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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Annie Hayes

Shinjiro Torii and the philosophy of Suntory

This week we’re celebrating all things Japanese at Master of Malt. To kick things off, we talk to James Bowker, Suntory UK brand ambassador, about Shinjiro Torii the founder of Suntory Spirits…

This week we’re celebrating all things Japanese at Master of Malt. To kick things off, we talk to James Bowker, Suntory UK brand ambassador, about Shinjiro Torii the founder of Suntory Spirits and the philosophy behind Toki Whisky, Haku Vodka and Roku Gin.

Suntory’s founder, Shinjiro Torii, “was the first person to start making Western style spirits in Japan,” Bowker says, “and that didn’t just come out of nowhere.” Due to the isolationist foreign policies enforced during the Edo period – which ended a little over a decade before Torii was born – the island country had been almost entirely cut off from the rest of the world for more than 250 years, and the effects of this were felt long after Japan opened its borders.

Whisky comes to Japan

“Those 250 years coincided with the Industrial Revolution and the development of so many modern spirits we enjoy now; the invention of whisky, rum, gin and vodka,” says Bowker. “There was a period between 1850 and the turn of the 20th century where lots of people in Japan were trying to recreate these spirits, in particular whisky. But no one knew how to make them. They were taking saké, shochu, and neutral spirits and infusing them with herbs and spices to try and capture the same flavours that you would find in Western booze.”

Master distiller Shinji Fukuyo

By 1899, their efforts had captured the attention of Torii, then a pharmaceutical wholesaler, who identified an opportunity to quench Japan’s thirst for Western spirits – around the same time as chemist Masataka Taketsuru, it should be noted, who went on to establish Nikka – by creating a style of spirit that complemented the country’s palette. Ramen and sushi are far lighter and more delicate than heavier dishes common in Western cuisine, and his liquid reflected that.

“This also applies to drinks,” says Bowker. “In Europe, our wines are big, bold and tannic if they’re red, and big, bold and acidic if they’re white. In Japan, they have sake. Think about tea – British tea tends to be far more bitter than the light green teas we see in Japan.” Influenced by the atypical Japanese palate, Torii and Taketsuru created whiskies and spirits that “tend to be much lighter and more delicate,” guided by three Japanese philosophies specifically.

It’s all about balance

The first is In-Yo, which means balance. ‘In’ tends to refer to that which is gentle and tranquil and delicate, while ‘Yo’ refers to that which is exciting and vibrant and powerful, says Bowker. The two main religions in Japan are Buddhism and Shinto, “and in both of those faiths, the idea of balance is paramount,” he explains. “You should be living a balanced life. All good things in the universe exist in balance. The universe is constantly divided in some light and dark, rich and poor, happy and sad, and all of these dichotomies must exist in balance.”

The second is Kaizen, which means ‘change for better’. “It’s about finding the person who has truly mastered that skill,” says Bowker, “getting a complete and thorough understanding of how to be the best of the best, and then asking yourself – only when you’ve mastered it – how can I take this further? How can I ensure that the next generation of craftsmen receives a better set of instructions than I have received?”

The third and final philosophy is Yūgen, which refers to a sense of indescribable beauty underlined by the ethos: show, don’t tell. “When you see those incredible Japanese ink paintings, there’ll often be sections that are obscured or faded or unclear,” says Bowker. “The idea is that your brain will fill in the gaps… There’s a big belief in the idea of show, don’t tell. Don’t give everything away at once, allow people to explore in their own time.”

Only sushi rice goes into Haku Vodka

Japanese craftsmanship

The tradition of craftsmanship in Japan is called Kōgei, which translates as ‘engineered art’. In order for a product to be officially recognised as craft, it must meet five government-mandated requirements: be practical enough for regular use, predominantly handmade, crafted using traditional techniques, crafted using traditional materials, and crafted at its place of origin.

For Suntory, the first and fifth elements came relatively easy – so long as they’re reasonably priced, spirits are practical enough for regular use. And since Tokii’s Yamazaki distillery was the first of malt whisky distillery in the country, he’d created the ‘place of origin’. As for the other three?

“Firstly, we must begin with the perfect raw material,” says Bowker. “Secondly, we should respect that perfect raw material – and that means using the best tools. The third is knowledge and technique; the mastery that comes from generations of master and apprentice applying Kaizen.”

Let’s take a look at how that approach plays out across Suntory’s flagship spirits, Toki Whisky, Haku Vodka and Roku Gin:

Haku Vodka

Haku is made using Japanese sushi rice (considered the purest form) which is polished until nearly half of the grain is gone, much like daiginjo sake, and then fermented with koji. It’s distilled in a cube-shaped stainless steel shochu pot still – “a super old school distillation method in Japan, and a very rustic style of still,” says Bowker – and then the batch is split into two. Half is sent to Osaka, where “it goes through a traditional vodka still, making a very pure, clean, delicate spirit,” and the other half heads to Chita, to be redistilled in a bespoke column still, which has “four tiny columns” to create an “indulgent, rice-forward vodka”. The two distillates are blended together, diluted with water and filtered through bamboo charcoal, and voila! Haku is complete.

Roku Gin

Roku means ‘six’, after the six Japanese botanicals used in the recipe: sakura flower, sakura leaf, sencha tea, gyokuro tea, sanshō pepper, and yuzu peel. Each is picked, transported and distilled fresh in Osaka during its prescribed ‘shun’ season, where the botanical is thought to be at its peak. Depending on the botanical, this could be as little as two days. Suntory has four different copper pot stills for making gin, one of which is coated in stainless steel and fitted with a pump to create a specially-designed vacuum still. Each botanical is distilled in the optimum still and then Suntory’s five blenders travel to Osaka to set about blending the various distillates into a London Dry-style gin called Suntory Pallet Gin; this is the basis for Roku gin.

Toki Japanese whisky

Toki whisky

Toki means time in Japanese. A delicious light blend that was specifically created for making that most Japanese of cocktails, the Highball. It’s a blend of YamazakiHakushu and Chita, with the main components being Hakashu single malt and Chita grain whisky. Toki is all about fruitiness, sweetness and balance with none of the elements standing out prominently. The result is a subtle whisky with orchard fruits, herb-laden honey and a little mintiness on the nose. While in the mouth there’s green apples with pink grapefruit and then richer notes of toasted almonds, vanilla, white pepper and ginger. It’s an extremely versatile blend and a great introduction to the magic of Japanese whisky. Isn’t it time you tried Toki?

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Five minutes with… Sarah Elsom, head distiller at Cardrona Distillery

Nestled among snow-capped mountains on New Zealand’s South Island lies family-owned Cardrona Distillery, which recently celebrated the fifth anniversary of its first spirit being laid down in cask. Here, MoM…

Nestled among snow-capped mountains on New Zealand’s South Island lies family-owned Cardrona Distillery, which recently celebrated the fifth anniversary of its first spirit being laid down in cask. Here, MoM talks ancient rose varieties, altitude-accelerated maturation and the wider Kiwi whisky category with head distiller Sarah Elsom…

Set against the backdrop of the South Island of New Zealand – renowned for its mountains, lakes and glaciers – the world’s most southern whisky distillery is surely among the most picturesque on the planet. So stunning are Cardrona’s surroundings (see photo in header), the distillery looks like a 3D rendered image in pictures. Step inside the bright, airy stillhouse with its floor-to-ceiling windows and you’ll enjoy a prime view of the rolling hills – if you can peel your eyes away from the kit: two shiny Forsyth copper pot stills, a Jacob Carl column still, a Jacob Carl finishing still, and a 600-litre copper gin still. 

It’s the culmination of years of planning and research by Desiree Whitaker – who travelled the world learning from whisky’s best teachers, including the late Dave Pickerell, ex-Maker’s Mark and Whistlepig. To make their single malt new make spirit, the team ferments Laurette barley with a yeast variety called Pinnacle, as selected by Whitaker. Pure alpine water is sourced from Mount Cardrona for distilling and bottling. 

Sarah Elsom from Carprona Distillery

Head distiller Sarah Elsom hard at work at Cardrona

The range includes The Source Gin, featuring locally-foraged rosehip; The Reid Single Malt Vodka, which is distilled in a copper pot still before a second distillation in two German column stills; Rose Rabbit liqueurs, including elderflower, orange and butterscotch flavours; Just Hatched single malt, a solera marriage of Oloroso and bourbon-matured casks; and a selection of Just Hatched single cask bottlings, including Oloroso, ex-bourbon and ex-Pinot Noir.

In December 2020, another bottling was added to the line-up. Five years after laying their first cask on 5 November 2015, the team released Growing Wings, which sees their single malt matured exclusively in Oloroso sherry butts for five years. As Cardrona toasts the next stage of its whisky maturation journey, we caught up with head distiller Sarah Elsom…

MoM: Thanks for chatting with us, Sarah! Could you share a little bit of background about Cardrona Distillery?

Sarah Elsom: Its history is quite short but absolutely action-packed. It starts with Desiree, our chief executive and fearless leader. She went off to university to study law, it was not for her so she dropped out and got on a plane to the UK to pour pints in a little bar in East London like so many Kiwis have and fell in love with whisky. Her first distillery visit was on her 21st birthday, when her mother came over to visit, and a seed was planted. On coming back to New Zealand, she grew a small dairy farm into a hugely profitable business, which she eventually sold. That created an opportunity to pursue a passion project, and she settled on perfume. At the distillery we’re surrounded by over 2,000 ancient perfumery roses, which are stunning. Her dream naturally evolved into distillation – and so we are now at a distillery, with beautiful roses growing as we work. She spent years researching and traveling all over the States and Scotland learning the process and made some key connections with industry greats. After years of planning, she settled on the Cardrona Valley. It’s a beautiful location for maturation, we’re at a nice altitude with swings in temperature mediated by clever engineering.

MoM: And where did it all start for you – how long have you been distilling?

SE: This is the very first distillery I’ve worked in, my background is in wine. I studied viticulture and oenology at university, fell in love with it and haven’t really looked back. From university, it was my ticket to see the world. There’s an opportunity to work for the harvest period, because that’s when wineries need all hands on deck. I hopped from south to north hemispheres chasing harvests for about three years. I always came home in between – I’m very close with my family and love New Zealand, it’s a great place to come home to – and during a period at home I learned that Cardrona was being built. It was fantastic timing and an opportunity presented itself. Not as a distiller at first, I was simply going to work part time, learn a little bit more, take tours, but I found myself gravitating back towards production. Our team is very small, I have three distillers that work with me and we are really Desiree’s hands – she’s still so closely connected to everything here, production included. We all happen to be all girls, though not by design. 

Stills at Cardrona Distillery in New Zealand

The still set-up at Cardrona Distillery. Shiny!

MoM: Could you run us through your distillery equipment, and explain how it creates the style of single malt spirit you’re looking for?

SE: Cardrona is the largest distillery in New Zealand, but very small on an international scale. Our mash tun was custom built by Forsyths. Our copper pot stills are Forsyths, they’re hand-beaten, short, squat, and have a large boiler bulb in the middle, so lots of reflux and copper interaction – the surface area to volume ratio of a wash to copper is high on the copper side. Our new make is comparatively quite sweet, there’s a richness and almost toffee-like note that is incredibly soft for a raw spirit. Maybe it’s due to the climate, the altitude and the accelerated maturation from that, but our young whiskies are looking older than what you expect them to be. When Desiree initially started out, she didn’t want to go younger than 10, she wanted her first whisky on the shelf to be near perfect. But they’re looking that good that we wanted to share the progress with our community. This year we’re looking forward to the five year old.

MoM: Have you experimented with different barley varieties, yeast strains or casks?

SE: Right now we’re probably too small to demand micro-level scales in terms of barley. It’s Desiree’s dream to have New Zealand-grown barley malted on site, that will be our opportunity to play with different varieties as we look to a more local supply. For now, we take the absolute best that we can secure. Because we’re still so new, experimentation isn’t total changes in recipe – it’s honing our craft and continuously improving our processes to let the barley speak for itself. We put a lot of emphasis on fermentation – if you don’t create [flavours] in fermentation, you can’t concentrate and collect them in distillation. We kept the maturation programme quite traditional at first and have started introducing local wine barrels, considering Port, Sauternes and Chardonnay to see how it looks. To make a fantastic new make spirit and let this natural vessel do its work – versus pouring that work into the field – was a real 180 for me. It makes it all the more exciting because it’s so different from what I was used to.

The team at Cardrona Distillery New Zealand

Meet the team and note the lovely scenery

MoM: You use some botanicals that you forage from the estate to make your gin – how variable are they over the seasons and how have you gone about creating a consistent spirit?

SE: There is a botanical in the gin, rosehip, that grows in the valley. It was planted by Chinese gold miners – 150 years ago, this place was was full of thousands of people searching for gold. It’s really cold in winter, so they planted rosehip to create these very rich vitamin C teas to fight off scurvy, and it just took to the valley. We pick it at that time of the year it’s budding and dry it out, so that takes away a lot of inconsistencies. The elderflower for our liqueur also grows in the valley, the launch each year is dictated by when the flower is in bloom and we can find a window when it’s not raining and the flowers are dry and smelling really sweet. Citrus has to come from the North Island, it’s not quite warm enough here. We use the peels fresh, so it’s just a matter of using them straight away. Unfortunately we cannot grow juniper, the local council won’t allow you to plant anything that would acidify the soil. Anything that’s classed as a pine competes with the native flora and fauna here. I’m somewhat grateful for that because it is not an easy plant to deal with, it’s quite gnarly. So we bring that in from a New Zealand-based trader. We’ve seen inconsistencies from that and we mitigate them by milling the juniper according to the oil content of the pine cones. We played with different infusion times in the spirit prior to distillation to really let that juniper shine through. 

MoM: And finally – though it’s early days, what would you say are the hallmark flavours of a Kiwi whisky?

SE: What we don’t want to do is pigeonhole a flavour profile too early. We’re at this really exciting point of the industry where people can start a distillery and go in any direction they want, and it would be the worst thing ever if we decided that a New Zealand whisky had to taste a certain way. We just want to make the best whisky that we can, that will always be our goal – to stand on the shelves with the greats. The conversation needs to focus more on ensuring quality and authenticity, because New Zealand is our brand as well as Cardrona – people see New Zealand on a bottle and they have expectations. The more styles of whisky that come out of New Zealand, the better. 

The Cardrona range is available from Master of Malt.

We are sad to say that for the time being this is Annie Hayes last piece for Master of Malt. She’s been with us since 2017 first as a staffer and then contributing freelance work. We just want to say thank you for all the fascinating, amusing and beautifully-written articles, and wish her well for the future. Here’s raising a glass of something fancy to you Annie.

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What makes a bottle design iconic?

Mankind has been storing spirits in glass for hundreds of years but what does it take to make a particular bottle design iconic? We touch on the most fascinating aspects…

Mankind has been storing spirits in glass for hundreds of years but what does it take to make a particular bottle design iconic? We touch on the most fascinating aspects of booze bottle design – from historic, barely-changed labels to pricy, record-breaking vessels – and speculate about the future of spirited packaging…

When a spirit goes global, so too does its bottle. Not only are the most famous brands defined by their shape and label – Jack Daniel’s and Patrón Tequila, for example, are recognisable by the silhouette alone – but often, clever design is part of what makes them so coveted in the first place. The right bottle can communicate elements of the spirit’s character, such as sense of place, but it can also work on an emotional level, appealing to a potential’s buyer’s sense of self. With brands jostling for space on back bars, websites and retail shelves in a crowded market, this personal connection is increasingly important.

Fittingly, many bottles are a real labour of love. The Maker’s Mark design is near-identical to the original prototype by Margie Samuels, wife of founder Bill, in the early 1950’s. Made in their kitchen from papier-mâché, it was inspired by her collection of antique Cognac bottles. “My favourite detail is the indent at the bottom of the neck – it was deliberately intended to create that ‘glug’ when pouring the liquid,” says brand diplomat Nicole Sykes. Margie’s creative influence extends far beyond bottle shape, to the hand-dipped red wax beading – fashioned using a melted candle stick and a deep-fat fryer – and the font on the label, which is die cut, by hand, on a 1930’s print press to this very day. “We say, ‘Margie is the reason you buy your first bottle of Maker’s Mark, and Bill is the reason you buy your second’,” says Sykes.

Highland Liquor Company bottles

Highland Liquor Company’s design inspired by classic genever bottles

Plenty has changed since the fifties, but when it comes to attracting new drinkers, the bottle is as important as ever. For independent producers without vast marketing budgets to fall back on, it can be make or break. “It’s everything,” says Robert Hicks, co-founder of the Highland Liquor Company, which produces Seven Crofts and Fisherman’s Strength gins. “At the very start, a drinks industry veteran said to us, ‘you need a bottle that stops traffic, but what’s inside has to be even better’.” The bottles reflect the distillery’s wild, scenic location – green ombre for the woods meeting the North Atlantic; blue ombre for the sea. “We always wanted a tall genever-style bottle that’s classic in look and tactile in feel,” he says. “The label had to sit high so even if we find ourselves at the back of a shelf, we’re never hidden away.”

Presenting the fruits of your labour in eye-catching packaging is a phenomenon that reaches back hundreds of years – just ask Ireland’s Old Bushmills Distillery. Dating back to the early 1608, it’s the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world. “The oldest bottle we have on-site is from 1882,” says master distiller Colum Egan. “It represents the very earliest stages in Bushmills bottling, as before this, whiskey would have been sold more typically in earthenware jugs, or in barrel form with it being bottled on-site by the customer. It’s believed that the square shape was chosen to stand out among other brands at the time.” Clearly it worked – the design has survived largely unchanged in the 140 or so years since.

In those early days of bottle design, transporting booze was a precarious undertaking, so functional packaging came foremost. When the Luxardo family began bottling Maraschino liqueur in northern Italy 200 years ago, they could never have known that protective packing would become a trademark. “Early bottles were made on Murano island off Venice, famous for its glass,” says global brand ambassador Gareth Franklin. “They were protected with a straw wrap for their journey to Luxardo for filling. The wraps also helped to ensure safe transit to far off new markets such as America. Ever since, the distinctive wrap has been a feature of authentic Luxardo Maraschino. The green bottle, white label, and red bottle cap were proudly designed to reflect the Italian flag.”

EH Taylor new (left) and old (right) packaging 1

The EH Taylor bottle has barely changed in an 100 years

Besides looking attractive and traveling well, distinctive bottles pledge authenticity and craftsmanship. They represent a handshake between the distiller and the drinker; something Edmund Haynes Taylor Jr. knew all too well when he designed the Old Taylor bottle more than a century ago. “Taylor’s design assured quality and honesty by stating, ‘let the label tell the truth’,” says Kris Comstock, senior marketing director for premium whiskey at Buffalo Trace Distillery. Today’s design is a tribute to the great man. “The Old Taylor brand name is now Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr. and his portrait on the label features Taylor wearing a top hat – otherwise the label is very much the same as Taylor’s original design,” Comstock says.

In the last few decades, we’ve seen a rise in ultra-expensive designs. From bottles dipped in 24 carat gold to hand-blown crystal decanters, producers have presented their rarest liquids in one-of-a-kind vessels worth eye-watering amounts of money. The priciest? D’Amalfi Limoncello Supreme, embedded with one of the world’s rarest diamonds, of which just two bottles were ever made. Yours for a cool £27 million. If that’s too pricey, Pasión Azteca Tequila 2010, studded with 6,400 diamonds, is slightly more affordable at £2.1m. The Macallan Fine & Rare 60 Year Old 1926, which fetched a record-breaking £1.5m at auction in 2019 – making it the most expensive bottle of wine or spirit sold under the hammer – seems like a comparative bargain.

Among us regular mortals, sustainability has been established as a marker of quality – and this eco-friendly ethos is growing prominent in packaging. Scotland’s Nc’Nean Distillery made headlines by presenting its inaugural single malt, Annir, in a 100% recycled clear glass bottle. Last year, Diageo developed a 100% plastic-free paper-based spirits bottle for Johnnie Walker, made from sustainably sourced wood. Bacardi is trialling a biodegradable bottle made from plant polymer, with plans to roll it out across the company’s portfolio by 2023. Amsterdam-based Fitzroy Rum, meanwhile, rescues washed-up Coca-Cola labels from the North Sea and repurposes them into toppers for its arty bottles.

No matter whether it’s a traditional brand or a contemporary bottling, one thing is clear: much time, effort and care goes into the bottle design. Next time you pour a dram or mix up a cocktail, take a closer look at the bottle. There’s probably a good story behind it.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Aviation

Created at the dawn of commercial air travel, the Aviation is fittingly named for its celestial pale purple-blue hue. A mix of gin, maraschino liqueur, lemon juice and crème de…

Created at the dawn of commercial air travel, the Aviation is fittingly named for its celestial pale purple-blue hue. A mix of gin, maraschino liqueur, lemon juice and crème de violette, this classic pre-Prohibition serve can be tricky to balance – but get the proportions right, and you’ll be rewarded with a delicate, floral, citrus-forward sipper. Here’s how to make it…

While mankind has attempted to fly, without much success, for two thousand years, it wasn’t until the early 20th century that advances in technology and aerodynamics made powered air travel possible. Soon after the Wright Brothers landed their first flight in 1903 – a total distance of 37 metres, shorter than the wingspan of a Boeing 747 – the Aviation was shaken into existence at the Hotel Wallick in New York.

Created by head bartender Hugo Ensslin, the first published recipe for the cocktail appeared in his 1916 book, Recipes for Mixed Drinks. It called for one third lemon juice, two thirds El Bart Gin, two dashes maraschino, and two dashes crème de violette, with simple instructions: ‘Shake well in a mixing glass with cracked ice, strain and serve’. Over the course of the ensuing decades, crème de violette became increasingly scarce in Europe and America, and in the 1960s, it disappeared from the US market altogether.

As the defining ingredient of the cocktail began its descent into obscurity, Harry Craddock chose to omit it from the Aviation recipe in his 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book. It’s often thought Craddock ditched crème de violette due to its scarcity, but it’s listed as an ingredient in the drink preceding it – the Atty Cocktail – so perhaps not. Either way, the drink was made with gin, lemon juice and maraschino liqueur from them on – essentially a Gin Sour – and lacked its signature sky-blue colouring.

The Aviation

An Aviation made the way nature intended, with crème de violette

Even today, debate rages on about whether crème de violette has any place in an Aviation. Whatever your view, it’s certainly one of the tricker cocktail ingredients to work with. Too much, and your drink tastes like scented bubble bath. Too little, and the flavour is washed out with citrus. Get the balance right, however, and it’s “disarmingly drinkable,” says bar legend Russell Burgess of Loves at Ladies & Gentlemen in Kentish Town and cocktail consultancy Wet & Dry. 

“As the base spirit, gin is the foundation of the Aviation,” he says. “I’d go for something floral as opposed to savoury, and with a slightly higher ABV – such as LoneWolf Gin, which lists lavender as one of its key botanicals.” The crème de violette brings “powerful floral notes, a sweetness, but also an acidulant element to the cocktail, while the maraschino adds another layer of taste, bringing a subtle fruitiness to the drink. And finally, the lemon juice – while I’m a fan of using acid blends for lots of cocktails, the lemon has to be fresh here.”

Meanwhile, Marc Sylvester, brand ambassador for Aviation Gin and owner of Also Known As (ASA) in Banbury and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) in Bicester had an unsurprising gin recommendation: “Aviation Gin works perfectly in this cocktail – how could it not!, it’s not too juniper-forward, it has lovely citrus tones from sweet and bitter orange peel, while the lavender just enhances the floral notes in the cocktail. It’s also super-smooth, which really helps in a booze-heavy, mixer-free, Martini-style drink like this.”

Nailing the recipe to your personal taste requires a little experimentation, depending on the choice of gin, the quality of the citrus, and your preference for crème de violette. “All cocktails are a quest to achieve a balanced drink and you have to work at your recipes to find the balance that works for you,” says Sylvester “Some lemons are sweeter than others, so that might need tweaking to taste, and while some will love the floral notes that the crème de violette carries, others might want to dial that down a little.”

When making the cocktail, start your prep work ahead of time. “Make sure to pre-chill your glassware, even if that’s just filling it with ice before you start making your Aviation,” says Burgess. And when filling the shaker, use ice that’s been in the freezer for a while, says Sylvester. “The last thing you want is a watery cocktail. It’s also best to double strain an Aviation – this will stop you getting little shards of ice in your drink, improving the sip considerably.” 

You’ll find Aviation Gin’s cocktail recipe below – but any floral gin will go down a treat in this serve. Don’t be shy about experimenting with the quantities of lemon juice, maraschino liqueur and crème de violette. And once you’re happy with your proportions, try twisting the drink. Transform it into a Spritz by topping the cocktail with Prosecco, or enjoy it “as a long drink, with the simple addition of ice and soda water,” says Burgess. The sky’s the limit, as they say. 

60ml Aviation Gin
15ml Giffard crème de violette
15ml Luxardo maraschino liqueur
20ml freshly-squeezed lemon juice

Fill a shaker with ice, and add all ingredients. Shake vigorously until chilled. Strain into a chilled Martini glass and garnish with a maraschino cherry.

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New London Light – zero ABV with distinction

Inspired by the historical distinction of London Dry gin, Salcombe Distillery Company intends to set a benchmark for flavour in the alcohol-free sphere with the release of New London Light, its…

Inspired by the historical distinction of London Dry gin, Salcombe Distillery Company intends to set a benchmark for flavour in the alcohol-free sphere with the release of New London Light, its first non-alcoholic spirit. We spoke to co-founder and director Howard Davies to find out more about the bottling, the first in a series for the distillery…

The London Dry style rose to prominence in the 19th century as the gold standard for gin production. At a time when such spirits were produced “in rather dubious fashions of very varied quality,” says Davies, the designation guaranteed that the bottling hadn’t been doctored post-distillation. “London Dry was introduced to put some kind of assurance to the consumer about the quality of the gin they were consuming,” he says. The style set a standard for production that continues to this day.

While today’s alcohol-free producers certainly aren’t poisoning their customers, the fledgling category faces its own consistency challenges. Davies and the team sought to bring the London Dry ethos to the alcohol-free sector with the launch of their first 0% ABV bottling, New London Light. “In these early days of non-alcoholic spirits, there’s a mix of quality of product out there,” says Davies. Against this backdrop, New London Light intends to be “the benchmark of taste and flavour in the non-alcoholic spirits sector.”

Angus Lugsdin and Howard Davies, founders of Salcombe

The name ‘New London Light’ doesn’t only refer to the historic gin style. It’s also a nod to the coastal location of the distillery, which lies on the south-east coast of England in the town of Salcombe, Devon. “There’s a couple of other little ties,” says Davies. “Our distillery is by the sea, one of the only distilleries in the world you can reach by boat, and so our product names are often inspired by lighthouses.” 

There’s Start Point gin, named for a lighthouse on the coast of Devon, and Rosé Sainte Marie gin, named for a lighthouse in the Mediterranean. New London Light is a lighthouse, too – located on America’s east coast, in Long Island Sound. Incredibly, it was once a beacon for the crews of 19th century Salcombe Fruiters. Built in Salcombe and neighbouring Kingsbridge, these speedy Schooner sailing vessels were designed to transport perishable fruits, herbs and spices sourced from across the globe – including America – back to England’s ports.

Developed by master distiller Jason Nickels, New London Light is made using a two-step process. The first sees Macedonian juniper berries, ginger and habanero capsicum distilled to create a base spirit. “This initial distillation uses alcohol, but at a weaker strength than we would normally do it,” says Davies. Using alcohol at this stage of the process allows the team to capture a fuller flavour profile from the botanicals. “Often when you do a plain water distillation, the flavours don’t come through as much,” he adds.

This base liquid is then blended with a further 15 botanical extracts, including orange, sage, cardamom, cascarilla bark and lemongrass. Some of these flavours are captured in concentrates and oils, while others are achieved through more technical methods, such as vacuum distillation. The team experimented with endless distilling methods before settling on this two-pronged approach. “It’s very much a horses for courses approach, in that there’ll be specific distillation methods and extract methods that are going to be a better fit for specific botanicals or botanical types,” says Davies.

Serving suggestion

Creating a genuinely tasty non-alcoholic spirit requires a new way of approaching flavour. Davies explained: “The original distillate whilst containing alcohol has proportionally a very concentrated botanical flavour load, and is intended to be very diluted. Therefore when blended with the other botanical extracts and water the alcohol strength is diluted significantly such that it’s final strength is below 0.5% ABV which qualifies as non-alcoholic”. Using multiple methods is where the future of the category lies, reckons Davies. “I don’t think there’s ever going to be one method that you can use across all of the botanical flavours and ingredients,” he says. “The best non-alcoholic spirits coming through are going to [use] a variety of different methods, depending on the type of botanical or flavour you’re trying to achieve in your final liquid.”

So, how should you drink New London Light? There are a whole host of cocktail suggestions on Salcombe Distilling Co’s website, along with signature serve New London Light and Light. “It’s essentially New London Light with a low-calorie tonic,” says Davies. “It’s garnished with a slice of orange – to compliment the citrus flavours coming through – and a sage leaf, which brings an amazing warm, herbal note. It really picks up that botanical within the spirit, so you get this lovely two-tone effect of the garnish on the nose and then again on the palate.”

Corks may be popping on bottles of New London Light this Dry January, but when it comes to distilling sans-booze, the team’s only just getting started. New London Light is the first bottling in what’s set to become a full non-alcoholic range, with two more booze-free variants planned for release before the end of the year. While the finer details remain well and truly under wraps, the focus for Davies and the wider Salcombe Distilling Co. team is centred on “innovation of taste and of process”.

“It’s about breaking new ground in terms of innovative flavour combinations and coming further away from traditional alcoholic drink flavours,” he says. “In the alcoholic sector, drinks are based on ingredients that you can ferment to create alcohol. We don’t have those constraints in the non-alcoholic sector, and so it’s a great opportunity to use less-familiar ingredients. It’s also about innovation in terms of the techniques that we use to extract the best possible flavour from these botanicals and plants.”

New London Light tasting note

Nose: Bursting with fresh lime zest and orange sherbet. A whiff of cardamom and violet, underpinned by a piney juniper note. 

Palate: Delightfully aromatic. Warming ginger and chilli make way for floral, woody notes with a hint of bitter orange and clove. 

Finish: Smooth and slightly drying. A tangy peachiness turns herbaceous, with fragrant lemongrass, fresh coriander and a hint of menthol. 

Salcombe New London Light is available from Master of Malt

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How to make your own cocktail ingredients

Fancy creating a blackberry liqueur from the brambles in your garden? Or using rhubarb from your local market to make your own bitters? Creating your own cocktail components is easier…

Fancy creating a blackberry liqueur from the brambles in your garden? Or using rhubarb from your local market to make your own bitters? Creating your own cocktail components is easier than you might think – all you need is a handful of botanicals and a little know-how. Stock up your home bar with these DIY spirits projects…

There’s little more satisfying than seeing a DIY project to fruition, particularly when you can enjoy the fruits of your labour in liquid form. Whether creating your own shrubs, liqueurs, infused spirits or bitters, DIY-ing your tipples allows you to experiment with the local, seasonal produce on your doorstep, utilise leftover ingredients – such as herb stems – to reduce household waste, and customise your home cocktails according to your own tastes and preferences.

The tricky part is figuring out which flavours work well together, so start somewhere familiar: the kitchen. “It’s the same as pairing food when you are cooking,” says Xhulio Sina, owner of the Bar and Bottle Shop in London. “If you eat a bowl of fresh strawberries in the middle of the summer when they are juicy and full of flavour, you might pick some fresh mint from the garden and sprinkle it on top of the bowl to enjoy those wonderful flavours together. You can do the same thing with a shrub or liqueur –  just add that touch of mint when infusing to give the strawberry that extra flavour and freshness.”

If cooking doesn’t come naturally to you, all’s not lost. “Find out what other cultures use different ingredients for and what they typically pair them with,” suggests Gaz Walsh, head bartender at One Eight Six in Manchester. Or use your own experiences, he says, like an amazing meal you’ve had in a restaurant. And don’t shy away from good old-fashioned trial and error. “Sometimes it can come down to blind luck of pairing unusual flavours together,” adds Walsh. “That’s the fun in experimenting!”

Read on to discover how to make shrubs, infusions, bitters and liqueurs from scratch at home…

Bramble

Got lots of brambles, why not turn them into a shrub?

How to make a shrub

What you’ll need: fruit, sugar, vinegar, glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, measuring jug, cheesecloth or coffee filte

Sometimes called a ‘drinking vinegar’, a shrub is a type of syrup made from equal parts fruit, sugar, and vinegar. You don’t have to use fruit, of course – cucumber and dill, tomato and chilli, or even parsnip and fennel all make tasty combinations. There are several different methods for making shrubs, but maceration is the most fun:

– Start by adding one part sugar and one part fruit to a glass jar (plus herbs and spices, if you’re using them). “After washing the fruit, chop it as fine as you can in order to get the maximum amount of flavour,” says Sina. If using berries, lightly crush them to increase the surface area. 

– Seal the jar and shake it vigorously to coat the fruit in sugar, then leave the mixture to macerate for around two days, stirring every 12 hours or so. When it’s ready, the fruit will be sitting in a rich syrup. 

– Strain the syrup into a measuring jug, pressing lightly to expel any extra juice. If there’s any sugar left in the jar, scrape it into the jug too. Then, add one part vinegar and whisk until the sugar is dissolved. Pour into a clean glass jar and store in the fridge. Leave for 72 hours before tasting. 

Top tip: Don’t just experiment with the fruit element – consider using different varieties of sugar and vinegar too. Instead of caster sugar, try demerara or brown sugar. For the vinegar, try apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar. You could add fresh herbs like basil or thyme, spices like cardamom and turmeric, or even flowers like lavender and dried rose petals.

Full-flavoured rums like Dunderhead make a great base for spirit infusions

How to infuse spirits

What you’ll need: base spirit, glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, up to three fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, cheesecloth or coffee filter

You can infuse just about anything – rum and banana, mezcal and cucumber, bourbon and orange, vodka and hazelnut… Whatever you choose, you’re best keeping batches small, as there’s no flavour benefit to scaling up. Proportions vary depending on the ingredients, but as a rough guide: one part fresh fruits and veggies to one part spirit; one part fresh herbs and spices to two parts base spirit; one part dried herbs and spices to three parts base spirit. 

– First prepare your flavouring ingredients – roughly chop fruit and veggies, being sure to remove any tough skin, hard shells, rinds, pips and seeds. Add to the glass jar, pour in the spirit, seal the lid, and shake.

– Keep the bottle at room temperature, away from direct sunlight or extreme cold, and shake once a day until your infusion is complete.

– For fresh and ripe fruits, steep them for a maximum of “one to two weeks tops,” says Sina. “Harder fruits and fresh herbs three to four weeks. Spices and dried fruits, up to three months.” Taste it every other day so you know how it’s progressing.

– When you’re happy with the flavour, strain out the solids and filter the liquid through a cheesecloth or coffee filter. Store at room temperature for six months.

Top tip: “Think about surface area when it comes to preparing larger fruit and vegetables,” says Walsh. “For example, if you cut an apple in half, it would take much longer to get flavour compared to an apple you cut into 1cm cubes.”

coffee

Coffee cherries

How to make a liqueur

What you’ll need: base spirit, flavouring, sugar, glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, cheesecloth or coffee filter

To make a liqueur, you’ll need to choose a base alcohol, steep your chosen flavouring in it, filter out the solids, add sweetening and leave it to settle. The ingredient ratios and methodology will vary slightly depending on the ingredients you’re using – chocolate, nuts, coffee and fruit all require slightly different processes – but the basic principle is the same.

– The first step involves infusing your ingredient(s) into your base spirit as detailed above.

– Once you’re happy with the infusion and have filtered the solids out, the next step is to sweeten the alcohol. You can use table sugar, agave syrup, maple syrup, brown sugar, honey – whatever your preference.

– Not sure how sweet to go? To start with, try adding 10% simple syrup. (Simple syrup is made by heating one part water with one part table sugar and stirring until dissolved). So if you have 1,000ml infused spirit, add 100ml of simple syrup. You can always add more.

– Give it a stir and leave it to rest for another week or so before drinking it. At this point, you may notice more sediment collecting at the bottom of the jar. You can filter it out further or leave it – be aware, leaving the sediment may intensify the flavours. 

Top tip: “Try experimenting with a small batch first, because you will not get it right the first time,” says Sina. “Experiment with half a litre before moving to five litres, for example.”

The Bar and Bottle Shop Catford, south London

The Bar and Bottle Shop in Catford, south London

How to make bitters

What you’ll need: base alcohol (such as neutral grain spirit), several small glass jars with a tight-fitting lid, botanicals, cheesecloth or coffee filter

You need bittering agents, aromatics and alcohol to make bitters. Bittering agents are roots and barks, like gentian root and quassia chips, while aromatics are often fresh herbs, spices, citrus peels, dried fruit, or other flavourful ingredients like coffee beans and toasted nuts. You can infuse all of the above together in one jar, but it’s best to make separate botanical infusions and blend them to taste.

– The first step involves infusing each ingredient type in the base spirit to make several tinctures. Keep citrus peels, spices, bittering agents, herbs and dried fruits grouped together to make a spice mix, bittering mix, citrus mix, etcetera.

– To do this, add a small amount of each ingredient – around one teaspoon – into a small jar with around 100ml alcohol and leave to rest for a week, shaking each jar every day.

– After a week, start tasting each jar by adding a few drops to some sparkling water. Once you’re happy with the flavour of the jar, strain the contents through a cheesecloth or coffee filter and set aside.

– Once all the botanicals have been steeped for a sufficient amount of time, you’re ready to blend. Use a medicine-type dropper to combine the flavours in a 10ml test bottle first if you wish. Sweeten as needed using the above technique. Once you’ve settled on the blend, strain again if necessary, and then bottle.

Top tip: The base spirit you choose depends on the type of cocktails you’ll use the bitters in. For lighter drinks, opt for vodka or neutral grain spirit. For more robust drinks, choose a barrel-aged spirit.

The shelf life of your precious DIY creation will vary depending on what’s in it, so watch out for signs of spoiling, such as unusual colours, flavours or aromas. “The use of fruit and vegetables limits how long something will last, but a regular tasting will let you know if it’s still usable,” says Walsh. “Try to avoid temperature changes – if you store it in a fridge, keep it in there constantly.”

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Cocktail of the Week: The Vieux Carré

One of a handful of classic cocktails with a traceable backstory, the Vieux Carré dates back to the 1930s, when it was named after an area of New Orleans known…

One of a handful of classic cocktails with a traceable backstory, the Vieux Carré dates back to the 1930s, when it was named after an area of New Orleans known today as the French Quarter. Anna Sebastian, bar manager at the Artesian Bar in London’s Langham Hotel, talks us through this full-flavoured, widely underappreciated serve…

“The Vieux Carré is a fantastic drink, almost a combination of a Manhattan, Old Fashioned and Sazerac,” says Sebastian. “It has always been one of those drinks, in my opinion, that has been underrated.” Combining rye whiskey, Cognac, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, and two different types of bitters, the Vieux Carré certainly packs a punch – but it’s also light and refreshing enough to cut through the humidity of a typical New Orleans day, she says.

Unlike practically every other historic tipple you can think of, the Vieux Carré (pronounced voo car-ray – the name is French, the pronunciation is Creole) is one of those rare cocktails with a timestamp. Translated as ‘old square’ or ‘old quarter’, which then referred to the French Quarter, the drink was created by Walter Bergeron at the Hotel Monteleone, and appeared in print for the first time in Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em back in 1938. 

Vieux Carre

The French Quarter or Vieux Carré in New Orleans

Calling for ½ teaspoon Benedictine, 1 dash Peychaud bitters, 1 dash Angostura bitters, ⅓ jigger rye whiskey, ⅓ Cognac brandy, and ⅓ jigger Italian vermouth, the method reads as follows: ‘The Benedictine is used as a base and also for sweetening the cocktail. Dash on the bitters, then add the rye, brandy, and vermouth. Put several lumps of ice in the barglass. Stir. Twist a slice of lemon peel over the mixture. Drop in a slice of pineapple and cherry if you wish and serve in mixing glass.’

‘This is the cocktail that Walter Bergeron, head bartender of the Hotel Monteleone cocktail lounge, takes special pride in mixing,’ the author of the book, Stanley Clisby Arthur, wrote beneath the recipe. ‘He originated it, he says, to do honour to the famed Vieux Carré, that part of New Orleans where the antique shops and the iron lace balconies give sightseers a glimpse into the romance of another day.’

The hotel is still standing today, now owned by the fifth generation of the Monteleone family. A decade after Bergeron invented the cocktail, Hotel Monteleone opened the Carousel Bar & Lounge – an elaborate slow-spinning cocktail bar fitted with a dazzling carousel top. It’s the only revolving bar in the Big Easy, and turns at a rate of one revolution 15 minutes. There, the Vieux Carré is the star of the menu, made with Sazerac Rye Whiskey and Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac.

Even though rye and Cognac are of equal measure in the recipe, the bold, spiced profile of the whiskey takes precedence. Much like rye whiskey, the Vieux Carré was once hugely popular and gradually faded into obscurity as the decades rolled past. And like the beloved rye style, it’s now enjoying a slow resurgence. There’s no shortage of rye whiskey bottlings to choose from today, and this cocktail is the perfect way to road-test their mixing potential. “The perfect Vieux Carré, as always, stems back to having quality ingredients,” says Sebastian. “I always say go with the best that you can buy, as it really will have an impact on your drink.”

Vieux Carre

Voila! Un Vieux Carré

The rye will meet a host of really punchy, robust spirits in the Vieux Carré, so thoughtful assembly is required. “The key is to balance the ingredients, as they are all very strong flavours and components,” she says. “The vermouth, being the slightly weaker part of the drink, needs to be big and ballsy. The Benedictine needs to be used sparingly, otherwise it will take over the drink and make it… well, un-drinkable.” Using a discarded lemon twist as a garnish “leaves a beautiful aroma from the oils without the peel infusing the liquid as you drink it,” Sebastian adds.

Once you’ve nailed the original, why not shake things up with some spirited substitutes? Changing the rye for a bourbon gives the drink a slightly warmer, less dry profile to it, says Sebastian. “Another great option is reducing the rye to 15ml and adding 15ml of Calvados, which gives it a more approachable taste and fresh apple notes,” she says. Alternatively, try using a blend of vermouths – a sweet and a dry in equal parts – to make the cocktail a little lighter and brighter, or “add a dash of absinthe to bring all the flavours together”.

But first, here’s how to make the original:

30ml Michter’s Rye Whiskey
30ml Remy Martin 1738
20ml Cocchi Vermouth Di Torino
5ml Benedictine
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 dashes Peychaud bitters
Discarded lemon twist 

Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass filled with ice. Garnish with a lemon twist. 

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10 classic cocktails, served two ways

Thinking of going dry this January, or living with someone who is? We’ve pulled together 10 of our favourite classic cocktail recipes, presented with both boozy ingredients and non-alcoholic spirit…

Thinking of going dry this January, or living with someone who is? We’ve pulled together 10 of our favourite classic cocktail recipes, presented with both boozy ingredients and non-alcoholic spirit alternatives. No matter whether you’re swerving the sauce or in need of a stiff drink over the coming weeks, this guide is for you…

More than four million people signed up to Dry January at the start of 2020, skipping alcohol for 31 sober days to put some sober space between the unfettered indulgence of the festive season and their hopeful new year’s resolutions. While this year’s yuletide has been far from normal, once again many are looking to undertake the challenge and take a welcome break from booze. 

However, going teetotal doesn’t mean ditching your favourite drinks. There have never been more non-alcoholic spirits options available to choose from, with booze-free amarettos, aperitivos, whiskies and gins making flavourful substitutes for the ‘real’ thing. And if you’re not going alcohol-free for a month? You’ll find the original punchy recipe alongside in all its boozy glory…

1. Amaretto Sour

Amaretto is a sweet Italian liqueur traditionally flavoured with almonds or apricot kernels, and with an ABV of around 25 to 28%. Up until recently, there was no way of recreating this classic Sour serve sans booze – then Lyre’s stepped in and changed the game with their Amaretti.

THE ORIGINAL 

Ingredients: 50ml Disaronno, 25ml fresh lemon juice, 5ml sugar syrup, egg white

Method: Shake all the ingredients with ice. Garnish with a slice of lemon.

Amaretto Sour

THE NON-ALC VERSION

Ingredients: 75ml Lyre’s Amaretti, 15ml lemon juice, 5ml sugar syrup, 10ml egg white, 3 dashes aromatic bitters

Method: Rapid shake with ice. Strain into glass and fill with fresh cubed ice. Garnish with a lemon wedge and a Luxardo Maraschino cherry.

2. Old Fashioned

There are few ingredients in an Old Fashioned, making it particularly hard to nail a non-alc version. Three Spirit’s woody, aromatic Nightcap bottling makes a worthy whisky substitute in this drink.

THE ORIGINAL 

Ingredients: 35ml Bulleit Bourbon, 2 bar spoons simple syrup, 3 dashes Angostura Bitters

Method: Add two bar spoons of simple syrup, three dashes of bitters and Bulleit Bourbon to a large rocks glass. Add ice. Stir gently until the level of the ice and liquid equalise. Zest an orange peel over the glass then add the peel to the drink as a garnish.

Old Fashioned

THE NON-ALC VERSION

Ingredients: 50ml Three Spirit The Nightcap, 5 dashes of Angostura Bitters

Method: Combine all ingredients in a whisky-style glass and fill with ice. Stir until ice-cold, garnish with an orange slice, and top with a maraschino cherry.

3. Dirty Martini

With its saline quality and cloudy appearance, the Dirty Martini is a world away from the traditional variation. Pentire’s herbaceous, fresh, coastal flavours really lend themselves to the brininess of the olives. 

THE ORIGINAL

Ingredients: 50ml Sipsmith London Dry Gin, 10-15ml Noilly Prat dry vermouth, 2 barspoons olive brine

Method: Combine Sipsmith Gin, dry vermouth and olive brine in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir for approximately 20 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a few olives. 

Dirty Martini

THE NON-ALC VERSION

Ingredients: 50ml Pentire Adrift, 3 Nocellara olives in brine, 5ml olive brine, 3 black peppercorns, 5ml maple syrup, grapefruit wedge (squeeze)

Method: Shake, strain, and serve over a block of ice. Garnish with an olive.

4. Basil Smash

This classic modern cocktail features a delightful green tinge that’s easily replicated in a non-alc version. Amplify’s lemon, bittersweet orange, earthy juniper and lemongrass notes really set the drink off.

THE ORIGINAL 

Ingredients: 50ml Martin Miller’s Gin, 1 bunch of basil leaves, 25 ml fresh lemon juice, 15ml sugar syrup

Method: Place basil and lemon juice into cocktail shaker. Gentle muddle the basil and lemon juice, ‘smashing’ the ingredients. Add sugar syrup and gin and then top up with ice. Shake and double strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish with basil leaves.

Basil Smash

THE NON-ALC VERSION

Ingredients: 50ml Amplify, 10ml lemongrass syrup, 10ml lemon juice, soda water, handful of basil leaves

Method: Shake all the ingredients together, strain into a highball glass and top with soda. Garnish with a fresh basil leaf if you’re feeling fancy.

5. Margarita

Bright and tangy, the classic Margarita is simple to make and super refreshing. The same goes for Seedlip’s variant, made with its citrus-forward Grove 42 (featuring blood orange, bitter orange and mandarin) as a substitute for the sweet orange liqueur.

THE ORIGINAL 

Ingredients: 2 parts Espolòn Blanco Tequila, ¾ part Grand Marnier, 1 part fresh lime juice, ½ part agave nectar

Method: Shake over ice and strain into an Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.

Margarita

THE NON-ALC VERSION

Ingredients: 50ml Seedlip Grove 42, 1 tbsp agave syrup, 20ml fresh lime juice

Method: Prepare your glass by running a lime wedge around the outside of the rim then roll the rim in salt. Add all the ingredients with ice to a cocktail shaker. Shake and strain over fresh cubes of ice into a tumbler. Garnish with a lime wheel.

6. Manhattan

Non-alcoholic bourbon? It’s a real thing, thanks to the innovative folks at Lyre’s. Rustle up a Manhattan – which is traditionally built around rye (but you can use bourbon) – using their American Malt and Apéritif Rosso for a startlingly similar booze-free serve. 

THE ORIGINAL 

Ingredients: 2 parts Knob Creek Bourbon, ½ part Gonzalez Byass La Copa sweet vermouth, 2-3 dashes Angostura Bitters

Method: Stir and strain into a coupe cocktail glass. Garnish with a Maraschino cherry.

Manhattan

THE NON-ALC VERSION

Ingredients: 60ml Lyre’s American Malt, 15ml Lyre’s Apéritif Rosso, 2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Method: Stir briefly with ice, strain into a small coupette. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

7. Negroni

Given that it’s made entirely from alcoholic ingredients, you’d think it would be impossible to recreate the Negroni. Not so – often dubbed the ‘Nogroni’ when presented without booze, this version combines three non-alc spirits to create the same deliciously bitter effect. 

THE ORIGINAL 

Ingredients: 30ml Campari, 30ml Bathtub Gin, 30ml Martini Rosso vermouth

Ingredients: Pour all ingredients directly into a rock glass filled with ice. Garnish with a slice of orange.

Negroni

THE NON-ALC VERSION

Ingredients: 25ml Seedlip Spice 94, 25ml Æcorn Bitter, 25ml Æcorn Aromatic

Method: Build over ice, garnish with a slice of citrus.

8. Bramble

Another contemporary cocktail that lends itself to experimentation, the classic Bramble’s blackberry liqueur and dry gin can easily be subbed for boozeless alternatives – such as blackberry syrup and Stryyk Not Gin (a distilled non-alcoholic alternative to London dry gin). 

THE ORIGINAL 

Ingredients: 20ml fresh lemon juice, 12.5ml sugar syrup, 45ml Portobello Road London Dry Gin, 25ml Braemble Liqueur

Method: Add lemon juice, sugar syrup and gin to an Old Fashioned glass. Fill the glass with crushed ice, garnish with a blackberry and a mint sprig and then dust with icing sugar. Finish by pouring a measure of Braemble Gin Liqueur over the ice.

The Bramble Cocktail

THE NON-ALC VERSION

Ingredients: 50ml Stryyk Not Gin, 20ml lemon juice, 15ml blackberry syrup

Method: Combine all the ingredients together in a shaker. Shake well before straining into a rocks glass. Garnish with a lemon slice and a blackberry.

9. Tom Collins

First memorialised in writing in the late 19th century by pioneering bartender Jerry Thomas, the simple, refreshing Tom Collins has stood the test of time. Make yours without booze by swapping the gin for floral Fluère Original, with botanicals including juniper, lavender, lime peel and coriander.

THE ORIGINAL 

Ingredients: 50ml Langley’s Old Tom, 20ml lemon juice, 10ml sugar syrup, soda to top

Method: Fill Collins glass with ice. Add Langley’s Old Tom Gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup and soda to glass and stir. Garnish with lemon wedge and cherry.

Tom Collins

THE NON-ALC VERSION

Ingredients: 60ml Fluère, 30ml lemon juice, 20ml simple syrup, soda to top

Method: Build in a Collins glass. Pour all the ingredients over ice cubes until the glass is 3/4 full. Top it off with crushed ice. Garnish with lemon wedge and maraschino cherry, or lemon wedge and a sprig of mint.

10. Aperol Spritz

A well-balanced Spritz has become synonymous with summertime sipping – but did you know you can enjoy the serve sans-booze? Switch the Aperol for Lyre’s Italian Spritz, which combines sweet orange and tangy rhubarb to bring a bright, bittersweet kick to the drink.

THE ORIGINAL 

Ingredients: 1 part Aperol, 1 part Prosecco DOC, soda to top

Method: Fill a wine glass with ice. Add the Prosecco followed by the Aperol. Add a dash of soda and garnish with an orange slice.

Aperol Spritz

THE NON-ALC VERSION

Ingredients: 60ml Lyre’s Italian Spritz, 60ml premium alcohol free ‘Prosecco’, 30ml soda water

Method: Add all ingredients to a large wine glass. Stir, and fill with fresh cubed ice. Garnish with an orange slice.

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Three boozy desserts to see out the festive season

During the lull between Christmas and New Year celebrations, so why not put any half-opened bottles of booze to good use with spot of baking? From rum-spiked cinnamon swirls to…

During the lull between Christmas and New Year celebrations, so why not put any half-opened bottles of booze to good use with spot of baking? From rum-spiked cinnamon swirls to a classic tiramisu, we’ve pulled together three show-stopping recipes to try…

When you think about boozy desserts, your first thought probably jumps to a Christmas pudding drenched in brandy. But there’s more to spirited baking than merely setting foodstuffs alight for a photo opp. In fact, adding a splash of booze to your favourite bakes can take the flavour of the dish to a whole new level. You just need to know when to add them, and how much to add.

To help boost your dessert-assembling credentials, we’ve pulled together three decadent recipes to try out ahead of your New Year’s celebrations – tis’ still the season, after all – spiked with delicious booze. There’s even Baileys dish in there, because seriously who doesn’t love Baileys?

1. Dark and Stormy Swirls

Recipe from Goslings Black Seal Rum. Makes six cinnamon swirl pastries.

INGREDIENTS: 

1 rolled sheet of puff pastry, 2 tbsp Goslings Black Seal Rum, 2 sweet apples diced into small cubes, ½ tsp cinnamon, 1 small thumb of ginger peeled and crushed, 1 lime (juice and rind), 50g raisins (soak in rum overnight if you have the time), 50g brown sugar, 50g butter, 1 egg wash

METHOD:

1) Place apples, sugar, butter, ginger, lime juice and cinnamon in a saucepan and gently cook down. Then add the rum and raisins and cook on a low heat for 30 mins.

2) Take the puff pastry sheet and place horizontally in front of you, and brush with the rummy applesauce – be generous.

3) Once coated, roll it up in a tight cylinder. Slice into six and place on baking paper on an oven tray. Coat with egg-wash and grate lime zest over the top.

4) Cook in a preheated oven at 180°C for 25 to 30 mins, remove and allow to cool on a wire rack – or serve warm. 

2. Tiramisu

Recipe from Quick Brown Fox.

INGREDIENTS: 

6 free-range egg yolks, 200g sugar, 450g mascarpone, 350ml cream, 1tsp vanilla extract, 100ml Quick Brown Fox coffee liqueur, 1 packet of Savoiardi sponge fingers, orange zest to garnish

METHOD:

1) First, you’ll need to make your sabayon layer. Combine the egg yolks with 130g of the sugar. Put the bowl over a pot of boiling water and whisk until the sugar is dissolved and the sabayon has increased in volume. 

2) Next, make the mascarpone layer – for this, whisk the mascarpone, cream and 70g of sugar in a bowl. 

3) Now quickly dip the Savoiardi biscuits into a shallow bowl of Quick Brown Fox coffee liqueur (don’t let it soak too much). 

4) All you have to do now is assemble into glasses in layers. First, the soaked Savoirdi biscuits, then the sabayon, then the mascarpone layer, and repeat. 

5) Sprinkle with cocoa and let it set for six hours in the fridge. Garnish with a grating of fresh orange zest.

3. Gingerbread Trifle

Recipe Benjamina Ebuehi of Great British Bake Off fame for Baileys Original Irish Cream.

INGREDIENTS:

250g unsalted butter, 200g light brown muscovado sugar, 50g black treacle, 100g golden syrup, 3 eggs, 400ml milk, 300g plain flour, ½ bicarbonate of soda, 2 tsp baking powder, 1 tbsp ground ginger, 1 tsp mixed spice, ¼ tsp ground cloves, 900ml double cream, 2 tsp vanilla bean paste, 6 egg yolks, 2½  tbsp cornflour, 65g caster sugar, 2 tbsp biscuit spread, 80ml Baileys Original Irish Cream, 100ml strong brewed coffee, 2 crushed gingernut biscuits, grated milk chocolate, edible glitter

METHOD:

1) Start by making the ginger cake. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease and line a 9 x 13 inch cake tin. Gently heat the unsalted butter, golden syrup and treacle in a small saucepan until the butter is completely melted. Remove from the heat and let it cool for a few minutes before stirring in the sugar. In a small jug, whisk together the 3 eggs and 100ml milk and set aside.

2) In a large bowl, sift together the plain flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, spices and a pinch of salt. Make a well in the centre and pour in the syrup mixture, milk and eggs. Mix the batter until smooth and pour into the tin. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Set aside to cool completely.

3) To make the custard, whisk the 6 egg yolks, caster sugar and cornflour in a large bowl until smooth and pale. Set aside. Heat 300ml milk, 600ml double cream and vanilla bean paste in a saucepan over medium heat until just before boiling. Pour a quarter of the hot milk onto the eggs and whisk thoroughly. Add the rest of milk a bit at a time, whisking well after each addition. 

4) Pour the mixture back into the pan over a medium heat and stir continuously until the custard is nicely thickened. Remove from the heat and spilt the custard evenly into two bowls. Stir the biscuit spread into one of the bowls until fully combined. Cover both sets of custard with a layer of cling film directly touching the surface. Let it cool to room temperature before chilling in the fridge. 

5) Then, mix the Baileys Original Irish Cream with 300ml double cream in a large bowl and whip until you have soft peaks. 

6) To assemble the trifle, cut up the ginger cake into small squares and place them in your trifle dish. Spoon the coffee onto the cake layer followed by a layer of vanilla custard and biscuit-flavoured custard. Sprinkle on a layer of crushed gingernut biscuits and then spoon the Baileys Original Irish Cream layer on top. Decorate with more gingernut crumbs, grated milk chocolate, a sprinkle of edible glitter and drizzle with extra golden syrup if you’d like.

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Home bar basics: The muddler

One of the first tools created for the purpose of cocktail-making, the muddler has drawn flavour from fruit, herbs and peels since the 18th century. We take a look at…

One of the first tools created for the purpose of cocktail-making, the muddler has drawn flavour from fruit, herbs and peels since the 18th century. We take a look at the history of this unassuming piece of kit – the design of which has remained largely unchanged since its inception – divulge muddler technique tips, and share recipes to try at home…

Rounded at one end and flat at the other, the primitive-looking muddler predates cocktail shakers, bar spoons, and even legendary bartender Jerry Thomas. Initially called a ‘toddy stick’, the device was an essential tool in the 18th century backbar, where it was used to prepare the sugar and spices that went into its namesake drink (the Toddy, of course), among other things. “The toddy stick was used for pretty much everything – from breaking sugar away from the sugarloaf to stirring drinks to grinding spices,” says Rewfus Brode, co-founder of The Cocktail Delivery Company and The 43 Club. “It was originally a bit of a jack of all trades, but when ice began to become more widely available, the style of cocktails changed.”

Soon after the advent of commercial ice, bartenders found that ice-cold tipples worked better with simple syrup – rather than sugar cubes – and also required slimmer bar tools for stirring, says Brode. Rather than find itself banished from the bartender toolkit, the toddy stick came to fulfil a niche but essential function: muddling fruits, herbs and peels to extract their oils and juice.

Renamed the muddler, its simple design remains as relevant today. It’s the key to a fruity Raspberry Bellini and a fresh, bright Mojito. “When used correctly, a muddler gives you the ability to access flavours and aromas that wouldn’t be achievable without it,” says Brode. “It could be the subtlest of flavours but it allows you to take a cocktail on a journey – a sign of a great drink to me.” 

There’s more to the practice than first meets the eye. Muddle too vigorously, and you’ll wreck your cocktail before you’ve even added any liquid ingredients. “It can leave your drink with an overly bitter taste,” says Yoann Tarditi head bartender at The Lobby Bar, London Edition. “For the best technique, push down firmly and twist the muddler – never bash! And use a sturdy glass for muddling ingredients, nothing too delicate that could risk cracking.”

Muddling

Gently does it

Aside from a robust cocktail glass, you need the right style of muddler. Today, there are different shapes and materials available – flat, toothed, wood, plastic, stainless steel – and each has its unique benefits and drawbacks. Wood is traditional and looks classy, but this material needs TLC while cleaning. “It doesn’t really like getting cleaned in the dishwasher,” Brode says. “Hand-wash and dry it as quick as you can to stop the rot.”

Plastic and stainless steel are more modern, but they’re also heavier and have a different feel to them. “Personally, I’m a fan of a large, chunky, plastic muddler the size of a police truncheon,” says Brode. “I used metal for a few years but when you pull that thing straight out of the dishwasher, you need to call A&E. I got bored of scalding my hands so I went with plastic.”

There’s also the shape to consider. Toothed is best for fruit and spices, while flat is ideal for herbs, he says. “If you can only get one muddler then always go for flat, as it’s much more versatile,” Brode suggests. “Trying to use a toothed one with sugar is a painful experience. The length of the muddler is also important – so often I have seen bartenders using a muddler that isn’t long enough, and they end up with their knuckles in the glass.”

Speaking of technique – it’ll vary depending on the ingredient you’re muddling. “For herbs like basil, tear them before dropping into your glass. If you don’t, you could end up over-muddling,” says Brode. “For sugar, a flat-bottomed muddler is best for this, with a wee touch of liquid. When muddling fruit you can enjoy yourself a little more. You still want to be careful not to overdo it, but they usually need a little longer.”

Still unsure? Trust your senses. “Using a muddler like cooking,” Brode continues. “As soon as you smell the aroma of garlic, it’s saying ‘I’m ready’. It’s the same when using the muddler. As soon as the aroma hits your nose, it’s time to stop.” And make sure you use the right end – the rounded part is for the palm of your hands, he adds.

Whatever you do, be gentle – that counts for your non-muddling hand, too. Watch where and how you grip the glass. “Don’t hold the glass by its lip or anywhere near the top,” says Will Rogers, head of bars for Kricket in London. “Firstly, no one wants your hands and fingers where they are about to drink from, but also if you slip you could break the glass and cause yourself some damage.”

Taking good care of your muddler is also crucial to the flavour of your drink – and the one after it, too. “Clean your muddler after each time you use it,” Rogers adds. “You don’t want to be muddling chilli for one drink then using the same unwashed muddler for something completely different. Because you are muddling fresh produce the residue will be all over your muddler. Running under a tap will suffice.” 

Ready to flex your new skills? You’ll find two classic muddled cocktail recipes by Brode, below. 

Old Fashioned

Old Fashioned

60ml Woodford Reserve bourbon
Angostura Bitters
1 cube demerara sugar
2 orange twists to garnish

Place a napkin over top of glass with a demerara sugar cube on top. Coat the cube with bitters, drop it into the glass and introduce a dash of bourbon. Using the muddler, break up the sugar cube and add an orange twist, skin side up. Gently muddle the twist and sugar with no more than three twists. Remove the twist and continue to muddle the sugar until it’s dissolved. Then add ice to the glass along with 15ml of bourbon. Stir with a bar spoon, and after around 15 to 20 stirs, add another 15ml bourbon. Repeat the process until 60ml bourbon has been added in total. Garnish with another orange twist.

Mint Julep

 Mint Julep

50ml Woodford Reserve bourbon
8 mint leaves
10ml sugar syrup
Mint sprig to garnish

Add the mint leaves and sugar syrup to the glass. If you’re using a flat-bottomed muddler, turn the mint no more than twice. Add 50ml bourbon, top the drink with crushed ice, and churn the mix with a bar spoon. Cap with more crushed ice and garnish with a mint sprig.

A selection of bar equipment including muddlers from Urban Bar is available from Master of Malt

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