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Cocktail of the Week: The Bronx

It’s National Martini Day, hurrah! But we’re doing something a little different: a popular Prohibition take on the King of Cocktails, it’s the Bronx! You really wouldn’t want to drink…

It’s National Martini Day, hurrah! But we’re doing something a little different: a popular Prohibition take on the King of Cocktails, it’s the Bronx!

You really wouldn’t want to drink a Martini during Prohibition unless you could get hold of some authentic imported gin which would have been very expensive. So instead you’d have to use a rough bathtub gin, which might be flavoured with turpentine or sulphuric acid (mmmm, tangy), with nothing to temper it except something labelled vermouth (very likely a mixture of grape must, sugar and more rough alcohol). No wonder cocktails with high sugar and fruit content became popular during those sad years. They would hide the taste of the alcohol.

Take the Bronx, for example. It was invented in 1906 at the Old Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York by a barman called Johnny Solon, but it came into its own when good liquor became scarce. Get hold of some orange juice, some “vermouth” and some alcohol that vaguely smelt of juniper, and you could make yourself a palatable cocktail. Especially if you served it really cold. The Bronx is basically a sweet Martini made with orange juice. No wonder the Bronx was the cocktail of the 1920s. It’s the sort of thing that could be made by the bucketful for your Gatsby-esque parties.

The Bronx

The Bronx, next to its better-known cousin, the Martini (photo credit: The Home Bar)

It’s rather gone out of fashion now. There’s a National Martini Day and a Negroni Week, but nobody designates time to enjoy the Bronx. Poor Bronx. Perhaps it’s because we now have good gin coming out of our ears. There’s no need to disguise the flavour. Then there’s the borough itself, which doesn’t have the glamour of Manhattan or the hip of Brooklyn. Plus it’s an easy cocktail to make badly with concentrated orange juice and cheap cooking vermouth. But if you use freshly squeezed orange juice, or my own favourite, blood orange juice, then it’s marvellous concoction. Then when choosing your booze, think orange. I’m using Brighton Gin which has orange peel as one of its botanicals, and two citrus-heavy vermouths, Martini Riserva Speciale Ambrato and Noilly Prat Extra Dry.

To turn a Bronx into a Queens, you swap the orange juice for pineapple juice, or in some recipes combine the two, or in others add a bit of lemon to the pineapple. Or you can add a few drops of Angostura bitters in which case it is called an Income Tax (who comes up with these names?). Anyway, enough variations, let’s make a Bronx:

50ml Brighton Gin
25ml Martini Riserva Speciale Ambrato
15ml Noilly Prat Orginal Dry
30ml freshly-squeezed orange juice
Dash of Fee Brothers orange bitters

Shake all the ingredients hard with lots of ice and strain into a cold Martini glass. Garnish with an orange twist and shake a wicked calf

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5 reasons why you should try a kegged cocktail

Kegged cocktails, draught cocktails, taptails or simply ‘cocktails on tap’; whatever you want to call them, pre-batched carbonated serves are slowly commandeering bar space where beer taps once dominated. If…

Kegged cocktails, draught cocktails, taptails or simply ‘cocktails on tap’; whatever you want to call them, pre-batched carbonated serves are slowly commandeering bar space where beer taps once dominated. If regular old cocktails really aren’t your bag, here are five very good reasons to consider ordering your next tipple on tap…

“We sat down with Jack Daniel’s about four years ago and said, ‘we’ve got this crazy idea, we want to take a Jack Daniel’s and Coke and put it into a keg and serve it like an Espresso Martini through nitro’,” explains Robin Honhold, head of operations at Mr Lyan and author of the Nitro Legacy Handbook. “They said, ‘that sounds like fun, let’s do it’.”

Tennessee Nitro Martini small

Simply everyone’s drinking the Tennessee Nitro Martini these days

Initially, Team Lyan “literally took a fridge, drilled a hole out the side of it and put some kegs inside”, he says, but the project soon transformed into a full beer system – with the help of “a few real science-y people” – and then eventually into a portable trolley that quite literally toured Europe. Now, the team is sharing the knowledge they picked up along the way with the launch of the Nitro Legacy Handbook; a guide to draught cocktails created by bartenders, for bartenders.

“All the learning we’ve done from, essentially, a standing start has been in conjunction with Jack Daniel’s,” Honhold continues, “they supported us in creating that knowledge in the first place, so we thought it was best to share it with the rest of the [bartending] community by putting it into a book. It should benefit all of us and benefit our customers as well.”

We’re all about bang for buck at MoM Towers, so we waded through the technicalities and fancy jargon in the Jack Daniel’s x Mr Lyan Nitro Legacy Handbook to ascertain whether kegged cocktails really are all they’re cracked up to be. Here’s what we learned…

Jack Daniels

Jack Daniel’s, that’s the stuff

  1. They’re served quickly

If you’re usually of the “I’ll just have a pint, cocktails take too long” school of thought, kegged cocktails might be the solution you’re looking for. When you consider the preparation time for your average cocktail – with all the measuring, pouring, shaking, straining and garnish-arranging – the draught variety is said to be twice as speedy, if not three or four times quicker than a super intricate and exacting drink. It’s literally as simple as pour, garnish and go.

  1. They’re sustainable

It might not seem like it at times, but your local bartender isn’t actually a wizard. They’re only human, and as such, make regular human mistakes, like grabbing the wrong glass or shaking a cocktail that’s meant to be stirred. Unfortunately, blunders like these result in waste, and lots of it. When it comes to kegged cocktails, the mix is pre-batched, so not a single drop will go to waste. Bonus points if the bar has already done away with straws, too.

  1. They’re consistent

There’s nothing worse than sinking a fantastic drink in a bar, only to be disappointed later down the line when a different member of staff makes it (and goes a little OTT with the simple syrup). Consistency really is king, and this is where the taptail shines. Since the ingredients were carefully measured out in the sanctity of a closed bar, there’s no room for error when the team are unexpectedly slammed on a Tuesday night.

  1. They’re interesting

Let’s be honest, designing a taptail recipe is a seriously advanced bar flex. As well as making a cocktail that, y’know, people actually want to drink, there are a bunch of really crucial scientific elements to consider, like how the alcohol and sugar within the drink will interact with the gas and evolve the flavour over time. You can’t just whack a classic cocktail in a keg, charge it with nitrogen and expect it to taste nice. Speaking of…

  1. They taste delicious

Whatever the serve – be it the Lyan Tennessee Nitro Martini or something even more madcap – you can order a kegged cocktail safe in the knowledge that the recipe has been tweaked and fine-tuned to within an inch of its life. If the bar you’re frequenting has gone to the expense and effort of installing cocktails on tap, rest assured they care enough to make that drink as perfect as possible by the time it reaches your lips. All you need to do is sit back and enjoy it.

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The art of slow drinking

Bartender Nate Brown asks why we try to cram our drinking into certain designated time slots but shun alcohol at all other times. That’s not how they do things on…

Bartender Nate Brown asks why we try to cram our drinking into certain designated time slots but shun alcohol at all other times. That’s not how they do things on the continent. . .

Hemingway once said that drinking was a way to end the day. Clearly, old Ernest didn’t spend enough time in 21st century Europe, where Croatian fishermen begin their daily routines with a tall Karlovačko, or where French farmers drink Picpoul like water under the afternoon sun. To true Europeans, the ‘it’s 5 o’clock somewhere’ mentality is a grotesque excuse: the clock is not the gatekeeper of the gullet.

Ricard pastis

Savoir faire, innit? (photo credit: Pernod-Ricard)

Besides, it isn’t much of a stretch to feel that Champagne was made for mornings and Martinis for lunchtime. When, if ever, is a Negroni an unwelcome addition to your day? A Highball in the afternoon, or a pastis at sundown, this laissez-faire timetable is when drinking is at its best, not crammed into a few blurry nighttime hours like Claphamites on the tube.

We’ve got to hand out to our continental friends, they know what to drink and when. A recent trip to southern Spain confirmed our differences. Not only do they actually have weather (as opposed to dreary old England’s perpetual grey), but they also know how to handle it. Siestas, two-hour lunch breaks, cafes that spill out onto the town square, and best of all, bucket loads of the grape and the grain to stave off the heat noon and night.

Alas, to the modern Brits anything more than a ‘cheeky’ glass at lunch is obscene. The sight of a lonely chap nursing his afternoon Boddingtons evokes feelings of pity and dread. There but for the grace of God drink I. Don’t believe me? Suggest a chilled Beaujolais over breakfast to your nearest and dearest and await the intervention.

It wasn’t always this way. The restrictive licensing structure as we recognise today was brought in to allegedly aid the war effort (I trust the terrible irony of Dutch Courage is not lost here). The Defence of the Realm act (which is not actually from Game of Thrones, who knew?) restricted the sale of alcohol in public houses to ‘luncheon’ and ‘suppertime’ as if the feast mentality of the barbarians still held true. David Lloyd George, the teetotal Chancellor of the Exchequer reportedly said that Britain was fighting “Germans, Austrians and Drink, and as far as I can see the greatest of these foes is Drink.” And so he more or less brought to an end the afternoons of whisky sodas that had lubricated decades of social affairs. The taboo is a recent fancy, I don’t think the men and women of Victorian England had any qualms with an afternoon’s tipple, mother’s ruin or no.

Nate Brown

Nate Brown, making his usual breakfast cocktail

But since then we’ve learned to cram our drinking into designated time periods. No wonder most of us drink too quickly. I say it’s time to return to the past and slow down a bit. When in Rome, do as the Romans do: have a Negroni at 11.30am before embarking on a four hour lunch. And by slowing down, we can learn to recognise that what’s in your glass has been patiently grown, crafted, and rested (if it’s been rushed, don’t drink it).

Think about this. The years that it takes for an agave plant to reach maturity before catalysing into a spirit can be an astounding 10 years, often more. And we shoot it down like a penance to be paid en route to delight. The minimum three years of solitary silence endured by the Palomino grape in a sherry butt can only command prices of less than £15 per bottle. It’s madness. Fermentation can be aided, but there is no fast-forward button. These things take time, time that we cannot get back, time that is so rarely appreciated. The patience practised in alcohol creation is a virtue beyond parallel. Who’d be a producer, eh?

After all, time is the one vital ingredient that is almost always overlooked in the world of drinking. I dare say that if the hospitality industry began a campaign of education surrounding the time that goes into creating a spirit, a wine, or a beer, the world would be a better place; a place where we can drink cans of Mojito (or preferably something tastier) on the tube home, or where a glass of something sparkling can welcome the day, or where the awkwardness of meetings can be dissolved in a glass of gin. That’ll be the day.

Nate Brown has owned and operated spirit specialist cocktail bars in London for the better part of a decade. He’s a regular speaker on industry panels, a judge for various spirit awards and has been known to harbour an opinion or two.  

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The delicate art of tea cocktails

Much like alcohol, tea has been a vehicle for social interaction for millennia, but it wasn’t until the 17th century that booze and brews came together as one. MoM popped…

Much like alcohol, tea has been a vehicle for social interaction for millennia, but it wasn’t until the 17th century that booze and brews came together as one. MoM popped the kettle on with Davide Segat, manager of London bar Punch Room, who spilt the tea on combining your cuppa with a cocktail…

Believe it or not, tea cocktails originated on the high seas. Sailors working for the British East India Company combined rum, citrus and spices to make Punch as an alternative to beer in heat of the Indian Ocean – and when they brought the beverage back to Britain, the flavourful refreshment soon became a cocktail in its own right.

“It was during this time that people started discovering spirits and transitioning away from their usual choice of beer or wine,” says Segat. “But these newly discovered spirits were too strong on their own and needed dilution to make them a more palatable and safe ABV, which is where water and tea came in. Water diluted down the spirit, tea added complexity and flavour.”

Punch Room at the London Edition

Punch Room at the London Edition

Today there are approximately 1,500 types of tea in the world, and they all fall under four different categories: green tea, black tea, white tea, and oolong. Each brings its own unique benefits and specific qualities to the drink. “A great jasmine tea can add an amazing floral taste profile, while a good black tea can add body,” explains Segat. “Lapsang provides a smoky effect and hibiscus – which is not strictly a tea, but worth mentioning – can add acidity. I recently tried a milk oolong tea which had incredible texture and the dairy flavour really shone through.”

With such an adverse array of flavour profiles to experiment with, it can take time to pair a strain with a spirit to get the effect you want. One of Segat’s complex creations, the Henrietta Cocktail, combines Banks 5 Island Blend rum with crushed sunset oolong tea – “to bring out the biscuit and chocolate notes” – jasmine, to “emphasise the refreshing side of the rum” and a bespoke tea blend made in collaboration with Rare Tea Company founder Henrietta Lovell to “heightened the citrus and spicy flavour profile” of the rum. “I personally enjoy using Banks rum due to its exceptional depth, complexity and aroma, with layers of flavour perfect for serving in a cocktail infused with tea,” he adds.

Now be a veritable tea and alcohol-pairing wizard, it was through celebrated bartender Nick Strangeway at London’s Hawksmoor that Segat first started to understand how tea could be used to impart flavours in drinks. For The Five: Volume III, the new cocktail menu at Punch Room, he and the team experimented with different types of tea through an exploration of five fundamental elements of ancient philosophy – earth, water, fire, air and aether.

Take ‘Water’ cocktail the Igloo, which combines green tea with Champagne, seaweed gin, cloudberry liqueur, lemon sherbet, lemon juice, ambergris and lemon sorbet. “The seaweed gin brings out the umami flavour in the green tea and the lemon oil in the sherbet brings out acidity and grassiness from the tea,” Segat explains. “The ambergris adds a floral note to the back of the palate. Great balance, and really shows how good green tea is.” In ‘fire’ cocktail Prometheus, they combined pu-erh tea from China, Pierde Almas mezcal, butter-washed mastiha (Greek pine liqueur), Amaro Montenegro, fennel pollen syrup and lime juice, resulting “in a creamy mixture with rich bitter notes”.

Green tea punch (recipe below)

Green tea punch (recipe below)

The application of tea to cocktails has certainly evolved since those formative Milk Punch days. “With the rise of a more health-conscious generation, we are seeing kombucha – made from a sweetened tea – becoming more and more prominent across the bar scene in the UK,” outlines Segat. He points to London bartenders Stu Bale and Ally Kesley for their “great use of jasmine tea to recreate perfume notes”, along with Ryan Chetiyawardana and the wider Lyan team, “who do a great job at fermenting and discovering new ways to use tea in their drinks”.

The future of the tea cocktail lies in lighter low-alcohol cocktails, Segat predicts. “They have been around for a couple of years and their rise will only continue. The way I see it, this year we will see simpler drinks and cocktails with fewer combinations and more focus being placed on extracting the best flavour from one or two particular ingredients – which will hopefully lead to more sustainable practice in drinks creation.”

Green Tea Punch

Ingredients:

1 bottle of Banks 5 Island Blend
375ml Sencha (Japanese green tea)
375ml Mint tea
200ml Lime Juice
200g Demerara Sugar

Brew the tea, then stir in the sugar until it dissolves. Add four cups of ice to chill and dilute the mixture, then add lime juice and rum. Chill before service. When it’s time to drink, add to a punch bowl filled with one large block of ice. Serve in punch cups filled with ice a garnish with grated nutmeg.

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The Nightcap: 7 June

As we recover from another outstanding Fèis Ìle, the influx of booze news flowed in as usual – it’s The Nightcap! It’s Friday again, and, like always, we’ve got a…

As we recover from another outstanding Fèis Ìle, the influx of booze news flowed in as usual – it’s The Nightcap!

It’s Friday again, and, like always, we’ve got a fresh batch of news stories from the world of booze ready for you to drink up as we enter summer. That’s right, it’s summer already and, of course, it’s raining. But we won’t let that dampen our spirits, it’s the weekend for goodness sake! And we’re going to start this weekend the same way we always do. With another smashing edition of The Nightcap!

On the blog this week Jake regaled us with tales from Ardbeg, Bunnahabhain and Jura as Fèis Ìle 2019 concluded, while our June 2019 dram club also launched. Adam then found some fab treats to spoil the old man with on Father’s Day, Jess explored the world of fermented tea drinks with her New Arrival of the Week and Nate Brown played a game of booze-branding buzzword bingo in his guest column. Annie explained why the right glassware matters before casting her eye over 10 bottlings created with a chef’s sensibilities, while Henry met with the queen of rum, Joy Spence, enjoyed a Talisker video masterclass and picked The Toasted Nut Boulevardier as his Cocktail of the Week.

Now, to the news!

The Nightcap

Interesting times for Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond sold to Asian investment firm in $500m deal

Big Scotch whisky news! The Loch Lomond Group will be sold to Hillhouse Capital Management, an investment firm with offices in Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore and New York. The distillery is unique in Scotland in producing its own single malt and single grain whiskies; it also produces the Glen Scotia whisky, Glen’s vodka and Ben Lomond gin. The distillery, which had been in the hands of the Bulloch family since 1834, was acquired in 2014 by UK-based Exponent Private Equity who very successfully concentrated on the export market. Overseas sales went up from 10% to 70% of business. The new owners are now looking to capitalise on this especially in the Asian market. Wei Cao, partner at Hillhouse Capital, said: “We are so excited to help Loch Lomond realise the potential of its outstanding brands in huge new consumer markets, such as Asia.” The deal is still to be finalised but is said by Scottish Field to be worth somewhere in the region of $500m. The current distillery’s management headed up by Colin Matthews will stay in place and will keep a minority stake in the business. Matthews commented: “Over the past five years we are proud to have transformed the Loch Lomond Group into a premium international spirits business with a strong focus on innovation and a portfolio of award-winning brands.” We look forward to seeing what comes next from one of Scotland’s most idiosyncratic distilleries.

The Nightcap

The US allowing these little guys is great news for small European distillers

America may allow 70cl bottles – huge news for small European distillers

Good news from America! You don’t often hear that one. The TTB (Tax and Trade Bureau), the people who regulate alcohol among other things, are proposing to change the rules on bottle sizes for spirits. In a move that smacks of good old-fashioned common sense, the release says, “TTB is proposing to eliminate all but minimum and maximum standards of fill for distilled spirits containers in order to provide industry members greater flexibility in production and sourcing of containers, and provide consumers broader purchasing options.” At the moment full-size spirit bottles have to be 75cl as opposed to 70cl in the European Union, so producers have to produce two separate bottlings. No problem, of course, for Diageo but prohibitively expensive for smaller producers. If this proposal goes through, and that’s a big if, then it could potentially open up the American market to some boutique spirits. If the EU would reciprocate to allow 75cl spirit bottles, or maybe just agree on a common standard, what a wonderful world it could be.

The Nightcap

No fancy packaging here

Glenlivet 1946 goes under the hammer in Chiswick

In these days of hand-blown decanters, boxes inlaid with mother-of-pearl and specially-commissioned books, it’s nice to be reminded of a simpler time when whisky just came in a bottle with a plain label on. Take the Glenlivet 1946 that’s going under the hammer at Chiswick Auctions wine and spirits sale on 11 June. It was distilled when rationing was still going on after the war, only a tiny amount was allowed to be made for the export market. Most would have been sold as soon as possible but some were kept in cask and bottled by Gordon & MacPhail of Elgin in the 1980s, so this is a roughly 40-year-old whisky. It’s been sourced by the new wine and spirits team at Chiswick Auctions Sam Hellyer, Chris Burr and Christopher Cooper. Look at that admittedly not terribly good label and compare it with the recent 50 Year Old Winchester Collection release from The Glenlivet. The latter will set you back $25,000 whereas this 1946 is only expected to sell for £800-1000. You don’t get a fancy box, but you do get a slice of history and at that price, someone might even drink it.

The Nightcap

A delightfully pink taste of history

Drink the original Pink Gin this World Gin Day with Angostura Bitters

Unless you’ve been living under a very large rock, you’ve probably noticed a little trend called pink gin. However, in reality, these sweet and fruity tipples are a far cry from the very first pink gin to pass our lips, which was created courtesy of Angostura bitters. As the story goes, back in 1824, Dr J.G.B Siegert created Angostura bitters as a kind of healing elixir for soldiers fighting in Venezuela. At the time, it was safer to drink alcohol on ships, as stagnant water was a rather perilous affair. Would you believe it, it took a whole 24 years for someone to mix these bitters with gin! It was in the year 1848 when a Royal Navy surgeon added the bitters to try and help with seasickness. Luckily, this happy accident of mixology also coincided with the rise of cocktail culture in the 1850s. The sailors returned from sea, and brought with them Pinkers, as they now affectionately called this pink gin. Health concerns went out the window and people simply loved the taste of it. Seeing as it’s World Gin Day this weekend, why not have a taste of history and make your own Pinkers? Tastes even better if you can find a ship to drink it on, though it’s not essential.

The Nightcap

Caskshare allows whisky lovers to reserve ‘shares’ of whisky casks from their favourite distilleries

Craft Whisky Club launches Caskshare

It goes without saying that anything which makes whisky more accessible is most definitely a Good Thing. So, great news for whisky geeks this week, as Craft Whisky Club (part of Edinburgh based whisky-technology company Uisge Tech Ltd) announced the launch of Caskshare. In a nutshell, Caskshare allows whisky lovers to reserve ‘shares’ of whisky casks from their favourite distilleries, and once matured the single cask bottlings will be sent directly to the lucky recipient – or as Caskshare calls them, ‘shareholders’. This is a brilliant new initiative, described as Crowdfunding for whisky casks, which will hopefully allow consumers to explore and buy a whole host of cask variations without breaking the bank. The first casks to feature on the platform are from the Raasay Distillery, and you can choose to age either your peated or unpeated spirit in ex-bourbon, Chinquapin (a type of oak native to North America) virgin oak, or Bordeaux red wine casks. Such choice! The first bottling will be ready in 2022, after its required three years of ageing. “Caskshare offers whisky fans a way to get closer to their favourite distilleries and wood types”, says co-founder David Nicol. “What’s more, you don’t need to part with the vast sums of money required to purchase a full cask.” It’s said that a few new distilleries are set to join Caskshare in the next few months, and these won’t just be limited to Scotland, so keep your eyes peeled!

The Nightcap

A record-breaking rum!

Wray & Nephew President’s Reserve breaks rum auction record fetching £31,500

A very rare Wray & Nephew rum has set a new world record for an individual bottle of rum sold at auction after it fetched £31,500 (just under $40,000). “We had high hopes for this stunning bottle but with so little sales history to reference it was difficult to predict how it might perform,” said Iain McClune, director at Whisky Auctioneer. “I think it is fair to say that it has exceeded expectations, however, the price achieved is more than deserving considering the historical significance and incredible rarity of this rum”. J. Wray & Nephew President’s Reserve rum, the fourth of 12 bottles created, went on sale in Whisky Auctioneer’s inaugural Rum Auction last month. The rum, which contains liquid from 1906, honours US president Ronald Reagan and his first and only visit to Jamaica in April 1982. The label bears the late president’s seal, and it is believed that two bottles were presented to Reagan with further bottles given to dignitaries and industry professionals in attendance during the visit. This particular bottle is thought to be the only known example to have come into the secondary market, with another bottle previously selling for £1,213 (US$1,542) at a Bonhams auction in New York in 2013. A representative from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum said: “The first family received this wonderful gift commemorating their trip to Jamaica in April 1982. The bottle that we have is #1 and bears the Great Seal of the United States. The current locations of the remaining bottles are not known.” More than 50 bids from across the world were made for the historic bottling, with the winning bid coming from Italy. It’s sickening, isn’t it? There’s a person out there who gets to drink rare rum and live in Italy. Life isn’t fair. Anyway, we digress. . . The President’s Reserve was one of more than 600 rums sold in the auction and wasn’t the only big hitter. A pair of casks from the closed Caroni distillery in Trinidad fetched £25,000 (US$31,793) each.

The Nightcap

It’s hard to say what was better, the cocktails or the view!

London in the Sky with Cocchi

We headed down – or should we say up – to North Greenwich to London in the Sky for a spritz masterclass with Team Cocchi. London in the Sky is, in essence, a great big table on a crane which rises 100 feet into the air, giving you truly some stellar views of the Big Smoke while you sip. For those of you who think that may sound slightly hellish, fear not, as you’re securely strapped into a seat which looks a little like one you would find in a racing car – super safe. Once we had risen above the O2 Arena, we made (and tasted) four cocktails. First up was the Cocchi Rosa Spritz, made with Cocchi Rosa, tonic, fresh strawberries and basil, full of bittersweet pink berry notes. Next, a Cocchi Rosa Negroni, a take on the classic made with Cocchi Rosa, Pink Pepper Gin and Campari. Then, we moved (metaphorically) into the evening with the Vermouth di Torino Spritz, combining Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, rosemary and olive tonic water and a fresh sprig of rosemary. This was less fruity, and brought more of a spicy note, hence why it was more of an evening drink. Finally, a classic Negroni graced the floating table, made with Sipsmith gin, Campari and, of course, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino. If a spritz in the sky sounds good to you, then you’ll be thrilled to hear that Cocchi Spritzes are permanently on the menu for all of London in the Sky’s flights. However, the best part is, that with each cocktail only containing three ingredients, these are simple drinks to make, whether you’re 100 feet in the air over Canary Wharf, or just relaxing in your garden.

The Nightcap

A week of Negronis? We’re in

Campari unveils #N100, a week devoted to the Negroni

This year it’s the hundredth anniversary of that fateful day when a barman in Florence accidentally poured gin into Count Camillo Negroni’s Americano (a mixture of Campari and vermouth) instead of soda water, and created a classic. Or so the story goes (we’ll be looking into the drink’s history very soon). As you can imagine we’re quite excited, but not as excited as Campari: the Milanese company is launching #N100, over a week of events around Britain to celebrate the Count and his creation. It begins at the Vinyl Factory in London on 20 June and continues into Negroni Week beginning 22 June with events in Edinburgh, Manchester and London. To spice things up a little, the venues won’t just be offering the standard Negroni. At Hoot the Redeemer in Edinburgh, for example, you’ll be able to try the tastefully-named Skagliato made with Campari, Irn Bru and Buckfast! Sounds fierce. It looks like June is going to be sweet this year, and really really bitter.

The Nightcap

Gold has just opened on Portobello Road and we’re all very excited to see how they do

Notting Hill bar Gold opens in a blaze of talent

A swanky new bar and restaurant that goes by the name of Gold opened on Portobello Road this week. The new venture has drawn quite the host of talent, with head chef Theo Hill of The River Café, and front of house team Alex Ghalleb of Pizza East and Arez Akgundogdu of Soho House. The drinks don’t look bad either: Gold’s unique cocktail menu has been put together by Weapons and Toys, aka. Matt Whiley and Rich Woods, the fellas behind Hackney’s Scout. It’s already off to a flying (and talented) start. So, what to expect? Raw bohemian decor, with exposed brickwork, lots of indoor trees and the like, colourful seasonal sharing plates inspired by local produce and uncomplicated, delicious cocktails. All the cocktails look delicious, but we’re pretty sure we’d be hard pressed to choose between the Market Stall Spritz, comprised of raspberry-infused Hennessey brandy, crème de cacao, sweet tomato shrub, rosé and soda, or the Baklava Fizz, combining Don Julio Tequila, fig shrub, London honey, almond milk and soda. Gold will span over four floors, and will even boast a garden room with a retractable roof, perfect as we began our descent into summer. With such a great team in place, we can’t wait to see what other seasons will bring.

The Nightcap

Yep. That’s a shoe. With a cocktail inside

And finally. . . . a cocktail served in a shoe

Cocktail silly season has arrived in London early this year as the Ace Hotel announces a new cocktail menu at the Lobby Bar. The two that caught our eye were the Bangers and Daq’s, a Daiquiri with a salami (yes real salami, not some sort of dried fruit fangled to look like salami) and red wine twist, and the Drella’s Milk Punch, made from cornflake milk and vodka which sounds like the sort of thing Ozzy Osborne would have had for breakfast. However, these beverages are paragons of classical good taste in comparison with what the people from Filipino joint, Romulo Cafe in Kensington, are serving. It’s called the Imelda and it’s been designed in honour of former first lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos, who was famed for having a lot of shoes when most of her people didn’t have a lot to eat. The cocktail contains Stolichnaya vodka, crème de framboise, crème de mure and strawberry puree, and served, naturally, in a shoe. It’s all done in the best possible taste!

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The Nightcap: 24 May

Powers, plastic straws and pineapples – plus a few things that don’t begin with ‘P’. It’s all here in yet another edition of The Nightcap! Today is Friday, and many…

Powers, plastic straws and pineapples – plus a few things that don’t begin with ‘P’. It’s all here in yet another edition of The Nightcap!

Today is Friday, and many of us will be heading into the final Bank Holiday weekend for a few months. There’s one at a seemingly random time in August, but the smattering of three day weekends throughout April and May occur in such a cluster that we almost become used to it. We must not become complacent! We must approach this three day weekend with the same vim and vigour as we did previous ones! Oh, and also we should start it as we do other weekends (extended ones or otherwise), with The Nightcap! Obviously.

In a week in which we announced that we’re going to Fèis Ìle 2019, we also launched two new competitions, one to win the entire Game of Thrones whisky range and the other to win a VIP trip to Bombay Sapphire’s distillery. Nate Brown then extolled the virtues of sherry, Jess took a look at Diageo’s new Italian gin, Villa Ascenti and Annie explored where to imbibe in Bowie’s old haunt, Berlin and who the up-and-comers of alcohol-free are. Adam enjoyed the latest chapter in Balvenie’s story, then picked Big Peat Fèis Ìle 2019 Edition to be his New Arrival of the Week, for obvious reasons, while Henry enjoyed Redbreast’s new expression, video masterclasses from Mortlach and Johnnie Walker and even manged to find time to make the Grand Sour his Cocktail of the Week. Phew…

Now, on with the news!

Nightcap

Our PR manager Mariella Salerno holds up our shiny new prize!

MoM named DB Awards Online Retailer of the Year!

It was celebration station on Tuesday afternoon at the DB Awards, hosted by the team over at trade magazine The Drinks Business. We were delighted to pick up the Online Retailer of the Year award! The ceremony took place as part of the London Wine Fair, so we got to join the jubilations early, enjoying some really rather marvellous tipples from across the world. They said loads of nice things about us, and we picked up a shiny trophy. Oh, and #WhiskySanta got a highly commended nod too, for his excellent work spreading festive spirit far and wide through the social realm. Cheers, Team DB – you made our week!

Nightcap

Look everyone, it’s Kent’s first single malt whisky!

Kent’s first single malt whisky is here

Kent is something of a booze hotspot with its hop gardens and breweries, orchards and cideries, vineyards and gin distilleries, and of course, it’s the home of a certain online retailer. Now the Garden of England has its first single malt. The whisky is a collaboration between Andy Reason and Norman Lewis of the Anno Distillery in Marden (who make a fine gin) and the Westerham Brewery. The mash was made with English barley and fermented with two strains of yeast comes from the brewery. It was then double distilled in a tiny 300-litre copper pot still named, appropriately enough, Patience. The spirit came off at 63.5% ABV into an ex-bourbon cask that previously held a Speyside single malt. After ageing, the resulting whisky was bottled at 40% ABV. Norman Lewis said of the partnership: “It’s been a wonderful experience working with Robert Wicks from Westerham Brewery. Our combined expertise has come together seamlessly and resulted in something which we’re extremely proud of. We hope those who are lucky enough to taste this limited-edition whisky enjoy savouring it as much as we enjoyed making it.” It’s such a limited edition that customers are being limited to three bottles (at £120 each) and it’s available directly from the distillery and Westerham Brewery. Hurry, while stocks last.

Nightcap

They might seem delightful, but they need to go.

England moves to ban plastic straws and stirrers

Great news, folks! The government this week confirmed it will ban plastic straws and stirrers in England (and plastic cotton buds, but less relevant to us) from April 2020. There are some sensible exemptions for those with medical needs or a disability (pubs and bars will still be able to give them out on request), but we can wave goodbye for good to unnecessary plastic in our drinks. The move follows a government consultation which found 80% back a ban on straws, and 90% on stirrers. About time, too. Apparently, we use 4.7 billion plastic straws and 316 million plastic stirrers each year in England alone! And yes, alternatives are available (we sipped through some fancy bamboo ones recently), but the government reckons a whopping 95% of straws are still plastic. Boo. Even more boo: it’s thought there are more than 150 million tonnes of plastic in the world’s oceans, and that every year one million seabirds and 100,000 sea mammals die from eating or getting trapped in plastic. This ban can’t come soon enough.

Nightcap

Introducing: Scarabus Islay Single Malt

Hunter Laing releases Scarabus Islay Single Malt at Fèis Ìle

Peat heads of the world, unite! A new release from Hunter Laing & Co. is always exciting news, especially when it’s an Islay single malt like Scarabus. Appropriately, the whisky is being released at this year’s Fèis Ìle. If you’re down that way then you’re in luck, because the very first drams will be poured (and tasted) throughout the festival at Hunter Laing’s newly-opened distillery on the island, Ardnahoe. Scarabus means ‘rocky place’ in Nordic, and the whisky is named after a mystical area of Islay, complete with equally mystical golden packaging. “We’re extremely proud of the Scarabus whisky and the Fèis Ìle Festival is the perfect place to release the first bottling”, said Stewart Laing, Managing Director. “We aimed to produce an expression that showcases a traditional Islay whisky style, and the unmistakable Islay smoke matches wonderfully with the rich, sweeter notes that linger on the finish.” If you’re not down Islay-way, fear not, as Scarabus will soon be available in the UK and beyond. Keep an eye on our social channels for updates.

Nightcap

Hit the books spirit nerds, we’ve got a new challenge up ahead!

WSET Level 3 Award in Spirits is live!

Great news, spirits geeks! There’s a new qualification in town, and it’s the toughest one yet. Developed in response to our collective (and global) thirst for all things spirits and subsequent desire to know all about them, the Level 3 Award builds on the Level 2 course (Team MoM highly recommends) but digs down into greater production detail while covering new spirits categories, like baijiu. It’s a much tougher assessment process, too, with a blind tasting exam as well as multiple choice and short-answer question paper. In all, candidates will need to put in at least 84 hours of graft. We’re excited! “The spirits industry has been crying out for a more advanced qualification in spirits,” said course developer Nick King. “Candidate numbers for WSET spirits qualifications (Levels 1 and 2) have grown significantly in the last 10 years (from 540 in 2009 to 6600 in 2019) and are now taught in 33 countries worldwide reflecting growing global demand. We are delighted to now be able to offer the industry a Level 3 Spirits qualification that develops candidates’ knowledge and understanding of the category in great depth and also builds their tasting skills, teaching them to identify the structural and aromatic elements that make up a spirit and to make a compelling quality assessment.” The first UK courses get under way in October!

Nightcap

All the delights of Powers Irish Whiskey with none of the effort? We’re in.

Powers Irish Whiskey’s first ever bottled cocktail

If stirring and, ugh, waiting aren’t for you, Powers Irish Whiskey has your back because the brand has just unveiled its first-ever pre-mixed cocktail, Powers Old Fashioned! Pow! The cocktail sees a combination of the classic Powers Gold Label, sugar syrup and bitter herbs flavouring. The recommended serve is, of course, over ice with a twist of orange peel – well, how else could you garnish an Old Fashioned? The bottle boasts a whole new look, with sleek modern packaging which you’d be hard-pressed to recognise as Powers. “A careful balance of the rich history of Powers with an eye on the future, we are confident that the refreshing ritual of ‘Ice, Pour, Twist’ will appeal to whiskey fans and the cocktail curious alike who are looking for simple and convenient ways to create new Irish whiskey experiences at home or in their local pub”, says Brendan Buckley at Irish Distillers. The cocktail will be launching in Ireland from the end of May, and if it finds success then hopefully we can expect to see it much further afield. Old Fashioneds all around!

Nightcap

Counting oysters by hand, that’s commitment to conservation

Glenmorangie & partners plan to return native oysters to Europe’s seas

Oyster-loving folk, gather round. In historic marine-related news, a landmark Native Oyster Restoration Alliance (NORA) conference on reef restoration was held in Edinburgh this week. It was hosted by The Glenmorangie Company and its partners, including Heriot-Watt University, bringing together conservationists, administrators and oyster producers from across Europe to develop a ‘blueprint’ for native oyster reef restoration. Oysters were overfished to the point of extinction in the 1800s, and it turns out oyster reefs are among the most endangered marine habitats on Earth. The restoration is going to be done through the Dornoch Environmental Enhancement Project (rather aptly abbreviated to DEEP), which was established in 2014 and has already returned 20,000 native oysters to the Dornoch Firth in the Scottish Highlands. The aim? To increase this population of 20,000 to four million (!) by 2025, and in turn the reef will become self-sustaining. “We are incredibly proud to be pioneering DEEP’s vital environmental work with our partners, not only protecting but enhancing Glenmorangie Distillery’s environment for future generations,” says Glenmorangie President and CEO Tom Moradpour. It looks like the world really is our oyster.

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Happy Anniversary guys!

The Coral Room celebrates its first anniversary

We got our party shoes on this week and headed up to London to join The Coral Room’s first-anniversary bash! The sleekly cosy cocktail bar is part of The Bloomsbury Hotel, but very much comes with its own character, look and feel. And on Wednesday, that feel was celebration! There was cake, a confetti cannon, and even a sneak peek at the new cocktail menu, which includes such deliciousness as the May Day Spritz, made with Tanqueray, Italicus, orange blossom and honey bitters, and English sparkling wine; and the Drinking in Newquay, with Cîroc, Crème de menthe, Blue Curaçao and Belsazar Riesling Supreme. There was even a Rinomato Sorbet, too! Very festive. Do pop in raise a cocktail to the team – congrats to everyone at The Coral Room!

Licor 43 lays down cocktail and coffee challenge

There’s nothing more on-trend than putting coffee and cocktails together. So, it’s appropriate that Licor 43 has just announced the opening of the UK round of its Bartenders & Baristas Challenge 2019. Now in its third year, this competition lays down the gauntlet to both bartenders and baristas to create serves with coffee and Licor 43 (the details of how to enter are here). Winners will go to a grand final in Gran Canaria this autumn. UK brand manager Charlotte Oswald said: “There is a natural marriage of aromas and flavours between Licor 43 and coffee and we’ve been communicating this with our Carajillo 43 signature serve. We are often amazed at the creativity, knowledge and passion from contestants and this really went up a level with the introduction of the coffee element last year – bartenders who were very well-versed in all things spirits were finding a whole new world of cocktail creation. We can’t wait to see what they come up with this year!” Licor 43, a blend of spices and citrus fruits, is something of a cult drink in Spain. There’s now a special Liquor 43 Baristo made with coffee beans from the Canary Islands which the company has produced a film about (above). So, what are you waiting for bartenders and baristas, get experimenting!

Nightcap

Happy International Pineapple Day, folks!

And finally. . . shake your maracas cos it’s International Pineapple Day!

From the Piña Colada to Carmen Miranda, we all know that the pineapple is the most exotic of all the fruits. No wonder it has a special day devoted to it: 1 June is International Pineapple Day! To help things go with a swing, That Boutique-y Gin Company is putting on a Pineapple Gin Parlour pop-up at 15 Bateman Street, in Soho, London on 1-2 June. There will be masterclasses and food historian Tasha Marks on hand to explain the history of the king of fruit. In the 18th century pineapples were high-value status symbols: having a pineapple was the Regency equivalent of a Ferrari parked outside your house. The neighbours would say ‘oooh, get her, who does she think she is with that pineapple, Lord Byron?’ Thankfully, drinks at the pop-up will be rather more affordable. Simply say the code word ‘mule’ and your Pineapple Mule will cost you nothing at all. Isn’t the modern world brilliant?

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Where to drink in… Berlin

David Bowie once deemed Berlin “the greatest cultural extravaganza that one could imagine”, and his words still carry weight decades later. Here, we champion five of the German capital city’s…

David Bowie once deemed Berlin “the greatest cultural extravaganza that one could imagine”, and his words still carry weight decades later. Here, we champion five of the German capital city’s standout bars – and find out what happens when you age rye whiskey on volcanic stone from a vineyard…

Berlin has long boasted a thriving creative scene, and its cocktail culture is no exception. Ageing spirits in former wine casks is cool, sure, but ageing spirits using the very material that cultivated the vine? Ingenuity on another level. The idea was the brainchild of Australian native Matt Boswell, bar chef at stylish and sustainable cocktail haunt Tiger Bar, which lies across the courtyard from its pioneering sister, Panama Restaurant.

“I really wanted to figure out how we could add extra minerality and a little bit more depth and complexity into the cocktails we were making,” Boswell explains. He contacted German wine producers and asked them to send whatever they could from their vineyards. Three out of 30 responded, sending cases of rocks.

Tiger Bar Berlin

Get your rocks off in Berlin

Working closely with the sommelier team at Panama, Boswell determined which wine characteristics were common across certain soils and set about pairing spirits with each stone. “It was very much a matching game,” he explains. “If we got laser focus and really clear minerality and tropical notes from blue slate, we’d pair it with gin. If we got extra tropicality and spice from red slate-grown wines, we’d try mezcal. Based on that intuition, they all paired pretty well.”

The ageing period varies according to spirit variety and ABV – lighter spirits like vodka evolve far quicker than a big, bold mezcal, for example – but there are variables between the stones, too. “Some of them are porous, some of them are really dense,” explains Boswell, “we’ve been resting white dog rye whiskey on volcanic stone and it can take more than two weeks before it starts to develop any specific flavour or character.”

The first menu combined rhum agricole with limestone, gin with blue slate, mezcal on red slate and pisco on phyllite. “We were really shocked at the development and character changes that happened,” Boswell adds. “Not only was there extra minerality and nuanced flavours; often it changed the character of the spirit entirely.” Once aged, the team create two cocktails with each spirit: a lighter highball serve and a shorter stirred drink.

Tiger Bar is a great place to start, but Boswell and his team are not the only bartenders drinking outside the box. Whether it’s through ingredient selection, menu style or spirits stock, we’ve championed the must-visit Berlin bars that aren’t afraid to do things a little differently….

TIger bar Berlin

On the rocks has a whole new meaning at Tiger bar

Tiger Bar

Potsdamer Straße 91, 10785 Berlin, Germany
Where? Tiergarten
Why? Terroir-based cocktails
What? Four base spirits aged on German terroir, with one long and one short cocktail created from each. Take the black basalt-aged rye – it can be ordered as Rye & Dry, which sees it mixed with smoked tea and Moroccan soda, or combined with small batch vermouth and vintage cherry wine in a Boulevardier.

Velvet bar Berlin

Seasonal cocktail at Velvet bar

Velvet

Ganghoferstraße 1, 12043 Berlin, Germany
Where? Neukölln
Why? Seasonality taken seriously
What? An intimate cocktail bar in hipster district Neukölln, which forages ingredients “from Berlin and the surrounding nature”. Cocktails are named according to the main seasonal ingredient within, processed on a weekly basis. On the current menu? Sorrel, Young Pine Cone, Strawberry and White Asparagus.

Lebbensstern Berlin

They have comfy sofas at Lebbensstern

Lebensstern

58 Kurfürstenstraße, 10785 Berlin, Germany
Where? Schöneberg
Why? Mind-boggling spirits selection
What? Aside from the fact it used to be an illegal casino for Berlin’s most boujie residents, it stocks more than 600 kinds of rum, 400 whiskies, 150 gin bottlings and a plethora of other boozes that brings the total spirits count over 1,500. Oh, and Quentin Tarantino filmed Inglourious Basterds there.

Stairs bar in Berlin

Stairs bar in Berlin

Stairs Bar

Uhlandstraße 133, 10717 Berlin, Germany
Where? Charlottenburg
Why? Sustainable cocktails made three ways
What? Six cocktails are on the menu, split down into three variants: classic, twist, and in-house creation. Take the Manhattan, traditionally made with whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters, the twist, Brooklyn, sees the addition of maraschino and bitter aperitif, while the in-house version Womanhattan uses Scotch, sherry and plum liqueur.

Stagger Lee

You’ll be pleased to hear that they also take euros

Stagger Lee

Nollendorfstraße 27, 10777 Berlin, Germany
Where? Schöneberg
Why? The home of American whiskey in Berlin
What? Named after the Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds song, Stagger Lee is a Wild West-themed 19th century saloon bar, complete with old-school cash till and rustic-looking piano. Don’t get distracted by the decor – the menu is where the magic truly happens, with the likes of Greek yoghurt-washed rum and banana-infused Campari.

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Championing absinthe at Croque Monsieur

Absinthe has a reputation that means it can be a difficult sell. However, Croque Monsieur, a new bar in Camden, wants to help change this. We spoke to its bar…

Absinthe has a reputation that means it can be a difficult sell. However, Croque Monsieur, a new bar in Camden, wants to help change this. We spoke to its bar manager Jenny Griffiths about how bespoke cocktails, education and silly hats can help.

Have you ever considered going to a bar to enjoy absinthe? You might have been put off by tall tales of astronomical ABVs, potential blindness and harrowing hallucinations. Such myths, legends and soft science have certainly misled people in the past. Gradually, however, absinthe’s reputation is being restored by creative craft producers, educated consumers and bars like Camden’s Croque Monsieur.

Downstairs from the world’s only vampire-themed pizzeria, Lost Boys Pizza (it’s a wild start, but stick with me here), Croque Monsieur opened in December 2018 aiming to spearhead the absinthe revival in the capital. Despite the name, there are no ham and cheese toasties, before any of you ask.

Championing absinthe at Croque Monsieur

Bar manager Jenny Griffiths in her element

“It’s a spirit that has a lot of misconceptions. We wanted to show people why these aren’t true and give a proper insight into such a misunderstood spirit”, bar manager Jenny Griffiths explains, “Absinthe is absolutely delicious and we wanted to share that with our corner of London!”

Croque Monsieur is equipped with absinthe fountains on each table, funky hats, church pews as seating, Art Deco prints on the wall and a newly-launched cocktail menu, transforming a restaurant basement into a bohemian drinking den. For Griffiths, it was too good an opportunity to miss.

“When Pete and Alex (founders of Lost Boys Pizza) mentioned they’d had plans to open a tiny absinthe/dive bar. My eyes lit up and I knew I had to be in,” Griffiths explained. “I’ve been working as the brand ambassador for Chartreuse for two years in the UK, and I actually got into drinking this by being suggested it by a fellow absinthe fan. Chartreuse and absinthe have similar flavour profiles, and anything herbal and punchy has always been my true love.”

Championing absinthe at Croque Monsieur

Camden’s Croque Monsieur

Even those passionate about absinthe will admit it’s a risky spirit to back, however. There’s still work to be done separating truth from pseudoscience and propaganda. “If you want to see the lengths the people who banned absinthe went to, Google absinthe and guinea pigs,” Griffiths remarks, alluding to an 1864 experiment in which guinea pigs were most definitely harmed in the making of (another reason to dislike those who fought absinthe).

The lore around thujone, a chemical compound in absinthe, is one of the reasons why it was successfully demonised. But the truth is absinthe contains such a tiny amount of this compound that it’s about as frightening as Kylie Minogue singing The Sound of Music to you while dressed as The Green Fairy. Griffiths summaries, “As with all alcohol, of course, you should drink it in moderation and responsibly, but absinthe will not drive you crazy.”

The task for Griffiths then is to use her passion and position help educate and change perceptions. However, she has no interest in providing dry history lessons. “You go to Croque Monsieur to be educated and have fun,” Griffiths exclaims. “We at Croque Monsieur are here first and foremost to educate everyone who comes through the door. I’ve always been a bit of a booze nerd myself, so being able to share the knowledge I have is great. But we also want people to have fun, which is why the music is always set to party bangers and we encourage everyone to take their pick from our array of silly hats. For me going to a bar should be about learning but fun should always be at the forefront!”

Championing absinthe at Croque Monsieur

Griffiths and the Lost Boys founders enjoying their labour of love

It’s difficult to deliver a dry lecture while your guests are wearing cowboy hats listening to Prince’s 1999 as a waiter brings them black charcoal pizza from a vampire-themed restaurant that was named after a 1987 American horror comedy film. Seriously. What more can ask for from a bar?

Well, how about a tailored guest experience? One method Griffiths employs at Croque Monsieur to demystify absinthe is a masterclass in which unlimited hot snacks and three drinks of either of absinthe or a cocktail are provided while you learn about the spirit (though you had me at unlimited hot snacks).

“This experience offers our guests a full masterclass on all things absinthe, from its vast history to the different liquids we offer and how to serve them,” Griffiths says. “We serve all of our absinthes louched with iced water at your table, where your fairy [as she calls her staff members] shows you the precise amount of water to add, explains the chemical reactions you see happening and answers any questions that may pop into your head.”

Championing absinthe at Croque Monsieur

The delicious and playful Sneaky Vimto cocktail

Then there’s the cocktail menu: designed to make absinthe approachable, it aims to ensure that no matter what your experience is with the spirit, there will be a drink to suit your palette. “The menu is divided into three distinct parts; ‘Beginner’, ‘Intermediate’ and ‘Advanced’. All of the drinks contain absinthe in some shape or form (duh!) but this allows our guests to choose how much absinthe flavour they want in their drink,” Griffiths explains. “Beginner drinks simply have a spritz or two of absinthe above the glass, intermediate contains around 10ml absinthe per drink and are a little boozier. The advanced drinks use absinthe as the base (around 25ml) and are for our guests who are already into the flavour.”

The menu includes some unique fruity numbers such as the Sneaky Vimto (my favourite cocktail name of all time) and punchy offerings such as Death in the Afternoon, a potent combination of absinthe and Champagne, as well as some reworked classics like the Chocolate Old Fashioned (a personal highlight) and the Grasshopper, which is Griffiths’ stand-out on the menu.

Championing absinthe at Croque Monsieur

The superb Chocolat Old Fashioned, a personal favourite

“For me disco drinks have always been a guilty pleasure I’ve embraced, so our Grasshopper #245 is my proudest drink creation to date” she explains. “We use a split base of Combier L’Entêté Absinthe Supérieure and Green Chartreuse, mix it with a chocolate and absinthe liqueur, Giffard menthe pastille and shake it up with vegan dairy. It’s creamy and delicious, with the right hits of chocolate and mint you expect from a grasshopper without the heaviness some dairy can have.”

For those new to absinthe, Griffith recommends the Parisienne Spritz, made with a splash of Combier L’Entêté Absinthe Supérieure, gentian liqueur, citrus, cucumber bitters and tonic. “It’s light and refreshing and a great aperitif”.

Championing absinthe at Croque Monsieur

Cocktails and capers are par for the course at Croque Monsieur

Griffiths and co. have certainly made a good case for a dedicated absinthe bar. “There are hundreds of whisky bars and gin palaces in the UK and we love what they do, but we wanted to show some love to something a bit different,” says Griffiths. There’s surely always a market for that in the world of booze.

To help you on your absinthe journey, we’ve rounded up a smashing selection of some of the absinthes we adore, including a recommendation from Griffiths. Or you could always enjoy this wonderful Absinthe Tasting Set!

Championing absinthe at Croque Monsieur

Maison Fontaine Blanche

“Maison Fontaine Blanche is a great place to start for any absinthe novice. The Blanche doesn’t have a secondary maceration of herbs after distillation (this is what gives naturally coloured absinthes their green colour) so it is a bit lighter and milder, with loads of cacao and sweet peppermint,” says Griffith. Tried next to the Maison Fontaine Verte it is also wonderful, this is a great way to explain to people the difference a few hours of maceration can make to the final flavour of an absinthe.

Championing absinthe at Croque Monsieur

Sebor Absinth

Sebor Absinth is a Czech take on the historic spirit and one that has proved incredibly popular. Made by blending 13 herbs to a century-old Swiss recipe, this is a rich, mellow and spicy absinthe that was bottled at a reasonable 55% ABV.

Championing absinthe at Croque Monsieur

St. George Absinthe Verte

The Californian distillery St. George Spirits has made all manner of delicious booze, so it’s not surprising to find out that great absinthe was in its wheelhouse. Created with ingredients such as star anise, fennel, lemon balm, hyssop and stinging nettles, this was actually the first legal American absinthe to be released after the ban was lifted in 2007!

Championing absinthe at Croque Monsieur

La Fée Blanche Absinthe

Popular among punters and award shows alike, La Fée Blanche Absinthe is a wonderfully sweet, herbal, old-fashioned white absinthe that was based on an old French recipe from the 1800s. Produced in conjunction with the French Absinthe Museum, its white colour is a reference to the days of bootlegging when green spirit could be spotted a mile off.

Championing absinthe at Croque Monsieur

Morveren Absinthe

Ok, so Cornwall might not cross your mind initially when you think of absinthe, but this expression from Pocketful of Stones might just change all of that for you. Made from wormwood and additional botanicals from the local area, this bottling was named from a legendary mermaid of yore…

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Bars should make all guests feel special

This week our in-house bartender, Nate Brown, gets hot under the collar with highly-regarded bars that have two levels of customer service: great for those in the know, lousy for…

This week our in-house bartender, Nate Brown, gets hot under the collar with highly-regarded bars that have two levels of customer service: great for those in the know, lousy for the ordinary punter.

There’s a universal truth in the hospitality world: “We don’t go to the bars which we know best, we go to the bars that know us best.”

There’s little more comforting or uplifting that acting like a character from Cheers and strutting into your favourite bar, being greeted by name by the bartender who already has a hand on your favourite glass for one of your usuals. This is magical. It makes sense to reciprocate and lavish praise on these places that make you feel so special. They deserve it.

Having a great time!

They’re receiving excellent customer service, but are you?

However, if this is true, then the inverse is also possible. Walking into a venue and being met with an unwelcoming lack of interest and a feeling that you’re not wanted can be a pretty destructive experience. The bigger chains can try to sidestep this with scripted steps of service and welcomes, although a little repetition exposes the shallow illusion. At times, the generic ‘Is everything alright with your food/drinks?’, can be as fake as TOWIE. An old friend counters this with a big grin and a nod whilst mumbling vile obscenities. It seldom gets a reaction.

We all want to feel special, or more accurately to be first, best or different. To balance the oxymoronic stance of making everyone in the room feel special is the art of the hospitality trade. Only the best can manage it.

Unfortunately, the more hype around a bar, the further wide of the mark they seem. The bar community is a close-knit affair. This can be a great thing, with lots of potential to do a hell of a lot of good. It can also be a bit of a clique.

I’ve been in hip East London cocktail bars, sitting excitedly at the bar and being ignored for 20 minutes whilst the bar team offers high fives and free shots to a brand rep sat next to me. I watch closely. I know the brand rep, I know what’s happening. Their bill appears with no charge, only a smiley face drawn onto a bit of till roll. That’s all fair and well, but I also see the other guests sat three yards away with empty glasses in front of them on a dirty bar top in desperate need of wiping. The most they can hope for is a ‘yes, guys, what do you want?’

This is bad for everyone. The brand ambassadors and industry visit each other’s bars, enjoy a stellar time, leave feeling like a million dollars, and preach the good word of how awesome that new bar is. Potential guests might hear of these recommendations, the ‘have-you-been-to-such-and-such-yet’, hurriedly visit and are told this is what a good bar is even if the experience fails to live up to the hype.

At which point, a peculiar thing happens. Rather than the wave of underwhelming responses lowering expectations, the hype increases. No-one wants to admit that this place they’ve been to isn’t all that. They want to join in, to be a part of it. So the hype continues. New guests hear, arrive, don’t enjoy, at worst they don’t return. In any other town, this would be dangerously short-lived. London’s masses, however, can sustain an of-the-moment bar for months or even years.

Nate Brown

Nate Brown, making a stranger feel special

As industry professionals, we have a responsibility to be aware of the situation. We know how the system works. Instead of commenting on how our friends made us feel, we should be looking closer at how our friends made others feel. When was the last time you heard a colleague observe how a bartender rocked a stranger’s day? Surely that’s the name of the game? Dare I say that we as an industry can be guilty of being a little self-indulgent from time to time? Lord knows I can.

We could do with moving the goalposts back to where they belong. The quality of a bartender should be determined by how they make the room feel, not just those that they know. The paying guests, should always take precedence. We should look to treat everyone like a superstar, not just those who return the favour.

I guess all guests are equal, just some are more equal than others.

Nate Brown has owned and operated spirit specialist cocktail bars in London for the better part of a decade. He’s a regular speaker on industry panels, a judge for various spirit awards and has been known to harbour an opinion or two.  

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Cocktail of the Week: The Pornstar Martini

It’s World Cocktail Day! Hurrah! What’s everyone doing? We thought we’d celebrate by making the UK’s favourite cocktail, the Pornstar Martini! Cast your minds back to 2003 if you will….

It’s World Cocktail Day! Hurrah! What’s everyone doing? We thought we’d celebrate by making the UK’s favourite cocktail, the Pornstar Martini!

Cast your minds back to 2003 if you will. Every mobile phone was made by Nokia, most bars had just two varieties of gin and if you said ‘pop-up’ to someone, they would assume you were talking about a children’s book. It seems a long time ago, doesn’t it? But it was also the year that Douglas Ankrah invented that most current of cocktails, the Pornstar Martini, at the Townhouse in Knightsbridge  his landmark bar that helped put London on the cocktail map. “I first created the Pornstar Martini circa 2003 in London”, he told us. The name came about because “the cocktail was so sexy and looked what a pornstar would drink”, he said. Can’t argue with that. Ankrah also founded another legendary London bar, LAB (London Academy of Bartenders) in Soho, which opened in 1999 and finally closed its doors in 2016. It was here that the Pornstar Martini became a sensation.

Douglas Ankrah

Douglas Ankrah, cocktail inventor extraordinaire

Ankrah said, “when I first made it, I had no idea it was going to be neo classic.” Now, 16 years later, Ankrah’s creation is the nation’s favourite cocktail (according to a report just released by Diageo). I asked Ankrah why he thought it was so popular: “It has to be the name, the serve, and, of course, the Champagne shot on the side”, he said. It’s easy to see the appeal: the Pornstar Martini is fun to order; a bit rude, without being embarrassing like those ‘90s favourites such as a Slow Comfortable Screw Against the Wall or a Screaming Orgasm; it’s sweet and delicious. Mainly, though, I think, the reason it is so popular now is that it looks particularly good on Instagram.

If Ankrah received a penny from every Pornstar Martini served, he’d be a very rich man. Sadly, there are no royalties from cocktails, so Ankrah has released a bottled version: “I’ve got to sell the bottled version of my famous cocktail to make those pennies”, he joked. Part of the logic for launching his own product was because he was sick of tasting badly made Pornstar Martinis: “It’s like writing a great song that being covered very badly. It’s one of the reasons I bottled my creation. At least I have done it justice”, he said.

A ready-made Pornstar Martini

A ready-made Pornstar Martini

But rather than use the bottled version, it’s much more fun to make your own. Ankrah uses passion fruit puree but you can use fresh passion fruit though you’ll need to give it a good strain.This recipe calls for Passoa passion fruit liqueur but soon Ankrah will be launching his own version, called, coyly, P*star Passion Fruit liqueur. Watch this space.

This is his recipe for the perfect Pornstar Martini.

50ml Grey Goose Vanilla Vodka
20ml Passoa
50ml passion fruit purée
2 teaspoons vanilla sugar*
Half passion fruit to garnish
Shot of Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut Champagne

Shake ingredients with ice and double strain into a chilled Martini glass. Float half a passionfruit on top and serve with a shot of Champagne on the side. You could use Prosecco or Cava but then that’s not very pornstar now is it?

*You can buy this or make your own by adding vanilla beans or extract to caster sugar.

 

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