Over at Bread Street Kitchen, a Gordon Ramsey restaurant in one of the business districts of central London, they’ve taken an unusual, though not unheard of route with regards to their new cocktail list.

Apart from having a mixture of signature drinks and slightly-obscure but tasty classics from Bar Manager Paul Graham, they’ve included a page of ‘drinks borrowed from friends around the world’.

In short, they’ve included guest drinks, some of which were created by the most recognizable bartenders of the modern era (read Sam Ross and Tim D Phillips).

But why is it worth mentioning here? Is it because their bartenders are average and they need to include other drinks to compensate for their lack of creativity? Is it because they admit that those drinks are better than anything around at the moment and are using them as a beacon for others to hold a light too?

Depends on how you look at. Personally, I think the answer lies simply in the fact that the drinks that are included are recognized as contemporary classics (especially those submitted by the Australian contingency). The fact that they can be replicated in a modern day bar environment, without the effort of having to make homemade syrups or through the procurement of a weird, long-lost ingredients is the primary reason for their status. Coupled with the name and the way the drink appeals to a certain type of drinker, the subject of ‘contemporary classics’ is a key instrument of how far the cocktail scene has come in the last 30 years, how the public have reacted to such drinking trends and is probably one of the most underrated measures used when either topic is brought up or discussed.

On top of the fact that the drinks included are pretty tasty (yeah, I tried a few not long after the menu came out), they are also, to my knowledge, the first bar in London to pay homage to the popular contemporary drinks of the modern era with a dedicated page.

Thing is, the concept of putting other peoples drink on a menu is not unheard of. The last time anyone did something similar, it won an award.

The menu that Mal Spence produced during his time at the Blytheswood Hotel in Glasgow, which dedicated not one, but a full two pages that had come primarily from across the pond, as well as an inclusion from Sam Kershaw (who coincidently is one of the other ‘most promising three’ in this years Bacardi Legacy Campaign), ended up winning CLASS cocktail menu of the year.

With regards to the BSK menu for example, it’s easy to argue that not everyone has Japanese whisky at his or her disposal (or indeed, any of the other ingredients listed in the ‘Harakuju’, a Negroni-style drink based on whisky and one of the more modern drinks compiled from Sam Ross).

However, to procure a bottle of the stuff, as well as a rich, red apéritif wine from France and a Campari-style bitter liqueur from Switzerland – in short, ingredients that nowadays are within reach of the average venue operator or drink maker – highlights the resourcefulness of a crack modern day bartender.

Japanesy whisky is the dopest.

Japanesy whisky is the dopest.

But outside of these two examples, have we not been making other peoples drinks for over 150 years? One needn’t look further than the Bramble and the Espresso Martini, two key drinks that helped bring about the revival of the cocktail scene in the UK. Furthermore, the approachability of both of these drinks, as well as their simplistic nature, basic ingredients and relevant name are the primary reasons why the popularity of those drinks spread so rapidly and cemented themselves firmly into the status of ‘modern classics’.

Perhaps the best example is Jerry Thomas’ Bon Vivant’s Companion. Some of the drinks listed within the book included drinks from another source, primarily Alexis Benoit Soyer, a famous French chef that lived in Britain and was arguably the first ‘celebrity’ chef to come into existence. Soyer was also responsible for the opening of ‘The Washington Refreshment Room’ which opened in the early 1850s, and was one of the first documented bars in Europe that compounded mixed drinks and cocktails (he was also responsible for some blue drinks too…).

Jacob Briars dressing up as a blue martini.

Jacob Briars dressing up as a blue martini.

I had a chat with an American bartender who recently came into The American Bar at The Savoy. We talked booze, as you would expect, and touched upon the subject of contemporary classics. The Final Ward was a great example, I reasoned, of how to substitute popular ingredients in an already established drink. He argued that it wasn’t better than the original Last Word; I agreed, and stated that the drink was provided as an alternative instead of an attempt at improving an already great drink. The point I made, however, is that it was American; for all those that have waxed lyrical about London having the greatest drink scene in the world, what was the last drink that emanated from the UK that anyone saw on an American cocktail list? What was the last drink to make waves on the opposite side of the pond that will claim to be a true contemporary classic?

The creativity and complexity that is employed in drink making in the UK capital today is nothing short of brilliant. Bartenders are exercising chef-like scrutiny with regards to ingredients, as well as making the culinary crossover in other ways, mainly by the inclusion of herbs and spices. But as one wonders down the path of creativity, they lose site of the metaphorical horizon, that drink-making landscape of simplicity and timeless formulas that gave birth and have given us the drinks that we know and love today.

The biggest challenge the UK cocktail scene currently faces is not the widespread practice of the Bread Street Kitchen mode and include modern day classics that other countries have given us. Nor is it the admission of the fact that there are other drinks around the world that are ‘better’ than what we create in this country. It’s finding a community of bartenders within the UK who can create timeless drinks that will be deemed modern classics by his or her peers in this country, and thus becoming popular enough for other cocktail cultures to identify and recognize them.

What Bread Street Kitchen has done is truly a remarkable and courageous thing. Let’s hope that not only the trend of recognizing modern classics from other bartenders spreads to other cocktail lists in the UK, but that the modern classics that are recognized are from bartenders within this country.

The Maid in Cuba at Bread Street Kitchen, a Gordon Ramsey restaurant.

The Maid in Cuba at Bread Street Kitchen.

With it being national Margarita Day, usually it would be normal for a few blogs to be posted on the more popular drink sites on the Internet. Recipes and twists abound, maybe with a few photos, and maybe even an anecdote or two about people’s favourite story about how the drink actually came about would all be commonplace.

Unfortunately at A Pint of Green Chartreuse, however, such a notion could not be further from the truth.

While it’s important to acknowledge the popularity of the Margarita – not to do so would be foolish – it’s just one of those drinks that if I tried to care for it less than I do, it would start to verge on ‘hatred’ territory, which I wouldn’t actually mind admitting to.

It’s not even the people who order them; I’ve served all sorts of folk who have ordered them, and they’re pretty easy to knock up together on a busy Saturday night (bar the salt rim, which for me, is one of the most unfathomable parts of a drink I will ever come across). Even Margarita twists are OK; I mean, hell, I’ll drink a Tommy’s Margarita any day of the week, though that’s assuming that someone else is paying.

Tequila as a spirit as awesome, but on it’s own, as a shooter or in a mixed drink, and I’m all about cocktail that are fresh and clean, usually because they’re the best way to introduce people to cocktails, especially those with a sensitive palate. Nonetheless, that mixture of triple sec, tequila and citrus is something my brain fails to recognise as genius

So does that mean that other cocktails with the same DNA are also liquid contraptions that I despise? Afraid so.

The Sidecar is, in my opinion only, a generally crap cocktail, while a White Lady, as close as the drink is to my heart, is maybe just a little overrated, and one of the hardest drinks to balance I’ve ever come across (and there’s only four ingredients if you include the egg white). If anything, the White Lady is the best out a bad bunch, which is by no means a good thing, although my favourite recipe for the drink comes from Jim Meehan’s PDT cocktail book (similarly, his version of the Margarita uses the same ideology when preparing the drink for the modern pallet).

But White Lady’s aside, and in the good form and dry humour of a disgruntled Englishman, I’m going to give you a recipe on how I think they should be made, assuming you want to waste your time in the first place in trying to assemble them for either yourself, your guests or your friends.

Margarita (Recipe taken from Jim Meehan’s PDT Cocktail Book, 2012)

  • 50ml White Tequila
  • 20ml Tripe Sec
  • 20ml Lime Juice
  • 7.5ml Agave Syrup

Add all ingredients to cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake, and double strain into a cocktail/margarita glass – of that you’re that much of a ponce – with a salted rim. Drink apathetically.

It’s at this point that I would usually sign off and tell you to enjoy your Margaritas on this awesome national Margarita Day. But in this case, I’ll just simply sign off.

Slante.

When my good colleague and Head Bartender Erik stood behind the unfinished American Bar last week, the impromptu gathering that had formed were about to witness something very special.

The American Bar was finally getting the renovation it needed, with the builders fitting new work stations behind the bar, as well as a new bar top, and had left a small section of the front of the bar uncovered. Seeing the opportunity, one of my managers sourced a couple of camera phones and several members of staff to witness Erik deliver a speech about the legacy of Harry Craddock and his famous action of burying  shakers full of cocktails into the walls of the hotel.

Within a few minutes, Erik had made a Norman Conquest – one of his signature drinks, and a drink not unlike the Vieux Carré – had poured it into a Savoy-sloganed hip flask, and placed it inside the bar, along with a dated and signed copy of the current menu. The bar was then sealed up the next day.

A flask filled with 'Norman Conquest' one of Erik's signature drinks, and a signed copy of The American Bar menu.

A flask filled with ‘Norman Conquest’ one of Erik’s signature drinks, and a signed copy of The American Bar menu.

History had been made for the first time since the pre-World War Two era of Craddock, though the magic of the event was emphasized by the impromptu gathering; only a few members of staff were there to witness the whole event, which was recorded on video phones in a place that resembled a building site. No members from the press or on-trade were present, and there has been no official PR with regards to the event.

As we all mused what a great start to the year the even was, both with the event and the renovation of The American Bar, it got me thinking of another influential bar that is also also going through a similar state of refurbishment.

In the next couple of weeks in New York, Attaboy will open its doors to the public after taking over the space vacated by Milk & Honey, who have relocated north to Midtown. Sam Ross and Micky McIlroy will head up the bar like they had done over the previous years, only this time without the ‘reservation only’ policy, and with an increased capacity.

Personal opinion it may be, the now ‘old-school’ Milk & Honey was not only important to the neo-speakeasy trend; it also played a fundamental part in the resurrection of both classic and classically-styled drinks in the naughties, in the same way  The American Bar at The Savoy was influential in giving an identity to the American cocktail in Britain and Europe (and, just for the record, anyone who hasn’t checked out the’Bartenders Choice’ cocktail app should so immediately; drinks from Milk & Honey over the last 10 years, as well as numerous drinks from The Savoy Cocktail Book and other old famed drink bibles are modernized and updated).

Though why is the renovation of The American Bar and the opening of an already established premises by two established bartenders such a big deal at the beginning of 2013?

Well for me, a few reasons; two of the most important venues within the history of the drink making profession are having a much-needed facelift in an industry that could see classic drink making return to the fold, alongside the ‘back-to-basics’ rule of bartending.

Is it a coincidence that these two bars are being refurbished at the same time? Absolutely. Though what isn’t a coincidence is that  an increasing amount of thought is being given to the most basic of bartending principles; the ergonomics of the bar set-up, which have an effect on speed of service and the quality and consistency of drinks, are important factors that now more than ever need to  be considered when setting up bars from scratch, as well as working behind them night after night.

Last year saw some great movements within the drink scene; this Cream Gin from the guys behind The Worship Street Whistling Shop helped push the boundaries within the world of an already established spirit, and bottled cocktails became more popular, as much for speed of service as for flavour development. Set against the backdrop of society where consumers are supposedly drinking less but drinking better, it’s understandable to see why the international mixed drink scene is in good shape and heading in the right direction. But in such financially sensitive times, it would be refreshing, if not expected, for 2013 to be the year that simple, down-to-earth drinks make a welcome return to the cocktail scene.


Nowadays, customers want to feel that they’re getting value for their money, whether it be at a cocktail bar in Soho or a five-star venue in Mayfair. People are still flocking to bars during the week and on weekends, but what they perceive to be value for money has changed since the recession. And it’s not just about the liquid in the glass; sure, a pretty garnish and a coupette straight from the freezer make us feel as though that the money we pay for a drink is shown by the love that goes into it.

But, just as importantly, the return of the bartender as a host, as well as the time it takes for a cocktail or a round of drinks to be put in front of them, are both important contributions to the whole package of the customers perception of feeling valued and that the amount of money spent justifies a drinking experience that starts as soon as they step foot on a licensed premises.

Despite the great strides that drink making have made over the last 20 years, especially within the realms of a wider category of products and the arrange of new flavors that have become available, the recession might well be the best to happen to the classically styled cocktail and the way the bartender responds to the fulfillment of a customers expectations.

It’s important that we don’t lose touch with evolutionary elements that have helped propel bartending into a respectable career that has seen it gain an increasing amount of press coverage over the last couple of years. But for the scene to stay fresh and to help newcomers on the path to sophisticated and educated drinking that’s approachable and unpretentious, it’s important that the basics of bartending are always adhered too, and that solid, honest-to-goodness drinks and snappy service are within every bartenders repertoire, regardless of which venue they work at or what kind of style of bartending they chose to follow.

The flask of Norman Conquest will stay within that space in the bar for years to come, maybe decades. Let’s hope that bartenders going into the industry now, and that those who intend to stay in the trade for the foreseeable future, realise the value of the fundamental skills of what makes a bartender good at his or her game, and that they continue to be followed, both once the recession has eased and when that flask is finally opened.

A week or two ago, I had the pleasure of two customers have a few drinks at The American Bar at The Savoy. It turns out they were both bartenders – whose names and place of work will go unnamed – with one having visited before and the other visiting for the first time.

Like some specialist bars in London, we too are also subjected to the odd visit from industry folk on a Sunday, which is great to see, especially as five of their seven days are spent in bars talking and serving people.

Hosting industry folk on a Sunday has something I’ve always found fun. All kinds of subjects are brought up, from football to films, though the subject of booze talk is always inevitable, and it’s great to share views, opinions and information with like minded people whilst knocking up a few drinks.

This particular evening I convinced one of the guys to try a new drink I’d been working on, and one that may be in contention for the new menu that we’re looking to put out at The American Bar over the next few months (the recipe follows this article). Even though I was only making one drink, I had the attention of both gentlemen, describing the thought process behind the drink and what led me to mix what it was I was mixing.

As it turns out, the chap whom I made the drink for said it was one of the best drinks he had ever tried. I was taken back a little at his forthcoming flattery, though I showed my gratitude nonetheless and thanked him.

However, what followed next left me a little confused.

“Can you tell me the recipe, or are you keeping it a secret?”

Bitches telling each other secret stuff.

Without thinking, I chuckled (or laughed, or humored the situation, or whatever) and told him I would be delighted to give him the recipe, in the hope that he could make the drink for someone else in the future if the opportunity was right.

Sticking to the subject of drinks and new cocktail lists, the gentlemen informed me they themselves were involved in putting together a new drinks list for their venue. However, when I asked outright about the drinks, they said they were keeping it under wraps, and that they weren’t at liberty to divulge any recipes, or give any indication as to what kind of influence of direction the menu would be taking.

The problem with this attitude was not so much the arrogance of the bartenders thinking that their product was better, wanting to keep it for themselves so they can maximize its potential and the effect that such exclusivity might have with regards to their respective audience.

Where the problem lay, however, was that it was an example of what reinforces the social barriers that exist within modern cocktail drinking, the ones associated with those who put the cocktail on a pedestal and therefore put it out of reach of themselves because of its mistaken identity that only those with money and taste consume drinks in such a manner.

When the speakeasies took over the old saloons and hotel bars of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the 18th amendment that brought in Prohibition did one of the greatest things within the history of drink; it brought women right into bar alongside the men. Set against a back drop of illegal alcoholic consumption, the speakeasy became a melting pot for the working and upper classes, and everything in between; no-one was above or below anyone, everyone’s opinions counted for something, including the women, who before the 1920s, rarely, if ever, set foot into the male dominated saloon.

Citizens of Detroit heeding a “last call” in the final days before Prohibition went into effect, 1920.

The Tiki movement that followed the years of prohibition and into the 1970s supplied the world with creative and tropical-themed escapism drinks, a trend that lasted more than 40 years, which in modern day drinking circles translates as several lifespans in an environment which see trends come and go fleetingly.

But the secrecy behind some of the drink-making aspects of the the tiki movement inspired the effect of curiosity amongst the general public, which in turn helped circulate the cult and craze that surrounded the Tiki movement in general. At the heart of the Tiki restaurant and Tiki bar were the drinks they spawned, conducted in such a way that top level secrecy was needed in the form of unmarked bottles and coded recipes. Tiki restaurants tried to outdo each other in terms of exotically-themed drink making, and employed the most secretive tactics to make sure their drinks weren’t leaked to rivals or competitors.

A zombie, holding a zombie.

Some of the most famous bars and bartenders in the world have made their methods and recipes known to all and sundry. A perfect example arose in 2004 when Vincenzo Errico, a bartender at Milk & Honey in New York, created the Red Hook, a 21st Century version of the Brooklyn. Both the drink and the style of the drink became so popular, that it not only spawned another five spin-offs, all of which originated from Vincenzo’s drink, but also prompted Jim Meehan to produce another a twist on the drink, recognizing the popularity that was friendly plagiarism.

Milk & Honey in New York have recently released a new cocktail app with around 400 recipes, some of which have become famous over the last few years because their ability to be recreated and the willingness of the bartenders to share their recipes (and that’s even before you talk about the rife plagarism and recipe lifting that existed during the cocktail books of the 1880s and the 1940s).

The cocktail scene has come a long way in the last 25 years, though for the bartender who see the ‘exclusive’ cocktail as a way to empower their position behind the bar, and thus increase their control over what the customer drinks, seem to miss the point of serving alcohol in an a hospitality-based industry.

The UK isn’t blessed with the talent and infrastructure that is found within literary circles in the US. Sure, the UK can boast talents such as Tony Conigliaro, Ryan Chetiyawardana and Erik Lorincz to match the best of what the US has to offer in terms of drink making and innovation. But when it comes to food and drink writing, bloggers such as Camper English, Darcy O’Neil and Jeffery Morgenthaler have been writing about drink subjects for a number of years in a country that has embraced the concept of quality over quantity, to a point where the online content blossomed due to the dedication of quality research and interesting blog posts.

And even though the cocktail blog boom of the mid to late 2000 era has died off, there’s still very little to suggest that the higher end of print and online media in the UK will even come close to talking about the next twist on The Last Word or how bartenders are working Italian amari into their drinks to give customers new flavor combinations in a contemporary drink setting.

With this in mind, bartenders need to be mindful about what they create and how their drinks interact with the general public’s perception of how the cocktail scene is viewed and judged, especially those who are exposed to cocktails within mainstream popular culture (Mad Men et al).

Secrecy and exclusivity isn’t a trend that is either fashionable or sustainable, especially in a financially soft atmosphere that has been effected by double-dip recessions. The power and satisfaction gained by a bartender that serves a product seen as mythical and en-vogue serves only to restrict the bright future the cocktail scene has, instead of strengthening the already solid foundations that transparency and information sharing has given the modern day drink environment.

Murray Aid

I remember the first time someone ordered a Last Word from me. I was working in Press Club at Brisbane at the time, and a guy I knew, who was a friend of the manager I was working under at the time, walked in and sat at the bar. He talked to my manager more than he did me, but it was fine, as he asked me to make him a drink.

He ordered a Last Word, and I sheepishly admitted that I didn’t know how to make it, though I probably came across as more of an arrogant moron for him asking for the ingredients of an old drink that I didn’t know about.

Nowadays, the Last Word is one of my favorite drinks, though for different reasons other than simply that I like drinking it. Sure it tastes great, and it’s a perfect example of an old and forgotten gin drink that has not only been part of the gin and cocktail renaissance, but proved that the process of digging up old recipes, no matter how unbalanced or obscure they may look, can sometimes yield a diamond in the rough .

My main reason for the fondness for the Last Word stems more from modern day bartenders who have successfully twisted the drink into contemporary classics.

Micky McIlroy’s ‘Thumps Up! (a Last Word variant with the addition of Aperol)’ and Phil Ward’s ‘Final Ward‘ are the main drinks that come to mind, though the resurrection and  success of the Last Word in contemporary drinking trends can single be single-handedly traced back to one man.

However, with news of Murray’s heart ailment, thus resulting in him not being able to carry out his profession, resonating throughout the bartending world, the response to MurrayAid has been astounding.

Murray Stenson has been bartending for almost 40 years, and has had profound impact on the drinks scene in Seattle, the city that he’s plied his trade in for most of his life, with the drink came to fruition during his time at the Zig-Zag cafe. Coupled with a lack of health insurance, this blog has been written to spread the word of Murrays situation and to bring your attention to MurrayAid. Events are being held throughout the world to try and raise the money needed for Murray, more of which can be found here.

At the American Bar, we made a pledge to donate our tips towards this fund. Upon reflection, it still doesn’t feel enough. Hopefully this blog can do a little more justice in terms of raising people’s awareness of the situation, and in turn help raise the money that is needed for Murray to get better and get back behind that bar.

Salud.

A few weeks ago, Monkey Shoulder conducted a wee pop-up bar in Edgeware Road in London and started making Monkey Shoulder Manhattans (or Rob Roys, or scotch Manhattans, so to speak).

As part of their ongoing pop-up theme that’s spread across a three month period, each week will see a different whisky cocktail set the scene for the evening

Their latest installment surrounds the Popcorn Flip, a drink made by your truly last summer in Edinburgh, with two different sessions from 6pm-8pm followed by another at 9pm-11pm.

I’ll be there shaking drinks – although hopefully not too many – and talking bartenders and imbibers through the drink and how it came to be.

With popcorn cannons and popcorn-infused Monkey Shoulder, and other popcorn and related things (you get the idea) click here to find out more about the event, and hopefully see some of you there.

As news of the passing of Neil Armstrong spread throughout the internet, tributes flooded in for family and friends as those who learned of his death expressed their sadness at losing such an iconic figure of the 20th Century.

His status as a modern American hero who will leave a legacy not just in aviation and aerospace engineering, but in modern world history, especially in modern American folklore.

Armstrong’s exploits led him to become ‘a reluctant American hero’ according to a statement released by his family, a reminder that he did little to hog the limelight after his moonwalking exploits. He continued to work in aeronautics and aviation, as well as lecturing at the University of Cincinnati as a professor of aerospace engineering. American President Barack Obama described him as one of America’s greatest hero’s

So famous were the exploits of Amstrong, his colleague Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin and pilot Michael Collins, that the trend of creating a drink for special occasions, coupled with an appropriate name, was carried on with tradition at The American Bar at The Savoy.

Joe Gilmore, who was headbartender at the time, created the ‘Moonwalk’, a drink that closely resembles the classic champagne cocktail, though with a bigger flavour profile.

It was the first drink that passed the lips of the crew once they returned to earth, with Neil Armstrong sending a personal letter of thanks to Gilmore for the drink.

With this in mind, this blog, and the Moonwalk, is dedicated to Niel Armstrong.

From The Savoy Cocktail Book

Moonwalk (Adapted from Joe Gilmore, 1954, The American Bar, London)

  • 30ml Grand Marnier
  • 3 dashes Grapefruit bitters
  • 2 dashes orange flower water
  • 1 Sugar cube
  • Champagne
Add the first three ingredients to a mixing glass. Add ice and stir, then strain into a champagne flute with a sugar cube and top with champagne. Express the oils of an orange peel into the surface of the drink, drop in an serve.