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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Henry Jeffreys

Hack six classic cocktails with these essential home bar bottles

To help bars and pubs whip up everyone’s favourite whisky cocktail quickly and consistently, Woodford Reserve Bourbon has developed a cocktail syrup for the Old Fashioned. Don’t let bartenders hog…

To help bars and pubs whip up everyone’s favourite whisky cocktail quickly and consistently, Woodford Reserve Bourbon has developed a cocktail syrup for the Old Fashioned. Don’t let bartenders hog all the fun, though – cut corners at home with six bottlings that promise to create high quality cocktails in a flash…

If there’s one thing us Brits excel at, it’s waiting. We understand that it sometimes takes 15 years for whisky here to taste nice, and we can form an orderly queue like we were born to do it. But I’ll let you in on a secret – underneath that tight-lipped facade, we’re just as impatient as the rest of the world.

It’s a relief, then, that the good folks at Woodford Reserve Bourbon have been working with some of the UK’s best bartending talent to craft a bespoke cocktail syrup that balances the core flavours of this timeless serve – bitters, sugar and orange essence – because if there’s one thing for which we hate waiting for the most, it’s a cocktail.

“The Old Fashioned is a favourite with the public and bartenders alike, ranking as the world’s best selling classic cocktail and featuring on nine out of 10 of the world’s best bar menus,” Emily Richardson, head of super premium brands at Brown Forman, told Master of Malt.

“However it’s often seen as a complex and time-consuming serve to perfect. By using a pre-made syrup such as Woodford Reserve’s Old Fashioned Cocktail Syrup, the recipe becomes more accessible, making it possible to recreate with ease and consistent quality.”

Oh, and to make the whole process even quicker, Woodford Reserve has launched a barrel programme that enables bartenders to pre-batch the drink on-site – so keep your eyes peeled for two-litre cask on the bar.

Now, efficiency isn’t really an issue when you’re making drinks for your pals at home, but following complicated bartender drinks specs can be. It’s often an exacting task that requires, skill, equipment, and multiple boozes and syrups that frankly, you might not use for another six months.

The solution? Stock your home bar with these bottles to serve six classics in a flash…

The Handmade Cocktail Company Old Fashioned

Old Fashioned in a bottle from The Handmade Cocktail Company

Old Fashioned

Use: The Old Fashioned Cocktail

It would be remiss to begin with any other cocktail, really. Put your faith in the trustworthy folks at The Handmade Cocktail Company and nab this pre-batched bottling to make serving this classic drink a doddle. Pour over ice, stir, and then garnish with a twist of fresh orange peel, it’s as easy as that. It won’t wash the glass up for you afterwards though – you have to do some of the legwork I’m afraid.

Bermondsey Tonic Syrup, just add sparkling water and gin

The G&T

Use: Bermondsey Tonic Syrup

Making a G&T is much like making a cup of tea – we’re super fussy about the ‘best way’ to make it (for the record, it goes tea bag then water then milk). This concentrated tonic syrup from the folks at London gin bar 214 Bermondsey is the solution to your flavour woes. Simply mix it with carbonated water to your taste, add gin, ice and a garnish if you feel fancy and voilà: the ultimate serve.

Tippleworth Espresso Martini,

Tippleworth Espresso Martini, mix with vodka and shake

Espresso Martini

Use: Tipplesworth Espresso Martini Cocktail Mixer

The Espresso Martini isn’t exactly the easiest (or cheapest, let’s face it) cocktail to replicate at home, especially on the fly. Thankfully, her good self Lady Tipplesworth has the remedy: a ready-made mixer made with cold brew coffee. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, add 50ml vodka and 50ml mixer, then shake, strain, and serve. Coffee bean garnish optional, Instagram upload essential.

Mr Lyan’s Spotless Martini – nothing else required

Martini

Use: Mr Lyan’s Spotless Martini

Sometimes you’re better leaving it to the experts, amiright? And if there’s one guy who knows a thing or two about ready-made drinks, it’s the living legend that is bartender Ryan Chetiyawardana. What with him launching what was essentially the world’s first bottled cocktail bar back in 2013 and all that. Anyway, his mix of gin, citrus and olive distillates, and vermouth easily puts our amatuer Martini-making efforts to shame. Thanks to the citrus hit, you don’t even need to add a garnish just freeze, pour, and enjoy.

Jose Cuervo Classic Margarita-Mix

Jose Cuervo Classic Margarita Mix

Margarita

Use: Jose Cuervo Classic Margarita Mixer

Who wants to shell out on triple sec and fruit, when you could just crack the lid of this Margarita Mixer? To be clear, this is a BYO Tequila affair. Sure, the good folks Cuervo probably envisaged you using I don’t know Jose Cuervo Tradicional Silver, or something, but if you choose to use another brand we promise we won’t dob you in. Just combine one part Tequila with three parts mixer, stir and serve over crushed ice.

Campari Negroni Cocktail

Campari Negroni Cocktail

Negroni

Use: Campari Negroni

As the saying goes, there’s “No Negroni without Campari” – something we imagine the Italian owners of that bitter red liquid continue to be absolutely delighted by, given the drink’s recent resurgence. When aperitif started attracting some serious bartender heat, the folks at Gruppo Campari went the whole hog and combined their beloved booze with London dry gin and (we can only assume) Cinzano Rosso vermouth. The most you’ll have to do is slice an orange.

 

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Forest Hill meets Milan in the Britannica London Fernet

Asterley Bros. is just about to release a London Fernet to go alongside its acclaimed Modern British Amaro and English Vermouth. We talk to one half of the dynamic duo,…

Asterley Bros. is just about to release a London Fernet to go alongside its acclaimed Modern British Amaro and English Vermouth. We talk to one half of the dynamic duo, Rob Berry.

The Bros. in Asterley Bros. are Jim and Rob Berry. The company is named after their mother’s maiden name, Asterley; Berry Bros. was already taken. Out of an industrial estate in Forest Hill, south London, the brothers make a range of delicious products including an amaro, which had them shortlisted for a BBC Food and Farming Award, a vermouth made with English Pinot Noir from Gusbourne Estate in Kent, and now a London Fernet which we have been experimenting with at MoM Towers and love. The ingredients list includes roasted hazelnuts, cacao nibs, chocolate malt and London porter. It’s got a chocolatey minty quality that does magical things with bourbon in a Boulevardier. We caught up with Rob Asterley, the talkative one, to learn about their latest product:

Jim (on the left) and Rob Berry in action

Master of Malt: How did you get into making an an amaro?

Rob Berry: I married into a Sicilian family ten years ago now. My wife’s grandfather gave us this very classic Sicilian amaro recipe. It was very reminiscent of Sicily: so lots of citrus, loads of bright orange and bergamot coming through. A few soft herbs, kind of basil, rosemary, a little bit of oregano and then lots of Arabic spicing as well which kind of permeates all the way through Sicilian cuisine. About four years ago we started talking about it [making an English version] seriously. We live in South London which is not quite the same terroir as Palermo! So we wanted to make something which has a Sicilian starting point but then also start to bring in some sort of British influence and make it our own. That was 2014 when we started that process.

MoM: And what do the Sicilians think of it?

RB: They love it actually! I think they’re just very proud of their own influence and the fact that the English are making an amaro.

MoM: Was it a lot of trial and error, getting it right?

RB: Oh yeah, shitloads! I mean like two years of trial and error. We must have made that first amaro recipe around 30 times. And each time takes months because it’s maceration. It’s not distillation where you can kind of get flavour out of ingredients relatively quickly. The first thing that we did was get a hundred jam jars and then in each of the jam jars we put a single botanical and then topped it up with grain spirit at 75% ABV. And after a month or six weeks we’ve just tasted our way through every single one. We were trying to build this collection of botanicals and then we started combining them. We started off in my kitchen. Then we moved into my shed. And then we moved into my basement. And then in 2015, we moved into the unit in Forest Hill.

Asterley Bros botanicals

Botanicals a-macerating

MoM: When did you have the idea for doing this new product, the fernet?

RB: I think we always had in the back of our mind that we wanted to do one. I mean we love fernet. It’s quite niche, it’s not a very mainstream product. By the time we’d finished the amaro we were also making a sweet vermouth. And for the third one we thought, ‘what do we want to do next?’. There were a lot of people asking us for a bianco or a dry vermouth but I think we wanted to do something a little bit different that no one was doing at the time.

MoM: What exactly is the difference between an amaro and a fernet?

RB: Amaro is the overarching category, so fernet is a type of amaro. Fernet is this kind of fun category of quite brutal bitterness. Normally, you’d find it at around 40% and there’s a lot less sugar than an amaro. You’ve got three or four really classic elements to it: myrrh is one, saffron is another, you have aloe, and there’s a lot of mint.

MoM: Fernet Branca from Milan is obviously the famous one, but are there lots of different others?

RB: I could probably name about ten but I’d get a bit stuck at that point. The Americans are popularising fernet. In San Francisco and Seattle in particular, plus New York a bit as well, they’ve got this really distinct taste for bitter drinks. There’s a real body of new wave producers who are making really nice, interesting fernets. And of course it’s the national drink in Argentina, somehow!

MoM: Tell me about the beta testing you did before launching your amaro and fernet?

RB:  We scratched our brains and thought: ‘what can we do? We’re two brothers, self-funded, how can we approach things in a slightly different way? How can we get people to taste our drinks? How can we create focus groups which will enable us to garner workable feedback and refine products? How can we get our message out there with zero marketing budget?’ This idea of beta testing is something that’s been used in the software industry for numerous years, a way of doing a invite-only release of the game, where you get people to work through it and play it in the normal way but then report back on all the bugs that are found. Beta testing covers two different things for us. A big one is the focus groups, getting 500 or 600 people from different parts of the globe to try the product, and with different levels of understanding of the product at well is really interesting for us. We’ve got people who have tried many, many different spirits and have a natural vocabulary, write about them, describe them for a living and have a really deep understanding of the spirit and wine world. And then we’ve got housewives in North Carolina who are trying them and giving us feedback as well.

MoM: Is there a difference in taste between professionals and your average member of the public?

RB: Yeah absolutely. All of the professionals said: ‘this product should be much more bitter and you should really reduce the amount of sugar’. And then all the people who are consumers, who had probably a lot less understanding of the category, said: ‘oh my gosh” It’s way too bitter, it should be much more sweet’. So, those two elements of feedback and two user groups can take you in two opposing directions.

RB: Is it possible to reconcile them?

MoM: Probably not! So what we decided is that we didn’t think we could necessarily reconcile them but we kind of made a decision and we thought the British desire for bitter products is only going to grow. And as you drink more bitter things you want things to be more bitter and less sweet. That’s what we found as consumers. And that’s what we thought would happen over the five to ten year period in the UK. And the writers, the bartenders, the bar owners, they are going to be leading the charge for bitterness, and the consumers will follow in that direction. So we’re going to take a bit of a punt and we’re going to have less sugar, more bitterness. We’re going to be more bitter that people will grow into, rather than being less bitter, which people might grow out of.

Asterley Bros

The brothers gonna work it out

MoM: What would you use the fernet in?

RB: We really like it bashed into things like White Russians. So you’ve got a quite rich creamy drink and then a shot of the fernet added to that suddenly takes it in a much more sophisticated, bitter, intense, grown-up direction. It’s the same thing with Espresso Martinis as well: probably half a shot (12.5 ml) going into an Espresso Martini, again it sort of amps up all of those flavours inside. So almost like a seasoning to a degree. It gives it a lot more bitterness and edge to the drink. It works pretty well with any kind of dark spirit, so if you’re having an Old Fashioned, or even a Manhattan, a few drops in there, a little dash, just to take it in a slightly more grown-up direction.

MoM: You’re working on some Sicilian vermouth, aren’t you?

RB: It’s in the initial stages. We’re going to be using Sicilian wines infused with British botanicals and we’re going to create a slightly different sub-brand of Asterley Bros, almost like a house range for everyday drinking. We’d like to be able to approach the Martini Riserva range where you can get a 70cl bottle for about £17.

MoM: And will you make those in your little garage in Forest Hill?

RB: In the big shed! Yeah, I think we will. We’re just trying to think of ways to streamline it and keep our product cost down, as far as we can, and pass that onto the consumer.

MoM: When will that be available?

RB: I would say, knowing us, six to nine months. We’re just starting the crowdfunding process at the moment. We’re going to be selling some equity in the business and going via Crowdcube, hopefully within the next two or three months. And once we’ve done that, and hopefully we secure some investment then we’ll be moving into it full time from that point onwards.

Sounds like exciting times for Asterley Bros.. We’ll let you know as soon as that crowdfunding offer opens. We can’t wait to try the new vermouth. Meanwhile, the London Fernet will be available any day now.

Britannica London Fernet

Coming soon. . . .

 

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Cocktail of the Week: Improved Blood Orange Punch

This week, we’re making a drink where all the hard work is done in advance, leaving you with time to amuse your guests with some top anecdotes. One of the…

This week, we’re making a drink where all the hard work is done in advance, leaving you with time to amuse your guests with some top anecdotes.

One of the great advantages that wine and beer have over cocktails is that they come ready to drink. Simply open and pour. Mixed drinks need work. Cocktails require you to concentrate on something rather than gossiping with your guests.

One answer to this problem is to convert your living room into a bar (if only there was a book that showed you how) and turn cocktail-making into the focus of the evening. And let’s face it, shaking up Daiquiris is much more fun than discussing house prices or Brexit with the neighbours. The downside is that you have to keep concentrating.

Mary Hoffman

Maggie Hoffman!

To solve this problem, you could hire a bartender or, and this is the clever bit, you could make your drinks in advance. Why didn’t I think of that? Now, to show you how to explore this brave new world of batch cocktails comes a new book called. . .  wait for it. . . Batch Cocktails! It’s been put together by American drinks writer Maggie Hoffman who has written for the San Francisco Chronicle, Food & Wine and Serious Eats. Here she explains the idea behind the book:

“There’s nothing worse than scrambling at the last minute, trying to mix drinks as your guests walk through the door. It’s hard to hold a conversation while searching for lost bitters, knocking over the jigger on the counter and rattling a shaker full of ice. And without fail, just when you’re finally about to sit down, your friends are ready for a second round.”

Tell me about it. In the book, Hoffman has eschewed the obvious choices like the Negroni or the Old Fashioned in favour of signature cocktails from bartenders she knows. The book is full of good advice such as, “using fresh ingredients is essential when making larger quantities of cocktail”. Also, when making an individual cocktail, it will become diluted when shaking with ice so you have to make sure you add water in the right quantity when making a batch. Thankfully, she has done all the hard work: “I’ve calculated and tested and tasted the proper dilution for each recipe in the collection, so they’re good to go.” Very reassuring.

All the recipes look delicious, but I went for what she calls an Improved Blood Orange Punch (so much better than the unimproved version) because our local greengrocer has stacks of blood oranges piled up outside at the moment. It would be a crime not to take advantage of them when they are in season. The original recipe comes from Jen Ackrill of Sky Waikiki in Hawaii. I’ve had a bit of a play with it.Hoffman makes it with vodka but I think it’ll work with gin or maybe even white rum or Tequila. This is an incredibly easy drink to make and requires almost no work when serving, leaving you with more time to talk about how Brexit is affecting the housing market. On second thoughts…

Improved Blood Orange Punch

Improved Blood Orange Punch. You should have tried the unimproved version, you couldn’t even drink it

To make the batch:

360ml Wyborowa vodka (ideally straight out the freezer)
180ml Luxardo maraschino liqueur
720ml blood orange juice (freshly-squeezed)
360ml lemon juice (freshly-squeezed)

To finish:

1 bottle of Molvino Valdobbiadene Prosecco
Half moon orange slices

Makes about 10-12 servings

Make the batch about two hours before you need it (no more as orange juice loses its pizazz if left around too long). Pour chilled vodka, maraschino liqueur, orange juice and lemon juice into a bottle or jug. Stir, then cover and refrigerate.

To serve, fill a highball glass with ice, pour in 120ml mixture, top up with Prosecco, stir and garnish with an orange slice.

Batch Cocktails

Batch Cocktails: Make-Ahead Pitcher Drinks for Every Occasion by Maggie Hoffman (£14.99 Ten Speed Press)

 

 

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British gin exports double in value

Is the gin boom over? Not by a long way, according to figures just released by HMRC. We take a closer look at this great British export success story. It’s…

Is the gin boom over? Not by a long way, according to figures just released by HMRC. We take a closer look at this great British export success story.

It’s not often you get good news from HMRC, but something that landed today made us smile. British gin is booming. Export sales in 2018 reached a record £612 million, meaning that they have doubled in value since 2010, and increased by 15% on 2017.

The EU is the biggest market for British gin worth nearly £290 million and up 14% on 2017. Next comes the USA, worth £191 million and up £13 million since 2017. Other places that can’t get enough of that good old British gin include Australia (£24 million, up 100%), South Africa (£14.5 million up 222%) and Switzerland (£6.6 million, an increase of 38%). With the EU such an important market, one hopes that some sensible arrangement can be reached post-Brexit. Miles Beale from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSTA) commented:

“Europe represents a huge market for British gin, therefore it essential that the UK does not leave the EU without securing a deal which allows frictionless trade. It is hugely important that Government also secures free trade deals with the rest of the world and we are encouraged by mutual recognition agreements already signed with countries like Australia and Switzerland. However more must be done, and quickly, so that we maintain our position as the world’s largest spirits exporter and further boost the UK economy and provide more jobs.”

Meanwhile back at home, we’re no slackers when it comes to drinking gin. In 2018, the British got through 66 million bottles of gin, up 41% on the previous year. That’s a lot of Martinis. Put together, the domestic and export markets for gin are more than £2.5 billion.

Here at Master of Malt, gin sales in 2018 were up 50.5% by volume on 2017. Much of this growth comes from fun, sweeter products like flavoured and pink gins. Our 2018 top ten bestselling gins included: Peaky Blinder Spiced Dry Gin, Aber Falls Orange Marmalade Gin, Whitley Neill Blood Orange Gin, and Malfy Gin Con Arancia. According to the WSTA, the flavoured gin category is now valued at £165 million up 751% (no that’s not a typo) on 2017. Some people might sneer at flavoured gin, but clearly the public disagrees.

Haymans Gin

Where some of that British gin is made, the stills at Hayman’s in South London

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Cocktail of the Week: The Brandy Sour

This week we’re making a drink that appears simple but needs precision to pull off successfully, plus having a look at brandy’s rich cocktail history. When mixing drinks, most of…

This week we’re making a drink that appears simple but needs precision to pull off successfully, plus having a look at brandy’s rich cocktail history.

When mixing drinks, most of us reach for gin, rum or whisky, and forget about Cognac and Armagnac. Which is a shame because not only can these two brandies be great cocktail ingredients but in many cases, they were the original ingredient. The Sazerac, for example, according to Eric Felten in How’s Your Drink, gets its name from “a brand of Cognac popular in New Orleans in the 19th century”.

Brandy was also massive on the other side of Atlantic. But its premience among spirits was destroyed by phylloxera, the vine-eating louse that wrecked Europe’s vineyards. By the 1890s, there was panic in the gentleman’s clubs of Britain as they were running out of brandy. Blended Scotch was specifically designed to fill this gap. Whisky merchants borrowed from Cognac the technique of blending heavier and lighter spirits to create a consistent product. In America, cocktail lovers moved over to rye and bourbon where they have remained ever since.

Armagnac vineyards

The beautiful vineyards of Armagnac (credit: BNIA)

Nowadays, however, brandy is back on the cocktail menu. Amanda Garnham from the Bureau National Interprofessionnel de l’Armagnac (BNIA) told me that bartenders love Armagnac because “of its multifaceted nature and depth of flavour”. But, she also warned that it was important not to lose that complexity when making your drink. So keep it simple. To educate the hospitality industry, the BNIA has just taken on Hannah Lanfear, recently crowned Educator of the Year at the Imbibe Personality of the Year Awards. I asked her for some recommendations.

“Armagnac offers the bartender incredible complexity and depth, with a structured flavour profile that gives a wealth of possibility for flavour combinations,” she said. “A classic sour makes for a perfect showcase for the picture painted by the distiller.”

So I decided to take her advice. A sour requires just three ingredients: something boozy, something sweet and something sour (obviously). It’s part of a family of cocktails based on these principles that includes the Daiquiri. This very simplicity, however, means that there is no room for error. You have to get the ratio of booze, sour and sugar exactly right. You also must take care when shaking not to dilute it too much.

It is a supremely adaptable drink. You could add an egg white to give it a gorgeous silky texture (in which case it will need to be shaken for longer), or finish it off with a couple of drops of Angostura bitters. Add triple sec or Grand Marnier, and you have a Sidecar (5 parts brandy, 2 lemon juice, 2 triple sec). Hell, you don’t even have to use brandy: you could use pisco, gin, rum, amaretto, bourbon, or Metaxa (a Greek brandy flavoured with Muscat grape juice) though you may have to play around with the ratios. But today, we’re using Armagnac.

So, which one to use? Garnham recommends not using anything too old or delicate. On the other hand, you do want something that can take centre stage, so don’t use something that you’d put on your Christmas pudding. The perfect choice is Baron de Sigognac VSOP. Not only is it an excellent affordable Armagnac, but I’d say it is one of the best-value spirits on the market. With its tropical fruit and crème brûlée character, it’s as smooth as David Niven’s smoking jacket.

Sold? Right, let’s get mixing!

Armagnac sour BINA

Armagnac sour (credit: BNIA)

50ml Baron de Sigognac VSOP
15ml lemon juice
10ml sugar syrup
Glass: coupe or Nick & Nora
Garnish: lemon slice

Shake all the ingredients hard and quickly with lots of ice (you don’t want too much dilution). Double strain to remove any ice crystals into a coupe, and garnish with a slice of lemon (or you could use an orange twist or a maraschino cherry).

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Master of Malt wins at the 2019 Drinks Retailing Awards

Exciting news just in as Master of Malt adds another gong to its already groaning trophy cabinet (we do actually have a trophy cabinet). Forget the Oscars, Baftas or Cigar…

Exciting news just in as Master of Malt adds another gong to its already groaning trophy cabinet (we do actually have a trophy cabinet).

Forget the Oscars, Baftas or Cigar Smoker of the Year, they cannot compare with the sheer glamour of the Drinks Retailing Awards which took place last night at The Dorchester in London. The great and good of the business were out in their best bib and tucker to celebrate excellence in flogging booze.

According to Martin Green at Drinks Retailing News, the judges looked at “retailers’ strengths and weaknesses in the digital sphere” as well as using data from Nielsen and polling 2,000 consumers through YouGov. Green went on to say: “To be nominated for a Drinks Retailing Award is a tremendous achievement, and to win one is a stamp of the ultimate quality.”

It was a hard-fought contest, but we are delighted to tell you that Master of Malt won Online Retailer of the Year beating off some tough competition. This is the first time we have won this category since 2013 five years of hurt, never stopped us dreaming. Presenting the prize was Joe Fattorini off ITV’s ‘The Wine Show’ and representing MoM were Nick Murden and Jake Mountain.

They partied responsibly long into the night.

 

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10 rules for running a successful bar

On the blog today we have UK brand ambassador for Disaronno Rod Eslamieh, a man who has had a chequered career in the drinks industry. He gives us the benefit…

On the blog today we have UK brand ambassador for Disaronno Rod Eslamieh, a man who has had a chequered career in the drinks industry. He gives us the benefit of his hard-won wisdom…

Eslamieh began working in drinks when his father bought an old fire station in Brentford, west London, which they turned into a bar and restaurant. It was an odd career move because up to this point Eslamieh didn’t drink alcohol. But he quickly fell in love with the bar culture, and the venue became very successful:

“We opened in 2003. In 2006, within three years, we won the Best Bar Team in the whole UK at the Class Bar Awards. In 2007 and 2008, I was shortlisted for Best Bar Manager at Class Awards. In 2009, I actually won the London heat of the Jack Daniel’s cocktail competition to go and represent (the bar) in Tennessee”, he said.

Rod Eslamieh

Rod Eslamieh!

Not everything went so smoothly, however. Eslamieh had to leave the Old Fire Station after problems with local residents (more on this below). Since 2014, he’s been a brand ambassador for William Grant & Sons looking after Disaronno Amaretto. With his wife Ellie, he runs Chapter 72, a coffee and cocktail bar near London Bridge. So, from a man who has tasted the highs but also felt the lows, here are some top tips for the budding bar owner:

Connect with the community

At the Old Fire Station, Eslamieh had problems when a small group of residents who didn’t like having a late bar in their neighbourhood concocted a case against him. They accused him of harassment and aggressive behaviour. Even though there was no evidence, Eslamieh ended up having to walk away from his own bar. He told me what he’d learned from what must have been a bruising experience, “I’d say the two top mistakes that people will make when opening up a bar is not understanding their community and engaging with them.” For his new bar in Bermondsey Street he made sure that this didn’t happen again by talking to local residents and businesses, and getting them on side.

Don’t try to be too perfect

Eslamieh said: “I think too many people wait for everything to be perfect, for the stars to align. Sometimes you should just get on with it rather than just think all the time. Because if you think a lot then you can easily talk your way out of something.”

Location, location, location

It was a complete accident finding the space that became Chapter 72 in Southwark. He was visiting his friend Simon Difford (from Difford’s Guide) and thought: “‘God, this is a really nice street’. So I called my wife and said, ‘there’s a lot of nice restaurants and bars here’. And then just outside I saw this shop with a To Let sign. I called the agent up and I said, ‘can I come and see it?’ and they said, ‘someone’s just pulled out, do you want to come and see it tomorrow?’.” The bar opened six weeks later (see rule above on not making it too perfect).

Rod Eslamieh Chapter 72

Rod Eslamieh at Chapter 72 in Bermondsey Street

Get the vibe right

This is perhaps a hard one to teach but we’ve all walked into bars and restaurants which you know just aren’t working. Eslamieh said, “I’m a great believer that sometimes you can go into somewhere and there’s a real positive feel and a real good connect, and sometimes there isn’t. And I think you can just see by the way the bartenders and the team move around, how the back bar looks, are the tables messy…”

Don’t micromanage

“Learning to step back and let your team have ownership of the business. Not micromanaging. But also finding out where their strengths and weaknesses are and how you can work on it,” Eslamieh told me.

Don’t let it go to your head

It’s not all glamour running a bar, according to Eslamieh. “So you’ve won Bacardi Legacy, you’ve won World Class, you’ve won Glenfiddich Experimental, you’re on the shoulders of bartenders, you’re on the magazines, you’re a superstar. Now I’m going to take this pin and I’m going to burst your bubble. Do you know who doesn’t care that you make the best Old Fashioned in the world? Your landlord. They want to get paid! Who doesn’t care that you make the best Mojito? The local council. If you’re going into opening up a bar thinking it’s all fun and glamorous then you’ve got to think again because at the end of the day, the buck stops with you. You’re the one that has to make sure everyone’s paid, everything is up to date, all licenses are compiled by, all health and safety. Make sure you have a good handyman!”

Look after your mental health

“When I first started in the industry I think there was this real kind of understanding that as a brand ambassador or a bartender you worked ten to 15 hours and then you’d go out drinking until four in the morning, you sleep all day and then you come out. I think that kind of lifestyle is starting to change. We’re seeing programmes like Healthy Hospo coming out. You’ve got more bartenders talking about how they’ve had to deal with alcohol issues and depression,” Eslamieh told me.


Making a Disaronno amaretto sour

Making a Disaronno amaretto sour

Have a USP

For Chapter 72, it’s coffee and cocktails. He said, “I always say that we’re a coffee shop that sells alcohol rather than a bar that sells coffee. So we’re trying to really demonstrate to people that as well as good coffee, we can do great cocktails here as well.  We’re the only place, I think, in London that does Espresso Martini masterclasses.”

Put out an A board

In all the noise about the importance of social media, it can be easy to forget that the old marketing methods can be the best. Eslamieh filled me in, “when we first opened, the coffee side was really busy for us, it was going really well, and the drinks side was a little bit quieter and we didn’t really understand it. So I spoke to a member of staff and said to her ‘just put on the blackboard ‘Best Espresso Martini in town right here’. . . that weekend we were full, Thursday, Friday, Saturday.”

People like fun drinks

Finally, I asked Eslamieh about his predictions for the future: “I think nostalgia will come back. I think people just want something that brings them back to where they were happy, whether it was a disco drink but a disco drink made well. In my next cocktail list, I’m going to put the Screaming Orgasm. It’s a fun drink, it brings back memories! I go to so many bars now where I look at the menu and I don’t even know what those ingredients are, they’re so complicated. There’s all these infusions, there’s all these complicated drinks. Why is LCC knocking out 88,000 Pornstar Martinis a year? Because it’s got a fun name, it’s got vanilla vodka, it’s got passionfruit, people like it.. . . 95% of people out there in the world don’t really care, they just want to have a nice time and have a nice drink.” Amen to that!

So there you have, follow these simple rules, and with a little luck and some money, you could have a successful bar on your hands.

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Despite everything, American whiskey is booming in Britain

With the Super Bowl taking place this weekend, we take a look at how American whiskey sales are growing in the UK, and pick some of our favourites for you…

With the Super Bowl taking place this weekend, we take a look at how American whiskey sales are growing in the UK, and pick some of our favourites for you to enjoy in front of the big game.

Due to recent, ahem, disagreements between the European Commission and the current US administration, there’s currently a whopping 25% tariff imposed on American whiskey (you may have noticed how your favourite bourbon isn’t quite as good value as it once was). People were predicting catastrophe for American whiskey exports – and yet, the UK market is not only holding up, it is positively booming.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Bramble

This week we show you how to make this modern classic inspired by a childhood spent foraging for blackberries. The origins of most great cocktails are lost in the mists…

This week we show you how to make this modern classic inspired by a childhood spent foraging for blackberries.

The origins of most great cocktails are lost in the mists of time. Not the Bramble though – it was invented in the mid-’80s by Dick Bradsell when he was working at a bar in Soho called Fred’s Club. Bradsell tended bar in some of London’s most notorious venues including Zanzibar in the ‘80s and the Atlantic Bar in the ‘90s. You might remember seeing photos of Noel Gallagher or Kate Moss falling out of the Atlantic. Ah, happy daze!

Bradsell wasn’t just barman to the stars. He pioneered a return to cocktails made from scratch with fresh ingredients when everyone else was making luridly coloured concoctions with syrups. Bradsell was an inspiration to a new generation of bartenders and put London on the cocktail map. As well as perfecting the classics, he invented dozens of cocktails including the Espresso Martini (coming soon to Cocktail of the Week) and this week’s cocktail, the Bramble. How many bartenders can say that they have invented two stone-cold classics? Sadly, Bradsell died in 2016 of brain cancer aged only 56.

The Bramble was inspired by the British pastime of brambling in late summer and early autumn when the blackberry bushes that grow like weeds in hedgerows and on wastelands come into fruit. Back in 2001, Bradsell wrote the following for Difford’s Guide:

“I wanted to invent a truly British drink for reasons that escape me now…. A bramble, by the way, is the bush where the blackberry grows, I know this as I spent an inordinate amount of time in my Isle of Wight childhood cutting and scratching myself on their jaggy thorns in attempts to capture those elusive berries that others had failed to harvest.”

Dick Bradsell

The late, great Dick Bradsell (credit: Diffordsguide.com)

The heart of the Bramble is a liqueur made from blackberries (or you can call them brambles, as they do in Scotland, according to my mother). It’s very easy to make your own: all you need are lots of brambles, some gin or vodka and caster sugar. Steep the fruit with the sugar in alcohol, shaking occasionally every couple of days. After three to six months, strain and bottle. Annoyingly this autumn was terrible for brambles. The intense summer heat meant they ripened too quickly. One day they were nice, the next they were shrivelled, and I had missed my moment. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

Luckily, I still have some liqueur left over from the bumper harvest of 2017. But you can buy ready-made crème de mure (blackberry in French), or you can make variations on the Bramble by using cassis, Chambord, or even, Bradsell says, Ribena. Just remember to use the correct fruit to garnish. Next, you need crushed ice. If you don’t have an ice crusher at home, and honestly who does, then put the ice in a plastic bag and hit it with a rolling pin.

Then which gin to use? You could play around with fruit botanical gins (not liqueurs though, they have to be dry). I had a lovely Scottish gin from Darnley made with sloes, rosehips and brambles which would be ideal. But in this case, I used Chase Elegant Gin which is distilled from apples. You don’t get more evocative of a British childhood than blackberries and apples.

The Bramble Cocktail

The Bramble cocktail

Right, that’s enough nostalgia. Let’s make a bloody Bramble!

50ml Chase Elegant Gin
25ml lemon juice
10ml sugar syrup*
10ml crème de mure

Shake the gin, lemon juice and sugar syrup with ice in a shaker, double-strain into a tumbler filled with crushed ice. Drizzle crème de mure on the top and garnish with a lemon slice and a bramble that you have foraged yourself (or more likely bought from a supermarket as it’s January).

*Easy sugar syrup recipe: in a saucepan add 2 parts sugar to 1 part water, heat gently (do not boil) until the sugar dissolves. Decant into a jam jar or bottle. It lasts for months in the fridge.

 

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From Dream to Dram: Kingsbarns’ first whisky

Last week, we met with Isabella and William Wemyss, the brother and sister team behind Kingsbarns Distillery in Fife, for the launch of Dream to Dram, the duo’s first commercial…

Last week, we met with Isabella and William Wemyss, the brother and sister team behind Kingsbarns Distillery in Fife, for the launch of Dream to Dram, the duo’s first commercial single malt Scotch whisky release.

There can be few new distilleries as beautiful as Kingsbarns. It’s set in rolling Fife farmland and housed in a converted 18th century farmstead, complete with a dovecote that looks like a wee castle. The Wemyss (pronounced Weems) family is old Scottish nobility with its seat at a proper castle nearby called, naturally, Wemyss Castle. This part of Scotland attracts visitors from all over the world to the home of golf, St Andrews Links. As William Wemyss put it, “We’re bringing together golf and Scotland’s other great export.” He means whisky, not shortbread.

William and his sister Isabella are clearly geared up for tourism: there’s a very impressive visitor centre, a café (try the sausages rolls), and their very own gin distillery which produces Darnley’s Gin, named after Mary Queen of Scots’ notorious husband. The idea for a Fife whisky began in 2010 with an email from Doug Clement, a former pro golf caddy, to William Wemyss saying that they should open a distillery. At the time, William joked, “we couldn’t spell the word washback.” So they brought in some experts. Jim Swan consulted on creating “an early-maturing spirit” and the distillery was designed by Ian Palmer from Inchdairnie, with stills from Forsyths of Rothes.

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