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Ready-to-Drink Cocktails – Part Two: The Bramble Bar’s Affinity

A few years back, Lesley and I were hanging out in London with a couple of days to spare when friends suggested that we head North to the Lake District. In preparation for our trip, we made a pit stop at our friends’ house to freshen up and gather a few necessities. Among the items deemed indispensable for the journey was a flat of mini Jägermeister bottles. It’s not a party without Jäger, right?

When we posted our 1912 – Ready-to-Drink Cocktails back in February, those mini bottles of Jäger came back to mind. Outside of carrying a self-filled flask, there’s not much on the market in the way of proper portable cocktails. While Bartles & Jaymes may help you get your buzz on — provided you don’t first get diabetes — no one is going to argue for its place in the Mixological Hall of Fame. Straight liquor minis don’t do much to solve the problem unless you’re open to a straight shot of booze (an option that’s never off the table), and while liqueur like Jäger has its charms — easy to drink and potent enough to do the job — it’s not the kind of bottle that James Bond might keep rattling around in the glove box of his DB5 (product placements be damned).

Fortunately, far more capable folk than us share our sentiment. Just days after posting our Ready-to-Drink article, we received a quite tempting inquiry from Scotland of all places, asking if we’d be interested in sampling a modern bottled cocktail. We didn’t need to be asked twice. The query came to us from Jason Scott of the Bramble Bar in Edinburgh, an establishment regularly ranked as one of the top bars in the world. Like Heublein had done a hundred years ago with its Club Cocktails (and others had done before Heublein) the good gentlemen of the Bramble have produced a bottled cocktail — one aged in wood prior to bottling. The affect of time in a barrel on a mixed drink is much the same as it is on wine or spirits — evaporation, oxidation, and an exchange of flavors/properties with the wood itself. With any product, wood can improve things or have quite the opposite affect. The natural characteristics of the type of wood used, the char level of the barrel, and the time spent in barrel will all greatly affect the final product.

“To ensure quality and consistency we approached Glenmorangie and their Master Distiller Dr. Bill Lumsden to help with wood management and barrel production,” Scott told us. By engaging such a skilled partner, the Bramble team eliminated much of the guess work that many barrel-aging trials go through. Unlike wine or spirit production, where manufacturers create or buy the raw liquid, the proposition of barrel-aging a few gallons of even wholesale priced spirits isn’t the most economical of prospects. When a 5 gallon trial run can cost (rough math) $500 to $1,000 for the booze alone, eliminating as many variables as possible is the order of the day.

Given the involvement of Glenmorangie, choosing something other than a Scotch cocktail would have been downright rude, so Team Bramble opted for the Scotch-based and wood-friendly Affinity. I say wood-friendly because everything that goes into an Affinity — Scotch, Vermouth, and Bitters — has either already seen time in wood or wouldn’t be hurt by the prospect.

The Savoy recipe for the drink is:

1/3 Dry Vermouth
1/3 Sweet Vermouth
1/3 Scotch Whisky
2 Dashes Angostura Bitters

If you like a Manhattan, the Affinity certainly should be on your cocktail bucket list. For their own particular blend, the gentlemen at the Bramble used equal parts Glenmorangie 10 Year, Byrrh (a red aperitif wine with quinine) and Noilly Dry Vermouth. Once batched, the cocktails were placed in wood. “The decision was made to produce four 5L casks of different toast levels and wood,” said Scott. “We ended up with one American oak light toast, one American medium toast, one American heavy toast and one French oak medium toast. All of which offered up varying character, nuances and flavours.”

Our friend and Scotsman Adam Elmegirab has an excellent detailed account of his attending the launch event for what the label proclaims “The World Famous Bramble Bar Presents Barrel Aged & Bottle Aged Affinity Cocktail – Genuine Potable Zeitgeist”. According to Scott, the bottles I was sent were “left in a bespoke made American Oak cask which had been lightly toasted and rested/aged for approximately six months”. Cocktails with lower ABVs need longer in wood to reap the desired benefits, so the team went into the process as forearmed as possible. In order to ensure the consistency of the final product, new oak is used, and the higher the alcohol-by-volume level, the better the odds are of the barrel remaining sterile.

When you crack the bottle — more on the bottle itself in a moment — the wood-aging is readily apparent in the nose. There’s no need to dilute the drink with shaking or stirring — just chill it well before serving (if you put it in the freezer, it will freeze solid, so be careful). I regret that I shared my drink with a large group at a dinner party, which means that I didn’t get to enjoy it as much as I would have liked. The flavor certainly lived up to the nose — hints of leather, tobacco, and vanilla but predominantly wine and citrus. Above all else, it certainly is a serious drink, even more so that a Manhattan in that respect.

I’ve read that when the drink is presented at the Bramble Bar, the patron receives a glass (empty save the garnish), the chilled Affinity, and a mister of Orange Bitters to deploy as one sees fit. Regardless of how the cocktail tastes, I’ll contend that a great portion of its success is owed to its irresistible packaging. The bottle is just cool — there’s no two ways about it. From the size and shape to the design of the label, the skull and crossbones on the cap, the hand-labeling, and the witty copy, it’s downright perfection. Simultaneously classic and wink-wink wry, the bottle immediately informs you that a tremendous amount of care has gone into the whole endeavor. It’s so nice in fact that I can’t bring myself to throw the empty away.

When it comes to serving the drink, Jason offers this advice: “I suggest the bottle is presented well chilled to the guest, preferably alongside a frosted champagne saucer with a real maraschino cherry in the glass and a lemon twist rested on the base of the glass. The idea is the guest is given ownership of their drink, allowed to crack the bottle themselves and pour the liquid undiluted into the glass and over the cherry, and finally twisting the lemon over the top of The Affinity.”

The only glaring downside to the Affinity is its availability. Outside of heading to the Bramble Bar or being lucky enough to have one sent to you in the mail, you can’t currently get the drink. Of the two bottles I received, I passed one along to a friend in the spirits import/distribution business. I hated to part with it, but I did so with the hope that the next time I head out on an impromptu road trip, I may have a more civilized choice in mini bottles.

Esoterica: On the bottom of each mini bottle of Jägermeister is series of numbers. They vary from bottle to bottle and can be used to play a poker variation. How many rounds you make it through is up to you.