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