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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Cocktail of the Week

Cocktail of the Week: The Oak and Mistletoe

This week we’re stirring up a seasonal drink inspired by the ancient Druids from a new cocktail book. It’s called the Oak and Mistletoe and combines whisky, Calvados, and a…

This week we’re stirring up a seasonal drink inspired by the ancient Druids from a new cocktail book. It’s called the Oak and Mistletoe and combines whisky, Calvados, and a special apple syrup.

In ancient times,
Hundreds of years before the dawn of history
Lived a strange race of people, the Druids
No one knows who they were or what they were doing
But their legacy remains
Hewn into the living rock, of Stonehenge!”

This week’s cocktail called Oak and Mistletoe has made the Master of Malt team come over all Spinal Tap because it’s inspired by the ancient British Druids. It comes from a new book called Spirits of the Otherworld: A Grimoire of Occult Cocktails by Allison Crawbuck and Rhys Everett. The book is a cornucopia of delicious, decadent, and downright bizarre drinks inspired by esoteric learning.

The strangest bar in London

The pair own the cocktail bar at The Last Tuesday Society which has to be one of the best and strangest bars in London. Not only do they serve superb cocktails but you might get to sit next to a stuffed lion in a top hat while you sip your drink. They also put on an interesting selection of talks which are well worth checking out. It all takes place behind an unassuming shopfront in Hackney.

The Last Tuesday Society was founded by an eccentric called Viktor Wynd. Originally it was not a place but a series of parties with names such as ‘The Animal Party, from the Beast to the Blond’, ‘The Orphanage Masked Ball, a Danse Macabre’, and ‘Loss; an Evening of Exquisite Misery.’ They became bywords for all kinds of mid-noughties decadence. 

Curiouser and curiouser

In 2008, Wynd opened a shop and art gallery on Mare Street in East London called  ‘Viktor Wynd’s Little Shop of Horrors’. In the basement, there was a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ inspired by early museums where the strange, the shocking, and the exotic were all piled up next to each other. Items on display include a two-headed sheep, syringes belonging to the late artist Sebastian Horsley and, most peculiar of all, celebrity poo including some belonging to Russell Brand. 

All deeply strange. Wynd has now moved to Norfolk where he presides over the Last Tuesday Society putting on events and talks though sadly not the wild parties of yore from his rural idyll. Meanwhile, Crawbuck and Everett own the bar upstairs in the shop. You can visit the museum below for a small charge. It’s well worth a visit, drink in hand, though be warned, on your own, it is pretty sinister. The pair don’t only run a bar and produce cookbooks but they also have their own brand of absinthe called The Devil’s Botany which is extremely tasty. 

Alison Crawbuck & Rhys Everett Devil's Botany Absinthe

Allison Crawbuck & Rhys Everett at the Last Tuesday Society

An occult Old Fashioned

But back to the cocktail of the hour, the Oak and Mistletoe. It’s a blend of Calvados and Scotch whisky into an Old Fashioned style drink sweetened with roasted apples. Apparently, apples are the “sacred fruit of the Druid forests”. You could use a mixture of cloudy apple juice and sugar syrup if you don’t have time or inclination to make the roasted apple syrup. It works nearly as well.

According to the book: “Inspiration for this cocktail is drawn from the ancient woodlands of the Druids. From the apple-producing regions of Normandy to the whisky oasis of Scotland, the spirits of the Britons and the Gauls offer pure magic when blended together. The flavours of these liquids are heightened by the powers of the wise oak tree…”

The book’s authors recommend drinking on “the eve of Samhain, 31 October, as the Sun sets and the soul of the dead rise.” But the mistletoe in the title makes us think of Christmas. Whenever you drink it, this is a wonderful wintery cocktail and a great introduction to the weird world of the Last Tuesday Society.

The Oak and Mistletoe

How to make an Oak and Mistletoe

30ml Calvados Chateau de Breuil
30ml Monkey Shoulder blended malt Scotch whisky
4 dashes Angostura bitters
15ml roasted apple syrup* (or half cloudy apple juice and half sugar syrup)

Stir all ingredients in an ice-filled shaker or jug. Strain into a large rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with a slice of roasted or dried apple.

*roasted apple syrup

5g brown sugar
1tsp ground cinnamon
1 apple, cored and sliced
150g of caster sugar
100ml of water

Toss the apple in a mixture of cinnamon and brown sugar. Spread on a baking tray and bake at 175 degrees C in an oven for six minutes, turn and bake another six minutes. Keep a couple of slices back for garnishes. Add the rest to 100ml of water with the caster sugar. Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Take off heat and allow it to cool. Pour through a fine strainer into a jar. It should last for two weeks in the fridge.

Spirits of the Otherworld: A Grimoire of Occult Cocktails & Drinking Rituals by Allison Crawbuck and Rhys Everett is published by Prestel. Click here to buy.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Hot Toddy

It’s getting cold and you may well have a cold, so this week we’re mixing up a winter classic, the Hot Toddy, and it couldn’t be simpler as we’re using…

It’s getting cold and you may well have a cold, so this week we’re mixing up a winter classic, the Hot Toddy, and it couldn’t be simpler as we’re using Beeble Original Honey Whisky.

We don’t know about you but now that the enforced distancing from other people is, largely, over, we’ve seen the return of the dread snuffles. And how! There might be no cure for the common cold, but there is one palliative that seems to work better than all the others, the Hot Toddy.

When the Toddy was king

Back in the 19th century, a mixture of whisky, hot water, sugar, and various spices was the most common way that Scotch whisky was consumed, especially in Scotland. Early drinks writer Charles Tovey wrote in 1864 on the popularity of the ‘Toddy’:

“You may find it at the after-dinner table of the aristocracy, mingling its fumes with the odours of Lafitte or Romanee Conti [sic], and many noblemen will leave the choicest wine to indulge his glass of toddy. The middle classes and tradesmen most prefer it to any other spirit or wine.”

That’s taken from Nick Morgan’s history of Johnnie Walker, A Long Stride. He goes on to say how a Toddy would be prepared at the table to each drinker’s particular taste “in a ritual that, like tea, was surrounded with a degree of domestic paraphernalia such as toddy kettles, jugs, ladles, and spoons…”

Unseated by the Highball

Blenders produced gutsy full-flavoured whiskies that were specifically designed to be drunk in this way. These would contain a high percentage of malts from Islay and Campbeltown. But as the popularity of Toddies waned in the late 19th century, to be replaced by the Whisky and Soda aka the Highball, so blenders produced lighter whiskies. Brands like J&B and Cutty Sark were blended specifically to be drunk with soda water.

Meanwhile, the mighty Toddy went out of fashion. It really is a drink suited to the cold damp climate of Scotland in the pre-central heating and double glazing age. But with soaring energy prices and some cold weather is the offing, suddenly a little internal heating seems like a good idea. it’s time for a Toddy revival.

Hot Toddies can be elaborate, involving all kinds of spices, lemon, honey, and of course whisky (though you can use rum or brandy). You could seek out a stout smoky blend like Green Isle but there’s one brand that has made making a Toddy a doddle, Beeble Honey Whisky. A mixture of quality English honey with Scotch whisky, it’s the Act of Union in a bottle. There’s a proper Hot Toddy recipe below but when my wife and I had a cold last month, we simply added two measures to a mug, topped it up with boiling water, and added a good squeeze of lemon juice. After a couple of those, suddenly your cold won’t seem so bad.

Hot Toddy with Beeble Honey Whisky

How to make a Hot Toddy

50ml Beeble Original Honey Whisky
150ml boiling water
Juice of half a lemon
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves (slightly ground using pestle and mortar)

Fill heat-proof glass with boiling water and let it stand for 1-2 mins to warm. Empty mug and half-fill with 150ml of boiling water. Add all other ingredients to the glass and stir. Garnish with a slice of lemon and a cinnamon stick

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Cocktail of the Week: The Mezcal Espresso Martini

This week, we’re making a twist on a modern classic, and the perfect cocktail for the upcoming party season: it’s the Mezcal Espresso Martini made with Ojo de Dios Café….

This week, we’re making a twist on a modern classic, and the perfect cocktail for the upcoming party season: it’s the Mezcal Espresso Martini made with Ojo de Dios Café.

The drinks world was thrown into turmoil last month when Patrón announced that it was discontinuing its famous XO Cafe, the party drink of the stars. Everyone quickly recovered, however, when we realised that there are alternatives to the former Clooney beverage. VIVIR stepped into the breach with a coffee version of its Tequila, and then there’s Ojo de Dios Café – a blend of mezcal and coffee.

The eye of God

Ojo de Dios (ODD) means ‘eye of God’. The mezcal is produced traditionally from seven to eight-year-old Espadin agave plants from San Luis del Rio region of Oaxaca, roasted in an underground oven over oak wood, and crushed using a tahona mill. It’s fermented using natural yeasts in wood and then double-distilled in a copper pot still.

To make ODD Café, maestro mezcalero Francisco Ortiz blends this spirit with Arabica coffee beans grown 4600 ft above sea level in the Oaxaca mountains and roasted by the Mejia Bautista family. The resulting liqueur comes in at 35% ABV with no sugar added. 

Mezcal Espresso Martini ODD Cafe

Is that a jug of Espresso Martini? Don’t mind if I do

Going down a storm

The brand has been going down a storm recently with some of London’s top bartenders. Alan Uresti Silva from legendary nightspot Annabel’s described it as “a top-quality mezcal that has the versatility to be used in cocktails and doesn’t overpower but harmoniously blends into plentiful drinks. It also has the advantage of being complex enough to be enjoyed by itself.” 

Pawel Rolka bar manager at Zuma said: “Ojo de Dios Mezcal is, without doubt, one of the most flavoursome, smooth and versatile agave-based spirits I’ve come across in a long time.” And finally, Erik Lorincz formerly of the American Bar at the Savoy and now at Kwant said: “Ojo de Dios is a classic example of the effects of the slow cooking process that grants this mezcal a perfect balance between soft smoke and tropical fruit. It’s very versatile for cocktails, one of my favourites being the ODD Café which we serve here at Kwant.”

While you can drink it neat, ODD Café’s naturally sweet and smoky flavour means it’s the perfect spirit to make your Espresso Martini a bit more lively. Ever since this classic cocktail was invented by Dick Bradsell in 1983, there’s been some debate about how to make it. The story goes that a supermodel came into the Soho Brasserie and asked for a drink that would “wake me up, and then fuck me up”. He christened it the Vodka Espresso, but it soon became known as the Espresso Martini because of the shape of the glass. 

There’s no definitive recipe. Some call for just coffee, sugar syrup, and vodka, whereas others use a coffee liqueur. Or you can mix up the base spirit. We love this mezcal version that gets the sugar element from Frangelico, a hazelnut liqueur. Once you’ve tried this, you won’t go back to the vodka version.

Mezcal Espresso Martini ODD Cafe

How to make a Mezcal Espresso Martini

Make sure you have lots of good quality, very cold ice, or you can end up with something close to iced coffee, and always use freshly-made coffee. I make mine in one of those stovetop mocha things or you could use a Nespresso machine for the full Clooney effect. 

Be warned, with its double coffee hit this will definitely wake you up, you might have trouble sleeping after a couple of these making it the perfect drink to kick off party season. Let the roaring ‘20s commence!

50ml ODD Cafe
15ml Frangelico
25ml Freshly-made espresso coffee

Make the espresso and, ideally, leave it to cool for 20 minutes. Add all the ingredients to an ice-filled shaker and shake hard. Strain into a chilled Martini glass. 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Old Fashioned

With Old Fashioned Week coming up, 5-14 November, it’s the perfect time to take a closer look at the original cocktail and show you how to make the perfect Old…

With Old Fashioned Week coming up, 5-14 November, it’s the perfect time to take a closer look at the original cocktail and show you how to make the perfect Old Fashioned with Woodford Reserve bourbon.

After years when it was thought, well, a bit old-fashioned, the Old Fashioned is now decidedly hip. A week devoted to its pleasures was started in 2015 by two Frenchmen, Michael Landart from Maria Loca bar in Paris, and Cyrille Hugon, founder of Paris Rumfest. It’s now become an annual event with events all over the world and the might of Woodford Reserve Bourbon behind it. So to get you in the mood, find a comfy chair, pour yourself a drink (recipe at the end), and we will take a journey back in time…

Just how old is an Old Fashioned?

Really quite old, though originally it would have been known simply as a ‘cocktail’. The oldest mention of the word has been found by top booze historian David Wondrich in a New Hampshire newspaper dating from 1803. A cocktail was a specific kind of mixed drink consisting of a spirit, usually whiskey or rum, with water, sugar, and bitters. Bitters such as Stoughton’s Elixir, patented in London in 1712, were all the rage in early America. When new-fashioned cocktails appeared in the mid 19th century made with outlandishly modern things such as vermouth, absinthe, or Curaçao, some old-timer said something like, “enough with all these contemporary concoctions, I want an old-fashioned cocktail, dammit!”, and the name stuck.

Great, I’ll grab the fruit bowl

Originally the only fruit would have been a piece of lemon peel. In The Cocktail Book published in 1900, there are recipes for brandy, rum, whiskey, and Holland gin Old Fashioneds. They are all made the same way: take a lump of sugar, add a little hot water and crush, add ice, booze, bitters, a piece of lemon peel and stir until all the sugar has dissolved. This is a classic Old Fashioned, an old-fashioned Old Fashioned if you will.

During Prohibition, bartenders began adding fruit to their Old Fashioneds, probably to disguise the taste of dodgy spirits. American cocktail books following Repeal in 1933 all list fruit such as orange, lemons, and maraschino cherries in their recipes.

Many people disapproved of these new-fashioned Old Fashioneds. Crosby Gaige, author of The Cocktail Guide and Ladies’ Companion, wrote in 1944: “serious-minded persons omit fruit salad from Old Fashioneds”. Bernard de Voto in his book The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto wrote, “a cocktail does not contain fruit juice.” The British, however, ignored all these exciting new developments and continued making the Old Fashioned the old-fashioned way. Too bloody right.

Perhaps it was all that fruit, or perhaps it was the rise of first lighter whiskies such as J&B and Cutty Sark, and then vodka in the 70s and 80s, but by the 1960s, the Old Fashioned was decidedly old fashioned. It was what your parents drank. Brown spirit cocktails were out, and, that most American of whiskeys, rye, nearly died out.

The Old Fashioned is back!

In the mid-2000s, American bartenders began to rediscover their rich spirits heritage. The revival of American whiskey, specifically rye, was on the back of classic cocktails such as the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan. New whiskey distilleries were opening in America, and all over the world. Established drink brands, especially Scotch and Cognac, were throwing off their rather old-fashioned image and embracing cocktails. The scene was set for an Old Fashioned revival.

Distillers love the Old Fashioned because it shows off the complexity of the spirit. Bartenders love the Old Fashioned because it is infinitely adaptable. You can use any spirit – rye and bourbon are the usual choices, but other whiskies, rum, or brandy can be sensational. You can even use unaged spirits such as Mezcal, or a smokey Islay as seasoning. You can use bitters, like orange or chocolate, to accentuate different flavours. You can play around with sweeteners. I’ve had Old Fashioneds made with PX sherry or maraschino cherry juice. And finally garnish with a piece of orange, lemon, or grapefruit peel, or (let the purists be damned) orange and lemon segments, and a maraschino cherry.

Woodford Reserve Old Fashioned

How to make the ultimate Old Fashioned

I’m a bit old-fashioned when it comes to making an Old Fashioned, so I’m using a classic bourbon Woodford Reserve which is smooth but 18% rye gives it a nice spice too. Then I like to use orange bitters and PX sherry instead of sugar syrup (but if you don’t have it, just use simple syrup and make to taste). If you haven’t tried this, you’re in for a treat. For me, it’s the ultimate Old Fashioned.

Here’s the recipe:

80ml Woodford Reserve Bourbon
2 teaspoons of Gonzalez Byass Nectar Pedro Ximénez 
2 dashes of Fee Brothers Orange Bitters 

Add the bourbon, bitters, and one teaspoon of sherry to an ice-filled rocks glass. Stir for 30 seconds and taste, add more PX sherry if required. Express a piece of orange peel over and drop it in. 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Silver Bullet

For those who have stockpiled kümmel after the panic earlier this month, here’s a great cocktail to make with everyone’s favourite caraway-scented liqueur. It’s the Silver Bullet. Did you keep…

For those who have stockpiled kümmel after the panic earlier this month, here’s a great cocktail to make with everyone’s favourite caraway-scented liqueur. It’s the Silver Bullet.

Did you keep your head during the great kümmel panic of 2021? That’s what your grandchildren will be asking you about life in the first quarter of the 21st century. For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, a quick recap.

A Baltic beverage

We reported earlier this month that there were rumours of a kümmel shortage in the golf clubs of Britain. This is a liqueur flavoured with caraway seeds along with cumin, fennel and other spices. It’s not dissimilar to Scandinavian akvavit, though sweeter, and it has its origins in the same part of the world, the Baltic, Riga in modern day Latvia, to be precise. 

Despite its Nordic origins, kümmel used to be immensely popular among the British upper classes. There are mentions of it in Evelyn Waugh’s works. But the only places you will see kümmel drunk today are old-fashioned gentlemen’s clubs, and in particular golf clubs. After a long day chasing a little white ball around a strange Teletubby-esque version of the countryside, there’s nothing golfers like more than a restorative glass of kümmel.

mentzendorff-kummel-combier-distillery

The Combier Distillery where Mentzendorff kümmel is made

Panic in the golf clubs

However, there was panic at the 19th hole as apparently one of the principal brands, Wolfschmidt in Denmark, had ceased production. Blog Cookie Jar Golf reported: “In recent weeks, reports have been coming into us from all corners of the U.K. that clubs are unable to secure orders on further stock of Wolfschmidtt, amid rumours that the Danish company has ceased production. Despite a lot of phone calls and various efforts to establish contact with the brand, no official statement has been received, however, we can confirm that future orders on the product are no longer possible.”

So is this the end for kümmel, a drink that is so unfashionable that most people have never heard of it? Happily not. One of the original brands, Mentzendorff, has no plans to stop producing. The Mentzendorff family were Prussians based in Riga who came to England in the 1860s and branched out into wine importing. The firm is still going strong and is the UK agent for Bollinger Champagne. The liqueur is now distilled in France.

Andrew Hawes, MD of Mentzendorff reassured us: “We’ve been keeping kümmel enthusiasts well-stocked for over 150 years and have no plans to stop any time soon!” 

So for all those who now have a garage full of kümmel alongside gallons of petrol, bumper packs of toilet paper and huge sacks of rice, the question comes what to do with such a distinctive liqueur? Well, you could take up golf and drink it neat, but it also works in one of the great lesser-known cocktails – the Silver Bullet.

The Silver Bullet

A kümmelised gin sour

Nobody seems to know where this one came from but it dates back to the 1920s at least as it crops up in Harry Craddock’s 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book where it’s a simple mixture of two parts gin to one part each of lemon and kümmel. It’s essentially a kümmelised gin sour. With it’s big spicy flavours and sweetness, kümmel is not the easiest of mixers, but a good dose of gin and lemon juice calms it down a bit, producing a very elegant and distinctive cocktail.

If you’re feeling fancy, you could add an egg white but it’s not essential. Salvatore Calabrese in his Classic Cocktails uses vodka instead of gin which sounds pretty tasty and is a nice nod to kümmel’s Baltic origins. I’m using a recipe from Difford’s Guide. The most important thing is the kümmel.

How to make a Silver Bullet

45ml Bathtub Gin
25ml Mentzendorff Kümmel
10ml lemon juice

Add all the ingredients to an ice-filled cocktail shaker and give it a good hard shake. Double strain into a chilled coupe and garnish with a twist of lemon zest.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Gimlet

This week’s cocktail began its life as a remedy for scurvy in the Royal Navy but found fame in America in the works of Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Chandler. A…

This week’s cocktail began its life as a remedy for scurvy in the Royal Navy but found fame in America in the works of Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Chandler. A mixture of lime and gin, it’s the mighty Gimlet!

The Gimlet would not exist without Rose’s Lime Juice Cordial. Its inventor, Scotsman Lauchlan Rose, had the brilliant idea of preserving limes in sugar rather than alcohol. It was used by the Royal Navy as a source of vitamin C to prevent scurvy among sailors. The Gimlet, a mixture of gin and Rose’s, could have got its name from Surgeon Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Desmond Gimlette (what a title!) who prescribed the drink to the crew on his ship. Or it might be named after a hand tool used to make holes in barrels. Nobody is quite sure.

Loved by writers as well as sailors

It may have started life in Britain’s navy but the Gimlet proved particularly popular on the other side of the Atlantic. It crops up in works by Ernest Hemingway and most notably in Raymond Chandler. Naturally, there is much debate about how to make it perfectly. A character in Chandler’s The Long Goodbye reckoned “a real Gimlet should be half gin and half Rose’s lime juice and nothing else. It beats Martinis hollow.” That sounds much too sweet for me. One recipe I came across even suggested making your own lime cordial. There’s really no need as Rose’s Lime Juice is a great ingredient. Unlike some other syrups, Rose’s is still made from real fruit (though the US version is made with high fructose corn syrup rather than sugar). It has a very distinct flavour like traditional English sweets (candy to our American readers). I think it works best mixed half and half with fresh lime juice.

Then it’s a question of what kind of gin to use. You could experiment with gins with citrus fruit botanicals. The obvious choice would be Tanqueray Rangpur, made with limes, or it would be fun to experiment with Tanqueray Flor de Sevilla (sweet oranges so omit the sugar syrup) or even Spit-Roasted Pineapple gin (also quite sweet). But I want to use a gin that would have been familiar to Chandler so I’ve gone for standard Tanqueray which at 43.1% ABV has that useful extra bit of alcohol over its main rivals, Gordon’s and Beefeater. 

Gimlet Cocktail

The Gimlet in all its limey glory

How to make a Gimlet

A splash of orange bitters is a great addition. You can use half lemon and half lime juice to make it a little fresher, or use vodka instead of gin which makes it basically alcoholic lime cordial. A splash of soda really is nice or you could add more than a splash, some ice, and turn it into a long drink. This recipe is a nice mixture of that classic candied Rose’s flavour with fresh limes and gin. 

Right, let’s Gimlet!

40ml Tanqueray Export Strength gin
10ml Rose’s Lime Cordial
10ml fresh lime juice
½ teaspoon sugar syrup

Add all the ingredients to a shaker, shake with lots of ice, double strain into a chilled coupe, and serve with a slice of lime.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Sgroppino

Venice is home to some pretty amazing cocktails like the Bellini and the Spritz, but have you tried the Sgroppino, a refreshing blend of lemon sorbet, vodka and Prosecco? The…

Venice is home to some pretty amazing cocktails like the Bellini and the Spritz, but have you tried the Sgroppino, a refreshing blend of lemon sorbet, vodka and Prosecco?

The Negroni, Aperol Spritz, Bellini, the very concept of an aperitivo – we have Italy to thank for all of these legendary libations. But have you heard of the Sgroppino (pronounced Scro-PEEN-yoe)? It’s not the best-known or the easiest to say, spoken by a Brit at least, but it’s a delicious cocktail, with plenty of history to boot.

The Sgroppino al Limone, or Sgropin in the Venetian dialect, is today known as a frothy lemon sorbet mixed with vodka and topped up with, what else?, Prosecco.

One of the earliest mixed drinks

The origins of the Sgroppino are thought to date to 16th century Venice, around the same time that construction on the Rialto Bridge began. For context, the term cocktail didn’t come into circulation until the mid 19th century. That was (probably) thanks to a mix up over the French word for egg cups ‘coquetier‘ (pronounced ‘cocktay’ in English), used by Antoine Amédée Peychaud to serve Cognac with Peychaud bitters and absinthe. And so the oldest ‘cocktail’ is often cited as the Sazerac.

If the Sgroppino’s origin story is accurate, then it is much older. But the most impressive thing about the Sgroppino isn’t its long history, but the fact that it came to be at all – an ice-based cocktail invented in 16th century Venice, pre-refrigeration and the industrial revolution, after which transportation of ice, usually from America, became easier. It takes a little unpicking.

Rialto in Venice

Venice, where it all began

When ice was a status symbol

While the transatlantic ice trade didn’t take off until the 19th century, wealthy Europeans began building ice houses from the 16th century onwards, storing ice cut from nearby frozen lakes or streams. At that time, ice was the height of luxury, not easy to procure or store, and only the wealthiest would have had the means to enjoy it with drinks or to chill food.

Those people would also have had staff. The story goes that it was one such anonymous kitchen servant who served the first Sgroppino to a group of rich Italian aristocrats at a lavish dinner party. It proved a hit and it became traditional to serve it as an after-dinner digestif to soothe one’s stomach, as well as a palate cleanser between courses. In fact, its name comes from the Italian verb sgropàre, which means to “untie a small knot”, referencing a ‘twisted’ stomach after a big meal.

At the time of its invention, the Sgroppino would have been simply lemon, sugar and ice whisked with some kind of alcohol (perhaps an eau-de-vie made from grapes), and would have resembled an Italian Ice or granita. Sparkling wine was in its infancy (the techniques for making reliable bubbles were not perfected until the 19th century), so while it was possible some households might have had access and means to use it, the drink most likely began as a grappa-laced lemon-flavoured Italian ice, that was later topped up with sparkling wine once it became more commonplace.

Variations on the classic recipe

Today, refrigeration has allowed the Sgroppino to become more refined, served as a lemon sorbet (made with the aid of refrigeration) whipped with alcohol and sometimes limoncello, topped up with Prosecco. In Italy a waiter will often prepare the drink at your table to ensure a swift serve before natural separation. More modern variations can include strawberry or grapefruit, you could use a flavoured vodka, or swap it out for gin. You could use gelato for a creamier base, but the classic is dairy-free.

It’s best enjoyed in its native Venice, on a warm day looking out across the Adriatic with a plate of cicchetti. But it’s pretty tasty on a blustery autumn day in England. And best of all, you can whip one up without a shaker, and just three ingredients.

Sgroppino al Limone (Lemon Sorbet Cocktails)

How to make a Sgroppino
Modern Sgroppino

50g lemon sorbet
25ml Master of Malt Vodka
75ml Folonari Prosecco

Buy a good quality lemon sorbet, or make one from scratch, whisk in the vodka. Pour into a Champagne flute or coupe glass. Top with Prosecco and garnish with a sprinkling of lemon zest, or add a teaspoon of limoncello if you are feeling fancy.

Malfy Gin con Limon Sgroppino

50ml Malfy Gin con Limone
25ml lemon juice
15ml sugar syrup
1 scoop lemon sorbet
25ml Folonari Prosecco

Shake the first three ingredients together and strain into a chilled glass. Add a scoop of sorbet and top up with Prosecco. Garnish with a mint leaf.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Sidecar

This week we’re celebrating the 100th anniversary of one of the world’s great cocktails. A simple combination of Remy Martin Cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice, it is, of course, the…

This week we’re celebrating the 100th anniversary of one of the world’s great cocktails. A simple combination of Remy Martin Cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice, it is, of course, the Sidecar!

Cas Oh in his Co Specs cocktail book calls the Sidecar “the pre-eminent Cognac cocktail.” And who are we to argue with a Fortnum and Mason drink writing award winner? What I love about his book is it’s not only a great guide to making drinks, it tells you how cocktail writers from the past make theirs, before giving his definitive take on things. It’s 100 cocktail books in one, and so it’s quickly proving my starting point when I’m researching a drink, like the Sidecar.

The history of the Sidecar

The Sidecar is thought to have been invented in 1921 so celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. It first appeared in print in 1922, mentioned in both Robert Vermiere’s Cocktails: How to Mix Them and the ABC of Mixing Cocktails by Harry MacLehone of Harry’s Bar in Paris Fame. Both attribute it to Pat McGarry at Buck’s Club in London who also created the Buck’s Fizz. Incidentally, Buck’s was the model for Drones, Bertie Wooster’s riotous club in the P.G. Wodehouse’s novels. Along with the Brandy & Soda, the Sidecar seems to me to be about the most Woosterish cocktail out there. 

I’d always assumed the name came from a motorbike’s sidecar but according to Dale Degroff it comes from bartender slang for any leftovers from making a cocktail which might be served in a shot glass alongside the drink – a sidecar. Degroff, a legendary New York bartender, is also known as the King of Cocktails so that’s someone else we’re not going to argue with. 

Part of the Sour family

The Sidecar is essentially a Brandy Sour that gets its sweetening element from triple sec orange liqueur which has to be the most misnamed liquor as it’s not dry (sec) at all, it’s very sweet.  You could make it with Grand Marnier, which is made with Cognac, for that double Cognac hit. But we’re keeping things classic with Cointreau.

As with many of the simplest cocktails, there’s much disagreement as to the correct proportions to use. Some early recipes call for equal parts brandy, lemon juice, and Cointreau which is going to give you a very sweet n’ sour experience. Harry Craddock in The Savoy Cocktail Book calls for a 3:1:1 ratio, which is the one Oh plumps for. Whereas David Embury in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks goes for 8:2:1, the same as a Daiquiri. I’m using a 3:2:1 ratio but crucially, I’m not frosting the glass with sugar so even with the extra Cointreau it’s not going to be too sweet. 

Then it’s just a question of which Cognac to use. Obviously, you’re not going to use your finest vintage Grand Champagne but you do want quality as it’s the principal ingredient. I’m a big fan of the Remy Martin 1738 Accord Royal – a rich, smooth, and full-bodied Cognac that really over-delivers for its sub £50 price tag. It’s a great all-rounder, complex enough to sip on its own and beefy enough to mix with lemon juice and Cointreau without getting lost.

Right, let’s get shaking!

Remy Martin Sidecar

How to make a Sidecar

30ml of Rémy Martin 1738 Accord Royal*
20ml of Cointreau
10ml of fresh lemon juice

Add all the ingredients to a shaker filled with ice. Give it a good shake, then strain into a coupe glass and garnish with an orange peel for a rich flavour or lemon peel for freshness.

*At the time of writing your bottle of Rémy Martin 1738 Accord Royal comes with a free 5cl bottle of Cointreau, while stocks last. 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Brooklyn

Today we’re making a forgotten classic from the golden age of cocktails. It’s made with rye and it’s from New York, but it’s not a Manhattan. No, it’s the Brooklyn!…

Today we’re making a forgotten classic from the golden age of cocktails. It’s made with rye and it’s from New York, but it’s not a Manhattan. No, it’s the Brooklyn!

You’ve probably had a Manhattan, and maybe a Bronx. But did you know that there are cocktails named after other boroughs of New York City, the Queens and the Brooklyn*? 

The Brooklyn was probably invented around the beginning of the 20th century. The first mention is from 1908 in J.A. Grohusko 1908 bartender’s handbook, Jack’s Manual. The Brooklyn is part of the great family of cocktails that came about with the arrival of vermouth on America’s shores, including the Rob Roy, the Harvard, Palmetto and, of course, the Manhattan.  

But whereas the Manhattan is made from ingredients that most cocktail enthusiasts will have in their cabinets, whiskey, vermouth and bitters, the Brooklyn requires more specialist kit. The secret ingredient is Amer Picon, a bitter French drink made with gentian, quinine and oranges. 

Brooklyn-Sazerac

Brooklyn (and a Sazerac). Photo taken from The Home Bar by Henry Jeffreys

The secret ingredient

Amer Picon has an even longer history than the Brooklyn. It was invented in 1837 but in the 1970s the alcohol was reduced from 39% ABV to 21% ABV. Purists will say you can’t make a proper Brooklyn with Amer Picon as it is now. Furthermore, Amer Picon, though widely available on the continent, isn’t easy to find in Britain and isn’t imported at all into the US. Some American bartenders stock up when they are in France and smuggle bottles back into the country, which gives the Brooklyn an illicit Prohibition feel. 

Other resourceful bartenders have created myriad takes on the Brooklyn to make up for the lack of this crucial ingredient. They are named after different neighbourhoods of Brooklyn like Red Hook or Williamsburg, and use ingredients like Punt e Mes or Cynar in place of the missing French liqueur. 

Now, though, it is possible to make a proper Brooklyn in Britain thanks to the Bloomsbury Distillery in London with its Bloomsbury Amer – a take on the pre-1970s Amer Picon and weighing in at a hefty 42% ABV.

The other ingredients in a Brooklyn are more straightforward: dry vermouth (both Dolin or Noilly Prat work well here), and then maraschino liqueur (Luxardo is the classic brand). It’s the interplay between the two bittersweet fruits, cherry and orange that makes the Brooklyn so special. 

Oxford-RyeWhisky-April-01-14

English rye, American cocktail

An English rye in New York

The final component is whiskey, ideally rye. A few years ago I would have said that it has to be American, but you can now buy some superb rye whiskeys from England, Ireland and Scotland. The spiciness of rye complements the bitterness of the fruit liqueurs with the vermouth playing a supporting role. I’m using the utterly superb Oxford Rye, the second batch of which arrived recently at Master of Malt. 

So I’m making a decidedly English take on one of America’s great cocktails. It tastes like a more complex, bitter version of the Manhattan. In fact, the Brooklyn reminds me of a Boulevardier crossed with a Manhattan. It’s normally served straight, up but there’s no reason why you couldn’t pour this one over ice. 

How to make a Brooklyn

45ml Oxford Rye Whisky
45ml Dolin Dry Vermouth
10ml Maraschino Liqueur
10ml Bloomsbury Amer

Stir all the ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry – from Luxardo naturally. 

* There is still a gap in the market for a Staten Island cocktail. Come on, New York bartenders! What are you waiting for? 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Singapore Sling

This week’s cocktail was invented at one of the world’s great hotels, Raffles Hotel in Singapore.  Well, probably, the Singapore Sling has a convoluted and fascinating history as Lauren Eads…

This week’s cocktail was invented at one of the world’s great hotels, Raffles Hotel in Singapore.  Well, probably, the Singapore Sling has a convoluted and fascinating history as Lauren Eads finds out. 

There’s few cocktails more famous than the Singapore Sling. Born at the turn of the century in colonial Singapore, it screams frivolity with its luminous pink hue, foamy top, lemon slice (sometimes pineapple) and glacé cherry garnish. In the hands of some, it can be a dangerously garish cocktail that would be tacky if it weren’t such a classic. But there is method to its madness, amid a convoluted history.

The Raffles Hotel story

It’s widely reported that the Singapore Sling was created in 1915 (or thereabouts) by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon at Raffles Hotel in Singapore. At that time the hotel’s Long Bar had become a popular gathering spot, positioned near the newly improved rail and road systems that brought rubber and palm oil plantation owners over to Singapore from Malaya every weekend. So much so that it had become known as ‘the ‘Rendezvous of Planters’.

Men were a firm fixture, of course, but what’s more curious is a twist that would see the Singapore Sling intertwined with (some kind of) feminism. At the time, women were not allowed to consume alcohol in public. Instead they were reduced to drinking only juices and teas to “save their modesty”. What a drab way to spend an afternoon.

Raffles Singapore Sling

Where it all began, probably, Raffles Hotel in Singapore

A man ahead of his time

Tong Boon, who was either a feminist or a capitalist, saw an opportunity to create a beverage that appeared non-alcoholic (hence the juicy appearance and bright colour), but was actually infused with a kick of gin.

Today, Raffles lists the recipe as being made with gin, pineapple juice, lime juice, Triple Sec and Bénédictine D.O.M. Tong Boon is said to have added grenadine and cherry liqueur to turn the serve pink, supposedly chosen to give it a “feminine flair”. 

The clandestine cocktail became a hit with women and men alike, and so it is to this day. That’s how the Raffles story goes, but where cocktails lead, controversy often follows.

The Pink Sling

In 2011, journalist and cocktail historian David Wondrich found contradictions to the Raffles tale having trawled through old newspapers, unearthing references to ‘Slings’ throughout the late 1890s, twenty years before Tong Boon’s invention.

The Sling cocktail is well documented with origins in North America (spirit, soda water and sweetened with sugar). But he also unearthed references to ‘Pink Slings for pale people’ as early as 1903 – still a decade or so before Raffles lays claim to the pink drink.

By the time Harry Craddock’s 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book was published we find three similar yet distinct cocktails; the Gin Sling, the Singapore Sling and the Straits Sling.

The Straits Sling is the closest to Tong Boon’s Singapore Sling, calling for gin, Benedictine, cherry brandy, lemon juice, angostura bitters and orange bitters, topped up with soda water. (The Straits Sling was also popularised by Robert Vermeire’s 1922 Cocktails and How to Mix Them, though his version called for clear kirschwasser and was not pink).  Craddock describes the Singapore Sling as dry gin, cherry brandy and lemon, topped with soda water, a minimalist version of both a Straits Sling and the Raffles’ Singapore Sling recipe.

Fear and loathing - Singapore Sling

Hunter S. Thompson (Johnny Depp) enjoying a Singapore Sling or two in the film of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

So who added the grenadine?

But neither call for pineapple juice or grenadine like the Raffles’ ‘classic’ recipe. So, how did they come into the mix? Simon Difford from Difford’s Guide posits that they were added in the 1970s to appease a growing taste for sweeter, tiki-style drinks, while also making use of the abundance of pineapples in Singapore. This is a likely assumption – the Singapore Sling’s heyday was no doubt the ‘70s. 

Hedonist and literary legend Hunter S. Thomson might have helped raise its cool. Thought to be one of his favourite cocktails, he makes reference to a session of drinking Singapore Slings “with mescal on the side and beer chasers” in his 1971 classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (though admittedly Thompson referenced a lot of drinks throughout his literary career).

The Singapore Sling has had a confusing journey, full of mystery and misnomers. My take? Tong Boon’s drink most likely began as a Gin Sling at Raffles (sugar, gin, ice, topped up with soda), probably transformed into a Straits ‘pink’ Sling (with the addition of Benedictine, cherry brandy and bitters), and later gained the name ‘Singapore’, which had a more internationally-appealing ring to it. Pineapple and grenadine were completely arbitrary additions, which ironically is what most now associate with a Singapore Sling…

So, while variations exist, I see two closely related versions of this classic; the sweeter Raffles ‘Singapore Sling’, and the pared back drier ‘Straits Sling’. Here’s how to make them both.

Singapore Sling credit: Raffles Hotel

Singapore Sling credit: Raffles Hotel

Singapore Sling (according to Raffles Hotel)

30ml gin
15ml Heering cherry brandy liqueur
7.5ml Cointreau triple sec
7.5ml Benedictine D.O.M
15ml fresh lime juice
120ml pineapple juice
10ml grenadine
1 dash Angostura bitters
Soda water

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a Hurricane (Sling) glass. Top up with soda and garnish with a lemon slice and cherry on a stick.

Straits Sling (according to Harry Craddock in 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book, made for six)

4oz (120ml) dry gin
1oz (30ml) Benedictine D.O.M
1oz (30ml) cherry brandy
Juice of two lemons
1tsp Angostura bitters
1tsp orange bitters
Soda water

Shake well and strain into a glass. Top with soda water and ice.

 

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