How to make an Old Fashioned Cocktail

This is a slight departure from my normal work, but I’ve got a cold and was craving something less potent and more sweet and fruity than a martini.

  
Enter the Old Fashioned cocktail. 

Apparently emerging in the early 1800s (it might even have evolved towards the late 1700s), this drink is a lot older than a Martini.

It also has a reputation for being a bit of a “fog-cutter” – that is, the sort of drink you choose when you’ve got a hangover, something sweet to try and ease the pain and help you get back on your feet again. The Breakfast Martini can serve a similar purpose.

Such hangover tactics are completely contrary to modern medical advice, but by Jove, if people have been swearing by the technique for over 200 years then who am I to argue?

Recipes for an Old Fashioned today can involve ingredients such as soda water, maraschino cherries and slices of orange but I wanted to create something much more intense, and err… old fashioned.

I like to taste alcohol when I drink alcohol, you see.

I first drank an Old Fashioned in the office after a long, intense day. I think we were in the midst of monitoring the onset of the Arab Spring, a time when Middle Eastern governments tended to collapse on a Friday, leaving us working late into the evening while the rest of London descended unto the pub.

 

 I was told the cocktail was making a comeback because of its portrayal in the US series ‘Mad Men’. My industry might not have encouraged the same sort of working hours drinking habits of Don Draper but booze was a fairly vital commodity once we had finished our work at the end of the day.

Given the supply of various ingredients we routinely kept in our drawers our office was the perfect place for our first tipple. A quick mix and we could relax, chat about work and enjoy a short period of shared workplace quietude before we too joined the masses in the pubs.

The recipe we used in the office involved honey, but my recipe uses demarara sugar.

You will need:

  • Bourbon or Rye
  • Sugar (brown if possible)
  • Bitters (I used Angosturra)
  • An orange (just for the peel)
  • Two glasses (one for prep, one for serving)
  • Ice (I used spherical ice – as it melts slowly and looks good in the right glass)
  • A teaspoon
  • A little bit of water

  

  • Add 2 teaspoons of sugar to the prep glass.
  • Add 2 teaspoons of water.

  

  • Stir well to dissolve (this can take a minute or two).

  

  • If you mix these quite often you might want to make yourself some sugar syrup in advance which means you don’t need to go about dissolving sugar each time you pour a deink.
  • Add 250ml water to a kettle and bring to the boil.
  • Let it cool slightly then add it to a pouring bowl with 300g Demerara sugar.
  • Stir until it dissolves, allow to cool, then pour into a bottle or other container to store until needed.

  

  • Back to the mixing: add 2-3 dashes of bitters to the dissolved sugar (or equivalent of syrup) and stir.
  • Add 60ml bourbon or rye and stir a bit more.

  

  • Peel a strip of orange rind. 

  

  • Twist it over the serving glass to spray in the natural oil. Squeeze it, crush it slightly and rub it all round the inside of the glass to transfer as much of the oil as possible, then discard the piece (I actually just ate it outright, mainly for the vitamin C).
  • Peel a second strip of orange rind, twist it over the glass to release a bit more oil but try not to damage it.

  

  • Trim the strip of peel and put aside.

  

  • Add the ice to the serving glass.

   

  • Pour over the mixture from the other glass and swirl it around.
  • If you like bitters you can add in another dash now and watch it permeate through the drink.
  • Use the trimmed orange peel to stir, then drop it into the drink as well.

  

  • Serve in a nice setting with good company.

I picked the garden with the whippet puppies but indoor settings are more common; somewhere with dim lighting, leather furniture and perhaps some cigars would definitely work.

Because of its sweetness I don’t think this drink goes especially well with nibbles.

It could, however, be served both before or after a meal.

Indeed the drink’s versatility means that it could be served at a variety of times in a range of environments and settings.

Here, for example, is a perfect setting: a bar cabaret performance by the talented Cat Loud and Finn Anderson.

  

It also works well during more intense and strategic pursuits.

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What to do if you find martinis too strong

Don’t worry, this is a common problem.

  
First of all, make sure you’re using good quality ingredients

  
Is the gin cold enough? 

Temperature is absolutely vital when making a martini. Ideally the gin should be stored in the freezer for at least 8 hours prior to use. I keep it there all the time. I keep the glasses in there too.

  
Have you squeezed lemon peel into the glass? This isn’t just a gimmick. The fresh flavour helps cut through the alcohol.

  
Try a dirty martini. This is a simple classic martini with olive brine added to taste. The non-alcoholic brine can help take the edge off the alcohol.

  
Finally, for beginners or even seasoned drinkers, there’s nothing wrong with ordering or making a martini which uses sweet vermouth instead of dry. Martini bianco is absolutely fine for this and really takes the edge off the drink.

Anyone who complains that this is not a real martini should look back at the history of the drink. Originally all martinis were reportedly made with sweet vermouth.

Additionally, for more regular martini drinkers. I find that if you use sweet vermouth instead of dry vermouth you can actually use less of it, and therefore have more gin, providing you with a stronger drink that allows you to taste the gin with more purity.

Some experts have sniffed at this notion but I have tried and tested it numerous, numerous times on a wide range of drinkers with various experience levels and the results were almost completely unanimous. So there you go.

So, in summary, if you think martinis taste too strong for you, make sure the gin is cold enough, don’t skip the lemon peel, consider drinking it “dirty” and try mixing it with sweet vermouth instead of dry.

  
Then you should be ready to join the rest of us.

The Stinging Nettle Martini

  
This is how to take the natural sting out of a nettle leaf and replace it with the more subtle but no less painful sting of vodka.


Does it ever feel like nettles are taking over your garden… and your LIFE?

 

If so, don’t panic! Alcohol will come to your rescue.

  
Apparently the Romans imported nettles (Urtica dioica) to the British Isles so that they could make tea.

 

This may have been what prompted the Iceni rebellion of AD61. Queen Boudicca (above) was possibly a very keen gardener and didn’t approve of the new Roman weed.

Today we rarely drink nettle tea. It is certainly not unheard. Mostly though we just battle through thickets of the plant when they spring up in the garden. I’m sure we all have painful childhood memories of nettle stings as well. Thanks Caesar…

Nonetheless, stinging nettles definitely have health benefits and a distinctive taste so we might as well use them while they’re here.

Furthermore, a farming neighbour told me that nettles only grow in good quality soil. If you’ve got them in your garden then you can take it as a sign that you’ve got some excellent topsoil at least.

Otherwise, follow this easy recipe to make a spritely alcoholic infusion from the pesky plant.

You will need:

  • A large container for liquid
  • A large pot
  • A sealable jar that can contain at least 1/2 a litre of liquid
  • Garden gloves
  • A bag or basket
  • Sugar
  • 1/2 a litre of clear alcohol (vodka would work)
  • An infestation of nettles (try not to collect them from a roadside, dog-walking area or somewhere that chemicals may have been sprayed)

You will basically harvest young nettle leaves then soak, simmer and infuse them in alcohol with sugar to create a flavoured drink to add to your martini.

  

Put on some gloves and pick the young leaves of a nettle plant. Collect them in a bag or basket. Check that there aren’t any growths, insects or dirt on the leaves (check the undersides). Discard any stems.

The leaves shouldn’t be more than about 3 inches wide and should be plucked from the upper stem of the plant. Go for the freshest, greenest ones.

Ideally the plant should be harvested in spring before it flowers or produces seed but younger plants can be harvested later if they are fresh. If you are in the West Coast of Scotland harvest them a couple of weeks before the midgies emerge for the best results.

  
Picking the leaves reminded me of the time I lived on a tea estate in central Sri Lanka. I remember beautiful, smiley but hardy Tamil women in brightly coloured saris picking young tea leaves at a rate of knots. I am sorry to say I was much slower than them at this job.
 
Once you have enough leaves to fill a 2 litre jug, put them in it, pour over some warm water, stir and leave to soak for about 10-15 minutes.

  

You can see their tiny little needles of burning pain here. The next process should (hopefully!) neutralise them.

Drain the leaves and add them to a pan of hot water over a medium heat. Stir them for about a minute. Do not bring the water quite to the boil but it should be hot.

Drain the leaves and add to a sealable jar. Add vodka until it covers the leaves. For every 1/2 litre of vodka you pour in, add 3 tablespoons of sugar. Prick the nettle leaves with a fork. Also use the fork to stir the mixture until at least some of the sugar has dissolved.  

 Seal the jar, give it a good shake and leave it to infuse in a cool, dark place. Shake it vigorously every now and then over the course of around 5 days.

Strain the liquid through a sieve. Pick out some of the more attractive nettle leaves to use as a garnish. Squeeze the rest of the leaves to get out the last of their alcohol then discard them.

 
You can serve the infusion straight up as a shot or a digestif as above. The flavour is enhanced with a little squeeze of lemon juice; it also helps to keep the glass in the freezer in advance so it’s nice and chilly when you serve it.

  


You can also serve the nettle infusion it with ice, tonic and a squeeze of lemon.

 
Or you can add 30ml to a classic martini to replace the equivalent volume of gin or vodka. Garnish with a nettle leaf and serve, perhaps in the garden – if the midgies don’t get you. 

 
The dog certainly seems to approve.