One year and 10,000 miles later

Has it really been a year since the last World Gin Day?

No, seriously, don't -

Look, it's called a rhetorical question. Of course it's been a year since the last World Gin Day. This year, however, marks the first year that it's fallen - for me, at least - in winter.

This is because I'm currently in the Southern Hemisphere and things are weird here. I'm told it's winter, but seriously? It's 18° Celsius (64° Fahrenheit) and, as a native of Scotland, I'd call that positively toasty but I'm surrounded by people wearing scarves and more layers than the middle act of Inception.

People are drinking mulled wine. In June. This I cannot deal with.

I'm used to thinking about drinks for summer right about now, so it's been a fun challenge to think about something a little more seasonally appropriate for where I am. It helps that I work at a bar that is famed for its house-made ginger beer, because what could be more warming than the rich spiciness of ginger beer?

Besides actual hot drinks, yes.

The obvious choice is Audrey Saunders' Gin-Gin Mule, although the one we make at Grandma's could be called a version of it rather than a strictly authentic recreation - the original calls for a still ginger beer and the addition of soda water whereas our ginger beer is carbonated; we also like to thrown in a dash of Angostura Bitters because reasons. It's turned out to be one of the most popular drinks on our new menu - that shouldn't be surprising, given that it has been named as one of the 25 most influential drinks of the past century by Imbibe (US). Described by its creator as an "ambassador to gin," maybe - like its base spirit - that's worth celebrating all year round?

Yes, again with the rhetorical questions.



Gin-Gin Mule

45ml Tanqueray Gin
15ml lime juice
15ml sugar syrup
1 dash Angostura Bitters
8 mint leaves
Top with ginger beer

Shake the first five ingredients with ice and fine-strain* into an ice-filled sling/catalina glass. Garnish with a mint sprig and a piece of crystallised ginger.

 * Your mileage may vary when it comes to fine-straining drinks served over ice; in this particular instance I'd do it to remove any teensy, annoying bits of mint from the finished drink.

Posted on June 17, 2013 and filed under Mixology, Recipes.

A whole barrel of monkeys

Incidentally, as part of the above inquiry, experiments were carried out on monkeys. Two were used. The first was made drunk with new whisky and was seen to become quarrelsome, no doubt due to the fusel oil (which was well-known for making men fighting drunk), and the second was intoxicated with 'fine old whisky' with the result that it became 'markedly hilarious', the maturity and the lack of toxic ingredients obviously agreeing with the chimp. Once sobered-up, the experiment was reversed, causing the quarrelsome beast to cheer up somewhat and the contented one to become aggressive. The conclusion drawn was that new or freshly distilled whisky did have an adverse effect, at least on monkeys, and that its storage to allow maturation appeared to be beneficial.

From Bad Whisky: The Scandal That Created The World's Most Successful Spirit, by Edward Burns


Posted on June 10, 2013 and filed under Quotes.

A swing and a miss

I recently got back into bartending - which, yes, is a weird thing to say on a blog all about bartending and making cocktails, but it's been a couple of years since I spent more than one or two days at the most actually behind a bar making actual drinks for actual customers. Of course, among the various duties of a working bartender is to represent his employers in cocktail competitions and seeing as I'm not currently drawing a paycheck from a spirits producer, I thought I'd try my hand at the Australian qualifers for Diageo Reserve Brands' World Class comp.

World Class is pretty emblematic of how cocktail competitions have evolved over the past few years. This year's UK final took place on a plane while the prize for the winner of the Australian final is $100,000 towards opening their own bar (SPOILERS: it's not going to be me, it's going to be one of these guys) and as the potential benefits have grown, so has the competitive level.

Now, most of the time, workshopping a drink isn't that expensive of an exercise, assuming you have access to the equipment and ingredients you need and that access usually comes through the bar you work at. This time, to satisfy my own curiosity as much as anything, I ended following the entire process from scratch on my own dime. I did manage to avoid some cost: despite moving to Australia in January, I did have my own shakers, strainers and measures with me. Anything I needed and didn't have, I bought.

The competition was structured around two 'bursts', each containing four drink categories associated with one or two of Diageo's Reserve Brands. I opted to tackle Tropical Drinks with Don Julio Tequila and ended up drawing once more from the well of Dave Arnold's fast'n'cheap infusion. I wanted to take a Tiki-ish approach to flavour - fun fruit flavours set against citrus and spice - and present it in a more refined, elegant fashion. The shopping list ended up looking like this:

1 x iSi 0.5 ltr Cream Whipper $100

1 x 10 pack Cream chargers $5

1 x pineapple $4

500g root ginger $15

1 x 700ml vodka $45

1 x 750ml Don Julio Reposado $85

1 x 2 ltr pressed apple juice $4

1 x 5 pack lemons $3

All in, that's $261 (all prices are in Australian dollars); maybe $500 was a touch of an overestimate and no doubt I could have got things cheaper if I tried. If you have all that stuff lying around, of course, the R&D cost of the drink drops somewhat. And from that, to this?


 Señora Primavera

45ml pineapple infused Don Julio Reposado
30ml pressed apple juice
15ml lemon juice
10ml ginger syrup

Shake all ingredients with ice and fine-strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon zest. 


Pineapple infused Tequila 

300ml Tequila
150g fresh pineapple, diced

  Combine Tequila and diced pineapple in a cream whipper; seal and charge with N2O and shake vigorously for thirty seconds. Wait a further seconds before quickly venting the N2O from the whipper; strain out any remaining solids and reserve liquid.


 Ginger syrup

500g root ginger, diced
300ml 40% ABV vodka
1kg caster sugar

In a food processor, blend ginger and vodka into a rough purée. Press the purée through a strainer or chinois and reserve the liquid. Add water to bring the volume of the reserved liquid to 500ml and add the sugar. Stir until the sugar is fully dissolved. 


Ultimately, I didn't end up getting anywhere in the competition. As with any risk/reward calculation, there's a chance of getting nothing and - NEWSFLASH - with $100k up for grabs, it was always going to be tough. Besides, for once, the story of this drink doesn't end with the comp: the finished product is going on the new cocktail menu at Grandma's Bar in Sydney. Which ought to help towards making that $261 back. 

Posted on June 5, 2013 and filed under Mixology, Recipes.

Circles and straight lines

With any kind of creative endeavour, there's always a temptation to say you've created something for the simple pleasure of having created it - art for art's sake, if you will - but while that's true to some extent, it would be ever so slightly misleading of me to suggest that all the drinks I come up with are in celebration of some Dionysian muse. Most of the time, they're in celebration of the possible acquisition of stuff.

Cocktail competitions have been something of a compelling force in the industry over the past few years - the emergence of huge, global contests with prizes of the genuinely life-changing variety (recent highlights include brand ambassador roles, start-up capital for opening your own bar, getting to design and sell your spirit) to accompany the more traditional bonuses of travel, equipment and free booze has led to a near-constant cycle of fierce competition. With so many people producing so many new recipes, standards have inevitably improved - gone are the days when the winner was the person with the most exotic fruit.

There's now further pressure when it comes to formulating a recipe: not only must it taste good and look good, now every drink needs that thing that makes it stand out from the crowd. It might be a home-made ingredient or a new technique or a crazy new garnish. For me, it's usually trying to draw dodgy thematic connections between things.

Here's an example: for the Ron Diplomático World Tournament, I wanted to pair up a rich, aged rum from Venezuela with the floral notes of Chartreuse. The rum in question - Diplomático Reserva - is aged for up to eight years and brings a chunk of rich fruit (I get a lot of plum and banana) along with some darker spice notes (espresso, vanilla and dark chocolate in particular) and it doesn't naturally match the complex herbal qualities of Chartreuse. If you were to make a Venn diagram of the two, it might look like two separate circles on a page.

The trick was to use something as a bridging flavour and I opted for Grand Marnier; the cognac base would play well with the rum and the sweet citrus fills in the gap to lighter aspects of the Chartreuse. The other reason Grand Marnier works well is as a thematic link between the other two ingredients.

On one hand, you have Diplomático Reserva. Produced at Distilerias Unidas (DUSA), it's a blend of column- and pot-still rum and makes use of a couple of specific quirks of Venezuelan rum production: due to the low, government-set price of sugar, the molasses they use for the column-still rums are relatively high in sugar content, and the local climate tends to mean that evaporation during barrel ageing doesn't significantly impact the ABV of the spirit. While DUSA has been in operation since 1959, many of the techniques used were brought to the Haçienda Botucal by Don Juancho Nieto Melendez in the late 19th century. It's a great representation of rum as the spirit of the new world - initially produced as a solution to the surplus of molasses from sugar production and refined over time into something remarkable and elegant.

On the other hand, Chartreuse has been made Carthusian monks since the 1740s from more than 132 herbal extracts and can be seen as an archetype of the European tradition of liqueur-making that began with its roots in alchemy and medicine and would ultimately lead to things like genever and, later, gin.

And then in the middle comes Grand Marnier; conceived in the 1880s by Alexander Marnier-Lapostolle and combining the new world (in the form of the bitter peels from the Caribbean that provide the orange flavour) and the old (in its base spirit of aged Cognac). It provides a link in more than just flavour - it's on the line from the old world to the new world in both geography and time.

All things considered, it's a neat little conceit. The drink itself - the King of the Hill - is available over the bar at work and has been well received by people who really don't have much of an interest in the historical and thematic relationships between the ingredients in it so I guess I'll see if it'll make the difference if I make the Australian final in Melbourne in April.

King of the Hill

35ml Diplomático Reserva
10ml Green Chartreuse
10ml Grand Marnier
10ml lemon juice

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of orange zest.

Posted on March 16, 2013 and filed under Mixology, Recipes.

Outbound: storm in a julep cup

How big of a deal is three percent? If you're talking about whiskey, apparently a lot. Last weekend, the news that Maker's Mark was to be bottled at 42% ABVinstead of its current level of 45% ABV brought forth the full range of reaction from the Internet - y'know: disbelief, anger, torches and pitchforks. While the subsequent decision to reverse the ABV reduction has been broadly welcomed, some are starting to draw differentconclusions.

(Not that any of the above is actually relevant in certain markets.)

Topically, there's a very interesting NYT article from Harold McGee. The title? To enhance flavor, just add water.

The eternal Sydney/Melbourne rivalry takes another turn as the former is named Australia's bar capital.

A lot of good people in the Edinburgh bar/cocktail scene get some well deserved exposure, courtesy of the Scotland on Sunday, though the thing itself makes everything feel a little more like Portlandia than I remember it.

A couple of gems via the excellent if acronymically-complex TYWKIWDBI - Mixing alcohol with diet soda may make you drunker  and a pretty epic wine poster for the oenophile in your life.

Posted on February 19, 2013 and filed under Links, Mixology.