Archive for December, 2008

Newsdesk: DIY

December 23, 2008

There’s a growing number of notable mixologists who aren’t professional bartenders. While I’m lucky enough to have access to a well-stocked, well-equipped cocktail bar at work, that isn’t necessarily an option for the enthusiast. Handily, the internet has answers to the questions you haven’t even asked yet.


Saturday Night Open Mic: goodwill to all

December 21, 2008

It’s Christmas, or to observe the correct Noddy Holder pronunciation, it’s KERIIIISTMAS, which has meant a good two weeks of pain for anyone working in hospitality. I’ll preface this by saying I really don’t want to post specifically about work here, and all things considered, the holiday season’s been pretty smooth. After all, my bar hasn’t caught fire yet.

But Christmas is a tough time to work behind a bar, or waiting tables. I always think that it’s the one time of the year when bars and restaurants feel useful –  necessary isn’t the right word, but it’s close. There seems something ritualistic about a work Christmas party, a feeling that it’s a separate, though still important, affair from the family meal, and this is the time where we have to step up.

Festive customers don’t make it easy. My first ever bar shift was on the Friday before Christmas – the day we call Black Friday – and my new boss took the time to tell us to watch out for the people who don’t go out. Ever. Except at Christmas. It’s hard not to feel a flash of anger every time someone waves a bill in your face, or clicks their fingers at you, or argues about the amount of ice in their drink and how much it costs, and it’s harder not to take it personally. But somehow, every year, we get through it. We’ll call it an easy day if we finish after 12 hours, a quiet dinner service at 250 covers, and running out of ice a hiccup, but we get through it. We take the crazy requests, the stupid questions and the people who just refuse to understand, but we get through it. We end up broken and abused and so hungover it hurts to blink, but we get through it.

In twelve days time, we’ll sit down, together, with a beer or a glass of wine or whatever, and say, “Good work. Let’s never do that again.”

Until next year.

(Busy bar photo from S2 B’s Flickr photostream, issued under a Creative Commons license.)

Brave new world

December 18, 2008

There’s been a discussion over on Barbore about a new range of pre-prepared foam sauces called Airspuma, and what this means for cocktails.

I made the point that it’s the kind of product that could lead to a national chain (let’s say All Bar One, for example) including a cocktail with a foam component on its menu, which would open that particular strand of mixology up to a new audience. But, thinking about it, we’re not going to see foam cocktails in the mainstream anytime soon.

The drinks that you see presented at competitions, the cutting edge, experimental concoctions you see in the very best bars, these all represent a small section of the market. They’re the drinks that will be included in programs 5, 10 years down the line, but they’re not necessarily right for widespread adoption yet.

For things like foams, gels and airs, semi-liquid pearls and all the tricks in the molecular mixology toolkit, you can add another decade before they even enter the conversation, let alone become a part of a standard service. At the moment, it’s hard to convince regular drinkers (the ones who stick to what they know, and it ain’t cocktails) that making a mixed drink requires more thought than “lob it in a glass and give it a stir.” A drink with a foam component is going to be so far
outside of their frame of reference that
you may as well be talking about particle physics.

There will always be bars and bartenders working at the bleeding edge of innovation, and they do important work. Give it time, let the ideas filter out from those in the know to everybody else. Then we can talk about whether a premix aerosol foam garnish will damage the authenticity of a drink.

Abelha Cachaca

December 17, 2008

Abelha Cachaca recently stuck their head above the parapet to contribute to this month’s Mixology Monday, making them (possibly) the first brand to take part. Aside from the cool bottles, Abelha seem really passionate about making sure their product is organic and sustainable, as well as making sure their workers and contractors in Brazil get paid appropriately. Abelha is an alembique cachaca which means it’s majority 100% pot-distilled*, and it’s seemingly only available in London which means I can’t tell what it tastes like.

Y’know, if there are any samples lying around the office…

Update: Anthony from Abelha’s been in touch:

For Abelha Cachaça, both the Silver (rested) and Gold (aged 3 years) are *only* distilled in these traditional copper alembiques in small batches.

I do not know of any cachaças that are a blend between an alembique and industrial cachaça, but there well may be some. The manufacturer would probably not shout about such a thing.

Newsdesk: the wrath of grapes

December 16, 2008

Hangovers are the nemesis of the committed drinker, and just ahead of Christmas, it gets worse.

MxMo: Spice

December 15, 2008

It’s Monday, and that means it’s about time for the international drinkblogging community to showcase all the cool things we’ve been playing with. This month’s Mixology Monday is being graciously hosted by Craig at Tiki Drinks & Indigo Firmaments (thanks!) and – topically, for Christmas – the theme is spice.

Spices belong to that category of things you won’t miss until they’re not there. It’s literally inconceivable to eat without salt and pepper on the table. Vanilla has become so prevalent as a flavour that the word can be used to describe things that are boring, unremarkable, and yet the general connotation of spices is of exoticism, of a faraway culture. Read the rest of this entry »

24hr Project: Homemade Krupnik

December 12, 2008

Krupnik is one of those products that see in tons of bars, but keeps a low profile. It’s got a really old school label, straight out of Eastern Europe – appropriately, it’s hugely popular with Edinburgh’s growing Polish community – but people only seem to know two things: a) it’s vodka based, and b) it’s honey flavoured.

That’s not even unhelpful.

It is a tasty product, though, and a recent article on money-saving Christmas gifts in the Guardian got me thinking.


Bottle some Krupnik

Give a bottle of home-made Christmas Krupnik. Henry Besant, founder of suggests this recipe. Buy a bottle of the best Polish vodka you can afford and pour the contents into a saucepan. Add 500ml of runny honey, 2 cinnamon sticks, 3 cloves, a teaspoon of grated nutmeg and an opened vanilla pod and heat gently until the honey is completely dissolved. Simmer for 20 minutes (but do not allow it to boil). Let the mixture cool and then strain it through muslin into a bottle of your choice. Decorate with ribbon and a cinnamon stick around the bottle neck, and add a tag with a serving suggestion, such as: “Serve with warmed cloudy apple juice and a dusting of nutmeg; add a dollop of double cream for a richer alternative.”

Not only does this make a handy gift, it’s just about perfect for the upcoming spice-themed MxMo. Coaxing the flavour from spices into room-temperature liquids can be troublesome, so getting that flavour extracted before kickoff could be awesome. Another bonus is the simplicity of the recipe – no macerating citrus peels for two weeks, people; instant results!

I opted for the above recipe, more or less verbatim. The thing I changed was the honey. In the end, I used three different varieties: acacia (light, floral), manuka (heavy, medicinal) and blossom (somewhere inbetween). The acacia honey keeps its liquidity naturally, so I picked a ‘runny’ pack of the blossom, leaving the heavier, more solid manuka to provide some bass. The other key ingredient was, of course, the vodka. I already had a bottle of Sobieski Vodka on a shelf thanks to an old colleague, and not being a prolific vodka drinker, it wasn’t doing much.

Making the liqueur couldn’t be easier. 

  1. Pour vodka into a largish pan.
  2. Heat gently and add the honey.
  3. Add spices (3 sticks of cinnamon, 3 whole cloves, 1.5 barspoons ground nutmeg, 1 vanilla pod).
  4. Simmer for 20 minutes – don’t let it boil; we’re not looking for another distillation.
  5. Strain through muslin, bottle and stick it in the fridge.

Homemake KrupnikThere are things I’m disappointed in: the colour, for one. The blossom honey is pretty dark and combined with the manuka, it makes the whole thing look kinda murky. Still, it shows a lovely amber glow when you hold it up to the light and if I had any skills in clarifying liquids, I’m sure I could clean it up further. I’m also pretty sure that I put too much honey in the mix; the final liqueur is maybe just a shade too sweet for me.

On the plus side, it tastes phenomenal. The first thing that hits is the honey, with all the depth of flavour that comes from the different varieties. That’s followed by a strong cinnamon finish, with a hint of cloves lingering around after. I think it might be the manuka, but this batch reminds me a lot more of Drambuie than it does of Krupnik. That’s not a bad thing. Not bad at all.

Update: turns out my two concerns may have been related. After sitting for a couple of days, the liqueur separated, leaving a thick greyish-brown sediment at the bottom and a lovely, clear, amber liquid at the top. That suggests that I either saturated the mixture with the honey or didn’t heat it thoroughly enough to dissolve all of it. Given the sweetness and that I didn’t use the 500ml specified in the original recipe (I used nearly 350-400ml), I’m going with the former. It’s still incredibly sweet, which isn’t necessarily a problem, but it’s looking way better.

Linkdump: well hello, print media!

December 11, 2008


The Guardians Mark Fothergill behind the stick.

The Guardian's Mark Fothergill behind the stick.


It seems a pity that print media’s starting to get interested in bartending and cocktailmaking just as the medium dies. Then again, they’ve all got websites, and you know what they say about publicity…

The Local News: the loneliest city in Britain

December 10, 2008

Not as lonely as Edinburgh.

Not as lonely as Edinburgh.

A BBC-commissioned survey has reported that Edinburgh is the loneliest place to live in the UK. Apparently, we’re 13% lonelier than we were in 1971, as calculated by the number of unmarried adults and one-person households in the area. Is it possible that – as a city – we’re not lonely, we’re just crap at hooking up? It’s also worth nothing that second place went to London. Yes, the one with more than 11 million residents.


It’s depressing news. Given our failure to connect to our communities, I guess the only thing to do is shine lasers into the eyes of airline pilots as they attempt to land, or leave unexploded WW2 bombs lying around in school grounds.

Yes, nothing is happening in this city. It’s probably why it needs £600m to ride out the economic downturn. Here are some of the stories that didn’t make the cut:

  • Baby protein ‘could help bowels’.
  • Mine discovered in Forth blown up.
  • Keep an eye out for albino squirrels and other ghostly sights.

Because seriously, albino squirrels will break into your house and steal your Christmas presents. And your kids.

(Lonely Old House photo from Dingbat2005’s Flickr photostream. Albino Squirrel from

Sunday Night Open Mic: it ain’t where you’re from

December 8, 2008

I’d been planning on writing a post to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Repeal Day. It’s a day worthy of celebration for anyone who works with alcohol and reminds me that bartenders have an obligation to dispense spirits, liqueurs and wines responsibly. The problem is that I don’t have a lot to add – US Prohibition carries more weight over here in symbolic terms rather than practical ones. My first thought had been to write about the legacy of Prohibition in terms of its effect on the culture of bartending and alcohol consumption, but Camper English wrote a great post at that hit the topic right out of the ballpark. My second thought was, “it’s 3am on Saturday morning, I’ve got a 12 hour shift starting in 8 eight hours and I haven’t slept or eaten since Thursday.” Read the rest of this entry »