So – a few weeks back you may remember we launched a couple of ‘experimental’ cocktails – the Hanky Panky and the Boulevardier. The good news on this front is that the Hanky Panky has rapidly earned itself a promotion to the exalted ranks of the main series of the Handmade Cocktail company’s core offering, such was its popularity. I’ve just got to do a bit more mucking about with it (I’ve been experimenting with some of the fresh oak barrels we’ve recently acquired, and it takes exceptionally well to a bit of this – so it’s going to get some oak influence methinks) and with any luck it’ll be out before Christmas.

Hot on the heels of these two initial experiments come the next four, and these are more than a little bit special.

We’ve taken four classic recipes – the Negroni, the Martinez, the Manhattan and the Rob Roy – and constructed them entirely from antique spirits from the 1960s and 1970s (with just a little bit of 1980s Bourbon in the Manhattan).

“But Ben – these are just old versions of spirits and vermouths we know and love – how could they possibly be that different from their modern-day counterparts?” I hear you cry. Well… Well well well… Wellitty-Wellitty-Wellitty…

Some of the ingredients used.

Firstly, there’s the fact that many of the spirits in these cocktails will have undergone massive changes in production techniques over the course of the last 50 years. It’s by no means a safe bet that the same production method, maturation method, or even recipe is being employed today as it was back before man walked on the moon. These changes will invariably yield huge differences in flavour. Just ask anyone in the whisky industry about the relative quality of some blended whisky now, as opposed to 50 years ago… This was brought into stark focus for me personally last year at Maltstock when I have to say that the best whisky of the weekend was quite probably a 1970s bottle of White Horse Blended whisky that some kind soul had brought along and popped onto the sharing table.

Secondly, there’s the fact that all of the spirits and vermouths employed in the production of these cocktails will have undergone oxidative changes in the bottle over the course of their lives. This will be more pronounced in the Vermouths than in the distilled spirits, but the difference is definitely there nonetheless. Ignore anyone who tells you that whisky doesn’t age once it’s in a glass bottle. They’re wrong.

The Vermouth used in the preparation of these cocktails is one of the most important parts of their ‘antique’ nature – so let’s take a moment to talk about this.

Punt e Mes from 2012 (L), and the 1970s (R) side-by-side.

As you can see from the image above, the modern-day Punt e Mes is significantly lighter in hue than its 1970s counterpart, and this lightness follows through into the nose and the palate. Without boring you with tasting notes, the 1970s version is all about dark and rich stewed fruits (think ‘exceptionally well matured Christmas Pudding’), whereas the 2012 version is comparatively much more zesty and zippy (think freshly-made Orange and Clove Pomander).

This means two things for the cocktails. Firstly, the depth and intricacy of flavour is increased hugely by using these older and more complex vermouths. Secondly, much less vermouth is needed in the antique versions than in their modern-day counterparts on account of the hugely increased whack of flavour. This means that comparatively, the cocktails are higher in ABV. Always a good thing.

Without over-selling these new Experimental creations – they are seriously *seriously* worth a try. The Negroni is without a doubt one of the top three ‘things’ I’ve tasted all year, and if the whisky and wine markets are anything to go by, these fantastic and venerable spirits won’t stay this affordable for long. Drink now or forever hold thy Peace.