James West

May include blinky lights. And cocktails.

Category: Cocktail Time


Venice is sinking. I know, because I’ve just come back from there and it’s awash with a million bottles of Aperol, which are slowly dragging the island city into the lagoon. I had my first Aperol Spritz at a bar in Campo San Barnaba, and it’s a good drink. You have to be careful to specify Prosecco rather than soda water or you get a slight disappointment (you can never be properly disappointed in Venice) but the spritz is a sweet refresher after a day on your feet, or a jolly aperitif before lunch.

Still, it’s a bit of a soft drink. For a more robust kick-start you should go with a Negroni, and the Negronis in Venice are excellent. It’s a simple recipe; equal measures of Campari, gin and vermouth rosso. Making them at home I’ve foolishly been mixing my Negronis in a shaker (stirring though, never shaking) and then pouring them into a glass. Clearly this is madness. In Venice everyone built the drink in its glass with satisfyingly large chunks of ice and maybe giving it a bit of a twirl with a straw before chucking in a good size strip of orange peel.

Back in Campo San Barnaba, at the Bar Ai Artisti the stir was definitely DIY and my first pull through the straw was a jolt of neat Campari. Once I’d sluiced it around the drink was excellent and sitting with Lucy sipping our drinks and nibbling from a bowl of crisps at the back of the bar was a great way to pass half an hour.

Enjoying a slurp of Negroni at Caffe Brasilia
Enjoying a slurp of Negroni at Caffe Brasilia

In central Venice, between the Rialto Bridge and Saint Marks we sought out Caffe Brasilia. It’s the local bar of Nathan Sutherland in Philip Gwynne Jones’ entertaining books which I’d been reading before we set off to Venice and which you could use as a guide book. The bar was on a corner of the narrow Rio Tera dei Assassini, and given its central location was quiet and modestly priced.

The best Negronis we had in Venice were in the tiny bar of The Hotel Olimpia, where we were staying. Strong, cold, oh so red and served with care and attention by waiters who doubled duty as porters and really deserved their tips.

We’d a great short break in Venice, and when I visited the Ferrovia I was reminded that the dangerously delicious Inamorata was inspired by the railway journey from London (gin) through Paris (Cointreau) and on to Venice (Prosecco). You’ve got to have an Aperol Spritz while you’re there, it’s the foundation of all bar life in the Venice at the moment. But don’t miss out on the Negroni.

Hyperpixel cocktail recipe kiosk

We're never going to finish that bottle of Creme de VioletteIt all started when we saw this lovely cocktail cabinet in a vintage shop. I said we could only buy it if we actually used it for booze, and not to store the usual crap a family of four hides in their cupboards.

Deal struck, we brought it home and have since enjoyed mixing and drinking cocktails at the weekend. It’s been fun finding a collection of drinks we enjoy, but we have recipes in books, recipes on my Notes app and recipes squirrelled away on bits of paper. There has to be a better way – and this is it!

I put a Hyperpixel 4 from Pimoroni on top of a Raspberry Pi and wrote a Python program using Laura Sach’s guizero library. Guizero lets you create simple graphical environments, and even for a learner like me it’s very accessible with clear documentation and examples.

My code is here on Github. The functions at the top are called for each relevant PushButton press, and the stuff at the bottom is the nuts and bolts holding together the app layout. I wanted to use photos as the background to the recipes as much as possible, these are stored as .jpg files which are called to fore when you press the button for that drink. As I remember to take more photos of the cocktails before we slurp sip them I’ll add more pictures to the backgrounds. The Hyperpixel display is great: it’s clear, colourful and the touch works well, even with my tiny buttons. By default the “bottom” of the screen is where the power plugs into the Raspberry Pi, and as I want to hide the plug away behind my little kiosk I used Pimoroni’s simple instructions to rotate the display 180 degrees, which moves the power connector to the back.

The Hyperpixel4 is small; it’s just a shade larger than the Raspberry Pi itself, but crams in 800 x 480 pixels. Even so, every line you display counts. My app looked great on screen but the title bar was using vital space. Despite reading the guizero documentation I couldn’t work out a way to make the title bar disappear, so I tweeted Laura and was delighted when she replied with a solution for me. Simply put, guizero is a friendly wrapper for a more complex Python library called Tkinter, and you can use those methods to modify objects in guizero. It just took one line of code, which Laura included in her tweet, but it made all the difference to how my programme looks on the Hyperpixel.

Open with Python Launcher

I wrote this program entirely on my Mac – there’s no GPIO interaction, nothing requiring the Raspberry Pi hardware at all, so I wondered if I could also regularly use this on my Mac without having to launch it from Terminal. A quick Google search led me to this page where I found out that with Python 3 installed it’s easy to right-click on a Python file and choose Open With -> Python Launcher. I dragged the icon onto my Dock and it opens when I click on it – just like a real app! I changed the power off button to a quit button so I don’t keep shutting down my laptop, and now I can easily browse these cocktail recipes on my Mac or on my little touch screen Raspberry Pi kiosk.

Agua de Valencia

Why wouldn’t you make a jug-full?

This is a refreshing jug of instant sunshine. You might think a mix of orange juice, gin, vodka and Cava is only a summer drink, but you’d be wrong. As a reminder of warmer weather on a dark winter night this is just the job, and as it’s so refreshing it might help if you over do it with the winter warmers.

Agua de Valencia is really easy to make. You’ll need a jug that’ll hold about a litre. Pour in a wine glass full of orange juice, add a little dab of sugar, 50ml1 each of gin and vodka and top up with as much of a bottle of chilled Cava that’ll fit in your jug. Pour immediately into wine glasses and get on with it. When you’ve served your first glasses you can top the jug up with any Cava that’s left in the bottle.

We first came across this on an episode of Travel Man when Richard Ayoade and Sara Pascoe enjoyed the drink in Valencia, and had to have a go at making it ourselves. It’s a lovely drink, and I’m sure we’ll also be enjoying this outside in the summer months.

Cocktail lamp

On holiday in Menorca this summer I loved these bottle lamp-shades at a bar in Mahon’s old fish market.

Bar, at Mahon fish market

They look lovely, and I thought they couldn’t be too difficult to make.

As ever, YouTube is your friend and there are lots of videos showing various methods of cutting bottles. I had fun sourcing a trio of attractive and different bottles (drinking the booze is a definite plus point for this project, but please don’t attempt any making when you’ve had a drink) and decided to use a diamond cutting wheel on my Dremel to do the glass cutting. I half expected to shatter a bottle or two as I got the hang of this, but actually it went quite well and the bottles all cut quite neatly. I’m not going to write up how to do this, there are dozens of blogs and videos describing good techniques, but I would definitely advise wearing eye protection, a face mask and long sleeves if you use a rotary tool like I did – small shards of glass flew all over the place.

Having cut the bottles the edges needed grinding and sanding to smooth off any bumps and sharp edges. It takes a while to get really nice results, so spend as long as possible to make the cuts look neat.

I ordered a ceiling rose with three outlets, some lovely sparkly braided cable and three bulb holders from Creative Cables UK and waited for them all to be shipped from Italy. My bulb holders are hidden by the bottles so I got plastic ones, which meant I could use two-core wire without an earth. Metal holders look nicer if they’re going to be in sight, but don’t forget to connect the earth to them with three-core cabling. I wired up the bulb holders, slipped the bottles over each cable and connected them together in the ceiling rose with a terminal strip. Then I swapped my new lamp with the existing one in the front room (where the cocktail cabinet is…). If you’re at all unsure what you’re doing, get an electrician to help, and please make sure you switch off the circuit breaker for your lights at the consumer unit before you make a start.

Ceiling roses are always too small for the stuff inside them, but after the usual struggle I managed to get it secured to the ceiling and when I turned the power back on to the “ground floor lights” nothing went bang or let out smoke.

Boozy bottle lamp

I’m pleased with the result of this. I had considered longer wires and making a spider display with the individual bottles spread out across the ceiling, but I think they look nice nestled together. The bulbs are filament LEDs so strike a good balance between looking good, having a long lifespan and being energy efficient. The edges on my bottles aren’t quite as clean as the ones in Mahon, but unless you look closely they’re good enough.

If I did it again I’d spend even more time grinding, sanding and polishing where the cuts had been made. The base of the prosecco bottle makes a nice small dish for nuts or olives and the bottom half of the Martini bottle is now a straw dispenser, so I’ve been able to make use of most the bits of glass I didn’t need for the lamps.

Quick make: cocktail cabinet LED rainbow

We love our cocktail cabinet, bought at a vintage shop in Northallerton. But you can improve everything by adding LEDs to it, right?

Cocktail cabinet lights

After finishing my K9 build I’ve time to spend on a few smaller ideas I’ve had kicking around, like how to make the cocktail cabinet glow. I splurged on a Mote kit from Pimoroni and the pHat to go with it. I made a simple frame from some plywood that was in the shed and screwed the Mote strips to the outside edges. A Pi Zero W went in the middle and I threaded the cables through the gaps I’d left at the corners.

Mote sticks frame

A couple of screw eyes and some picture wire let me hang it on a picture hook behind the cabinet. I’ve just got one of the example scripts provided by Pimoroni running for the rainbow effect, but in the future I’d like to make the LEDs flash or change colour in response to a Twitter hashtag like #cocktailtime

I also think it’s time for that wallpaper to go, and paint a nice clean white wall instead.

Corpse Reviver no. 2

This weekend we stayed at Stow House, just by Aysgarth Falls in the Yorkshire Dales. We have history with the place, having been back several times since our wedding reception there in 2000.

In the last few years Stow House (built in the 1870s for Reverend Stow who was Rural Dean of Wensleydale and a keen photographer) has been brilliantly refurbished by Sarah and Phil Bucknall who aim to provide beautiful rooms, excellent service and punch-packing cocktails. On Saturday before we went out for dinner, Sarah made us one of those cocktails and it certainly lived up to the mission statement. Rather than offering a full cocktail menu, Sarah asks what you like as a base for your drink and then suggests something for you. We went with gin, and Sarah offered us the Corpse Reviver No. 2, adding that it was one of the drinks made by Harry Craddock at the Savoy, and recorded in his Savoy Cocktail Handbook.

The recipe requires equal measures of gin, lemon juice, Cointreau, and vermouth to be shaken with ice and strained into a glass that’s had a rinse of absinthe. Lots of the recipes online specify Kina Lillet – as used in James Bond’s Vesper – for the vermouth, but that’s not available now so I reckon you can use whatever you’ve got in the cabinet. If you’re short of absinthe I expect you could get away with using pastis for an anise flavoured rinse.

Sarah’s Corpse Revivers were delicious, with an orange-and-lemonyness not unlike Inamoratas. It’s a refreshing drink that we’ll definitely be mixing at home, but I’m not sure I’ve the strength of constitution to drink it as a hair-of-the-dog.

Boozy book safe

There are loads of guides for making book safes on the internet and all the ones I looked at are pretty similar. The main ingredient is a book thick enough to hide your stuff.

Book safe

I had pretty specific requirements; I wanted to be able to store a drinks measure and a small bottle, so I went for my six novel James Bond anthology (when I did @bondsbooze I bought them all individually so I don’t feel any guilt about gluing the pages together and hacking a big hole through them).

We went away for the week recently and I was able to squirrel the measure and a bottle full of sugar syrup into our luggage, but I could have easily snuck a couple of miniatures in there. I think Q would approve.


My mother-in-law read Veronica Henry’s “A Night on the Orient Express” which includes a recipe for a cocktail called the Inamorata. Knowing that we like a cocktail, she passed this on we’ve been regularly enjoying these ever since. The ingredients are inspired by the journey from London through Paris onto Venice.

  • 25ml lemon juice
  • 50 ml London dry gin
  • 25 ml Cointreau
  • Prosecco

The lemon juice, gin and Cointreau are shaken with ice cubes, strained into a glass and topped up with prosecco. It’s a delicious and refreshing drink that has entirely dishonourable intentions, and if you risk a second one it will try to take advantage of you.


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