The gentle art of mixing

The gentle art of mixing

Jonathon Goodall investigates whisky cocktails and finds a way of using up these unwanted dregs of single malt

Cocktails | 04 Aug 1999 | Issue 5 | By Jonathon Goodall

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It was the alchemic quest for the elixir of youth that started it - perhaps. Either that or the necessity of disguising the flavour of crude forms of alcohol. Either way, the history of the creation of cocktails is littered with so many claims and counter-claims that it's difficult to trust any of it.Modern cocktail culture is almost exclusively American, and one of the earliest known written references to any cocktail is made by John Davis, a British tutor employed in the grand houses of America's southern plantations. He described the bourbon-based Mint Julep as 'a dram of spirituous liquor that has mint in it, taken by Virginians of a morning'. The first cocktail recipe book had to wait until 1860, however; 'Professor' Jerry Thomas published his The Bon Vivant's Guide, to How to Mix Drinks, at the height of his bartending career at the Metropolitan Hotel, New York. In 1872 the cocktail shaker was born, when the US Patent Office approved a patent for 'improvements in apparatus for mixing drinks'.The invention of the Martini, just two years later, might or might not have involved such gadgetry. It was apparently when a gold miner walked into a saloon in Martinez, California, with a fistful of nuggets and asked the barman, Julio Richelieu, for something special that this classic was born. In 1917 The New York Sun ran an anthropological scoop concerning the ancient Egyptian god of thirst, Dri Mart Ini; the deity was pictured shaking a drink in a covered urn of glass while the 15th pharoah of the dynasty Lush is shown with a protruding tongue quivering with expectation. Now London barman Dick Bradsell offers a Smoky Martini in which you switch the vermouth for a single malt. Most of today's cocktails, however, were created during Prohibition. While Americans went in search of illegal speakeasy drinking dens, legal cocktail bars boomed in Europe. Spanish surrealist filmmaker Luis Buñuel wrote in his memoir, My Last Sigh, that 'I never drank so much in my life as the time I spent five months in the United States during Prohibition.' But of course it is whisky cocktails with which we are principally concerned. Most bartenders agree on the quality of whisky that should be used. The depth of flavour of a good single malt is not a good mixer and is best drunk with a dash of chilled water. To use one in a cocktail is usually an expensive waste. With a very few exceptions, a standard blend will suffice: a well-balanced cocktail should be more than the sum of its parts, with the major flavour elements of sweetness,
sharpness, bitterness and even saltiness meeting in a perfectly pitched crescendo. How do barmen achieve this? We asked three barmen in London and New York to tell us their secrets.With all these recipes your efforts will be doubly rewarded if you pre-chill your glasses by leaving them in the fridge for about an hour before using them. Barman Dick Bradsell
Bar The Player, London W1
(members only)
Cocktails Rob Roy, Smoky MartiniDick Bradsell has helped to launch some of London's hottest bars: Dick's Bar at The Atlantic Bar & Grill is named after him. 'For years Manhattans have been made with bourbon, which is a fantastic drink, but I like this version with Scotch whisky,' he says. 'Lots of whiskies don't mix that well in cocktails because they have refined flavours which get buried. But in a Rob Roy they emerge as you go through the drink. The orange zest brings out all the flavours and the juice from the red Maraschino cocktail cherries - the secret ingredient - binds them all together. 'A Rob Roy should be the first drink of the cocktail hour because it's a classic. In fact the Manhattan was always the great rival of the Martini. You can reward yourself with a Rob Roy when you get home and kick off your shoes after work. It's a prize.'The Smoky Martini is like a classic gin Martini, except good malt whisky is used instead of vermouth. 'When you stir a Smoky Martini with ice it gets rid of most of the gin flavours as it becomes more chilled, but the whisky flavours are very strongly there. It sounds like it doesn't work but it does. Malt fans love this cocktail. Made with cask strength, specialist malts it's a cult drink. Use Tanqueray gin or Plymouth Overproof at 57 per cent.' Rob Roy
50ml Scotch whisky
20ml Martini Rosso vermouth
3 dashes of Angostura bitters
Teaspoon of juice from a jar of red Maraschino cherries
Orange peel
Maraschino cherry (optional)Pour the whisky, vermouth, Angostura and cherry juice into a tall glass with ice cubes. Give it a vigorous stir to chill it right down then pour through a strainer into a chilled cocktail glass. Hold a sliver of orange peel, skin-side down, over the drink, give it a squeeze and then discard. This releases a fine spray of zest that settles on the surface of the drink imparting the fruity acidity of the orange with none of the bitterness that comes from the pith. It also gives a more oily texture to the cocktail. Garnish (if you want to) with a plump Maraschino cherry impaled on a cocktail stick.Smoky Martini60ml gin
15ml single malt Scotch whiskyPour the gin over ice in a tall glass. Add the whisky and stir vigorously. Pour through a strainer into a chilled cocktail glass. Barman George Liddle
Bar 50 St James', London W1
Cocktail Whisky JoeGeorge Liddle hasn't entered any cocktail competitions since winning in the United Kingdom Bartenders' Guild World Championships in Vienna four years ago. Nowadays he contents himself with running marathons. The next one he's competing in is in New York, the spiritual home of the bartender. (Contrary to popular belief, working behind a bar can keep you very fit.) For Liddle, a good cocktail is one a customer will order again. 'Whisky Joe is my own recipe, and it's very popular here. Whisky is our best-selling spirit at 50 St James', but we thought we'd try something different to the classic Manhattans and Rusty Nails. This is a blend of sweet and sour flavours, a variation on the Whisky Sour. I added Cointreau and cranberry juice for that extra, slightly sweeter flavour. It has quite a kick and is quite refreshing.'Whisky Joe50ml Scotch whisky
25ml Cointreau
50ml fresh lemon juice
25ml cranberry juice
Slice of lemon (optional)Shake the ingredients with ice then pour through a strainer into an Old-Fashioned glass over ice. Garnish with a slice of lemon on the side. Barman Dale deGroff
Bar Blackbird, E 59th St, New York
(tel: +1 212 6929292)
Cocktails Blood & Sand, Whisky SmashAfter 12 years behind the bar at New York's Rainbow Room, Dale deGroff is now mixing drinks at Blackbird, a comparative fledgling that opened one year ago. 'At Blackbird, I'm going back to the 19th century for much of my inspiration,' he says. 'I have a large collection of cocktail books - hundreds of them - and in books from the 1920s and 1930s the name Blood & Sand just leaped off the page at me. Its a classic I've excavated. At first, when I looked at the ingredients, I thought "This has got to be awful". But then I thought "It's been published in so many
books that it must have some merit". I was amazed at how good it tasted. It looks like a bullring after a fight. But it goes to prove that in a great cocktail the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. In the Blood & Sand the Scotch is just another layer of flavour so it even tastes good to non-Scotch drinkers. When I was at the Rainbow Room I used to challenge people that I could make a cocktail with their least favourite spirit, and that they would really enjoy it. I won a lot with this.'The Whiskey Smash, made with bourbon, is similar to a Mint Julep but it has a lot more flavour and an oily texture imparted by the lemon skins. In 19th century lingo a "smash" means it's got mint in it.'Blood & Sand 25ml Scotch whisky
25ml cherry brandy
25ml sweet vermouth
25ml fresh orange juice
Maraschino cherry (optional)
Orange peel (optional)Shake all the ingredients with ice then strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a Maraschino cherry and orange peel. Whiskey Smash50ml bourbon
25ml gomme syrup (sugar syrup)
Half a lemon
4 fresh mint leaves
Sprig of mint (optional)Slice the lemon into quarters and place in the bottom of an Old-Fashioned glass. Drop in the mint leaves and pour in the sugar syrup. Crush with a pestle. Fill the glass three quarters full with crushed ice and add the bourbon. Stir and serve, garnished with a sprig of
mint. Chronology of cocktails1874 The first Manhattan is mixed at New York's Manhattan Club for Lady Randolph Churchill
c.1900 Colonel James E Pepper of Kentucky invents the bourbon-based Old-Fashioned. This later inspires Cole Porter to write 'Make It Another Old- Fashioned, Please'
1920-33 Prohibition in the US. Harry's New York Bar opens in Paris and The American Bar at The Savoy opens in London
1921 Fernand 'Pete' Petiot creates the Bloody Mary at Harry's bar, Paris
1930 Victor Bergeron ('Trader'Vic) opens his Pacific island theme bar at the London Hilton and creates the cocktails White Witch, Suffering Bastard and Dr Funk of Tahiti
1933 President Franklin D. Roosevelt mixes the first legal Martini in the White House
1935 After spending a whole day in MGM's water tank filming 'China Seas' actor Robert Benchley utters the immortal words, 'I must get out of these wet clothes and into a dry Martini'
1943 President Roosevelt serves a dry Martini to Stalin during the Teheran Conference.Nikita Khruschev later declared the Martini 'America's lethal weapon'
c.1946 As Americans begin to visit Europe, Joe Sheridan, head bartender at Ireland's Shannon Airport invents Irish coffee for jet-lagged passengers stopping over
1947 Death of Al Capone, a figure not unconnected with bootleg liquor
1950's The electric blender temporarily displaces the cocktail shaker as the gadget of choice
1957 Humphrey Bogart utters his last words - 'I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis'
c.1960 A Californian surfer called Harvey drowns his sorrows on vodka and Galliano at Pancho's Bar, Manhattan Beach. He bangs his head on a wall. The Harvey Wallbanger is named
1965 The Spy Martini is invented by private eye Hal Lipset. The glass held a facsimile of an olive. The pimento inside the olive was a transmitter and microphone. A toothpick housed a copper wire as an antenna. No gin was used - that would have caused a short
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