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Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Coffee In A Cocktail? Don't Be A Mentalist!

Sometimes the most obvious of pairings in cuisine can be downright, bloody awful.
Personally, I think that anyone who says oysters taste better with a liberal amount of peated whisky poured over them is a blithering idiot. Why ruin a good whisky on something resembling the contents of a used tissue??

Ok, apologies. I don't get Oysters at all. You may have seen a little video shot at the recent Feis Ile, where I try to conquer my abject terror of oysters. It did not go well.

Pairing whisky with anything edible is tricky. It works extremely well with chocolate - if the chocolate is robust enough to cope with such an intense flavour. Cigars and whisky are a dubious pairing, unless you have a very rich mouthfeel to the whisky, but nothing too overpowering. To quote Victor Ferreira, Cigar Sommelier for Boisdale Canary Wharf and one of the top 5 cigar experts in the world- “If you’re having a very rich, strong cigar, usually you need to balance it with a delicate and smooth drink or vice versa. You can reach a point where if your palate is overwhelmed by flavour, you can’t separate out which direction it's coming from.”

Wise words Victor.

So what about coffee?

I know a few whisky folks swear by the pairing of a heavily-sherried dram and an espresso. Again, I think so long as neither cancels each other out, or the earthiness of the coffee doesn't over power the whisky, it can be a divine experience.

But coffee in cocktails?

The Espresso Martini. Not sure I approve of this. The Martini is the personification of purity and balance. Throwing in a coffee is like dropping a Van Halen solo into the middle of Massenet's Meditation Suite.

The White Russian works to a point, but only if you're wearing a dressing gown, a slightly shabby beard and hang out all the time at your local bowling alley.

Here's the conundrum. Recently, Caskstrength were contacted by one of London's newest and most highly revered coffee shops, The Department Of Coffee & Social Affairs to see if we could develop a coffee cocktail to serve at the launch of a London Design Festival event- 'Imagined Cities, curated by Acclaimed gallery Dainow & Dainow.

Some of the works from 'Imagined Cities'

Painstakingly, the Baristas prepared a half-litre of perfectly brewed, bespoke espresso blend for us to experiment with before the launch.

We tried making a coffee based Whisky Sour, which totally fell apart before it even got to our lips. Next up was something in shot form, based on a coffee cordial, using naval rum, Muscovado sugar syrup and bitters. The mixture was immense, but too strong to be consumed on its own, so we had a brainwave. Why not make a simple long drink, using the cordial as a base, add another flavoursome spirit and top it up with something?

It worked. A lot. Our chosen mixture, The Leather Lane Liquor (named after the street that the coffee shop occupies) was a combination of things that surely shouldn't work:

The Leather lane Liquor:

In a Highball glass, filled with ice:

15ml Coffee Cordial: comprising of, Naval rum, a dash of Maraschino liqueur, muscovado sugar syrup, 1 vanilla pod, licorice bitters, cocoa bitters and a dash of spice (clove + cinnamon) plus a couple of pieces of expressed lemon zest.

20ml Jim Beam Red Stag. Ok- purists out there will whinge about this, but get back in your boxes, you naysayers!! Sure it's far too sweet to be sipped on its own, but the cherry sweetness counterpoints the power of the cordial.

Top up with tonic - Fentiman's is by far and away the best for this.

Over the top, express another piece of lemon zest and spray over some atomised espresso to give the whole thing a really heady topnote. (Our sprayers were from Muji, but got jammed up after an hour of cocktail making.) Stick to T-shirts and iceball molds, in future.

Harrison gets to grips with the Leather Lane Liquor

The finished product is quick to make, refreshing, aromatic, sweet and gives you a wonderful earthiness from the coffee on the finish.

The London Design Week launch party arrived and lucky, the cocktail was a winner- we knocked out 200 during the evening to a bunch of vaguely tipsy, very chattery folks.

Atomisation in slow motion...

Perhaps the caffeine cancels out the alcoholic properties?

Anyway, we'd love to hear from you if you have any other coffee/whisky related ideas or cocktails. This pairing is definitely a go-go...

For more information on the London Design Festival click here:

For more information on The Department Of Coffee & Social Affairs and their Coffeesmith Collective click here: