Harry’s Bar, visited April 2017

IMG_3913I didn’t think there was any need to qualify this bar as being the one in Venice; there’s only one real Harry’s Bar, and it is the one in Venice. There are others: Mark Birley’s smart Italianate club in S. Audley Street, London, two others in the same city, a steakhouse in New York, and most confusingly of all, Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, to name only a tiny number. But the bar that they all owe something to is the one in Calle Vallaresso in Venice, opened in 1931 by Giuseppe Cipriani. The history is worth reading, so do visit the Cipriani website to hear the origins of this tiny and beautiful bar in one of the most atmospheric cities in the world.

I’m an unashamed fan of this bar*. I come for the drinks, the location and the history. But to read Tripadvisor, there are a heck of a lot of grumpy people in the world, who find the place not up to their remarkably high opinion of their own critical faculties. Frankly, if you’ve come all the way to Venice, to complain about the price of a Bellini, you are in the wrong bar; go somewhere where they serve giant frozen Margaritas in a novelty hurricane glass for $6. Secondly, don’t complain about the size of the place: we’re in Venice: places are tiny & you may be expecting something with the size (and atmosphere) of a hotel lobby, but you aren’t going to find it here. And finally, don’t complain about the bar being unfriendly – you brought that attitude in with you and the staff are simply reflecting it back at you.

For the rest of us, the routine is simple:

IMG_4589 2Enter the bar with a smile on your face, order nicely, watch the staff make your drink with care & serve it to you with style.

Enjoy it, order another, and enjoy that, too. Talk to your companions & look at the beautiful  woodwork.

Watch Marco mix drinks with a joy that the man who is only the ninth head barman since the place opened 88 years ago can do. Talk to him nicely, and suddenly he’ll produce some of the bottles hidden in those tiny cupboards behind the bar that have been there since 1931 & tell you their stories. Within the space of a few minutes, you have gone from being a tourist to an insider. Harry’s is now your bar, too, and you can come back any time.

You’ll walk away with a wonderful sense of place, time & the joy a well-mixed drink can produce.

And don’t care a jot about the bill. You’re in Venice & you’ve been in Harry’s Bar.

* We were married in Venice & our wedding party had a riotous night here in our wedding day.

 

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Books

20140719-113708-41828994.jpgI love books on drinks, not only because most of them are very readable, but because many are now fantastically well illustrated. Like recipe books, of which I have a fair few as well, drink books understand that the design & presentation is equal to the importance of the words, and so most now are visually impressive, cleverly laid out and beautifully printed.

My library now includes the following books, all of which I recommend. If you would like further details, click on the link text, which will take you to my Amazon associates page for each book.

American Bar, by Charles Schuman

The Savoy Cocktail Book, by Harry Craddock

Bitters, by Brad Thomas Parsons

The Curious Bartender, by Tristran Stephenson

The Curious Bartender: An Odyssey of Whiskies, by Tristran Stephenson

Apothecary Cocktails, by Warren Bobrow

Speakeasy, by Jason Kosmas & Dushan Zaric

Shrubs, by Michael Dietsch

Experimental Cocktail Club, by Bon, Cros, de Goriainoff & Padovani

Bitterman’s Field Guide to Bitters & Amari, by Mark Bitterman

The Spirits, by Richard Godwin

The Drunken Botanist, by Amy Stewart

The Cocktail Keys, by Rob Cassels

Cosmopolitan, by Toby Cecchini

Cocktails, by Robert Vermeire

The Malt Whisky Companion, by Michael Jackson

69 Colebrooke Row, by Tony Conigliaro

Any of these would make a fine start to a cocktail collection, but if I had to choose just one, then Schuman’s American Bar would win the spot; it is a brilliant guide to how we drink, why we drink & what we drink. It was the first book on drinks I ever owned, and I refer, and defer, to it still.

Vieux Rectangle by Arthur Combes

Vieux Rectangle, to the ECC's recipe
Vieux Rectangle, to the ECC’s recipe

Almost as much pleasure can be had reading about cocktails as drinking them. Almost, but not quite. But some books come very close, and one of my favourites is the Experimental Cocktail Club‘s eponymous guide to their philosophy of drinking culture. This book is beautiful, and even if some of the drinks use ingredients you may not care to attempt at home (bacon-infused bourbon?), the whole volume is a brilliant shop window for the way they set about crafting drinks and venues with the same care and attention throughout.

I’ll quote from the book here to introduce the drink, and I hope the authors won’t mind:

The Vieux Rectangle is barman Arthur Combe’s signature cocktail. This is his twist on the classic Vieux Carré, with a European interpretation. The result is a fairly sweet concoction on the floral and delicate side, with an anise finish.

What stops this drink from being too sweet is the clever addition of Absinthe. The aniseed, spiky flavours cut through the sweetness to deliver a little cleansing note with great precision. Not a cocktail to be enjoyed in quantity, perhaps, buy certainly sipped & admired.

When Absinthe is used in a drink in such small quantities as here, I use an Absinthe bitters, Extrême d’Absente for the flavour.

Method:

40ml Cognac (Hine Antique here)

15ml Sweet vermouth (Carpano ‘Antica Formula’ here)

15ml Aperol

2 dashes Angostura bitters

2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

2 dashes Absinthe (or Absinthe bitters, see above)

Stir over ice in your mixing glass with a bar spoon. Strain into a coupe, then garnish by squeezing lemon zest over the surface to release the lemon oils, then discard.

 

Negroni – Aperol style

IMG_0544 According to the Speakeasy book from the NY bar, Employees Only, sooner or later, every barman flirts with the Negroni. It is an absolute classic cocktail – a perfect balance of sweet and sour, strong and fresh, dry and citrus. However, I have no great love of Campari (too bitter & sweet for me) , so I have made my drink with the fruitier, more laid-back Florentine bitter, Aperol. The result, in my mind, is a less aggressive drink, which can be served straight up. And it gives the lie to the idea that gin doesn’t play well with other flavours due to the attack of the juniper; the combination here of citrus, juniper and herbs creates a beautifully balanced mixture. Over ice, in a rocks glass, this would make a perfect summer drink. The Speakeasy recipe doesn’t mention bitters, but following the generally good advice that every cocktail recipe needs a splash of something, I added a few drops of my grapefruit bitters. And if you don’t like gin? Substitute bourbon or rye for the gin, and you have another classic: the Boulevardier. Or replace the gin with prosecco or asti spumante, and you have the messed-up drink, Negroni sbagliato. Proportions: 1 1/4oz. of Aperol 1 1/4oz. of dry gin (I used Gordon’s) 1 1/4oz. of sweet vermouth (I used Carpana Antico) Dashes of grapefruit bitters Glass: Large Martini glass Stir the ingredients over ice in a mixing glass. Serve in Martini glass,  garnished with an orange wheel

The Manhattan variations

Simple 3oz Manhattan
Simple 3oz Manhattan

It must be clear by now that my favourite drink is the Manhattan. Unlike a Martini, I have never been served a bad Manhattan – dull, perhaps, or not cold enough, but never bad. 

A Manhattan is basically a whisky Martini: the basic combination for the cocktail is a spirit, flavoured with a vermouth in a 2:1 ratio & then added some zip by the dashes of bitters.  If that combination works for gin & whisky, then it must work for other spirits? And of course, it does.

Here in no order of preference, is a list of the cocktails that have used the same ingredient selection, except for the base spirit:

Palmetto – aged rum, vermouth & bitters (also called a ‘Cuban Manhattan’).

Harvard – cognac, Italian vermouth, Angosturas bitters

Chancellor – blended scotch, port, dry vermouth, bitters.

El Chanceler – blended scotch, or a ‘mild’ single malt, madeira, dry vermouth, bitters*

Affinity – blended scotch, sweet & dry vermouths, dashes of bitters

Rob Roy – Scotch whisky, vermouth & bitters.

Fourth regiment – whisky & vermouth in a 1:1 ratio, then dashes of three bitters: celery, orange & Peychaud’s.

Tijuana Manhattan – tequila, vermouth & bitters.

Perfect cocktail – gin, sweet & dry vermouths, bitters

Presidente – white rum, sweet & dry vermouths, dashes of grenadine

* My own recipe: a portuguese version of the Chancellor, using Madeira.

Rob Roy

 

Rob Roy, made to Brad Thomas Parson's recipe in his Bitters book.
Rob Roy, made to Brad Thomas Parson’s recipe in his Bitters book.

Cocktails made with scotch whisky are not that unusual, but the general opinion is that whisky is too flavourful a drink to mix well with others, and should be enjoyed by itself. That might be the case for many single malts, which have such a unique flavour profile that it is hard to see them sitting well with any other flavours in a glass (the exception being such modern drinks as the Penicillin, which features Laphroaig), but blends have been designed to have a consistent, if less characterful flavour. They then lend themselves to mixed drinks better than the unique single malts; part of this comes from the combination of more neutral grain spirits, mixed with some malt whiskies, to produce the blend’s own flavour.

The Rob Roy can be seen as a Manhattan made with whisky, but the smokiness and slightly less sweet nature of scotch produces a quite different drink which stands in its own right. Like the Manhattan, a Rob Roy can be ordered dry (with only dry vermouth), perfect (a mixture of dry and sweet vermouths), though the standard drink is made with sweet only. The result is a rich, smoky cocktail, with a touch of herbal & wine-y flavours from the vermouth. One element that must not be overlooked is the presence of bitters. As per the Manhattan, the usual bottle to reach for would be the Angosturas, but I think that something with a more citrus flavour suits this drink better, and as I was mixing my version from the recipe in Parson’s Bitters book I followed his advice: I made my drink with Peychaud’s bitters, although Fee’s Orange would also be a good choice. Garnish follows the Manhattan route: cherry for the sweet version, lemon peel for the dry/perfect variants; I used a lemon peel in my straight Rob Roy: it seemed to me the lemon flavour cut through the sweetness slightly better.

Proportions:

2ozs of scotch whisky (Grant’s in this version)

1oz of sweet vermouth (Martini Rosso here)

2 dashes of bitters (Peychaud’s here)

Glass: 3oz Martini glass, chilled

Stir in your mixing glass, over ice, until well chilled. Strain into the Martini glass, and garnish with either lemon peel or cherry, to your choice.

History notes: There’s not much debate to the story behind this one: in 1894, the barman at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel was asked to create a cocktail to mark the opening of Rob Roy, an operetta written by Smith & De Koven; the barman mixed a Manhattan with scotch whisky, and named it for the hero of the piece. The operetta seems to be lost in past, but the cocktail recipe lives on.

Espresso Martini

Espresso Martini at the Porthminster Café
Espresso Martini at the Porthminster Café

I have never been keen on flavoured Martinis, but our recent dinner at the Porthminster Café in St Ives featured an Espresso Martini on the menu. Seeing as I had started the meal with their Dark & Stormy, it seemed like a very good idea to try their coffee-based Martini as a post-dinner drink. The menu gave few clues to the ingredients, but my understanding of the original Dick Bradsell creation is that it shouldn’t feature many in the first place: a decent vodka, freshly-made espresso coffee and sugar syrup, and a touch of coffee liqueur, all shaken until you have a thick crema on the top of the  cocktail, then strained into a glass. The result is an instant pick-me-up. The Porthminster’s version was beautifully made, right down to the classic three coffee beans on the foamy head. You wouldn’t want to drink more than one, but as a way to finish a meal, it was perfect.

On reading Tristan Stephenson’s book, The Curious Bartender, I noticed his recipe omits the coffee liqueur. I’d be interested to know why; perhaps he finds it too sweet, but you could always lessen the quantity of sugar syrup to compensate for this.

Proportions:

50ml of good vodka (Grey Goose I believe)

20ml of fresh espresso coffee (preferably a mix of robusta & arabica beans)

15ml of sugar syrup (rich or simple, to your taste)

8ml of coffee liqueur (Kahlua I think was used here)

Glass: 3oz Martini glass, chilled

Shake well in a shaker over  ice, then strain into the Martini glass. Garnish with three coffee beans in the centre of the glass.

Update: Checking the menu at the Café, I spotted a detail that I had missed: the syrup was Tonka bean syrup. That explains the rich vanilla-y flavour that the cocktail had, as Tonka beans are like vanilla with knobs on. It is one of the major flavour components of Abbott’s bitters, which I understand causes a few problems in the US, where it is considered hazardous to health.

IMG_0427

Update (2): On Saturday night, I mixed another version of the espresso martini, using a recent find in Italy: Borghetti coffee liqueur. This is much less sweet than the usual Tia Maria or Kahlua, and to my mind, much better suited to this drink, as you can control the sweetness with syrup.