Johnnie has a harsh warning that he may have to resort to violence. He wants to make this point very clear for us all before we move on. What's about to tip him over the edge? Is his rampage because Fanny relegates him to one measly feature in each partwork exploring wines of the world? Did Fanny provoke the attack by using the last of his favourite Marsala in her Zabaglione last night? Was he brutally offered a cheeky glass of sweetish, sparkling Asti Spumanti by an uneducated wine drinker? No, it was simply the thought of someone adding either ice, soda water or ginger ale to cognac that started the ruckus. Unless it was Italian Brandy. Johnnie thinks that Italian 'cognac', which obviously legally cannot be called 'cognac', is obviously only suitable for mixing with ice, soda water or ginger ale, which Johnnie says you would be sure to agree if you tasted it. All clear? Don't make him ferocious again.
Johnnie calms down just long enough to tell us that he is a fan of the aperitif and dessert wines from Italy that others maybe aren't too sure about. Fanny may be adamant in insisting that Marsala and Sherry are only 'pudding wines', but Johnnie thinks she is wrong. Asti may be cheap and cheerful, or as he puts it 'sweet and jolly' and not at all suitable for serious wine drinkers, but it is popular. Johnnie especially embraces the bitterness though, and wants to accentuate the astringent advantages of the aperitif.
I enjoy bitter tastes too, but I've never really thought too much about why or indeed why some people don't. Never until this past weekend that is. The Edinburgh Science Festival is in town, with a very welcome menu of GastroFest events to tempt geeks and gastronauts alike. As a slight caustic GastroGeek I was tempted by the Late Lab Molecular Mastery event held in the sinister dissection room of the former Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, now the much less sniggery but no less sharp Summerhall. The session was led by Max and Zoe from The Drink Factory in London, who set out to demonstrate how the art of cocktail making has become a science, showing some tricks of the trade to help experimenting at home. Phew, I can call it experimentation now.
Johnnie would've been very pleased to note that they began by exploring bitterness, championing the sometimes harsh and sometimes tart tastes of his beloved Italian aperitifs, Campari and Martini, which he says are best served with soda water, ice and a slice of lemon. They really haven't changed in appearance at all through the years. Classics. As we were welcomed to the group experiment, we were encouraged to taste a ready mixed cocktail waiting at our tables for us. Max explained it was an Americano, not the coffee but a simple, sharp, sour mix of Campari, Martini Rosso and Soda Water. No lemon slice, but thank heavens for Max it wasn't Cognac. 'Go on, take a sip' we were told. You don't need to ask me twice, it's an 'experiment' after all. What did we think of the taste? Are we fans of bitter?
I was one of the few hands that shot up, yes I am! Some liked it, but not much. Some hated it. Max and Zoe were ready to astound us with a scientific change to our cocktail, transforming the bitter drink to sweet. They had some pre-mixed solutions on the tables for us to add, but not what we thought. Well, not what I expected at any rate. Would we be adding sugar? Not at all, it was a 10% salt solution, and we added around 10ml to our glass, so just one 1g of salt. After a quick swirl, our Americano's now tasted sweet. Our bitter taste receptors had been blocked by the salt you see. We went on to complete further fascinating absinthal experiments involving distillation, maceration and louching. I learnt a lot, I will be conducting many more experiments at home. The lasting lesson of the day though is that dear old acidic Johnnie needn't be bitter any more. If Fanny is in danger of his murderous thoughts a quick sprinkle of salt is all that is required. Or a cocktail. Or better still, both.