he wind is whipping though my hair as the silver bullet of an Aston Martin careens around the corner, “James, slow down” I hear myself saying whilst secretly my heart pounds as the adrenalin pumps through my veins, always been a lover of fast cars and manly men. We screech to a halt at the end of a lane overlooking a lake, I see in front of me a table set just for us two, candles flickering in the late summer evening breeze, he takes me by the hand and leads me to my seat at this idyllic setting, a Nightingale starts its evening lament somewhere off in the distant trees. Ah, absolute bliss! “Darling” he says “would you care for a drink? Perhaps I can mix you my favorite tipple “. I stare into his cool blue eyes “what’s in it my love?” Though am pretty sure he could convince me to drink lighter fluid at this very moment. .” Three measures of Gordon’s gin, 1 measure of Vodka and 1/2 a measure of Kina Lillet”. I lick my lips, “Oh go on then” I watch as he skillfully shakes the drink and gives me a wink as he hands me my glass of chilled perfection, I stop myself from saying he would get a much colder drink had he stirred it but who am I to correct him,he does after all have a license to chill, I mean kill. I stare at his hands and let my imagination run away with me. “But first my darling” he says ” a toast and a kiss” my heart starts beating faster as his face approaches mine, somewhere I hear church bells ringing, our lips touch “Oh James”, I sigh as the ringing bells get louder and closer , I ignore their clamor and let myself fall into his arms. “Oh James!” Still the bells get closer, sounding more like an alarm now, could I be mistaken, is there some sort of fire somewhere other than the one burning in my heart. I feel someone pulling me away, “Oh James, you’re so perfect” I say as my arm gets yanked ” What is it! Stop that! Oh James!” I hear myself again as my arm gets yanked for the third time, this time unable to ignore it I spin around, the scene vanishes and as my eyes focus I come face to face with my dark bedroom and my bemused room mate who’s about to throw a glass of water over me!
Okay, yes am a cheeseball, I’ve had a mad crush on James Bond since I can remember, Sean Connery’s hairy chest used to make me giggle as a school girl and the way he would say “Miss Moneypenny” would just give me goosebumps. But his latest incarnation brought to us by the studly yet vulnerable Daniel Craig has me in raptures! I know its only make believe but Oh James!
Mr. Bond’s most popular tipple of choice is the Vesper , named after his double agent lover its a riff on the classic Martini, which in turn was a riff on another classic and its predecessor the Martinez. The Martini was a dry version of a Manhattan, made with gin instead of bourbon and French dry instead of Italian sweet vermouth, its interesting to see how the drink evolved as newer products were introduced to the American market in the late 1800′s . The Vesper however uses Kina Lillet as a sub for the vermouth, which was first produced in 1872 by a couple of French brothers from just south of Bordeaux. The base spirit is 85% white Bordeaux wine, usually Sauvignon Blanc, Semillion or Muscadelle and the remaining 15% a blend of infused liqueurs, the main ingredient of the infusion would be Cinchona bark from Peru that contains the medicinal Quinine , Kina is again another drink that started as a medicinal tonic.In the last couple of years a bevvy of Cinchona and Gentian ,another bitter herb, have been used as the base of liqueurs that have hit both the European and American markets, Europeans have been imbibing these bitter concoctions for centuries ( see last issue 006 on Amaro) so they have several variants to choose from, its only recently that American taste buds have come to appreciate the bittersweetness of both Kinas and Amari and so there has been a recent influx of Kina type spirits on the American market.
And so since Skyfall was recently released and bitters being one of my favorite pre and post sippers, I chose this issue to be an exploration of how to imbibe bitters, were it not a drinks blog I can assure you it would be on all things Bond , from his blue eyes to his talented pinky finger!
The birth of Homeopathy was based on cinchona bark testing. The founder of homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann, when translating a latin medical journal, noticed that Peruvian bark was known to cure intermittent fevers. He took daily a large, rather than homeopathic, dose of Peruvian bark. After two weeks, he said he felt malaria-like symptoms. This idea of “like cures like” was the starting point of his writings on homeopathy. The Quinine derived from Cinchona has since the 1800′s been the main ingredient of the humble bitter tonic water which was drank originally in south east Asia with gin to make it a more palatable malaria medicine , do you think maybe thats were Miss Mary Poppin’s got her anthem from, only a spoon full of sugar being replaced by a thimbleful of gin.As far back as the 1500′s cinchona bark has been used to calm fever owing to its muscle relaxing capabilities, an early form of Valium, no wonder the G&T rose to such popularity amongst the uptight Brits( I am one so I think its OK for me to make fun of em).
Lillet belongs in a family of aperitif known as tonic wines because of the addition of Cinchona bark . Lillet is matured in oak casks and available in red , white and just recently on the market rose versions. While it has been produced since the late 19th century, the current formulation dates from 1986. The formulation was changed only to lower the sugar content; the level of quinine has remained the same. In France its drank over ice with a slice of orange, in the UK and US its use is more as a mixer in several classic cocktails, The Corpse Reviver #2, 20th Century, Bond’s Vesper, and the Old Etonian. During this last summer the rose became a favorite of mine to use in a jacked up sangria.
Exhibit # 1 Little Sparrow
2 oz Lillet rose
1 oz basil infused gin ( a bunch of fresh basil infused in a 750ml bottle of gin for a day, vodka or silver tequila can also be used)
1 oz peach or apricot liqueur ( peach schnapps is too sugary for this drink)
1/2 oz honey syrup 1:1 ratio honey to hot water
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
basil flowers for garnish
throw all your ingredients into a boston shaker with ice, shake for 30 seconds or so and strain into a ice filled collins or highball glass, garnish with a sprinkle of basil flowers.
Kina l’Avignon D’or
The late 19th to early 20th century was the “Golden Age” of French aperitif wines known as Quinquinas or Kinas. Although originally created to make quinine more palatable when administered to soldiers in the colonies, they gained popularity as producers found combinations of ingredients that were more appealing to the public. These aperitifs took on their own styles following the tastes of the regions in which they were produced.
Created in an “Alps-Provence” style, Tempus Fugit “Kina L’Avion D’Or” is produced by infusing white wine with Cinchona bark, orange peel, wormwood and other exotic spices. The result is a perfectly balanced aperitif with a deep golden hue, aromas of quince and fine marmalade, and a complex, mildly bitter flavor that leads to an elegant sweetness on the finish. Though delicious chilled or over ice, Kina L’Avion D’Or is spectacular in classic cocktails such as the 20th Century or the Corpse Reviver #2. The recipe I use it in below has the same specs as a classic Negroni
Exhibit # 2 Oro Blanco
1 1/2 oz Kina L’Avignon D’or
1 1/2 oz Vida Mezcal
1 1/2 oz fresh oro blanco juice ( a type of grapefruit available in late winter, early spring)
4 drops Bittermen’s Grapefruit bitters
Into the Boston shaker they go, shake, shake, shake for about 30 seconds, strain into a chilled coupette and garnish with grapefruit peel that has been rubbed on the rim of the glass.
I had a go recently at making my own tonic syrup since I love saving a penny and learning something at the same time. If you can get your hands on all the ingredients its a doddle to make.
I used Toby Cecchini’s recipe for Quinine syrup from the NY Times
Add 1-2 oz of the syrup depending on how strong you want it to about 6 oz of soda water, drink as a soft beverage alone or add to gin or vodka for a ruddy colored sipper.
Gentian is a flowering plant that grows in Alpine regions of Europe, Asia and America, the name is a tribute to an Indo-European king , Gentius, who first discovered the herb had tonic properties. The Swiss use the root of the plant to distill a beverage called Gentian, it is also used in the soft drinks, Bundaberg the Australian brewing company uses it in their bitter lemon lime soda. French liqueurs Suze, Salers and Aveze are made principally from yellow gentian. It is also an ingredient in the Italian Aperol and in the aromatic Angostura bitters. Gentian has long been used in digestive tonics, Angostura was invented by a German doctor to help the appetites and digestion of soldiers in the 1800′s , over the course of time it was used by the kings of Europe as an aid to digestion. Angostura bitters are now employed in many a classic cocktail , check out issue 006 for my own Ango based cure all, Gentian was also used in the Middle Ages as an antidote to several poisons. Following are a few drinkies that employ Gentian based liqueurs. To your health!
Suze Gentian Liqueur
Suze Gentiane Liqueur was first created in 1889 by distillery owner Fernand Moureaux and has been traditionally prepared in accordance with the original recipe for over a century. Wild gentian is harvested from the mountains of the Jura and Auvergne regions, which are then macerated with a medley of aromatic plant extracts before being distilled. The result is a complex, highly aromatic aperitif with notes of bittersweet herbs complemented by subtle accents of vanilla, candied orange and spice.
The classic Vesper is made as mentioned above 3 parts gin, 1 part vodka, 1/2 measure of Kina, I have played with a couple of versions and one of my favorites was made using Suze.
Exhibit #3 Here’s a riff on the classic Vesper
1 oz London dry gin ( Beefeater is my go to mixing gin)
3/4 oz lemon infused vodka ( 3 lemons skinned, the peels of which get thrown into a jar with 1 750ml bottle of vodka, infuse for about 2 weeks shaking from time to time)
1/2 oz simple syrup
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
2 drops Miracle Mile Yuzu bitters
throw everything in your mixing glass with cracked ice, stir for about 50 seconds, strain into a chilled coupette or martini glass, garnish with lemon twist.
One of my current favorite ingredients is the Italian aperitivo Cocchi Americano from the house of Asti, its the gateway from wine to liquor since it contains a small amount of added alcohol. Infused with amongst other things gentian and bitter orange peel its can be drank alone over ice or plays well with others in all sorts of cocktailian games. I tinker with the flavor somewhat adding fresh bay leaves or infusing with thai basil, sometimes I toss in a vanilla bean.
Exhibit #4 Crusta cocktail variation
The Crusta is considered the game changer in the cocktail world, before it was invented a “cocktail” usually comprised of sugar, water, some kind of bitter and some kind of alcohol. Joe Santini a New Orleans barkeep invented the Crusta by adding an acid, a weak spirit and a sweet spirit to the pot.
Self Preservation Society
Chill a steep sided wine goblet and rim the edge with sugar, I like a deep rim of about 1 inch. Peel a thick strip of lemon zest and coil it around the inside of your goblet.
1 1/2 oz London dry gin
1/2 oz Luxardo maraschino liqueur
1 oz Cocchi
3 dashes of Peychauds bitters
barspoon of Fernet Branca
1 oz lemon juice
splash of champagne
Throw it all in a Boston shaker with ice, shake for about 30-40 seconds or until a nice frost forms on your shaker tin, strain into your lemon twist lined goblet.
Salers Aperitif is a classic French beverage created from the roots of Gentiane Lutea, a wild plant that grows at high altitudes in the Auvergne region of France. The roots are steeped in a neutral alcohol base for several months, which is then distilled with an assortment of herbs and matured in Limousin oak casks. The result is a distinctive bittersweet liqueur with earthy vegetal notes complemented by hints of citrus peel, mint and anise. I like to use it in a version of a white Negroni , in fact it works well in place of Aperol or Campari in a few drinks, or drink it alone over ice on a hot summer day and imagine you’re in your villa in the South of France a la Keith Richards in Nelcote, well thats where my imagination runs of to anyway.
Exhibit # 5 is again based on the classic Negroni
1 1/2 oz Old Tom gin such as Haymans
1 1/2 oz Salers
1 1/2 oz Dolin Blanc Vermouth
3 drops Bittermens Boston Bittahs
lemon twist to garnish
In a mixing glass add your ingredients and ice, stir for about 30-40 seconds, strain into a chilled coupette and garnish with lemon twist.
Next up…….a salute to another bad boy Brit