A recipe I’ve been fiddling around with this week is the Martini Vesper, the vodka-laced gin Martini invented by Ian Fleming and then ordered by James Bond in Casino Royale as follows: three measures of Gordon’s gin, one measure of vodka and half a measure of Kina Lillet, with a lemon twist. The notion of fleshing out a gin Martini with vodka may seem ridiculous but it actually works rather well, giving the botanicals of the gin a bit more room to breathe without allowing them to lose an ounce of their power. The thing that really makes this Martini interesting, though, is the Kina Lillet, a French aperitif wine that performs the role of the dry vermouth. Martini fanatics get very hung up on the inclusion of the Kina Lillet for the simple fact that it’s not made anymore, and no-one can seem to agree on precisely what it tasted like. The general consensus is that it was a more bitter version of its descendent Lillet Blanc, which is what’s most often used to make Vespers today, although some argue that the Italian aperitif Cocchi Americano is a better approximation.
As readers of my T2 column this week will know I have been delighted by what seems to be a bit of a revival of shandy that’s going on in bars at the moment. I honestly haven’t had shandy proper since I was, ahem, about 16 but on the basis of the drinks I’ve tried lately I think I’ll be drinking a lot more of it this summer. While there are times when shandy should rightly be sweet, trashy and bland as possible – when you have a hangover, or you’re at a festival, for example – there are other times when it suits a bit of sexing up.
In my T2 column I recommended trying Camden Brewery’s Gentleman’s Wit (a wheat beer with bergamot and lemon) with Fever Tree Ginger Ale, and also Spitfire with just about anything, although it’s particularly good with Fever Tree Bitter Lemon.
The housing market is on the up and the economy is growing, so we should feel grateful, especially when compared to our European mainland cousins. Although this is undoubtedly true and even verified by the governor of the Bank of England, do we feel it in our pockets? Most of us will be experiencing little or no increase in our earnings and no one can escape the steep rises in energy costs.
Whether one is a winner or a loser in the Budget lottery, this is surely a time to find a nifty idea and to be thrifty if you can.
Buying a bottle of scotch to toast the chancellor could be either celebratory or to drown the sorrows.
But if we were looking for an unusual selection hoping for fine quality, how do we make the right choice?
A complaint that you’ll hear about bourbon every now and again (especially among Scotch lovers – not that they’re biased or anything) is it’s all a bit samey. It’s certainly true that bourbon has a narrower spectrum of styles, principally because it has much tighter production rules than Scotch, which means there’s just less scope for variation. Even so, I find the kind of simplistic comparisons people draw between Scotch and bourbon pretty spurious, as these two spirits are just so different from the raw materials up.
Having said that, I’ve just finished tasting three bourbons and the differences between them couldn’t be more marked.
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.