The Bramble is about as quintessential an English cocktail as you can get. Traditionally it's a blend of gin, lemon juice and sugar finished with a splash of blackberry liqueur. It can also be topped with just about anything sweet: from other berry liqueurs to marmalade or jam. With it's basic ingredients and ease of preparation it's the ultimate make-at-home cocktail, and I've got some simple ways to make it one of the tastiest ones too.
Even though autumn is fast approaching, we're in firm denial about it here in the UK. Settled weather has finally come to most of the country (apart from the odd rain shower) and those that aren't on holidays have been soaking up whatever rays they can. But the real evidence of the encroaching autumn happens not to be in the weather, it's about what's happening in the parks, fields and orchards.
The boughs on apple trees are hanging low with the weight of their bounty; quinces and pears are swelling on their branches; and the humble crabapple is ripening up beautifully. The first frost in the countryside is usually the best indication for when the crabapple is ripe, and if there happens to be one of these trees in your neighbourhood, watch the weather closely. You can't take the fruit early as they won't be ready, but don't be too late as they'll probably be gone. Quinces tend to ripen a little later, around October.
What may you ask, do these crunchy cousins from the rose family have to do with a Bramble? They all have a naturally high amount of pectin which allows them to set without additives, and are the ideal fruits to make into a jelly. Often seen as the poor relative of jam, a clear fruit jelly is the ideal way of capturing fresh flavours and amplifying subtler ones. When mixed in a cocktail shaker with gin, lemon juice and ice jellies are arguably a far superior ingredient to a liqueur.
Making jelly is a simple two-stage / overnight process. The most complicated thing that you have to source is some muslin cloth.
Source 2kg of the fruit of your choice, be it apples, pears, quinces or crabapples. The best apples and pears to use are the sweeter varieties, mixing varieties can be a nice touch as well. Choose your crabapples based on colour: the redder the better. The key to a great jely is to always use the best fruit that you can find.
If possible, select either a mix of ripe and nearly ripe fruit. The pectin is in the core so you have to segment the fruit around the core. Crabapples can be quartered and other fruit cut in sixths or eighths depending on size. Quinces will need to be scrubbed free of down if they haven't been factory processed.
Place the fruit in a large pot and cover with cold water, then bring to the boil. Turn down to simmer, while leaving the lid on to avoid evaporation. Cook the fruit until it's soft enough to slide a fork through, the time will depend on the size and firmness of the fruit - anywhere from 20-45 minutes.
Let the mixture cool off a touch, then strain it through the muslin cloth. Once most of the liquid is drained tie the ends of the cloth into a ball and let the rest of the juices drain off overnight. The easiest way to do this is with a bucket, bowl and a large wooden spoon. The next day you can gently squeeze the ball to coax out some of the remaining juices, but don't squeeze too hard or it will make the juice too cloudy.
Per litre of Juice, you'll need:
750 grams of caster sugar
250mL of white wine vinegar / or 100mL lemon juice
Heat up the juice, add the sugar and vinegar and boil on medium/high for 30 minutes or until the jelly has a good depth of colour. This should make enough jelly for two average jam jars. If it doesn't set just heat it up and reduce it some more.
25mL lemon juice
2 large teaspoons jelly
Shake in a cocktail shaker with ice and strain over ice, garnish with a slice of lemon and enjoy your very own Bramble. Of course you can bypass Stage 1 & 2 by using bought jelly, but it's not as fun and will not taste as good.
Any gin will work well with this cocktail - but you can take it up a notch by using nicer gins. Hendricks would go perfectly with a pear jelly; Martin Miller's with it's delicate botanicals is a perfect match for the crabapple jelly; the stronger flavours of the quince will pair well with the spicier Bombay Sapphire, and Plymouth goes nicely with apple.
Tip: If you want a fluffier cocktail experience, add half an egg white per two drinks.
Follow Rupert Duffy on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ruduffy