Cocktail of the Week – The Algonquin

This week I made an exception to my normal rule of not drinking anything I can’t pronounce by making an Algonquin.

It all came about because I’d bought some pineapple juice to make a Singapore Sling, only to find that I didn’t have some of the other ingredients (something I’ve now remedied).

There then followed a search of cocktail recipes to find something that used both pineapple juice and any of the wide selection of spirits that reside in my cocktail cupboard.

The Algonquin is the result. It’s named after the New York hotel where it was invented, which in turn was named after the Native American people who were the original inhabitants of Manhattan. The Algonquin Hotel has a long literary tradition – Dorothy Parker held court there and it was where the New Yorker magazine was founded.

The drink itself is best described as an American Martini, with rye whiskey taking the place of the gin or vodka and pineapple juice being added.

The Algonquin

2 msrs rye whiskey (or bourbon)

1 msr dry vermouth

1 msr pineapple juice

1 dash orange bitters

Shake all of the ingredients with ice and pour into a rocks glass half filled with ice. Garnish with a cherry.

This is very nice – there’s sweetness from the juice, but it’s not at all sickly due to the vermouth and the bitters.

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Cocktail of the Week – Mai Tai

Elinor and I are big fans of Food Network UK, which started on UK digital TV last year.

All of their programmes cover food (unsurprisingly) and the vast majority of them are made by the original, US-based Food Network.

Watching American cookery programmes can lead to some degree of confusion. For a country that has the same language as the UK (more or less) the American names for foodstuffs can be surprisingly different.

What for instance is cilantro? Or arugula? (Coriander and rocket, apparently.) And why is “herbs” pronounced “erbs”?

Nonetheless, we still enjoy watching the programmes. And even better, some of them feature cocktails!

And this is one of them I saw it being made this week by Ina Garten, who’s effectively the American Delia Smith (although I don’t believe she’s a Norwich City fan).

It’s a version of the Mai Tai, which seems appropriate as summer has finally arrived in the UK.

The Mai Tai was created during the Second World War and was part of the tiki culture that emerged in mid-twentieth century America. Who created it is the source of some dispute – some people say it was Trader Vic, while others support Don the Beachcomber. (No, I am not making this up.)

Mai Tai is means “good” in Tahitian and was apparently shouted by the first Tahitian who drank one. There’s lots of different variants; Vic and Don both had different recipes and I don’t think I saw the same Mai Tai recipe in any of my cocktail books.

Mai Tai

2 msrs Bacardi

1 msr Cointreau

1 msr orange juice

1 msr lime juice

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker with lots of ice, shake and pour into highball glasses half filled with ice. Garnish with orange and cherry. (And any other fruit that strikes your fancy. Tiki is not known for understatement.) 

This has a lot of rum in it and is pretty powerful. It’s also very citrusy – refreshing, but with a definite bite.

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Farewell to the Dandy

It was announced this week that Britain’s longest running comic, the Dandy, will cease publication in December with a special 75th anniversary edition. Weekly readership has dropped to less than 8,000, resulting in cancellation of the printed version. (Hopefully the new electronic edition can get more readers.) 

Considering the average life of British comic titles, even in their heyday of the 1970’s, was probably only a few years, people can say that it’s had a good run. But it’s still tremendously sad that something that had formed part of the fabric of British culture has passed on. (There’s even a statue of Desperate Dan in the publisher’s home town of Dundee).

However, and contrary to the impression given by some news reports, it’s not the death of British comics just yet.

But there’s not many left either.

The Beano, the Dandy’s long time stablemate, is still in rude health, with weekly sales of 38,000. But of the other comics of my childhood, only 2000AD and Commando remain.

While it’s not my place to tell the children of Britain what to read (I’ve not picked up a copy of the Dandy in almost 25 years), I do find the general British view of comics somewhat striking.

Compared with America, Europe and Japan, we generally seem to view comics as a disposable, childish medium. Kid’s stuff. And now we seem to be not even be willing to give some comics to our kids.

Maybe we should start doing that again.

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Cocktail of the Week – Aviation redux

For the first time (I think) in Cocktail of the Week, I’m going to revisit a cocktail I’ve done before. 

I’m not doing this because I’m lazy or uninspired – it’s because, this time, I’m going to do it right.

Regular readers may recall the Aviation, which I made as a gin sour with Maraschino. But it was missing the crème de violette that’s a traditional ingredient, but is rather difficult to get hold of.

Fortunately, my friend Kirsty was able to source a bottle and very kindly gave it to me as a birthday present!

As you can see, it’s very purple. It also smells quite strongly of parma violets, which most British people will remember from childhood.

But would it make a difference to the Aviation? There was only one way to find out…

The Aviation

2 msrs dry gin

1 msr lemon juice

1 msr Maraschino

2 tsp crème de violette

Share ingredients with ice, strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a cherry.

There is a definite blue tinge to the cocktail – nothing blatant, but there’s a hint of sky there.

The first version I tried was very sour, but the crème de violette offsets this really well – it’s a more balanced drink. The sweet violet taste is there without being overwhelming or sickly, and it nicely complements the cherry and lemon flavours.

I can happily say that it’s a real improvement.

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Wallowing in comic nostalgia

In anticipation of the new Spider-Man film, Marvel Comics recently brought out Volume 11 of Essential Spider-Man.

(The Essential series reprints (in black and white) Marvel comics of yesteryear, starting with the very first issues from the 60’s, which would otherwise be prohibitively expensive.)

Volume 11 collects around 20 issues of Amazing Spider-Man, dating from 1982-84. They include some of the very first Spider-Man stories I read.

However, I didn’t read these in the original American comics – they were in a British weekly comic, which is probably as responsible as much as anything for my love of the super-hero genre.

I really enjoyed reacquainting myself with the stories I’d read and discovering the stories I’d missed – including reading the second part of a two-part story after an almost 30 year wait.

Yes, I realise that it’s a little odd to remember comic stories after quarter of a century. But these were formative influences on me; they’re the stories that mean I have several feet of shelves devoted to comics.

But are these stories any good? I certainly wasn’t disappointed by the stories – there wasn’t any of the deflation when you discover that something you loved as a child wasn’t as good as you remember. (What I call the Scrappy Doo effect.)

But am I just wallowing in nostalgia? If I looked at these stories objectively, could I say honestly they were any good?

I think so – these comics stand up pretty well by themselves.

For instance, look at the cover above. It’s Spider-Man facing off against the Vulture – a baddie who first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #2, way back in 1963.

But this cover adds life to this long in the tooth villain – with the Vulture’s wing and the sunburst, it’s a dynamic, almost art-deco cover – something you wouldn’t expect in a mere comic.

In the same story, the interior art retains the dynamism – here’s a picture of Spider-Man rushing to stop the Vulture

 Not only does Spider-Man show that he doesn’t need a phone booth to change in (unlike certain heroes), the stop motion imagery also gives a real sense of motion and urgency – something emphasised by the dialogue.

(Incidentally, the penciler, John Romita Jr, is still working on Marvel comics today.)

Roger Stern’s plots are good too – they don’t deconstruct or subvert the genre, but that’s not why people buy Spider-Man comics, either in 1983 or 2012. But that doesn’t make them bland predictable fare either – this collection includes “The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man” – generally reckoned to be one of the best Spider-Man stories in the 50 years the character has existed.

So, yes, sometimes things are as good as you remember them.

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Cocktail of the Week – Moscow Mule

After a three-month hiatus, I’ve decided to start blogging again – there’s no terrible, traumatic reason for my absence, simply a general lack of inspiration.

And there’s probably no better way to start than with that old favourite, Cocktail of the Week.

It’s now the height of summer, but the British weather doesn’t seem to have got the memo. June was the wettest since records began and had the least sunshine since the 1980’s.

Nonetheless, there is something resembling warmth in the air, so a long, thirst quenching drink is welcome. Something like a Moscow Mule.

Rather disappointingly, the site of the Moscow Mule’s creation is nowhere near Moscow, but was instead that birthplace of so many cocktails, New York City.

The story is that the owner of a ginger beer maker and the owner of a vodka maker met in a bar and tried to work out how to sell their respective products. The solution was to mix them together and add a squeeze of lime. The rest, as they say, is history.

Moscow Mule


1 msr vodka

1 msr lime juice

3 msr ginger beer

Add ingredients to an ice filled old-fashioned glass.

(Incidentally, I’m distinctly unclear on the difference between ginger beer and ginger ale. Can anyone enlighten me on this?)

This is lovely – it’s tangy, spicy and thirst quenching. A far nicer alternative to the usual “vodka-and-mixer” option.

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Cocktail of the Week – Hot Toddy

This week, I’ve had a cold.

I *hate* having colds. Hate it, hate it, hate it.

However, I realise that it’s inevitable that I’ll catch the occasional cold, living in the North of Scotland and all. Also, it’s not a bad cold (I’ve been in work every day) and it’s given me the chance to try out a different kind of cocktail – the hot toddy.

This is a traditional Scottish cocktail (unsurprising, considering our weather) and, according to the poet Allan Ramsay, it was named after Tod’s Well in Edinburgh.

It’s different from all of the other cocktails I’ve made because it’s hot – there are many variants, but they should all include hot water, citrus fruit, a sweetener and some spices. This version is very traditional.

Hot Toddy

2 msr Scotch whisky

1/2 msr lemon juice

1 tsp brown sugar

3 drops Angostura Bitters

1 lemon slice, studded with cloves

Place the ingredients in a heatproof glass or mug, stir to dissolve the sugar and top up with boiling water.

The cloves and lemon make this. It’s citrus and warming at the same time. I’m not sure if it helped get rid of my cold, but it felt like it should have.

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