This week we’re stirring up a cocktail created by bartender Cas Oh. He’s the author of a lavish new cocktail book called Co-Specs. It’s called the Belafonte and it’s a deliciously drinkable blend of Campari, white Port, and tonic. It might just be our drink of the summer.
As I mentioned last week, it’s not easy to invent a new cocktail. Someone has almost always had the idea before you. But this week’s drink does seem to be genuinely new. It’s called the Belafonte and, according to its inventor Cas Oh, it’s “a riff on the way white Port is served with tonic in Portugal.”
Belafonte comes from the name of Steve Zizzou’s boat (which really existed) in Wes Anderson’s film The Life Aquatic starring Bill Murray as the Jacques Cousteau-esque explorer with a penchant for red hats as well as Campari.
The man behind the drink
But before we show you how to make it, we’re going to take a look at the man behind the drink, Mr Cas Oh (below). He’s just published a lavish new cocktail book called Co-Specs which has been shortlisted for a Fortnum & Mason award!
He’s still reeling from the news: “Being self-published I didn’t seriously think my book had a shot against the professionally-published submissions, but I figured I’d throw my hat in the ring anyway. I damn near soiled myself when I got the email letting me know I was shortlisted,” he said.
What I love about this book is that for every cocktail featured, he’s gone back to first principles in order to find the “final version I felt was best balanced,” he said. The book took him five years to research and write or as he puts it “goddam forever”. “I essentially went into hibernation and upon my emergence years later I was three shades paler from lack of sun,” he said.
This exactitude extends to measurements. He warns: “every ingredient should be measured and whichever jigger you use, pour exactly to the line as if you were measuring for a science experiment.” He also advises not to use a bar spoon “as the amount you scoop up will vary every time; instead use cooking spoon measures, again flat to the line.”
100 cocktail books in one
If you’ve just got into cocktails during lockdown, Co-Specs is a great place to start because he doesn’t just show you how to make a cocktail, he gives you the history too. He described it as: “it’s like having a vast library of important bar books condensed into just one.” He continued: “The thing about that historical detail is it’s not just there for academic purposes. At the end of the day this is a recipe book, you want to know: ‘how do I make the most accurate, and best version of this classic cocktail?’”
As well as putting the work in researching it, he has also published the book the hard way. Doing everything himself which is described as an “extra headache” but he didn’t want to make any “editorial or creative compromises.” It’s a magnificent-looking book, hardback with shiny paper and colour photography by Debbie Bragg who “perfectly captured the unpretentious and silly vibe of the day.”
But it’s not a coffee table book, he explained: “I chose paper finishes that can handle some heavy-duty page-flicking and the occasional splash. The cover is scuff resistant, the formatting of recipes are separate on the page and in sans serif fonts so they’re really legible if you grab it and want to quickly read the recipe only. “
You won’t be surprised to hear that Cas Oh has done serious time behind the bar working in such famous venues as the Groucho and the Hospital Club as well as running the bar at the Ivy club for ten years. In short, he knows his stuff.
So, when it comes to inventing his own cocktail he knows what he’s doing. We covered recently what a good cocktail ingredient white Port is either as the focus or in a supporting role. Here it adds depth and texture to the Campari while taming the bitterness somewhat. It’s also comparatively low in alcohol making it great for sipping in the sun. We think it could become a classic.
As Steve Zissou would say: “hey intern, get me a Belafonte.”
How to make a Belafonte:
Build over ice in a Highball glass, top with tonic and garnish with an orange twist or slice.
Co-Specs by Cas Oh is available to buy direct for £19.99.