Mince Pie Sazerac

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The final Advent Sunday cocktail is a sazerac with a twist – the dried fruit flavour of our Mince Pie Cognac and sweet sherry:

  1. Fill an old fashioned glass with crushed ice, add 10ml of absinthe and stir.  Set aside.
  2. Crush a sugar cube and four dashes of Peychaud’s bitters in a mixing glass until dissolved.
  3. Add 50ml Mince Pie Cognac, 15ml sweet sherry, and cubed ice and stir for thirty seconds.
  4. Discard the ice and absinthe from the old fashioned glass and strain the finished drink into the glass.
  5. Finish with a spritz of absinthe.
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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.

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!

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.

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.