It all began last month, when I was invited by the founders of the London Cocktail Society to go up to London and present our range of bitters to their members. Throughout the course of our conversation it became clear that we could potentially do even more than this, and turn the event into a bitters blending competition.
Throughout the course of another couple of conversations (and over a few lovely cocktails with The Cocktail Geek at the superb Shaker and Company), it became clear that not only was it our moral duty to bottle and release the winning bitters, but that more research at the bar was required as to which cocktails exactly contained bitters, and what were cocktails again, and who are you and why am I here? Ah. Cocktails.
The one on the left is something to do with tequila, and the one on the right was ‘Yummy’ according to my notes
Anywhoo – the day of the competition came around, and having been dutifully split into 2 groups, the teams of between 2 and 4 (with the notable exception of the splinter group of 1 formed by Camille from 69 Colebrooke Row), set about their challenge in the basement of Shaker and Co, blending individual drops of the ingredients into sample cups, and dutifully keeping a tally of what had been added, until they were satisfied (in some cases after many, many attempts) with their final product. Whilst all this was going on, I was upstairs running the group through a tasting of our slightly mental, but nevertheless loveable Professor Cornelius Ampleforth Range. We discovered many things during the course of this tasting (mostly that liquor was indeed nice), but the biggest revelation for me personally was the pairing of our Besmoked Vodka with the rather wonderful Jade Perique Tobacco Liqueur. Try it 50:50. Delicious.
After several rounds of (Blind) judging, much deliberation and discussion between The London Cocktail Society’s founding members (Mark – The Cocktail Geek, Emma – GinMonkey, and Kate – The London Cocktail Guide), The Cocktail Lovers (The Enigmatic Mr. G, and Ms. S) and yours truely, there was a recreation of the top two bitters just to be sure – one of which turned out to be the really quite lovely Orange-based bitters created by the Rogue Splinter Group that was Camille – we finally announced the winner, and congratulatory Old-Fashioneds were had by all (using the winning bitters of course).
The competitors beavering away. Beaver. #chuckles
After we’d finished up, I went straight home to bed. Had a cup of tea first. Nothing else happened at all, definitely no £150 taxi home, and no traffic cones were misappropriated by any madcap Piscine/Bovine Hybrids. Nope.
The final stage came a couple of weeks later when the LCS members, the winning team, and yours truly met up in the superb Graphic Bar to finalise the recipe. Most gratifying to walk into this haven of Gin, and all things Juniper-related, and find a bottle of Bathtub Gin in pride of place on the back-bar already, I must say.
Gin. And lots of it
A bit of tweaking of the final ingredients was necessary to get the recipe to the stage where everyone was happy with it, and (much to our collective chagrin) it turned out that the best way to check whether or not the 2 drop alteration you’d just made to the recipe was indeed a positive one, was to order another round of Martinez (Martinezzes? Martinezzzz? Martinaz?). Tough life, this.
Once everyone was satisfied, we designed the label on the back of a bit of paper, promptly spilled an entire Martini all over it, re-designed the label on another bit of paper, took some mugshots of the creators and founders of LCS, which now rather fetchingly adorn the back label of the bottle, then straight home again for another cup of tea.
The final blending process
The final result is, we think, really rather special. I’m generally a big fan of any process which involves mass competition (as opposed to design by mass committee), and it’s fair to say that the calibre of people who put forward the 14 different bitters was exceptionally high. I had the privilege of speaking to many, if not most of the people who came along to the initial LCS meeting, and have to say that (as one might expect) the understanding of the way that flavour works was by and large completely instinctive to everyone in attendance.
So – ladies and gents – London Cocktail Society Bitters #1 are now available for sale – please try, sample, and of course send us your cocktail recipes (together with a few nice photos) and we might even publish them!