What are we drinking? Make no mistake we are DRINKING on Christmas day and the rest of the year, if we have to be hung over into the New Year, so be it and who knows, it may reverse the next lot of misfortunes awaiting us on the other side. We have to be due some good fortune right? My dear get your goblets at the ready for we are on a bar crawl mixing things and making memories in our homes. Over the summer and in the first lockdown, I became something of a cocktail connoisseur, please take that with a grain of salt and a dash of lime, what I mean is, I became obsessed with making the perfect cocktail and in my experimentation I discovered that making cocktails is akin to baking; you have to get the layers right. Too heavy handed and its too sweet and too light its too weak- hence James Bond really is a punk with his weak shaken martini because anyone worth their salt knows that the Martini is best served stirred and not shaken. In cocktail making, precision is everything, mighty men have fallen at the hands of the simplest cocktails.
THE OLD MAN AND HIS DRINK
It was the summer of 1898, the Spanish American waR was being fought in the town of Daiquiri, Cuba and troops were falling ill from drinking swamp infested waters. Doctors tried to use rum to disinfect the waters but the taste was not at all appealing. Two Americans Jennings Cox and Harry Stout had the idea to squeeze lime and add sugar into the badly tasting distilled water, unknowingly birthing the early versions of the daiquiri. However, this was a riff of the Canchanchara, the oldest cocktail in Cuba. The difference between both drinks being the use of raw sugar cane or honey instead of sugar in the canchanchara and serving it warm hence its healing abilities for simple ailments like the cold.
In the UNESCO Heritage town of Trinidad, Cuba the Canchanchara is still served today, with some ice in clay mules. It is an entire tourist thing but it does leave you with an impression.
But back to the daiquiri as we know her today, she came into her own at the hands of head bartender at El Floridita; Constantino Vert who tested several variations of the drink until he perfected it on the fourth try presumably, hence the name Daiquiri No.4 Hemmingway’s preferred, and should be yours too. As a drink the Daiquiri is deceptively low key in the sense that you don’t need a lot of ingredients, you only need three hence its sexiness because of it implied simplicity. But real G’s know that when you get down to the love making, its not about the size but the way you deploy what tools you have to get to a satisfactory climax. In the case of the daiquiri, everything you need is in your pantry but how do you mix it to get the perfect result?
Preferred Glass- Coupe/Coupette
TANGLE IN TANGIER
Originally from Morocco but made famous in a speakeasy a world away in New York where on any given evening you could find Jackie Onassis- Bouvier, her husbands, Bing Crosby, and the likes in there. El Morocco or ELMo as it was called back in its hey day, gave space to highfalutin people to let lose, a place where socialising hierarchy and the velvet rope was established.
How a drink from North Africa found its way around the Atlantic to become an influence for the epitome of western culture is a story that ought to be made into a Hollywood movie.
On the mix, I would personally leave out the grenadine because of the port, the flavour profile is of either is quite similar to the other and grenadine does have the tendency to be just that bit sickly sweet.
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE
A Russian and an African walk into a bar… they discover their shared sweet tooth and proceed to put the world to right. Or that would be one scenario. Besides cheap sweet wine, my indulgence is Champagne and when you combine sweet flavours with champagne, I am an easy sell.
Same as the last Csar of Russia, Nicholas who was not only a sweet tooth but was also partial to champagne from the land that does it best, France of course. And to this day, the best champagnes come from France no disrespect to all other houses but we are not fighting facts here.
The Russian sweet-tooth was so well known that the French houses would often put sugar three times the quantity of that in present day coke in their shipment to Russia… WOW.
In Csar Nicholas’s case he added chartreuse to sweeten his vintage. Following his execution and that of his family in one of history’s worst atrocities and the fall of the Russian empire the extent of the Russian adoration for champagne was discovered when an excavation of ships in the Baltic seas revealed cellars with perfect conditions to maintain champagne… priorities eh
THE WAILING WALL
I suppose there is irony to be found in the fact that this drink was created in the heart land of Christianity, even more so when you factor in the battle between Jews and Arabs raging in the region at the time. Have you noticed that drink seems to find its footing in war time and conflict?
It is little wonder that prohibition period era roaring twenties is synonymous with the rise of some of histories more famous libations.
So the questions is, how does one escape bloodshed and misery all around them? They pop into a hotel for a drink that’s what, to drown their sorrows in and escape the harsh realities of it. I suppose that answers my question.
The King David Hotel in Jerusalem is rumoured to be where this drink was concocted and must have provided enough respite to its patrons.
Here’s to peace on earth
MEXICO, MOST LIKELY
A riff off the old Daisy Collin, reportedly no one can quite point out the origins of this divine cocktail, but since the base alcohol is tequila it makes sense that it should be from Mexico. One I enjoy but am quite certain is not accurate is that it was created by Margaret Sames for her dinner party, hence the name Margarita. Much like the Margarita pizza was made for the Queen of Italy whilst passing through Naples when a restauranteur having received the royal party as guests after hours, threw together ingredients the colours of the Italian flag and dough to make pizza et voila! my Italian tour guide says it’s true say so I am taking this one to the bank.
Where the daisy uses a whiskey, the margarita substitutes with a tequila. I prefer a frozen marg to a classic wet one, which makes me guilty of gentrification since frozen margaritas were first made popular in Dallas Texas. Hmmm considering Mrs Sames was a Dallas socialite who retired to Acapulco she might have some leg to stand on… still you know how these things go, so I am loathe to give credence here
Since lockdown I have put my creative juices to good use (this is really questionable) by using crushed ice to make an iteration of a frozen margarita at home. Here’s how:
Use a Moscow mule goblet and fill it with crushed ice, you want to make sure the ice is finely crushed so run it through a blender if needed be.
In another glass, pour in the tequila, triple sec and lime juice, stir thoroughly and pour into the crushed ice goblet.
Grab your frozen margarita glass from the freezer and toss the drink in there ice and all. Trust me its a good’un.
Side note: pink Himalayan salt taste no different to other sea salt so that’s just either or but all I had in my pantry that day.
I SEE LONDON, I SEE FRANCE…
I guess the next war will be fought over who discovered the side car between London and Paris. As with all good cocktails the origins of this is hard to pinpoint but my money is on France simply because the base drink is Cognac, which happens to be the finest of liqueurs out there.
Regardless of its origins, one thing that cannot be disputed of the side car is that it is a legend of a drink because it is simple, and lovely but with a bit of street edge. In fashion terms it would be akin to wearing trainers on a couture gown. Remember the Sharon stone gap and floor length skirt on the red carpet moment? Yes this is what the side car would be.
This is again one of those drinks of which the ingredients can be found in your pantry if like me the necessities and extremities of modern conveniences can sometimes be found in excess; it is how i account for having to toss out oranges and lemons gone unused because again, excess.
This drink also brings to mind Brexit, that pesky subject in the UK right now. The base alcohol is Cognac which was rumoured to have been invented by a dutch trader based in France whose shipment was bound for England. Get it? Drink up we’re screwed anyhow.
BENEATH GRAND PYRAMIDS
This is what happens when your hangover is cured by more alcohol and in turn helps one win the war. No really, the urban legend of this drink is that it helped the troops win the war in Egypt.
It was 1942, WWII the battle was raging and the troops badly needed a drink, because the frontline is where one should approach inebriated I think. I suppose the whole Europe stag do bar crawl is not a new phenomenon because believe it or not the troops requested something to cure their hangover. Another version of this is that the troops were disappointed with the array of drinks on offer therefore Joe Scialom the bartender who created this mix to cure his hangover (bloody hell this better be a real story because it gets better as you tell it no?) sent it to the front just in time to buck up the boys in front before going on to win the battle with the enemy. Also Joe did not want the General Rommel to make good on his promise to have a celebratory champagne as the Shepheard’s hotel where Scianlom worked.
The troops got the drink, won the war and the liqueurs got better to mix another day.
And if you are wondering what a dash it like I did, its simply a quarter teaspoon or just about.
BY WAY OF YORKSHIRE-ISH
I say this in my best Yorkshire accent. Those who know me know I have the best Yorkshire accent, I mean take that as you will but I believe I do. I love the Yorkshire tongue, if you’ve ever heard a Yorkshire person call someone “Bastard” you’ll know why. They say it with passion and feeling. LOL
In any case this is a twist on a classic, as with most cocktails, but throw in the suze, a french apertif and you have an acquired taste that reveals its profile as you drink it. The secret is in the highball glass. Now having watched the masterclass I understand why there is a need for ice in cocktails, and when I did, I approached cocktails much different to the norm. Ice reveals the full flavour of the drink and to an extent reveals the hand of the mixologist because it either shows their savvy; they either get it right in which case its the Tom Cruise ending of I am definitely going home with the bartender tonight, too heavy handed or too weak; both versions we are definitely not even giving our numbers to the bartender.
One of the things I find most irritating about cocktails in bars is the amount of sweeteners and sugar used to bury the flavour so you don’t get a dose of the notes as they travel. A good mixologist lets the drinker discover the taste and possibly the stories of how the drink came to be. The secret weapon here is the suze, not as well known which gives it an added layer of je ne sais quoi in something long and strong with a kick.
And if you are looking for where to get some Suze, check on amazon or Waitrose
THE COUNT WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD
Thanks to Stanley “the tooch” Tucci I will never drink a negroni much the same again and if you don’t know you can google it.
I suppose you’ll know by now that I will say the best place to experience a Negroni is in Florence the land of its origin, but it is and then you can really appreciate it even more but unlike the Daiquiri where I am most certainly biased that the only place to have it is in Cuba, you can have a negroni outside of Florence, in the privacy of your own home and feel as if you are not missing out. hey ho tally-ho.
The legend of the Negroni is one I much enjoy. Count Camillo Negroni who sounds like something akin to Flyn Ryder, walked into the Caffe Cassoni and asked the bar tender, Fosco Scarselli to put gin in his American cocktail instead of the requisite fizzy drink. This in my opinion kicks it up a notch from banal to smooth. And whilst I am not a fan of the orange peel it really makes a different here.
It was obvious that I cap it off with a drink that has two of my favourite things; champagne and strawberries. And if you add a name sake that makes it three.
This is an absolute cracker of a cocktail, it is all the things we expect yet with a sweet surprise and an absolute darling. The spicy aperol reveals its entire character and laced with the strawberry gives it that edge and energy. This is really big dick energy for a drink so classy and cool it deserves a crown.
When you top it off with champagne the magic really comes alive. I tried this also with rosé and prosecco and both are fine stand in when you are in a pinch without champagne but you really want to have this with good and proper champagne. My preferred is Ruinart for when money is not long enough to stretch to Dom Perignon because a woman cannot lie Dom is really that bitch.
I always find cocktails to be a friendly drinks that allows for a familiar and shared setting, one not as formal as a bottle of wine say. I find cocktails friendlier in any space and one that reveals the artistry of the mixologist but also allows room for wild experimentation as long as you determine the precision. Go forth and drink up!