Tag Archives: by the book

Spiced Agave Old Fashioned



This is such a modern version of an Old Fashioned that it should probably have another name, but apart from that I can’t fault it. And, like a traditional Old Fashioned, it lends itself to lots of variations. Use reposado (aged for at least two months) or añejo (aged for at least 12 months) tequila and you’ll get a light, flavoursome cocktail that conjures up images of autumn bonfires at sunset; there’s a bit of baking spice in there, some smokiness, and a sweetness that verges on burnt caramel but is balanced out by earthy overtones. Use whisky instead of tequila for a more straightforward, wintery drink, or go with rye whisky for a gingerbready flavour hit that’ll become your new go-to drink before you’ve got halfway through it.


60ml tequila, whisky or rye whisky

10ml spiced agave syrup (recipe follows)

2 dashes Angostura bitters

orange peel twist, to garnish (optional)

cinnamon stick, to garnish (optional)


Old-fashioned or tumbler


First, make the spiced agave syrup (recipe below).

Next, measure 10ml spiced agave syrup into a heatproof cup. Add about 10-20ml boiling water and stir to dissolve the syrup. You’re doing this because agave syrup tends to form a clump and not mix well when you add it to ice and spirits; but if you dilute it just a bit, it works fine. Wait for it to cool a bit before using it in the cocktail – otherwise it’ll just melt the ice.

Add the cooled and dissolved syrup, spirit of choice and bitters to a mixing glass that’s half-full of ice. Stir well, then strain into an old-fashioned glass that’s half-full of ice. Garnish with the orange peel twist and cinnamon stick, if desired.


200ml agave syrup (there are two kinds available, light and dark. I used light. According to the label on the bottle, the dark kind has a ‘wilder, earthier’ flavour.)

2 cinnamon quills

2 star anise

pinch of freshly ground white pepper


Place all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat. Infuse for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t stick. Allow to cool, then remove star anise and cinnamon and pour into a sterilised glass jar or bottle. According to the recipe book, it should keep in the fridge for about two weeks, but I’ve kept mine in the pantry for about that long with no problems. I also left the cinnamon sticks in the jar, in the hope they’d balance out the slightly-too-strong star anise flavour – which they did.


Both these recipes are in a little booklet called Simply Perfect Cocktails by Gee David. I’m not sure if it’s available for sale, sorry – my copy was included as a freebie as part of an order of spirits and syrups from Barware.


Tagged , , , , , ,

The Abbey: a tale of two gins


‘But why do you need more than 20 kinds of gin?’ said no one, ever.

Actually, that’s not true. A few non-gin-drinkers (yes, they do exist, and yes, I do occasionally deign to talk to them) have asked me this exact question when they’ve glimpsed my rather meagre collection of the good stuff, to which my usual response is to either launch into a long-winded explanation about all the different kinds of gin or offer them a gin flight so they can taste those differences for themselves. After all, it’s a bit like asking why you need different types of wine, or beer, or underpants: it’s essential. But now I’ve discovered the Abbey, the days of those discussions and flights may be over. Here is a cocktail that tastes completely different depending on which gin you use. (Yes, yes, I’m sure there are many such cocktails, but this is the first one I’ve made using two ostensibly ‘dry’ gins in which the flavours end up being worlds apart…try it for yourself, you’ll be amazed.)

The Abbey is originally from The Savoy Cocktail Book, which was published in 1930. Gin was big back then, but not even the legends behind the bar at The Savoy could have predicted just how many regional varieties of dry gins would have existed nearly a century later, when the 52 Cocktails crew decided to try making the drink using two vastly different dry gins. Fittingly, one of the gins (Tanqueray) is a London Dry Gin, in honour of the Savoy’s location; the other is Australian, just like 52 Cocktails. Specifically, it’s McHenry’s, a Tasmanian drop that pitches itself as a ‘classic dry gin’. Drunk neat, the Tanqueray has more of a floral nature than the McHenry’s, which (perhaps oddly enough) seems drier and earthier than the London Dry. But in a cocktail? Wow. What a difference. Here, the McHenry’s comes into its own, enlivening the already floral notes of the drink to new heights, while the Tanqueray makes it taste almost medicinal. And this, dear friends, is why it’s essential to have many kinds of gin (and whiskey, and tequila, etc) on hand; because sometimes a cocktail that seems a bit ‘meh’ may end up being wonderful if you just switch the brand or style of spirit. So keep experimenting – that’s the spirit!



45ml dry gin

22ml Lillet Blonde

22ml freshly squeezed orange juice

1 dash orange bitters (be careful with the bitters – any more than a dash will overpower the drink)


Cocktail glass or coupe


Add all ingredients to a shaker that’s half-full of ice. Shake, hard, then strain into the glass. Garnish with orange peel if desired.


Well, that depends on which type of gin you use – and, although we haven’t actually tried this out, we dare say it depends on which type of orange juice and orange bitters you use, too. Done right, this is the kind of orange-based drink you’d like to have with brunch – light, refreshing, and innocuous. Done wrong, it’s a heavy-handed version of a screwdriver – drinkable, but not as enjoyable.


Although this recipe first appeared in the Savoy Cocktail Book, this version comes from The Architecture of the Cocktail by Amy Zavatto (Harper Collins, 2013).

Tagged , , ,

Japanese Cocktail


Despite its name, the Japanese Cocktail is not, in fact, Japanese. Nor does it contain any Japanese ingredients. I don’t know if it is even available in Japan (although if anyone wants to fund a research trip, I’m up for it; with its hint of marzipan balanced by oaky brandy, this well-balanced, aromatic drink is rather moreish). Apparently it was the first cocktail on record to have a name that does not reflect its ingredients – David Wondrich explains its origins here – and now it can boast that it’s the first brandy-based drink to grace these pages, too.


1 piece lemon peel

60ml brandy

15ml orgeat

2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Lemon twist, for garnish


Cocktail or coupe


Muddle the lemon peel in a mixing glass. Add ice and the remaining ingredients. Stir until chilled and strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with the lemon twist.


This elegant concoction is much easier to make than it is to say ‘elegant concoction’ three times fast after you’ve had a few.


This version appears in Asian Cocktails – Creative Drinks Inspired by the East by Holly Jennings and Christine LeBlond (Tuttle, 2009).

Tagged , ,

Gin Garden – one drink, three ways


When you’re having a dinner party and every guest except for one drinks, what do you do? It’s easy to single out your one teetotalling friend and hand them an exciting glass of …er…water (ooh! thrilling!), but it’s kind of mean. It’s much more fun to work out a cocktail that everyone else can drink that will also work fine as a mocktail – or vice versa. Happily, the Gin Garden works just as well with gin in it as without, though naturally I prefer mine with!

When I was experimenting with this recipe, I discovered three ways to serve it; it’s a pretty forgiving recipe, so don’t worry if you don’t have the quantities quite right, it will probably still taste good anyway. The original recipe comes from the book The Cocktail – 200 fabulous drinks by Jane Rocca, which features divine illustrations by the talented Kat Macleod. Served as per the original recipe (see Version One below), it’s  sweet and intriguing and tastes like what you’d drink on a summer’s day at a rooftop bar. Version Two – which is pictured above and is basically the same as the original version, but with soda – is a light, delicate drink that’s reminiscent of picnics in the shade beneath Grandma’s apple tree. Version Three – the mocktail – is admittedly less sophisticated but just as flavourful. As my drinking and non-drinking dinner guests said, “More please.”


3 good chunks of cucumber

15ml elderflower cordial

45ml gin

45ml apple juice – store bought is fine, but look for one that’s freshly pressed, not one that’s made from apple juice concentrate. I used Spreyton Fresh and was very happy with the result

soda water, to top up

cucumber slices, to garnish

mint leaves

mint sprig, to garnish


Martini glass (for Version One); tumbler (for Versions Two and Three)


For Version One: muddle the cucumber with the elderflower cordial in the base of a cocktail shaker. Add the gin and apple juice and a handful of ice cubes. Shake, then strain into a chilled martini glass. You can double-strain if you really want to be rid of any little cucumber bits. Garnish with a few cucumber wheels.

For Version Two: follow the instructions for Version One, but strain (or double strain) into a tumbler that’s half-full of ice, and top up with soda. Garnish with cucumber wheels. If you’re catering for a crowd on a hot night, make up a jugful of Version One and serve it as per these instructions as each guest arrives. They will love it and you won’t have to spend your whole night mixing drinks! The easiest way to make up a jugful is to multiply the above recipe by 10. Even if you have only four people present, you’ll get through it all, trust me. And if you accidentally make way too much, it keeps in the fridge overnight.

For Version Three – the mocktail: muddle the cucumber with a few mint leaves and the elderflower cordial in the base of a cocktail shaker. Add the apple juice and a handful of ice cubes. Shake, then strain into tumbler that’s half-full of ice, and top up with soda. You can double-strain if you really want to be rid of any little green bits. Garnish with a mint sprig so it’s easy to tell which drink is the mocktail.


Who knew a three-way could be so easy?


The original recipe appears in The Cocktail – 200 fabulous drinks by Jane Rocca (Hardie Grant Books, 2005).

Tagged ,

The Interchange



‘You’ve just been poisoned’ might well be the best tagline I’ve ever seen on a cocktail bar’s website, and it belongs to Bangkok’s Sugar Ray. I stumbled across it after reading about the bar in Lonely Planet’s Bangkok guidebook, which describes it as the kind of funky, hidden place that makes Old Fashioneds with aged rum, cardamom syrup and orange (you can read the full review here). Naturally this got me thinking two things:

1) I really, REALLY want to go to that bar (and a bunch of other Bangkok hotspots too!), and

2) Could I create something similar?

And so the experimenting began. Ages ago I made some cardamom-infused vodka by crushing 3 cardamom pods and leaving them in about half a cup of vodka for a few days before straining them out. I had some Angostura Orange Bitters. I figured those two ingredients would provide the necessary flavours even if they weren’t in syrup form. I didn’t have any aged rum but I did have some good old Johnnie Walker Red, which is the whisky I always use in Old Fashioneds because it’s relatively cheap and so am I, and so all I had to do was add the cardamom vodka and orange bitters to my normal Old Fashioned recipe and I’d be onto a surefire hit, right?

Here is the bit where, ordinarily, something goes horrifically wrong. Something spontaneously combusts, or my eyebrows catch on fire, or – worse still – I end up with something completely undrinkable. I am used to this. Hell, I was prepared for it. So I was almost disappointed when…nothing happened. And my taste testers agreed I’d made something sophisticated ‘that you’d get in a real bar’.

I tried again, this time using rye whisky, and got an even better result: the kind of cocktail that would be at home in a gentleman’s club, smooth, deep and full of intriguing flavours that border on the exotic.

All that was left to do was think of a name. Even that was easy; I’d used rye and whisky interchangeably, and thus The Interchange was born. As far as creating my own cocktails goes, I’d say this is one of the most successful – indeed, no one got poisoned…


60ml rye or regular whisky

15ml sugar syrup

10-15ml cardamom vodka (you can use more or less to taste)

3-6 dashes orange bitters




Quarter-fill an old-fashioned glass with ice. Add half the whisky and stir until the glass is frosty. Add a few more ice cubes and the remaining ingredients and stir  until the glass is frosty again.


So easy you’ll think something’s gone terribly, terribly wrong.


This one’s by the 52 Cocktails crew, with thanks to Sugar Ray and Lonely Planet for the inspiration.

Tagged , , ,

Coriander Mojito


When I was in high school I was told algebra would come in handy some day. The time has come to find out. Here is a formula that requires testing:

If mojito = a refreshing combination of mint, lime and rum

And coriander = a flavour I associate with Thai food, which I love

Then a coriander mojito should = something delicious, with a savoury, herbaceous note that would match well with three-flavour fish and, of course, another cocktail.

If you want to try out this formula, here’s the recipe.


1 handful coriander leaves and stalks, washed to remove any grit

1 lime, quartered

1 teaspoon sugar

15ml sugar syrup

60ml white rum

soda water, to top up




Muddle the coriander, lime, sugar and sugar syrup in a cocktail shaker. It will look suspiciously healthy, but do not fret.


Add a handful of ice and the rum. Shake it x 3 to the power of 20. I don’t know how much that is because I dropped out of maths once I’d calculated that algebra was basically useless, but you get the idea. Strain into a tumbler that’s half-full of ice and top with soda. (You can double-strain if you want to be rid of any weeny bits of green herbs.)


Hmm, degrees. Something about Pythagoras and triangles and protractors and… Oh go on, you can do the maths, surely. It’s easy.


This one’s from one of my favourite cocktail books, Shaken – 250 Very Sexy Cocktails (Murdoch Books, first printed 2004).



Stork Club Cocktail


According to The Craft of the Cocktail by Dale DeGroff, the Stork Club cocktail was invented by Nathaniel Cook, chief barman at the Stork Club in Manhattan. Open from 1929 to 1965, this prestigious club was even the subject of a film that was also called the Stork Club. (Back then, everything had to be named the Stork Club; deviation from this rule was punishable by death.*)

At first glance, it seems like nothing more than well-diluted orange juice, but look again and you’ll see the Stork Club cocktail features flamed orange peel. At least, it does if you can successfully light a bit of peel on fire while not going up in flames yourself. If you’re as uncoordinated as I am, have the fire brigade on standby before you try doing this…or use regular orange peel instead. The flavour will not be the same (flamed orange peel adds a rounded, caramel-ly note to the drink) but it will still be good and your kitchen won’t be reduced to a smoking mound of rubble.

45ml gin
15ml triple sec
30ml fresh orange juice
7ml fresh lime juice (no, you don’t have to be that exact – but that should give you an idea of how much to use. A little more or less won’t hurt)
Dash of Angostura bitters
Orange peel, for garnish




Shake everything super well with ice, then strained into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with flamed orange peel.


The hardest part about making this drink is not lighting your eyebrows on fire while trying to flame an orange peel for the first time. If you value your facial features, just use regular orange peel instead. If you want to give it a try, check out some instructional videos here or here first, and don’t say we didn’t warn you.

This one’s from The Craft of the Cocktail by Dale DeGroff (Clarkson Potter, 2002).

*OK, that’s a slight exaggeration. The punishment was a whipping.

Tagged ,

Madison Avenue


At the height of Mad Men fever, the words Madison Avenue conjured up images of a sultry Don Draper sipping whiskey for breakfast (what a champ) or a polished, poised Joan saying, ‘Excuse me?’ through ever-so-slightly-pursed lips whenever she’d been wronged. Chances are she’d have liked a drink in those moments, too – something as sophisticated as her, perhaps, such as this Madison Avenue cocktail.

It’s a clean, crisp drink with a good balance of sweet, tart and sassiness, suitable as a pick-me-up after a long day in an alcohol-free office (the horror!) or as a classy start to a summer drinks party.


45ml white rum

20ml Cointreau

15ml fresh lime juice

dash of orange bitters

3-5 mint leaves

additional mint sprig (to garnish)

lime wheel (to garnish)

Rocks glass

Add all the ingredients except the garnishes to a shaker that’s half full of ice. Shake like you’re furious with rage at the inequality of the workplace but you can’t show it ’cause it’s the ’60s and you might lose your job. Strain into a rocks glass that’s half-filled with ice, garnish with the mint sprig and lime wheel and hope like hell the boss doesn’t catch you drinking at work again.

Much, much easier than being a woman in the ’60s.
Madison Avenue is in New York (and, according to Google, it is also in Dandenong, though we’d wager that one’s not quite as glamorous). The Madison Avenue cocktail recipe is in The Craft of the Cocktail by Dale DeGroff (Clarkson Potter, 2002).

Tagged , , , ,

Amaretto Sour


Light and almondy without tasting of wedding cake icing, the Amaretto Sour is a great way to drink Amaretto, an Italian liqueur that tastes of almonds despite being made of apricot pits. Even if you hate almond-flavoured things (such as marzipan, almond jelly, etc) you will probably enjoy this. It’s a much more complex, well-balanced and interesting drink than The Godfather (which also uses Amaretto); it tastes a bit like a lemon meringue pie whose base is covered with frangipane (almond filling). It could possibly be made even more slurpalicious with the addition of egg white to create a frothy, sweetly sour cloud atop the cocktail. Here’s the original recipe; if you do add egg white, let me know the result!


30ml amaretto

30ml lemon juice

15ml orange juice

maraschino cherry




Half-fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add all ingredients except the cherry and shake it like you mean it. Strain into a chilled glass and garnish with the cherry. (Admittedly I just chucked in a bourbon-soaked cherry as that’s what I had on hand. It certainly added an element of booze-fuelled surprise for my taste-testers, who were expecting a sugar hit!)


Don’t get all sour-faced, this one’s easy.


This recipe is from Shaken: 250 Very Sexy Cocktails (Murdoch Books, 2004).

Tagged , ,

Corpse Reviver no 2


Maybe it’s too early to call it, but Ten Cocktails (Saltyard Books, 2105) by drinks journalist Alice Lascelles could well be my very favourite cocktail book of the year. It’s beautifully presented, fascinating and leaves you wanting more – just like a great cocktail. The title is a bit misleading, as the book covers more than 10 cocktails (there are lots of recipes, plus the stories and histories behind various drinks, hints on how to make them, and Lascelles’ musings on wine- and spirit- tastings), but hey, that’s hardly a bad thing. If your interest in cocktails extends beyond just drinking them, I highly recommend you grab a copy. Reading Lascelles’ light yet informative writing is a bit like having a chat with a very knowledgeable bartender; it’s even better if you read it with a drink in hand, such as the Corpse Reviver no 2 that’s detailed in the book.

The oddly named Corpse Reviver no 2* was invented by another super cool drinks writer, Harry Craddock (yep, the bartender behind The Savoy Cocktail Book). For such a gruesomely named drink, it’s surprisingly light and nuanced, and not the kind of thing you’d serve at a Halloween party at all, unless you were having a terribly sophisticated Halloween party in which no one dressed as a ‘naughty nurse’ and your theme, instead of ‘how to wear a bedsheet and wail like a ghost,’ was ‘how to get three sheets to the wind and then nail your host,’ which doesn’t sound particularly elegant but does serve to illustrate that this drink, which also doesn’t sound particularly elegant, is strong – strong enough to revive a corpse, perhaps. You have been warned.


25ml gin

25ml Lillet Blanc

25ml Cointreau

25ml lemon juice (strained to remove pips and pulp)

5 ml absinthe


Chilled coupe


Shake the ingredients with lots of ice and strain into the chilled glass. Garnish with a lemon or lime twist.


As enjoyable to make and drink as it is to read about.


The original recipe is by Harry Craddock. This version appears in  Ten Cocktails (Saltyard Books, 2105) by Alice Lascelles.

*Wanna know why this recipe is ‘no 2’? Then buy the book!!

Tagged , ,