Bottoms up as the cocktail craze goes into overdrive. can you tell your Gangsters from your Gibson?
Words: Jonathan Trew
Cocktails seem to be making one of their periodic returns to mass popularity. While they never actually vanish altogether from the nation’s consciousness. the public’s taste for them seems to rise and wane according to some unfathomable barometer. Some years. you can‘t venture into a skanky old man's boozer without being asked if sir wouldn‘t really prefer a strawberry daiquiri to the requested pint of eighty: at other
'Cocktails have been big news in New York for a while now and we are going along with that trend. Secondly, along with the upturn in the economy, people are drinking more and more premium products and cocktails are the ultimate
premium product.’ Simon Difford
times. bartenders in the most minimalist of distressed metal designer bars look askance when asked for a simple Martini.
At the moment. the pendulum has swung firmly in favour of cocktails. Every bar worth its
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salted margarita glasses has its own cocktail menu and their staff. in theory. know the difference between a Fuzzy Duck and a Slippery Nipple. Accompanying this. there has been a democratisation of cocktail drinking. Sipping a Sidecar is no longer the preserve of rich fops wearing improbable cravats nor students determined to get blootered on high octane ersatz meths mixers. Everybody is at it.
There is even a magazine dedicated to cocktail culture called Class. Along with bar reviews. spirit tastings and pieces on antique cocktail shaker design (I am not making this up). Class also carries interviews with celebrity barmen and prints their cocktail recipes. Simon Difford. the magazine's editor. pinpoints several reasons for the resurgence of interest in the drinks.
‘To start with. Britain is following the lead from the States and from New York in particular.’ states Difford. ‘Cocktails have been big news there for a while now and we are going along with that trend. Secondly. along with the upturn in the economy. people are drinking more and more premium products and cocktails are the ultimate premium product. Linked in with that. people have a desire to trade up. Why have a gin and tonic when you can have a Martini‘."
Part of the appeal of cocktails lies in the perceived luxury status of the drinks. A vodka and coke sounds positively plebeian next to the aristocratic mystery of a Black Russian. Cocktails have a whiff of the decadent about them as well. They‘re the sort of thing that prompt people to say ‘oh. I shouldn‘t' before ordering one. Like the old adverts for cream cakes used to state. they‘re naughty but nice.
The Prohibition years are mainly responsible for the slight aura of illegality which surrounds cocktails. Legend has it that as America turned dry. enterprising types would make their own hooch which was as rough as it was potent. In order to make the stuff palatable there had to be serious efforts to mix the spirit with masking flavours and thus
cocktails were born. It's a highly implausible story but touchineg romantic nonetheless.
The boom in cocktails has led to an increase in demand for properly trained cocktail bartenders. While cocktail menus are cropping up everywhere. not every bar is staffed by born shaker makers. Knowing what ingredients go into each concoction is just half the battle. the true connoisseur will take care over the order in which the ingredients are added and how they are mixed together.
The Malmaison hotel chain recently held a cocktail making masterclass and invited Dick Bradsell along to demonstrate his mixology skills. Bradsell is in the enviable position of earning a living from his extensive knowledge of cocktails. He helped set tip the ultra-trendy Pharmacy bar in London with Damien Hirst and is well-known around London’s bars for his finesse with a shaker.
Having demonstrated how to make more cocktails than most people will ever want to drink: Bradsell pointed out that James Bond was foolish to always insist that his Martini should be shaken. not stirred. Shaking a Martini makes it cloudy or ‘bruised’. to
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use bartender lingo. since flakes of ice are knocked off and these particles float on top of the drink.
Bradsell is the first to state that the best way to make the perfect Martini is the way that the customer likes. it but here‘s his preferred method: half fill a shaker with ice and pour in a measure of good quality vermouth. Twirl the vermouth around the shaker and then pour it out leaving the ice in the shaker. Pour three shots of premium vodka (none of your dodgy Tossov. cut price brands) into the shaker and stir it gently. Strain it into a glass and. optionally. spray the surface with the mist from a sliver of pinched lime skin. Three of these is enough to make grown men collapse.
As I‘ve said there are lots of places that serve cocktails. here is a very brief selection of bars that do it well. None of them are cheap but quality costs. In Edinburgh. try Fraser‘s bar in The Dome. The art deco surrounds enhances the experience. Alternatively. head to Monboddo on Bread Street. When in Glasgow. The C opthorne Hotel on George Square takes pride in its work as does Rogano. In either city. try Malmaison and benefit from Bradsell’s training.
I Class is on sale m selected sty/e bars.