Old Fashioned

I never used to be much of a fan of the cocktail, equating them all with “screwdrivers” in my head – booze and some kind of mixer that had ideas above its station. However, over time I started to realise that there was a bit more to it than that, all thanks to one drink – The Old Fashioned. It was the first cocktail that I actually thought through and decided made sense, and while I’d like to be able to claim that I got it from an aged tome on cocktail making that had been passed through the hands of my family it was actually out of the back of one of Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks. It was either written or inspired by Dick Bradsell, who I have heard mentioned many times alongside great cocktail making, so that at least makes me feel slightly better.

Here’s a video of my chubby hands making one:

This is just the most simple version of the drink that I’ve heard of – bitters, sugar syrup, booze, stir with ice. The ice dilutes the booze and the sugar and angostura provide a spicy sweetness to fill in the gap that the watering down process makes. I’ve tried it with various different spirits over the years, but generally stick with whiskey and golden rum – my standard version of this is with Mount Gay rum, although I’m using Buffalo Trace whiskey here (as I had some in the house). After years of having this as the only cocktail that I would drink, and only at home, I ended up in Sosho Match for a friend’s birthday and started chatting with the barman about them – 2 hours later my mate was trashed on Hong Kong Phooey Reloadeds and I was a convert to the way of the cocktail – I had a Manhattan and a Martini in front of me and I wanted to know more.

I’m still quite conservative with my cocktail drinking, sticking to predominantly booze based drinks (such as the aforementioned Manhattans and Martinis, which are really just variations on a theme), but am keen to learn more. My occasional accidental interaction with the staff at cocktail bars (I’m looking at you Match Bar West End – who knew that telling me about Sazeracs could lead to me getting a night bus home on a Sunday..?) continues to aid in this pursuit.

Unfortunately, despite being such a simple drink, and probably in part due to it being so, there are occasional bar tenders who feel the need to spice it up a bit. The addition of an orange peel garnish flamed over the glass is one thing, smashing up some fruit in the glass before mixing is another, but when my drink turns up with a distinctly pinky tone and a shifty looking waiter then finding out that the ‘House Old Fashioned’ includes ‘sweet pomegranate’ make me hang my head. We call that ruining whiskey with grenadine in my house…

Anyways: simple base drink, easy to add things to (orange and cherry seem to the be popular choices, along with tweaking the type of bitters) and good for most sweet-ish booze you have hanging around. My favourite and the start of my cocktail conversion.

Buffalo Trace Straight Kentucky Bourbon
Bottled at 45%. Chill filtered…
Wide availability (I got mine from lovely Mr Waitrose)

I rather like Buffalo Trace. Mainly because it has a buffalo on the bottle, and because they make the finest whiskey in the world (George T Stagg) but also because I quite like the straight bourbon. It takes ice well, which is how I drink my bourbon, unlike JD (which has a rather hollow taste once the boozey hit has been taken away) and Jim Beam (the boozey hit hides the pain of the actual whiskey flavour), and it’s also about the same price as those two supermarket standards. It’s a bit rough for making Manhattans, in my opinion, and probably a bit too rough for making Old Fashioneds, but it’s a good sipping whiskey and I normally have a bottle in my cupboard.

Music and a Peacock

Technology has inexorably moved on since the last time I took the time to run my cd collection through a computer, and with my recent purchase of a shiny new machine I decided that the time has come to start the CD ripping dance again. I’m a couple of weeks into the rather mammoth task and have hit on a pile of singles, something that I generally avoid these days (what with my limited storage space due to having too many CD singles…), and a couple popped up as relevant.

I’ll skip over the currently processing disc, Oasis’s Cigarettes and Alcohol (the opening half of my first band’s first set, accompanied by The Rolling Stones’ Brown Sugar), and proceed directly to the slightly more random track – Last of the Big Time Drinkers, by Stereophonics. There was once a time when Kelly Jones didn’t wear a silly hat on stage and the band didn’t strut quite so much, and back then they had a fantastically raw sound with a stage presence that suggested that bigger things were just down the road. The song doesn’t really glorify drinking, more point out the glorious lifestyle of the late night drinker who has pride in his work, but fewer brain cells after the weekend is done. It’s also rather a good tune. The live version on my More Life in a Tramps Vest EP is a top performance, but all I could find online was a bunch of covers and a Glastonbury performance from when hats started appearing. It’s still a good’un though:

Accompanied (responsibly) by:
Arran – The Peacock
Single Malt Scotch Whisky
12 years old (distilled 1996, bottled 2009)
1 of 6000 bottles
Limited availability (I got mine from Royal Mile Whiskies in London)

A fairly light dram compared to some of the more fruitcakey whiskies coming from their SMWS bottlings, but not overly delicate. Icing sugar and fruit to start followed by honey, vanilla and a hint of banana on the finish. There’s also a bit of the malty saltiness that I enjoy in their single casks, although it’s nicely rolled in with the rest of the flavours. A more refined version of their regular 10yr old and worth a try.

Compass Box Hedonism

Compass Box HedonismFor my first proper post I thought I’d start out as I probably will be going on – with a whisky.

Compass Box are a whisky company known for their blending skills. Blends have got a bit of a bad name in recent times, but until the late 70s the concept of single malt whisky was fairly alien to most people. The standard blend that you see hanging from an optic is a load of cheaper grain whisky doctored with some single malts to create a hopefully tasty whisky. While many single malt fans turn their noses up at them there are a few good’uns, but Compass Box’s fare is something quite different. John Glaser, the man behind the blending, is known for his skill at bringing together whiskies to make rather special bottles and I’ve been meaning to pick up one for a while.

They change the available whiskies quite often, making the blends in small batches, but Hedonism is a name that has recurred pretty much constantly since the first bottling. Each batch is different, but as far as I can tell working towards a similar idea. There is normally a conceit behind each whisky family that they put out and Hedonism is no different – it’s made of grain whisky.

Grain is normally considered the poor cousin to the malt whisky that most people drink, mainly used for blending, but, as I’ve discovered recently through the Scotch Malt Whisky Society‘s single grain bottlings, it is not always the case. One of my introductions to non-blended whiskies was with grain when I unknowingly picked up a bottle of Black Barrel as I wandered through duty free shortly after entering the world of work and disposable income – I rather liked it and was quite shocked to find that it was made of ‘inferior’ materials.

According to the website Hedonism is made up of between 8 and 15 different grain whiskies, generally matured for over 20 years, and this definitely shows up in the glass, albeit with a delicate flavour. Colour-wise it’s quite light and yellow, contrasting from my initial preconceptions that it would be a dark and sticky dram. On the nose it’s quite poky, with a hint of the back of the chem-lab, with pear drops and a hefty slug of alcohol. Without water it’s quite strong, feeling more than its bottled strength of 43% and tastes quite different to a regular malt – it’s sweet but with a lingering bitterness and a light rubbery taste creeping around the sides of the tongue. A drop of water definitely helps it in my opinion, knocking off some of the burn and opening up the sweetness into its component parts, but emphasising the quite sour and bitter aftertaste – icing sugar fading to fisherman’s friends, with a hint of woodiness. I didn’t get much of the toffee promised on the website, but such is the problem of small batch bottlings – sometimes you get one that is at the extreme end of the flavour range.

All in all this isn’t really a whisky for me – it’s quite delicately flavoured despite its alcoholic kick, missing out on the big mouth feel that I normally go for, and the finish is definitely on the bitter side for my liking, which the lighter whiskies I enjoy don’t tend to. It’s interesting and I can see similarities between it and the other grains I’ve tried over the years, but in the end they chose the flavours that I’m not all that keen on. If you’re a big fan of rubbery whiskies and are looking for something more delicate then this might be something to look at, although be wary that each bottle you find will probably taste different.

Update: This one’s been wearing at me for a while, as I’ve changed my mind a number of times – I don’t quite agree with my final thoughts any more. Firstly, I’ve tried Hedonism in a few other places now and it’s always been the same, the differing batches isn’t something that I’ve heard from the rather solid production line of Compass Box, however it seems my tastes are not – from day to day my opinion on the whisky changes, with the flavours I don’t like one day being my favourite the next. It’s still not one that is definitely for me all the time, although the Hedonism Maximus is definitely something I need to try more often, but when I’m in the mood it’s really very nice.

Compass Box Hedonism
Blended scottish grain whisky
No age statement (generally over 20 years)
Bottled at 43%
Widely available – I got mine in Waitrose.

Blaggers’ Banquet – The Drinks

Blaggers' Banquet

I’ve already written about the inaugural Blaggers’ Banquet over on my other blog, but as I was a barman I thought I’d post something here about the cocktails we banged out during the evening.

Firstly, due to the donation of a case of Sipsmith Vodka and Gin, we acquired a bottle of vermouth (later complimented by the bottle on the bar at Hawksmoor when we ran out), some lemons and olives, and made Martinis. All the bar staff had, as is tradition, a different idea of what made a good Martini, and after some customer interaction most people seemed to slide under the table, pleased.

Gin/Vodka and tonic doesn’t really count as cocktails in my head (along with ‘Screwdrivers’ – just because you give it a fancy name doesn’t jazz up the fact that it’s vodka and orange) but as we were using Fever Tree tonic they were slightly different to normal. I’m a big fan of tonic water – I’ve got 3 litres of it in the fridge at the moment, the only carbonated drink therein, and I drink it on its own, untouched by alcoholic beverage. When I’m not drinking booze when out, tonic or orange and tonic is my drink of choice, and for years the only one I’ve been able to drink is Schweppes. I think it must be baked bean syndrome – if it’s not Heinz then they don’t taste right – as while I rather liked Fever Tree it wasn’t Right. Schweppes made be full of aspartame (a substance that makes me feel ill in any other drink than tonic or, randomly, Lilt Zero) but it has a certain bite to it that was softened out in the Fever Tree tonic, relegating it to a worthy second place in my heathen brain. It did make an excellent gin and tonic though, especially when combined with my OCD wiping of lime on the glass and other ritualistic G&T construction. A special thanks goes to @degs123, who later in the evening announced to all and sundry that I made the best gin and tonic in the world. Even when we ran out of gin and switched over to vodka…

Next up were our three cocktails:


Picture by Mark of FoodByMark

Cornish ‘Champagne’ Cocktail

What:
1 cube sugar
1 teaspoon of quince liqueur
1 glass of Chapel Down sparkling british wine

How:
Combine in the order above. Serve. Simple…

I didn’t get a chance to try one of these, but having tasted the ingredients separately (including popping a sugar cube) I’m suspecting they combined together to form a very sweet Kir Royale. I don’t really drink fizzy wine (formerly due to it giving me headaches, these days due to me being an unappreciative heathen who it’s wasted on) but the few people who braved the cornishness seemed pleased.

Black Velvet

What:
1/2 a glass of Chapel Down sparkling British wine
1/2 a glass of Curious Brew Admiral Porter

How:
Combine, trying not to make it explode everywhere. Wine then porter should help, if the porter’s cold, but it generally exploded everywhere.

A take on the Guinness and champagne black velvet and another I didn’t get a chance to try. I did manage to blag a few bottles of the porter on the way out and it was a rather nice dark malty porter that I think would have gone well with the wine. However, it was very lively and if it’s not very chilled then there is distinct potential for porter detonation, as happened to me as I cracked a bottle on the way home after the banquet.


Photo by Carmen Valino

Blagger-tini

What:
2 shots Chegworth Valley Apple and Raspberry juice
2 shots vodka
1 shot Galliano Balsamico
Lemon wedge and basil to garnish

How:
Put ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake. Strain into a champagne coupe (or whatever vaguely fancy glass you can find in the fridge of the nice bar who are hosting you), garnish with basil and a lemon slice.

Invented just before the doors opened by Mel Seasons, this was the success of the night, polishing off the whole bottle of Galliano Balsamico (which was weird but nice and blagged by Huw Gott, Hawksmoor bossman. There may be some more up for grabs in the auctions soon…) and most of the vodka. It took several iterations to iron out the alcoholic punch to the face (ably assisted by official drink guinea pig and 1/2 of the music for the night, Julian of Georgia Wonder) and in the end it was an interestingly sweet and savoury drink, nicely complimented by the flavours of the garnish.

Anyways, the Blaggers’ Banquet fund raising machine continues, adding to the nice pot already netted for Action Against Hunger, with a set of eBay auctions for some more blagged stuff. There may be some booze appearing on there, depending on eBay rules and whether we had anything auctionable left, but as of now there’s tea at the Ritz, a visit from a chocolate van and a REALLY BIG PIE amongst other things. Bid on the shiny, you know you want to.

The bar team were me, Mel Seasons, Dan, Ben Bush, Tim Hayward and Elly

Obligatory Introduction

Hello. My name is Billy and I like booze.

Inspired by a stint as a barman for the inaugural Blaggers’ Banquet I thought I’d follow the example of my fellow blaggers and start writing about something more specific than ‘the random stuff what I do’. I’m still doing that over on my other blog, but this is a space for me to expound, probably at great length, on my love for the boozes of this world.

Other than Archers and Malibu I am yet to discover an alcoholic beverage that I haven’t found at least passable, but there is still a whole world of interesting drinks out there for me to try. This will hopefully be a description of my adventures.