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!

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Hot Toddy – A Template

December 8, 2012

The last week or so, I’ve been messing around with a template recipe for some hot toddy variations. It’s a little rough, but I got a few nice results.

Reading a few blogs, I’ve noticed that I’m not the only one drinking hot drinks these days, as the weather turns cold in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s not freezing in Taiwan yet, but it has been cold, grey, wet and miserable. Perfect Hot Toddy weather.

DSC_0892Most modern recipes for Hot Toddies are whiskey (or other spirit), honey and lemon juice, with some cinnamon and cloves, but this not what the original hot toddy was. David Wondrich explains (and the old recipe books back him up) that the Toddy (hot or cold) was a descendent of the punch, with the fruit taken out. The recipe goes something like this:

Old School Hot Toddy

2 oz spirits

1 tsp sugar

3 oz hot water

That’s it. You should warm the glass with a soak in hot water first. You can grate a little fresh nutmeg on top, too (I haven’t got any, so haven’t tried it). Brown, raw or Demerara sugar is recommended, but white or simple syrup work fine.

Dark spirits tend to work best, with Scotch, Rum, Brandy and Bourbon being favourites. I’ve tried them all before and last week (the first day it got cold) had one with Woodford Reserve that was delicious.

After that experience I wondered about varying the recipe with liqueurs for sweetener. This is something which the writer’s don’t really suggest, but I thought worth a try. Then I got fancy (my first attempt lacked something) and tried adding some extra strong flavour in small quantities. That gave me this template:

Fancy Toddy Template

2 oz spirits

1/2 oz sweet liqueur

1 tsp strong modifying agent

It could probably do with improvement, and might not be to the taste of purists, but it’s certainly fun playing around with on cold winter nights.

The drink that led me to experiment with this template was made with (sadly the last of) my bottle of Bowmore 12-Year Islay Scotch. Toddies usually call for smooth single malts, but I’d decided they’d be much nicer with a bit of a kick, and I think a smokey Islay really works. I think I had a drink called ‘Under the Tartan Sun’ (from Boozehound) in mind when I thought of Tuaca as a sweetener. Tuaca is an Italian vanilla liqueur, so you could also use Licor 43, or maybe even Galliano. I thought it still wanted a little something and I felt that was Fernet Branca, the beautiful bitter minty ameri.

Scotch Toddy

2 oz Islay Scotch

1/2 oz Tuaca

1 tsp Fernet Branca

3 oz hot water

It was great. 5/5

DSC_0875Next day (or possibly the same night) I went for brandy, and did it B & B style.

Brandy Toddy

2 oz Cognac

1/2 oz Benedictine

1/2 tsp absinthe

Also very good. 4/5

Next I tried gin, and think I have to agree that aged spirits work better in Hot Toddies. The first attempt (with Botanist, Yellow Chartreuse and Maraschino – I don’t know why I thought it might work) was just awful. The second matched some floral flavours, was alright and could be worked on.

Hendrick’s Toddy

2 oz Hendrick’s Gin

1/2 oz St Germain Elderflower Liqueur

2 drops rose water

It was alright. The flavours matched nicely, but it was rather thin. 3/5

Next was rum. I started with the high-proof Bundaberg OP and realised that you can’t use high-proof spirits (or too much spirits) in Hot Toddies. The evaporating fumes make it impossible to drink for a couple of minutes. I had to use my only other aged rum at the moment, Havana Club Especial. It was still a great drink, but I think a more full-bodied sweeter rum would have been better. Having never made Tiki drinks I was also not sure about the (Fees) Falernum. Really, I just threw it in for the hell of it. I was, perhaps, forcing things to fit the template. But it ended up really improving the drink, so why not?

Rum Toddy

2 oz dark rum

1/2 oz Chambord Raspberry Liqueur

1-2 tsp Falernum

Great. It only misses out on 5 stars because I think a more suited rum would have been better 4.5/5

Next I tried Calvados, which is true apple brandy (that is not a liqueur called brandy, but a distillate made from apples). I think I was reaching for things to match it with, but the Chartreuse more or less worked, and I think Angostura suits Calvados. I really wanted to try it with Peach Liqueur, but didn’t have any. The result was fairly nice, but nothing special.

Calvados Toddy

2 oz apple brandy

1/2 oz Yellow Chartreuse

3 dashes Angostura Bitters

O.K. 3/5

Finally I tried a toddy with Genever – the Dutch ancestor of gin, and a bit of a favourite of mine, although I never really know what to mix it with. The ingredients I ended up with – Cynar artichoke liqueur and rhubarb bitters – were a weird match, and though I really liked it, I’m not sure that many other people would.

Genever Toddy

2 oz Genever

1/2 oz Cynar

1 dash rhubarb bitters (Fees)

I liked it, but doubt it would have broad appeal, so 3.5/5.

And that’s it. I can’t really say that any of these are better than plain Woodford Reserve Bourbon with sugar, but it’s good to have a variety. Do you have any favourite toddy recipes?

Mojito!

September 9, 2012

Last week, I blogged about Daiquiris – rum, sugar and lime. The Mojito is just a variation on this which has got mint a bit of soda added, but it has become by far the more popular of the two these days.

The Mojito has a special place in my heart. It’s the drink that got me interested in cocktails in the first place. This was just two years ago.

FLASHBACK!

1989. I’m at university in Wellington. Two-for-one cocktails at the Southern Cross – Grasshoppers, Fluffy Ducks and other weak, creamy, sweet concoctions. The odd occasion where we’d pool funds and have a ‘cocktail night’ (Grasshoppers, Fluffy Ducks and other weak, creamy, sweet concoctions.)

FAST FORWARD

It’s the mid-90s. We’re too into goatee’d slacker hip to drink beer. Lounge music is in. We’ve been told that the true retro cool is a Martini (made with Bombay Sapphire) so dry that the vermouth is just used to wash the ice, or waved in the direction of France. We obligingly become cocktail drinkers, but go no further than this height of sophistication because where else is there to go?

FAST FORWARD

2010. I’m in Taiwan and thankfully haven’t had an extra-dry (or any) Martini for over a decade. My knowledge of cocktails is limited to insisting that a Martini is only made with gin (not vodka) and always stirred (not shaken). I couldn’t name you the ingredients of a Manhattan or a Daiquiri. And I’d never heard of a Mojito.

Septmeber 2010. I’m watching back episodes of Burn Notice. It’s a fun show. Not too sophisticated, for sure, but it goes down easy. And what’s that drink Sam Axe keeps drinking called a Mojito? It looks nice and refreshing.

Moon Festival, September 2010. For a Mid-Autumn Festival I invite the Taiwanese in-laws and a good Aussie friend over for a BBQ on the roof. Having avidly researched the Mojito on the Internet for days (OK, watched a bunch of YouTube videos), I get the Bacardi ready, and mix my first cocktails since student days. They went down well all round.

Summer 2011. Round for afternoon’s drinking at a friend’s house, I try making Mojitos again. By this time, I know that it’s a very popular drink in America, and am becoming aware that there’s a big developing cocktail scene that’s been going on for a good few years. And now I have Havana Club. The Mojitos go down even better. My drinking mates, despite being staunch Republicans who should really oppose trade with Cuba, agree that the Havana Club is much nicer than Bacardi.

Present Day

Now, I’ve drunk quite a few Mojitos in bars and I’ve researched a lot of recipes. I don’t claim to be an expert, but I think there’s a lot of bad Mojitos out there. Here’s my advice:

The Top Five Mistakes Made When Mixing Mojitos

1. Using Bacardi. Bacardi is not Cuban rum anymore. It’s too weak, and not that nice. Havana Club is much nicer. Matusalem Platino is also good if you can’t buy true Cuban.

2. Over-muddling the mint. You don’t need to muddle it at all really, if you follow the recipe below. If you do muddle, just lightly press. You just want the essential oils and juices, not the bitterness which comes from a real muddling.

3. Adding too much soda. Use crushed ice so that’s there’s little room for much ice. Then just a splash on top to fill the glass. It’s just to give it a little fizz and sparkle. It wakes the drink up.

4. Shaking. When I’ve had Mojitos in bars they’ve always been shaken. This is just wrong.

5. Muddling the limes. OK, a bit controversial – Mojitos look nice with wedges in the bottom. Problem is, you have no control over the quantity. Limes differ a lot in how much juice they give out (even depending on whether they’re warm or just out of the fridge). ‘Muddle a lime’ is an impossibly vague direction. Good measurement = better drink.

Obligatory History of the Mojito

Possibly related to the ‘El Draque’ that Francis Drake drank. Maybe invented by slaves in Cuba. The word might come from ‘mojo’ (as in, I’ve lost my mojo, baby!) or from ‘mojado’ meaning wet, or from a lime-based seasoning called ‘mojo’. Hemingway loved them. Blah, blah. It’s pretty dull and even vaguer than usual, as far as cocktail histories go. Let’s skip to the good part.

The Mojito

2 oz Cuban rum (white)

1 oz freshly-squeezed lime juice

10-12 leaves plus one sprig of mint

2 tsp superfine (castor) sugar

Stir the sugar with the lime juice in the bottom of a highball or Collins glass to dissolve it.

Fill the glass about a third with finely crushed ice. (In the video below, he sticks the ice into a shaker and beats the hell out of it with his muddler. I put it in a laundry bag and beat the hell out of it with a rolling pin).

Take your 10-12 mint leaves (or so), rip them in half, rub them over the rim of the glass and drop them in. Use a long bar-spoon to push them down through the ice and stir with the lime and sugar. This abrasive action works instead of muddling to release the flavours of the mint.

Now add your rum, and fill to the brim (or over) with more crushed ice.

Top up with what should be a very small amount of soda (if you’ve filled the glass with nicely crushed ice). Stir lightly to mix in the effervescence of the soda and bring the mint leaves up a little.

Grab a nice big (and pretty) sprig of mint. Give it a slap in the palm of your hand to release its scent. Stick it in the top of the drink.

Serve with a straw that’s just the right length so that your nose is right over that mint when you drink it.

Smile.

Acknowledgements

The video below is one of the first I watched when researching Mojitos the first time, and it’s pretty much exactly what I’ve come back to. I’ve learnt from my mate Bunnyhugs and a few other sources that this is also how the best bars in Cuba make them, with two exceptions.

Firstly, they don’t usually use crushed ice in Cuba unless they’re playing to tourist tastes. There’s a story that they used to, but stopped when ice became expensive or crushed ice was nationalized by Castro or all the blenders had been pillaged for spare car parts or something. Nonetheless, I think this drink is vastly superior with crushed ice.

Secondly, although they often use the spearmint we use, they also use a native variety called yerba buena. I have no idea how much of a difference this makes. Just don’t use peppermint.

Variations

I’m perfectly happy with my Mojito recipe and don’t feel like messing around trying different ones. There were a couple of things I decided to try though:

Bitters: I was reminded that it is kind of traditional to sometimes serve Mojitos with a dash of Angostura Bitters. I tried it side-by-side with a ‘regular’. It was alright, but I prefer the clean taste, and perhaps even more importantly the clean look) of the original. Then, as I love the Fees Brothers line of bitters, I couldn’t help but buy their mint bitters and try that. I bought the bitters and tasted them. I was very disappointed. They tasted just like some strong artificial peppermint flavouring. I dashed some in a Mojito anyway. Surprisingly, it worked fairly well, and was nowhere near as strong as I had feared. It’s certainly not worth rushing out and buying mint bitters for though.

Agricole: The other thing I couldn’t help but try was mixing a Mojito with my old favourite Neissons Rhum Agricole. This stuff is miles away from the clean crisp cuban Havana Club rum, so it’s a very different drink. Nice enough, if you’re an Agricole fan like me, but really, it’s no Mojito.

Here’s a great Mojito video:

Part 2: Mint Juleps

Part 3: Smashes

Doing Daiquiris

September 1, 2012

My list of favourite drinks just keeps going up, but for quite some time one definite item is the Daiquiri.

(Let’s just get this out of the way: I don’t mean those ‘Frozen Daiquiris’ which are sweet smoothy-style drinks of rum, cointreau, lime, sugar and some fruit blended up and served ice and all – those can actually be nice, refreshing and fun, but a ‘true’ Daiquiri is something nice simple and pure.)

So rum, lime and sugar. That’s it really. From there it’s just proportions and subtle changes that make for the large number of variations that I’ve been ‘researching’ on and off for the last couple of months.

Rum and lime (and the sugar to balance it) are magical companions. I already blogged about how I loved the Ti’ Punch which is this combo with Rhum Agricole instead of normal rum, and the Caipirinha which is the same again with Cachaça instead of rum. Add to that the Mojito – that extremely popular and delicious drink which got me into cocktails two years ago in the first place – and you have a pretty mean arsenal of killer drinks which are basically rum, lime and sugar.

Given that rum, lime and sugar have all been abundant in the Carribean for centuries, it may come as a surprise that the Daiquiri wasn’t invented until around 1900 and that the discovery was made by American mine engineers who had run out of gin. Well, of course it wasn’t, but it does illustrate that it’s creating a name for a drink that counts and making that drink popular that makes it stick. The engineers named the Daiquiri after a beach near Santiago in Cuba, and ten years or so later it was brought back to the US where it became fairly popular for a few more decades and then really popular in the 40s and 50s when whiskey became scarce due to wartime rationing. Famous Daiquiri devotees from this time include John F Kennedy and Ernest Hemingway.

As I said, rum, lime and sugar – that’s it. And now to the fine print. It’s a Cuban drink, so Cuban rum is what’s called for, and it’s generally the white stuff (exceptions will follow). I love my Havana Club, but Cuba won’t sell it to imperialists or something, so drinkers in the US can’t get it. I also think Matusalem Platino (from the Dominican Republic) makes a great traditional Daiquiri and I’ve heard Brughal (also Dominican)can make a good substitute too, but I haven’t tried it myself so I can’t vouch for it. Neither Bacardi nor Angostura make the grade, I’m afraid.

The other main negotiable is the proportions. I tried quite a lot before I settled on my ideal. It’s not a gold standard. Some rums are sweeter than others; some limes more sour. But for me, it’s a solid starting position. I must say though, that I have discovered (from my one little try at bar-tending) that my tastes may well be a lot more sour than those of the majority. My wife is the same way, so that’s the way I make them. Here’s my proportions and basic Daiquiri recipe, then:

Daiquiri

2 oz rum (white, Cuban)

1 oz freshly-squeezed lime juice

1 tsp sugar

Stir the sugar in the lime juice to dissolve it (I use super-fine – variations possible). Add ice (crushed is good) and rum. Shake well. Serve either strained into a chilled cocktail glass or frappe over crushed ice (or in a highball glass of crushed ice, or a rocks glass with ice cubes – it’s all good).

Straight-up is nice, but I really like this with crushed ice on a hot evening. That’s another way to vary this very versatile drink.

If you have a sweet tooth, add more sugar (or just harden up a bit).

Daiquiri with bitters

I messed around a bit adding bitters to my Daiquiris. It’s not a drink that normally calls for bitters, but it can make a nice variation.

Chocolate: I think a little chocolate bitters (I used The Bitter Truth) goes quite nicely with the vanilla-caramel tastes of the Matusalem, for a smooth beginners mix which I call the Mellow Daiquiri.

Rhubarb: This is refreshing (I used Fees), especially with the interesting version of Rhum Agricole (more about that in a minute).

Grapefruit and Cherry: I used both of these (Fees: 2 dashes grapefruit, 1 dash cherry) with maraschino in a Papa Doble, and they were excellent. What’s a Papa Doble? More about that later. OK, more about that now.

Papa Doble Daiquiri aka Hemingway Daiquiri aka La Floridita, aka La Florida Daiquiri

So Ernest Hemingway walked into a Cuban bar where they were trying out a new Daiquiri recipe. He liked it and ended up drinking his Daiquiris exclusively at the bar – La Florida (nicknamed La Floridita). The barman made a new recipe just for him and/or one he named for him. Pretty soon there were a bunch of ‘Hemingway’ Daiquiri recipes floating about, one or more of which may have been the one that he actually drank.

These recipes all have maraschino liqueur, and most have grapefruit juice too, which seems to be the way Hemingway drank them. Most recipes have sugar or syrup, but Ernest most likely skipped that (maybe because fo his diabetes). There seems to be a lot of debate about which is the authentic recipe, but it doesn’t really seem particularly important to me.

I played around with quantities quite a bit until I got the proportions I liked.

2 oz rum

1/2 oz lime

3/4 oz grapefruit juice

1/2 tsp maraschino liqueur

1 tsp sugar

Dissolve the sugar in the lime juice. Shake all ingredients with crushed ice and strain into a rocks glass or cocktail glass of crushed ice. Garnish with a lime wheel and a cherry.

Most recipes seem to have more maraschino, and the ones that include grapefruit tend to have equal parts with the lime, but these are the proportions that worked for me. I like marashcino, but too much (which means more than a tiny bit) over-powers a drink. I like grapefruit juice a lot, but as its sourness is less than lemon or lime, you need to balance between getting enough sourness and weakening the drink too much.

Apparently they used a blender at La Floridita, but that doesn’t mean they made it like a slushy-Daiquiri. They blended briefly then strained that onto fresh crushed ice. I think you can do just as well without blending.

As mentioned above, I like a variation I made without grapefruit juice, but with (Fees) grapefruit bitters and cherry bitters:

2 oz rum

1 oz lime juice

1/2 tsp maraschino liqueur

2 dashes grapefruit bitters

1 small dash cherry bitters

I liked this one a lot, but others didn’t. Too sour, I think.

Finally, in Jason Wilson’s book Boozehound, which I admire a lot, he has this Papa Doble:

2 oz rhum agricole

1/2 oz lime juice

1/2 oz grapefruit juice

1 tsp maraschino liqueur

I’ve talked about how much I like (Neissons) rhum agricole before. This makes for a delicious, but very different Daiquiri. I mean, I hesitate to even call it a Daiquiri. It’s closer to a souped-up ‘Ti Punch really, the agricole is that different. The extra maraschino compared to the previous recipes works, because the agricole is so powerful. As I mentioned, I tried an agricole Daiquiri (without maraschino) with rhubarb bitters as well, and it’s also fantastic. I’ve made this a few times now (with Neissons) and if you like some strong funky flavour, I recommend it highly.

More Variations

The Daiquiri is essentially a sour – spirits, sugar, lemon/lime and ice. Cocktail maven Gary Regan coined the phrase ‘New Orleans Sour’ for sours which substitutes Curacao for the sugar. Examples are the Margarita, Sidecar and Cosmopolitan.  Giving the Daiquiri this treatment (and sub in grapefruit for lime) produces this:

The Petit Fleur

1 oz rum

1 oz Cointreau

1 oz grapefruit

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass.

This was too sweet. Double the rum and halve the Cointreau for a much better drink. The rum then shines through, the Cointreau definitely adds to and the grapefruit … well, I’m not sure it quite works – maybe it would be better strengthened with a little lime.

I love Cointreau, king of the Curacaos. Some think it too sweet, but I think it’s a delicious sweetness that is not at all sickly. I could gladly sip Cointreau straight from the bottle all night, ice only improves it, and it’s aces in cocktails. Spirits guru extraordinaire F. Paul Pacult names it as one of his five desert island bottles.

It makes this drink quite a refined cocktail, but possibly a little too light-weight.

The next one substitutes grenadine for sugar as the sweetening agent, and was once a popular enough drink to attract law suits.

Bacardi Cocktail

2 oz white rum

1 oz lime juice

1 tsp grenadine

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass.

This is a great cocktail. I love grenadine (it has to be homemade, though) and this, even more than the Jack Rose, is the perfect drink for it.

The name? Well it used to be made with Bacardi, but that was back when Bacardi was actually Cuban and tasted that way too. Do you know what Cubans mean when they say “Bacardi”? They mean Caney –  the rum that’s now made in the old Bacardi distillery.

That didn’t help certain restauranteurs back in 1934 New York, though. Back then the Bacardi cocktail was immensely popular and they got sued for using other rum. In a decision which in my mid is akin to outlawing martinis made with vermouth other than Martini & Rosso, they lost.

I get this information from How’s Your Drink, by Eric Felten, and he supplies this variation which I have yet to try, but looks great:

1 1/2 oz white rum

3/4 oz gin

juice of 1/2 lime

2 tsp grenadine

While I was ‘researching’ this article, well-known cocktail blogger Jeffrey Morgenthaler posted this great video with yet another Daiquiri variant, this time with dark rum.

Morgenthaler Daiquri

2 1/2 oz dark rum

3/4 oz lime juice

1/2 oz simple syrup (made with 2:1 sugar to water)

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass.

I tried it. It was great. It almost changed my mind completely about Daiquiris. After some thought (and trying a few more), I concluded that for a summer refresher the original recipe is still best, with crushed ice, but for cooler weather this dark rum variation, served straight up, is the way to go.

That’s about it for Daiquiris – a great classic drink, especially in the heat. There is one more variation I’d like to talk about, one close to my heart, but I’ll save that for next post. It’s the variety with mint and a splash of soda.

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.

Navy Highballs

May 19, 2012

Pirates drink rum. That’s something I’d forgotten, sipping on Daiquiris and Mojitos made from fine Cuban white rum recently.

When in New Zealand recently, I had a great drink, called the Navy Highball, at an excellent little Wellington bar called Monterey. They do only a few cocktails, but do them well. The ones I tried were great, but it was this one that I scribbled down the ingredients for. I remember my mate Ben saying “Rhubarb Bitters – you’ll never find those in Taiwan”. I could only agree, until suddenly, a couple of months ago, I discovered that the Breeze Supermarket had imported the whole range of Fees Brothers Bitters.

But that still left the Pusser’s Navy Rum. There’s nothing like that for me to buy in Taiwan. But it just happened that making a rush purchase when I couldn’t find what I wanted at the airport, I ended up buying the Australian Overproof Bundaberg Rum. I had read in ‘Imbibe’ that there was a really good old-style pot-still rum made in Australia, which David Wondrich recommended for old Jamaican-style rum. But I couldn’t remember its name. Turns out, it wasn’t Bundaberg; it was Inner Circle. ‘Bundy’ has more of a reputation as a binge-drink of choice for Aussie yobbos.

So I was a bit disappointed that I’d wasted one of the eight bottles of booze I’d smuggled back from Kiwiland. This was only confirmed on my first sip of the Bundy OP. Vile rocket fuel. Then, much later, trying it with a little lime and tonic, I found I quite enjoyed it. In fact, it just needed a little taming. Then I really appreciated its strong flavour and high proof. After that, I even appreciated the taste after straight sipping – an acquired taste very similar to my experience with Neisson’s Rhum Agricole which I had actually thought spoiled on first whiff from the bottle. (I have since learnt a term for this – ‘Hogo’ – from the French haut goût or ‘high taste’).

The next thing that led me to re-evaluate the Bundaberg was browsing Imbibe again, I found that Wondrich actually recommended it for a couple of drinks like the Black Strap and the Stone Fence that called for “real pirate juice”. Pirate Juice! I liked the sound of that. And I suddenly remembered the Navy Highball. Time to buy that Rhubarb Bitters.

The Navy Highball is so called because it is made with Pusser’s Navy Rum. So what exactly is Navy Rum? My first thought is that it meant rum bottled at ‘Navy Strength’. I wasn’t quite right about that.

‘Navy Strength’ is a term applied to rum and gin (for British Navy seamen and officers respectively) bottled at 57% alcohol by volume or more (which is the old British 100-proof). This is because this is the concentration at which spirit spilt on gunpowder will still allow the powder to be lit. Presumably this gave the Brits a great advantage over Frenchies who were spilling their cognac on the cannon powder in the heat of combat. It’s also where the term ‘proof’ came from. To ‘prove’ the alcohol was strong enough you’d test it with gunpowder. If it lit, it was ‘overproof’.

But British ‘Navy Rum’ doesn’t just mean it’s overproof (and in fact later Navy-style rums were made at underproof strengths). It stands for the British style of rums from Islands like Jamaica in the West Indies. It seems that they were generally blended and then aged in large wooden barrels.

This at least was the method used for Pusser’s Navy Rum, the official suppliers of the Navy until the ‘tot’ was ended in 1970. A sad day, indeed. The Navy had had a tradition of drinking rum going back to 1655 when they acquired Jamaica and it replaced Cognac as the navy’s rationed drink. It also had the advantage that unlike Cognac it improved on long hot voyages (where the Cognac deteriorated). At one point seamen were later issued with a pint of rum a day! Later lime juice was added to prevent scurvy and the rum was watered down into the famous ‘grog’. Most sources say that this was to prevent too much drunkenness, but I have also read that it was to stop hoarding and trading of the ration (as it would spoil after water was added).

Pusser’s (the name is a corruption of ‘Purser’s’, as all rations came from the ship’s purser) was originally only supplied to the Navy, and with the end of the ‘tot’ production ceased until seven years later the brand was purchased and reproduced (according to the makers) according to the original recipe.

Well, no Pusser’s in Taiwan. No Lamb’s. Not even any Goslings. I don’t know if Bundaberg OP can really be called ‘Navy Rum’, but it’s definitely ‘Navy Strength’ (57.7%) and Wondrich calls it “real pirate juice”. That’s good enough for me.

The other change I made to Monterrey’s Navy Highball was that I used ginger beer instead of ginger ale. I finally found some (at Jason’s Supermarket in Banqiao FE21 Mall). Bickford’s, like the Bundy, is from Australia and it’s an old-style spicy ginger beer, from which modern ginger ale is a stunted descendant. It seemed like a good match.

Navy Highball

2 oz Navy Rum

1/2 oz orange curacao

1 oz lime juice

2 dashes of rhubarb bitters

ginger beer

Build in a highball glass full of ice, stir and garnish with lime.

As I said, this is an adaptation of Monterey’s recipe, I made up the proportions myself, and made substitutions (they seemed to work well though). The original called for Pusser’s, but the Bundaberg OP was fine. If you’re using ginger beer instead of ginger ale, you need a strong full rum to stand up to that spice. Make those dashes of bitters good ones too. Three dashes won’t hurt. I used Grand Marnier for Orange Curacao, and to tell the truth, it was a bit buried in this drink – substituting Cointreau or other Triple Sec would work just as well. You could even leave it out without hurting the drink (though add a teaspoon of sugar, as the Curacao acts as sweetener).

I was right to think that the Bundy would make for good pirate juice in this cocktail, and that ginger beer would work better than ginger ale – that stuff really puts the ‘yo ho ho’ in the bottle of rum! This drink made a highball that for me could be a refresher, but also evoked drinking outside a bar perched atop a cliff looking out over a stormy sea. No, really, it did. In fact it made me think ‘Ahh! Dark ‘n’ Stormy!’.

The Dark ‘n’ Stormy is drink whose recipe is trademarked. It can only be made with Goslings Black Seal Rum, and Barrit’s Ginger Beer (or Gosling’s own brand). This trademark can’t be enforced very stringently though, as a pre-bottled ‘Dark and Stormy’ is is made by none other than Bundaberg.

The Goslings were bound for American in the early 19th Century, but ended up in Bermuda where they ended up blending and aging rums. Their ‘Black Seal’ moniker comes not from the sea mammal on their current bottles, but from the wax seal that was used to stopper the old product.

I thought I’d give this a go with the Bundaberg and Bickford’s. Of course it can’t really be called a Dark ‘n’ Stormy.

The Somewhat Dark and Rather Stormy

2 oz Bundaberg OP rum (or other pirate juice)

4 oz Bickford’s (or other ginger beer)

Build in a highball glass full of ice, stir and garnish with lime and a slice of fresh ginger root.

The lime is a little controversial in this drink. Some say it shouldn’t go anywhere near a ‘Dark ‘n’ Stormy’. Others squeeze a wedge and drop it in. I compromised and just used it as garnish.

This was an excellent drink, but the Navy Highball was still better.

I still had a little of the bottle of Bickford’s to finish off , so I went for one more rum and ginger beer highball, which I found in ‘Boozehound’, but comes from bartending great Dale DeGroff.

Anejo Highball

1 1/2 oz aged rum

1/2 oz Cointreau

1/4 oz lime juice

2 dashes Angostura Bitters

ginger beer

Build in a highball glass full of ice, stir and garnish with a lime wheel and an orange wheel.

This bears obvious similarities to the Navy Highball, but this time I made it with Anejo Rum – in my case Havana Club (but Jason Wilson recommends Flor de Cana Gran Reserva, Chairman’s Reserve or Appleton V/X if you live in an embargoed nation). I think my ginger beer was a bit strong. I tried again with Bundaberg and it was actually better. The Havana Club couldn’t stand up to the ginger beer. But this would definitely be worth trying again with less or weaker ginger beer for a more subtle drink than my pirate fix.

Ti’ Punch and Two Rums

February 18, 2012

I was going to post about this in a day or two when I’d done some more research, but I’m literally finishing off a taste comparison as I type, and, 4 ounces of very heavy liquor in, I feel compelled to record my findings while the memories are still fresh.

A couple of months ago, shortly before my trip to New Zealand, I was very low on stocks for many basic spirits, but had plenty of Rhum Agricole and was really getting into a drink called the Ti’ Punch. I’ve just tried it again and it’s a winner.

Ti’  is pronounced like ‘tea’ but doesn’t have any in it. Neither is it a boozed up fruity drink (punch). The Ti’ is creole-speak for ‘petit’, but it actually packs quite  a wallop. But the ‘punch’ might not mean a blow to the head either. There’s a tradition in parts of Europe that when you’re having a big meal, you have a little (but strong) drink between courses, to ‘punch’ a hole through and open up some space for more food (or something). Man those French take their eating seriously. (I can’t actually find my source for this, so maybe it does just mean a little smack to the head – the forerunner to the ‘shot’ – but in my blog, the best story is the one I’m running with, ‘truth’ be damned).

The Ti’ Punch is a very simple mix of just three ingredients – rum, lime and sugar (astute readers might note that these are the same ingredients as in the original Daiquiri – it’s a great mix), but the rum of choice is not your usual stuff, but a variation known as Rhum Agricole (‘rhum’ is French rum, and ‘ron’ is Spanish).

Agricole differs from most rum in that rather than being distilled from molasses, it is made from straight cane juice. The story goes that when Europe got into sugar from sugar-beets the previously sky-high cane sugar prices plummeted. Molasses is a by-product of the sugar refining process. Rum was always a sideline to the main product. But now, in the French Carribean, planters found it more profitable to turn more of their product straight into rum, and it was less wasteful to do this by using the sugarcane juice itself. Thus Rhum Agricole was born (this story doesn’t quite explain why this didn’t happen in non-French parts of the Carribbean). It is a product mostly made on a few formerly French islands, but particularly on Martinique (which has its own AOC Appellation).

Those of us living in Taiwan are surprisingly blessed to have access to one of the most lauded of all Rhum Agricoles – Neisson Rhum Blanc. You can get this at Carrefour (although my local is out of stock at the moment). We’re even luckier that we get the 55% bottling rather than the 50% Americans get. Rums are meant to be nice and high in their alcohol content. Now this is a rum that (love it or hate it) will blow your socks off. When I unstoppered this and took a whiff I was so overpowered that I thought it might have gone off or something. The fruity ‘vegetal’ smells are so strong that my wife could smell this downstairs as I was mixing it tonight. The taste is similarly powerful. It makes me think of raw, green, grassy sugarcane been toiled over by slaves in the hot sun (no, really, it does). Factor in this strong flavour and the high alcohol content, and you’d have to be made of some pretty strong metal to drink this stuff straight. Funny thing is, add just a little lime and sugar and the thing becomes marvellously drinkable.

On the other end of the scale to the Neissons is another rum you can get at Carrefour. It’s called Ron Matusalem Platino and is not an Agricole (but why not try it in a Ti’ Punch anyway). It’s a Cuban style rum (‘The Spirit of Cuba’, in fact) now made in the Dominican Republic. (Matusalem was the biggest rum producer in Cuba. Since they fled the revolution, their plant has been used to produce Ron Santiago).  In contrast to the aggressive taste of the Neissons, Matusalem has been very successful in its goal of being a very smooth, easy-drinking rum. The thinking here is probably that smooth vodkas whose taste can be completely lost in a cocktail are very popular, so why not do the same thing with rum? In fact, critics of this rum usually say that its taste is too easily lost in a drink. Personally, I quite like it. I taste sweet chocolate and vanilla. It is smooth, but not tasteless. Anyway, Cuban rums are supposed to be smooth, apparently.

The conclusion of this little comparison is that in Taiwan, with a trip to one supermarket, you can actually get two very good rums from quite different ends of the taste spectrum (and for only about 1000NT for the both of them). If you like white rum at all, you’re almost certain to like at least one of these.

Now for these two to go head-to-head in Ti’ Punch:

Ti’ Punch

2 oz white Rum Agricole

1 tsp of sugar (or sugarcane syrup if you can get it)

1/2 oz of lime juice

3 ice cubes

In an old-fashioned glass dissolve sugar in lime juice by stirring well. Add rum and ice. Stir lightly. Sip (or traditionally, but less pleasantly, scull).  Smile.

Now I need to stress that these measures are very variable. This is how I made it tonight and it was great for me, with my limes. But limes differ, as does personal taste and I’ve made much poorer versions of this drink on recommendations varying from the juice of a whole lime to a squeeze from a slice off the side, or from a dash of sugarcane syrup to a tablespoon (sugarcane is traditional, but I can’t find it in Taiwan, and find that powdered sugar, stirred well to dissolve in the lime juice before adding booze or ice, works well). In fact, it seems that traditionally this drink is served by placing the ingredients in front of the customer and allowing her to mix to her own taste.

So how did the rums compare? Well the results were not unexpected. The Matusalem was a very nice drink. Better than expected really. I have to try this in a Daiquiri (and a Mojito when I get some mint); I’m starting to like it more. But the Neissons was the hands-down winner. Wow, the flavours are superb and so nicely accented with the little bit of lime and sugar. I could drink five or six of these in a row except for the fact that after the third or fourth I’d probably be unable to get down the stairs to the kitchen anymore.

Note on the picture: This photo isn’t tonight’s mix. I tried this last week in these cute little over-sized shot glasses I’d just bought, with the lime wedge thrown in. I like it better in a rocks glass sans lime shell.

Note on limes: Yes, you can get these in Taiwan, but only just. The Lime Shop (that’s its name) is on Jinhua Street, Taipei. They don’t look like limes as we know them, but they’re the real deal, and they work great. The Ti’ Punch will work with concentrate (or better seedless Taiwan lemons mixed 50-50 with concentrate) but much better with real fresh juice.

Barring the ‘wave the Vermouth around’ style of ultra-dry Martini, the Pink Gin is the straightest way to drink gin as a ‘mixed’ drink. Gin and a few drops of bitters. That’s it. As it’s traditionally made with Plymouth Gin, which I recently acquired, and also as I’ve long thought it sounded cool, I gave it a try.

The Pink Gin was invented in the British Navy in the mid-19th century. Angostura Bitters had been found to be good for seasickness and to make it more palatable officers added gin to it (they were pretty hard those days). This was similar to the adding of gin to tonic water for the medicinal properties of the quinine. In fact, the gentian in Angostura Bitters was something of a forerunner to quinine. The Navy’s gin of choice was Plymouth, which is sweeter than modern London Dry Gin.

The variations of Pink Gin are minor. You can have more or less bitters, and you can drink it warm (traditional) or cold with ice in or out. Some use an old fashioned glass, but I thought a coupe glass seemed better. Some leave the bitters in, some dash it out, having it just coat the glass. I found that with just six drops, even a rather snappy discard leaves most of it in. I compromised on the ice issue, going for cooling the gin in the freezer for a couple of hours first, but skipping the ice. I tried it warm too, but preferred the cold version.

Pink Gin

2 oz Plymouth Gin

6 drops Angostura Bitters

Coat a cocktail glass well with the bitters and dash out the excess. Add ice-cold gin.

It’s an incredibly simple drink, but very good. Interestingly, the colour was more orange than pink, but the bitters added a definite tinge to the gin. It’s a very drinkable form of almost-straight gin. I’m really not one for enjoying straight spirits, but I had no problems with this whatsoever.

Then, having just purchased five different kinds of bitters in the Bitter Truth Travel Pack, I wondered what other drinks might be made this way. It was a light-hearted thought, but I gave it a whirl anyway, and the results weren’t half bad.

First up was vodka. Yes, vodka. It’s not very hip of me, as Vodka is the demon of the new craft cocktail movement. My favourite spirits writer, Jason Wilson rants against the over 500 different kinds of flavoured vodka on the market (including pink lemonade vodka, sweet tea vodka, cola vodka, root beer vodka, sake vodka, protein powder vodka, Dutch caramel vodka, espresso vodka, double espresso vodka, triple espresso vodka, mojito mint vodka and bubble gum vodka) and apparently the ultra-hip craft cocktail bars in the US don’t even serve it. Not even the plain kind.

But I heard an argument that gin is just juniper flavoured vodka anyway, really. It has to contain juniper to be called gin (legally, in the US). If you left it out, it would be flavoured vodka. Conversely, if you added juniper to your vodka flavourings, it would become gin. Or am I missing something? So the anti-vodka thing seems a bit overdone to me. I guess the cocktail geeks were a cause without something to rebel against, and vodka became it. (And vodka is too popular to be cool).

That said, I’ve never really been a vodka fan. I even got to try a couple of very expensive, supposedly ultra-premium brands at a gourmet supermarket. They didn’t taste as good as plain old Stoli. But there is one vodka I like, and its light botanical flavourings remind me a little of gin, which has been my round-about way of saying that I decided to try a Pink Gin variation with Żubrówka. This Polish vodka is flavoured with bison grass, and every bottle contains a blade. I like it with lime and soda and a lot of crushed ice in summer.

And orange goes with vodka right, so why not orange bitters? I wanted to try those out.

Orange Buffalo

2 oz Żubrówka vodka

6 drops Orange Bitters

Coat a cocktail glass well with the bitters and dash out the excess. Add ice-cold vodka.

That wasn’t bad at all. Much less harsh than a straight shot of the stuff. But still, if I want a drink like this, I’ll go for the gin.

Finally, getting sillier, I wanted something to go with the Bitter Truth’s Xocolatl Mole (chocolate)  bitters. I’d just bought a bottle of Ron Matusalem Platino from Carrefour – a smooth Cuban white rum with vanilla chocolatey buttery flavours – and thought that the chocolate bitters would match the sweet chocolatey tastes.

Xocolatl Rum

2 oz Ron Matusalem Platino rum

6 drops Chocolate Bitters

Coat a cocktail glass well with the bitters and dash out the excess. Add ice-cold rum.

That was really nice! The two do go together well, and I thought I’d been just messing around. I could sip away at this one all day. It’d go well with dessert, too. But I think it’s time to stop before I go for chilli bitters and blanco tequila.

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