Shake up party season with new flavours, from mulled margaritas to no-gronis, plus Lucy Holden’s pick of the home-bar kit – and the country’s most glamorous bars
The founder of the best bar in the world wouldn’t rule out roast-potato cocktails for his Christmas drinks menu. Ryan Chetiyawardana, aka Mr Lyan, who runs Dandelyan on London’s South Bank (crowned number one at the World’s 50 Best Bars awards this year) is explaining that cocktails can be made with pretty much anything, really – and that kitchen pantries are a great place to start. He has a drink on the Dandelyan menu made of potato purée and vodka, and another mixed with catnip, so he should know.
Cocktails are enjoying a renaissance, with new bars opening all over the country (look out, London), and discerning drinkers mixing up more Aperol spritzes and negronis at home, too. Last year, the UK cocktail industry was worth £506 million, a 10 per cent rise on 2016, while the venues serving them increased in number by 13 per cent, according to a CGA Mixed Drink Report purchased by Cellar Trends. The fact that 500 pubs shut in 2016 puts this growth into perspective.
Home cocktail-making is also more popular (fuelled by the gin boom, of which more later), with sales of John Lewis martini glasses rising by almost 30 per cent this year from last, while sales of cocktail staples Aperol (Sainsbury’s reports Aperol sales are up 38 per cent year-on-year) and vermouth are booming, too (Berry Bros and Rudd announced a whopping 41 per cent growth in sales of the aromatised wine).
Chetiyawardana realised just how much the landscape has changed during Sunday lunch with his father at a country pub near Birmingham this year. “They gave us a cocktail menu as soon as we sat down, which I was quite surprised by – being almost in the middle of nowhere at a proper pub – but I was more shocked when my dad ordered a rum mule,” he says. “He’s a staunch beer or wine drinker, who’d sometimes stretch to a gin and tonic.” For Chetiyawardana it was a signifier of how much cocktails have tipped into an everyday luxury. “I think it’s partly because people are drinking less and want something delicious and of higher quality when they do drink; but also because there’s always something unexpected and magical about a cocktail,” he says.
“People are definitely more adventurous now. They don’t baulk at unusual ingredients in drinks and have realised that they can use their palate as a steer like they do in home cooking. If you like spiced, heavy autumnal dishes, then you know you’re going to like darker, spicier drinks, for example. Food and drinks use the same language – all you need is the words to translate your taste.”
The classics are a great way in. “Look at the mojito and the Moscow mule: they do everything you want a cocktail to do. They are exciting and they have the ability to transport you from a dreary British day to somewhere exotic.” And Christmas party season is the perfect time to try out new flavours and techniques: see the recipes over the page for festive inspiration.
The gin boom helped pave the way for a reappraisal of cocktails; drinkers realised different bottles had completely different flavours, and started looking beyond tonic as a mixer.
“Gin cocktails are by far the most popular because the spirit is so versatile,” says Alex Lawrence, the founder of Porter’s Gin, which is made in Aberdeen. “It’s amazing, considering it was so uncool for a while.
“It’s been around for hundreds of years and it was drunk savagely in the 18th century when, it’s said, one in every three homes had a gin still. But by the Sixties it started to be seen as a stuffy and people switched to vodka, which was seen as a party spirit.”
With 47 million bottles of gin (worth £1.2 billion), consumed last year, according to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, it’s been a huge comeback. There are now around 315 UK distilleries, double the number that existed five years ago, and the process is no longer exclusive to specialist spirit makers.
At the Rathfinny wine estate in the South Downs in Sussex, they use the rebêche, the by-product of the third pressing of the grapes, to make a gin called Seven Sisters (named after the nearby chalk cliffs) that works perfectly in a classic martini, (five parts gin to one part vermouth). The Botanist, an artisanal Islay gin, adds 22 wild local flowers and plants, including white clover, wood sage and watermint. Another, Silent Pool, is made in the North Downs from 24 botanical ingredients, and its garden was one of the most popular at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, partly because it showed you how to grow some of the ingredients: lavender, camomile and angelica.
For there lies the cocktail’s appeal: you can do so much at home; grab a rosemary garnish from the garden, raid the larder for a last-minute flavour boost from your favourite marmalade. Bars may be cropping up everywhere, and are a wonderful option for a night out (see the list below, left), but for a Christmas party at home or a wintry night in, try making cocktails at home to elevate the evening.
BEST COCKTAIL BARS IN THE UK:
What do you get when you cross art and biology? The best bar in the world, brought to you by Ryan Chetiyawardana. It’s one for botanists, with menus built around the life of plants. Early next year, he will shut Dandelyan’s doors and transform the space into an entirely new bar – what he’ll do next is anyone’s guess. dandelyanbar.com
There’s no need to feel guilty about drinking when you’re sipping on purple carrots, chard, quince and beetroot. This bar has just been voted Brighton’s best, and is all about sustainability, with drinks built Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall-style around veg. gunghobar.com
This subterranean speakeasy-style bar underneath a dry cleaners on Queen’s Street has been considered Edinburgh’s best for cocktails for years. It’s all tattoo-sleeved bartenders and hip-hop beats, so go midweek and earlier for a quiet lesson in how to mix like a pro.bramblebar.co.uk
Can a drink remind you of the first time you fell off a bicycle or fell in love? Artesian, in the Langham hotel, is currently serving “moments” in the form of cocktails that showcase the power of ingredients. artesian-bar.co.uk
GIN AND JUICE, CARDIFF
More than 200 different gins are stocked in this Aladdin’s cave in the city’s magical Castle Arcade. A local favourite is Dà Mhile gin, which is made in Llandysul, west Wales. Another is a seaweed gin that tastes like a day on a windy beach.@ginandjuicecardiff
THE DARK HORSE, BATH
Described by locals as “a cross between an American bar and a Dickensian drinking den”, the Dark Horse, in Bath’s Kingsmead Square, is earning a reputation for great old-fashioneds and whiskey nights. darkhorsebar.co.uk (69
COLEBROOKE ROW, LONDON
Tony Conigliaro’s legendary cocktails – including his prairie oyster – mean this tiny bar is always packed, so phone ahead to book a spot. Graduate to his other place, Bar Termini in Soho, for molecular negronis. 69colebrookerow.com
THE LIBRARY OF LIQUOR, DORSET
James Fowler, crowned best bartender in the UK in 2013, is focusing on sustainability at his latest venture, Terroir, where they’re serving tomatowhey martinis and banana sours, but the Library is the spot for late-night classics and a saké and soda. thelarderhouse.co.uk
MR FOGG’S SOCIETY OF EXPLORATION, LONDON
Any of the Victorian-vibed Mr Fogg’s bars (inspired by Phileas Fogg, the hero of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days), are spectacular places to sip spectacular drinks. On the menu at the Strand venue are cocktails inspired by Mount Everest and the North Pole. mr-foggs.com
HYDE & CO, BRISTOL
Book ahead and ring the bell by the bowler hat to get into this chic Clifton den, which is currently transporting drinkers to “art-deco Paris” via its latest menu, Midnight. Order a French 75 and settle into the sultry jazz. hydeand.co
Wash down punchy Kendall Callings, made with gin, vermouth and peppermint, with Yorkshire bresaola at this already award-winning) new venue. Try salted fudge and tonka bean whisky highballs, or mescal and truffle martinis. publicpublic.co.uk
THE AMERICAN BAR, LONDON
White tuxedos, jazz piano and cocktails inspired by Marlene Dietrich, Elizabeth Taylor and Mick Jagger are on the menu at this divine cocktail bar, the oldest in London. Drinks are pricey at around £20 each – but it’s not an everyday place, unless you’re Mick Jagger. thesavoylondon.com
HOW TO BUILD A HOME BAR
By James Fowler, founder of the Library at The Larder House, Dorset
“You can make 500 cocktails from 12 spirits if you know how to stock your bar, and there’s a really helpful guide showing you what to buy and how to use it in Difford’s Guide to Cocktails (diffordsguide. com), which I used when I was starting out.
“Base spirits to start with include a vodka, whisky, rum, cognac, tequila, vermouth and champagne. Campari is very versatile and sugar syrups and Angostura bitters are basic ingredients for a lot of drinks. Salt and pepper to season are key, as are high-quality mixers – I recommend Fever-Tree tonic and ginger ale, plus Rose’s lime cordial – while fruit and herbs are useful to flavour and garnish.
“A basic cocktail kit that includes a shaker and a few stirrers is really all you need, and decent glassware is important. Leave the massive martini glasses on the Caribbean cruise and forget about tulip-shaped hurricane glasses, just get some beautiful tumblers, highballs and smaller martini glasses.
“Ice is often overlooked at home, because people are still scared it dilutes a drink too much; just pay attention when you’re stirring it in and use ice moulds for professional golf-ball sized ice blocks (see box, above right) in short drinks.
“What’s really important when making drinks at home is thinking about what you’re serving when, in the same way you would with food. Don’t start with anything too sweet that will ruin the guests’ palates, but ease them in with a champagne or sherry cocktail and save richer, darker drinks until later.
“I also found Tristan Stephenson’s The Curious Bartender (details, above right) really helpful, as it’s simple but geeky enough for you to really extend your knowledge of mixology if you want to.”
ALL RECIPES SERVE ONE UNLESS OTHERWISE STATED
INGREDIENTS: 40ml Pisco Quebranta, 25ml fresh lime juice, 20ml sugar syrup, 25ml egg white, 8 ice cubes ,3 drops of Angostura bitters
METHOD: Add all the ingredients except the bitters to a cocktail mixer and shake for 10 to 15 seconds. Strain into a glass. Garnish with a few drops of the Angostura bitters.
Recipe from the Lost Alpaca Bar at Lima Floral, London
INGREDIENTS: 1 tsp marmalade, 15ml gin, 15ml grapefruit juice, Champagne to top up METHOD: Stir the marmalade into the gin and juice to dissolve. Top up with fizz.
Recipe from The Library of Liqueur at The Larder House, Dorset
INGREDIENTS: Autumnal fruit and herbs, 50ml Xeco Amontillado, 25ml lime juice, 15ml sugar syrup
METHOD: Muddle a small amount of de-stoned fruit (pears, plums, damsons and quinces work perfectly) and herbs in a highball glass, before adding the other ingredients with some ice. Stir to mix. Garnish with lots of fruit.
INGREDIENTS: 25ml Seedlip 94, 25ml Monte Rosso Non-Alcoholic Apéritif, 25ml Blutul Bianco Vermouth
METHOD: A non-alcoholic take on this year’s most popular drink, the negroni. In a shaker, stir the spirits (available at Tesco, Waitrose and Amazon respectively) over ice for 15 seconds, then strain and pour into a tumbler over ice. Garnish with a citrus wheel.
Recipe from Petersham Nurseries, London
INGREDIENTS: 35ml Rémy Martin 1738 Accord Royal cognac, 30ml Cointreau, 15ml fresh lemon juice
METHOD: Shake all ingredients with ice, then strain into a coupe glass for this short, slightly sour drink that’s made with King Louis XV’s favourite cognac.
INGREDIENTS: 25ml Talisker 10 whisky, 25ml Martini Rosso, Fever-Tree smoky ginger ale to top up, Orange and apple wedges
METHOD: Mix the whisky and Martini together and pour into a tumbler over ice. Top up with ginger ale and use the fruit wedges to garnish.
INGREDIENTS: 60ml aquavit, 20ml lime juice, 12.5ml gomme
METHOD Make a gomme by boiling 2:1 parts of sugar with water. When cooled, shake all ingredients and strain into a coupe glass.
Recipe from Aquavit, London
INGREDIENTS: 10ml Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto, Prosecco to top up, 1 scoop of lemon sorbet, Lemon zest, to garnish
METHOD: Add the Italicus (a bergamot liqueur, available from thewhiskyexchange.com), then prosecco to a coupe, then add the sorbet. Garnish with lemon zest.
INGREDIENTS: 50ml Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva rum, 15ml runny honey, 15ml fresh lemon juice, 150ml hot water, 1 tsp sugar, piece of cinnamon stick (or pinch of ground spice), pinch of grated nutmeg
METHOD: Mix the liquids and sugar together in a mug and serve garnished with a cinnamon stick, grated nutmeg to taste, and half a slice of orange.
MAKES EIGHT TO 10
INGREDIENTS: 1 grapefruit, 300ml gin, 300ml sweet vermouth, 300ml campari, 6 blackberries, 1 sprig rosemary
METHOD: Peel a strip of zest from the grapefruit and add to a microwave-safe bowl with the other ingredients. Cover then blast in the microwave for three minutes on full heat, allow to cool, then strain, bottle and refrigerate. Pour over ice into a rocks glass to serve with a grapefruit garnish.
Recipe from Dandelyan, London
INGREDIENTS: 50ml Don Julio Reposado, 50ml mulled wine, 25ml lemon and orange juice
METHOD: Combine the ingredients and serve warm in a short glass, garnished with a slice of orange, for a punchy equivalent to traditional mulled wine.