Archive for November, 2008

On classic cocktails

November 27, 2008

Next Friday marks the 75th anniversary of the repeal of US Prohibition, a day that will be celebrated with the downing of a significant number of old-school cocktails. It’s just got to be done. After all, FDR headed straight to the liquor cabinet on signing off on the 21st Amendment.

I’d guess that the cocktailblog community is going to have some cool things lined up to commemorate the anniversary. These things don’t happen every day, and I’m no exception. I’ve been spending some time looking at some of the great cocktails created outside of the USA during the dry years, but that’s a tale for another day.

Next Friday’s looking good, I reckon.

Anyway, the thing is this: what are the great modern cocktails?

There’s a fairly nebulous group of mixed drinks that are referred to as “classics”. Some are more or less undisputed – martini, Manhattan, Old-Fashioned, Daiquiri, for example, and some are kinda borderline – the Aviation? (Yes, if you’re from the States, maybe not if you’re British.) Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any bona fide, nailed-on classics that date from after World War 2.

Taking 1948 (the first publication of Embury’s Fine Art of Mixing Drinks) as the cut-off, what are the great modern cocktails?

I see two major problems. The first is the idea that Embury came up with, that all cocktails come back to six essential drinks. Well, five, and the Jack Rose. If that’s true, then barring minor variations, everything’s already been done. The second is the 1980s, which was as good a decade for mixology as 1666 was for London.

OK, just to be contrary – to counter the first problem, a truly great drink should transcend its formula. There is only one point of difference between a martini and a Manhattan, yet they’re both considered classics in their own right. To counter the second, I just need to find a genuinely excellent cocktail that was invented about the time disco was considered acceptable to play out loud in public.

Here’s a clue: it’s not Sex On The Beach.

So, the question remains. Oh God, I feel a Workshop series coming on…

In review: Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba

November 27, 2008

Here’s what I know about Cuban independence.

It turns out you can write entire books on what I don’t know about the history of Cuba. Helpfully, Tom Gjelten has done just that and he’s even made particularly relevant to the likes of me by looking at the subject through the lens of the Bacardi family.

I hadn’t really associated Bacardi with Cuba in the past. When they started printing “Casa fundada en Cuba, 1862” on their UK bottles a couple of years ago, I was one of the knowing bartenders who would turn the bottle over and point out the words “Product of the Bahamas” on the back label. Of course, I was aware that Bacardi had been founded in Cuba and had fled when Castro nationalized their facilities on the island in 1960, but I’d never thought of it as being particularly tied to any one country. My experience of Bacardi was as a global product from a multi-national corporation. But from small acorns, y’know. Read the rest of this entry »

The Local News: no Indy, no Ackroyd

November 24, 2008

Bar jobs have the unfortunate effect of entirely rewiring your calendar. It’s like working a 9-5, but one that starts at 6pm with weekends running Tuesday-Wednesday. Essentially, my internal clock is running roughly on Pacific Standard. In the middle of next week.

This is relevant because it means I miss a bunch of interesting things if they happen over what the rest of civilisation calls the weekend, such as a mysterious and possibly ancient artifact going on display just up the road from my flat.

For one day.

The object in question is one of the fabled crystal skulls, the handiwork of either an ancient South American civilisation or skilled forgers in the 1950s and the inspiration for both the most recent Indiana Jones movie and a new, frankly insane vodka fronted by famed Ghostbuster Dan Ackroyd.

Yes, YouTube time:

In other news, a City Councillor has proposed to ease congestion in the City Centre by introducing a pedestrian ‘fast-lane’ on Princes Street, despite research that suggests a similar effect could be achieved by introducing capital punishment for buskers, mimes and charity muggers*.

Elsewhere, controversy reigns as the local press proclaims Edinburgh to be the UK’s greenest city – behind only five other cities, according to Treehugger.

Finally, coming soon to ednbrg, the return of posts about cocktails. Crazy, I know.

* There’s a decent chance that this is a lie.

The Local News: under review

November 17, 2008

After all of last week’s electoral excitement, it’s been a quieter week round these parts. It hasn’t been a week without danger, but the threat of Edinburgh losing its World Heritage Site status has lifted with the news that “the overall state of conservation is absolutely fine.” Other World Heritage Sites include the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal and the ancient city of Thebes and its Necropolis, all places characterized by their short supply of Buckfast and deep-fried Mars bars.

There hasn’t been any real chance of Scotland losing touch with its heritage: just last year, our finest bartenders spent an evening beating the best England had to offer in the 2007 Liquid War. This year’s final took place in Glasgow earlier this evening with North vs. South contests in flair and mixology. Results when they’re posted, which will probably be when the hangovers clear up. Sometime in February, then.

In the meantime, if you wanted to infuse that hard-won heritage with a touch of international style, then Totty Rocks on Victoria Street can furnish you with a handbag. This handbag, in fact. For £3,250.

And finally, it’s time to wish everyone at Bramble a very happy second birthday – they just announced their own bouncing baby blog! They’re also clearly not getting a present, what with all the awards and international acclaim they’ve gained over the past two years.

Seriously, let someone else with something for once.

(Edinburgh panorama from George L Smyth’s photostream on Flickr, under a Creative Commons licence.)

The day in Twitter

November 15, 2008
  • 17:25 £2.50 Miller’s & tonic at the Bon Vivant – how is this place not packed? #

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The Imbiber’s 100 meme

November 14, 2008

I’m not entirely sure what comes from completing this exercise, but I’ll be damned if I let a decent listmeme pass me by. Over at Art of Drink, Darcy has come up with a list of 100 things that competitive connoisseurs of liquids should try before they die.

If I end doing shots of Green Chartreuse at any point before then, it’ll be way too soon.


1) Copy this list into your blog, with instructions.
2) Bold all the drinks you’ve imbibed.
3) Cross out any items that you won’t touch
4) Post a comment here and  link to your results.

List of Drinks You Must Try Before You Expire

  1. Manhattan Cocktail
  2. Kopi Luwak (Weasle Coffee)
  3. French / Swiss Absinthe
  4. Rootbeer
  5. Gin Martini
  6. Sauternes
  7. Whole Milk
  8. Tequila (100% Agave)
  9. XO Cognac
  10. Espresso
  11. Spring Water (directly from the spring)
  12. Gin & Tonic
  13. Mead
  14. Westvleteren 12 (Yellow Cap) Trappist Ale
  15. Chateau d’Yquem
  16. Budweiser
  17. Maraschino Liqueur
  18. Mojito
  19. Orgeat
  20. Grand Marnier
  21. Mai Tai (original)
  22. Ice Wine (Canadian)
  23. Red Bull
  24. Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice
  25. Bubble Tea
  26. Tokaji
  27. Chicory
  28. Islay Scotch
  29. Pusser’s Navy Rum
  30. Fernet Branca
  31. Fresh Pressed Apple Cider
  32. Bourbon
  33. Australian Shiraz
  34. Buckley’s Cough Syrup
  35. Orange Bitters
  36. Margarita (classic recipe)
  37. Molasses & Milk
  38. Chimay Blue
  39. Wine of Pines (Tepache)
  40. Green Tea
  41. Daiginjo Sake
  42. Chai Tea
  43. Vodka (chilled, straight)
  44. Coca-Cola
  45. Zombie (Beachcomber recipe)
  46. Barley Wine
  47. Brewed Choclate (Xocolatl)
  48. Pisco Sour
  49. Lemonade
  50. Speyside Single Malt
  51. Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee
  52. Champagne (Vintage)
  53. Rosé (French)
  54. Bellini
  55. Caipirinha
  56. White Zinfandel (Blush)
  57. Coconut Water
  58. Cerveza
  59. Cafe au Lait
  60. Ice Tea
  61. Pedro Ximenez Sherry
  62. Vintage Port
  63. Hot Chocolate
  64. German Riesling
  65. Pina Colada
  66. El Dorado 15 Year Rum
  67. Chartreuse
  68. Greek Wine
  69. Negroni
  70. Jägermeister
  71. Chicha
  72. Guinness
  73. Rhum Agricole
  74. Palm Wine
  75. Soju
  76. Ceylon Tea (High Grown)
  77. Belgian Lambic
  78. Mongolian Airag
  79. Doogh, Lassi or Ayran
  80. Sugarcane Juice
  81. Ramos Gin Fizz
  82. Singapore Sling
  83. Mint Julep
  84. Old Fashioned
  85. Perique
  86. Jenever (Holland Gin)
  87. Chocolate Milkshake
  88. Traditional Italian Barolo
  89. Pulque
  90. Natural Sparkling Water
  91. Cuban Rum
  92. Asti Spumante
  93. Irish Whiskey
  94. Château Margaux
  95. Two Buck Chuck
  96. Screech
  97. Akvavit
  98. Rye Whisky
  99. German Weissbier
  100. Daiquiri (classic)

66/100. What do I win?

The day in Twitter

November 13, 2008
  • 20:21 That’s my part of the Legacy comp regional heats over. Only one spot in the final for each region, though… #

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Workshop, pt. 6: regionals

November 12, 2008

Today was my regional heat for the Bacardi Legacy competition. Regionals can take many forms and today’s format was another new experience.

For the purposes of the competition, the UK was split into seven regions. More than two hundred entries were whittled down to seventy (ten per region, but I’m guessing on that), with only one entry from each region progressing to the national final in February.

So, statistically speaking, a 1 in 10 chance of making nationals. But, cocktail comps aren’t decided out of a hat, so my odds just lengthened. Given I don’t know who else qualified from my region (which, let’s face it, is going to be one of the hardest to get out of if the likes of Mal Spence submitted entries; I’m also hoping that all the Scotland-based bartenders who have recipes in the 2008 Legacy Book aren’t getting another go) and that adjustment might have to be in orders of magnitude.

A lot of competitions involve making your drink in front of your direct rivals as well as the judges, unless it’s judged on a blind tasting, in which case your audience will largely comprise people who want to beat you. The interesting thing about the Legacy regional heat was that it was conducted by two judges in your bar, without spectators, without other competitors. It made for a refreshing change. That’s not to say that the format’s without it challenges. One of the judges who was assessing me spoke of a bartender in Belfast who had made his presentation while still serving paying customers and making service checks because his replacement was running late.

The format allowed me to focus on my presentation and my drink, which isn’t always the case if I get starstruck or rattled by the guys I’m up against. It shouldn’t happen, but it does. At any rate, the national final is set to be a more traditional competition format, so there’s that bridge to cross. Or not.

(Judges Score photo from CraigOppy’s photostream on Flickr.)

The day in Twitter

November 12, 2008
  • 21:04 …yes, I am watching the Book Quiz. Don’t ask why. #

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The day in Twitter

November 10, 2008
  • 12:48 We’ve been named as one of Edinburgh’s top 5 cocktail bars – – Woo! #

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