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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Cocktail of the Week

Cocktail of the Week: El Presidente

This week we’re celebrating a Cuban Prohibition classic, El Presidente; it’s an enigma in rum, vermouth and bitters. But what have the French got to do with it – or…

This week we’re celebrating a Cuban Prohibition classic, El Presidente; it’s an enigma in rum, vermouth and bitters. But what have the French got to do with it – or Christina Aguilera for that matter?

According to the BBC, the top five most popular lockdown 1.0 buys were Tequila, gym equipment, makeup, luxury bedding and elastic. I’m guilty of four of those items, but I eschewed elastic for something slightly more, as I like to tell myself, educational – MasterClass!

Yep, those Instagram ads finally paid off. No sooner had the well-worn security code of my debit card been tapped in (muscle memory is a wonderful thing), I had some of the best minds in the country teaching me their crafts. My favourite writer David Sedaris on storytelling and humour, Dr Jane Goodall on conservation, and, um, Christina Aguilera on singing.

But perhaps the most natural fit was award-winning bar duo Ryan Chetiyawardana (aka Mr Lyan) and Lynnette Marrero on mixology. And it was through watching the soothing videos of the two making their staple cocktails that I rediscovered the Cuban classic El Presidente – and its rich, nuanced and nostalgia-laden history. 


It’s Presidente Menocal, but was El Presidente named after him?

Found and lost

It all started where most good things did – during Prohibition (or so some say) and in Havana. One story goes that it was first created to mark President Mario Menocal coming to power; he was in office from 1913-1921. The drink combined amber rum, vermouth and Angostura bitters. 

Yet according to Esquire cocktail editor David Wondrich, it was really the creation of American bartender Eddie Woelke in the mid 1920s, during his tenure at Havana’s Jockey Club and in honour of President Gerardo Machado (in office from 1925-1933).

However it was invented, the combination of white rum, Chambery vermouth (more on that later), orange Curaçao, grenadine and a garnish of orange peel, became the drink of Cuba’s upper echelons. “It is the aristocrat of cocktail and is the one preferred by the better class of Cuban,” wrote Basil Woon in his 1928 book When It’s Cocktail Time in Cuba (feel free to grab yourself a copy for £3,000).

It was also enjoyed by visiting booze-deprived Americans. Though apparently, US President Calvin Coolidge declined an El Presidente from el presidente Machado for fear of drinking during Prohibition and being cancelled. Post-prohibition, Pan Am served a version of it called the Clipper Cocktail made with gold rum, vermouth and grenadine. But by this stage, El Presidente itself was going out of fashion and stopped being ordered by the beautiful people.

New discoveries

It’s fall from grace may have had something to do with vermouth. As Wondrich points out, when bartenders started making the cocktail, most bars would have been stocking French dry vermouth – but the original recipe calls for a Chambery Blanc. This is, in fact, a sweeter style of vermouth – more specifically Dolin Blanc which was created in France in 1821. This seemingly small change is where the El Presidente can win or fail, and many a drinks lover and expert has been undone by it. Making one at home? Make sure it’s Dolin Blanc not Dry.

When it comes to the Curaçao, dear lord make sure it’s orange and not blue. And the choice of rum is important too. The 1915 tome Manual del Cantinero by John Escalentecalls for a light rum and while white expressions are the classic choice, bartenders aren’t shy of veering towards those with a light amber hue.

el Presidente

El Presidente, Distill & Fill style

Bitters and twists

As for bitters, here bartenders can really get creative. Rum-specialist London bar Trailer Happiness has its El Presidente on home delivery site The Drinks Drop. It combines Santiago de Cuba 11 Year Old, Lillet Blanc, strawberry liqueur, falernum, passionfruit, with Supasawa and Angostura bitters.

Meanwhile in Wales, 2021-born drinks company Distill & Fill run by Jenny Griffiths and Philip David has just unleashed The Presidential Suite on its website. This version mixes Plantation Isle of Fiji, Sacred English Spiced Vermouth, Monin Acerola Syrup, with a touch of both Ferdinand’s Vineyard Peach and Peychaud’s Bitters.

So what are you waiting for? Surely, our own pre-Roaring Twenties, post-lockdown world is the perfect time for an El Presidente revival. In the words of Christina’s What a Girl Wants: ‘It’s for keeps, yeah, it’s for sure’. Now that’s philosophy.

How to make an El Presidente

45ml Plantation 3 stars white rum (or any light rum)
22ml Dolin Blanc
22ml orange Curacao
1 dash grenadine
Orange peel twist

Chill a coupe or Martini glass. Fill a mixing glass with ice cubes. Add white rum, Dolin Blanc, Curacao and grenadine and stir with a bar spoon. Strain  into your chilled cocktail glass and garnish with an orange peel.

Recipe from Ryan Chetiyawardana and Lynette Marrero on MasterClass.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Gin Cup

Today’s cocktail is a summer time classic, yes it’s coming soon, we hope, made with Whitley Neill Aloe & Cucumber Gin. It’s the Gin Cup! Honestly, this weather is playing…

Today’s cocktail is a summer time classic, yes it’s coming soon, we hope, made with Whitley Neill Aloe & Cucumber Gin. It’s the Gin Cup!

Honestly, this weather is playing havoc with our cocktail scheduling. Last week we were sitting out in the garden. The flowers were in bloom, the trees were budding, and the mint was growing back nicely so I thought I’d do a summery cocktail for early April. And then yesterday it was snowing. How can you plan for that drinks wise?

Introducing the Gin Cup

The simple answer is you can’t, so I’m going ahead with this summery classic as planned. It’s called the Gin Cup and it’s a great warm weather refresher. Or fireside sipper, depending on what’s going on outside. With the combination of booze, ice and mint, it’s not dissimilar to a Mint Julep or a Mojito.

It’s one of those cocktails so simple, that it doesn’t even have an origin story. There was no Captain T. Bartholomew Cup Jnr who had it made at a club in Baltimore after a hard day’s railroad baronning. More’s the pity. 

Gin cup

Gin cup, a cocktail for all seasons

Get creative

The Gin Cup is built for customisation. Treat the recipe below as a starting point, then play around to create your own version. You can add a dash of Angostura or fruit bitters, a liqueur like Cointreau or something like Chambord to take it into Bramble territory, or go mad on the fruit to make a lighter alternative to Pimm’s. But really where this cocktail comes into its own is with flavoured gins.

Now, we know that flavoured gins, ie. gins that have flavour, and often colour and sugar added post-distillation can divide gin lovers (see this article for the full debate). For some they are nectar of the gods, for others a straying from the path of junipery righteousness. As you might expect from a drinks retailer, we’re more ecumenical. If it works, we have no problem with it. Though it would sometimes be helpful if there was some indication of sweetness levels on the bottle. We’re looking at you Tanqueray Flor de Sevilla

Whitley Neill – flavoured gin pioneers

One that’s going to appeal to both camps is Whitley Neill’s Aloe and Cucumber. It is a flavoured gin but it’s still juniper-led and dry, so it does all the things a standard London Dry can but with added refreshment from the aloe and cucmber.

Whitley Neill was one of the pioneers of flavoured gins. Founder Johnny Neill told us in an interview last year that he started experimenting with flavours and it just took off from there: “We were led by how well-received the first couple of flavours were, they just went crazy. The whole thing just blossomed and ballooned. We were drawing people that hadn’t really enjoyed traditional dry gins before as well and helping to grow a category. So it was partly us and partly the consumers enjoying the flavour profiles.” They do a huge range from Quince to Blood Orange.

Johnny Neill

Johnny Neill, gin is in his blood

Gin is in the blood

Neill comes from a great gin family: “My father worked as the director for Greenall Whitley, based in Warrington, which at the time was the largest independent brewer in the UK and also owned Greenall’s Gin. His uncle, JD Whitley, was the chairman of the group and my father’s grandfather, or my great-grandfather was a chap called John James Whitley, or JJ Whitley, he was managing director of the company for about 40 years. It goes all the way back to 1762 when Thomas Greenall founded the company. So I’ve got eight generations behind me and I started tasting gin early and always loved it.”

Following a career in accountancy and finance. He took up the family legacy with the foundation of Whitley Neill in 2005. Since then, he’s gone on to create other brands like Marylebone London Dry Gin and Berkshire Botanical gin as part of the Halewood spirits family.

Any of those gin would be delicious in an infinitely adaptable cocktail like the Gin Cup. If you’re using a sweeter flavoured gin, then adjust the sugar levels accordingly. 

Right, without further ado….

Here’s how to make a Gin Cup:

90ml Whitley Neill Aloe and Cucumber Gin
30ml freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar syrup (or more to taste)
4 sprigs of fresh mint

Put three sprigs of mint and sugar syrup in a rocks glass and muddle together. Fill the glass with cracked ice, add the lemon juice and gin, and stir until a frost forms on the outside of the glass. Taste and add more sugar syrup if needed. Garnish with a final sprig of mint, a slice of lemon and cucumber.

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Cocktail of the Week: El Diablo

Today we’re making a devilishly refreshing long drink with Maestro Dobel Diamante Tequila, cassis and ginger beer. It could only be El Diablo! What do you drink with Mexican food?…

Today we’re making a devilishly refreshing long drink with Maestro Dobel Diamante Tequila, cassis and ginger beer. It could only be El Diablo!

What do you drink with Mexican food? I was pondering this over the weekend when my wife was preparing some of her favourite dishes. They included carnitas (slow-cooked spicy pork), blacks beans, homemade corn tortillas, hot salsa, and her secret recipe guacamole (it has mango in it!). And there were only three people eating. Reader, I made a bit of a pig of myself.

Refreshing and full of flavour

The traditional accompaniment to such feasts is either local beer or a Margarita. Both are good in their way but they also have significant drawbacks. The big name Mexican lagers like Corona or Sol aren’t exactly burdened with flavour. They are certainly refreshing, but then so is water. If it’s available, I’ll have a Negra Modelo, a rich malty German style Mexican lager but sadly it’s not that widely distributed. 

Margaritas are delicious, of course, but they are strong and on a hot day with spicy food, slip down just a little too easily. So you want something that’s as refreshing as beer but as delicious as a Margarita. 

After a bit of a fiddle I came up with what I call the Blood Orange Margarita. It involves adding one part blood orange juice to the two parts Tequila, one part triple sec and one part lime juice. Then serving the whole thing on the rocks with a generous splash of soda water. Very nice.

Introducing El Diablo

Another great long drink with Tequila is El Diablo. It blends Tequila with ginger beer and some sort of fruity syrup or liqueur. The drink was probably created by the godfather of Tiki, Victor Jules Bergeron Jr, aka Trader Vic. There’s a recipe for something very similar called the Mexican El Diablo in Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide (1946). 

His version calls for gold Tequila but you could fancy it up with a wood-aged Tequila like a reposado (two months ageing) or an añejo (at least a year in barrel), or you could go a bit wild by using mezcal with its distinctive smoky aroma. 

I’m using the absolutely delicious Maestro Dobel Tequila. It’s made from 100% blue weber agave and oak-aged before being filtered to remove the colour. It’s about the smoothest thing on the planet. But smooth doesn’t mean bland. In fact, it’s just delicious sipped on the rocks with a piece of orange. 

There’s quite a few Mexican brands who claim to have invented this style, made in a similar way to Bacardi and other white rums. I’m not going to wade in there only to say that this is superb. The brand is owned by the Beckmann family who also own Jose Cuervo, but Maestro Dobel is independent. 

El Diablo

El Diablo, photo taken from Tristan Stephenson’s new book The Curious Bartender: Cocktails at Home

Different recipes

In my Cocktail Dictionary (still available from all good bookshops, people) I used grenadine to make an El Diablo. And very nice it was too but Trader Vic’s recipe uses creme de cassis as does Tristan Stephenson whose forthcoming book on home cocktailing is proving quite a hit in our household. The recipe below is based on his. 

He writes: “El Diablo is a long refreshing cocktail that plays off two of Tequila’s boldest tasting notes: earthy piquancy and zingy fruit… El Diablo is one of those drinks that makes you salivate just thinking about it.” Too right.

Instead of cassis, you could use Chambord, creme de mure or even sloe gin for an Anglo-Mexican mash-up. If you like it a bit punchier, I’d highly recommend adding a spoonful of mezcal on the top. Oh and for the full diabolical effect, put two wedges of lime in the top to make the horns of the devil.

Right, without further ado…

Here’s how to make El Diablo

30ml Maestro Dobel Diamante Tequila
15ml White Heron Creme de Cassis
Juice of half a lime
Chilled ginger beer

Squeeze the lime into the bottom of an ice-filled Highball glass and drop it in. Add the Tequila and creme de cassis. Stir and top up with ginger beer. Stir again briefly and garnish with two slices of lime.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Gin and Tonic

Today, we are weighing into one of the great debates of the booze world. Families have fallen out over less. The issue is whether the Gin and Tonic can be…

Today, we are weighing into one of the great debates of the booze world. Families have fallen out over less. The issue is whether the Gin and Tonic can be considered a cocktail. So, drink helmets safely strapped on, in we go!

Is the Gin and Tonic a cocktail? I put the big question to Twitter and the results were startling: 67% against and 33% for. If only all public votes could be so decisive. Bearing in mind that most of my followers are drinks nerds, does that mean that the G&T is officially not a cocktail?

Not a cocktail?

Let’s look at the arguments. Many people said that the G&T was a long drink and therefore not a cocktail. But does that mean that a Tequila Sunrise or a Highball isn’t a cocktail? 

It got a bit heated at times. Top American wine writer Miquel Hudin commented: “Two ingredients is a ‘combinado’  no matter what decoration or garnish you toss in those god awful bucket glasses.” But then a Martini usually only has two ingredients, sometimes only one if you’re particularly hardcore.

Drinks expert Julian Vallis even disagreed on the number of ingredients: “It’s a Gin Highball with 3 ingredients. Gin, quinine-infused sugar syrup and soda water. You can also call it a Kina Martini with Soda if you’d like to deconstruct it.” Which is true if you’re using something like Jeffrey’s tonic syrups

Others got quite technical, saying that Flips, Punches etc were also not cocktails. I feel that is getting too purist. Originally, a cocktail was a specific drink made from spirits, water, bitters and ice. But that ship sailed a long time ago, we’re quite happy to call new-fangled vermouth-laced concoctions like a Manhattan or a Martini cocktails.

As Richard Godwin, author of The Spirits put it:  “If the Mojito is a cocktail, which it is, then the G&T is surely a cocktail. (See also Paloma, Cuba Libre, Americano, etc). If you go by the ‘true’ definition of a cocktail, then Daiquiris, Mai Tais, Sidecars etc also aren’t cocktails. Which they clearly are.”

Gin and tonic

Very nice, but is it a cockail?

Just thrown together?

Another argument against is that while drinks like the Martini are prepared using shakers, jiggers etc. a G&T is simply thrown together. But then other cocktails are thrown together like a Paloma, Tequila and grapefruit soda, or a Gin and It, gin and sweet vermouth.

Also, you can make a G&T with as much care and attention as you might a Martini. In my youth, I used to laugh at my old grandfather who before handing us a drink would pedantically explain why he used so much ice but I now realise he was right. He always used miniature Schweppes bottles for maximum fizziness, freshly cut lemon and he measured the Beefeater. Getting a G&T from him was like visiting the Ritz. So different from my father’s with ice that had been sitting out all morning, warm gin and, worst of all, tonic water out of a 1.5 litre bottle.

In Victoria Moore’s superb How to Drink, she spends four pages outlining how to make the perfect G&T and that doesn’t include gin recommendations. “To make a good gin and tonic you do not just have to care about every ingredient, you have to be anguished about them,” she writes. “Ice cubes, the more the better.” I think she would have got on famously with my grandfather. 

So yes, you can throw a G&T together, you can throw a Martini together, but you can also make it with skill and generosity.

How to make the perfect Gin and Tonic

A G&T can be elevated with fancy garnishes like peppercorns, or be jazzed up with fruit bitters. I tend to stick with lemon (not out of the fridge, Moore warns) or orange, lime is overpowering, though a stick of rosemary adds a nice flavour and makes a handy swizzle stick. 

Those Spanish fishbowl glasses look great on Instagram but I’m with Hudin here. For me a heavy tumbler is best. It doesn’t hold as much, but you can always make yourself another one.

As for gin, it’s really a personal choice. Tonic water has a strong taste so I tend to go for gins with a) big juniper flavours b) plenty of alcohol. I have a bottle of Bathtub Gin on the side, so that’s what I’m using today but TanquerayHayman’s, Brighton and Beefeater are all excellent in a G&T.

Margo and Jerry from the Good LIfe

Famous G&T lovers Margo and Jerry from the Good Life

The tonic water question

When it comes to tonic water, we have the standard Fever Tree in the house, the Mediterranean version is great too, but don’t turn your nose up at Schweppes. A few years ago, Harper’s magazine did a blind tasting of tonic waters and standard Schweppes came out on top. Whatever you choose, the fizz is all important. It must come from a small can or bottle and, as Victoria Moore puts it: ““I scarcely need mention that the tonic must be chilled.” 

So there you have it. Conclusive proof that the G&T is indeed a cocktail. It could do with a proper name though. You could call it a Gintonica as they do in Spain. But I’m going with a Margo & Jerry, after the Leadbetters, the G&T swilling couple from The Good Life. Cin cin!

60cl Bathtub Gin
Fever Tree tonic water

Chill everything, except the garnish. Fill a tumbler with ice, add the gin and stir, top up with tonic, stir again and garnish with a piece of lemon or orange (and rosemary if you like).

You can buy a Bathtub and Fever Tree bundle here, or a Mediterranean version here

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Cocktail of the Week: Monkey Jam Sour

How do you improve on a classic like the Whisky Sour? Answer, stick some jam in it! For this week’s cocktail, top bartender Joe Petch shows us how to make…

How do you improve on a classic like the Whisky Sour? Answer, stick some jam in it! For this week’s cocktail, top bartender Joe Petch shows us how to make a Jam Sour with Monkey Shoulder whisky. 

The Whisky Sour is one of the world’s oldest cocktails, according to Monkey Shoulder brand ambassador Joe Petch. It’s just alcohol, sugar and lime or lemon juice. Those basic components are the building blocks for so many drinks, not just the Sour, but the punches etc. Classics like the Daiquiri, Mai Tai and Margarita are simply variations on the Sour formula.

A malt made for mixing

You can make a Sour with anything but this week we’re using a blended malt whisky that’s specifically designed for mixing, Monkey Shoulder. It’s proved something of a bartender’s favourite as it offers a lot of flavour at a good price. As Petch put it: “You don’t want to mix with anything too expensive or your cocktail will be prohibitively expensive.”

Joe Petch - brand ambassador for Monkey Shoulder whisky

Joe Petch, brand ambassador and owner of an amazing home bar

Monkey Shoulder was an innovative product when it was launched in 2005 by William Grant & Sons. A blended malt, it “crosses categories between a single malt and a blended whisky,” according to Petch. 16 years ago the blended whisky category was quite static though companies like Compass Box, founded in 2000, were just starting to shake things up.

The initial blend was made with William Grant’s Speyside distilleries, Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie. Well, you might as well keep it in the family. With the brand’s increasing popularity, it quickly ran into stock problems so it’s now made from a changing line-up of malt new makes which are aged and blended to David Stewart’s “fingerprint” to ensure consistency.

Introducing Joe Petch

Petch has been with William Grant & Sons for ten years. A lifetime in the drinks industry. He began his career behind the bar when he took a year off after school and didn’t know what he wanted to do with himself. “I’m still on my gap year,” he jokes. He worked in a number of bars in Reading where he learned to deal with difficult customers, and make drinks quickly and efficiently. Before moving to a well-known Reading bar, Sahara, and from there to William & Grant and Sons. He has had a number of roles including working with Reyka Icelandic vodka, Discarded Vermouth, and, of course, brand ambassador for Monkey Shoulder.

Like the rest of us, he’s not getting out much at the moment but when we spoke he looked very happy in his fully-stocked basement bar at home. We are extremely jealous. “It’s the only place that’s been open,” he said. He is eager to get out, however, it could be anywhere from his local pub to the American Bar at the Savoy. He’s missing the click of glasses, the murmur of conversation, and the music playing. “I miss that connection to people,” he said. 

Tune in to Lock-In-Live

If you’re missing all that too, you might want to tune into Monkey Shoulder’s Lock-In-Live on 29 March at 10am and 6pm BST. Petch described it as a cross between the Late Show and Sunday Brunch. It’s hosted by Petch and TV presenter Sarah Lamptey. With guests including Ago Perrone from the Connaught, DJ Santero from the Ministry of Sound and artist/ rapper Harry Mack (see trailer above). According to Petch they did a trial run last year for industry types and it was a massive success. For this event, anyone can join here; they’re expecting around 5,000 people.

If you do tune in, then you’ll want to make a Monkey Jam Sour or two to sip while you watch. Petch isn’t proscriptive about how to make it. The magic is in using jam to sweeten it alongside a simple syrup. He’s been using spiced pear jam recently, but says that marmalade is particularly good with the orangey flavour profile of Monkey Shoulder. According to Petch this looseness and sense of experimentation is part of the ethos of the brand – #makeitmonkey, as he puts it. Petch’s recipe is served on ice but you can serve it straight up or add a dash of soda at the end.

Monkey Jam Sour with Monkey Shoulder blended malt whisky

Mmmm, Monkey Jam Sour

Here’s how to make a Monkey Jam Sour

50ml Monkey Shoulder Blended Malt
20ml fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons of jam
Sugar syrup (1:1 ratio) to taste
Dash orange bitters

Put all ingredients in the shaker, taste and add more sugar syrup if you prefer. Add fresh ice and shake hard. Strain into an ice-filled tumbler and top with soda water if you fancy. 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Negroni

Today, we’re taking a look at one of the great cocktails, the Negroni. But we’re not just going to make the standard version. Oh no, with the help of a…

Today, we’re taking a look at one of the great cocktails, the Negroni. But we’re not just going to make the standard version. Oh no, with the help of a new book by David T. Smith and Keli Rivers, we’re learning just how versatile and adaptable this classic drink can be.

We’ve been doing the Cocktail of the Week slot for over two years now and as yet we haven’t done what many consider to be the greatest cocktail of all, the Negroni. Yes, we’ve featured a Shallow Negroni, a Montenegroni, and we’ve even featured a White Negroni, but just a plain old vermouth, Campari and gin Negroni, we’ve overlooked. 

Until now. A swanky new book, called, naturally Negroni, caught our eye by writer and booze consultant David T. Smith, and Keli Rivers from the American Distilling Institute. It’s both an introduction to this most storied of drinks and a recipe book with over 30 different interpretations of the sweet and bitter monster. They write: “On the face of it, the Negroni is equal parts mix of gin, vermouth and bitters (most typically Campari), but beneath that bright red surface lies a whole world of delights to explore and enjoy.”

The history of the Negroni

First a bit of history, the Negroni is usually attributed to Count Camillo Negroni in the 1920s, who asked the bartender Forsco Scarselli at the Café Casoni in Florence to make his Americano (Campari and Italian vermouth with soda water) a little stronger. But there’s all kinds of embellishments and disagreements that go along with this story. There’s a version that Scarselli was distracted by a beautiful lady, well he was Italian after all, and poured gin instead of soda into the drink. And, as Smith and Rivers explain,  there’s no evidence that Camillo Negroni was actually a count. Maybe it was a silent ‘o’. 

It gets more complicated from there. According to this typically thorough article from Simon Difford on the subject, the aristocratic Negroni clan claim that there was no such person as Camillo Negroni in the family and in fact the cocktail was invented by General Pascal Oliver Comte de Negroni. A real count. Furthermore, this count wasn’t even Italian, he was French! Sacre bleu! There’s also another great deep dive into this complex subject here

The great bitterness revival

Whoever invented it, the Negroni took a long time to become one the essential cocktails outside of its home country. I remember in the ‘00s, it was still something of a bartender’s secret. But then the great bitterness revival (or GBR for short) hit Britain and America some time around 2009. Gradually, and then all of sudden, the Negroni took centre stage and no menu could be complete without one. No wonder, it just tastes so good and it’s easy to make. And, of course, it’s incredibly adaptable. We highly recommend buying a copy of Negroni for inspiration. 

So we’re publishing three recipes from the book which take the basic components of the Negroni, and then push them in strange and surprising new directions. But first here’s the classic:

Classic Negroni,, Negroni by David T. Smith and Keli Rivers

How to make a classic Negroni

We are going to keep this ultra traditional. No batching, no straining, no weird amari, just a classic ratio of one part gin, one part Campari and one part vermouth. The gin has to be something with a strong juniper-led profile, no wacky botanicals, we’re going for our old favourite Bathtub. Then Campari, can’t go wrong with that. For the vermouth, there’s all sorts of things you can go for but seriously, ignore Stanley Tucci, Martini Rosso works beautifully.

35cl Bathtub Gin
35cl Campari
35cl Martini Rosso vermouth (you can buy all three together here)

Fill a tumbler with a large cube of ice, add all the ingredients and stir until nice and cold. Express an orange twist over the top and drop it in. Could not be simpler.

Newbie Negroni, Negroni by David T. Smith and Keli Rivers

Newbie Negroni

The authors write: “For drinkers coming across the cocktail for the first time, it’s intensity and bitterness can be overwhelming. This recipe has been designed to be a more gentle introduction.” I’m a confirmed bitterness fan, but I loved this as it’s essentially a Negroni stretched into a long drink. Perfect on a summer’s day. You can use Campari, Aperol or Select Aperitivo instead of Sacred Rosehip Cup.

25ml That Boutique-y Gin Company Moonshot Gin
25ml Sacred Rosehip or Pimm’s No.1
25ml Martini Rosso
15ml fresh orange juice (blood orange is particularly good)
25ml soda water

Add the first four ingredients to an ice-filled large wine or Highball glass. Stir and top up with soda water to taste. Garnish with lemon, lime and orange peels.

After-Dinner Negroni, Negroni by David T. Smith and Keli Rivers

After-dinner Negroni

Essentially an Espresso Martini combined with a Negroni. Watch out world, here I come! The authors recommend a spice forward gin such as No.209 from San Francisco. I reckon Sacred Cardamom would do magical things here with the coffee too.

25ml No.209 Gin
25ml Martini Rosso
25ml Campari
25ml Freshly-made espresso, chilled

Add the ingredients to an ice-filled shaker. Shake vigorously and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a fresh cherry.

Tiki Negroni, Negroni by David T. Smith and Keli Rivers

Tiki Negroni

A pungent rum works brilliantly in place of gin in a Negroni but why not put them both in as with this tiki version? The authors write “the key to this recipe is the Plantation Pineapple Rum” and from the same producer Citadelle Gin.

25ml Citadelle Gin
25ml Martini Rosso
25ml Campari
25ml Plantation Pineapple Rum
3-4 dashes of Angostura bitters

Add all the ingredients to an ice-filled shaker and shake hard. Fine-strain into an ice-filled rocks glass and garnish with a lime wheel and pineapple wedge.

Negroni by David T. Smith & Keli Rivers, published by Ryland Peters & Small (£7.99) Photography by Alex Luck © Ryland Peters & Small

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Cocktail of the Week: The Gin and It

Last week we rounded up our favourite vermouth brands. Now we’ve got a deliciously simple cocktail to show them off in. Some call it the Sweet Martini but it’s better…

Last week we rounded up our favourite vermouth brands. Now we’ve got a deliciously simple cocktail to show them off in. Some call it the Sweet Martini but it’s better known as… the Gin and It!

When I think of the Gin and It, I always think of ‘It Girls’, upper class English party girls who appear in gossip columns and scandalise polite society with brazen antics in Mayfair nightclubs. But, prosaically the ‘It’ is simply short for Italian vermouth. 

The cocktail formerly known as a Sweet Martini

A simple mixture of gin and Italian vermouth, according to Dale de Groff in his The Craft of the Cocktail book (published 2008), the Gin and It was originally known as a Sweet Martini. Looking back through my old books, I found a reference to the Gin & It in David Embury’s 1948 book The Fine art of Mixing Drinks. He writes: “In Europe the proportions used are half and half and the drink is not iced.” His preferred ratio is three parts gin to one part vermouth, very much a sweet Martini.

Sounding like he was writing from 1957 not 1997 when the book was published, Salvatore Calabrase in Classic Cocktails describes the drink as a “perennially favourite lady’s drink sipped at around 5pm.” Or as Al Murray, aka the Pub Landlord, might put it: “pint for the fella, glass of white wine/ fruit-based drink for the lady.”

Even today, many old school boozers don’t really offer much beyond beer and spirits. There’s still a pub near my parents where wine comes in individually portioned plastic cups with peel off lids. I’ve never seen anyone order a second. Under such circumstances, if you’re not drinking beer, then the Gin & It is a great standby. Even the roughest place will have gin and a bottle of Martini Rosso. You might even get some ice. 

The heyday of the Gin and It was in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The only gin and vermouth drinker I can recall when I was growing up was the father of a friend of mine, a proper geezer, used to order something similar in his local. He called it a Gin and Mix, equal parts Italian and French vermouth, and gin. Such drinks went out of fashion in the ’80s as interest in gin and vermouth waned. It was all about vodka-based drinks. Now though, gin could not be more fashionable and vermouth too is having a moment with both sales and the choice of brands increasing.

El Bandarra Al fresco vermouth on a tray with snacks

Just add gin for the perfect Gin & It

Which vermouth to use

It’s one that you can just throw together, half and half over ice. Or you can up the gin quotient, stir and strain and make something that’s far closer to a Martini. A Gin & It is perfectly pleasant with Martini Rosso, that’s assuming the bottle hasn’t been gathering dust behind the bar for years, but it’s one that really warrants upgrading the vermouth. 

It’s where the same brand’s stunning Rubino Speciale Riserva comes into its own. It makes a lovely half and half. But instead I’m going for something from Spain, the deliciously light and orangey El Bandarra Al Fresco, which gives this a summer aperitif vibe. Don’t forget the olives and anchovies. 

As for the gin, well, a classic juniper and citrus led gin is going to work best here. I’ve had some bad experiences with gins with unconventional botanicals clashing with the vermouth. Beefeater would be ideal and is a reminder that this is very much a pub drink.

Today, however, I’m using Brighton Gin Seaside Strength. The citrus in the gin goes beautifully with the orange-forward vermouth and the extra alcohol cuts the sweetness of the vermouth. If I was using ordinary strength gin, I’d probably add an extra half measure to make it more refreshing. And finally because you can never have too much orange, I’ve added a dash of orange bitters.

Right, here’s how to make a Gin & It, Spanish style!

35ml Brighton Seaside Strength Gin
35ml El Bandarra Al Fresco Vermouth
Angostura Orange bitters

Add the gin and vermouth to an ice-filled tumbler. Stir, add a dash of bitters and garnish with a slice of orange. Cin cin!

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Cocktail of the Week: The Diamondback

This week’s cocktail is a post-Prohibition heavyweight, that plays with rye whiskey, Chartreuse and apple-based spirits. We owe it all to an unassuming, Maryland turtle… it’s the Diamondback. I have…

This week’s cocktail is a post-Prohibition heavyweight, that plays with rye whiskey, Chartreuse and apple-based spirits. We owe it all to an unassuming, Maryland turtle… it’s the Diamondback.

I have quite a few things in common with terrapins: we like to feed on shrimps, crabs, clams and mussels; we are known to hibernate in the winter; and we like to catch raindrops in our mouths. We also share the Diamondback cocktail – for the terrapins, it’s their namesake and for me, well, I just like to drink them.

The diamondback terrapin (so called because of the pattern on its shell) was the inspiration for the Diamondback Lounge at the Lord Baltimore Hotel where the cocktail was invented. This aquatic turtle which thrives in the mangroves and marshes of North America, is Maryland’s official state reptile, and University football fans will recognise the Maryland Terrapins’ jaunty, beshelled mascot with an ‘M’ emblazoned on its proud chest.


This is a Diamondback

The Lord Baltimore Hotel (which still stands today) was one of the tallest structures in Baltimore when it was built in 1928. The Diamondback Lounge no longer exists at the hotel, and the bartender responsible for the eponymous cocktail remains a mystery, but the most well-documented record of the recipe can be found in Ted Saucier’s Bottoms Up, published in 1951.

It calls for 1.5oz (40ml) rye whiskey, 0.75oz (20ml) applejack, and 0.75oz (20ml) yellow Chartreuse, shaken with ice, strained over ice in a rocks glass and garnished with mint. History buffs among you will note the post-Prohibition date on Saucier’s tome – and considering the 100 proof strength of each ingredient, the Diamondback would have been a pretty powerful reintroduction to drinking for the native Baltimorian.

But the contemporary Diamondback comes in a slightly different guise. How has the cocktail changed its geometry for the modern-day drinker?

The great Chartreuse debate

Saucier’s recipe calls for the use of yellow Chartreause, but in 2005, Seattle bartender Murray Stenson put his version of a Diamondback on the Zig Zag Café’s menu, swapping yellow Chartreuse for green. A bold move – with the green variant coming in at an even higher ABV than the original yellow, making this cocktail even more potent. But with the rye whiskey threatening to dominate the flavour profile, the more herbal and pronounced green Chartreuse was perhaps chosen by Stenson to stand up for itself. Fast-forward to 2011 and Jim Meehan adopts the green method too in his landmark PDT Cocktail Book.

Stenson is also responsible for a change in method and serve style. His recipe calls for the three ingredients to be stirred over ice, rather than shaken, strained into a chilled cocktail class and garnished with a cherry. Meehan eschews the cherry but it isn’t rare to see a Diamondback garnished with a lemon peel.

Bottoms Up

Bottoms Up!

Which rye when?

The choice of whiskey is also left up to interpretation. While Saucier’s recipe (and most since) simply call for ‘rye whiskey’, Stenson’s choice of Rittenhouse Straight Rye 100 proof (50% ABV) has been adopted by Diamondback fans as their favourite pour. Its notes of dried fruit, spices and caramel are the perfect companion for the herbal green Chartreuse and complements the applejack component (more on that soon).

Interestingly, Meehan reverts to Saucier’s loose prescription of rye whiskey, but raises its measure from 1.5 oz (40ml) to 2 oz (50ml). With that in mind, we can confirm that slightly lighter Woodford Reserve Kentucky Rye or Wild Turkey Straight Rye sit beautifully in a Diamondback. As does Finalnd’s Kyro Distillery’s Malt Rye for something slightly less conventional, but no less delicious.

What on earth is applejack?

Saucier’s recipe calls for the addition of applejack. UK drinkers probably won’t be familiar with this apple brandy spirit. So-called for its production method of ‘jacking’ (freezing fermented cider and then removing the ice) it originated in New Jersey in 1698 and is attributed to the Laird family. During the 19th and 20th centuries, it declined in popularity, but post-Prohibition, The Laird family were granted permission to make it again for ‘medicinal purposes’ and its popularity rose again.

Stenson honoured the Laird family in his reinvention of the Diamondback, citing the use of Laird’s Straight Applejack (Laird’s standard applejack bottling contains neutral alcohol along with apple brandy), while Meehan simply states the use of apple brandy in his recipe. It isn’t uncommon to see the use of Calvados in the place of applejack – spirits in kind, but using different apples. 

Diamondback Cocktail

Diamondback Cocktail, courtesy of the Bar with No Name

And the riffs keep coming. New east London bar from Remy Savage, A Bar With Shapes For A Name, has bottled its version of a Diamondback for delivery. It combines Knobb Creek (at 50% ABV, a nod to the original recipe), cider eau-de-vie (a tribute to applejack), Chartreuse MOF (neither green nor yellow, a diplomatic choice), raspberry eau-de-vie and manuka honey. “This drink from the 1950´s is « big » both aromatically and in terms of ABV,” the team writes on its Instagram post. “We made a few changes to try and soften it up and give it a crisp yet delicate fruity finish.”

My favourite version, below, uses Saucier’s ratios and ingredients but stirred and with an added cherry as per Stenson’s recipe. It’s enough to get me, and the terrapins, out of hibernation.

How to make a Diamondback:

30ml Rittenhouse Straight Rye whiskey
15ml Laird’s Straight Applejack
15ml Yellow Chartreuse

 Stir over ice and strain into a chilled Nick & Nora glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Queen Mother

Today, we’re making a cocktail with one of France’s greatest aperitifs, Dubonnet, and named after a departed member of the Royal family. It could only be the dear old Queen…

Today, we’re making a cocktail with one of France’s greatest aperitifs, Dubonnet, and named after a departed member of the Royal family. It could only be the dear old Queen Mother!

A few years ago I was planning to write something on Dubonnet and so asked on Twitter who looked after the marketing for the aperitif. I got some very funny replies along the lines of ‘two sleepy old men with a fax machine.’ It’s that sort of brand: globally famous but not a priority for its owners, Pernod Ricard. There’s no fancy marketing campaigns for poor old Dubonnet featuring beautiful young people responsibly partying the night away.

The American branch of the Dubonnet family, made in Bardstown, Kentucky by bourbon producer Heaven Hill, at least has its own website; the French-made original doesn’t appear to have one. 

The original recipe

Dubonnet was invented in 1846 Joseph Dubonnet. Reading the American website, he’s called Sir Joseph Dubonnet. There’s no explanation, however, of why or how he obtained a British title so we’re just going to stick with plain Joseph (His grandson Andre Dubonnet was made Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur, a sort of French knighthood and sounds like a right character). Anyway, his invention is part of the great family of wine-based French aperitifs that get their bitterness from quinine, others include Byrrh and Kina Lillet. Apparently, it was originally meant as a malaria remedy for French legionnaires. 

Dubonnet advert

A lady enjoying Dubonnet responsibly with her cat

It’s still made from classic southern French grapes including Grenache, Macabeo, and Carignan which are fortified with grape spirit to prevent fermentation, and then aged for around three years. The process is quite similar to Pineau des Charentes. This alcoholic grape juice is flavoured with various botanicals including quinine, cacao, orange peel, cinnamon, green coffee and elderflower. As with many French aperitifs, the alcohol level has been reduced over the years and now sits at 14.8% ABV.

The US version formulated by Heaven Hill is quite different being made with Californian wine and flavoured with black currant and black tea as well as quinine. According to an article in Punch, it is in fact closer to the original but we have no way of corroborating this. 

The Royal connection

It might not be loved by Pernod Ricard but Dubonnet has an impressive fan club. It’s something of a cult drink among bartenders. Then there’s the royal connection: the Queen and her late mother were noted Dubonnet drinkers. A Gin & Dubonnet was the Queen Mother’s favourite drink so much so that when drunk in her favourite ratio, two parts Dubonnet to one part gin, it’s now named after her. Feel free to add a ‘God, bless ‘er,’ every time you say its name.

A few of these a day didn’t seem to do her any harm as she died in 2002 at an impressive 102 years old. I hope she got her letter from the Queen when she hit 100. Her cocktail is almost identical to something in The Savoy Cocktail Book called the Zaza except the Zaza uses a 1:1 ratio.

As the Queen Mother was a famous gin lover (in fact all the older Royals are, Prince Charles loves a Dry Martini), perhaps the Zaza should be the Queen Mother. Especially as Zaza is a diminutive of Isabella ie. Elizabeth. 

Whatever you want to call it, this is a great throw-it-together sort of cocktail. You can serve it straight up, or on the rocks, play around with the ratios as much as you like, add a dash of orange bitters, or mix things up by swapping the Dubonnet for sweet vermouth (when it becomes a Gin & It) or even sloe gin. It’s so versatile that you’d think someone at Pernod Ricard head office would do something with it. Perhaps a campaign to appeal to the long-neglected older drinker?

Queen Mother Cocktail with Dubonnet

Image courtesy of Dubonnet

Here’s how to make a Queen Mother:

60ml Dubonnet
30ml Bathtub Gin

Add the ingredients to an ice-filled shaker, and stir for one minute. Strain into a chilled coupette and serve with an orange twist.

The Cocktail Dictionary by Henry Jeffreys is published by Mitchell Beazley and available from all good bookshops.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Rusty Nail

This week’s cocktail is a simple drink that relies on one of whisky’s best liqueur friends: Drambuie – a secret blend of Scotch whisky, spices, herbs and heather honey. It’s…

This week’s cocktail is a simple drink that relies on one of whisky’s best liqueur friends: Drambuie – a secret blend of Scotch whisky, spices, herbs and heather honey. It’s the Rusty Nail!

True, the name ‘the Rusty Nail’ is not all that appealing. But compared to what the drink was called when it first appeared, it’s a peach. The mix of Scotch and Drambuie is said to have made its debut at the British Industries Fair in 1937, where it was simply called the BIF.

A version of the drink later appeared in the 1951 book Ted Saucier’s Bottom’s Up and in its post-BIF days, the cocktail was called all sorts of other things, including the Mig 21, which might’ve come from the 21 Club in Manhattan, where it had become a popular mix. Or perhaps named after Russian fighter jet the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21.

How did it become the Rusty Nail?

Enter Drambuie. In 1963, the liqueur company’s then-chairperson Gina MacKinnon, who travelled extensively as an ambassador for the brand, endorsed the Rusty Nail name. Such was the strong connection between Drambuie and cocktail, the company trademarked ‘Rusty Nail’ in the mid-60s, as a drink made with Scotch and Drambuie. Today, Drambuie is owned by William Grant & Sons and according to the Intellectual Property Office, so is the Rusty Nail trademark.

Back to our story and the mid- to late-60s. By now, the drink had, says cocktail aficionado Dale DeGroff, worked its way into the 1967 edition of Old Mister Boston Official Bartender’s Guide, which he calls “the cocktail book of record through the post-Prohibition 20th century”.

Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra enjoyed a Rusty Nail when he was out on the town

And like so many famous drinks, it is the famous drinkers that helped propel the cocktail to popularity and eventual classic status. In this case, the Rat Pack. Legend has it, Frank Sinatra et al were big fans of the Rusty Nail and DeGroff notes that by the ‘70s, the drink was a hit in Manhattan’s PJ Clarke’s – by then well known for being a regular haunt of Sinatra’s.

In the ‘80s, a delve into the New York Times archives throws up a reference to the Rusty Nail in an altogether different context: Debrett’s Etiquette and Modern Manners. The newspaper describes the guide as “the last word in British titles and protocol”. So, where does the Rusty Nail fit in? Well, when it comes to advice about shooting, of course.

”Shooting is in fact so dangerous that anyone invited to shoot who has no experience should decline the invitation,” the book reads. “The host will not only understand but will be grateful to have saved the embarrassment of letting an inexperienced person loose with a gun.”

Then comes the drinking advice, or “aiming juices” as the book calls it. The preferred libation is to be carried in a hip flask and it is “a concoction known as ‘Rusty Nail’ (Scotch and Drambuie in equal quantities)”.

The Rusty Nail goes quiet

There is little reference to the cocktail in the 90s and 00s, except the odd blog that refers to it as an ‘old man’ drink. By this time, brown spirits-based cocktails were largely taking a break to allow the party drinks a chance to shine.

And then, in 2014, the owners of Drambuie said they were thinking about selling up.

The brand was snapped up by William Grant & Sons later that year and the CEO at the time said: “We are delighted to be in a position to start to re-engage with existing drinkers and to connect the brand with an entirely new generation of consumers.”

Rusty Nail with Drambuie

The perfect Rusty Nail (photo courtesy of Drambuie)

It’s back and badder than ever

They didn’t have to wait long. In 2015, Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul saw the main character make a Rusty Nail in the very first episode. His version included a squeeze of lemon (in fact this two-ingredient cocktail can be made to suit the drinker, as we’ll see shortly). And though the character of Saul might not be the poster boy they were looking for, the show did have a decent following.

A couple of years later, in 2017, Drambuie went big on the Rusty Nail, with a celebration of its 80th anniversary, timed for World Whisky Day. “The Rusty Nail has been formative for the development of Drambuie, which is now a highly-regarded essential to bartenders worldwide,” William Grant & Sons said at the time.

Curiously, in 2021, the drink doesn’t even get a mention on the cocktail page of the Drambuie website, nor in the brand’s history section. 

Whether or not this cocktail has been consigned to the history books, it’s so simple to make, it would be rude not to give it a go…

As whisky is such a big component, the choice is important. Drambuie is very sweet so something with a little bite and smoke to it works well like Green Isle, a blend of Islay and Speyside single malts with Lowland grains whisky. Or we can confirm that Talisker is a great fit too.

Here’s how to make a Rusty Nail, 80th anniversary version:

60ml Green Isle
30ml Drambuie

In a tumbler stir over ice and garnish with a lemon twist. The traditional version is half and half or if you have a sweeter tooth you can reverse the ratio. Or halve the amount of Drambuie if you like it drier.

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