There is a dance or an on-going negotiation between, on the one hand, bar owners and brands and, on the other, the customers and it’s based on one agreed ambition: both sides want us, the drinkers, to have a good time. We want to do that with the minimum of fuss and the bars and brands want us to be happy to pay for doing that specifically with their own products. How the two ambitions should be brought together is an age-old question that drives the drinks and bars industry. Sam Surl has some ideas on the subject and he’ll happily tell you about them, given half a chance. I gave him that chance at the Boutique Bar Show 2014.
There are shows for everything. Wine shows, beer shows, trade shows, press launches etc. etc. etc. … it’s enough to drive you to drink! And this may seem hard to believe but there’s only so much free booze you can sample before you want to give up a head for bed with a hot chocolate. However, there is one congregation that I’m glad I joined and that is the Boutique Bar Show. The Boutique Bar Show is a sort of travelling circus of top-end, specialist, small producer spirits and mixers aimed at those trendy bars that would probably not let me in if it weren’t for a press card!
So off I went to the misnamed Camden Centre. Misnamed because it’s actually rather lovely. There I found lovely people who are all excited about doing all sorts of new things with cocktails. I love young people, they think they’ve invented the whole world all over again. Read More
Leaving the autumn wine-tasting in the cellars of Berry Brothers and Rudd last October was more difficult than normal: not just because it was saddening to leave behind the blissful wines and the delightful company but also because, towards the end of tasting tables, was stationed the … well, I don’t know a better way to describe her, even though it appears patronising, than “charming” Amanda Baxter, the Product Training Manager from the spirits side of the business. She was offering tastings of rum (fabulous) and whisky (oh my!). This was after a string of Madeiras and wonderful, can’t-bring-myself-to-spit wines … so the undulating stairs up into the “real” world were more of a challenge than usual. And they really do undulate – the shop has been there for over 300 years, there’s barely a straight line in the place; it’s an Ikea designer’s nightmare! So I had to book a more sober appointment to learn more about the lesser-known side of Berry Brothers and Rudd – their spirits department, where I met a very contented and hard-working bunch of people.
Each group of drinks has an atmosphere, a “feel”: Beer is convivial, sociable and extended: one of life’s great lies is “Oh, I’ll just have the one!” … wine is considered, perhaps introspective, civilised … cider is refreshing and, like beer, for drinking in more public situations but it has a sense of danger … whiskey is for the serious drinkers, it can bring out the best and the worst in you … Gin, on the other hand, described by Dylan Moran as Mascara thinner, is a more refined drink for sipping … and vodka is the source, the distillation of reason … or un-reason.
All the major drink groups have their serious side; however, the one category of drinks that is uncompromisingly indulgent and fun, a little decadent and imbued with more science and art than most is the cocktail.
There is no doubt that ordering a cocktail is a statement about your approach to the occasion and the company and hints at your expectations of the rest of the evening. Cocktails can be sickly sweet, face-crunchingly astringent, long or short, sweet or sour but always worthy of attention, if only in a vain attempt to try and maintain a steady head.
One of London’s finest cocktail bars, The Lonsdale teamed up with London Cocktail Week so we went to meet them.
Cocktails At The Lonsdale
If you prefer a shorter version, here it is:
Shochu is the newest thing at the bar. It’s not a wine, it’s not really a spirit as we understand it. It is Japanese but it is not Sake, so what it is and is it worth the effort of finding out? The Saki Bar and Food Emporium held a tasting of Shochu to help us answer these questions: Read More
Gin has been around since the mid 17th century. It has a chequered history and a huge influence on the social history of England and particularly on London. While I’ve been a fan of the stuff for many years, I realised I didn’t actually know all that much about it so, when an invitation arrived to join the likes of Virginia Berridge from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Philip Wilson of Eau de Vie at the launch of a gin club at the Graphic Bar I jumped at the chance: Read More