As you might imagine, the world of the London-based cocktail aficionado includes much lounging around and leisurely sipping of intoxicating libations. But it also offers many opportunities to find out about the history and future trends of mixed drinks, to taste new brands and generally expand your knowledge on the art of civilised inebriation.
Last week was rammed with such opportunities from Prohibition-influenced gatherings to seminars on the history of punch. As it was such a good example of what’s on offer, I hereby present my diary from the week:
Saturday: The Candlelight Club
Held in a secret location, this monthly night is strictly for the dashing and the debonair. And those that like to watch such people and fantasise what it would be like to be one…
This month’s soiree was sponsored by La Clandestine and Buttefly absinthe. Alongside a special, absinthe-laced cocktail menu we were entertained by live jazz from the Dixie Ticklers, mind control magic and a DJ spinning shellac for the beautifully dressed punters to swing to. Actually the crowd were very friendly and all levels of dance skill were exhibited – nothing too intimidating here.
Of the short but interesting cocktail list not every drink was to my taste, though it was exciting to finally try a Death in the Afternoon (Absinthe and Champagne). However the stand-out drink was the Absentee (SW4 Gin, Clandestine Absinthe, spiced pear and Sauternes syrup, lemon juice, vanilla essence, iced tea).
Unfortunately I don’t have the ratios for this but would imagine 40ml gin, 10 ml absinthe, 20ml syrup, 20ml lemon, dash of vanilla and 1oml tea might offer a decent starting place. I’m also trying to snaffle a sample of the syrup for recreating purposes but poaching pears in wine, sugar and your choice of spice should result in a fair approximation and, if not, would still be delicious.
I recommend a visit but book early as tickets are flying out the door for upcoming events. So don your best garb and your best manners and you’ll be sure to have a thoroughly splendid time.
Monday: The Juniper Society
This society, run and hosted by Graphic Bar in Golden Square, holds fortnightly meetings offering brand tastings and special menus. Unusually, last Monday was a blind taste test of ginger ale and was MC-ed by the dapper David Bridgman Smith (aka Summerfruitcup).
Results were surprising to say the least – though no one was shocked that the diet drinks were unanimously bottom of the league – and it was interesting to note that ginger ale really doesn’t taste much of ginger. The top three were:
- David’s own homemade brew was a clear (or actually rather cloudy) winner
- Sainsburys own brand
- Waitrose own brand
Who would have thought?
After this excitement we were invited to kick back and enjoy reduced price G&Ts. This seemed an ideal opportunity to begin my 2011 resolution of working my way through Graphic’s extensive gin menu. They now have 101 gins so this is not quite the shooting fish resolution you may think.
Tuesday: Esquire readers events
Tuesday took me to Milk and Honey (a mellow members bar which the public can book tables at in off-peak times) for a Woodford Reserve sponsored event for Esquire magazine readers. The focus of the evening was a workshop from Giles and Kev of The Soul Shakers on making cocktails for guests at home. Pitched at beginners, it had quite a few useful tips which I share below along with a simple yet delicious recipe:
50ml Woodford Reserve
20ml fresh lemon juice
20ml sugar syrup
10ml ginger juice * (or 2cm cube of fresh ginger)
3 slice of orange
Muddle oranges and ginger in a mixing glass, add all other ingredients and shake. Strain and serve over cubed ice in a 12oz rocks glass – garnish with an orange slice
Tips: Sugar syrup is made by mixing 1 cup of white caster sugar with 1 cup still water until dissolved.
Five tips for making cocktails for beginners
1. A pasta sauce jar makes a good shaker if thoroughly cleaned. Save the lid from a second jar and drill holes in it to make a strainer (LCG tip: If your Black and Decker is dead like mine then a sieve, perforated spoon or even a tea strainer scrubbed with lemon juice and rinsed with boiling water also works well.)
2. To muddle fruit use the end of a rolling-pin. (LCG tip: Don’t do as I once did and use a slim jar of olives, cap side down to muddle limes – I bear a scar to this day)
3. Along with fresh fruit and mint, the three most useful ingredients to add to your base spirits are Cointreau, vermouth and Angostura bitters.
4. Buy three times as ice as you think you’ll need.
5. If your drinks aren’t successful simply rescue them with any/all the following: lemon, sugar, water and apple juice (LCG tip: Good idea unless you’re making Brandy Alexanders).
Wednesday: Experimental Cocktail Club
Just an ordinary visit to a less than ordinary bar.
Review shortly to come but if you go in the meantime make sure you book or that you look hot. When you get in have a Havana – it’s heaven!
Friday: History of Punch at 69 Colebrooke Row
Ok, so cocktail historian David Wondrich is over from the States and is giving a talk on Punch, the king of mixed drinks, at 69 Colebrooke Row and I’m asked if I’d like to go?? Would I! I heartily recommend buying his book on the subject which is called, er, Punch but here are the top five historical facts about punch that Wondrich shared with us.
Five facts about punch
1. It’s almost certainly an English invention. More than likely it was originally created to make medicinal spirits palatable by 17th century sailors, who it seems were an inventive bunch.
2. The word ‘Punch’ is unlikely to have sprung from ‘Panch’, the Hindi for five. Take that Wikipedia!
3. Punch is considered by many to be the first cocktail or mixed drink. It would have been made and served by women, therefore we might, and I will, extrapolate that the first bartenders were female. If were writing this on Twitter, I would now insert this: #ironic.
4. The first dedicated London punch house was opened in 1731 at Ludgate Circus by James Ashley. Entrepeneurs please note: We all agreed opening a punch house in that location would be a welcome addition to the London bar scene. Lovely as they are, we really do have quite enough ‘speakeasy’ style joints.
5. Wondrich once shot a friend with a potato cannon while under its influence. The moral of which is drink punch carefully, it clearly packs a surprising wallop.
Rum Punch Recipe
6 Old Plantation Rum
6 Barbados Rum
3 Lime juice
3 Demerara or Turbinado sugar (“Sugar in the Raw”)
Stir sugar 6 oz (3/4 cup) of the water over a low flame until is has dissolved.
Let syrup cool, combine it with lime juice, rums and cold water and stir.
Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.
To serve, pour into 1- gallon Punch bowl with 1 quart block of ice and grate nutmeg over the top.