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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Negroni

New Arrival of the Week: Jaffa Cake Negroni

If you love a Negroni, you’ll love our New Arrival this week. Take the ingredients of a classic Negroni, add the orangey, chocolatey goodness of real Jaffa Cakes, bottle it…

If you love a Negroni, you’ll love our New Arrival this week. Take the ingredients of a classic Negroni, add the orangey, chocolatey goodness of real Jaffa Cakes, bottle it up, and what have you got? The Jaffa Cake Negroni! 

One thing we’ve learned in the past few years is that Master of Malt customers really like Negronis and can get quite heated about them. Nick Morgan’s recent article on how much ice you should add, caused something of a social media storm. Why we even had actual comments below the blog rather than the usual spam about mature Russian lady dating or erectile dysfunction remedies. Just like 2005. Some of the comments were quite vitriolic. People get quite upset about the right and wrong way to make a Negroni.

The proper way to make a Negroni

Which seems baffling as the Negroni is perhaps the simplest of all cocktails. Just three ingredients added in equal measure, stirred with ice, and garnished with a piece of orange. But that’s the glory of the Negroni, from those basic building blocks you can be a purist or let your imagination run wild. 

On the blog we’ve run all kinds of twists on the Negroni such as the White Negroni, the Shallow Negroni, the Montenegroni, and the after-dinner Negroni. We’ve even made a Tiki Negroni with pineapple rum, and very tasty it is too.

One tried and tested way to upgrade your Negroni is to up the orange quotient and add richness in the form of coffee or chocolate. The coffee Negroni made with Sipsmith’s Sipspresso gin Negroni is one of the finest things we’ve ever tried.

Jaffa Cake Negroni

Add as much ice as you like!

What took them so long?

So, it was really only a matter of time before someone got round to a Jaffa Cake Gin Negroni. For those who have been living under a rock these past few years, Jaffa Cake Gin was launched in 2020 by our in-house team of drinks mavericks,  Atom Labs. They took the goodness of gin, and added real actual Jaffa Cakes. Sounds like madness, but the results were so impressive that a Jaffa Cake Vodka and Jaffa Cake Rum soon followed.

And now there’s a Jaffa Cake Negroni! It blends that special gin with vermouth and a well-known Italian aperitif in the classic 1:1:1 ratio with 27.7% ABV and all I have to say is: why did it take them so long to do this? It really couldn’t  be simpler, and it’s so obvious, chocolate orange biscuit Negroni. It’s delicious. There’s a full tasting note below.

No measuring cups needed: all you have to do is splash some on ice, add a slice of orange, and voila, the perfect twist on a Negroni. But how much ice should you use? And how big should the pieces be? And should you stir down and strain? That’s up to you. Leave us out of it. 

The Jaffa Cake Negroni is available from Master of Malt. Click here to buy.

Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt;

Nose: Fresh orange oil, bold juniper offering a wealth of pine notes, leading to aromatic herbs and a smidge of cardamom, plus a touch of chocolate coming through.

Palate: Bittersweet red fruit, with distinct citrus brightness carrying them along. Softly peppery juniper builds with herbaceous richness. Vanilla pod and a smidge of dark chocolate in the background.

Finish: A balance of fresh herbs and tangy orange, with the enjoyably bitter notes of each lingering pleasantly together.

Overall: All the hallmarks of an excellent Negroni, with the orange notes bolstered in a fantastic manner and the additional decadence of vanilla and chocolate. It stands out superbly.

 

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Don’t over-ice my Negroni

Nick Morgan has a bone to pick with bartenders. He’s noticed a worrying trend to put so much ice in cocktails that it’s impossible to drink them. So for 2022,…

Nick Morgan has a bone to pick with bartenders. He’s noticed a worrying trend to put so much ice in cocktails that it’s impossible to drink them. So for 2022, he has one request: ‘please, don’t over-ice my Negroni’.

Reflecting on the past 12 months (which we are all encouraged to do at this transitory time of year), I have had cause to wonder about a rather different pandemic that has blighted almost every lunch I ate out from that time in the spring of 2021 when we were first allowed to venture out of our houses. Blinking like a dormouse emerging from a lengthy hibernation, I scuttled into the heart of the city that was once London. From St John to the Savoy Grill, and from the French House to the Argentine Sucre, even in my club in Soho, no bartender seemed immune to this infection. And I soon discovered this wasn’t only a metropolitan crisis. Even the best Italian restaurant in Auld Reekie (that’s the tiny one opposite Haymarket Station if you’re interested) fell victim to the contagion.

Too much ice, sir?

Looking at this through the forensic lens that a trained epidemiologist might use, I can see that this particular plague was already with us several years before we retreated to our homes to escape the most recent one. I recall a truly sensational lunch in the Clove Club in 2017 when I mentioned to our very attentive server that there had possibly been too much ice in the Negronis. He reacted as if stung by the cruellest of barbs.

In case you are in any doubt I refer to that vile phenomena, the over-iced Negroni. By over-iced, by the way, I don’t mean just too cold or over-chilled. I mean when one’s Negroni is served in a rocks glass filled with so much ice that it becomes a physical impediment to consumption. So much ice that it protrudes from the glass like a wayward berg in the ocean, waiting to trap some hapless passenger liner. So much ice that merely raising the glass to your lips can risk removing an eye, or the embarrassment of an ice shard performing a lateral flow test up both nostrils. Do any bars or restaurants, I wonder, risk assess their Negronis? They certainly should. If there is a risk of a patron losing an organ or suffering life-changing injuries, then that is simply too much ice.

Pandan Negroni - Nomad

Can we talk about the difficulty of drinking through one of these gargantuan ice cubes?

Enough of these so-called experts

In the same way that people can create a social media account and instantly become whisky experts, or heaven help us, ‘whisky influencers’, so they can also step behind the bar of a fashionable restaurant and overnight become gods, or even gurus, whose commandments are not to be challenged. It matters not how imbecilic the serving suggestions may be – blue cheese-stuffed olives in a Martini anyone?

But so much ice in a glass of Negroni? Just what are they thinking of? Certainly not the simple ergonomics of drinking, not the laws of physics that dictate what will happen to all that ice once the glass is lifted and angled towards the lips. They’re certainly not thinking of the customer, who for all the highfalutin pontifications that we hear from behind the bar, is actually the most important person in the room. If there is so much slow-thawing ice in the glass that it’s impossible to drain your drink before the appetisers appear along with a nice bottle of Burgundy, well, it’s just as bad as being served a short measure.

What does Wondrich think?

Perhaps unsurprisingly I thought I should take a look at some of the history of the Negroni and its relationship with ice. Given that cocktails are the victims of even more bad history than whisky (you might not have thought this possible, but it actually gets worse with every cocktail book that’s published) I first checked my contributor’s copy of the newly published, and rather definitive, Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails, to read what Dave Wondrich had to say on the subject. As one might expect Wondrich, despite a few alarming ‘probablys’ and ‘possiblys’ tells a good story of the evolution of the drink, and particularly it’s halcyon days post Second World War. 

But whilst Wondrich tells us that the drink is ‘usually served with ice’, he insists in his recipe that the drink is to be mixed in an ‘ice-filled’ Old Fashioned glass, as does, for the record, the late Gary Regan in The Joy of Mixology. Pre-filling a glass with ice, Difford’s Guide to Cocktails helpfully reminds us, makes the drink colder, and reduces dilution. At this point one might want to hunt for the ever-elusive expert on historic weights and measures to deliberate on exactly how much ice goes into an ‘ice-filled’ glass.

Style over substance

So, is it heresy to ask for less ice? Do we drink for pleasure, or do we really have to be subjugated to this modern tyranny, this overbearing sickness of style over substance?

Is it heresy to ask for what you want, rather than be intimidated into accepting what you are given (as sadly happens far too often in cocktail bars)? To ask for a drink that is still cool, but that can be comfortably enjoyed in the hand without risk of first degree facial lacerations and possible humiliation? To ask for a Negroni is to ask for a drink that speaks loudly of its unique individual parts, not flavours overwhelmed and hidden by ice. The Negroni is an unbeatable lunchtime aperitif (sorry sherry lovers), and it is intended to be drunk and enjoyed relatively quickly before food service commences.

The good old days

I have heard dissident whisperings in dark corners of London’s finest cocktail bars that in ‘the good old days’ Negronis were never served with as much ice as has become the accepted practice de jour. It could of course just be a British thing – we never were that good with ice in the past. Remember the classic pub Gin & Tonic in a wine glass with a solitary small lump of ice?

References to Negroni recipes in post-war British newspapers are far and few between, but you will find Hugh Johnson recommending serving his Negroni with crushed ice in The Sunday Times Magazine 1964; Jeremy Lee recommends ‘four or five’ cubes of ice in The Guardian in 1999. Until these ice-rich recent times I would have to suggest that ice-filled Old Fashioned glasses were a trans-Atlantic phantasmas.

London Cocktail Week

You wouldn’t want to over-ice one of these

Don’t over-ice my Negroni

Indeed, enthusiasts for using old (and increasingly expensive) ingredients in their Negronis (where the Campari, for example, will look and taste totally different from today’s version) tell me they would never dream of killing these complex flavours with ice. As anyone who’s ever enjoyed a free-pour Negroni chez drinks legend Charlie Maclean will know, there’s rarely any ice used in his serve (although that’s possibly because Charlie forgot to buy any – again). Just to repeat, the simple perfection of the Negroni is a perfection of flavour. That is what the drink is all about. Chilled gin, vermouth and Campari, a handful of ice cubes, but never a glass filled to the brim with over-large dangerously jagged chunks. It’s a new orthodoxy that the drink just doesn’t deserve.

So as we enter a new year with the hope of eventually being unburdened from the oppressions of one pandemic, let’s not allow ourselves to be oppressed by another as we all seek to enjoy the best that our hospitality industry can offer. Here I stand with my new-year Negroni manifesto: bar tenders shouldn’t be slaves to their ice machines, shouldn’t think that the fact that they can use fistfuls of ice means that they have to use fistfuls of ice, they should think about those appetising flavours, and they should think about the physical act of consuming a Negroni when they load each glass, and ask themselves how the drinking will be done in practice. Most controversially, does it need ice at all? Let’s make 2022 the year of long Negroni-fuelled luncheons, and dear bar people, just go easy on the ice.

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Negroni Week: Seven twists on a classic

It’s finally here – Negroni Week (13-19 September) has officially begun. To celebrate, we’ve rounded up seven of the best twists out there and asked their creators for the inspiration…

It’s finally here – Negroni Week (13-19 September) has officially begun. To celebrate, we’ve rounded up seven of the best twists out there and asked their creators for the inspiration behind them. And you can get involved too – scroll to the bottom to learn about our Negroni Week competition. 

Count Camillo Negroni or General Pascal Oliver Comte de Negroni? Who invented the classic cocktail, the Negroni? It’s a question that has been posed by drinks historians, writers and Master of Malt’s own Henry Jeffreys with opposing – or non-committal – views.

What we do know though is that the vibrant, bitter aperitif – classically made using equal measures gin, vermouth and Campari – has been enjoying a prolonged revival in the UK since 2009. Step inside any bar or restaurant in the UK and you’d do well to find one that doesn’t serve a Negroni. 

Twelve years since the great Negroni revival and it shows no signs of waning. The Guardian called it “the cocktail of 2021” and you can even buy them ready-made in a bottle, a can or a pouch. And while we love the original, we thought we’d celebrate 2021’s Negroni Week, 13-19 September, with some of the best twists on the classic being served in bars across town.

From swapping gin for Tequila, infusing mixes with herbs and giving them a fruity component, we asked the makers and shakers for the story behind their creations. They even gave us the full recipes so you can try your hand at home*.

*Though some of them are pretty involved, so we’ve divided them up into ones to attempt and ones that should be left to the professionals. 

You’ve been warned.

Ones to try at home

Credit: Shots London

“Wanky” Negroni, FAM Bar

7.5ml Fords Gin
17.5ml Singani 63
25ml Londinio Aperitivo
12.5ml Punt e Mes
12.5ml Londinio Rosé Vermouth
15ml water

Build and serve over ice with an orange slice garnish.

“I wanted to play on the idea of the multiple ingredient “Wanky” Negroni and create something that actually wasn’t that wanky and satisfied both hardcore bitter drinks fans like myself and people just edging into that bitter realm with a twist on a Negroni that will fulfil both varying palates.” Tatjana Sendzimir, bar manager.

Sbagliato Carafe

Sbagliato carafe, Tayer + Elementary

200ml Campari
200ml Martini Rosso
200ml Pago de Tharsys cava (or another sparkling wine)

Combine all ingredients in a carafe with ice and share.

“We love it because it’s delicious, and it’s a fizzy and low-abv alternative.” Monica Berg, bar co-owner.

Nebula Negroni

Nebula Negroni, Nebula

25ml East London Liquor Gin
25ml Carpano Bitter
25ml Punt E Mes Sweet Vermouth

Combine ingredients and infuse with basil until you have the flavour you want. You can store it in a bottle. When serving, garnish with orange slice and basil leaf.

“At Nebula, we’re proud of our awesome pizzas, so we wanted to pay homage to their Italian birthplace and really cement the link with our Negronis by infusing our blend with dried basil. We use East London Liquor Co gin not just because it’s awesome, but because it’s made just down the road (neighbourhoods are the future!). We finish our blend with Carpano bitter and the powerfully herbaceous Punt E Mes vermouth, so all things sing together in a herby take on the classic that pairs perfectly with our pizzas.” Nate Brown, bar owner

Heads and Tails - Rose Negroni

Rosé Negroni, Heads + Tails

40ml La Vie en Rosé or another Provence rosé
20ml Lillet Rose Vermouth
15ml Campari

Stir down, strain into a rocks glass and garnish with grapefruit. 

“It’s a Negroni, in the south of France and it’s sunny. I made the drink for a festival in Nice where we needed a bitter drink that had a slightly lower abv yet had the feel of the area. Using a Campari to follow the brief but pull the bitterness for the beverage paired with a Provence rosé allowed for the elegance of the area. Finished off with slight fruity and aroma of Lillet Rose gave a Negroni that you could drink throughout the summer days at a festival.” Callum Dunne, bar manager 

Leave it to the professionals:

Pandan Negroni - Nomad

Pandan Negroni, Nomad Hotel

45ml Pandan-infused Tapatio Reposado Tequila
22.5ml Campari
22.5ml Cocchi Vermouth di Torino
15ml coconut water
7.5ml cold-brew coffee

Build in rocks glass with a large ice cube, stir and serve.

“The Pandan Negroni was created after we discovered how delicious Reposado Tequila incorporates with pandan [a herbaceous tropical plant]. The pandan brings out all the green aspects of the Tequila while enhancing the barrel spice notes and softening the acidity. The almond flavour coming from the leaf also plays off the coconut water, which is the only component which dilutes the cocktail, giving it more body and a rounder finish.” Pietro Collina, bar director.

Rhubarb & Tarragon Negroni..jpg RS

Rhubarb and Tarragon Negroni, Publiq

22.5ml Belvedere Heritage 176 malt spirit
2.5ml Tarragon-infused Sipsmith VJOP
25ml Rhubarb-cooked bitter blend
25ml Vermouth rosso blend
25ml Mineral water

Have all ingredients stored cold in the fridge. Pour all ingredients in a rock glass over an ice block. Garnish with an orange slice.

“When looking for a new flavour for our seasonal Negroni, rhubarb was at the peak of its flavour, with lovely fruity and earthy notes, making it an obvious choice for us. Tarragon, with its fresh menthol and anise aroma, brought freshness to this favourite of the summer.” Greg Almeida, bar co-owner.

LITTLE MERCIES FINAL JULY 2021 @lateef.photography-155

Passionfruit Negroni, Little Mercies

20ml passion fruit vermouth
20ml Victory house gin
12.5ml Campari
2.5ml passion berry vodka
0.08ml MSK passionfruit flavour drops

Stir over ice and strain into a rocks glass with block ice and garnish with an orange wedge.

“We have had a house Negroni on our menu since the day we opened. We decided that we would make a sweet vermouth in house, from a seasonal fruit rather than from grapes. The passion fruit was the latest in the line of fruits we chose to work on, more as a challenge as they don’t contain much in the way of juice, and they are high in acid so hard to ferment. We actually ended up soaking the fruits in a mixture of water and sugar, and then letting that ferment. We also made an Oleo Saccharum with sugar and the spare fruit, so that ended up being the sweetness in the vermouth. We also add a passion berry infusion to this Negroni, as it brings some extra complexity and aroma that ties nicely to passionfruit.” Alan Sherwood, bar owner.

Show us your Negroni with a twist recipe, for a chance to win a Jaffa Cake Gin Negroni bundle! Post a video or image on your Instagram feed (not Instagram Story), showcasing your creative “Negroni with a twist” cocktail recipe; and include the hashtag #momnegronitwist (so we can locate your entry)!  Comp opens 12:00:00 BST on 13 September 2021 and closes at 23:59:59 BST on 26 September 2021. Full T&Cs below. Open to 18+ or legal drinking age only. The best and most creative entry wins.

 

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The ten best bitter liqueurs

Amari (plural of amaro) are traditional Italian bitter liqueurs. The most famous being Campari. But they’re not just made in Italy, Britain, Denmark, Germany, America and others all make delicious…

Amari (plural of amaro) are traditional Italian bitter liqueurs. The most famous being Campari. But they’re not just made in Italy, Britain, Denmark, Germany, America and others all make delicious bitter concoctions. So we thought it would be a good idea to round up the ten best bitter liqueurs from Italy and beyond!

Italians love bitterness. You can taste it in the coffee, in the wine (there’s a Puglian grape called negroamaro – black and bitter) and, most notably, in a class of liqueurs called Amari, meaning ‘bitter’. They are made all over the peninsula by steeping herbs, spices, fruit and vegetables in alcohol, then sweetening and diluting the concoction. The best known is Campari but each part of Italy has its own amaro, like Fernet Branca from Milan, or Amaro Montenegro from Bologna. These brands have their roots in the 19th century, though Italian families and monasteries have been making versions for much longer. 

Until recently, they were seen as a bit old-fashioned, the sort of things drunk by old men in cafes alongside an espresso. But in recent years they have become fashionable with bartenders all over the world. This has inspired people outside Italy to make their own. There are now a number of boutique producers in America, Britain and other countries. Plus countries in central and northern Europe also have their own bitter liquor traditions. 

Amari balance their high levels of bitterness with sugar and alcohol, which varies between 16.5% ABV for Cynar and 39% ABV for Fernet Branca. The mighty Fernet is also the bitterest of the big names. So what should I do with these fearsome concoctions? We’ve got some cocktail suggestions below.

So, here are the ten best bitter liqueurs:

Home bar essentials

Campari

The king of Amari! No home should be without a bottle. Campari was invented in 1860 by Gaspare Campari (you can read the full story here). It used to get its famous red colour from cochineal beetles but no longer, so it’s suitable for vegetarians. I like to drink it simply with ice, soda and a slice of orange but for many, a Negroni simply isn’t a Negroni without Campari.

ten best bitter liqueurs

Stambecco Maraschino Cherry Amaro

From Stambecco comes this classic Italian amaro liqueur! Maraschino cherries are the star here, along with sweet and bitter oranges, spices, herbs and wormwood among the 30 botanicals used. But despite being made from cherries, the flavour is closer to almond so this would make a great less sweet alternative to Amaretto especially shaken with lemon juice and an egg white to make a Fizz. 

ten best bitter liqueurs

Gammel Dansk Bitter Dram

Central and northern Europe also have a long tradition of making bitter highly-flavoured liqueurs. This one means ‘Old Danish’ and it blends star anise, nutmeg, ginger, laurel, gentian, Seville orange, cinnamon and others to create something like a less sweet Jägermeister. The Danes drink it to keep out the chill north wind, but in warmer months it makes a great digestif alongside an espresso.

ten best bitter liqueurs

Asterley Bros. Britannica London Fernet

The Asterley Bros. have been hard at work in South London creating Britannica Fernet, a bitter spirit made with 14 botanicals including roasted hazelnuts, cacao nibs, rosemary, chocolate malt myrrh and even London Porter. Although bitter, this liqueur is full of approachable notes and is ideal for sipping neat as a digestif, or as a complex addition to cocktails such as the Hanky Panky.

ten best bitter liqueurs

Sweetdram Whisky Amaro

This is made with a whisky base consisting of two single malts, Ardmore from first-fill bourbon casks, and Invergordon matured in refill sherry casks, blended with single grain from the North British distillery aged in virgin oak casks. The Sweetdram team then infuses the base with allspice, hibiscus, coriander, lovage, kola, quassia, rhubarb, lemon and lingonberry, and sweetens it with honey from Sussex and Edinburgh. Pretty cool, eh?

Italian bitter liqueurs

Martini Riserva Bitter

This is delicate and orangey, though with plenty of bitterness. The flavour profile is somewhere between Aperol and Campari. Ingredients include saffron, angostura, columba, Italian artemisia and more (including cochineal to give it the traditional ruby hue). It makes a cracking Americano: equal measures of Riserva Bitter and Martini Riserva Ambrato vermouth, ice, orange and splash of soda. Class. 

ten best bitter liqueurs

Mondino Amaro

And amaro from Germany? You better believe it. Mondino Amaro is made in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps to a classic recipe that includes bitter orange, rhubarb and yellow gentian, among other locally sourced ingredients. It makes a mighty fine Spritz, but it wouldn’t look out of place in a Negroni or served with tonic water and a slice of orange.

Italian bitter liqueurs

Sacred Rosehip Cup

Made by Sacred in Highgate in London, Sacred Rosehip Cup was designed as a punchy alternative to Pimm’s but it works equally well as a thoroughly English Campari substitute. The bitterness comes from rosehips, rhubarb and ginger. Sacred suggests mixing one part Rosehip Cup to three parts sparkling wine or Champagne, although soda can also be used. Alternatively, mix it with gin and vermouth for a British-accented Negroni.

Italian bitter liqueurs

Fernet Branca

The mighty Fernet Branca! A cult drink among bartenders, this is probably the bitterest thing known to humanity. It’s so bitter that it’s unlikely to topple Campari as most people’s Amari of choice. Then again, some people love it: Fernet and Coca-Cola is the national drink of Argentina. But the world capital of Fernet consumption is San Francisco, California.

ten best bitter liqueurs

Select Aperitivo

Aperol and Campari might be better known, but you can’t beat a drop of Select Aperitivo when you want some Italian magic. Select is the choice of Venetians, it’s been made in the city since the 1920s. The flavour profile is bitter and grown-up but a bit more delicate than Campari. We love drinking it in a Bicicletta – a mixture of ice, white wine and fizzy water. It’s the perfect lazing in the sun kind of drink.

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The history of Campari

From its beginning in Milan to becoming an Italian icon, taking in Count Negroni, Fellini, squashed red beetles and, most importantly, the time Lucy Britner met Clive Owen – this…

From its beginning in Milan to becoming an Italian icon, taking in Count Negroni, Fellini, squashed red beetles and, most importantly, the time Lucy Britner met Clive Owen – this is the history of Campari.

In the same year Abraham Lincoln was elected 16th president of the United States (that’s 1861, just in case you didn’t know), Gaspare Campari hit upon a successful (and very secret) recipe for a new drink with a bitter flavour. The Campari archives describe Gaspare as “both stubborn and brave”, since he set about making his “bitter in the Dutch style”, when  at the time, the world of liqueurs was dominated with cordials, elixirs and the like.

Seven years later, in 1867, Gaspare opened a venue in Milan – Caffè Campari – next to the city’s landmark Duomo. And by 1904, Campari was in production at its first plant in Milan’s Sesto San Giovanni.

In 1915, Gaspare’s son Davide opened Camparino as a ‘younger sibling’ bar next to his father’s Caffè Campari. The Aperitivo moment took off and the bar’s signature drink, the simple and delicious Campari and soda, was a hit.

Classic cocktails

It’s impossible to talk about Campari without talking about classic cocktails and the titans that are the Americano and the Negroni. The Americano, which is a mix of Campari, sweet vermouth and soda water, was on the menu at Caffè Campari in the late 1860s, where it was known as the ‘Milano-Torino’ because Campari came from Milan and vermouth from Turin. The story goes that it became known as the Americano thanks to its popularity with American tourists.

The Americano is also the precursor to the Negroni. And like all good booze stories, the origins of the Negroni are soaked in confusion. My favourite tale is the one that suggests that in 1919 a Count Camillo Negroni asked the bartender (Fosco Scarselli) at Caffè Casoni to swap out the soda in his Americano and replace it with gin. That’s MoM’s kind of Count.

Campari advert

Campari advert by Nizzoli from 1920s

Art attack

And as more and more drinkers were imbibing Campari – Counts or otherwise – the brand was also making inroads in the art world. In the 1920s, Leonetto Cappiello created the famous Spiritello sprite wrapped in an orange peel and by the 30s, Campari’s advertising has taken on the deco, futuristic style. The 40s and 50s saw Campari engage with more artists and in the 60s, Bruno Munari designed the iconic ‘Graphic Declination of the name Campari’ poster for the opening of the Milan subway. (It’s one with all the Campari labels sort of torn up and stuck on a red background).

From the art scene to the big screen and by 1985, Campari’s relationship with the world of film reached a new peak with Federico Fellini (of La Dolce Vita fame) directing a commercial for the Italian market.

The ‘80s and ‘90s saw Campari capitalise on the economic growth of the era as consumers set out to be seen drinking the right thing. And in the 90s, Kelly LeBrock (Weird Science and The Woman in Red) became a different woman in red as she fronted the brand’s ‘It’s Fantasy’ ads.

By the 2000s, the mega stars were in full flow, with the likes of Salma Hayek, Eva Mendes and Jessica Alba all featuring in campaigns as well as the once famous Campari Calendar – a calendar that counted Mario Testino among its photographers.

While the world of art of film was in full swing, things were changing in the background, too, and in 2006, the company largely stopped using little red cochineal beetles to get the bright red Campari colouring. Sadly, they were never the subject of a calendar.

Galleria Campari

When a brand has amassed so much art, its owners need somewhere to put it all, so in 2010 the new Galleria Campari opened, coinciding with Campari’s 150th birthday.

Then, in 2016, Campari took down the calendar in favour of the Red Diaries film activation and British actor Clive Owen was announced as the star of the 2017 campaign. And yes, this whole article has just been a ruse, dear reader, to share this picture of me at the launch event with Clive Owen. Look how happy he is to meet a drinks journalist!

Clive Owen meets Lucy Britner, Campari

Clive Owen meets Lucy Britner!

Anyway, anyway… Owen was followed in 2018 by Guardians of the Galaxy actor Zoe Saldana and in 2019 by Blade Runner 2049-star Ana de Armas.

The big news for the brand this year harks back to Campari’s relationship with Fellini and the 2021 ‘Fellini Forward’ campaign designed to explore Fellini’s genius, using AI to emulate his works. A documentary following the process will be launched at Venice Film Festival on 7 September and New York Film Festival on 29 September, before wider release on-demand. 

Francesca Fabbri Fellini, Fellini’s niece, is involved in the project and it basically involves a “seamless collaboration between human and Artificial Intelligence”. It’ll probably make more sense if you just watch the video.

In recent company results, brand Campari delivered near 40% organic growth in the first half of 2021, compared to last year, thanks largely to all you home cocktail creators and the gradual reopening of bars.

So, mine’s a Negroni. Here’s to making it Count.

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Five great gins from around the world

We’re having a gin festival at Master of Malt this week so on the blog we’re highlighting five great gins that show the sheer diversity that can be found in…

We’re having a gin festival at Master of Malt this week so on the blog we’re highlighting five great gins that show the sheer diversity that can be found in those three simple letters, ‘g’, ‘i’ and ‘n.’

This week it’s gin festival time over on the Master of Malt website. Gin’s beauty is in its versatility. All it needs to be is a spirit flavoured with juniper and you can go from there. You might favour a classic London dry gin, or something flavoured with sweet oranges, or aged in oak. 

It is made all over the world so to celebrate the wondrous diversity of gin, we’ve chosen three very different interpretations of juniper from England, South Africa, Venezuela, Scotland and Cornwall. Plus we’ve included some tips on the best ways to enjoy them.

Fords Gin Cocktail shaker

Fords London Dry Gin

When you have a vision for the kind of gin you want, you could spend thousands on a distillery and spend years learning how to be a gin master. Or you could go to the best. Like Charles Maxwell master distiller at Thames Distillers in South London. Maxwell is the source behind dozens of gin brands and probably knows more than anyone alive about turning someone’s gin dreams into juniper-scented reality.

Ford, an industry stalwart who was involved with bars such as Koba in Brighton before a stint as brand ambassador at Pernod Ricard, wanted to create a gin for all seasons. He explained: “I wanted to take elements from all of my favourite gins and put them into one, well-rounded gin.” To create that weighty profile, Maxwell steeped the nine botanicals for 15 hours to soften them and get them to release their oils before distilling in two John Dore stills, Tom Thumb and Thumbelina. 

The profile is juniper dominated, supported by other flavours including jasmine, cassia and grapefruit. The result is a weighty thick gin with a classic profile, bottled at a useful 45% ABV. It’s a great all-rounder but that viscosity makes it an obvious choice for a Martini.

Ford doesn’t just make gin, his business the 86 Co. (since 2019 part of Brown Forman) also makes Caña Brava rum, Tequila Cabeza, and Aylesbury Duck Vodka.

How to drink it

Ford suggests something called a freezer door Martini. Remove 200ml from your bottle, add 100ml of dry vermouth, and 100ml of filtered water. Shake, put in your freezer and it’ll always be ready when you want an instant Martini.

Inverroche Amber in a Negroni

Inverroche Amber Gin

This distillery was founded in 2007 by mother and son duo, Lorna and Rohan Scott. Their secret weapons are native South African plants called fynbos native to the Cape’s wine growing region. These are colourful shrubs and bushes that grow wild in a special area known as the Cape Floral Kingdom

The Scotts work with local botanists to preserve fynbos and harvest them sustainably. To make the gin they use between 20 and 30 different varieties of fynbos alongside more usually botanicals including of course juniper.  

These are distilled in a  tiny 1.7 litre copper pot still known as Mini Meg using vapour distillation so the botanicals sit above the sugar cane spirit. This is how the Scotts produce their classic gin but they also make two others which are the result of post-distillation infusion.

The Verdant is infused with “late summer blooms”, fynbos from mountainous areas, while the Amber gets its gorgeous colour from coastal fynbos. The result is a gin with a woody spice character with tobacco leaf and a nutty texture. It’s bottled at 43%ABV.

How to drink it

That texture and woodiness makes it a great sipper but it also adds a whole new layer of complexity to a Negroni: just add one part Amber Gin, one part Campari and one part sweet vermouth to an ice filled tumbler, stir thoroughly, and express an orange twist over and drop in.

We love Canaïma Small Batch Gin!

Canaïma Small Batch Gin

And finally a gin all the way from Venezuela. It’s called Canaïma and it’s the creation of bartender Simon Carporale who wanted to do something to help preserve the Amazon’s rainforest’s fragile ecology. 

These plans came to fruition when he met the founder of Diplomatico rum and the two came up with the idea to make a gin with a difference. For a start, the botanical mix is quite something with over 19 involved. 10 of them are sustainably-sourced Amazonian botanicals harvested by indigenous people. This includes açaí berries (a purple fruit known for its regenerative qualities), uve de palma (red fruit harvested from a palm tree), copoazú (related to the cacao tree), túpiro (an orange fruit known for its pleasant taste), merey (a kidney-shaped fruit that produces just one cashew nut), seje (a palm fruit that has oily flesh and a very delicate, chocolate-like flavour) and semeruco (a fruit foraged from the Andean foothills where Canaïma’s distillery is based). 

Alongside native botanicals, the team at Diplomatico also use more traditional botanicals such as juniper, grapefruit, and orange. They distill each one separately in a 500 litre copper pot still before they blend them into the final gin

Canaïma doesn’t just taste good, it does good too. It provides over 250 jobs for indigenous Amazonian people at its distillery. 10% of the sales go to Saving the Amazon charity and  Tierra Viva, a foundation that helps preserve native crafts such as 

woven baskets and coasters used by the brand.

How to drink it

The brand recommends something called a G&G which consists of 40ml Canaïma Gin, 150ml grapefruit soda and two lime wedges. Squeeze the lime wedges and drop them into a Highball glass, add ice, gin and grapefruit soda, give it a stir and garnish with a grapefruit twist.  

Hendrick's Lunar Gin

Hendrick’s Lunar

Hendrick’s really shook up the gin category when William Grant & Sons launched it back in 1999. That’s ten years BS (before Sipsmith) in gin terminology, ie. centuries in gin years which are longer than even dog years.

Anway, it was created by  distiller Lesley Gracie at the Girvan distillery in Scotland. Hendrick’s was unusual for a number of reasons. Gin was not fashionable in 1999, yet here was a new brand in distinctive medicine bottle packaging and then there was the taste! With it’s cucumber and rose petal profile, it didn’t taste like any other gin around at the time. It had some gin traditionalists harrumphing into their G&Ts. But quickly, a Hendrick’s and Tonic became a thing, always with a slice of cucumber rather than citrus fruit.

Hendrick’s Lunar is a little bit different from the classic bottling. Gracie was inspired by moonlit evenings tending botanicals in her hothouse. It’s a citrus-led gin with subtle peppery and floral notes to it, and it’s proved quite a hit with Master of Malt customers with lots of five star reviews. 

How to drink it

It’s a nice one to sip neat but also makes a splendid Lunar and Tonic with a slice of cucumber, naturally, and also a grind of black pepper.

Elemental Cornish Gin on a beach

Elemental Cornish Gin

And finally, from Cornwall, a part of England that’s not really English, we have Elemental Cornish Gin. It was one of the very first Cornish gins, founded back in 2013. Only eight years ago, but, as we mentioned above, a long time in gin years.

There seems to be some sort of connection between the pandemic and distilling as our very own Ian Buxton noted recently, and that’s certainly the case here with Cornish Gin. In early 2020, Nick and Joe Woolley moved to Cornwall with their toddler and took over the distillery, just before the entire country was locked down. Not great timing, but they have survived and thrived, turning out lots of high quality gin.

Their classic Cornish Gin is made in a copper pot still from 12 botanicals including lemon and orange peel, chamomile, cassia, cassia, cinnamon, cardamom and, of course, juniper.  It’s diluted with spring water from Bodmin moor before bottling at 42% ABV.

How to drink it

Elemental recommends a Martini or a G&T, but we can’t help thinking with those citrus notes it would make a cracking French 75, a blend of lemon juice, Champagne, gin and bitters (full recipe here.)

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Cocktail of the Week: The Negroni

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

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

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

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

The history of the Negroni

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

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

The great bitterness revival

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

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

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

How to make a classic Negroni

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

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

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

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

Newbie Negroni

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

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

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

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

After-dinner Negroni

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

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

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

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

Tiki Negroni

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

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

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

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

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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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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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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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