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Forty Nine: L'Étranger Cocktail

Let's talk a little about context. After all, it's often said that nothing happens in a vacuum - though that's patently untrue given our little marble of evolved consciousness does circuits in one - and so much of the difficulty of creating recipes is creating those contexts in which your chosen ingredients can shine. I've been exploring the idea of seasonally appropriate flavours over recent weeks which, naturally, got me onto thinking about seasonally inappropriate flavours. Things that work in the context of sunny summer afternoons often don't on rainy winter evenings. Beyond that, certain types of ingredient have fallen into specific contexts over time. If I'd thought about it at the start of this project, the notion of using a vermouth in a refreshing citrusy cocktail would have seemed counterintuitive, given my own attitudes towards fortified wines back in the day. Context - or more accurately, the previous contexts in which an ingredient or technique are found - is a useful guide, but it shouldn't be taken as a stonecrafted edict.

And so we come to orgeat. No, this is not supposed to be a non sequitur.

Orgeat is beloved by many, but is rarely used outside of tiki drinks and more rarely still with spirits other than rum. If it appears in a recipe, you'd get incredibly long odds on the drink not falling into Embury's Sour Type classification. This may be as much because including an opaque sweetener in an Aromatic Type drink runs against the standardized aesthetic of a brilliantly clear beverage as it is because orgeat combines so very well with citrus and rum. However, once I'd realized that orgeat is hardly used outside of the tiki/rum/sour context, the obvious thing was to try it in an entirely different one.

This is how we end up talking about hot drinks.

Tea Cup Pot by Eduardo Mueses on Flickr.

There are exceptions - the Irish Coffee being the most notable - but hot alcoholic drinks are rare. It's worth remembering that they existed before iced cocktails, given the difficulty of obtaining a consistent supply ice in the era before refrigeration. One of the most popular concoctions of the North American colonists was flip, which was "mixed with a device called a loggerhead..."

"- a narrow piece of iron about three feet long with a slightly bulbous head the size of a small onion. It was originally created for heating tar or pitch, with the bulb buried in the glowing coals until it blazed red-hot, then quickly withdrawn and plunged into the pitch to make it pliable. The instrument served a similar heating function when plunged red-hot into a beer-rum-and-molasses concoctions. The whole mess would foam and hiss and send up a mighty head." Wayne Curtis, And a Bottle of Rum, p. 83

As I'm lacking in both an open fire and a loggerhead, I'd have to go for less dramatic means of heating my drink. In time, I'd also opt to steer clear of coffee and dairy. Fernet Branca and cloves were chosen as complementary flavours on top of a whisky base, the Glenrothes Select Reserve in this case. As for the orgeat, it really does work in this drink. Sometimes, taking things out of context is the only way to go.

L'Étranger Cocktail

50ml The Glenrothes Select Reserve
15ml orgeat
15ml Fernet Branca
5 cracked cloves
50ml hot water

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass or suitable heat-proof  container. Fine-strain into a small tea-cup or rocks glass (if you're going for a glass, make sure to heat it first so it doesn't crack). Garnish with a twist of lemon zest and a cinnamon stick.

Things to do in Ingliston when you're dead

Bartenders are social creatures and often tend to congregate in places where alcohol - particularly rum - are abundant, even if that place happens to be Ingliston. Ingliston is a small village on the outskirts of Edinburgh, if you define a village as the stretch of road between Edinburgh Airport and the Park&Ride. Its major claim to fame is the annual Royal Highland Show which I believe involves showing off livestock and examples of Scottish masculinity. Outside of that, the showground is used for events and trade shows throughout the year, including Bar Scotland 2009 which ran on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week.

First of all, I'd been issued with a laminate that said "Jon Hughes, Head Bartender," which made me way happier than it should have. That translated into a greater tolerance of salesfolk, especially of the less exciting (read non-alcoholic) products.

EPOS Salesman: what kind of tills do you use at the moment?
Me: [The kind of tills we use at the moment].
EPOS Salesman: Terrible system, absolutely awful. Let me show you our solution.
Me: That's really something our head office decides on.

(Five minutes later.)

Me: Does this do anything [our current system] doesn't?

EPOS Salesman: Well, if your manager is off playing golf and you run out of beer, you can send him a message through the till to order more.
Me: From the golf course?
EPOS Salesman: Yup!
Me: Does this do anything [our current system] and a phone can't?

It turns out that trade shows are weird. A free pen is not enough of an inducement to drop £500 on a set of scales for counting money and nothing is enough of an inducement to stock a 37.5%ABV vodka in a discount store bottle at £4.50 a shot. Still, there was plenty of goodness - the lovely UK rum ambassador Ian Burrell, Monkey Shoulder moleskines, Beefeater 24, the reps from Specialty Brands slipping us tasters of Diplomatico even though our supplier doesn't carry it, the rep from Funkin Purees telling us about the fight in our bar the night before, free beer and flair training from LA Bartenders, robbing crisps from the snack manufacturers stand, and flat-out asking from Havana Club Cuban Barrel-proof, please.

Posted on May 1, 2009 and filed under Uncategorized.

Newsdesk: aquae vitae

The discovery of distilled spirits was welcomed by the alchemists of Old Europe as the key to one of the great mysteries of their art: the elusive aqua vita, the water of life that would cure all ills. Hundreds of years later, these same spirits are often seen as the cause of many of society's troubles. But every once in a while, they are credited with something good.

"A lot of research shows that people who drink moderately flat-out live longer than those who don't," Lloyd tells Page Six. "From the pre vention of the common cold to the pre- vention of the onset of Alzheimer's to preventing certain types of cancer, regular drinking can be very beneficial."

Posted on March 11, 2009 and filed under Uncategorized.