Cocktails are a tough thing to get right, challenges include: the balance between obtaining incredible flavours, beautiful presentation, and being able to provide an oral soundtrack to whatever mood you are in. I personally have been working on cracking the code since 2007, and I think I am doing a pretty good job.
Amit Sood, from the Shaker Bar School, summed it up with a graph. You have sweet, sour, strong and weak, these are the four very basic elements of a cocktail. Get the balance right between all of these then you are onto a winner. The most basic example of this is the Daiquri. The sugar is sweet, the lime is sour, the rum is strong, and shaking the life out of it with ice causes the dilution – the weak. It is finely balanced, and explains why it is still a go to beverage after 100 years.
However, in a world where the cocktail market is saturated, how do you maintain originality and come up with unique flavours for guests to experience? Personally, I like to draw on previous experience and always ask what flavours bring me joy? My head bartender, Harry Bellenberg, does the same. Using this method we came up with drinks on our last two menus that will inspire a sense of nostalgia. Our rum based zombie, The Old Man and the Zombie, uses Um-Bongo, a staple in many people’s lunch boxes during the 90’s. Our Prosecco based cocktail, the Earl of Harlem, uses an Earl Grey syrup to provide people with the comfort received from a cup of tea. We barrel age a Pina Colada, but use Pinot Grigio as the base, mainly for the play on words, but also because it balances out the flavours of the high ABV rums, while the use of coconut water instead of cream delivers tropical flavour minus the heaviness.
The reason cocktails are delicious is not down to personal taste but down to bartenders following a simple four sided graph (see above), then adapting it to produce new and exciting flavours. If your tongue tastes all of the aforementioned elements, a signal is sent to your brain deliciousness is conveyed, and enjoyment ensues. Bartenders are scientists of flavour, just as chefs are, and the very best bartenders are the ones that confuse your taste buds; leaving you filled with joy and wonder!
I’m all about making recommendations for interesting places to visit where you can sample amazing drinks menus, this week I recommend Dandelyan at the Mondrian Hotel at Sea Containers. Their new menu is incredible. Explore your inner child, albeit an inner child who is over 18 and can drink responsibly.
About the author: Calum O’Flynn is the Bar Manager at The Botanist on Sloane Square. He Started pouring pints at 19, and made his first Mojito at 21. Calum is also a Gin enthusiast, spectator of all sports, and participant in none.