The bartender who usually gets the credit for making The Savoy the epicentre of cocktail culture in the 1920s and 30s is Harry Craddock. To be fair, Craddock did his bit – he authored the bestselling Savoy Cocktail Book (a tome which still remains essential reading for bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts today), created a string of classics including the White Lady and the sublime Corpse Reviver No.2, and achieved a level of fame that secured him a waxwork in Madame Tussaud’s. But there was in fact another bartender who played a major part in the Savoy’s ascent – and what’s more surprising is, she was a woman.
Ada Coleman started her career as the flower girl at Claridges, before rising to work in the bar and then moving to the Savoy soon after. Working alongside another female bartender called Ruth Burgess, she became something of a celebrity in her own right, before she was eclipsed by the arrival of Craddock (some say both ladies were fired to appease customers who objected to having a woman behind the bar).
A very easy and fun way to teach an old drink new tricks is to make it with a syrup that you’ve flavoured with something a little unexpected. It’s so easy to do, I don’t know why it still seems to be considered the preserve of expert bartenders – all it involves is making your usual sugar syrup by dissolving 1 cup sugar in 1 cup water and then, the moment the sugar has dissolved, switch off the heat, add a few pinches of your desired ingredient and leave it to infuse for 10 minutes or until it’s attained the required intensity of flavour. Then strain and bottle.
Some favourites of mine include dried lavender which is just beautiful in a gin sour, thyme, which works surprisingly well both in something light and delicate like a Bellini and with full-bodied, golden rum punches, and dried hibiscus flowers, which impart a brilliant garnet-coloured tartness to tequila and white rum cocktails (you can buy these from health food shops and the kind of independent grocers that are good on herbs and spices). Alternatively, you could try using different sugars sugar as Demerera or vanilla sugar, or spices like star anise. Here is a recipe for a Margarita made with the hibiscus syrup:
“I went in to Smiths to buy a ruler,
Heaven Knows I’m Measured Now”
I heard these spoof lyrics joke on the Jeremy Vine Show on Radio 2, prompted perhaps by the recent publication of Morrisey’s autobiography by Penguin Classics. I saw Morrisey in concert at Marlay Park, near Dublin. Before the gig started, I noticed a man in formal evening dress strolling by, accompanied by a muscular minder. I think it was Morrisey surveying the scene ahead of the show, viewing the world from the other end of a telescope.
I’m pleased to see that my column last Sunday about the new trend for simplicity in drinks struck a chord with people (and I’m talking about bartenders too, here!). As Kingsley Amis said in his brilliant Everyday Drinking: ‘Never despise a drink because it’s easy to make.’ The simplest drinks are, in some ways, actually the hardest to make as there’s nowhere to hide poor ingredients or crappy preparation. You can’t just stick another cocktail parasol in and hope no-one will notice. It’s got to be well-made from the ground up.
I can see that some bartenders might be alarmed by the trend in the belief that it threatens to undermine their expertise. Why are people going to pay £12 for a cocktail if it’s one they can already make at home? But I think these fears are unfounded. In fact, I think it will just make more people appreciative of what a really good cocktail is – and that’s when proper change will start to happen across the board, from gastro-pubs and neighbourhood bars through to five-star hotel bars.
“Freight train, freight train going so fast
Freight train, freight train going so fast
Please don't tell what train I'm on
So they won't know where I'm gone”
This was a big hit in 1957 for Nancy Whiskey. That name alone is worth the admission fee, but there are further links.
Mrs McD and I recently spent a very pleasant evening with two guest whisky tasters: Eloise Fornieles and James Smith.
Mrs McD and I found ourselves heading for Birmingham in early October. We left from my favourite London station, Marylebone and arrived at the incomparable Moor Street Station. We were heading for the Fierce Festival’s opening evening, which was a feast concocted by art food purveyors, Blanch and Shock at Edible Eastside in Digbeth, Birmingham.
After the meal, we joined a group in a nearby Digbeth bar. It was here that I had the pleasure of meeting performance artist Eloise Fornieles and James Smith (subject of another blog to follow).
I was surprised to learn that they were both whisky lovers. Eloise told me that when a team is putting together an installation and rehearsing a piece, on the final evening before going live, there will frequently be a bottle of scotch on a table for the crew to enjoy once the work is done. Sometimes people have a whisky shot followed by gherkin pickling juice: A Pickle Back.
Ok I admit – I haven’t done a whole lot of entries about blended whisky on this blog, which is really pretty inexcusable when you think that blended whisky actually accounts for more than 90% of the Scotch market. So before 2013 was out I thought I’d rectify this by including two blends which have lately impressed me, not just with their flavour profile, but with their price-tag too.
The first is Grant’s Ale Cask – this is not a new whisky, but I have to say it’s one I’ve never properly tasted til now. Launched at the end of the 1800s by William Grant, the company that also gave us the Balvenie, Glenfiddich and Hendricks, Grant’s is the oldest family-owned blended whisky in the world. Grant’s Ale Cask actually only came on the scene in 2001 at a time when cask ‘finishes’ were just starting to get trendy and it was the first ale cask finish to hit the market. The blend, which averages 5-7 years, spends a final three months in a cask that’s been seasoned with beer for a month, giving the whisky a distinctive hoppy tang which sets it apart from your average play-it-safe blend:
One of the most romantic distilleries I’ve ever been to is Hakushu in the foothills of Japan’s southern Alps. Nestled in among a bird-filled maple forest, with snow-topped Mount Fuji in the background, this distillery is known for producing whiskies with quite fresh notes of green apple and hay, something that’s often attributed to the cooler ageing environment. They’re also known for producing peated whiskies – a fine example to try is Hakushu 12, which is particularly good in a crisp highball with lots of ice and soda water.
The other day I was revisiting the range and this time the whisky that really caught my attention was Hakushu 18, which is a beautiful example of how this fresh style can mature and evolve in the right hands. It’s expensive as hell I’m afraid, but if you’re looking for a last-minute Christmas gift for the whisky aficionado in your life, I can guarantee this won’t disappoint:
A Wee Deoch-an-Doris (1911)
(Words) Gerald Grafton and Harry Lauder; (music) Harry Lauder.
Just a wee deoch-an-doris,
Just a wee yin, that's a'.
Just a wee deoch-an-doris,
Before we gang awa'.
There's a wee wifie waitin',
In a wee but-an-ben;
If you can say, "It's a braw bricht moonlicht nicht,"
Ye're a' richt, ye ken.”
As I’ve made plain many times in this blog, I love punch. One of my favourite punch-makers is a bartender called Julian de Feral of bar consultants The Gorgeous Group – I’ve enjoyed his punches from the most fivest of five star bars through to the street corners of Kentish Town, where he’s a regular feature behind the bar (if you can call a pop-up gazebo a bar) at the annual street festival. Quite simply, this man is proof that there is a punch for every time and place. And one time punch is particularly handy is Christmas, as it’s easy to knock up for lots of people, looks nice and it means everyone can get their own bloody drinks. So I asked Julian for a refreshing, easy recipe to make for Christmas – and this People’s Punch is what he gave me. I could see this one working particularly well as a pre-lunch sharpener as it’s not too heavy on the booze, but still has plenty of festive sparkle and spice. He also suggests trying it with honey vodka too.