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My Life in Lockdowns

I was playing outside our home in Sri Lanka when the military Jeep roared up.  There was a bullet hole in the windscreen. Four armed men jumped out and asked to see my father.  What happened next is seared into my memory.

My father was a bank manager. The military men were protecting a cash delivery for the bank when they had come under fire. The country was in the middle of a civil war and we were under a curfew.

The men were visibly unsettled.  My mother dragged me away as my father spoke with them. He returned a few minutes later muttering “Somebody shot at those buggers and missed. What the bloody hell am I supposed to do about it!” He dug out a bottle of arrack for the men, thanked them for their service and sent them on their way.   

Most problems go away in the face of implacable calm, humour, and a drop of alcohol.

I am in lockdown in London with enough booze for a Russian wedding.  I have a closet full of toilet paper.  There may even be some vegetables in the fridge.  Things really aren’t that bad. lockdown
A twenty mile bike ride across Lockdown London. The City Airport runway is visible on the right hand side of the map just above the Thames. Map courtesy of Strava and Mapbox.

Back in 1971 when Sri Lanka was in the throes of a student-led armed insurrection things were different.  Supplies were running low and food was rationed (the left wing government of the day had nationalised industries and redistributed land to their friends. The economy has stopped long before the uprising).  The country was awash with rumours.  We didn’t believe anything until the government officially denied it. My parents put on a brave face, but it was unclear whether democracy would survive.

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Taste testing red vermouth cocktails with different base spirits – because I have the time and not much else to do! The Rob Roy (named after a Broadway show and not the Scottish outlaw) mixes Scotch whiskey and red vermouth in a 2:1 ratio. Add a dash of Peychaud’s bitters and stir with lots of ice – a bit of dilution is recommended. Strain and squeeze some orange zest – you want the oils, discard the peel. Garnish with a maraschino cherry. A peaty scotch gives this a nice dry finish, while the botanicals in the vermouth and the bitters adds nice complexity. A very grown up cocktail! . . #cocktails #cocktail #robroycocktail #vermouthtime #vermouth #redvermouth #scotchwhisky #scotchcocktails #lockdown

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Dateline London, April 2020.  We are moving into the second month of a lockdown. There is a severe shortage of Campari and a run on tonic water.  Otherwise London is calm.  We are striking fast friendships with our neighbours as we swap groceries, share Ocado delivery slots and occasionally share a doorstep cocktail.  The streets are empty. The air is clear.  I ride my bike all the way across town to East India Docks.  Five minutes later and I could have been at City Airport (the runway is visible on the map).

This really is a diverse and remarkably beautiful city. I saw people of all ages and backgrounds out getting sun and exercise, politely keeping their social distance (shouldn’t that be called an unsociable distance?).  I saw a drug dealer on a scooter deliver bags of cocaine to his regulars.  I passed him several times as he went about his business. He was wearing blue plastic gloves.  His customers popped up from around walls. Singly. Even the drug trade is behaving responsibly.


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Lockdown Boulevardier. A boulevardier is defined as being a “wealthy and fashionable socialite”. I on the other hand, just want to go to a bar. Any bar. In any town! In the meantime this is my Lockdown Boulevardier – a riff on the original using what’s at hand. Equal parts rye whisky, Campari and Martini & Rossi’s Fiero red vermouth (which has a hint of orange). A twist of orange peel dropped in the glass, and I have the perfect cocktail to sip whilst dreaming about the cocktail bars I shall visit one day… . . #lockdown2020 #lockdownlife #lockdowncocktails #lockdowndrinks #bullitrye #martiniandrossi #vermouth #ryewhiskey #ryewhisky #boulevardier #boulevardiercocktail #cocktails #cocktail

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I peeked into the windows of several pubs and bars, gazing wistfully at the handwritten drinks specials chalked up on blackboards.  I know we all miss a convivial tipple. Most of us won’t have a full bar at home, but that’s no excuse to be boring.  Here’s a red vermouth forward list that you can make with whatever hard liquor you have at home.  They are easy to make classic cocktails combining spirits, a mixer (red vermouth) and bitters. If you have some Campari lying around it gets to be even more fun…

Rob Roy – perhaps one of the oldest cocktails.  Two parts scotch whisky to one part red vermouth.  A dash of Peychauds bitters.  Add some orange zest to finish and garnish with a maraschino cherry. Use a peaty whisky and you have a marvellously dry, complex cocktail.

Sweet Manhattan – Named after one of the five New York City boroughs and allegedly invented for a fund raiser thrown by Lady Randolph Churchill (Winston’s mother) in aid of presidential candidate Samuel J. Tilden.  Use one part red vermouth to two parts bourbon, with a dash of Angostura bitters.  Garnish with a maraschino cherry. If you have more than one kind of red vermouth at hand, use them both for a Deathbed Manhattan. Alternatively, use half a shot of white vermouth, a half shot of red vermouth and two shots of bourbon for a Perfect Manhattan – a slightly drier alternative.  Or use equal parts red vermouth, Campari and bourbon for a Boulevadier –  Making cocktails is about using what you have at home.

Gin and IT (short for Italian).  Also known as a sweet Manhattan this mixes gin and red vermouth in equal parts. Because they are made with similar botanicals you have a very smooth cocktail. Garnish with a lemon peel.  Add a dash of Angostura bitters and maraschino liquid and you have a Martinez – the definitive precursor to the martini. Alternatively, mix gin, red vermouth and Campari In equal parts for a Negroni. Garnish with an orange peel.

All of these drinks can be served in a rocks glass over ice.  My preference however, is to stir the drinks over ice and strain into a chilled martini glass. Follow me on Instagram (@martinimandate) for more lockdown recipes or click here to check out my favourite cocktails in the recipe section of this website.

Wars end. The night will end.  We will be out of this soon.  Drink well.  Stay well.

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