I was introduced to this cocktail by a barman at the Zetter Townhouse in Clerkenwell, and it’s one of the two drinks I’ve had in bars in recent months that I’ve desperately wanted to make for myself at home. The other was at “The Bar with No Name,” AKA 69 Colebrooke Row, and it was called “Silent Neon Flower.” Coincidentally, both of these bars owe their drinks menus to one man, Tony Conigliaro, who opened 69 Colebrooke Row and is the drinks consultant for Zetter Townhouse. I can’t recommend these two bars enough. They both feature incredibly knowledgeable and courteous bar/wait staff, who shimmer up to you like Jeeves but won’t make you feel like an idiot if you ask questions or mispronounce something. Certainly there are vast differences in decor (Zetter Townhouse describes itself as feeling like “the private residence of an eccentric (and fabulous!) Great Aunt,” which I can confirm to be true, whereas 69 Colebrooke Row is all sleek wood with the slight air of a 1930s railway station; nonetheless they share the same comfortable but elegant atmosphere and pared down cocktail menus. No bubbling teapots or ten-strong ingredient lists here.
Anyway, I digress, as usual, from the week’s cocktail. While it seemed a bit unrealistic to recreate the Silent Neon Flower at home (it features dry essence and ambrette seeds, both of which were ably explained to me by one of the Jeeveses, but I’m none the wiser about how to get hold of them), the Angel Face is a classic cocktail with only three ingredients, all of which I have – gin, Calvados, and apricot brandy. I’ve been pretty liberal with the Calvados lately, as you’ll know if you’ve been following, but I think this drink was the first I’d had with apricot brandy, and it was a revelation. It really is an unsung hero of the back bar, and I’m now actively trying to find as many drinks as possible to use it in. This article from Serious Eats has a few to recommend, which I’ll definitely be trying. It has a really rich, jammy flavour, which adds so much fruitiness to a cocktail, without making it overly sweet. The name is slightly misleading, as ‘apricot brandy’ generally refers not to an actual brandy (although a few of these do exist, distilled from fermented apricots), but to a sweet liqueur which is made by macerating apricots in another spirit, generally grape brandy. I managed to find a good, balanced version made by Tesco (much kudos to Tesco for having their own-brand apricot brandy), which avoids being sticky-sweet.
The composition of the cocktail is very simple – equal parts of all three ingredients. The original recipe comes from Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book and recommends shaking the drink, which seems odd since there are no non-liquor components. Difford’s says it tastes better when shaken, as you need quite a bit of dilution, but I think you can just stir it pretty well over small ice cubes and you’ll get a decent amount of water in there. Part of the elegant appeal of this drink is its crystal clear, amber hue, and it wouldn’t be the same if you frothed it up by shaking. This is the perfect autumn evening cocktail – full of lush apricot and apple flavours but not particularly sweet.
The Angel Face
1 oz gin
1 oz apricot brandy
1 oz Calvados
Stir all ingredients well over ice, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an apple slice.