Posts filed under MxMo

MxMo: Vodka is your friend

Mixology Monday is billed as the monthly online cocktail party, where our host chooses a theme and we rock up a couple of hours late, stinking of cheap wine and muttering something about "consumption". This month, Felicia's Speakeasy is graciously listening to our ramblings about our favourite Doctor Who and the fact that vodka is your friend. In Scotland, of course, vodka is everyone's friend. It's been the biggest selling spirit in both on- and off-licence sales (that's bars and liquor stores) since 2008, while Diageo's Cameronbridge distillery produces several quadrillion litres of Smirnoff every year. As far as Scottish bartenders go, vodka should be our friend, because selling it pays our wages but it's not.

Vodka has a bad reputation because it's in an awful lot of terrible drinks, all the classics of the vodka-liqueur-fruit juice school. It's telling that the drink that broke vodka in the US - the Moscow Mule - doesn't foreground its base spirit. There is, however, one vodka cocktail that does. The vodka martini is the elephant in the room. It's probably the most famous vodka cocktail, but the prevailing attitude among those in the know is that it's a corrupted gin drink. However, it remains one of the most popular and enduring drinks of all time. The key thing to take from the martini is that vodka's prefered partners are subtler and less confrontational. Pairing it with bolder flavours, like those in heavily sweetened liqueurs, pushes it to the background.

The other lesson to take from the vodka martini is that vodka can work in repurposed recipes. The trick is not to overcompensate for the lack of immediate, accessible flavour in the spirit. The basic plan, therefore, is to steal a formula and there's few better than the original - spirit, sugar, bitters and water. This refitted Old-Fashioned uses 42 Below as the spirit because, being honest, they gave us a bottle to play about with at work. St. Germain operates as our sweetening agent, with a touch of Fee Brothers Grapefruit Bitters with a slow stir and a cranberry juice float for dilution.


60ml 42 Below Vodka
1 barspoon St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
2 dashes Fee Brothers Grapefruit Bitters
1 barspoon cranberry juice

Stir the first three ingredients with ice for at least 45 seconds. Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Float the cranberry juice and garnish with a twist of grapefruit zest.

Posted on August 10, 2009 and filed under Mixology, MxMo, Recipes.

MxMo XL: Ginger

Like other stuff, Mixology Monday happens every month, but is at least 7,000% more fun than paying your rent. This month, RumDood challenges us to find a use for ginger, in any of its various forms. Ginger is a wonderful thing. Its mere presence elevates a run-of-the-mill stir fry towards the awesome and beyond that, it's versatile and easily fermentable. It's worth noting that having ginger hair is often treated as a kind of social disability in Scotland, but combining the physical trait with the root can be a powerful thing.

Fresh root ginger is, as we've already decided, great. The problem is that fresh root ginger is slightly troublesome when it comes to drinks. Muddling it takes a lot of effort and adds time and icky bits of ginger into a drink - we have a cocktail at work that involves muddling fresh ginger and it sells by the hundred. Every time someone orders one, another bartender starts crying, because basically it's a lot of faf for not a lot of benefit. There are other options - ginger beer or ale are the most obvious, but you could use a liqueur like Domaine de Canton (if you could buy it in the UK) or a syrup or jam.

Yes, jam. We will make jam out of anything.

Jams offer a slightly different sweetening agent for cocktails, adding sweetness, texture and specific flavour notes without adding too much volume into the mix. They're a great alternative to liqueurs, particularly in non-alcoholic drinks.

So, yeah. Ginger jam. It's the future.

La Roux

40ml Courvoisier Exclusif
10ml Campari
2 barspoons Ginger Jam
25ml lemon juice
Dash egg white

In a mixing glass, stir the jam with the lemon juice until it dissolves. Add the other ingredients and shake with ice. Fine-strain into a chilled coupette and garnish with a thin slice of root ginger on the rim.

Posted on June 15, 2009 and filed under Mixology, MxMo, Recipes.

MxMo: the first time

For everything in life, there's an inside and an outside. This month, LUPEC Boston asks us how we'd welcome the unsure to the cocktail party. It's Mixology Monday, and we want to know one thing: do you remember the first time? Imagine a swamp. It's dark, misty and humid. There's a weird kind of steam coming from the marshes and you're pretty sure the twisted vegetation is home to any number of nasty beasties ready to devour the unwary. You've heard a rumour that there's a paradise on the other side of the swamp, and that's it's not that hard to cross anyway, but right now, up to your ankles in liquid you don't want to think too hard about, swatting away flies the size of staplers, you're not thinking about that. Right now, all you want is not to be in the damn swamp.

(swamp by Lawrence Whittemore, licensed under Creative Commons.)

Hold that feeling in your mind and the expression on your face is going to resemble that of someone picking up a cocktail list for the first time. It's something I see quite a lot at work, that mix of curiosity and utter, utter fear. Some of those exhibiting the look of rabbit soon to lose its third dimension ask for help, some don't.

True story: two girls come up to the bar and ask for two martinis. I get the sense that they're not big martini drinkers, so I try offering them something a little easier-going, a softer twist on the classic recipe and they're all, "no, we want martinis." Five minutes later, they come back: "can we get some lemonade in these?"

My usual gambit at work is to ask the would-be adventurer what spirits they like and suggest flavours that work well with their favourites. At this point, I tend towards a couple of different basic drinks that lend themselves well to customization - a Sour or a Collins can work really well without much effort.

There's a fine line to be walked in mixing drinks for cocktail newbies. You might want to express the breadth of flavour available through mixing different liquors, but it's usually better keeping things simple. For the most part, I'll tend to stay away from ingredients with more complicated flavours because, being honest, it's rare that someone instantly gains an appreciation for the herby intensity of absinthe or the smoky peat of an Islay malt. Berries, vanilla, fresh fruit, these are your friends. All things considered, the drinks I come up with in this kind of situation aren't among the most developed in my notebook. Sometimes you hit it out of the park, but more often than not you get a base hit. However, the key point is it's not about how I feel about the drink.

When it comes to that guy stood on the edge of the swamp, swallowing hard and wondering what it is he's doing there, it's worth remembering everyone stood there once. Get as much information from him as you can, make a good drink and hope. Show that person that the swamp's not a bad place to be, because, ultimately, you're not the one who decides whether or not to go deeper.


35ml Vanilla-flavoured vodka
15ml Creme de Fraise
25ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
10ml sugar syrup
3 raspberries

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish with a lime wedge and a couple of raspberries. If you're feeling fancy, use a highball and top with ginger beer, soda or sparkling wine.

Thanks to Pink Lady and all at LUPEC Boston for hosting this month!

Posted on March 5, 2009 and filed under Mixology, MxMo, Recipes.

MxMo: hard drinks for hard times

This month's Mixology Monday is worried. It worries about its job, its mortgage and, above all, it worries about its future. It's not easy being the internet's premier monthly mixological get-together, but this month's theme proposed by Matt at Rowley's Whiskey Forge could give it a few tips for getting through the crunch. Drinking has seen of tough times before, of course. If outright prohibition couldn't kill hard spirits, then lacking a bit of cash won't either. However, to my mind, when money gets tight it's the fancy imported stuff that ends up first in the firing line and you aim to make do with what's local. Luckily, this means I get to play with Scotch whisky.

(Whisky Galore! by foxypar4, licenced under Creative Commons.)

Much like the global economy, Scotch hasn't had the best of luck over the past few years. 2008 saw blended Scotch overtaken by vodka in UK off-licence (liquor store) sales for the first time and while the category as a whole is still ahead, it seems likely to be caught within the year. But - unlike the economy - some green shoots can be seen, with Diageo building Scotland's first new whisky distillery in 30 years and Glenmorangie investing £45m in new headquarters and bottling site in the Central Belt. Looking back, whisky producers haven't always been that keen on contributing to the economy anyway. As tradition would have it, distilleries were often established in inaccessible glens to confound excisemen sent to tax the stills.

One of the great strengths of a good blended Scotch is its versatility. Quality brands will mix well with dark fruit flavours and heavier notes, but they'll also play with lighter herbal, more aromatic tastes. One thing you can guarantee is that is price will be roughly proportionate to malt content. Dropping less cash will net you a higher percentage of grain whisky in the blend; these will tend toward younger, less flavourful whiskies column-distilled from mixed grains. If economics demand that you stick to a budget, there are gems to be found - Bailie Nicol Jarvie and Black Bottle spring immediately to mind - but if you're planning on spending less than $20/£12 on a blended Scotch, you may be better off pouring some vodka into a barrel and leaving it in the garage for a couple of years.

There's another quality of Scotch that makes it perfect for post-austerity drinking: you don't need to mix it with anything. Sure, you can use it in cocktails and the like, but there's many a purist who will tell anyone with ears that adding anything other than water - maybe, just maybe an ice cube or two, possibly - is heresy of the first order. That said, it feels a little too much like cheating not to include a recipe beyond a Scotch on the rocks. Of course, given no-one anywhere has any money, it would seem foolish to start throwing starfruit and other exotica into a shaker. This month, we're keeping it simple and local. And cheap, hopefully.

Highland Bramble

45ml blended Scotch whisky
30ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 barspoon honey
1 dash egg white (optional, I just like the look and the texture)
15ml Crème de Mure

Shake the first four ingredients with ice. Strain into an ice-filled old-fashioned glass and drizzle the Crème de Mure over the top. Garnish with a handful of blackberries and/or raspberries.

Posted on February 17, 2009 and filed under Mixology, MxMo, Recipes.

MxMo: on the bench

It's about time for another Mixology Monday - this month's theme is New Horizons, hosted over at A Mixed Dram. It's a project I'd love to contribute to, but a couple of things got in the way. The last week has been spent (in descending order):

  • in bed dying from bird flu
  • at work
  • trying to formulate recipes for the Reserve Brands World Class Gin regional
  • failing to win the Reserve Brands World Class Gin regional
  • organizing and working an event for 400 thirsty bar staff

...all of which means that I'm going to be spending this MxMo on the bench.

Posted on January 20, 2009 and filed under MxMo.