One of the continuing themes of this blog is a sentence at the start vaguely conforming to a pattern of ‘One of the boozes I don’t know well is X and it was lovely when Y asked me along to try some for REASON Z’. So, assume that I’ve done that again with X=light rum, Y=The London Cocktail Society and REASON Z is basement bar Bourne & Hollingsworth choosing their house pouring rum, and we can then move on from this opening paragraph.
Despite having heard a bit about it over the last year or so I’d still not made it over to Bourne & Hollingsworth and wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. The reviews seem rather polarised, with complaints about it getting packed leading to long waits at the bar (justified – it’s a small room with a small bar, with most of the space taken up by an open area for people to mill around in front of the bar) and that they charge too much for drinks which generally are distinguished by being served in teacups (unjustified – if you are going to a decent cocktail bar in London and are complaining about paying £7.50 for a cocktail no matter what type of receptacle it’s served in then you are probably in the wrong kind of bar. Bourne & Hollingsworth’s drinks quality certainly push it into the £7 a go bracket of London cocktail bars). It’s small and a great place, I suspect, on weekdays, but based on a Saturday night I can see it quickly turning into my idea of packed bar hell. But then again, I do hate people…
The last few months have involved quite a lot of gin, which is no bad thing. Gin is another of those spirits that is so often just lumped together in the “it all tastes the same” category, and until recently I half believed it. However, as I try more of them I am starting to notice the differences and similarities, and my recent dabblings have been rather helpful.
At the London Cocktail Society Christmas party we were all handed a slip of paper. Mainly I noticed the bit on it which said ‘fill this in and win some gin’, but there was also space for you to write in what you thought your three favourite gins were – thought being the operative word. The lovely folk of the LCS tabulated results, ran whatever numbers they wanted to run and produced a list of the top 5 gins according to the tastes of the party goers. However, rather than just tell us they decided to do a bit of brain tweaking and put on a blind tasting of the winners to see what we thought when not confronted with the baggage of pretty bottles and brands. Hosted at gin loving bar Graphic, of Juniper Society fame, we were presented with 5 plastic cups, unmarked apart from a coloured sticker so that we could match them up later. As hoped they all tasted rather different, although my notes are rather light (and mainly from memory).
Hendrick’s – Nice and spicy, good flavour, hints of sweetness.
Sipsmith – this one mainly sat in my mind has being the most ‘gin-like’. Solid juniper, quite dry and nicely balanced.
Bombay Sapphire – very lightly flavoured. Most repeated comment – ‘Is this a vodka you’ve slipped in as a joke?’.
Number 3 – the most complex flavoured with lots of juniper, clove, cinnamon, pine, butterscotch and a bunch more. My favourite
Tanqueray 10 – quite piney (which I think is the juniper coming out) and complex. My second favourite after the No. 3.
Along with that I also went to a Beefeater Gin evening at the Juniper Society (turning Graphic into a bit of a regular haunt), including some cocktail making as well as a talk through the creation of Beefeater with master distiller Desmond Payne. All three of Beefeater’s gins that I tasted (as well as the five above) are distilled gins, meant that the botanicals are added to neutral spirit before redistillation, rather than the cheaper cold compound method of having flavourings added to neutral spirit without redistilling. London Dry Gin has recently been defined as ‘a type of distilled gin’ in a similar fashion to Plymouth, although with a larger number of producers than the single distiller of the latter style.
Beefeater London Dry Gin – The botanicals in this are fairly traditional – juniper, Seville orange peel, coriander, angelica root and seed, almonds, oris root and ground liquorice root. Beefeater’s other trademark is that the botanicals are steeped in the alcohol for 24 hours before distillation to allow for greater infusion. The nose started with bitter orange and finished with some spicy coriander and liquorice. To taste it had a fruity juniper middle and some sweet liquorice at the end.
Beefeater 24 – A new premium gin recipe put together by Desmond, in comparison to the regular London Dry recipe which hasn’t changed significantly since the distillery’s opening in 1820. The secret ingredients in 24 are tea, both Chinese green tea and Japanese sencha, as well as a bit of grapefruit in with the other peels. It was inspired by the lack of quinine sources in Japan, leading to the use of green tea as a gin mixer rather than tonic water. The nose started off grassy with a big citrus middle. The taste was less sweet than the London Dry, with some bitter wood and a hint of tannin.
Beefeater Winter Gin – a special edition gin put out last Christmas, this added nutmeg, cinnamon, and lime and orange peels to the mix. While the London dry and 24 were noticeably different but similar, this was a total change – a nose of Christmas spice and a taste of almost gingerbread. Luckily it seems that there are a few bottles of this around still, although my urge to drink it neat might well lead to destruction.
On top of those two events I also had a couple of miniatures of gin knocking around that I’ve been meaning to taste for a while:
First up, I was sent through some samples of Edgerton Original Pink Dry Gin. This is distilled and bottled in London and is mainly a distilled gin, although with pomegranate added afterwards to give it a distinctively pink colour. Botanicals-wise this has juniper, coriander, angelica, orris root, sweet orange peel, cassia bark and nutmeg. The idea seems to have come, according to the bottle neck tag bumph, from the old idea of pink gin (gin with a dash of bitters, turning it pinkish, rather than the long drink of that with lemonade that you will normally find these days) but taking it in a slightly different direction. On the nose it has quite a lot of juniper, with some spiciness that I suspect is from the coriander and nutmeg. To taste it’s quite sweet, with a burst of fruit (it might be sweetened pomegranate, but that could be my expectations), orange and a quite flat finish with some sour woodiness. Most of all though, it is very pink indeed.
Lastly is Hayman’s Old Tom, which came in my goody bag from the previously mentioned LCS Christmas party. Old Tom is an, appropriately, old style of gin that is currently being revived by a few manufacturers, including Hayman’s. It’s similar to a London dry gin but, earning the former it’s ‘dry’ tag, is slightly sweetened. Hayman’s is a new gin with history, using a recipe from James Burrough’s recipe books (the founder of Beefeater and great grandfather of Christopher Hayman, current Hayman’s chairman) from the 1860/70s, and it seems to have kickstarted the rebirth of the style as a commercial proposition. On the nose it has quite a bit of juniper (which is slightly redundant when talking about traditional gins) and a little bit of sweetness. To taste it is noticeably sweet, with a hit of sugar syrup, which helps bring out lemony flavours. Mainly it’s overpowered by the sweetness.
So, that’s a gin roundup for now, and I didn’t even include the genever tasting I went to at the most recent Juniper Society. But as we were told several times on that evening – Genever is not Gin.
Many thanks to the LCS for putting on events and giving me goody bags, Sarah and Adam at Graphic for feeding me gin on Mondays, and Daisy at Ian Scott for sorting me out some samples of Edgerton’s. Also thanks to James Hayman who pinged me a mail telling me what I’d got wrong about the history of his family’s gin.
Distilled gin, 41.4%. ~£25
Sipsmith London Dry Gin
London dry gin, 41.6%. ~£30
London dry gin, 40%. ~£20
No 3 Gin
London dry gin, 46%. ~£35
Distilled gin, 47.3%. ~£35
Beefeater London Dry Gin
London dry gin, 40%. ~£15
Distilled gin, 45%. ~£25
Beefeater Winter Gin
Distilled gin, 40%. ~£20
Edgerton Original Pink Dry Gin
Distilled gin with pomagranate, 47%. ~£30
The London Cocktail Society continues to roll on and the second meeting was part of a happy coincidence – it helped start off London Cocktail Week. Running through the week of October 11th it was a celebration of all things boozey, with tastings of almost everything imaginable as well as masterclasses in the creation of cocktails and drinks from bartenders, distillers, writers, importers and anyone else who had something interesting to say. Quite by chance the one month anniversary of the first LCS trip (to 69 Colebrooke Road) fell on the Monday of Cocktail Week and Callooh Callay offered to host us for some cocktail drinking.
Callooh Callay is a newish entry into the London Cocktail scene and one that I have been much remiss in not visiting more often – it’s about 5 minutes walk from my office and I’d been walking past it for months before I realised what it was. Tucked down Rivington Street in Shoreditch they’re a bar with a loose theme – Alice in Wonderland. This is now mainly expressed through their naming, although there is a general element of quirkiness to the place that fits in with the books surreality. It looks ‘just like a bar’ when you wander in, but the toilet walls are lined with audio cassettes (featuring numerous musical crimes) and the locked cupboard at one end can be opened by those with keys to reveal their members bar, The Jub Jub, complete with rotating guest bartenders and menus. They run regular drinks tastings, with brand ambassadors appearing on a monthly basis to talk people through their wares and the cocktails that the bar staff have put together using them.
The bar staff are led by bar manager Sean Ware, former advertising photographer turned award winning barmen, who worked with owner Richard Wynne to put together and open the bar. Sean was our host for the night and had put together a special menu of London cocktails, which he talked us through, with a hint of history as well as the contemporary twists you’d expect.
The menu started with a Hot Gin Punch. Callooh Callay are fans of punches, having just commissioned their own punch bowls after using the upturned horns of gramaphones to hold a four person portion of cocktail until recently, and it’s an idea with a long history, having become especially popular in Edwardian times. In traditional fashion one of the reasons why punches came to the fore was due to the lack of safe drinking water and groups sharing specially made cocktails was slightly more elegant than the small beer often imbibed. This punch was put together using Hendricks gin, Madeira, ‘winter spices’, pineapple, citrus, honey and, I assume, some hot water to make it all piping hot. You don’t get many warm alcoholic drinks these days, with a cup of mulled wine being most people’s exposure to the concept, but it’s something that I reckon needs more exploring. And not only because my previous experiments with hot buttered rum left me a drooling wreck.
Next on the menu was The Avenue. According to Sean this may well have been the first cocktail that was more than just spirit, ice and some form of sweet/sour citrus mix. Invented at the Café Royal and published in their 1937 cocktail book it was popular around the turn of the century. This version was made with Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon (a whiskey I first tried at a tasting session at Callooh Callay), Laird’s Apple Jack, passionfruit nectar, orange flower water and syrup. Sean made it with all the ingredients from scratch but did confide in us that it works better with flat Rubicon passionfruit soda… My only tasting note on it was that it smells and tastes ‘like red boiled sweets’. It was quite nice.
Next up was a John Collins, the 1986 ‘update’ of the classic Tom Collins, named for one of the potential inventors of the drink, first sighted back in the 1870s. In its day this was as popular and ubiquitous as the mojito is today and it still remains a constant of many cocktail menus. It’s a very simple drink, with this recipe calling for Bols Genever (dutch gin, as would probably have been used in the late 1800s), lemon juice and caster sugar. That lines up with the original recipe and the update invokes adding a lemon wedge and maraschino cherry, the latter of which Callooh Callay makes some very tasty examples of.
Next on the menu was a London Classic, Dick Bradsell‘s Bramble. A mainstay on any self respecting cocktail bar’s menu since its inception in the mid ’80s it’s one of Bradsell’s most famous creations. As usual with these things it’s quite simple but effective – gin (in this case Beefeater), lemon juice and sugar in a glass full of crushed ice, topped with a float of creme de mûre (a blackberry liqueur) and traditionally garnished with a lemon slice and two raspberries. Somehow I’ve only tried one of these once before and they are exactly as they seem – a gin and lemonade with a fruity float. That doesn’t stop it working very well though.
My first drink of the night was the next on the list – Clayton’s Special Cocktail, invented at the Savoy during the tenure of Ada Coleman at the turn of the 20th century. This was referred to as being like ‘a posh Bacardi and coke’ around our table and a circulated glass of the secret ingredient helped us understand why – Clayton’s Kola Tonic. This cordial was first made in Battersea and very popular, in a similar fashion to Coca-Cola’s origins in soda fountains in the USA, but is now made in Barbados and not widely known. It is a sticky orangey red syrup which tastes a bit like Coke syrup but without the caramel sweetness, with citrus and herbs coming through with a little bit of sweetness. Mixed with some some white rum, citrus syrup (a difficult to make combination of orange, lemon, grapefruit, sugar and distilled water) and a splash of fizzy water it makes a very interesting alternative to a Coke based rum drink. I did a bit of searching in the next week and turned up a bottle of Clayton’s at The Whisky Exchange – they thanked me for taking it off their hands because they don’t sell much of it. Since then I’ve done a bit of experimenting and while it isn’t concentrated enough to hold up as a regular ‘mix with water and drink’ cordial it is good at spicing up drinks that want a orangey kick.
Last on the list was The Ale of Two Cities. Put together by the 2008 Cocktail World Cup winning Team London for that competition, it’s a collision of England and New Zealand in ingredients, made from 42 Below Feijoa vodka, Punt e Mes vermouth, nettle cordial, malt syrup, granny smith apple juice and bitters. Feijoa is a fruit I’ve not seen before, but is eaten in a manner similar to kiwi fruit and is meant to be delicious, although easily perishable. The malt syrup is about half as sweet as sugar but gives a creamy head when shaken with the rest of the ingredients, allowing the drink to still have that head at the same time as not becoming overly sweet. Sean served it in a half pint beer jug, adding to the aley effect – a rather good looking and, according to the others, tasty cocktail.
We then repaired to the Jub Jub bar to bathe in neon (I was tucked in under a very pink 42 Below sign) and a run through the regular menu, watching as a group of London Roller Girls tucked into a gigantic bowl of punch through foot long straws. It’s a very nice bar, hitting the middle of the London cocktail bar range (drinks about £8) and adding enough quirkiness to push them out from the rest without becoming too annoying. The bar staff know what they’re doing and even though their drinks are much longer than the usual classic cocktails I go for there’s enough to tempt me towards the dark side – fruity cocktails.
Callooy Callay, 65 Rivington Street, London EC2A 3AY
Cocktails £8-10 (special offer of £6 for the cocktails on our menu when we visited), punch bowls £50 (and enough for at least 4 people).
Open Sunday-Friday 5.30pm-11pm, Friday 5.30pm-1am, Saturday 6pm-1am.
Sushi and Japanese starters served while the bar is open
Clayton’s Kola Tonic
Kola nut, herb and spice cordial. £6.95 from The Whisky Exchange
A few months back I saw on Twitter that a few of the cocktail lovers who I follow were talking about having meetups for London based cocktail fans and, as I do way to often, I asked if I could join in. The first official meetup of the now named London Cocktail Society (I think there was a premeeting last month) was set for September 8th at 69 Colebrooke Row.
69 Colebrooke Row (the bar’s address, not its name – it deliberately doesn’t have a name) is a small room next to The Living Room, just off Essex Road in Islington. It’s the new home of cocktail barman Tony Conigliaro, famed for various drink inventions and his more ‘molecular gastronomy’ style approach to cocktail making. From reading about Tony it seems that having worked in restaurant bars he started being interested in the modern cooking methods that he saw in the kitchens and started applying some of them to cocktail making.
To this end they make a lot of their own base ingredients at 69 Colebrooke Row, with the upstairs of the bar hiding a low ceilinged lab, full of bench gear for both production and experimentation. Part of the LCS visit was that Tony offered to take us all upstairs, in small groups as it isn’t all that spacious, and show us what he does up there. Due to the distilling laws allowing limited redistillation of already distilled alcohol (which I need to investigate more before buying things to blow up my kitchen – I was offered the chance to add a small still onto someone else’s order the other day and I was very tempted. I said no) Tony has two vacuum stills and one whose name I forgot but looked a bit like a column still. He uses these to produce various flavoured liquids, both alcoholic and water based. The low temperature that the lowering of atmospheric pressure enabled by the vacuum stills allows leads to the various ingredients in the distilling liquid being handled delicately and not cooked as much as they would be at a higher temperature. This leads to much more delicate products and different flavours being pulled out into the various liquids.
For example, their vodka, which they now sell over the bar for £12 a bottle, is made by grating horseradish into the base spirit (which I assume is vodka) before redistilling, which produces a great horseradish spirit that puts my experiments to shame (as I would hope, as I am not a cocktail expert with a lab above my own bar). On the nose it has crisp horseradish, as if you’re sniffing the surface revealed by snapping a root in half. To taste it has a butteriness mixed in with a light heat and vegetable bitterness, that lingers with the heat long after you swallow your drink.
Along with the horseradish vodka they also had a rose hydrosol (a water based extraction), which perfectly captured the smell of roses as well as the taste of flowers, some rhubarb vodka (for which they cook the rhubarb sous-vide to break it down before mixing with base spirit and redistilling) and vacuum bags packed with various things ready for experimentation, including wood chips. Outside of drinks there were also jars of green beans, pickling away in a variety of vinegars ready to become the final piece of their upcoming bloody mary (along with horseradish vodka, carefully constructed tomato juice and a black pepper tincture). I want a lab to construct drinks in…
After our lab tour I grabbed a couple of drinks, as it seems rude not to when visiting a bar. Drinks are £8 each for house cocktails, although the menu does also offer classics on request, and presentation and creation are predictably excellent. Behind the bar on the night we visited were Matteo and Ryan (who I’d heard tales of from SMWS staff as he worked in Bramble in Edinburgh before coming down to London after being crowned UK Best Bartender last year) and they calmly coped with random requests (with LCS co-founder Mark asking for ‘whatever you think would be nice’ from both of them over the evening).
I started with a Liquorice Whisky Sour, made from Cutty Sark whisky, Lemon juice and liquorice syrup. It was a beautiful drink, with a thick off-white creamy head covering the orangey liquid. It smelled of liquorice and smoky lemons and was an excellent balance of the whisky, citrus and sweet liquorice. Unfortunately, I’m not a fan of malt whisky in cocktails, with most of the delicate flavours being overwhelmed leaving just the general whisky-ness. In this case the wood and smoke were nice additions, but it didn’t quite work for me.
However, I did use the idea to make my own version last night: 50ml Woodford Reserve bourbon, 50ml home-made sour mix, 15ml liquorice vodka. It needs some work as the sours and vodka made things a bit sweet, as I use sweet soft liquorice to make my liquorice vodka. Luckily for me Tony gave me one of the liquorice pastilles that he grinds to garnish the Liquorice Whisky Sour to try, after I mentioned that I also wanted a centrifuge (his current Most Wanted piece of lab kit) as I’d been running my latest vodka experiment through coffee filters for a couple of days, and I see potential in making a sour liquorice spirit using them. For now I’ll make do with garnishing my drinks with crushed liquorice pastilles, as obtained from the Algerian Coffee House in Soho, as they do at 69 Colebrooke Row.
I followed this up with a Manhattan. However, Manhattan’s at 69 Colebrooke Row aren’t as simple as they sound. Tony is one of the increasing numbers of barmen who have been experimenting with barrel aging cocktails and the Aged Manhattan is one of the bar’s signature drinks. I foolishly didn’t ask how long it’d been aged for, but it’s probably somewhere between 6 months and a year. The creation is quite simple if time consuming (assuming Tony does this the same way as other bars) – the ingredients of the Manhattan (whiskey, bitters and vermouth [dry, sweet or a mixture depending on whether you are making a dry, sweet or perfect Manhattan]) are mixed without ice and then poured into a wooden barrel to mature. When they have reached the required age they are bottled and the drink is made by stirring the premixed cocktail with ice before serving. Having not tried a regular Manhattan at the bar I can’t say too much about the differences in the aged drink, but suffice to say it was the finest Manhattan I’ve ever tried – starting with a sweet kick before fading through spicy whiskey to a rounded dry vermouth finish, it was very good. I don’t think it’s picked up much from the barrel but it was very mellow, with the flavours of the ingredients well matched, quite distinct and very well balanced. They’ve just finished a 6 year old version, but as there was only one bottle and it was on the bar on Thursday I suspect it may already be gone…
It’s a strange place and not at all what I expected. The room is quite small, making me wonder how exactly they’d fit in the 40 people that is listed as the capacity, and the bar itself is also small, with barely enough room for the two barmen to move around and make drinks. Along with that it can get quite loud, with background music and a big crowd making it difficult to have conversations. However, at the same time it’s significantly quieter than most other cocktail bars and the close quarters adds to the atmosphere. The service is as impeccable and friendly, and the drinks are really very impressive, showing the bar team’s skill and love of experimentation. It’s not somewhere that I’ll be visiting every night, but there are some menu changes appearing in the near future and I’ll definitely be wandering down to see what craziness has appeared.