Harvard

fullsizerender-6The dependable Manhattan has spawned many variations; the recipe is really simple, so it is very easy to substitute any of the ingredients to create something quite different: the Harvard is a variant where the rye or bourbon is replaced with cognac. Quite how a mix of French brandy with an Italian vermouth has come to represent on of America’s most blue-blooded, ivy-clad Universities is anyone’s guess, but my stab is a few alumni propping up a college bar one evening, deciding that they really needed a cocktail named after their alma mater*. The result is worthy, but not exactly groundshaking: cognac adds a fruitier dimension to the bourbon/rye original, which works well with the vermouth, but without the tension that the spikier spirits have. It’s a soothing drink, one to be lingered over on a cold evening, but I still prefer the original.

Method:

50ml. cognac

20ml. Carpana Antico vermouth

dashes of Angosturas bitter

Stir well over ice, then strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with a cherry.

* I am sure every college should have some sort of drink named after it; if my old Uni had a drink, then the UCL would most likely be a mix of tequila, whisky & Newcastle Brown Ale, garnished with a roll-up.

Remember the Maine

img_3660I was looking for a drink suitable for our 5th of November celebrations (for non-UK readers, this is the day we remember how an attempt to destroy Parliament by a huge gunpowder bomb, assembled by Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators, was foiled at the last moment. Naturally, we remember this by detonating equally huge quantities of gunpowder-filled fireworks in our gardens up and down the country), but drew a blank when it came to gunpowder, firework, or even Guy-themed drinks.

What I did find was a drink that according to Richard Godwin’s book,  The Spirits, was drunk in Havana by Charles H. Baker to the sounds of gunfire during the 1933 revolution. If this drink was once enjoyed to the sound of explosions, then it is perfect for our 5th November.

The drink itself is a Manhattan variation, with two extras – a small quantity of cherry brandy & some dashes of absinthe. The result is a spicy version of the standard cocktail, but I cannot admit to loving the combination of aniseed (from the absinthe) and cherry overly much. I prefer to use absinthe bitters for this flavour element – after all, we only need a few drops. I’ll classify this drink as a Modern, since the 1933 date places it after Prohibition.

Method.

50ml. rye (or bourbon)

20ml. sweet vermouth

5ml. cherry brandy

dashes of absinthe or absinthe bitters

Stir over plenty of ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.

Satan’s Whiskers (curled)

img_3650Very apt for Halloween, or Samhain (depending on your outlook and religion) is this recipe, taken from Imbibe‘s website. They list two versions of this drink – one with Grand Marnier for the orange component (straight whiskers), the other with triple sec (the curled version), the latter being one I have made here.

The combination of gin and orange is not a new one (this recipe is really just a variation on the Bronx cocktail), but here is quite refreshing & makes for a light and drinkable mixture. The vermouths add a richness to the flavour turning the whole thing into a Bronx with an added citrus kick. I am not sure where the satanic angle comes from, as this drink really isn’t evil in any way at all; perhaps the name comes from the hangover a few of these might engender.

Method

1/2 oz. gin (Gordon’s here)

1/2 oz. triple sec

1/2 oz. sweet vermouth (antica formula)

1/2 oz. dry vermouth (Lillet blanc)

1/2 oz. orange juice (fresh is best)

dashes of orange bitters

Stir well over ice, then strain into a chilled coupe & garnish with orange zest.

The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town, visited 21st April

img_2075An early-evening book launch in London meant I was still in town at 9.30 in the evening – a bit early to be giving up on the day and go home, so I decided to visit a nearby bar for something to complete the evening.

I was ten minutes away from The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town, and being in possession of the special set of words that should allow entry, thought I would head over to see how the bar was on a Thursday evening.

The bar is on Artillery Lane in London, but in respect to it’s speakeasy vibe, I’ll only say that you need to look for a café with a large ‘fridge to find your way in.

Downstairs, the room is all wood and low lighting. The bar sits in one corner of the room, and is well tended by a pair of barman, occupied well enough on this evening but still found time to chat with me as they passed. I drank their Blood & Slander, which was their long version of the traditional Blood & Sand, then moved onto a Manhattan, made perfect. The room was busy and the tables full, but sitting at the bar meant I felt pleasantly at the centre of a confident and happy space, run by people who know and like what they’re doing. My Manhattan was precisely mixed, neatly served, and just the right side of bitter that a rye Manhattan should be. The design is low key and pretty dark, but if you are looking at the room, then something’s not right with either your drink or your companion. Definitely a place to find just to recreate that Prohibition-era hidden drinking place adventure.

 

Punch Room, visited 31st March

img_1978On Wednesday, I went to see the exhibition on John Dee, the Elizabethan scientist, sorceror & spy at the Royal College of Physicians, custodian of many of his books and artefacts.

I went, not only because of an interest in Dee, but because I accompanied my friend, Lloyd Shepherd, who has written a historical novel that includes Dee – or more particularly his library – as a key element in his C19th story. Lloyd had seen some other of Dee’s books up close as part of his research for the novel (being published later this month, and I recommend you read it), but here was a rare chance to see some of the rarer books in the Royal College’s collection.

The exhibition was great, but to end the afternoon properly, we needed something suitably traditional drink to toast the upcoming novel. A bowl of punch*, that most English of alcoholic mixtures, seemed most appropriate (Lloyd’s novel refers to the East India Company, where we get our love of punch from), so we visited the Punch Room at the London Edition hotel. This is a small bar, hidden at the rear of the hotel lobby, and in keeping with the current trend for speakeasies, completely anonymous from the outside. The hotel suggests a strict reservations-only policy, but when we were there it seemed to me that hotel residents are (quite fairly) treated more relaxedly. The benefit of the system means that one visits a busy, but not crammed bar. There are two rooms – one with a fabulous stand-alone serving bar where all the mixing takes place, the other an even quieter, smaller space with comfortable armchairs. The design is apparently to suggest a  gentlemen’s wood-panelled club room, though here the materials used are quite light and modern and the chairs low, but this means the space is warm and inviting, not dark and oppressive.

We drank the Arrak punch (arrak, lemon juice, chai tea, honey essence), which packed a… kick (avoiding the obvious joke), after starting with a glass of their complementary house punch. Both were really lovely: warming, sharp & refreshing.

The good thing about a punch is the sharing nature of the drink – it’s fun to ladle out the mix into your glasses – and the higher juice content against a lower alcohol perecntage means these are longer drinks, to be sipped slowly while talking, making them ideal for a conversational sort of an evening.

 

  • According to Wikipedia:

The drink was brought to England from India by sailors and employees of the British East India Company in the early seventeenth century. From there it was introduced into other European countries. When served communally, the drink is expected to be of a lower alcohol content than a typical cocktail

 

 

Income Tax

img_0790This seems very apt, given our PM, David Cameron’s  recent entanglements with questions of off-shore funds and inheritance. The drink itself is a variation on the Bronx cocktail – a solid mixture of gin, vermouth & fresh orange juice – with the addition of some dashes of Angostura bitters. How it got its name is open to question – some suggest the addition of bitters represents the attitude to taxation. My own take is that, like taxation, this mixture: gin, vermouth, some citrus & bitters is fairly universal. Either way, this is a very drinkable cocktail – it’s very refreshing, like the Ward 8 I tried last week, not heavy and the sort of cocktail you could imagine having more than one of.

Method:

40ml gin (I used solid, dependable Gordon’s)

20ml Italian vermouth (Carpano Antico)

20ml French vermouth (Lillet)

10ml fresh orange juice

Dashes of Angostura bitters

Shake well over plenty of ice, then strain well into a Martini glass. Twist orange zest over the surface to express the oils onto the drink and serve.

 

 

Ward 8

img_2020The Ward 8 belongs to a fairly small set of cocktail recipes, apparently inspired by political events. The story with this one is that it commemorates the winning of a seat in the Massachusetts legislature by one Martin Lomasney – with the eighth electoral ward being the one to return him the winning margin – at the end of the C19th.

I imagine the election was held in warmer months, as the drink is essentially a sophisticated whiskey sour, made with rye and a mixture of orange and lemon juices, so it’s a cool & refreshing drink, with a gentle alcohol burn from the rye. A small amount of grenadine lends an attractive colour, and acts as the sweetening agent. It’s a little too sour unless you have very sweet orange juice, but I wouldn’t be inclined to add too much grenadine to compensate; it’s slightly too cloying a sweetness & the whole drink could end up tasting like orange boiled sweets without care.

Method

40ml rye whiskey

20ml lemon juice

20ml orange juice

1/2tsp grenadine

Shake well over plenty of ice & double strain (for the orange & lemon pulp) into a martini glass. Garnish with a single maraschino cherry.