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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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Bloody Caesar

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The Bloody Mary is the undisputed queen of brunch drinks – but I prefer a Bloody Caesar. Hailing from Canada, it is basically a Bloody Mary with the addition of clam juice, which sounds completely disgusting but is actually really good. And you don’t need to juice any clams, either – just use Clamato , which is a mixture of tomato juice and clam juice, among other ingredients (if you’re in Melbourne, you can buy it here). Hail Caesar!

INGREDIENTS

celery salt

J & D’s Bacon Salt (which is, weirdly enough, vegetarian)

30-50ml vodka (use less if you want this to be a hangover cure, and more if you want it to be a hangover cause)

5ml Worcestershire sauce

dash of Tabasco or Chipotle Tabasco sauce (or ghost chilli sauce if you REALLY like things hot)

Clamato (get the picante version if you like things hot)

lime wedge

Vietnamese mint or Chinese celery or just a good old celery stick, to garnish

GLASS

I like my Caesars short, so I use a tumbler, but traditionally the drink calls for a tall glass (a pint glass is fine, or use a Collins or highball).

METHOD

Mix the two salts together on a plate. Rim the glass by wiping a wedge of lime or lemon around the rim, then dipping it in the salt mix.

Half-fill the glass with ice.

Add vodka and all the sauces. Squeeze the juice from the lime wedge and drop it into the glass. Top up with Clamato. Stir well and serve.

RECIPE BY

This particular version was created by 52 Cocktails’ CTO (Chief Tasting Officer), who swears the secret to it is not the Clamato but the blend of salts. Mmm, vegetarian bacon…

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Australia’s best micro-distilleries

In a break from our usual programming, this week 52 Cocktails brings you a guide to Australia’s best micro-distilleries. After all, you can’t make a great cocktail without great ingredients! In case you were wondering, yes, the article was written by yours truly and published by Lonely Planet, the world’s best independent travel-guide publisher. Lonely Planet also publishes books on food and drinks, including this beauty, World’s Best Drinks, which you can buy here.

Check out the sections on Mint Juleps and Sazeracs – they are particularly well-researched. (Translation: I tried out several variations of each recipe on some willing victims, er, friends. All in the name of research, I swear. The upshot is that they are my favourite versions of those particular drinks, and my friends now have severe hangovers.)

Thanks to everyone who helped me research these articles, supplied stunning photos or simply taste-tested their way to oblivion, and a massive thanks to Lonely Planet for publishing my work. And if you’re reading this, thank YOU for doing so.

(And yes, I am doing my very best to not to write ’52 COCKTAILS GOT PUBLISHED BY LONELY PLANET!! SQUEEEE!’ But it’s not easy. SQUEEE!)

 

 

Bar review: Gekko, Yangon

What do you do when you’re in a city that offers  a whisky sour (made with local whisky) for about AUD$1.30 – or one made with Johnnie Walker Black Label for just AUD$2.10? You drink them, naturally. Several of them. And even though – or perhaps because – they’re served sans showmanship on plastic tables on the street, they taste pretty good. Welcome to Yangon, my friends, where Downtown’s 19th street is well on the way to becoming Myanmar’s answer to Bangkok’s Khao San Road, complete with cheap but tasty barbecue restaurants and cocktails that are so wallet-friendly you’re practically saving money by drinking. But after a few nights of this ridiculously cheap indulgence, you start to get a hankering for a proper bar. One where there’s a bit more variety on the menu. One where there’s a bit more care taken in making your drink. One where there is actually a bar. And that’s where Gekko comes in.

Housed in a beautiful historic building, this is the kind of place where you’d be happy to spend a night on the tiles – because the floor tiles were shipped out from Manchester, England, in the early 1900s and their mosaic-like pattern still looks pretty after all these years. Gekko is a Japanese-influenced bar and restaurant (the name means ‘moon-shine’ in Japanese) and so it’s no surprise to see umeshu, sake and even Calpis (a Japanese soft drink) popping up on the cocktail menu. Apparently, the cocktail menu was created by the team at Singapore’s 28 Hong Kong St, which is ranked as one of the world’s 50 best bars and which, sadly, we didn’t get a chance to visit when we were there last week (which gives us all the more reason for another holiday, right?)

We started with a horse’s neck (Scotch, sake and housemade ginger beer) and a hanami old-fashioned (Japanese whisky, tea syrup and bitters). Curiously, the horse’s neck was missing its namesake horse’s neck (the drink is named after the long curl of lemon peel that is supposed to tumble down the side of the glass and resemble a horse’s neck), but what it lacked in garnish it made up for in flavour: sharp and zesty with a good fiery kick from the fresh ginger, it was an enlivening way to start the night. I’m going to assume it was a new take on a classic drink and thus did not need the old-school garnish. Likewise, the old-fashioned was a twist on a classic; the hamani tea (that’s green tea with cherry blossoms in it) syrup added a subtle herbaceous note and the drink was as elegant as our surroundings.

Perhaps it was fairly obvious that we liked whisky-based drinks but it was still a joy that our bartender, Puia (pictured above), picked up on this and recommended a few other drinks based on what we’d already tried. Naturally, we tried them too – cocktails here were of course more expensive than on the street (hovering around the AUD$8 mark), but still so cheap we could have drunk everything on the menu and come out with enough cash for a cab home. What was even better than his recommendations, though, was going off-menu to try one of his own creations – The Way to Burma (pictured above right). This sophisticated cocktail was the best we’d had all night, in fact it was the best cocktail we had in Yangon, which makes it all the more embarrassing that I now can’t remember a single thing that was in it except Calpis. If you want to try it, you’ll have to find your own way to Burma – and if you find your way to Gekko, it will have been worth the trip.

PS For an entertaining read about more bars in Yangon, check out this article.

 

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Bar review: Library, Singapore

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Viewed through 3D glasses, the colourful creatures in this artwork suddenly reveal their black-and-white counterparts that are hidden away on a secret layer beneath. And in a way, that sums up Library, a speakeasy in Singapore that’s been called everything from ‘Singapore’s worst kept secret’ (by Traveller.com.au) to ‘the kind of bar I could happily live in’ (by, er, me). The bar is on trendy Keong Saik Rd, opposite Potato Head Folk , and it’s hidden behind a foyer right next to a restaurant called The Study. The foyer’s decor changes every so often; when I visited, it was an art gallery featuring the above work, but by the time you read this it could be a pop-up shoe shop or a tailor. (When the bar first opened, the foyer looked like a library, which is how the then-unnamed bar got its moniker.) Spend as much time in the foyer as you like, but you’ll need a password to go through to the bar. (If you’re lucky, as I was, the staff will give you a clue; otherwise it’s sometimes secreted away on The Study’s Facebook page.) And then you’re on your own, surrounded by mirrored walls in a space about the size of a phone booth (if you’re too young to know what that is, kindly picture a changing room in a department store). One of the walls is actually the door. Still with me? Good. Because if you’ve made it this far, you deserve a drink.

There’s a kind of Alice in Wonderland feeling as you finally set foot in the bar, a dimly lit space that’s all hushed tones and reverence on the night we visit, though I’m told it gets raucous on weekends. Decor-wise, the word ‘Prohibition’ springs to mind, though I doubt whether any Prohibition-era bar would be this classy – or feature a full-length bar made entirely of riveted copper that looks like a cross between a patched-up aeroplane wing and a Marc Newson couch.

Over the next two nights (yes, Library is so good we visit twice) we try a range of carefully made cocktails from the quirky menu, which is arranged into categories named after celebrities; try a fruity, sexy number from the Marilyn Monroe page, or skip straight to the Andy Warhol section if you’re after something more experimental. Just how experimental does it get? Alcohol-wise, there’s lots of house-made infusions featuring unusual ingredients such as brown butter or cough lollies. Local herbs such as curry leaves appear as garnishes. And one of our drinks is served in a miniature bathtub, complete with a tiny rubber chicken (‘We’ve run out of ducks,’ says the bartender with a smile). But if you’re after a classic, you can get those, too; indeed, one of our fellow guests, a bartender from a different bar who ‘always comes here on a night off’ simply orders a string of well-executed Old Fashioneds because he considers them the test of a good bar. And they must be good because he gets through several as we test various excellent drinks served in test tubes, topped with wooden pipes filled with ceremoniously lit cinnamon sticks, and set upon cubes of dry ice for that ’90s-club-in-a-glass vibe. There’s even an ‘I’ll have what she’s having’ moment when I glimpse another customer’s vivid green, brulee-topped concoction and simply have to have one myself. It turns out to be a Coco Bongo, aka heaven in a glass. Pandan (Asia’s answer to vanilla) gives the drink its colour, and the sweet brulee is made with gula melaka (sugar from a coconut tree), so I’m counting it as a great way to try the local cuisine. Everything we try is worth the pricetag (Singapore is not known for its cheap drinks, and prices hover around the $23 Singapore dollar mark), the bartenders are super friendly and even write out a list of bars to check out in Kuala Lumpur, one of our next destinations, and we leave  – reluctantly – only because we’ve got a flight to catch. Author Jorge Luis Borges once wrote, ‘I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.’ Turns out he was right.

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Hot Toddy

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Regardless of how well you look after yourself – exercising daily (by shaking cocktails until 1am), ensuring your diet is balanced (by following gin flights with whisky flights) and taking time out to be with your loved ones (as long as they’re at a good bar) – you’re bound to get ill sometime. When that happens, you might feel the strange urge to stop drinking. Don’t worry – that’s just the fever talking. What you need is a hot toddy.

INGREDIENTS

15-30ml rum or whisky, to taste (I used Sailor Jerry because the lass on the label is clearly the picture of health and something to aspire to)

15-30ml lemon juice, to taste (I used equal parts lemon juice and rum)

1 teaspoon honey

boiling water

lemon slice, to garnish

GLASS

A mug or heatproof glass

METHOD

Add the rum, lemon juice and honey to your vessel of choice. Top with boiling water and stir to dissolve the honey. Add the lemon slice, then stagger around the house feeling sorry for yourself and pretending you’re a pirate because hey, you’re delusional with fever and being a pirate sounds like fun.

TASTES LIKE

The lemon and honey drinks you had as a kid, only better, because rum.

RECIPE BY

Seemingly everyone has a recipe for a hot toddy, with some calling for a cinnamon stick garnish, others swearing you have to use whisky, not rum, and still others saying you can use whatever spirit you have on hand. We’re not sure a vodka hot toddy would be any good but hey, whatever gets you through the night, sicko.

 

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Whisky Smash

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Hulk Smash!

And Whiskey Smash as well, apparently. This is a pretty old recipe – the original appears in Jerry Thomas‘ bartending guide, aka the Bible – and, like the best recipes, it’s stood the test of time. Drink a couple and you’ll be smashed, too.

INGREDIENTS

2 lemon quarters

3-6 mint leaves

45ml bourbon

25ml sugar syrup

2 dashes Angostura bitters

GLASS

Rocks/Old fashioned

METHOD

Muddle the lemon and mint in the base of a cocktail shaker. Add remaining ingredients and a good handful of ice. Shake it, baby, yeah! Strain into a glass that’s half-full of ice, garnish with a mint sprig and serve with a swagger.

TASTES LIKE

A mint julep’s kissing cousin. Lemon and sugar really bring out bourbon’s sweet side – there’s a jellybean-like sweetness going on here – but the mint just stops it from getting too cloying. It’s a good one for folks who want a more mellow side to a julep; those who like strong flavours might find it’s not to their taste.

RECIPE BY

This particular version appeared in a Dan Murphy’s catalogue. (Dan’s is an Australian chain of bottle shops. Although at 52 Cocktails HQ, it’s generally referred to as ‘the supermarket’ since we go there so often.)

 

Fitzeveryone

Lychee

Recently I made a big batch of lychee syrup and then had the pleasure of working out how to use it all. A few (OK, many) drunken hours (OK, days) later, I realised there’s no point trying to reinvent the wheel when you can just take an existing wheel and tweak it until you get something you like. So, now that my car has no wheels left, I’m ready to present the Fitzeveryone, which is basically a Fitzgerald but with a few tweaks (OK, a lot of tweaks).

For those of you unfamiliar with the Fitzgerald, I implore you to stop reading this drivel right now, and go and make one.

For those of you who know and love the Fitzgerald, that sublime mix of lime, gin and bitters that always makes me feel like a be-spangled flapper in a 1920s speakeasy, I implore you to stop reading this drivel right now, and go and make one.

And for those of you who’ve had loads of Fitzgeralds and are ready for something just a bit different – try the Fitzeveryone and see what you think.

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FITZGERALD

INGREDIENTS

45ml gin

30ml sugar syrup

20ml lemon juice

2 dashes Angostura bitters

GLASS

Rocks or coupe

METHOD

Pour all ingredients into a shaker that’s half-full of ice. Shake it like you’re on the run from the law. Strain into the glass and relax; everything’s copasetic, darling.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY

The hardest thing about this cocktail is not getting addicted to it.

RECIPE BY

Various recipes exist for this divine drink, which was created by the brilliant Dale DeGroff. This one appears on the free version of the Mixology App and appears to be the same one Dale himself uses, minus the lemon wedge garnish.

 

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FITZEVERYONE

INGREDIENTS

60ml lychee syrup (To make lychee syrup, blend a whole can of lychees, including the syrup, until smooth. Strain through a muslin-lined sieve, pressing with the back of a spoon to extract as much fruit and flavour as possible. Pour into a clean glass bottle and add an equal amount of sugar syrup. Store in the fridge – it will keep for about two weeks.)

30ml lime juice

30ml cachaca (Cachaca is the national spirit of Brazil; it is a clear liquid that is distilled from sugarcane juice. I used a brand called Pitu, which obscurely enough has a picture of a prawn on its label. Thankfully this does not indicate it is prawn-flavoured alcohol. Rather, cachaca has a slightly dirty, mineral-y, sometimes even petrol-y scent and taste – but in a good way. You could say it’s an acquired taste, but then you’d have to pretend that it only takes one Caipirinha – the most common drink made with cachaca – to acquire that taste. Best you pretend it’s really hard to adjust to so you have an excuse to drink lots of Caipirinhas before moving on to the Fitzeveryone.)

3 dashes Angostura bitters

GLASS

Rocks

METHOD

Throw everything into a shaker that’s half-full of ice. Shake like you’re already drunk on Fitzgeralds, then strain into a rocks glass that’s also half-full of ice.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY

Once you’ve made the syrup, this one’s a cinch.

RECIPE BY

Concocted by 52 Cocktails.

The Butterfly

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A light, ethereal drink, effortlessly sophisticated and whose beauty is with you for the merest of moments – just like a butterfly.

INGREDIENTS

30ml lychee syrup (To make lychee syrup, blend a whole can of lychees, including the syrup, until smooth. Strain through a muslin-lined sieve, pressing with the back of a spoon to extract as much fruit and flavour as possible. Pour into a clean glass bottle and add an equal amount of sugar syrup. Store in the fridge – it will keep for about two weeks.)

30ml gin

15ml triple sec

2 drops peach bitters

GLASS

coupe

METHOD

Shake all ingredients with ice, then strain into the glass.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY

Making the lychee syrup is the hardest part, and that’s actually really easy. Stay tuned for more recipes that use lychee syrup, or just add about 50ml lychee syrup and a big squeeze of lime to a glass of ice, then top with soda and stir for a delicious mocktail.

RECIPE BY

The lychee syrup recipe is from Asian Cocktails – Creative Drinks Inspired by the East by Holly Jennings and Christine LeBlond (Tuttle, 2009). The cocktail recipe is 52 Cocktails’ own invention.

ARTWORK BY 

The very lifelike butterfly you see here is actually a work of art by the talented Miranda La Fleur.

Pineapple, lychee & mint daiquiri

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Some cocktails are best suited to a particular time and place. The Fluffy Duck, for example, is best suited to a time long gone in a parallel universe. And most tropical cocktails, such as this super-fruity, tart daiquiri, are best suited to, well, the tropics. Sure, it’s delish at any time of year, but unless you’re surrounded by palm trees, dripping sweat onto your sand-covered feet and really, REALLY in need of refreshment, it just won’t taste as good as it can be.

So here’s my tip: don’t bother making this at home. Go to a tropical island and get somebody to make it for you. It’s good for the tourist economy and it means you don’t have to clean up. Winning.

INGREDIENTS

4 mint leaves

45ml white rum

80g diced fresh pineapple (confession time: I used canned instead. Shoot me)

4 lychees, peeled and seeded (yes, you should use fresh. Yes, I used canned instead)

15ml pineapple juice (you can probably guess by now that I used store-bought, not fresh)

15ml lime juice (but hey, I’m not THAT bad that I’d use bottled lime juice. I used the fresh stuff)

15ml sugar syrup

1 cup crushed ice

mint sprig, for garnish

pineapple leaf, for garnish (obviously you will only have one of these handy if you used fresh pineapple. If you used canned pineapple, do not use the pineapple can lid as a substitute garnish!)

GLASS

cocktail glass

METHOD

Place everything except the crushed ice and garnish(es) in a blender. Blend.

Add crushed ice and blend until mixture has the consistency of shaved ice.

Pour into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish.

Drink on a tropical island or, failing that, drink it on a hot day while thinking about a tropical island. And if no tropical islands or hot weather are coming your way, drink it to console yourself…

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY

Let’s see, you’ve got to either peel pineapples or open cans, and you need to crush ice, and then you have to clean a blender. It’s probably best to get someone else to make this for you, preferably a hot waiter on a tropical island.

RECIPE BY

This recipe appears in the mighty tome that is Shaken: 250 very sexy cocktails (Murdoch Books, 2004).