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Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Cocktails. All the rage but lost in direction.

I mean, everyone loves a cocktail. We always have, right? We all have our favourites too. Styles that have evolved over the decades, but left a mixed print across our cocktail menus. Long-forgotten, are the style of cocktails that actually served a purpose, that we're designed for a certain time of day, mixed with varying degrees of minimal dilution, that actually improve our very biological condition. 

Well shit, that all sounds rather fucking complicated, I just want to get pissed. 

And that's where we are now, in the restaurant and professional cocktail arena. The modern translation of cocktail today reads: as many spirits as you can shove in a boston glass and flavour in the most sweet and fruity manner. The 'long island iced tea' types. "There's like 9 spirits in there mate!". That sits nicely on a menu alongside the other familiar names. Mojito. Cosmopolitan. Tequila Sunrise. Mai Tai. Caipirinha. Margarita. Then a bunch of totally bastardised classics. The word Martini, thrown about from menu to menu, evolving from its original aperitif format to some layered monstrosity containing at least 75% fruit purée. Does anyone even remember that a daiquiri does not traditionally contain strawberry? 

The above are all drinks to get pissed to. You would be disappointed if these items were not on the 'cocktail' menu at 'spoons, at your local harvester, or generic, high street boozer (West Street, Brighton, where the streets flow with shit cocktails and poor taste).

Having compiled & written several cocktails & menus for several restaurants over the past 5/6 years, I am beginning to see a change. Proper cocktails starting to appear on lists, rarely selling of course 5/6 years ago, when only the braver drinker ordered something off-scene, are rising up the list and off the back bar shelves. 

That immortal line at the bottom of all cocktail Menuhin restaurants - finally disappearing. "Classics available upon request". The classics are coming back, because the serve a tremendous culinary purpose. (I hate these words but...) THE HIPSTER FOODIES ARE TURNING THE TIDES. (Gastronaut remains my fondest term for these people). 

After doing extensive research earlier this year planning a rebranding of a holy esteemed Sussex bar, I found myself spending hours downloading PDF cocktail menus, looking up origins of drinks, and cluttering my bookmark bar to give the appearance of a total alcoholic. 

Leading the way for me, is Hawksmoors Cocktail menu. The most stunning book of cocktails through the ages, tweaked only slightly to enhance the experience and individualise the finished drink to them. On a much anticipated visit earlier this year, the eureka moment. When sat at their spitalfields restaurant, I was handed ONLY a cocktail menu. No sales pitch, no encouragement what so ever other than to say that I need read this menu. On doing so you discover the ultimate forgotten truth. That cocktails are there to enliven your appetite, awaken your belly and 'open your eyes'. I mean, you're just sold there and then. I would be mental not to take them up on this. 

As you read on, in an almost biblical/historical fashion, all those classics, previously confined to a one line fob-off at the foot of menus, are listed and brought bang up to date. Old-fashioned, Negroni (2 ways), Corpse Reviver, Breakfast Martini. Awesomeness all over the shop. 

And so they have lead, it seems, it transforming the cocktail trend.

Out are the tropical puréed fruits & juices. 

In are home-infusions (tobacco bourbon anyone?), house bottled bitters, and retro glassware. 

And what of the cocktail of the moment - Espresso Martini? 

An essential on any list, but please, at the end of my meal. (Waiters and Front of House Managers - do your research, suggest the right cocktail fort he right time of the meal and you will soon see that the whole experience has been lifted. 

We all love a cocktail, but now we can choose to have the right one, at the right time, made the right way, all over again. 

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