There's something to be said for competent predictability. There are far too many bars in this world (and particularly the bit of it called London) that proudly display their new scotch and haggis cocktail and cook up essence-of-new-car syrup, while never in their madcap mixology revelry to learn how to make a Manhattan properly. Meanwhile, one can count the number of bars that can deliver on that elusive good Manhattan with a single hand. However, there are a number of worthy exceptions identified by some of the most innovative (and lucky) bartenders. Here are 7 screwball flavour combinations that somehow work fantastically, and some drinks which showcase them.
1) Campari and Strawberries
One would assume that these two would be almost entirely at odds. Strawberries, one of the most effective mass appeal ingredients, and Campari, a notoriously 'difficult' bittersweet aperitif, to be diametrically opposed both in their inherent character and the intent of their use. Amazingly, as partners, they work wonderfully (note: this is the premise of the whole post, so I'll be struggling to find novel ways to express this sentiment 8 times over). The herbal sweetness of the campari deepens the fresher fruity notes in the strawberry, the bitterness is tamed and balanced, while still to cut through the sugar. This affinity will generate a complete lack of surprise in anyone who's ever seen a buddy cop movie: it's essentially the culinary equivalent of partnering a gruff, old detective and a fresh-faced rookie. But without half an hour of tedious sniping. Anyway, here's my very own Figaro
3 muddled ripe strawberries
2 shots plymouth gin
3/4 shot lemon juice
1/2 shot basil syrup (1:1 sugar)
1/4 shot campari
3 dash Wasabi tincture
Shake and fine strain into chilled coupe. Garnish with Campari dusted strawberru
This is a nice summery gin sour, with added complexity from the pairing. Basil syrup adds aromatic depth and Wasabi adds spice that a) sharpens up the strawberries and b) balances the bitter finish. In a pinch (HA), black pepper could replace the Wasabi tincture. If you fancy making it, infuse a bottle of overproof vodka with 200g grated Wasabi root for a week.
2) Talisker and Chocolate
The Talisker single malt is one of the great idiosyncratic scotches - briny, smokey and medicinal like an Islay, yet delicate and complex like a Highland, this whisky is undoubtedly the Isle of Skye's greatest asset (besides an apparently picturesque harbour). I first discovered its curious harmony with cacao before I'd ever mixed so much as a Martini. After a glorious night's drinking with an old friend, we eventually broke out a bottle of Talisker and a few cubes of high cocoa dark chocolate on a whim: the pairing was uncannily good. Admittedly, by that point we were also impressed by the genre-busting entertainment value of Sammo Hung's Martial Law, so our judgement may have been impaired. However, upon more sober reflection, the quality of our discovery was upheld (the one about scotch, not Martial Law). Although this exquisite partnership can be experienced at the height of its power simply by enjoying both separately at the same time, this is a cocktail blog damnit. The 10 Year old is the only expression I'd feel comfortable mixing and even then one tends to feel the disapproving stare of whatever Gaelic deities enforce the proper consumption of Scotch. Fortunately, the results are so good that it's worthy earning a little cosmic approbation. In return I'll offer the embarrassingly named Honcho in the Hebrides
2 shots Talisker 10 Year Single Malt
1/4 shot honey syrup
3 small drops saline solution (100g sea salt, 100ml water)
3 dashes Xocolatl Mole bitters
Stir over ice and strain into a chilled iceless rocks glass. Express an orange zest over the glass and discard.
Yep, it's essentially just a tweaked Old-Fashioned. The Whisky combines with the cocoa notes in the (fantastic) Mole bitters to provide the backbone, while the honey and orange oils smooth it out. As though further proof were needed of the eminence of those wonderful bitters, the background of spices accentuates the peppery qualities of the single malt.
3) Raspberries and Vinegar
"Hey", I hear you exclaim (fairly quietly, since I think I've currently got about two readers) "This was meant to be a list of bizarre and innovative combinations -what's this you're offering, a cliche from the eighties?" True enough, there are even Amish farm-folk who now consider raspberry vinaigrette passe (it's excellent mocking the Amish on the internet - after all, how will they ever know?). But, in cocktails, vinegar is still a pretty niche ingredient, and in raspberries, they find an excellent partner. As for the showcase, groan-inducing though it may be, I had to go with a tweak - the Clover Shrub Cocktail.
3 muddled raspberries
1 3/4 shots Plymouth Gin
3/4 shot lemon juice
1/4 shot sweet vermouth
3/4 shot raspberry shrub
1 egg white
Double shake and fine strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with raspberries and mint.
For the shrub take 2 cups (roughly 700g) of raspberries, 100ml water, 150g sugar and one bottle of red wine vinegar. Simmer and crush the first 3 ingredients together over low heat, add the vinegar and boil a little more. Fine strain into a clean bottle and cool.
The shrub replaces the raspberry syrup of the original. The Clover Club has some pretty accessible flavours for a classic cocktail and the added sharpness and depth from the shrub makes this variation a little more challenging.
4) Chamomile and scotch
As I'll be looking at more extensively in another post, there is a dearth of great Scotch cocktails, so we're indoubted to Jamie Boudreau for producing such an excellent and individualistic combo. The heavy floral notes of Chamomile are matched by the distinctive strength of good Scotch. I've knocked about with the idea a little, looking at Old-Fashioned and Rob Roy variations with a little Peychaud's, but in truth the partnership is best exhibited in Boudreau's original cocktail.
2 shots Chamomile infused Compass Box Asyla (Famous Grouse in the original)
3/4 shot lemon juice
1/2 shot gomme
1 egg white
Infuse a bottle of Scotch with half an ounce of chamomile flowers for 20 minutes. Assemble drink, double shake and fine strain into a coupe. Garnish with something pretty.
A hell of a good sour. Smoky, rich and yet light. Great drink from a great bartender.
5) Cynar and Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Hey, since we've already had vinegar, why not get a veritable salad dressing going? Olive oil is, again, on its first legs as a cocktail ingredient. Its application will, I suspect, be seen mostly in godawful 'Martinis' for the next year or so. Vodka shaken with half a shot of olive oil - mmmm. On the other hand, Cynar, the much celebrated artichoke bitters, is a great, almost obvious counterpoint to olive oil. The vegetal notes of the bitters match up
2 shots Cynar
3/4 shot Licor 43
1/3 shot shot Extra Virgin Olive oil
2 dash Peychaud's
1 egg white
Shake and strain into a goblet. Garnish with lemon zest
Technically not a true flip, using the white rather than the whole egg. The oil works as the yolk, emulsifying the mixture, while the herbal vanilla of Licor 43 sweetens and lightens the drink.
6) Laphroaig and Watermelon
You want left field, I'll give you left field. Or, at least, Beta (formerly Rogue) Cocktails will. This loose bartending movement are responsible for some of the weirdest, wittiest and, frankly, just tastiest new drinks of the past couple of years. Make sure to look them up. I doubt the combination in question has many applications outside of this specific cocktail - probably the strangest on my list - but it was far too daring to leave out.
The Scotch Cringe
2 shots Laphroaig 10
3/4 shot lime juice
1/3 shot gomme (3/4 1:1 simple syrup)
1 whole egg
2 chunks watermelon
Muddle, double shake and strain over cubes in a collins glass. Garnish with... erm.... a smug look.
Perhaps the weirdest aspect of this cocktail is that it doesn't actually taste too offbeat. The more medicinal, less assimilable flavours in the whisky fall away against the egg and watermelon and you're left with a rather summery drink with just a hint of smoke and oak. It's a bit like drinking a barbecue.
7) Chartreuse and Chocolate
OK, this pairing is somewhat novel - Chartreuse and hot chocolate has been a mainstay for a while - but, overall, it's still a rare flavouring to see on cocktail lists. And, screw it, I love Chartreuse. It's hard to discern just why exactly they pair up so elegantly - perhaps it's down to their mutual richness, possibly it's just a quirk of nature - but, in any case, delicious apart, together they're magnificent. There are a number of great examples, but I've chosen a Tiki drink in which the pairing is not the focus but rather an intense and complex modifier of a fairly standard rum punch.
1.5 shots rum (Barbancourt 3 Star)
3 chunks fresh pineapple/1 shot pineapple juice
1/2 shot lime juice
1/2 shot green Chartreuse
1/4 shot Creme de Cacao
A cocktail that shows just how good intelligent, well-balanced Tiki drinks can be. Lime and pineapple deliver the light tropical flavours that provide broad basis of the drink. The Rhum Agricole adds a raw vegetal flavour that perfectly complements the Chartreuse, while the rich herbal and cacao finish adds a depth that never detracts from the refreshing nature of the cocktail.