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Wednesday, 21 December 2011

First Christmas

What to do if there are too bloomin' many of you for Christmas? Why, have another one a week earlier. 
Call it First Christmas. 
Don't invite George Michael...he'll only crash the car getting there. 
Never mind Last Christmas - let's celebrate First Christmas.

You'll probably want a decent cocktail to celebrate. These wonderful, polite young gentlemen in the picture seemed to enjoy it...and it's pink!

Pink Christmas Cocktail

4 fl oz Stolichnaya vodka
1 fl oz Triple Sec
2 fl oz Creme de Cassis
Handful of fresh blueberries
Good dash of orange bitters
Juice of half an orange
Juice of 1 lime
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 fl oz double cream

Place the cocktail glasses in the fridge for at least an hour before serving. I use champagne coupes for this cocktail – they're very celebratory, don't you know.
Place all the ingredients, except the cream, in a blender and whizz briskly. Add the cream and whizz for a few seconds.
Remove glasses form fridge. Place a sprig of mint in each glass then balance on the rim a cocktail stick on which a small wedge of orange (skin on) is skewered amid two fresh blueberries on either side.
Dust the surface of each glass with sieved icing sugar.
Serves six (with, hopefully, a little to spare for top-ups)

Suffice to say, don't overdo it. if you were to have too many you might end up seeing things...

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Won by a neck

Race to it.

As Churchill almost said, “Some horse, some neck!”
This cocktail, famous as it may be, looks nothing like a horse’s neck, despite its taxonomy. Yet, as London Cocktail Week fades to a memory, I thought I’d better throw in my tuppence worth with a classic – but with a twist, naturally.
Click on the picture below for a bigger image.

The neck in question is supposedly represented by the curlicue of lemon peel residing in the glass then hanging out over the rim, in the way that a horse’s neck might.
I mean, who thinks these things up?
What you must have, however, is a small but very sharp knife in order to slice the peel off a lemon in one piece. The phrase ‘Don’t try this at home’ should really apply here but not to the rough tough type who enjoy a cocktail.
"Hey, I just did a 12-hour shift down a tin mine" doesn’t cut it, I’m afraid, with the fearless cocktail provider.
“Just drink this Horse’s Neck and give us peace. But wash your bloomin’ hands first!”

Before we start, have a listen to the following track. I know it’s a Stones song but this version is ten times better…

Back to business. The classic Horse’s Neck cocktail is not unlike a Rye and Dry, ergo in my own recipe I like to jazz it up un peu.
On no account, entertain any so-called cocktail barman aficionado who, when commissioned to prepare this recipe, shakes his weary head and sneers, “Yes, hmm, but it ain’t a Horse’s Neck.”
Fact is, cocktail recipes change with the winds that blow these so-called aficionados in and out of town. One Horse’s Neck recipe might suggest bourbon as the main ingredient while another would plump for brandy.
So who cares? Be an iconoclast. It’s your personal taste that remains the only concern.
Here we go …

Horse’s Neck


2 fl oz good bourbon (Jack Daniels will do nicely)
8 fl oz ginger ale (a ratio of approximately four to one in favour of the ginger ale works best for my gang)
Juice of 1 lemon (strained)
Juice of 1 small orange (strained)
4 dashes of Angostura bitters
4 ice cubes
Peel of 4 lemons


Place ingredients – NOT the ginger ale –  in a cocktail shaker and give it a vigorous workout.
Pour into a large jug and add the ginger ale.
Into 4 small tumblers, insert the sliced peel of each lemon, allowing the “neck” to hang out. (see picture above). Fill each glass up with more ice cubes then pour in the mixture from the jug.
Serves four but there will probably be enough left for a top-up. Always be prepared, as good Scouts would.

As with other healthy cocktails in my previous posts, this Horse's Neck can count as one of your five a day.
With trends like these, who needs enemas?

Do not, most definitely, try the following at home …

Monday, 10 October 2011

Berry poetic

THE best strawberries come, some might say, from the Clyde Valley. Others would argue in favour of those from the farms of Fife around the Leven area. Southerners would naturally plump for the strain from the great Garden of England that is Kent.

Plump, however, is the operative word.
Thin strawbs don’t cut it.

Get some quick as there are not many local varieties left now that summer has rapidly disappeared down the plughole.
To the cocktail I’m proselytising about here I’ve added, in elegiac mood, a splash of rosewater. Ergo, the last rose of summer …

As the great poet of the so-called Scottish Renaissance might have put it...

The cocktail of all the world is not for me.
I want for my part
Only the frozen strawberry daiquiri of Scotland
That tastes sharp and sweet
And goes straight to the brain.

With apologies, of course, to McDiarmid, who perhaps might not have minded, given that he tried just about everything himself. And Scottish Renaissance? When did it ever die so that it required rebirth?

The cocktail lovers among you can continue with the occasional Banana Daiquiri that will see you through the winter and spring months, but if it’s local ingredients that you’re after in that green way of the ecological cocktail champion, then get this one over your neck sharpish.

Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri
Makes 4 (see pic above)

14 decent sized ripe strawberries. Plump!
2 fl oz white rum
1 fl oz crème de framboises (or some sort of Strawberry liqueur)
1 tbsp caster sugar
Juice of two limes
Juice of 1 orange
Dash orange bitters
Splash of rosewater
4 ice cubes

Retain 4 of the strawbs then plonk the rest of the ingredients in a jug blender and whizz the mixture like it's the Large Hadron Collider
Rub a slice of lime over the rim of each glass then dip it in sugar up to a couple of millimetres.
Pour into four cocktail glasses
Do something fancy with a strawberry and skewer it along with a quarter slice of orange and lay it in the glass.

Don’t forget to say “Cheers!” or some other convivial toast.

Sip, don’t gulp.

Coming up in a future blog …
Why I’d rather sip a horse’s neck than tip a horse’s ass.
Hee haw! (Sorry, that was a donkey).

Monday, 26 September 2011

The Third Drink...

When in Vienna, what do you do if you like a cocktail and are possessed with – or, most likely, by – a vivid imagination? Well, one of the best spots is the American Bar, just off Karntner Strasse.

The lady, being a cosmopolitan sort, generally plumps for a Cosmo. And to savour one outside this 1908 bar, designed by the Brno-born architect Adolf Loos in the art nouveau style – or jugendstil, as they term it locally –  was, she attested, "Just perfect."
In place of the common burnt slice of orange peel. the barman plonked a similarly charred chunk of lemon zest. 

Ahhh, delicious ... and that's just the Cosmopolitan.

Another fine spot in Vienna is the Imperial Hotel, which backs on to the square containing the fabulous Golden Saal of the Musikverein, famous internationally for its New Year's Day concerts.
At the Imperial's cocktail bar, I sipped a well-crafted Old-Fashioned, made with a very decent bourbon while a pianist with a lovely, insouciant touch asked for requests. The Time Goes By very nicely there.
But ...! What if your vivid imagination takes a turn for the worse and you begin to hear noises off?

Oh no – it's that zither tune by Anton Karas. Once you've heard it you can't get it out of your head.
And who's that character skulking in the shadows in Josef Platz, scene of the fake death of one Harry Lime? It must be the Third Man, surely. Looking for his third drink, most likely.

Was it all a mirage? And why did we wake up in London? 
Ach, es ist sehr unheimlich, nicht wahr?

Monday, 1 August 2011

Let's Twist Again

Was Chubby Checker ever invited to Chequers? And if so, did he enjoy a cocktail there, provided by one Harold McMillan? 
"There you are, dear boy. You've never had it so good, what?"

Well, possibly not.
But speaking of cocktails...I often try to do something a little different – with a twist, as it were. So I wonder what old Chubby Checker, or Ernest Evans, to give him his real name, and our esteemed Prime Minister would have thought about these efforts...

Cosmopolitan – With  a Twist

The Cosmo is regarded more as a woman's cocktail – my good lady certainly loves an occasional one (occasional, as in "It's six o'clock and it's Friday. Where's my blooming Cosmo?!"
And as one should always try to do the right thing by one's good lady, I came up with this version for the delectation of us both. It is pretty much like a regular Cosmopolitan but just wait for it...

  • Two measures of good Russian or Polish vodka. (Stick it in the freezer for an hour or two before serving. Vodka likes the freezer – when did you ever see one shivering?)
  • One measure of cointreau or triple sec
  • One measure of good cranberry juice
  • Juice of one lime
  • And...a good dash of rosewater.
  • Place four ice cubes in shaker and add the ingredients
  • Give it a really good shake.
  • Hang a slice of lime on the rim of your cocktail glass (another little twist) and pour in the mixture. Before serving, slice off a chunk of orange zest (about 1x2 in) and hold the rind side over a flame for a few seconds until it blackens a little then plop that into the glass. (I like to use a long match for this – it connects me to the days when cavemen were inventing the first cocktails.)
  • Then drink the thing! And jolly good it is. And with the addition of the rosewater – also used in religious ceremonies – you can have the added satisfaction that as well as indulging in a rather decadent pleasure, you're also communing with your maker on some level or other.

Another classic with a twist is the ....

Classic Champagne Cocktail with a twist

This is a great one to have before dinner with guests. I prefer inviting gusts to dinner actually. That way they're in and out sharpish.

  • Add a dash of aromatic or Angostura bitters to a champagne flute and allow it to swirl around, its viscocity will ensure it cleaves to the glass.
  • Add a dash of orange bitters and perform the same little ceremony
  • Plop a brown sugar cube in the bottom of the glass
  • Add a measure of Grand Marnier (this is instead of the usual cognac – hence the twist. And the orange bitters enhances the liqueur's flavour even more)
  • Fill up with a decent champagne – Kristal is very nice. (Hahaha. Aye right, as they say in Govan).
  • Munch it up, get the dinner over with sharpish and chuck out the gusts!

Charming, as they say in Notting Hill.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Dire Straits? Never

Istanbul may be a long way to go for a cocktail. But it's a better reason to go than to eat. I'll expand on that later. It's a good spot, too, to have a glass of tea, a baklava or two and puff on the old nargile (water pipe) while being entertained by some local musicians and a whirling dervish.

If, however, you fancy going a bit upmarket, you can go on the roof of the Marmara Hotel in the Beyoglu district of the city. All 18 floors up.

That's the lovely Lula overlooking her empire (me!) while indulging in a classic Dry Martini. The rooftop bar doesn't have a cocktail menu as such but the staff are happy to make you a drink to the recipe of your choice. So, before you head skyward, you'd better know what you want – and how you like it. A little of what you fancy etc.
If the Marmara roof bar is too giddy an enterprise you could had a few metres south and enter a world of revitalised splendour: the Pera Palas Hotel, where the rich and famous have stayed down the years, including Mata Hari, Ian Fleming, Graham Greene and Agatha Christie. The room she stayed in during her famous 'disappearance' is available for guests to view. Also on view is a the original lift, one of the first to be built, and the remains of a sedan chair, used to transport guests to and from Sirkeci station, the end of the Orient Express line.

In their cocktail bar, one of several gorgeous public spaces in the beautifully restored Pera Palas, staff serve a mean cocktail, too. I had another Dry Martini – you musn't mix your drinks, no! – and Her Highness had a Cosmopolitan. Their recipe: vodka, cointreau, squeeze of lemon and, in place of the usual cranberry, they used sour cherry juice. No burnt orange peel but my companion pronounced it "just perfect".

Next day after a boat trip on the Bosphorus we had to head home to Blighty. 
Now it's the bus for us.
Great trip but the food could be better, one has to say. Kebab and chips everywhere. Even an apparently top restaurant we tried was less than wonderful.
What would old Ataturk think, I wonder?

Mustafa nother cocktail, possibly.

No offence, obviously.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Steppes this way>>>

The Russians have much to answer for but, in their favour, they gave the world vodka. Or a wee voddie, as they say in Maryhill. And not so wee at that. The Moscow-Maryhill link is little documented; probably for the best. Those who have been party to that link will remember little of its significance. For despite its benign appearance, vodka can be a killer. Treat it, however, with respect and it will repay you in a price above rubies. Or rubles.
Others, outside of Maryhill, like it in ultra cold shots to accompany a silver bowl of Beluga. Quaite naice, as they say in nearby Kelvinside – or even, Morningside. But such a combination is more common in Knightsbridge, supped by those oligarchs who have managed to dodge the current Russian taste for poisoning their expats.
Poland, which crafts several wondrous varieties of its own, also lays claim to wodka provenance but the jury, as they say, is still out.
All that argument over a bag of potatoes. Which can also be fashioned, of course, into chips. Cue, once more, Maryhill. A bag of chips washed down by a glass of girders: that's voddie and Irn Bru to you, Vladimir. Here's how it's done but don't try it at home...

For the faintly civilised among us, however, vodka can often be put to a far better use: namely in a cocktail. Its crisp, clean taste, backed up by an almighty kick, is the first ingredient many choose to base their Friday fun upon. Here's a goodie I invented last Friday evening at 6pm precisely. I call it...

A Spring in Your Steppes

Throw 4 ice cubes into cocktail shaker
5 fl oz Stolichnaya Vodka straight from the freezer
Juice of a lime
1 fl oz sugar syrup
1/2 fl oz peach schnapps
Good dash orange bitters
White of an egg
Add soda water to fill
Hold down the top very firmly and shake
Garnish glasses with slice of lime or lemon then pour.

There may be enough for four measures. Possibly. It's not an exact science, this!
Coming soon – another vodka-based classic, helped along with a very special ingredient given to me by a most artistic chum. Watch this space!

Tuesday, 15 March 2011


So, you're after a healthy lifestyle. What, after years of neglect? I'll give you some tips – provided you don't report me to the Ministry of Health.
And this, as you might imagine, is a fun route to fitness, assuming that, by fitness, you mean fitness of the intellect.
Alors, you've heaved your wretched frame out of bed ... then do pour – and don't forget to drink – a glass of decent fruit juice. (Not that horrible, cheap concentrate rubbish). Then munch a handful of blueberries, assuming you can get them past your remonstrating gullet.
At lunch, accompany your brie de meaux with your customary glass of burgundy or whatever. But how about being a bit radical for a change? Have a grape with it. White or red will do. Peeled or otherwise.

Come evening, when you're about to serve your oysters, you'll have some finely chopped shallots in balsamic vinegar ready for garnishing purposes.

And not long before that, at cocktail hour, why not try a frozen banana daiquiri ... that's the very thing on the right of the picture below... the other, under the orange parasol, not to mention the breathtaking smile, is a cosmopolitan. More of that on another day...

Not only are you having fun, but it transpires that your cocktail is one of your five a day. Sorted! 

Not that it did Fredo of Godfather fame much good, despite his love of the banana daiquiri as witnessed in the Cuba scenes. Michael saw though his brother but it was tough.
"Fredo, you broke my heart."

Banana daiquiri
Peel a ripe banana and stick it in the blender
Batter half a dozen ice cubes then slam them into the blender
3 fl oz white rum
1 fl oz triple sec
Juice of half lemon
1/2 fl oz sugar syrup
Give it a good old whizz then pour
If you're lucky you might get 4 small measures
Some say stick a maraschino cherry on a cocktail stick and garnish the drink with it

I say: Hold the cherry: it would amount to another fruit/veg item and five is plenty. You can be merry without a cherry, especially the maraschino variety. Ugh.
So, as the Mikado might have sung when referring to the frozen banana daiquiri –
"A source of innocent merriment, of innocent merriment."

Monday, 21 February 2011

Just another Friday

Well, what can you say? Liza Minelli summed it up nicely in Cabaret when, as Sally Bowles, she pronounced "Divine decadence, darling" about life in Berlin to the tyro Brian Roberts, played by Michael York. The following pic neatly encapsulates, too, that lovely feeling when work is over for another week and you can begin to enjoy yourself... Did somebody mention work?

The shaker full of gin and ice, the glass about to be sprayed with French vermouth – just a wee skoosh, as we say in Glasgow – plus three pimento-stuffed olives for the perfect Dry Martini. And the meal? Why a plate of oysters, served with lemon, tabasco, a finely chopped shallot in balsamic vinegar and buttered wholemeal bread. The oysters, beautifully fresh and bought from MacCallums in Finnieston, Glasgow – surely the best fishmongers In Scotland; they also have an oyster bar in Troon. Don't take my word for it; follow this link...

I imagine Miss Bowles would enjoy such decadence – even more so as there's little chance of any horrible Nazis on the horizon to spoil things for everybody. She did like to enjoy herself...

Meanwhile, back in Glasgow, I almost expect Charles Baudelaire and Paul Verlaine to stumble through the door to partake in the festivities. Mind you, there's no absinthe on offer en ce moment. A symbolist moment, perhaps, nevertheless.
And yet it's not realism, as such, that the modern sensualist disdains; it's reality.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

All white on the night

There's something mysterious and fabulously alluring about ordering a cocktail named White Lady. Here's three to be going on with...

As usual, the science is inexact regarding how to mix them, and equally common is the provenance of their invention. There are those who maintain that the White Lady – apparently also known as a Delilah or the rather mawkish Lillian Forever – is essentially a Sidecar fashioned from gin rather than cognac. 

Two American Harrys claim the credit: 
1/ Harry MacElhone at Harry's Bar in Paris circa 1929.
2/ Harry Craddock of the Savoy. If you've been looking closely you'll have noticed I have ranted somewhat about the seeming genius of the latter in a previous post. Craddock published his recipe in the Savoy recipe Cocktail Book in 1930.
And Laurel and Hardy loved a White Lady, so it is reported. That's funny.

The Craddock recipe in the Savoy book goes like this...

1/2 part gin
1/4 part Cointreau
1/4 part lemon juice
Shake well with ice then strain into glass.

Some recipes add the white of an egg and, I must say, this gives the drink a smooth, silky finish. I prefer Triple Sec instead of Cointreau and I'd use Bombay Sapphire gin (I trust you are looking at this, you old Bombay Sapphire distiller, you, and despatch my reward immediately) which I keep in the freezer. Give the mix a jolly good shake. Garnish the rim of the cocktail glass with a slice of lemon or lime and pour. The three glasses in my picture above were made using this method.

What, however, if you believe that the White Lady has been given too much deference and that the Black Lady is a victim of some kind of cocktalian discrimination? In which case, you might use dark rum instead of gin. And lime might be preferable to lemon. I know a couple of Jamaican worthies who would happily go for this amendment.

On a Health & Safety note, you might not wish to carry cocktails around on the tray in my picture. A chum did that very thing one Christmas and broke two of my six exquisite Bohemian glass champagne flutes. A far better plan is to transport them on a clever invention called the Safetray. Check it out in this video...

Ah yes, the best inventions are always the simplest ones.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

A jigger of gin...

So, as I mentioned in my last post, a chum of mine is prone to a martini or two – prone being the operative word. Here he is after a night on the tiles and following the consumption of one too many. From the angle of his half-cocked top hat, it appears as if Little Minky – that's the chap's moniker – had a good session. He certainly found favour in the arms of Gertie the showgirl from the Cafe de Paris. And by the size of the empty cocktail glass, it looks as if he could leap into it. Perhaps that's what he did, in fact. A bath of dry martini – what a way to go.

As the advert says –

A jigger of gin is just enough to give your kids a treat.

Here's another you can sing along to as well...

Friday, 21 January 2011

What would we do without them?

It's just after 6pm on a Friday, the magic cocktail hour. So what do you do?
Children can be wonderful – even when they're all grown up. Some might say, especially when they're all grown up. My family were very kind this Christmas – and apposite. They gave me a whole bunch of goodies connected to my latest interest – cocktails. They like to mix with the right sort, too.

Check out the items in the picture: two fab books about classic cocktails, a selection of bitters, a box of exotic spices to enliven a champagne cocktail and the piece de resistance – that silvery cigar-shaped object is a spray device engraved with the words "mix with the right sort" which is, of course, the name of the blog. How clever! 
What you do is: fill the little chamber inside with vermouth – Noilly Prat is preferable – then spray it on the inside of the glass. Then top up with gin which has been languishing in the freezer. Three pimento-stuffed olives for me. And pretty fine, too, for the lady in the picture above; she does seem to be enjoying the attention.
As Ogden Nash remarked about the Dry Martini...

There is something about a Martini,
A tingle remarkably pleasant;
A yellow, a mellow Martini;
I wish that I had one at present.

There is something about a Martini,
'Ere the singing and dancing begin,
And to tell you the truth,
It is not the vermouth –
I think that perhaps it's the gin.

My thanks to other chums for that last poem – they gave me a framed copy of Nash's poem on another occasion. These chums have just purchased a new superfridge – it has a compartment which releases crushed ice at the press of a button. I'll have to get one ... then for the perfect mint julep.
Meanwhile, I have another chum who likes a wee drappie o' it. I'll tell you more about him soon.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

From Parnassus' heights...

Chocolate didn't come from Mount Parnassus, of course, but it makes a neat headline.
If not the food of the gods, chocolate is most certainly, the food of the decadent. Not that sweet milky stuff, so beloved of Quakers from Birmingham and our precious little 'uns, but the dark, adult, fiercely self-indulgent substance that measures itself in high percentages of cocoa solids.
And if a chunk or two of that isn't enough to get your tastebuds flowing, why not make a cocktail out if it?
I'm not the first to think of that, of course, but following a feast of cocktail-related gifts I received at Christmas, I've added another drink to the canon. And, hopefully, even Canon Cholmondley of Worcester might enjoy one, too. After vespers, naturally. Don't confuse it for communion wine, whatever you do, Canon.
I'm naming this cocktail Ironically Hot Chocolate. Not, ironically, Hot Chocolate – note the commas and lower case 'i' in the latter phrase. And you'll see in a sec where the heat emanates from.
So here's what you do...

Ironically Hot Chocolate

Blitz a few squares of dark 80% cocoa solids chocolate and empty on to a large plate
300ml excellent Russian or Polish wodka (I do like the sound of it spoken with a 'w') which has been languishing in the tundra – or freezer compartment if it's more convenient
50ml Creme de Cacao
Good dash of Xocolatl Mole bitters
Dash of tabasco sauce (deep, deep heat!!!)
Squeeze of lime juice
Add the liquid ingredients to 4 lumps of ice in a cocktail shaker and give it a frisky shake
Run a wedge of lime round the edge of your cocktail glasses then dip into the dark chocolate blitzed earlier
Pour mixture into the glasses
Dust cocoa powder over the surface of each with the help of a sieve.
Serves 4-6, depending on the demands of your guests.
Die happy.
As Dean Martin used to sing – Ain't that a kick in the head.

It is actually quite strong, so do be careful and just have a little one. One being the operative word here.
A minor gripe, however: why is it so damned difficult to open bottles? Don't the makers want us to drink the stuff – merely admire it?
I had to take a sharp knife to the top of my de Kuypers Creme de Cacao liqueur to ease it off, and I was forced to employ a pair of pliers to allow me entry to the Stolichnaya vodka. Heavens, I almost gave up. Note the "almost".

Back to Parnassus: I have a chum who lives in Montparnasse in Paris. Chantal, a true internationalist, with links to Brussels, London, the States, India, China and currently France, is a photographer in Paris with a thrilling portfolio of portraits and other artistic works to her name. Do catch up with Chantal at her website...

She's also a bit of a playwright and that's where her link to cocktails comes in. Venus on Vacation, her second play, which she also translated into French as Vénus en Vacances was later staged in a Mandarin version in Shanghai where Chantal was billed as a "French romantic author". The star of the show, the goddess of love herself, delivers a resounding rap at the end of the play. Here's a taste....

The  barman mixes you a daiquiri.
While perched on your stool you begin to feel queasy.
Three parts lust, two parts incertitude,
Longing’s shaken, loins are stirred.
Guzzled down in one the potion’s working, 
Indomitable in faith in what Cupid’s recommending.
Honey-tipped quiver’s gone’n done its job.
Add the rhum and the lime juice says your heart’ll start to throb.
Que serà serà you’re headed for devotion.
The potion’s the lotion, the heady libido’s in motion.  
Venus Rap  © Chantal Rosas Cobian

Three parts lust, one part incertitude... oooh vicar!