Like many bartenders, guests often ask me to make "my best" or "favorite" cocktail. Now normally I might debate the correct way to respond to this in order to guide my guest to a more informed decision, whilst all the time thinking in my head about a wonderfully sarcastic retort such as "well sir I love the taste of old boots, but I doubt you will". Dull wit aside, despite our best efforts to help we are often met with blank stares followed by a response along the lines of "I like sweet". Banging heads off walls aside its often nice to have a fallback cocktail which never fails to deliver, and for me this drink is the starlight. First conceptualised in 2008 as a play on one of my earlier cocktails called the Asianic, it debuted in 2013 at the global finals of World Class. The starlight is what you might call a perfect little sipper but don't let the dainty tasting glass and gentle aromas fool you, this drink packs a punch. Starting with a hefty slug of good quality vodka for the base the main characters of this drink comes by way of the the delicate pairing of aromas from the basil and absinth, riding the back of the pineapples velvety body. If you want to try this yourself here is how to do it:
60ml Ketel 1 Vodka
15ml Freshly squeezed lemon juice
15ml sugar syrup (1:1 ratio)
8 chunks of Pineapple
3 basil leafs
5 sprays of Absinth 69
Cocktail Shaker (Boston is better for this).
Muddling stick (or anything else to crush the fruits).
Jigger for measuring the liquid.
Perfume atomiser to spray the absinth.
A cocktail strainer (Hawthorn or other) and fine tea strainer to ensure all you have in your glass is pure liquid.
Good quality extra cold ice.
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Step 1: Prepare your pineapple.
Start by removing the left of the fruit, then cut off the skin. Don't worry if you leave small bits as the drink will be fine strained later. From here cut through the fruit in 1cm deep sections. I round section should be enough for this drink. After that chop it evenly (just like a pizza cut) into smaller, more manageable sections.
Step 2: Muddle your fruit.
No I am not asking you to confuse your ingredients, muddling is the bartenders term of saying smash or break up the fruits among other things, much like you would do using a pestle and mortar. Here, take one half of your cocktail shaker and place in the pineapple. Using a muddling stick (or rolling pin if you don't have anything else) press the pineapple firmly to break up all the fibres and release the juice. Don't get too over zealous with this, you don't want pineapple juice splashing back and getting you in the eye. Once done add the basil leafs then spray the inside of the time with the absinth.
Step 3: Add the remaining liquids.
Accuracy with your measures is key here, as any variations can easily throw out the balance of this cocktail. Start with your lemon juice, followed by the sugar syrup. in case your wondering 1:1 refers to the ratio of water to sugar required, so in this case 1kg of sugar to 1 litre of water. If your not such a sweet fan you can do a 2:1 (2 parts water to 1 part sugar), just keep the measures the same for a constant volume of liquid. The last step in the process is to add the spirit. I know it might sound obvious but if you make a mistake with any of the prior steps at least you won't have to throw out your good booze. For the starlight Ketel 1 is king thanks to the anise undertones it has by way of the wheat which is used to make it.
Step 4: Work it!
Time to get shaking. Add lots of ice to your shaker (yup, right to the top every time) as this will ensure a good chill and consistent dilution. Once your have iced up put your shaker together and shake your heart out. For this drink I recommend an extended shake of around 10 to 15 seconds in order to get the correct finish. When using pineapple often the acidity will remain too high if you shake for a short period, so that little extra time just help smooth everything out as well as whipping up a nice soft foam.
Step 5: Strain.
Almost there, now its time to serve. Firstly make sure your have a glass to hand, you don't want to be running around trying to find one later on. A glencairn glass or tasting glass is ideal for the starlight however if you don't have these anything with a medium width rim will do to help concentration the soft aromas of the drink. Make sure to keep your glass as cold as possible, be it filling it with ice or keeping it in the freezer, both will work. Next, split your shaker then place the hawthorn strainer over the rim. Holding the shaker and strainer securely in your preferred hand, using your other hand grab your fine strainer. Place it over the glass and simply pour the liquid through both and into the glass. Make sure to get all the liquid out, often the broken up fruits will slow down the pour but fear not, a gentle wiggle will keep things flowing.
Step 6: Garnish.
Nice and simple, pick 1 fresh basil leaf, trim the stem off to give it a clean contour, tap it gently on your fingers to release the aromas and lay gently on the surface of the drink. Next grab your absinth spray and a lighter, its time for a little show! Aiming the spray at the surface of the glass from around 30cm, place the lighter in-between the spray and the glass and spray once only to cover the surface with intensified anise aromas. NOTE: make sure all body parts are no where near the line of fire. If you are not confident doing this then don't do it!
Step 7: Drink & Enjoy.
Well done, you just made your first starlight!