cocktail

Home made cocktail ingredients

 

Over the last few years there has been a growing movement within the cocktail bar scene for using homemade ingredients. Creating your own infusions, bitters and tinctures can offer a chance to be creative and unique in the cocktails you’re making. But there can be a downside to this as well. I always think of the practice of creating your own ingredients as being similar to the way a chef works with new products, but the big difference is that a chef is (usually) trained as a professional to handle ingredients in a safe way. Often when a bartender starts working with exotic herbs, spices, barks and berries they are doing so as an interested amateur.

I was judging a cocktail competition last year and one of the competitors presented a homemade chorizo infused tequila. When the judges quizzed him about how he had infused it, he replied that he has simply added sliced chorizo to tequila and allowed the flavour to infuse over a period of several days. It occured to me that he was thinking about combining flavours that would work well, but hadn’t thought about how to handle these ingredients in a safe way. Leaving a meat product sitting at room temperature, or even more likely on a hot back bar, for several days has the potential to make your customers seriously sick. Even infused in a strong spirit there is a chance that bacteria cultures could grow and lead to food poisoning. Had the bartender researched the idea of infusing meat into a spirit he would have found that there is a safe way of doing this, through fat washing, and would have produced a product that was safe to serve to customers, especially if stored correctly.

The mystical, magical, cocktail emporium

 

Some months ago I was told that the mad scientists behind Purl were going to open up a new bar, and that got me pretty excited. Sure enough they launched the Worship Street Whistling Shop and as I wrote recently it’s a great bar serving innovative cocktails. Now just before they opened they told me they had plans for a special cocktail experience in a room they were calling the ‘Cocktail Emporium’ but until yesterday this was just something whispered about in dark corners. A myth. A legend.

 

Well as of last night the myth has become real, and I was lucky enough to be invited down to sit through a cocktail experience that I was assured would tickle all of my senses. With no more information than that, I made my way into the basement bar that is The Worship Street Whistling Shop, where I was immediately greeted by my host for the evening, Tristan Stephenson, who then quickly ushered me through the bar to a small door hidden in a dark corner.

Not all liqueurs are created equal!

 

I’ve written before about the fact that I believe that cocktail recipes are just a guideline that helps you create a tasty drink, but that depending on the exact products you are using, they will most likely need to be adjusted to find the right balance. When it comes to this premise, liqueurs stand out as being one of the most variable of all cocktail ingredients. This is partly down to the rules governing how liqueurs are made but is also strongly influenced by the production methods used to make them.

 

As a cocktail ingredient, liqueurs add three things to a drink: sweetness, alcohol and flavour and as such need to be given special consideration. Getting the balance right is an art form so to simply say that a drink calls for 15ml of crème de peche or poire is sometimes too basic. Some are sweeter than others; one may have a greater intensity of ripe fruit flavour, whereas another may be sharper with an almost citrus edge. To use liqueurs well you have to have tasted them and have an understanding of their unique attributes.

 

Teaching an old dog new tricks

I’ve expressed my opinion here before about making cocktails at home; in times gone by the home ‘cocktail party’ was a regular occurrence, and any home worth it’s salt had a well stocked drinks cabinet, if not a full bar. I’m an advocate of making drinks at home and believe that it’s well past time for this tradition to be revived, so when Bombay Sapphire sent me an invitation to a ‘cocktail master class’ I thought there might be a chance to try something a little different. The guest list for this event was made up of food and drinks writers and bloggers, but maybe just maybe Bombay would let me send in a consumer to infiltrate the evening.
 
 
Of course they kindly agreed to let me send along a complete novice, so here was my chance to find out if a regular consumer could learn the art of the cocktail in just one night and be inspired to try making drinks at home. The only question was which ‘old dog’ to try to teach ‘new tricks’? I needed someone who likes a drink or two but has no clue about making them himself… enter my friend Alex!
 

maybe it's about the winning AND the taking part

I’ve written about Copenhagen before and talked about the amazing cocktail scene that is developing there, so when the Copenhagen Cocktail Club said they were hosting a big competition and would I like to help judge it, I jumped at the chance. ‘The Battle of Scandinavia’ would see teams from Sweden and Denmark fight it out to be crowned the best bartenders in all of Scandinavia. My first impression was that this would be a pretty special event and I wasn’t disappointed!
 
 
If you follow us on facebook or twitter you’ll have picked up a few hints about what happened in Copenhagen; rickshaw racing through the city centre, a bartender in a blouse making 17th century drinks, a flamingo named Carlos, the son of God performing miracles and a man wearing a fez… oh and even some people making really good cocktails. Well this is just a glimpse into the fun side of what was a significant and challenging competition; you know that bartenders are taking things seriously when they turn down tequila shots for fear of ruining their palates!
 

Hidden Gems

Last week I wrote about good service and how I hope it will become the next trend in the UK drinks industry. In my rant I mentioned other trends including molecular drinks and speakeasy style venues. I may have been a little flippant in my comments and when I bumped into Tristan from Purl he quite rightly pointed out that there is more to it than a bit of dry ice and a basement bar. It reminded me that recently I have heard a few people mutter ‘not another bloody speakeasy’ when hearing about new bars opening and that there seems to be a bit of a backlash happening. Well I for one embrace these hidden gems and think they add something important to our cocktail scene.
 
 
I guess I should start out by defining the sorts of places that I mean. We brandish around the term ‘speakeasy’ these days but in reality most of the bars we are talking about are simply slightly hidden away, dimly lit and offer classic cocktails or modern interpretations of the classics.  They generally require a reservation, as there is no standing, as such you pay a slight premium but never have to deal with it being 5 deep at the bar. The bartenders treat their craft pretty seriously, and generally you get the kind of good service that I mentioned was lacking in so many UK bars.
 
 

Classic winter warmers

Well Christmas and New Year have come and gone, but judging by the temperature and weather outside, we’re still in the throws of winter! It seems that in every bar I walk into at these days someone is sipping either a mulled drink or some incarnation of a Hot Toddy. On a cold winters’ day there are few things more rewarding than a well-made, hot alcoholic drink.
 
 
It seems that few bartenders actually know what a Hot Toddy is, and when asked for one, serve something that’s a cross between a Blazer and a Skin, but that’s just fine with me as long as they get the balance of ingredients right. You see the Toddy is the simplest of drinks, comprising hot water, your alcohol of choice and sugar; a Skin is similar but with the addition of citrus peel, and a Blazer is in essence a Skin that has been ignited and thrown from one cup to another.
 

We wish you a cocktail christmas!

Well the silly season is in full swing and this is likely to be the last update from b&t for 2010. It has been a hell of a year to be honest and 2011 is already looking like a corker too, what with trips to Copenhagen and New York in the pipeline, testing beginning on our full website and a list of topics to blog about as long as my arm (and at 6’6” I have pretty long arms!). So now we are nearing the end of 2010 I guess it’s time to shake a cocktail or two and reflect on the year past and look forward to the year ahead.
 
 
I always know it’s Christmas time when I start getting inundated with emails from brands and PR companies telling me about their amazing holiday drinks recipes and asking me to feature them on my blog. Each one seems slightly more cliché than the last. How many hot drinks featuring apple juice/cider, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg and stirred with a cinnamon stick, could any one person possibly want to drink? It seems like every spirit brand has come up with ‘this years must have’ Christmas drink, but maybe they all went shopping for ingredients at the same supermarket! Consequently precisely none of them have made it onto bitters&twisted.
 

It’s a guideline not a recipe!

In my day job I spend a lot of time educating bartenders about bourbon, and this week during a tasting session I was asked to discuss how to adapt some classic recipes to suit different bourbons. All too often we are presented with ‘the recipe’ for making a certain drink, but just saying 20ml of vermouth or 50 ml of gin doesn’t always lead to creating a well balanced drink. The moment you change one ingredient the balance of the drink changes.
 
 
When it comes to making cocktails, everywhere you turn you are presented with recipes be it in blogs such as this or in cocktail books or magazines, but maybe we should be talking about guidelines not recipes. It probably seems like common sense to good bartenders that you would always just balance your drink depending on what ingredients you are using, but to the less experienced bartender or cocktail enthusiast it is easy to get caught in the trap of following a recipe blindly.

Dust off your smoking jacket, we're bringing cocktails back home!

In my last blog update I talked about the ‘drinking experience’ and how, when all the right elements come together, sipping a cocktail at the bar can be more than simply ‘having a drink’. That led me to think about drinking at home and the small details that can make that experience richer too. For me there is a great joy to be found in making myself, or my friends and family a cocktail, which is enhanced by using the right tools and the right glassware.
 
 
Looking around the b&t office (or the drinking room as my friends seem to call it) I realise that I really have become a cocktail geek. There are shelves of antique cocktails books, a bookcase dedicated to antique glassware and cocktail shakers, two drinks cabinets loaded with everything from tequila to Swedish punsch, not to mention a shelf dedicated to bitters and homemade syrups.
 
 
Surely I don’t NEED all this stuff just to have the occasional drink at home? I got by for ages shaking daiquiris in an old boston shaker I’d pinched from Alphabet and serving them in an inexpensive martini glasses I picked up from Pages. The drinks certainly tasted just as good back then, but perhaps over time I have come to realise that the joy in drinking cocktails comes from the process of making them and the way they are presented as much as from the liquid itself. My daiquiris may still taste the same, but I enjoy them more when they are sipped from a Victorian coupe having been poured from a 3-piece shaker!