A few suggestions for seasonally spooky drinks for this weekend:

Pumpkin Spice Old Fashioned

A flexible syrup to be used in place of simple syrup in your Autumn drinks.  Try it in drinks based on dark spirits such as the Old Fashioned, Sazerac or Sidecar:

  1. Add 165g brown sugar and 200g granulated sugar to 350ml of water and stir over a medium heat to dissolve.
  2. Add 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves and 85g pumpkin puree and whisk well.
  3. Simmer for eight minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Strain through a muslin cloth, add 1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract once cool and keep refrigerated for up to three weeks.

Corpse Reviver #2

Appropriately named, but delicious all year round:

  1. Shake 25ml gin, 25ml Lillet Blanc, 25ml Cointreau and 25ml fresh lemon juice with cubed ice for twenty seconds.
  2. Strain into a chilled absinthe-rinsed coupe.
  3. This time of year we like to top this with a thick green absinthe foam, whipped up strong enough to suspend a few spooky jelly sweets.

Nosferatini (Tony Conigliaro, Drink Factory)

Just the right side of disturbing, this is the drink Dracula would make himself after a long night out feeding:

  1. Make a ‘blood solution’ by crushing an iron tablet and adding three teaspoons of red food colouring and one teaspoon of caster sugar.  Stir well.
  2. Add 50ml London dry gin and 15ml dry vermouth and stir with ice.
  3. Strain into a chilled martini glass and add two drops of the blood solution.

Photo courtesy of Jon Joh, some rights reserved.


Mai Tai

Mai Tai in Tiki mug

The Mai Tai is the classic Tiki cocktail, born in San Francisco in 1944 and intended to evoke the spirit and lifestyle of Polynesia, and in particular the drinking culture of the South Pacific which was particularly fashionable at that time.

Effectively a modified Daiquiri with extra rum, extra syrup and a fancy garnish, the drink was created by ‘Trader’ Victor Bergeron and got its name from one of the first recipients, Vic’s friend Carrie, who exclaimed “Mai Tai-Roa Ae!” (out of this world – the best) on her first sip.

Now the basis and a staple of most Tiki bar menus and often sold on fire or in extravagant Tiki mugs, volcanos or hollowed out Easter Island heads, the drink also found fame sharing screen time with Elvis Presley in the 1961 musical Blue Hawaii.

  1. Shake 25ml white rum, 25ml dark rum, 12.5ml triple sec, 25ml fresh lime juice, a barspoon of orgeat and a barspoon of sugar syrup with cubed ice for twenty seconds.
  2. Strain into a chilled rocks glass of crushed ice.
  3. Garnish with a slice of pineapple and a cherry, half a lime shell and some fresh mint.
  4. Finish with a splash of overproof rum.

Black Tot Day

Today is Black Tot Day and the 45th anniversary of the last ever daily rum ration served to sailors in the Royal Navy. After over three hundred years of tradition, at six bells in the forenoon watch (11am) on 31 July 1970, ‘Up Spirits’ was piped on the Bos’n’s call and the grog tub was rolled out for the last time across the British fleet.

The rum ration had held a sacred place in the hearts of Navy sailors since it was first introduced in 1655 as part of the standard Navy rationing of beer, wine and spirits in place of tea, coffee, cocoa and water on all shifts. Until 1740 each sailor was entitled to half a pint of neat rum (40% proof) and a gallon of beer if they wanted it – and most did. 

The rum ration in particular was doled out in a ceremony announced by the Bos’n piping “Up Spirits”. At this call, senior crew members would convene at the door of the Spirit Room, the heavily padlocked home of the ship’s casks of hard liquor. Inside, the Butcher tapped a cask and drew off the day’s ration for the entire ship’s company. Neat tots were issued for the Chiefs and Petty Officers and then the remainder, in a padlocked cask or breaker, was carried to the rum tub.

At Rumcall (played on the bugle) the breaker was unlocked and emptied carefully into the oak tub, with the company arranged in reverence to its shining brass hoops and inscription of “The King – God Bless Him”.

At this point the Petty Officer would consult his ledger and grandly announce the number of tots to which each mess was entitled. Once served, the remainder was poured away down the scuppers (or snuck back to the officers’ cabins).

By 1740, however, Admiral ‘Old Grogram’ Vernon had decided that drunkenness was a scourge up with which the Navy should not put and introduced a ‘Grog’ of 4 parts water to 1 part rum.

However even this dilution was not enough to keep the sailors in a shipshape condition. By 1745 the Navy had decided to cut back on mixing their drinks and moved to issue beer and spirit rations on alternate days. Eleven years later, the thoughtful addition of lime to the rum further mitigated the effects of the Grog and also had the benefit of guarding against scurvy, although it did give the British the nickname of Limeys.

By 1810 it was clear that the Admiralty was taking its dipsological responsibilities seriously as they codified the rum blend to be used across the fleet (thus creating Navy Rum and a recipe still used by Lamb’s to this day) and by 1824 space considerations were clearly more of a concern and the ration was halved to a quarter pint per man (also known as a tot). This freed up more space in the hold for limes, cannonballs, cabin boys and all the ephemera of a modern naval force.

Again, in 1850, Parliament raised concerns about the level of drinking on the high seas and proposed the abolition of the rum ration. Fortunately common sense prevailed and in some presumably excellent negotiations, the decision was made to merely halve the ration to 1/8 pint per sailor per day, to be served once a day, rather than twice, at noon.

Finally on Black Tot Day the ration itself was abolished in an occasion of great solemnity and mourning; some sailors wore black armbands, and some tots were buried at sea.  It was widely accepted that the extra can of beer that had been added to daily rations was scant compensation.

Genuine Navy Grog

  1. Add four parts water to one part navy rum.  Add lime (post 1756) and enjoy.

Modern Navy Grog

  1. Dissolve three teaspoons of honey in 50ml rum.
  2. Add 10ml fresh lime juice, two dashes of Angostura bitters and 50ml water.
  3. Add cubed ice and shake for twenty seconds.
  4. Strain into an ice filled old fashioned glass and garnish with a wedge of lime

Papa Doble

Statue of Hemingway at Floridita Bar

“I wanted to try this new drink. That’s all we do, isn’t it—look at things and try new drinks?” —”Hills Like White Elephants,” Men Without Women, 1927

Just two days after National Daiquiri Day we celebrate the birthday of Ernest Hemingway. Surely that can’t be a coincidence? Today, Hemingway’s legacy owes almost as much to his reputation as a heavy drinker as it does to his short, sharp writing style which has been credited with reinventing American literature, although the two were always heavily intertwined. When I first read The Sun Also Rises I tabbed every page where a character took a drink and ran out of Post It notes before I was halfway through.

“In The Sun Also Rises, Jake Barnes has a Jack Rose while waiting in vain for Brett. In A Farewell to Arms, Frederic Henry has a couple of “cool and clean” Martinis; they made him “feel civilized.” and in For Whom the Bell Tolls, it is the ritual of dripped absinthe that gives Robert Jordan temporary solace from the rigours of war: “One cup of it took the place of the evening papers, of all the old evenings in cafés, of all chestnut trees that would be in bloom now in this month.… of all the things he had enjoyed and forgotten and that came back to him when he tasted that opaque, bitter, tongue-numbing, brain-warming, stomach-warming, idea-changing liquid alchemy.”” – Philip Greene, To Have and Have Another

As for the heavy drinking reputation, most of it comes from the man himself and his proud tales of record-breaking sessions at La Florida Bar, Havana. During the decades he lived and holidayed in Cuba, Hemingway spent the majority of his time holding court at the bar affectionately known as La Floridita after a chance visit had convinced him that the house daiquiri was “the ultimate achievement of the daiquiri-maker’s art”. Nevertheless, he requested a couple of tweaks (double the rum and skip the sugar) and the Papa Doble was born. Although his recipe has been tweaked again more recently to create the more palatable Hemingway Daiquiri or even the modern Doble to which it is also common to add a little sugar (not everyone has a palate like Papa…) today, in his honour, we go back to the original. The hardcore. The not for the faint-hearted. The ‘I’ll have six of these of an average afternoon’: The Papa Doble.

  1. Add 110ml white rum, 70ml fresh lime juice, 120ml fresh grapefruit juice and six dashes of Maraschino to a blender of shaved ice.
  2. Frappe until it looks “like the sea where the wave falls away from the bow of a ship when she is doing thirty knots”.
  3. Serve in a large wine goblet.

Most people would shy away from a drink that contains 110ml of rum. Most people would fall off their stools after an evening session of six of these. And who but the man himself could handle the record-beating sixteen he once put away in one session?

Maybe it’s the crushed ice that does it. The original recipe calls for the drink to be blended “until it foams” and the author himself claimed the finished product “had no taste of alcohol and felt, as you drank them, the way downhill glacier skiing feels running through powder snow.”