Showing posts from September, 2018


29 th September is the traditional feast of St Michael the Archangel – Michaelmas. Pious legend has it that when Satan was cast down from heaven by St Michael, he landed a bramble thicket. Each year on Michaelmas day, he pisses on all the brambles he can find, leaving their fruit shriveled, sour and unpalatable. (Nothing to do with reduced daylight hours, honest!) Wise foragers will have harvested plenty blackberries well before the end of September, of course. Some of them will get macerated in spirit - the berries, not the foragers! - then sweetened, bottled and put away for the rest of the year. For the less organised among us, the better liquor shops sell crème de mûres sauvages (wild blackberry liqueur). One of my favourites is made by the Cistercian monks who make Chartreuse liqueur, so it pleases me to remember the Michaelmas legend while I’m drinking it. Why am I telling you all this? Surely, liqueurs belong at the end of dinner, to help you relax and see your gues

Exploring vermouth

Part of me wanted to title this entry “rescuing vermouth.” It does have a bit of an old-fashioned reputation, you see. For so many of us, vermouth means your auntie’s bianco & lemonade, back in the nineteen-eighties, or a glass of Cinzano down the front of Joan Collins’s blouse in the TV ad. It’s such a shame. Great vermouth makes a perfect aperitif drink The slight bitterness of vermouth, as well as the name, originally came from the wormwood plant, but the name now denotes a wine-based drink in which various herbs and other plant extracts are blended with spirit and a quantity of sugar. Traditionally, all vermouth was made with white wine: red vermouth is sweetened with caramel. One or two modern vermouths buck this trend with rosé and red wines, but tradition still holds sway over the majority of products. For me, there are just two ways to use vermouth: on its own or in a cocktail. Vermouth with a mixer just doesn’t do it for me, especially one as sweet as le

In praise of the Negroni

Two Negronis and a few nibbles - simply heaven! Oh how I love a good Negroni! If you’ve never tasted this classic Italian cocktail, you’re in for a treat. A good Negroni represents the perfect combination of strength, sweetness and bitterness and comes in a fabulous deep red, with a chunk of orange on the side. As an aperitif, it has so much going for it. It’s fresh and sharp enough to enjoy al fresco on a hot summer evening, before a casual dinner of roast chicken salad, but it’s also rich enough to serve in the autumn before a more formal affair with multiple courses and a flight of fine wines. Believe me: I’ve done both, and several stages in between! The Negroni is bitter. It’s a drink for adults who have out-grown the need for everything to taste like pop; a proper, grown-up cocktail. The bitterness comes from two directions: first, the Campari, a favourite aperitif drink of mine that is flavoured of gentian root; secondly, the vermouth, deep and herbal. Add

A Drinks Host's Guide

There’s a strong culture of aperitifs in much of Europe. Each country has its favourite drink or drinks that are served with a little food before dinner. Think of that spritz you enjoyed so much in Venice or the Pastis you were persuaded to drink with just water in Nice, or that cool, dry sherry you had in Madrid. What all of these drinks have in common is that they’re all on the strong side, and each has its own, very distinctive taste. a bitter orange 'vin cuit' in Yorkshire - not quite Lake Como! A lot of aperitif drinks (Aperol, Campari, vermouth, gin…) are slightly bitter, and the reason for this is that they’re often made with herb or vegetable extracts that stimulate the digestive system. In other words, they prepare your body to process the food it’s about to receive. Because of this tendency to bitterness, a lot of aperitif drinks are sweetened. A good example here is red vermouth, served over ice with a slice of orange. Do you remember having that by Lake C