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.

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.

Legless Leopard

Photo courtesy of soulrider67, some rights reserved.

Saturday night is Eurovision night.  I’ll be at a refined summer wedding, but for those of you hosting a party to celebrate the campest night of the year, what could be more appropriate than a Flirtini/Bucks Fizz cross?

The Flirtini is a fruity/flirty orange and pineapple concoction which is normally finished with champagne.  For the Eurovision alternative, we’ll be topping it with Bucks Fizz:

  1. Add 3/4 measure of vodka, 3/4 measure of triple sec and two measures of pineapple juice to a shaker of ice.
  2. Shake well and double strain into a martini glass.
  3. Top up with Bucks Fizz (two parts orange juice to one part champagne).
  4. Garnish with a cherry.

Bucks Fizz (in case you’re interested) is named for London’s Buck’s Club (the inspiration for Bertie Wooster’s very own Drones Club) and was first poured in 1921 as an excuse to start drinking at breakfast, so I guess this one will work just as well on Sunday Morning.

The Cosmopolitan

Photo courtesy of quinn.anya, some rights reserved.

The Cosmopolitan was introduced to a generation of young women as Carrie Bradshaw’s drink of choice, but before it found fame on the Upper East Side, it had its beginnings in the mid-1980s as a pretty pink (and easy-drinking) alternative to the Martini for those who wanted the glamour of drinking from a martini glass, but weren’t fans of the eponymous drink itself.  As a result, the “Cosmo” gets a lot of bad press among ‘serious’ cocktail writers who dismiss it as a cocktail for people who don’t like cocktails.

The Cosmopolitan is now usually listed as one of the ‘sours’ family of cocktails, alongside the Margarita (which replaces vodka with tequila), and the Kamikaze (which excludes the cranberry juice).  In many ways therefore, it is a useful gateway drink to a world of cocktail discovery, and it is certainly more popular in my house than a large number of ‘more serious’ drinks.

The other side to that coin is that the drink has started to become a victim of its own success.  In its celebrity champion’s own words:

Miranda: “Why did we ever stop drinking these?”

Carrie: “’Cos everyone else started.”

By the time Sex and the City had reached its peak, the Cosmopolitan was found on every basic cocktail menu around the world.  This spawned a world of below par Cosmos that suffered from the use of cheap ingredients, sour mix and an over-reliance on too much cranberry juice.

I was always taught that a Cosmopolitan should be mostly vodka, with considerably less triple sec and cranberry juice, and consequently follow a 2:1:1 ratio.  If you’re looking for something a little easier on the palate, don’t move further than a 1:1:1.5 ratio:

  1. Pour a large measure of vodka, a measure of cranberry juice and a measure of triple sec into a shaker of ice.
  2. Add the juice of half a lime and a dash or two of orange bitters.
  3. Shake well and strain into a chilled martini glass.
  4. Garnish with a flamed twist of orange.
Citrus vodka works best if you have it, and a wedge of lime perched on the edge of the glass is also acceptable in place of the twist of orange but not nearly as much fun.

If you’re looking for a more grown up version of the Cosmpolitan, you could do worse than mix yourself a Xanadu Fancy – a drink that I discovered on the menu of the much lamented Raconteur Bar in Edinburgh’s Stockbridge neighbourhood:

  1. Add a large measure of vodka, a measure of aperol, orgeat, fresh lime juice and cranberry juice to a shaker.
  2. Fill the shaker 2/3 full of ice and shake hard for twenty seconds.
  3. Strain into a chilled martini glass
  4. Garnish with a flamed twist of orange.

Champagne French Martini

Photo courtesy of StuartWebster, some rights reserved.

All celebrations are special, but for a really special celebration (perhaps a Princess’s birthday?) something quite exquisite is required. I’ve never really understood what makes a French Martini a Martini, because apart from the glass they are nothing alike, but the addition of Champagne certainly makes this French Martini even more French.

The ever-so simple but effective French-Martini.com explains that originally a French Martini was just a Martini made with a French vermouth, which makes literal sense, although apart from national pride (thank you, L’Académie Française!) perhaps doesn’t warrant the naming of a whole new drink.

As a result, therefore, we can only assume that the French Martini as we now know it was developed for those who cannot face the prospect of a genuine Martini just yet, but want to pretend they’re enjoying a distant relative of the drink enjoyed by those embodiments of suave, Humphrey Bogart and Mae West.

Of course the French Martini is a variant of the Martini in the loosest possible sense, as it contains neither of the ingredients of a traditional Martini, and unlike its namesake is fruity, crisp and super-sweet in equal measure.

To make a delectable celebratory version of this sweet treat proceed as follows:

  1. Add a measure of vanilla vodka, 2/3 measure of Chambord black raspberry liqueur and 1/2 measure of pineapple juice to a shaker of ice.
  2. Shake well and strain into a martini glass (also works well in tea cups, jam jars and plant pots).
  3. Top up with Champagne and garnish with a raspberries.

Return of the Mad Men

Photo created at http://www.MadMenYourself.com, all rights reserved.

A post tonight to celebrate the upcoming return of Mad Men to our TV screens after a break of over a year.  This American drama, set in a New York advertising agency in the 1960s has been credited with sparking a sixties revival in fashion, and as part of that, in drinking fashion.  As a result, here is a quick rundown of some of the characters’ favourite drinks, as told to your host, on his internship at Sterling Cooper (pictured above handing Mr Draper his morning paper and Old Fashioned).

Vodka Gimlet

The Gimlet is attributed to the Royal Navy who added gin to their scurvy-avoidance rations of gin to help it go down.  The vodka alternative became more popular in the 1960s, and Betty Draper is partial to the occasional Vodka Gimlet whilst conducting extra-marital affairs.

  1. Add a large measure of vodka and the juice of one lime to a shaker of ice.
  2. Shake well and strain into a martini glass.
  3. Garnish with a wedge of lime.

Tom Collins

The Collins family were raised in New York in the 1870s.  Tom always drank his with gin, while John preferred bourbon, and cousin Juan preferred tequila.  These may not be a favourite of Sally Draper (we hope) but she’s been mixing them for her parents and their friends from a young age.

  1. Add a large measure of gin, the juice of half a lemon and a teaspoon of simple syrup to a shaker of ice.
  2. Shake well and strain into a highball.
  3. Top up with soda water, add ice and garnish with a wedge of lemon, orange and cherry.

Stinger

A classic drink of the fifties where Cary Grant and Jayne Mansfield shared them onscreen in Kiss Them For Me, the Stinger is also one of Peggy Olsen’s choices when out on the town.

  1. Add a measure of brandy and a measure of crème de menthe to a shaker of ice.
  2. Shake and strain into a brandy glass.

Old Fashioned

This favourite of Don Draper and yours truly has been covered elsewhere, but let’s just say that like your author, Don Draper can mix these like a pro – and Conrad Hilton can attest to that.

  1. Muddle a sugar cube, two dashes of bitters and a sploosh of water in a rocks glass.
  2. Add ice and a large measure of whiskey. Stir and serve.

Bloody Mary

A breakfast-time classic, and a staple of the Sterling Cooper meeting room.  The Bloody Mary was developed as a hangover cure in 1920s’ Paris.  Use pepper vodka for even more of a kick.

  1. Shake a large measure of vodka, a (slightly) larger measure of tomato juice, the juice of half a lemon, a teaspoon of horseradish, a sploosh of Worcestershire sauce and a sploosh of Tabasco with ice.
  2. Strain into a highball.
  3. Garnish with pepper, a wedge of lime and a stalk of celery.

Brandy Alexander

Another favourite of Peggy Olsen this milkshake-like drink was originally made with gin (an Alexander), which sounds truly horrific.  Try it with brandy instead and it becomes more like a dessert.

  1. Shake a measure of brandy, a measure of crème de cacao and measure of single cream with ice.
  2. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with ground nutmeg.

Gibson Martini

Roger Sterling, a self-confessed fan of only clear drinks, will opt for a Gibson, when a straight Martini just won’t cut it.  Just be careful you don’t have too many with your oyster lunch.

  1. Stir a large measure of gin with a measure of dry vermouth and ice.
  2. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with three or four cocktail onions.

The Martini

Where to begin with this the most personal, complex and contentious combination of two simple ingredients?

Well, the Martini is a straightforward mixture of gin and vermouth created in the nineteenth century, either as a variation of the Martinez (gin, vermouth, curacao and orange bitters), or the child of an Italian vermouth distillery or the Knickerbocker Hotel, New York (for an investigation, read Adam Elmegirab, here)

Whatever your preference, one thing remains the same; the glass, a classic martini glass of course, should be chilled to ice cold before you begin. After that, the world is your olive.

The original Martini recipe (as far as I can tell) called for an equal mix of dry gin and dry vermouth, stirred gently and served with a single olive. Over time, the ratio of gin to vermouth has crept upwards, and passed two to three parts gin to one part vermouth in the 1940s (a Martini), five parts gin to one of vermouth in the 1960s (a Dry Martini) and up to eight parts gin to one part vermouth soon after that (an Extra Dry Martini).

The basic rule of thumb is that the greater the proportion of gin to vermouth, the “drier” the Martini – an old story claims that the driest Martini is made by pouring a large measure of gin and allowing “a sunbeam to pass through a sealed bottle of vermouth” and into the glass.

If I’m pouring myself a straight-forward Martini I will, by default, opt for a three:one ratio but it really is all down to personal preference:

  1. Chill your glass until it is frosty.
  2. Fill a mixing glass with ice.
  3. Add the gin, then the dry vermouth and stir gentlyfor sixty seconds.
  4. Strain into the frosty martini glass and garnish with an olive or three (on a pick) or a twist of lemon peel if you prefer.

If you prefer a more complex drink add a sploosh of bitters (the more exotic the better), sweet vermouth, or an Islay whisky.

A Dirty Martini involves the soothing addition of a dash of olive brine, and a Gibson is a Dry Martini with a single pickled onion (a favourite of Roger Sterling).

The Vesper

Much Martini lore has evolved from James Bond’s supposed love of the drink. In Casino Royale, Bond even goes as far as to invent his own variation – The Vesper, named after the delectable Vesper Lynd.  The drink was actually created for Ian Fleming by his bar-tending friend Ivar Bryce. In the book, it is introduced thus:

Bond looked carefully at the barman. ‘A Dry Martini’ he said. ‘One in a deep champagne goblet…Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel…’ –Casino Royale, Ian Fleming.

Purists claim that a Martini should always be stirred as shaking will ‘bruise the gin’ – perhaps Bond was confident in the resolve of his gin, but his Martinis, ordered throughout the books, sometimes vodka, sometimes gin, were always shaken, not stirred.