All posts by Jamie Stephenson

Pernicious Peach

bees-kneesI came across the idea for this recipe whilst reading a book on the origins (and myths) of poplar words and phrases.

The phrase “The Bee’s Knees” originated during Prohibition – it’s use is first recorded in a flappers dictionary in the Appleton Post-Crescent of Appleton, Missouri on 28th April 1922 and it was defined and meaning ‘peachy, very nice’ – well that gave me the foundations for my twist.

The cocktail of the same name is known to have emerged during Prohibition too – it was obviously named for the new phrase and compared to a lot of the rough drinks being bandied around at the time, probably did taste like the Bee’s Knees, or indeed the Cat’s Pyjamas or yes, the clam’s garter.

Once the hangover of the ‘noble experiment’ had eased, the drink was perhaps not as good when made with professionally distilled spirit and consumed without the cloud of illegality overhead. In his 1948 The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, David Embury proclaimed Prohibition had birthed “such pernicious recipes as the Alexander – equal parts of gin, crème de cacao, and sweet cream; the Orange Blossom – equal parts of gin and orange juice, with or without the white of an egg; the Bee’s Knees – equal parts gin, lemon juice and honey; and so on ad nauseam

The drinks was described as such in it’s original format of equal parts gin, honey and lemon but later in the book, concedes that when made in the ratio of a classic Gin Sour “merely substituting honey for the sugar syrup, it is acceptable.”

He also goes on to say that “the addition of a small amount of orange juice… Makes an interesting variation.”

This is the recipe that Ted Haigh pick up in his Vintage Cocktails and Spirits but at some point it has been given a name – The Bebbo Cocktail.

In the book, Dr Cocktail scoffs that despite the stupid name, the Bebbo Cocktail has at least merited a page therein whereas the Bee’s Knees “remains justly, nowhere to be found.”

I guess no-one is a fan of the original Bee’s Knees then?!

Don’t you believe it – the rise of the throwback to Prohibition-era drinks and the increasing use of honey as an ingredient has seen the Bee’s Knees actually become quite a common drink albeit in the Gin Sour ratio that Embury recommends. The use of different honeys and other herbs as modifiers (try using clover honey and a pinch of fresh thyme!) has created delicious variations found on drinks lists all around the world.

My own version is a slight modification of the Bebbo simply using peach juice instead of the orange (a nod to that first definition of Bee’s Knees meaning peachy)

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Pernicious Peach

50 ml The king of Soho Gin

30ml Lemon Juice

15ml Honey Water*

10ml Peach Juice

 

Shake well and double strain into a chilled coupette

Garnish with a twist of lemon (and maybe some honeycomb if you have it)

*Whenever you use honey in a drink, when you put it in the shaker, once you’ve added all the liquid ingredients, give it a stir until it has fully dissolved before adding ice and shaking otherwise it won’t become a part of the drink. Better still, you can dissolve the honey in hot water first and add it to the drink already in liquid form.

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Serendipity

serendipity
As a bartender, there are two questions I get asked more than any other and neither of them have a ‘proper’ answer. The first one is often “How many cocktails can you make?” And the second “What’s your favourite cocktail?”
For the first, even though the reality is a figure close to infinity, people tend to be super-impressed when I shrug and casually suggest a thousand. This question is most often asked by people who don’t have a full working knowledge of cocktails.
The second is much more difficult to answer. I mean, if I were to be completely honest, it would be the Martini, it is one of the icons of cocktail history and I have one tattooed on my arm. No other drink has inspired, created, or ended, so many discussions, fights, relationships, paintings, writings or images as this sleek, subtle concoction but to be honest, they are not the most exciting of drinks and in most circumstances, people are trying to find out which of my own creations I rate the highest.
This is also quite difficult because I have several award-winning cocktails of which I’m immensely proud, especially Ariadnes Boudoir and French Rock n Roll which use very challenging ingredients as their base and never fail to surprise the people who claim to hate those spirits.
I suppose it’s a bit like being asked which is your favourite child. Impossible to answer BUT, like in the case of my mom, there is one which stands out as being a bit special (and you can read into that any way you want sis!)
I created the (or as I should refer to it, MY) Serendipity whilst I was tending bar at Sugar Lounge in Manchester in 2001. A group of managers from the UCI Cinema at the Printworks had taken to coming in during the late afternoon, one of whom I knew from my childhood village (Thorngumbald in the East Riding of Yorkshire if you’re interested) when asked for something ‘off piste‘, I threw together a combination of flavours I thought worked well together and was quite pleased with the finished result as were they – several were ordered and consumed, not only by the cinema staff but also by other customers who had entered the bar and had been persuaded to try it by Alison and her friends.
I decided to call it Serendipity because it was, at the time, my favourite word. I had been exposed to it through a character in the Aussie soap Neighbours affectionately called ‘Dippy’ but whose real name was Serendipity. There had also more recently been a film of the same name released (which I’ve never seen incidentally) and it was because of this link, I thought the UCI girls would like it and they did.
Over the next few weeks, we would get people coming into the bar asking for a Serendipity much to the chagrin of Beau who had been on shift with me that afternoon and had to ask me for the spec so he could make them himself. It was at that point I realised I had a ‘signature’ drink. I put the Serendipity on the list of subsequent bars I opened, Cosmopolitan Spirit, Harvey Nichols and Obsidian where they were the biggest-selling cocktails without a doubt.
In the wake of it’s reception at Sugar Lounge, I decided to use the Serendipity in the finals of the CLASS Magazine competition. Over the course of a year, Maxxium sponsored a competition which involved monthly heats which involved sending in a recipe containing that month’s featured product. The winners of each heat were invited to London for the grand final at 57 Jermyn St.
In the final, you had to present the drink that you used in your winning heat plus another cocktail of your choice using brands from the Maxxium portfolio. It was indeed serendipitous that my Serendipity could be made using their products.
The final itself was a big deal and it was my first big competition in London and one of the only competitors from outside the capital. I spent the afternoon prepping and getting ready sat next to one of the only their guys I vaguely knew from other trips to the Big Smoke. A guy rocked up with a cassette recorder – “I’m a journalist doing a piece about the competition and I’ve been speaking to a couple of people who have been tipped to win” he said to the guy next to me – he never looked in my direction over the entire course of the evening LOL
The only thing I really remember about the comp itself was that I felt pretty relaxed San I was excited to be making drinks for one of my heroes King Cocktail himself Dale DeGrof who was on the judging panel and that because I was using cranberry juice in my drink, I sourced canned Ocean Spray to use because Dale had recently done a promo of cocktails for them using it and as I opened the can I said “Dale, this song is for you!”
So I don’t know if it was the quality of my drinks or my outstanding wit which did it but I’ll also never forget the announcement of the results which went something like “Third place <such and such a person>” {loud cheering and applause} “Second place <such and such a person>” {raucous cheering and applause} “and in first place, Jamie Stephenson from Manchester” {stunned silence}
I’d made my mark and will always have a special place in my heart as a result. I won a fortnight in Barbados for winning the comp and kickstarted a run of big competition wins. Though it may not be the BEST drink I’ve ever created, it’s still damned good for what it is, especially in an era of lower alcoholic requirements. I will never get tired of pulling this one out of the bag.
Serendipity has evolved over different venues and cocktail lists due to the fact that it shared many similar ingredients to the Slow Walk in the Woods that I had created for the Beefeater International Bartenders Competition. On a fairly small list, I didn’t think there was room for two cocktails using Sloe Gin as a base so I switched the Serendipity to Raspberry Vodka as the Stoli Razberi at the time was really nice and fairly innovative as far as flavoured vodkas went. This decision was further justified when I opened Obsidian and was able to use Citadelle Raspberry. Nowadays it can be with either the Vodka or Sloe Gin but currently I’m leaning towards the Ginny version given the time of year.
Obviously, as it was a Maxxium competition, it was originally made with Plymouth Sloe Gin which is very good and would still be the perfect choice were the Sipsmith Sloe not better suited. I think the fruit flavours are much more pronounced and there is a bit more of a spirity ‘bite’ which give more depth to the finished drink.
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Chambord has always been a constant. I think I MAY have used a Crème de Cassis on the day of the comp for branding reasons but it really isn’t a Serendipity without it. I fell in love with Chambord on my very first visit to London which was my only purchase that day and from Harrods no less (I didn’t know of Gerry’s back then) It is another product which I have a particular sentiment for and one I will always stock – I’m not embarrassed to say it. (Midori being another)
chambord
So that’s it, the story of the Serendipity. Ah well, it isn’t quite is it? Of course in the days before Google and when C.L.A.S.S. Was the ultimate resource for style bars around the world, there only appeared to be one Serendipity but of course we know now that another one predates mine.
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I recently took my Serendipity on tour to the Hemingway Bar at Ritz, Paris to the creator of the original Serendipity, Colin Field. His disdain for my version was almost Gallic but it only served to remind me of the dismissal Myers initially gave it that afternoon at Sugar Lounge so I think he’ll come around eventually LOL
The only thing they have in common is the name – the two drinks are nothing close to similar but a Serendipity at the Hemingway bar is an experience in itself and Colin is a most genial host, his presence is comforting and welcoming very much like when you’re in the presence of Maestro Calabrese.
So there we go, the final word on the subject.
Okay it’s not, I still like mine better. 😉
Serendipity
35ml Sloe Gin
15ml Chambord
10ml Monin Vanilla Syrup
15ml Lemon Juice
4 or 5 Blackberries
50ml Cranberry Juice
In a shaker, give the blackberries a quick muddle in the syrup, add the other ingredients and shake very well.
Double strain into a tall glass filled with crushed ice and garnish with a blackberry and a slice of lemon
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Haycock’s No9

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I was recently working at Imbibe, the drinks industry trade show at Olympia. As well as being able to promote my own brand, I was able to take advantage of the valuable networking opportunities it presented. There were so many people there, lots of whom I hadn’t seen for years and it was nice to see how many of the ‘old’ faces are still actively involved in the industry.

It was on one of the stands where I came across a couple of familiar faces and I was introduced to this divine liqueur.

Haycocks has been devised according to old Gin recipes which were never meant to be drunk mixed with anything – just neat as a medicine. In this case the Juniper as been taken out (thus removing itself firmly away from the Gin camp) instead focusing on the Coriander seed.

Coriander seed is probably the second most important botanical in any Gin recipe – it is that which provides many of the citrus and spice flavours depending on the origin of the seed and is one of the ‘amalgamating’ spices which make all the combined flavours work together and harmonise.

I first tried it in a London Mule which obviously has the liqueur as a base and is topped with ginger beer and fresh lime. It was the perfect drink for a hot day stuck inside what is effectively a large greenhouse. Their other serves are variations of other classic cocktails and demonstrates it’s versatility perfectly.

Their website is pretty sleek too with gorgeous imagery from Karin Taylor (http://www.karintaylor.co.uk/) pure drinkporn which ticks all my boxes!

I’ve got a bottle now at the bar at Iscoyd Park and I’m looking forward to getting it into some of my creations henceforth.

 

Black Tot Day

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This memorandum from the Admiralty board of the Royal Navy sounded the death knell of the daily rum ration to the ratings.

Introduced in 1655 after the previous ration of beer proved unsupportable on long voyages, the sailors on board were initially provided with half a pint of rum per day (at gunpowder proof too – see https://thecocktail.guru/2015/04/15/measurement-of-alcohol/ for details) until 1740 when it became watered down and split into two servings per day.

The man responsible for this was Admiral Edward Vernon who’s nickname ‘Old Grog‘ came from the grogram cloak he always wore. He was so concerned about the level of drunkenness throughout the ship’s crews that at Port Royal in August 1740 he issued an order from the HMS Burford to tackle ‘the pernicious custom of the seamen drinking their allowance in drams and often all at once, which is attended to many fatal effects to their morale as wells to their health”.

Vernon had a very distinguished career in the Royal Navy, in November 1739, he captured the (now Panamanian) colony Porto Bello from the Spanish which was hailed back in Britain as huge coup. The Portobello Road in London was named for this victory as well as an area of Dublin and another in Edinburgh, and Rule Britannia was composed as part of the victory celebrations.

The engagement at Porto Bello was part of the ‘War of Jenkins’s Ear‘. In 1731, a Captain called Robert Jenkins was carrying sugar from Jamaica to London in his ship Rebecca when he was boarded by the Spanish who accused him of carrying contraband. They tied him to the rigging and tried to get him to admit he was carrying treasure and when he didn’t, they cut off his ear and told him to take it back to King George. In 1738, when a parliament committee were investigating disputed with Spain, Jenkins presented his ear which had been preserved in a jar of rum. This stirred up such an angry feeling that the PM Robert Walpole declared war on Spain and her ally France.

In 1810, the exact blend of the rums used for the daily ration were codified by the Admiralty and the same blend was used right until the very end of its issuance in 1970 even though the amount had been subjected to repeated savaging, firstly in 1823 when it was halved and again in 1850 when it was halved again. By the time Black Tot Day came around on July 31st, it was a ceremonial amount of 59ml diluted with 188ml of water.

Tot Cup

Following the final up spirits between 11 and 12 on that mournful day, Charles Tobias managed to persuade the Admiralty to sell him the rights to commercialise the rum blend which had been used and in 1979, launched Pusser’s Rum.

Nelson Flask

Tobias was a frequenter of the Soggy Dollar Bar in Jost Von Dyke, BVI and a friend of the owner Daphne Henderson. The six-seater bar famously didn’t have a dock so visitors had to swim ashore in order to buy drinks with their soggy dollars. Henderson’s speciality was a drink called the Painkiller, the recipe to which she kept a carefully guarded secret. Charles Tobias worked very hard to emulate her recipe and, in using his own rum, not only came very close to the original but perhaps made it a little better. According to the brand, patrons of the bar were given samples of both Henderson’s and Tobias’s versions and the crowd overwhelmingly voted for the recipe with Pusser’s.

Since then, Pusser’s went on to trademark the Painkiller with the approval of Henderson and around the World, a Painkiller can/should only be made with Pusser’s (and the 54.5% version too for my mind!)

Painkiller

Painkiller

60ml Pusser’s Rum
120ml pineapple juice
30ml orange juice
30ml coconut cream

Shake and strain into a suitable receptacle (the Soggy Dollar Bar uses plastic beakers)

Garnish with a grating of nutmeg

One Tequila, Two Tequila…..

Tequila Hooker

Why did the Mexican push his wife off the cliff?

Tequila!

I start all my Tequila training sessions with this joke and it still makes me smile after all this time. Today is World Tequila Day and I thought I’d pay a quick homage to this very misunderstood spirit.

Tequila became a delimited area in 1974 – at this time, The Declaration of Protection of the Appellation of Origin Tequila was published in the Official Federal Journal effectively making Tequila Mexico’s National Spirit and this became internationally recognised in 1977 when an international “denomination of origin” classification was granted and Tequila became a part of the global supermarket.

Back in the 1970’s and indeed right up to the 90’s, Tequila wasn’t much of a player on the World’s stage. Outside of Mexico, Southern California and Texas, it’s use was largely themed restaurants and party bars. It’s annual sales weren’t much to write home about.

Then two completely unforeseen things happened.

Firstly, with a rekindled interest in cocktails and the rise of the ‘Style Bar’, Tequila sales started to gain traction just as an infestation started to attack the Agave plants from which Tequila must be made. Although there are over 130 species of agave, only the Agave Tequiliana Weber Azul can be used to make Tequila and it takes around 8 years to reach maturation and be ready for harvesting. The agaveros suddenly found themselves in deficit as they were harvesting the plants and there were none ripe enough to replace them – we entered the agave crisis.

In 2000, when the crisis started to really hit hard, the price of agave had raised tenfold in only 6 months with a ton of agave piñas being worth $1400 pushing prices per finished bottle from an average of $12 to $17.

Fearing that the same could happen to Tequila as happened to France’s wine and brandy industry following the phylloxera infestation. The industry started evolving to make their agave stocks more efficient.

Most major producers stopped producing ‘plata’ or silver styles of Tequila and instead invested their stock in maturation. By ‘resting’ the spirit for 60 days or longer, they could change category to a more premium one which would command a better price. The knock-on effect of this is that we really started to see how fantastic agave spirit can be once the effects of oak take hold and Tequila slowly started to change from being exclusively for shots and margaritas to a connoisseur’s sipping spirit too.

Now the producers are back on track with managing their crops and global consumption is still in the ascendency we are being treated to better and better Tequilas as we are seeing more innovation and the envelope is continually being pushed.

Here are some of my favourite Tequilas starting with a controversial one

Porfidio

Porfidio was created by a young Austrian called Martin Grassl who moved to Mexico and ended up founding the brand. His way of doing things may have rubbed some people up the wrong way and has, over the past decade had kidnap threats made against his family, been arrested, and been accused of not conforming to the rules of Tequila production. Indeed at one point he had his NOM rescinded (the certification number to prove he is producing legitimate Tequila) but fought to have it restored and now claims not to use if for the export market because his spirit is “better than Tequila” Whatever he has gone through in the past, if a NOM has been assigned and Porfidio is a genuine Tequila, it remains one of the best spirits I’ve tasted and I love both the plata and  varieties.Excellia-2Excellia

Excellia Tequila is the pinnacle of collaboration and sees the coming together of the expertise of two master craftsmen – Jean-Sébastien Robicquet, the creator of G’vine Gin and Cîroc vodka and Carlos Camarena of Tapatio Tequila. Agave from the Los Altos area of Tequila is fermented and distilled using traditional methods before being aged for nine months in ex-Sauternes and Cognac barrels. The result is a unique experience in Tequila which is as enjoyable to sip over ice as it is in cocktails.

AltosAltos Label

Olmeca Altos is probably my go-to and definitely my favourite blanco. This spirit is the true taste of Tequila and used traditional method to ensure that the finished product brings out the best of the agave flavours. This is definitely one of my favourite products to use in cocktails.

Annulata

Annulata

50ml Olmeca Altos Plata

10ml Lemon Juice

6 Raspberries

Dash Balsamic vinegar

5ml Sugar Syrup

3 pinch fresh ground black pepper

Shake all ingredients well and strain into a chilled coupette

Garnish with raspberries.

Finally I have to give a special mention to the Kah range of Tequilas just because their bottles are magnificent. The liquids inside are still great but have definitely been created for the next breed of Patròn drinkers. I don’t care – I’ll collect the whole range. This one was produced as a limited edition batch in 2012 to celebrate the ‘end of days’ as predicted by the Mayans. Fortunately it didn’t happen and I’ll be able to enjoy the contents of this bottle for some time to come.

Kah

The Daiquirí

Daiquiri

A celebration of the ‘King of Cocktails’ for National Daiquirí day 19th July 2015

Being such a simple drink using common ingredients, it’s no wonder that the drink we know as the Daiquirí has an older sibling.

A drink called the Canchánchara was present during the Cuban’s first attempt to overthrow the Spanish in the 1860s. The Mambises would have flasks of Rum. lime juice and molasses strapped to their saddles for fortification during their skirmishes.

The Daiquirí as we know it came about in 1898. Jennings Stockton Cox, the General Manager of the Spanish-American Mining Company based in the town of Daiquirí, near Santiago and his colleague F.D. Pagliuchi had got their hearts set upon after-work bevvies one day but realised that their usual tipples were out of stock. Cox shook up some Bacardi, lime juice and sugar and when Pagliuchi tried it, he asked what it was called. “It doesn’t have a name so it must be a Rum Sour” came the reply to which Pagliuchi retorted ” That’s no name for such a fine exquisite cocktail! We’ll call it a Daiquirí”

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Cox introduced the Daiquirí to Admiral Lucius W. Johnson who took it back to Washington DC in 1909 where it became a popular drink at the Army & Navy Club.

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In post-revolution Cuba the Daiquirí became a fashionable drink and was popular at the Venus Hotel in Santiago and also at the Plaza Hotel in Havana but it really took off at La Floridita where Constantino Ribalaigua Vert, who took over the venue in 1918, introduced no fewer than five new versions of the cocktail.

La Floridita became known as La Cuna del Daiquirí  – the cradle of the Daiquirí and Ernest Hemingway had his own place at the bar where he would, at 11 o’clock each day, imbibe a couple before going about his business.

Hemingway was convinced he had diabetes and asked for a special version to be made which had more rum and no sugar. Constantino obliged and this became known as the ‘Daiquirí Como Papa’. At a later date, Antonio Meilan added grapefruit juice and maraschino and it was renamed the Hemingway Special or ‘Papa Doble’.

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The secret to making a good Daiquirí is to preserve the balance between spirit, acidity and sweetness. One really shouldn’t get too hung up about the rum or bleat on too much about ‘original’ or ‘authentic’. Certainly it should be made with a young, light molasses-based spirit in my opinion. Neither the Havana Club rum of today nor the Bacardi Carta Blanca are close to the original rum used by Cox but both are perfectly acceptable in the modern era.

The Bacardi 1909 heritage bottling at 44.5% ABV is about the closest you can get and it really does make the difference in this drink.

Natural Daiquirí 

60mm Bacardi 1909 Heritage Edition

25ml fresh lime juice

10-15ml Sugar Syrup

Shake very well and fine strain into a chilled coupette
My own favourite variation took some inspiration from a Jamie Oliver cookie recipe


Aloha Havana

45ml Havana Club 3 años

20ml lime juice

1 ring of pineapple

Small pice of Birdseye chilli

15ml Monin Macadamia syrup

Muddle the pineapple and chilli in the bottom of a cocktail shaker, add the other ingredients and shake very well.

Fine strain into a chilled coupette and garnish with a slice of pineapple and chilli.
The chilli should just provide a gentle warmth to the drink and not be fiery.

Aloha

If You Like Piña Colada

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I wonder how many blog/social media posts are going to quote Rupert Holmes’ song today? Apparently though, when he wrote the song, Holmes hadn’t actually tried a Piña Colada he was going to sing ‘If you like Humphrey Bogart’ but thought he’d used too many film references already.

Today is Piña Colada day in Puerto Rico. It celebrates the fact that in 1978, the cocktail was made their National Drink.

Like all classic cocktails, there are a couple of contested originators of the drink but at least, in this case, they are from the same town – San Juan.

The most likely birthplace is the Caribe Hilton Hotel’s Beachcomber Bar and first-hand accounts name Ramón “Monchito” Marrero Pérez as the bartender who put everything in place though all the bartenders were very passionate about promoting ‘their’ drink. Monchito is said to have spent 3 months perfecting the drink and presented it on August 15th 1954 having captured “the sunny, tropical flavor of Puerto Rico in a glass”.

Though the name Piña Colada may have been used much earlier (there are recipes with this name dating back to Cuba in the 1920’s at least!) The drink as most people recognise it became intrinsically linked to both the Waring Electric Blender and Coco López Coconut Cream

Coco Lopez

Coco López was founded in San Juan in 1954 by Don Ramón López-Irizarry and it has been claimed that during the infancy of the company, Irizarry would spend time at the Caribe Hilton getting the bartenders to experiment with his product.

Initially the majority of the Piña Coladas made at the Caribe Hilton were shaken but Monchito preferred them blended and two nights per week, Coco López sponsored a singer in the hotel and the bartenders made sample Pina Coladas to hand out to the guests but their blenders kept breaking so Coco Lopez bought commercial blenders and loaned them to the hotel.

The drink has definitely been added to and refined since then and nowadays at the Caribe Hilton, they even add cream to the drink which certainly wasn’t in the original recipe. I think it’s fair to say that there are many variations on the theme and adding banana or strawberry flavours to the drink work well too.

My own hint for success is a pinch of salt in the drink – it really brings out all the flavours of the drink . Just a tiny pinch, not enough to make the mix salty and you will have a drink that zings.

Colada

My Piña Colada Recipe

50ml White Rum (Something like Banks 5 Island is perfect)

35ml Coco López Coconut Cream

125ml Unsweetened Pineapple Juice

Pinch Salt

Cup of crushed ice

Blend all ingredients until smooth and garnish with pineapple and a cherry.