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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Martini

Classic bars – The Gibson

In the second part of our occasional series on classic bars, we head to a listed, Edwardian ex-pub in Old Street, that specialises in a certain pickle-adorned cocktail. Welcome to…

In the second part of our occasional series on classic bars, we head to a listed, Edwardian ex-pub in Old Street, that specialises in a certain pickle-adorned cocktail. Welcome to The Gibson.

Head to 44 Old Street and you’d be forgiven for thinking the petite Edwardian building is a natty little boozer, complete with a hanging pub sign and green-tiled exterior walls. Venture inside, however, and you’ll find one of London’s most lauded bars.

The Gibson was opened by bartender Marian Beke in 2016 and won sixth place in the World’s 50 Best Bars soon after. Since then this 1930s-style tribute to the glamour and ceremony of cocktail culture has drawn visitors on the search for Beke’s famous Gibson Martinis (incidentally, my favourite cocktail), cigar collection, stellar service, treasure-trove decor and nightly changing live music.

It’s an industry favourite too, attracting bartenders from around the world wanting to get behind its uplit, copper bar to take advantage of Beke’s many homemade ingredients, house pickles and one-of-a-kind glassware. So, where did it all begin?

The Gibson Bar London

It looks like an ordinary boozer in Old Street

Pickle me this

“I used to work at Nightjar which is a great place, and I think it was just the next step,” explains Beke of his decision to set up shop solo. “In our industry you work 18/19 hours a day and I was thinking, I’m 30/31 now, if I wait until I’m 36 or 37, it might just be too difficult.”

To find the perfect spot, Beke had to have three or four ideas for his bar in the bag to account for the unknowns of location, size and licensing laws of his new venture. And then he found an 1870s listed building off the crossroads of Old Street and Clerkenwell Road, and the rest fell into place.

“When you look at the outside, it looks like a pub, it’s very English and with gin being very British, we asked what drink was the king of gin – the Martini.” Back in 2016, although some bars were championing the famous cocktail, Beke found that there was a distinct lack of Gibson culture (a gin Martini with a pickled onion).

The original cocktail is thought to be named after Charles Dana Gibson, a turn-of-the-20th-century American illustrator. He created the Gibson Girl, a pictorial representation of an independent Euro-American woman which Beke adopted as his logo, hung her image outside his bar, and The Gibson bar was born.

Gibson Girl

It’s a Gibson Girl!

Drinking time

The 50-odd-strong cocktail menu starts, of course with three iterations of the famous Gibson Martini. Its signature, inspired by William Boothby’s 1908 book The World’s Drinks, combines Copperhead Gin, pickling spice, Martini Ambrato Riserva, house double-pickled onion and a twist of lemon. This is followed by the Redistilled Gibson which macerates its ingredients for 72 hours; while the Aged Gibson Martini is aged in ex-balsamic barrels for six months.

The rest of the menu doesn’t escape Charles Gibson’s influence either. “I was looking for something different,” says Beke of what he wanted to create back in 2016. He found inspiration in Gibson’s 1901 Life’s Gibson Calendar. “The calendar concept is interesting, because people do relate to different months,” says Beke. “January has its own flavours, slowly moving through to June, July and August relating to summer with more fruity flavours, and then to December with the likes of whisky cocktails.”

Described as a ‘time machine’ the menu includes cocktails with names such as Gnome Alone, Royal Warrant, Jaffa Cakes and Bread & Butter with each month having four cocktails, one for each week of the month, and drinks comprising up to as many as 10 ingredients. As with his homemade pickles, Beke has also introduced some standout additions into his drinks. The house Red Snapper includes lobster broth and horseradish squid ink; the Shanghai Sling uses a duck fat-washed rum; you’ll find cannabis syrup in your Lindo Gaucho; and if you’ve ever wanted to try preserved salty duck egg Advocaat, do yourself a favour and order The Frying Dutchman.

I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t mention the tiki-esque glassware. Think cocktails served in a golden foot, an open hippo mouth, as a lightbulb, swimming in a paper hat and hanging from a monkey’s tail. Of course, what’s inside the glass is most important for Beke, but he’s been clever to recognise the role that social media can play in a bar’s success. He also saw first-hand guests’ reactions when he took those visuals away: “For the first time after five years, we decided to do something simple, seasonal and served in the likes of Champagne flutes with 30% off. So many people were like ‘no, no where is the proper glass?’ – it was so funny to see what happens when you take the glass or garnish away.”

Inside the Gibson

Inside the Gibson

Gibson on wheels

Thankfully, Covid hasn’t stopped Beke turning out his creations and the Gibson Boutique is a one-stop shop for all of our home drinking needs. Cigars, cocktail art and even pieces from the back bar (Gibson Lager, Electric Bitters, The Gibson’s Del Professore Pickled Vermouth) can be purchased, as well as a selection of garnishes – beer lego jellies, porcupine quills *add to cart*.

Drinks include Gibson Martini sets, all three signature Gibsons, Buttered Old Fashioneds, a Pink Death in the Afternoon and the three-pepper Kiss of a Scorpion.

It goes without saying though that I and the bars many other fans can’t wait to get back inside (or outside) the building. Beke’s focus on service is one of The Gibson’s most defining features, with seated only service, side pickles to nibble on, live music, and digestif shots and chocolate arriving with the bill, the whole experience of drinking at 44 Old Street is a memorable and unexpected one. “I always prefer it when people don’t know us and are passing by and imagine they’re walking into a pub,” explains Beke of what he hopes guests feel when they visit, “I want them to think this is the best experience they’ve had in a long time.”

The Gibson bar

I just popped in for a pint, and now this…

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Brighton Gin: spirit of the seaside

Kathy Caton swapped the radio mic for the lab coat when she founded Brighton Gin with some local friends back in 2012. Since then the brand has gone from strength…

Kathy Caton swapped the radio mic for the lab coat when she founded Brighton Gin with some local friends back in 2012. Since then the brand has gone from strength to strength despite some early setbacks like exploding stills and botanicals disasters. 

Many of us have ideas after some drinks but few of us manage to turn them into a business.  The Brighton Gin story began when Kathy Caton was having a few gin-based cocktails with a friend one night. The following day, feeling surprisingly chipper while running around her home town of Brighton, she had the revelation to create her own brand of gin. She explained: “Gin is the one thing that lets me get away with it. Brighton is a place that needs to get away with it on a frequent basis. Boom! That’s it, I was going to make Brighton gin. It was just one of those proper lightbulb moments.”

This was in 2010 just before the gin boom. “Gin has always been my drink,” she said, “it’s hard to imagine how wildly unfashionable it used to be when I was at university.” But gin’s image was changing rapidly and it was now much easier for new distilleries thanks to Sipsmith and Sacred laying the groundwork with HMRC. “I thought there was going to be a moment. But I absolutely had no idea that that moment would be what gin is now. People with gin bars at home. Gin festivals. Gin tattoos!” she said.

Kathy Caton from Brighton Gin

Kathy Caton: gin lover (Photo by Liz Finlayson/Vervate)
Brighton Gin portraits on Brighton Beach

Easy does it

Caton had a strong vision for Brighton gin: “I wanted to make something that is of the best quality, that’s built on ethical and sustainable practices, made by a really diverse team,” she said. But her background in radio, with stints at BBC World Service, Radio 4 and Reverb Radio in Brighton, weren’t a lot of help for making gin. “I had very clear thoughts about how I wanted it to taste and the experience of it, but really bugger-all clue about how to do it,” she said. She realised that she would need the help of a scientist. The only one she knew was Dr Easy aka Ian Barry who is a physicist when she really needed a chemist, but beggars can’t be choosers. 

Their first still was a little unusual. It was a glass apparatus which was used in the not hugely successful Samuel L. Jackson film, The 51st State, and Caton picked it up for £100 on Ebay. “We set it up in Easy’s kitchen. Looking back now we were just really dangerous and clueless. But each time you make a mistake you’re like ‘well we won’t do that again!’ and you learn more and more from it,” she explained.

Then she had a lot of fun experimenting. She described the process as like Road Dahl’s book George’s Marvelous Medicine, “everything would go in.” Initial batches were not promising: “They were so overloaded with stuff, they tasted like Domestos. I’m still using that for cleaning around my flat!”

But gradually, through trial and error, she narrowed it down to what she wanted. “Licorice was one of the things that was very early on the list to be booted out, “ she said. She was looking for a classic profile, a gin that tasted like juniper and citrus. Along with Dr Easy, she also called on the palate of top wine writer Johnny Ray who became an investor in the business.

The Brighton Gin team

Oh, they do like to be beside the seaside! (photo by Liz Finlayson/Vervate)

The gin boom!

Horrible early batches weren’t the only problems they encountered. “I popped out for a bag of crisps, which again, I would now never do. I would never leave anything running and just pop out to the corner shop,” she said. “When I came back I discovered what happens when you have windows open, glass and mirrors and quite strong sunlight bouncing around. There was a lot of clearing up to do.” The Samuel L. Jackson still had exploded! Fortunately nobody was hurt.

“I then went down what I now realise is the more sensible route of getting a small copper alembic and really just learning the process of distillation,” Caton said. She found that running the stills slowly got the best results though achieving consistency in the early days was not easy. 

The final recipe uses a “super-smooth organic wheat spirit as the base,” she said, with juniper from Macedonia and coriander seed “from Ringmer just eight or nine miles from where I am at the moment and that’s got quite a lemony spice to it.” They use fresh lime and orange peels, meaning lots of hard peeling work, “but those fresh peels definitely bring a different spectrum of flavour to it really,” she said. They do a cold maceration and then a warm one before distillation with everything in together. Now, though, she has now handed over distilling duties to Paul Revell, “ a former riot copper and also a former prima ballerina.” So Brighton!

Brighton Gin

Strong branding

Brighton belles

Brighton gin hit the shelves in 2013 and had an immediate impact. A delicious product helps as well as a strong brand trading on the town’s image.There can be few more apt places to make gin than Brighton, sharing as they do a seedy sort of glamour. This dates back to when the town was a favourite haunt of the Prince Regent in the late 18th and early 19th century: “the Prince Regent’s favourite breakfast drink, which he called ‘cherry cordial’ was basically a pint of cherry gin. So maraschino liqueur and gin, by the pint.” Caton said.

From the early days, it developed a strong local following and from there it developed into a national brand. It helped having a journalist on board in the form of Johnny Ray who made sure Brighton Gin was served at the Spectator magazine’s famous parties.

Since those heady early days, the gin market has been transformed. Caton said: “There’s been a huge explosion in flavoured and sweetened gins,” which she hopes will get new drinkers into the market. Brighton gin, however, has just stuck to its classic expression with a Seaside Strength version at Navy ABV appearing a couple of years ago. She doesn’t want to release anything unless it is perfect and consistent nor go down the limited edition route. But she hinted that the team is working on a new product, “they’re not ready to shout about it yet but nearly.”

The standard bottling is a wonderful product that manages to be absolutely classic but highly distinctive with its strong orange note. It really is smooth enough to drink neat and so naturally it’s superb in a Dry Martini. Caton said: “Cocktail-wise, I absolutely love and have never really grown out of a Negroni”. It’s a great all round gin making a lovely G&T with a slice of orange to bring out the orange in the botanical mix

Brighton Gin and Tonic

Makes a great G&T

Then comes the lockdown

Their business has changed a lot since the pandemic with the shuttering of the on-trade and not having festivals to go to. She explained: “Our business has been able to change virtually overnight to focus on selling direct to consumers through our website and supporting the off-trade and various other online sellers”. They have been making hand sanitiser as well as making deliveries on their Brighton Gin bikes. “I did quite a lot of public crying delivering to people. I remember delivering to a lovely woman down in Hove who had ordered a couple of bottles and some hand sanitiser and her saying ‘actually I’ve already got five bottles of your gin in my cupboard but I really want to see you all survive and I love what you’re doing with the hand sanitiser’.”

But with things opening up from the 8 March, it looks like the worst will soon be over. “I know that summer is coming again, we will be on the beach again some time!’” Caton said. Amen to that.

Brighton Gin is available from Master of Malt

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Top ten: Vermouths 

Forget the old days of just French or Italian, vermouth is now a broad church with examples from Spain, Australia, and England joining the old counties in a celebration of…

Forget the old days of just French or Italian, vermouth is now a broad church with examples from Spain, Australia, and England joining the old counties in a celebration of all things bitter. Here are ten of our favourite vermouths with tips on the best ways to mix them.

Vermouth sales have been booming since the various lockdowns came into effect. Hasn’t that year just flown by? Still, at least we’ve got pretty good at making cocktails, especially with all these exciting vermouth brands around. So we thought it a good idea to round-up some of our favourites. We’ve included some stone cold classics, some recently-arrived brands and some innovative new vermouths from established producers. Something for everyone. 

What is vermouth?

Vermouth is simply wine flavoured with wormwood, the word is derived from the German for wormwood, and other botanicals, fortified with alcohol and sweetened. The EU rules state that it  has to be flavoured with wormwood, made with at least 75% wine and between 14.5% and 22.5% ABV. The wine can be red, white or even pink. Colours vary from straw yellow to deep red, sweetness levels from extra dry (around 30g of sugar per litre) to extremely sweet (130g per litre or more). 

So, welcome to the wide world of vermouth. Your cocktail cabinet isn’t complete without a couple of these:

Noilly Prat Vermouth

Noilly Prat Original Dry

One of the great originals. This is still made in the south of France from Picpoul and Clairette grapes, steeped with botanicals, fortified and then left out in barrels in the sun where it acquires a nutty cooked taste not unlike Madeira.

How to drink it?

For many this is the ultimate Martini vermouth, but it’s also great in a long drink with tonic and a slice of lemon. 

Regal Rogue Daring Dry vermouth

Regal Rogue Daring Dry Vermouth

A vermouth with a distinctive Australian twist using organic wines from New South Wales alongside native botanicals such as anise myrtle, quandong and native thyme. It’s bottled with less sugar than a normal dry so you can really appreciate the quality of the wine.

How to drink it?

Mark Ward from Regal Rogue recommends having it in a very wet Dry Martini in a 1:1 ratio and served straight up.

Sacred English Dry Vermouth

Sacred English Dry Vermouth

This is made using English wines from Three Choirs vineyard in Gloucestershire by one of England’s craft gin pioneers. It’s the vermouth of choice for Alessandro Palazzi at Duke’s Bar in London. Say no more. 

How to drink it?

Well, it has to be a Dry Martini but made a little wetter than Palazzi does. We love a 5:1 gin to vermouth ratio especially with a brand this good.

Gonzalez Byass La Copa vermouth extra seco

Gonzalez Byass Vermouth La Copa Blanco Extra Seco 

Spanish vermouth is really having a moment at the moment and some of the most exciting bottlings are coming from sherry producers. This extra dry is crisp and refreshing and you can really taste that nutty fino sherry on the finish.

How to drink it?

Try it in Nate Brown’s favourite, a Bamboo. Half Tio Pepe fino sherry, half vermouth, stirred with ice and served straight up with a dash of orange bitters.

Scarpa Extra Dry vermouth

Scarpa Vermouth Di Torino Extra Dry

This is a very special bottling, made with Cortese grapes (like Gavi) from Piedmont, native Italian botanicals including chamomile and elderflower, only 30g of sugar per litre and, most unusually, bottled unfiltered. This is vermouth at its finest.

How to drink it?

The flavour is intense so a little makes a great Spritz with Prosecco and fizzy water. Or sip it chilled with snacks like you would a manzanilla sherry.

El Bandarra al fresco

El Bandarra Al Fresco

Just part of the new wave of Spanish vermouths that we reported on last year. The brand was started by twin brothers Albert and Alex Virgili. The Al Fresco version is made from Garnacha wines with botanicals including liquorice, rose, citrus fruits and mint.

How to drink it?

In a Spritz with cava, fizzy water and a slice of orange. Or just mixed with tonic.

Lustau vermut rojo

Lustau Vermut Rojo

Another great sherry vermouth made by one of Spain’s most prestigious producers, Lustau. This sweet vermouth is made from high quality sherry wines steeped with flavours including gentian, coriander and orange peel. You will love the long nutty finish.

How to drink it?

We recommend drinking it in a Palmetto. Stir 50ml good Jamaican rum like Plantation Xaymaca with 50ml Lustau Rojo with ice and serve straight up with a twist of orange.

Martini Riserva Speciale Rubino

Martini Riserva Speciale Rubino

Made by the largest vermouth producer in the world but this is very different to its standard rosso. For a start, it gets its colour from red Nebbiolo wines and the result is something perfumed, elegant and packed full of flavour.

How to drink it:

Lighter than most rosso vermouths, this makes the freshest Negroni you’ve ever had. Also irresistible in a Gin & It.

Hotel Starlino Rosso vermouth

Hotel Starlino Rosso Vermouth

A new Italian vermouth brand from the team who brought your Malfy gin so you can bet the branding is strong. The contents are great too. Made by the experts at Torino Distillati, this is a fairly trad rosso except that it’s aged in bourbon casks. 

How to drink it?

With those whiskey casks there’s one cocktail in which it particularly shines, the Manhattan, but it’s great with all dark spirits. 

Casa Mariol black vermouth

Casa Mariol

This is made by a winery in the Terra Alta region of Catalonia. Outside Jerez, this place is the heartland of Spanish vermouth. The wines are local, naturally, and botanicals include orange peel, rosemary and cardamom. 

How to drink it?

Gin and It, or rather, a Gin & Span. Take one measure of gin, Sacred Cardamom would be superb, one measure of vermouth and serve on ice with a twist of orange. 

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Easy cocktails to make at home

From the Negroni to the Old Fashioned, here are five easy cocktails to make at home without any equipment more elaborate than a shaker and a jigger. Once you’ve mastered the…

From the Negroni to the Old Fashioned, here are five easy cocktails to make at home without any equipment more elaborate than a shaker and a jigger. Once you’ve mastered the basics, we’ve included tips for how you can upgrade your drink.

Since the strange events of the past year, we’ve become quite proficient home bartenders here at Master of Malt, able to whip up a fairly passable Martini in no time at all. It might not look quite as fancy as one at the Savoy but it certainly hits the spot. That’s the great thing about the classic cocktails, you don’t need a lot of elaborate equipment to make them. In fact, just turn to our home bar essentials page for a good list of bottles you can make pretty much everything with. A proper shaker is worth having and a jigger, and then you’re ready to go. Cocktail nirvana awaits.

Dry Martini with olive easy cocktails to make at home

How to make a Dry Martini:

The king of cocktails! Probably more has been written about the Dry Martini than any other cocktail. The big question is: how strong do you like yours? Some people just like a splash of vermouth, but we like it a little wetter. It’s really up to you. However you like it, use top-quality gin, plenty of ice and whatever you do, don’t shake it!

Basic recipe:

60ml Bathtub Gin
10ml Dolin dry vermouth

First, chill your Martini glass, then fill a shaker with ice and add the ingredients and stir for 30 seconds. Pour into the glass and garnish with an olive. 

Top tip: Keep your gin in the freezer and vermouth in the fridge and your Martini will come out extra cold with less dilution.

The upgrade: Use new make spirit or unaged Armagnac instead of gin for a spicy alternative. 

Old Fashioned - easy cocktails to make at home

How to make an Old Fashioned:

The original cocktail. In the olden timey days a cocktail simply meant a mixture of spirit with water, sugar, ice and bitters. Rye whiskey or bourbon are the most common spirits used but the Old Fashioned can be made with pretty much anything under the sun such as rum, single malt Scotch whisky, mezcal, Tequila, or gin. 

Basic recipe:

60ml Black & Gold 11 Year Old Bourbon
1 tablespoon sugar syrup
Angostura Bitters to taste

Fill a tumbler with ice, add all the ingredients and stir thoroughly for 30 seconds. Taste, add more bitters of sugar syrup if you want. Express a piece of orange peel over the top, drop it in and serve.

Top tip: Don’t bother mucking about with sugar cubes like Don Draper in Mad Men, just use a simple syrup.

Upgrade: Use sweet sherry-like a cream or PX instead of sugar syrup. This works particularly well if you’re using a sherry cask whisky.

Negroni easy cocktails to make at home

How to make a Negroni:

Probably the easiest of easy cocktails, the bitter complex Negroni was once a trade secret, beloved by bartenders but thought a little too much for your average customer. Well, not any more, the Negroni is very much mainstream. Part of the appeal is it’s so easy to make. Just make sure you’ve got plenty of good cold ice and you’re ready to go.

Basic recipe:

30ml Campari
30ml Martini Rosso
30ml Beefeater London Dry Gin

Add all the ingredients to an ice-filled tumbler. Still well, express a piece of orange peel and drop it in.

Top tip: A trad juniper-forward London Dry works best. We’ve had some Negroni disasters with liquorice-heavy and other unusual gins.

Upgrade: Everything is up for grabs with a Negroni. Try swapping the gin for mezcal, play around with different vermouths or even use something else like Amaro Montenegro instead of Campari.

Daiquiri Naturale easy cocktails to make at home

How to make a Daiquiri:

Nowadays when you order a Daiquiri in Havana, you tend to get the frozen version. What we have here is what’s known in Cuba as a Daiquiri Naturale. There are so many different ratios out there, this one comes from Simon Difford and it works beautifully.

Basic recipe:

50ml Havana Club Añejo 3 Year Old
15ml lime juice
10ml sugar syrup

Shake ingredients with plenty of ice and double strain into a chilled Martini glass. Serve with a wedge of lime

Top tip: Be carefully when squeezing the limes that you don’t get any oils from the skin in as this can make your Daiquiri bitter.

Upgrade: Use dark rum and a little coffee liqueur to make a rich Daiquiri Mulata, a great after-dinner sipper. 

Manhattan cocktail with orange peel, easy cocktails to make at home

How to make a Manhattan:

A good way to think of a Manhattan is that it’s a sweet Martini made with dark spirits instead of gin. Rye is traditional but there’s a whole family of similar drinks such as the Rob Roy, made with Scotch, the Emerald, with Irish whiskey, and the Harvard, using Cognac. 

Basic recipe:

50ml Michter’s US*1 Rye
25ml Cinzano Rosso 1757
Dash of Angostura bitters

Stir ingredients with lots of ice in a shaker and strain into a cold coupe or a Nick & Nora. Express a piece of orange zest over and drop into the glass. 

Top tip: Though the Manhattan is traditionally served straight up, it’s also excellent on the rocks for when you want your easy cocktail fix quick.

Upgrade: Add a tablespoon of Fernet Branca to your Manhattan to give it a powerful menthol breeze. It’s like cough medicine for grown-ups. 

 

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The influence of films and TV on what we drink

With a new season of Sex and the City about to go into production, Lucy Britner looks at some of film & TV’s most celebrated drinks and drinkers and asks…

With a new season of Sex and the City about to go into production, Lucy Britner looks at some of film & TV’s most celebrated drinks and drinkers and asks just how much influence they have had on what we order at the bar.

“Why did we ever stop drinking these?” Miranda asks Carrie of the Cosmopolitan at the end of the first Sex and the City film. “Because everyone else started,” she replies.

From SATC to Mad Men, James Bond, Entourage and all the way back to The Thin Man in the 1930s, the world of TV and film has given us some famous drinks – and some infamous drinkers. But exactly how much sway do films and TV shows have over what we drink? And were some of these trends destined to happen anyway?

“I had to learn how to make a Cosmopolitan because of Sex and the City,” says bartending legend Salvatore ‘The Maestro’ Calabrese, who, in usual circumstances can be found at The Donovan Bar at Brown’s Hotel in London. “I’d never heard of it but people started asking for it.” 

Sex and the City

Does anyone fancy a pint? (photo courtesy of HBO)

Calabrese explains that in the US, serves usually featured more cranberry juice, whereas in Europe, just enough was added to give the drink, which is “basically a twist on a Kamikaze”, a pink hue.  

The Maestro says that in the late 90s and early 2000s, when SATC was airing, more women took an interest in bars, cocktails, Cosmos and twists on Martinis. He also points out that it was the era when London’s bar scene was really coming to life. LAB in Soho opened its doors in 1999 and Match around the same time.

Calabrese says until the 90s, bars were “taboo” and media coverage centred around chefs and wine. “These shows helped to bring bars and bartending to peoples’ attention,” he says.

Which came first?

There is, however, a bit of a ‘chicken and egg’ situation. New York-based cocktail historian David Wondrich (author of Punch) says that both SATC and Mad Men were influential, “but not to the extent touted by their fans”. “The Cosmopolitan/drinks in Martini glasses and Old-Fashioned trends were already growing before the shows,” he says, “but they certainly did give them each a boost.”

And as for rye whiskey (a key component in Don Draper’s Old Fashioned), it was already a thing. “Rye was in all the cocktail bars and had been a thing since about 2003,” says Wondrich. “But again, the show worked like a booster rocket that kicked in just in time to put the spirit to escape velocity.”

Mad Men also did great things for Canadian Club sales, according to brand marketing agency Hollywood Branded, which was responsible for the placement. The agency says on its site that after seven consecutive years of declining sales, Canadian Club obtained 4.3% annual sales growth since it debuted on the show. “While Beam does not attribute all the sales growth to the TV exposure, the company believes it has reinvigorated popular perceptions of the product,” Hollywood Branded notes.

Indeed, product placement is important and John Gakuru, who used to manage LAB in the early 2000s and is now US director of sales & marketing for specialist drinks agency Sweet&Chilli, describes a “never ending merry-go-round of alcohol brand sponsorships in TV and movies”. He used the example of Avión Tequila which launched itself, with great success, in HBO’s comedy-drama series Entourage.

One of Avión’s founders is a childhood friend of the show’s creator and it’s widely reported that not a penny changed hands to get Avión into the script. Gakuru says the show even “goes so far as to have a scene where Patrón was rejected in favour of Avión”. “This is a very, very powerful part of the marketing mix,” he adds. The show did wonders for the brand and the owners eventually sold it to global drinks giant Pernod Ricard.

Gakuru says it is clear that movies, TV and music can significantly move the needle when it comes to brands and cocktails.

Sean Connery as James Bond making a vodka Martini

Sean Connery as James Bond making a vodka Martini, shaken, not stirred

No shakes

And none have consistently attracted as much attention as James Bond and the Martini.

“Ian Fleming not only changed the spirit but he changed the method,” says Calabrese, pointing out that before Bond, a Martini was always gin and never shaken. Gakuru also highlights the James Bond effect. “Unfortunately anyone ordering a shaken vodka Martini in my bar in London in the early 2000s would elicit the largest, slowest and most obvious of eye rolls,” he says. “I mean, is the customer always right?!”

This departure from the original recipe caused a stir in the bar world – and a missed opportunity for Calabrese. In 2005, the Maestro was hosting a Casino Royale party at his bar at the time, Salvatore at Fifty. He served a Martini to the film’s director Martin Campbell, who was so impressed he said Calabrese should appear in the film. The Maestro refused: “I said I would not go on a movie and demonstrate the wrong way to make a Martini.” That’s dedication to the cause.

And though Gakuru wasn’t a fan either, he concedes that James Bond’s ‘vodka Martini, shaken not stirred’ is the cocktail that was the most ordered in his tenure behind the bar.

Though according to Gakura, the trend has since died away, “as Bond has shifted his drinking habits around, in line with the franchise’s sponsorship deals”.

The Thin Man

Sadly in this poster they’re drinking out of coupettes not Nick & Noras

Beyond Bond

Of course, the role of TV and film in drinking culture didn’t start with 007,  Wondrich used the example of The Thin Man, which was released the year after Prohibition ended in the US. “The Thin Man was early and very influential on setting up the idea of the cocktail as glamorous, progressive and fun,” he says. “Of course, that was in the 1930s, and a lot has happened since.” It was so influential that the glass frequently used during the film’s copious cocktail drinking became known after the lead characters, Nick and Nora.  

Meanwhile, the jury is out on whether a single show or movie is likely to have such influence again. Speaking about The Thin Man and Bond, Wondrich points out that “both of those things were before cable TV and the internet fragmented audiences. Modern things can be influential, but it’s harder for them to push across demographics.”

Calabrese concurs, suggesting that today it is the power of social media that helps to spread drinks trends. So, if the Cosmo makes a comeback with the new season of SATC, it’ll probably be down to Instagram.

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10 classic cocktails, served two ways

Thinking of going dry this January, or living with someone who is? We’ve pulled together 10 of our favourite classic cocktail recipes, presented with both boozy ingredients and non-alcoholic spirit…

Thinking of going dry this January, or living with someone who is? We’ve pulled together 10 of our favourite classic cocktail recipes, presented with both boozy ingredients and non-alcoholic spirit alternatives. No matter whether you’re swerving the sauce or in need of a stiff drink over the coming weeks, this guide is for you…

More than four million people signed up to Dry January at the start of 2020, skipping alcohol for 31 sober days to put some sober space between the unfettered indulgence of the festive season and their hopeful new year’s resolutions. While this year’s yuletide has been far from normal, once again many are looking to undertake the challenge and take a welcome break from booze. 

However, going teetotal doesn’t mean ditching your favourite drinks. There have never been more non-alcoholic spirits options available to choose from, with booze-free amarettos, aperitivos, whiskies and gins making flavourful substitutes for the ‘real’ thing. And if you’re not going alcohol-free for a month? You’ll find the original punchy recipe alongside in all its boozy glory…

1. Amaretto Sour

Amaretto is a sweet Italian liqueur traditionally flavoured with almonds or apricot kernels, and with an ABV of around 25 to 28%. Up until recently, there was no way of recreating this classic Sour serve sans booze – then Lyre’s stepped in and changed the game with their Amaretti.

THE ORIGINAL 

Ingredients: 50ml Disaronno, 25ml fresh lemon juice, 5ml sugar syrup, egg white

Method: Shake all the ingredients with ice. Garnish with a slice of lemon.

Amaretto Sour

THE NON-ALC VERSION

Ingredients: 75ml Lyre’s Amaretti, 15ml lemon juice, 5ml sugar syrup, 10ml egg white, 3 dashes aromatic bitters

Method: Rapid shake with ice. Strain into glass and fill with fresh cubed ice. Garnish with a lemon wedge and a Luxardo Maraschino cherry.

2. Old Fashioned

There are few ingredients in an Old Fashioned, making it particularly hard to nail a non-alc version. Three Spirit’s woody, aromatic Nightcap bottling makes a worthy whisky substitute in this drink.

THE ORIGINAL 

Ingredients: 35ml Bulleit Bourbon, 2 bar spoons simple syrup, 3 dashes Angostura Bitters

Method: Add two bar spoons of simple syrup, three dashes of bitters and Bulleit Bourbon to a large rocks glass. Add ice. Stir gently until the level of the ice and liquid equalise. Zest an orange peel over the glass then add the peel to the drink as a garnish.

Old Fashioned

THE NON-ALC VERSION

Ingredients: 50ml Three Spirit The Nightcap, 5 dashes of Angostura Bitters

Method: Combine all ingredients in a whisky-style glass and fill with ice. Stir until ice-cold, garnish with an orange slice, and top with a maraschino cherry.

3. Dirty Martini

With its saline quality and cloudy appearance, the Dirty Martini is a world away from the traditional variation. Pentire’s herbaceous, fresh, coastal flavours really lend themselves to the brininess of the olives. 

THE ORIGINAL

Ingredients: 50ml Sipsmith London Dry Gin, 10-15ml Noilly Prat dry vermouth, 2 barspoons olive brine

Method: Combine Sipsmith Gin, dry vermouth and olive brine in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir for approximately 20 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a few olives. 

Dirty Martini

THE NON-ALC VERSION

Ingredients: 50ml Pentire Adrift, 3 Nocellara olives in brine, 5ml olive brine, 3 black peppercorns, 5ml maple syrup, grapefruit wedge (squeeze)

Method: Shake, strain, and serve over a block of ice. Garnish with an olive.

4. Basil Smash

This classic modern cocktail features a delightful green tinge that’s easily replicated in a non-alc version. Amplify’s lemon, bittersweet orange, earthy juniper and lemongrass notes really set the drink off.

THE ORIGINAL 

Ingredients: 50ml Martin Miller’s Gin, 1 bunch of basil leaves, 25 ml fresh lemon juice, 15ml sugar syrup

Method: Place basil and lemon juice into cocktail shaker. Gentle muddle the basil and lemon juice, ‘smashing’ the ingredients. Add sugar syrup and gin and then top up with ice. Shake and double strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish with basil leaves.

Basil Smash

THE NON-ALC VERSION

Ingredients: 50ml Amplify, 10ml lemongrass syrup, 10ml lemon juice, soda water, handful of basil leaves

Method: Shake all the ingredients together, strain into a highball glass and top with soda. Garnish with a fresh basil leaf if you’re feeling fancy.

5. Margarita

Bright and tangy, the classic Margarita is simple to make and super refreshing. The same goes for Seedlip’s variant, made with its citrus-forward Grove 42 (featuring blood orange, bitter orange and mandarin) as a substitute for the sweet orange liqueur.

THE ORIGINAL 

Ingredients: 2 parts Espolòn Blanco Tequila, ¾ part Grand Marnier, 1 part fresh lime juice, ½ part agave nectar

Method: Shake over ice and strain into an Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.

Margarita

THE NON-ALC VERSION

Ingredients: 50ml Seedlip Grove 42, 1 tbsp agave syrup, 20ml fresh lime juice

Method: Prepare your glass by running a lime wedge around the outside of the rim then roll the rim in salt. Add all the ingredients with ice to a cocktail shaker. Shake and strain over fresh cubes of ice into a tumbler. Garnish with a lime wheel.

6. Manhattan

Non-alcoholic bourbon? It’s a real thing, thanks to the innovative folks at Lyre’s. Rustle up a Manhattan – which is traditionally built around rye (but you can use bourbon) – using their American Malt and Apéritif Rosso for a startlingly similar booze-free serve. 

THE ORIGINAL 

Ingredients: 2 parts Knob Creek Bourbon, ½ part Gonzalez Byass La Copa sweet vermouth, 2-3 dashes Angostura Bitters

Method: Stir and strain into a coupe cocktail glass. Garnish with a Maraschino cherry.

Manhattan

THE NON-ALC VERSION

Ingredients: 60ml Lyre’s American Malt, 15ml Lyre’s Apéritif Rosso, 2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Method: Stir briefly with ice, strain into a small coupette. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

7. Negroni

Given that it’s made entirely from alcoholic ingredients, you’d think it would be impossible to recreate the Negroni. Not so – often dubbed the ‘Nogroni’ when presented without booze, this version combines three non-alc spirits to create the same deliciously bitter effect. 

THE ORIGINAL 

Ingredients: 30ml Campari, 30ml Bathtub Gin, 30ml Martini Rosso vermouth

Ingredients: Pour all ingredients directly into a rock glass filled with ice. Garnish with a slice of orange.

Negroni

THE NON-ALC VERSION

Ingredients: 25ml Seedlip Spice 94, 25ml Æcorn Bitter, 25ml Æcorn Aromatic

Method: Build over ice, garnish with a slice of citrus.

8. Bramble

Another contemporary cocktail that lends itself to experimentation, the classic Bramble’s blackberry liqueur and dry gin can easily be subbed for boozeless alternatives – such as blackberry syrup and Stryyk Not Gin (a distilled non-alcoholic alternative to London dry gin). 

THE ORIGINAL 

Ingredients: 20ml fresh lemon juice, 12.5ml sugar syrup, 45ml Portobello Road London Dry Gin, 25ml Braemble Liqueur

Method: Add lemon juice, sugar syrup and gin to an Old Fashioned glass. Fill the glass with crushed ice, garnish with a blackberry and a mint sprig and then dust with icing sugar. Finish by pouring a measure of Braemble Gin Liqueur over the ice.

The Bramble Cocktail

THE NON-ALC VERSION

Ingredients: 50ml Stryyk Not Gin, 20ml lemon juice, 15ml blackberry syrup

Method: Combine all the ingredients together in a shaker. Shake well before straining into a rocks glass. Garnish with a lemon slice and a blackberry.

9. Tom Collins

First memorialised in writing in the late 19th century by pioneering bartender Jerry Thomas, the simple, refreshing Tom Collins has stood the test of time. Make yours without booze by swapping the gin for floral Fluère Original, with botanicals including juniper, lavender, lime peel and coriander.

THE ORIGINAL 

Ingredients: 50ml Langley’s Old Tom, 20ml lemon juice, 10ml sugar syrup, soda to top

Method: Fill Collins glass with ice. Add Langley’s Old Tom Gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup and soda to glass and stir. Garnish with lemon wedge and cherry.

Tom Collins

THE NON-ALC VERSION

Ingredients: 60ml Fluère, 30ml lemon juice, 20ml simple syrup, soda to top

Method: Build in a Collins glass. Pour all the ingredients over ice cubes until the glass is 3/4 full. Top it off with crushed ice. Garnish with lemon wedge and maraschino cherry, or lemon wedge and a sprig of mint.

10. Aperol Spritz

A well-balanced Spritz has become synonymous with summertime sipping – but did you know you can enjoy the serve sans-booze? Switch the Aperol for Lyre’s Italian Spritz, which combines sweet orange and tangy rhubarb to bring a bright, bittersweet kick to the drink.

THE ORIGINAL 

Ingredients: 1 part Aperol, 1 part Prosecco DOC, soda to top

Method: Fill a wine glass with ice. Add the Prosecco followed by the Aperol. Add a dash of soda and garnish with an orange slice.

Aperol Spritz

THE NON-ALC VERSION

Ingredients: 60ml Lyre’s Italian Spritz, 60ml premium alcohol free ‘Prosecco’, 30ml soda water

Method: Add all ingredients to a large wine glass. Stir, and fill with fresh cubed ice. Garnish with an orange slice.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Gibson

Combining gin, dry vermouth and a pickled pearl onion garnish, the Gibson is an umami-rich, edgy alternative to the traditional Martini. This week, we’re dialling the umami-factor up a notch…

Combining gin, dry vermouth and a pickled pearl onion garnish, the Gibson is an umami-rich, edgy alternative to the traditional Martini. This week, we’re dialling the umami-factor up a notch with the Roku Gibson, a Japanese twist on the serve featuring fresh ginger and sushi vinegar. Here’s how to make the drink… 

The question of ‘who invented the Gibson?’ is best answered with, ‘who didn’t?’. Like many classic cocktails, there are differing theories about its genesis, with almost any influential urbanite with the surname Gibson receiving credit. One theory states the Gibson was invented by illustrator Charles Dana Gibson in the early 1900s, when he asked for an improvement on a Martini at The Players club in New York, while another claims stockbroker Walter Campbell Gibson first ordered the drink at the Ritz Hotel in Paris.

American diplomat and teetotaller Hugh S. Gibson is also implicated in its conception, and is said to have asked for a Martini glass filled with cold water and garnished with an onion to distinguish his drink from the rest at the Metropolitan Club in Washington. Another unnamed Gibson – an investment banker – is said to have ordered the same non-alcoholic iteration during the ‘three-Martini lunch’ phenomenon to stay sober and level-headed as his clients became increasingly sozzled. 

These are just a handful of historic Gibsons who have laid claim to the serve. As it stands, the most widely-accepted origin story involves San Francisco businessman Walter D. K. Gibson, who is said to have created the drink at the Bohemian Club in the 1890s, some 40 years before Charles Dana Gibson propped up the bar at The Players. According to the descendants of this particular Gibson, he preferred his Martini with an onion, as he believed the root vegetable would prevent colds. 

Whatever the true history of the drink may be, the first published reference to the Gibson recipe is in William Boothby’s 1908 book The World’s Drinks And How To Mix Them, as follows: “Into a small mixing-glass place some cracked ice, half a jigger of French vermouth and half a jigger of dry English gin; stir thoroughly until cold, strain into a cocktail glass and serve. NOTE.- no bitters should ever be used in making this drink, but an olive is sometimes added.”

At this time, it was customary to add a dash or two of bitters to a Martini, hence the clarification at the end for the recipe. However,  there’s no mention of an onion garnish, it would be several decades before this aspect of the serve would become a staple part of the Gibson’s recipe. Eventually, the Martini dropped its bitters, and the Gibson’s savoury garnish came to distinguish the drink from its cocktail cousin in all its earthy, sour glory. 

Where the onion brings an umami undertone to the classic Martini, this twist from Japan’s Roku Gin takes the savoury flavours one step further with the addition of fresh ginger and sushi vinegar (also known as rice vinegar). Interestingly, umami – the fifth taste, joining sweet, sour, salty and bitter – was scientifically identified by Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda back in 1907. Ikeda, a professor at  Tokyo Imperial University, noticed that the taste of kombu dashi was distinct from the existing flavour categories, and named his discovery umami, meaning “pleasant savoury taste”. So it’s a fitting twist.

“When combined with dry vermouth in a Martini-style serve, Roku Gin is beautifully balanced with floral notes and citrus, which we have taken to the next level with the addition of flavours reminiscent of Japanese pickled ginger,” says James Bowker, UK brand ambassador for House of Suntory. “Using fresh ginger with sushi vinegar provides both the vibrancy of ginger alongside the gentle sweet and sour acidity of the vinegar, creating a perfectly Japanese expression of the classic Gibson.”

When it comes to garnishing the drink, rather than reaching for a jar of limp pre-pickled onions, try pickling your own at home with salt, malt vinegar and honey (plus fresh herbs and chillies, if you feel adventurous). Not only will they be fresher and crunchier, but they’ll bring a level of depth and complexity to the drink that the shop-bought versions lack. 

As home cocktails go, the Roku Gibson is as straightforward and stylish as they come. “It is an incredibly simple serve which utilises ingredients found in most supermarkets,” says Bowker. “Yet, for such an easy to make drink it has a complexity that demonstrates the best of both British and Japanese bartending traditions.”

50ml Roku Gin
10ml Dolin dry vermouth
1 slice fresh ginger
1 drop sushi vinegar

Add the ingredients into a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a pickled onion. 

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Five minutes with… Simon Difford

We talk about mentors, how to make the perfect Daiquiri and the greatest skill that a bartender can have with a stalwart of the London bar scene, Simon Difford. Oh,…

We talk about mentors, how to make the perfect Daiquiri and the greatest skill that a bartender can have with a stalwart of the London bar scene, Simon Difford. Oh, and he also tells us about the new edition of the magisterial Simon Difford’s Guide to Cocktails.

Anyone who has ever Googled a cocktail recipe will know Simon Difford’s work. He’s the man behind that invaluable drinks resource Difford’s Guide. What makes Difford so trustworthy is you know that he has made and tinkered with every recipe many many times. As well as being good at making them, he’s also obsessive about uncovering the history of classics like the Negroni and the Martini. Not easy when there are so many layers of myth attached to them. When we’re researching drinks for our Cocktail of the Week slot, Difford’s Guide is often our first port of call. 

Now, he’s just launched the 15th edition of Simon Difford’s Guide to Cocktails, which contains over 3,000 recipes with 600 of them new. Yes, he really is a cocktail perfectionist. But he’s also one of the most approachable, friendly people in the business; always keen to talk and offer a word of advice. So here he is, and he’s shared with us three of his favourite cocktails including the outlandishly-named Psychopathia Sexualis, with some top tips on how you too can be a cocktail perfectionist.

It’s Simon Difford!

Master of Malt: How did you get into the drinks business?

Simon Difford: In 1989, I put an advert in the Grocer Magazine saying ‘young agent seeks agencies’ or something along those lines, and this guy called Stan Sklar telephoned me and told me he imported spirits and liqueurs. I said that I knew nothing about the products he sold and I only had contacts with food buyers. He wouldn’t take no for an answer and insisted I went and saw him. So late that Friday afternoon I left the meeting after he filled my car boot with weird and wonderful samples, from mezcal with a worm in the bottle, vampire wine packed in a coffin, and Black Death Vodka with a skeleton on the label. I went home and worked my way through these products with my friends. They were a lot more fun than jars of gherkins and tins of artichoke hearts so I started selling his products, including a lot of J. Wray & Nephew overproof rum.

Stan Sklar offered me a large parcel of miniatures he wanted to clear at a very attractive price. They were under bond in boxes of 12 dozen that couldn’t be split and were all esoteric so difficult to sell. However, the prices were great, so I bought the lot and set up a business called Little Tipple selling those and other miniature bottles by the dozen and half dozen to off-licences. Then I opened an off licence called Tipples [in Bromley] and also started wholesaling full-size bottles to bars and restaurants. Booze took over and food became something I only ate rather than sold.

MoM: How did you become a cocktail expert? Was it a deliberate decision or did you fall into it?

SD: Whether I’m a “cocktail expert” will be debatable by many, but I do believe I have made and drunk more different cocktails than anybody else alive or dead. How, did I get into cocktails? When I had my off-licence, there was a restaurant a few doors down called Dillinger’s. The owner, Malcolm, often came into my shop and he started asking for more and more unusual cocktail ingredients to make cocktails in his diner. So I started stocking more liqueurs, syrups and things like cream of coconut for Malcolm. I bought a cocktail book called The Bartender’s Cherry and I started working my way through the cocktails in the book at home. I still have the book which is full of my notes.

My wholesale business grew to specialise in selling these ingredients to bars and restaurants and so I became more and more interested in cocktails and cocktail culture. Then I dreamt up CLASS Magazine, (an acronym of Cocktails Liqueurs And Speciality Spirits) aimed at bartenders, but before I could do that, I thought I ought to experience bartending, so I started working shifts at Café Sol in Greenwich. I made loads of blended Daiquiris and Margaritas!

Tipples in Bromley back in the 1990s

MoM: When did you set up the Difford’s Guide website?

SD: Around 2005.

MoM: Who in the industry, past or present, or both, has been an inspiration to you?

SD: David Embury – a long way in the past – I love the attitude he expresses in his The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks book. Many of my recipes from vintage cocktails are based on his. Dick Bradsell was also a very influential friend. He’d come round to my flat and we’d make drinks. He had the greatest influence on how I seek to balance in cocktails, including dilution.

MoM: What’s been the biggest change in the drinks industry since you started out?

SD: The incredibly wide availability of products and the number of products available. When I started, Chambord was rare and hard to get in the UK. And products like absinthe weren’t available at all. I think there are more brands of gin available now than the total number of brands of spirits available back then.

MoM: How can the industry adapt to Covid?

I think we have to hope that enough people will be vaccinated, and the vaccine will prove effective enough that the bars can go back to how they were. However, we can see from our website that home cocktail making has dramatically picked up in popularity and even when bars return to normal there will still be a lot of people making cocktails at home. Hopefully, the rise in home cocktail making will not be at the expense of bars but will become an occasional alternative to a glass of beer or wine in front of the television and will play a big part in dinner parties.

MoM: What skill above all others does a bartender need?

SD: To be a good host.

MoM: What’s the hardest drink to get right in your book?

SD: I’ve always tested other bartenders on how they make a Daiquiri, I believe I was the first to do this. It’s a cocktail that requires a good recipe and the accurate measurement of each ingredient. A Ramos Gin Fizz requires knowledge of how to make it, not just a good recipe. And it took me a long time to nail a Clarified Milk Punch.

No cocktail enthusiast should be without one of these beauties

MoM: What kit do you need to make basic cocktails?

If you have good ice, a shaker, an Easy Jigger [a special transparent jigger with graduations for exact measurement] and a bar spoon, you can pretty much make any cocktail.

SD: If you could give one tip to aspirant home bartenders what would it be?

Buy an easy jigger and follow my recipes! Measuring ingredients is key to achieving the right balance, hence I created the Easy Jigger.

MoM: How has Instagram changed cocktails?

SD: I’m not so sure Instagram has changed cocktails. It may have changed people’s perceptions of them and helped bring back the blue drink. However, I don’t much use Instaspam or social media.

MoM: Do you have a least favourite cocktail?

SD: Shots. Whether they’re layered or neat, or mixed cocktail shots, I’m not into shots.

MoM: Which bottle do you reach for more than any others?

SD: The most truthful answer is sugar syrup, as it’s used in so many cocktail recipes. I’m very promiscuous when it comes to alcohol.

MoM: What’s your favourite bar (or pick a few) and why?

SD: The bar I’ve had the most memorable times in is The Cabinet Room in London, now sadly up for sale.

Daiquiri Naturale

The Daiquiri, one of the simplest but hardest to get right cocktails

MoM: What are your three favourite cocktails and why?

SD: My Daiquiri recipe, because it’s the cocktail I’ve spent more time trying to perfect than any other.
Psychopathia Sexualis, it’s the best-named cocktail, and the most fun to order in a bar.
Negroni, I’ve even managed to order a Negroni at our local, the Rose and Crown. They’ve all three ingredients and it’s just a shot of each in a glass over ice and then stirred by the drinker’s finger. The only issue is, the recipe is equal parts and their minimum serve for vermouth is 50ml, so it ends up being a huge Negroni.

Simon Difford’s Guide to Cocktails is available to buy direct from Difford’s Guide

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Shaken vs stirred: the science behind mixing a cocktail

Margaritas are shaken, Martinis are stirred, and that’s pretty much the way it’s been since time immemorial. The question is: why? For the definitive on when cocktails should be stirred…

Margaritas are shaken, Martinis are stirred, and that’s pretty much the way it’s been since time immemorial. The question is: why? For the definitive on when cocktails should be stirred versus shaken, we asked two bartenders to divulge the ‘rules’ behind each method, offer technique tips, and share four lip-smacking recipes to try at home…

Chances are, unless you’re a bartender – or James Bond – you’ve rarely given much thought to the technicalities of cocktail methodology. If the recipe instructs you to “shake”, you shake, and if it says “stir”, you stir, without ever really pausing to consider what the process brings to the drink, or why you’re doing one rather than the other. 

“Both shaking and stirring will ensure the individual ingredients are well-mixed, and so the overall cocktail has the right balance from start to finish,” says Patrick Pistolesi, founder of Drink Kong in Rome – one of the World’s 50 Best Bars – and head of mixology at NIO Cocktails.

Opening a bar during the COVID-19 pandemic

The team from Swift in Shoreditch

Both processes also cool the cocktail, Pistolesi continues, although shaking gets the job done slightly quicker. “Shards of ice break off and melt faster as the surface area of the ice is increased,” he explains. “Aside from cooling, the other main purpose of either shaking or stirring with ice is to dilute the cocktail to deliver the perfect drink.”

If both approaches mix the ingredients, dilute the drink, and cool the liquid – albeit at different speeds – when does one method take precedence over the other? It’s all to do with the tiny air bubbles that form during the shaking process.  “Shaking aerates the cocktail, which changes both its texture and its taste,” says Pistolesi.

Those bubbles are the reason a stirred drink will be crystal-clear, while a shaken drink will be cloudy, or at least opaque. Therefore, drinks made with ‘clear’ ingredients, like neat spirits and liqueurs, are typically stirred, while those with already ‘cloudy’ ingredients – such as citrus, syrup, fresh juice, egg whites, cream or milk – ought to be shaken. 

One of the most important (and oft-forgotten) ingredients? Ice. “Put simply, high quality ice delivers a better-tasting cocktail,” says Pistolesi. “Experience with different types of ice is important, as the quality of the ice can also affect the time required to shake or stir.” Good ice (very good blog post on the subject) starts with quality filtered water. You don’t want your ice to melt too quickly or it will have too much dilution, so use it straight from the freezer and avoid that ready-made ice with holes in.

The shake

Perhaps unsurprisingly, you’re going to need a shaker. But which one? “The Boston shaker is the classic two-piece, one part usually stainless steel and the other glass,” says Pistolesi. “This is really great for a sour drink that needs a lot of froth, as the shaker is pretty large and can contain more liquid.”

Alternatively, you could opt for the classic three-piece or ‘continental’ shaker. “This holds a smaller amount of liquid than the Boston shaker, will cool faster and deliver the right amount of air in the drink,” he continues. “I use it mostly for three-ingredient cocktails, for example a White Lady or a Daiquiri.”

In terms of technique: add ice into the shaker first, don’t overfill the vessel with liquid, and opt for a longer, harder shake when using viscous ingredients or those that don’t mix easily, Pistolesi says. Remember, you don’t need to shake as long you would stir – “anywhere between 15 and 20 seconds should be about right,” he adds.

Whatever you do, don’t risk an overshake. “It could make your cocktail watery and gritty with ice shards,” explains Mia Johansson, managing partner of London’s Bar Swift – also one of the World’s 50 Best Bars – and creator of cocktail delivery platform Speakeasy At Home.

“There is no way of perfectly timing it because it has to do with what is in your tin – and how much, more precisely,” she continues. “Make sure you fill your tin with plenty of ice and try to listen to the sound of the shake, when it goes from clunky to broken up it should be just perfect.” 

Ready to give it a crack? You’ll find two shaken classics from Johansson below:

Adnams Rye Malt Whisky Sour cocktail

A Whisky Sour made with Adnams Rye Malt and served on the rocks

Whiskey Sour 

3 parts whiskey (Black & Gold bourbon)
1 part lemon
1 part simple syrup or honey
1 egg white (or 25ml aquafaba)

Give it a good shake with plenty of ice in your tin. Serve straight up in a glass or over ice if you prefer. Garnish with a lemon wedge or cherry. For an extra touch, try adding a dash of Amaretto – 0.5 parts is enough.

French

The French 75!

French 75: 

3 parts Bathtub gin
1 part lemon
2 parts simple syrup
Sparkling wine to top

Shake in a tin with plenty ice, double strain into a coupe or flute and top with the sparkling wine. Garnish with cherry or lemon twist. For a twist, add 0.5 parts of elderflower cordial.

The stir

For this method, you can use your cocktail shaker or a stirring glass – either works fine. “Again, make sure you have plenty of ice, as you want to be able to control the dilution,” says Johansson. “The more ice you have, the more time you’ve got.” Give it “a good stir until you feel the ice has lost its edges and feels smoother,” she says, “usually around 20 to 30 seconds”. Pause and taste it to see if it is cold enough. Texture-wise, it should be “silky but still packed with flavour.”

Pistolesi, meanwhile, advocates for a longer stir. “You’d need to spend upwards of a minute and a half stirring a cocktail to achieve the same cooling and dilution as 15 to 20 seconds of shaking,” he says. In terms of method, “the simplest way is to dunk the spoon in and out of the drink – once the ice and ingredients have been added – while twirling the spoon.” Alternatively, you could use a Japanese method called the Kaykan stir. “The objective is to move the ice and the liquid as a single body and hence to avoid aerating the drink,” Pistolesi explains.

The perfect stir requires a little common sense, so keep an eye on the drink to make sure it doesn’t dilute too much. Get your stir on with the recipes below, again from Johansson:

The classic Boulevardier

Boulevardier

2 parts whiskey (Black & Gold bourbon)
1 part Campari
1 part sweet vermouth 

Stir over ice and serve on the rocks. Garnish with an orange peel. For an extra touch, add a dash of cherry brandy, no more than 0.5 parts.

Stinger made with H by Hine Cognac

Stinger

4 parts H by Hine Cognac
1 part Giffard crème de menthe 

Stir and serve straight up in a coupe. Garnish with a lemon twist. Perfect classic for a Christmas tipple. 

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Master of Malt tastes… Fifty/50/Gin

This week we’re tasting a gin that spent 10 years in virgin oak casks before spending another 10 years in used whisky casks. 20 year old gin! It’s then mixed…

This week we’re tasting a gin that spent 10 years in virgin oak casks before spending another 10 years in used whisky casks. 20 year old gin! It’s then mixed with fresh gin to create Fifty/ 50/ Gin. We were intrigued so thought it was worth giving it a thorough tasting.

Cask-aged gins are not that unusual these days. We’ve written about Durham Gin which spends between nine and 18 months in cask, Martin Miller’s 9 Moons Solera Reserve, and the Batch Gin Rummy partly aged in PX casks. Today, however, we’re trying a gin that spent 20 years in cask. 20 years!

It’s produced by a firm of whisky bottlers based in Renfrew near Glasgow called the House of MacDuff. The firm dates back to the 1950s in the form of the Cumbrae Supply Company specialising in whisky miniatures and novelty bottlings before being bought by the MacDuff family in 1987. In the ‘90s the firm began bottling single cask whiskies as well as a blended malt under the Selkie brand name.

Jane MacDuff, managing director, with her son Iain MacDuff, head of product development, © Martin Shields

About 20 years ago, the family acquired a cask of gin from Langley Distillers in the West Midlands and decided that they would age it in Scotland. For a really long time. It started life in virgin American oak casks and then after 10 years was transferred to ex-Scotch whisky bourbon casks where it spent another 10 years. They then mixed the oaked gin with newly-distilled London Dry Gin made by Langley to the same specifications; botanicals include juniper berries, coriander, cassia bark, cinnamon, angelica, orris root, liquorice, lemon and sweet orange peel. The blend is 50% aged and 50% new gin, and bottled at 50% ABV in a 50cl bottle. Which is where the gin got its name from. This is what the company said about it: 

“As a result of these 20 years the aged gin has now turned a deep golden colour and lost its juniper dominance. To bring back the juniper and complementary botanicals, we have chosen to combine our aged gin with new gin at a ratio of 1:1. After many experiments we decided this gave the best of both worlds, new and old, light and dark, deep and fresh.”

© Martin Shields

So, does it work? Well, here’s what we thought of it:

Colour: Yellow gold

Nose: Lots of cask influence, vanilla, custard, orange peel initially, but it’s interesting because there’s no shortage of sharp juniper, pine and citrus too. It smells much more ginny than I thought it would; I’d read some reviews that said it smelt just like whisky but it doesn’t.

Palate: Creamy texture, feels like a fine single grain whisky, lovely mouthfeel, now the cask really comes through like crème brûlée. But again, there’s no shortage of gin character, with red chillies, black pepper, and juniper. You really notice the high ABV. Very complex, one moment the cask leads, then the juniper but always in harmony. 

Finish: Creamy vanilla continues mingling with the fiery spices and a some wood tannin.

Overall: Not what I expected, the cask influence is pronounced by not unsubtle; it is definitely a gin rather than a whisky. The cask brings more texture than flavour.

So what do you do with it? Well it’s very nice neat out of a tasting glass and on the rocks. We think it would be wasted with tonic as you would lose that extraordinary texture. Chilling it right down brings out the wood tannin so if you’re using it in a Martini, make it quite wet with a good vermouth like Noilly Prat or perhaps something with sherry like our Palo Cortado Martini. Sweet vermouth works even better, like in a Martinez or you could make something like a ginny Rob Roy/ Manhattan/ Bobby Burns. But best of all is a Negroni that thinks it’s a Boulevardier because essentially what you have is a gin with the texture of whisky. Whatever you do, don’t dilute it too much as you want to enjoy that texture, so no tonic, fruit juice or soda water.

Fifty/50/Gin is available from Master of Malt.

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