Archive for the ‘Progressive Bartendiing’ Category

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.

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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.

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The video above is an entry to the Auchentoshan Swtich, a competition in which 20 finalists will go through to London to battle it out for a two-week trip to New York. The prize is not just a holiday though; the lucky winner will spend time working in Apotheke, a New York bar renowned for its foray into molecular mixology and 21st century bartending.

On the other side of the Atlantic, however, one lucky winner from the final in Las Vegas will be heading over to London to work with Tony Coniglario at 69 Colebrooke row. Hence that ‘switch’ thing in the name.

To have a chance of getting to the final, participants must create an Old Fashioned and a lemonade from scratch, and take no longer than eight minutes to complete both. Outside of that, it’s pretty much open to interpretation.

For a slightly unique spin on things I decided to take a little inspiration from New York a la Penicillin-style (courtesy of Sam Ross, Milk & Honey). As for the old-fashioned, I stayed in touch with the concept of the sherry finishes – one of the main selling points behind Auchentoshan Three Wood – by using some limited edition Spanish bitters from Adam Elmegirab, and by creating a sugar syrup with Spanish brandy as a the base.

There are some big names that have already put their hat in the ring, mainly in the form of Alex Kratena from the Artisian Bar at the Langham Hotel, Matthew Dakers from Worship Street Whistling Shop and Zdenek Kastanek of Quo Vadis fame. Good luck to everyone involved, and hopefully see you in the final.

Penicillin Lemonade

  • 100ml Still water
  • 50ml Lemon Juice
  • 20ml Ginger Syrup*
  • Dash of honey

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker. Shake and strain into a highball, and top with soda. Garnish with a lemon spiral and serve.

*Ginger Syrup

  • 50 grams de-skinned ginger
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 ¼ cups of sugar

Add water and ginger to a blendable vessel. Blend, add sugar and stir until dissolved. Strain through a Muslin cloth and bottle.


Lowland Siesta

  • 60ml Auchentoshan Three Wood
  • 12.5ml Spanish brandy syrup**
  • Generous dash of Spanish Bitters

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass. Stir – but not for too long – and strain into a chilled glass with a single, large ice cube. Garnish with an orange peel and serve.

**Spanish Brandy Syrup

  • 1 cup of good quality Spanish Brandy
  • 1 ¼ cup of sugar

Add all ingredients to a glass and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Don’t heat, don’t put in a pan – just stir.

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As per usual, I’ll be starting this post with a perennial apology for the lack of entry, which will probably be about a month by the time this goes live. However, this may well be my last apology. Not that this blog will cease to exist, though my living arrangements as of next month are uncertain, I’m (still) getting emergency taxed on my pay (meaning less money to spend on booze and what not), which means an uncertainty of postings with regards to booze and other fun stuff. Coupled with the fact that I recently turned 25 without any real form a of celebration, visited the Bols academy in Amsterdam (and a bottle of five year-old Bokma to boot) and received some new tattoo work, it’s fair to say that I’ve definitely not been partying and drinking all the time

 

All 36 Bols liqueurs. Seriously

However, while that last statement may well be a massive fib, the future is looking very bright. Despite waiting for my first shipment of free booze to review – big corporate booze companies take note of this – here at Bramble Bar & Lounge things have been getting off the ground with regards to a new menu and new drinks, albeit slowly.

But it doesn’t stop there. Bramble owners Mike and Jas have also come into possession of a vacuum packer, a device usually used within the food industry, but, according to old Bramble legend Ryan Chetiyawardana, can be used to fuse ingredients together in the form of botanicals, flavours and a base liquid (Ryan told us it was his current ‘best friend’).

Quite possibly the most exciting concept of them all, however, is that I’ve been given the opportunity to get to grips with a piece of machinery called a Rotary Evaporator – more commonly known as a ‘Rotovap (although there is actually a patented company out there called ‘Rotovap)’ which is both a) the most scientific thing I’ve ever used or been involved in and b) can create possibly an infinite amount of flavour concepts and fusions; check out videos here and here). With this latter piece of equipment, I’ve included a picture nicked from some sight after a very quick google search, although it probably came from the Cooking Issues website (which is definitely something you should read, especially here).

 

You need more than D at GCSE level to even understand how this thing works.

In the same way that the presence of Robocop on the streets of Detroit was greeted with suspicion by phoney newsreaders in the film of the same name, I bet you’re thinking these three questions; What is a rotovap? What does it do? Where did it come from?

 

Definitely not Robocop.

These questions will hopefully be answered over time when it is utilized more. As the machine becomes used in gastronomic affairs and ‘food tech’ environments – think Heston Blumenthal you’re not really far away – the crossover into drinks is pretty much inevitable. What stops from being a craze that’ll catch on, however, is the fact that they cost about $10,000, give or take a grand (parts are also very expensive). The fact that 69 Coolbrook Row in London have one of these pieces of kit speaks for itself. Coupled with the fact that I got a D-grade GCSE at school, as well as generally hating science, and you get the idea.

In short, the rotovap separates certain compounds within a liquid by reducing the pressure within an atmosphere (usually a flask that is sealed to create a vacuum), reducing the boiling point of the liquid in question. The flask is then lowered into a ‘heated bath’, a fancy term used which basically means a tub of water heated up to a temperature of your choice depending on what is to be separated from the liquid inside the flask. Confused? Though so. Although if you refer back to the Cooking Issues website, some of the examples of what they can do with booze will give you an idea to the possibilities and potential of what it can do.

While future concepts and ideas may creep up on this blog at some point in the future, a new blog-slash-website will be created solely for the purpose of reporting what goes within the chambers of the rotovap, simply so there’s a single-subject dedication to said project, which will hopefully involve fellow bartending friends.

Thanks for reading.

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