Blackthorn

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Ages ago I was given a neat little dark-blue tome called The Architecture of the Cocktail, which I snobbishly dismissed as a little more than a gimmick; the book’s illustrations are designed to look like blueprints, lending it a serious, mathematical vibe; there’s no warm, inviting photos; and at first glance it looks like one of those smugly superior books that’s mighty clever but irritating to follow.

I shelved it and thought I would never use it.

How wrong I was.

This has become one of my favourite cocktail books for precisely the reasons I initially disliked it. The recipes are easy to follow; the lack of photos means it hasn’t dated badly (the Savoy Cocktail Book doesn’t have photos, either); and the concise preamble to each cocktail is a joy to read.

In other words, it’s small, but it packs a punch. Just like the Blackthorn.

The Blackthorn takes the absinthe rinse of a Sazerac, marries it with the balanced, simple nature of a Manhattan, and then plays havoc with genetics, swapping the Manhattan’s rye whiskey for Irish and its sweet vermouth for dry. I don’t know if that makes it a lovechild or a bastard cousin of the aforementioned classic cocktails, but I figure it gives me a bit of leeway with it – at least, that’s my excuse for switching Irish whiskey for Scotch, and using the wrong glassware to boot.

No matter if you follow the original recipe or my off-plan one, if you like Sazeracs and Manhattans, you will love this strong, slightly bitter, anise-laced drink.

INGREDIENTS

2 dashes absinthe (I figured this meant half a teaspoon, but I’m sure some people would use less)

45ml Irish whiskey (I used Scotch and it still tasted good, but I’m keen to try it with Irish next time)

30ml dry vermouth

2 dashes Angostura bitters

lemon peel, to garnish

GLASS

Cocktail glass, chilled (I used a chilled tumbler)

METHOD

Pour the absinthe into the glass and swirl it about gently so the absinthe coats the glass. Tip out any excess.

Half fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the whiskey, vermouth and Angostura and stir well to combine. Strain into the glass. Gently peel a long piece of lemon peel (avoiding the pith) over the glass and drop it in to garnish.

RECIPE BY

I butchered this recipe, and it still worked. So here’s cheers to the original recipe, which appears in The Architecture of the Cocktail by Amy Zavatto (Harper Collins, 2013).

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Gin Palace

 

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Ah, to live in a palace made of gin, afloat on giant ice cubes in a sea of tonic water, where cocktails were coloured by the tears of rainbow-hued unicorns …

Ah, to stop with such nonsense and make yourself a drink …

The term ‘gin palace’ harks back to 1820s England. Before then, gin shops were just that; small places that sold gin to either take away or drink standing up within the establishment. Legislation changed, and the gin shops had to also be able to sell ale or wine, which meant they had to get bigger. Meanwhile, fashionable new shops with lavish fit-outs and gas lamps were becoming popular; they had gorgeous displays and were manned by staff behind numerous counters. It wasn’t long before the gin shops followed suit, with ornate decor and counters for their staff to stand behind. In the late 1820s they were known as gin palaces, and although apparently none of the original palaces are still around, they have left a lasting legacy; their old-fashioned counters are the modern-day bars you see in pubs and cocktail lounges.

Melbourne’s Gin Palace opened in 1997 (well before gin became trendy again), and has been serving up gin and good times in equal measure ever since. It’s a lavish yet somewhat grungy laneway bar, the kind of comfortable, welcoming place where you might drop in for just one drink and emerge several hours (or days) later. It’s exactly the kind of gin palace you could imagine living in, though they don’t have rainbow-hued unicorns (yet).

Apart from their names, what the cocktail and the bar have in common is that they’re a sophisticated yet easily approachable way to kick off a big night – or end one. The cocktail is sweetly reminiscent of berries and ice cream, but the gin stops it from being overly cloying. You can make this using quaffing gin and sparkling wine, but if you really want to capture that palatial feeling, go all out and use your fanciest gin and Champagne, dahling. Mwah!

INGREDIENTS

15ml gin

15ml blackberry liqueur or cassis (which is blackcurrant liqueur, and still delicious)

10ml vanilla liqueur (or good-quality vanilla vodka, such as Absolut Vanilia)

Champagne or sparkling wine

Blueberries to garnish, if desired

GLASS

Champagne flute, chilled

METHOD

Pour the gin and liqueurs (or their substitutes) into a chilled Champagne flute, then top up slowly with the bubbly. Garnish with the blueberries, if you like, or sip as is.

RECIPE BY

The Gin Palace cocktail recipe comes from Shaken: 250 very sexy cocktails (Murdoch Books, 2004).

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Tequila. Champagne. Good times.

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Every year my pals host an Oscars viewing party with cocktails themed around the top ten nominated films. This year, their take on the film Hell or High Water was a minerally, bubbly, earthy glass of deliciousness they called Tequila or High Water. I loved it, and immediately demanded the recipe. As it turns out, it’s a variation on a French 75 that’s sometimes called a Tequila 75. Like a French 75, it should be made with Champagne but can be made with good old sparkling white wine if you have Champagne tastes on a sparkling budget. We went with the latter, but if you’re on the red carpet and someone else is paying for your drinks then hell, go with the high(cost) ‘water’, baby.

INGREDIENTS

30ml tequila

15ml lime juice

15ml sugar syrup

Champagne or sparkling white wine, to top up

GLASS

Champagne flute

METHOD

Chill the Champagne flute. Add tequila, lime juice and sugar syrup to a cocktail shaker that’s half full of ice. Shake it like you mean it, then strain into the chilled flute and top with whichever bubbly you can afford.

RECIPE BY

There are recipes all over the internet for this cocktail – I googled ‘tequila Champagne cocktail’ and found this one here.

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Astoria and Bacardi Vermouth

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The Waldorf Astoria is one of those very storied hotels whose name evokes a sense of old-world glamour and sophistication, and this lovely new collection of cocktail recipes certainly adds to that reputation.

The book contains hundreds of recipes for drinks served at the hotel’s bars – some are retro, some are classics, others are modern inventions, but all have been meticulously researched by the hotel’s bar manager, Frank Caiafa, and almost all of them are accompanied by his carefully compiled notes on the drinks’ histories, preparation methods or flavour profiles.

I started my exploration of the book by making two very simple cocktails, both of which use just vermouth and one spirit. While I preferred the delicate, herbaceous notes of the Astoria (pictured above), which Caiafa describes as a ‘reverse martini’, the Bacardi Vermouth (pictured below) was an interesting way to get to know the flavour of a sweet vermouth – I’d love to try it with various brands of sweet vermouth to see which one I like best. These both work well as aperitifs, best sipped while reading Caiafa’s book. Happy drinking – and happy reading!

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ASTORIA

INGREDIENTS

2 oz (60ml) Noilly Prat extra dry vermouth (I confess I used Dolin dry instead)

1 oz (30ml) Hayman’s Old Tom gin (have you tried this yet? It is a sweeter, old fashioned style of gin that I love.)

orange peel, to garnish

GLASS

Cocktail

METHOD

Add ingredients to a mixing glass. Half-fill the glass with ice, stir well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with orange peel.

BACARDI VERMOUTH

INGREDIENTS

1.5oz (45ml) Bacardi Superior white rum

1.5 oz (45ml) Dolin dry OR Cinzano Rosso sweet vermouth (I used the latter)

GLASS

Cocktail

METHOD

Add ingredients to a mixing glass. Half-fill the glass with ice, stir well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with orange peel.

RECIPES BY

Both recipes are from The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book by Frank Caiafa (Penguin Books, 2016).

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Dragonfly

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Watermelon and bourbon is not the kind of combo that sounds as if it will work – and yet it does, beautifully, in this celebratory drink that showcases notes of vanilla, chocolate and toffee offset by a good balance of ripe sweetness and refreshing tart notes. These go down a treat on a hot day – and they’ll disappear as fast as their namesake, so consider making a whole jugful if you’re serving them to a crowd.

INGREDIENTS

125ml watermelon puree (to make it, just blend chunks of seedless watermelon together until they’re liquified)

5 fresh Thai basil leaves

30ml sugar syrup

7ml lime juice

45ml bourbon

GLASS

Old-fashioned or tumbler

METHOD

Muddle the basil, sugar syrup and lime juice in a mixing tin. Add about 6 good chunks of ice plus remaining ingredients and shake vigorously. Pour the whole lot, including the ice, into the glass. Garnish with a basil leaf if desired, and serve.

RECIPE BY

This delightfully refreshing, addictive drink is from Asian Cocktails by Holly Jennings and Christine LeBlond (Tuttle, 2009), which, curiously, seems to feature lots of cocktails inspired by Asia but none from any Asian bars. Perhaps that’s because back when it was published, the cocktail craze hadn’t hit Asia? There are definitely truckloads of great bars there now – if you’re ever in Singapore, say, then check out Library, while over in Myanmar there’s the lovely Gekko.

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Gins N Roses I & II

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This week, after waiting since, oh, the 1980s, I FINALLY got to see my favourite band from childhood, Guns N Roses. Were they as good as they used to be? I don’t know – You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory – but they played some of my very favourite songs and everyone had a great night, so who cares? That’s fine in My World. And so, to celebrate, I thought I’d make a cocktail in their honour. But what to call it? Sweet Child O’ Wine? Catcher in the Rye Whiskey? Mama Gin? (OK, OK – Mama Kin is not strictly one of their songs, it’s a cover. Don’t put me Right Next Door to Hell for that.) I decided Anything Goes and that the drink should just be named after the band – and so I attempted to make something reflecting the moniker-Slash-pun Gins N Roses. Yep, you might be thinking ‘You’re Crazy’, but You Ain’t the First. And it’s not like I’ve been fertilising my imagination in the cold November Rain – I’ve just been greasing the Axls on the old pun wheels. (If all this reading is making you Dizzy with thirst, grab a Duff… but don’t get too Adler’d. Someone has to be across this post, after all. Stradlin’ it, in fact… )

All of this just goes to show It’s So Easy to have an Appetite for Distraction – I really hope you’re not Out ta Get Me as this Double Talkin’ Jive fills the space that should be filled with a cocktail recipe. It’s just that, well, it turns out I’m better at working song titles into a sentence than I am at inventing cocktails. Don’t Damn Me.

I’ll stop beating this Dead Horse – here’s my attempt at a cocktail intended to reflect the band. I wanted something so hard-hitting (like their music) that it could Get in the Ring, be as bitter as an Estranged band member and still feature notes of roses So Fine they could look Pretty Tied Up.

GINS N ROSES I

INGREDIENTS

60ml Four Pillars Navy Strength Gin

30ml honey syrup (made by dissolving 10ml honey in 20ml boiling water)

15ml lime juice

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon rosewater (to taste)

tonic

GLASS

Cocktail

METHOD

Add all ingredients except tonic to a mixing glass that’s half-full of ice. Stir really well, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass and add a dash of tonic.

If this tastes too much like grandma’s scented drawer-liners (ie if you find the rosewater overpowering), dump the whole lot into a chilled tumbler that’s half-full of ice, add tonic and you’ve got a fancy G&T. It’s not a One in a Million cocktail, but it does taste like something Nice Boys would drink.

RECIPE BY

It’s not by My (friend) Michelle – it’s by the 52 Cocktails crew.

And you know what? It’s not great. But if you didn’t like it, Don’t Cry – there’s another version of the Gins N Roses just below, and it just might make you think you’re in Paradise City. Ain’t it Fun experimenting?

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I confess, I’m not a massive fan of the Gins N Roses I. But back in the ’90s the band released two albums on the same day, Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion  II. So surely I should get two goes at getting the cocktail right – all I need is just a little Patience. (I’ve been  working the bar at night, just trying to get it right…) It’s not a Bad Obsession – I just don’t want this idea to become Dust N Bones. And so, here we have the next version:

GINS N ROSES II

INGREDIENTS

60ml Tanqueray gin

30ml lemon juice

15ml sugar syrup

3 good shakes Angostura Bitters

2 shakes Bar Keep Chinese Bitters

soda, to top

GLASS

Old-fashioned or tumbler, rimmed with Angostura sugar. (To make this, simply add enough bitters to white sugar to turn the sugar pink. There’s more info on it here.)

METHOD

Add all ingredients except the soda to a cocktail shaker that’s half-full of ice. Shake it hard – Rocket, Queen! – and then pour everything, including the ice, into the tumbler. Top with soda and a few more dashes of each of the bitters.

RECIPE BY

This is a rough variation on a Fitzgerald (which is a Dale DeGroff creation) that was devised by the 52 Cocktails crew. The ‘pink rocks’ (Angostura sugar) pay homage to the band’s, er, lifestyle, while the refreshing, moreish concoction is just the Welcome to the Jungle I was looking for.

Cheers!

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Sloe down, Melonhead!

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One of life’s many little pleasures is being able to rattle off quotes from old-school Simpsons episodes (or Seinfeld, or whatever it was that you and your buddies practically memorised when you should have been studying for that all-important exam) that are immediately understood. To that end, some of you, I hope, will recognise the quote I’ve named this drink after – ‘Quit your daydreaming, melonhead!’ And if you don’t, that’s OK, too. Cause all you really need to recognise to enjoy this jammy, rich concoction is that sometimes in life, you need to slow down and enjoy the little things. Like quoting The Simpsons.

INGREDIENTS

90ml watermelon juice, strained

45 ml sloe gin

5ml vanilla vodka

10ml fresh lime juice

GLASS

Something that would blend in at a whimsical garden party held by the Mad Hatter. Failing that, a jam jar will do.

METHOD

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass that’s half-full of ice. Stir thoroughly to both combine and chill. Strain into the serving glass and relaaaaax.

RECIPE BY

This one’s by us. Enjoy!

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New Fashioned & Old Fashioned

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I love a good Old Fashioned and I love gin, so it’s only natural that the first drink I tried from the new Dan Jones book, Gin: Shake, Muddle, Stir was a gin-based old fashioned – aptly called a New Fashioned.

It’s made almost entirely of gin – think of it as a martini of sorts for people who really, REALLY don’t like vermouth – so it’s logical that Jones instructs readers to use ‘really excellent gin’. To me, that means Four Pillars or West Winds (actually, it means a bunch of others, too, but hey, who’s counting?) and today I opted for West Winds The Sabre, partly because its blue-tinged bottle matched the book and partly because I’d been looking for an excuse to crack open a new bottle and this seemed like the perfect reason. (I must rethink this policy of waiting for a special occasion to open new bottles. New bottles of liquor could be languishing for days behind my bar if I keep this up.)

You’ve got to really love gin to enjoy this cocktail – so naturally, I loved it. It’s a great way to enjoy your very fave gin with just a hint of sweetness and not a lot else going on; if you’re not a gin-head, don’t bother.

NEW FASHIONED

INGREDIENTS

60ml really excellent gin (seriously, use your very very best gin)

splash of sugar syrup (I used 5ml)

dash of Angostura Bitters

dash of orange bitters (I used Angostura Orange Bitters)

strip of lime peel, to garnish

GLASS

Tumbler or old-fashioned glass

METHOD

Add a massive chunk of ice to your tumbler (one of those spherical moulds of ice will work, or just use a heap of decent-sized ice cubes). Add gin and sugar syrup and stir briefly to combine. Splash the bitters over the top and garnish with the lime peel.

RECIPE BY

This is from Gin: Shake, Muddle, Stir by Dan Jones (Hardie Grant Books, 2016)

 

HOUSE OLD FASHIONED

If you’re not into gin, make an Old Fashioned instead. Recipes vary a bit – here’s an ultra-cool one courtesy of Esquire – but the recipe below, a variation on the traditional recipe, is the one served at 52 Cocktails’ HQ.

INGREDIENTS

60ml Johnnie Walker red label whisky

15ml sugar syrup

several dashed Fee Brothers Black Walnut Bitters

GLASS

Old-fashioned or tumbler

METHOD

Place several ice cubes in a mixing glass. Add half the whisky and half the sugar syrup and stir well. Add a few more ice cubes and the remaining ingredients and stir again. Half-fill the serving glass with ice. Strain the cocktail into the glass and serve.

RECIPE BY

This is a variation on the theme of a traditional Old Fashioned, and we’ve been serving it up for years. The Black Walnut Bitters adds a delicious caramel note, changing the drink from a gutsy pre-dinner tipple to something you could almost serve with (or instead of) dessert. It’s a divine winter warmer, too.

Adding a fruit garnish is optional – there’s a bit of debate about whether a regular Old Fashioned should be garnished or not – but, for the record, our House Old Fashioned has never sported a garnish, and no one has ever complained.

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Suzy Wong

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It’s the end of a languid, sticky day in sultry Shanghai; the barest of breezes lures you to the balcony of an art deco bar. There, leaning on the railing to watch the sunset, is a gorgeous woman in a skin-tight, hot pink cheong sam, her hair set in gentle waves that frame her face as she brings a cocktail to her lips…

At least, that’s how I imagine the real Suzy Wong, if there ever was one*. And that’s certainly how the drink makes you feel: as if you’ve been transported back in time to the heady heydays of the 1920s, when you’d luxuriate in the sensual elegance of a sophisticated cocktail and the equally sophisticated company of an incredibly tempting woman.

This is a drink that’s as beautiful to look at as it is to taste; full-flavoured yet delicate, with just the right balance of sweet and tart, it’s a refreshing, fruit-forward classic that you just can’t get enough of.

Prepare to be seduced by Suzy Wong.

INGREDIENTS

45ml citrus vodka (I used Absolut Mandarin)

5ml lime juice

5ml sugar syrup

45ml watermelon juice, strained

GLASS

Cocktail

METHOD

Half-fill a mixing glass with ice. Pour all ingredients in and stir until both the drink and you are feeling nicely chilled. Strain into the glass and let the night begin.

RECIPE BY

This one’s in Shaken: 250 very sexy cocktails (Murdoch Books, 2004).

*In The World of Suzie Wong, the 1957 novel by Richard Mason that I assume inspired this drink, our heroine is actually a hooker. Ah well. Close enough.

 

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Planter’s Punch

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Rum and pineapple are made to go together, so could you blame me for getting all excited when a bottle of Beenleigh golden rum AND a pineapple-shaped glass AND a real pineapple appeared in 52 Cocktails’ HQ today? Course not. It seemed like fate. And so you probably also couldn’t blame me for getting halfway through making a classic rum-based Planter’s Punch before I realised there’s, er, actually no pineapple in it at all… and that it requires dark rum, not golden.

Yeah, it was one of those days.

Luckily I had some spiced rum on hand, so I finished making the Planter’s Punch using Sailor Jerry spiced rum, and adorned it rather exotically with some pineapple leaves (because why not) and some swizzle sticks that some rather generous pubs had, er, donated to the cause. Yes, that is an Angostura swizzle stick, and no, I didn’t nick it – someone else did, just so they could give it to me. There’s nothing like receiving stolen items to lift the spirits, right?

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Well, I tell you, the spirits certainly did need lifting after I tried this rather one-dimensional, overly sour drink. I’d used 50ml of spiced rum and 40ml citrus juice so it was no wonder it was too sour. And the spiced rum didn’t add enough sweetness, either because I should have used more or because it was –

Wait.

Because it was spiced rum.

Not dark.

Right-o then, let’s try this again, shall we?

 

INGREDIENTS

50ml dark rum (dark rum. DARK!)

20ml lime juice

20ml lemon juice

10ml sugar syrup

Hefty shake of Angostura bitters

soda water, to top up

slices of fruit/other garnishes and/or swizzle sticks of your choice (stolen or not)

GLASS

In theory, this is a punch, so you should be able to add a ‘zero’ to the measurements above (so 500ml rum, 200ml lime juice, etc) and make the drink in a punch bowl or large jug. But I was making a single serve so I built mine in a tall, pineapple-shaped glass. A collins glass would be fine.

METHOD

Half-fill the glass with ice. Add all ingredients except the soda and garnishes, and stir well. Top with soda and stir again. Taste – if it’s not sweet enough, add another 20ml or so of rum, and/or just a bit more sugar syrup. (I added more rum because it added flavour and sweetness, and because by this stage I really needed a drink.) Garnish and hope like hell you’ve got it right this time.

RECIPE BY

This is adapted from Shaken: 250 very sexy cocktails (Murdoch Books, 2004), where it’s presented as the kind of punch you make in a big bowl full of fruit slices. Made properly, it’s a drink with a good depth of flavour and a sharp, tangy sourness that offsets the rum’s treacly notes. It is VERY easy to drink.

Oh, and you know what? I just checked out a few other recipes for Planter’s Punch, and it turns out you SHOULD add pineapple juice…

GAAAAAAH!!

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