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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Cocktail of the Week

Cocktail of the Week: The Ramos Gin Fizz

Now that you’ve mastered the Silver Fizz, we’re taking things a step further: creating the perfect Ramos Gin Fizz is a labour of love, requiring graft and grit in equal…

Now that you’ve mastered the Silver Fizz, we’re taking things a step further: creating the perfect Ramos Gin Fizz is a labour of love, requiring graft and grit in equal measure. Get it right, and you’ll be rewarded with a milkshake-like texture and frothy white head. Get it wrong, and you’ll be left with burning elbows and sore biceps. Aaron Wall, co-owner of London bar Homeboy, talks us through the process…

They say that if you want to strike up a conversation with a bartender, you should ask them how they’d make a Ramos Gin Fizz. And if you want to infuriate them, you should order it. While a straightforward drink at heart – the ingredients list isn’t particularly arcane requiring gin, lemon juice, lime juice, simple syrup, orange flower water, egg white, cream, soda water, and depending on who you ask, vanilla essence – the traditional methodology requires time and effort. Lots and lots of effort.

First created by Henry C. Ramos at his bar, the Imperial Cabinet Saloon in New Orleans, back in 1888, the drink is rumoured to have been shaken with ice for up to 12 minutes – some historical sources claim longer, others reason it was more like five – by an assembly line of 20 or more bartenders known as shaker men. Each would shake for a full minute to emulsify the drink before passing it along to the next employee. The Fizz is served straight up, so all that shaking “adds length to the drink,” Wall explains.

Thankfully, you don’t need a line of shaker men to recreate the Ramos Gin Fizz at home, nor do you need to shake for the best part of a quarter of an hour to get the same effects. “There’s a number of different things you can do to effectively create more dilution,” Wall continues. “You can add a little bit of crushed ice in the shaker if you want, or you can add just a bit more cold soda water when you’re making the drink.”

The Ramos Gin Fizz, it’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it

Another time-saving hack involves both dry shaking and wet shaking the ingredients (without the soda water, of course). “Some people debate about which order to do it,” says Wall, who opts to dry shake first. “My logic is, if you do it the opposite way around, you’ll get uneven bubbles in the top of your drink. But if you give it a quick shake without ice to break up the proteins in the egg whites and mix all together, and then shake it really hard for a while with ice, it’s spot on.”

Once you’ve shaken the cocktail for a suitable period of time – a minimum of 30 seconds dry, one minute wet – the next hurdle involves creating that glorious soufflé-like head at the top of the glass. “So highball glass, add two or three fingers of cold soda water, and then fine strain your Ramos on top of it,” says Wall. As you get to the top of the glass, stop. You have to let the head settle for a minute or two, so it sets slightly.” 

Using a straw or a bar spoon, poke a hole in the middle of the top of the head, and steady your hand. “Pour more soda water in the middle, so it goes through the drink and pushes the head up,” he continues. “You should be able to get two fingers above the top of the glass, at least. When you put your straw in the Ramos, it shouldn’t fall over to the side – the drink should be thick enough or foamy enough to hold it in place.”

We told you it was tricky, didn’t we? But persevere, and you won’t just have an Instagrammable tipple. You’ll have a super tasty one, too. “The drink has texture, aromatics, botanicals, a touch of fizz, length,” says Wall. “I suppose it’s like American cream soda. You’ve got a mix of that dairy mouthfeel, but the lemon and soda make it refreshing, and the gin and orange flower water make it aromatic.”

While the Ramos Gin Fizz is recognised as a classic across the globe, the most storied place to order the drink is The Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans. The venue trademarked the drink name in 1935 and still makes it today, as Wall can attest. “We were a bunch of geeky bartenders delighted to be there to have a Ramos,” he recalls. “This amazing lady made them for us, and she made them so effortlessly, like there was nothing to it.”

Just before she served them, he says, the head on one of them crashed over. Unfazed – and against the protests of Wall and his group, who were happy to enjoy the decapitated drink – she grinned and set about speedily making a new one. “It was her level of professionalism to make sure that everything went out looking absolutely perfect,” he says. “New Orleans is like nowhere else in America, their hospitality is so warm and genuine and fun.”

So, if your Ramos doesn’t quite go to plan on the first, or second, or fourth attempt, don’t sweat it. Just channel a little of that New Orleans energy, smile, and give it another go. Here, Wall shares his recipe for the ultimate Ramos Gin Fizz. 

50ml gin
15ml lime juice
15ml lemon juice
20ml vanilla sugar syrup*
1 egg white
4 dashes orange flower water
30ml double cream
Soda water to top

Chill your glassware and soda water in the fridge, Combine all the ingredients – bar soda water – in a shaker and dry shake for a minimum of 30 seconds. Add cubed ice to the shaker and shake again for a minimum of one minute. Add two or three fingers of soda water to your pre-chilled glass and fine strain the mixture into it. Leave the drink to set for a minute or more, and then poke a hole in the centre using a bar spoon or straw. Slowly add more soda water through the hole until the head of the drink is an inch or more higher than the rim of the glass. Add a straw and serve.

To make the vanilla sugar syrup, combine 1 part caster sugar and 1 part boiling water (1:1).

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Cocktail of the Week: The Silver Fizz

We hope you’ve been working out, because this week’s cocktail requires strong arms and stamina. So roll up your sleeves, it’s time to get physical with a Silver Fizz.  You’ll…

We hope you’ve been working out, because this week’s cocktail requires strong arms and stamina. So roll up your sleeves, it’s time to get physical with a Silver Fizz. 

You’ll need strong arms to make this drink. The Silver Fizz gets its silky texture from egg white which when shaken hard traps air within the drink. Fizzes were an enormously popular drink in pre-war America. Eric Felten in his excellent book How’s Your Drink? writes: “In the Fizz’s heyday, bars in New Orleans were staffed with scrums of men whose only job was the shaking of Fizzes. They worked as tag teams; when one man tuckered out, he’d pass the shaker to the next man, and so on. During the 1915 Mardi Gras, a bar called The Stag had 35 bartenders manning the shakers; according to one write, they “nearly shook their arms off, but were still unable to keep up with demand.”

The Silver Fizz, it’s worth all the effort

This need for lots of cheap labour might be one of the reasons that the Fizz fell out of favour following world war two. One simply could not get the staff anymore. You can make the drink without the egg, in which case it becomes simply a Gin Fizz, but you’d be missing out on that gorgeous texture and end up with something that’s basically a Tom Collins. You can use an egg yolk instead to make a Golden Fizz or add the whole egg to make it a Royal. Fancy, but also doesn’t that sound a bit revolting?

Even more exhausting is the Ramos Gin Fizz named after Henry C. Ramos, a bartender from New Orleans, who added cream, vanilla extract and orange blossom water to the mix and involves beating the egg whites with sugar into a sort of meringue, then slowly whisking in everything else, the citrus last, then shaking everything hard with ice. Phew!

Some people might balk at the idea of using raw eggs whites due to the (miniscule) risk of salmonella poisoning. You can buy pasteurised egg whites in cartons but be warned these need even more shaking than ordinary ones. 

win a bundle from Mermaid Gin

Mermaid gin, the base for a Silver Fizz

For the gin, a classic London Dry works well but I’m using one of our favourites here at Master of Malt, Mermaid Gin (we currently have a competition on to win a bundle from the distillery) from the Isle of Wight. It’s made with rock samphire, other botanicals include locally locally-grown hops as well as juniper, coriander seeds, fresh lemon zest, grains of paradise, angelica, liquorice, orris and elderflower. It’s got a seaside freshness that goes particularly well with citrus. You can just use lemon juice but I find a mixture of lemon and lime is particularly delicious. Also a dash of bitter on the top looks awfully pretty. 

Right, got your ingredients? Then it’s time to get shaking. Shaking the mixture without ice first speeds up the process but you’ll still need to work those arms. Still, it’s much cheaper and more fun than joining a gym. Then afterwards, you’ll need a lie down and a stiff drink. A Silver Fizz perhaps?

50ml Mermaid Gin
25ml lemon juice
10ml lime juice
20 ml sugar syrup
Half an egg white
Soda water
1 dash Angostura bitters (optional)

Shake the first five ingredients hard in your shaker. Then add some ice and shake some more. Shake really hard and really long. Shake a bit more. Double strain into a Highball glass and top with a splash of fizzy water and a slice of lemon to garnish.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Boulevardier

Today, we’re taking a stroll down memory lane and looking at the history of the most relaxed cocktail ever, The Boulevardier. It’s a bit like a Negroni, but made with…

Today, we’re taking a stroll down memory lane and looking at the history of the most relaxed cocktail ever, The Boulevardier. It’s a bit like a Negroni, but made with whiskey.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on what a great name The Boulevardier is for a drink, conjuring up as it does carefree young men of leisure like you might find in PG Wodehouse stories, ambling around ‘20s Paris, London or New York stopping for a cocktail with only an overbearing aunt or two to worry about.

The cocktail is named after a magazine based in Paris run by an American called Erskine Gwynne in the 1920s and 1930s. A nephew of railway tycoon Alfred Vanderbilt, we can assume that Gwynne was not short of a bob or two. I bet he didn’t have to worry about whether his magazine would have enough adverts in it. 

The cocktail was created for him by Harry MacElhone from Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. A Scot by birth, MacElhone had honed his craft in the US during the golden age of cocktails before leaving because of prohibition to set up his own bar in France. Prohibition was brilliant for unleashing a wave of American-trained bartenders, not all of them were named Harry, on Europe’s bars. So, thank you 18th amendment!

The cocktail appeared in MacElhone’s 1927 book Barflies and Cocktails: Over 300 Cocktail Recipes but despite this, until recently it remained quite obscure. It’s not in quite a few cocktail books I have that were published between the 1930s and the ‘90s. David Embury writing in the 1940s has something called a Boulevard which is a Dry Manhattan with 2-3 dashes of Grand Marnier – so not much like a Boulevardier. The great Negroni explosion of 2009/10 saw bartenders and drinkers have taken an interest in its whiskey-based cousin and it’s now firmly established on every bar menu.

The Boulevardier is not, however, simply a Negroni with the gin swapped for whiskey. It is usually made with a higher percentage of spirit. We’ve gone for 1.5 parts to 1 part vermouth and Campari, but the 2:1:1 ratio is great if you like a strong drink (and if you’re reading this column, we imagine you do.) Most recipes call for bourbon though I think even better is a good spicy rye whiskey like Michter’s.

The first time I ever had a Boulevardier was made by Alessandro Palazzi at Duke’s Bar in London using Grand Old Parr – a blended Scotch that’s very popular in Colombia. And you’re not going to argue with Palazzi when it comes to cocktails. Other things that I find work really well are big spicy Irish whiskeys like Redbreast 12 Year Old, high ester Jamaican rums like Plantation 2003 or a sturdy Armaganc like Château du Tariquet L’Armagnac du Centenaire though you probably don’t want to use a £200 brandy in your cocktails. Or maybe you do. Sometimes, you have to ask yourself, ‘what would Erskine Gwynne do?’

And finally, there’s a whole world of Amari to choose from but we’re sticking with Campari and for vermouth, we’re very taken with Starlino Hotel’s Rosso, aged in bourbon casks, no less.

Right, got your ingredients? It’s time to button up your spats, grab your boater and take a leisurely stroll down the boulevard.

45ml Michter’s US*1 Straight Rye Whiskey
30ml Hotel Starlino vermouth Rosso
30ml Campari 

Fill a tumbler with cubed ice, and add all the ingredients. Stir for 10 seconds and garnish with an orange twist.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Palo Cortado Martini

Today we’re fiddling about with the classic Martini by swapping out the usual vermouth for an unusual type of sherry called a Palo Cortado. The results are dynamite! We took…

Today we’re fiddling about with the classic Martini by swapping out the usual vermouth for an unusual type of sherry called a Palo Cortado. The results are dynamite!

We took our pleasures where we could during lockdown. Mainly at home, it had to be said. One such was the so-called Quarantini, getting creative with cocktails to while away those long summer evenings in the garden. Today’s Cocktail of the Week was one of my more successful experiments. It’s a play on the classic Dry Martini, which despite being such a simple cocktail is almost infinitely adaptable. You can play around with different types of gin or vermouth. As we’ve mentioned before, a barrel-aged gin is a cracking fit with an oak aged-vermouth like Noilly Prat. There’s ratios, you can make it super macho Hemingway style with barely any vermouth, or half and half to make a daytime sipper. You can add pickled onions, lemon peel or olive brine. You can even serve the whole thing on the rocks, though whether this is still a Martini or not is up for debate. 

A few years ago I had a Martini at Bar Termini in Soho that was made with Marsala instead of vermouth with some almond bitters, and the taste lodged in my subconscious. Until the other night when I was sipping a glass of sherry and had a sudden thought that it might go well with gin as that Marsala did. The sherry in question was a Palo Cortado which like most sherries is bone dry but it does have a certain sweet taste and body that you don’t get in a Fino or an Amontillado.

Jerez, the home of sherry with the Gonzalez Byass bodega in the foreground

The Palo Cortado gets its name from the mark, ‘cortado’, made on the barrel. It starts life as a Fino, ageing under a layer of yeast, but something mysterious happens to the barrel and the yeast dies so the wine carries on ageing with oxygen contact, like an Oloroso. Or so the story goes. Ben Howkins in his book Sherry: Maligned, Misunderstood, Magnificent writes: “Palo Cortado is traditionally the mystery sherry. It was very rare. But seems to be less rare nowadays. It is claimed by some that its characteristics ‘just happen’ in a kind of divine intervention.”

I’m afraid that I’m going to spoil the mystery somewhat by telling you how some bodegas deliberately manufacture their Palo Cortado. They start out with the best grape must that would normally be used to make a Fino (Olorosos use pressing juice containing tannins which makes them taste more robust and stop a flor from growing on top). The cellar master lets the flor form and then after some ageing, he adds alcohol which kills the yeast cells and the wine goes on ageing with oxygen contact. The result is a Palo Cortado. However it is made, it’s a wine that combines the elegance of an Amontillado with the body of an Oloroso. If all this is too confusing for you, there’s a good sherry explainer here.

So, I was sipping my Palo Cortado the other night and thought that with its dry but sweet taste, it might work instead of vermouth in a Martini. I like my Martinis very wet so I’m always on the lookout for different vermouths. After a bit of fiddling around, I came up with the perfect ratio, three parts of gin to one part sherry. It still needed a little something bitter so I added a spoonful of dry sherry vermouth. Bang! So delicious. I am sure many bartenders have mixed Palo Cortado into a Martini before, but I’ve never seen it. You could garnish with a piece of orange peel but it’s not essential. 

So there we have it, that’s the Palo Cortado Martini, or the Cortadini. Maybe it needs a different name.

90ml Ealing Gin
30ml Romate Regente Palo Cortado sherry
1 tablespoon of Gonzalez Byass extra dry vermouth

Add ingredients to an ice-filled shaker, stir for around 30 seconds and strain into chilled coupette. Garnish with a piece of orange peel. 

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Cocktail of the Week: The New York Sour

Today’s we’re making a rather forgotten-about cocktail made with bourbon and red wine. Yeah, it sounds a bit crazy, but trust us, you’ll love the New York Sour. There’s a…

Today’s we’re making a rather forgotten-about cocktail made with bourbon and red wine. Yeah, it sounds a bit crazy, but trust us, you’ll love the New York Sour.

There’s a lot of cocktails named after parts of New York, the Manhattan, obviously, but also the Red Hook, the Harlem Nights and the Staten Island Ferry. This week we’re making a drink named after the entire city, the New York Sour. It’s essentially a whiskey sour made with bourbon but with red wine floating on the top. 

What? Red wine and bourbon? Sounds a bit disgusting, doesn’t it? Red wine and bourbon aren’t what you’d call a classic cocktail pairing like, say, gin and vermouth. But actually red wine and whisky have a long history together. Queen Victoria herself used to enjoy Scotch mixed with claret. No one was going to tell her she was doing it wrong. Stop and take it apart for a moment and it makes sense. Whiskies are increasingly aged in different casks including one that formerly held red wine. Think of the delicious Starward Nova from Australia or the recent Aberfeldy aged in Pauillac casks. We’re happy with fortified wines, like Port and sherry, in cocktails. So why not red wine? 

The sour is the cocktail stripped back to its basic parts: alcohol, sweet and, of course, sour. Adding the red wine adds a bitter element, rather like adding bitters or vermouth. According to Difford’s Guide, the New York Sour probably dates back to the 1880s and was first made in Chicago, not New York. It’s been through a number of names like the Claret Snap and the Brunswick Sour before settling on its current name. There have been other New Yorky cocktails: Harry Craddock has a drink called a New York Cocktail in The Savoy Cocktail Book, a sour made with Canadian Club whisky and grenadine but no red wine; David Embury writes about a similar cocktail called a New Yorker also made with grenadine but he writes “a spoonful of claret may be floated on top if desired.” The only problem with this is that as grenadine is also red, you don’t really get the pretty two layer effect which is half the fun.

Careful pouring the wine so that it floats on top

Neither call for egg white but it’s a nice addition as it looks pretty and makes your drink taste all fluffy and lovely. The recipe below is served on the rocks in an Old Fashioned glass but you could serve it straight up. For bourbon I’m using Woodford Reserve because a) it’s delicious b) it’s what I have in the cupboard. And then the big question is what sort of red wine to use. The traditional accompaniment would have been claret, red Bordeaux, which would have been even more tannic back in the early 20th century when it was colder and grapes weren’t picked so ripe. Whatever you decide, it’s worth using something which has a bit of bite to it. A jammy Californian Merlot just won’t cut the mustard or anything that’s too oaky. Instead, try something bitter and interesting from Piedmont (the home of Italian vermouth) in northern Italian like a Barbera, Dolcetto, or even if you’re feeling fancy, Barolo or Barbaresco would turn this drink into a special occasion.

So here’s to New York Sour. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere, even Tonbridge:

60ml Woodford Reserve bourbon
25ml lemon juice
25ml sugar syrup
Half an egg white
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 measure Barbera d’Asti Casareggio (or any red with a bitter edge to it) 

Add all the ingredients except the red wine to your cocktail shaker and “dry shake” without ice for 10 seconds, then take the shaker apart and add cubed ice. Shake vigorously and double strain into an old-fashioned glass filled with cubed ice, then slowly pour the red wine carefully down the side of the glass and with any luck it will float on the top.

Recipe from The Cocktail Dictionary: An A–Zof cocktail recipes, from Daiquiri and Negroni to Martini and Spritz by Henry Jeffreys published by Mitchell Beazley, £15.99.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Metaxa Spritz

Today’s we’re getting to grips with one of the world’s unique spirits, Metaxa, a blend of brandy, sweet wine and natural flavours with a special cocktail from award-winning Athenian bar…

Today’s we’re getting to grips with one of the world’s unique spirits, Metaxa, a blend of brandy, sweet wine and natural flavours with a special cocktail from award-winning Athenian bar The Clumsies. 

If you’ve ever been on holiday to Greece, then you’ve probably tried Metaxa. Many restaurants give customers a little glass after a meal rather as they do with limoncello in southern Italy. Only, in my opinion, Metaxa is a far superior drink. It’s often described as a brandy, but this isn’t quite right as it’s a blend of brandy with sweet wine and natural flavours such as anise, rose petal and herbs.

The brand was founded in 1888 by Spyros Metaxa in Piraeus, the port of Athens. From the beginning, the firm has used sweet Muscat wine from the island of Samos. This is an ancient style of wine that was especially-prized in the Middle Ages but Muscats crammed full of sugar are still made all over the Mediterranean not just in the Greek islands but Sicily, France and Spain, and as far away as South Africa and Australia. The brandy is high quality too, double pot-distilled brandy from Savatiano, Soultanino, Kourtikakis grape varieties and aged in Limousin oak. The wine, flavouring and brandy are then married in cask for a year.  The man in charge of the process is the so-called Metaxa master Constantinos Raptis, only the fifth ever to hold this title.

The Metaxa journey starts with the 5 Star expression, the sort you’ve probably tried in Greek restaurants and goes up in age and complexity to 7 and 12 Stars plus various special bottlings. I find the older they get, the less sweet they taste, with more Cognac-like woody notes but always with that floral Muscat and rose petal taste. 

It’s a unique spirit, but the idea behind it isn’t so unusual. From fortified wines to sherry-cask whisky, mixing wine and distilled alcohol has a noble history. There’s even a law in Canada known as the 9.09% rule allowing whisky producers to add up to 9.09% non-Canadian whisky to the blend such as sherry or Port. You can try this at home, a spoonful of Oloroso sherry is a great way to liven up an indifferent whisky. Anyway, I digress…

Metaxa, supremely national

What I love about Metaxa is you can really taste the quality of the ingredients, the Muscat-laden sweet wine, the delicate spicing and then the long finish from aged brandy. I’ve been fiddling around with a bottle of 7 Star and it’s really an incredibly versatile drop. The cocktail below is from award-winning Athenian bar The Clumsies, and very nice it is too, but you don’t need to go to such lengths to get the best out of Metaxa. As a mixture of wine, brandy and spices, it’s basically a cocktail in a glass. You don’t need to add much or really anything to get a delicious complex drink. 

I added a measure to a Champagne flute, topped it up with some Biddenden Kentish dry sparkling cider (though sparkling wine would also be great) and then added an orange twist. Absolutely delicious. It’s also great neat and chilled, especially after a big Greek feast. But the recipe below from the Clumsies shows how well this adaptable spirit works in more elaborate cocktails. Behold, the magnificent Metaxa Spritz!

50ml Metaxa Amphora 7 Star
100ml Chapel Down English Sparkling Rose
10ml Fever Tree tonic water
10ml honey
Pinch of Salt 

Build over ice in a large wine glass, stir gently, garnish with an orange twist and sprig of mint. Yamas!

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Cocktail of the Week: The Harvard

This week we’re making a drink named after the fanciest college in America, the Sarah Lawrence! Sorry, no, it’s the Harvard. Plus there’s a shameless plug for a new book…

This week we’re making a drink named after the fanciest college in America, the Sarah Lawrence! Sorry, no, it’s the Harvard. Plus there’s a shameless plug for a new book called The Cocktail Dictionary

In January 2019, I started writing, with help from Adam and Annie, a weekly cocktail column for this blog. The first entry was the Brooklyn. Since then I was asked by Mitchell Beazley to do The Cocktail Dictionary, part of a series of booze books like The Whisky Dictionary, The Tequila Dictionary, you get the idea. And now it’s here! It’s an A-Z of drinks with entries on shaking, ice, equipment etc. Not only are the words top quality but it has witty illustrations by George Wyesol. 

Anyway, that’s enough shameless plugging. Let’s talk cocktails. This week we’re making the Harvard, part of a series of old time drinks named after Ivy League universities such as the Princeton, the Yale, and erm, the Brown. It’s rather like a Manhattan but made with Cognac instead of bourbon, and then diluted with a splash of soda. The Harvard may actually predate the Manhattan, however. Many cocktails were originally made with brandy. Cognac was king in the 19th century but its preeminence among spirits was destroyed by phylloxera, the vine-eating louse that wrecked Europe’s vineyards. British drinkers switched to blended Scotch whisky and American cocktail enthusiasts switched to bourbon or rye. So the Harvard is a little taste of what Americans were drinking in the 1880s.

Just one of the excellent illustrations by George Wyesol

As with all cocktails, there are lots of ways to make it. In some recipes, the Harvard is just a Manhattan but made with brandy instead of bourbon or rye, and very nice it is too made like that. According to David Embury in his Fine Art of Mixing Drinks (1948), if you use orange bitters it’s a Harvard but if you use Angostura, it’s a Delmonico try asking for that one in your local bar. Other versions call for sugar syrup, lemon juice and even grenadine (!) which sounds much too sweet. Harry Craddock in The Savoy Cocktail Book (1935) makes his with half brandy and half vermouth with a dash of sugar syrup and two dashes of Angostura. But earlier still, George J. Kappeler Modern American Drinks (1895) was adding a splash of soda which is how we’re going to do it today. It makes it more accessible than a Manhattan and the dilution brings out the fruit in the brandy. You could even, in the summer, up the soda quotient and serve it as a Highball-type thing. But the evenings are getting cold now, so we’re not going to do that.

Traditionally Cognac would have been used but I’m using Janneau VSOP Armagnac which is very fruity and with a wine-like tang. It’s a very superior brandy for the money. Instead of Italian vermouth, I’m using Gonzalez Byass La Copa from Spain. This is made with PX sherry so it’s really quite sweet. Too sweet, I find, to drink on its own but works beautifully in booze-heavy cocktails. You really don’t need any sugar syrup. After a bit of experimentation, I found that adding the soda in two stages kept some fizz without warming up the drink. Finally bitters, the recipe in the book doesn’t call for bitters, but it’s a nice addition. Angostura or orange, it’s up to you.

Are you a Harvard man?

Right, got your ingredients ready? Let’s Harvard! Oh, and here’s a final plug for the book: The Cocktail Dictionary: An A–Z of cocktail recipes, from Daiquiri and Negroni to Martini and Spritz by Henry Jeffreys is published by Mitchell Beazley, £15.99. Totally shameless.

60ml Janneau VSOP Armagnac
30ml Gonzalez-Byass La Copa vermouth
Two dashes of Angostura bitters (optional)
30ml soda water (ideally chilled)

Add the first three ingredients and half the soda, a splash, to an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Stir for 30 seconds until well chilled. Strain into a chilled coupette or Martini glass, add another splash of soda water and garnish with an orange twist.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Southside

Some people know it as Al Capone’s go-to cocktail, others as gin’s answer to the Mojito or the signature serve of New York’s famed 21 Club. This week we’re making…

Some people know it as Al Capone’s go-to cocktail, others as gin’s answer to the Mojito or the signature serve of New York’s famed 21 Club. This week we’re making the Southside, folks!

There are plenty of prohibition-era cocktails that have enjoyed a resurgence renewed in the last few years. But one classic serve that is still hardly ever seen: I’m talking about The Southside, a delicious combination of gin, simple syrup, freshly squeezed citrus juice and mint leaves. You can think of it as a minty Tom Collins and it has plenty in common with The Mojito, but even in an era where gin is all the rage, The Southside hasn’t received the kind of love its exotic, rummy cousin gets. Which is crazy. It’s incredibly refreshing, looks great and is easy to make. What’s not to love?

Well, back in the day, in all likelihood, the gin. Hence why this cocktail was made in the first place. Like the Bronx and the Bees Knees, the Southside was an elegant solution to the lack of quality gin. So, where exactly did it come from? I’m going to shock you with what I’m about to say next. Its origins are subject to speculation. Where have we heard that one before? Seriously, if we did a documentary on cocktail history it would mostly be Henry looking down the camera and shrugging. I know I aired this gripe a couple of weeks ago but for goodness sake, it’s not like it was the Dark Ages. 

At least Harry Craddock was on the ball (like he was for the Blood and Sand, shout out to you Mr Craddock). His Savoy Cocktail Book (1930) featured a recipe for the Southside in his book which included soda, which suggests the first edition of this drink was actually what we now consider to be a variation, the Southside Fizz. However, there are plenty of other origin stories that challenge this narrative. The most notable of which traces the drink’s history to the Southside of Chicago in the 1920s where bootleggers ruled supreme, using lemon juice and sugar to mask the harsh taste of black-market alcohol. Al Capone was said to be a big fan of the drink (though you’d think he’d have had no problems getting hold of some decent gin.)

The Southside

Legend has it the drink was a favourite of Al Capone’s

Others suggest the cocktail was invented at the Southside Sportsmen’s Club in Long Island, a private members’ club for the hunting, fishing and drinking set frequented by such notables as Ulysses S. Grant. The Southside is still a common sight at similar establishments today. Probably the most commonly shared history of the cocktail, however, involves New York’s 21 Club, which during prohibition was a speakeasy. The bar’s ingenious design meant all of the alcohol and the bar itself could be quickly hidden via an intricate maze of levers and chutes should the police show up (it’s basically like this iconic Simpsons scene). The 21 Club is still running today and continues to serve a mean Southside.

The debates around the Southside don’t just extend to its origins. There’s little consensus regarding which is the correct citrus fruit to use. Depending on which bar you go to, you might get a lemon or a lime-based Southside. The 21 Club traditionally makes their Southside with lemon juice and we’re actually going with the latter in this one, mostly because I had a lemon to hand. Make yours according to your own preference. One thing everyone can agree on is that your mint needs to be fresh and that you’ll want to ensure you muddle the leaves gently so you don’t bruise them. When you’re garnishing, spanking a mint sprig against your hand to release the oils is customary. And terrific fun.

As for your choice of gin, feel free to try some different options and go for the style that suits you. Bathtub Gin works beautifully and keeps the prohibition theme going, while a vibrant, clean and classic London dry expression like 6 O’clock Gin really allows the other elements of the cocktail to shine. Here’s a recipe for a simple syrup. Don’t be afraid to experiment with alternative versions as well. Add soda water and you get the Southside Fizz, a longer cocktail ideal for summer days. If you’re in the mood to celebrate, top up your drink with Prosecco or Champagne and you’ve got yourself a Southside Royale. Here’s the classic recipe to get you started:

The Southside

It’s The Southside!

50 ml 6 O’clock Gin or Bathtub Gin
25 ml fresh lemon juice
15 ml simple syrup
1 handful of fresh mint leaves

In a cocktail shaker, gently muddle mint leaves with simple syrup. Add all other ingredients and then ice and give it a good firm shake until chilled. Double strain into a chilled glass and garnish with a sprig of mint.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Ayuuk Margarita

This week we’re putting a deceptively simple spin on a classic. If you like a smoky and refreshing summer sipper, this one is for you. One of the eternal joys…

This week we’re putting a deceptively simple spin on a classic. If you like a smoky and refreshing summer sipper, this one is for you.

One of the eternal joys of making cocktails is there is always room for experimentation. You can take any quintessential serve and put your own stamp on it by simply changing an ingredient or altering the process. Right now there are more category-defying and intriguing expressions entering the market than ever before. There’s also more ingredients, equipment and expertise readily available to the average consumer than ever. This means the potential to alter and create has never been greater. And when you have a spirit with a great story behind it to use as your base, it would be rude not to put it to good use.

Take our chosen serve this week, the Ayuuk Margarita. Typically, when you order a Margarita from a bar you can expect (or at least hope for) a combination of fresh lime juice, Cointreau, salt and a good quality Tequila. In this version, every element other than the latter is present. The base spirit has been changed to Empirical Spirits Ayuuk, which is not a Tequila or mezcal. It’s a truly individual expression that was created using a particularly special ingredient and an intriguing production process. 

Ayuuk Margarita

The Pasille Mixe chilli

Although Empirical Spirits makes its category-defying booze at its Copenhagen-based distillery, the DNA of Ayuuk is Mexican. Its core ingredient is the Pasilla Mixe chilli. Technically it is a variety of Capsicum annuum, the most common species of domesticated chiles. Yet Pasilla Mixe is anything but common. They are grown at 2,700 meters above sea level by the Mixe people who reside in the Sierra Norte mountains outside of Oaxaca, Mexico. In their native tongue, they call themselves Ayuuk (or Ayüükjä’äys), meaning ‘people who speak the mountain language’ and the Pasilla Mixe chilli is an important part of the communal life and identity for them. 

Naturally, they use a traditional production process to create Pasilla Mixe, which entails placing fully ripened chillis on wicker racks over gnarled hardwood smoke to attain their signature smoky, earthy and red-fruit flavour. They’re used in a variety of ways in local cuisine, typically to make chintextle, a flavourful paste of garlic, salt and other spices, or salsas and the large ones are often used for filling with various ingredients. It’s even used as incense for funeral ceremonies and piles of Pasilla Mixe are burned to cleanse the burial sites of the deceased.

Ayuuk Margarita

Empirical Spirits co-founder and Pasille Mixe super-fan Lars Williams

But as soon as Empirical Spirits co-founder Lars Williams was made aware of Pasilla Mixe, they were always destined to find their way into delicious booze. Williams first saw them at a bustling market in Oaxaca City back in 2019. He was taken aback by their character and tried to find an equivalent in his travels and once he returned to Copenhagen, sampling numerous other types of smoked chilis to no avail. Willaims found that Pasilla Mixe had the most interesting, complex flavour and an obsession began.

“Ayuuk is our most cherished flavour story. The flavour came first. We had no idea when we first encountered Pasilla Mixe at the central market of Oaxaca, Mexico that it was the start of something greater. I only began to realize the potential after we had distilled the first Pasilla Mixe blend and tried to get more,” says Williams. “There is so much more than just smokiness: there is an earthy roundness and a distinct, deep red orchard fruit note that distinguishes it from all the others. It also has a palatable spice that allows you to truly taste it, and not just be blown away by heat.”

Ayuuk Margarita

The chillies aren’t easy to grow but are certainly worth the effort

Empirical Spirits initially bought in Pasilla Mixe from the market to create its spirit but decided that it would be better to partner with the Ayuuk people directly to source the chillis, which are not an easy thing to get your hands on. Cultivation is extremely labour-intensive thanks to high altitudes, erosion, lack of pesticides or fertilizers, and rugged terrain. It’s difficult to turn a profit. There are 5,000 people in the village, and one-fifth of them used to farm Pasilla Mixe. Now, there are only eight. This means that production had diminished over the years and so the Ayuuk people shifted to subsistence farming, producing only what they need for themselves and their families.

A supply of Pasilla Mixe was secured thanks to the help of Efraín Martínez, one of a few academics to have studied the Ayuuk through fieldwork and a local of the area. In order to make the production worthwhile for the Ayuuk people, Empirical Spirits arranged to pay three or four times more than the price Pasilla Mixe fetch in Oaxaca markets. In fact, Williams was so enamoured by the history and profile of the chilli that he became keen to preserve its cultivation and tradition and sought out the help of another local academic, Adan Jimenez, an agronomist, who set up workshops to pass on his understanding and insights to help the farmers of Ayuuk in their endeavours.

Ayuuk Margarita

The drink is crafted at Empirical Spirits’s impressive Copenhagen distillery

“With this spirit, we’ve developed a way to work directly in partnership with these farmers to support this beautiful tradition and ingredient. There’s a parallel between this relationship and my background as a chef: On my days off, I would often visit farmers and purveyors to better understand their methods and how to use their products,” Williams explains. “Being more connected to our producers—to their stories, their experiences, and their processes—is an extremely positive thing. There’s a natural symbiosis that keeps us all pushing forward.”

To make Ayuuk, Empirical Spirits macerates the Pasilla Mixe chillies in low wines before it’s distilled with a combination of pilsner malt and purple wheat. This spirit is then blended with kombucha made from Pasilla Mixe pulp before it is allowed to rest for five days in Oloroso casks before being bottled. The result is a smoky, earthy, sweet and fruity expression that’s difficult to compare to another style, although I’d say it is probably closest to mezcal in profile. What I can say for certain is that it works beautifully in this Margarita. There’s some bitterness from the earth and smoke that plays off the refreshing citrus sharpness and a complex blend of spice and heat that the salt cuts through pleasantly. 

So, there you have it. Now it’s time to make our twist on the classic Margarita.

Ayuuk Margarita

The Ayuuk Margarita

40ml of Empirical Spirits Ayuuk

20ml of Cointreau

20ml of fresh lime juice

Begin by pouring your Empirical Spirits Ayuuk, orange liqueur and lime juice into a shaker filled with plenty of ice. Give that a nice hard shake. Then rub a lime quarter along the rim of the glass and dip it into a salt mix (Empirical recommends a salt and black lime mix, but regular salt does work fine). Pop some ice into your chosen glass and fine strain the Margarita in. If you need a hand, the brand has put together this neat little instructional video, which should help. All there’s left to do now is to raise a glass to the Ayuuk people and enjoy your cocktail!

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Cocktail of the Week: The Blood and Sand

One of the best answers to the naysayers who claim Scotch doesn’t mix well, the Blood and Sand has stood the test of time for good reason. Here’s how to…

One of the best answers to the naysayers who claim Scotch doesn’t mix well, the Blood and Sand has stood the test of time for good reason. Here’s how to make one…

We love Scotch whisky cocktails, as fans of this series will well know. We’ve already spoken about our love for the likes of the Old Fashioned or The Bobby Burns, but so far we’ve overlooked the delightful Blood and Sand and today we’re correcting that oversight. We start, as always, with a little history. Happily digging through a cocktail’s past is easy. There’s a raft of information available at the click of a finger, properly sourced and verified with dates and everything. Ha. Ha. Ha. As any drinks writer will tell you, a big chunk of cocktail history is a confusing mess of anecdotes, fanciful tales and just straight up nonsense. I know people were busy enjoying their drinks but is it too much to ask for anyone to write anything down? 

In the case of the Blood and Sand, there appears to be some consensus that it emerged in Britain in the 1920s. The name was said to be inspired by the film Blood and Sand (1922), which starred Rudolph Valentino as a downtrodden Spaniard who eventually becomes a great matador (a more recent version was released in 1989 with Sharon Stone if you’re not a fan of retro flicks). Why did a Scotch-based cocktail paired with orange juice and Italian vermouth become associated with the rags-to-riches tale of a Spanish matador? The drink’s colour, apparently, with the red cherry element from either cherry brandy or liqueur said to represent the ‘blood’ and orange juice, the ‘sand’. Whether it’s true or not, you have to admit it does make for a good story, at least.

One thing we do know for sure is that a recipe appeared in Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book (1930), consisting of equal parts Scotch whisky, cherry brandy, Italian vermouth and orange juice. This has become the accepted classic Blood and Sand formula and for good reason. There’s a beautiful simplicity to a recipe that requires all of its ingredients to be added in equal parts. It’s easy to remember, easy to assemble and often ensures you get a balanced serve. Just ask any Negroni fan.

Blood and Sand

The drink’s name was inspired by the film Blood and Sand

But the Blood and Sand sadly hasn’t reached the same level of popularity or adoration as this gin-laden boozy red icon. I’ve talked to a few fellow fans of the serve who put this down to one ingredient in particular. Some bartenders have a tendency to wince at the very notion of orange juice as a key ingredient. Avoiding Screwdriver territory is a must for the trendy and top-knotted. I can certainly understand that if the orange juice isn’t freshly squeezed, as that’s a surefire way to ensure you create a cocktail that’s too sweet and sharp for whisky drinkers and too punchy for those who prefer lighter serves.

But, if you play your cards right, you’ll get a deeply delicious and layered serve that is still approachable and, above all else, tastes greater than the sum of its parts, which is what every good cocktail should do. It’s also wonderful for converting those people who haven’t seen the light and wrongly believe they don’t like Scotch. Which brings us on to the matter of which Scotch to use. Blended whiskeys such as Dewar’s White Label, Chivas Regal 12 Year Old and Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 Year Old all make fine choices. I like the hint of smoke in the latter and if you’re a big fan of all things peaty you can tablespoon in a touch of Islay whisky.

Part of the joy of a Blood and Sand is that it is the kind of cocktail you can play around with a bit. I like to bump the Scotch up a notch and will sometimes tone down the cherry a smidge. That particular element is now often provided by Heering Cherry Liqueur, rather than the traditional cherry brandy, but both work well. You can try different varieties of oranges (blood oranges are often favoured) and there are so many delightful vermouths on the market now it’s easy to have some fun there. You can even lengthen your drink like Gaz Regan did in the 2018 version of The Joy of Mixology by making a brunch-worthy Blood and Sand with 3 oz. (about 90ml) of orange juice.

Blood and Sand

Behold: The Blood and Sand!

At the risk of sounding boring, when it comes to the orange juice the most important thing is that it is freshly squeezed. You know it’s going to make all the difference and shouldn’t take too much effort. Especially if you have a juice loosener. I’ve opted to go traditional in this recipe and use the classic Martini Rosso as well as a Cherry Brandy, in this case a particularly delicious one from Ableforth’s that’s actually made with high-quality cherries and brandy (you’d think that would be a basic requirement for a cherry brandy but amazingly, it’s not). 

So, there you have it: The Blood and Sand!

30ml of Johnnie Walker Black Label
25ml of Martini Rosso 
25ml of Ableforth’s Cherry Brandy (or Heering Cherry Liqueur)
25ml of fresh orange juice

Begin by popping a coupe glass in the freezer for a few minutes before you start to get it nice and chilled. Then add all of your ingredients to a shaker with ice and give your best hard shake for about 30 seconds. Seriously. The key to a good Blood and Sand is to shake the crap out of it until you get that nice froth. If you’re not breaking a sweat, you’re not doing it right. Then take your chilled glass out of the freezer, pop a Luxardo Maraschino Cherry in the bottom of it and then strain the mix into the glass. Garnish with an orange zest before you serve and enjoy!

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