Elderflower Season


I decided to make some elderflower cordial for the first time this year. There has been no real reason why I’ve not done it before other than the fact that it hasn’t actually crossed my mind when the elder in blossom. I think I was more prepared this year because I was watching for the May flowers for my previous post and saw that the elder was later to bloom.

Anyway, one afternoon I decided to have a stroll around the gardens at Iscoyd Park where I’m the bar manager and pick some flowers to use. I took a clean bin liner and picked a fair few heads to be on the safe side.

I got around to making the cordial after 2 days, I filled a pan with the flowers and poured boiling water over them until they were completely submerged. I then put the lid on and left them to steep for 12 hours.

The next morning I set the gas and brought the liquid up to boil along with the zest of 2 oranges, 2 lemons and 2 limes as well as the juice of the oranges and limes. I then added 2 kilos of caster sugar, stirred it in and let it boil for 10 minutes.


Ably assisted by my apprentice, the cordial was left to cool and a spoonful of citric acid was added before being bottled. I managed to yield 2 large bottles of cordial and with the rest, I married it with some gin to make an Elderflower Gin Liqueur (I used The king of Soho Gin and it is amazing!) as well as a liqueur based on triple sec which I’m looking forward to incorporating into some cocktails.

One of my favourite cocktails I’ve created was made using Elderflower Cordial and used a very strong flavour combination of Elderflower, Cucumber and Sauvignon.

The drink has had a couple of revisions since I first came up with the idea. It originally featured on the Harvey Nichols menu and was named for a Playboy Playmate who was being used in the advertorials for Patron, the original choice of Tequila.

I then discovered the drink worked better with Porfidio Tequila and because there was no longer the link with Patron another name was needed so I chose Mayahuel. The drink went on to be named ‘Best Aperitif’ at the Drinks international Bartender’s Challenge that year (2004)

Mayahuel was the Aztec goddess of Mother Earth whose earthly representation was the Maguay – the plant from which pulque and later, Mezcal was made. She had 400 children who were represented as rabbits and she had many breasts with which to feed them. The rabbits signify drunkenness and in many latin cultures, where we in Britain would say we can see pink elephants, they claim to be seeing rabbits. The more rabbits you can see, the drunker you are (obviously!)

More recently, the Tequila has had another change to Altos Blanco quite simply because it is the best Tequila I’ve ever tasted and it suits the flavour profile for this drink perfectly with the vegetal and pepper notes just peaking at the right points in the drink. I’ve also just changed the wine from the original Champagne to Freeman’s Bay Marlborough Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc from Aldi. There’s a good chance that for many people the original choice may have to stay but today I tried it with the Freeman’s and it works so well.


Mayahuel Martini

5mm slice of cucumber

15ml Elderflower cordial (I highly recommend my own home-made version)

45ml Olmeca Altos Blanco Tequila

15ml Lemon Juice

50ml Freeman’s Marlborough Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc

In a mixing glass, muddle the cucumber in the elderflower cordial. Add the other ingredients except sparkling wine and double-strain into a chilled Martini glass.

Add the wine and stir gently.

Garnish with cucumber.

This is such a delicious and refreshing drink, it is absolutely perfect for the hot and humid weather we are experiencing at the moment – especially whilst the elderflowers are still in bloom.

Does Drinking Gin Help Me Speak French?

Juniper Blog

One of the most difficult questions to answer has to be “Why do I like Gin?” after all, what’s not to like? It’s boozy, aromatic, versatile, clean, complex and at the same time simple. As I said, what’s not to like?

However, the answer could go deeper than that, way back into my subconscious – It could well be down to my childhood holidays!

Juniper is the primary flavouring ingredient in Gin. It is the only botanical which must be present by law and although it’s presence varies in concentration from one brand to another, it is there in one way, shape or form. Juniper contains many aroma compounds but the main one is Alpha-pinene. It is this hydrocarbon which is responsible for the pine-green and tangy aromas you find in Gin. They can also be described as resinous, woody and earthy.

I have a particular association with these aromas and that is of my childhood holidays. We used to go to the South of France every year and I used to love the warm air with the presence of pine and cypress trees. sometimes you forget these aromas but it doesn’t take much for them to be brought back as a vivid memory.

I hadn’t been to the South of France for many years but my fairly recent trip to Marseille brought back a lot of feelings as soon as I smelled the air, and, I’m certain it made my recollection of the language easier too.

So how does this happen?

Quite simply, the sense of smell is the sense most closely linked to memory and recall.

The olfactory bulb is a part of the brain’s limbic system which deals with both memories and feelings so smells can call up powerful responses almost immediately. The olfactory bulb accesses both the amygdala and the hippocampus. The former processes emotion, the latter conditioned responses. When you come across an aroma for the first time, your brain forges a link between that smell and a memory so it could be a place, a person, a thing or even a moment in time, this will become a triggered response and the next time you are subjected o the aroma, it will affect your mood – even if you don’t notice it consciously.

This effect is often noticeable when offered a drink of something you’ve once overindulged in at sometime in the past. I hear it over the bar a lot about Tequila. Someone drinks a lot of Tequila, spends the majority of the night talking to God on the big porcelain telephone and the next time they smell Tequila they feel queasy because they now have an association with the smell of Tequila and being sick (Funnily enough, another common culprit here, Malibu I have an aversion to because on these same holidays I have bad memories of suntan lotion being vigorously slapped on already-suntanned skin and the smell of coconut brings back those memories.)

One way to ease people back into liking things which they’ve gone off is to alter the headspace of the drink. Using the zest of an orange or grapefruit over a tequila shot will subdue the associative emotion and give the imbiber the ability to overindulge all over again.

So thank you Mom and Dad, for I feel it is at your feet I can lay my love of Gin but don’t worry, I shan’t let the Malibu people hold it against you!

And to answer the post title, I really do find I can remember my French far easier as soon as I’m there. I really have to try hard to speak since it is a long time without practice since I was fluent. I think I may have to indulge in some Gin training to see if my French recall improves.

NB I ALWAYS think my fluency improves after a couple of drinks anyway. Whether the language I am speaking is indeed French I know not but I usually manage to get my point across.

The Negroni

Savoy Negroni

The Negroni was created in Florence, Italy sometime in the late teens or early twenties of the Twentieth Century at Caffè Casoni by a bartender called Fosco Scarselli. It was made for Count Cammillo Negroni.

Negroni was, by most accounts, a bit of a playboy and had spent time travelling after fathering an illegitimate child, even ending up at one point as a cattle rancher in Canada. He moved back to Florence in 1912 and began frequenting the bars on the scene where he became friends with Scarselli. A popular drink at the time was the Americano which was. Campari, sweet vermouth and soda water, Negroni started asking for his with gin in place of the soda and a Classic was born.
The classic recipe calls for equal measures of the three ingredients.
30ml King of Soho Gin
30ml Campari
30ml Martini & Rossi Sweet Vermouth
Stir and strain into a tumbler filled with cubed ice
Garnish with a slice of orange.
The Negroni is an excellent aperitivo, it is dry and complex and it perhaps a little too bitter for the casual imbiber. One additional ingredient which can make this drink sing is a dash of saline solution (or a couple of grains of salt).
It is known amongst many cultures that adding a little bit of salt, or even using salty water in bitter coffee can make it more palatable. This ingredient can also be used very effectively in many types of cocktail. Even a tiny amount, way below the threshold of taste, can reduce the bitterness of a drink and also boost the sweetness and citrus elements of a cocktail.
That tiny amount of salt can even stimulate saliva production which can affect the perceived viscosity or richness of a drink and also strengthen aroma compounds.
Please note, if you can taste the salt, you have added too much – the drink should not pick up a salty flavour. To prevent oversalting, I prepare a saline solution and store it in a bitters bottle so I can just add a dash to each drink that would benefit from it.

Mary Pickford

Mary Pickford

On this date in 1979, the actress Mary Pickford passed away. During the 1920s, “America’s Sweetheart’, she was described as “the best known woman who has ever lived, the woman who was known to more people and loved by more people than any other woman that has been in all history.” It is not surprising then that when visiting Havana one year with Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks, one of the bartenders at the Sevilla-Biltmore Hotel created a cocktail in her honour.

Mary Pickford Cocktail

50ml White Cuban Rum

40ml Pressed, unsweetened Pineapple Juice

10ml Grenadine

5ml Dry Maraschino Liqueur

Shake well and strain into a chilled coupette

Garnish with a maraschino cherry and pineapple leaves (optional)


It was probably during a 1922 trip to Cuba that the Mary Pickford Cocktail originated. “We lunched with the Hicklings at the Sevilla, well, off red snapper and heart of palm salad, with a Mary Pickford cocktail” was cited in print in 1926. It also gets a mention in When It’s Cocktail Time in Cuba (1928) by Basil Woon – “The Mary Pickford, invented during a visit to Havana of the screen favorite by Fred Kaufman, is two-thirds pineapple-juice and one-third bacardi, with a dash of grenadine”.  Fred Kaufman was a British bartender who worked at the, then called, Sevilla-Biltmore Hotel.

Hotel Nacional

It is often said that the cocktail was invented at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba but as we have documented evidence of the drink’s existence in 1926 and the Nacional didn’t open until the end of 1930, this cannot be possible. The hotel does have it’s own signature cocktail, the Hotel Nacional Special which also uses Rum and pineapple juice.


Thanks to Anistatia for putting me on the correct path when things got a little confusing!

Mayday Mayday Mayday

May Daisy

In 1923, an air traffic controller at Croydon Airport came up with the idea to use the word Mayday as a word which could be used to indicate distress and would be understood by air and ground crew. It is alleged he chose it as it was an English word that also sounded like the French M’aidez (help me).

So Mayday is the day upon which we traditionally celebrate the end of winter and the beginning of summer by gathering the may blooms. It is from this practice we get the rhyme ‘Here we go gathering nuts in May‘ – the nuts in fact being knots of mayflowers. The may is the blossom of the hawthorn and is the only flower named for the month in which it appears. Historically the may blossoms appeared around the first of the month but when we adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752 we lost eleven days and now it blooms in the second week of the month.

According to superstition, it is unlucky to bring hawthorn flowers into the house. No-one seems to know the origin of this but it is possible that many people associate their smell with the smell of death and in some areas it is known as ‘the smell of the great plague’. One of the main elements of its aroma is triethylamine which is also one of the first chemicals released when a human body starts to decay which could explain the association.

Hawthorn flowers are also known in different communities by other names such as ‘arzy-garzies‘ and ‘aglets‘. Aglets are also the proper name for the bits of plastic or metal at the end of a shoelace and not a flügelbinder as hypothesised by Flanagan in the film Cocktail.

A great drink to celebrate the arrival of summer is the May Daisy from the PDT Cocktail Book

May Daisy

35ml VSOP Cognac

15ml Green Chartreuse

25ml lemon juice

15ml sugar cane syrup

Shake well and strain into a wineglass or goblet

Garnish with a sprig of mint.

Dreadlock Holiday

Dreadlock Holiday

So if I were to ask you what kind of tree bananas grew on would you be able to answer me?

Well, there is no banana tree – the banana plant is a giant herb and the bananas are its berries. Originally native to Malaya, when first cultivated 10,000 years ago the banana had little flesh and large stony seeds and were pollinated by bats. The bananas we eat today which have effectively been ‘domesticated’ were produced to be sweet with lots of flesh but unfortunately this has rendered them sterile and practically all the bananas we eat have had to be propagated by hand. This also means that they are very susceptible to disease and unless a GM variety is developed soon, the banana could become extinct within our lifetime.

Bananas are the world’s most profitable export crop – worth $12 billion per year and supports 400 million people. Extinction could be catastrophic for millions of people who already live below the property line.

Although we tend to think of the tropics when we think of where bananas grow, Europe’s largest producer of the crop is Iceland where greenhouses are heated by the geothermal springs.

I created the Dreadlock Holiday as a signature cocktail for Appleton V/X Rum which were using as our house pour Rum at Obsidian. I wanted to use banana flavours as this flavour is quite distinctive in high-ester Jamaican Rums and coconut which is usually present albeit faintly in the Appleton range.

The coconut flavour comes from Koko Kanu, a coconut Rum also from Jamaica it has a full spirit strength and is far less sweet than Malibu and therefore was ideal for this drink. I also wanted to boost the rich caramel flavours of the V/X and marry all the flavours together so I used a small amount of Monin caramel syrup. The banana is, IMHO best coming from purée, there are lots of people who advocate a ‘fresh is best’ policy but in all honesty, muddling, then trying to fine strain bananas is a royal pain in the backside particularly when it’s busy at the bar. A splash of cream to give a bit of a luxurious mouthfeel but lengthened with some clear apple juice – I didn’t want the drink to be too heavy and the apple juice remains fairly neutral without actually watering down the cocktail.

Shake it like a British nanny shakes a baby and fine strain into a chilled coupette rimmed with toasted coconut. I also serve it with a side of caramelised banana slices.

The name, for those who aren’t familiar comes from a 10CC song of the same name  and is about a white chappie getting to grips with the ins and outs of Jamaica and her culture. I have used the name and slight deviations of the drink for other occasions but this is the original recipe.

Dreadlock Holiday

30ml Appleton V/X Rum

25ml Koko Kanu

25ml Funkin Banana purée

25ml Single cream

20ml Clear apple juice

10ml Monin Caramel Syrup

Shake well and strain into a chilled coupette rimmed with toasted coconut

Measurement of Alcohol


Do you want proof?
I recently read an article published by one of the daily newspapers about very alcoholic cocktails and it contained so many errors, it was clear the author had no idea about how alcohol is measured. Not that there’s any shame in being confused by all the different terms and units of measurement – it can get quite tricky so I thought I’d help to clarify some of the facts about alcohol measurement (Although I probably wouldn’t write any newspaper articles on the subject until I DID know the difference)
First things first – even the term ‘alcohol’ is misleading. What we generally refer to in the booze world is specifically ethanol. Ethanol is a type of alcohol which our bodies are able to safely metabolise when drunk in moderation and produces the familiar feelings of euphoria and giddiness. There are other types of alcohols which we cannot process and can lead to serious injury and death when consumed. It is ethanol which is the ‘alcohol’ in beer, wine, vodka, Whisky and blue WKD.
Ethanol is very neutral. In its purest form, it is odourless, colourless and has practically no flavour. When we are talking about measuring alcohol during distilling we are usually referring to the percentage of purity of the ethanol. e.g. If we say a Whisky has been distilled to 72% that means there will still be 28% of impurities (flavour compounds called congeners) and you will still have some flavour of the base ingredient. When you make vodka, you are looking at an ethanol purity of at least 96% which is why even if they were both made from the same ingredient (e.g. barley), the vodka will not taste like the grain in the same way that Whisky does.
Under European law, which we adopted in Britain in 1980, we retail alcoholic products according to how much pure ethanol is in the liquid as a percentage of its total volume (ABV = Alcohol By Volume) so in a bottle of Whisky at 40%abv, 40% of the liquid is ethanol and the other 60% is mainly water and some dissolved flavouring matter. In a bottle of wine, you may find that it is 14%abv and the other 86% could be water, sugars, preservatives and other flavouring matter.
Recently there has been a lot more emphasis on the effect of alcohol with regards to general health and the World Health Authority have placed guideline limits on the recommended consumption of alcohol for men and women. This is measured in ‘units’ so you can supposedly accurately gauge your intake regardless of how it is being consumed (beer, wines, spirits etc). In Europe, one unit is equal to 10ml of pure ethanol which works out to be a 25ml measure of spirit at 40%abv, a half pint of beer at 3.4% or a small glass (125ml) of 9%abv wine. This is where it gets a bit confusing because a lot of beers are ‘export strength’ and wine is generally stronger nowadays so few people are able to know exactly how many units they are consuming and find that they regularly exceed the guideline amounts (2 per day for women 3 for men and no more than 21 (women) and 28 (men) in a week)
The Americans often use a system where the ‘proof’ is double the abv of the spirit – this is commonly seen in 151 proof rums (75.5%abv) and Wild Turkey 101 (50.5%abv) and is not to be confused with the old British proof system when we used to use the Sikes scale of proof. This laid down proof as being 57.15%abv – the concentration of alcohol needed in a liquid to allow gunpowder to still ignite. It is thought that it could be ‘proved’ that the alcohol was strong enough for taxation purposes in the 16th century by the revenue collectors adding a pellet of gunpowder and lighting it. This also became crucial on board ships where lots of rum was being transported for the ratings’ daily ration because if a barrel sprung a leak on board, it wouldn’t endanger the powder if it was over-proof.
According to the Sikes scale then, 57.15 was 100 degrees proof and therefore 100% pure ethanol would be 175 degrees. Whisky was most commonly bottled at 70 degrees (40%abv) – The Canadians still largely employ this method of displaying alcohol content.
So yes, proof, degrees, units, percent and the like can make the whole business of measuring alcohol quite tricky to the uninitiated but once you have the hang of it, you will clearly see that a drink containing a shot of vodka at 40%, a shot of gin at 40% and a shot of rum at 40% is still only 40%abv and NOT 120% alcohol!

Jamie Stephenson