Over the years I’ve acquired a fair few bottles of random booze – many of my own production. Nice to drink in themselves, their complex or strong flavours can sometimes be hard to balance in a cocktail. Which is why I was so pleased when Cassis Bistro invited me to their Challenge the Barman night – ie, a group of drink writers bring along whatever is lurking in the back of their booze cabinet that they don’t know how to use and the barman invents a cocktail with said ingredient.
My only difficulty was in choosing what to bring from the myriad of infusions and homebrews I’ve collated, so I ended up bringing my three latest productions: Danish style salt liquorice vodka, Elderberry liqueur and Raspberry vinegar. Other guests brought Aged Pisco, Ouzo, Hierbas (a herb liqueur from Mallorca) and, pause for effect, Crab Cachaca. Quite a challenge but head barman Pavel Kabina rose pretty damn magnificently to the occasion as the recipes below show.
Although Cassis operates primarily as a bistro, you can pop in for drinks at the stand-alone bar. And given their ever-changing menu, favouring of fresh herbs and infusions and skilled bar staff, I’d say that might not be a bad idea – especially given the choice in this neck of the woods. The food was pretty top-notch too.
30 ml Salt liquorice vodka (Salmiakk)
30 ml Dewars whisky
20 ml cranberry juice
10 ml blackberry puree
10 ml lime juice
7 ml maple syrup
Shake all ingredients and pour into an old-fashioned glass with ice cubes. Add garnish of lemon peel and blackberries.
Verdict: Complex and rich. Once I got Pavel to add a little more of the vodka (to make the recipe as above) this was by far my favourite drink of the night.
Jasmine Pisco Martini
This recipe gives an Oriental twist to the traditional Pisco Sour.
40 ml aged Pisco
25 ml Domaine de Canton
20 ml honey
15 ml lemon
Dash of hot water
Tsp jasmine tea
Shake with ice and pour into a martini glass.
Verdict: I’m not that keen on Pisco as its usually a little bland but the ageing gave it a lot more character – just enough to stand up to the other flavours in this elegant drink. However I’m also not that into elegance, so a little fresh ginger juice might give a little needed (for my taste) kick.
I just dont give a crab
40 ml Crab Cachaca
25 ml lemon
15 ml honey
10 ml Creme de Myrtle
3 ml raspberry vinegar (you need a thick balsamic style vinegar for this)
Muddle blueberries then add the rest of ingredients and shake with ice. Pour into an old-fashioned glass of crushed ice and add mint and blueberries. Drink if you dare.
Verdict: “Hmm, that’s quite nice, not as bad as I was expecting.. hmm, wait a minute….hold on.. oh yeah. There’s the crab”. Quite decent attempt to mask the crab but the overall opinion was bringing out the savoury notes of crab and not the sweet might have been a better move – for instance in a Bloody Mary, or less obviously in a Cucumber Martini.
40 ml Gentleman’s Jack
25 ml Hierbas
25 ml Elderberry liqueur
7 ml Vanilla syrup
7 ml lime juice
Shake and pour into a martini glass.
Verdict: My second favourite drink – the Hierbas provided some vegetal tastes that went well with the musty fruitiness of the elderberries. Complex yet balanced and dangerously easy to drink.
25 ml Captain Morgan rum
25 ml Zeus Ouzo
25 ml cranberry juice
2 tsp cranberry jelly
Shake and pour into a martini glass. Garnish with rose petals and a blackberry.
Verdict: Valiant effort from Pavel but this drink ultimately demonstrated that ouzo is essentially diabolical stuff. If it has to be drunk at all “t’were well it were done quickly” and not sipped leisurely in a cocktail.
90 ml Champagne
20 ml Rhubarb and Grapefruit liqueur
15 ml Pama (pomegranate liqueur)
Pour the liqueurs into a flute and top with champagne.
Verdict: Sweet, simple and prettty. its unsurprising this easy-drinking number was voted overall favourite of the night. A little light relief for our palates after being stomped on by the preceding three drinks.