Month: March 2012

Gin & Sin, Cocktail

 - by Dug

The Gin & Sin seems to be a cocktail with little standardisation. Unlike the Negroni, which has a fixed and unwavering formula, a consensus on the proportions of the Gin & Sin seems to as elusive as the Scarlet Pimpernel. Even the ingredients vary by source.

Anyway, this is what I went with…

Gin & Sin

  • 2 oz Gin
  • 3/4 oz Orange Juice
  • 1/2 oz Lemon Juice
  • 1/2 oz Grenadine

Method: Bang it all in a cocktail-shaker, with ice, and give it a shake. Strain into a martini glass, or over ice to serve.

This is probably more grenadine-heavy than the majority of recipes, but I made a bottle of home-made grenadine some time back and find little use for it, so I thought I would go with the heavier option.

I made this with Martin Miller’s Gin and the resulting drink is intense in flavour and absolutely silky. I used a good deal of Gum Arabic in my grenadine, so it gives a great mouth-feel and Martin Millers is a silky smooth gin. The citrus intensity is balanced by the sweetness of the grenadine and underpinned nicely by subtle hints of pomegranate and rose. The gin gives it just enough back-bone to string it all together – I would like to see what this tastes like with something like Tanqueray.

This is a pretty simple and effective cocktail; well worth trying.

Intro to Aperol, Cocktail

 - by Dug

The Intro to Aperol is an interesting one. I was looking for Cocktails that include gin & Aperol and came across this twice before realising that it was actually a cocktail and not pages trying to tell me what Aperol was. It turns out this is actually a cocktail designed by the Pegu Club to give people an idea what Aperol is and tastes like.

Anyway, I had all of the ingredients and it looked interesting, so I thought I would give it a go.

Intro to Aperol

  • 2 oz Aperol
  • 1 oz gin
  • 3/4 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 oz simple syrup
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters
  • Twist of orange peel, for garnish

Add the Aperol, gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and Angostura bitters to a cocktail shaker half-full of ice. Shake and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a twist of orange peel (flaming optional).

I actually put slightly more lemon juice (maybe 4/5 oz) and in hindsight, could have used a little less than 1/4 oz of simple syrup. This isn’t that surprising as it is a cocktail for people not used to bitter drinks, so modify the proportions to fit your tastes.

This cocktail strikes a good balance between sweet and bitter. It’s incredibly fruity and gives mountains of citrus with hints of spice and juniper – very refreshing and drinkable. This will be cracking on a summer’s evening.

It is a rare thing (in my experience, at least) to see a cocktail with Aperol as its prime ingredient, and I am very pleased with it. I will definitely be making some more of these.



The Number Four, Cocktail

 - by Dug

The Number Four is a cocktail created by the Tanqueray Global Ambassador, Angus Winchester. I stumbled on this one on Pinterest and the thought of cracked black pepper and cardamom floating in gin really floated my boat.

Sources vary as to whether this has black pepper in, and the exact proportions seem to be hard to come by, so I have done my best to piece it together.

Without further ado, I give you…

The Number Four

  • 6 Whole Cardamom Pods
  • 12 Black Pepper Corns
  • 2oz Gin (Tanqueray)
  • 1oz Lime Juice
  • 1oz Honey Syrup

Crack the cardamom pods and black pepper (I used a pestle and mortar) and add to a cocktail shaker. Add the honey syrup (1:1 honey & water), lemon juice and gin; shake. Pour into a glass over ice.

Lacking a single lime in the house (I know, a bit remiss of me) I used lemon juice.

I thought this was going to be a monster of pepper and cardamom, but it turned-out to be quite subtle. The sweet/sharp balance is good and the gin is not dominated, nor dominant. All in all quite a good, simple drink.

I ended up adding a splash of cardamom bitters to perk mine up a bit, but this is because I was expecting a lot of cardamom and was disappointed when it wasn’t there.

I would be tempted to distil some cardamom and pepper distillate for this drink, as its only down-side is gritty lumps of cracked-spice floating around in it.



Cheeky Rose, Cocktail

 - by Dug

I stumbled across the Cheeky Rose in a blog post about wedding libations, of all places (

It caught my eye because it was the colour of rose quartz. Once my attention was momentarily drawn by the colour, I was intrigued to see rosé wine as an ingredient. It isn’t every day you see wine as a cocktail ingredient and with plenty of rosé in the fridge (the other-half likes it), it should be quite simple to make.

Cheeky Rose

  • 2oz gin
  • 2oz rosé wine
  • 1oz lemon juice
  • 1oz honey syrup
  • Rosemary sprig

Muddle rosemary leaves in lemon juice and honey syrup in a cocktail shaker. Add the gin, wine and some ice and give it a good shake. Pour into a tumbler over ice and garnish with the rosemary.

It’s an odd drink. Initially it was very pleasing, but the more I drank, the less balanced it became. Starting out as a balanced, dry cocktail with a great deal of fruitiness and hints of sweet honey, rosemary and juniper. Half-way though the drink, the different components started dominating each sip; one would be dominated by honey, the next by lemon, then wine, then rosemary. Maybe that’s why the original recipe was half the volume.

Still, an interesting experience.


In search of the perfect ice cube

 - by Dug

Ice is ice, right? It’s cold, you put it in your drink and it makes your drink cold. Don’t put too much in because it will water your drink down. That’s all there is to it, right?


Ice and lime

Ice and lime

This is so far from the truth that it has long surpassed Jeffery Archer or Tony Blair and rammed itself firmly into some sort of racial memory of misguided logic. At least everyone knows politicians lie – the “Ice Fallacy” is so insidious and deeply entrenched that nearly everyone believes it.

But, times are changing. An army of people, led by the great drinking minds of our time and equipped with the cold, hard edge of science are charging head-long to vanquish this Usurper of Truth, who hath bought us naught but tepid, watery drinks. We have established a foothold and now it is time to expand and conquer the endless masses of the beguiled.

Okay, I am going to get a grip now, and lay the melodrama aside for the time being.

There are several factors that make “good ice” and I am going to explore some of them here.

But first, what makes “good ice” good? Well, you can use ice in different ways. When used in a cocktail shaker, you are looking for slightly different outcomes than the ice you drop in your glass. As an insatiable G&T aficionado, I am only going to consider the sitting-in-your-glass use; in this format, ice has two jobs; these are…

1)      Making your drink cold.

2)      Otherwise, not altering the overall experience of your drink.

The so-called “good ice” will do both of these jobs well.

Incidentally, in a cocktail shaker, you are actively looking for dilution (just a controlled amount), and if shaking, you might be looking for a texture or appearance change too.


The Water



Okay, this is probably the most obvious. If your water tastes like crap, your ice will taste like crap. Got lots of chlorine in your tap-water? Your ice will have lots of chlorine in. For six years, I lived in a house that had had its own borehole and the water was pure and sweet – unfortunately, this spoiled me something terrible and I could smell the chlorine in ice cubes made with tap-water. Drinking in pubs was a real problem for me.

But it is not just chlorine; there are loads of chemicals that are added to tap-water and they do impact upon the taste. It is amazing how you get used to drinking crap tap-water too. When I moved away from my house with the borehole and into a place with mains water, I nearly gagged when drinking from the tap – now I barely notice. However, if you are going to the trouble of sourcing good ingredients for your drinks, why drop in nasty ice to cool it down? What’s the point in using Martin Miller’s Gin, blended with the finest Icelandic glacial melt-water, if you are just going to add tap-water to it, in the guise of ice?

How far you actually go in solving the water problem is really up to you. Here are a few tips…

  • Buying bottled spring water is probably a good start. It will have all sorts of mineral impurities in, but not all impurities are bad, or affect the taste. Choose one that is good value and tastes good.
  • Boiling tap-water will drive off the more volatile impurities (like chlorine) and get rid of a lot of the other dissolved gasses (more on this in a bit).
  • Passing tap-water through a jug/cartridge filter will take out a lot of impurities and improve the flavour. This will take out a lot of the dissolved solids which may end up with you having flat-tasting water.

I would steer clear of buying deionised or distilled water for your ice – while it will make “good ice” in a mechanical sense, drinking water treated in this way can strip the body of minerals. Too pure isn’t good. Icelanders refer to deionised water as “Dead Water” because it is flat and lifeless. There is a balance to be had and neither extreme is good.

Mostly, I would recommend boiling the water first. If you have particularly hard water, then you might want to filter as well.


The science of cooling

Melting ice

Melting ice

Okay, this is where it might get a bit intense and nerdy but do persevere, as it’s fascinating stuff.

There are two mechanisms that ice uses to cool your drink. The first is a very basic concept that seems like common sense; the ice is cold, the drink is warm – the ice absorbs heat energy from the drink.

Simple, yes?

Well, not quite. There is this strange thing that some materials take more or less energy to heat up. One gram of water takes 4.18 Joules of energy to heat by one degree (Celsius or Kelvin) and one gram of ice (at -10oC) only takes 2.11 Joules of energy to heat by one degree. Incidentally, asphalt only takes 0.92 Joules, which is why the road is always really hot in the sun. These numbers are called the Heat Capacity of a material and all materials heat at different rates.

The good news for imbibers is that ethanol has a much lower Heat Capacity; 2.44 Joules per gram per Kelvin. Alcohol takes less energy to cool and heat than water; the stronger your drink, the easier it will cool.

So, were you to take 100g of ice at -20oC and pour over it, 100g of water at 20oC, you will end up with a 200g of water at 10oC (eventually), not ice floating in 0oC water. Well, that would be true if it were not for the second mechanism at play.

Ice, it turns out, doesn’t just start melting when it reaches 0oC. It actually takes quite a lot of energy to break that ice-crystal lattice apart. In fact, it takes 334 Joules of energy per gram to melt water ice – this is called the Heat (or Enthalpy) of Fusion. This is an additional requirement to the energy required to heat the material; so if you take 100g of ice at 0oC, it will take 33400 Joules of energy to melt that ice and end up with 100g of water at 0oC (no temperature change, just a phase change). That’s enough energy to heat 100g of liquid water at 0oC to a whopping 80oC! Is that mind-bending or what?

Also, get this: Water actually gives off heat when freezing as well as absorbing it when melting. This principle is being used to develop passive air-conditioning systems for buildings, using waxes that melt just above room temperature (go read about Phase-Change Materials if you are curious).

So, our 100g of ice at -20oC mixed with 100g of water at 20oC will do something like this. The ice will warm quickly and absorb 4220 Joules of energy, reducing the temperature of the warm water to about 10oC.  The ice then begins to melt; just less than 13g of ice melts, absorbing a further 4220 Joules of energy and the water reaches 0oC, without the ice changing temperature at all.

It isn’t quite as simple as this; the room will be imparting heat into the water and there will be temperature gradients in the ice as well as convection currents in the liquid.

There is also another quirk that stretches beyond the limits of my knowledge; it transpires that ice at 0oC can cool a drink to -7oC in a cocktail shaker. What? You don’t believe me? Go read this mind-blowing article, complete with proper science experiments:

Weird huh? I could speculate about the reasons, but that wouldn’t be cricket science.

Okay, that’s the science bit over, time to look at what we can do with this knowledge.


The temperature

Cold thermometer

Cold thermometer

This one is pretty obvious.

The colder the ice, the more it will chill your drink before starting to melt, which is good. This isn’t the most efficient means of cooling, but it’s a start. My domestic freezer is set to -20oC and this will suck out 10oC from an equal weight of liquid water – more from an alcohol-water mix. The more you cool your drink before the ice begins to melt, the less you dilute your drink by melting said ice.


The shape

Ice from an ice-machine - with dimples

Ice from an ice-machine - with dimples

Novelty ice-cubes in fun shapes and those odd cubes with massive dimples that come out of ice-cube machines all have a much greater surface area than the humble cube.

Ice melts at the surface of the mass and the greater the surface area, the more ice you will have melting at any given moment. While this will facilitate cooling, little lumps and nodules of ice (say, the neck of the novelty guitar ice cube, or the funnels of your ice Titanic) will heat to 0oC quickly and start melting before the temperature in the main body of ice has finished reached 0oC. So you will cool by melting before you finish cooling by ice-warming.

Air bubbles trapped in your ice, when breached as the ice melts, will result in a huge increase in surface area and the lumps between voids will melt very quickly. Boiling your water before freezing will drive off most of that dissolved gas and make a clearer, solid cube, with a crystal lattice with fewer faults.

A sphere of ice is the ideal shape, but they are buggers to make. You can buy moulds for ice-balls but they tend to be fiddly and inefficient on space. The humble cube is a good compromise unless you are seriously going to town on your ice.

You can buy equipment to shape ice-sphere if you are flush with cash and have nothing better to spend it on (Here is one of the cheapest I have seen).


The amount

Lots of ice

Lots of ice

There is some erroneous common-knowledge that putting too much ice in a drink will water it down too much when the ice eventually melts. This is pretty-much the opposite of the truth.

Ice melts when it warms to a certain temperature. There is only so much heat in your glass. The less heat each cube absorbs, the slower it will reach 0oC and start to melt. Therefore, sticking loads of ice in your glass will see each cube absorb less heat and staying solid for longer, thus keeping you drink cold without making it watery.

If you stick two small cubes in a glass, they will melt pretty quickly and water your drink down more than if you had filled the glass with ice to start with. You will also end up with a tepid drink.

More ice means less melting.


The size

Big ol' cube of ice

Big ol' cube of ice

Small ice cubes will suck heat out of your drink quicker than large cubes. This is because several smaller cubes have a greater surface-area for their volume than one bigger cube. There is more cold material in contact with your drink, so it will cool it quickly. Small ice is good for crash-cooling.

Larger ice cubes will cool your drink slower and therefore, more of the surface will melt by the time temperature equilibrium is reached and more of the cooling will have been achieved by melting.

However, once you have reached equilibrium, the larger cube takes-over in the efficiency stakes. Here, higher surface-area is a liability. You see, ice will be constantly melting at its surface; it is in a constant flux of melting and freezing. This is just the way things are when equilibrium is reached and normally the water freezes as fast as the ice melts (hence equilibrium). However, the materials in question are not the same. The ice is pure (ish) water and your drink is an alcohol-water mix and this freezes at a much lower temperature than pure water. In fact, a mixture of 40% ethanol and 6o% water freezes at -23oC (which is why your whisky never freezes when “on the rocks”), so when water is liberated from the ice crystal, into the ethanol solution, it is much less likely to re-freeze back into the ice. There are concentration gradients that complicate this, but this is the basics of how it works.

So, even at equilibrium, the ice in your drink will melt and the greater the surface-area, the more will be melting.

Ideally, you would crash-cool your drink with small ice and then quickly transfer it over to large cubes. This is way too much of a faff for almost everyone who might be considered sane, so large cubes tend to win-out.



In short, big ice cubes in very simple shapes work best. Make them as cold as possible, use good quality water and boil the gas out. Use lots of it and they will cool your drink and keep it cold for a long time with minimal dilution.

I personally use Tovolo Perfect Ice Cube Trays, which are silicone moulds that churn-out chunky 1½ inch (38mm) cubes. They last well through a long-nursed drink and there is always plenty of ice left when the glass runs dry. They can be hard to find in this county and are usually quite expensive when you do find them – on ebay, it often seems cheaper to buy them from the US and get them shipped to the UK.

Tovolo also do a “King” model as well that makes massive 2 inch (50mm) cubes.

There are all sorts of moulds and trays out there though. There are some that create spheres (without the massive expense) – in fact, it is rumoured that the queen uses spheres of ice in her drinks as they clink less in the glass.

One last thing; now that you are armed with this knowledge, don’t be an ice-bore. You won’t win friends by complaining about the ice at their parties, or in bars, and people will think you insane if you bring your own – there are times when you just need to be grateful that there is ice in your drink at all.


Creative commons image attribution


Homemade Gin

 - by Dug

I love making things; there is a little, but insistent, part of my brain that looks at things and whispers “that can’t be too hard to make”. Just yesterday, I made my own shaving cream and today I made gin.

I’ve had a Liebig condenser kicking around the house for some years and I was convinced that I would find a use for it some day. I bought some juniper berries a few weeks ago with the intention of making compound gin, or bathtub gin, but why stop there? I scoured ebay and other sources of cheap laboratory equipment and, parcel by parcel, ingredients and hardware have been arriving at my door. Finally, today, the last piece of the puzzle arrived and I was good to go.

Macerating botanicals

Macerating botanicals

I decided to try a half-bottle of the cheapest vodka I could find because, let’s face it, this probably wasn’t going to produce the best results on the first attempt. Researching gin recipes (mostly here: I settled on the following as a starter-for-ten.

  • 7g Juniper berries
  • 3.5g Coriander seed
  • 0.25g Cassia
  • 0.3g Liquorice root
  • 0.2g Orris root powder
  • 0.2g Angelica root
  • 0.5g Mixed citrus peel (fresh & grated)
  • 0.2g Frankincense
  • 0.1g Myrrh
  • 0.2g Cardamom

I used mixed citrus (grapefruit, orange and lime) because, by some stroke of coincidence, I had no lemons in the house. The Frankincense and Myrrh are there because I was curious about what taste they would impart and had this strange idea about putting some gold flakes in it and giving it as Christmas presents, with the label “Nativity Gin”. For some reason, upon weighing, I doubled the quantity of Orris and Angelica I had planned on using.

There are some very precise measurements here and I purchased a pocket-set of very accurate digital scales from a head-shop on ebay. I weighed all the ingredients and cracked the whole seed and pounded the roots in my pestle & mortar. I slit each juniper berry with a knife too, to liberate more flavour. I added all this to the vodka and left it overnight to macerate.

Macerating botanicals

Macerating botanicals

The next morning I began the maddening job of putting the distillation rig together. This was harder than I thought due to a few mismatches in tubing sizes. I ended up attaching the Liebig water supply to a garden hose and stepping it down in in size using a smaller hose, a copper pipe adaptor and some epoxy glue. The water was supplied by an outside tap, with the hose coming through the kitchen window. My wife gave me some funny looks.

Initially I thought to submerge the boiling flask in a saucepan of salted hot water, but a test run on 400ml of plain tap water revealed that this was a bit slow, so more direct heat was applied.

The macerated liquor in the flask looked distinctly like the urine of an ill, dehydrated man, mixed with a small handful of rabbit droppings and twigs; not exactly appealing at this stage.

Something I noticed was that the vodka took the heat and started boiling much faster then the pure-water test run. This is hardly surprising, not only does alcohol take less energy to raise its temperature than water, but it also takes less energy to break it from its liquid phase into a gas.

Introduction to Organic Chemistry

Introduction to Organic Chemistry

Another thing I noticed was that the filled flask was a lot heavier than an empty flask. This was no surprise, but it did threaten to topple the retort stand I was using to support that half of the apparatus. I was taking enough risks by boiling alcohol over an open flame without having unstable glassware, so I looked for something to weigh it down; what better than a twenty-year-old copy of Introduction to Organic Chemistry? A thick and weighty tome that formed a significant part of my university reading. Nothing would move under that.

The first few drops

The first few drops

The rig stabilised, the coolant-flow established and the flask filled with a rancid-looking fluid, it was time to light the gas and wait for the first drops of my own unique gin to drip from the end of the condenser into my ultra-sophisticated spirit-safe – a squat, square Kilner jar with sufficient capacity to hold the distillate and short enough to allow me to get the boiling flask close-enough to the gas ring so as to not have to have the flame too high.

And over it came.

I couldn’t resist smelling and tasting as the drops came through and its was certainly a journey of flavours. The citrus seemed to flow first, followed by the floral notes, then the more earth and woody notes. After this it seemed to mostly be slightly scented water. It was astounding to see a pure, clear liquid being produced from such insiped puddle water.

As the last 20% of liquid came through the condenser, it began turning cloudy. This is a sign of too much oil – the microscopic droplets not being able to be dissolved in the alcohol. Apparently it is also a sign of too much citrus. I knew I put too much citrus in, shortly after I started macerating. I put the peel in late in the maceration and all the recipes gave weights for dried peel; I guessed the weight of water in peel at about 80% and put five times the amount that recipes called for. The macerating liquor smelled strongly of citrus after adding, as supposed to gin like it did prior to the citrus.

Legging in the condenser

Legging in the condenser

Another interesting thing was the legging in the condenser. When water condenses, it forms little droplets on the inside of the condenser. For the first half of the run, the condensing fluid formed little concentric ridges that I put down to the same mechanism that causes legs on the inside of your glass – I won’t go into the mechanics here as it isn’t particularly relevant.

It took about an hour for the run to complete and the residue left in the flask was brown and cloudy. I left about 50ml in the flask thinking that the majority of oils and alcohol would have come over by that point. To maintain the volume of finished product, I added about this volume of water to the liquor before the run; this was partly to compensate for the volume I intended to leave in the flask, but also I had read that boiling botanicals in 40%+ ABV hardened the skins and restricted the release of oils.

So, what was it like?

The gin was nothing like any other gin I had tried. The nose is very odd, definitely citrus with odd resinous overtones – possibly the two resins. There is little juniper in evidence on the nose.

The attack is sweet and intensely floral with a strong geranium-like flavour. The juniper comes in the middle palette with more floral flavours and heady resinous tastes. I definitely went overboard with the Orris and Angelica – these overpower the juniper.  The after-taste is has a slight burn of spice and citrus and echoes of the florals, but there is something lacking; it trails-off quickly and leaves a long, quiet echo. This is a gin of contradictions; it is intensely flavoursome gin but at the same-time it also tastes a bit watery and weak. The flavour is intense and powerful, but at the same time, there are holes in the taste.

Mixing with tonic was very strange indeed. For a start there was very little fizzing – maybe a symptom of all that suspended oil. The G&T was nice but there was both something missing (predominately juniper) and too much of other botanicals at the fore. There was also a surprising but distinctive taste of potent herbal cannabis. The geranium flavour makes it taste like I have used Fever-Tree Mediterranean Tonic Water.

This isn’t a great gin and I have a lot to learn, but for a first attempt, I am not displeased. It may also get a little better with resting.

Finally, a word on legality.

This is probably against the law. Don’t do this.

There are distiller’s licenses, rectifier’s licenses and compounder’s licenses. There are warehousing and plant licenses, rules about the size of barrels and bottles you are allowed to store alcohol in. You need different licenses depending on if you use duty-paid or duty-pending alcohol. The licensing laws are, quite frankly, Byzantine in their complexity.

I have used duty-paid alcohol and I have no intent to produce for anything other than my own personal consumption. I probably need a license to do what I have done today, but I would like to think that HM Revenue and Customs is more concerned with large-scale VAT and import duty fraud. If they really want to track me down and fine me the duty for the production of 350ml of gin, then I will pay my fine with a smile, chalk it down to experience and move on.

Technically you need a compounder’s license to make sloe gin and no one has kicked-in my door and confiscated my freezer yet.

I will probably keep doing this on very small scales, not to supplant purchased gin, but as a learning experience. There are too many commercial gins out there for me to give up on them.

Update 1

After a little time to settle, the first batch of homemade gin developed a slightly unpleasant, and more pronounced, after-taste. This was the flavour of the latter half of the distillation. In the meantime, I had done another batch with half the amount of angelica or orris root; this was better, in that it had a more balanced flavour that allowed more of the juniper to come through, but the gacky after-taste was even more pronounced as a result.

After a little reading, and a few comments under this post, I came to realise that only the heart of the distillation is bottled. So, armed with more knowledge and enthusiasm, I tried a third batch and sampled the distillate in roughly 12.5ml batches, discarding those that had unpleasantness about them. Interestingly, the initial part of the distillate had a lot of spice and citrus flavour in it, but it had some nastiness about it too, so I wonder how much of the spice and citrus gets thrown away. I stopped the distillation run before it became watery and riddled with unpleasant nastiness. The resulting gin was powerful and needed blending with more vodka, but it was a lot cleaner and very juniper-heavy – so much so, it reminded me of Oliver Cromwell Gin, especially in a G&T. Unsubtle, but not unpleasant.

For the third run, I macerated the juniper separately from the rest of the ingredients. The spice, root and citrus mix smelled wonderful, but the juniper developed a strong whiff of that nasty after-taste that I was working to eliminate. I do wonder if better juniper is in order – I just need to source some.

Update 2

My third batch of gin has sat on a shelf for a couple of months now. Initially, it was cloudy after diluting it down with vodka (I guess the dilution knocked some of the oils out of solution) but it has since cleared again. The flavours have integrated better and the juniper has come so far to the fore, that it is almost brutally juniper-heavy (almost a turpentine quality to it). Apart from this savage nature, it seems to have bottle-aged quite well. Life is a little hectic at the moment but I still want to try a fourth batch with better quality ingredients to see if I can apply lessons learned.