Friday, 27 April 2012

Has anyone ever invented a cocktail?

Having made quite a few different cocktails over the last couple of years, I had started to wonder how people came to create them – proper ones, nice ones like you get in cocktail books, not the ones where people just bung whatever they’ve got into a glass.

The first obstacle seemed to be possession of enough alcohol that one could wilfully waste it by throwing it into random concoctions that could well turn out to be undrinkable. It stands to reason then, that most cocktails are probably invented in bars, by people with access to alcohol they don’t have to pay for.

Luckily for me, for the last few months possession of enough alcohol has not been a problem. I have some bottles that I don’t want to waste, but there’s plenty there that’s available for experimentation. I just needed a place to start.

I decided to ask my friends whether any of them had invented a cocktail. One or two had (I’ll give you the recipes at the bottom of the article), including one my friends Paul and Victoria invented called the Gateaux Blaster (along with a number of variations that I’m not going to get into here – you can post your variations in the comments if you like, Paul). The flavours are similar to those of a black forest gateau in liquid form, so they neatly led to the memorable name. Their inspiration came from trying a Lumumba (chocolate milk, brandy and banana liqueur), and thinking it needed improvement. Some cocktails do need improvement, don’t they?

That’s a picture of the Gateaux Blaster.

The name of my friend Kathleen’s creation, The Blue Diamond came from the colour of the concoction and the shape it takes on in a martini glass. She has promised to submit a short piece about the creation of that one at some point, so keep an eye out for that.

So, I thought if I was going to write a blog about booze, then I was going to have to take advantage of my privileged alcohol collection and make my own cocktail too. I figured the best way to go about it would be to come up with a theme, and then to make a plan. Hopefully I could decide on flavours based on that theme, and the name would stem from that – because it has to have a cool name.

I’m from Yorkshire, so naturally the first theme that popped into my head was a Yorkshire cocktail. A bit of internet research showed that this wasn’t a particularly original idea, given that there was already a Yorkshire Cocktail Competition, but still, it was a starting point. The only problem was that it was February, and a vital ingredient wasn’t yet in season.

So I didn’t invent that one straight away.

Instead I accidentally invented a different cocktail. Back in July last year, I returned from a holiday in Spain with most of a bottle of Cuarenta Y Tres, or Licor 43. It’s a bizarre yellow liqueur, made from 43 different herbs and spices, with an alcohol content of 31% - so quite strong for a liqueur.  You can read a little more about it in my Booze Tourism - Spain post. 

I found it too sweet to drink neat or over ice, but it made a perfect mixer. Adding it to a glass of lemonade or cola resulted in a satisfying twist to the flavour. It almost made cola taste like that vanilla Coke that you could get for a while and that I accidentally bought two bottles of once because it was 2 for the price of 1. Don’t let that put you off; it’s much better. It soon became a go-to for when I wanted a long alcoholic drink, but didn’t want a beer or cider.

So it came to pass that one Saturday I returned from 9 holes of golf played in cold, blustery Stockport, needing a bit of alcoholic refreshment that I hit upon the idea for my cocktail. 

Above is a picture of it, and here’s the recipe:

2 measures Licor 43
2 measures dark rum
1 measure Lime juice
Cola to top up

Pour the licor 43, rum and lime juice into a glass (doesn’t matter which type, I like the one pictured), over ice. Top up with cola; stir vigorously.

For the rum, I’ve been using Lamb’s Navy Rum, which was on a special offer at Tesco recently. I like it neat or over ice, and it has quite a different taste to some of the other dark rums that are at the lower end of the price spectrum. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is yet, but it’s a little – shall we say – rough. And I like that. If you’re going to call it navy rum, you need the flavour to evoke images of a hard life on the seas, with pirates and scurvy and all that. Use any dark rum, though. It all makes for interesting variations.

Now, I haven’t gone the whole hog yet. I haven’t specified what glass this drink should be served in (the ones I use at home for whisky are suitable, though I know whisky enthusiasts will tell you this is the completely wrong kind of glass for whisky), but I have come up with a name: the Straw Donkey. Refer to my earlier booze tourism post for a clue as to why.

Unfortunately, I am almost out of Licor 43. I estimate there is enough left in the bottle to make one more cocktail, so that’ll be it until I can get hold of another bottle. There won’t be another Spanish golf holiday for me this year due to wedding plans and monetary austerity, but maybe I can persuade Chris and John to fetch another bottle of Licor 43 back for me…

Hopefully I’ll go on to invent many more cocktails, and if I do, I’ll be sure to put them up here for you. In the meantime, here are the recipes to a couple of cocktails my friends created. If you’ve ever invented one, please post it in the comments.

Gateaux Blasterbrandy, kirsch and chocolate milk, quantities (and method) unspecified
The Blue Diamond - a martini style cocktail consisting of equal measures vodka, melon liqueur, blue curacao and raspberry sour liqueur. It also has a splash of 'pure mineral water' (sparkling if you feel fancy). 

Friday, 20 April 2012

Oh what did you see, my blue-eyed son… at the 2012 Ramsbottom Chocolate Festival?

Yes, as I said in my recent  Booze Tourism: Belgium post, the weekend of 31 March/1 April saw the 4th annual Chocolate Festival take place in the small town of Ramsbottom, near Bury. Brenda’s birthday was approaching, so I tacked a visit on to her activities schedule. No, it didn’t have to be birthday related, but why not. Following on from the recent Booze Tourism: Belgium article, it would also provide an opportunity to decide once and for all whether chocolate and beer go together. [Ooh, the tension!]

A quick word on the chocolate – the variety and quality was excellent, and the prices somewhat reasonable. So we left with quite a lot of it, none of which survived the evening.

On to the booze. I was expecting there would be at least one stall specialising in different kinds of chocolate liqueur and chocolate beer, but I was sadly disappointed in that regard. There was one beer tent, selling one kind of chocolate stout (sorry, unable to find a link), one stall selling flavoured vodkas and another offering samples and selling chocolate wine. This stall was actually an extension of the Vineyard Wine Shop , situated up one of the side streets from the main market. That shop did carry more varieties, but I didn’t come to a festival to buy from a wine shop – I can do that anywhere. You don’t buy your beer from an off-licence on your way to a beer festival, do you? Or buy some chocolate from a newsagent round the corner from the chocolate festival. I did take the opportunity to peruse their selection of strong alcohol though, and I can confirm it was excellent.

On our first pass of the market, we were able to sample the chocolate wine (15%ABV), and we were both suitably impressed. It is a fortified British wine, flavoured with chocolate, and I would say more delicious than that combination sounds (not being overly fond of port). I was going to buy a bottle, but Brenda insisted on buying it for me. Later that evening I said we should save it for when we have friends round for dinner, and Brenda readily agreed. I think that had been her plan all along. If I’d been allowed to buy it, there would be nothing to stop me drinking it all to myself, would there? I’m on to you, Brenda! So now it sits atop our cupboard, and a full appraisal will have to wait until another time – when we have decided which friends we deem worthy. Let battle commence.

The Secret - Chocolate wine
Following this first pass we made our first stop the beer tent. There were two bars within, but only one was selling chocolate beer.

I couldn’t actually taste the chocolate element of this brew, but it was fairly pleasant, if not brimming with flavour. Once more it left me questioning the determination some people have to marry the two disparate elements of chocolate and beer.

I did mention in a previous post that there would be chocolate beer cocktails, and there were – at  First Chop, where they also do a fantastic ‘Lancashire Tapas’. Unfortunately we weren’t able to partake since we had elected to drive to the festival. I could have let Brenda drive us home, but that’s hardly in keeping with someone’s birthday treat, is it? Apologies then, if this means my investigation is somewhat incomplete. I think next year we’ll return with more people and use public transport.

What is telling is that there was little variety in the way of chocolate beer in general. As I said; one type in the beer tent, and three types in the wine shop. I can’t say whether there were more varieties in the pubs. I did manage to find one more alcohol related product – Blueberry and Grappa ice cream, courtesy of  Ginger's Comfort Emporium. This was a pleasing marriage, and the taste of the grappa shone through nicely. It is a sweet spirit, so it lends itself well to this kind of thing. And I just love grappa, so I’m happy to see it anywhere.

Am I able to draw any further conclusions pertaining to a possible forbidden love between chocolate and beer? Well, I can’t say my mind has been changed, and I really thought that it might have been. I still maintain that they cancel each other out . By all means, keep trying to get this to work, but I don’t think it’s going anywhere at the moment, and it’s really not necessary, though it would be nice to be able to sit down in the evening with a glass of beer and some chocolate… For now, if you’re going to do that, make sure you keep it Belgian – the beer and the chocolate.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Simple Drinks

Now, I know that last week I promised to bring you a report on the Ramsbottom Chocolate Festival, and to give you my definitive opinion on combinations of beer and chocolate, but I’m afraid Brenda hasn’t been able to send me the photos from the event yet, so rather than make you do without, I’m just postponing it for a bit. Instead, here’s part one of an entirely new feature on simple alcoholic drinks. Enjoy.

Part 1

Until recently I harboured a strong preference for keeping my alcohol and soft drinks separate – unless I was making a full blown cocktail. I like the flavour of my strong liquors, and I hadn’t previously seen the merit in adulterating them with soft drinks. Similarly, if I was simply thirsty, a soft drink would do on its own.

However, sometimes you might want a long, refreshing alcoholic drink or you might have a bottle of something that isn’t nice enough to drink on its own. Or you might be feeling lazy, and not have the patience to fanny about making a cocktail – sometimes cocktails are like having to cook every time you want a drink. Drinking shouldn’t be like cooking - though it doesn’t hurt if it is an accompaniment to cooking.

The solution is a drink comprised of two ingredients that you can just throw together without too much care or accuracy. I’ve been experimenting a little in this field recently, and I’d like to tell you about some simple combinations. Some of these are standard drinks that I’ve heard of before, and some are ones that (as far as I know) I’ve invented. Give them a try and let me know what you think. If you’ve pioneered any simple drinks of your own, I’d love to hear about them.

Grapefruit juice and brandy – I’ve been making this with 103 Brandy de Jerez. Brenda brought it back from Ibiza a good few years ago, and it’s been sitting atop our kitchen cupboard ever since. Occasionally it has made it into my hip flask for nights out (I think I took a little to Malaysia, actually) but despite liking brandy, I’ve always found the aftertaste of this one a little too bitter.

I decided to pair it up with grapefruit juice because I’m often left with more than half a carton after I’ve had a cocktail night. There aren’t as many cocktails made with grapefruit juice as you might think, and it isn’t the most drinkable juice around – though it is essential for the excellent Havana Zombie (according to some recipes, but not to others). For whatever reason, this marriage works a treat. The brandy takes the sour edge off of the grapefruit juice very nicely. Quantities aren’t that important. I tend to fill a glass with the juice (over ice), but leave enough room for a couple of measures of brandy.

Whisky Mac (whisky and ginger wine) – I actually got this recipe from a bottle of Church’s Green Ginger Wine that was left at my house after a party. It says ‘original recipe’ on the bottle, implying that it’s traditional, but it also says ‘bottled for Aldi stores’ so what ‘original recipe’ means, I don’t know. Anything can be an original recipe, can’t it?

I’d never had any thoughts of drinking it until someone mentioned you could drink it with whisky. When I got the bottle down from the cupboard, I found the recipe right there – you just add a splash of the ginger wine to your whisky. I’ve decided I’m not actually that keen on this one, but I’m including it anyway in case you might be. I had to throw most of a glass of this away recently as I realised if I was only going to have one drink that evening, I didn’t want to waste it on this one.

Licor 43 and coke – I’ve spoken of this one before – most notably in the Spanish booze tourism feature - and it’s actually one of my favourite simple mixes. Licor 43 is a little too sweet for my palate, but it adds a nice twist to cola.

Amaretto and coke – a nice drink in the mould of the Licor 43 and coke that I already mentioned. The almond tones provide a nice backdrop for the cola. Or perhaps it’s the coke that provides a nice backdrop for the amaretto. On the strength of this, I’m surprised coke haven’t already invented the almond coke. Pictured is the bottle of Armila that I’ve been using.

Vodka and Tonic – clearly a very famous drink, but not one I could say I’d tried until recently. I decided to invest in a cheap bottle of Indian Tonic Water from Tesco just for the purpose of trying it with Gin and with Vodka. I’m happy to report that it’s delicious. I prefer it with vodka at the moment, and have mostly been using the Russian Standard that I put in my hip flask a couple of weeks ago, and took out with me, but never actually drank. It’s very sharp and refreshing, and you can taste the vodka even if you only use one measure with a lot of tonic. Try it over ice.

So that concludes part 1. I’ll be back at some undetermined point in the future to give you some more simple drinks, so come back regularly. All right, cool.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Booze Tourism Part 4 - Belgium

By way of introduction, I’d just like to say that I started writing this post some time ago. I’d been planning to put it out for a while, but then I heard about the upcoming Ramsbottom Chocolate Festival, which promised chocolate beer cocktails and chocolate beer among other things, so I figured I’d best hold back, and see if I learned something that went against my original conclusions. What follows then is my original Booze Tourism feature on Belgium. Next week I’ll post my conclusions from the Chocolate Festival, and we’ll see if I’ve learned anything or changed my mind. So please come back then. Here we go.

Beer and chocolate don’t go together. If you try eating chocolate and accompany it with a glass of beer, you’re just ruining both; they cancel each other out completely - except… if you’re talking about Belgian chocolate and Belgian beer.

Belgium is famous for its chocolate and beer, and it’s almost as if they were specifically designed to complement each other. Maybe they were; here in the UK we have beer and crisps, in France they have wine and cheese, in Australia they have – I don’t know – shrimp and barbies (whatever they are). I expect these formed partnerships by accident, but the specific natures of Belgian beer and chocolate just seems a little too neat to have been anything but deliberate.

Long before I officially became a Booze Tourist, Brenda and I had a weekend in Belgium – Bruges and Brussels. We had a wonderful time. They love their beer over there – love it. They love it like the French love wine, and that’s really refreshing. I get a bit sick of feeling like I’m expected to drink wine every time I go out for dinner, so Belgium was a welcome change for me.

Belgians drink beer with their meals, in fact, most restaurants over there don’t have a wine list, they have a beer menu. Page after page of mouth-watering, tasty and strong beer. And you feel like you’re getting the respect you deserve for drinking it, instead of being made to feel like you’re a cretinous oaf or a football hooligan.

Even the pubs have menus, with 300 beers available. In one pub, Brenda and I ordered one beer from each page of its leather bound beer-tome, and we were nicely sloshed by the time we left to get dinner – Brenda especially – and we’d only made it halfway through. I’ve been to beer festivals where they haven’t approached that kind of variety. In fact, not long after we returned from our weekend away, we went to the Chorlton Beer Festival, where they were boasting of having thirty – thirty – different ales. I sneered condescendingly. That’s not even trying is it? The festival runs from Friday night until Sunday, and they’ve always run out of beer by Saturday evening. Get enough in!

I had never had any compulsion to visit Belgium, but Brenda came home one day saying that there were cheap fares on the Eurostar. They weren’t that cheap, but when we tried we found we could get flights for free – plus taxes, and that came to about £30 each (or £30 altogether. I can’t really remember now). Mind you, the flights were actually to Charlerois, which isn’t strictly Brussels, but that’s Ryanair for you.

When I mentioned to my friend Paul that we were going to Belgium, he sounded really excited, and said, “I’ve always wanted to go there.”

“Really?!? Why? What’s in Belgium?

Beer. Great beer. You can forget your Stella Artois, they have loads of different types of beer. Most of them are so strong that they don’t necessarily come in pints, it can be a half or even less, and there’s nothing unmasculine about it – unless you’re drinking one of the fruit beers. And I don’t mean that as a homophobic slur – some beers are made with fruit! Drinking fruit beer is a bit girly, but you’re old enough to make your own decisions, Nancy.

If you live in Europe, and you are looking for a city break, I’d recommend it – especially Bruges, which is very peaceful, but a great place to wander around and drink. It probably works best for couples though.

You will want to try the chocolate too. We found a place where they give you a mug of hot milk, and a saucer of melted chocolate to mix into it with chocolates on the side – very fancy hot chocolate. There were portraits of dogs dressed in suits on the walls too, so that was pretty special.

You can drink as much of the beer as you want, and it won’t destroy the sweetness of the chocolate, and you can eat as much chocolate as you want, and it won’t dull the taste of the beer. Well done to the Belgians.

Apologies for the lack of booze porn this week, but I’m afraid I don’t have anything relating to this adventure. Rest assured though, I’ll be back next week with the sequel to this post, and there should be one or two pictures to accompany that one. So do come back soon, and have a great Easter break.