Crystal Ball

So a new year, a year of Commonwealth Games, an independence referendum and a football world cup.

All significant events in their own right of course, but what are the big drinks trends of 2014 going to be?  For me, 2014 is going to be the year that beer cocktails really take off.  Beer cocktails?  Yes, beer cocktails.  Look at it this way, craft beer has boomed in the last few years, and so have experimental and innovative cocktail bars.  So what’s the next step?  Marry the two.

Elsewhere, I can see tea is going to grow in popularity as a cocktail ingredient this year.  I’ve been using tea as a quick and easy way to promote variety in drinks for a while now.  It is fantastically versatile, can be used as an infusion, in a syrup or as a smoke, and comes in so many flavours.  It has enough variety, small batch producers and organic credentials to appeal to the geekiest of mixologist, so why not?  Tea will be big in 2014.

Pre-bottling & carbonation are also two trends that were on the rise towards the end of 2013 and look set to continue into this year.  The Sodastream is back in a big way, and more bars will be looking at ways to pre-mix and batch bottle their concoctions.  It saves time and it can make for a great serve.  I think we can expect to see a lots more drinks served from crown top bottles, and I’ll wager a fair few of those will open with a pssst.

Elsewhere, the industry press has been talking up sherry for the last few months and all signs point to a long overdue revival in the UK.  Sherry was a massive seller back in the fifteenth century, but fell out of favour due to a significant image problem – little old ladies sipping a small, warm glass of a sickly sweet decades old cream sherry, and much like vermouth, it has never been kept well.  Greater publicity and the growth of ‘wild sherry’ means this is one drink that will definitely be making a comeback in 2014.

Finally, one last prediction for the new year:  2014 will be the year that bars finally start to take ice seriously.  No more handfuls of wet chunks from the same old ice machine.  Now is the time for handcrafted, well loved and properly tended fresh ice.  I know White Lyan has created a splash by foregoing ice altogether, but trust me, where Ryan is streets ahead, the rest of the world is only just learning to treat ice with respect.

Gingerbread Old Fashioned

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A short #FridayOldFashioned post for the Friday before Christmas – traditionally a day when carnage is wreaked up and down the High Streets of Britain as office workers go wild with stick-on antlers and snowman deeley-boppers.

Personally I’d rather be at home in the warm in a reserved Christmas jumper enjoying a warming whiskey cocktail than out in an overly chintzy decorated chain pub downing lager or ‘draft’ mulled wine by the bucketload, so here’s a simple recipe if you’re of a similar mind:

  1. Combine a barspoon of gingerbread syrup*, two ounces of whiskey and a sploosh of bitters in a mixing glass.
  2. Add ice and stir well for sixty seconds.
  3. Strain into a chilled old fashioned glass, over ice.
  4. Garnish with an amaretto cherry (Christmas tincture optional).

* You can make your own by adding ginger and cinnamon to a basic simple syrup recipe (follow Nigella’s recipe here) or use the pre-mixed Starbucks or Monin versions that are reasonably easy to find in the shops at this time of year.

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.

Bar Technique

Photo courtesy of poul.iversen, some rights reserved.

Mixing drinks should always be a relaxed, sociable affair.  It is a chance to show off your knowledge and exquisite taste (much of which can be cribbed from this very site).  But amongst all of this, it is important to exude an air of quiet confidence, and to do this you need to know what you’re doing.

Glassware

You don’t need a wide-range of glasses of all different shapes and sizes.  If you want to aim for tradition and accuracy you will need eight different types of glass, but the vast majority of drinks are best served in one of the first three:

  • Martini glass – the classic v-shaped cocktail glass used for drinks that are served ‘straight up’ i.e. without ice.
  • Rocks glass – a short, sturdy tumbler used for drinks that are served ‘on the rocks’ or over ice.
  • Collins glass – a tall, straight glass used for long drinks that are served with ice and ‘lengthened’ with soda or juice.
  • Liqueur glass – a small, stemmed glass used for sniffing and then sipping a straight liqueur.
  • Sour glass – a smaller version of the martini glass used for serving sours.
  • Absinthe glass – an elegant goblet with or without a bulb used in the traditional preparation of Absinthe.
  • Coupette glass – a bulbous version of the martini glass most famously used for Margaritas.
  • Champagne flute – the traditional long, thin, stemmed glass used for champagne cocktails.
Whichever glass you use, do your best to ensure it is clean, dry and chilled.  If you have room in your fridge or freezer store a few glasses there.  If not, fill with ice and water before making your drink.  Either way, never pour a cold drink into a warm glass.  Colder is always better.

Ingredients

Buy the best you can afford.  There is no substitute for quality, and please do not think that it doesn’t matter if you use value gin as you’re going to be mixing it with three other ingredients.  The finished drink will hang on the quality of the worst ingredient, and no amount of Lillet Blanc will save a Martini made with value range gin.

Stick as closely to the recipe as possible.  Traditional recipes call for certain ingredients because they a proven to work.  Having said that, don’t be afraid to experiment.  Juice should be freshly squeezed where possible, and be aware that lower-strength ingredients will not keep as long as spirits.

Measuring

Use a measure.  Your favourite barman might impress his guests by free-pouring all the ingredients, but he has a lot more experience than you do, he knows how it should look in the mixing glass, and he knows how the drink should taste.  Using a measure will also help you keep track of your consumption as a 25ml shot of a standard spirit is roughly one unit of alcohol. Where I refer to ‘measures’ on this site I mean approx 30ml or 1 fluid ounce (with a large measure meaning double), but you can use what ever you like as long as you keep the proportions the same.  Once you have mastered the recipe, feel free to experiment.

Ice

Ice is vitally important.  It is easy to underestimate just how important ice is, but you must use fresh, clean ice for every drink.  Add ice to the mixing glass last to prevent it melting as you add the ingredients, and always fill the mixing glass or shaker to about 2/3 full.  This ensures the ice will not melt too quickly as you shake/stir, which means that you will not dilute the drink.  If you can use an ice machine that’s great, otherwise buy pre-bagged ice and use it liberally.

Photo courtesy of RLHyde, some rights reserved.

Shaking

Knowing when to shake and when to stir is one of the tricks you can use to impress your guests (although if they’re philistines they may be disappointed that you don’t shake every drink – it’s more fun, right?).  Shaking is reserved for drinks that include fruit juice, egg white, or thick, viscous ingredients such as conserves, and never those with carbonated ingredients (unless they’re added after)!

When shaking with a Boston Shaker (the two part glass and tin) pour the ingredients into the glass (for show) and then place the tin on top.  Ensure you have a tight seal between the two parts by giving the bottom of the tin a couple of sharp taps and then flip the whole lot over so the tin is on the bottom (a barman does this so that any spill goes over him and away from his customer).

Shake vigorously – to wake the drink up – for a slow count to twenty.  If your drink contains egg white follow this with a further ten second ‘dry shake’ (without ice) to ensure proper breakdown of the protein in the egg white and an improved texture/mouthfeel.  If you shake for longer, you’ll end up watering down the drink – a properly shaken drink should be no more than 25% melted ice.

To separate the shaker, place it tin down on the counter and hold it steady.  Rotate it so the join where the tin meets the glass is towards you and then hit this point on the tin with the heel of your hand.  If this doesn’t work, rotate a quarter turn and try again.  Keep rotating and hitting until the parts separate, but whatever you do, do not resort to whacking the shaker against the counter – that is not a good look, especially if it causes the glass to shatter.

Stirring

The stir is the correct procedure for most traditional cocktails, or at least the all-booze Manhattan, Martini types that don’t use anything lumpy like fruit juice or gloopy like egg white.  If you’re stirring a drink I would recommend pouring into the glass from your Boston shaker or a dedicated mixing glass as it gives your audience something to watch and marvel at.

If you’re using a traditional bar spoon, remember that the twisted shaft is to help the stir.  With that in mind, hold the spoon between your thumb and forefinger and slide it down the inside of the glass to the bottom.  When you stir, the bowl of the spoon should rotate around the bottom of the glass, with the stem pushing the ice ahead.

Experiment with the most comfortable way to hold the spoon.  The most effective is to use a pull-push technique where the thumb and forefinger pull the spoon most of the way round the glass and the second finger pushes it the final stretch to complete a full rotation.  This will take a bit of practice, but helps ensure the drink glides slowly round the glass in a composed and elegant manner.  This is why you are stirring after all.  If you wanted to agitate the drink you would have opted to shake.

If you stir too fast you will likely lose booze and ice out of the glass, and add air bubbles to the mix.  This is the antithesis of the silky texture a stirred drink should have.

If you’re using large dense ice cubes (like a professional bar would have) then stir fifty times.  If your cubes aren’t that good (small, wet, melting) then stir thirty times to avoid too much dilution.

Photo courtesy of eltpics, some rights reserved.

Straining

Once you’ve shaken or stirred your drink to perfection you will need to artfully and yet nonchalantly transport it from the mixing glass to the serving glass.  To do this you will need to find a way to propel the drink into a clean cold glass but retain the ice as even drinks served ‘on the rocks’ should be served with fresh ice.  The hawthorne strainer is the ideal tool for this eventuality and will work with a mixing tin or glass (despite what an American bartender will mutter about julep strainers).

To use the strainer, place it springs down over the mixing glass and hold it in place with your first and second finger either side of the short handle.  Pour the drink in a slow and controlled manner, and consider a slight swirling motion for drinks served ‘up’ in a martini glass.  Finish with an exaggerated snap of the wrist as you pull the glass up and away from the serving glass and make confident eye contact with the drinker.

If your drink contains a lot of fruit you should consider double straining.  This involves using the hawthorne strainer as above, and pouring through a second fine strainer into the serving glass.  A tea strainer works great as the fine strainer and will pick up any pips, seeds or small pieces of ice.

Muddling

The muddler is a great tool which serves a number of uses from crushing ice, to rapping the knuckles of those punters who are reticent when it comes to settling their tab.

You should purchase a muddler of at least six inches, and choose one that is not stained or varnished as the paint will often chip off and end up in your mojitos.

When muddling consider what you are trying to achieve.  With citrus, the aim is to extract juice from the flesh and oil from the skin, so don’t hold back.  With mint and leaves you are looking to bruise and provoke the stems into releasing some of their flavour, so go gently.

Garnish

A proper garnish should be much more than a bedraggled afterthought used to distract your drinker from the haphazard manner in which you have made his drink.  The right garnish makes all the difference to the style, appearance, smell and taste of the drink, so plays a vital role in almost every part of the whole sensory experience (maybe not touch, unless you use a great long stem of mint and aim for the eye).

Twists are the optimal cocktail garnish as they provide an opportunity to show off and draw attention to the drink (or yourself), a great hit of intense flavour, a delicate swirl or pattern on the drink and a chance to chat at great length about all of these elements.  The idea behind a twist is to extract the oil from the skin of the fruit and leave it to linger on top of the drink to greet the nose of the drinker with a clean, crisp citrus smell that announces that the drink is fresh and delicious.  The citrus twist method is explained in an earlier post.

Olives for your Martinis should be small, cold and pitted.  Keep them in the fridge and add three to a Martini either on a stick or loose in the glass.

Cherries are commonly found in Manhattans and should really be home made as shop bought maraschino or glacé varieties do nothing for your drink.  Your homemade cherries should be stewed in a liqueur of your choice with some vanilla, spice and citrus peel.

Lemon and lime wedges aren’t used a great deal in cocktails, but should always be cut from tip to tip and into no more than six pieces.  After cutting, use the knife to flick off any pips.

Mint sprigs should be cut from the top two inches of the plant as these provide the youngest most attractive leaves.  The leaves on the three to four inches below are the ones that should be muddled in your drink.  Don’t skimp on a mint garnish, it should be bushy, and will benefit from a light slap on the back of your hand to flatten the leaves and entice out the fragrance for which it is being used.

Right Hand / Left Hand

I picked up a bottle of the ever-so exotically named Xocolatl Mole Bitters today, a cacao and cinnamon based cocktail bitter which is a staple of a number of Central American influenced cocktails.

Xocolatl Mole is named for the Aztec word xocolātl (meaning “bitter water”) which became known in the English-speaking world as chocolate; and mole (or mōlli), a traditional form of Mexican sauce.  As you would expect, therefore, the bitters have a strong flavour of spiced chocolate with prominent cinnamon and chili notes.

A sploosh or two of Xocolatl Mole is a key ingredient in a number of recipes; the most famous of which is the Right Hand, a rum-based Negroni or Boulevardier variant, which is given distinctive chocolate notes by the bitters.

The Right Hand appears to be a recent invention and is credited to Michael McIlroy, bartender at New York’s twin bars Milk and Honey and Little Branch, as recently as 2007.

  1. Add a large measure of aged rum to a mixing glass of ice.
  2. Add a measure of sweet vermouth, Campari and two splooshes of Xocolatl Mole bitters.
  3. Stir well and strain into a cocktail glass.

The most popular variant of the Right Hand is the Left Hand, which is made with bourbon in place of rum, and a lemon or orange variant of either can be made by including a sploosh or two of the respective bitters and a twist of peel.

The Lemur Loosener

Photo courtesy of Eric F Savage, some rights reserved.

The Lemur is a Madagascan primate that enjoys a diet of apples, berries and, I’m told, the occasional celebratory bourbon.  Lemurs are very sociable, and a group of lemurs (is that really the best collective noun lemur-ologists can come up with?) can hold quite the birthday party.

I’ve never actually stopped to ask one, but I imagine that, when pressed, a lemur would enjoy the following concoction which I’ve decided to name the Lemur Loosener:

  1. Muddle two slices of apple in a shaker.
  2. Add a measure of bourbon, a measure of cranberry juice, a teaspoon of maple syrup and some ice.
  3. Shake well and strain into a martini glass.
  4. Add a twist of caramelised lemon oil and garnish with a slice of apple.
If you want more of an apple kick, add a measure of apple schnapps and, if you’re feeling especially experimental, frost the glass in cinnamon and sugar for some extra apple pie notes.

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.