7 things for your bar cart

I have gotten to the lowest possible point when it comes to items on the bar cart. There is a bottle of absinth, some Fernet, Cointreau, that Amarelle bourbon I made and an array of bitters. That’s it. So the time has come to give it a proper cleaning and then start to restock. So what should I reasonably have on there? What are the priorities and best options for a small but useful set of bottles to make good cocktails? These are my seven suggestions.

  1. Good London dry gin. I know some people love their Bombay Sapphire but keep that for your G&T’s if you insist on that blue bottle. For cocktails a simpler, more citrus-y gin is preferable. I suggest a Beefeater,Gilbey’s or Gordon’s. I love Tanqueray which works well too, that it has that tinge of cardamom suits me and my cocktail making just fine.
  2. Blended whiskey. Scottish or Irish doesn’t matter. Jameson is nothing to scoff at, it works really well in whiskey sours and that sort of thing.
  3. Light rum for the summer bar, dark rum for the winter bar. Mojitos, or in my case Rosa Cubanas, is a fave with many in summer and there is no reason not to indulge. For winter you might want to get a nice bottle of dark rum and experiment with making an old-fashioned with rum (very good) and other twists on classic cocktails.
  4. Cointreau. To be sure Cointreau has its flaws. Triple sec might be an option. I famously make my own orange liqueur nowadays. But Cointreau is a bar staple and it’s in so many classic cocktails. With Cointreau you know what you are getting and can adjust accordingly. Triple sec can be both heaven and hell as there are many versions/brands on the market.
  5. Campari. Because you want to make Negronis. There was no realistic substitute (unless you want the very hard to get Nardini bitter or something similar).
  6. Single malt whiskey. Using single malt instead of blended whiskey or bourbon in classic drinks is entry level “twist on cocktail” and very often a great one. Also good for sipping and in cooking.
  7. Angostura Aromatic. The most classic of cocktail bitters, with its iconic bottle that is to small for the label, is a must have. It cannot be replaced. It’s also the case that one bottle will last you a lifetime.

So there is an absence of vermouth on the list and that’s because those should be kept in the fridge. They are based on wine and once you open them they will deteriorate in taste if kept in room temperature. Not overnight but still. For dry vermouth Noilly Prat is great, readily available and affordable. Sweet vermouth is a trickier proposition. Antica Formula is the golden standard but it has a ridiculous price tag in this country so I’ve started to make my own. The important thing is to avoid Martini Rosso like your life depended on it.

A bottle of Maraschino is good to have on hand but not essential; if you invest in proper cocktail cherries (NB: this is not a suggestion. Those bright cherries of cellulose that are sometimes sold are not OK, get the real deal) you can use a bit of the syrup they come in for Hemingway Daqiuries, Aviations and the odd Martinez. The cherries should also be kept in the fridge but as a bonus in emergencies they can be served with ice cream as a dessert.

Then on occasions you will have to stock up on fresh herbs, citrus fruit, a few other fruits and berries for a seasonal touch, tonic and maybe champagne. But those are all complements.

When it comes to kit then a barspoon to stir drinks, a measuring jigger, a nice shaker is pleasant to look at and easy to use but I’ve shaken up cocktails in jars and thermos flasks too. I like stirring glasses as they are often very decorative but you can use any old pitcher. Glasses to drink from obviously; I really like rummaging  flea markets and antique shops for old glasses as they used to be a bit smaller with nicer proportions. When it comes to the accessories for the bar cart you can have fun in an inexpensive way with napkins, coasters and straws, feel free to get silly. I predict that cocktails with a little umbrella will be huge again in 2018.

-Suss

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Thursday & Two cherry things

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Luckily for me, I have friends that give me berries and fruit on occasion. I like to forage for sure but I’m not above a bit of store-bought produce now and again if time is tight. And I’m even happier at being given stuff when I don’t have time to even browse the frozen section at the corner shop.

So I found myself with a couple of punnets of sour cherries. The are called Klarbär in Swedish and Amarelle in Italian (which I think we can agree is a superior name). They are, as the name implies, not as sweet as regular cherries. To be fair, it’s rarely enough sun and warmth for even the regular ones to be as sweet as they can be up here. But these are rather tart even when they are ripe. So what to do?

I did two things. First I tried a thing that I found on Martha Stewart, find the original here, which is basically equal amounts of cherries and bourbon that gets to sit in a jar with an orange zest for a few days and then is used for for an Old-fashioned. Mine has now infused for almost week; very nice and fruity but with warmth from all the spices in the bitters giving it a nice balance once blended into a cocktail. It’s giving me ideas I tell you. And this is such an easy thing to do. Just make sure the berries are in good knick (no mold or damaged berries) and always clean the jar properly. The bourbon of choice, if I’m gonna have it at home, is Bulleit bourbon. I have made scathing comments in the past about bourbon in general as I don’t find it a necessity but it is very nice on occasion. My main bourbon-peeve is people’s tendency to get their knickers in a twist about Maker’s mark which I find to be overly sweet and too expensive (does anyone else have a bourbon-peeve of any kind?).

The other thing was also drink related; I made a syrup/cordial with sour cherries. As I’m making this using something that has a stone it’s easier to boil them in water first and then let that filter through a clean cloth, and then mix the juices with sugar and bring it to the boil. As I plan to use this in the next couple of weeks I didn’t add any citric acid or anything else as a preservative. You can google recipes to get in measurements that you are used to. Basically I will use this instead of grenadine (i.e. pomegranate syrup) in some cases and I’m likely to experiment with using it as a replacement for regular syrup in a few classics. Will make the drink nice and pink, and it really is an interesting twist taste wise.

-Suss

Monday & Mermaid & Mixology

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As the season, and I will point this out many times more, has taken a turn for the colder and more colorful my mood turns to meatier reads and stiffer cocktails.

This is the perfect time of year for historical fiction, Dickens, Balzac and a few horror stories. Then in November when the mornings are frost nipped and there is a possibility of snow we’ll turn towards the Russians and possibly fairytale interpretations. Then for spring the taste is for the new and contemprary fiction is where it’s at. Or so this seasonal reader lives anyways. I don’t know about you.

But back to the season at hand, which is off to a flying start with The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar. Let me first point out the obvious; this is a stunning cover. It has been remarked upon by many people this week as I’ve been carrying it around everywhere (with no thoughts to my back). Kudos to the publisher that they let this debutante be presented to society in such fine and eye-catching attire. It can only improve its reputation and increase the general interest.

But you should never judge a book by its cover, it’s always (always!) about the story.

If I’m going to try to sum it up it sounds like this; Mr Hancock, a trader, one day finds himself in the possession of a mermaid. It has procured by one of his captains, without authorization, in exchange for one of Mr. Hancock’s ships. In order to recoup his losses he puts it on display and by doing so enters into a part of society of which he has known but never taken part; the courtesans of London. His life is forever altered as is the lives of those he comes in contact with. Maybe some of those things would have happened anyways, maybe not. As readers we are following a chain of events both likely and unlikely. I don’t want to give too much away but I was surprised more than once. And I did get attached to Mr. Hancock, his niece Sukie, the infamous Angelica Neal and to some degree the cat that lives in Mr. Hancock’s house. This is a story of obsession, passion, fear and the stories we tell ourselves to justify our actions.

What I will say is that I was a much darker novel then I expected, it doesn’t  view the Regency era with rose-tinted glasses and is brutally honest about the life of courtesans. I have A harlot high and low by Balzac in fresh memory and thought about it more than once; Old Honoré was always very observant and honest about human nature in his books and that’s why I love him. That I even make the connection, and mention the two in the same review,  should be interpreted as the highest of compliments.

So the idea is a fabulous one in many ways but how does it do on the page? It is told in a rather detached way which reminded me of The Essex Serpentt. The language however is much more colorful and of that time I guess, which is both entertaining and mood setting. I also love the attention paid to details of interior and clothing, little vignettes that set the scene.

Are there flaws? Yes, but this is a debut novel so I have a very forgiving eye. And the fact that I like all my storylines tidied up in the end, which I didn’t get, might be more a reflection on me then the book.

I did thoroughly enjoy this book despite it giving me a knot in the stomach at times, and I don’t hesitate to recommend it. This was as ARC given to me by Vintage Books but I probably would have bought it/lent it at the library when it came out anyways. The book is published February 8th 2018. Make a note in your calendars people.

Also; about the stiffer drinks I must warn you that Old-fashioneds will feature heavily in the next few weeks. To sip on whilst reading the last few pages of this I made one with bourbon, plum syrup and plum bitters from Fee Brother’s. The bitters, inspired by the spices in plum pudding, seemed to tie in nicely with the book as plum pudding is actually mentioned (it is historical fiction in the Regency Period. I assume the law demands that plum pudding is mentioned). The flavours worked really well together. Just an idea.

-Suss

Tuesday & transitional tipples

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We are rapidly approaching autumn. There might still be some lovely warm days but increasingly there will a crispness in the air and a need for a scarf in the morning. With the changing season comes a different mood and, obviously, a different selection of produce in the store. In short; other fruits to use in cocktails and a return to warm drinks. Might I make a few suggestions in regards to that?

  1. Plum and vanilla syrup mixed with almost anything. Those lovely plums from yesterday will be eaten but the syrup remain. It can be mixed with water for a cordial but is also a great base for drinks like with gin,soda and a twig of rosemary (orange zest is optional). The rosemary really plays of the plum well. Very fresh and fruity, and a lovely colour too. Or just mix that syrup with prosecco? Use it as a base for an old-fashioned? “Waste not, want not” I always say. This syrup is versatile stuff.
  2. Hot chocolate. Possibly with a dash of Amaretto. It’s the drink of comfort and doesn’t have to have alcohol in it to tempt me this time of year. I use flavoured sugar when making it for a dash of something spicy. But a spoon or two of a fancy liqueur is not a bad idea.
  3. Irish coffee. Because obviously.
  4. Port negus. As we move towards the season for reading big ol’ Victorian classics this drink of that time is a good companion. Here is how.
  5. G&T:s with elderberry syrup. I made this first time last year and I’m keeping a very close eye on the ripening of elderberries because I want to make it again. Same goes for the elderberry and red wine-syrup that I got from Elspeth Thompsons book.
  6. Warm spicy apple cider. The apples are ripening and there will be compotes, pies and what not. But don’t underestimate the comfort of warm apple cider with sugar and spices. A dash of dark rom can be added if you feel like it.
  7. Anything with blackberries, like a Bramble. A Bramble will taste best in the heat of summer but now is the season for fresh blackberries to use as garnish, so what are you gonna do? Save it for the hottest days is my suggestion. You don’t have to make your own blackberry liqueur (but it’s an idea although that will not be ready in time for this cocktail) but fresh berries as a garnish really is necessary.

-Suss

Friday & freezer full of fun

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As things have resumed their normal pace, and schools are about to start, we finally have some sun and warmth in Stockholm. Better late than never? So let’s discuss summer cocktails and a few things pertaining to that. In fact let’s talk about ice in particular.

The standard for ice in cocktails has gone up the last few years. Any bartender with self-esteem will be seen hacking away at chunks of ice behind the bar because ready-made cubes are not so not OK anymore. Some bars have ready made cubes with their logo but that’s as close as it gets.

If I were to speculate at the reason for thither are primarily two; one being the revival of cocktails and the insight that a big ice cube melts slower and thus doesn’t dilute the drink as much. Which is correct and very reasonable. The other is those lovely Muji silicone spheres allowing the “at home bartender” to make big cubes with no fuss. As the whole point of going to bars is the experience and that it should be above the level of mere mortals they have had to up their game. That’s my theory anyways.

I have nothing but love for the Muji spheres and have gifted many a friend with a kit of one of those, some cool raw suger cubes and a decent cocktail spoon. I don’t use them myself though. I have a tray to make ice cubes in the shape of diamonds which I like, but the spheres are a little to big for the glasses I use. Instead I reuse those little plastic containers that they use for soy sauce at my local sushi place(sidenote; I rarely buy the sushi but prefer their dumplings). Ordinary as they may seem those little cups they make an excellent cube and can, if handled with care, be reused several times. Then it’s put in the recycling bin.

If you want to add further oomph to the visual appearance of your cocktail there are a slew of things that can be put in the ice as garnish. Fresh flowers is a classic, I tried using dried rosebuds this week and that looks OK. One thing I often do is put pink peppercorns in; it’s from a variation on a G&T that I found online the other year. Pink peppercorns in the ice, gin, tonic, grapefruit juice and dash of rosewater or rosewater syrup. Looks nice and tastes great. I encourage experimenting with this, many things loose their colour when frozen but something like juniper berries look very cool and ties nicely to gin in a G&T. They don’t release much flavor as they stay in the ice mostly.

Another obvious trick is to use frozen berries as ice. Excellent in a white wine spritzer or something like that. Try to use a little fresh basil with frozen strawberries; looks nice and a good combination of flavours.

Another good thing about putting things in the ice is that it obscures “the view”. With the nerdiness/snobbishness with ice bartenders talk about clarity in ice like my mother talks about diamonds. It has to be clear and see through to rate. Seriously. Spending to much time on achieving clear ice is the sign of a clouded judgement.

Have a great weekend everyone!

-Suss

7 cocktail books to get you started

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I was pretty sure I had already written this list, but maybe I’ve just been thinking about  it a lot. When it comes to cocktails I stand on the shoulders of giants, knowing what has already been mixed has obviously been much of my learning in this. I don’t own or have read all of the cocktail books out there, but I have read many. If we excluded the ones that are written only in Swedish and ignore all of those that are so big they are more of an encyclopedia i.e. not very user friendly, then I’m left with this, admittedly arbitrary, list. You could start out at worse places.

1. Tequila mockingbird by Tim Federle. I’m on record not liking this book much but that is primarily because when I came across it I was already neck deep in mixology and having been a bookworm from an early age I take the whole “literary” very literally. That said I do know people like it and they use it. It’s small and fun and Federle has inspired people to actually mix cocktails so two thumbs up for that.

2. Storied sips by Erica Ducey. This is an easy to use and very stylishly put together overview of cocktails managing to get by a fair few classics and a couple of less expected ,but worthy, forgotten drinks. It gives a bit of cocktail history along with the recipes, that are organized from weak to strong. I like this one a lot and have given away copies as presents.

3. The Savoy cocktail book. This is the bible, the foundation of modern mixology and one of the most classic cocktail books out there. Not all the cocktails in it are suited for the modern palate and some ingredients are no longer available, but you can’t go all that wrong if you in addition to this know how to Google. There are excellent resources online for what to use instead and project The savoy stomp(here) is the best of them. I do admire that sort of undertaking.

4. The PDT cocktail book. The bar PDT (please don’t tell) has probably been one of the bigger players in the cocktail revival. The speak-easy style bar in New York(entrance through a phone booth in a hot dog place) has spawned many replicas and their mixology is on point. They mix classics and modern tipples (tequila is for natural reasons rather absent from the Savoy Cocktail book) and has a few very helpful chapters and charts about what a home bar needs, about seasonal ingredients and snacks.

5. Imbibe by David Wondrich. Not a cocktail book per se but a book about the history of cocktails mostly. It’s a good read however and you can learn a lot by following the evolution of cocktails. Wondrich is the the godfather of modern mixology.

6. Drinks by Tony Conigliaro. If the Savoy cocktail book is the cocktails of yore, The PDT cocktail book all about the here and now, then Conigliaro takes it into the future. Gourmet food that get three stars in Guide Michelin is wasted on me. Deep friend lichen? Come on. Applying the same sort of thinking to cocktails however and I’m intrigued. That Conigliaro loves perfume and uses that as inspiration obviously endears him to me. And lichen-infused gin with a syrup that mimics that taste of stone? Awesome. 69 Colebrook row is not the cosiest or most centrally located bar in London but I always leave with a smile on my face and a head full of ideas. This is as close as you can come at home. What I have also learned is that you don’t need an expensive laboratory to make the ingredients. I managed to make the salted caramel liqueur in my own kitchen. Will share the recipe at some point.

7. Shake,stir,pour by Katie M. Loeb. As I like to make a lot of ingredients myself I think this is a good book, and easing into mixology by way of cooking isn’t a bad idea. It’s an easy and inexpensive way to create a cocktail with a twist, to have made a syrup of seasonal berries or an infused spirit. Instructions are very good in this one even though it does not have the nice design that some of the others do.

-Suss

7 classic cocktails to know.

When I say “7 classic cocktails to know” what I’m getting at is proportions and techniques. Once you have those baseline parameters everything is just an extension or an adjustment of that. If you take a White lady and replace the lemon juice with limejuice and the gin with tequila, you have a Margarita. If you know how to make a Mojito you can figure out a Mint Julep, or replace the one of the ingredients like say the mint with basil for a twist on a classic. The last is obviously arbitrary, we could discuss which one’s to included for days, but these are well-known cocktails that most people like and knowing how to make them is an investment that pays off, even though it might make you a very picky customer if you go to a bar.

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  1. Negroni. I love a Negroni, I really do. Campari is a complex ingredients as it is so keeping it simple was probably the best idea all along. Supposedly the idea came from Count Camillo Negroni who wanted to make a twist on what we now know as an Americano(Campari and red(sweet) vermouth) by adding gin, all in equal proportions. A third of each is a good idea for many cocktails And I often exchange the sweet vermouth for dry, or use sloe gin insert of of regular. Change the gin for whiskey and you have a Boulevardier if I remember correctly. I don’t know is swapping gin for tequila has a name but it should because it’s delicious. I have blogged more about this here.
  2. Martinez. Many people are familiar with Martinis but not all like them. Somewhere in the evolution there was a thing called a Martinez and I would like to bring that to your attention. With a base of gin it has both dry and sweet vermouth as well as some Maraschino( a cherry liqueur) and a few dashes of oranges bitters. More aromatic, and a bit sweeter, than a Martini it is the best of many worlds. That said I like it best with gin,dry vermouth only and the Maraschino and bitters. What I have also learned in my cocktails explorations is that 4 cl of gin, 2 cl of dry vermouth, a barspoon of whatever sweet and some bitters is a great start for a cocktail. Like this one.
  3. Old fashioned. I spoke about the deceptive simplicity and the usefulness of this cocktail not so long ago. It’s strong but is also such a treat to get. Mad Men has made it very popular gain and I for one am very glad about that. Now if only people stopped getting their knickers in a twist about Maker’s mark which comes in a cool bottle but really is overly sweet. Get a bourbon with some complexity people!! Instructions etc. here.
  4. Mojito. I could make a bit of a face and mumble “10 out of 10 basic bitches would choose” but Mojitos done right? A fresh good thing. What I mind when getting these are when they are stingy with the mint. And nowadays I only make Rosa Cubanas for myself because I’m always gonna be the oddball who likes the taste of roses in my glass. I do think you should join me in that, here is how.
  5. French 75. Another great template to play around with. The base is gin and then there is sugar,lemon juice and topped with champagne. If you swap the champagne for soda water you have a Tom Collins.I’ve fiddled around with this cocktail to make my own La Colombe (here). It’s great with light rum,limejuice,sugar and champagne too.
  6. The White lady. To mix a bas spirit with citrus juice and Cointreau is a winning concept. A White lady does is with gin and lemon juice, A margarita uses tequila and limejuice and a Sidecar contains cognac and lemon juice; the first and the last is usually shook with an egg white in the mix.  Many people adhere to the notion of equal proportions with all of these but let me tell you those people are either deluded or lazy(or both) The best way is to use them in 4 cl of base spirit, 3 cl of juice and 2 cl of Cointreau. And then, as I’m always myself sadly, I go and swap some of the Cointreau for either homemade orange liqueur or bergamot syrup. Hopelessly trying to achieve the perfect balance. It really is a wonderful concept to work with, like here.
  7. Kir Royal. The basic concept of something sweet in the bottom of the flute topped with sparkling wine rarely fails. Kir Royal is with Créme de cassis and champagne but many have enjoyed a Bellini which is peach purée(at Harry’s bar in Venice where the Bellini was invented they only use white peaches) and that brunch time staple the Mimosa is in that vein. I love to use elderflower cordial, strawberry purée or sloe gin to mix with. Either of those three are wonderful with sparkling wine, so you can adjust to the season.

-Suss