Summer’s Cocktail: The Clover Club

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.

It’s essentially a raspberry martini. And you know how I feel about martinis.

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.

Clover Club cocktail shot from above. Raspberry red.

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

Ingredients

  • 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.

One of summer’s best cocktails.

Some English Hanky Panky

I mean, when a cocktail is already called a Hanky Panky, what else is there to say? This was my first go at incorporating Asterley Bros Britannica Fernet into a drink that doesn’t make my friends hate me. I think it worked.

Oh relax. It’s just a bloody cocktail, you prude.

A bottle of Asterley Bros Britannica Fernet (£32.95 from The Whisky Exchange) showed up in my latest booze delivery. As you may have gathered, I’m intrigued by the alcoholic antics of the Asterleys. I’m also a Fernet novice. That’s one reason why I’m not going to attempt a ‘review’ of this critter: for once, I’m sufficiently conscious of my own ignorance to be deterred.

I did, though, have the pleasure of passing a glass of the stuff round at a gathering of chums, the other night — and hearing one after the other give some variation of the theme of, ‘Whhheeeuooargh!’ as the tastebrains of each scrambled to process their first mouthful.

I enjoy a little light libationary sadism.

Which is by way of saying: Britannica Fernet (in common with Fernet in general, I believe) is not the easiest of beverages.

I’m pretty sure that neat, over ice, it’ll be a grower. But I’m going to have to work at it.

Meanwhile, though, I have a more accessible means by which to unlock its charms:

Closeup of the surface of an English Hanky Panky cocktail

English Hanky Panky Recipe

A fantastic cocktail with a stupid name but which is really, I suppose, simply a negroni variation: Fernet hoofs Campari out of its usual place in the mix. I’m calling this one the English Hanky Panky because, well, all the ingredients (except the orange twist, I guess) are from this screwed up, snarling little brat of a country. Here’s how to make one.

  • 1 part London Gin (something like Tanqueray, Sipsmith or Gordon’s)
  • 1 part red vermouth (I’m using Asterley Bros Estate Vermouth, £23.25 from The Whisky Exchange)
  • ½ part Fernet (I’m using Asterley Bros Britannica Fernet)

Add gin, vermouth and fernet to a mixing glass/shaker filled with ice. Stir (gently yet firmly, y’know) for a good 20-30 seconds, so that everything gets good and chilly. Then strain into a cocktail glass (ideally one that’s been lingering deep in the recesses of your freezer for just such a purpose). Twist a length of orange peel over the surface of the drink so that the oils squeeze out, then drop the twist into the drink.

You can vary the amount of Fernet according to the amount of bitterness that lingers within your soul. I find the above ratio is bracing without allowing the Fernet to overpower the rest.

It’s a bloody delicious alternative to the Negroni and I love the fact that the Britannica Fernet’s bitterness, whilst brutal, isn’t confected or sugary.

Hanky Panky cocktail in a martini glass with twist of orange. Made from gin, vermouth and fernet.

Any more Fernet cocktail recipes? Let me know…

Peasant Life: countryside, gin and stew. But no bloody giblets.

The other day I felt peasanty. I often feel peasanty. So I went to Waitrose (very much in the manner of a typical peasant) looking for thrifty cuts of meat.

Why is it so bloody difficult to find non-prime cuts of meat? Waitrose is better than most supermarkets, but still, try finding breast of lamb, or beef shin, or oxtail, or ANYTHING WITH SODDING GIBLETS WHATSOEVER. (Except the customers and staff, I guess. They must have giblets. But I doubt they’re for sale.)

I realise the lack of supermarket giblets reflects the realities of supply and demand. I shouldn’t be irritated at Waitrose, you’ll tell me in that patronising manner you sometimes adopt; I should be irritated that nobody buys giblets. I should be irritated at people in general.

Well, joke’s on you. I am already irritated at people in general. For so, so many reasons.

(Joke may actually be on me.)

Christ, get on with it, Parn.

So. Grubbing around in the refrigerator cabinets of Petersfield Waitrose I chanced upon some lamb ribs. Not a common find in Peef Waitrose, let me tell you. So I elbowed a few dithering OAPs squarely in the giblets and shouldered them roughly aside — and lobbed those ribs straight into my basket.

We’ve loads of carrots, potatoes and onions, thanks to our excellent (if occasionally chaotically administered) vegetable box. So while ribs aren’t the classic cut of lamb for an Irish stew, they’re bony and fatty. Which is good enough for me.

Now, what you need after the giblet-free geriatric scrimmage of a weekend visit to Petersfield Waitrose is either (a) an immediate escape to the quiet of the countryside or (b) a strong gin and tonic. I opted for (a) then (b).

A misty South Downs landscape, taken in the countryside near Petersfield in Hampshire

That gin and tonic is worth talking about, actually. Hampshire Navy Strength gin (£36.99 from General Wine) and Fever Tree Light tonic water, with big boulders of ice and a sprig of rosemary. This is a very good gin, let me tell you. A true silken-gloved thump of a gin, thanks to its hoofing 57% ABV. It’s made just up the road in Winchester, and it’s damn fine stuff. A bit of smoke from the tea they use as one of the botanicals, and the buttery smoothness imparted by the high alcohol content. Grab some if you chance upon it, dear reader. I’ll probably review this beast before long, as I like it rather a lot.

Bottle of Hampshire Navy Strength Gunpowder Gin

Anyhow, back to the lamb ribs. My preferred Irish Stew recipe is simple: lob a few sliced onions, some chunks of carrot, some peeled potatoes, loads of black pepper and a tablespoon or two of pearl barley into a big pot along with the lamb pieces. Cover with water and bring it to the boil, then simmer (gently, gently!) for a good long time… Several hours, please. The potato gradually melts and thickens the cooking liquid, while the onion turns ghostly and diaphanous and the lamb disintegrates. Outstanding.

If you have the self-control, make the stew a day ahead and then reheat when you’re ready to eat it, as (like most stews) its flavours improve that way.

When you can wait no longer, season to taste and add loads of rough-chopped parsley. I had mine with a bottle of the blindingly cheap Chapelle de Pena 2015 from The Wine Society, but the buggers seem to have stopped listing it. Probably because someone bulk-bought the lot. But something cheap and rustic feels, y’know, appropriately peasanty.

Bottle of Chapelle de Pena in front of a pot of Irish Stew

Anyway, I love eating like this because it’s incredibly simple, it generates virtually no washing up, and it’s bloody cheap. A pack of lamb ribs costs well under a fiver, and lamb breast or neck, if you can find it, is similarly thrifty. My single glass of gin & tonic probably cost me more than the whole portion of Irish stew I ate. Now, you may retort that you don’t need to save money by scrimping like a peasant — and that’s fine; good for you, your lordship. But I think there’s something conceptually satisfying about making a sodding delicious dinner for extremely little money — and, if you set aside the challenge of finding the meat in the first place, plus the effort required to clear your path of bumbling geriatrics, similarly minimal effort.

I still want some giblets, mind.

The Perfect Gin Martini Recipe

Right, listen. This is important. You either make a perfect martini or you don’t make one at all. Read on for Old Parn’s rhapsody on the innumerable savage charms of this noble drink — and, natch, the recipe for the aforementioned perfect martini…

Your first gobful of martini should brace you even as it slams you. You should gasp. Your mouth should thrill, your blood should pump, your heart should sing.

Not an ounce of this liquid should be in any goddamn way a compromise. It must be utterly intense. It should not quench your thirst; it should quench your desire.

The disinterested, thuggish punch of the gin. Wrapped in the shimmering gossamer of the botanicals, mitigated (but so slightly, so slightly) by the sweet yield of the vermouth. The lingering scent on the boxer’s glove.

And — just when you think you’ve got your tastebrain around it all — the savage perfume of the lemon or the oily, dirty smear of the olive.

That. That, my friends, is a martini.

Let it never be less.

Essential rules for making the Perfect Gin Martini

Right. In many respects, I am open-minded. But open-mindedness stops here. Because there are three rules — no, scratch that, there are three commandments. Disobey them and you will not have a perfect martini; you’ll have a shit drink unworthy of the name. With them, you’re well on your way to the promised land.

  1. Everything must be as cold as you can humanly get it. I mean everything. Possibly including your soul.
  2. Your gin and your vermouth should be of good quality — because they are literally all you are tasting, here.
  3. You do not make the perfect martini in a hurry.

So, first up, let’s talk temperature. You’re making martinis? You’d better have lots of ice. Big solid chunks of ice, please; none of your crushed rubbish. And every single ingredient of the drink should, at bare minimum, be fresh from the fridge. I keep my gin in the freezer. I also keep my martini glasses in there, so long as Amy hasn’t filled it up with goddamn peas (three bags, people, three bags.). Were it not for discomfort and physical impossibility, I’d keep the hands that are ultimately going to hold the martini in there. You understand?

Now, ingredients. Our perfect martini is not the place for your bargain basement, paint-stripper gin. Because gin is the sodding main ingredient, here. It is front and centre. If you only have mediocre gin, wise up and make a different drink. And much the same goes for vermouth. It’s relatively inexpensive, in the scheme of things, and you can keep a bottle of it in the fridge for a few weeks (usefully, it doubles up as an excellent cooking wine).

I’m not going to tell you which gins and vermouths to use. There are bloody hundreds of ’em out there, and trying new combinations is pretty interesting. But if you’re looking for a starting point, I suggest you could do a lot worse than a classic unpretentious and juniper-led gin like Plymouth (which is the house choice at the marvellous Dukes Hotel bar) or Tanqueray. For vermouth I typically use Noilly Prat (£12, Ocado), which is splendid stuff, but the Wine Society’s Chambery (£8.95, The Wine Society) is a fine alternative.

And, finally, speed. This is where I used to go wrong, making martinis. I went at it like a madman. But, no. Making a perfect martini requires patience. You actually want (you see) a very little of that ice to melt — a little water to bind together your gin and vermouth. Just enough to smoodge them together a bit. And you get this by taking your time.

How to Make the Perfect Martini

Gin Martini shot from below. Frosted from the cold, with a lemon twist

Get your cocktail mixer (or a jug/large mixing glass, if you don’t have one) and fill it full of ice. A lot of ice, in big cubes.

Pour your vermouth over the ice and stir gently. I’d suggest a ratio of 1 part vermouth to 4-5 parts gin — which is dry but not show-offy (my own view is that the vermouth is there for a reason, and once you get to 1:15 ratios and the like, you’re really not getting the benefit of it). However, this is for you to toy around with.

Take your gin from the freezer (don’t hurry, don’t hurry) and pour that in, too. Stir once again, gently but firmly — you want to move the ice and liquid around thoroughly, but you don’t want to smash up the ice cubes and add shards of ice to the liquid. When you’ve given it a decent long stir, leave it to settle.

Put away your gin. Put away your vermouth. Refill the ice tray(s) you emptied and put them in the freezer for tomorrow evening. Take out your (refrigerated) olives, and thread a couple of them onto a cocktail stick. Or (if you’re of a citric persuasion) take a slice of rind from your lemon, trying — if you can manage it with your hands shaking like that, old boy — not to cut off too much pith. And this all should be conducted at the leisurely pace befitting a suave martini-drinker such as yourself.

Thirsty yet? Too bad. Stir again. Go for a little walk to the sitting room and back, why don’t you? Entertain your guests with an offhand fragment of your debonair wit (or just mutter to yourself, you massive, booze-dependent loner). Then come back.

Take your martini glasses out of the freezer. If you’ve taken the lemon route, you should give the rind a good squeeze-twist, holding it over the glass for which it is destined, before you add it to the glass. The objective is to release those delicious citric oils. Or if you’re having olives instead of lemon, chuck ’em in.

Stir the gin & vermouth one last time, then strain the precious liquid into the glass. You are now in possession of the perfect martini.

Serve. Immediately. This is the only time at which you actually should hurry.

Bask in the admiration of your peers. Get working on the second one.

The Negroni Manzanilla with Sacred Rosehip Cup – Recipe

As if a normal negroni weren’t good enough… Thanks to Poco Tapas, Old Parn discovers the majesty of the Negroni Manzanilla and Sacred’s Rosehip Cup.

I love a negroni. And before I went to Poco Tapas Bar during a visit to Bristol last summer, I believed I made a pretty damn good one.

Poco Tapas Bar’s Negroni Manzanilla took that belief of mine to one side and gave it a bloody good shoeing.

Because Poco’s Negroni Manzanilla is a work of exquisite dipsomaniacal genius.

The classic Negroni (come on, you know this) consists of gin, Campari and red vermouth in a 1:1:1 ratio, stirred over plenty of (chunky) ice cubes and lifted by a twist or wedge of orange.

Poco’s version changes this in two main ways. The first you’ll have guessed (unless your deductive reasoning is extraordinarily weak): the addition of Manzanilla sherry. The second is subtler but equally revolutionary: Campari is replaced with a fabulous liquid called Rosehip Cup, made by Sacred, and I guess this is the one Poco uses. It’s a good deal more expensive than Campari and a bit of a pain to get hold of offline (I ordered mine from the Whisky Exchange for £27.95), but — trust me, dear reader — absolutely worth your while and your dosh.

Why is this take on the negroni is so bloody good? It addresses the most significant drawback (in my view) of the classic: the fact that Campari’s bitterness is (to my taste — and it’s perhaps worth mentioning I am somewhat intolerant of bitter flavours…) slightly harsh and one-dimensional. The Rosehip Cup is smoother, fruitier, gentler. The crucial bitterness remains, but rather than the melodramatic bitterness of a romantically spurned adolescent, it’s the nuanced bitterness of a twice-divorced deputy headteacher who needs to keep things civil for the kids’ sake.

You can quote that in your marketing if you like, Sacred.

Bottle of Sacred Rosehip Cup and a lily in a glass

The better balance of a negroni with Rosehip Cup transforms it from a drink of which one is generally enough (before moving onto other fare, natch) into one of which the prospect of a second is spectacularly enticing.

And the Manzanilla. Let’s talk about the Manzanilla.

Now, you could comfortably change up your negroni game simply by swapping out the Campari for Rosehip Cup and leaving it at that. Indeed, if you’re anything like me, once you’ve tasted the Rosehip version, you’ll struggle to return to Campari. The addition of a splash of bone-dry sherry, by contrast, remains an optional flourish (the Negroni equivalent of a Dirty priligy la Martini, perhaps). The Manzanilla variant has a fabulous aromatic openness. While a classic negroni is a tightly coiled fist of a drink, the addition of Manzanilla loosens it a little, relaxes that tight grip. It hardly makes it into a long drink, but it’s definitely less short. I don’t think it replaces the classic, but it’s a bloody lovely alternative. I now buy EVEN MORE sherry (buy more sherry!) so that I can make these critters whenever the fancy takes me. Which is frequently. Try it and you’ll thank me.

Except you won’t thank me, you rude bugger. You’ll be too busy drinking negronis.

Recipe for Manzanilla Negroni

  1. Fill a glass (I use these elegant blighters from Ferm Living because I believe drinks should look handsome) with chunky icecubes
  2. Pour over 1 part gin (Tanqueray is a classic choice but there are hundreds of other possibilities)
  3. Add 1 part Sacred Rosehip Cup
  4. Then add 1 part red vermouth (Martini Rosso is the widely available one, but try others as and when you find them: Cocchi is currently stocked in my local Waitrose and works superbly. The choice of vermouth makes a massive difference to the drink, y’know… But that’s a topic for another post, methinks)
  5. Finally, add 1 part Manzanilla sherry
  6. Finish with a twist of orange (use a paring knife or peeler to slice off a strip of orange peel, fashion it into a twist in your big clammy hands, making sure to give it a good squeeze to release the oils)
  7. Neck the bastard

And four more bonus tips…

  1. You can buy half-bottles of Manzanilla from The Wine Society for £5.95 a pop, so you don’t have to crack open a whole 75cl bottle for the sake of a single negroni (though far be it from me to dissuade you…)
  2. Because the Rosehip Cup is less bitter than Campari, you might want to experiment with a heftier vermouth. I recently tried Asterley Brothers’ fabulous English Estate Vermouth (£23.25), which deepened the drink (and also the colour) considerably. This offset the breeziness of the Manzanilla/Rosehip combo in a way that felt appropriate for winter.
  3. You might want to experiment with the ratios of ingredients. For instance, a half-measure of Manzanilla still imparts some aromatic openness, but preserves more of the negroni’s punch. Depends what you fancy.
  4. Poco Tapas Bar is well worth a visit for more than just its negronis.

The Best Tonic for Gin and Tonic

In which an array of nine tonic waters are put through their paces in an attempt to find, once and for all, the tonic to rule them all

This post is part two in a three-post series devoted to the gin and tonic. Part 1 endeavoured to find the best gin. Now, in part 2, the mission is to find the best tonic for gin and tonic…
A closeup of a mini can of Schweppes Tonic

Some time ago, we had the gigantic joust of the gins. Now, at long last, it’s time for the titanic tiff of the tonics.

Oh, fuck, how much of a wanker does that pair of alliterations make me sound? DON’T ANSWER.

Today’s mission, then, is to find out which tonic makes the best gin and tonic. The deal here was pretty much the same as with the gins: taste ’em blind in one joyously ginny lineup. The gin used was my favourite common brand, Tanqueray.

(When I say common, I don’t mean lower class; I mean the kind of gin you’d be able to find at any half-decent UK supermarket or off-license.)

And I make no apologies for the fact that the lineup includes no slimline tonic varieties whatsoever. Because slimline tonic is the corrosive piss of satan.

Anyhow, here — from worst to best — are the results…

The best tonic for gin and tonic — results

9. Schweppes Tonic Water

Oh Schweppes, oh Schweppes. You fell, my boy. You fell bad. You landed on your arse.

I grew up on Schweppes G&Ts. Since my first mini-fridge at university, I always had a rank of yellow-and-silver mini-cans available, on ice. Alas.

Schweppes came out bottom of the taste test. Not marginally; clearly, and by some distance. It has a back-of-the-throat catch that I associate with artificial sweeteners, and a cheap, metallic quality to it. That said, it does also have bite. And it’s sure as hell better than sodding Britvic, which is a heinous tonic I didn’t even bother to include in this tasting. Compared to other tonics (including all the supermarket brands) it made for a sweeter, blander, more tacky gin and tonic. A saccharine blagger of a tonic, a little too confident that his illustrious background will win your admiration. The kind of tonic who hangs around in Chelsea and talks shit all the time.

I should add, though, that even the Schweppes G&T was nice. I criticise it relative to the others, but, Christ, let’s keep a sense of perspective.

8. Marks & Spencer Tonic Water

M&S only seems to do tonic in big 75cl bottles. A silly omission. In a G&T, M&S tonic is inoffensive. It’s got an unexpected bready sort of quality, but not much bite. It’s refreshing, but rather nothingy. A diffidently pleasant tonic without much to say for himself. Probably enjoys listening to Coldplay.

7. Fever Tree Mediterranean

The first of three Fever Tree variants, this character didn’t combine enormously well with Tanqueray. Like M&S’s effort, it sits toward the inoffensive side of the spectrum. It’s also a tad on the sweet side. A slightly wet ex-hippy of a tonic.

6. Waitrose Tonic Water

A gin and tonic with Waitrose tonic is a balanced sort of affair. It too has a slight breadiness, which I rather like. Again, though, there’s a tendency towards oversweetness — though neither as extreme nor as artificial as that of Schweppes. A balanced, middle-of-the-road kind of tonic. Squarely a Radio 2 listener.

5. Fever Tree Naturally Light

Nice. The gin and tonic made with Fever Tree Naturally Light — perhaps unsurprisingly — was less tonicky than most. With a bolshy, no-nonsense gin like Tanqueray, that’s not particularly necessary, but for the more subtle, aromatic, delicate gins (Greenalls Bloom, for instance, or Hendricks), this would be rather a splendid thing. A sensitive, quietly-spoken tonic; a good listener.

Closeup of the yellow label of a mini-bottle of Fentimans Tonic Water4. Fentimans Tonic

Here’s where things start to get interesting. Fentimans makes for a damn good gin and tonic. It’s crammed with flowers (violets!) and citrus. I’d gleefully drink this tonic on its own; in many ways it has more in common with something like bitter lemon than what I think of as tonic — there’s so much goddamn fruit in there. The gin and tonic it makes is delicious, lemony, full of zing and zang. But, I have to say, it’s nothing like my idea of a classic gin and tonic. An unabashed attention-seeker — the kind of tonic that ignores the dress code — but you can’t help liking it, nevertheless.

3. Sainsbury’s Tonic

Wow. This one came in from left-field. The coveted Old Parn Value Award goes to Sainsbury’s for this fantastically strapping tonic. Savoury, bready, confident.  Really far in excess of my expectations of a supermarket own-brand tonic, it’s a diamond in the rough — a good looking charmer in a down-at-heel nightclub.

2. Fever Tree Regular

Yup. It’s good. It’s very good. This is Fever Tree’s most successful tonic for a straightforward G&T. It’s balanced and rather delicious. What keeps it from topping the poll is a slight oversweetness. Far less pronounced than elsewhere, but I’d still prefer a bit less sugar; a bit more bite. Nevertheless, a very fine tonic indeed. Generous, charismatic and considerate.

A bottle of tonic water by 6 o'clock1. 6 o’Clock Tonic

And, finally — just sneaking in ahead of Fever Tree — comes 6 o’Clock Tonic. This is goddamn outstanding. A pity it’s a bugger to find (I’ve so far only been able to locate it in Whole Foods and online), because it has everything I want in a tonic water (including pleasantly minimalist packaging design). Why do I like it? Because it’s dry, it’s grown up. There’s a leafiness to it, a sharp, bracing sting. It’s not even slightly confected, not sugary or patronising. Set a gin and 6 o’Clock Tonic alongside a gin and Schweppes tonic and compare the two. You will be astonished at the difference — at how facile and glib the Schweppes one tastes.

A self-confident tonic with a dry wit and fucking excellent style — and deservedly crowned Old Parn’s best tonic for gin and tonic.