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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Master of Cocktails

Cocktail of the Week: The Toasted Nut Boulevardier

This week we delve into the fascinating world of vermouth with a man who knows his artemisia absinthim from his artemisia pontica (they’re both types of wormwood), Jack Adair Bevan,…

This week we delve into the fascinating world of vermouth with a man who knows his artemisia absinthim from his artemisia pontica (they’re both types of wormwood), Jack Adair Bevan, and show you how to make a deliciously nutty bourbon and vermouth cocktail.

Jack Adair Bevan (what a great name BTW, it sounds like he should be played by a young Bruce Willis) hasn’t always been so keen on vermouth. In his new book, A Spirited Guide to Vermouth, he writes, “I shared most people’s perceptions of vermouth of ancient bottles that gathered dust in corners of drinks cabinets and kitchen cupboards with faded labels and bottle tops fused shut with crystallised sugar.” Yup, that’s my parents’ drinks cupboard. It was a Negroni drunk in Haus Bar (since closed) in Bristol that made him change his mind.

Bevan got the vermouth bug real bad: whereas you and I might just experiment with some different brands, Bevan went the whole hog and started making his own. In 2012 with the team at the restaurant where he worked, The Ethicurean just outside Bristol, he created a brand of vermouth called The Collector made with Italian wines and spirit distilled from Somerset cider apples. It became a cult hit among British bartenders.

Jack Adair Bevan

Jack Adair Bevan, looking nothing at all like a young Bruce Willis

When he left the restaurant, The Collector project finished, but Bevan’s vermouth fire is burning brighter than ever hence the book which has just been published. A Spirited Guide to Vermouth (Headline Home, £16.99) traces the long history of aromatised wine: the Romans were flavouring wines with bitter ingredients like wormwood (vermouth gets its name from the German word for wormwood, wermut). But vermouth really went global in the 19th century when it was commercialised in France and Italy by firms like Noilly Prat, Dolin, Cinzano and Martini. The book takes an in-depth look at production methods: in Martini the botanicals are steeped in neutral spirit before blending whereas at Noilly Prat they use wine.

Vermouth went into a decline in the 80s and 90s, but in the last six years things have picked up with increasing sales, small brands and new releases from the old guard. The vermouth world is now truly international. In the book, Bevan picks out some of his favourite labels; he even tells you how to make your own. His enthusiasm is so infectious that, you know what, I must just give it a try.  

“I regard making vermouth as an art form.” he writes, “It’s as close to cooking as the drinks world gets. It’s about a careful balancing of a huge array of contrasting herbs, roots and spices, wines and sweetness.” And indeed, there’s a great affinity between vermouth and food. I recall earlier this summer, near Barcelona, eating a dish of boquerones, anchovies in vinegar that would destroy a normal wine, but the Las Vermudas vermouth just sailed through, the sweetness and bitterness of the drink chiming with the acidity of the little fish.  

Best of all are the cocktail recipes; I can see A Spirited Guide to Vermouth becoming one of the most well-thumbed books in my collection alongside David A. Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. I am definitely going to try his version of the Gin and It, half gin, half vermouth, pre-mixed and served straight from the fridge into frozen sherry copitas with a little ice at the bottom.

Toasted Nut Boulevardier,

Toasted Nut Boulevardier, note very large ice cube

The cocktail I’ve chosen this week, however, requires a bit more preparation. To make a Toasted Nut Boulevardier, you need to steep your bourbon with nuts for four days. Bevan writes: “The flavour of toasted pecans and walnuts is rich, sweet and superb combined with bourbon. The flavour almost sits like another botanical or ingredient with the Martini Rubino.”

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Right, let’s get cracking.

35ml Toasted nut bourbon*
25ml Martini Riserva Speciale Rubino
15ml Campari

A strip of orange peel and a toasted pecan to garnish.

Combine the toasted nut bourbon, vermouth and Campari in a chilled ice-filled shaker, stir and strain into an Old Fashioned glass containing, ideally, one large cube of ice (if not just use four or so conventional ones). Twist the orange peel over the drink, drop in and rest the pecan on the giant ice cube.

* Toast 150g of pecans and 100g walnuts in a preheated 180°C oven for about 10 minutes, turning a couple of times to ensure even toasting. Allow to cool and then put them in a Kilner jar with 700ml of Heaven Hill bourbon. Leave to infuse for four days and then strain through a coffee filter into a sterilised bottle.  

Spirited Guide to Vermouth

Spirited Guide to Vermouth

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Cocktail of the Week: The Clover Club

To show us how to make this week’s drink, the Clover Club, we spoke to the head bartender at Swingers, a West End bar that combines cocktails with, errr, crazy…

To show us how to make this week’s drink, the Clover Club, we spoke to the head bartender at Swingers, a West End bar that combines cocktails with, errr, crazy golf.

The Clover Club is named after a now-defunct gentleman’s club in Philadelphia where the cocktail is said to originate. The club began in 1896 and met until the 1920s at The Bellevue-Stratford Hotel before it disappeared. Nobody knows what happened, perhaps the members just got bored of each other. But at some point between the Clover opening and closing, the club’s signature cocktail was invented.

A Clover Club is usually made with raspberries or raspberry syrup with gin, vermouth, lemon juice and that all-important egg white, but Harry Craddock’s version from The Savoy Cocktail Book (1930) calls for grenadine instead and omits the vermouth to create something very similar to a Pink Lady.

Leo Gle

Leo Gle (note very strong arms)

On our recent visit to Swingers, a West End bar where you play crazy golf while your caddie keeps you supplied with drinks, we were very taken with head bartender Leo Gle’s version of the Clover Club. So, we asked him for his recipe. Gle’s version involves fresh raspberries which give it a wonderful colour: “it tastes as good as it looks”, he said. Look at that photo below, you can’t disagree. To get the froth perfect, Gle gave us a tip: “The key is to do a two part shake, a dry shake (without ice) and a wet shake (with ice). This ensures that the egg doesn’t separate and you get that lovely foamy top”, he said. This requires some serious shaking.

Gle, a Frenchman, worked as a chef at Sketch in London before moving behind the bar at the same venue. He then worked in the south of France and Switzerland, before moving back to London to be head bartender at Swingers. Gle said: “I love the fast pace of the London bar scene, it’s enabled me to grow and learn quickly, as you have to keep up with the ever-evolving tastes and trends. London is very diverse and there is such a variety of different drinks and service styles to experience.”

So which gin should you use? “Tanqueray No. TEN, but you could also use Martin Miller’s gin which has a unique balance of citrus and juniper and is made using Icelandic spring water, giving it a clean crisp taste”, he told us. The result is something that “has an elegant balance between the citrus, fruit and gin flavours. It’s deliciously fruity but not too sweet, making it very easy to drink”.

Clover Club

You need to do something serious shaking to get a foam like that

Right, got your shaking arms limbered up? Let’s make a Clover Club.

40ml Tanqueray No. TEN
15ml Belsazar Dry vermouth
20ml Raspberry puree
25ml Lemon juice
10ml sugar syrup
1 egg white
Fresh raspberries

Fill a coupette with ice to chill the glass. In a shaker, add the egg white, sugar syrup, lemon juice and raspberry puree*, followed by the vermouth and gin. Add one ice cube to the shaker and give all the ingredients a really hard shake, then add some more ice and shake again. Double strain into the glass and add some fresh raspberries to serve.

*If you don’t have raspberry puree, put three fresh raspberries into the shaker and add a little extra lemon juice and sugar syrup.

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Move over Moscato – ice cider is this summer’s sipper

Don’t underestimate the humble apple – well-made cider can have the depth, complexity and nuanced quality as your favourite glass of vino. Here, we chat with Andreas Sundgren, founder and…

Don’t underestimate the humble apple – well-made cider can have the depth, complexity and nuanced quality as your favourite glass of vino. Here, we chat with Andreas Sundgren, founder and CEO of Brännland Cider, who has made it his mission to change the face of the category with his sweet-sipping ice cider…

“When I talk about cider, I talk about cider which is made as a wine,” says Sundgren, addressing the table at London’s M Victoria over a four-course paired menu created by executive chef Mike Reid. “And what we’ve seen with wine is that which seems simple is often much more complex.”

Sundgren speaks from experience. The route he took setting up Swedish cider business Brännland – which specialises in ice cider; the apple-based cousin of ice wine – has been far from linear. Today, the range is made from 100% freshly pressed fruit grown in the often sub-zero temperatures of Västerbotten, located on northern Sweden’s Baltic seaboard, as well as produce sourced from a select grower in the south of the country.

Andreas Sundgren

Andreas Sundgren supervising the planting of an orchard

Which makes it all the more comical that his artisanal business was very nearly a goat farm. Like many white males in their early 40s, I had a midlife crisis, but just went further in mine than maybe others,” he jokes. Disenchanted with the music software industry, Sundgren woke up on midsummer’s day 2008 in Long Island, New York and decided to “jump ship” on the business he’d built from the ground up.

“First I thought about buying a goat farm because there was one for sale in the mountains where I live,” says Sundgren. “I thought, ‘I’ll move there with my gun dogs and write novels and make artisanal goats cheese’. And then I thought about prospect of milking goats at four in the morning every day for the rest of my life in all weathers, and I went, ‘maybe that’s not me’.”

A beer brewery would be fun, but his real passion lay in wine. But how do you make wine in northern Sweden? Having travelled through France in the final stages of his former career, Sundgren had an epiphany. “I thought, ‘I’ll pick the apples from the gardens around my village, make a real simple cider, and sell that to local restaurants’,” he explains. When he started a Facebook group to recruit apple-pickers, Sundgren expected perhaps two or three friends to join him in support. When 40 people turned up on the first day, it was clear he was onto something. The blueprint for what would later become Brännland was born.

There was just one small problem. Sundgren had never made a drop of cider in his life and was, by his own admittance, a little naive about the process. “I thought if you pick the apples, press them and ferment the juice you get cider,” he says. “I did that, and it turned out really really bad. It was undrinkable. Not only because I didn’t know what I was doing, but because the apples weren’t right to make the best cider.” Unlike the UK or France, Sweden doesn’t grow cider apples and in the same way you wouldn’t use supermarket grapes to make wine, Granny Smith’s aren’t quite going to cut the mustard in cider-making.

“We only have table apples in Sweden,” Sundgren says. “They’re characterised by high acid and high sugar. If you ferment all the sugar out of them, you get a cider that’s completely undrinkable because of the high acid. But when I tasted the cider while it was fermenting and still had residual sugar, it was fantastic.” It was a lightbulb moment. “Rather than go, ‘you can’t make cider from Swedish apples’, I turned the problem around: ‘You can’t make French or English cider from Swedish apples so what is a Swedish cider?’.”

Ice cider

Ice ice cider

Sundgren embarked on a solo mission to find a cider with natural residual sugars. Established cider-makers told him it was impossible, since the liquid would continue to ferment after bottling. “But I thought, ‘that’s weird, because wine has residual sugar, and I don’t think they pasteurise Sauternes’.” His apples were no good for a dry cider, that was for sure. But perhaps they would be better suited to a sweet cider?

He came across ice cider, an ice wine made using apples instead of grapes. It was first developed in Canada in the early 90s, and in 2005 a denomination of quality was established in Quebec, stating that the apple juice used to make ice cider must be concentrated with ‘natural cold’. Sundgren found a mentor in a Vermont-based producer who taught him the production  process over the internet, adhering to the rules of the appellation. In 2012, he released the first 500 bottles to the Swedish market.

The production process Brännland follows is called cryoconcentration. The apples are picked in October and kept in chilled storage until December. Then they’re pressed, and the juice is transferred into 1,000-litre tanks, which are kept outside to freeze. The region experiences temperatures as low as -35 in January, says Sundgren. “Just like in a frozen grape, the water freezes, and the relative sugar level of the remaining juice goes up,” he explains. “The juice drops to the bottom because it’s heavier due to the higher density. Once we’ve extracted [the juice] there’s nothing left but water.

To make one bottle of ice cider, you need around 4kg of apples, says Sundgren. After extraction, the raw juice contains around 500-600 grams of sugar per litre. “As we’ve grown our ice cider production, we’ve more and more variations in flavour,” he adds. “We have harvest variation, we have extraction season variation, the vintage is different, the apple variety is different, and we’ve also found that fermentations differ very much.”

Brännland is made exclusively using Swedish-grown apples across a handful of different varieties. In Just Cider, the brand’s flagship product, there are “two or three”, while the ice cider contains “a core base of about five apple varieties”, says Sundgren. “On top of that we’re planting apples in what is the northernmost orchards in the world for cider-making.”

Located at Röbäcksdalen outside of Umeå in northern Sweden – the same latitude as southern Iceland – the orchard contains more than 1,000 trees spanning heirloom Russian, Finnish and Swedish apple varieties. Over the coming years, Sundgren and his team will plant orchards in a variety of parcels all over Västerbotten, from the inland forest country to the Baltic coast. As trailblazers of Swedish cider, Brännland isn’t afraid to experiment with its liquid; every year, the team set aside a portion of liquid for barrel ageing. At the end of the meal we’re treated to a dram-sized solera system-aged ice cider that contains blends from 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. A slow sipper, it’s thick and syrupy with the flavour profile and body of an XO Cognac. Truly mind-blowing stuff. But at its heart, Brännland is winery that happens to use apples instead of grapes.

Everyone said we had to pasteurise or put sorbates in our cider, and we didn’t want to do that,” says Sundgren. “So where do you gain the knowledge to make a low-alcohol wine with residual sugar? You go to Asti in northern Italy and ask how they make Moscato d’Asti*, and they’ll tell you. We try to emulate wine producers rather than cider producers, because the wealth of knowledge and tradition is so much bigger.”

Brannland Cider

It’s proper fancy

* The Moscato winemaking process involves chilling the stop fermentation which leaves a very sweet wine of less than 5.5F% ABV. This is then filtered the remove yeasts to make sure it doesn’t start fermenting again.

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Master of Cocktails – Tasting Notes; Reconstructed

Greetings one and all to another edition of #MasterofCocktails. If you didn’t catch last week’s instalment, you might not have seen that we’re changing up how we do this –…

Master of Cocktails Tasting Notes Reconstructed

Greetings one and all to another edition of #MasterofCocktails. If you didn’t catch last week’s instalment, you might not have seen that we’re changing up how we do this – a much less step-by-step affair, though you’ll be getting more advanced, exciting recipes, with more focus on presentation and garnish. This week we’re going to be using the ‘Beast of Dufftown’, Mortlach single malt Scotch whisky.

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Master of Cocktails – The-Candy-Apple-Jack-Hammer

It’s the return of #MasterofCocktails! And there are a few changes to the format… We’re going to be making this a much less step-by-step affair – in return though, you’ll…

Master of Cocktails Candy Apple Jack Hammer

It’s the return of #MasterofCocktails! And there are a few changes to the format… We’re going to be making this a much less step-by-step affair – in return though, you’ll be getting more advanced, exciting cocktail recipes, with more focus on presentation and garnish. We’re also moving to once a fortnight, although still at the usual time of 6pm Sunday on twitter and on the blog the very next day.

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Master of Cocktails – First-Press Terroir Sour

Greetings to you all. Time for another #MasterofCocktails? I think so. Last one for a few weeks this, due to impending progeny. Today we’re making a drink that sounds thoroughly…

Master of Cocktails First Press Terroir Sour

Greetings to you all. Time for another #MasterofCocktails? I think so. Last one for a few weeks this, due to impending progeny.

Today we’re making a drink that sounds thoroughly weird, but I assure you is delicious. It’s a gin sour that uses olive oil as an emulsifier.

Now – you can make this drink by shaking, but there is a better way if you’re making at home instead of in a bar. So – we’re going to repair to the kitchen.

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Master of Cocktails – Tea Thyme with Pepper Pig

Right then boys and girls. Time for this week’s #MasterofCocktails – this week we’re making a pork-infused wet martini. Sound appetising? Well it should – It’s delicious. This one’s called…

Master of Cocktails Tea Thyme with Pepper Pig

Right then boys and girls. Time for this week’s #MasterofCocktails – this week we’re making a pork-infused wet martini. Sound appetising? Well it should – It’s delicious.

This one’s called ‘Tea Thyme with Pepper Pig’ (I’m still waiting for my cocktail-naming crown to be delivered, by the way).

Plenty of prep work to do before bringing it all together, so let’s get to it.

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Master of Cocktails – Mutiny on the Bounty

Well greetings cocktail fans. Everyone enjoy their bank-holiday weekend? Ready for some #MasterofCocktails action? This week we’re going to make a super-summery drink, based on this baby – Rumbullion! XO…

Master of Cocktails Mutiny On The Bounty

Well greetings cocktail fans. Everyone enjoy their bank-holiday weekend? Ready for some #MasterofCocktails action? This week we’re going to make a super-summery drink, based on this baby – Rumbullion! XO 15 Years Old.

If you’re going to be joining in with this one, there’s a quick step you’re going to need to do a day in advance…

We’re going to add a single heaped teaspoon of our raw cacao to the coconut water. It’s important to do this 24 hours before you make your cocktail as water-extraction (which is what we want here) takes a lot longer than alcohol-based extraction.

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Master of Cocktails – Fair Yuzu Has a Posse

Right then ladies and gents. Time for another #MasterofCocktails – this week we’re making a cognac-sour/sidecar sort of affair. We’re making it with Yuzu Juice. If you’ve not had it…

Master of Cocktails Fair Yuzu Has a Posse

Right then ladies and gents. Time for another #MasterofCocktails – this week we’re making a cognac-sour/sidecar sort of affair. We’re making it with Yuzu Juice. If you’ve not had it before it’s sort of lemon/limey, but much more aromatic and potent. You can get it online using the power of googles.

There’s a tiny bit of prep to do a couple hours before we make this one – we need to sugar-rim our glasses…

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Master of Cocktails – The Penultimate Paragraph

Right then all – we all ready for a cocktail? Time for #MasterofCocktails… Today’s drink is a creation based around this bad boy. It’s Bathtub Gin aged in an ex-Ardbeg…

Master of Cocktails Penultimate Paragraph

Right then all – we all ready for a cocktail? Time for #MasterofCocktails

Today’s drink is a creation based around this bad boy. It’s Bathtub Gin aged in an ex-Ardbeg cask. This batch is all sold out (I did tell you all to buy it…), but there’s a new batch available from the second-fill. Why, here it is.

So – this week’s #MasterofCocktails is going to be a variation on the Last Word cocktail. One of my all time favourites.

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