Friday, December 3, 2010

Islay Whisky Fudge

I've always been a bit of a homebody. There are few things that I enjoy more than tinkering around in the garden, pickling cucumbers, baking scones and, when I can, making Christmas presents.

I know what you're thinking and the answer is no - I'm not secretly and old woman. Besides, this recipe is for a serious man-fudge and it contains a load of my favourite lifespan-shortening ingredients like butter, whisky, refined sugar, condensed milk, malt extract and salt.  

A wee dram with a healthy serve of Islay whisky fudge

  Islay Whisky Fudge
  • 3 cups white sugar
  • 1/2 cup organic unhomogenised milk
  • 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 125g of European style cultured unsalted butter
  •  3 healthy pinches of Maldon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon malt extract 
  • 60ml of smoky Islay whisky (I used Laphroaig)
Step One: Put sugar and milk into a saucepan.
Step Two: Heat gently, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves.
Step Three: Add condensed milk, butter, salt and malt extract. Stir until butter has melted.
Step Four: Bring to the boil and continue boiling until the soft ball stage, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. (Drop a little bit of the mixture to a cup of cold water, if the mixture forms a slight ball then is it done)
Step Five: Remove from heat. Cool slightly and stir in whisky.
Step Six: Beat until thick.
Step Seven: Pour into buttered tin.
Step Eight: Mark into squares. Cut when cold.

There is of course one final step not included above. Pour yourself a dram whilst whipping this up and have someone on hand to help you clean out the leftover fudge stuck to the pot.

This is a perfect Christmas present for soaks, grumpy old men (dads), and aunties who secretly (generally not so secretly) like to hit the bottle.

Seasons greetings everyone.    

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Spicy Wee Dram

The wee dram I'm talkin' 'bout is Pimento Dram. It's a little something I came across a fair while back on Paul Clarke's exceptional drinks blog The Cocktail Chronicles and it has since proven itself to be an handy little formula. Dash it into Milk Punch and Navy Grog or include it in your original cocktails - for ailments that Pimento Dram cannot remedy there is no cure.

For those discombobulated by exactly what  I'm meaning by 'pimento', let alone 'dram', let me render this into something more digestible. Pimento is another name for allspice - a Caribbean spice valued for its flavour that is akin to a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove. The word pimento is a corruption of the Spanish pimiento meaning pepper. Indeed, allspice is also know as Jamaica pepper or myrtle pepper. It's not to be confused with what is stuffed into your olives.

Dram, on the other hand, is one eighth of an apothecaries' ounce or rather 3.89 grams (you'll be tested on this later). Of course this isn't the meaning of dram I'm looking for. Rather a dram, in the sense it is used in this post, refers to a small measure of liquor. Over time the usage of this word has changed to mean a valued bottle of liquor - something that you might dispense in small doses. 
A known panacea for all ailments
Over the years I've tinkered slightly with the recipe that Mr Clarke has provided in the link above. Whilst the simple mix of allspice, sugar and rum ain't to be knocked, the variation below bumps up the spice a little to create a memorable little tipple. I call it McGoram's Fine Old Pimento Dram:

  • 1 Vanilla pod split and scrapped 
  • 1/2 Cup whole dried allspice berries
  • 6 cloves
  • 25.7 (100 grams) drams of fresh ginger (sliced)
  • 1 cup Inner Circle Green Dot (or another rich 57.2% pot still rum) 
  • 1 cup Lambs Navy Rum (or Coruba works a treat too)
  • 1 cup rich raw sugar syrup 2:1 ratio - The Simple Syrup Company Raw Sugar Syrup is perfect for this.

Infuse the spices and rum in a sealed vessel for 72 hours shaking every 12. Fine strain out the spices and add sugar syrup. Drink to your health. 

If you really can't be bothered making this recipe yourself the German based The Bitter Truth produce a pungent Pimento Dram that, with a little bit of effort, you should be able to acquire in Australia. Chapel Street Cellars in Melbourne have started to bring the Bitter Truth range I hear.

You could always head along to Sydney's Low 302 where they stock McGoram's Fine Old Pimento Dram for my cocktail entitled 'The Stylist' (it's an in joke). Here's the recipe if you want to give this a whirl:

The Stylist 

45ml Havana Club Añejo 7 Años
15ml Fresh lime juice
10ml Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
2.5 drams of McGoram's Fine Old Pimento Dram
Dash real pomegranate grenadine

Shake briskly and strain into a chilled vintage coupette. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Rhum Negrita - A product of outdated ideologies and defunct distilleries

A recent find out at Sydney's Petersham Liquor Mart - a real treasure trove of a bottle store if you've never been - was a bottle of Bardinet's Rhum Negrita. Being the braggart that I am, I did not waste any time sharing my discovery with industry fellows. Whilst I wasn't claiming that the product was of high value or quality I felt a little chuffed that I'd managed to find something a bit different. Until I bumped into Mr David Ramos Hernandez that is.

David, the manager Low 302, is a Spaniard. And as it turns out this wee product used to be one of the big sellers in Spain and once upon a time was one of the few alternatives to Bundaberg or Bacardi available in Australia too. David, in need not be said, hardly raised an eyebrow.

Nevertheless, I decided I'd find out a little bit more about the product, and give it whiz past the old palate.

The producers of the product - Bardinet, founded in 1857  - are a bit of a giant in the French spirits market. Since 1974, the company has been based at Domaine de Fleurenne - a 14-hectare estate just outside Bordeaux. The complex is home to 90 000 hL of storage facilities of spirits, with 30% in ageing casks housed in 5 different cellars; 5 fully automated bottling lines with a maximum capacity of 14,000 bottles an hour for an annual production of 50 million bottles; and 12 000 m2 of warehouses. Lots of big numbers, but certainly no revelations here.

This particular spirit was distilled and aged at the Dillon Distillery, Fort-De-France, Martinique though Dillon, according to the Ministry of Rum, stopped distilling at the end of the 2005 season. The brand is still available today (in over 100 countries according to Bardinet's website) though I'd have to find a new bottle to establish where it it is made today.

The name of the product, Bardinet's logo and their old advertising posters are really what draws the eye. Negrita according to the is: "n. A blackish fish (Hypoplectrus nigricans), of the Sea-bass family. It is a native of the West Indies and Florida". Although in this case I think we can be certain that the name actually means 'little negro woman'. 

The term and branding are politically insensitive to say the least especially as the spirit comes from Martinique. This country was built on the back of the slave trade and saw racially charged labour strife well into the 20th century despite the abolition of slavery in 1848.

Admittedly the posters and labels are more curious, than shocking to a modern audience, but that Bardinet have been unwavering with their branding for most of their 150 years deifies belief.

The product itself is an agricole rhum - made from sugar cane juice as opposed to molasses - as is the Martinique way. Allspice and cocoa dominate the nose and on the palate I get an initial sweetness which gives way to cocoa, dried apricots and fresh pressed sugarcane with a particularly hot finish. Very hot considering this rum weighs in at 38% abv. Whilst you know I like a rum with a bit of heat - this one doesn't deliver the goods on the high-ester, high-flavour end of the ballpark.

Whilst she ain't a goer I've had far worse. Still with it's strangely outdated brand ideologies (read; slightly racist)  I'm in no wonder as to why this product is no longer taking the world by storm.       

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Rumbunctious Mistress

Never trust a man who wears a hat indoors
Rum and I have an interesting relationship. I mean every man has their type right? Scotch will always be my first love - the spirit I'll write poems for, take out to fancy dinners and moonlit walks along the beach. Scotch, well, she's a classy wee lass.

Rum, on the other hand is my mistress - it's all heated, passionate flings. It's slightly subversive and sometimes I come out the other-side feeling a bit dirty. In saying this, these are qualities I admire - not abhor - when it come to rum. My kind of rum is easy and cheap  - the sort you don't feel like you need to dress up for or take to a swank uptown joint to enjoy her pleasures. What's more she could be a local - the girl next door.

More and more these days I see bartenders go for high falutin' rums from exotic shores - rums that boast aging in ex-Cognac barrels and distillation from virgin sugar-cane honey (why would I want an affair with a virgin?). Yes, I'm talking about luxury rum brands like Ron Zacapa - brands that have elevated the rum category to the prestige Cognac and Scotch. Whilst I admire their work and the craftsmanship (in this case it's actually craftswomanship) of the product it's not personally what I'm after from my rum.

Call me base, but I'm after a hot spirit - something with a bit of fire, funk and an abundance of in-your-face character. She doesn't need any class and she speaks with an Australian twang. I'm talking about Inner Circle. 

Inner Circle pre-1986 bottlings
Coming in three bottlings: Red Dot (40% abv); Green Dot (57.2% abv) and Black Dot (75.9% abv), Inner Circle is a pot still Australian rum brand  that we can be proud of. Unfortunately, it's actually a product of Fiji - fortunately it's still pretty darned good.

I realise that championing this style of rum may be controversial, but it's this high ester spectrum of the rum category which I think is often maligned. The rum 'stink' of this unctuous spirit can be smelt the moment you pour it into a glass. Molasses, cut grass and coco fill the air and it's this aromatic quality which makes Inner Circle an amazing weapon in the mixologists' arsenal.

Cocktail historian and Author David Wondrich, who was recently visiting Australian shores thanks to the Mixxit team, is also a hugh fan of this style. He laments the loss of old skool, pot still Jamaican Rum 'redolent of funk' and recommends that Inner Circle Green Dot is the best substitute in historical recipes that call for this style. But give it a whirl in more modern recipes too. It can boost the aroma and add a depth of character in Tiki styled drinks in particular.

I guess the other reason I'm waxing lyrical about this product is because I recently came into possession of a couple of  pre-1986 bottles of Inner Circle - the original CSR produced rum that was made right here, where I live and work, in Pyrmont, Sydney. In fact, the Bartender magazine offices, as some of you might be aware, are the in the old cooperage for this very rum brand.

The two products pictured above are the 'Black Dot' and the 'Red Dot' (37.2% abv and 75.9% abv respectively). They offer a very different taste profile from today's Inner Circle, but you can see the family resemblance. The original is slightly less aromatic, but displays an almost nutty sherry-like nose with a sweeter more syrupy palate and some pleasant citrus notes almost reminiscent of Havana Club Barrel Proof, but with a heavier, lingering, cocoa finish.

A fantastic rum that unfortunately is now extinct (except at my house) - at least evolution has given us a throwback with Lion Nathan's Fijian produced, 'Australian' rum - Inner Circle (mark II).      

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Brooklynesque Cocktail

When I first decided to start a blog I promised myself that I wouldn't be another one of those sleep inducing cocktail bloggers - that I'd try something a little different.

We'll we all promise a lot of things to ourselves when we've a had a tipple or two and most we don't manage to keep. Besides my blog was looking a little sparse and this bottle of Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey has been giving me the eye for weeks now. How could I not oblige and take the lady for a spin?

She has a heady scent of toffee apples, marzipan, cinnamon and vanilla and is just a little too feisty for her 86.6° proof. After a brief introduction though it's time for a taste. As she she touches my lips for the first time, she's sweet and unctuous, but it's not long before I realise that she's a lively bitter chocolatey number. Very lively for being just two months shy of 10 years... and here's where I better end that metaphor.

You get it - it's not a bad drop, but could still do with a little taming by 'cocktailing' it. It just so happens that a friend of  mine, one Charles Ainsbury, is heading up a new joint about to arrive on the Sydney scene. It's called Duke and one of the cocktails you'll find there is Ainsbury's favourite - The Brooklyn. It's inspired me to give this drink a whirl.

Hold your horses. There's a problem. I don't have any Amer Picon. It's mighty tricky to acquire actually - especially down under. I'm told that Torani Amer is an agreeable substitute, but that's really no use for most as you would have to go to the US for that too. Fortunately I have returned from the US recently(ish) and have a bottle on hand. It's a thin, orangey amaro reminding me a little liquid antibiotics I was given as a kid - but what the hey.

The Brooklynesque Cocktail
  • 60ml Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
  • 20ml Noilly Pratt Dry Vermouth
  • 2tsp Torani Amer
  • 2tsp Luxardo Maraschino
  • 2 Dashes The Bitter Truth Xocolatl Mole Bitters
Add all ingredients to a mixing glass. Stir with loads of nice big ice cubes for a good 30 seconds. Pour into a chilled glass and garnish with one Steve's Easy Squeeze maraschino cherry. Put it in your mouth.

NB. Mr Ainsbury will likely have real Amer Picon. He'll likely also make it with rye. He's a show off that way.

The drink is a doosey. I've taken the liberty of adding chocolate bitters because I can (and because it really works with this whiskey). Dry vermouth and whiskey might seem like an odd combo too, but given the right opportunities they really are simpatico partners. Whilst Torani has its foibles - this cocktail has come up trumps with a sweet entry, silken texture, and a bitter lingering finish that hits all the rights spots.

Oh the Bourbon by the way is from James Busby Fine Wines and Spirits. James Busby is the name of the man that first introduced the Syrah grape to Australia - that's your useless fact for the day. The company however, is not as benign as my prattle. James Busby Fine Wines and Spirits is an importing arm of Coles. They do have some fine product though... more on that later.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

I'll Learn You Some US of A - Lesson One

You may have been wondering what happened to further posts from the US of A. Well, the long and short of it is, I was waylaid. I mean I was seriously distracted by the whirlwind that is TOTC. That and I really don't want to reveal too much of the content that I'll be using in October's issue of Australian Bartender magazine.

I thought what I could do is share a couple of my learnings and inspiration from my latest soused adventures. Here's the first:

Lesson One: The burgers - they just taste better.

Absolutely the most revolutionary part of my voyage to the US was my encounters with one of the greatest American inventions of all time - the hamburger. It's arguably the best drinking accompaniment behind the humble bar peanut.

Burgers-shmurgers you say? Well even here in Australia we have an obsession with this masterful minced meat sandwich. There's Hungry Jacks and the Golden Arches with their new 'fancy' Angus beef burgers, there's a rash of gourmet burger chains like the Kiwi owned franchise Burgerfuel (which is now also in Saudi Arabia and Dubai - go Kiwi!) and Global Burgers. And there's the joints that combine Australia's obsession with burgers with their obsession with the dirty bird - think KFC, Nandos an Oporto.

There's also the new Grill'd 'Healthy Burgers' franchise. They're great (great fit out, service, toppings, buns)! Except for the burger part of their burger. No fat really does = no flavour. It's reminds me of a Gary Larson cartoon with the caption: "Gary Larson Lite. Not funny, but good for you".

David Blackmore Full Blood Wagyu Hamburger - Rockpool Bar and Grill, Sydney
It's not just franchises that love a good burger. Find me a pub which doesn't have a burger on their menu. Or if you fancy going a bit more gourmet the 'David Blackmore Full Blood Wagyu Hamburger with Bacon, Gruyere Cheese and Zuni Pickle' at Rockpool Bar and Grill was, until recently, the best thing I'd ever put in my mouth. I'm yet to find a better burger on Australian Shores.

The States turned my burger world upside down. For starters even an average 24-hour diner buys in their own quality meat to make their burger pattie. No one would dream of ever buying anything frozen or pre-made unless the were MacDonalds. The meat is quality too. Grimy take-away joints will offer Kobe beef and buffalo burgers. You'll always be asked how you'd like it - rare, medium or well done - a concept alien to Australia.

I tried no less than five burgers, two 'hoagies', and three sandwiches (I'm not counting hotdogs) over my week of travels in the US. They were all fantastic but had I stayed another week in the US I might have died from an overdose of grilled bovine goodness (if my arteries didn't clog first).

The Bula Burger: bacon, Swiss, mayo & spicy pineapple teriyaki sauce
In San Francisco, hunt out Pearl's Deluxe Burgers near the corner Jones and Post. Their award winning Kobe beef Bula Burger gets the Booze Braggart seal of approval. Order some fountain soda, a side of onion rings and help yourself to the free pickles on the counter. Under $15 USD for the lot.

Nopa's Grass Fed Beef Burger
Nopa (560 Divisadero St, San Fran), which you'll be reading about in October's Bartender, also has an amazing grass fed beef burger served with French Fries and the obligatory pickles. You can add bacon and choose from a selection of cheeses like Roquefort, Gruyere or Cheddar. What's more the drinks program at Nopa is as good as any in Fog City. I washed down this bad boy with a Russell's Reserve 6 year old rye Manhattan. The burger is $13 USD, plus 10 percent for tax and don't forget to add another 18 percent for service!

An infamous 24 hour joint, the Pinecrest Diner on Geary Street (near Union Square), was another stop on my three day San Francisco burger binge. The Story goes that back in '97 a young lady placed an order for poached eggs despite the fact that the item wasn't on the menu. The chef, one Hashem Zayed, obliged much to the disgruntlement of one of the waitresses - Helen Menicou who had worked with Zayed for nearly 20 years.

Menicou berated Zayed for making the order in front of the rest of the Pinecrest staff. Zayed went out after work on an all night gambling binge losing several thousand dollars in the process. The next logical step was for him to purchase an .380 semi-automatic handgun which he then proceeded to take to work and shoot Menicou with. Five times at point-blank range. Menicou died from her injuries in hospital one hour later.

Well the burger here was great. All the better at 2am after drinking Speakeasy Prohibition Ale and Four Roses Bourbon Boilermakers at Goldust around the corner. Go for medium rare, grab hold of your pickle and enjoy. Just for Christ's sake don't order poached eggs man!

Yo Mama's in NOLA
New Orleans, despite its many charms, soulful-jazz, and great cocktail history, is a veritable wasteland for good eats. Save for a handful of notable exceptions. Yo Mama's (727 Saint Peter Street in the French Quarter) is one such exception. Well almost. The burgers are mighty tasty if swimming a little in sauce and if you really like you can order sides of Gumbo and Jambalaya as is mandatory (though not recommended) for any passing tourist.

ACDC my Aussie accomplice and I devour our burgers that have been unceremoniously slapped down on the slightly grimy counter. We enjoy a pint of local cold, though not memorable ale, admiring the extensive range of Tequila on the shelves of what can only be described as a real dive of a bar (Don Julio 1942 is $12 USD for a pour that looks close to 3oz - 90ml!). As soon as we're done the bar girl slaps down the check. She has to cash out her till and it's her day off anyhow - she's off to go drinking. Heck even our receipt comes with a 'Yo Mama' joke: "Yo Mama's so fat she's on both sides of the family!".

I waddle out of Yo Mama's feeling slightly dirty into the wet 35 degree heat. But I'm oh so satisfied. The place is a real gem and a perfect escape from the cocktail buffs that have over run this town during Tales of the Cocktail. I feel enlightened and emboldened too. I've come to the self-realisation that I'm on a quest - a quest to spread the good word about the burger. To lift it from the banal to the extraordinary. To find 'The One'.

Would you like to know more about hamburgers? Visit

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Falling in Love with Fog City - part the first

I'm currently en route to Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans - perhaps the largest gathering of bar-bores the world has ever seen. My travels thus far have brought me to Fog City - San Francisco for those unfamiliar with the term.

You'd expect most tourists - as in this fine city I indeed am - to make tracks for the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and the famous Fisherman's Wharf. My site-seeing has been of a different ilk. I've embarked on a tippling tour of the city's finest though possibly less salubrious landmarks - bars.

The barkeep at Goldust (near Union Square) pouring a pint of the local Speakeasy Prohibition Ale
San Francisco has a number of venues with a grand reputation, and whilst those have been visited and well documented, what has really left an impression and kindled the flames of love I have for this town are the myriad beer and shot bars, the dives, and the local eating dens. These basic, 'entry level' joints are the real life blood of the imbibing city denizens - some are a little grimy, others a tad sticky, they're all good value and they're characterful. They're covered with the detritus that accumulates from being the living rooms of good hard working folk for decades - the places where the city unwinds with a pint of the locally brewed Prohibition Ale - a fantastically hoppy, US Pale Ale - its bitterness balance by a sweet malt body.

But back to the junk. So many bars here have refused to fall into the refurbishment trap - where photos of famous patrons and owners are packed in box and forgotten. The past breathes through these bars - the surroundings are meaningful and memorable.

It isn't just the venues themselves that refuse to 'refurb' but the people that run them. Forget trilby hats, waistcoats and sleeve garters sported by a bartender with a chip on his shoulder that is larger that the aforementioned hat - instead these venues are a family affair. The owners are as colorful as the venues themselves, amazingly hospitable and easily a good enough reason to return again and again.

Julio Beremejo - there ain't a finer host around
 Perhaps one of the greatest host I've encountered is Julio Bermejo from Tommy's Mexican Restaurant and Tequila Bar. The venue is touted as the world's best Tequila bar. I'm usually skeptical of such claims but after the experience I've recently had I wouldn't be inclined to argue. Despite world class status Tommy's isn't what you'd expect - it is simply a rather homely family owned and run Mexican cantina in San Francisco's suburbs. It is the people here (and yes the incredible range of 100% agave Tequilas) that make the place so special - Tommy Beremejo - Julio's dad - who opened the joint in 1965 is still there to play host with his son and greet the guests that pack out the place almost any night of the week.

My recommendation is to get there early and grab a seat at the bar so that you can experience the Tequila. On my vist I was treated to a flight of Tommy's Margaritas - 100% agave Tequila, lime and agave nectar. I got to try nine in total (they were mini ones) and was amazed by the different nuances found in each - it really is a great showcase for this spirit. The recently rebranded Espolon - a highland Tequila owned by Gruppo Campari - was a revelation as too was the Amate reposado that followed - a lowland displaying beautiful caramel and vanilla notes in the Margarita.

In short, Tommy's is deservedly a Mecca for agave spirit fanatics - if you're a visiting bartender you'll get treated like royalty too - I even got taken out to lunch by Julio the following day - but that's another post in itself.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Just when you thought you'd seen the last of me...

A couple of months ago I handed in my resignation for the editor's role at Bartender magazine. It was time to shake things up a little. Make some positive changes. Well, I haven't quite left my job just yet, in fact, I'm not planing to leave it entirely at all - rather I'll be sticking around under the rather fancy title of 'drinks editor' in a new part-time role. But change - it is a coming.

I'm packing up my moleskin, my dozen or so pens that are all branded by drinks companies, and my newly acquired iPad to delve into the world of freelance drinks writing. 'Freelance' - I have quickly found - is a term that raises eyebrows followed promptly by a "oh that sounds interesting".

I'm serious though people. I'm no flake. I'll be giving it a crack and this blog is really a kind of work book for where I'm at with this going solo kinda thang. You can expect updates on new developments with my infant company Full Proof Media - a working title - and links to any stories of mine that survive the editorial axe.

It won't just be about me - as much as I relish blowing my own trumpet - but expect updates of the boozy kind from old favourite tipples to newly uncovered potions. Expect a bit of travel thrown into the mix and live vicariously through this blog with a splash of event reporting to boot.

Check back in soon as, like so many things in this life, this humble offering is sure to improve with age.


Simon - The Booze Braggart