Guid Auld Scotch Drink

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Let other poets raise a fracas

“Bout vines, an’ wines, an’ drucken Bacchus,

An’ crabbit names an’stories wrack us,

An’ grate our lug:

I sing the juice Scotch bear can mak us,

In glass or jug.

– Robert Burns, Scotch Drink, 1785

Scottish mythology tells us Robert Burns, the country’s best-loved poet, was a hard drinking womaniser and given the lines he penned in praise of Scotch whisky, and the fact that he (allegedly) died of rheumatic fever after falling asleep (drunk) at the side of the road aged just 37, I have no reason to doubt this.

Even if Burns was wary of any more than the most occasional dram of the “king o’ grain” undoubtedly served neat – and while now there are those who continue live by the old Irish proverb of “never steal another man’s wife and never water another man’s whiskey” and then would consider a possible breach of the first part – the focus of all modern cocktails is (or should be) the subtle marriage of complex flavours, and as the defining characteristic of first-rate Scotch whisky is the quest for the same pleasure from the juxtaposition of oak and grain, why shouldn’t fine malts and fine cocktails go together like a country lassie and mawn hay?

So, however you choose to celebrate the life of Robert Burns this Friday night, whether by traditional formal dinner – all Highland dress, pipers and toasts to the lassies; by emulating the great man himself – in a night of kirk-defying revelry and womansing; or by sitting in front of the open fire and cracking open a dusty old bottle of “the poor man’s wine” here are a few recipes worthy of a “bardie’s gratefu’ thanks”:

The Bobby Burns

Given the bard’s distaste for bitter, dearthfu’ wines, it is unlikely he ever thought to combine his whisky with sweet vermouth, or (dare we say) tonic wine. In fact, it is even doubted whether the drink is named for the poet or the politician of the same name. Either way, we’re all agreed it wasn’t named for the Nuneaton Town midfielder, and it calls for Scotch whisky, so it’s a good a place to start as any:

Note: The original recipe (Harry Craddock’s from The Savoy Cocktail Book) calls for equal parts whisky and sweet vermouth and 3 dashes of Bénédictine, the 2:1 version is far more suited to the modern palate:

  1. Add a large measure of Scotch whisky (blended is best here), a measure of sweet vermouth and 1/4 measure of Bénédictine to a mixing glass.
  2. Add ice and stir well.
  3. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a twist of lemon (and possibly some shortbread).

David Embury’s version replaces the Bénédictine with Drambuie largely on the basis that it is Scottish.

Rusty Bobby Burns

A small step away from the Bobby Burns is its ‘rusty’ cousin which is a 2:1:1 whisky, Drambuie and sweet vermouth version with a double sploosh of Peychaud’s bitters or, more excitingly for Sazerac fans:

  1. Add a large measure of Drambuie, a measure of sweet vermouth, a teaspoon of absinthe, a teaspoon of maraschino and a double sploosh of Angostura bitters to a mixing glass.
  2. Add ice and stir well.
  3. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a twist of orange.

The Big Yin

While ‘The Big Yin’ usually refers to Billy Connolly, it’s easily applicable to any ‘big man’ and in the west of Scotland that’s pretty much anyone worthy of the name, so why not Rabbie?

  1. Dissolve a teaspoon of brown sugar with a little water in a rocks glass.
  2. Add a sploosh each of chocolate and orange bitters, a piece of ice, a piece of orange peel and a large measure of whisky (an old highland malt is best here).
  3. Stir well and serve with a twist of orange.

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The Blue Blazer

The Blue Blazer is a true celebrity of a cocktail. The drink that made Jerry Thomas’s name (and probably lost him his eyebrows once or twice in the early days), it was the original attention-seeking barman’s act, long before the flash of caramelising orange zest distracted the Sex and the City clique. In the interests of safety I cannot condone the full Blue Blazer arc, a few simple pours back and forth will do the trick:

  1. Add a large measure of whisky (cask strength is your best bet here. Use an Islay or Highland malt here – something with a pleasant complexity) and a sploosh of orange bitters to a mug.
  2. At this point you can choose to add a liqueur, some spices or some fruit – purely optional, but Chartreuse and Chambord or Crème de Mure are good.
  3. Add a large measure of boiling water to the mug and ignite the liquid.
  4. Mix by pouring the blazing mixture from one mug to another four or five times.
  5. Sweeten with a teaspoon of Demerara sugar and serve in a tumbler garnished with a twist of orange peel.

The act of concocting a Blue Blazer requires a little practice (with water) to ensure you have the pour right before you add flames to the mix. Be sure not to burn the house down (even though you think it is what Robert Burns would have done) and don’t forget to extinguish the drink before you take a sip.

Sláinte!

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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.

Earl Grey Syrup

Regular readers may have noticed that in the early days of this site I used a lot of tea. Mainly tea-infused vermouth, but also tea-infused bourbon. I stuck mainly to green tea, chai and peppermint, but deep down inside what I really wanted to make was an Earl Grey Old Fashioned. An Earl Grey Old Fashioned and an Earl Grey Martini. I tried the former on Earl Grey’s birthday, but found that using Earl Grey infused whiskey made the drink too bitter. The solution was simple. Earl Grey Syrup.

I have already explained the basics behind home-made simple syrup, and a tea-infused syrup is no more complicated than this, you just use tea instead of water.

My Earl Grey syrup was made like this:

  1. Soak a teaspoon of loose leaf Earl Grey tea in 200ml of warm water for an hour. You can use a bag if you must, but I used Jeeves and Jericho’s Earl of Grey (at least in part because I love the colour of the cornflower petals).
  2. Pour the tea into a saucepan and bring to the boil.  Leave the bag/loose tea in the pan.
  3. Add 100g of sugar and simmer for ten minutes.
  4. Remove from the heat. Double strain and pour into a clean (sterile) bottle.

The syrup should keep for about a month if refrigerated. If you add a dash of vodka to the bottle it will keep even longer.

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.

Jack Rose

Photo courtesy of Michael Dietsch, some rights reserved

The Jack Rose manages to neatly combine two things that have been on my mind for some time.  The sourcing of a bottle of Laird’s Applejack, and my study of ‘Fiesta’ (The Sun Also Rises) by Ernest Hemingway.

Applejack is a Calvados-style apple brandy, which has claims to being the oldest American spirit due to its roots in the colonial period.  It is made by ‘jacking’ (freeze distilling) cider, and may have been discovered by North American apple farmers who found that by periodically removing the ice that formed on their cider, they could create a ‘jacked up’ drink as a result of the concentration of the remaining unfrozen alcohol.

Because ‘jacking’ could be done without any complicated distilling equipment, a rough version of applejack (and by rough we mean head-splitting) could be formed by anyone with a surplus of apples in a cold climate.  Given its rough heritage, it is perhaps not surprising that applejack has been supplanted in popularity by the more cultured Calvados and traditional apple brandies.  Although applejack is no longer made by leaving cider out to freeze, it does only consist of 35% apple brandy to 65% neutral grain spirit (effectively vodka), so it is easy to get snobby about its composition when compared to even its sibling Straight Apple Brandy which is 100 percent proof and 100% apple-based.  Perhaps as a result, applejack is rarely found on the shelves of even the most comprehensive booze vendors in the UK, and tracking it down became somewhat of a quest.  Once found, however, I found it intriguing for its history, its promise and its fruit and butterscotch/caramel notes.

As for Hemingway, well, ever since the Death in the Afternoon, I have been itching to read some more of his work, and recently picked up a copy of The Sun Also Rises on recommendation from a friend.  One thing that struck me about the opening 90 pages or so (aside from the compelling imagery of Paris in the Roaring Twenties and the unadulterated coquettish nature of Brett) is the sheer volume of alcohol that is consumed.  From the Fines à l’eau (cognac and water), to the whiskey (with or without soda), via the Pernod and the wine, Jake Barnes and his band of lost souls drink their way through all that mid-1920s Paris had to offer.

Of these various libations, one drink stood out as somewhat of an unknown quantity.  The Jack Rose has many plausible origins, with the Jack either referring to the base ingredient, the Jacqueminot rose, Jack Laird, wrestling bartender Frank J May, Bald Jack Rose a 19th century New York gangster, or a 20th century brand of small cigars.  Of these, the gangster story is most widely-renowned, and I recommend you have a good read of the story of old Jack Rose and the Becker-Rosenthal trial as you sip the protaganist’s favourite tipple:

  1. Add a large measure of applejack, a measure of lemon juice, a 1/4 measure of grenadine and two dashes of bitters to a shaker of ice.
  2. Shake well and strain into a martini glass.
  3. Garnish with a wedge of lemon.

A wedge?!  Well, it is an oldie…

Calvados or another apple brandy can be used in place of applejack which can be a little hard to find in the UK.  Sources also differ as to whether lemon or lime juice should be used, so feel free to experiment with that too.  If you find the lemon wedge gets in the way when drinking, a slice of apple or a cherry is also an acceptable garnish.

The Bramble

Photo courtesy of aida mollenkamp, some rights reserved.

The Bramble stands somewhat alone as arguably the most successful creation of the cocktail dark ages of the 1980s.  This, in my view, is closely related to the fact that unlike many concoctions of that era, the Bramble is not garishly couloured, hideously sweet and does not have a name a schoolboy would titter at.

To that extent then, the Bramble is the atypical eighties cocktail, and it is therefore no stretch to say that the classic nature of its composition has contributed to its longevity.

Foolishly in my early days as a dipsologist I was led to believe that the drink was named for the bar of the same name in Edinburgh, rather than the bar being named for the drink.  As much as I wish this to be true, I have subsequently learnt that the drink was born at Fred’s Club, Soho, London in the mid-1980s, and was the child of ‘cocktail king’ Dick Bradsell.

The Bramble benefits from a clean, crisp and berry-heavy nature, and is effectively a simple Gin Fix with the addition of a decorative swirl of blackberry liqueur.

To make The Bramble:

  1. Add a large measure of (dry) gin, a measure of lemon juice and half a measure of sugar syrup to a shaker of ice.
  2. Shake well and strain into a rocks glass of crushed ice.
  3. Drizzle half a measure of creme de mure over the built drink and garnish with some blackberries and a slice of lemon.

Rhubarb Gin and Tonic

Following on from a request from @kirvine_UK, and a later discussion with @Cbr6neem on Twitter yesterday, I have plunged headfirst into the world of gin for this summer, and started with a fruity, tangy concoction featuring that most British of summer fruits, rhubarb.

Fresh from the Yorkshire rhubarb triangle to your glass, any time between April and September, there are a number of ways to include rhubarb in your gin and tonic, from the straightforward (gin, tonic, rhubarb bitters) to the extreme.

The easiest way to make a rhubarb gin and tonic is to proceed as follows:

  1. Add a measure of gin, a measure of rhubarb liqueur (or juice) a teaspoon of simple syrup and two splooshes of rhubarb bitter to a tall glass of ice.
  2. Top up with tonic water, stir and garnish with rhubarb and/or a twist of lemon peel.

Of course if you are looking for a rhubarbier drink, and a little infusion project you could go ahead and infuse either the gin, or the simple syrup with fresh rhubarb or juice.  For the former:

  1. Add equal parts rhubarb juice and sugar to a pan on a medium heat.
  2. Stir until the sugar has dissolved thoroughly.

For rhubarb infused gin:

  1. Add 100g of chopped rhubarb to 100ml of gin in a pan on a medium heat.
  2. Stir gently until the alcohol starts to evaporate.
  3. Remove from heat and decant into an airtight container and leave overnight.
  4. Once suitably infused, strain into a clean bottle.

Of course a combination of rhubarb gin, rhubarb liqueur, rhubarb simple syrup and rhubarb bitters will produce the rhubarbiest version of this drink.  Tart, tangy and perfect for the summer!