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Tag: Martini

Cocktail of the Week: The French Martini

Today we’re rolling up the sleeves of our suit jacket à la Hall & Oates to make a cocktail that’s not particularly French and not really a Martini. It’s the…

Today we’re rolling up the sleeves of our suit jacket à la Hall & Oates to make a cocktail that’s not particularly French and not really a Martini. It’s the French Martini!

Often the word French is appended to things to make them seem more sophisticated or sexy than they really are. French fries are actually Belgian, French kisses were invented in Dunstable (fact!) and have you ever seen French toast (or eggy bread as we used to call it when I was growing up) in France? Which brings us on to this week’s cocktail, the French Martini. It is, like most cocktails, an American creation. It was invented or at least popularised in New York City by a man with possibly the least French name ever, Keith McNally.

McNally was a big noise in ‘80s and ‘90s New York (and still is). Such a big noise that The New York Times described him as: “The Restaurateur Who Invented Downtown.” Just as the French Martini isn’t very French, McNally isn’t American. He was born and raised in Bethnal Green. After a stint as a child actor in London, McNally came to New York in 1975 and opened a series of French-inspired restaurants such as Pastis, Cherche Midi and Augustine. His most famous venue, however, was Balthazar which became the hippest joint in town when it opened in 1997 and the French Martini was the trademark cocktail. It quickly crossed the Atlantic and found a home among the Cool Britannia crowd at the Met Bar in London. Balthazar itself arrived in 2013 with a branch in Covent Garden.

You don’t get more 90s than the French Martini, or rather, could it be any more ‘90s? It’s not only made with vodka but pineapple juice too. It’s part of the wave of so-called Martinis that were all the range back then like the Pineapple Martini, the Appletini, the Espresso Martini etc. etc. The French part comes from the addition of Chambord, a French raspberry liqueur with packaging so elaborate that it looks like a medieval incense burner, or, for Monty Python fans, the holy hand grenade of Antioch.

It’s a smoky French Martini (sung to the tune of Funky Cold Medina by Tone Loc)

A squeeze of lemon helps temper the sweetness but still it might be a bit sugary for some so this week we’re using a fiery peaty whisky instead of vodka, Laphroaig 10 Year Old. According to Simon Difford, this variation is actually known as a Le Frog. See what they did there? Vodka or whisky, however you make it, make sure you’re dressed appropriately. We’re thinking baggy grey Armani suit like Richard Gere in his prime, and don’t be afraid to roll the sleeves up a little. Nice. Right, that’s enough preamble. Let’s make a smoky French Martini:

25ml Laphroaig 10 Year Old
25ml Chambord
10ml pineapple juice
A squeeze of lemon juice

Pour all of the ingredients into an ice-filled cocktail shaker and shake hard for eight seconds. Strain into a chilled coupette, garnish with a blackberry or raspberry and serve.

 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Tuxedo

Today we’re making the best-dressed cocktail in town: it’s a variation on the Martini made with gin and a brand of fino with a mission to make “sherry cool again”. …

Today we’re making the best-dressed cocktail in town: it’s a variation on the Martini made with gin and a brand of fino with a mission to make “sherry cool again”. 

There’s more than one way to make a Tuxedo. The cocktail is named after the Tuxedo Club, a swanky country club in upstate New York. And yes, it’s where the Americans get their name for the dinner jacket. What a place! The eponymous cocktail is a variation on the Martini. Flicking through the extensive MoM drinks book library, many recipes call for the addition of maraschino liqueur, absinthe or both. There’s not a sherry bottle in sight.

But in Old Waldorf Bar Days by Albert Stevens Crockett from 1931, there’s something quite different, made with two parts gin to one part dry sherry with a dash of orange bitters. Which is what we’re going to make today. Using sherry instead of vermouth in a Martini isn’t so unusual. Bernard de Voto in his book The Hour describes similar cocktails: “These drinks are not Martinis, they are only understudies but they damn no souls.” 

Equipo Xeco (from left, PAF, BGE and AK)

At MoM, we’ve all over sherry in cocktails, so we’re going for the Waldorf take on the Tux. But which sherry to use? It has to be a fino, and we’re rather taken with a newish brand called Xeco. It was launched in 2017 by three magnificently-monickered ladies, Beanie Geraedts-Espey, Polly Aylwin-Foster and Alexa Keymer. The three met in 2013 in Hong Kong and bonded over a shared love of Andalucia’s finest. All had studied sherry for WSET and Geraedts-Espey’s first job was doing marketing for Gonzalez-Byass. So, they knew their stuff.

They set about trying to convert their friends but encountered a number of obstacles, not least sherry’s vicars and aunts image. So began what they call project “let’s make sherry cool again” which became Xeco. The word is derived from Secco, meaning dry, and it’s pronounced something like Zecco. There are currently two wines in the range both bone dry: a fino with the emphasis on the fruit, and a rich nutty amontillado. They don’t make their own wines and instead source them from Bodega Diez Merito in Jerez.

The first thing you notice about Xeco is that the bottles don’t look like traditional sherry bottles. The shape is more like something that might hold a trendy new vodka and there are no pictures of alluring gyspy ladies on the labels as with some traditional brands. Instead, they have playful designs inspired by Anglo-Spanish history. The fino features Alfonso X of Spain and Henry III of England who concluded a treaty where the English got sherry and the Spanish wool. We know which we’d prefer. 

El Tuxedo!

Both Xecos are excellent drunk in the traditional manner, cold out of a copita, but the website is full of more different ways to serve these most versatile of wines. Which brings us back to the Tuxedo. As a fino is much drier than even a French dry vermouth, with almost zero grams of sugar, you need to use more to temper the gin. To compliment the fruitiness of the fino we’re using Foxhole Gin made with leftover grapes from making English wine. The bitters are optional, but we think one dash really brings out the citrus notes in the sherry.

Right, on with the old DJ, and let’s get stirring:

Ingredients:

50ml Foxhole London Dry Gin
25ml Xeco Fino
1 dash Fee Brothers Orange Bitters (optional)

Add all the ingredients to an ice-filled shaker, stir well and strain into a chilled Martini glass. Garnish with a strip of lemon peel, or an olive stuffed with an almond. 

 

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How to make alcohol-free classic cocktails

The classics may historically call for booze in those recipes of old, but there are ways to make your favourite timeless tipple sans-spirit. Here, MoM chats with three drinks experts…

The classics may historically call for booze in those recipes of old, but there are ways to make your favourite timeless tipple sans-spirit. Here, MoM chats with three drinks experts for tips on making a cracking alcohol-free classic cocktail (and a recipe for the non-alcoholic French 75)… 

Think about your favourite cocktail. What makes it so delicious? Is it the crisp, fresh notes associated with a Martini? The sweet, hot unctuousness of an Old Fashioned? Whatever it is, the drink is more than simply a platform for the base spirit with which it’s made. So it makes sense that there’s more to creating a alcohol-free classic cocktail than simply switching out the alcohol. After all, flavour is just one element of an alcoholic base spirit – there’s also a mouth-coating texture, a cooling effect, and later, a gentle, warming heat. 

“Alcohol is a fabulous tool for carrying flavour and without it, you do lack a certain amount of bite, so you have to be clever,” says William Borrell, owner low-alcohol spirit Willow, which contains 15mg of broad-spectrum CBD in each 700ml bottle. “I’ve seen a few startenders in the market use peppers and chilis for that reaction, that mouthfeel.”

The Nightcap

Ladies and Gentleman, Mr William Borrell!

Making a non-alcoholic serve that accounts for those factors without drastically changing the flavour (or tasting like flavoured water) really isn’t easy. Just like the greatness of a restaurant is often better measured by the deliciousness of its vegetable dishes rather than its steak, the world’s finest bars can be judged by the complexity and downright tastiness of their alcohol-free offering.

“It takes a good bartender to make a good cocktail with no alcohol,” acknowledges drinks expert Camille Vidalle, founder of mindful cocktail website La Maison Wellness. “You don’t have the structure of the spirit to give you the backbone of the cocktail. So, how can you use an alcohol-free spirit to make a sophisticated, grown up cocktail – and not like a juice straight from the kids menu?” 

The journey to a truly delicious alcohol-free classic starts in the supermarket. Before you even think about dusting off your shaker, choose your ingredients wisely. “You don’t have much to hide behind, so the quality and the taste of each and every ingredient is crucial – as it always should be,” Vidalle says. “Use fresh ingredients like you would in cooking. Fresh and in season is always the best.”

When it comes to methodology, construct your drink “from the aroma to start and the taste on the finish,” says Vidalle. “Layer the flavours of your drink so it doesn’t fall flat. Non-alcoholic spirits give structure and complexity to a cocktail – layering juices on juices won’t work.” She also advocates for incorporating high quality essential oils, herbs and spices, so long as you’re careful about the quantity. 

Let’s Get Fizzical

Let’s Get Fizzical (recipe below)

While creativity is always encouraged, a little technique (and a little bar know-how). “Know what’s in the glass and how it will react,” Vidalle suggests. “For example, if you’re using an essential oil, how are you incorporating it into the cocktail? If it’s shaken, shake it quick – most non-alcoholic spirits are water-based and you don’t want to over dilute your cocktail.”

Finally, don’t forget about presentation. Lots of lovely ice, an attractive and aromatic garnish, and a fancy glass can make a striking difference to a cocktail’s drinkability. “You drink with your eyes, the same way you eat with your eyes,” explains Vidalle. “Even if you aren’t aiming to make it the most Instagrammable cocktail in town, you do have to make it look like an appetising adult beverage and not a smoothie in a pint glass.”

When it comes to non-alcoholic cocktails, the texture, mouthfeel, and length of the experience is something that drinkers really do care about, attests Geyan Surendran, development scientist and botanical alchemist at non-alcoholic spirit brand Three Spirit. “What we do differently further to that is function, addressing why people drink in the first place,” he says. “To elevate them, to keep them going, to relax them.” As such, each Three Spirit bottling incorporates plant-based ingredients that interact with your nervous system to mimic some of the sensations brought about by alcohol.

These days there’s no shortage of choices, with bottlings and flavours inspired by rum, bourbon, amaro, vermouth and more, as Vidalle points out. A word of advice here: don’t assume you can always safely store those bottles in your spirits cabinet – check the label first. “You’ve got loads of options to choose from to build a mindful home bar, but remember that most of those ingredients are better kept in the fridge after opening,” she says.

Fizz The Season

Fizz The Season

Why not kick off your alcohol-free classics creativity with what’s said to be the world’s first no-alcohol ‘Champagne’ cocktail, the appropriately named Fizz The Season? Borrell has kindly shared the recipe below…

45ml Willow
5ml lemon citrus
15ml elderflower cordial
Eisberg Sparkling Blanc to top

Add the Willow, lemon citrus and elderflower cordial in a mixing glass with ice, stir and strain into a chilled coupe. Top with Eisberg Sparkling Blanc.

Alternatively, you could try Let’s Get Fizzical – a booze-free take on a French 75.

45ml Willow
5ml citrus
7.5ml sugar syrup
Eisberg Sparkling Rosé to top.

Add the Willow, citrus and sugar syrup in a mixing glass with ice, stir and strain into a  Champagne flute. Top with Eisberg Sparkling Rose.

 

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Mini Martinis – the next big cocktail trend

What could be better than a cool, crisp, refreshing Martini? A tiny ’Tini served in a miniature coupe, of course! As bartenders and spirits brands increasingly turn their hand towards…

What could be better than a cool, crisp, refreshing Martini? A tiny ’Tini served in a miniature coupe, of course! As bartenders and spirits brands increasingly turn their hand towards the charming cocktail serve, we take a closer look…

It’s a well-known fact that miniature things are adorable, and a scaled-down Martini is no exception. First and foremost, the tiny ’Tini trend reflects “a desire to get back to reasonable-sized cocktails that you can enjoy in a reasonable amount of time before it goes tepid and warm,” agrees Ryan Gavin, bar manager at Gran Tivoli and Peppi’s Cellar in Lower Manhattan, who also cites “the sheer adorableness of all things ‘mini’” as a catalyst. “This, of course, makes these things highly Instagrammable,” he says. Couple this with the natural creative flair of the modern bartender, and you’ve got yourself a trend with legs.”

Awwww, look at those tiny Martinis! They’re adorable

So compelling is the emerging trend, the Absolut Elyx Boutique has created miniature copper coupes that hold just three ounces [85ml] of the sophisticated serve. Instagram aside, there’s a logic to the launch. “The first three sips are simply the most enjoyable,” explains Miranda Dickson, global brand director for Absolut Elyx. And with a small vessel, the last sip will be as cool as the first.“The temperature of a Martini is more important than that of any other cocktail – as soon as the Martini is poured, even into a chilled glass, the temperature is going to go up,” she continues. 

Plus, there’s no denying that the Martini is a strong, spirit-forward drink. By shrinking the serve, you can actually enjoy more than one or two without having to hail a taxi. “Serving them in miniature enables our guests to not only enjoy the Martini at the most optimal temperature but also to try a couple – allowing them to experiment with different levels of dryness, different vermouths, olives, citrus twists, bitters, etcetera,” Dickson adds. You can explore the serve a little more responsibly, in essence.

While it’s gaining traction now, the mini Martini is by no means a new invention “Martinis have been enjoyed in tiny serves since the beginning of the 20th century; the tiny size of the cocktail glasses from that period are testament to this,” Dickson says. “The nineties saw a trend for huge oversized Martinis – the most popular bars in their heyday served 14oz [400ml] ones,” Dickson continues. “Considering it’s predominantly liquor with some dilution, that’s a pretty hefty serve! By the end, it was room temperature and really not a great experience.”

Peppi's Cellar Back Bar

Peppi’s Cellar is a booze wonderland

The burgeoning ‘no and low’ sector is testament that today’s drinkers want to socialise more responsibly. More and more people are going out to enjoy themselves without constantly over-indulging, explains Marshall Minaya, beverage director at New York bar Valerie. “As someone on the working side of the bar, serving mini Martinis is a grand idea,” Minaya continues. “Every night we are out to throw a party, and we want everyone and anyone to attend our party. Our goal is not to get people drunk, but to have people imbibe on personally crafted cocktails that they truly enjoy.” 

Presenting the Martini in a miniature vessel also democratises the drink, says Dickson. “Although the Martini is a well known, storied drink, steeped in glamour, celebration and sophistication, I think people are a little challenged by a 7oz [200ml] spirit-forward strong cocktail – which is, by anyone’s measure, a serious drink,” she says. “Enjoying the drink in smaller, bite-size serves makes it less serious, more fun, and ultimately more accessible for people to try.”

Ready to take on the tiny ’Tini? Keep reading for three miniature variations on the classic serve to try out at home… 

Either that’s a tiny Martini or the bartender has enormous hands

Italian Minis by Peppi’s Cellar at Gran Tivoli

30ml Fords Gin
15ml Carpano Dry Vermouth
7.5ml Strega Liqueur
1 dash orange bitters
7.5ml filtered water

Make in advance and keep chilled in the freezer until ready to serve. Garnish with a pickled grape tomato.

Mini Gibson by Valerie

37.5ml Le Gin
7.5ml Dry vermouth

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass, fill with ice. Stir. Strain into 3oz Martini glass and garnish with a pickled pearl onion.

Mini Elyx Martini by Absolut Elyx 

25ml Absolut Elyx
5ml Lillet Blanc 

Combine both ingredients in a mixing glass and stir over plenty of cubed ice. Strain into a Chilled Copper Tiny Tini Coupe and garnish with lemon zest or an olive. 

 

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New Arrival of the Week: Willem Barentsz Mandarin and Jasmine Gin

This week we have been mostly drinking an exotic flavoured gin inspired by a Dutch explorer. To learn more, we spoke with founder of Willem Barentsz gin, Michael Claessens. Barentsz…

This week we have been mostly drinking an exotic flavoured gin inspired by a Dutch explorer. To learn more, we spoke with founder of Willem Barentsz gin, Michael Claessens.

Barentsz is named after a 16th century explorer Captain Willem Barentsz who attempted to find a way through the Arctic to China. He didn’t succeed but gave his name to the Barents Sea somewhere way up north between Norway and Russia. Barentsz’s intrepid nature and never-say-die attitude inspired Michael Claessens to create his own gin.

Drink runs in the family blood: “My father’s business, Claessens, is the foremost specialists for the development and creation of brands for the international beverage industry. It has been developing, re-positioning and creating brands for nearly 40 years,” he told us. So starting his own drinks brand was the most natural thing in the world. And with his Anglo-Dutch heritage, gin was the obvious choice: “Gin has clear ties with my two home countries – UK and Holland. My family’s Dutch roots, blended with my London upbringing, made it appropriate that the new brand should be a gin – which was born in Holland and perfected in London”, he said.

Michael Claessens.

It’s Michael Claessens!

Refreshingly, he is totally candid about where the gin is made, by Charles Maxwell at Thames Distillers in London. Claessens knew exactly what he was looking for when designing his own gin with Maxwell: “Barentsz is different in that we actually spent time looking at the concept of gin from the perspective of ‘mouth feel’. It was very important to us that the harsh and often bitter reputation of gin was overcome, in order that we could create a spirit foundation of the finest quality that was soft enough to allow for more delicate and fresh botanicals – and a gin that could actually be enjoyed neat over ice.” He went on to say: “I spent a long time playing with the formulation of our spirit foundation. I wanted it to be something that tasted smooth before the botanicals were added.” The result was a special spirit made from two grains, golden rye and winter wheat.

We are big fans of the standard bottling here at MoM. With its jasmine note, it’s very distinctive but this doesn’t stop it being extremely versatile. It achieves the gin triple crown of being superb in a G&T, a Martini and Negroni. It was honoured with a gold medal at the IWSC in 2018. This new version turns up the jasmine and adds mandarin to the mix. “Once again, we seek to honour the pioneering spirit of the Dutch Arctic explorer, Willem Barentsz,” Claessens said. “Our mandarin and jasmine botanicals are inspired by his quest for a northeastern trading route to China by way of the sea. Mandarin oranges symbolise luck at Chinese new year and our jasmine flowers are sourced from China.”

Willem Barentsz Mandarin and Jasmine Gin takes on some colour and sweetness from the mandarins but, according to Claessens, there is “no artificial colouring or sweeteners and no sugar. All sweetness is natural”. Claessens recommends drinking it neat over ice with a twist of orange but like its brother, it’s lovely with a decent tonic water. So let’s raise a glass to Williem Barentsz and the Anglo-Dutch alliance and himself. Proost!

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Cocktail of the Week: The Martinez

It’s not easy being a Martinez, watching your child, Martini, become the most famous drink in the world while you lay forgotten about in dusty old cocktail books. So this…

It’s not easy being a Martinez, watching your child, Martini, become the most famous drink in the world while you lay forgotten about in dusty old cocktail books. So this week, we’re resurrecting this classic with a special oak-aged gin from Martin Miller’s. 

Before anybody had thought to put the words ‘craft’ and ‘gin’ together, there was Martin Miller’s Gin. It was launched in 1999, that’s 10 years BS (Before Sipsmith), by Martin Miller of Miller’s Antiques guide fame. Craft gin years work rather like dog years, making Martin Miller’s 70 years old! It’s distilled at the Langley Distillery in the West Midlands before being shipped to Iceland where it’s blended with spring water. This makes it sound a bit gimmicky but Martin Miller’s quickly established itself as a favourite among bartenders and drinks writers. 

Martin Miller himself died in 2013 but the company goes from strength to strength. It produces a range of oak-aged gin called 9 Moons after the number of months the spirit is aged. The latest version has just been launched, called Solera Reserve – it uses French oak barrels and a solera process to ensure consistency. Some oak-aged gins can rather whack you around the head with oakiness but this is quite subtle, giving a creaminess, roundness and spice without overpowering the botanicals.

Martinez

A Martin Miller’s Martinez

The company recommends serving it in a Martinez. This 19th century classic is often thought of as the forerunner of the Martini. David Embury in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks refers to the Martinez as “the original Martini.” The cocktail itself is probably named after a town in California called Martinez, the inhabitants of the town certainly think so as there’s a plaque saying as much in the town square. It’s essentially a Manhattan made with gin instead of rye or bourbon. An early recipe in O. Byron’s The Modern Bartender from 1884 specifies using Dutch gin which would have been oak-aged so this version from Martin Miller is a nod to the original Martinez, though the Dutch gin would have also been sweet. Other original versions call for another sweet gin, Old Tom.

For a long time, the Martinez lived in the shadow of its more famous off-spring. Ask for one and you might be given a blank look, but in recent years there’s been a mini-revival, helped by the return of sweeter styles of gin and the availability of exciting new vermouths. The Martinez is a very broad church running the gamut from very sweet, made with Old Tom gin and a high percentage of Italian vermouth, to almost Martini levels of dryness. Some versions call for a rinse of absinthe which certainly makes it distinctive. This one is at the drier end but still is very much a sweet cocktail as it uses Italian vermouth and Maraschino liqueur. The creaminess and spice of the oak-ageing takes this into Manhattan territory. One could use it as a gateway cocktail to tempt your gin-loving friend into brown spirits.

Anyway, here’s the Martinez. We hope you like it.

50ml Martin Miller’s 9 Moons Solera Reserve Gin (or another oak-aged gin)
20ml Martini Rubino vermouth
5ml Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
1 dash Angostura bitters

Stir all the ingredients in a shaker with lots of ice for a minute or so. Strain into a chilled coupe or Martini glass and garnish with a piece of lemon peel.

 

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New Arrival of the Week: Batch Gin Rummy

This week we’re taking a look at a little distillery in Burnley which makes some seriously interesting spirits including a barrel-aged gin, a hopped vodka and breakfast rum. Because everyone…

This week we’re taking a look at a little distillery in Burnley which makes some seriously interesting spirits including a barrel-aged gin, a hopped vodka and breakfast rum. Because everyone enjoys rum with their breakfast, or is that just us?

Batch began as a brewery in Hampshire but founder Phil Whitwell got the gin bug inspired by visits to Spain where his mother lives. The only problem was that he didn’t have the space. So he ended up moving to Burnley in Lancashire, and building a distillery in a basement belonging to his nephew Ollie Sanderson who became head distiller. The Burnley basement was officially opened as a distillery, by the High Sheriff of Lancashire, no less. Their first release, called Batch Gin, won a silver medal at the San Francisco World Spirit Competition. Not bad for beginners. 

What began as a hobby with both Whitwell and Sanderson having full time jobs quickly got serious when northern supermarket chain, Booth’s, took them on, Suddenly that basement seemed awfully cramped so in 2016 they moved to a converted mill also in Burnley with a custom-built 165 litre still called Adrian. The success has continued: last year their 55% ABV Industrial Strength gin won a double gold in San Francisco. Then, earlier this year, the Batch boys were inducted into the Gin Guild so they get to wear little silver juniper branches to show how much they love gin. 

Head distiller Ollie Sanderson in action

Alongside a core range, the company produces ‘Batch Innovations’ which are a bit more far out. These include one that has just arrived with us called USA Breakfast Rum. No, it’s not designed to be drunk at breakfast, though you could, we won’t judge you. Instead, it’s inspired by the great American breakfast and flavoured with maple syrup, pecan nuts and blueberries.

But what the Batch team really love to do is age stuff in barrel. So much so that Whitwell somehow acquired a 3200 litre Cognac cask during a family holiday to France. Well, it makes a change from a beret and a tin of confit de canard. Operations manager Jodhi Didsdale told us that they got a surprise when a cask the size of six sherry butts turned up one day on the back of a lorry. This gigantic barrel is used to age a gin made with whinberries (aka bilberries). 

Barrel-aged gins are nothing new. In fact, in the olden days when most  liquids were transported in barrels, most gin would have been ‘cask-aged’ to some extent.  So-called yellow gins were produced in small quantities throughout the 20th century but nowadays are firmly back in vogue with many distilleries including Beefeater offering aged versions. 

What do you get if you cross gin with rum? Gin rummy!

Batch has combined its love of gin, rum, cask-ageing and bad puns in a product called Gin Rummy. First the team blended together the Signature and the Industrial Strength gin. The danger with aged gins is that the wood will overpower the ginniness of the gin so this only spent about a month in a PX sherry cask that had been used to age rum. Then it spent some time in a whisky cask before being bottled at 42% ABV. Operations manager Didsdale described it as “quite a playful one”. She recommends drinking it with cola which sounds a bit odd but according to her “the cola brings out the rum elements in the gin.” We think that barrel-aged note would work really well with barrel-aged vermouth so try it in a Martini, heavy on the Noilly Prat for the full cask effect.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Americano

This week’s cocktail unites two of Italy’s great aperitifs, Campari and Martini Rosso, in one glass. It’s the Americano! The Americano used to be called the Milano-Torino because it contained…

This week’s cocktail unites two of Italy’s great aperitifs, Campari and Martini Rosso, in one glass. It’s the Americano!

The Americano used to be called the Milano-Torino because it contained Campari from Milan and Martini Rosso vermouth from Turin. It was originally served at the Milan bar belonging to the creator of Campari, Gaspare Campari. The name changed when American tourists arrived in Italy in the 1920s. They were escaping Prohibition and with the strong dollar, continental Europe was their playground. It’s the decadent generation immortalised in the novels of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

And what did these louche Americans drink when they were in Italy splashing their cash around and upsetting the locals with their loose morals, hot jazz and enormous baggy trousers? Why, Campari and Martini, of course, with a splash of soda. Due to its ubiquity amongst expat Americans, the drink became known as an Americano. A similar thing happened with coffee. Espresso was a little too strong for the tourists so they asked for it diluted with hot water, the Americano coffee was born.

Americans were still causing trouble in the 1950s. There’s a song about their influence on Italian youth by Neapolitan musician Renato Carosone called Tu ‘Vuò Fà L’Americano’. You might recall it from the 1999 adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel, The Talented Mr Ripley (the film has its moments but the book is brilliant. If you haven’t read it, you’re in for a treat). Carosone’s song is about an Italian boy trying to ape American fashions: smoking Camel cigarettes, dancing to rock n’ roll and playing baseball (though he drinks Whisky and Sodas, not Americanos). Despite his modish veneer, this wannabe Italian is still living off his parents. 

But it’s not just Americans and Italians who fell for the charms of the Americano. It crops up in Ian Fleming’s short story ‘From a View to a Kill’ where Bond recommends drinking it in hot weather where one of his more usual drinks like a vodka Martini would be too strong. It’s a great drink for when you really want a Negroni but plan to get some work done/ bump off a Smersh agent in the afternoon.

It’s one of those cocktails that requires very little thought. You could experiment with other amari but I’m keeping it traditional with Campari. Then for the vermouth, well, it really has to be Martini. I’m using Martini Riserva Speciale Rubino which is made with red wines from Piedmont, the flavour is more floral and complex than the classic Martini Rosso. 

Right, that’s enough preamble, it’s time to put on some appropriate music and let’s make an Americano!

35ml Campari
35ml Martini Rubino Riserva Speciale Rosso vermouth
Soda water

Fill a highball or tumbler with ice, add the Campari and Martini and give it a good stir. Top up with soda, stir gently and garnish with an orange slice.

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Christopher Hayman, a life in gin

After 50 years in distilling, Christopher Hayman of Hayman’s Gin has just been honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Gin Guild. We caught up with him last week…

After 50 years in distilling, Christopher Hayman of Hayman’s Gin has just been honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Gin Guild. We caught up with him last week to talk past, present and future of gin.

The Hayman family are gin royalty. Christopher Hayman is a fourth generation distiller, great grandson of James Burrough (the founder of Beefeater Gin.) Hayman himself has been distilling since 1969 but it was only in 2004 that the name ‘Hayman’s’ appeared on a bottle of gin. Since then, the family business, both Hayman’s children, James and Miranda are involved, has gone from strength to strength. The firm moved to a new distillery in Balham in south London in 2018 and are rarely out of the gin news with its ‘call time on fake gin’ campaign and innovative products like Small Gin. To celebrate Hayman senior’s 50 years in the business, a 50% ABV Rare Cut London Dry Gin will be released shortly. Then on Friday, he was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Gin Guild. We caught up with him last week, before he knew about the honour, to discuss 50 years in gin. 

Christopher Hayman next to Marjorie, the still named after his late mother

Master of Malt: In what ways has gin changed since you began distilling in 1969?

Christopher Hayman: I think one of the major changes is that back in the seventies gin was very much a lifestyle drink. Whereas today, which I’m delighted about, people actually want to understand the provenance and the authenticity of the gin you’re making, they want to know where the spirit is from, what grains are used in the spirit, where the botanicals come from, and how you make it. When I first joined the trade there were only a handful of brands where today, thanks to the recent gin craze, we’ve had hundreds of brands! But I think the main thing is the actual interest in gin and the renaissance in gin and people’s deep interest in how gin is made. 

MoM: When did you start to notice a change, that people are suddenly a lot more interested than they were?

CH: I think probably in the last ten to 12 years. It’s different in different markets but in the UK it’s around that time when people started to show an interest. And I think also with bartenders, vodka had been very strong back in the 1990s and I think gin was sleepy but still there, a little bit forgotten. And people suddenly, particularly bartenders, suddenly thought ‘actually, gin is quite an interesting flavour and quality’ and started to use it. So for them, for some bartenders, it’s been a new ingredient you might say! 

MoM: And do you think the boom in gin is slowing down or coming to an end? I mean it’s been predicted for a while…

CH: That’s something I’ve been asked so many times! I’ve just been to the Bar Convent Berlin and lots of people were asking that… My own feeling is that we’ve had incredibly strong growth in the last few years, at some stage or another it’s going to calm down and the rate of growth will slow down. I mean it’s very much a vibrant and thriving category at the moment but I’m sure it will calm down. 

MoM: Why did you launch the ‘call time on fake gin’ campaign?

CH: As a family we’re very committed to classic gin. And I think at that time, it’s a while ago now, we were very concerned that it was losing a little bit of its identity. And as a family we take a long term view and we’re absolutely passionate that the gin category retains its sort of status, not only today but in 15, 20 years time. We were just very concerned that gin retains its respect as a category and people understand what gin is and don’t get confused by some modern gin products.

We are family: Christopher Hayman with his children, James and Miranda

MoM: Do you think the category might need more regulation or more stricter definitions?

CH: That’s a lovely question! Sadly, my own opinion is that it’s a pity that gin wasn’t properly regulated back after the Second World War. Whisky, Scotch whisky did so. I mean there are regulations in operation in the UK and the EU and different ones around the world. I would love to see stronger regulation as such. I mean it is tightening up, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s not as strong as I would like it to be. 

MoM: Is it important to you to be making a London dry gin in London?

CH: Very much so. That’s where my great grandfather started and he was very much a pioneer of London dry gin and he developed a two-day process for making our London Dry Gin, which we still use today. And so to us London is the natural home of gin and that’s why we want our gin to be distilled in London. And I often say if my great grandfather walked into our distillery today he would be so pleased to see we were still using his two-day process and maybe if we gave him a sample of our gin he would say ‘hm, that’s my gin!’ 

MoM: Can you tell me just a little bit more about this two-day process? 

CH: We only use English wheat neutral spirit, so we put that into our copper stills. We only use ten botanicals as a family and we put in our recipe, and allow it to steep overnight which allows the alcohol to start extracting some of the flavours from the various botanicals. And then after a day we do a normal distillation. We have tried doing it on the one day just for an experiment but it doesn’t produce the quality or the fuller flavour that we’re looking for in our London Dry. 

MoM: And tell me about this new gin you’re doing, Hayman’s Rare Cut?

CH: Rare Cut was thought up by Miranda and James. They said ‘what can we do to celebrate dad’s 50 years in the gin trade?’ And then had a good think about it and so they came up with the idea. It was a little bit of a secret, they decided to produce a London dry, cutting it at 50% rather than at other strength, and don’t ask me how they came up with the name of ‘Rare Cut’ I’m not sure I’m meant to be rare but 50 years is a rarity these days! I was in Canada with James a couple of weeks ago, it was one of the first times I’d tasted Rare Cut and I had it with a Rare Cut Martini, it was so good I had to have a second! 

Hayman's Small Gin and Tonic

Small gin, big flavour

MoM: Who came up with the idea for Small Gin? I thought that was very clever.

CH: It came up through the team, quite honestly. I don’t think it was only one person. We’ve obviously been very aware of what’s going in the lower, no alcohol sector of the market and a number of people have tried to produce a no alcohol ‘spirits’. And this germ of an idea came and we developed it. So it’s had a very interesting response in the trade. Very positive. Two of three people have said to me it’s one of the most exciting innovations in the gin trade for many years it means that you can get the taste of a full gin and tonic with 80% less alcohol and only 15 calories in the gin serve. So it’s got a huge amount of interest and once people understand how it works and we’ve done many comparison tastings and very few people can tell the difference between a regular strength gin and tonic and a Hayman’s Small Gin and tonic. 

MoM: Then finally I just wanted to ask about the new distillery in Balham. Has it become something of a tourist attraction?

CH: I think the answer is yes. We’re getting about 250 visitors a week. We do tours just about every day of the week and it’s great when you see on Trip Advisor that for London we’re number 20 and up with the Big Bens and the Buckingham Palaces of this world. Not only do we have them but we have a lot of trade visitors as well, as you can imagine. So the distillery, besides distilling all our gins, is pretty busy with business of one sort of another. And to celebrate my 50 years in the trade we had a special dinner in the distillery last Thursday evening, I had about 20 people, family, people I’ve known during the 50 years in my trade and had some lovely thank you letters and so on, so there wasn’t a better place to celebrate your 50 years in the gin trade. 

Thank you Christopher, and congratulations on your Lifetime Achievement Award!

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Ce n’est pas un Martini

This week our contributing writer and bartender Nate Brown channels General Bosquet* following a disappointing Martini experience at a famous London bar. Stepping into the bar of this St. James…

This week our contributing writer and bartender Nate Brown channels General Bosquet* following a disappointing Martini experience at a famous London bar.

Stepping into the bar of this St. James hotel feels like stepping back in time. Not way back, not like centuries. More like decades. It has a bit of ‘50s feel at best. ‘80s at its worst. The carpet is so plush one does not walk as much as wade through the room. It’s eerily quiet, despite the two elderly men in a corner. 

Table for three, I whisper. Right this way sir, says the white-jacketed man. Why do they all wear these jackets? I ponder. It’s somewhere between a uniform and a suit of armour. They all look like they’re carrying concealed weapons. 

I reach my table through the heavy silence, and see that I am the first arrival in the back room which opens only for evening service. I stand to remove my raincoat. It’s been one of those awkward autumn days. The rain falls but the temperature is still high. I can’t tell if I’m sweating or damp from the rain. Both, probably. Double moisture to be soaked up by the depth of fabric underfoot.

Nate Brown

Nate Brown, too scruffy for some London bars

“Excuse me, sir”, I’m interrupted. “But we do not allow tee shirts in here”.

“It’s boiling in here”, I protest.

“I’m sorry sir, you’ll have to keep your jacket on.”

I look incredulously around the empty room, wondering who I could possibly be offended by my wearing of a tee shirt. Perhaps the walls are of a certain sensibility, the chairs perhaps? No, it’s definitely the carpet. That bastard mangrove of a carpet hates the sight of flesh.

I have no choice but to relent. I’m meeting two friends, L & C, here for the signature Martini. Apparently nowhere does them quite like here. I’ve been before. I hadn’t rushed back, but the gents insisted. C’s gin is on the menu and he’s quite proud. The damp raincoat stays on. 

Apparently this where Ian Fleming came to write some of his Bond novels and allegedly create the Vesper cocktail a shaken, gin heavy Martini with a pointless measure of vodka. No shaken martinis are any good. The only decent thing about that drink is the Kina Lillet, and you can’t even get that anymore. Nevertheless, here we are, about to spend £20 a pop on the speciality of the house. 

The Vesper Martini, shaken, not stirred

When they arrive we order said Martinis. A generous amount of time later, a rickety wooden trolley is lugged through the carpet. On board are a few enormous frozen Martini glasses. The kind that feel like danger in the hand. We are asked how we like ours. A request for a dry Martini results in a few dashes of house vermouth bounced into the glass, before being discarded ceremoniously onto the carpet. Right, so I can’t wear tee shirt but you can playfully toss vermouth onto the floor? In fairness, I bet you could empty an entire bottle onto this spongy floor without so much as a damp patch. 

The quantities of frozen gin poured directly into the glass are colossal. No shaking here, that’s for damn sure. What an imagination that Fleming chap must have had then. I mean, who else could have dreamed up a Scotch-swilling, colonialist, oft-racist, mass-murderer in this place? I look back towards the bar where now a few elderly, straight-backed chaps in striped suits have gathered and are proudly guffawing.

After ten minutes drinking we still haven’t emptied our glasses and the gin is now warm. It’s a grin and bear it moment to finish. We order another, or rather the first bucket of gin does. After two we are cut off. I’ve heard stories of two gin ambassadors coming here and finishing six of these mammoth Martinis on a few occasions. That seems unbelievable. I know I’d be my unwelcome self after that sort of session. I’d probably be requesting Meatloaf on the bar stereo. The embarrassment would linger. But then again, maybe that’s why neither of those chaps live in London anymore. 

As we leave, I can understand the two Martini limit. The afternoon is still blindingly bright, it’s still raining, and, in the lingo of the location, we are a bit spiffy. I suggest a beer to bring us back to reality. Drinks here are indeed worthy of their notoriety. Only it’s not really a Martini, is it?

*Who following the Charge of Light Brigade said: “C’est magnifique mais ce n’est pas la guerre, c‘est de la folie” – “It’s magnificent but it’s not war, it’s madness.”

Nate Brown has owned and operated spirit specialist cocktail bars in London for the better part of a decade. He’s a regular speaker on industry panels, a judge for various spirit awards and has been known to harbour an opinion or two.

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