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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: London

Casoni x Gibson savoury liqueurs are here

Considering liqueurs and bitters are the cocktail equivalent of ‘seasoning’, the bar world is surprisingly short on savoury modifiers. Until now. We discover how to elevate our favourite classic cocktails…

Considering liqueurs and bitters are the cocktail equivalent of ‘seasoning’, the bar world is surprisingly short on savoury modifiers. Until now. We discover how to elevate our favourite classic cocktails with Marian Beke, owner of London bar The Gibson, as he rolls out a trio of contemporary liqueurs in collaboration with family-owned Italian distillery Casoni…

When it comes to superior savoury flavour knowledge, we can’t think of a better mind than Beke’s. For the unacquainted, his bar – The Gibson, in east London’s Old Street – is named after the Martini variant, which combines gin, dry vermouth and a pickled onion. “We make all of our drinks with a focus on savoury notes, even if it’s a fruity drink for example, there will always be a touch of savoury, whether it’s smoke, salt, vinegar,” he says. 

At first, this touch came entirely from non-boozy ingredients, though mostly through necessity rather than choice. With few decidedly savoury spirits to choose from, Beke first created a gin – The Gibson Edition – in collaboration with Belgium’s Copperhead Distillery, containing 15 botanicals that are normally used for pickling, including mace, bay leaf, ginger, allspice, fennel and dill seeds. Around two years ago, he came across Casoni’s balsamic vinegar barrel-aged vermouth, and a light bulb went on.

Marian Beke from the Gibson

Marian Beke from the Gibson

“If you go into any bar, the liqueurs are orange, coffee, maybe elderflower; they’re usually artificial colouring and flavour,” he explains. “We thought it would be great to create something real and natural but not just a sweet liqueur as always. It’s not just about making ‘my’ recipe – it’s all connected with Casoni’s history.”

The creations acknowledge the historic distillery’s Italian home, Modena, which you’ll recognise from supermarket aisles the world over since the region is renowned for its balsamic vinegar. Each variant, developed over a two-year process – Wild Berries and Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, Figs and Cherries and Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, and amaro-amaretto hybrid Amarotto – has been infused, distilled and bottled according to ‘the protected traditions of the Casoni family’ (which, FYI, has been busy crafting liqueurs since 1814).

The concept of a savoury liqueur is intriguing in and of itself. According to EU regs, a liqueur must contain minimum 100g sugar per litre and a strength of at least 15% ABV. Incidentally, the Amarotto has the highest ABV at 29%, followed by Figs and Cherries and Balsamic Vinegar of Modena at 21%, and Wild Berries and Balsamic Vinegar of Modena at 17%. Achieving the desired flavour profile while adhering to the minimum requirements was no easy task, Beke admits. “It’s a vinegar, you know, so we had to balance it many times,” he says. “We added it in small amounts and used older balsamic, which has less acidity.” 

While balsamic liqueur isn’t a new concept, many bartenders are cautious about incorporating it into cocktails “because it has a really strong flavour of balsamic and nothing else,” he says. Through his collaboration with Casoni, Beke sought to break down these barriers by replicating flavours people were already familiar with.

Casoni savoury Liqueurs 220719

Casoni savoury liqueurs with their very fetching retro labels

“I can easily go to the bar and say, ‘are you using raspberry, strawberry, or blackberry liqueur?’ and they say ‘yes, of course’ and make something like a Bramble or Russian Spring Punch or Kir Royale,” he explains. “And I can say, ‘ok, great, now try it with [Wild Berries and Balsamic Vinegar of Modena] and you’ll see it has more complexity and texture and a savoury note’. It can be used in place of any of these fruity liqueurs.”

His Figs and Cherries and Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, for example, makes a great replacement for Heering Cherry in recipes like the Blood and Sand [Scotch whisky, sweet vermouth, Heering Cherry and orange juice], to bring “more complexity and extend the length,” says Beke. “It’s like in food if you add salt, smoke, or something like aged old cheese, the savoury notes prolong the flavour. That’s the beauty of savoury.” 

The Amarotto, meanwhile, emulates a savoury almond snack flavour, combining “real amaro, a little bit of smoke and a pinch of salt,” he explains. It makes for an exceptional twist on an Amaretto Sour – “just add a splash of lemon and egg white and you’ve got a great drink straight away,” Beke says – as well as with tonic, ginger beer, cola or coconut water.

Or, alternatively, drop by The Gibson in Old Street, where Beke has developed a range of low-ABV serves to highlight the complex notes of each liqueur, from the light, sweet Amarotto Pickled Manhattan to that aforementioned aromatic Blood & Sand with Figs and Cherries.

 

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How do you make alcohol-free beer delicious?

Britain’s pioneering brewers have made it possible to enjoy a flavourful sip without unfavourable ill-effects the following morning. But how, exactly, is alcohol-free beer made? We chatted to the brains…

Britain’s pioneering brewers have made it possible to enjoy a flavourful sip without unfavourable ill-effects the following morning. But how, exactly, is alcohol-free beer made? We chatted to the brains behind a handful of innovative booze-free breweries…

Let’s get right into it. There are two ways to brew an alcohol-free beer. “Firstly you can brew to a very low alcohol using a small amount of malt, extracting a small amount of fermentable sugar, and therefore creating a small amount of alcohol,” explains Luke Boase, creator of alcohol-free lager Lucky Saint. “Secondly, you can brew a full strength beer and remove the alcohol at the end of the process.”

Made with Bavarian spring water, Pilsner malt, Hallertau hops and a bespoke strain of yeast, Lucky Saint is brewed according to the latter. Rather than use a single-infusion mash, the team has opted for a more labour-intensive step-mash, whereby the temperature is progressively increased through 60 to 75 degrees celsius. “This gives us greater control over the creation of fermentable sugars and, importantly, allows us to produce a wort with minimal non-fermentable sugars,” Boase outlines. 

Lucky Saint beer

Lucky Saint bottles cast long shadows

Then, the beer is fermented and conditioned for six weeks, during which time any sediment naturally separates, allowing the team to “retain as much flavour, body and character as possible”. The final stage before bottling is vacuum-distillation. “There are a couple of technologies available,” he continues. “We selected vacuum distillation, which changes the atmospheric pressure and reduces the evaporation point of the alcohol.

“Typically, alcohol evaporates at almost 80 degrees Celsius, but beer doesn’t survive those kinds of temperatures too well,” Boase explains. “Within the vacuum, we can lower the evaporation point to around 40 degrees Celsius, removing the alcohol without affecting any of the delicate flavours of the beer.”

Beer alchemy at its finest, you’ll agree. But while the team has spent time honing the process, they aren’t precious about experimenting when it comes to future bottlings. “Different technologies can work better for different products,” Boase says. So, what about the alternative? How exactly do you go about brewing a beer that barely registers above 0.5% ABV at full strength? 

To find out, we tapped up the folks at Big Drop Brewing Company. “We use a ‘lazy yeast’, which is bad at converting sugars to alcohol; a smaller-than-usual mash bill, which has fewer sugars to convert; and we control the temperatures at various points to control how quickly everything ferments,” explains director Nick Worthington. “We use a wider variety of grain, up to 20 different kinds everything from wheat, oats, barley, rye to give that depth of flavour and pack a punch.”

Big Drop Brewing Co 02

Just some of the delicious Big Drop range

Of course, for every craftsman there’s a multinational conglomerate willing to cut corners and make a buck from the masses. It’s worth noting that the bigger breweries – the household names on the periphery of alcohol-free alchemy – are often more economical, shall we say, in their endeavours, opting to add a malt extract after brewing and chemically extracting the booze to boost certain flavour notes, for example. Still, for the most part, the burgeoning industry remains a hotbed of authentic innovation balanced with reverence for the wider beer category.

“It’s a really interesting and exciting challenge for brewers,” says Chris Hannaway, who co-founded Infinite Session brewery with his brother Tom, “to create a great tasting beer without the main ‘ingredient’ that usually helps them to do this. It takes more precision, more research and more skill to make a great alcohol-free beer.” 

When brewing their beer, the duo uses a variety of different malts to achieve the desired mouthfeel, complexity, sweetness, colour and head for each bottling. So far as alcohol-free brewing is concerned, “this really is only the start,” he continues. “As the taste and quality improves across the board, any stigma that remains will become almost non-existent.”

Ultimately, breweries are trying to offer more choice, adds Worthington, and that can only be a good thing. “Many brewers now offer a variation of one of their most popular styles in an alcohol-free format,” he says. “They recognise people might not want to drink beer all the time but may still want to drink one of their products. They still want an adult-tasting drink.” There’s plenty of chatter about Generation Z eschewing alcohol and staying sober in the age of social media, but Worthington believes booze-free beer is beloved by a different demographic. “People say one in three 18 to 25 year olds aren’t drinking, but it’s not necessarily them – we don’t think they’ve ever drank beer, so they’re unlikely to pick up an alcohol-free one,” he says. “It tends to be the generations above who are looking to put some balance back in their lives. They like the taste of beer, but they don’t necessarily want the alcohol with it.”

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Five of the world’s most sustainable bars

Have you ever considered the carbon footprint of your favourite cocktail? Between its exotic ingredients and region-specific spirits, needless to say it’s probably racked up more air miles than you…

Have you ever considered the carbon footprint of your favourite cocktail? Between its exotic ingredients and region-specific spirits, needless to say it’s probably racked up more air miles than you have this year. But not to worry – we’ve championed five environmentally-savvy bars that encourage their customers to sip and savour without destroying the planet… 

We hate to break it to you, but your average bar is far from eco-friendly. Between the throwaway lime wedge in your G&T to the bucketfuls of water it takes to craft each drink (from the excess ice that dilutes the liquid or the dishwasher that cleans the glass), few of us consider just how wasteful the average night out can be.

However, an increasing number of bars are taking steps to lessen their impact on the environment, and making some incredibly creative and unique drinks while they’re at it. Thanks to a few daring industry trailblazers, conscious imbibing is now more than just a trend – it’s a movement.

So, what else makes a bar ‘sustainable’? The Sustainable Restaurant Association, an independent collective that champions sustainability in the food service industry, suggests that environmentally-conscious venues ought to consider the following steps…

  • Talk to suppliers to reduce or eliminate single-use packaging
  • Switch to reusable coasters and reconsider napkins
  • Water is a valuable commodity so use every last drop of ice
  • Review which drinks need straws, reduce and consider non-plastic alternatives like metal, bamboo, pasta and paper
  • Look into using seasonal non-citrus fruits and when using citrus, think sharp and use the whole fruit, juice peel and all
  • Promote local: discover spirits and mixers produced by smaller producers nearby

Sounds like a pretty good place to start. Here are five eco-friendly hangouts to encourage you to drink more sustainably. We could all do with taking a (nature-friendly) leaf out of their book…

Himkok, Oslo

Himkok, Oslo

Himkok, Oslo

Where? Storgata 27, 0184 Oslo, Norway

Why? The energy and resources used to ship spirits across the globe is surely one of the most prominent issues faced by the drinks industry. Oslo hangout Himkok houses a micro-distillery powered by hydro-energy which produces around 80% of their spirits requirements, with a focus on aquavit, gin and vodka. This means zero air miles and very little waste from glass bottles because they are constantly re-used. When it comes to sourcing ingredients, the team gives ‘ugly’ produce – misshapen carrots and unconventional strawberries  – a second chance at life, and make their own in-house soft drinks and mixers. Himkok is also big on the ‘sustainability of people’, offering pensions and paid holiday as well as capping shift length at eight hours.

Akedemi, Bali,

Akedemi Bar, Bali

Akademi Bar, Bali

Where? Jl. Petitenget No.51B, Kerobokan Kelod, Kuta Utara, Kabupaten Badung, Bali 80361, Indonesia

Why? With venues across Bali, Hong Kong, Singapore and Jakarta, lifestyle and hospitality brand Potato Head’s ‘good times, do good’ ethos echoes throughout its bars, restaurants and pop-ups (most recently, the team fashioned an entire bar out of discarded coconuts). The Akademi Bar menu celebrates tropical flavours native to Bali, featuring seasonal ingredients from local farmers and producers according to a ‘root-to-flower’ philosophy that extends to the design – plastic has been ditched in favour of locally-sourced degradable or reusable materials such as bamboo, metal, glass and paper. Akademi doubles as a bartender school and research lab for Indonesia’s native botanical ingredients, and hosts monthly workshops focusing on the region’s indigenous materials.

Operation Dagger, Singapore,

Operation Dagger, Singapore

Operation Dagger, Singapore

Where? 7 Ann Siang Hill, #B1-01, Singapore 069791

Why? Ethical practice is the name of the game at avant-garde cocktail spot Operation Dagger in Singapore. The bar, which opened in 2013, has never used plastic straws; boozes are re-distilled, stored in recycled brown apothecary bottles and marked with handcrafted labels made from recycled receipts. The team are conscious of food miles and packaging too, cutting down their use of citrus – lemons, limes and so on aren’t native to the region and instead have to be imported from California and Australia – and subbing in vinegars and shrubs instead, which are often made from leftover, unused wines. Modern culinary methods and traditional fermentation techniques inform the recipes to make seriously striking drinks occasionally garnished with oddities from the bar’s in-house herb garden.

Charlie Parker’s, Sydney

Charlie Parker’s, Sydney

Charlie Parker’s, Sydney

Where? Basement/380 Oxford St, Paddington NSW 2021, Australia

Why? Closed-loop cocktails are the central focus at Charlie Parker’s, which breaks its menu down according to plant anatomy – from the delicate flavours of the flower to the earthier, vegetal root. The skins, seeds and leftover flesh from whatever available produce happens to be season is preserved, fermented, infused and sometimes even re-distilled to create a unique selection of shrubs, bitters, tinctures and garnishes. Soda is made in-house using recycled citrus, even the straws break down after two weeks’ composting. And this sustainable ethos extends beyond ingredients to the space-saving design of the physical bar as well as the staff recruitment process. There are no hosts, no pot wash, no waiting staff; everyone who works there is a bartender first and foremost to ensure a seamless experience from the first sip to the last. Economical bartending at its finest.

Scout, London

The ice cubes at Scout remind you where you are. Clever

Scout, London

Where? 224 Graham Rd, London E8 1BP, UK

Why? East London’s Scout with its daily-changing menu is about as close to zero-waste as you can possibly get. Every ingredient in the bar is either sourced from British producers, farmers and growers, foraged locally – bay leaf and wood sorrel from Hackney, for example  – or grown on-site; each part of the plant finds a function, whether through drying, brewing, distilling or more advanced cocktail alchemy. Perishables are fermented and pickled when they’re at their prime to make bespoke wines that last year-round. The place even makes its own yeast. Scout’s second outpost in Sydney is equally brilliant, crafting drinks with quandong, sandalwood and even locally-sourced ants.

 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Gin and Tonic

As I am sure you all were aware, yesterday was National Gin & Tonic Day. Any excuse to look a little closer at a drink that is often made extremely…

As I am sure you all were aware, yesterday was National Gin & Tonic Day. Any excuse to look a little closer at a drink that is often made extremely badly…

I’ve had many terrible Gin and Tonic experiences, so to get me in the right frame of mind for this article, I thought back to three particularly great ones:

1) A bar in Barcelona in the mid ‘90s, I’ve just ordered a Gin Tonica. The barman fills a tall Collins glass with ice, then free pours Larios Gin almost to the top, adds a slice of lime, adds a splash of tonic on the side, and I marvel as the UV light turns the drink blue (something to do with the quinine) while Ritmo de La Noche bangs away.

2) Sunset over Lake Malawi, the heat of the day has faded a bit, I’m sipping a G&T made with the local gin (which is excellent, why does nobody import it?) and thinking about dinner. The drink is extremely cold and alive with limes that taste as if they’d just come off the tree. Probably because they had.

3) At my grandfather’s house. Him explaining to me in his pedantic grandpa way how to make a G&T. The method involved Beefeater gin, lots and lots of ice, good quality heavy tumblers and Schweppes tonic water out of tiny bottles so that they were bursting with fizz. My grandfather made a mean G&T, much better than my father.

Gin Mare

The Spanish do make a cracking G&T (photo courtesy of Gin Mare)

These stories illustrate how a G&T should be: majestic, refreshing and invigorating. Now think of those pub versions you’ve had: watery ice, flat tonic, and sad dried out lemon, if you get any citrus at all. The whole thing tasting sickly sweet. Here I turn to the words of the great Victoria Moore in her book How to Drink (it was published in 2009, we really need an updated version): “Some people think that there is no need for instruction when it comes to making Gin and Tonic. Those people are wrong.” Making a good G&T isn’t difficult but it does require care.

When it comes to ingredients, we’re now spoiled for choice. You can go for classic gins with a big whack of juniper (Tanqueray) or floral lighter ones (Bombay Sapphire) or even ones that don’t really taste like gin (looking at you, Gin Mare). I’m using Ramsbury Gin from Wiltshire which contains quince as one of its botanicals. Tonic water has exploded recently with every variety under the sun from Fever Tree and its rivals. Don’t, however, ignore Schweppes. For many G&T fanatics, it’s the only one that will do. Which gin or tonic you use, however, is largely a matter of taste.

What isn’t a matter of taste is the proper way to make the thing. First the glass: use a heavy tumbler, a Collins glass or one of those Spanish fishbowl things. You need lots of ice, the cubes should be as large as possible. Try to avoid ice bought in bags as the cubes have holes in which makes them melt quicker. Both your gin and tonic should be chilled. I keep a bottle of gin in the freezer for emergency Martinis. Now the citrus fruit: it can be lemon, lime, grapefruit or orange (particularly nice with Brighton Gin) but it must be freshly cut. It sounds a bit pretentious but you will really notice the difference with Amalfi or Sicilian lemons as they have a floral perfumed quality rather than just being sharp.

Got your ingredients ready? Is your gin in the freezer? Let’s have a bloody Gin Tonica!

50ml Ramsbury Gin
100ml 1724 Tonic Water
Quarter of lemon

Fill a Collins glass or tumbler with ice, pour in the gin and top up with half the tonic water. Rub a quarter of lemon around the rim, drop in and stir. Serve with the rest of the tonic on the side so you can dilute to taste. Don’t forget the salty snacks.

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A Way with words: Globetrotting cocktails at Little Red Door

Have you ever come across words in other languages that don’t directly translate into English? Well, the team behind Parisian bar Little Red Door haven’t just deciphered their meaning for…

Have you ever come across words in other languages that don’t directly translate into English? Well, the team behind Parisian bar Little Red Door haven’t just deciphered their meaning for us – they’ve interpreted them as cocktails. We caught up with group bar manager Rory Shepherd to find out precisely what (or who…) ‘pochemuchka’ is…

If you’ve ever felt as though you can’t quite find the right words, it could be because they don’t exist – not in English, anyway. The team at Little Red Door has clocked onto this with a new drinks selection, taking 10 untranslatable words and using them to inspire corresponding cocktails.

Behind the Little Red Door

Behind the Little Red Door

The premise of the menu, dubbed A Way With Words, is this: all words are rooted in emotion, which is how they are given meaning (deep, we know). So the cocktails, in their deliciousness, will delve deep into the emotion behind the phrases.  The team, who hail from French, Dutch, Swedish and Venezuelan backgrounds – and usher hundreds of international guests through their doors each week – were inspired by the language barriers that are often broken down in the bar.

“As a Scotsman it was very hard not to involve some seriously rough Scottish slang,” says Shepherd of words that didn’t quite make the final cut. “We also wanted to do words that are an absolute no in a bar environment like ‘culaccino’, which in Italian refers to the mark left on a table by a wet glass.”

Pochemucka

Pochemuchka 

Ingredients: Strawberry leaf Belvedere, strawberry wine, strawberry moo juice
Language: Russian
Rough translation: Why is the sky blue? Why are strawberries red? Why does that person keep asking questions?!
How it’s made: The team separates milk using strawberry leaf-infused Belvedere vodka, adds strawberry vermouth, and then filters the mix to serve a clarified milk punch.

So, how did they do it? First, they gathered words that “depict a certain emotion, feeling, state or ritual that in its native language sums up an entire experience, but in English needs a full description”, and shared them out among the bartenders, who got busy researching, interpreting developing, and ultimately translating their given word into a drink – albeit in their own creative bar language.

“Pochemuchka is someone who asks questions,” explains Shepherd. “There’s a kids book called Pochemuchka about this kid who is super curious about everything to the point where it’s almost annoying. We purposely wrote Strawberry Moo Juice so you’d ask what it is. What is a ‘Moo’ and what would it’s ‘juice’ be? …. Strawberry milk!”

Passeggiata

Ingredients: All day amaro, bubbles
Language: Italian
Rough translation: Strolling along by the sea, breathing in the warm sunset air, digesting a lovely meal, being with each other.
How it’s made: To create this non-alcoholic twist on the classic Americano serve, the team combine house-made non-alcoholic Amaro with Seedlip Garden 108 and soda water.

The physical menu, should you be lucky enough to get your mitts on one, is decorated with artwork by surrealist photographer Natacha Einat which aims to evoke the feeling of the words behind each cocktail. Thought-provoking drinks are, after all, a Little Red Door staple.

The new cocktails follow 2018’s Menu of Universal Values, made up of drinks representing 10 different values that everyone feels at least once (strength, stimulation, achievement, hedonism, benevolence, conformity, self-direction, tradition, universalism, and balance, FYI). I ask Shepherd what he enjoys about approaching cocktails in this way.

“It’s fun, it’s bonding, it’s intriguing,” he says. “By digging into a topic you don’t really know about you discover new things so therefore when you are exploring flavour you will also do the same, it’s an amazing way to step out of our comfort zone. Ultimately our interests lie in social studies and anthropology, which in a social world such as cocktail bars it’s nice to get nitty gritty with this.”

Fuubutsushi

Ingredients: Monkey Shoulder, seasonal tea, rice wine, ‘terroir’
Language: Japanese
Rough translation: The sense of seasons to come, the first scent of cut grass, bees collecting nectar, leaves turning to amber.
How it’s made: Well, it really depends on the season. The flavour of this whisky cocktail which is served on the rocks in a Japanese-inspired bowl with seasonal flowers and fruits – will be dictated by the local produce available.

While the hip hangout, situated in the Marais neighbourhood of Paris, undergoes a small refurbishment, Shepherd and the team will take their new creation on an international tour, working in collaboration with bars along the way to create bespoke drinks based on words in their native languages. London will be the first to taste A Way With Words over the coming weekend (12, 13 and 14 April), hosted at buzzy Marylebone bar FAM in collaboration with Porter’s Gin.

We collaborated on a Cognac drink which will be available at FAM after we leave for the duration of Cognac Week in London,” says Shepherd. “It was super fun coming up with this name because we had to kind of reverse our process; an English word that doesn’t really translate… Higgledy-Piggledy contains Remy Martin 1738, Londinio Aperitivo, fino sherry, lemon thyme, and Sacred Amber vermouth.”

Na’eeman

Ingredients: Fermented agave, forbidden fruit, hops
Language: Arabic
Rough translation: A feeling of self-freshness. The purity and ritual of cleanliness
How it’s made: Fermented agave wine made in Paris is combined with red apple verjus and mastiha soda with hops to make a light, floral drink.

A Way With Words is available at Little Red Door now, presented in both French and English.

 

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Mixable spirits: The rise of cocktail-specific boozes

In days gone by, the primary function of a cocktail was to mask the harshness of the spirit within and make the drink a little more palatable. Thanks, however, to…

In days gone by, the primary function of a cocktail was to mask the harshness of the spirit within and make the drink a little more palatable. Thanks, however, to improvements in distillery technology – and good old health and safety – cocktails evolved to show off the quality of the alcohol. Now, producers are turning everything on its head and creating spirits that serve the cocktail, rather than cocktails that serve the spirit.

“Following the explosion of the global cocktail scene in the early 1990s and the more recent renaissance of classic cocktails in the last five to 10 years, there has been a dramatic increase in the production of mixology-focused spirits,” observes Geoff Robinson, UK brand ambassador for Santa Teresa rum. A former bartender at London bars Happiness Forgets, Library, Seven Tales and Satan’s Whiskers, he has experienced – and experimented with – the burgeoning ‘cocktail spirits’ market first hand.

Geoff Robinson

Geoff Robinson thinking of new uses for Santa Teresa 1796 rum

“Bartenders are no longer afraid to take risks with premium spirits,” he continues. “The widespread trends for clarification, fat-washing and fermentation, amongst others, demonstrate the creativity of bartenders in the current climate and how they are leveraging the wealth of technology, and products, available to them to create truly ground-breaking innovations in cocktails.”

This nascent bartender ingenuity has prompted producers to follow a new path: distilling – and bottling – with mixed drinks in mind. And who better to inform their decisions than the very people who will be pouring the liquid? From brainstorming flavours to tapping into specific cocktail applications and testing early batches of product, bartenders have been increasingly involved at every stage. Some brands, like Auchentoshan, go a step further – making the process a competitive collaborative endeavour, such as its Bartenders’ Malt release.

So, what are bartenders looking for? The quality of the liquid is the most important element. “If you ask a bartender today what his or her impression of ‘base spirits’ for cocktails are, you’re likely to get a mixed response,” notes Giovanni Spezziga, general manager of The Coral Room in London. “Many of them will say their experiences have been disappointing. It’s as if they really wanted to like the products or brand but were let down by the actual liquid inside the bottle.”

Giovanni Spezziga

Giovanni Spezziga and one of his team at the Coral Room both resplendent in crushed velvet

The other key consideration, according to Robinson, when engineering a spirit specifically designed for mixing is to ensure that it brings something distinct to the back bar: “That need not be some esoteric or long-forgotten ingredient – it can be as simple as a much-loved spirit at a higher ABV, or a single distillate expression of a much sought-after botanical or flavour,” he explains. “Ultimately, the key is to add something of value to the existing conversation; ideally, you want bartenders to understand that spirit as uniquely able to offer a particular profile, thus allowing them – and simultaneously inspiring them – to use it in new creations or twists on classics.”

Flavour aside, there’s also the small matter of practical use when it comes to the cocktail-specific spirit. The packaging and bottle must be ergonomic – both in the hands of bartenders and atop the backbar – and depending on the venue, or perhaps even the cocktail, durable enough to protect the contents within. Flavours change over time, says Spezziga, depending on the style and size of the bottle as well as the liquid. Aged spirits like bourbon and Scotch can lose a significant amount of their colour due to exposure to both light and heat, he adds.

Some may think crafting spirits for cocktails is an easy endeavour after all, the liquid is going to be mixed (and potentially masked) with something else regardless but as Robinson and Spezziga attest, creating bartender-worthy booze is no walk in the park. Here, we’ve picked five spectacular spirits that were designed with cocktails in mind…

Monkey Shoulder

Monkey Shoulder

What is it?  Blended Scotch malt whisky from William Grant containing “a unique combination of small batches of three different Speyside single malts” according to team MS.

Cocktail credentials: First released in 2005, this easy-drinking malt was quite literally “made for mixing” according to its creator, master blender Brian Kinsman. Watch out for the Monkey Mixer, an 11,000-litre cocktail shaker made from a “pimped out cement mixer truck”, which tours around the globe.

How to serve it: Try a Monkey Splash – 30ml Monkey Shoulder, 45ml soda, orange wedge. Build the ingredients in a glass and garnish.

Fords London Dry Gin

Fords London Dry Gin

What is it? Created by Simon Ford of The 86 Company and Thames Distillers’ master distiller Charles Maxwell, Fords Gin combines juniper, coriander, lemon, bitter orange, grapefruit, cassia, angelica, jasmine and orris to produce a fresh, aromatic and floral gin.

Cocktail credentials: The brand’s strapline is ‘The Cocktail Gin’, and it’s not just fancy marketing. When deciding the recipe, Ford and Maxwell considered classic gin cocktails, broke them down by their flavour profiles, and paired those flavours with botanicals to craft the most versatile gin possible. The ergonomic bottle features a measuring scale on the side, so you can see how many serves are left…

How to serve it… In a 50/50 Martini: 45ml Fords Gin, 45ml Dolin Dry Vermouth, 1 dash Regan’s Orange Bitters, 1 lemon twist. Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass, add ice, stir for 40 counts, then strain into a chilled coupe glass and garnish.

Olmeca Altos

Olmeca Altos Plata

What is it? Tequila made from 100% blue agave grown in the Los Altos highlands of Mexico.

Cocktail credentials: Olmeca was designed by bartenders – specifically industry legends Dre Masso and the late Henry Besant – for bartenders, with the help of Olmeca master distiller Jesús Hernández. It’s citric and sweet, with a fruity aroma.

How to serve it… Put a twist on a classic with the Negrete, Mexico’s answer to a Negroni. Combine 1 part Altos Plata Tequila, 1 part Campari, and 1 part red vermouth in a mixing glass. Stir with cubed ice, decant into a tumbler, and garnish with a slice of orange.

Pierre Ferrand 1840

Pierre Ferrand 1840 

What is it? A VS Cognac from the house of Pierre Ferrand, made from grapes grown in the Grande Champagne region.

Cocktail credentials: Made according to a recipe that dates back to 1840, the liquid is a collaboration between Pierre Ferrand owner Alexandre Gabriel, cellar master Christian Guerin, and cocktail historian Dave Wondrich.

How to serve it… No question – the Original Cognac Cocktail, as adapted from Jerry Thomas’ 1862 tome Bar-Tenders’ Guide. In a mixing glass, stir ½ teaspoon fine sugar with 5ml water until dissolved. Add 60ml Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula, 5ml orange liqueur and 2-3 dashes aromatic bitters. Fill the glass with ice, stir well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. To garnish, twist lemon peel over the top.

Santa Teresa 1796

Santa Teresa 1796

What is it? Single estate Venezuelan rum aged according to the solera method commonly used in Spanish sherry.

Cocktail credentials: Five generations of rum-making poured into one bottle. Rum blends aged up to 35 years in bourbon barrels undergo solera-ageing resulting in a dry, smooth rum that can make any classic cocktail shine.

How to serve it: The Roseta. Pour 1 ½ parts Santa Teresa 1796 into a glass, top with sparkling water and garnish with an orange twist. Delightful.

 

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Are these Britain’s smallest gin distilleries?

Some people build a garden shed and store a lawnmower in it. Others think, ‘I could make gin in that’. We like those people. Here, we celebrate five of Britain’s…

Some people build a garden shed and store a lawnmower in it. Others think, ‘I could make gin in that’. We like those people. Here, we celebrate five of Britain’s smallest gin distilleries – proof (geddit?) that great things come in small packages.

What makes a distillery ‘small’? Still capacity in litres, perhaps, or the number of batches produced each week? Or do you judge each site quite literally, by floor space? These things don’t exist independently of course the folks at Beefeater aren’t running one of the world’s best-selling gin brands from a garden shed but they spark competition among small-scale operations that choose to use their size as a selling point.

For the sake of this listicle, we’ve considered a mix of the aforementioned factors to determine the ‘smallest’ all-round sites. It’s important to remember that we’re not Guinness World Records inspectors, we’re just a bunch of people who really, really like spirits. We did not traverse the UK with a clipboard questionnaire and a juniper-sensitive Basset hound. Nor did we break and enter any distilleries with a measuring tape and jug to confirm or dispel any claims about capacity.

Without further ado, here we’ve unearthed five of the UK’s smallest gin distilleries right now… well, the ones we know about, anyway. Have you noticed a curious juniper-y smell wafting out of your neighbour’s conservatory? Or perhaps your postie has started a side hustle? Share any fledgling distillers we’ve missed in the comments below!

Shed 1 Distillery

Andy and Zoe Arnold-Bennett with their shed

Shed 1 Distillery, Lake District, Cumbria

Peer inside Andy and Zoe Arnold-Bennett’s 7ft x 7ft garden shed on the outskirts of the Lake District and you won’t find a rusty tandem bicycle – you’ll unearth something far more interesting: bucketloads of gin. Established back in October, 2016, the Shed 1 range consists of three core bottlings: Giggle in the Ginnel, Fancy Frolic, and Cuckold’s Revenge, with 36 x 500ml bottles produced in every run. The duo is partial to a seasonal tipple too – their most recent limited edition bottling, Shed Loads of Love, combines “rose petals, lavender and strawberries with a delicate hint of chilli”.

Second Son Distillery

Second Son gin from Cheshire

Second Son Distillery, Norley, Cheshire

Established in 2016, Second Son Distillery which claims to be the smallest licensed distillery in the UK is the brainchild of former pub landlord John (depicted on the label) and graphic designer-slash-gin-aficionado Anna. Together the business partners distil, label and bottle their three creations – Cheshire Gin, Winter Spiced Gin, and Summer Edition Gin – in 250-year-old pub The Tigers Head on the edge of Delamere Forest, producing just 32 bottles per batch. You can bet the place serves a cracking G&T, too.

Duck and-Crutch Kensington

The tiny still at Duck and Crutch in Kensington

Duck and Crutch Distillery, Kensington, London

Such is the London property market that a Kensington shed could be marketed as a studio flat and no one would bat an eyelid. Instead, couple Hollie and George (and to a certain extent, their dachshund Meryl) kitted out their 6ft x 4ft space with a lovely shiny copper still and launched Duck and Crutch gin, featuring vanilla pod, fresh lemon, Darjeeling tea, fresh thyme, orange peel, cardamom pod and nutmeg botanicals. If you like a punchier gin, Duck and Crutch releases 33 bottles of Kensington Overproof Dry Gin each month, which comes in at a respectable 57% ABV.

Culpeper Gin

Culpeper Gin, serving suggestion

The Nicholas Culpeper Pub & Dining, North Terminal, Gatwick Airport

If you’re looking for an excuse to book your next holiday, we’ve found one. But you won’t need to travel thousands of miles to sample The Nicholas Culpeper London Dry Gin more or less straight off the still in fact, you need not even go through security. Named in honour of the 17th century English botanist, herbalist and physician who once lived nearby, this creation is produced in the world’s first airport gin distillery. The still is named Judith after Culpeper’s ill-fated fiancée, and makes just 12 bottles per run. N’aww.

Carnoustie Distillery

Note clan tartan

Carnoustie Distillery, Carnoustie, Scotland

At this point I’m starting to feel like the only person in Britain who doesn’t own a shed, but even if I did, I can’t promise I’d use the space as wisely as the father and son distilling team behind Carnoustie Distillery. From white chocolate-flavoured vodka to toffee apple rum liqueur (and, of course, gin) Billy Duncan and his son Jory create a variety of craft spirits in a 10 ft x 8 ft distillery in their back garden the bottles of which are bedecked with the Duncan family tartan and motto. At the age of 21, Jory is thought to be one of the UK’s youngest distillers.

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Explore 20 years of the London cocktail scene

Join us as we step inside the MoM time machine, back to the heady days of the late 1990s and the notorious Met Bar. We talk to Ben Reed about…

Join us as we step inside the MoM time machine, back to the heady days of the late 1990s and the notorious Met Bar. We talk to Ben Reed about the 20 defining moments of the London cocktail scene.

Don’t call Ben Reed a legend of the London bar world. He prefers the word ‘stalwart’. And at Gridiron (the site of the old Met Bar) on Park Lane last Wednesday night, the room was full of such stalwarts including Salvatore Calabrese, Ago Perrone, Erik Lorincz, Emily Weldon, Claire Smith-Warner, Peter Dorelli and Tristan Stephenson. They were all there sipping Pineapple Martinis and literally partying like it was 1999, only a little more sedately, and with more grey hairs.

Gridiron/ Met Bar

Gridiron, formerly the Met Bar, note brown spirits, and food. You didn’t get those in the ’90s

We were there to celebrate and discuss the ‘20 defining moments of the London cocktail scene’. It’s a look at the most important events in drinks culture over the last 20 or so years like the launch of CLASS magazine in 1997; the creation of the Match Bar group in 1998 with Dick Bradsell as head bartender; the opening of Milk & Honey in 2002, London’s first speakeasy-style bar; and the foundation of Sipsmith gin in 2009. It’s an initiative by Ben Reed, formerly head bartender at the Met who now runs a drinks consultancy firm, Cocktail Credentials. We caught up with Reed before the event where he explained the concept.

“We asked 30 of the top bartenders in London to submit three to five of their personal defining moments. And then we cross referenced that to see which ones were mentioned most often,” he explained. “There is an element of this being a work in progress, and us seeing where we go with this. This being a list that could be written again in another ten years because things are moving so fast in this industry.”

Reed began his career working in some rough pubs in Hackney before moving to the somewhat swankier PJ’s on Fulham Road. After that, there was a stint at Mezzo, Terence Conran’s gastrodome on Wardour Street, before he was, in his own words, “headhunted to head up the Met Bar”. “Whether by fortune or by destiny, it became the place where the glitterati of the London scene met,” he continued. “It was one of the seminal places where cocktails started to be taken a little bit more seriously.” The Met Bar was the epicentre of ‘90s and early ‘00s swinging London, frequented by Kate Moss, Liam Gallagher and Damon Albarn.

It was a very different world back then. “In those days you were really only a bartender if you weren’t much good at anything else, there was no gravitas in the industry,” Reed recalled. “And then, piece-by-piece, through a number of pioneers like Dick Bradsell who stuck at it rather than getting a proper job, we developed an industry.”

Reed’s signature drink was the Pineapple Martini, which was tasting good (if extremely sweet) at the event last week. “We created a style of drink called ‘the fresh fruit Martini’ which involved using fresh and sometimes exotic ingredients. So exotic fruit as ingredients rather than garnishes,” he told me.

Ben Reed the Met Bar

‘If your name’s not down you’re not coming in’. Ben Reed (centre) and the Met Bar team.

Vodka was king in those days. If you look at the invite above it’s from the front cover of an early edition of CLASS, with Reed and the Met team looking very cool in all black DKNY. Now look behind the bar; it’s pretty much all vodka with only a couple of gins, and whisky nowhere to be seen. It’s not just the spirits that have changed; the role of the bartender is much more complicated, according to Reed. “Now we’re looking towards chefs, learning from them and understanding some of the tricks of their trade whether that be using sous vide machines or otherwise.”

Being a bartender is now a proper career. “20 years ago most bartenders were still trying to find a way of getting out from behind the bar to open consultancies, or work for brands,” Reed said. “Whereas now the trend is much more to stay in the industry, to stay ‘behind the stick’ by opening their own places. That is testament to how the industry has evolved.”

That’s not the only way it has changed. 2013’s ‘defining moment’ was the opening of the environmentally-friendly White Lyan bar in Hoxton Square. 2017’s was a focus on bartender wellbeing. The industry now has to look at “the bigger picture: diversity within the industry, gender and racial equality, wellbeing and sustainability,”Reed told me.

But not all recent developments have been quite so positive, he added. Another ‘defining moment’ was the 2010 appearance of Instagram, which Reed isn’t convinced has been entirely beneficial to the experience.

“It’s now less about the interaction with the bartender, and more about how instagrammable the drink is,” he reckoned. “So there’s an element, perhaps, in a rise in the quality of cocktails, and a dip in the standard of service. By service, I don’t mean how fast your drink comes, but how you are treated by your bartender. Some of the older guys such as Pete Dorelli, Salvatore Calabrese and Nick Strangeway were great raconteurs, people who could really give you the warm and fuzzies. I would rather go to a bar, get a good drink and my interaction with the bartender be the memorable part of things, than go to the bar and get an awesome drink but not really remember who has served it to me.”

Reed himself hasn’t worked ‘behind the stick’ for a long time. He started one of the first cocktail consultancies in Europe in 2001. Five years ago he set up Cocktail Credentials. “I think the difference between my consultancy and other consultancies is that I’m the only guy in my consultancy that’s ever stepped behind a bar. My other partners have marketing expertise and agency expertise. We can see the industry from outside of the bubble.” Reed and his team have come up with innovative ways to present brands, such as a taste experience with Absolut Vodka in its brand home in Åhus, Sweden. “We tried to find a new way for consumers to understand flavour differentials in vodka by creating a 360-degree taste experience.”

Pineapple Martini

Pineapple Martini, one sip and you can hear M People

The night wasn’t just about nostalgia. Alongside the ‘90s classic cocktails, we tried updated versions by Max and Noel Venning that were more attuned to less sweet modern palates. Looking to the future, Reed is very excited about some of the new talent in the business. He mentioned Joe Scofield, formerly of The Tippling Club in Singapore, and Jack McGarry, co-owner of The Dead Rabbit in New York, as young bartenders he admires. According to Reed, thanks to the internet, the cocktail business is international. “You’ll find guys who don’t really work in one bar anymore, they just traverse the world, doing guest shifts in different bars, learning and understanding from bartenders, bars and countries around the world.”

It will be interesting to see what the next 20 years has in store for London’s bar scene. But it’s fun to look back, too. What are your defining cocktail moments from the nineties, noughties and now? Let us know on social or in the comments below.

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The bars of the future are already here

Curious about what the cocktail bars of the future might look like? No need to gaze into crystal balls – the clues are all around you. Here, we take a…

Curious about what the cocktail bars of the future might look like? No need to gaze into crystal balls – the clues are all around you. Here, we take a look at the progressive venues re-shaping the modern bar landscape in 2019 (and beyond)…

“In 1986, there was a little boy at his first job in the Grand Hotel Bayerischer Hof in Munich who saw his first serious bartender with a huge moustache, tie and white jacket,” recalls Klaus St Rainer. “The coolest person in the whole building. ‘That must be the best job in the world,’ I thought to myself. And I was right.”

Since St Rainer, the owner of Munich’s Goldene Bar, had his life-changing encounter all those years ago, the industry has transformed. The legendary barman – who recently joined Jim Meehan for a guest shift during Banks Rums’ Please Do Tell tour – credits Charles Schumann’s 1992 book American Bar for painting bartending as serious profession: paving the way for what he calls “the new golden age of cocktails”.

Klaus St Rainer

Klaus St Rainer thinking about the future

But despite the incredible technological advancements we’ve witnessed over the course of the last few decades – using a rotovap to extract delicate aroma compounds, for example – very little has actually changed behind the bar. The industry is a stickler for tradition, and there’s an argument, I suppose, that until now, very little has had to.

At its heart, “a bar is a place for people to gather and escape from their daily lives,” says Simone Sanna, bar manager at Lyan Cub in Hoxton. But while the bar’s most basic function hasn’t changed, the attitudes and expectations held by its guests and owners have. As a ‘sustainable drinks-led dining experience’ that approaches food and drink as a ‘united entity’, Cub is a shining example.

“Our main focus is to educate guests about what you can get from your surroundings and take them on a flavour journey,” explains Sanna. “We have all become more conscious of the environmental cost of what we consume, and the ethics behind ingredients will only become more and more important.”

A new project with similar ideals, called Tayēr and Elementary, will join Cub in Old Street this Spring. The brainchild of Monica Berg and Alex Kratena; the venue features two bar concepts and a creative workspace called Outthink that “will encourage collaboration beyond the culinary arts’.

In Elementary, the menu will be dictated by available produce and drinks will be served via a bar system created in collaboration with Oslo bar Taptails for efficient service, while Tayēr – derived from the Spanish word ‘Taller’, meaning workshop – will, like Cub, focus on what is inside the glass and on the plate.

Tayēr’s bar will be stocked not only with selection of products from wine and sake producers, breweries and distillers, but spirits, beer and soft drinks of Berg and Kratena’s own creation. But more interesting is its adaptable station, which has been designed so that ‘the equipment, tools and produce can be placed anywhere based on concept, season, ingredients or any other individual needs’.

Together Berg and Kratena spent more than three years developing the concept, re-evaluating the efficiency and functionality of each aspect of the traditional bar set-up to refine the experience for both the bartender and the guest.

“Several things could be done to make [bartending] more viable [as a] long term profession,” says Berg. “It’s a physical job, so some wear and tear is to be expected, but at the same time, making sure the designs are more ergonomically suitable would help immensely.

“Our stations for example, are higher than what’s been the norm, because much of the bar station design has not been updated for decades. People today are taller than generations before, so it makes sense that they also need higher stations.”

While experience has surely shaped Berg and Kratena’s approach to Tayēr and Elementary – “we have both been very fortunate to work with great people along the way,” Berg says – a love of being behind the bar is the “single most important part”. Making drinks is fun, she adds, but the reward really lies in the interaction with guests. The one aspect of the bar, after all, that can’t be reimagined.

Cha-Chunker Genuine Liquorette

Ch-ch-ch-cha Chunker (sung to the tune of Changes by David Bowie) from Genuine Liquorette

With that said, some venues are certainly playing with the parameters of the ‘bartender’ role. Take bar-slash-off-license hybrid Genuine Liquorette which opened in Fitzrovia last year. It may be headed up by some of the capital’s finest bartenders, but the concept puts the power firmly in the hands of its guests.

You can craft your own bottled cocktail from a host of ingredients usually tucked away behind the bar, dispense one of six ready-made cocktails on tap, invent your own Cha-Chunker – a can of soft drink with a hole cut into the top and a miniature spirit upended into it – or create a personalised drink choosing from spirits labelled by price per gram (the bottle is weighed before and after).

Is this, perhaps, what we should expect from tomorrow’s venues? For the most part, today’s bartenders expect there will be change – but not too much. And maybe robots. “There will be still a mix of everything: high quality classic bars, experimental bars, dive bars, hotel bars, pubs and maybe some robot bars with bionic drinks,” St Rainer reckons.

“I sincerely hope bars will continue to be a social meeting place where strangers, friends, locals and travellers all meet up and have fun,” adds Berg. When it comes to what’s inside the glass, drinks will continue to evolve and adapt; “if we maintain our supply chains, producers, farmers and makers and ingredients, we will continue to drink great cocktails in the future.”

But as ingredient choices shift according to our palate preferences and societal necessities, Sanna remains “truly convinced that people will still order a Dry Martini even if they’re on Mars”. A Martian Martini sounds good to us.

 

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The Top 10 minimalist cocktail bars

When it comes to back bars, bigger isn’t inherently better. Quite the opposite – it takes the most creative and discerning of bar teams to work cocktail magic with a…

When it comes to back bars, bigger isn’t inherently better. Quite the opposite – it takes the most creative and discerning of bar teams to work cocktail magic with a pared-down selection of spirits. We’ve picked 10 of the world’s best minimalist cocktail bars…

While bumper booze inventories continue to draw admiration from thirsty fans (ourselves included), other venues have taken the opposite road; slimming their selection down to little more than a shelf’s worth of hand-picked spirits.

For some bar owners, eschewing established brands for a curated rail of favourites is simply a matter of personal taste. For others, it supports their ethos of sustainability: locally-sourced at all costs. Some want to make a stand against pouring deals born from corporate interest. Or, occasionally, it’s a mix of all three.

Whatever the reason may be, stripped back bars certainly don’t make for lacklustre drinks – as the 10 bars that follow attest:

Punch Room at The London Edition, London

Minimalist credentials: Just one cocktail style here – punch

Seasonal speciality punches are the name of the game at London’s Punch Room. While you delve into the menu – which offers single-person punches as well as sharing drinks for up to eight people – you’ll sip a welcome drink punch reinvented daily by the bar team. Don’t miss their classic Milk Punch, a clarified drink that combines Hennessy fine de Cognac, Havana Club 3 Year Old, Somerset Cider Brandy, green tea, lemon juice, pineapple, spices syrup and, yes, milk.

 

Punch Room, London Edition

You can have anything you want at Punch Room, as long as it’s punch

 

Obispo, San Francisco

Minimalist credentials: Single spirit bar with a sense of place

Recently-opened San Fran hangout Obispo is a single spirit bar with a difference. Rather than clamouring to own one of every single bottle going, owner Thad Vogler has stocked his bar with a limited inventory of speciality rums, many from distilleries he has personally visited. The concept? To champion truly unique spirits that taste like the places they come from: no additives here, thanks. One highlight of Obispo’s cocktail menu has to be the Mojito, made according to a 1934 recipe from Havana-based bar El Floridita with stirred mint and raw sugar.

A Rake’s Bar, Washington, DC

Minimalist credentials: Exclusively hyper-local cocktails

While championing locally-sourced ingredients is increasingly commonplace in bars these days, few can claim to exclusively do so. A Rake’s Bar, however, is one of them. You won’t find Scotch or Tequila (or even citrus!) here – each drink celebrates local distillers and ingredients, from locally-produced Curaçao to verjus from nearby vineyards. Everything from its antique glassware to the physical cocktail menu is the product of local collaboration.

 

A Rakes Bar, Washington

A Rake’s Bar, a hyper-local bar for hyper-local people

 

Buck and Breck, Berlin

Minimalist credentials: Small in size, stripped back cocktail list

Located in Berlin’s Mitte district, Buck and Breck seats just 14 people at a time, around a communal black wooden table that doubles as the bar station – the only furniture in the entire space. But the stripped-back interior is far from the speakeasy’s only minimalist draw. Cocktails are listed by name and base ingredient (no brands, here, all spirits bottles are colour-coded) and accompanied by a considered Champagne offering.

Native, Singapore

Minimalist credentials: Asian flavour profiles only – with a focus on foraging

Founded by Vijay Mudaliar, formerly of award-winning Singapore cocktail bar Operation Dagger, Native is committed to using local and regional produce: think flavours like mango, turmeric, cinnamon, and tapioca, paired with spirits like Sri Lankan arrak and Thai rice gin. Try Antz, which combines Thai rum, aged sugarcane vinegar, coconut yoghurt, salt-baked tapioca, soursop, and, yes, real ants served in a frozen basil leaf.

 

Native Bar Singapore

Native in Singapore offers cocktails made with ants, yes real ants

 

Three Sheets, London

Minimalist credentials: Small in size, stripped-back cocktail list

Made from just a single shelf of spirits, Three Sheets’ cocktail menu reflects its name: three pages with three cocktails on each. Aperitif-style cocktails decorate the first column, and get progressively punchier as the menu unfolds. Bartending brothers Max and Noel Venning are the brains behind this welcoming neighbourhood venue, which is big on pre-batched and bottled ingredients. All the stuff you want from a cocktail bar, and none of the stuff you don’t. Head there during the day for a dynamite flat white.

 

Three Sheets Dalston

Three Sheets, Venning Bros’ bar in Dalston, East London

Bar Gen Yamamoto, Tokyo

Minimalist credentials: Small in size, just two menu options available

Tiny eight-seater Japanese bar Gen Yamamoto is a drinking den unlike any other in the world. There’s no cocktail list, just a tasting menu crafted to reflect ‘shiki’, which means Japanese seasonality. Your options are minimal: choose from either a four-drink or six-drink menu, and sit back as solo bartender Yamamoto takes your taste buds on a veritable flavour journey. FYI, the bar is carved out of a 500-year-old Mizunara tree.

Backdoor 43, Milan

Minimalist credentials: Small in size

Is Backdoor 43 the smallest bar in the world? At the grand total of four square foot in size, it’s certainly up there. There’s only space for four (plus one Guy Fawkes mask-wearing bartender) at the tiny bar, for which the menu changes on a monthly basis. If you can’t get a reservation, fret not – a small selection of classic cocktails can be ordered to-go via a small slot window to the street.

 

Backdoor 43, Milan

Backdoor 43, Milan, probably the smallest bar in the world

 

Above Board, Melbourne

Minimalist credentials: Exacting cocktail list with no off-menu orders

Owned by award-winning bartender Hayden Lambert, Above Board is the minimalist bar blueprint both in terms of drinks and design aesthetics. A sleek grey 12-seater island bar commands the softly-lit room; hand-picked spirits are decanted into crystal bottles and stored out of sight. The menu boasts 25 cocktails, split across signatures and twists on classics, with minimal garnishes. Glasses are thin and beautifully chilled, the ice is hand-stamped, and the hospitality is second to none.

Bisou, Paris

Minimalist credentials: There is no menu whatsoever

So minimalist is the vibe at seasonal Parisian hangout Bisou, they’ve done away with the menu altogether. Instead, you have a chat with the bartender about what you like – and, if you’re fussy, what you don’t – and he’ll whip up the craft cocktail of your dreams for a very reasonable €12 using 100% organic and locally-sourced ingredients. Sustainability is big here, with a focus on reducing waste; unused parts of fruits and vegetables are dehydrated and repurposed as garnishes.

 

Bisou, Paris

Bisou, Paris, so minimalist, it doesn’t even have a menu

 

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