Why drink cocktails?

I’ve been lucky recently to have had some nights that were better than average. You know the sort of evening where everything comes together just right. A good bar, with a talented bartender making drinks, great company and good tunes, the sort of evening where you have a ‘drinking experience’. It got me thinking about the little things that elevate the experience of sipping a cocktail.


I’ve always been startled by people who say that cocktails are too expensive but who don’t mind paying over the odds for a bottle of beer or a glass of wine. I admit that it galls me to pay £7.50 for an overly sweetened daiquiri made using the cheapest ingredients by someone who would rather be anywhere other than behind the bar. But when you go to a good bar and your drinks are made by a bartender who does their job because they love it (well they don’t do it for the money that’s for sure!) and you sip a perfectly balanced drink, well that’s worth paying for!

A Few of Our Favourite Things

It’s been a hectic couple of weeks for me, with distillery visits, new products being sent to me, catching up with master distillers and the first Imbibe bar show, not to mention a food and cocktail pairing hosted by Courvoisier and Bompass & Parr. I guess I can’t complain when every day there seems to be something new to try or someone new to meet.
So today I thought I’d share a few of the best tipples that I have stumbled across recently and drop a few teasers for the series of updates I have planned for the bitters&twisted blog over the next few weeks.

It's a balancing act!

It seems like the simplest thing in the world: take a bit of lime juice, add some sugar and rum, shake it up with ice and strain it into a glass… the perfect daiquiri right? Well then why is it that sometimes I am left so disappointed by what should be the simplest of drinks? At other times I see the bartender reaching for flavours that are strong and counter-intuitive, but the finished drink is the embodiment of liquid perfection. It comes down to a matter of balance!
I was judging a cocktail competition recently and got talking to a young bartender who’s new to the trade, is passionate about cocktails and wants to learn more. He comes from a food background so understands flavour, but as he put it, ‘I just don’t quite know what I have to do to balance one ingredient against the next’. It made me wonder just how many young bartenders are banging out drinks to the spec they’ve been given by their bar manager, but who have never actually been shown how to balance a drink.
Well that seemed like the perfect reason for me to have a look at what it takes to balance a drink. It’s something that experienced bartenders seem to make look so easy but is the difference between having a great drinking experience or vowing never to return to the bar you’re visiting. It’s definitely one of the most important factors in making a drink and yet it seems it is seldom discussed.

it's gin but not as we know it

My opinions on the subject of gin have always been pretty clear, I like my gin to taste of juniper! I am on record as saying that I have a problem with many of the new wave gins that seem to hang themselves on an unusual ingredient and forget that gin is primarily about juniper balanced against a range of botanicals which add complexity and structure to the spirit.
So you might be able to guess my reaction to getting a sample bottle of the new Gin Mare, a Mediterranean inspired product that uses olive, basil, rosemary and thyme. But in the interest of fairness I put my preconceptions on ice and give it a fair trial.

Keep it simple

We’ve been treated to an early burst of sunny weather over the last week or so and it has got me thinking about summer drinking. Obviously there are plenty of bars and pubs with terraces or beer gardens, but sometimes there is nothing better than inviting friends over, firing up the bbq and having a few drinks in the garden!
The problem I always have is that I tend to over complicate things when it comes to the drinks side of entertaining, but not this year! I have vowed to keep it simple this summer, so despite having an outside bar that I could stock up with every cocktail ingredient imaginable, I intend to limit myself to a few simple ingredients that I can make pitchers of drinks with.
I’ve always liked the idea of keeping it simple, even if I have usually failed to do so myself. So on my mission to simplify my entertaining I am going to keep a stock of a few mixers, use whatever fruit I find on offer at my local supermarket and maybe keep a couple of bottles of liqueurs on hand just for variety. Beyond that it comes down to choosing a couple of spirits that offer me the most versatility and sticking with them instead of raiding the bitters&twisted drinks cabinets!

Maybe I'll be a distiller for a month... or maybe you will?!

I have a pretty good job; but if there is one thing I have always wanted to do it’s to work as a distiller. I love the craft that goes into making spirits, especially those that are aged and blended. There is a real art form to it and while I am sure the actual work is hard, the reward of being able to taste and enjoy your finished product and seeing other people enjoy it must be amazing!
Well as chance would have it, the guys at Spook Media who look after PR for Bushmills Whiskey dropped me a line to let me know that they are running a competition for someone to win exactly that opportunity! Not being fully familiar with the Bushmills range I asked them to fill the gaps for me, and after a weekend spent enjoying and experimenting with a drop or two of their fine Irish nectar I thought it would be rude not to share my findings with you.
But first a word about this competition. It’s not often that you’re presented the chance to work in a distillery, let alone spend 30 days in Ireland, all expenses paid with £5000 spending money and at the end of it have the chance to produce your own blend of whiskey! To a drinks geek such as myself that really does sound like the next best thing to actually being a master distiller!

Drinking Chocolate

Well it’s Easter again, which of course means I have every excuse to over-indulge on chocolate, with almost no guilt whatsoever. This year though, I am not going to be having an Easter egg. No sir! I’ll be getting my chocolate fix in liquid form instead.
The idea of using chocolate in drinks is of course nothing new, and at this time of year especially there are plenty of drinks being posted on cocktail blogs and websites that are absolutely loaded with chocolaty goodness. But I thought it might be time for something a bit different; so grabbing all the chocolate I could find in the house, I set about making drinks that subtly celebrate cocoa in all its glory.
You see, when you add chocolate to a drink it can get pretty rich and sickly, and frankly I’d rather enjoy lots of chocolate drinks (responsibly of course!) than have one or two and then feel sick. So this Easter at b&t HQ we’ll be enjoying a few well-balanced drinks with just enough chocolate to tease the taste buds, but not so much that there’ll be a need to diet once Easter is over.

Read all about it!

I’ve just realised that I am probably (no probably about it!) a fully-fledged cocktail geek (a suspicion I’ve had for some time actually!). Having taken a look at my bookcase it seems to be rather overloaded with cocktail books, with very few books on any other subject. That’s ok though, taking a look at them, I realise that they chart my journey from ‘casually interested in drinks’ to ‘make my own bitters’. A journey any fellow cocktail geek will recognise!

As I browse my collection, I realise that as my knowledge of cocktails has grown, the type of books I look for have changed. I started with books that demonstrated tequniques and had lots of pictures, and now I find myself buying books from pre-prohibition that are stacked full of obscure names, measuring units and illustrations! Seeing the range of books on my shelves has got me thinking that maybe it’s time that bitters&twisted did its first book review.
Hopefully there is something for everyone here, whether you are a drinker who fancies having a go at making cocktails at home or a full time bartender looking to expand your knowledge. One thing’s for sure, there are enough cocktail books out there to keep you busy for a lifetime, but we’ve chosen a range that hopefully offer enough to get you started.
I plan on making book reviews a feature of the b&t website when it launches, but in the meantime here are some personal favourites:

Leave out the limes!

There’s only so much citric acid a man can take! Don’t get me wrong, I love a well-made daiquiri (with Havana Club 3yo please…) as much as the next guy, and on a sunny day it’s hard to beat a Tommy’s margarita. But after years of drinking caipirinhas, margaritas, daiquiris and aviations I have to say that my love affair with citrus fruit is over!
I am always a little disappointed when ordering my first cocktail in a bar when the conversation goes something like this:
Bartender: what do you fancy Dan?
Me: I’m not sure, but I’m in the mood for some rum or tequila
Bartender: how about a margarita?
Me: hmmmmm
Bartender: or maybe a daiquiri?
It sometimes seems like I am being presented with the most obvious choices not to mention drinks that are easy to make (3 ingredients, shaken and up…). I understand the reason for this, they are popular drinks and generally require little conversation and not a lot of time to make. That’s fine, but it also means that far too many drinkers are missing a chance to taste these fantastic spirits in ways that would perhaps hide their character less.

some things are just better homemade

We posted a blog about homemade syrups a while back and had a few people contact us looking for recipes that any bartender could use to get started. You know the sorts of syrups that are essential to certain drinks but that the commercial ones available leave a bit to be desired. So as we are always keen to please, we contacted a few friends who make their own to get their best recipes.
We started with a couple of syrups essential to tiki drinks (but also called for in many classic cocktail books). Orgeat and grenadine are two syrups that can transform a drink, but after a syrups tasting I did for Imbibe magazine last year, I was left thinking that the shop bought ones were pretty poor. Paul bases his recipes on a 50/50 sugar syrup (controversial, but having tasted the results who are we to argue?) which he makes in bulk, taking equal parts sugar and water and boiling them gently for about 20 minutes with crème de tartar (1/4 teaspoon will do 6 litres)
So here are a couple of recipes that Paul Bradley gave us that really hit the mark: