Syrups

Simple Syrup

Simple syrup (sugar and water) is a key component of a whole host of cocktails, and is, as the name suggests, so simple that you may as well make it at home rather than splash out on the pre-made stuff.

The basic ‘recipes’ for simple syrup are one part sugar to one part water; two parts sugar to one part water or four parts sugar to three parts water.  Of these the 2:1 version is the standard mix used in the vast majority of cocktails.  But a teaspoon of 4:3 simple syrup is roughly equivalent to a teaspoon of sugar, and is my preferred ratio.

As I mainly drink whiskey based drinks, I don’t have a problem with using any left over sugar I have lying around.  If you’re looking to make syrup for use in clear drinks (such as a Mojito), you might want to stick to white cane sugar to avoid getting a yellowish hue!

To make the syrup:

  1. Add four parts sugar and three parts water to a pan.
  2. Gently heat and stir until all the sugar is dissolved.
  3. Pour into a clean resealable bottle.

A dash or two of vodka will help the mixture to keep longer if you’re not a prolific drinker as it will prevent the the growth of bacteria or mould.  As a result, the mix should keep for an indefinite period (especially if refrigerated).

If you’re looking to experiment, consider adding vanilla, lavender, cinnamon or some loose leaf tea to the mix and create a new flavour profile for your syrup.

Sour Mix

Sour mix is a key ingredient for a world of sour drinks (think Margarita, Whiskey Sour and Cosmopolitan).  It is almost as easy to make as simple syrup, as all it requires is the addition of lemon juice:

  1. Add two parts lemon juice and one part lime juice to two parts of your simple syrup.
  2. Stir well and pour into a clean resealable bottle.

Use the sour mix in place of the sugar and lemon/lime juice where required.

Maple Manhattan

Photo courtesy of swanksalot, some rights reserved.

Now that the weather has turned to winter again (at least here in Scotland) I can sneak in one of my autumnal favourites, the Maple Manhattan.

In a flush of enthusiasm I considered renaming this drink along the following lines:

  • Manhattan is the most populous borough of New York.
  • Most maple syrup is produced in Quebec.
  • Montreal is the largest city in Quebec, so which is the most populous arrondissement of Montreal?

Unfortunately (for the sake of nomenclature) the answer is Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce – not exactly a name that rolls off the tongue, so this drink remains the Maple Manhattan.

The secret to any good cocktail is good quality ingredients. All too often I hear people arguing that it’s ok to buy cheap gin as “we’re only going to mix it”. While it may be true that cheap gin can be more easily salvaged in a drink with premium ingredients (think an Aviation or a Negroni) than it can when consumed alone, or just with tonic, with most cocktails, the finished drink can only ever be as good as what goes in. For that reason, buy the best maple syrup you can find and proceed as follows:

  1. Add 1 1/2 measures of whiskey (bourbon or rye) to a shaker 2/3 full of ice.
  2. Add 1/2 part sweet vermouth and 1/2 dry vermouth (I’m making mine ‘perfect’ feel free to experiment with different ratios of vermouth).
  3. Add 1/2 measure of maple syrup and two dashes of your favourite bitters (aged whiskey or orange go well).
  4. Shake well and double strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.

Maple syrup and bourbon are a great combination, and the sweet maple blends well with the smoky bourbon to create an instant image of an autumnal bonfires of leaves. However, don’t let that dissuade you from making one of these as your #midweekmanhattan tonight.

There are some out there that claim the ultimate breakfast drink is a bacon-infused Maple Manhattan. All I can say to them is watch this space…

Islay Martini

Photo courtesy of gothick_matt, some rights reserved.

In honour of World Whisky Day, today’s post is influenced by a drink I’ve only ever heard referred to as a Paisley Martini.  The name now conjures up images of the distinctive teardrop pattern, and may sound vaguely threatening to those familiar with the corridors of Paisley Sheriff Court, but in fact pays tribute to a town with proud distilling credentials.

Paisley was once the home of William Grant & Sons, and remains the home of Chivas Brothers, both big names in the world of blended whisky.  But seeing as my favourite whiskies all hail from Islay, and the name Paisley Martini now brings to mind an association with a certain kiss from the nearest city, I have decided to re-dedicate this drink in honour of the wee island that is home to eight distinguished distilleries – and what better occasion to choose than the first World Whisky Day?

World Whisky Day was the creation of Blair Bowman, a student at the University of Aberdeen who spotted a gap in the social calendar and dreams of making “a day for people across the world to thank those who work in the global whisky industry” a permanent fixture.

However you prefer your whisky – with or without the ‘e’ and from Paisley or Islay, tonight is the night to enjoy a dram or perhaps a more exotic whisky concoction, and what better way to experiment than to introduce the classic cocktail to the classic distilled liquor?

  1. Rinse a martini glass with a barspoon of whisky.  Fill with ice and leave to chill.
  2. Add three parts gin, one part vermouth (or your own preferred Martini ratio) to a mixing glass of ice.
  3. Stir well and strain into your ice cold martini glass.
  4. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel.

As an alternative, you can forgo the whisky rinse and instead add a spritz to the surface of the finished drink with your pocket atomiser.  You do have one, right?

Sláinte!

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.

Tea and Vermouth

Tea is every Englishman’s drink of choice, so what better way to delve deeper into the world of cocktail experimentation than by adding tea to some classic recipes?

A number of sources I’ve consulted have suggested tea-infused sugar syrup or tea infused bourbon, but inspired by some recent reading, I’ve decided to prepare some tea-infused vermouth – a staple of a number of the old favourites already featured on this site.

On recommendation I’ve opted for a green tea infused dry vermouth and a chai infused sweet vermouth.  The former to provide a healthy jasmine tint to the classic Martini, and the latter to spice up (quite literally) my Manhattans and Whiskey Sours.

The tea I’ve used has come from Jeeves & Jericho, a pair of upstarts from Oxford, who front a jolly good tea company and have been powering this site during daylight hours thanks to their delicious Scottish Brew.

Infusing any liquid with herbs, spices or tea leaves is a fairly simple process and is best worked at over time using a trial and error approach.  With that in mind I’ve opted for two slightly different recipes.

China Jasmine Dry Vermouth

  1. Add one tablespoon of loose leaf green tea to 500ml of dry vermouth.
  2. Leave to infuse for twenty-four hours.
  3. Sieve and store in an air-tight bottle.

Spiced Masala Chai Sweet Vermouth

  1. Add six tablespoons of loose leaf Chai tea to 200ml of sweet vermouth.
  2. Leave to infuse for thirty minutes.
  3. Sieve and store in an air-tight bottle.

The Chai Sweet Vermouth is almost instantly ready for its first outing in a Chai Manhattan:

  1. Add a large measure of whiskey, a measure of chai vermouth and three splooshes of your preferred bitters (I used Boker’s) to a mixing glass.
  2. Stir well and strain into a Martini glass.
  3. Garnish with a cinnamon stick or a twist of lemon.

After twenty-four hours, the Green Tea Martini was ready as well:

  1. Add one part green tea vermouth, five parts gin and three splooshes of a fruity bitters (I used dandelion & burdock).
  2. Stir and strain into a Martini glass.
  3. Garnish with a twist of grapefruit or lemon.

Delicious and refreshing, both; just like the tea that inspired them.

Death in the Afternoon

Photo courtesy of Kenn Wilson, some rights reserved.

Today is National Absinthe Day (in the US at least), and what better way to celebrate than with a quick post about one of literature’s great cocktails.  Ian Fleming may have given us the Vesper, but Ernest Hemingway went a few steps further down the road to decadence when he created Death in the Afternoon.

The cocktail, named after Hemingway’s book about the history and practice of bull-fighting, was created in 1935 for So Red the Nose, Or Breath in the Afternoona collection of new cocktail recipes proposed by famous authors of the time.  Hemingway’s instructions were as follows:

“Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly.”

The great author was credited with the creation of a number of other cocktails, but it was Death in the Afternoon which was said to be his favourite after he developed a taste for the bohemian concoction whilst living in Paris.

Variants of the recipe also include the addition of sugar and bitters (we can’t stray too far from our original bittered sling after all, and what better decadent replacement for water than champagne?), lemon juice, or a garnishing rose petal.

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.

Aviation

Photo courtesy of ReeseCLloyd, some rights reserved

My post on The Bitter Truth’s fantastic Cocktail Bitters Traveller’s Set has already referred to the golden age of travel.  This drink is another that brings to mind images of the glory days of Pan Am and luxury air travel.

The Aviation was an ideal at-seat serve as you drift along at hundreds of miles an hour above the clouds with not a care in the world – a million miles away from the modern pile ’em high approach to air travel.  The origins of the Aviation are unknown, but it was first published in Hugo Ensslin’s Recipes for Mixed Drinks, a 1916 guide to the drinks served in New York’s Hotel Wallick.

The Aviation is effectively a tune up of the Gin Sour (gin, lemon juice, sugar) with a sweetening hit of maraschino.  The traditional recipe went as follows:

  1. Add a large measure of gin, the juice of half a lemon, a barspoon of maraschino and a barspoon of crème de violette to a shaker of ice.
  2. Shake well and strain into a martini glass.
  3. Garnish with a cherry (or twist of lemon peel).

This recipe creates a delightfully sour drink with a hint of blue sky courtesy of the crème de violette.  However, my homebar is, as yet, lacking a bottle (it’s on the list) so I prefer the modern version which excludes the hard to find violet-brandy liqueur.

Sazerac

I must confess I was a late convert to the Sazerac.  Another cocktail that has claims to being the oldest recorded, its delightful combination of whiskey and anise is rapidly becoming my new favourite cocktail (although claiming to have a favourite cocktail is a lot like claiming to have one favourite song – no drink will work for you all the time).

The Sazerac was the original New Orleans variation of the bittered sling.  Down in the Deep South, just whiskey, bitters, sugar and water was not enough; the drinks required the added frisson of a touch of la fée verte.  Born in the Sazerac Coffee House, New Orleans some time in 1850, the Sazerac was named for the imported Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils cognac which was originally its main ingredient.  Some time between 1875 and 1879 while the great French vineyards were being decimated by cheeky wee aphids, causing production of cognac to fall by two-thirds, the cognac was replaced (out of necessity) with whiskey.  The fine clientele of the Sazerac Coffee House never looked back.

The essence of the Sazerac depends on the inclusion of Peychaud’s bitters, and some records would have you believe that Mr Antoine Amadie Peychaud created the Sazerac to show off his family’s old aromatic bitters.  Legend has it that Mr Peychaud used to serve his Sazeracs in a large egg cup.  We prefer ours in a chilled metal goblet (or a rocks glass will do):

  1. Add a 1/4 teaspoon of absinthe to a rocks glass and spin the glass until it is coated with the absinthe.
  2. Add 1/2 a lump of sugar, five dashes of Peychaud’s and water to cover.
  3. Muddle well.
  4. Add a large measure of whiskey and some ice.
  5. Stir well and garnish with a twist of lemon peel (purists say this should be squeezed over the glass and discarded, mine fell off the rim just as I took the shot, so I decided to leave it in).

Of course if you want to add a touch of flair to your Sazerac making sessions, follow the two-glass method:

  1. Fill a rocks glass with ice and set aside.
  2. Take a second rocks glass and muddle the sugar and water.
  3. Add ice, whiskey and Peychaud’s to the sugar solution.
  4. Empty the iced glass and roll a wee sploosh of absinthe inside until coated.
  5. Strain the drink from the second glass into the first.
  6. Finish with a twist of lemon peel (discarded).

Good luck managing step five without pouring most of the drink over the nearest flat surface – it takes a little practice!

The Bitter Truth

Technically a cocktail isn’t a cocktail without a dash of bitters.  Without the bitters, your bittered sling is just, well, a sling.  Bitters emerged from the apothecary shops of Venezuela and New Orleans, originally conceived as a cure for stomach maladies and other ailments and it wasn’t long til the fine men of the Royal Navy were adding a dash of bitters to their gin to produce the medicinal Pink Gin.

Now a dash of bitters is a pre-requisite of nearly every drink you’d care to mention.  So if every barman needs a bottle of bitters to hand, where to begin?

Angostura is the best-known brand, and you’ll find a bottle of this curiously mis-labelled concoction on the back bar of every drinking establishment you enter.  Named for the town of Angostura in Venezuela, these are the original cocktail bitters and as good a starting point as any. Originally made as an antimalarial for the independence fighters of 1821, Angostura’s main notes are of cinnamon and cloves and it works well in almost any cocktail, and also, allegedly as a cure for hiccups.

Beyond Angostura, Peychaud’s bitters emerged from New Orleans in around 1840.  This blend is lighter and sweeter than its Venezuelan cousin, and was originally mixed with brandy to act as a stomach tonic.  Now it is more famous for its crucial involvement in the Sazerac.  Its nutty vanilla and anise flavour means it is ideally crafted to bring out the liquorice flavour of absinthe.

Further along the scale we begin to enter the wonderful world of flavoured bitters.  These form the rank and file of tiny apothecarial bottles you find on the shelves of the finest cocktail bars.  Many are home-made, but many more come from a number of resurgent bitters manufacturers.  The third most important bitters style is orange, useful for any citrus based drink.  Other flavours for greater experimentation include rhubarb, cherry, peach, lemon, creole, chocolate, celery and dandelion & burdock.

You will find these and more at Fee Brothers, The Bitter Truth and Dr Adam Elmegirab.

Harking back to the golden age when travel was a luxury and every air passenger had access to a well-stocked all inclusive bar, young bitter upstarts, The Bitter Truth have also packaged up a marvelous taster tin of their fine aromatic delights.

Of course, let’s not pretend there’s any chance of getting a tin of these wee beauties past airport security these days, but still, let’s close our eyes and transport ourselves back to the magical era of transport for just a few minutes.

The tin contains 20ml bottles of the Celery, Orange, Creole, Old Time Aromatic and Jerry Thomas’ Own Decanter Bitters along with a recipe card which gives a little background and a recommendation for each brew.

Old Time Aromatic Bitters – A strong combination of cinnamon and gingerbread gives way to a hint of aniseed, and is recommended for the Manhattan.

Orange Bitters – A bitter orange and nutmeg concoction which the fine gents at The Bitter Truth recommend for your Dry Martini.

Creole Bitters – The classic Peychaud’s nose of bitter sweet aniseed emenates from this bottle, and the recommendation is that you add it to the Improved Brandy cocktail (Brandy, Absinthe, bitters and sugar).

Celery Bitters – Powerful celery and ginger notes dominate this brew, and the suggestion is that this should replace celery salt in your next Bloody Mary.

Jerry Thomas’ Own Decanter Bitters – The closest match to Angostura, these have a rich fruity nose with an air of cinnamon.  A fine tribute to the legend, Jerry Thomas, and ideal for your Old Fashioned.

A grand addition to any home bar, these wee gems open up a world of possibility for your cocktail concoctions.  Travel the world of fine drinking without leaving your sofa.