By 1st Principles Distilleries Spokesperson
Flaming Ferraris, 007 and the Pursuit of Craft Cocktails
(10 Minute Read)
I got my first job when I turned 16, as a waiter at a local pub and grill with dodgy lighting, cheesy blues tunes and smoky Stuyvesant corners. Many years later, I still wonder why people bothered going there. My conclusion, thinking about this life experience, was that the quirky place had two things going for it; it had atmosphere, and it had a pretty decent cocktail bar.
It was at this very bar where I had my first somewhat distorted introduction to the weird and wonderful world of cocktails. It was a Thursday evening, and I was busy waiting on two tables; a group of tourists from the Netherlands, and a husband-and-wife couple who never said a word to each other for their entire three course meal, when I heard a commotion at the bar. It was a group of young executives (the jock-type) who were cheering on one of their mates. This young buck decided, after chugging an entrée of different drinks, to up the ante and ordered a Flaming Ferrari.
Let me just explain that the Difford’s Guide’s for Discerning Drinkers, cautions that this cocktail is “…not recommended if you want to remember the rest of the evening and please be careful, alcohol and fire is a risky combination…”. The contents, although different depending on which part of the world you find yourself, usually comprise 1 shot syrup, 1 shot Black Sambuca, 1 shot Green Liqueur, 1 short Cognac and 1 shot Navy Rum (54.5% alcohol). All of which is then set alight and sipped through a straw. Admittedly one would question any person’s judgment who still proceeds to order this, let alone drink it!
I edged a bit closer in anticipation of this brave endeavour, but I had a gnarly feeling about this. The drink was set alight and the brave soul started drinking under the delightful chants of encouragement “down…down…down”, and he did get about halfway, when suddenly all the other spirits in his overstrained intestines decided they’ve had enough. First, his eyes bulged, then he coughed and choked as the Flaming Ferrari was frantically searching for a parking space via his nostrils, then he backed away from the bar-counter and sprayed a wave of mixed alcohol all over the bar-counter which quickly caught fire in a mesmerising display of yellow and purple flames.
By then everyone was ducking for cover and a few heroes were dousing the flames – I present to you ladies and gentlemen, the Flaming Ferrari.
Sadly, this is a fair representation of how many people make a first introduction to the exotic world of cocktails and what is essentially a very delightful range of drinks with its own language, traditions, flavours, tastes, skills, and knowledge. Despite this happening so many years ago, this remains the image that comes to my mind whenever anyone mentions the word cocktails.
For the past 10 years, the market has seen the introduction of a range of artisanal products and processes as concerned consumers demanded more natural ingredients, cleaner production methods, more responsible harvesting and farming, more local support, and a desire to use unbranded and authentic products. This movement remains in full swing and the liquor industry has been no different with the introduction of an extensive range of craft beers, spirits, wines and even coffee. Large commercial distilleries and breweries are being challenged by smaller individual or family operations offering unique and novel products and are changing the way consumers choose their spirits. No wonder we have such a diverse and varied range of definitions of craft spirits and cocktails. Perhaps the best starting point is for us to create a clear definition of what precisely constitutes a craft spirit.
LET’S GET INTO THE SPIRIT OF THINGS
Adam Rogers (Proof – This Science of Booze) writes “…Understanding our relationship with alcohol is about understanding our relationship with everything – with the chemistry of the universe around us, with our own biology, with our cultural norms, and with each other. The story of booze is one of intricate research and lucky discoveries that shape, and are shaped by, one of the most universal shared experiences. The Human relationship with alcohol is a hologram of our relationship with the natural world, the world that made us and the world we made…”.
Distilling is the process of extracting alcohol from fermented materials and was originally used for medicinal purposes. Not much has changed since the invention of the first alembic still in Egypt in 200-300 CE. Producers create spirits in similar fashion by boiling a low-proof alcoholic ferment and then distilling vapours that condense to create liquor. Today the market is constantly challenged and invigorated as micro-distillers break away from mainstream distilleries to try new methods and creative ideas. These pioneers are essentially hanging the way consumers select and shop around the globe.
Every spirit starts with raw ingredients such as corn, barley, rye, wheat, potato, agave, fruits, sugar cane, and botanicals which goes through several stages of transformation. Producers grind the raw materials into a course meal to release starch which converts into sugars, which is then cooked after being mixed with water. The mixed pulp is then placed in a fermenting container where it decomposes naturally. To help this process along yeast is added to the mix which in turn feeds off the sugar, releasing carbon dioxide and alcohol. A low alcohol liquid is created and then pumped into a still where it vaporises in the steam and condenses at various temperatures. These vapours are collected and bottled or further distilled. This final mix is then filtered to remove any impurities. Once filtering is completed the spirit may be bottled, blended, or aged depending on the distiller’s intended purpose and desired tastes.
A CRAFT SPIRIT FOR EVERY OCCASION
David A. Embury, considered by many to be the Master of the Cocktail (which we will return to later on in this piece) states in his book The Art of Mixing Drinks, that a cocktail must have a base which Embury explains as “…a fundamental and distinguishing ingredient of the cocktail and must always comprise more than 50 percent of the entire volume…”.
Many of these bases are considered to be craft spirits and we can divide them into a number of categories. Understanding each of these spirits is a crucial first step toward a more precise definition of a cocktail and we turn to Eric Grossman’s useful book Craft Spirits for an in-depth understanding of each of these spirits.
Vodka is a clean spirit with subtle characteristics ranging from herbal and grassy to sweet and spicy. Originally made in Poland and Russia and produced from grains or potatoes, new conventions are turning the spirit on its head by distilling grapes, honey whey and many more. It provides a blank canvas for experimentation with infusions and a variety of cocktails.
Gin is the most full flavoured of all clear spirits. It is distilled with flavours and it has a distinctive taste that comes from traditional botanicals such as juniper berries, citrus peel, and coriander. Modern day distillers make use of some of the most complex botanicals available and are producing a variety of flavours and tastes.
WHISKEY, BOURBON AND RYE
Whisky begins life as grains that are processed into beer-like slush and then distilled into a spirit. To get the finished product, the spirit is aged in wooden barrels. A host of factors such as location, type of grains and barrels determine whether it becomes a Scotch, single or blended malt, bourbon, or rye.
Rum is distilled from sugarcane by-products such as molasses. It can also be distilled directly from sugar cane juice. Naturally sweet and clear most rum is aged. The longer it ages the darker in colour and the more expressive it can become.
BRANDY / COGNAC
Brandy is made by distilling rudimentary fruit wine. Most brandies are aged in wooden barrels, sometimes with added colours and flavours. Brandies, Cognacs and Armagnacs were once thought of as after-dinner drinks, but new processes and methods are using unusual fruit bases and applying artisanal techniques to come up with new varieties and blends.
The Agave spirits, tequila, and its cousins mezcal, sotol, raicilla and bacanora are all distilled from desert plants in Mexico. These spirits convey a sense of place and they are becoming increasingly more popular all over the world.
Spirits, ingredients, flavours, and techniques vary all over the world. With quick shipping and transportation available today, we can enjoy liquors from every corner of the globe. Vermouth is a key component of classic cocktails and they are currently being created with such quality that they can be enjoyed neat. Absinthe is in demand and being enjoyed all over the world by bartenders seeking something new and creative to serve and mix in cocktails.
This comprehensive investigation and understanding into craft spirits and the methods and ingredients used to produce them, now offers us a unique opportunity to explore and formulate a deeper understanding of handcrafted cocktails and how they are made.
007 AND THE STRANGE MARTINI RITUAL
Who doesn’t know the famous “…One medium dry Vodka Martini, shaken, not stirred…” 007 quote? Bond has been swooning us with these chilled words since 1962, spicing it up with the occasional “...and add a slice of lemon…” in a number of the later movie editions. This ritual traditionally coincided with the introduction of some attractive dame or a mischievous villain. But according to experts Bond has it all wrong.
Besides the fact that Martinis are traditionally made with a Gin base, they are also made with a swirling and stirring action, not shaken as Bond requests them to be made. Unlike the main character in the famous Bond books which is mainly a Whiskey drinker, film-Bond prefers Vodka Martinis.
As to the reason why he prefers his drink shaken and not stirred, film fanatics and pro-Bond critics postulates that the aeration and melted ice as a result of the mixing, leads to a less potent drink and keeps Bond’s wits and faculties sharp and focused in case of any physical altercations. However sharp wits and faculties may be a bit of a stretch considering Bond’s alcoholic appetite. In a study published in the British Medical Journal, it was found Bond was actually a functioning alcoholic. Considering that the author’s initial intention was that James Bond be a bland and boring character, one can hardly blame him for his ferocious thirst for alcohol!
If our best known and favourite modern hero’s understanding of cocktails is so misconstrued, what then is a cocktail exactly?
CRAFT COCKTAILS, PASSION AND CREATIVITY
Let’s return to mixologist and Master of the Cocktail, David. A. Embury, to help us formulate a more comprehensive definition and understanding of these naughty delights called cocktails.
According to Embury a cocktail is not simply defined by a single sentence but rather by a number of attributes and characteristics. We need to know the cocktail’s function and add the ingredients which will best serve the purpose of our cocktail. Embury suggests that a cocktail must adhere to the following principles:
- It should be made from good-quality spirits, liquors, modifiers, and cordials.
- It should stimulate rather than dull the appetite, so it should not be syrupy, sweet or contain too much fruit juice or cream.
- It should be dry yet smooth with sufficient alcoholic essence and pleasing to the palate.
- It should be pleasing to the eye.
- It should be well iced.
Embury’s witty and humoristic style of teaching his craft is what made him so famous and enjoyable to read. A cocktail he explains has three components:
- The base which is the principal ingredient and is usually a single spirit such as gin, rum, whiskey, or Vodka and makes up 75% or more of the total volume of the drink before ice.
- The modifying agent is the ingredient that gives the cocktail its character and softens the taste of raw alcohol. Typical modifiers include aromatic wines, spirits, bitters, and fruit juices.
- Special flavouring and colouring agents such as liqueurs, cordials, bitters, and non-alcoholic syrups such as grenadine.
One main difference between cocktails and handcrafted cocktails is that standard cocktails contain pre-packaged mixes containing preservatives, while handcrafted cocktails contain fresh juice, fruits, and herbs. In many cases craft cocktail service providers source their ingredients and botanicals from local farmers, markets, and growers. Embury also breaks down cocktails into two main types namely aromatic and sour cocktails. Both of these use different modifying agents to create the different tastes and styles but as Embury states over and again “…the idea that a drink must be made according to one exact recipe is preposterous, the final arbiter is always your taste…”.
Using the correct glass is another critical aspect to ensure that a cocktail is practically presented, aesthetically pleasing and it also enhances the enjoyment of its contents. There are basically 4 types of glasses:
|The Martini Glass
|This glass exudes elegance and is perfect for stirred drinks without ice. The sloped sides improves the aesthetic and prevents the contents from separating. The long stem keeps the contents chilled.
|The Double Old Fashioned / Rocks Glass
|This glass is used for drinks mixed inside the glass rather than a shaker. The wide mouth is perfect for garnishes and the sturdy bottom make it easier to muddle the contents.
|This glass is historically used for sipping champagne and the wide brim is best suited for fragrant cold cocktails. The elegant stem makes it easier to hold than the Martini glass. It is also less top heavy and less prone to spill its contents.
|Collins / Highball Glass
|This glass is for drinks containing large proportions of non-alcoholic mixers. The tall Collins glass is perfect for drinks that need to be served super-cold with ice.
If we distil all these attributes (pun intended) of cocktails then we can deduct that what Embury is alluding to is that the ideal cocktail strikes the perfect balance between its contents, its method of preparation and its presentation, more importantly beauty is inevitably in the mouth of the drinker!
DO TRY THIS AT HOME!
Theory is important, granted, but cocktails, especially hand-crafted cocktails are to be enjoyed and made with passion. Not one person’s technique and likes are the same and this creates unique signatures, tastes, infusions, and flavours. On the 1st Principle’s website new cocktail recipes are produced regularly for your enjoyment and experimentation. Here are two sample cocktails:
1st Principles Solstice Rooibos Tea
- 1 tot 1st principles Rooibos Gin
- 1 tot Campari
- 3 tots fresh naartjie juice
- Martini glass
Combine the rooibos, Campari and fresh naartjie juice. Garnish with ¼ naartjie slice and serve over ice in a martini glass.
1st Principles Coffee G&T
- 30ml 1st principles classic dry gin
- 1 cup of tonic water
- 2 cups of ice
- 60ml cold brew coffee
- 2 tsp honey
Fresh orange rind for garnish Chill a glass using half of the ice. Measure the coffee, honey and gin into your chilled glass and add the leftover ice. Add the tonic and garnish with orange rind. Get your unadulterated honey from a local beekeeper if possible. It makes the world of difference!
THE PURSUIT OF PASSION
We don’t necessarily control the things that happen to us in our lifetimes, but we do control our perceptions and interpretation thereof. There might be a myriad of ideas and opinions on what constitutes a handcrafted spirit or cocktail, and we can all certainly have our own views, but one thing is certain; artisanal liquors and spirits are here to say and will become as bespoke and customer orientated as fashion and music.
This article was written with the intention to enthuse you into exploring new ideas, flavours, experiences and to enjoy the beauty and the art of cocktail making. Besides spicing up and creating some of the most special occasions it also brings us together across multiple cultures and other man-made barriers. Handcrafted cocktails can be plain and simple or exotic and complex, whatever the level of intricacy and skill, we can all agree that they certainly evoke new culinary experiences and creativity.
I once attended a practical writer’ workshop at the Franschhoek Literary Festival and we received an in-depth written piece about Whiskey tasting and drinking. Admittedly I am not a huge Whiskey fan, but it was the exquisite language, the history, the customs, the description of process and flavour, and the passion for the craft which struck me the most. If I could, I would likely have poured myself a single on ice right then and there! Cocktails share similar qualities and must be appreciated and enjoyed in similar fashion, like poetry in motion. Either that or we run the risk of chasing (and dousing) Flaming Ferraris at two in the morning at some unknown location…
1st Principles Distillery are the creators of some of the world’s finest hand-crafted spirits and are located in the picturesque and fertile Olifant’s River Valley in the town of Vredendal.
Owner and founder Joubert Roux is well-known for producing authentic products with a longstanding heritage, full of personality and founded on 1st Principles.
|Keeping within the crafting traditions, 1st Principles produces ingredients on-site, and where possible, use locally sourced botanicals.
|With an extensive online range of handcrafted spirits, cocktail mixers, natural ingredients and paraphernalia, 1stPrinciples Distilleries are the specialists for all your handcrafted cocktail supplies.
|For more information, to book a tasting experience call us on +27 (0)27 213 2431 or send a WhatsApp to +27 (0)76 132 5614 or send us an email to [email protected]