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!

The Louis XIII Decanter


One of the earliest influences on my career as a bartender was the film ‘Cocktail’ and it was through this film I was introduced to the super-premium Cognac Louis XIII de Rémy Martin when Brian Flanagan is forced to buy Coughlin a bottle for losing a bet. It also became the first physical bottle I fell in love with as a collector.

Since 1936, the decanters for the Louis XIII marque have been produced by Baccarat and this short film shows some of the amazing skill that goes into producing the bottle.

Of course I’m also a bit partial to the liquid inside the bottle too. The Louis XIII expression contains eaux de vie originating solely from the Grande Champagne region of Cognac which have been aged for up to 100 years.

Cognac ageing takes place in barrels made from French oak and it is initially matured in young barrels which contain wood sugars and enzymes which impart caramel, vanilla and butterscotch flavours but as time goes on, the spirit needs to be oxidised and eventually comes to rest in large barrels called tierçons which are themselves very old and allow the spirit to develop flavours called rançio which can be likened to a mushroomy, truffle-y forest floor kind of aroma which is prized in old Cognacs.


Clayton’s Kola Tonic

I’m delighted to have renewed my association with Clayton’s, it’s a product I’ve adored since the first time I went to Barbados in 2003. After a succession of owners, Clayton’s is now made exclusively in Barbados but it originates from London.

Many of Battersea’s leading working class activists in the late 19th Century were supporters of the Temperance Movement and supported the prohibition of alcohol.

The Pure Water Company of Queenstown Road in Battersea produced a stimulating tonic designed to appeal to reformed Whisky drinkers with a recipe created by the Clayton brothers John and Adam. Using west African Kola nut extract, the caffeine was intended to give a buzz that would help to wean people off alcohol.

There are seven cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book which use Claytons Kola Tonic, here’s one of them.

Clayton’s Special Cocktail

½ Bacardi Rum
¼ Kola Tonic
¼ Sirop-de-Citron
Shake well and strain into cocktail glass 


Here’s another of the Clayton’s Cocktails from the Savoy Cocktail Book – Ideal for a sunny day!

Kola Tonic Cocktail

1/3 Dry Gin
2/3 Kola Tonic
2 Dashes Orange Bitters


The Filmograph is another drink which features in the Savoy Cocktail Book. In the Savoy book, The recipe is

½ Brandy
¼ Kola Tonic
¼ Sirop-de-Citron

The Filmograph is rediscovered in Ted Haigh’s Vintage Cocktails & Spirits where he also plays around with the recipe, suggesting using lemon juice instead of syrup to make it less sweet.

2 Ounces Brandy
¾ Ounces Lemon Juice
½ Ounce Kola Tonic

Shake the drink well and double strain into a coupette.
Garnish with a lemon wedge if desired.


Or quite, simply enjoy it the way they do in Barbados as a Grizzly

The Grizzly

1 part Clayton’s Kola Tonic
3 parts Jamaican Ginger beer
Squeeze Lime

Serve long over ice
Garnish with a lime wedge


I’m already working on some new recipes and serves with Clayton’s and I look forward to unveiling them soon.

Setting The Bar

MC Invitation

I am delighted to be hosting a couple of talks as part of my 20th Anniversary ‘celebrations’

In conjunction with Matthew Clark and Pernod Ricard, I shall be doing two events, one in Bristol and the other in Birmingham in which I shall tell tales of my journey over the past 2 decades and showcase some of the drinks that have taken me to some amazing places.

Bristol Invite

Birmingham Invite

So if you are intrigued to hear more about the circumstances where I unwittingly invented crushed ice and that frightening occasion I was forced to fight off an enraged t-rex with only a Parisian shaker and a handful of twice frozen ice cubes then this is not to be missed!

Cocktails on Board

Last week I was back in La Ciotat to do a cocktails course with the interior crew of M/Y Nirvana

The week-long course included the WSET Spirits Level 1 exam and we spent time thoroughly covering the different spirits on board, how to serve them and their contribution to the different cocktails.

We also had a lot of time dealing with the different methodologies of cocktail making and covering not only the main classic cocktails but also how to modify them for more contemporary usage.


I love training yachties, they are very keen and they have a fantastic work ethic – particularly on the super yachts where their attention to detail is second-to none! In no time at all, they got to grips with shaking stirring, building, straining, muddling, pouting and throwing with the style and elegance one would expect in a luxury environment.

I offer cocktail and spirit training with WSET certification as part of bespoke packages. Courses can be tailored to last from 3-5 days and can be fitted in around the daily duties. Please contact me for more details.

The Green Fairy

Absinthe, I adore you, truly!
It seems, when I drink you,
I inhale the young forest’s soul,
During the beautiful green season.
Your perfume diconcerts me
And in your opalescence
I see the full heavens of yore,
As through an open door.
What matter, O refuge of the damned!
That you in a vain paradise be,
If you appease my need;
And if, before I enter the door,
You make me put up with life,
By accustoming me to death.
Raoul Ponchon
The Americans celebrated National Absinthe Day this week. On March 5th 2007, Absinthe became legal to purchase for the first time since 1912.
I was working in Bristol when Absinth first started making a comeback. The group Black Box Recorder, who, after touring in the Czech Republic did a bit of research and were able to confirm that Absinth(e) had never been banned in Britain. After the majority of producers in Europe fell under prohibition, our supply dwindled and its popularity eventually waned.
They started importing Hill’s Absinth (70% ABV) and began the ball rolling in a series of legal challenges to help overturn the ban on Absinthe in many countries around the World. Shortly after the introduction of Hill’s, Sebor Absinth (55% ABV) also hit the back bar fuelling a new craze for this misunderstood spirit.
Interest from the public centred largely on three main factors namely it’s perception at being banned and its higher strength over the other products on the shelves and it ‘s legendary hallucinogenic powers. There was also the Bohemian ritual serve – mimicking heroin cooking, a teaspoon of sugar was dipped into the glass of absinth, lit and left to burn until the sugar caramelised. The molten sugar was then stirred into the glass of absinth whilst water was added to the correct/preferred level. This theatre flourished in the newly emerging style bars who were about to revolutionise cocktail drinking in Britain and the World.
in 2000, following on from the success of Hill’s, the company importing it worked with Marie Claude Delahaye, founder of the Musée de l’Absinthe to reproduce an authentic French-Style Absinthe, quite different and (arguably superior in flavour) from the Eastern European Bohemian styles which would see Absinthe production recommence despite it was still illegal to be sold or consumed in France.
With the French style of Absinthe, the focus of the ritual serve was based on the slotted spoon, sugar cube and water flask/fountain which dominated the Parisian café culture of the late 19th century and embraced by the poets and painters of the time.
Absinthe Red-3
So how did Absinthe gain it’s ferocious reputation?
The most important ingredient in Absinthe is Wormwood – it is from that which we derive the name (Artemisia absinthium) Wormwood has been used in potions and medicines as far back as records go. Other ingredients include mugwort, angelica, anise, balm mint and hyssop.
Absinthe was served to French soldiers fighting in Algeria from the 1830’s as a malaria preventative. It was they who popularised the drink upon their return to France.
When the great phylloxera blight hit the French vineyards, many Absinthe producers switched to using beet or grain-based alcohols which were much cheaper and as the price of wine rose, Absinthe became much cheaper by comparison.
The French government had a blanket taxation on bottles of alcohol which did not take into account the concentration of alcohol. Absinthe was bottled at a higher strength so it could be diluted to taste by the consumer thus keeping it a cheap alternative to regular wines.
In the same vein as the Gin craze in Britain in the 17th Century, an addiction to Absinthe and rampant alcoholism spread throughout society. That, combined with the legend that the wormwood was a cause of insanity, gave the Temperance Movement ammunition to start pushing for a ban on alcohol. A total ban was heavily resisted by the wine producers who suggested, and supported a ban on the main culprit – Absinthe.
French prohibition had been bolstered by the banning of Absinthe in Switzerland in 1908. On 28th August 1905, farmer Jean Lanfray shot dead his pregnant wife and two daughters after becoming enraged at her refusal to wax his boots. As a matter of routine, Lanfray would consume strong alcohol from the moment he awoke to going to bed and his daily intake was reckoned to be six quarts of wine as well as copious amounts of marc and brandy.
But it was the two glasses of Absinthe which drew the most headlines and was quickly adopted by his defence team at his trial saying it was the Absinthe which was responsible for the madness which caused him to react so violently. This was echoed by the Mayor of Commugny who declared Absinthe was “the principle cause for a series of bloody crimes in our country” a petition calling for a ban was signed and in 1907, a referendum was held. 23,062 people voted for, and 16,032 voted against a ban on the production and sale of Absinthe in Switzerland.
Absinthe Blue
Other countries followed suit and seeing how much money was saved in Russia by banning vodka, in the early days of the first World war, the French government capitulated and the Green Fairy was sacrificed.
A few countries in Europe repealed their ban on Absinthe following the opening of the EU trade barriers in 1992, others eventually bowed to pressure from persistent lobbying. Germany repealed in 1991, Italy in 1992, Belgium and Switzerland in 2005 and America in 2007 on the 7th March.
France finally followed suit in 2011.
In 2003, I created a cocktail which I used as part of the competition to be awarder Bartender of the Year by FLVR Magazine.
It was called French Rock n Roll after the title of one of the tracks on Black Box Recorder’s second album
French Rock n Roll
30ml La Fée Parisienne
20ml Crème de Pêche
25ml fresh lemon juice
10ml Monin Pistachio Syrup
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
dash egg white (because one egg is un œuf!)
Shake it very well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass
Garnish with a star anise.
*please note, this is not intended to be a comprehensive history of absinthe – I’d be writing it for days otherwise. The blue and red pictures are just to look pretty and are not to represent any ‘real’ Absinthes

Planes, Trains and Automobiles


I saw a post on Facebook recently of a friend who’d got to the Channel Tunnel and realised she’d forgotten her passport. That and the ensuing conversation which mentioned identity cards got me thinking about a couple of occasions where I’ve nearly had to miss a job because I’ve done something similar.

In all the time I’ve been a brand ambassador, I’ve never missed a job through fault of my own, in fact, I’ve only ever missed one scheduled job in which I had to invoke my force majeur clause in my contract due to the train lines between the North-West and Scotland being closed with heavy snow.

But here are the close shaves!

The first one was when I was due to be taking a flight from Manchester to Inverness. Because it was a domestic flight and I’d checked in online, I arrived at the airport a half-hour before departure only to get to the desk and realise I’d taken my wallet out of my bag and left it at home. I had no photo ID, in fact I had nothing at all – no bank cards, money or anything. There was no time to get home and back in time and the next flight was the next day by which time I’d have missed the sessions I was going for.

Amazingly, the lady on the desk told me not to panic, made a phone call and proceeded to tell me that everything was okay and I could go through and board as normal – I was so relieved! (I guess I’ve got a trustworthy face).

The second occasion was one where the journey was just one nightmare after another anyway. I was to be doing staff training for a ferry line and I was heading down to Portsmouth to do it. I got stuck at Waterloo for hours because the line was closed due to a fatality – fortunately I’d left plenty of time and took the delay in my stride. We finally set off from London and got within a half-hour of Portsmouth when we had toots because there was another fatality on the line just ahead of us and we had to wait for ages for them to sort taxis out to get us into the town.

I still managed to get to the terminal in time to have something to eat before getting ready to board and I was sat eating when the thought came to me “I wonder if I should have brought my passport?!) Obviously we were heading out of territorial waters and of course I’d need it but I never really absorbed the fact i was going to France because I wasn’t disembarking. The lady at the desk said she’d have to wait for the captain to get into port and he would decide whether I could travel or not.

Well, luck was still on my side because the captain said I could board but I had to sign a piece of paper saying I wouldn’t try to get off the boat in France. Phew – on board and job done.

The hardest part was getting back into the country – the immigration people were furious the captain had let me board knowing I didn’t have a passport and I had to wait a half-hour or so whilst my story and scan of my passport which I keep in my phone and iPad went up the chain until finally I was allowed back into the country.

The last time was when I was heading out to Kenya. I was flying out on the Sunday night and my wife and I had gone down a couple of days earlier to stay in London before I set off and she returned to Manchester.

At some point we were having a conversation whilst sitting on a platform in East Ham and she mentioned the word passport which triggered something in my consciousness that at no point during my packing did I pick up my passport. No amount of lagging or pleading at Heathrow would get me out of that one so Sunday saw me getting a train to Manchester and back to pick up my passport before making it to the airport in plenty of time.

I will readily admit I’ve had more than my fair share of luck as on another day. or with other people, it could have been a different story but they are the only close shaves in many, many hours of travelling so I’m confident I must be doing something right.

Jamie Stephenson