Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Elmwood Sour

(a.k.a., whiskey sour with cassis and rosemary)

First of all, this delicious summer cocktail is blatantly (and respectfully) derived from Jeffrey Morgenthaler's recipe for the Bourbon Renewal. Mr Morgenthaler's recipe is an inspiring take on the whiskey sour, adding crème de cassis. One taste of this and my wife promptly emptied her glass and called for another. It's easy to have one too many.

My personal twist on this recipe (and the reason I have taken the liberty of calling it something different) is that I use rosemary-infused simple syrup rather than plain simple syrup. The notes of rosemary - fragrant, woody, and redolent of southern France in summer - provide a subtle complement to the equally Mediterranean blackcurrant and lemon. It's easy to make rosemary syrup; you'll find a recipe here.

I have bestowed the name "Elmwood Sour" on this drink for purely nostalgic reasons. My grandparents lived in Chiswick, London, at 44 Elmwood Road. My grandfather, John Laycock, was a Yorkshire man who married a lovely French woman named Blanche Messager, before going off to fight the Germans in a British tank in WWII. After the war, they settled in Chiswick, where they lived in a modest, bone-white terrace house with a massive sycamore tree in the front (with which my grandfather had a controversial relationship) and a delightful English garden in back.

It was a cozy garden, with a high fence for privacy and a border-path of flagstones set into the thick grass. Hiding the fence was a thick-but-manicured growth of flowers, cyprus, apple trees and blackberry brambles, roses, hollies, butterfly bushes, and blackcurrants. For a city garden, it was a wedge of paradise where birds sang endlessly, and butterflies and bumble bees zigzagged.

I loved that garden, and to this day the memory of my grandparents is cradled within its grassy, Edenic confines; it is the bright days of August, and they are on recliners, reading and drinking tea (or gin and tonics, depending on the hour), soaking up the unreliable British sun. The fragrance of the garden was rose petal, the flavor blackcurrant. Picking and eating the small, bittersweet fruits was a childhood pleasure. I loved blackcurrant drink (Ribena) and blackcurrant sweets. For many English who grew up during WWII, blackcurrant was the flavor of England (the plant was grown during WWII to provide much-needed vitamin C for the embattled islanders, especially children, who drank the syrup mixed with water to get vital nutrients). The rosemary element, with its fragrance of hot, dry Southern France, is representative of my grandmaman's French heritage. Together with the lemon and cassis, the flavor is English summer for me, in times of great happiness.

Back to the topic on hand. I will say, before attempting this cocktail, you will want to lay your hands on a very good bottle of crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur). The one I purchased is Crème de Cassis de Dijon, by Maison Brunet. I found this at Cambridge Wine & Spirits - a sort of heaven for folks like me. The Maison Brunet has an intense blackcurrant flavor that you cannot replicate with artificial flavors. If you see the words "artificial flavors" or "artificial colors" on the label, steer clear.

Without further preamble, here is the recipe:

The Elmwood Sour

2 oz bourbon
1 oz fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz  crème de cassis
1/2 oz rosemary-infused simple syrup (recipe here)
1 dash Angostura Bitters

Have it over cracked ice: Take some ice cubes and put them in a plastic bag. Whack 'em with a hammer or the blunt side of an axe (or a meat tenderizer, if you have one) just enough to crack the ice. Put the cracked ice into a highball glass. Then, add all the ingredients to a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake vigorously. Strain into the cracked-ice filled highballs. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary.

Bottoms up!

In the garden at 44 Elmwood Road


  1. I live at 44 Elmwood Road and seeing this post is a pure joy! Thank you - we will make the Sour in honour of the Laycock’s!

  2. We were lucky enough to have John and Blanche as neighbours for several years. You couldn't have found a nicer couple to have as neighbours.


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