- So I got to spend a couple of days in Amsterdam a couple of weeks ago thanks to the lovely people at Bols. We checked out the House of Bols Cocktail and Genever Experience, spent a good few hours tasting lots of Genever with the Bols Academy's head bartender Rob Rademaker and sneakily checked out where head distiller Piet van Leijenhorst ages the Corenwyn. There were photos taken, good times had. Oh, and kopstootjes, of which there are no photos. None.
- Freakonomics: The Creative Cocktail - a guest post Remember that whole thing from 2010 when Eben Freeman started talking about not being correctly credited for pioneering certain techniques? Maybe, like me, you're just repressing the memory. Anyhow - a good overview of that. (Via Bibulo.us)
- BarLife UK: Absinthe - Understanding the controversial spirit and its place in modern times Absinthe expert Ted Breaux kicks off a series of posts on the history, production and mythology of the green fairy - which is a good a reason as any to add a link to Wired's coverage of his attempts to unravel the spirit from back in 2005.
- London Evening Standard - Bartender's record-breaking cocktail dream in ruins ...which is a thing that can happen if you leave £50,000 bottles of Cognac lying around.
- Congratulations to Matthew Rowley who has just been made a contributing editor at Distiller magazine.
- Jerry Thomas Project: "Fifty shades of..." Adam Elmegirab (of bitters fame) asked fifty figures from the world of bartending and cocktails to suggest the one book they'd recommend to a bartender regardless of that person's skillset. It's a worthy exercise (full disclosure: I was asked for my choice) - maybe even enough to excuse an E.L. James joke in the title of the post - but there are a couple of things that stand out for me.One - the list makes for a good example of a Long Tail; the top five most recommended books account for 19 of the 50 votes, but there are a total of 33 titles suggested. Two - if you're recommending a book to a potential bartender, how about just recommending reading? Start with those 33 titles and then keep going, and not just on books about booze. Read fiction, non-fiction, short stories, magazines, just READ. You'll end up a better person, and probably a better bartender.
- Alcademics - Jack Daniel's Distillery Visit
- Joerg Meyer - the greatest bartender line of all time
- Off The Presses - Bar Innovators Continue to Confuse Regulators
- If it's new, it's probably illegal, right?
- Billy's Booze Blog - Bruichladdich - Sold? Solid summary of why a great many people are unhappy about Rémy Cointreau's possible acquisition of the Islay distillery.
- Diageo - Diageo Reserve announces World Class Bartender of the Year 2012 It's that time of year again, as the bartending world is - somehow - once more surprised by the depth of Diageo's hospitality budget. Leaving aside any bitterness at not being flown to Rio on an expense account, massive congratulations are due to TimPhilips (above) and also to the UK's representative, Andy Mil from LCC.
- The Bombay Spirits Company Flavour Experience is coming to Edinburgh on Thursday 26th July from 1-4pm at the Last Word - details here.
In honour of the forthcoming tenth edition of Tales of the Cocktail - which, coincidentally marks my first attendence - I've been spending a fair bit of time thinking about the Sazerac. It's often cited as the world's oldest cocktail (though the burden of proof suggests otherwise) but I think it represents something far more interesting. The Sazerac, you see, is a time machine.
It's a relic of an age of drinking very different to the one we have now. Its creation is tied to two specific occurrences - the entry of one Antoine Amedie Peychaud into the manufacture of medicinal bitters (sometime around 1830; the Sazerac Company, who do have a horse in the race, specifically date the drink's creation to 1838) and the establishment of the Merchant's Exchange Coffee House (later the Sazerac House) in New Orleans - and both happen before molecular mixology was a thing, before super-premium vodka was thing, before the light, sour style of cocktail found in places like Cuba and Mexico gain prominence during US prohibition became a thing, even before vermouth was a thing.
If anything, the Sazerac is a product of constraint. It's arguably as good of a drink as can be made from its four ingredients and even those have been informed by constraint. The original formulation called for a Cognac base which changed to rye whiskey after the phylloxera blight ended the former's run as the world's pre-eminent spirit; the absinthe rinse was modified to a less intense, more legal substitute following the US ban on La Fée Verte in 1912; whenever an ingredient became unavailble, the recipe was amended to suit what was available. Its survival and enduring popularity really is a testament to not being dogmatic about a recipe.
These days, if someone creates a recipe along similar lines to a Sazerac, or its close cousin, the Old-Fashioned, it's a conscious choice to reject the possibilities offered by the sheer range of ingredients available. Conversely, the Sazerac itself rejects those possibilities not because its creator wanted to but rather because he had no choice other than to do so; those things just weren't available. Trying a Sazerac today is taking a step back to a time when bartenders didn't have a lot to work with and worked wonders with what they had.
In another startling break with tradition, we're presenting this recipe in video form.
50ml rye whiskey or Cognac
3 dashes Peychaud's Bitters
1 barspoon sugar syrup
Stir the first the ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled, absinthe-rinsed* glass. Twist and discard a lemon zest to garnish.
*To rinse the glass, either fill it with ice, add a small amount of absinthe and discard the contents of the glass before straining in the other other ingredients, or you could - as in the video - simply pop some absinthe in an atomiser.
I never realised cocktail competitions could go to overtime. I've been involved with a couple of tiebreakers over the years but quadruple overtime was a new one.
I was almost glad I wasn't involved. Our host, 42 Below brand ambassador Metinee Kongsrivilai, had revealed that two out of three places on the team to represent Scotland at the UK qualifier for the 2012 42 Below Cocktail World Cup had already been claimed by Jamie MacDonald, last year's UK representative in the Global World Class final, and Danil Nevsky, recently a world finalist in the Bols Around the World competition and the third spot came down to a choice between Jody Buchan from 99 Bar & Kitchen in Aberdeen and Megs DeMeulenaere from Edinburgh's Bramble. The final member of Team Scotland would be decided by a pour test: whoever nailed free-poured measures of both 25ml and 50ml would make the cut. That turns out to be difficult to do if both bartenders never free pour ingredients and so, having matched each other for three rounds, Megs grabbed victory on a single 50ml measure.
The Cocktail World Cup has a reputation for being one of the more intense of the major global competitions so I guess it's somewhat appropriate that the first UK regional ended in sudden death.
I might not have been involved in the overtime shenanigans but I was happy with the drink I entered. Given that the winning recipes included a drink that changed colour, a slushy served beside its own beach of flavoured sand and a blue curaçao sea and a Piña Colada flavoured with the barrel essence rotovaped from an aged rum, I can see that maybe the following offer was lacking in a little of the madcap x-factor required.
45ml 42 Below Honey
15ml Creme de Peche
10ml green tea syrup
20ml lemon juice
Shake all ingredients with ice and fine-strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of orange zest.
Green tea syrup
400g caster sugar
200ml hot water
15g loose leaf green tea
Add the sugar to water in a large heatproof measuring jug. Add the tea and let it soak for 30mins. Strain the tea from the mixture and bottle; it should keep for up to 14 days.
I've made this point before, but if January 25th can be designated No Name Calling Day and the last Wednesday in April marks Administrative Professionals' Day, then it is only right and proper that the second Saturday of June be set aside for World Gin Day. Instituted by Neil Houston (a.k.a. @yetanothergin) in 2009, today is an opportunity to celebrate a spirit that has had its ups and downs. While the popularity of gin today isn't at the level of the early-to-mid 19th Century - when its widespread availability led to what is now known as the Gin Craze and represents one of those rare occasions where the word 'craze' is a massive understatement - it has never been easier to find as wide a selection of really high quality products. Distillers across the world are finding new botanicals and techniques to bring to bear on production and bartenders and drinks enthusiasts are constantly breaking new ground in finding new ways to taste and explore those differing expressions.
My own contribution to this year's festivities works best, I think, with a juniper-forward, citrus heavy gin like Bombay Dry or Sipsmith, but your mileage, as ever, may vary. I also wanted to include a touch of Kamm & Sons Ginseng Spirit because I know the production and flavour of gin was a definite influence on how that particular spirit was conceived.
15ml Kamm & Sons Ginseng Spirit
15ml lemon juice
2 dashes Regan's Orange Bitters
Shake all ingredients with ice and fine-strain into a chilled 7-8oz cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of grapefruit zest.
Though it may represent the opportunity to do so, days like World Gin Day aren't about drinking until you fall over. It's more about finding a fresh approach something that you might find very familiar so if you do one thing today, leave off the tonic water and try something new.