Tovuz Azeri Original Whisky Aged 10 Years

Tovuz Baltiya

In a dance as old as time, as Morgan Freeman didn’t say, if you have a group of people pretty much anywhere in the world, then they will make booze. If they have too much booze to drink before it goes bad, then human ingenuity will inevitably lead to spirits. My latest evidence of this is Tovuz Azeri Original Whisky 10 year old, a product of Azerbaijan.

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The Daiquiri

The Daiquiri has always been a cocktail I’ve avoided. In my minds eye it came served in a hurricane glass, stacked with crushed ice, fruit juice and more garnish than a large fruit cocktail should aspire to. At the back of mind there was a niggling sensation that I was getting it wrong. Hemingway drank these, and he’d have jammed a fruity umbrella clad drink sidewise up the arse of the bartender who offered it to him, while shooting a nearby wild animal with a rifle and necking a bottle of champagne. I confess that I also know little of Hemingway, but my imaginary version of him is probably more impressive than the real man.

One trip to Wikipedia later…

Nope, pretty accurate.

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Choosing Bourne & Hollingsworth’s pouring rum with the London Cocktail Society

One of the continuing themes of this blog is a sentence at the start vaguely conforming to a pattern of ‘One of the boozes I don’t know well is X and it was lovely when Y asked me along to try some for REASON Z’. So, assume that I’ve done that again with X=light rum, Y=The London Cocktail Society and REASON Z is basement bar Bourne & Hollingsworth choosing their house pouring rum, and we can then move on from this opening paragraph.

Despite having heard a bit about it over the last year or so I’d still not made it over to Bourne & Hollingsworth and wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. The reviews seem rather polarised, with complaints about it getting packed leading to long waits at the bar (justified – it’s a small room with a small bar, with most of the space taken up by an open area for people to mill around in front of the bar) and that they charge too much for drinks which generally are distinguished by being served in teacups (unjustified – if you are going to a decent cocktail bar in London and are complaining about paying £7.50 for a cocktail no matter what type of receptacle it’s served in then you are probably in the wrong kind of bar. Bourne & Hollingsworth’s drinks quality certainly push it into the £7 a go bracket of London cocktail bars). It’s small and a great place, I suspect, on weekdays, but based on a Saturday night I can see it quickly turning into my idea of packed bar hell. But then again, I do hate people…

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Rum Tasting with Havana Club at The Whisky Exchange

One nice thing about my new job is that as we hold tastings at our Vinopolis shop there are occasionally a few spots for us head office lot to go and visit. Extrapolating that a bit found me on a tube train at the end of my second day at TWE heading towards London Bridge and a rum tasting with Meimi Sanchez, UK brand ambassador for Havana Club. Meimi was born in Cuba, but due to a stint of working in Scotland, including some time at the rather excellent Bramble (which I still haven’t visited…), currently has a Scots accent, which caused a little bit of confusion at first.

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Hot Buttered Rum

Having this blog sometimes backfires – people often think I know more about the boozes than I do. However, sometimes those backfirings have the happy side effect of a) making me realise that I do know more about drinks than I thought and b) reminding me of things that I need to play around with again. This happened the other day when Anna pimped me out to one of her twitter followers as someone who might know some good hot toddy recipes. Not wanting to disappoint I pointed her at my post on the LCS visit to Callooh Callay, where there was an excellent hot gin punch, but also remembered that I’d once dabbled in making hot buttered rum and suggested that as well. I then realised that my quickly tweeted recipe (make a paste of rum, sugar and butter, add hot water, stir) might not necessarily be the best way to do things and decided to do a little research.

Other than hearing it mentioned in adaptations of Dickens and other period pieces on the TV, I first encountered real life hot buttered rum at a Christmas party about 10 years ago. Every year I’d turn up on a Friday night and help my friend Neil prepare the increasingly impressive feast that became his yearly Christmas dinner. Served on the Saturday we’d start on the previous night, constructing a pile of desserts, several turkeys, stacks of veg and a yearly escalating number of sausages wrapped in bacon. We were joined by a number of other assistants that night, including booze buddy Adam who was in charge of drinks making to keep us lubricated as we prepared. He had decided that buttered rum was the way to go and without the safety net of a recipe combined butter, sugar and rum in cups which he and I promptly drank. Unfortunately the proportions were not quite as they might have been and I ended up sleeping on the floor of the kitchen (I think, the memories are predictably hazy) and cooking the next day was not as pleasant as it otherwise might have been.

Hot drinks containing booze have never really fallen out of fashion, popping up every year around Christmas without fail. The smell of mulled wine is ingrained into public consciousness as part of the season and the image of people standing in the snow with steaming cups of something to warm the cockles appears in the standard imagery. It makes sense to combine the warming effect of alcohol with actual warm drinks when the weather turns and the traditions of ‘hot toddies’ go back years, although their use as a cure-all for winter illnesses isn’t all that recommended these days. In medieval times, when the drinking of brewed drinks was preferred due to the potential of water contamination, hot spiced beers, ciders and wines (the foundations of mulling) were regularly served, with heating by the plunging a red hot poker into the drink living on until the times that fireplaces fell out of fashion in drinking houses.

As ever with older drinks there isn’t any particular set recipe and a quick search on the web led to me 5 or 6 different variations, but the core ingredients are the same – butter, brown sugar, rum and spices. Some involve cooking a mix of all the ingredients with water for hours to create a caramelised base to add rum to, some applaud the red hot poker method of heating and one intriguing looking one uses ice cream, but mine is rather simple and easy to make.

Hot Buttered Rum

Per cup:

  • 50ml dark rum (25 ml will work fine if you don’t want quite the hit of booze)
  • 2 tsp butter (I used unsalted, but lightly salted should be fine)
  • 1 tsp brown sugar (I used some quite sticky demerara – the darker the better)
  • pinch of allspice (and whatever other ‘Christmassy’ spices you like)
  • grated nutmeg and a cinnamon stick to garnish

Mix together the butter, sugar and allspice (as well as any other spices you want – cloves, extra cinnamon or whatever) into a paste – you can keep this in the fridge until someone wants a drink. Put the mix into a mug with the rum (I used some rather tasty Gosling’s Black Seal Rum, found at the back of the cupboard where it was left by my lovely landlord) and top up with boiling water. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and garnish with a grate of nutmeg. Instead of sprinkling some cinnamon either on top or into the mix I served it with a cinnamon stick as a stirrer, which seems to work nicely, imparting a hint of cinnamon and giving you something to mix the drink around with.

It’s really quite tasty – the spices and rich rummy sweetness rolling off the top with the steam of the hot water are, to me, the distilled scent of Christmas. To taste it is rich, with the fruitiness working with the butter to make something that’s akin to liquid Christmas cake and when you hit the bottom of the cup you can suck on the cocktail soaked cinnamon stick for a spicy reminder of what you’ve just finished. As the drink sits it will settle out into a buttery head (which isn’t particularly oily, having more the consistency of coffee foam) and rich sugary rummy liquid, and I rather like drinking it like this. However having a swizzly stick allows some mixing to make a more emulsified tipple with a consistency a bit like tea with creamy milk.

I suspect I’ll do some more experimentation with this over the season. Getting the texture of the drink right by making sure that the butter and liquids emulsify nicely is my first goal and getting some more caramel flavours in by cooking the butter and sugar mix before use sounds like a good plan. But mostly the red hot poker approach is something that I will have a go at as soon as I’m somewhere where the closest I have to an open fire is better than an out of fuel cigarette lighter…

Gosling’s Black Seal Rum
Dark Bermudan rum. 40%. ~£20 from Master of Malt

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.