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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Martinis y tapas

  
Having spent an amazing weekend in Madrid I thought I would write about the drinking culture in the city and see what inspiration I could draw from a martini perspective.

  

Los Madrileños know how to have fun – without feeling guilty, without getting stressed and without getting post-apocalyptically drunk. If you feel like having a drink or having something to eat then do so. If you feel like having a nap then do so. The time of day is irrelevant. You shouldn’t feel bad for doing what your body is telling you to do. Eating, drinking and sleeping when you please might sound unhealthy but these people certainly don’t look unhealthy!

  
Another conclusion is that alcohol is much better when accompanied by food.

Tapas or pinchos/pintxos (pronounced peen-chose) are small bites of food that accompany your drink. The adage “eating’s cheating” has few followers in Madrid and I am a faithful convert to the city’s attitude towards eating with booze. I always serve nibbles with my martinis but maybe we should be serving food with all alcohol. It’s not the most radical concept – it’s common practise in many countries (Sri Lanka for example).

If you are unconvinced about eating with your drinks then perhaps I can persuade you with some examples of the sorts of things you could enjoy with your booze.

   

Here is a mind-blowingly tasty assortment of morcilla (a spanish variation of black pudding) with apple, balsamic vinegar glaze and fried potato straws, accompanied with octopus and whole grain mustard ice cream. Yes. Mustard ice cream. Yes.

  
However, if this is too fancy just order your drink (such as a caños of beer which isn’t as much as a full pint) with something as simple as a piece of bread with a topping. Drink, taste and relax. It’s not a race to finish your drink in order to buy the next round.

  

Fried calamari is common. Ham, cheese and olives also feature highly.

  

There are many expert voices on the subject of tapas so this amateur is not going to bluff you, but of the stories that surround its history I have a favourite. According to my friend, at a point in its history Spain was undergoing a drought and food production was low. The people resorted to drinking more alcohol to make up for their lost calories, but this led to widespread malaise and drunkenness. A troubled king, seeking a solution, ordered establishments to serve simple bread and toppings over the top of alcohol glasses (the word tapas comes from the Spanish verb tapar – to cover). When eaten this would soak up some of the alcohol, reduce drunkenness and help feed the population. A cultural trend was born. 

Like martinis, there are several competing stories surrounding the historical origins of tapas. Without a time machine to verify which version is accurate the only thing you can do is believe in your favourite.

 Whatever the true origins of tapas there have been an infinite multitude of variations since its creation. Tapas now even extends to airline food, as demonstrated above.

For me, the most important concept is that the sharing of tapas is very sociable.

  It can be fairly hands-on; you might be called upon to mash your own guacamole.

 
It can also be very simple. Above is a delicious dish of peppers fried with salt. 
So what can we take from this fine Spanish contribution to human culture to try and improve the martini experience?

Snacks, bites and nibbles are a very important part of a martini so tapas can provide a wealth of inspiration for anyone looking to serve theirs with some added Latin panache.

The main point, however, is about relaxing and sharing good flavours, drinks and conversation with friends, family, lovers etc.

  

If you can get that right then everything else should fall into place – ojala.

 
But as a word of warning, don’t drink so much you end up naked on the ground in Plaza de Colón in the middle of the day, although evidently if you do you won’t be the first…

The Canadian Martini

Canada is one of Britain’s closest allies. It was only a matter of time before I wrote about the country. Have you ever heard of Five Eyes? It’s an intelligence term. I will let someone else give you the details, or you can read about it here. It’s basically an intelligence-sharing arrangement between five key countries – the United States, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Canada.

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To be brief, I am extremely pro-Canadian (moderately concerned by Quebecois secession attempts but that’s another matter) and I regularly attend celebratory events on the 1st of July.

Perhaps more importantly, I’m also a fan of maple syrup. So here is an appropriate martini recipe:

Put 1-2 teaspoons of maple syrup in a martini glass (one for dry, two for sweet).

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Pour in a measure of vermouth and mix well.

Top up with gin or vodka and stir until the drink is a consistent golden/amber colour.

Serve cold. If you’re not in Canada this is a lovely winter drink. If you are in Canada this means it’s a lovely drink all throughout the year except June, July and August. And even then it’s still quite nice.

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Packing martini glasses for international travel

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Martinis are an international drink, but transporting martini glasses in your hold luggage on an international flight can be difficult. Nonetheless, I will not go without a martini or two on my holidays so I had to work out a plan.

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Wrap each glass in bubble wrap.

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If possible, keep the original box that you bought the glasses in.

Place the wrapped glasses in the box.

Surround them in the box with soft things (clean socks for example).

Pack the box tightly and seal with Sellotape.

Pack in the middle of your luggage surrounded by firm, solid items.

Then prepare for your flight.

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My friend kindly gave me a bottle of gin (under 100ml) and a plastic see-through bag to take through airport security.

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Stock up on holiday supplies in duty free.

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No prizes for guessing what I go for.

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It’s fairly simple.

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Enjoy your flight (I ordered a gin and tonic with olives and topped up the gin with the extra bottle my friend gave me – it’s definitely a good choice if you’re a bad flier).

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When you arrive, hopefully this won’t have happened.

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You know what to do next.

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Enjoy your trip!

The Vesper Martini

The Vesper martini was invented by James Bond in Ian Fleming’s classic novel Casino Royale.
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He named it after the character Vesper Lynd, played by Eva Green in the 2006 film version of the book.

The original recipe is as follows:

3 measures of gin
1 measure of vodka
Half a measure of Kina Lillet

Shake with ice then strain into a glass and serve with a thin slice of lemon peel.
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However, Kina Lillet is nearly impossible to acquire today without a time machine, so one must improvise with Lillet blanc, to which you could also add a dash of angostura bitters once the drink has been poured.

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Lillet blanc is a French aperitif ‘tonic’ wine, blended with citrus liqueurs and Cinchona bark. The citrus liqueurs include Mediterranean limes and oranges from countries such as Spain and Morocco, while Cinchona (which contains quinine) comes from Peru. Combine this with Russian or Polish vodka, British gin, perhaps some Sicilian olives, Middle Eastern pistachio nuts, Bombay mix and say, some ‘izakaya’ style snacks from Japan (see here for more ideas) and you’ve got yourself a perfect international fait accompli, synonymous with Britain’s favourite spy, played here by Daniel Craig:

You can’t beat a classic.

Sri Lankan bites

When I was based in Sri Lanka, a country where they know how to work hard and drink harder, it was almost essential that alcohol was served with food. The Sinhalese actually use the word ‘bites’ to describe this. It was during my time in this fascinating, beautiful but complex country that the importance of serving tasty nibbles with your drink was strongly instilled in me. The only time I drank without food in the country was swigging from a shared bottle of arrack in the back of a jeep as we were driven home after a hard day’s work.

When in the Sri Lankan household, and I must describe this as sexist, the men would usually drink while the women would slave in the kitchen to make accompanying bites for the men to consume. These included very simple dishes such as sliced omelette, fried onions with pepper or even a ‘salad’ I once asked for which contained nothing more than sliced raw chillies. Combined with a good slug of arrack it certainly gave a heady kick.

More complex accompanying dishes tended to be more common at special occasions or more intimate gatherings. Sri Lanka’s famous devilled dishes (a very spicy but sweet recipe that you could apply to practically anything) were always a tasty treat, particularly prawns or wild boar, but squid, cuttle fish, quorn-type food and even road-kill were all served.

In general in Sri Lanka, it seemed that the stronger your drink, the spicier the accompanying bite should be. With a martini, the drink is more delicate on the palate, although it is certainly no less alcoholic. As such, I would recommend that the accompanying bites be less spicy. Perhaps you could save your spicy food cravings for the post-martini dinner.

I didn’t find many Sri Lankans who actually drank gin, but my impression was that it was the tonic water in a gin and tonic that many of them didn’t like. Some of them referred to it tasting like the anti-malarial medicine they had to take as a child. Alas when I lived in Sri Lanka I hadn’t been converted to the way of the martini, but when I go back I intend to convert my friends to my new martini lifestyle.

While once I drank gin tonics on a regular basis, I now regard them as somewhat or an occasional soft drink. Martinis are a stronger, but no less refreshing and indeed beautiful, intoxicating way to end a hot day. I think the Sri Lankans would like the punch that they pack.

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The Polish influence

I look forward to Poland’s rise on the world stage. I’m not much of a vodka drinker, but when I do drink vodka, Polish is my favourite. When someone says “flavoured vodka” they are either referring to chemical trashy flavours such as strawberry or chocolate, or they are talking about the real deal: the traditional Polish flavours. I’m somewhat of a traditionalist, but if you offered me a pineapple flavour vodka from a factory or a… Let’s say oak flavoured vodka from Poland, there is no contest in my mind. The classic, traditional flavours win hands down. The Poles are also excellent at nibbles to accompany drink. Pickled herring, pickled cucumber… Perfect. I love pierogi, but I think they might be a bit heavy to serve with a martini. Have them later!

For the purposes of martini and of this blog, please allow me to present two Polish themes. The first is the humble gherkin as an accompaniment. I slice them and serve them as a nice, natural counter-balance to olives. Green, crunchy and sharp, they just go well in my opinion.

The second theme is what I call the “mini martini”. It is prepared in the same way as a standard martini, but in a shot glass and garnished with only a thin sliver of lemon peel.

A shot glass you say? Yes some people might be appalled at this, but as I said, I am a traditionalist so rest assured, this is not some gimmicky concoction. It is an idea inspired by the traditions or Poland, a land where alcohol is respected and a great deal of care and attention goes in to making a good drink.

The mini-martini is ideal for guests who would like to try a martini but who don’t want to drink a lot. It is inspired by the frozen glasses used in Bar Polskie, a favourite little place of mine near Holborn tube station in Central London. It’s tucked away down an olde-worlde alley but it’s worth it!

I keep tall shot glasses in the freezer. When serving, rub the lemon peel inside the glass then trim it with a knife so that it’s just a thin sliver. Pour in the vermouth then the gin or vodka to make the martini itself. Zubrowka vodka works very well in a Polish-themed martini although I would be tempted not to mix such a drink with vermouth. I would just drink it neat, especially if it’s in a small quantity such as in a shot glass. Also it goes without saying that the alcohol used should be stored in the freezer in advance of serving.

I garnish the lemon peel sliver either by dropping it into the drink, or by dipping it in the alcohol then using the wetness to stick it to the outside of the glass.

Finally, I admire the tradition of Polish storytelling and speeches to accompany a drink. Similarly when drinking a martini you want to be stimulated and mentally engaged in something intense and entertaining. Good banter or a good story is essential so make sure you prep this in advance!

Nazdroviye!

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