Recently, a great many of the people I’ve interviewed for this column have passed away. In the past few months, we’ve lost Tura Satana, Farley Granger, Ken Kostick and Steve Roseland, all of whom joined the previously deceased Jack Wrangler and Beatrice Arthur. Good Lord — Bellini at Large is the kiss of death.
Needing to shake that thought, I accept a fortuitous appointment with mixologist Angus Winchester. Angus is in town to promote four new cocktails he designed for the royal wedding. Now, if there are two things I could not care less about, it’s the royals and weddings. But booze is a different story. Angus is employed by Tanqueray, my favourite gin producer, so how can I go wrong?
We meet in a Pink Triangle Press boardroom. Angus sweeps in with a doctor’s bag full of martini shakers and bar tools. “I’ve never actually met someone named ‘Bellini’ before,” he says, referring to my namesake cocktail: puréed Venetian white peaches strained through cheesecloth and poured into a champagne flute with Prosecco. Honey, I taste great.
“I’ve drunk some of the most incredible liquids in the world,” says the cosmopolitan Angus. He claims to live nowhere, endlessly travelling from city to city promoting drink culture. He’s 41, smooth as silk and single. “My passport makes for better reading than a John Grisham novel,” he says. “I wake up every morning and think, What a great life, and secondly, Where the hell am I?”
He dislikes both Absolut and Grey Goose, considering them “iconic but crappy products.” He champions the use of unconventional ingredients, such as beets or bell peppers, but stops short of using carrot juice because “it looks like a glass of baby sick.” His philosophy is simple: “The balance between sweet and sour is key to any drink.”
As he speaks in that melodious British voice, Angus mixes me the first of four drinks, called the Blushing Bride, which is gin, triple sec, orange juice, lemon juice (squeezed fresh with a Mexican elbow), and a splash of grenadine. He garnishes with a flourish, setting an orange rind ablaze and dropping the flaming fruit in the glass.
3/4 oz Tanqueray gin
3/4 oz triple sec
1/2 oz orange juice
1/2 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz grenadine
Shake all very hard and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with flamed orange zest.
“On to the next drink!” I bark impatiently, and Angus does not disappoint. This one is called The Newlyweds: fresh pineapple and ginger, which he peels and cores right in front of me. Then he adds lemon juice, gin and ice, eventually pouring the concoction into a highball glass with some club soda. It is so refreshing. Suddenly, I notice that Angus’s vest and socks are lime green and his tie is red. He has dressed to coordinate with the Tanqueray bottle!
1 1/2 oz Tanqueray gin
1 oz fresh lemon juice
1 oz simple syrup
3 chunks fresh pineapple
1 small slice fresh ginger
Muddle the fruit and add the remaining ingredients, except the soda. Shake hard and strain into a tall ice-filled glass.
Add a dash of soda and garnish with a pineapple leaf and pineapple wedge.
“A drink should look great, smell great and even feel great in your hand,” says Angus, who should know. He’s tried it all. “I keep finding strange and obscure alcohols to mix, like shochu or pisco or even screech,” he tells me. “HL Mencken once paid a mathematician to estimate the number of possible drink combinations. There are around 17 billion, but only about 140 drinks are any good.” We talk about trendy ingredients, like Thai basil or human breast milk. “I had a drink in China made with chicken blood,” he admits.
Then it is time for drink number three, called the Yin and Yang, which is basically a nice dry martini.
Yin and Yang
3/4 oz Tanqueray gin
3/4 oz dry vermouth
Dash orange bitters
Stir all together and strain
into a chilled cocktail glass.
Garnish with an orange twist.
The final drink is called Colour Me Royal. For this one, Angus mixes gin with maraschino liqueur, lemon juice and a shot of blue curacao, which lays at the bottom of the glass, creating a luminous effect. Apparently, it pays homage to Kate’s dress or Diana’s sapphire or some other royal baloney, but by this point I’m so intoxicated I’m seeing two Anguses.
Colour Me Royal
3/4 oz Tanqueray gin
1/2 oz maraschino liqueur
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp blue curacao
Shake all ingredients (except the curacao) hard and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Slowly pour the curacao down the inside of the glass so it sits at the bottom.
I figure now is as good a time as any to toast all our dear friends who have shuffled off this mortal coil. And for Angus’s sake, let’s hope the Bellini at Large curse has lifted.