LAB

Why drink cocktails?

I’ve been lucky recently to have had some nights that were better than average. You know the sort of evening where everything comes together just right. A good bar, with a talented bartender making drinks, great company and good tunes, the sort of evening where you have a ‘drinking experience’. It got me thinking about the little things that elevate the experience of sipping a cocktail.

 

I’ve always been startled by people who say that cocktails are too expensive but who don’t mind paying over the odds for a bottle of beer or a glass of wine. I admit that it galls me to pay £7.50 for an overly sweetened daiquiri made using the cheapest ingredients by someone who would rather be anywhere other than behind the bar. But when you go to a good bar and your drinks are made by a bartender who does their job because they love it (well they don’t do it for the money that’s for sure!) and you sip a perfectly balanced drink, well that’s worth paying for!

For your eyes only

I was looking back through some drink recipes the other day and I noticed a pattern. It seems like over the years I have tended to use the same ingredients repeatedly. I noticed that I went through a phase of using Jager in cocktails, after that I was using noilly amber a lot, then I moved on to Lillet Blanc and recently it has been merlet’s crème de poire. I seem to get caught up on what a certain ingredient bring to a drink and find myself adding it to all sorts of creations almost without realising it.
 
I guess it makes sense really. I wander into a bar and the bartender says ‘have you tried the new such-and-such from so-and-so?’ I have a taste and think ‘wow that would really work in a ….’. Next thing you know I have bought a bottle and it is worked into my drinks repertoire until the next new thing comes along.
 
When I thought about it a bit more I realised that I even associate certain ingredients with certain bartenders. Some are obvious connections. Jager will always make me think of Gregor and I can’t see Galliano in a drink without thinking of Ago from The Connaught bar. Some are less obvious though, Noilly Ambre for example makes me think of Pete Jeary who first introduced me to it and still swears by it as his secret weapon when making cocktails.
 
A quick phone around to a few bartender friends confirmed my suspicions; we all have our secret go to ingredients. It confirmed another thing too… some bartenders will put the damnedest things together in the name of using their secret ingredients, but somehow they usually pull it off!
 
This phenomenon certainly deserved further investigation (any excuse for a night out!) so I called in on Victor from LAB and he listed a few things that he is using a lot at the moment including Wray and Nephew and pimento dram. When he told me that he had a great drink up his sleeves using yellow chartreuse and cardamom bitters I decided to dodge the overproof rum bullet and try that instead.

Has LAB still got it? Oh hell yes it has!

Jager

There are a handful of bars that have become truly iconic and have stood the test of time; Milk & Honey in New York springs to mind, Lonsdale for many years, but go into any quality cocktail bar almost anywhere in the world and mention LAB bar in London’s Soho and bartenders know exactly where you’re talking about.

For those of you who are scratching your heads and saying, ‘LAB? never heard of it!’ it’s about time you crawled out from under your rock and had a look around. LAB has been at the sharp end of the bar scene in the UK for over a decade and while it’s had it’s ups and downs it’s never really fallen from grace. Right now LAB feels as though it is on an up-swing again, so I’m readily anticipating many more years of greatness from them.

You see LAB was created as a proving ground for bartenders, a place where good bartenders went to become great bartenders. The name stands for ‘London Academy of Bartenders’ so you get the idea… Some of the leading lights of the bar world learnt their trade here and the list of ‘star-tenders’ who can trace their roots back to this bar is long and legendary. The fact that half of them have gone on to become brand ambassadors and are now leading the life of luxury shouldn’t put you off drinking here though, as each in turn earned their reputations by putting in the hours perfecting their craft. LAB has always been a place bartenders work to take that step beyond just making drinks; to learn the craft of tending bar.

feeling Comfortably Nimb...

Things just keep getting more and more hectic here at B&T HQ but fortunately we've had a few drinks and received a few bottles recently that have helped us to take the edge off the silly season. The chaps at Sipsmith were kind enough to give us a bottle of each of their products in anticipation of an update we will be doing in the new year about artesianal producers. I mentioned this to Victor from LAB and he set about whipping me up a new drink featuring Sipsmith gin, which on paper sounded confusing, but was actually a real treat to the taste buds.
 
THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT PRUDENCE
 
50 ml Sipsmith Gin
20 ml lime juice
10 ml Galliano L'authentico
5 ml Maraschino
1 barspoon Fernet Branca
1/2 barspoon caster sugar
4 seeds from a cardamom pod
 
Put all the ingredients into a shaker with cubed or cracked ice and shake hard. Strain into Champagne flute with a sugar rim and garnish with a long orange peel.
 

It's not all fun and games... honest!

I was chatting with a couple of friends the other day who are not in the drinks industry. It's always funny to see their reaction when they ask what I'm up to, but this time when I told them I had been invited to Leeds to judge a cocktail competition for Cazadores tequila, I was surprised by what they had to say. One thought I was joking and didn't really believe that bartenders have competitions and the other said that it must just be a thinly desguised excuse for a piss up. Now I can understand the reaction, but it got me thinking about how important competitions really are to the drinks trade.

 

I guess even from an outsiders point of view there are some obvious reasons for comps. I mean from a brand point of view it is a no brainer. You can create a good buzz around your products, potentially get new drinks on menus, maybe grab some column inches in the trade press and most importantly get bartenders using your brand.

 

On the most basic level all a brand needs to do is throw some stock at a bar, invite a select few bartenders to come up with a couple of new drinks that fit whatever criteria you want to set, line up some judges, invite the journalists and line up a good prize. The result is several weeks of bartenders talking about the fact they are in your competition, trying out new recipes on customers and co-workers, and promoting your products to anyone who will listen. After the comp they will still sell their signature drinks, maybe even add them to their next drinks list and they will most likely reach for your brand over one of your competitors when they can.

 

Day of the dead? more like month of the living-dead!

My God it's been a couple of busy weeks for us here at Bitters & Twisted HQ. We have been working closely with our web designers and they have done us proud so we are getting closer and closer to the launch of our full site. We have been to check out the Sipsmith distillery in London, then we went drinking tequila in Leeds, followed by Gin in London, not to mention making pineapple bitters as well as homemade syrups and we have been catching up with friends old and new. I am getting tired just thinking about how rushed off my feet I have been.

 

On the subject of Sipsmith I am not going to say too much as I am going to be including them in an upcoming blog about artesianal producers and small batch spirits. I will say this however, if you get a chance to try their gin, I can highly recommend it. Somehow it makes me think that this is how old fashioned gins might have been. Not overly rounded or soft, Sipsmith gin is full of character and flavour and is a lively gin that grabs you by the taste buds and takes you for a ride. Right, that's enough of that, before I get carried away and don't leave myself anything else to write about!

 

I was lucky enough to be asked to judge the 'Cazadores hunt' in Leeds last week, which for those of you who don't know is an ever evolving tequila event that Cazadores are starting to roll out. The idea is simple, get 20 - 30 top bartenders together in a city centre at lunchtime. Refresh them with loads of tequila and then set them a series of tasks to compete at in several bars. End it all with a cocktail comp (after 6 hours of drinking tequila this was the most rowdy comp I have ever seen!) and crown the winning team as winners of the Cazadores hunt... The experience actually got me looking at both tequila and brand run competitions in a whole new light, so much so that I am going to be dedicating a blog update to the subject very soon. Keep your eyes peeled or subscribe to our blog to be notified when it gets updated... 

 

A twist on the traditional

The ‘drinks cart’ at bitters & twisted is not left wanting, but Beefeater 24 does not feature among its (respectable) selection of gins, and as such, I found myself heading for Soho, needing to compare 24 to Beefeater. So a short tube ride later I am in LAB, sat at the bar with James, who by now is buffing a couple of tasting glasses for me.