka in a small jar and add a handful of Christmas tree needle branches.
  2. Leave to infuse for 3-4 days.
  3. Remove the branches and bottle the tincture in a diffuser.

The finished tincture can be used to rinse glasses or glass stems or as a light spritz over the top of a finished drink – don’t over do it though, too much pine can be poisonous.

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.

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.

Earl Grey Daiquiri

Photo courtesy of StuartWebster, some rights reserved

The Daiquiri is a sub-category of the sours group of cocktails, and is constructed from the simple combination of rum, lime juice (or lemon, once upon a time) and sugar.

Invented in Santiago, Cuba; the Daiquiri owes much of its reputation to Ernest Hemingway.  Upon moving to Cuba in 1932 to escape the horrors of Prohibition, Hemingway fell in love with Daiquiri Number Three as served in Constantino Ribalaigua’s El Floridita, the bar now known as the self-appointed ‘cradle of the Daiquiri’.

However, Hemingway’s favourite version was far removed from the traditional white rum, lemon and sugar concoction that was first served back in the 1890s. For a start, Hemingway was diabetic and therefore wary of drinks made with added sugar. Secondly, the addition of grapefruit juice will appeal only to those who prefer a super sour flavour profile. In my mind grapefruit juice is solely reminiscent of those bleary-eyed mornings in a continental hotel where you end up sucking your cheeks in after opting for the wrong jug at the breakfast buffet.

However, Hemingway’s endorsement and the mass exodus of wealthy Americans to Cuba during the dark days following the Volstead Act were enough to create a buzz around the concept of the Daiquiri.  Following on from the rich tradition of El Floridita #1 through #3, we now live in a world where Daiquiri possibilities are so endless that “drive-through Daiquiri joints are ubiquitous” in Louisiana.

The Daiquiri has proved to be a versatile canvas for the cocktail boomers of recent years. But while Difford’s #9 contains just over one hundred Daiquiri variants from Acapulco, Ace of Clubs and Aged Honey through to the Vanilla, Very Rusty and Whoop It Up varieties, the Savoy Cocktail Book contains just the one and I think it’s fair to say that a number of the current crop were born in the dark days of sparklers, blue curaçao and umbrellas (see the frozen puréed fruit varieties in particular).

At its heart, the Daiquiri is best made as follows:

  1. Add a large measure of white rum, the juice of half a lime and a barspoon of simple syrup to a shaker of ice.
  2. Shake well and strain into a Martini glass
  3. Garnish with a wedge of lime.

Of course some flavoured Daiquiris can be acceptable and even quite pleasant. Consider using aged rum for a richer taste, or branch out to the other end of the spectrum and make a Hemingway Daiquiri to punish your taste buds:

  1. Add an extra large measure of rum, one measure each of pink grapefruit juice, maraschino and fresh lime juice, and an optional half a measure of simple syrup, to a shaker of ice.
  2. Shake well and strain into a Martini glass.
  3. Garnish with a wedge of lime

However, I was making Earl Grey syrup the other weekend, and couldn’t resist the opportunity to experiment.

The Earl Grey Daiquiri, therefore:

  1. Add a large measure of rum, four bar spoons of Earl Grey Syrup and the juice of half a lime to a shaker of ice.
  2. Shake well.
  3. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with a wedge of lime (perched on the edge of the glass).

Much better.

Stocking Your Bar

Casa de Bourbons (already out of date). Note the Mad Men index cards stuck to the back wall.

I’m often asked (well ok, it’s happened once, but starting the post like this makes me sound authoritative…) how a budding dipsologist should set about stocking his or her own home bar.

In truth, there is no simple, all-encompassing answer to this question as it all depends on your personal tastes, style and circumstances.

In attempting to answer the question, I am going to address two broad categories:

  • The Specialist
  • The Generalist

The Specialist is someone with a passion for one drink.  They love this drink, they order it all the time, and can rank every bar within a fifty mile radius based solely on how they prepare this drink.  The Specialist is keen to perfect this drink for themselves and then branch out to explore common, less common and then bespoke varieties of this drink.

The Generalist is a bon viveur, an experimenter and a fantastic host (or aspires to be).  They want to be able to make whatever their guests desire, do it competently and maybe recommend a related alternative drink for when that first glass is empty.  They want to be able to call on surface level knowledge of a large number of drinks, and have the wherewithal to make them all.

Despite their differences, the starting point is always the same:

Pick a drink.  Any drink.  Preferably your favourite, or at least one you’d like to get to know.  Then look it up and see what goes in it.  Take this list of ingredients to your nearest boozemonger and buy the best version of each ingredient that you can afford.  I’ve spoken elsewhere about the importance of not skimping on ingredients and even if you’re a Generalist, you should have one go-to signature drink that you make perfectly.

Where you go from here is really rather up to you.

A specialist’s selection of vermouth?
Photo courtesy of rockdoggydog, some rights reserved.

The Specialist

I was once a specialist, and in many ways I still am.  My first dipsological adventure was based upon the Manhattan, and this blog still has a primary focus on drinks based around whiskey and sweet vermouth.  I tried different recipes and different styles using the same bottle of bourbon and Martini Rosso, and then one day I stumped up for a new ingredient.  This is how the Specialist begins.

My first non-standard Manhattan ingredient was Maraschino.  I’d read the recipe for a Red Hook somewhere, and decided to inflict it on my guests one New Year’s Eve.  After that I compiled a great long list of Manhattan variants from Affinity to Van Brunt and ranked the ingredients in order of which appeared in the most drinks.  This list is still the basis for the #midweekmanhattan feature and I’m always on the look out for other additions.

The rules for the Specialist:

  1. Pick your drink and buy the key ingredients.
  2. Branch out.  Try it with a different base spirit, a different mixer, different bitters.
  3. Change the fruit juice, the garnish, and/or the quantities of each.
  4. Read up on popular, obscure and unusual variants.
  5. Engage your brain, speak to bartenders and ask around.
  6. Always stay on the look out for a new bottle that might provide just the kick you are looking for.
Eventually you’ll get so far into this that when someone turns up at your door and asks for a Manhattan, you’ll tell them that you can make them a Sweet Rye Martini, and ask if they want Abbotts or Bokers in that.

The Generalist

Before I was a Specialist I was a Generalist.  I had a fifties themed birthday party and set about it by stocking up for every drink mentioned in the first couple of series of Mad Men.  I felt I needed to be prepared for the Gimlets, the Collinses, the Old Fashioned and the Brandy Alexander (nb no one really needs to be prepared for the Brandy Alexander).  I broke my own first rule and skimped a little on the ingredients.  I figured it didn’t matter too much as I was going to be sticking reproduction 1950s labels on the bottles anyway, but it kinda did, not least because I felt a little ashamed trying to make a Vesper with Asda SmartPrice vermouth.

The best way to kick start the habit of the Generalist is to plan for a party, ideally around a loose theme (1920s, 1950s, 1980s all provide good cocktail options) or just in line with what you know your pals will drink.  Come up with a menu that fits.  Then, as with the Specialist, expand.

The Generalist will:

  1. Pick a dozen or so drinks that will appeal to a broad audience (see The 12 Basic Drinks at Home Bar Basics or the Twenty Five Most Influential Cocktails).
  2. Rank the ingredients in order of occurrence, and by the most versatile (or most frequently used).
  3. Buy these ingredients (gradually and as your budget allows).
  4. Remember (easier said than done) which drinks were successful (and any requested that you couldn’t provide).
  5. Set yourself a buying plan (i.e. one bottle a month) and keep buying in order of versatility.
  6. Keep versaility as your watch word and keep thinking about what can serve as a replacement, or do the job of two ingredients.
  7. Keep a healthy supply of bitters, mixers and garnishes.

Of course the reality is that we all want to be a little bit of both and I picture the two categories as extremes on a spectrum.  Ultimately wouldn’t it be great to come full circle and be a General Specialist who has a house full of every conceivable ingredient and a brain full of every conceivable idea?  Well yes, but then you’d never get any work done.

Cocktailising

A few steps nearer on the road to General Specialist is the role of Cocktailiser.  Actually it’s quite a long way from General Specialist.  The Cocktailiser is the (pompous/pretentious/snobbish) gent who turns his nose up at a pint of IPA or a rum and coke and expects every bar to be able to provide a top notch Old Fashioned.  Unfortunately this just isn’t going to happen, so the Cocktailiser provides for himself.

Key to the Cocktailiser philosophy is that at its heart every classic cocktail is just a bittered sling (spirit, sugar, water bitters).  Knowing that even the worst bar should be able to provide the first three, the Cocktailiser is always equipped with the fourth.

I’ve spoken before of the Bitter Truth Travel Bitters set, and this really is the essential weapon in the armoury of the Cocktailiser.  With this selection in hand, a straight whiskey becomes a tolerable Old Fashioned, a scotch and Drambuie a Rusty Nail, and a vodka and cranberry juice a passable (just) Cosmopolitan.

Of course in this age of travel paranoia the Travel Bitters set isn’t a companion you would like to explain to security at Heathrow, but if you want to be the suave gent sipping an Old Fashioned on the dancefloor at Skanky McSkankerson’s Niteclub next weekend, it might just be the way to go.

Not that I could possibly endorse it of course…

Rusty Nail

Photo courtesy of Clearly Ambiguous, some rights reserved

Rugby and drinking go hand in hand, and you need look no further than The Famous Grouse’s long association with the Scottish national team to know that whisky and rugby are a natural combination.

My early rugby watching was done in sunny south London rather than the frozen north, so rugby for me was always associated with beer.  Normally the warm flat stuff that men with beards drink – remember the Tetley’s Bitter Cup and Greene King as ‘official beer’ of the England rugby team?   Even when I moved north, much of my rugby watching was accompanied by a plastic pint cup of lager for the Heineken Cup and occasionally Magners for the Celtic League, at least in part for its prominance on the shirts of Edinburgh and London Wasps in the mid-2000s.

Since then however, I have wrapped up warm for enough afternoons and evenings at Murrayfield and one particularly chilly November day on the Aberdeenshire coast where even the players came out to warm up in tin foil coats under sleeping bags.  As a result I have developed an appreciative understanding of the use of the hip flask and the variety of concoctions it can contain.

The obvious choice for the hip flask is straight whisky, but with tastes differing so much from person to person as you pass it down a row of seats, it’s far safer to mellow the whisky with the addition of a drop of Drambuie, the ‘satisfying’ blend of malt whisky, honey, herbs and spices that was supposedly gifted to the Clan MacKinnon by Bonnie Prince Charlie after a hard day at Culloden in 1746.

Rusty Nail

The original version of the Nail actually dates from the golden sands of Hawaii in the 1940s and not the West Stand at Murrayfield on St Patrick’s Day 1990.  Much like the Dry Martini, purists can argue for days about the ratio of whisky to Drambuie, but 3:1 is just about standard for your hip flask.  It can also be served up, or over crushed ice as follows:

  1. Fill an old fashioned glass with crushed ice.
  2. Add a large measure of scotch whisky (traditionally a blend, but feel free to experiment) and a measure of Drambuie.
  3. Stir gently until frost forms on the outside of the glass.
  4. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel.

Royal Nail

The Royal Nail is a luxurious alternative to the Rusty Nail, described by its creator, Simon Difford, as ‘two British Royals bittered by a yank’.  It forgoes the Drambuie, uses Peychaud’s bitters for its mellowing, blending effect and was a staple of my hip flask during this summer’s wedding season.  The Royal Nail can also be found ‘straight up’, but is more commonly served over ice:

  1. Add a large measure of premium blended whisky, a measure of Islay whisky and a single sploosh of Peychaud’s to a mixing glass.
  2. Fill the mixing glass with ice and stir well.
  3. Strain into an old fashioned glass over ice and garnish with a twist of orange peel.

Galvanised Nail

The Galvanised Nail uses Drambuie, apple, lemon and elderflower to smooth the edges of the Scotch.  Another Simon Difford creation, dating from 2003, it is usually served up:

  1. Add a large measure of blended whisky, half a measure of Drambuie, half a measure of apple juice, a quarter measure of elderflower liqueur and a quarter measure of lemon juice to a shaker.
  2. Fill with ice and shake well.
  3. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with a twist of lemon.

Cajun Nail

The Cajun Nail is a mix between the Sazerac and the Rusty Nail, which uses whiskey instead of whisky, ramps up the Drambuie content and gives us another chance to practice our Absinthe Rinse.  The Cajun Nail is best served over ice:

  1. Fill an old fashioned glass with ice, add half a measure of absinthe and top up with water.
  2. Add a large measure of whiskey, a large measure of Drambuie and three splooshes each of Angostura and Peychaud’s to a mixing glass.
  3. Fill with ice and stir well.
  4. Discard the absinthe water and ice (offer them to your customer separately if you wish).
  5. Strain into the absinthe rinsed glass over fresh ice and garnish with the oil from a twist of lemon, but discard the peel.