A Harris Gin Martini

On the day that one of the worst things ever associated with the Hebrides is inaugurated as president of the United States of America, I thought I would highlight one of the loveliest things to arise from this part of the world.

Harris Gin is so easy for me to blog about. Introduced to me by my generous cousin from Stornoway, it’s exceptional in many ways. The smooth, mellow cleanliness of the finish, the understated yet distinctive botanicals and its striking branding make it a real breakout character in the myriad of today’s craft gin explosion.

From a martini perspective it is distinctive enough to warrant a different preparation technique to other gins.

The first impression you have of this gin is its distinctive glassware. I normally prefer my bottles plain, simple and functional, but in a very competitive market the evocative watery swirls of the Harris bottle stand out well from the competition.

Made to order in Europe, they actually suffered a (non-Brexit-related) shortage of the bottles in 2016 which almost sparked panic but otherwise hopefully only made the heart grow fonder of this unique drink. I’m told that you can take your empty bottles back to the distillery and have them refilled at a reduced tat. What a wonderful idea – and great for the local population.

The company emphasises it’s community involvement, something important to me, many islanders, and increasingly the discerning consumers of the world who want to purchase sustainable, considerately-made products. I’ve also heard that their community gin-tasting events can be quite a night…

In terms of the taste, I usually say that I prefer my martinis to lead with juniper, followed by mellow citrus notes. Harris gin captures this perfectly, but with the unusual use of bitter orange, lime and grapefruit rather than the more traditional lemon. This subtle variation means that it is not my standard gin of choice.

Instead, it is an exotic alternative for when you want something excellent, and slightly different from the norm. It is for special occasions and esteemed guests, not just any old Friday.

Notably, one of the main botanicals is sugar kelp, harvested in Hebridean waters so as to impart a soft and clean oceanic umami.

The distillers recommend serving it on ice with a little sugar kelp aromatic water, although it can also be served with a slice of grapefruit or lime.

For a martini, the gin should be stored in the freezer for several hours.

I would recommend serving it dry, even if you normally like your martinis medium or sweet. The gin is smooth enough and has very little fire so you don’t need much vermouth to calm it down.

Naturally it should be stirred in the glass and never shaken. You don’t want the drink agitated or – heaven forbid – watered down.

Glass, gin and drink should be chilled and still, with a minimal garnish only. Olives and citrus peel could crowd out the gin’s delicate flavours.

Indeed you could serve it zen-like and sans-garnish. The only thing garnishing the martini above is the ice stalactite which formed on the glass when it was in the freezer. You don’t want to mask the botanicals which are well-preserved and easily appreciated with the drink’s smooth finish.

A dash of the sugar kelt aromatic water might be a nice addition to the martini, although I haven’t tried it yet. Consider it added to my to-do list.

As an alternative garnish to evoke the gin’s coastal botanicals you could serve it with a sliver of kelp.

If you can’t find your own on the beach (to thoroughly rinse, lightly boil then cut) you can buy konbu kelp from an Asian supermarket.

Wipe a sheet with a damp cloth then soak it for an hour or two.

Cut it into garnish-sized pieces, then serve as a sliver or rolled on a toothpick.

This should evoke the sea, its fresh produce and island life.

Apparently Hebidean children used to chew raw kelp as a snack. These were the days before chocolate and haribo but I can assure you it would have been an excellent source of iodine and other nutrients, even in he dark winter months.

Naturally a Harris martini would work well paired with seafood. The cold, bountiful waters of a North Atlantic bathed in the Gulf Stream provide the Hebrides with some of the best seafood in the world.

If you’re in the islands, a friend or relative in the fishing industry must always be rewarded for providing fruit-du-mer in a plastic bag as is the norm. A healthy round or two of martinis could work as payment, for example. Deprived mainlanders will have to make do with a fish mongers.

A Hume Country Clothing image.

Harris, home of Harris tweed (illustrated above), has firmly established itself as a brand associated with good quality. This will only be enhanced by the gin, which I am told has secured the sort of funding which should ensure its success and much-earned endurance in the long term.

Having only visited the island when I was below legal drinking age I have not had a chance to sample it’s alcoholic delights in-situ, but with beautiful beaches and rapturous sunsets I think it’s time for a revisit.

You can find out more about the gin here. They deliver all over the world.


The Mermaid Inn, NYC 4.5/5

This is one of my favourite places in the world.

Oyster happy hour is a must! 

I’ve previously mentioned how well seafood goes with a martini, especially the simplistically delicate oyster, so a bar/restaurant that specialises in briny goodness was always going to get me excited.


However, I’ve got to focus on the martini and not get too ahead of myself.

Using my martini rating scale I award this bar and restaurant very high points: 4.5 out of 5.

I ordered a hot and dirty martini (vodka, olive brine, Tabasco sauce with a crunchy, fresh and bright red peppadew garnish). It was ice cold, salty and fiery – a perfect tongue-tantalising aperitif.

The service was fast, attentive and the staff were passionate about the food and drinks.

The setting was intimate, clean and unpretentious.

And finally, the food is fantastic with a wide variety of seasonal oysters as well as a range of sustainably sourced seafood. It’s ideal for a light bite or a more substantial meal.

The only thing I would recommend to the Mermaid Inn is that the management make more of their martinis on the menu. The restaurant does them so well I think they should promote them more prominently. I really can’t fault them in any other way.

Basically to sum up my experience, If I died suddenly and my life flashed before my eyes I hope I would linger here for just a little while en route to the next level. And I hope the next level has oyster happy hour too.


Don’t forget to download their useful app Oysterpedia

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier… Drunk

Who would serve a jug or pitcher of martini at a party?

Oh wait, only Kim Philby, one of Britain’s most notorious traitors.

I’ve just read a book entitled “a spy among friends” by Ben MacIntyre. It was the first book I’ve read in a long time that I struggled to put down. It documents the story of Harold ‘Kim’ Philby as he worked his way into the inner sanctums of British intelligence.

He was considered trustworthy for decades because he was seen as a part of the British ‘establishment’ (he came from a reputable family, went to public school, and attended Cambridge University). 

In stark contrast, however, he was a member of the infamous Cambridge Spy Network who wreaked untold damage on Western Cold War activities.


Philby was recruited by Soviet agents shortly after he graduated and provided Moscow with extensive British and American secrets for many years. By the time he defected to the USSR in the 1960s it is estimated that hundreds, if not thousands of people had died because of his actions.

The pressures of intelligence work evidently led to heavy drinking amongst most agents (this might continue today – I am not fully aware, although I’ve been told that consumption is a lot lower than it used to be).

The pressures of being a mole in this already stressful environment evidently took a particularly high toll on Philby – as well as his long-suffering family: his mother and second wife both died alcoholics while he himself was regularly seen in an unconscious state of inebriation. 

Despite his own alcohol intake, however, he managed to survive to the age of 76. In the end, he died in Moscow in 1988, shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union, ending the ideological regime he had believed in so steadfastly; the way of governance he betrayed so much for.

While reading about his eventful life I noticed the reappearance of martinis on several occasions and made a note of each one. Sir Ian Fleming pops up in the stories here and there, of course famous for his creation of martini fan James Bond.

A personal favourite was the story involving the cocktail bar in World War Two Istanbul. The lady who ran the bar mixed up “volcanic martinis” for her British officer clientele, then sat back and listened while they drunkenly spilled our state secrets for her to pass on to the Nazis. In vino veritas indeed, or should that be in martinis veritas?

The noteworthy ‘pitchers’ of martini were recorded at cocktail and dinner parties held at the Philby household in Washington DC. Intense drunkenness ensued with sometimes shocking social results.

Such parties involved an even greater level of risk when Philby allowed for the mixing of British agents, American agents and British spies working for the Soviets. I think it’s a wonder he got away with being a spy for so long without letting slip during one of his drunken binges. Evidently his lips were sealed even when he was at his most intoxicated. Stalin would have been impressed.

During later cocktail parties at his home in Beirut he taught his young son how to mix up a “fierce” martini for the guests. Start ’em young I say. I was taught how to pour G&Ts and whiskies with water for the family when I was well below drinking age so I don’t think it’s the worst thing to happen. Indeed I enjoyed being allowed to socialise with the adults at that age. It was a privilege for the well-behaved.

Ultimately though, Kim Philby’s life appears to have been one of loneliness and an ultimate lack of fulfilment. No-one ever truly knew him. While sexually intimate with several women, he was never psychologically intimate enough with anyone to truly bond or connect with them.

While I use martinis to bond with others, he used them to lull his potential foes and numb the pains of his own personal transgressions.

In the end he died with few, if any friends. He had betrayed most of them for an ideology soon to fall apart. What a terrible use of martinis.

I’ll tell you what isn’t a waste though: this book! 

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.