A great drink, the Bramble is essentially a gin sour with a float of crème de mûre. Served over ice, it makes a refreshing summer sipper that appeals to those who prefer fruit based cocktails.
Although it looks like a sour, and it could be classified as a sour, the drink falls under a Fix. The Gin Fix, listed by Jerry Thomas as a drink involving sugar, raspberry syrup, lemon juice and Holland gin, looks to be exactly a Bramble, except with a couple minor switches (Thomas 32). In the Bramble, we see the use of crème de mûre, or a blackberry liqueur in place of the raspberry syrup, and now a days, we see the use of London Dry more often than the Holland gin. But beyond those slight changes, the recipes are rather similar, including the use of shaved / crushed ice.
Looking at the history of the Gin Fix, we see, like with any other cocktail, changes to the recipe over time. Evolution is a common occurrence with any historical phenomenon, since objects do not exist in culturally enclosed synchronic systems. For instance, Kappeler in his 1895 classic, Modern American Drinks, writes: “one small spoonful fine sugar, one squirt of seltzer, half a pony pineapple syrup, one jigger gin in a long thing glass” (Kappeler 57). This looks quite different than the recipe set out a little less than ten years earlier by Jerry Thomas in his 1887 Bartenders Guide. And the Fix, later, according to Frank Meier at the Ritz Bar in Paris: “juice of one half Lemon, a teaspoon of Sugar, a dash of Curacao, one glass of Brandy [… for] the gin, rum or either whiskey fix the same as brandy fix, except us liquor chosen” (Meier 57). That recipe, which uses the Curacao instead of the syrup, makes me start thinking about the Crusta more than a Fix. Meier’s book was published in 1936, a little more than forty years later. Even Craddock, whose bar book saw publication slightly earlier than Meier, listed the Gin Fix as a drink that includes sugar, lemon, water and gin (Craddock 205). There is no syrup, no sweetener, other than the tablespoonful of sugar. Such changes can possibly be attributed to cultural differences, but most likely, it is a change in the way the cocktail was conceived of over time: it is the same thing with how we view movements towards sweeter drinks.
Created by Dick Bradsell in 1984, the Bramble has skyrocketed in the UK, becoming one of the common recurring drinks on a bartender’s short list (Cecchini). It is extremely easy to imbibe, offering little resistance in the form of bitter or astringent flavors that turn a lot of people off from classic or more complex drinks; as such it can serve as an excellent gateway cocktail in order to introduce others to the art of a fine drink. And plus, you get that nice layering effect, a bit of spectacle, as the crème slowly winds through the crushed ice to the bottom of the glass, giving the drink a sensation of being alive, or the liqueur wandering through a true bramble.
Yet, perhaps the reason this drink is not well known is the obscurity of crème de mûre. Good quality blackberry liqueur is not something found in every bar; as such, this drink really shouldn’t be made unless you have decent ingredients (much like any other cocktail for that matter). A great crème de mûre to use is Briottet. Distributed in the states by Preiss Imports (whose line includes a myriad of fine liqueurs including Maurin Quina), Edmond Briottet is a French liqueur company based out of Dijon, France, a region best known for its’ crème de cassis, or blackcurrant liqueur. All their products are fresh, vibrant and delicious: they are great to sip on alone. But like all crèmes, the rich thick body and the strong flavor works best in a cocktail.
If Briotett is not available, I would also recommend Leopold Bros. Their liqueurs are some of the most fruit driven I have ever tasted, and feel less syrupy than others; in this drink, I can picture their Blackberry liqueur working extremely well. At some level, the fresh vibrant flavors of their other liqueurs, such as their Cherry one, makes me question why I keep going to Cherry Heering. But then I remember, that the flavor of Cherry Heering is a time honored classic, and contributes specifically to remaking the drink in a traditional fashion. Anyhow, if you can’t acquire crème de mûre, go ahead and use a Dijon based crème de cassis, which supplies the same rich, dark ripe berry notes to this drink.
The recipe that Bradsell created calls for Plymouth Gin. I’m all for Plymouth, and it works wonderfully in this drink: the coriander and other botanicals present in Plymouth make for a nice change of pace from the fruit notes. However, this drink is extremely good with Bols Genever, given the slight earth-like notes that help bring out the fruit flavors ever more clearly; plus, Bols has juniper on the forefront, more so than the Plymouth, which gives a better balance than the coriander in a drink that exhibits the taste of ripe forest berries. Personally I would go with using Bols, but you can’t go wrong with either; some people might not particularly want the Genevieve flavor, but to be honest, this helps provide a bit of a throwback to its’ origins in the Gin Fix. Plus, Bols historical nature lends the cocktail a sense of classic authenticity.
According to George Sinclair, a bartender who worked with Bradsell, Dick’s recipe does not call for blackberries as a garnish, but rather, raspberries and a lemon slice. The blackberries though seem more fitting, just because of the liqueur going into this drink; however, either one is acceptable. I believe that the use of blackberries as a garnish is the more common choice now a days.
The worst thing about this drink? The amount of ice left in the glass, if the cocktail is consumed quickly. According to Bradsell, “the only complaints we used to get about them were from British customers with a dislike for glasses filled with ice” (Sinclair).
2 ounces Bols Genever or Plymouth gin
1 ounce lemon juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1/2 ounce crème de mûre
Combine the gin, lemon juice and syrup in a shaker tin with ice; shake and strain into a chilled rocks glass filled with crushed ice. Drizzle the crème de mûre over the ice, garnishing with some blackberries.
Cecchini, Toby. 2010. “Case Study: The Bramble.” The New York Times. Originally published June 16, 2010. http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/16/case-study-the-bramble/ (accessed October 17, 2010).
Craddock, Henry. 1999. The Savoy Cocktail Book. Originally published 1930. London: Pavilion Books.
Kappeler, George J. 1895. Modern American Drinks: How to Mix and Serve All Kinds of Cups and Drinks. Reprint of original. New York: Saalfield Publishing Co.
Meier, Frank. 1934. The Artistry of Mixing Drinks. Reprint of original. Paris: Fryam Press.
Sinclair, George. 2007. “Bramble Cocktail.” Published on Scribd. Originally published April 23, 2007. http://www.scribd.com/doc/36120/Bramble-Cocktail (accessed October 17, 2010).
Thomas, Jerry. 1887. Bartender’s Guide. Reprint of original. New York: Dick and Fitzgerald.
Wondrich, David. 2007. Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to “Professor” Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar. New York: Penguin Group.