My new favourite drink, the brandy sour.

I’m not a huge fans of cocktails. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the taste rather I find they slip down a bit too quickly. That’s part of the point, of course, a good cocktail should temper the fire and any rough edges in the spirit to make it dangerously easy to drink. Suddenly it’s gone and I want another. Before I know it it’s all gone a bit Harry Sellars from Father Ted:

Which is why I prefer to drink beer or wine or neat spirits. One is forced to drink slowly. This Christmas though my wife bought me a rather swanky silver-plated cocktail shaker so it would be silly not to put it into use. Also from my time writing a drink column for the Guardian, I have  an excess of spirits including a bottle of Cardinal Mendoza Brandy de Jerez. It’s a rather sweet brandy which I can only sip in minute quantities but it’s worth it for the most amazing oloroso sherry finish of nuts and molasses. It lacks the fruit and acidity of a good cognac but its failings can be remedied in the cocktailing (dread word!) process.

A sour is simply any spirit, lime or lemon juice and sugar syrup to balance the sour. Too much sugar and you ruin it. As this brandy is already very sweet it doesn’t need much.It worked dangerously well. The lemon juice brought the slightly cloying brandy to life and revealed fruit that I never noticed before, oranges etc and it made the finish seem even more nutty and delicious than before. Best of all, it refreshed, not bad for almost neat spirits. I drank two and then went on the rampage through Lewisham.

Ingredients: makes two small ones

Place two martini glasses in the freezer before you start.

4 shots of brandy de Jerez or any good smooth brandy. Probably not a good idea to use your best cognac

3 tablespoons of lemon juice

1 tablespoon of sugar syrup (2 parts dark sugar to 1 part water)

Add lots of ice to the shaker, add ingredients, shake vigorously and then strain into the cold martini glasses. Garnish with slice of lemon.

Drink quickly and then make another.


I discovered after making this drink that it’s the national drink of Cyprus made with local brandy. I’ve never trued Cypriot brandy but think it would be nice with Metaxa. I tried a version with orange bitters but it didn’t really need it. Angostura bitters might be nice, off to try now. 



I invented a cocktail – now it just needs a name

Until recently I thought that cocktails were created in the dim and distant past by bartenders called Harry or were the preserve of Heston Blummenthal-types with degrees in Mixology from Dalston Polytechnic. Now I realise that making cocktails is just like cooking. You can go off-piste. You’re probably never going to invent anything as remarkable as a negroni but you might come up with something delicious that you’ve never tried before. The trick is balance between sweet and sour and beware flavours that might clash. I’ve found Richard Godwin’s book, The Spirits, an incredibly helpful guide. He not only gives you fish but gives you a fishing rod so you can catch your own fish. Delicious boozy fish.

Here’s one I ‘invented’ as part of a Christmas lunch that the Guardian are putting on next month.

It is a cross between that old winter stalwart, the whisky mac (a mixture of whisky and ginger wine), and something a bit more tropical, the dark and stormy, (rum, ginger ale and lime). I’ve used Irish whiskey (note extra e) because it’s normally a little sweeter than Scotch. Bourbon might work too. I tried it initially with my own patent-blended whisky (Black Grouse topped up with some malt miniatures and a bit of Cutty Sark) but the smokiness didn’t work. The bitters at the end make it taste a bit exotic. It’s a delightfully warming drink for the winter and would I think double as a particularly delicious cold cure. You can make it weaker if you like or remove the fizzy water entirely to make it really sweet.


(makes one drink)

35ml (one shot) King’s Ginger liqueur

35ml Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey

35ml Jamaica Ginger Beer – if you’re using Fentimen’s omit the water and use double the amount. 

35ml fizzy water

17.5ml (half a shot) fresh lemon juice

Dash of angostura bitters

Lemon slice to garnish

Fill a tumbler with lots of ice, add the ginger liqueur, whiskey, ginger beer, lemon juice and water, stir thoroughly. Add a dash of Angostura bitters and garnish with a slice of lemon.

All it needs now is a name. I was going to call it the Prince Harry because of the high ginger quotient but it seems that name is already taken.

Any ideas please let me know.

@Hurtlepuss suggested the Joan Holloway after the redhead from Mad Men. Perfect.

You can no more keep a Martini in the refrigerator than you can keep a kiss there.

Tor the dedicated drinker, there’s no happier time than 6pm (or sometimes 5, if I’m on childcare duty). And there’s no better ode to this magical time than a very short book by American historian Bernard DeVoto, called The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto. For DeVoto, only one drink will do when the clock strikes 6: the Martini – and he has strict views on how to make them.

A Martini must be freshly made – “You can no more keep a Martini in the refrigerator than you can keep a kiss there.”