A rum with a view


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to cocktails and spirits, so it’ll come as no surprise to you that I spend a good amount of time sat in bars staring at the back bar or the cocktail list. I’m always fascinated by the choices made by bars as to which products they buy into and choose to use. Obviously you have your house pouring spirits, which are often selected based on finding a balance between quality, price and support offered by the brand, but then you have a whole back bar of products that tell you something about the venue you’re in.

It’s interesting when visiting other countries that you find certain products that consistently appear on the back bars of the best cocktail bars. Many times they are the same from country to country, but sometimes you notice something different. Not necessarily a product that is local to that market, but maybe a brand that has caught on in one place but not in another for reasons unknown. So the last time I was in New York I found it strange to see Banks 5 Island Rum almost everywhere I went, when it’s so seldom found in UK bars. It made me think that I should probably take another look at this product.

It's a balancing act!

It seems like the simplest thing in the world: take a bit of lime juice, add some sugar and rum, shake it up with ice and strain it into a glass… the perfect daiquiri right? Well then why is it that sometimes I am left so disappointed by what should be the simplest of drinks? At other times I see the bartender reaching for flavours that are strong and counter-intuitive, but the finished drink is the embodiment of liquid perfection. It comes down to a matter of balance!
I was judging a cocktail competition recently and got talking to a young bartender who’s new to the trade, is passionate about cocktails and wants to learn more. He comes from a food background so understands flavour, but as he put it, ‘I just don’t quite know what I have to do to balance one ingredient against the next’. It made me wonder just how many young bartenders are banging out drinks to the spec they’ve been given by their bar manager, but who have never actually been shown how to balance a drink.
Well that seemed like the perfect reason for me to have a look at what it takes to balance a drink. It’s something that experienced bartenders seem to make look so easy but is the difference between having a great drinking experience or vowing never to return to the bar you’re visiting. It’s definitely one of the most important factors in making a drink and yet it seems it is seldom discussed.

Leave out the limes!

There’s only so much citric acid a man can take! Don’t get me wrong, I love a well-made daiquiri (with Havana Club 3yo please…) as much as the next guy, and on a sunny day it’s hard to beat a Tommy’s margarita. But after years of drinking caipirinhas, margaritas, daiquiris and aviations I have to say that my love affair with citrus fruit is over!
I am always a little disappointed when ordering my first cocktail in a bar when the conversation goes something like this:
Bartender: what do you fancy Dan?
Me: I’m not sure, but I’m in the mood for some rum or tequila
Bartender: how about a margarita?
Me: hmmmmm
Bartender: or maybe a daiquiri?
It sometimes seems like I am being presented with the most obvious choices not to mention drinks that are easy to make (3 ingredients, shaken and up…). I understand the reason for this, they are popular drinks and generally require little conversation and not a lot of time to make. That’s fine, but it also means that far too many drinkers are missing a chance to taste these fantastic spirits in ways that would perhaps hide their character less.

Ahhhhh... how sweet!

Back in October I was invited to be part of a panel tasting syrups for Imbibe magazine, for a piece which ran in the November issue. There was a lot of talk from the bartenders around the table about how much better homemade syrups are than those available commercially and they’re so right. I know I have the luxury of having a kitchen next door to my drinking room and only need to produce a small amount of any one syrup to satisfy my home drinking needs, but it makes me wonder why more people aren’t making their own?
Now I have been making syrups for use at home for a couple of years and am of the opinion that the results far outweigh the small amount of effort involved, so when a couple of friends came to stay over the weekend and expressed an interest in my homemade ingredients I saw a perfect excuse to get out the saucepans and sugar, grab a few ingredients and do an impromptu ‘master class’ on making your own sweeteners.
Simon and Caro are regular guests at maison b&t and I’ve successfully managed to encourage them to shake and stir their own cocktais at home, furnishing them with tools and books here and there; but even so, I was surprised at how quickly they grasped the idea of syrups and how inspired they to start creating their own flavours. I guess that it was an easy concept for them to grasp because they’re food lovers, so my gut feel that making homemade syrups and infusions might be a good stepping stone to get foodies thinking seriously about making cocktails at home, proved to be right.