‘A Maghja’

This week I appeared on France3 Viastella, the regional TV channel for Corsica!  It was a fantastic honour for me to be asked to do this and I really wanted to create a drink for the occasion that truly represented the flavours of Corsica.
After an interview with the wonderful Faustina in the Old Port of Bastia, we returned to Le Colomba to make my cocktail ‘A Maghja’, the name in the endangered Corsican language for the mediterranean scrubland that covers much of this island.

(Above you can see the patchwork of colours and flavours of the Maquis (Maghja), the yellow is Immortelle, the purple is Thyme and the lighter blue, Rosemary)

The ‘Maghja’ or Maquis has served as a fantastic inspiration for me this year. Even when working in England I loved to use fresh herbs in my drinks. Now I am here in the north of Corsica, surrounded by a beautiful mountain landscape full of wild heather, thyme, lavender, rosemary, Immortelle and myrtle, just to name a few!

During my interview I was asked about my creative process when creating a cocktail. My answer was that sometimes creating a cocktail is like painting a picture with flavours. I visualise what I want the drink to taste like. In this case I visualise the Maquis. What can i see? What ingredients are there? What do i expect it to taste like? What colour should it be?

 

 

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‘A Maghja’ in the foreground, partially hidden by a warning about Alcohol abuse…nice!

‘A Maghja’

30ml Immortelle-infused vodka
20ml Thyme-infused vodka
10ml Liqueur de Maquis
25ml Fresh Corsican grapefruit juice
15ml Fresh Corsican lemon juice
15ml Sugar syrup

Garnished with grapefruit peel, Blackberry, fresh Rosemary & Thyme

A bien tôt!

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‘Primavera’

As I introduce you to the drinks on my menu post by post you will see that they are relatively simple creations. A homemade syrup, infusion or liqueur here and there, but nothing especially complicated.
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The two reasons for this being:

A. The place i have found myself in has scarcely experimented beyond Classic cocktails. To give you some idea, Elderflower as an ingredient is considered innovative. So, I had to be wary of scaring people off with ingredients they’d never heard of. At the end of the day, I had to create drinks that sell.People don’t generally spend money on something that they don’t understand.

B. The bar I have been working in, Bar en Bois (Literally ‘Wooden Bar’) also acts as a service bar to the restaurant of Le Colomba, which can seat over 100 people. Being the only Barman, I needed simple drinks that I could bash out all night. (Mis en place, Mis en place, Mis en place!!!!)
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My cocktail ‘Primavera’ was, along with ‘La Pasqua’ among my first experiments with Corsican products. I did a very simple infusion of Corsican Thyme, a sprig of fresh thyme being left to macerate in a bottle of vodka for 3 days before fine straining into a clean bottle.


To pair with the thyme I used a Cedrat liqueur from the Mavela Distillery. Cedrat (Citron in English) ,is one of the 4 original citrus species, from which all other varieties that we  know today have been produced by hybridisation. The original 4 being: Citron, Pomelo, Mandarin and some Papedas (Kaffir lime being one) .  I can only describe Cedrat as a lemon on steroids. It’s huge, bigger than a grapefruit, has a thick skin, and is basically inedible in its natural fruit form. However, for generations people have candied the skin to produce Fruit confit. Traditionally Corsica was the worlds leading supplier of Cedrat for this purpose.

Historian Laurence Pinelli explains:
Cedrat was a source of considerable wealth for Corsica. It shaped the landscape, added a great deal to our culinary heritage and boosted the island’s economy considerably.”

…Thanks wikipedia.


So, the Cedrat liqueur is  important, both to Corsica, and to my drink. The delicate floral elements not too much unlike Kaffir lime, pairing magnificently with the Thyme. The name ‘Primavera’, Italian for Spring represents the fresh, vibrant flavours of this drink. ‘Primavera’ is also the name of the little boat that bought me to this beautiful island.


‘Primavera’
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40ml Thyme infused vodka
25ml Liqueur de Cedrat (Distillerie Mavela)
20ml Fresh Lemon Juice
20ml Sugar Syrup

Shaken and served on crushed ice.
Garnished with a lemon twist and a sprig of fresh thyme.

Another VERY simple drink, but a drink that I have  made hundreds of times this summer.

Salude!

‘Monteverde’

Another travel inspired drink, which appeared on my menu at Le Colomba pretty early and has remained one of the biggest selling cocktails this summer, ‘Monteverde’.
I wanted a drink with a tropical feel to it, so i drew inspiration from my time in Costa Rica 8yrs ago. My memories being the hot, dark rainforests of the beautiful Monteverde region.

My base spirit of choice for this drink was Centenario 9yr old Costa Rican Rum, with notes of vanilla and dark fruits, it was the perfect choice of rum for this drink. Next, Creme de Mure (Blackberry Liqueur), the dark forest fruits pairing wonderfully with the rich rum.
I then added Suze, a Swiss (not very tropical i know!) aromatic bitter aperitif made with the roots of the gentian plant. The wonderful bitterness of the Suze and unusual flavour of the gentian adds a layer of complexity and length to the drink.   A little pineapple juice, lime juice, sugar and Angostura bitters complete the tropical vision in traditional style.

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‘Monteverde’

‘Monteverde’

35ml Centenario 9yr
20ml Creme de Mure
15ml Suze
20ml Lime Juice
15ml Sugar Syrup
25ml Pineapple Juice
2 Dashes of Angostura Aromatic Bitters

Shaken, and double strained over cubed ice in an Old Fashioned glass. Garnished with 2 Blackberries and a Physalis.

I will have a lot more to add to this blog in the next few weeks, including a TV appearance and a visit to Domaine Mavela, the biggest distillery in Corsica! Lots of exciting things coming up!

‘La Dolce Vita’

As you can probably imagine, travel inspires me a lot when i’m creating my drinks, ‘La Dolce Vita’ was the first cocktail to appear on my menu at Le Colomba and is a homage to my time in Italy before i arrived in Corsica.

It’s an adaptation of a drink that I made at one of my first competitions back in the UK, and for me, is the taste of Italy. It’s fresh, complex, with a marriage of iconic Italian liqueurs, and Campari providing a wonderful bitter backdrop to the sweetness of the Abricot.

‘La Dolce Vita’

25ml Stolichnaya Vodka
20ml Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
20ml Disaronno Amaretto
15ml Campari
20ml Fresh Lemon Juice
20ml Sugar Syrup
35ml High Quality Apricot Juice

Season review

The tourist season has finished here in Corsica and I’ve finally found time to write another post. Apparently by usual standards this year was quite a quiet one, however along with trying to produce a liqueur, organising Corsica’s first cocktail competition and a TV appearance it has kept me busy!

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So after a month or so, my menu at Le Colomba began to take shape, a new cocktail being added as I created them. Sometimes it was one per week, other times I would have a crazy creative spell and 3 would pop up in a day!

Throughout the summer, drinks that didn’t sell were gradually replaced until I finally had a menu that I was satisfied with. Over the next few weeks I will post some details about the drinks on my menu. Before I do so I will tell you a little about Bastia as a city and what the bar scene is like here, hopefully that will give some kind of context to my menu.

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Bastia is a city of 40,000ish people, situated on the east coast of Corsica in the north of the island. It is the 2nd biggest city on the island after Ajaccio. It is built on steep hillsides centered around the two ports. The Old Port is the original port of Bastia and where I arrived from Italy on Primavera some 5 months ago. It is also the location of Brasserie Le Colomba. The new port is where the large ferries from Italy and mainland France arrive. It is hardly picturesque and is home to some very seedy nightclubs.
Being in the north of the island, tourists don’t generally stay here for long, most of the tourist sights are down south, the generally more beautiful half of the island. They arrive on the ferry, stay here for a night or two and then move on. Bastia might also be known by football fans, they have a team in the French Serie 1, finishing 10th last year and currently sitting at more or less the same place this year. It is known in France as a difficult place to come to play, forget ‘The Beautiful Game’, these guys play hard. The Stoke City of the French league perhaps.

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The Bar scene in Bastia is basic to say the least. Most bars are pretty much the same as each other, very few opting to do anything different. Most have similar wine , beer and spirit selections. As far as cocktails are concerned, I know of 2 bars in Bastia (other than Le Colomba) which have started to make their own creations, which is great to see. The other places don’t really serve anything beyond Mojito variations.
So, the average consumer in Bastia is not really accustomed to seeing anything innovative on a bars menu. The most commonly ordered drinks being Wine, anything with vodka, the horrible Mint flavoured liqueur called Get27 served with sparkling water and of course beer. As I said in a previous post, the gin craze hasn’t even made it to Corsica and G&Ts rarely ordered. So when I started work at Le Colomba, one of the first things I did was to put together a small gin selection to improve on the 1 gin behind the bar. Hendricks, Gin Mare, G’Vine, and The Botanist being my first additions to the Le Colomba bar.

Next post coming soon will start the run down of the cocktails on my menu… I promise you won’t have to wait this long for a post again.

“The Bagpack Barman”

So, for those of you who didn’t see my Facebook I somehow managed to get into a Corsican newspaper a couple of weeks ago. When I get the time I will try to translate it for you guys as it’s quite a funny article (spelling mistakes and all!).

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There will be another blog post over the weekend so keep checking back or click the ‘follow’ button on the side bar for email updates!

As much as I love you guys, it’s my birthday today so I’m going to have to leave you to do some ‘product research’. Have a great day wherever you are in the world.

Cheers!

‘La Pasqua’

Being an island in the middle of the Mediterranean, Corsica has a very colourful history. As i have already mentioned in this blog, it has been invaded by pretty much everyone at sometime or another. I could write a 5 page essay on the history of this island, however, this is not a history blog, and i am not a historian…I am a Bartender.
So i made a cocktail dedicated to one of the most celebrated (and interesting) characters in Corsican history, Pasquale Paoli.

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I will try to make this bio brief but this guy Paoli lived quite a life… He was born in the mountains to the south of Bastia in 1725. At this time Corsica was under the control of Genoa and Pasqual’s father was a leader in the fight against them. In 1729 the French quenched the rebellion.
This did not stop the Corsicans declaring their independence at the village of Orezza in 1735. However they were forced to surrender to the French four years later. Pasquale and his father went into exile.
In Italy, the exiles planned their revolution, and the young Paoli devised a plan for a native Corsican government. A general election was held and Pasquale Paoli was made General-in-Chief of Corsica, commander of all resistance. He wrote the constitution of the Corsican people proclaiming Corsica as a sovereign nation, founded a university at Corte and enabled all men over 25 to vote.

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The Corsican Flag, adopted by Pasquale Paoli in 1755

In 1764 the Genoese, seeing that they had in effect lost control of Corsica, secretly sold it to the French. The French began their reconquest. Pasquale Paoli fought a guerrilla war in the mountains but was defeated a year later. Corsica became a department of France and Paoli took refuge in England.

At The Turks Head Inn, Gerrard Street in Soho (now a Chinese Supermarket), he met ‘The Club’ a literary club of actors, writers and politicians that met weekly.He caused quite a scene, showing off his bullet-ridden coat, only to then ask for money for the privilege of viewing it.  But as an educated chap he was a welcome addition to their group. His membership in The Club got him friends in high places, and eventually became a friend of King George III.

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The Turks Head Inn

Paoli returned to Corsica after the French Revolution to run in an election for President of the department of Corsica. He won unanimously.
He then began secretly working as an agent of the British. He deliberately ignored French commands and worked for British interests whenever possible.
Meanwhile an election was held for the Colonel of the Corsican National Guard. There were 3 candidates, a young Napoleon Bonaparte being one of them. He won the election, but only after kidnapping one candidate and having the other one assaulted. (Nice guy was Napoleon!)
Paoli then sent Napoleon and his troops to attack a town in Sardinia. Napoleon only just escaped. The town had been tipped off by Paoli and knew exactly where Napoleon’s troops would be and when. The furious Napoleon returned to Corsica and the Bonaparte family denounced Paoli as a traitor. An arrest warrant was sent from Paris and Napoleon marched with a force to capture Paoli.
Pasquale Paoli and his followers drove Napoleon from the island in fear for his life.
He then turned to his British friends for assistance and Corsica became a British protectorate and King George III made sovereign head of state. Paoli repaying the kindness shown to him in London.
In exchange for British protection Paoli helped British forces drive the remaining French from the island. The town of Calvi, where i was just last week, was attacked by a British fleet. After 40 days of bombardment  the French surrendered the town. 24,000 cannonballs had been shot at the town and a British Officer, Horatio Nelson had lost his eye.

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Calvi

The British protected Paoli’s Corsica for 4 years, leaving in 1795,
no longer seeing it as necessary to their cause. They invited Paoli to resign his post and retire in England with a healthy pension from the Crown.Having no other options and unable to hold Corsica without assistance from Britain, Paoli accepted the invitation and set sail for England. The French reconquered Corsica.

Memorial to Pasquale de Paoli, Westminster Abbey.

Bust of Pasquale Paoli in Westminster Abbey

Paoli lived out the rest of his years in London. He died in 1807 and was buried at Old St Pancras Church. In 1889 a bust of Paoli was placed in Westminster Abbey and his bones returned to his native Corsica on a British ship.
Pasquale Paoli continues to be a idol of liberty and democracy in Corsica and a symbol for Corsican Nationalists that to this day fight for Corsicas independence from France.

 

So, my cocktail in honour of our friend Pasqual…

I’m using Aquavita, a grape Eau de Vie from the Domaine Mavela Distillery as my base. It uses white Vermentino grapes (Interesting fact: All white wine in Corsica use Vermentino!). Apart from P&M Whisky (Also from Mavela) Eau de Vie is the only other spirit distilled in Corsica.

I then found a liqueur made by Maison Damiani called Liqueur de Maquis. It is a blend of the fruits and aromatic herbs found on the Maquis and has been made by the family since 1970. Maison Damiani is only about 12miles up the coast from Calvi. No doubt you would have been able to see the British fleet out at sea back in 1794.

I chose the name ‘La Pasqua’ for this drink. Pasqua being a nickname for anyone called Pascal here in Corsica. As he was a friend of us Brits i think he should be remembered as a friend.
*raises my nice cold glass of Pietra beer* – here’s to you Pasqua!

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  • 40ml Aquavita Raisin, Domaine Mavela
  • 25ml Liqueur de Maquis, Maison Damiani
  • 3 Lg fresh Corsican Basil leaves
  • 25ml Corsican lemon juice
  • 20ml Sugar syrup

    Shake all ingredients and double strain over crushed ice, garnish with a Fresh Corsican Basil leaf (other Basil varieties are available)


‘Into the Mystic’

So first of all apologies for the delay since my last post, I’m new to this whole blogging melarchy!
Since my last post I have been experimenting with some of the aromatic herbs found in the maquis, I created a syrup using Nepita, the Corsican Catnip which pairs nicely, but weirdly with strawberries. I have also made a syrup using Immortelle, the sacred wild flower whose oil is prized by cosmetics companies. In hindsight I completely underestimated the power of it. The taste is an unusual bitter, aromatic, ‘perfumey’, curry flavour that will cut through everything else in a drink. The flavour comes through right at the end after all other flavours have passed over your palate. Too much of it and it leaves a horrible, soapy taste lingering in your mouth.
But get the balance right and it adds a very special something. It adds length to the cocktail drinking experience, leaving a taste that no one can quite figure out dancing around as the other flavours start to fade.
In an earlier post I briefly mentioned the Corsican whisky called P&M. It is made at the Mavela distillery towards the south of Corsica.
It is made using the malt from Pietra beer (a great Amber beer which you can find in almost every bar here) which is brewed, fermented and then distilled. Water from the St George pass near Ajaccio is then used to dilute the whisky down to bottling strength, You can actually buy the same water as a bottled mineral water which I thought was quite cool.
The whisky is then aged in ex-Muscat (a white wine) oak barrels on the Domaine Gentile vineyard. As you can imagine, this creates a very unique whisky.
Going back to my first week here, fresh off the boat and still sunburnt (thankfully the smell of diesel had faded), to my first tasting of P&M my first impression was that I wasn’t so keen. It was unlike a whisky I’d ever tasted before. Strange. If you did a blind tasting I’m sure some wouldn’t even say it was a whisky!
As I have learnt more about Corsica and the ingredients that can be found on its hillsides and in its forests, I have gone back to P&M several times to try to get my head around it. I think I’m almost there.

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On the nose it is extremely herbal, the aromatic plants of the Maquis making an appearance; Myrtle, thyme, bitter orange, also a piney hint, almost like Juniper, another plant found in abundance here!
On the palate it is as you expect it to taste. Herbal herbal herbal. Almost like a Genever! Some oak, and a vegetal tannic finish.
To some of you this must sound like an absolute nightmare of a dram. It’s not. It’s intriguing. A whisky you can really sit and think about. Walking through the different flavours that pop up like a stroll through the maquis itself.
In fact, in 2013, Jim Murray named P&M the fifth best whisky in the world and a 91/100 rating in his ‘Whisky Bible’. Not too bad then!

Ok, so time for a cocktail…

I created this a couple of days ago while behind the bar at Le Colomba in the Old port of Bastia. Someone asked for something local and this was the result.

‘Into the Mystic’

50ml P&M Whisky de Corse
20ml Fresh Corsican Grapefruit juice
15ml Fresh Corsican Lemon juice
20ml sugar syrup
10ml Homemade Immortelle syrup

I garnished it with fresh flowering thyme

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The Scented Isle

 

Having only arrived in Corsica about a month ago I will not even try to suggest that I know it. However I will write about what I’ve discovered so far and how this is shaping my Corsican cocktail.
So, it’s a French island in the Mediterranean with an official language of French, right? Well, yes… Google will tell you that. But the reality is that most Corsicans that I have met have gone out of their way to explain to me how Corsica is not France. The food is definitely not traditional French food, and most speak a dialect closer to Italian. ‘Thankyou’ for example is ‘Ti’ringrazio’ – closer to the Italian ‘Grazie’ than the French ‘Merci’. Their mentality is at first a little cautious. Being an island race that has been invaded by people from every corner of the Mediterranean in its history (even the Vikings apparently) who can blame them! But once they have decided that you aren’t trying to invade their country they welcome you like one of the family.
A friend I have met here, Roldou, a chef, told me of Corsica’s diverse geography. He explained that you can find forests and marshes in the north, dry Mediterranean scrub and rocky outcrops in the south, snow capped mountains in the middle and everything in between.


We ate lunch at a beach bar close to Moriani and it was the typical Mediterranean scene, white sand, blue sky, glistening turquoise sea (and a cold beer of course!). We drove 20minutes into the mountains and I felt like I had been transported to the other side of the world. Dense oak, cork and chestnut forests covered the steep hillsides and clouds floated through their leaves.
From the road we walked up the San Nicolas river and found a series of waterfalls. Wild herbs such as mountain mint and a kind of Catnip called Nepita which is often used by Corsican chefs, clung to the cliff faces either side of the gorge and Fig trees grew along their base. I could have been anywhere in the world. If you told me I was in the cloud forests of Japan i would have believed you (Middle Earth wouldn’t be far off!).It is this diversity that has earned Corsica its nickname; ‘L’Île de Beauté’ – The Beautiful Island.


It is however, Corsica’s other nickname that has inspired me the most with regards to my cocktail; More than half of the island is covered in a shrub land called Maquis. Among the Maquis are 2500 species of wild flowers and aromatic herbs. Imagine a natural Pot Pouri of rosemary, thyme, juniper, lavender, mint and eucalyptus. The scent of these hillsides has delighted passing sailors for thousands of years as it wafts out to sea on the breeze. Hence the nickname, ‘The Scented Isle’.
It will come as no surprise that most of the distilleries on Corsica are actually distilling for the essential oils in these herbs. They then sell the oils to pharmaceutical, perfume and cosmetic companies around the world…. Have they not heard of Gin?!

 

Altezza!

So I might have found the base for my Corsican cocktail!
Since my search started it has been the main problem I have faced when coming up with my recipes. Apart from a whisky and eau de vie (which I could use but not for what I have in mind) I haven’t really found anyone producing spirit. There are liqueurs everywhere, of chestnut, citrus fruits, figs etc etc but all being too sweet to use as the base for my drink.
After meeting someone in a bar I was invited to see the restaurant that he works at up in the mountains of northern Corsica. Turns out this is no ordinary restaurant, they have a huge garden full of fruit, vegetables, herbs, and even tobacco!

They also have 2 alembic stills in a barn(legal…apparently) where they have produced their own vodka and are currently experimenting with gin. Behind their bar I found they had also attempted to make a rum, a grappa using local Muscat grapes and a tequila!

They stopped production of the vodka a while ago but are set to start again later in the summer. The owner has promised me some of the original batch from the large jeroboam that sits behind the bar, the very last few litres of Altezza vodka de Corse!