Here we are again for another instalment of COMMUTER BELTERS, my quest to find the booze best matched to the knees-rammed-against-plastic pleasures of southwestern railways.
This time, emboldened mayhap by our liaison with M&S gin-in-a-tin, let’s push the boat out a little further into the treacherous seas of M&S’s canned booze range — to their Vermouth & Tonic.
Now, to be a true commuter belter, a drink must have an affinity for the typical cuisine and ambience of the South Western Railways experience. Much as one might judge a restaurant’s wine list by its wines’ ability to punch at the level of the main dishes, one judges a would-be Belter by its resilience against whatever degradations a typical journey from Waterloo might throw its way.
Today’s degradation of choice? One carton of Pret’s Spicy Egg & Chorizo Omelette. What better foldable tray-mate for my tastefully duotone can of V&T?
In one sense, the omelette is an excellent match: the experience of consuming both it and the drink is purgatorial. One might argue that they thereby cleverly echo — satirise, even — the experience of travelling frequently by South Western Railways. But satire is no excuse for this miserable stuff.
I’ll tell you a little about the food first, shall I, since we’re both here and have relatively little else to do? Well, the egg has the texture of that expanding foam filler stuff they use to repair car bodywork. It is hideously, malignantly overcooked. Most of it is stuck to the bottom and sides of the cardboard container, and I’m certainly not tempted to scrape away at it to get my money’s worth. Pret’s hot snacks, while always touch-and-go, aren’t normally as bad as this. Small pellets of chorizo and enormous moist slugs of red pepper provide relief of a kind from egg-chewing, in the same way that being punched in the face provides relief of a kind from a bout of norovirus. A woeful effort.
As is the drink. You’re warned as much as soon as you pfft the thing open and take a sniff. Friend, it smells like making a terrible mistake.
It’s a mixture of bitter lemon and that horrible fizzy-sweet reek you get from godawful energy drinks. And that’s exactly how it tastes. Ye gods, it’s sweet. Horribly, horribly sweet. The best thing about it is the initial lemon taste (not because that’s what you wanted, but because it’s at least in the proximity of an honest flavour), but almost immediately the bombardment of sugar hits, hollowing out all other flavours but the quinine from the tonic (like the G&T-in-a-can, this does at least feature quinine-heavy tonic).
The most criminal thing about it all is that despite this pitiless assault upon my senses, I can barely taste any goddamn alcohol. I mean, there’s a vague whiff of medicinal grapiness lingering in the background, like the smell of the crap someone took in the stall five minutes ago, but nothing more. The can says it’s 5.5% ABV but the impression is less boozy than most alcohol-free beers. It tastes like the heartless trick you’d play on a gullible child in order to put them off drink for life.
In summary, our Commuter Belter is not to be found here. All change, please.
Which tonic is supersonic? According to the laws of physics, none of them. But what care we for physics? We have gin. So the idea of this post, in case the title didn’t tip you off, is to taste and rank the numerous premium tonics in a quest to crown the best tonic for your gin.
You remember, don’t you, my pretties, the time that we blind tasted ten gins in an attempt to crown 2019’s best gin for a G&T? Well, this is the inevitable tonic-centred follow-up.
The market for premium tonic waters has become a lot livelier since Fever Tree first booted it up the arse. The question is, with which of these new wanky tonics should you grace your G&T? Which, in short, is the best tonic for a gin and tonic?
To find out, I (aided as ever by the delectable Amy) blind tasted fourteen of the buggers. FOURTEEN. Imagine, ten years ago, even being able to lay hands on that many tonics! Okay, so it turns out you wouldn’t want to lay hands on some of them, but hey, I guess progress punches both ways. I tasted them blind with Gordon’s — the classic, natch — as well as the frankly outstanding Society’s High Strength Gin (£19, The Wine Society) to see how they fared against a more hoofing spirit. Finally, I tasted them on their own, because I’m a masochist.
Below, my impressions of each — and, at the end, the ranking.
This one has cardamom aplenty, along with the usual lemony goings on. It is balanced and there’s a bit of bite there. It does taste like tonic but definitely pushing the boundaries with that big dose of cardamom. It’s actually nice to drink on its own. But too sweet for me in a G&T. Get used to this last observation, won’t you?
Main flavour: Cardamom/spice Bite: 2/5 Sweetness: 4/5 G&T rating: 6/10
Quinine dominates here. A classic tonic. Nice and moderately bitter; dry yet also full. Not too sweet and feels like a proper, serious G&T. Extremely goddamn nice. Barker, Quin — I don’t know who you are, and you probably only exist in the imagination of some branding arsehole who didn’t think adequately about how Barker & Quin would be abbreviated (B&Q is surely not a brand adjacency that does you many favours), but I nevertheless raise my hat to you. Your light tonic is excellent.
Main flavour: Quinine Bite: 4/5 Sweetness: 1/5 G&T rating: 10/10
A pretty classic, down-the-line approach from Mr Henry. There’s a decent amount of quinine dryness here, which I like, but too much sugar. Lemon is the other dominant flavour. Compared to the strongest contenders here, this is on the lemonadey side, but definitely better than many in that dodgy neck of the woods.
Main flavour: Lemon Bite: 3/5 Sweetness: 3/5 G&T rating: 6/10
This is relatively balanced, but quinine is again pushed further back in the mix than I like in favour of lemon. Note to y’all, tonic makers: if I want to add lemon to my drink, I have a super-simple way to do that. The same is not true of quinine. Adjust your mixers accordingly, please. Anyhow, B&Q’s regular variant is close to Fever Tree Regular but a little less savoury/complex and a little less assertive. The fizz is quite soft and frothy compared to most. And — what do you know? — it’s too sweet.
Main flavour: Lemon Bite: 2/5 Sweetness: 3/5 G&T rating: 5/10
Not too sweet! What’s more, it has good character. It’s similar to Barker & Quin Light in being quinine-led and serious. Comparing the two side by side, I think Fever Tree is possibly slightly less dry and quinine-driven. Bloody good though.
Main flavour: Quinine Bite: 3/5 Sweetness: 1/5 G&T rating: 9/10
Balanced. Although it falls into the ‘too sweet’ category (along with the goddamn majority), it’s one of the strongest contenders otherwise, with a decent dose of quinine assertiveness and savoury complexity that supports but doesn’t overwhelm.
This one has a lemony initial hit but a brutally bitter aftertaste. There’s decent quinine bite to begin with, but the bite becomes a chew, then a gnaw, then finally a gnash. It leaves residual bitterness lingering in your gob for a long time. All I can say in its favour is that at least it’s not sweet. Tastes like what Amy imagines dandelion juice would, if that’s helpful. The bottle says it’s the “distillers’ choice”; I’m afraid it’s not mine.
Main flavour: Bitterness Bite: 5/5 Sweetness: 0/5 G&T rating: 1/10
I wrote about the new premium Schweppes tonics at some length before, and my verdict there stands: Schweppes 1783 Crisp Tonic is sweetish, softish, but with lemon and bite enough to make its presence felt. A somewhat less compelling take on Fever Tree Regular, with the same problems (too sweet, too sweet — sing along with me, children! — too sweeeeeeet…)
Most of the ‘light’ tonic variants focus in on the quinine elements, but Double Dutch has a distinctive softness: it’s not sweet, which is great, yes, but it ALSO has the quinine dialled back. What you do get is a cloudlike impression: soft, enveloping, ephemeral perfume which dies away incredibly quickly. There’s also some artificial lemon flavour in there. I like the lack of sweetness, but not the lack of punch.
Main flavour: Perfume Bite: 1/5 Sweetness: 1/5 G&T rating: 4/10
Well, okay. This one is utterly without sweetness: it sure is dry. There’s some quinine bite there, but the whole thing has an odd sense of being watery: empty. This could work well with some new-wave high-flavour gins, but with both Gordon’s and Society’s High Strength Gin it just tasted like a G&T with too much ice-melt. A shame.
Main flavour: the absence thereof Bite: 2/5 Sweetness: 0/5 G&T rating: 3/10
Again, you can read more about this tonic in my Schweppes vs Fever Tree post, but the gist is that it’s funky and weird: violet and sherbert and shizz. It’s not actively nasty, but nor does it taste much like I want a tonic to taste.
Main flavour: parma violet and suchlike Bite: 3/5 Sweetness: 2/5 G&T rating: 3/10
Argh, Jesus, take it away. This is truly horrible. It’s not really like a tonic water at all. There’s lashings of vanilla, which is all very well, but not something I want added to my gin, and the flavour is pitilessly artificial. And in case you were looking for further reasons to sling this fucker as far as you can hurl, it’s got artificial sweeteners in it. Piss off.
Inoffensive. 1724 is another tonic that seems slightly worried about being a tonic, and ends up tasting lemonadey and diffident. And it’s far too sweet, even by the standards of most of this lineup. If it weren’t for the sweetness, it’d be fine. Y’know, just fine. But needs more quinine.
Main flavour: lemonade Bite: 1/5 Sweetness: 5/5 G&T rating: 4/10
The Best Tonic Water: Rankings
So, from best to worst, here’s a summary of how they fared.
Barker & Quin Light Tonic (10/10)
Fever Tree Naturally Light Tonic (9/10)
Fever Tree Regular Tonic (7/10)
Schweppes 1724 Crisp Tonic (6/10)
Thomas Henry Tonic (6/10)
Le Tribute Tonic (6/10)
Barker & Quin Regular Tonic (5/10)
Double Dutch Skinny Tonic (4/10)
1724 Tonic (4/10)
Schweppes 1724 Light Tonic (3/10)
Distillers Dry Tonic (3/10)
Double Dutch Original Tonic (2/10)
Distillers Original Tonic (1/10)
London Essence Tonic (0/10)
So Barker & Quin Light snatched it by a whisker. Good luck finding it in your local supermarket, though. Waitrose shoppers needn’t be disheartened: to be honest, there was very little to choose between B&Q Light and Fever Tree Light; I found it rather tough to pick a winner. But nobody said the life of a booze blogger was easy, did they?
And what have we learnt along the way? Firstly, I suppose (and forgive me if I should’ve made this more obvious above), that the vast majority of tonics are far too goddamn sweet. I suppose I ought to be grateful that most of them (with the ignoble exception of the revolting London Essence) at least eschew artificial sweeteners.
Second: while Fever Tree may’ve been first to start gobbling from the premium tonic cash trough, it’s no clapped out old sow yet. Most of its would-be challengers are significantly less nice, even while they’re frequently more expensive.
Third: a surprisingly large number of so-called ‘premium’ tonics are not very good. Over half my list scored 5/10 or lower. No supper for them.
Shall we stretch to a fourth? Oh go on. Fourth: tonic has a classic flavour profile you dick about with at your peril. You think a dash of violet or vanilla might zazz up this party? You are almost certainly wrong. The one tonic that didn’t fail too badly on this score was Le Tribute, which whacked in the cardamom without being disgusting. But still, not really what I want to add to my gin.
Anyhow. If I missed any blinding tonics (not literally), please shout at me in the comments or on whatever social network takes your fancy, so long as it’s not sodding Pinterest. Much obliged.
Well, it’s been a while since I hoofed a vermouth review in your direction, so let’s change that. Like Asterley Bros, it’s another English vermouth, but this time white not red: Blackdown Silver Birch Vermouth.
As it happens, Blackdown’s vermouth (£20.25, The Whisky Exchange) is made not so very far from me, nestling in neighbouring Sussex’s portion of the South Downs. The titular reference to silver birch? It’s because the base wine is made from the sap of the birch trees growing around the distillery. Apparently, getting that sap is a pain in the arse, with each tree yielding a very small amount. According to Blackdown’s website: ‘In 2017 we tapped over 300 trees, with an average tree providing 5 gallons a day collecting over 1,500 gallons producing 15 gallons of pure syrup’.
So I shalln’t be setting out to make silver birch wine any time soon.
But I’ll happily drink someone else’s. So — how shall we do this? You can crack it into your martini in place of your regular Noily Prat/Dolin or what have you. Or you can drink it on its own, over ice, like the sophisticated metropole you are.
Let’s talk cocktails first, shall we?
Now, Blackdown Vermouth in the context of the martini is an interesting thing. As you may know from my burblings on the subject of the perfect martini, I like a martini with some hoof to it, albeit not at macho-dry ratios. My ur-martini is a lean, clean, deliciously spartan thing.
Blackdown vermouth makes for a fuller, rounder, sweeter martini. I’ve tried it with a variety of gins, at various ratios, generally pitted against Dolin vermouth for comparison. And what you’ll make of it, my dear, very much depends on your criteria. For me, y’know, it’s a touch OTT in most contexts. It’s so gentle that I find myself missing the bite, the sting of my regular vermouth. There’s not really that spiky mid-palate attack I expect. Instead, by martini standards, it ends up long and soft. Smooth, honeyed, unctuous, even.
Not what I’d go for as a standard martini, but if that sounds like your bag, more power to your elbow, I suppose.
I flung a tweet in the direction of the folk of Blackdown to ask their martini recommendations, one of which was a flamboyant 2:1 mix with Sipsmith. A good deal wetter (ie. more vermouth heavy) than most martini drinkers’ norm, and given Blackdown’s abovementioned qualities, the effect is of a different cocktail entirely. Apples, toffee, chocolate — sweet, accessible, richly autumnal flavours.
For an austere martini man such as myself, the above is all rather opulent. Personally, I was more drawn to drinking Blackdown on its own. In this context — over plenty of generous sized ice cubes, with a twist of lemon rind — it’s a fabulous aperitif for those occasions on which a martini (or other spirit-heavy cocktail) might be de trop. The same is true of some red vermouths, natch, but Blackdown is drier.
Removed from the martini, you appreciate its softness and touch of sweetness (contrast against Dolin Chambery, which isn’t great to drink neat: sharper, more one-note, squarely an ensemble player not a soloist). Arguably, what makes Blackdown such a pleasure to drink neat is what makes it less successful in a martini (where, I humbly submit, gin rules all and vermouth bends the knee before its sovereign).
Unadulterated, over ice, Blackdown is calm, so calm. For me, the defining essence is of apples. Not crisp, green apples, but rusty English apples in an old greengrocer, or in a brown paper bag at your grannie’s house. There’s bitterness there, alongside warm and woody spice (clove, cinnamon and the gang), but those play their hand with subtlety. The overwhelming impression is of mellow autumnal fruit and mellifluous honey. Really rather lovely. Wankily, I might call it nostalgia in a glass.
Oh, and one more thing. It makes a bloody delicious lemon syllabub — pudding of kings.
You’ll have observed, no doubt, my proclivity for starting new ‘series’ on this blog which fail to extend beyond their first post. And I’m sorry if you mistook the expression on my face for that of somebody who gives a shit about THAT. It is with an arrogant, Dominic Cummings-esque defiance bordering on sociopathy, indeed, that I double-down and inaugurate another. This one I shall call ‘Commuter Belters’: chronicling a journey both literal (Waterloo to Petersfield, many many times) and metaphorical (the search for BELTINGLY good alcoholic beverages with which to aneasthetise oneself against the tedium of the aforementioned).
Let’s have at it.
Waterloo. It’s Friday, 6.15. Amongst the thronged congregation on the concourse, eyes raised reverently to the departure boards, waiting for the hallowed platform number to blink into existence; ‘on time’ to flip to ‘boarding’.
And when it happens, the usual weary surge of bodies is a little faster, a little looser. It’s Friday.
If you’re clever (you’re clever), you’ve anticipated your platform number and you’re quick to the gates. The gates that all operate on fractionally different timings, so that the interval between inserting your ticket and the door-flaps clacking open wrong-foots you each time. They’re open. Jerking abruptly forward, you’re through. It’s Friday.
Walk nearly all the way to the far end of the train, and walk fast. Storm past those lumbering middle-managers and dithering execs. Get a good spot, minimising the (sadly still high) probability that some coffee-breathed drone will sit next to you with his fat playmobil laptop crammed onto the crappy little food tray and his elbows poking your side. Mate. It’s Friday.
Settle in for the homeward voyage. But what’s that you’ve got in your bag?
I can explain. Oh Officer, for god’s sake, I can explain.
But I can’t speak for my friends. Occasionally, a gentleman named Barnaby, of a neighbouring parish, is known to patronise the same railway service. It was for this Barnaby that the offending can was bought. I swear.
But Barnaby had to catch a different train and I, for my innumerable sins, was left with this object in my possession.
There’s only one thing to be done.
M&S Gin and Tonic in a can review
Drinking G&T straight from a can is ODD. There’s no objective reason not to do this, provided the can is extremely bloody cold. But, subjectively, it’s just not very nice, is it? It’s like eating a steak off a paper plate or getting into bed with your clothes still on. ODD AND WRONG.
G&T occupies a hallowed place in my aesthetic schema, whereby I apparently believe it is owed a certain level of reverence. It’s interesting to note that I’d choose a can of basic lager over a can of G&T — even though on a totally objective level I probably like the G&T more. But of the lager, I expect no better.
The gin in a can is, you see, actually not too bad. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not a goddamn patch on a Parn-concocted G&T. But it’s not hideous. Which is an accomplishment. That it achieves this is down to the fact that (a) it goes heavy on the quinine, (b) it’s sharp and bracing and (c) it contains no filthy artificial sweeteners.
I’m really surprised. I’d expected oversweetness, but in fact this is far sharper and drier than the G&T you’d get in many bars (or homes). It tastes pretty old-school Schweppesy to me: bite like an alligator, absolutely no sentimentality or concession. The dry hit of quinine is excellent: almost abrasive.
They’ve clearly amped up the citrus in consideration of the average commuter’s inability to lay hands on a nice wedge of lemon, which takes it too far towards bitter lemon in my view, but — again — it’s not offensive (see how high I set the bar?).
Where this concoction falls down, though, is in its ratios. That’s a roundabout way of saying: NOT BOOZY ENOUGH. This is squarely a tonic & gin rather than a gin & tonic. The gin they’ve used is too light and simpering; the tonic too heavy and swaggering. As a result, especially with the amped-up lemon flavouring, I feel like I’m drinking a can of (admittedly pretty nice) fizzy pop.
Bottom line: this isn’t the belter we’re looking for. I’m sticking to my lager, and leaving the gin-in-a-cans to Barnaby’s consummate guzzling.
This is important. What’s more, unlike most cocktail-improving tips, it’s incredibly bloody cheap (just like you). So there’s no excuse.
The one thing you can do, right now, for very little outlay, that will make the biggest difference to your cocktails and mixed drinks is this.
Buy a good ice tray.
If you are using whatever crappy plastic excuse for a tray came with your freezer, stop it. If you are using your freezer’s auto ice dispenser, stop it. If you are buying those bags of ice from the supermarket/off-license FOR THE LOVE OF GOD stop it.
You need good ice trays, friend. Trays where the icecubes are BIG. Not just in one dimension, but in all three.
I’ve found these silicone trays are pretty good: they deliver chunky, cuboid ice at a good size for a G&T or Negroni. You can go bigger if you wish: I have this tray which makes tremendous cubes that form a delightful centrepiece to an Old Fashioned.
I am really not joking (would I?) about the quality of ice being the most transformative factor in cocktail making.
Why? Because ice melts. If ice melts too quickly, your drink is rapidly diluted and loses its punch. Four things you can do to control the speed with which this happens:
Use big ice cubes. Because physics. A single big cube has less surface area than two smaller cubes of the same volume.
Use solid, dense cubes with minimal frost. The clearer (more transparent) ice is, the denser and therefore slower-melting it will be. Notice how a snowflake melts instantly at a touch of your fingertip? That’s what the frost on an ice cube does in your drink. This is where those supermarket ice bags fall down: they are so flimsy and frosty (generally very rough in texture and hollow) that they melt appallingly quickly. Literally as soon as the liquid hits them, you can see them diminish. And the meltwater they make is quite nasty. You are adding that meltwater to your premium gin and wanky tonic.
Make sure the liquid you pour onto your ice is already fridge cold (or colder. You keep your gin in the freezer, right?)
Neck it so fast it doesn’t touch the sides.
I have drunk TOO MANY G&Ts in which all elements but ice quality were excellent: premium gins, Fever Tree Light Tonic, appropriate garnish, good gin:tonic ratio. But the ice cubes were too small, too flimsy, too frosty. Net result? Mediocre G&T.
If you make a G&T (or negroni, or cocktail of other kind) with crappy ice, I reckon you may as well just use cheap gin too. Embrace mediocrity.
But don’t do that. A couple of decent ice trays will cost you under a tenner. They will last you years. They will also look a lot better, rattle around more sonorously in your glass, and quite probably get you more friends.
So. Long story short, I got married and this website got hacked.
The latter fact accounts for the abrupt change in look & feel; the former for general lack of posts.
The site is largely cleaned up now (I hope nobody thought I genuinely wanted y’all to visit sites advertising sexual potency aids?) but I’ll probably need to redo elements of the theme — in other words, the way it looks. How tedious.
Meanwhile, though, bear with me. I have some posts simmering away for you, to follow.
I mean, when a gin’s called Boxer, how am I meant to avoid the most bloody obvious metaphor? Christ. Give me something to work with. Fortunately, Boxer Gin does exactly that, in abundance, as soon as you get it into your gob. Here’s how it measures up.
I bought Boxer Gin because it was the gin of choice at Poco Tapas Bar, the excellent Bristolian tapas restaurant at which I first discovered the Negroni Manzanilla. And given my predilection for punchy gins and stooping to lowest-common-denominator wordplay, what could be more auspicious than a gin that is literally punchy?
You know how this works by now, right? I’ll taste Boxer Gin in a martini and a gin & tonic, and I’ll tell you what I think. Let’s get on with it, shall we?
The Boxer Gin Martini
Yes. This is very good.
First thing you need to know: this is a proper gin. That means it has a good whack of juniper and isn’t trying anything fancy. That’s good. There’s an assertive oomph to the Boxer Gin Martini that I resoundingly commend.
But while the juniper and pine shenanigans make it abundantly clear it’s a gin martini you’re drinking, there’s a background of rather wonderful, unexpected things. Imagine you’re in a restaurant you’ve not eaten at before. You ordered steak (my, how bold of you) and it’s perfectly cooked: rare, yielding, delicious: exactly as steak should be. A few mouthfuls in, you notice they’re playing a fabulous piece of — oh, I dunno, Prokofiev — in the background. Not loudly; in fact, at exactly the right volume. So that the people who don’t give a shit about Prokofiev (fools) won’t really notice it much.
But you. You, my dear, exquisitely tasteful reader. You will appreciate the crap out of it.
This is not an attention-seeking, look-at-me gin, in other words. It bares its sophistication subtly and with elegance.
The Boxer Gin Martini is fairly smooth, and while characterised by juniper and pine and citrus initially, it has a delicious spiciness: the warm, aromatic spices like cinnamon and pepper and nutmeg. Perhaps the merest sprinkling of anise? Yeah, perhaps.
You’re drinking your martini ice-cold, I hope, so the spice will be very much in the background, but as you near the bottom (of your glass, as opposed to your moral and spiritual decline), you may notice that it comes through more assertively.
Boxer Martini Verdict
That’s no excuse to linger, though. A martini that’s lost its frigidity is a sorrowful thing. Gulp the bugger down and let’s move on to…
The Boxer Gin and Tonic
Very good also: I approve. The elegance I admired in the martini is present here too. The citrus elements make more impact with a Boxer G&T than with some of the hoofers I commonly reach for (the Wine Society’s High Strength Gin, par exemple, or our old friend Tanqueray), but there’s still plenty of juniper to keep us tethered. And those same warm spices come through — perhaps more so than in the martini, but by no means aggressively. It’s all wonderfully balanced (a nimble-footed, deceptively graceful boxer, then, rather than a thuggish slugger).
There’s a beguiling touch of sweetness (very subtle, but there) while it’s in your gob, but don’t get carried away: the finish is dry as you like. Assuming you’re using the right tonic (Fever Tree Light, I implore you).
Boxer Gin & Tonic Verdict
I’d probably gravitate towards lemon as the best garnish for a Boxer Gin and Tonic, but if you want to amp up the spices, you could be all wanky about it and shove a cinnamon stick in there (in your glass I mean. Shove it right in your glass. Your GLASS, I said) or black peppercorns.
Just don’t, for the sake of the weeping lord Jesus, use already ground pepper, like the idiots in some bar I went to, a few months back.
I’ll not be going back.
Boxer Gin Verdict
Excellent. This isn’t a wild, out-there gin, as you’ve probably gathered, and I like it all the more for that. It is balanced and has an admirable classicism. I’d sit it in the vague proximity of 6 o’Clock Gin (another handsome blue bottled gin) and Adnam’s — gins that make an excellent, rounded, mellow G&T that has unusual complexities and exotic qualities but doesn’t shove them up your GLASS.
It’d make a nice house gin for someone who’s too cool for the gins they stock in big supermarkets but still wants something versatile and classical.
If I were a tiresome wanker, you know how I’d close this?
The Clover Club. A magical summer cocktail that tastes just as good as it looks (and it looks bloody great). Raspberries at the ready, please.
Ah, raspberries. Perhaps my favourite summer fruit. I’m not typically an enormous advocate of fruity cocktails (I prefer ‘em punchy and boozy) but the Clover Club is an exception. A sharp, gin-fuelled affair, it is fruity in the correct way: it is not sweet, it is not banal, and the fruit isn’t masking the complexities of the alcohol.
The Clover Club is a cocktail to wheel out when you’re sitting in the garden on a sunny evening. It’s a bloody excellent crowd-pleaser, too — more accessible than a martini, and good looking to boot.
There are a bunch of different recipes, some of which involve stewing raspberries and such malarkey. Don’t bother. I think it works better (and it’s certainly a whole lot simpler) using good raspberry jam. Here’s how I do it, anyway.
Clover Club Recipe
3 parts gin (a classic London gin is best: Tanqueray, Gordon’s, etc)
1 part dry vermouth (Noilly Prat or Dolin are both good)
1½ parts lemon juice (freshly squeezed, natch)
½ part raspberry jam
Raspberry or lemon twist
Chuck the above ingredients except the last into a cocktail shaker, fill it with good chunky (solid) blocks of ice, then shake for 20 seconds or so.
Strain the resulting liquor (innit pretty?) into a cocktail glass you’ve whipped from your freezer (a Nick & Nora glass is lovely). For a nice, smooth result, you can double-strain it (ie. pour from the cocktail shaker strainer through a finer sieve into the glass). But it’s by no means disastrous if you can’t be bothered to do that.
You get top marks if you have a fresh raspberry or two with which to garnish this, but in the absence thereof, a twist of lemon peel will do just fine.
It’s Thursday. You’re hungry, you’re tired, you’ve just got off a train filled with wankers, and you need fodder. This is what you cook.
So, what I’m doing here is frying courgettes. They just turned up, today, in the vegetable box and they’re perfect for the quickest of quick suppers.
I mean, I was on the way home and part of me was tempted to pick up a pizza from Waitrose. But this is barely more trouble, and fantastically nicer.
Those courgettes, then. They’re cut into fat fingers and they are lobbed into a pan with lots (I mean lots, you stingy bugger) of olive oil, on a good medium/high heat. The fingers are frying and acquiring golden-brown outlining where the flesh is starting to catch on the pan and caramelise. Perfect.
A couple of minutes back I chucked in some roughly sliced garlic (it happened to be wet garlic, since that too turned up in aforementioned box, but dry garlic would be fine), and this too is benefiting from the pan’s Midas touch.
Next, tomatoes. Don’t faff around skinning them. Hell, don’t even bother de-seeding them. Just quarter them and chuck them in. Four or five? However many you want. Turn the heat down to a simmer. I didn’t, but if you’re feeling fancy, you could dosh in a bit of vermouth or sherry or white wine at this point. DESPAIR NOT if you have none open, or (indeed) if you’d rather save it for your parched Thursday evening gob.
Speaking of parched — you have a drink, right? I mean, I just assumed… Mine’s a Negroni Manzanilla, since you asked.
Our courgettes and tomatoes are simmering nicely and we have our negroni. At this point, we see what herbs present themselves for duty. Since I’m a smug wanker who recently planted a bloody herb garden, I’m spoilt for choice, so I’ve picked out some oregano (not too much) and quite a lot of mint. You, though, might prefer basil or parsley or chives or thyme…
Grab a good old bunch of whatever herb(s) you favour and get them washed and ready.
Now, what you’re waiting for is for your tomatoes to start to collapse and release their juices and to commingle milkily with the oil. You don’t want this to go to pulp; you still want those tomato quarters to retain some structure. Have a taste and if it seems a bit sweet, squeeze over some lemon.
Season the crap out of it (don’t hold back with the salt). Scatter on your herbs. And you’re done.
Scoop this out of a bowl with some good bread. Or just eat it with a spoon, you animal.
Today’s Bargain Booze is a Bordeaux from Waitrose. 1/3 off at the moment. It may not set your meticulously curated world alight, but it’s pretty good. A proper everyday Bordeaux.
Consider this a weary, ambiguous gesture in the direction of topicality. Another occasional series of posts wherein I’ll highlight alcoholic offers and deals that you might find interesting.
Today’s is Esprit de Puisseguin 2016, a Saint-Émilion that’s currently 1/3 off at dear old Waitrose, bringing it from £13.49 to £8.99. As I said: BARGAIN BOOZE.
It’s not bad stuff. Sure, there’s a bit of tannin grabbing away at your cheeks like an old granny at those of a chubby baby, but whack it into a decanter (or just a bloody measuring jug for all I care) for half an hour and it softens up nicely.
It’s not going to set your meticulously curated world alight, but it’s pretty good. A proper everyday Bordeaux.
I’ve said before that I don’t tend to buy supermarket Bordeaux in this price bracket, as I think there tends to be better price:quality ratio elsewhere — and I probably wouldn’t steer you towards old Esprit de Puisseguin at full price, to be honest. But reduced to under a tenner, it’s rather a good shout.
Also: Puisseguin in my mind has become Pissed Penguin. Extra marks.