Don’t say the V word

October 6th, 2008

A roundup of day two and three of Bar Convent Berlin is forthcoming, but I realise reading about me having lots of fun in Germany probably isn’t as exciting as it was for me so wanted to skip ahead to day three and share a very interesting cocktail I tried during one of the sessions on the main stage.

“Why The Mixed Drink Is European” featured Henry Besant, Nick Strangeway and Charles Vexenat mixing up an array of cocktails and punches whilst fine European art displayed on the video screen behind them and classical music played out through the room. Many of the drinks came from the Café Royal Cocktail Book, a classic tome published in 1937 by the UK Bartenders Guild that is now exceedingly hard to find. Thankfully, Jared Brown has gone to the trouble of reprinting it so the book, and its recipes, can now be enjoyed by all and sundry.

Some of the drinks Henry, Nick and Charles made used some pretty exotic ingredients like “oaked” gin, but the drink that had the most impact on me was thankfully rather simple in construction. Indeed, it makes use of perhaps the most common ingredient you’ll find in most bars these days… vodka. I know what you’re thinking, but hold on – stay with me here!

Vodka gets a lot of grief amongst cocktailian circles, perhaps as a backlash against its appearance in any number of cocktails that offend common taste and decency, and it’s a spirit I haven’t really paid much attention to here. I am a fervent supporter of the well-made Cosmopolitan, but while I certainly don’t view it as harshly as some I am usually fairly dismissive of it as a cocktail ingredient.

There are so many other spirits that are more complex and bring so much to a drink, why spend time with something that is odourless and tasteless by very definition? After this drink, I’ve been forced to reconsider this view…

Clubland cocktail


View in: oz | ml | shots

While making the drink the presenters advised that vodka is a great spirit to mix with when you want to tone down the flavour of a powerful ingredient, but keep up the alcohol content to avoid losing the drinks kick. It’s not something I’d ever thought about really, but it makes sense. After trying the Clubland, it makes a lot of sense. I was sat with Jeffrey Morgenthaler during this session, and when he handed me the drink his eyes were lit up like a christmas tree. After trying it I realised why – this is by far the best vodka drink I have ever tasted.

The original recipe in the Café Royal Cocktail Book calls for white port, and while I can’t recall what was used at the BCB session, in the absence of any white port on my shelves, I decided to give it a go with a 10-year-old Tawny and an LBV. Both work nicely but the Tawny is the winner for me, with the vodka unlocking its complex flavours resulting in a smooth but interesting drink, and the Angostura enhancing the port further.

I will definitely be returning to this drink with different ports in hopes of recreating the superlative drink that was handed around at BCB. Ultimately though, what it has really taught me is to be a little more open-minded. Had I come across the Clubland just by flicking through a recipe book I wouldn’t have given it a second thought, and that would have been a real shame. Don’t let it pass you by just because it contains vodka.

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Posted in Aromatic Bitters, Port, Recipes, Vodka

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15 responses to “Don’t say the V word”

  1. Tiare Tiare says:

    Jay, i think you are right about this, and i think vodka has its place and use as everything else and you were right on the spot here when it comes to versatility in mixing. Not only to tone down the flavour of a powerful ingredient, but also to let a flavor of a ingredient shine.

    I`m no fan of vodka ,i`m a rummer but i do think vodka has its uses. Sometimes i love to mock “poser fluid” though…

    Do you know what kind of vodka were used in this drink?

  2. tiare tiare says:

    Forgot to say that my own experience is that there are a lot of people who want to be served drinks with a good alcohol kick and that tastes fruity but not alcohol. Its more than one time i`ve seen people frown at the strong rum taste in a perfectly made Mai Tai..(give the Mai Tais to me..)

    For myself i never make any vodka drinks though but i might reconsider and at least try this one.

  3. Jeffrey Morgenthaler Jeffrey Morgenthaler says:

    Yeah, I definitely gave that one some thought after I tasted it, and it’s really true about being able to maintain a higher alcohol content while toning down those flavors. It’s almost like thinking backwards in a way, rather than regarding this drink as a way to flavor the vodka with white port.

    I liked it. A lot. Great presentation, and great writeup, Jay.

  4. Gonçalo Gonçalo says:

    Some very nice days in Berlin, Jay. The Clubland was impressive.

    Keeping abv high and neutral certainly works with the expressed argumentation. I can imagine, that Jays curiosity wont end in a comparision of different Port;

    Maybe some other fortified wines such as Madeira, Sherry or Vermouth could make a nice variation on the Clubland. But then again, French Vermouth and Vodka belong to different world; probably.

    If you get the chance, try Churchill’s Dry White Port on a Clubland.

    Regards from Berlin, G.

  5. blair frodelius blair frodelius says:


    Most of the port based cocktails that I’ve had have failed to impress me much, perhaps because of the conflict between most flavored spirits and wine based products. I’d be curious to know how it works with say, a grape based vodka. And beyond that trying a brandy/fortified wine combo.



  6. Tiare Tiare says:

    Jay, you have taken a real lovely picture!

  7. DJ Dubonnet DJ Dubonnet says:

    Doesn’t he always? I think he could get another career taking pictures for bar manuals! :)

  8. Jay Jay says:

    You’re making me blush guys! Thanks for the nice comments about the photography.

    Gonçalo – I’m on the hunt for a good white port, will look out for Churchill’s.

    Jeff – You summed it up exactly, looking at vodka from a different perspective.

  9. niels niels says:

    jay, ive now tried the clubland with a 10 year tawny port and was sufficiently impressed with it to try an upped version based on the theory that the more, the better: a really good LBV port with the 88% balkan vodka. the balkan has been on the shelf for a long time; its really poison, and inflammable :-) – but now ive found a use for it. it takes some adjustments to work: 3 parts port to 2 parts balkan, 2 dashes angostura, 1 dash angostura orange – its a definate wow! the balkan simply rips the port open and serves it to you on a velvet cushion. next experiment: ‘the harrington’ (chartreuse+cointreau+vodka) with balkan. only carefull with it, the punch is like having a zombie.

  10. Jay Jay says:

    Blimey niels, that’s a strong vodka. Go easy on those! ;-)

  11. Shell Goddamnit Shell Goddamnit says:

    Gin & port used to be called “Flesh and Blood.” In Regency England, so it’s not like I remember it myself, I hasten to add. Wouldn’t the gin kind of encompass the bitters flavor a bit?

  12. Gabriel Gabriel says:

    Hello Jay,
    indeed the Clubland is an imposing drink.
    At you can now watch the whole seminar of Henry, Nick ans Charles again (see link “Impressionen”). Therefore I know that Henry used Monteiro White Port at the BCB.
    And Tiare: It was Wyborowa Vodka :)

    King regards,

  13. Jay Jay says:

    Gabriel – Didn’t realise they had put full sessions up on their site, that’s great!

  14. tk tk says:

    Imbibe Magazine did a feature on vodka this month. They have a recipe for a Gypsy 2 parts vodka 1 part Benedictine dash of angostura stir with ice
    really nice and goes with your discussion of balancing strong flavors

  15. Jay Jay says:

    tk – Definitely seems vodka is enjoying some better press lately. The Imbibe feature was great.

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