A tropical holiday isn’t complete without:
a) cocktails on the beach
b) cocktails at a swim-up bar
c) cocktails at a rooftop bar at sunset
d) a visit to a bookshop
If you answered (d), congratulations. You’re such a cocktail nerd that you’ll happily spend at least some of your drinking time browsing the shelves for cocktail books that aren’t available at home. That’s how I found one of my favourite books, Asian Cocktails by Holly Jennings and Christine LeBlond (Tuttle Publishing, 2009). It’s also how I escaped some small children that had been following me around for days, crying and begging, as sometimes happens in Southeast Asia. This can be quite confronting, especially when you’re their aunt and you’re meant to be minding them while their parents are having poolside cocktails.
Anyway, as you might have guessed, the book features loads of Asian-inspired cocktails, from classics (Singapore Sling) and twists on classics (Lemongrass Gimlet) to new creations such as the Blue Basil, which I recently tried because it includes Thai basil leaves and there’s a pot of the stuff out my back door that’s so rampant I’m worried it might go all Little Shop of Horrors on me if I don’t start using it up soon. (I suppose I could cook something with it but that would require cooking, which is a territory so foreign to me that it has a sign: Halt! There be Dragons.)
The original drink requires Magellan gin, which apparently has a blue-ish colour that gives the drink its name. I haven’t come across it and am not a fan of blue-coloured drinks (they remind me of Windex, which reminds me of cleaning, which I am allergic to), so I switched it for a dry gin, as per the book’s instructions. If you do have Magellan gin, use it – and let me know what you think.
This is a bracing drink that will awaken your senses. The basil lends it an anise flavour – 52 Cocktails’ CTO (Cocktail Tasting Officer) says it tastes like it’s laced with a herbacious ouzo.
3 lime wedges
6 to 8 fresh Thai basil leaves, plus 1 sprig for garnish
3/4 oz (22ml) sugar syrup
2 1/4 oz (67ml) dry gin (I used Tanqueray)
3/4 oz (22ml) freshly squeezed lime juice
splash of soda water
lime wheel, for garnish
Rocks glass. Cause this drink rocks.
Muddle lime wedges, basil leaves and sugar syrup in a cocktail shaker. Add a good scoop of ice, gin and lime juice, and shake well. Pour into a rocks glass, add more ice if needed, top with soda and stir briefly. Garnish with lime wheel and basil sprig.
(If you don’t like lime chunks and herbs floating about in your drink, strain it into a rocks glass that’s half-full of ice, then top with soda and garnish.)
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY
Much, much easier than fighting your way past the Thai basil version of Audrey II.
According to the aforementioned book, the Blue Basil was created by John Blue of the (now closed) Vietnamese restaurant Sapa in New York City.
NOTES ON THE RECIPE
The first time I made this cocktail, I followed the instructions carefully and the result was a refreshing, complex drink with a subtle hint anise. The second time, the CTO and I decided it needed more Thai basil and so I tripled the amount. This was politely described as ‘medicinal’ and more accurately described as a fuck-up. If you really, really like Thai basil, perhaps double the amount but don’t go any further – you want a balanced, interesting drink, not something that makes you feel like you’ve been shoved face first into a herb garden.