Harvey CherrybangerIt’s Mixology Monday again, and this month those who like to blog about ‘craft cocktails’ are taking on the very ingredients that the new cocktail movement was a rebellion against.

mxmologoScott Diaz at Shake, Strain & Sip is the host this week, and he outlines the challenge thus:

“The evolution of the cocktail has been a wondrous, and sometimes, frightful journey.  From its humble beginning, to the “Dark Ages” of most of the later 20th century, to the now herald “Platinum Age” of the cocktail,  master mixologists and enthusiasts alike have elevated its grandeur using the best skills, freshest ingredients and craft spirits & liqueurs available.  But with all this focus on “craft” ingredients and classic tools & form, it seems we have become somewhat pretentious.  The focus on bitter Italian amari, revived and lost ingredients such as Batavia Arrack or Creme de Violette, the snickering at a guest ordering a Cosmopolitan or a Midori Sour; has propelled us into the dark realm of snobbery. Many scratch bars and Speakeasies have gone as far as to remove all vodka and most flavored liqueurs from their shelves.  Some even go as far as to post “rules” that may alienate most potential imbibers.  Remember, the bar was created with pleasing one particular group in mind: the guest.  As such, this month’s MxMo LXXI theme, From Crass to Craft,  will focus on concocting a craft cocktail worthy of not only MxMo but any trendy bar, using dubious and otherwise shunned ingredients to sprout forth a craft cocktail that no one could deny is anything less.  There are a plethora of spirits, liqueurs and non-alcoholic libations that are just waiting for someone to showcase that they too are worthy of being featured on our home and bar shelves.  So grab that bottle of flavored vodka, Jagermeister, cranberry juice, soda, neon colored liqueur, sour mix or anything else deemed unworthy of a craft cocktail, and get mixin’!

Well, I wasn’t feeling inspired to join in this month until the looming figure of my overly tall Galliano bottle caught my eye. “I actually quite like Galliano”, I thought. But it is terribly sweet. So I thought about what might be a good base spirit to mix it with and decided on a newish addition to my liquor collection, Kirsch (aka Kirschwasser), a brandy made from sour cherries. Kirsch (or at least the brand I have, Massanez) is delicious, but very dry, so I figured it would balance the sweetness of the Galliano and vice versa.

A little taste test bore this out, but it was thin – all high notes, needing some depth and body. To try and add this without sweetness, I turned to my favourite artichoke liqueur, Cynar, and a bit of Fees Brothers Rhubarb Bitters, a flavour that I am very fond of. The resulting cocktail was good, but then I remembered thinking that grapefruit would go nicely with dry eaux-de-vie such as Kirsch. The addition was an improvement, so after a quick suitably smutty 80’s name, this is the result. It’s not perfect, but I think it’s a pretty good drink. Delicious even.

The Harvey Cherrybanger

2 oz Kirsch

1/2 oz Galliano

1/2 oz Cynar

1/2 oz grapefruit juice

Shake and strain into a coupe. Garnish with a twist of grapefruit. Stick on some Human League and consume.

Pisco Sour

January 30, 2013

DSC_1058It’s National Pisco Sour Day! Well, it is if you’re lucky enough to live in Peru.

Pisco is a delicious white spirit native to Peru and Chile. It’s a kind of brandy, really, as it is distilled from grape wine. But unlike brandies such as Cognac, it’s generally unaged (or aged for a very short time). This gives it a taste somewhat similar to grappa. It’s refreshing, exuberant and fruity. I only have one brand – Control from Chile – but I love the stuff.

A sour is a drink consisting of spirits, lemon or lime, and sugar; the Whiskey Sour being the most well-known.

So a Pisco Sour is just Pisco, lemon or lime, sugar and a bit of egg white and Angostura Bitters.

This combination was invented by an American bartender called Victor Morris, who had a bar in Peru. The Chileans, also claim that they invented the Pisco Sour, but that claim now seems false.

When I tried my first Pisco Sour a few months ago, I was quite blown away. I often try good drinks that are very nice, but this one was very nice, and different as well. A lot of the vintage recipes I try are just new combinations of familiar flavours, but the Pisco Sour was really something new.

Egg white is a very important ingredient in the Pisco Sour, and although that can put a lot of people off, it’s actually very safe, and also doesn’t really affect the taste. It’s mostly there for the texture. Texture in cocktails is an important thing that I’ve been thinking about a bit recently. Foams are good.

The biggest argument over the best Pisco Sour lies in whether to use lemons or limes. It seems that this is mostly a national difference. In Chile they use lemons (and powdered sugar), in Peru they use limes (and simple syrup). I tried both, and prefer lemon. Maybe it better suits my Chilean Pisco. So if you’re trying Pisco Sours, try both and drink what you prefer. There’s no correct answer.

Pisco Sour

1 1/2 oz Pisco

3/4 oz lemon juice

1 tsp sugar

a few drops Angostura Bitters

a small egg white

Dissolve the sugar in the lemon juice then add the egg white and Pisco. Shake well without ice to let the egg white mix properly (optionally including a couple of drops of bitters), then shake again with ice. Strain into a coupe glass. Top with a few drops of Angostura Bitters.

The egg makes a nice foamy head to the drink and the Bitters sit on top, so it’s common to use a swizzle stick or something to swirl the bitters into a pattern. If you want to get really fancy you can make a stencil and spray the bitters through a mister to create a logo or something. However you do it, the bitters add a nice aromatic touch to the drink, so they’re pretty important.

On the subject of bitters, some say that the correct bitters to use are Amargo Bitters, from Peru, but I’m not so sure about that. Angostura Bitters is more commonly used now, and may also have been the original. I’d like to try.

DSC_1112The other big Pisco drink is Pisco Punch, a potion that originated in San Fransisco and became immensely popular in the US during the 19th century. It is made with Pisco, pineapple syrup, and lemon juice. It’s good, but I like the sour better, so I’d rather split the difference, add some egg white and bitters, and make my Pisco Punch as a Pisco Sour with pineapple syrup instead of sugar. Try it – it’s good.

Happy Pisco Sour Day!

*Note for readers in Taiwan: AFAIK there are currently three brands of Pisco available in Taiwan. Control for about 900NT from Breeze, Tres Erres from Megacity City Super for about 650NT, and Mistral from Jason’s in Banqiao FE21 for about 1000NT.

Hot Buttered Rum

December 20, 2012

As the temperature dropped below 12 degrees a couple of days ago (that’s practically sub-zero in Taiwan terms) I continued with hot drinks.

I revisited Hot Buttered Rum. For some reason, I hadn’t liked it much when I tried it last winter. This time, it was fantastic. I made it again the next night, doubled the recipe and almost wiped myself out. It’s deliciously potent.

There isn’t much hard historical knowledge about Hot Buttered Rum. Wondrich says that buttered drinks date back to at least Henry VII, and that it was quite likely in rum-loving New England that the rum version was popularised.

The drink has had its haters. Celebrated 1940s cocktail writer David Embury hated it, and I’ve often read that people just don’t like the butter (or the ‘layer of slick’ that it leaves). In my opinion, it really works. Anyway, it’s not worth getting hung up on. Try it, and if you don’t like it, leave it out and you’ve still got a great drink – Hot Spiced Rum.

There are, of course, many different versions, but once again I tried and loved the one given by veteran New Orleans bartender Chris McMillian – check out the video below.

DSC_0935

Hot Buttered Rum

2 oz Jamaican-style rum

3 oz hot water

3 tsp brown (Demerara) sugar

1 cinnamon stick

2 whole cloves

a little allspice

very large orange zest

knob of butter

Pre-heat a glass with hot water and discard after a couple of minutes. Dissolve sugar in a little hot water. Add rum and spices. Add hot water and stir. Dissolve a knob of butter on the top.

I really liked this drink. I didn’t have Demerara sugar, but I’m sure the brown sugar made a lot of difference over the white I probably used last time. It was nice and rich. The Christmas spices were great, even though I didn’t have allspice. I used the zest of almost a whole orange, and again, it was killer. The butter? I think it added a bit of body. Hot drinks can be a bit thin sometimes. I certainly didn’t dislike it.

You can double this mixture, but if you’re using 58% overproof rum, like I was, you might not be able to do much afterwards!

Linkage

December 1, 2012

Long overdue, I’m adding some links to other blogs on my front page.

When I started this blog, I was not a blog reader. I still don’t read all that many, but a pleasant surprise of writing my own blog was discovering the friendly and supportive cocktail blogging community.

There are big old famous blogs and there are great new ones. This small selection is by no means comprehensive, but just a few of my favourites.

But before I share, I have a sincere question: What are your favourite cocktail, Taiwan or otherwise relevant blogs? I’m keen to discover more good blog reads. Drop a comment and let me know.

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Drinks Blogs

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96BBaPutney Farm

Stuart grows food, photographs it, cooks delicious meals, blogs about and mixes up a cocktail to celebrate. A wonderfully holistic blog.

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cropped-dsc06839Boozed and Infused

Alicia introduced me to the practice of infusing spirits to make your own liqueurs; something that is not nearly as difficult as it sounds. I’ve made about five so far, and loved every one.

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Measure and Stir

A great cocktail blog from an enthusiastic hobbyist.

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Dirty Martini CocktailCold Glass

Certainly the nicest looking blog I read and the cocktail writing is great too.

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Prohibition-10And One More for the Road

Rhett is a working bartender with a great blog. I particularly like his ‘science‘ posts about such topics as the science of taste.

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kubrickheaderBunnyhugs

My old friend Seamus is from New Zealand, like me, but I met him in Taiwan over a decade ago. I’m still here, and he’s now in China where he writes for their national magazine ‘Drinks’. His blog has been dormant for years, but is just now stirring back into life, so go and check it out.

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Screen-Shot-2012-08-15-at-12.58.33-PMJeffrey Morgenthaler

Very sporadic nowadays, but my favourite of the ‘old-timer’ cocktail blogs.

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mxmologoMixology Monday

An event rather than a blog. Once a month, cocktail bloggers join together to post about their mixological experiences or discoveries based on a pre-arranged theme. The results end up on a different host blog each month, but the main blog here will point you there.

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Taiwan Sites

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IMG_2420Hungry Girl

A Hungry Girl’s Guide to Taipei is the premiere English-language guide to the wonderful world that is eating out in Taiwan. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.

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1353606180Jaysun Eats Taipei

The newcomer to Taipei food blogs, Jaysun approaches his topic with passion. There’s certainly enough eating to go around.

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255406_291260794323557_1791429876_aTearroir

A wine-lover’s guide to tea: Great concept and the perfect country for it.

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thumb.phpGraci in the Kitchen

Graci is another New Zealander living in Taiwan, and making waves with her ‘moody’ online cooking show.

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taiwan_forumsForumosa

The big daddy of Taiwan English-language forums.

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ease_bannerTaiwanease

Smaller (and possibly friendlier) Taiwan forums and business directory.

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logo-header3Gig Guide Taiwan

Outstanding site for everything that’s going on in the Taiwan music scene.

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Gin Tasting – Premium Gins

November 17, 2012

Saturday afternoon, my good friend is visiting the country, we have a scheduled power cut for five hours, and there’s torrential monsoon rain outside. What to do?

Cue my second round of gin tasting.

The first time I did something like this was several months ago and was much more basic. That time, I tried some very different products – Tanqueray, Plymouth, Old Tom and Genever.

This time around I set up three premium gins with three more regular brands (except that most bars would probably call the regular ones ‘premium’ and the others ‘super-premium’ or something).

My friend, my wife and I tried them all straight (after a little nosing), with a little water and in a gin and tonic (2 parts Schweppes tonic to 1 part gin with lemon wedge). Several weeks later, with a different friend, we did it again, but this time with a Martini (4:1 with Martini & Rossi and a dash of orange bitters + lemon twist) instead of gin and tonic. And we had a new gin, too. They weren’t blind tests. I had some knowledge of the brands (although I hadn’t read anything recently) but the other two were unencumbered by pre-formed expectations.

I have to say that none of us are expert tasters, and speaking for myself at least, I’m pretty awful at identifying smells and flavours. I can basically pick out sweet, sour, bitter, yucky and yummy.

I remember a long time ago Googling phrases like “What is the best brand of gin?” I now know that it’s not a good question. There are loads of quality brands and they all depend on your tastes, your mood, and what you’re mixing with. If you’re a gin fan, you wouldn’t rely on just one brand any more than a wine-lover would only drink one kind of wine.

That said, there were a few winners in our little testing.

Here are the seven we tried, and our thoughts on each. I have included some information from the makers or other sources about their botanicals used. That doesn’t mean we actually tasted all of them! Also, note the alcohol by volume. This differs in different markets – some countries or states tax spirits with higher ABV much higher, so these strengths are not usually sold. I prefer a good 47% or so strength for gin, especially for mixing, but it’s possible that the bottling we tasted is different from that available to you locally. All of these are available in Taipei, and I’ve noted where.

Plymouth Gin

Plymouth is the only gin in this taste-test that isn’t, strictly speaking, a ‘London Dry’ style of gin. It’s technically the surviving example of it’s very own category ‘Plymouth Gins’. That said, the basic taste profile is not that different. In fact, it’s closer to a ‘clean’ London Dry style than many gins with a more ambitious use of botanicals, so can make a good ‘neutral’ gin in cocktails.

ABV: 41.2%

Botanicals: juniper, angelica root, cardamom pods, coriander seeds, lemon peel, orange peel, orris root

Plymouth Gin is made in a 155-year-old copper pot still and is said to be distinguished by its ‘buttery’ base spirit and the naturally peaty granite-filtered water from the local Dartmoor Reservoir.

Tasting: We could taste light juniper, a little citrus and ‘lemon zestiness’. It tasted weaker and emptier others such as Tanqueray. Water didn’t improve it. It was much nicer in a gin and tonic, where we thought it was good. In the Martini the vermouth overpowered it.

Conclusions: Plymouth is nice; it just seemed weak and boring up against the other gins in our test. That said, it’s a popular mixing gin these days and I’ve come to appreciate it as such. It seems to go very well in Negronis and other cocktails which need a bit of orange citrus flavour. Orange bitters are a good match with Plymouth. Also when making earlier cocktails (ie pre-1890), Plymouth may be a better fit than London dries. It can go well in a drink where you want the gin to be a bit more subtle.

Availability in Taiwan: 9 City

 

Broker’s Gin

Although Broker’s is fairly new (1998) it is made to a 200-year-old recipe in an old distillery that is the same age. The botanicals used are all traditional gin botanicals, so it is a very traditional London Dry style gin. The first thing you notice about Broker’s is the bowler cap on the stem. Some hate it as a gimmick, but I think it’s cute. Just be sure to take it off if you’re using it often – it could easily make you drop the bottle.

ABV: 40%

Botanicals: juniper, coriander, orris, nutmeg, cassia bark, cinnamon, liquorice, orange peel, lemon peel, angelica root

Broker’s is made in a copper pot still with water from an underground spring at the distillery.

Tasting: We tasted strong juniper and the classic gin profile. We thought it was very similar to Tanqueray, but with perhaps a bit more citrus (and looking up the ingredients later seems to bear this out). Drinking neat, my wife thought it was a little lighter than Tanqueray, and my friend described it as a ‘gin hit in the mouth’. We thought it improved with the addition of water, but failed somewhat in a gin and tonic, lacking character. Tasting it on the second occasion, I thought it much better than the first time, and it tasted good in a Martini.

Conclusions: Broker’s suffered in our test as we thought Tanqueray was very similar, but better. That’s not surprising as both are very classic London Dry styles. That said, it’s still a very good gin, and you might like it if you feel that Tanqueray is a little too brash.

Availability in Taiwan: Carrefour, Breeze

Tanqueray Gin

Tanqueray is probably the most well-known of the gins in our taste-test, and perhaps also best epitomises the characteristics of a traditional London Dry style of gin. Its botanicals are part of a secret recipe, but are thought to be few – as little as four – with only three given by the distillers themselves. Started in London in the 1830s, Tanqueray is now produced in Scotland (much of the distillery was destroyed in the blitz).

ABV: 47.3%

Botanicals: juniper, coriander, angelica, and (widely assumed) liquorice

Tanqueray is now made in copper pot stills, including the 200-year-old ‘Old Tom’.

Tasting: We tasted strong juniper, a little spice and a hint of lemon. From the ‘nosing’ onwards, we all thought that Tanqueray was THE classic expression of gin. For me it just tastes ‘ginnier’ than all other gins. It was also described as ‘velvety’, full-bodied, dry tasting and tonic-like. The addition of water improved it. In a gin and tonic it was one of the very best, and also what we all thought of as the quintessential G’n’T. It was great as a Martini as well.

Conclusions: Tanqueray is my ‘go-to’ gin. I use it as the ‘default’ whenever trying a new gin cocktail. The 47% we get here stands up well to other ingredients, and it’s just ‘the classic’ London Dry profile. I know some think it’s too heavy on the juniper, but for me, more juniper just means more gin-like. Tanqueray was one of our top picks.

Availability in Taiwan: Carrefour and many bottle stores

Darnley’s View

Darnley’s is a very new gin dating back only to 2010. It is made by the Scotch-producing Wemyss family near Edinburgh, but is a fairly traditional, though light, London Dry style. The name is based on the view Mary Queen of Scots had of her future husband Lord Darnley, who was to father James VI of Scotland, who became James I of England, uniting Scotland and England (presumably in the same way that Darnley’s unites English and Scottish gin. I think it’s a stupid name.)

ABV: 40%

Botanicals: juniper, lemon peel, coriander seed, angelica root, elderflower and orris root

Tasting: We tasted weak juniper and a little citrus. Overall, we simply found it weaker and duller than most of the others. We thought the addition of water only brought out the flavours a little. We thought the gin and tonic rather boring and the Martini weak and watery.

Conclusion: I feel sorry for Darnley’s View; it seems like the real loser in our taste testing. But it’s certainly not a bad gin. I find the bottle alluring and am never disappointed when I take a sip. Maybe we missed it’s subtleties, as I’ve since found it to perform very well in Negronis, although I still doubt it’s ability to stand up well in most classic cocktails.

Availability in Taiwan: Megacity Mall City Super

Martin Miller

Started ten year’s ago by an antiques entrepreneur, Martin Miller’s gin has a few interesting qualities. Firstly, the earthier botanicals are distilled separately from the citrus ones before being blended. A small amount of distilled cucumber is also added as a drying agent. After distillation, as portrayed on the (very nice looking) bottle, the gin is transported to Iceland to be blended with what they call the  ‘purest water in the world’, which is apparently super oxygenated with a high surface tension which gives the gin a softer gentler taste.

ABV: 40%

Botanicals: juniper, coriander, angelica, lemon peel, orange peel, orris root, powdered licorice, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cassia bark

Martin Miller is distilled in a 100-year-old pot still called ‘Angela’.

Tasting: We tasted citrus and cucumber. We all had great first impressions of this gin. It could have been the excellent marketing and image of the bottle at work, or it could have ben truly living up to its image, but we all thought Martin Miller tasted exceptionally fresh with a smooth arctic coolness and not so much bite as more juniper-forward gins. We eventually identified with instant certainty the cucumber taste as one of the main reasons for this. Hendricks is known for cucumber, but I think you can taste it much more clearly in the Martin Miller, where it works very well. The addition of water improved the flavours and it was great in a gin and tonic (which I also later tried with a cucumber garnish which was also very nice). The vermouth seemed to accentuate these tastes making for an exceptional, albeit rather non-standard, expression of the Martini.

Conclusions: Undoubtedly a winner for all three us in this taste-testing, Martin Miller is an exceptional fresh and refreshing cool summer gin. That said, you’d have proceed with caution when mixing classic drinks, as its profile is so non-standard. But G’n’Ts and Martinis alone easily justify buying this gin. This could also be a good gin to lure vodka drinkers onto the true path.

Availability in Taiwan: 9 City, Breeze

Hendrick’s Gin

Hendrick’s Gin, also little over ten years old, is made in Scotland. Its smooth marketing brands it as an unusual gin, and plays up its additives of rose and cucumber – spearheading the use of cucumber in place of lemon/lime in a G’n’T. Its distinctive opaque bottle adds to the image of a distinctive gin.

ABV: 41.5%

Botanicals: quite secret, but seem to include juniper, coriander, citrus, angelica, orris

Hendrick’s is distilled partly in a Bennet copper pot still, and partly in a rare Carter-head still where the more floral botanicals are added. These two distillates are then blended to make the final gin after the addition of cucumber and Bulgarian rose distillates.

Tasting: The scent of Hendricks was floral and perfumy, and the nice floral qualities came through when tasting it neat and with water. Juniper was in the background. We couldn’t taste the cucumber, but that might have been what made the Hendricks taste smoother than most of the other gins. Hendricks made one of the best gin and tonics in our test, but was middle of the bunch for Martinis.

Conclusions: We were very impressed with Hendrick’s in our first round of tasting (with gin and tonics) but a little less so in the second round (with Martinis). Hendrick’s seems to polarise a little, with many loving it and many finding it over-hyped. I tend to towards the former camp, but wouldn’t go the way of the Wall Street Journal and call it the best gin in the world. This is a good gin for cocktails where you are mixing with other floral ingredients.

Availability in Taiwan: 9 City and quite a few other bottle stores

The Botanist

Islay Scotch producers of the Bruichladdich distillery widen their portfolio with this aptly named gin containing 9 standard botanicals and a further 22 special botanicals all sourced from Islay itself. That’s 2-4 times as many botanicals as in most gins, which could make it either a gin of unmatched complexity or a complete mess of too many flavours.

ABV: 46%

Botanicals: juniper berries, angelica root, cassia bark, cinnamon bark, coriander seed, lemon peel, orange peel, liquorice root, orris root, apple mint birch leaves, bog myrtle leaves, chamomile, creeping thistle flowers, elderflower, gorse flowers, heather flowers, hawthorn flowers, juniper (prostrate) berries, Lady’s Bedstraw flowers, lemon balm, meadowsweet, peppermint leaves, mugwort leaves, red clover flowers, sweet cicely leaves, tansy, thyme leaves, water mint leaves, white clover, wood sage leaves

The Botanist is slow-distilled in a 60-year-old Lomond pot still called Old Betty. The standard botanicals are macerated first and the local botanicals are added via an infusion basket in the still. Islay spring water is used in  the distillation and bottling.

Tasting: We tasted juniper and strong herbal flavours. We thought it dry and fairly bitter, but certainly interesting. I didn’t have this for our first round of tasting, so we didn’t try it in a side-by-side gin and tonic test. I made one later though and thought it fine. However, it really shone in the Martini. It was very herbal with a touch of cinnamon.

Conclusions: The Botanist was one of our favourites in the Martini – complex, distinctive and fascinating (though again quite non-standard). I wouldn’t use it in recipes calling for a normal London Dry, at least not expecting a normal result. This is another gin for appreciating on its own, in Martinis or with simple mixers. It’s not a refresher, but a gin for those who like a nice complex drink.

Availability in Taiwan: 9 City

Summary

The gin-tastings were a fun experience and a great way to get to know some gins and see the differences between them. Honestly, there were no winners, but going up against other heavy hitters left some otherwise excellent gins tasting boring and nondescript.

Plenty of gins that are available in Taipei were left out (I can only buy so many at once): Beefeater (a great traditional gin), Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray No. 10, Greenall’s, Gordon’s (which I don’t care for), The London No.1 and more. I want to try them all sometime.

I expected it, but it’s very clear that there is no ‘best gin in the world’. It all depends on not only your own preferences, but what you’re mixing it with and what sort of mood you’re in.

Awards

Best gin for gin and tonic: Tanqueray, Martin Miller and (runner-up) Hendrick’s

Best gin for Martini: Tanqueray, Martin Miller and The Botanist

Best traditional gin: Tanqueray

Best atypical gin: Martin Miller (runners-up: Hendrick’s and The Botanist).

What should I be trying next? What’s your favourite gin?

Table of (Known and Assumed) Botanicals

Tanqueray Darnley’s Hendrick’s Plymouth Broker’s M Miller Botanist
juniper
coriander
angelica
orris
lemon
orange
liquorice
cassia
cinnamon
nutmeg
elderflower
cardamom
others

Further Reading

Gin tasting at Bunnyhugs

Gin Tasting at Raised Spirits

The Gin Blog

Gin Reviews at Summer Fruit Cup

The Manhattan! I was brought up believing that the Martini was the pinnacle of cocktail perfection. Now I know the truth. It’s the Manhattan.

True, the Martini is brilliant, and it’s amongst the handful of drinks which I’ll call ‘my favourites’ – all of which are tops in one way or another. But the Manhattan is tops in more ways than one.

It’s sophisticated yet somehow down-to-earth at the same time. It’s delicious. It’s satisfying. It has emotional resonance. It’s incredibly versatile, with endless possible variations. Add to all that the fact that it’s quick and easy to make (and can be readily ordered in any bar with generally good results). Yep, there may be many strong contenders, but the Manhattan IS my favourite cocktail.

People often say that a good cocktail is more than the sum of its parts, but that can be true in different ways. Some work together to bring out the best qualities of the spirits and mixers. Others create a whole new taste. I think the Manhattan does both. The vermouth does wonderful things to the whiskey, letting you taste the distinct qualities of the spirit you have chosen, and then there’s this extra taste – a Manhattanness – which is quite distinct form the tastes of the whiskey, vermouth, or bitters. The quality of the Manhattanness is what really makes a good one for me.

Oh, I’m not the only one to use this word ‘Manhattanness’. Just after writing this, I was flipping through David Wondrich’s ‘Imbibe’ for historical details, only to find him writing “The one-to-two “reverse” ratio here … (is) somewhat deficient in Manhattanness (to coin a word)”. Well, I guess I’m not the only one to hold that opinion.

What did I discover from Wondrich, on the historical front? Well, the Manhattan was probably invented in the 1870s, definitely in New York, and quite likely in the Manhattan club. It was one of the first drinks to use the newly popular vermouth in a stiffer ‘cocktail’. The Martini came later. The most common formulation was equal parts vermouth to whiskey, but that gradually gave way to the more contemporary two parts whiskey to one part vermouth formulation.

When I find a drink I like a lot, I like to drink it a lot. But I also don’t like to drink the same thing over and over again. Happily, the Manhattan lends itself superbly to endless variations. And it’s versatile as hell. Unlike some cocktails which are juggling acts of perfect balance, a Manhattan will absorb a lot of tinkering.

So this post is going to be a bit of an exploration of Manhattan variations.

Here’s my basic template:

Manhattan

2 oz whiskey (Bourbon or Rye)

1 oz sweet vermouth

2 dashes bitters

Stir well with plenty of ice and strain into a chilled martini or coupe glass. Garnish with a cherry or lemon twist.

Minor Variations: Garnish, ice and glass

Cherry and lemon twist are the usual garnishes. I like cherries but don’t always have either fresh or my homemade rum semi-preserved cherries in stock, and I don’t use ‘maraschino’ cherries. Lemon seems like a more delicate touch which goes well with other citrusy or citrus-hinted variations

When I’m drinking at home I always have a Manhattan straight-up – in a chilled martini/coupe without ice. But when I’m out, I usually have it in a rocks glass with ice. I like that too.

Proportions

My proportion is 2:1, and I like it, but a lot of recipes these days seem to call for 2:0.75.

In ‘Imbibe‘, David Wondrich says that for the first 20 years or so of the Manhattan, the 1:1 ratio was standard and another common variant was 1 part whiskey to 2 parts vermouth. I think the 1:1 is OK, but the ‘Reverse Manhattan’, although certainly a different drink, is better. The ‘modern’ Manhattan is clearly one thing, the ‘reverse’ another, but the ’50/50′ is not sure what it is.

Varying the Spirit

The big choice is Bourbon or Rye. Rye was the old favourite in the Northeast towards the end of the 19th century – the place and time the Manhattan was invented, so it can be seen as the traditionally ‘correct’ version, if you like. I like it a lot (with my Rittenhouse), but Bourbon is just as good really. My three brands – Woodford Reserve, Maker’s Mark and Knob Creek all make great Manhattans. When I have it with Jim Beam in a bar, it tastes great too. It’s a very forgiving drink!

In my opinion, if it’s not made with Whiskey it’s not really a Manhattan – give it another name.

That said, I think a rum ‘Manhattan’ is great, as is a Genever ‘Manhattan’ (New Amsterdam).

A Rob Roy is a Manhattan with Scotch. Blended whiskey is the usual, but I think it tastes much better with a smokey single malt. The Bobby Burns is an excellent variation on the Rob Roy which sees Benedictine added to the mix.

I’ve also tried Manhattans with Jack Daniels (pretty good), Irish (alright) and Canadian (quite poor).

Bitters

Angostura is the traditional choice for the Manhattan and I like it, but my personal favourite is orange bitters (I use Angostura Orange, as it’s all I have).

I also think Fees Brothers Whiskey-Barrel-Aged Bitters make a great Manhattan with Bourbon, adding a little spice which makes it closer to a Rye Manhattan (for those of us in Rye-deprived countries).

Peychaud’s is also excellent. I was surprised at how good Rhubarb Bitters were (Fees), and love the Fees Black Walnut bitters.

Grapefruit, peach, cranberry and chocolate were fine. Lemon, mint, cherry and celery weren’t.

My next idea: bitters combinations.

Switching out the vermouth

A popular tactic in creating Manhattan twists is to try fancy vermouths or substitute an aperitif wine or appropriate amaro (Italian bitter liqueur). Sadly, there’s not much of that around in Taipei. No Dolin, Noilly Pratt or Carpano Antica Vermouth. No Averna or Punt e Mes.

Perhaps the most well-known vermouth variation would be the ‘Perfect Manhattan’. In cocktail-speak, ‘perfect’ means equal parts sweet and dry vermouth. I don’t know if it’s just that I’m limited to Martini and Rossi Vermouth here, but I don’t really like this one. I even tried all-dry and that was worse.

Bianco (White) Vermouth (discussed in this Jason Wilson column) is a great lesser known cousin of dry and sweet, but much different (the Martini and Rossi one is widely available). It makes a great light Manhattan variation which would be good for beginners. Wilson recommends leaving out the bitters with this one.

Lillet Blanc – a delicious ‘quinquina’ fortified wine with some similarities to vermouth – is also really good. It’s a nice light Manhattan with a definite taste of Manhattanness. (In Taipei, you can buy it at Sundy).

Dubonnet is also a ‘quinquina’ and makes a great Manhattan when substituted for vermouth.

Cynar is a bitter liqueur that I love, but is sadly unavailable in Taipei. It also makes a great Manhattan variation.

Adding Liqueurs

A common practice a hundred years ago was to add a dash or two of a sweet liqueur to a Manhattan (and many other cocktails). The ‘usual seasonings’ were curacao, absinthe and maraschino.

I’ve tried Marie Brizzard Orange Curacao and Grand Marnier (1 tsp) with orange bitters and an orange twist, and I think they both make a nice citrusy Manhattan.

I’ve said before that I really don’t like absinthe, but (in very small doses) it can have a good effect on a cocktail – it smoothes it and gives the taste a little lasting power in the mouth. The same is true in the Manhattan – it went really nicely with my Woodford reserve. (I only use 1/4 tsp).

Maraschino (1/2 tsp) makes for a sharp Manhattan. I wasn’t too thrilled.

Other classic candidates would be Benedictine and Chartreuse, but I haven’t really tried them.

The modern ‘splash a bit in everything’ liqueur is St Germain Elderflower, and a teaspoon or two does make for a very fine Manhattan.

With any of these, you might want to tone down the vermouth a little to compensate for the added sweetness.

More Complicated Variations

There are loads and loads of more involved Manhattan variations around. Here are the ones I’ve tried.

Little Italy

2 oz rye

1/2 oz Cynar

3/4 oz sweet vermouth

cherry garnish

This one is truly excellent. I love Cynar. Here it partly substitutes for the vermouth and for the bitters.

Dandy

1 1/2 oz rye

1 1/2 oz Dubonnet

1 dash Angostura Bitters

3 dashes orange bitters

3 dashes Cointreau

1 piece lemon peel

1 piece orange peel

Shake and strain.

It’s a while since I tried this one – when I was doing my Dubonnet drinks – but according to my notes it was very good; one of the best Dubonnet cocktails, in fact.

Livorno

1 1/2 oz Bourbon

3/4 oz Tuaca

2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters

cherry garnish

Tuaca is a vanilla-based liqueur (unavailable in Taiwan), so having this stand in for vermouth is stretching it a bit, and, in fact, I found this one a bit unbalanced. It was interestingly ‘bouncy’ though. ‘Bouncy’ is what I call a drink in which you taste one element and then one quite different one and bounce back and forth between the two. In a good drink you should end up right in the middle. This one didn’t really.

Rochester Cocktail

2 oz rye

1 oz Dubonnet

1/2 oz Licor 43

1/4 oz absinthe

2 dashes Angostura Bitters

lemon twist garnish

Licor 43 is another vanilla liqueur, so I substituted Tuaca, and it worked much better in this one, which turned out very nice. The absinthe worked very well too, and it had definite Manhattanness.

Arts District

2 oz rye

1/2 oz Cynar

1/4 oz Benedictine

grapefruit peel garnish

I thought this one was nice, but with this recipe probably had too much Benedictine and not enough Cynar.

I have recipes for quite a few more Manhattan variations, but many call for ingredients I don’t have, and I’ve run out of rye again (no rye in Taiwan!), but when you think of the different elements that can be varied, it’s quite easy to ad-lib your own. Just think of what variations go with each other and what spirit to use with that.

What are your favourite Manhattan variations?

Next week: … And Then We Drink Some Gin.

Fine Beer, Locally Made

October 31, 2012

Last Friday I was lucky enough to be invited to a beer tasting, with the first large batch from some local brewers. I’m normally all about cocktails and spirits, but this was too good a chance to pass up, so I’m branching out a little this week.

Jason and Rob brew beer right here in Xindian, the very district of Xinbei (aka New Taipei City) in which I live. They’re also regulars at my local, the Green Hornet, and that was where they hauled a few kegs of their new product – an as yet unnamed American Pale Ale.

It’s good beer. Not the hoppy taste explosion of an IPA (American Pale Ale is milder, I learnt)  but something a bit easier to drink. There’s a little bitterness, some hoppy fruitiness and little caramel taste in there. I liked it a lot, and I’m not usually a big beer drinker. Jason and Rob have some stronger stuff they’ve brewed for themselves and plans for expansion.

They hope to have their beer being sold in bars by early next year, so look out for it. (Admittedly, this would be a little easier if it had a name already. It’ll probably be something that reflects its New Taipei/Xinbei origin). The plan is for a small range, probably beginning with the American Pale Ale, a hoppier IPA and a chocolatey stout that they’ve been working on.

Their ale is made with Belgian malted barley, Californian yeasts and some American hops. And their most important ingredient “a lot of love”. From their description of the amount of work that goes into the brewing, especially keeping it in the right conditions during Taiwan’s hot and humid summer, I can certainly believe that.

They are not starting from scratch, though, Jason is drawing on twelve years of experience brewing in America, most recently with Hog town Brewers, a Florida co-op which has since spawned a few successful breweries in that state, including Swamphead Brewery in Gainesville. Let’s hope that Jason and Rob’s venture is the next success story.

It might not be the spirits that I yearn for, but I think it’s great that some local booze is starting to be developed. Until recently the Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Monopoly had, well, a monopoly, on the alcohol market in Taiwan, but now there a few (a very small few) microbreweries around, and I wish Jason and Rob the best of luck.

What 9City is for gin in Taipei, 八條酒庫 is to Bourbon.

If that name came out gibberish on your browser, that’s because it’s in Chinese and this place doesn’t seem to have an English name. They don’t have a website either. Or a shop really.

They’re a supplier (right in the middle of the hostess bar district of Taipei) and they have a small store front allowing single-bottle purchasers from the public.

The name transliterates to ‘Batiao Jiuku’ and translates loosely to ‘Number Eight Liquor Warehouse’ or perhaps ‘Eight Street Liquor Supplies.

Their range for most booze is uninteresting, but for Bourbon, they’re far and away the best in Taipei on range and usually price too. I’m going to call them the Number 8 Bourbon Shop.

So what do they have? Their range of Bourbon includes (but might not be limited to):

Maker’s Mark (800NT)

Knob Creek Special Batch (750NT)

Woodford Reserve (1100NT)

Four Roses

Four Roses Single Barrel (1400NT)

Baker’s

Booker’s (2400NT)

Buffalo Trace

That makes for a lot of nice Bourbon, some that I haven’t seen anywhere else in Taipei and some that is a hell of a lot cheaper. (That Knob Creek, for example, almost looks like a pricing error – The couple of other places I’ve seen it sell it for about 1200).

So what to buy? I’ve tried the Maker’s Mark, and though I see a place for it (and it IS very good), it’s not my favourite – if you like your Bourbon very smooth, though, try it, for sure. I like the Knob Creek much better, and it’s a steal at the price. I also tried the Woodford Reserve (they have limited taster bottles), and it was even better. I’m going to buy it very soon. I’m also interested in the Four Roses Single Barrel as I hear it has a high rye count, and I’m very fond of the ever-elusive (in Taipei) Rye Whiskey.

If you visit, remember that they’re wholesaler’s so you can’t really browse. Just tell them what you’re interested in, and they’ll show it to you.

Here’s a follow up post: Woodford Reserve and a Mini Bourbon Tasting.

Here’s the address:

Taipei City

Zhongshan District

Linsen North Rd.

L. 133, No. 41

台北市中山區林森北路133巷41號1樓

02-2561-6296

I thought I knew all the places to buy gin in Taipei and all the brands that were available.

Then I stumbled on this bottle store (with three branches) called 9City.

What an amazing surprise! Seven brands of gin that I haven’t seen anywhere else in Taipei! Seven! (Like all bottle stores in Taiwan they specialize in Scotch, but in comparison with most, this place is a regular gin palace).

Best of all, a gin that is old, unique and specifically called for in certain recipes, at a superb price of 450NT, and hitherto unavailable in Taiwan:

Plymouth Gin!!!

Next a few premium gins that seem like they might well be worth a try:

Gin No. 209

The Botanist Islay Dry Gin

Boudier Saffron Gin

A few that I see fewer glowing reviews of:

Pink 47

Josephine Gin

William Chase

One that is only available one other place:

Martin Miller’s

Two at higher strengths:

Martin Miller’s Westbourne Strength (45.2 – very keen to try)

Hendricks 1 litre (which I think is 44% rather than the usual 41.4)

If you’re interested in gin, this is the place to go. Get some Plymouth at the very least.

There are three branches in Taipei. Here are the addresses:

Taipei City, Chang An E Rd Sec 2, No. 197 (3233 9399)

Taipei City, Renai Rd Sec 4, L.112, No. 21 (2778 9338)

Xinbei City, Yonghe, Zhongshan Rd Sec 1, No. 322 (2709 5168)

The story of how cocktails happen is more one of variation and adaptation than raw ‘invention’, so when I’ve come up with a ‘new’ cocktail (not very often) I never know when to call it a new ‘invention’ or a variation, but I suspect 99% of cocktails are just variations of others that came before (and 1% inspiration).Perhaps it’s all in the name.

My last post was my ‘invention’ the (Return of the) Green Hornet. Here’s a few more I’ve come up with recently.

The Cherry Collins

2 oz gin

1 oz cherry syrup

1 oz lemon juice

2 dashes cherry bitters (Fees)

soda

Shake and strain (all but the soda) into a Collins glass filled with ice. Top up with soda. Stir lightly.

This is a simple Tom Collins variation – cherry syrup instead of water and a touch of appropriate bitters. Why?

I made a big batch of rummed-up homemade cocktail cherries for my guest bartender night at the Green Hornet this Saturday. A by-product from 4 jars of cherries is one jar of a thick cherry syrup. Now I’ve actually tried a cherry fizz (almost identical to a Collins) with Cherry Brandy (which is actually a liqueur, not a brandy) and it was OK. But the actual syrup works much better and the cherry bitters ramp it up a couple more notches into an excellent refreshing drink, which is not too sweet at all, but still nicely cherry-tasting.

The name was a cinch, as variations of the Tom Collins just rely on varying the name (eg Ivan Collins for one made with vodka etc).

I am very happy with this one, and my wife loves it too. If you can get down to the Green Hornet on Saturday night, I’ll be able to serve you one.

(Apologies for the awful photo)

The Nora Ephron

2 oz dark rum

1 oz ginger syrup

1 oz lime juice

soda

Build in a highball glass. Fill with ice. Top up with soda. Stir lightly.

Another one with ingredients I’d prepared for Saturday night – this time the ginger syrup I used for the (Return of the) Green Hornet. I used Havana Club Anejo Especial for the rum. It’s kind of a simplification of the modern classic, the Anejo Highball, created by Dale DeGroff. Or, if you like, a highball daiquiri with ginger syrup instead of sugar.

This is another great refresher, and my wife likes it enough that she just asked me for another one. It’s 31 degrees C right now, at 10PM, so I don’t blame her. Again, I can make you one at the Green Hornet this Saturday if you ask.

The name is on honour of the screenwriter who had, I discovered, passed away on the day I first made this.

The New Amsterdam

2 oz genever

1 oz sweet vermouth

2 dashes orange bitters

Stir well with ice and strain into a chilled martini glass.

This is, of course, a Manhattan with the old Dutch gin-like genever as a base rather than bourbon or rye whiskey. The earliest martinis were also a bit like this too, but by that time they were using Old Tom gin instead of genever, so it’s different again. Genever while being quite gin-like also has an earthy aged taste which makes it sort of whiskey-like too. So it’s no surprise that while I thought of this drink on my own, I was far from the first to do so. So I can hardly call it my own invention.

But how about the name! I’ve seen this online with white vermouth called a ‘White Manhattan’, but come on – this drink named itself. Dutch Manhattan … If you see a genever Manhattan served anywhere – as a ‘White Manhattan’ or under any other name – please insist that it be renamed instantly.

Sadly genever is unavailable in Taiwan, and my stocks (the bottle) are running low, otherwise I’d drink this delicious cocktail much more.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture for the next one.

The Guns of Normandy

1 – 1 1/2 oz Calvados

2 dashes Angostura Bitters

a sugar cube

Normandy Brut Cider

Put the sugar cube in a champagne flute and pour the bitters on top. Add the Calvados. Fill with ice. Top up with the cider. Don’t stir.

This one was a matter of applying the logic of a Champagne Cocktail, to Calvados and Cider. Calvados is ‘apple brandy’ made in Normandy. It’s a ‘true’ brandy in the sense that it is actually distilled from fermented apples, rather than being infused or flavoured with the fruit in the way that some ‘brandies’ (commonly cherry, apricot and peach) are.

So a common Champagne Cocktail uses Champagne and Cognac – fermented grapes strengthened with a little distilled fermented grapes. The Guns of Normandy uses fermented apples strengthened with a little distilled fermented apples.

I made this on the cheap with Carrefour’s selected ‘Reflets de France’ branded Calvados and the similarly branded Cidre Brut. I don’t know enough about Calvados to know how it compares, but it is ‘Appellation Pays d’Auge’ which should stand for something. The cider is really nice and refreshing, and very cheap at Carrefour in Taiwan.

I couldn’t help wondering if apple bitters instead of Angostura might be good to take the theme even further, or an apple slice garnish, but that would probably be overkill. Maybe a cube of apple instead of a cube of sugar? It’s something to try.

The name comes from the apparent practice in World War One of naming champagne cocktails after artillery pieces. The French 75 is the most well-known example, but I’ve seen references to at least three others. So this one is two big guns from Normandy and also a nod to George G. Blackburn, World War Two veteran and writer. The drink’s good. It really works.

That’s about the extent of my invention for now (the successes, at any rate). If anyone tries one, I’d love to know what you think of it. I don’t plan on entering any world mixology championships any time soon, but I’m quite pleased with these results. I’d also love to hear of any successful creation you’ve made.

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