Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Guinness



The Hawley Arms
2 Castlehaven Road
London NW1 8QU

Having already entered Camden's Lock Tavern looking for a Guinness on St Patrick's Day only to leave in short order after finding it crammed full of young people shouting over questionable music, our beating hearts sank when we realised exactly the same was occuring at The Hawley Arms, which I thought had burnt to the ground a couple of years ago, but is now evidently back up and running and being patronised by people in tight trousers. Asking ourselves, in effect, What would Saint Patrick do?, we ordered a couple of Guinnesses anyway and found a quieter spot near a fire escape on an upstairs landing. I can't imagine how many pints of this thick, creamy stout I've put away over the past 15 years or so, but it's more than a few. I like the density of this drink in the winter and the burnt, coffee-bitter sharpness in the spring. If it isn't quite a meal in itself, it makes for a damn fine starter, and it really is good for you.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Wirra Wirra Church Block



This wine is a beaut, as an Australian might say. Big, bold fruit, with leather and chocolate, this was rich and full-bodied, but with a dry edge to keep things from getting out of hand. Wirra Wirra makes its wine in McLaren Vale in South Australia, and its 2007 Church Block is a sumptuous blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Shiraz (31%) and Merlot (19%). Just look at the booze content - 14.5% - that's not far off port! A couple of bottles of this and one of our group retired early for what appeared to be a very contented doze.

Buy a bottle from Majestic here.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Manhattan (Revisited)



Although I've already posted on the Manhattan cocktail, I neglected to include the recipe, which follows here: 

Manhattan

60ml (2oz) Bourbon
20ml (0.7oz) Sweet vermouth
Two dashes Angostura bitters
Maraschino cherry to garnish

Pour bourbon, sweet vermouth and bitters into a mixing glass with ice. Stir for a good, long while before straining into an old-fashioned glass. Garnish with a cherry.

I've tried using rye whiskey instead of bourbon (too dry), and I've tried making a Perfect Manhattan, which replaces half the sweet vermouth with a dose of dry vermouth, but I still prefer the recipe above. It's sweet(ish), but in a rich, grown-up way. Definitely not for children.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Mango Mojito


The Cinnamon Club
30 Great Smith Street
London
SW1P 3BU

I had always assumed a mojito required soda water, and plenty of recipes confirm this. With the mango version here, however, I was given a choice - soda water or simply a mountain of crushed ice. Being a dedicated experimentalist, I opted for the ice mountain, and my first sips, tasted before the ice began to melt and dilute the rum, were intense as well as intensely cold. Mango puree was used in addition to the usual fresh lime and mint leaves (not sure about the sugar), which gave it a nice sweet/sour taste as well as a thicker texture than the usual, more watery affair. The rum was Bacardi, an unsporting choice given that company's efforts to expand the US trade embargo against Cuba - birthplace of the mojito, let's not forget - and other un-Cuban activities. Politics aside, I may need to procure a mallet so I can start crushing my own ice.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Lemon Lyman



Keeping a well-stocked supply of fresh citrus is a permanent challenge for cocktailians. Most of the time I seem to run out of lemons or limes at crucial junctures. Then, I might buy half a dozen of each from a market stall only to watch them decay gradually - unsqueezed, unzested and untwisted. Recently, not knowing what to do with a bowl bursting full of rapidly ripening fruit, M decided we should make lemonade. Not the sickly-sweet carbonated stuff you find in the shops, but the real, fresh squeezed American classic. And that's how we came to create the Lemon Lyman (yes, that is a lame West Wing reference. Apologies to those who want them).

Lemon Lyman

30ml (1oz) fresh lemon and lime juice
45ml (1.5oz) simple syrup
90ml (3oz) water

Pour ingredients into a tall glass with ice and stir.

This does what you'd expect it do to: refreshes and cools. Now, every time I'm running a citrus surplus I can juice a few and get mixing. It helps to keep a little pot of made-up simple syrup in the fridge (I prefer two parts sugar dissolved in one part boiling water). Ok, summer, I'm ready now.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

The Player



8 Broadwick Street
London
W1F 8HN

I chose The Player for some birthday drinks, and I'm glad I did. Never mind the slightly eccentric decor which makes the place resemble a private airport lounge from the Seventies, I advise everyone to spend a happy few hours in this basement hideaway. The bartenders and waiters were friendly and patient, even when asked to explain exactly how one might go about preparing pressed ginger juice (thanks, Damian) - but the drinks menu is where this place really excels. Just like Sosho in East London, which I visited just weeks before it was devastated by fire, The Player (which is formally linked to Sosho in a way I haven't quite worked out) distinguishes itself by making proper cocktails.

The drink pictured top is a Petite Punch, described as the classic cocktail of the French islands. Short and strong, it featured Agricole rum (Rhum Agricole), which is made from sugar cane juice rather than molasses like most other rums, mixed with cane sugar and about 2/3 of a fresh lime. It was served with a wooden spoon, presumably to stir the sugar, of which there was little evidence. The drink started with sweet lime on the nose, but the rum was rich, packing an intoxicating punch and providing a thick mouthfeel with a long finish.

Pepino's Gun (right) involved Arette Reposado tequila, muddled with cucumber, fresh apple juice and a splash of fresh lemon. I loved the cucumber (the bartender told me she added two slices to the cocktail shaker before shaking the ingredients with ice), which was subtle but unmistakable. And it reminded me I still haven't gotten around to making a martini with Hendrick's gin, which demands a similarly audacious cucumber garnish.

Mai Tai
: This was Appleton rum shaken with (orange) curacao, fresh lime juice, bitters and orgeat (almond) syrup. I'd never tried one of these before, but being a dedicated experimentalist gave it a go. Well made, but not my favourite.

Penicillin: Scotch whiskies (a mix of Lagavulin and something less peaty) shaken with pressed ginger juice, fresh lemon and honey. The ginger (see above) was pressed with a juicer, or at least I think that's what someone drew on my napkin. Lovely drink.

Rye & Port Cobbler: Pikesville rye whiskey, port, masaschino and fruits. Thankfully, there are still plenty of drinks out there that I've never come across before, and many with the capacity to surprise and delight. This was delicious, although having ordered it towards the end of the evening I might struggle to recall the details.

Blood & Sand: Scotch whisky, cherry liquer, sweet vermouth, orange. Like the Cobbler, this was a new one on me - a bit like a Manhattan, only more interesting. I was lucky enough to try it with Compass Box Hedonism, a 100% grain whisky - smooth and sweet - which I've since had the pleasure to taste by itself (see future posts).

Clover Club (pictured left): Tanqueray gin, lemon and raspberries. And egg white (which bars rarely list because of the public squeam about raw things). Although I love the foam produced from a well shaken egg white, there was too much of it in this drink. That said, the gin, lemon and raspberries did their best to balance the creaminess. I must try making this at home.

What drinks! I know it's a small thing, but I'm also grateful to The Player for letting us sit with their little cocktail menus, letting us peruse and debate their contents at leisure, rather than whisking them away from us seconds after taking our order. Drinks geeks, as well as birthday boys, are treated well here.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Great Divide Brewing Company



What is it about Denver and interesting beer? First it was Blue Moon
, with its deeply appealing Belgian White, and now, for those who aren't in the know already, I would like to introduce The Great Divide Brewing Company.

My first beer from TGDBC was its Denver Pale Ale (pictured right), which I got from top beer shed The Rake
 in London Bridge. The DPA (5.4%) is described on the label as "English style", which is one of the few instances I can recall of a foreign food or drinkstuff actively trying to imitate Englishness. Served cold, it had a slightly cheesy aroma, which may have informed its recommended pairing with robust pasta sauces "such as puttanesca". The taste was bitter.

Vaguely inspired, I picked up a bottle of the same brewer's Samurai unfiltered rice ale (pictured top). At 5.1%, this cloudy, slightly carbonated beer had a fruity aroma and tasted pleasantly clean, milky, and dryish. Like, er, rice? Loved this one, more than the DPA (lesson: resist trying to make things taste English).

I'm not qualified to say whether The Great Divide has succeeded in its aim to "capture Denver’s urban energy and Colorado’s awe-inspiring mountains", but they don't half make striking beer.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Green Chartreuse



Extraordinary efforts went into tasting this strange French elixir. What started as a simple trip to an off-licence to pick up a bottle during a trip to Paris ballooned into a city-wide hunt for a similar bottle that wasn't so damned expensive. When I realised no such thing existed I decided it would be sensible to try a glass of the stuff before investing my hard-earned, but a few hours later found myself in a cafe-bar that wanted to charge me 12 euros (Almost Eleven Pounds!) for the privilege. Va te faire foutre! Later, eventually, somewhere, I found a booze merchant willing to pour me a glass for a fair price.

Green Chartreuse is strong stuff (55% vol), tasting of spices and herbs, with a hint of anis, but not too much. The French monks who make this oak-aged liqueur flavour it with 130 plants, which seems rather OTT (wouldn't 30 suffice?). The colouring, which is natural, is said to come from chlorophyll, the green pigment in plants. I have to say I liked it a lot: a respectable rival to the Green Fairy if ever there was one.  And for those who like traipsing across Paris, there's also a yellow Chartreuse - supposedly milder (40%) and sweeter. But I'll be the judge of that.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Aviation



Seeing this photo (above) makes me smile, since it reminds me of the night I spent roaming the streets of Paris looking for lemons. It came about after I picked up a bottle of Luxardo Maraschino liqueur from a strange little deli rammed full of curiosities and booze. This clear, dry cherry drink (32% vol) tastes floral and bittersweet - not particularly pleasant by itself. As a constituent ingredient in a cocktail, however, it comes highly recommended. Scouring the interweb for a recipe to test it out, I came across the gin-based Aviation, which I thought at the very least had an appealing name. And so, on our way back to T and A's flat after a night out, I stopped off at a number of corner stores and used some fairly dodgy French to procure lemons and gin. The proper Aviation recipe also calls for a touch of Creme de Violette, a liqueur made from violet flowers, but sadly it wasn't to hand, I thought I'd already shown willing by getting hold of the Maraschino, and, frankly, life isn't long enough for this shit.

Aviation

60ml (2oz) gin

15ml (0.5oz) Maraschino liqueur
15ml (0.5oz) lemon juice
Lemon peel

Pour ingredients into a mixing glass with plenty of ice and stir well. Strain into a serving glass and garnish with a twist of lemon peel.


I have slightly hazy memories of this one, having constructed it under the influence of French wine. I do recall a sharp, floral drink with a charming kick (the best kind). We barely used any Maraschino, but with good reason - a rather reckless attempt to get more cherry by adding more of the liqueur spoiled the balance of the drink somewhat (don't mess with the ratios!). I will now resist the urge to conclude this post with gratuitous references to lift-offs, flying successes and top guns. There.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Kir Petillant



Yet another way to make ordinary fizzy wine taste less ordinary. Creme de Mure (15% vol) is made with blackberries, and a dash added to a glass of non-descript prosecco made for a decent pre-dinner drink. According to strict teachings, this cocktail was a Kir Petillant, rather than a Kir Royale, since it used sparkling wine rather than champagne. Disconcertingly for pedants, however, both Kirs are traditionally made with Creme de Cassis (blackcurrant), rather than de Mure, placing a question mark over the correct name for our alternative. Still, if there are times to avoid getting bogged down by definitions, this is one of them: drink while the bubbles are lively.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Picon Biere



Everything can be improved - even beer. Picon Biere is simply lager with Amer Picon, a French orange bitter liqueur (18% vol), made with orange peel, spices and herbs. The conventional ratio is one part Picon to four parts beer. Mine, bought from a basement bar in Paris, tasted damn fine, with the liqueur giving the beer a lovely orange kick without the sickly-sweetness of something like lager and blackcurrant (the only British equivalent that comes to mind). Furthermore, and at the risk of overplaying the importance of intoxication, the French version enhances the booze content of the lager, rather than diluting it. Mes amis, bring on the beer cocktails!

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Blind Wine Tasting



I'm not quite sure why I enjoy blind wine tastings so much. Probably because they force me to focus entirely on the vino, rather than the un/attractive packaging, as well as prevent me from falling back on my prejudices about this or that variety or winery. Five of us assembled to taste four wines (and many cheeses, but that's not important right now). Before their true identities were unveiled, this is what we found:

Mancini Estate Verdelho Chardonnay, Australia, 2006
My notes: Grassy aroma, sweet then dry, mellow.
Mates' notes: Apples, pears, treacle, hints of marzipan and candied fruit with a mellow finish. Honey, peaches, mead. Buttery with a slight lemon hint.

Leon De Oro Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile, 2007
My notes: Burnt aroma, rich flavour, black cherries, aggressive, dry.
Mates' notes: Blackberries, spices, winter warmer, ashes, bitter. Young, astringent, tannic. Bold, deceptively smooth with a striking bite at the end.

Marques de Caceras Rioja Crianza, Spain, 2005
My notes: Dry, vanilla aroma, tannic.
Mates' notes: Deep red, earthy, leathery, round, sassy bitch. Aroma of cherry, smooth, mild, hurts my chest.

Campo Viejo Rioja Reserva, Spain, 2005
My notes: Campo! Oak, vanilla, lovely finish.
Mates' notes: Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, plummy, foxy. Velvety.


Most of our group preferred the Mancini Estate - the only white of the quartet. I liked it too, but I have to say the Leon De Oro (available from M&S) would be top of my list of buy-agains. That and the Campo, which I blogged about some weeks ago and seems to be growing on me again.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

French Hot Chocolate



La Charlotte de l'Isle
24 rue Saint Louis en l'Ile
75004 Paris
France

Only a couple of months ago I would have considered warm milk and powder perfectly respectable grounds for a hot chocolate drink. How wrong I was, avid reader, how wrong. My re-education began with my first experience of real hot chocolate (made with real, hot, chocolate) from a Cambridge chocolatier earlier this year. Then, more recently I was taken to La Charlotte de I'sle, a tiny tea shop in Paris which doubles up as a weekly venue for puppet shows. Three of us ordered their luxuriously thick, dark chocolate drink, which came in a beaten-up ceramic pitcher with little shot glasses of water to wash it down. Intense, creamy, and rich, we got through the entire jug like the gluttons we are. Afterwards, having squeezed ourselves out of the shop and into a cold Parisian February, I glanced up and noticed in the near distance the Notre Dame, which in retrospect was quite interesting.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Chouchenn


Creperie Bretonne
67 rue de Charonne
75011 Paris
France


And to think I was worried, when I started this blog, that I'd run out of drinks to write about. Chouchenn is a (honey-based) mead from the Brittany region of France. While the aroma was distinctly and overwhelmingly of honey, the taste was more complex - an edge of apple, a little booze, smooth, but with both sweet and sour in there too. It was almost like a honey cider, or an interesting sherry. Research reveals Chouchenn usually contains about 14% alcohol, which sounds about right. This one was sold (in a Parisian creperie) as a digestif, and served as a 50ml measure for 3.5 euros. Considering the rip-off price of beer and most other beverages in the city, this is less unreasonable than it sounds.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Val de Rance Cider



Creperie Bretonne
67 rue de Charonne
75011 Paris
France

You can tell when you've got a good cider in your hands when it tastes like an eruption of apples. The bottle of Val de Rance we tried, on a waitress's recommendation, was their drier one (Bouche Brut, 5%), but you wouldn't know it from the sweetish, slightly carbonated apple drink that appeared before us, alongside four well-used ceramic cups: quaffable wasn't the half of it. I pity people whose experience of cider stretches only to the fizzy, fake varieties found at most British pubs - the kind of commercial compound whose relationship with real apples, if any congress occurs at all, is surely nasty, brutish and short. By happy contrast, when the 450 Bretton apple producers behind Val de Rance insist their cider is the product of a "slow and natural" fermentation process, you can almost smell the devotion.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Creamy Cocktails



Drowning in double cream left over from a couple of tasty home-made treats, I decided to experiment with a couple of creamy drinks recipes from the The Savoy Cocktail Book.

Belmont

15ml (0.25oz) grenadine
45ml (1.5oz) gin
30ml (1oz) fresh cream

Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously. Strain into a cocktail glass.

The Belmont - described somewhere as "a beautiful cocktail" - looks fairly horrible (above), but strangely the cream and gin balance rather well, while the pomegranate-based grenadine is not as sweet as I expected here.

Cordova

30ml (1oz) dry gin
15ml (0.25oz) sweet vermouth
1 dash absinthe
1 teaspoon fresh cream

Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously. Strain into a cocktail glass.

Stronger and richer, but also thinner, than the Belmont, with the absinthe providing a lovely aftertaste (right).

Friday, 12 March 2010

The Bree Louise



69 Coburg Street

Euston

London NW1 2HH

 

My first experience of The Bree Louise - Camra's Pub of the Year 2009/10 - was a fleeting visit to see what all the fuss was about. This Euston pub is best described as a permanent beer festival, with all that implies. Ale is a priority here and the beer list is constantly being amended as one cask is emptied and a new one put on (check the website for updates). It's busy - we went on a Wednesday and it was pretty much standing room only - but again, standing is fine when I'm distracted by ale. The only downside is the incessant sport they insist on showing on a giant TV (don't these people have televisions at home?). Still, nice to know there's a place to go when I feel like drinking something different.

On my brief stop I had a Winter Meltdown from the West Sussex Dark Star brewery. I'm a huge fan of Dark Star's Hophead (3.8%), a light, citrussy golden ale that somehow tastes creamy too. The Meltdown (5%) was a very different drop - dark coloured, with rich malt, slightly sweet fruit (like a mince pie?) and a mildly bitter finish. Later Googling revealed it was brewed with chocolate malt and cask conditioned with stem ginger and other "warming spices". Just the thing for a freezing spring like this, although as soon as the sun comes out I'm back to Hophead.

M, in her continuing experiments with cider, settled on a Bounds Scrumpy (4.8%), a cloudy apple draught  from Herefordshire-based Westons, which a tough critic might have described as dry to the point of vinegary.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Raki



Tas
72 Borough High Street
London SE1 1XF

I had assumed, having already survived Absinthe, Pastis, Sambuca, Ouzo and Pernod, that I'd tasted every anis liqueur and spirit known to man. Then I spotted Raki on the menu at a Turkish restaurant and realised I still had work to do. I've since learnt that this grape-based spirit is Turkey's national drink, known sometimes as "lion's milk" or, even better, "the milk of the brave". This one (43% abv) was served with a glass of water and ice so I could dilute to taste - and a good job too. Straight, it was too syrupy and sweet, but with (plenty of) water, the liquid clouded and the drink became more refreshing and rounded, a decent digestif. Not sure how this particular £4 serving might compare with others (I wasn't privy to the brand) but I'd be willing to try the stuff again, particularly after a large plate of grilled meat.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Random Reds



I seem to be drinking faster than I'm writing, which means I'm getting a bit behind with my posts. In an attempt to address this worrying drinking/blogging imbalance I thought I'd use a single post to deal with a few wines en masse. Here, along with a tasting note or two, are the grapes I've been imbibing recently...

La Paz La Mancha 2008 and Vina Albali Gran Reserva 2001 (pictured above): Two wines from La Mancha, the largest wine growing area in the world, each costing about a fiver. The first, a blend of tempranillo and syrah, the second, from Felix Solis, a 100% tempranillo. Both packed decent punches at dinner but neither inspired. These were my second and third attempts at La Mancha wines, following a previous experiment last month, and I can't say I'm impatient for more.

Lauriers Tempranillo 2006 (right): This was interesting - a tempranillo wine from the Languedoc-Roussillon region in the south of France. Picked up from a farmers' market in Canterbury, its aroma was nasty: not unlike feet. Weird, then, that it tasted pretty good; dry, but also rich, and balanced. It was one-note, but it sounded fine.

La Bascula's The Charge 2006 (left): Back to Rioja, courtesy of the discerning dispensing machines of The Sampler. This one was a blend of 70% tempranillo, 25% Garnacha and 5% Graciano. Liquorice, chocolate on the nose, a thick mouthfeel with rich plum, and a dry finish. The description said "Black and red fruits bombard the palate like a calvary charge", and indeed they did.

Cero De La Mesa Rioja Crianza 2006 (right): The first time I had this lovely bottle from Waitrose was during a warm autumn picnic on top of the Sussex South Downs. Regrettably, it was empty far too soon and I only wish we could have dragged an entire case up the hill. My second bottle, more recently, was opened very cold and tasted a little harsh to begin with, before warming and opening up to the point where the soft, plummy fruit balanced the dry, slightly tannic finish, just like I remembered.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Bombay Sapphire Vs Gordon's




What could be more exciting than a blind gin tasting? If you know the answer, keep it to yourself, I'm just not interested. Having been dealt glasses with generous pours of Bombay Sapphire in one and Gordon's in the other, but not knowing which was which, I sipped and pondered for a good while before deciding on their relative merits. And here, without ado, are the results:

Bombay Sapphire - Warming, spicy-sweet, many flavours, explosive, long lingering finish.

Gordon's - Dull, one-note, juniper, smooth, dry.

I realised afterwards that the Bombay I had tasted was the imported duty free stuff (47% abv!), which may have given it an unfair advantage and left the 37.5% Gordon's tasting rather conservative by dint of its sheer weakness. But the rules were clear(ish) and there is only one reasonable conclusion to draw: Bombay is Great and Gordon's is Boring.

Buy Bombay from The Drink Shop here. Or, if you're feeling bold, get one-and-a-half litres of the stuff here!

Monday, 8 March 2010

Sazerac



If any place deserves a decent "official cocktail" it's New Orleans. The Sazerac was officially proclaimed the city's signature drink just a couple of years ago, although it dates back to the 1830s, when apothecary Antoine Amadie Peychaud found it made a fine vehicle for his now-famous "medicinal" anise-charactered bitters. Originally made with Sazerac French brandy, since 1873 the cocktail has used rye whiskey (drier and spicier than corn-based bourbon) and a dash of absinthe.

Sazerac

60ml (2oz) rye whiskey
Two dashes Peychaud's Bitters
7.5ml (1/4oz) simple syrup
Few drops of Absinthe
Lemon peel

Pour whiskey, bitters and simple syrup into a mixing glass with ice and stir well. Take a chilled old-fashioned glass and rinse it with absinthe by rotating the glass until it's well coated and discarding the rest (alternatively, use an atomiser to spray the inside of the glass with a fine absinthe mist). Strain the mixed drink into the absinthe-coated glass and add a twist of lemon peel.


How to describe this intense and complex drink? I doubt I could do it more justice than Chuck Taggart from The Gumbo Pages (motto: "there's too much fun to be had to waste it sleeping")...
"This is an absolutely exquisite cocktail. As you sip it, you come across layer after layer of flavor -- the warmth and glowing burn of the rye, effused with the flavors of spice and honey, the bite of the bitters balanced with the sweetness of the sugar, with the subtle yet complex flavor of the anise underneath and the perfume of the lemon oil from the twist feel like a symphony inside your mouth. This is also a drink that warms up well, revealing even more flavors. Sip it very slowly. Savor it. Take your time with it."
Amen to that. It's fair to say that the Sazerac has an unmistakably anise-y finish that not everyone will appreciate. However, as a bookend to a bibulous evening, this intense and complex beverage certainly takes some beating.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Sosho



2 Tabernacle Street
London
EC2A 4LU

Since I began dipping my toe into the world of cocktail bars I've realised there are two main types: the fake and the excellent. When it comes to drinks, the fakes - alas, they are plentiful - prefer to use pre-mixed solutions to construct sugary, low-alcohol rip-offs, while the genuine articles lift your spirits with boozy, fiddly creations which one might struggle to reproduce at home on the first or even second attempt.

While I wouldn't want to vouch for Sosho (a fancyish bar/club on the edge of the City) on the evidence of my single 45-minute stop-off, very early on a Saturday evening, I daresay it can make proper drinks.

I ordered a Tropical Nirvana (Plymouth gin, muddled fresh banana and strawberries, agave syrup, honey and maraschino) because I wanted to work out, in a reverse engineering kind of way, how to use banana and other fruits without turning a drink into a sludgy mess. The result (above left) was perfectly smooth and fruity without being noticeably viscous or too-sweet.

M got a Space Gin Smash (above right) - Tanqueray gin shaken with muddled grapes, elderflower, fresh mint, lemon and apple juices. "Refreshing", was the response - satisfied if not overwhelmed.

The other thing I've realised about the world of cocktail bars is they have their own celebrities. So Sosho - of the Match Bar family - boasts of its links with American mixologist Dale DeGroff, the "king of cocktails", who "made the Cosmopolitan famous" (thanks, Dale) and seems to have had a hand in the drinks list here (my Tropical Nirvana was one of his designs). In a land of fake cocktail bars it helps to have some quality assurance and the man DeGroff may yet be the Kitemark of mixed drinks.

UPDATE: Since I posted this it appears Sosho has been destroyed by a fire. Damn shame. At least no one was hurt.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Hardys and Hansons



The Eagle
8 Bene't Street
Cambridge CB2 3QN

A day trip to Cambridge and a great beer in an even greater pub. The Eagle has all kinds of history attached to it, along with "character" and all the nooks and crannies an ale drinker doth desire.

My pint of Hardys and Hansons was deliciously buttery and sweet, and left no bitter aftertaste. No aftertaste at all, really. I could have stayed for the rest of the day, and perhaps next time we will.

Oddly, the sign on the pump (above right) stated the ale was brewed in Kimberley, Nottinghamshire, even though beer behemoth Greene King shut down the Kimberley brewery when it took over H&H about five years ago and transferred production to its base in Bury St Edmonds. Further evidence that this pub is stuck reassuringly in the past.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Hot Choc Shot



Sometimes pictures are better than words and this is one of those times: just looking at these warm and boozy chocolate shots seems to play havoc with the salivary glands. Inspired by a revelatory hot chocolate experience last month, this little creation is not necessarily recommended for those on strict diets. For everyone else, it's best made in batches, so multiply the ingredients accordingly.

Hot Choc Shot

15ml (0.5oz) crème de cacao blanc
1.5 squares dark chocolate
15ml (0.5oz) cream
1/4 teaspoon icing sugar
Whipped cream topping

Add chocolate, cream and icing sugar to a pan on the hob and stir until mixed and melted. Add crème de cacao and stir again. Pour into a shot glass and top with fresh whipped cream.

This was my first attempt at using crème de cacao, a clear, dryish cocoa liqueur (25% vol), and it worked out nicely, making the drink boozy and extra chocolatey without overdoing the richness. Originally I tried vodka instead but it overpowered the chocolate somewhat, and we can't be having that. The fresh cream was whipped with my NO2-charged cream whipper, which is fast becoming useful as well as fun to play with. I would have described the Hot Choc Shot as a great after-dinner drink - but I can't imagine turning one down at any time of day.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Blush Orange Juice



Occasionally I like to pull out my electric citrus press and press some citruses. Three blush oranges yielded a single glass of sweet red-coloured juice that knocked the socks of the stuff-from-a-carton and set about reviving me from the night before. I suppose any freshly squeezed fruits are better than none, but Waitrose really raised their own bar when they described "the luscious sweetness and distinctive ruby tint" of their "unique" Sicilian oranges grown "in the foothills of Mount Etna". Only one of the three (from a net-bag of four) produced vibrantly ruby-red juice when squeezed; the others were more ordinarily orange, and the overall taste still too tart to achieve "luscious sweetness" lift-off. I blame myself for having eaten the sweetest oranges I have ever tasted - in Texas - a couple of weeks before. When it comes to oranges, sunshine is evidently more important than volcanoes.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted



Sadly, an example of an interesting idea - spicy, citrussy hops in a bottle - executed timidly. This blond beer was drinkably smooth, but in essence was neither sharp nor zesty enough to justify its name. Perfectly pleasantish, just a bit uninspiring, like Nick Clegg.