Well it’s that time of year again, when the bars start getting crowded and the smell of mulled wine fills the air, which of course means that Christmas is fast approaching. I’ve held off on posting a Christmas list blog post for as long as I can, as frankly I hate seeing this season exploited in November, but as we get closer to the big day I thought I should share a few of those ‘must have’ present ideas for the cocktail enthusiast, bartender or hardened drinker in your life. So below you’ll find some of the things I would be happy to find waiting for me under the tree, as well as a few of the things that I’ve been especially pleased with owning this year.
If, like me, you fell that one of the few saving graces of the festive period is the excuse to have a few ‘festive’ drinks to drown out the hectic month of December, I hope you’ll find this list helpful. Maybe it’ll give you a few things to put on your own Christmas list, or inspire you to buy something booze related for a loved one. If all else fails nothing says ‘I love you’ like a bottle of good Whiskey and some tumblers to drink it from, and the best part is getting to share the gift you’ve just given!
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.
I’ve been planning to write a blog about ‘molecular mixology’ for some time… but this isn’t it. It’s a term that has been floating around the drinks industry for a few years now, but one that has baffled me somewhat. Soon I will be sitting in on a molecular mixology workshop, and hopefully it will help me come to terms with this style of bartending, but in the meantime I thought I’d write about three bars I visited the other night, all of which have to some extent been tarred with the molecular brush.
The issue I have with the name ‘molecular mixology’ is that it seems to be used to refer to any bar or drink that is made with non-traditional methods. Put a foam on top of your daiquiri and it’s ‘molecular’, age a cocktail either in a bottle or a cask and once again ‘molecular’, dehydrate an ingredient and turn it into a powder… you guessed it, ‘molecular’. My mind tells me that we’ve chosen the wrong label for this style of bartending. Yes these are new ways of making drinks, yes they employ methods that weren’t used when Jerry Thomas was plying his trade, and yes they often lead to drinks being presented in new and interesting ways… but are they really molecular cocktails?
When it comes to cocktails for some reason cognac is not the first spirit that springs to mind. I suppose that’s partly due to the fact that when most people think ‘cognac’ they picture a super expensive liquid, enjoyed by the wealthy few, after a meal in a fine dining restaurant. It’s a fact that cognac is generally more expensive than most other spirits; the price point even of a VS cognac makes it one of the more expensive products in any bars speed rail, but that doesn’t mean that it’s inaccessible to the average cocktail lover.
Historically, cognac has been a popular base for cocktails, and without breaking the bank, offers good entry-level varieties that can be fantastic to play with in drinks. In fact in the mixing room at b&t head quarters we stock fine examples from Martell, Coirvoisier and Hennessey that all offer something different when used in cocktails. Recently I was lucky enough to spend a few days in Cognac as a guest of the Merlet family learning about both their liqueurs and their cognac, the ‘Brothers Blend’ and, after spending an hour watching Tony Conigliaro make cocktails in the sunshine, outside the family home I felt inspired to play around with this versatile and tasty ingredient myself.