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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Cocktail of the Week

Cocktail of the Week: The Palmetto

This week’s cocktail couldn’t be simpler, all you need is the finest rum you can get your hands on and some excellent sweet vermouth like the recently-landed Agora Rosso which…

This week’s cocktail couldn’t be simpler, all you need is the finest rum you can get your hands on and some excellent sweet vermouth like the recently-landed Agora Rosso which comes from Suffolk.

The Palmetto is part of a family of simple cocktails consisting of an aged spirit combined with vermouth and a dash of bitters stirred over ice, and served straight up. The best known in the family is the Manhattan but there’s also the Rob Roy, made with Scotch, the Harvard, made with Cognac, and the Emerald, made with Irish whiskey. Palmetto is a type of palm tree so no prizes for guessing which spirit goes into it. Just to be clear, it’s rum.

Harry Craddock’s recipe in The Savoy Cocktail Book calls for equal parts Italian vermouth with St. Croix rum and a dash of orange bitters. St. Croix was a brand made at the Cruzan Distillery in the US Virgin Islands. The distillery is now owned by Beam Suntory but the brand is no more so what to use in your Palmetto? Well, the world, or rather the Caribbean, is your oyster. High ester Jamaican rums like Plantation Xaymaca make punchy explosively fruity Palmettos, the sweet vermouth just about taming the Jamaican funk. Using something smooth and sophisticated from Latin America like the Eminente from Cuba makes the Palmetto a completely different animal, taking it into Harvard territory. If you want just a little funk, Merser & Co is hard to beat.

For the vermouth this week we’re using a new brand that landed at MoM late last year, Agora Rosso. It’s made by an Australian in Suffolk, Arthur Voulgaris. He began his career tending bar in Melbourne where he picked up a love of Negronis before moving to London to work in the wine trade. It was, appropriately enough, in Manhattan where he really caught the vermouth bug. He was working for English wine brand Digby in New York and, he told us in an interview last year: “I drank Manhattans like they were going out of fashion.”

Arthur Voulgaris enjoying a cocktail of an evening

He tried every vermouth he could get his hands on but wasn’t always that impressed with the quality. “I thought, ‘could this category be a bit better? Could there be more finesse and balance within vermouth?’ I find that some of them can be incredibly bitter, and to counteract that and balance it out, a lot of sugar is added,” he said.

When he returned to England to work for Gonzalez Byass, he set about trying to make his dream vermouth. He began experimenting at his place in Suffolk, and the result, after much tinkering, was Agora, which means marketplace in Greek – Voulgaris’ family are from the island of Kos. Most rosso vermouths get their colour from caramel but Voulgaris wanted it to come from grapes, Cabernet and Merlot sourced from the south of France. There’s no added sugar, caramel or glycerol, all the sweetness comes from grape must. The botanicals include wormwood, rose, vanilla, lavender, star anise and cassia bark, and he uses neutral grape alcohol. “I didn’t want anything synthetic. I didn’t want anything that was too confected, cloying, bitter or simply sweet,” he said. It comes in at 120 grams of sugar which is classed as semi-sweet for a vermouth. 

The finished product is made at DJ Wines in Monks Soham, Suffolk. For the next batch Voulgaris is going to use locally-grown Pinot Noir grapes. He’s also planning a bianco made with English Madeleine Angevin grapes and with, as he puts it, “sea coastal botanicals such as Maldon sea salt and samphire” plus “something a bit oriental like kaffir lime.” 

How does the rosso taste? Well it’s very grapey and fruity, with the profile not unlike a fortified wine from the south of France like Maury with floral, fruity and bitter botanicals coming through harmoniously. We tried a batch last year which was a little bitter but he’s upped the grape sugar levels, and the balance is now perfect.

Palmetto

The magnificent Palmetto

It’s extremely nice just served on the rocks with a slice of orange as they do in Spain. But it’s also ideal for a very vermouth-heavy cocktail like a Palmetto. I tried it with both a Jamaican and a Cuban rum with the Cuban probably nosing it as its elegance chimed better with the subtlety of Agora. The classic way to serve your Palmetto is straight up but this year I’ve taken to drinking mine on the rocks in a tumbler and enjoying how the flavours change as the ice melts. It’s the perfect instant cocktail.

Here’s how to make the classic version:

35ml Eminente 7 Year Old Reserva Cuban Rum
35ml Agora Rosso Vermouth
2 dashes Angostura Orange Bitters

Add all the ingredients to an ice-filled shaker or jug, stir for a minute and strain into a chilled coupe or Martini glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Vieux Carré

One of a handful of classic cocktails with a traceable backstory, the Vieux Carré dates back to the 1930s, when it was named after an area of New Orleans known…

One of a handful of classic cocktails with a traceable backstory, the Vieux Carré dates back to the 1930s, when it was named after an area of New Orleans known today as the French Quarter. Anna Sebastian, bar manager at the Artesian Bar in London’s Langham Hotel, talks us through this full-flavoured, widely underappreciated serve…

“The Vieux Carré is a fantastic drink, almost a combination of a Manhattan, Old Fashioned and Sazerac,” says Sebastian. “It has always been one of those drinks, in my opinion, that has been underrated.” Combining rye whiskey, Cognac, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, and two different types of bitters, the Vieux Carré certainly packs a punch – but it’s also light and refreshing enough to cut through the humidity of a typical New Orleans day, she says.

Unlike practically every other historic tipple you can think of, the Vieux Carré (pronounced voo car-ray – the name is French, the pronunciation is Creole) is one of those rare cocktails with a timestamp. Translated as ‘old square’ or ‘old quarter’, which then referred to the French Quarter, the drink was created by Walter Bergeron at the Hotel Monteleone, and appeared in print for the first time in Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em back in 1938. 

Vieux Carre

The French Quarter or Vieux Carré in New Orleans

Calling for ½ teaspoon Benedictine, 1 dash Peychaud bitters, 1 dash Angostura bitters, ⅓ jigger rye whiskey, ⅓ Cognac brandy, and ⅓ jigger Italian vermouth, the method reads as follows: ‘The Benedictine is used as a base and also for sweetening the cocktail. Dash on the bitters, then add the rye, brandy, and vermouth. Put several lumps of ice in the barglass. Stir. Twist a slice of lemon peel over the mixture. Drop in a slice of pineapple and cherry if you wish and serve in mixing glass.’

‘This is the cocktail that Walter Bergeron, head bartender of the Hotel Monteleone cocktail lounge, takes special pride in mixing,’ the author of the book, Stanley Clisby Arthur, wrote beneath the recipe. ‘He originated it, he says, to do honour to the famed Vieux Carré, that part of New Orleans where the antique shops and the iron lace balconies give sightseers a glimpse into the romance of another day.’

The hotel is still standing today, now owned by the fifth generation of the Monteleone family. A decade after Bergeron invented the cocktail, Hotel Monteleone opened the Carousel Bar & Lounge – an elaborate slow-spinning cocktail bar fitted with a dazzling carousel top. It’s the only revolving bar in the Big Easy, and turns at a rate of one revolution 15 minutes. There, the Vieux Carré is the star of the menu, made with Sazerac Rye Whiskey and Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac.

Even though rye and Cognac are of equal measure in the recipe, the bold, spiced profile of the whiskey takes precedence. Much like rye whiskey, the Vieux Carré was once hugely popular and gradually faded into obscurity as the decades rolled past. And like the beloved rye style, it’s now enjoying a slow resurgence. There’s no shortage of rye whiskey bottlings to choose from today, and this cocktail is the perfect way to road-test their mixing potential. “The perfect Vieux Carré, as always, stems back to having quality ingredients,” says Sebastian. “I always say go with the best that you can buy, as it really will have an impact on your drink.”

Vieux Carre

Voila! Un Vieux Carré

The rye will meet a host of really punchy, robust spirits in the Vieux Carré, so thoughtful assembly is required. “The key is to balance the ingredients, as they are all very strong flavours and components,” she says. “The vermouth, being the slightly weaker part of the drink, needs to be big and ballsy. The Benedictine needs to be used sparingly, otherwise it will take over the drink and make it… well, un-drinkable.” Using a discarded lemon twist as a garnish “leaves a beautiful aroma from the oils without the peel infusing the liquid as you drink it,” Sebastian adds.

Once you’ve nailed the original, why not shake things up with some spirited substitutes? Changing the rye for a bourbon gives the drink a slightly warmer, less dry profile to it, says Sebastian. “Another great option is reducing the rye to 15ml and adding 15ml of Calvados, which gives it a more approachable taste and fresh apple notes,” she says. Alternatively, try using a blend of vermouths – a sweet and a dry in equal parts – to make the cocktail a little lighter and brighter, or “add a dash of absinthe to bring all the flavours together”.

But first, here’s how to make the original:

30ml Michter’s Rye Whiskey
30ml Remy Martin 1738
20ml Cocchi Vermouth Di Torino
5ml Benedictine
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 dashes Peychaud bitters
Discarded lemon twist 

Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass filled with ice. Garnish with a lemon twist. 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Spiced Apple Warmer

Is there any better antidote to a chilly winter’s day than a steaming hot cocktail? Rather than digging ice out of the freezer, this week we’re firing up the stove…

Is there any better antidote to a chilly winter’s day than a steaming hot cocktail? Rather than digging ice out of the freezer, this week we’re firing up the stove to create the Spiced Apple Warmer, which brings the flavours of two quintessential winter warmers – the Hot Gin Toddy and Mulled Cider – together in one toasty recipe…

For about as long as humans have been drinking alcohol, we’ve been heating it too. Mulled Wine came first, supposedly invented by the Greek father of medicine, Hippocrates, who is said to have enjoyed it as a tonic. The very first recipe in the first-century Roman cookbook Apicius – one of the oldest in the world – is for conditum paradoxum, a warm spiced wine. Throughout the second century the Romans continued to heat wine with honey, herbs, spices and citrus to fend off the winter chill as they conquered Europe. As viticulture spread through the Empire, so too did this toasty drink; adopted as Glühwein in Germany; Gløgg in Sweden. It became widely known as ‘Mulled Wine’ in 17th century England. 

Before Mulled Wine found its name, Wassail had risen to prominence in medieval England. Initially a warmed mead into which roasted crab apples were dropped, the drink transformed into a hot mulled cider topped with slices of toast – called sops – and then later spiked with brandy, sherry, and often beaten eggs. It was drunk traditionally (from the communal wassail bowl, of course) as an integral part of wassailing, a yuletide drinking ritual intended to ensure a good cider apple harvest the following year. Eventually, the tipple evolved into the Mulled Cider popular at Christmas markets around the world today.

The term ‘Punch’ came next, with the first written reference of the word penned by a British East India Employee stationed in India in 1632, who wrote “I hop you will keep good house together and drincke Punch by no allowance,” in a letter to a coworker, according to an excerpt from Punch by cocktail historian David Wondrich. The first recorded Punch recipe – again, in India – came six years later, “consisting of aqua vitae, rose-water, juice of citrons and sugar”, and made its way to London’s ports as the token tipple of British sailors, where it soon found favour among the country’s aristocrats.

The Hot Toddy too is said to come from the era of British-controlled India, when plantation workers would ferment the sap of tropical palm trees to create a ‘Toddy’ (named for tari, the Hindi word for tree sap) to create “a beverage made of alcoholic liquor with hot water, sugar, and spices”, as recorded in 1786 – though this theory is widely contested. Some believe it was named for the toddy stick, an early version of the muddler that was used to crush sugar for the drink; others believe it originated in Scotland, to mask the flavour of poor quality Scotch; and some say it was the creation of Irish doctor Dr. Robert Todd, who prescribed his patients a mix of brandy, canella, sugar syrup and hot water as a cure for the common cold. Today, the modern definition of the Toddy points to practically any alcoholic drink served hot, though purists will insist on a base spirit (usually whisky), citrus, honey and spices. 

However you prefer to serve and title these quintessential winter warmers, there’s no escaping their Dickensian connotations: a nip in the air, a crackling fire, a warm blanket, howling winds, a snug parlour. A drinks connoisseur himself, Dickens wove spirits into his works repeatedly, from “a bowl of Smoking Bishop” in A Christmas Carol – a popular Victorian tipple made with port, red wine, lemons or Seville oranges, sugar and spices – to the “whiskey toddy” in The Pickwick Papers. Rather fittingly, given this week’s choice of cocktail, Dickens’ all-time favourite tipple is said to have been Hot Gin Punch – a drink most highly favoured by his Mr. Micawber character in David Copperfield: ‘‘I never saw a man so thoroughly enjoy himself amid the fragrance of lemon-peel and sugar, the odour of burning spirit, and the steam of boiling water, as Mr. Micawber did that afternoon,” he wrote. 

We wonder what Dickens might’ve made of our Spiced Apple Warmer recipe, which involves gently warming the uniquely characterful Bathtub Gin with apple juice, oranges, cinnamon, cloves, star anise and honey. The spirit starts out as a copper pot-distilled gin made with juniper, coriander and other fragrant botanicals. Then, a portion of the batch is infused with six fresh botanicals over the course of the week, before the two distillates are blended together. This lengthy infusion process captures flavours that are too delicate to survive the distillation process, resulting in an intensely flavourful gin that allows the botanicals to really sing. Where loud flavours often clash in certain mulled recipes, each ingredient in the Spiced Apple Warmer has been carefully selected to enhance the gin’s key botanicals, resulting in a delightfully wintery tipple that won’t overwhelm the palate after half a cup.

“We use orange, cinnamon and cloves in our double infusion, so bringing those flavours out more is a good place to start,” explains Hannah Burden-Teh, Bathtub Gin’s brand manager. “Then we add a touch of extra Christmas spice with the star anise – it looks like a Christmas decoration in your mug! Apple is the perfect base for any Hot Toddy, and we jazz our usual Bathtub garnish up by bedecking the orange slice with little clove jewels. It’s super easy to make, a great winter warmer if you need a cosy boost or, as quite likely this year, you find yourself outside and it makes your house smell like Christmas!”

And let’s face it, who doesn’t want that? Right, let’s make a Spiced Apple Warmer…

50ml Bathtub Gin
200ml apple juice (cloudy is best)
2 cinnamon sticks
1 star anise
3 orange slices (plus spare to garnish)
3 cloves (plus more to garnish)
Honey to taste

Add apple juice and all spices to a saucepan. Simmer gently for 15 minutes then strain into a mug. Add Bathtub Gin and honey to taste before garnishing with a clove-studded orange slice. The recipe is per person – simply multiply the ingredients as required to make a batch. 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Brandy and Soda

It’s revival week here at Master of Malt. Not only are we reviving a classic pre-dinner aperitif but we’re making it with an old brand of Cognac that has just…

It’s revival week here at Master of Malt. Not only are we reviving a classic pre-dinner aperitif but we’re making it with an old brand of Cognac that has just been relaunched. 

Christmas is going to be a bit different this year but I’ve been musing on Christmases past when we used to have the whole family over for the big day. My brother and I would help my father make drinks. It was a complicated process because everyone seemed to have their own special drinks which had to be made the right way: my grandmother with her Whisky and Soda which had to be made with Famous Grouse; her husband, my grandfather, drank Brandy and Soda; then there was my aunt with her Tequila slammers. 

You can date my grandfather pretty accurately by his drink. The Brandy and Soda, or B&S as it was known, was the drink for the bright young things before the war. There’s a famous exchange between Jeeves and Bertie Wooster in PG Wodehouse’s The Inimitable Jeeves:

“I say, Jeeves,” I said.
“Sir?”
”Mix me a stiffish brandy and soda.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Stiffish, Jeeves. Not too much soda, but splash the brandy about a bit.”
“Very good, sir.”

Now, I’m not sure my grandfather was ever a bright young thing like Bertie Wooster, though he did once win a Charleston competition.

This burst of Yuletide nostalgia has been brought about by the arrival of a new brand of Cognac at MoM towers. It’s called Seignette VS and it’s from Sazerac, the company behind Peychaud’s Bitters, Buffalo Trace and, of course, Sazerac itself. Clive Carpenter, general manager of Domaine Sazerac de Segonzac, explained: “Any new product launch is an exciting moment and for us launching Seignette in the UK has an extra special meaning. We are bringing this historic brand back to the country where it was most in-demand in the 19th century.”

The Seignette family’s history in the region can be traced back to the 17th century. The brand itself was founded in 1804 by Arzac Seignette and, according to the bumf, “became one of the leading brands of the 19th century”. It’s not clear how much the revived brand has to do with the old version but it’s a nice marketing angle. Which is fine, because this is a brand that is designed to look gorgeous on the bar with it’s striking swan label and tall clear glass bottle As Clive Carpenter said: “This is a Cognac for those people who think Cognac isn’t for them.” Happily it tastes good too. As a VS, it has a minimum age of two years so there are lots of fruit young brandies in here. The taste is gently sweet and fruity with notes of peach, honey, orange and vanilla. 

Seignette VS, looking good on the bar

Cognac has been trying in recent years to reinvent itself as a fun spirit. To get away from the balloon glasses and red noses image of the past, rather as Scotch is desperately trying to escape from the tweed and stags image that was so successful in the past. But with Cognac, this reinvention is actually a return because, as we’ve banged on before on this blog, brandy is the original cocktail ingredients. Many of the great cocktails like the Sazerac would have originally been made with Cognac. In fact, the Sazerac is named after a now-defunct brand of Cognac.

So, when the bottle of Seignette arrived, I immediately began experimenting with it. The brand suggested it in a Swan’s Neck, a take on the Horse’s Neck, a drink with ginger ale, which was very nice. But the drink I kept on coming back to was the Brandy and Soda. The fruitiness of Seignette really suits a splash of soda water plus some orange bitters to further bring out the fruity notes. For that perfect Jeeves and Wooster taste, the soda water should be served out of a syphon. More refreshing than a Whisky & Soda, less sweet than a G&T, it’s the perfect aperitif. Perhaps my grandfather was right after all. 

50cl Seignette VS Cognac
2 dashes Angostura orange bitters
Soda water

In an ice-filled tumbler or Highball glass add the Cognac and bitters. Give it a stir, top up with soda, stir gently and garnish with a piece of orange. 

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Cocktail of the Week: The White Negroni

The Negroni has long been Italy’s go-to aperitif, but there’s more than one way to pour it, as we discover in this week’s Cocktail of the Week. The delicate White…

The Negroni has long been Italy’s go-to aperitif, but there’s more than one way to pour it, as we discover in this week’s Cocktail of the Week. The delicate White Negroni may be lighter in colour and flavour, but it’s every bit as stimulating as its rich, ruby red alter ego. Here’s how to make it…

Also known as the Negroni Bianco, this modern classic first came to life at Vinexpo in Bordeaux, France back in 2001, where legendary British bartender Wayne Collins was preparing for Plymouth Gin’s cocktail competition. For his entry, Collins chose to give the traditional Italian cocktail a distinctly local twist, subbing Campari for Suze – an earthy, bitter French aperitif made with gentian root – and the sweet vermouth for Lillet Blanc, a wine-based aperitif from the south of France. It won.

The White Negroni made its way to New York with then-Plymouth Gin ambassador Simon Ford, who introduced the drink to Pegu Club owner Audrey Saunders. There, it became a staple on the menu and a smash hit – despite logistical hurdles. “The cocktail got its big break in the US, even though Suze was not available in that market at the time,” says Andrei Talapanescu, head bartender at Pulitzer’s Bar in Amsterdam. “The demand for Suze in the US grew so much that in 2012, Pernod Ricard began to import the liqueur.”

Collins’ recipe “is a very interesting twist,” says Talapanescu. “Every level of the drink is saturated with flavour. The gin you choose to use remains a key player in this equation and can take the final product in any direction, since Suze and Lillet Blanc are soft players compared to Campari and sweet vermouth.” When making the drink according to Collins’ recipe, Talapanescu departs from the equal part ratios of the original Negroni recipe in favour of 45ml gin, 25ml Suze, and 30ml Lillet Blanc.

Of course, you don’t have to enter a cocktail competition to have fun with the combination of gin, bitter aperitif and wine-based aperitif. Nor do you have to stick with French liqueurs. “You can play with all sorts of ingredients,” says Mike Enright, owner of The Barber Shop in Sydney, “but for a good twist on a Negroni you always need one part gin – more citrus and floral for a White Negroni – one part bitter or modifier like Suze, St. Germain, limoncello or dry sherry, and one part white vermouth; ideally a bianco style over an extra-dry vermouth.”

White Negroni

The White Negroni is just as stimulating as its red cousin (photo courtesy of Regal Rogue)

This week, we’ve gone for a super-fresh version of the White Negroni, made with a citrus-forward gin – think Oxley, Salcombe Start Point or TBGC Green Citrus Gin – plus Suze and Regal Rose Lively White. “With a citrus gin you get more of the fresh notes over the dry juniper of a London Dry Gin,” says Enright. “With the Suze you get the lovely balance of a white bitter with a hint of freshness. Regal Rogue Lively White is all about the citrus and floral notes. It’s a clean style of vermouth that lets the gin and Suze shine.”

As with the classic version, the White Negroni is incredibly adaptable. “You can swap the garnish from lemon to grapefruit or even frozen green grapes if you want something more neutral,”  according to Enright. Alternatively, try experimenting with the core ingredients. 

“It can easily be turned into a White Negroni Sbagliato,” says Talapanescu – just sub the gin for Prosecco. “Even just a base change from gin to mezcal will create a totally different drink,” he says. However you choose to change up the format, try batching the drink in advance to save time. “It’s so easy – just buy the three bottles, mix them together in advance with enough water to ensure proper dilution and place it in your fridge or freezer,” says Talapanescu. “It can even be enjoyed in a mini format at the beginning of your meal too.” 

Flavour-wise, a White Negroni has all the best parts of the classic version, “but with a fresher approach for a different time of the day,” says Enright. This version is great as the first Negroni of the day, he continues, “with a more citrus-styled gin to match that of Suze, and the citrus notes in Regal Rogue Lively White.” The White Negroni is proof that rules were made to be broken. À votre santé, as the French say

30ml TBGC Green Citrus Gin
30ml Suze
30ml Regal Rogue Lively White

Build all ingredients in a tumbler over ice and stir. Garnish with a lemon or orange twist.

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Cocktail of the Week: Spiced Rum Coke Float

This week’s cocktail is a retro classic with a kick. We all remember the Coke Float from the ‘80s but what about a Coke Float with rum in it. Now…

This week’s cocktail is a retro classic with a kick. We all remember the Coke Float from the ‘80s but what about a Coke Float with rum in it. Now you’re talking!

There are some drinks that have the time travelling powers. The very name can transport you into the past. One such is the Coke Float, just Coca-Cola over ice with a scoop of ice cream on the top. It was a staple of burger joints when I was growing up in the 1980s. Ordering one made you feel like you were in some optimistic American series, like Saved by the Bell. Putting ice cream on top of a carbonated drink goes back much further, however. According to trusted source Wikipedia it was invented in 1874 by Robert McCay Green, though it doesn’t seem inconceivable that someone had put ice cream in a fizzy drink before. It’s not rocket science. 

All very nice and nostalgic, but we’re grown-ups now and so Tom G. Hurst from Rockstar Spirits had the brilliant idea of putting rum into this classic drink. Again, he might not be the first person to have done this, but still, what a great idea! And not just any rum but his Two Swallows Citrus and Salted Caramel bottle. This is made from high quality aged rum from the Diamond Distillery in Guyana – the people behind El Dorado. Then the team at Rockstar add natural ingredients to create a delicious, not too sweet flavoured rum. Hurst has worked hard on the profiles so that each rum works particularly well with Coca-Cola – as he told me: “80% of rum is drunk with Coke.”

Hurst’s background is in new product development. He worked at William Grant & Sons during an incredibly fertile period for the company when it launched Hendrick’s Gin, Sailor Jerry spiced rum and Monkey Shoulder blended whisky. All drinks that launched a thousand imitators. Hurst saw that rum was ripe from premiumisation and so in 2018 he set up Rockstar Spirits. Figures released last year by the WSTA support this with over 10 million bottles of flavoured rum sold 2018/19 and the market is growing rapidly. There are now nearly 200 brands on the British market, up from 50 in 2006.

Two Swallows Rum

The name is inspired Victorian daredevil Matthew Webb who features on the top left of the label

The main line from Rockstar spirits is Two Swallows, a range of flavoured rums made with high quality natural ingredients. The name comes from the classic naval tattoo, and inspired by Hurst’s great great uncle Captain Matthew Webb. Hurst described him as “a global icon. David Beckham of the Victorian era.” He was the first man to swim the English channel. Bryant & May put his face on its match boxes. He came to a tragic end, however. Hurst explained: “He loved the fame aspect and as that faded away, he kept on trying to do crazier and crazier stunts.” One included swimming the rapids at Niagara Falls where he drowned. The two swallows were supposed to carry drowning sailors to heaven.

So that’s the story behind Two Swallows. The brand has only been going a short time but things are going well despite the problems caused by lockdown. “Long term we are very much committed to the on-trade,” Hurst said. But the brand is going great guns through supermarkets and other retailers. It’s one of the bestselling rum brands at Master of Malt. “We launched three new products since the new lockdown to give people a point of difference,” he said. The combination of distinctive packaging and distinctive contents seems to work. Hurst explained the thinking behind the rums: “They had to tick three boxes: excellent standalone spirits, great with mixers, and interesting for bartenders to work with”. To achieve the latter, the rums are packed with subtle flavours which you might not notice on first taste, but can be pulled out with the right ingredients.  

This might be the best Coke Float you’ve ever had. Here’s how to make it:

50ml Two Swallows Salted Caramel and Citrus Rum
150ml Coca-Cola
Good quality chocolate ice cream

Serve in Highball glass over ice with a scoop of good quality chocolate ice cream.  

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Cocktail of the Week: The Popcorn Old Fashioned

This week’s cocktail is the Popcorn Old Fashioned, a long-time favourite at Sexy Fish. The London hotspot has sold over 12,000 of them since it opened five years ago. Bar…

This week’s cocktail is the Popcorn Old Fashioned, a long-time favourite at Sexy Fish. The London hotspot has sold over 12,000 of them since it opened five years ago. Bar manager Jérôme Allaguillemette explains how to recreate the drink at home…

Tucked away on a corner of Berkeley Square lies Sexy Fish – no, you’re not hard of herring, that’s its real name – which toasted its fifth birthday with a book of its most beloved serves, titled Surrealism. Set in a split-level building that boasts seascape-inspired Damien Hirst art in the main restaurant and two of the world’s largest live coral reef tanks in the private dining space below, the opulent hotspot is known for its wildly inventive Asian-fusion food and drink offering.

If you’re into celeb spotting, it’s the plaice to be. The venue flung open its doors in October 2015 with a star-studded opening party – Rita Ora performed a medley of hits (dressed as a glittery gold mermaid, obv) while the likes of Kate Moss and Lindsay Lohan sipped cocktails and snacked on rainbow-coloured sushi platters. Ever since, a revolving door of big names has been spotted inside its glitzy lair, including Katy Perry, Hugh Jackson, Kendall Jenner and Joan Collins.

If you can tear your eyes from the venue’s theatrical artworks for long enough – among them a 13-foot mirrored crocodile (by architect Frank Gehry), a waterfall wall, and an illuminating shoal of fish hovering above the bar (also Gehry) – you’ll find the largest collection of Japanese whisky in the world. Sexy Fish even has its own single cask bottling, Sexy Fish Whisky, made at Chichibu Distillery in the central Saitama Prefecture. As well as having a huge selection of spirits within easy reach, the bar team also has a fully-stocked kitchen to draw from – and they make full use of this unique set-up, as Allaguillemette explains.

“Our kitchen fridges and pantry are our main inspiration,” he says. “Over the last five years we’ve used some interesting ingredients, including Wagyu fat, smoked salmon, bonito flakes, Shiitake mushrooms, codonopsis and Galangal. We use a lot of techniques borrowed from chefs: sous vide cooking, blending, centrifuging, and additional ‘scientific methods’ such as vacuum distillation, which allows us to extract very delicate and unusual flavours using laboratory equipment.”

Sexy dish, swanky bar

There are, indeed, plenty of unconventional flavour combinations on the menu. In the savoury, herbal serve Neonach – which is presented in a red coral glass – you’ll find salmon-infused Hendrick’s gin, basil, fennel and chilli oil. When designing a cocktail at Sexy Fish, bringing ingredients together is only half the story. After all, the owners didn’t spend (an estimated) £15 million on eye-catching art installations from the biggest names in architecture and art to serve your lavish cocktail in dull glassware.

“The visual aesthetic is the guest’s first contact with the drink, it needs to be appealing and to some extent sexy and intriguing,” says Allaguillemette. “We’re always looking to excite as many senses as possible when it comes to our serves, using textures, shapes, colours and scents. Some [vessels] are unique, bespoke pieces that we designed in collaboration with brands, such as our Neonach coral glass, which is 3D-printed.”

Unsurprisingly, putting each menu together requires plenty of work. The first menu followed Marco Polo across Asia; the second, called Haute Couture, took inspiration from the catwalk; the third, Whet, was designed to whet all appetites; and the most recent edition Travel was inspired by the team’s global bar tour. Each has typically taken around nine months, from the first meeting to the launch, says Allaguillemette, with all hands on deck. “The menu creation is most definitely a team effort, from the concept to the drinks and serve design,” he continues.

With each menu so vibrantly different to the last, how would he sum up the cocktail offering at Sexy Fish in three words, I ask? “Sexy, accessible, yet complex,” says Allaguillemette. That’s four – but then, surreal Sexy Fish is hardly known for following convention, so we’ll it slide.

Right that’s Sexy Fish, now let’s make a Popcorn Old Fashioned. It’s described by the bar like this: “An all-time favourite, this Old Fashioned is a cocktail that really pops. All the classic ingredients report for duty, alongside popcorn-infused Chita Whisky. Over the years, we’ve taken 110kg of popcorn to take this old favourite into new territory”.

50ml popcorn-infused Chita Whisky*
5ml sugar syrup
2 dashes Angostura Bitters 

Stir all ingredients over ice and strain onto a large chunk of ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

*To make the popcorn-infused Chita Whisky, mix 200ml whisky with 20g popcorn, leave in a freezer overnight, and strain through a coffee filter the following morning.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Caipirinha

This week we’re whipping up the Caipirinha, a Brazilian classic. This light, refreshing drink emerged in São Paulo in the early 19th century and has been a national treasure ever…

This week we’re whipping up the Caipirinha, a Brazilian classic. This light, refreshing drink emerged in São Paulo in the early 19th century and has been a national treasure ever since. Morgana Toro, bartender at London’s Artesian, shows us how to combine the holy trinity of cachaça, sugar, and lime…

There’s much debate about the origins of Brazil’s national drink. One theory claims the Caipirinha was invented by farmers in the countryside region of Piracicaba, which was the epicentre of cachaça production at the time. Elsewhere, it’s believed the drink was a medicinal tincture used to treat the Spanish flu, initially containing garlic and honey in place of sugar and ice. Another theory suggests scurvy-riddled sailors invented it when they docked at the Port of Santos, mixing citrus with cachaça in the absence of readily-available rum. 

One thing’s for certain: to be called a Caipirinha today, it has to be made with lime, sugar, cachaça and ice, says Morgana. “You could use lemon if you like, but then it’s not traditional. You can use brown sugar, unrefined sugar, any type of sugar,” she says. “And the cachaça can be silver or aged. Usually in Brazil we make it with ice that isn’t cubed or crushed; it’s something in-between. It’s like a crushed cube of ice, but not like the crushed that we know here.” Faced with the limited options in the supermarket, Morgana suggests using cubed ice, because fully crushed will dilute the drink too fast. 

Morgana Toro with three cocktails, none of which is a Caipirinha

Once you’ve got these simple ingredients prepared, you’re ready to start making the drink. First, cut a lime into wedges and add to a tumbler or rocks glass with sugar. Muddle until the sugar – and it has to be powder sugar, not sugar syrup, says Morgana – is dissolved in the lime juice. Then top the rest of the glass with ice and add around 50ml cachaça. “Then you stir slightly but not like you’re stirring a built drink,” she says. “It’s more like, you put the spoon inside and do a little movement to mix it from the bottom. It’s not supposed to be completely mixed together.”

We’re using Abelha Cachaça, made from 100% organic sugarcane grown in the protected national park of Chapada Diamantina in Bahia, Northern Brazil. Crafted by master distiller Marcos Vaccaro – an expert in organic agriculture – Abelha Silver is rested for six months in stainless steel tanks, while the Gold bottling is aged for three years in casks made from an ash wood native to Brazil called garapeira. We know Vaccaro is devoted to the cause, because he takes care to reused and recycle the by-products of every distillation of Abelha elsewhere on the farm, even running his car on the stuff. Plus, he lives in a treehouse.

The traditional Caipirinha – made with lime – isn’t the only version of the drink. “In Brazil, we say that we are very creative people,” says Morgana. “We make everything in a thousand different flavours.” A common twist on the cocktail is the Caipifruta, which consists of cachaça, crushed fresh fruits, and ice. “You can do strawberry, lime and passionfruit… You just change the fruit,” she continues. “I’ve tried a mango and pink peppercorn one before. That’s super good.”

Now that looks more like a Caipirinha

Whether you choose to keep things traditional or switch up the recipe, you’ll need little in the way of equipment. “Making a Caipirinha at home is really easy because you don’t need any equipment,” says Morgana. “You can muddle with anything, even a rolling pin. There’s no shaker. You just need a spoon, it can be a teaspoon. As long as you have good cachaça and good limes – and you muddle until the sugar has dissolved – that’s all you need.”

50ml Abelha Cachaça
1 tbsp sugar
1 lime, sliced in half lengthwise and cut into quarters or eighths.

In a double rocks glass, combine the lime segments with the sugar and use a muddler to gently crush and squeeze the limes. Add the cachaça and stir well. Add crushed ice and stir. Serve immediately with a slice of lime to garnish.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Rum Bonfire

This week we’re shaking up a special seasonal cocktail using Burning Barn, a smoked rum inspired by a tale of triumph of adversity. It’s just the thing to sip round…

This week we’re shaking up a special seasonal cocktail using Burning Barn, a smoked rum inspired by a tale of triumph of adversity. It’s just the thing to sip round a blazing fire as the winter nights draw in.

You know the phrase ‘when life gives you lemons, make lemonade’? I’ve never quite understood why it’s a metaphor for turning a bad thing around, surely lemons are a good thing, no? Especially if someone is giving them away. The story behind this week’s cocktail makes more sense: when your father-in-law’s barn burns down, start a rum business. 

This is just what happened to a barn belonging to Katherine Jenner’s husband’s father. His barn, the home of the family fruit  business, burnt down in 2015 and rather than just take the hint and retire, he rebuilt everything from scratch. As Jenner puts it: “If he can rebuild a business in his 60s we can start a business in our late 20s.” Her background is in wine, with a stint working with Lidl on its Wine Cellar range. Jenner saw how craft beer and gin had taken off but was disappointed by the range of rums especially flavoured ones available. So she thought she could do better herself. This was the germ of the idea for Burning Barn.

Katherine Jenner looking very on-brand

It’s something of a message for our times. Jenner said: “We hope to inspire people with a message of hope in the face of adversity. Everyone has their own burning barn or pandemic to deal with. Take action, go outside, follow your dreams, and not let that get you down.”

Everything begins with a high quality rum from the Diamond Distillery in Guyana aged three years in ex-bourbon casks. “We quickly decided we wanted to use dark rum that had been aged which would have been very expensive to do in the UK,” she said. There is a plan at some point to start distilling themselves but, because of you-know-what, plans are on hold at the moment. “We’d love to make a white rum. That would be pretty cool for the on-trade,” Jenner told us, “bartenders are really engaged with rum. We’ll have to see what works and what doesn’t.” 

The Burning Barn range consists of three bottlings: a rum liqueur infused with honey from the family’s own hives; a spiced rum infused with coconut, ginger and chilli with no additives or artificial flavours; and finally a smoked one. The last one is made very very carefully. “We don’t want another burning barn”, Jenner joked. “We have a smoker, separate from rum itself so by the time smoke reaches the rum, it’s cool.” The rum sits in an old apple juice tank with an oak lid, and the smoke comes from burning applewood. Nothing else is added, no need when you have such high quality rum, so you get a very clean smoky taste where you can really taste the apple. “We don’t alter sweetness at all from when it comes, we don’t add any sugar or anything,” Jenner said. 

Behold, the Rum Bonfire!

The smoked rum is subtle, with sweet apple smoked notes, which compliment the high quality Guyana base. In short, it’s great in really simple cocktails so those flavours don’t get lost. The one we’re making this week is called the Rum Bonfire and it blends smoked rum with Burning Barns’ spiced expression with bitters and a little golden syrup (though you could use simple sugar or honey.) It’s served on crushed ice which is great fun but it also works well served with ice cubes for slow fireside shipping. 

Right, let’s get shaking!

25ml Burning Barn Spiced Rum
25ml Burning Barn Smoked Rum
1/2 teaspoon golden syrup
Dash of nut bitters
Dash of Angostura bitters 

Dry shake all the ingredients and pour over crushed ice in a Martini glass. Garnish with toasted marshmallows for the full Bonfire Night experience. 

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Cocktail of the Week: Deano’s Margarita

This week we’re honouring both Sober October and Black History Month with a zero-alcohol serve made to support diversity and inclusivity as part of the Equal Measures UK initiative. A…

This week we’re honouring both Sober October and Black History Month with a zero-alcohol serve made to support diversity and inclusivity as part of the Equal Measures UK initiative.

A lot goes on in October. There’s people trying to abstain from alcohol (I’m sure you’ve seen our Sober October coverage), there’s folks embracing their spooky side and, 2020 aside, plenty of Oktoberfest-based shenanigans. However, in the UK, October is also Black History Month. It was launched in London in 1987 to educate people about history that was not taught in school. Over the years it’s become a platform to celebrate people of colour within our society and to draw attention to causes that aim to address the lack of progress that’s been made in the name of equality.

This year Deano Moncrieffe, an award-winning bartender and owner of Hacha (the amazing agave spirits bar in Daltson, London) has founded the Equal Measures initiative, to “raise awareness around diversity and inclusion within the hospitality industry”. Here’s how it works: each day of October, Moncrieffe shares a cocktail that’s been inspired by a person of colour who the creator believes has had a positive impact on society on the Equal Measures Instagram page. Instead of championing historical figures, the guests are encouraged to talk about people close to them.

Deano's Margarita

Say hello to Deano Moncrieffe!

“I wanted to drive the positive agenda around diversity and the importance of our hospitality industry reflecting the society it serves in the UK,” Moncrieffe explains. “I’ve been fortunate enough to travel all over the world and it’s surprised me how few cocktails are inspired by people of colour. I thought this initiative was a great opportunity to shine the light on black individuals who have made a positive impact but have not been widely recognised or spoken about as much as they should be inside our industry”. 

Moncrieffe also felt there needed to be a greater level of transparency on how companies promote and support diversity programs, explaining while there are plenty of diversity programs in place in the hospitality industry, “no one really knows what it is they actually do, how they measure success and how they intend to support people from BAME  communities”.

Education was the final key driver behind Equal Measures, with Moncrieffe describing it as the “absolute key to us moving forward positively in the hospitality industry when it comes to diversity and inclusion”, adding that means education around “how racism can affect the mental health of your co-workers, how people from many different backgrounds should be represented in senior management positions but currently, the numbers do not reflect this, how we up-skill BAME individuals already in the industry to help set them up for successful careers with the same potential for progression as their coworkers and, finally, education at recruitment level so we can attract more individuals from BAME communities to join our wonderful industry”.

Deano's Margarita

Vidal made the cocktail to honour her friend and the founder of the Equal Measures initiative

This week’s cocktail is one that was made with the Equal Measures initiative in-mind and excitingly, actually honours Moncrieffe himself. It was created by the wonderful Camille Vidal, founder of mindful cocktail website, La Maison Wellness and something of a regular on this blog. Vidal says she made it to support her “dear friend Deano”, and encourages her readers that while drinking this Margarita they should take a moment “to reflect on what positive impact you can make, how you can support inclusivity and diversity in your community. If you are a person of colour we want you to know that you are always welcome”. Hear, hear.

At the base of her serve, Mockingbird Spirit, a Tequila substitute that was crafted to evoke the flavours of agave-based spirits, but without the alcohol. It’s made with blue weber agave, as well as ashwagandha, and has an earthy, peppery and sweet (think vanilla) profile. There’s also fresh lime juice, naturally, and organic agave syrup, which is a neat touch that adds a pleasant sweetness. It also works great as a glue to rim or strip your glass (see the image) for the salt to stick to. Organic activated charcoal, which is said to have all kinds of wellness properties (although it is to be used carefully, there’s more info here), is a first for me, but I do love how it makes the drink delightfully dark, meaning it actually works as a Halloween serve too! 

Deano’s Margarita is super simple to make and champions a really good cause, so we do hope you enjoy it and appreciate what Moncrieffe is trying to do. If you’d like to follow his progress day-by-day, you’ll be pleased to know he intends to do Equal Measures every year. “I’m keen to see it grow and develop into something much bigger,” he says. “I’m really pleased how it’s gone this year considering the obvious challenges of constantly moving goalposts due to COVID-19 restrictions and government guidelines which have placed our industry in such a perilous position”.  Good thing we can still imbibe cocktails at home. Here’s how to make Deano’s Margarita: 

Deano's Margarita

60ml of Mockingbird Spirit
30ml of fresh lime juice
15ml of organic agave syrup
1/2 tsp of organic activated charcoal (sounds complicated but actually widely available)
Spray of mezcal (optional)

First prep your glass by brushing a little bit of agave syrup around the rim of your glass, then sprinkle black & white salt on it. Add your Mockingbird Spirit, lime juice, agave syrup, organic activated charcoal and ice to a cocktail. Give it a good firm shake and then pop some ice in your glass before you strain the mixture in. If you like, you can add a spray of mezcal, which will keep your cocktail under 0.5%, so still technically non-alcoholic.

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